Buddha Shakyamuni with Arhats (18th c) © Himalayan Art Collection

4 Ways to Have Proper Aims & Actions

By Shamar Rinpoche

Shamar Rinpoche's Statement on the September 11 Attacks:

During the past two weeks as I have traveled to several Bodhi Path centers in the United States, many members have asked me to explain the horrible acts of the terrorists on September 11and to suggest a course of action from the Buddhist perspective. I offer the following thoughts for my disciples' guidance.

The terrorists who brought about this senseless tragedy are afflicted by ignorance and consequently can be deceived by a blind faith in a belief system that distorts the true spirit of Islam. They do not have the wisdom and proper sense of judgement to determine what is right and wrong. Because of their ignorance and blind faith, people with evil intentions manipulated and misused them. Therefore, just as we should show compassion on the victims, we should also have compassion on the terrorists due to their ignorance.

When governments and individuals set a future course of action, their motivation or aim is the critical determinant to what is appropriate and morally correct. The seeking of revenge clearly is not acceptable in Buddhist terms. However, if a government or individual must take an action that has harmful effects but that is done for the purpose of preventing evil and benefiting the majority, this is acceptable.

According to Buddha's teachings on ethics, I believe there are four different combinations of aim/intention and action. Listed from the most evil to the most compassionate, they are:

  1. Bad or evil aim-negative or hurtful action
  2. Bad aim-benign or positive action
  3. Good, realistic aim-destructive or harmful action
  4. Good or pure aim-benevolent action

In order to counter terrorism, governments of the world and their leaders must pursue this goal only with the aim of benefiting everyone, including the ignorant terrorists themselves. If purely benevolent acts are inadequate to achieve this goal, then there is no choice but to engage in narrowly targeted acts designed to root out the evil of the terrorists while inflicting the least amount of harm to the innocent. This can be accomplished through the use of our wisdom and compassion which we find through logical analysis that is a part of human wisdom. It is important not to make decisions based on our obscured emotions.

On a personal level, we should not dwell in our sadness or fear over this tragedy. Instead, we should use it as an inspiration to develop our own compassion. We should make wishing prayers for the victims but also expand our wishes to include all beings who have suffered throughout the world. This tragedy must inspire us to achieve a vast compassion for all beings.

September 24, 2001