Empathy for the Enemy

Monday, May 9th, 2011

Like many Americans, I remember where I was and what I was doing when I first heard about the terrorist attacks on 9/11. I was a 15 year-old high sophomore at my locker, grabbing the books I would need for my morning classes. I can recall my best friend, Richard Kim, running up to me and shouting, “Oh no, Jen! What are we going to do?! They’ve got the Twin Towers AND the Pentagon!! This is bad. This is so bad!” He ran off before I could reply to his hysterical behavior. I dismissed his outburst as an eccentric joke and went to my creative writing class. It was there that I first saw the news broadcast which confirmed Richard’s seemingly outrageous rant.

The world has changed since 2001. Instead of hearing breaking news through friends, we now discover it through Facebook; Osama Bin Laden’s death was no exception. Much like my initial reaction to 9/11, I perceived his death to be a hoax. It wasn’t until I saw news articles and broadcasts that made the event become real for me.

As a practicing Buddhist and as an American citizen, I felt juxtaposed by Bin Laden’s death. Despite the controversy surrounding the involvement of Bin Laden with the 9/11 attacks, we cannot deny that Bin Laden was a “bad” person. (I am using the term “bad” very loosely.) His actions have caused harm to countless individuals and has kept the world in a state of fear and uncertainty for at least 10 years. Dare I say, the world is better place without him. With these facts in mind, I could easily see myself joining the thousands of Americans celebrating Bin Laden’s death in the streets of our nation’s capital. Before smearing red-white-and-blue war paint on my face, I needed to think about the other aspect of this incident. One way to think of this event is “our enemy is dead.” On the other hand, “a human being is dead” also holds true. It is sad when a person dies; it is tragic when a person dies due to the brutality of war. Human life is precious; there is no denying that. Despite Bin Laden being an enemy of my country, we are all members of the human race.

With both sides of the picture in mind, I am not sure how I feel about the death of Bin Laden. Perhaps a better way of saying this is “I am not sure what is an appropriate way to feel about this”. I wish I had a simple answer to give, but I don’t.

How do you feel about this?


3 Responses to “Empathy for the Enemy”

  1. T says:
    May 9th, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    Thanks for the post, that was good food for thoughts.

    It’s a good thing that the chase finally ended. I think it was needed, for many people as a closure to their changed life. And Bin Laden running around was definitely not right.

    But I believe celebrating his death, cheering for another blood spill, is not right either. It should make us think about our actions, their consequences, and how to best honor the victims in this war. We as human are capable of the worst, but even in the worst we are capable of raising ourselves higher, and doing the best.

  2. ST says:
    May 10th, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    This is a very timely post on a very complex issue J – thank you for addressing it so thoughtfully. I agree with the Dalai Lama’s response: “From a Buddhist perspective of your enemy being your greatest teacher, it was sad.”

    Our “enemies” have a lot to teach us about our own human shortcomings and mental defilements, if only we care to learn the lessons. And the truth is, all living beings, including the ones that “cause” us suffering, share a common bond: we all want to be happy and free from suffering. May we all be happy and well, and may we respond to the suffering of others with wisdom and compassion, including our “enemies”.

  3. Douglas says:
    May 12th, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    “Susukham vata jivama verinesu
    Verinesu manussesu viharama averino
    Vui thay chung ta song
    khong han giua han thu
    giua nhung nguoi thu han
    ta song khong han thu”

    -Dhammappada Verse 197 (Bhikkhu Thich Minh Chau translation)

    Hanh phuc thay , ta song khong thu han giua nhung nguoi thu han. Giua nhung nguoi thu han ta song khong han thu.

    -Pham kim Khanh translation

    Blessing, one lives without hatred among hatred people. Among hatred people, one lives without hatred.I try to translate into English. I wish I had a Dhammapada in English. It must be better.

    The death of Bin Laden does not make me happy because of the revenge for 911. It does not make me feel sorry because of the human death either.This is very natural of the kamma. We plant a tree, we harvest the fruit.

    Na hi verena verani – sammati’dha kudacanam
    Averena ca sammanti- esa dhammo sananantano.
    Han thu diet han thu
    doi nay khong the co
    tu bi diet han thu
    la dinh luat thien thu

    -Dhammapada Verse 5 (Bhikku Thich Minh Chau translation)

    Tre the gian nay, san han khong bao gio dap tat san han. Duy co tinh thuong moi diet tam san. Do la dinh luat truong cuu.

    -Pham kim Khanh translation

    In this world, hatred never root out hatred. Only love roots out hatred.That is the permanent law.
    If we are happy to kill the enemy due to the hatred. Since this hatred, the enemy will be reborn to be another being more and more dangerous than now and always try to take revenge on us.

    If we suffuse love (metta) to him. Due to this metta, he will rebirth to to be a less dangerous or good being to make this world less suffer.

    He is not only a human being but also a living being or being. WE should treat him like a being not an enemy. Whatever he did let the kamma takes care.

    As a Buddhist, I always suffuse love (metta) to all kind of being in all directions, to the beings who consider me a friend or an enemy (especially an enemy).

    Mangala sutta

    Phutthassa loka-dhammehi
    Cittam yassa na kampati
    Asokam virajam khemam

    Although involved in worldly ways,
    Unshaken the mind remains
    And beyond all sorrow, spotless, secure.
    These are the highest blessings.

    No mater what happening,We should keep our mind remain unshaken and beyond all sorrow, spotless, and secure.
    With metta,

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