Buddhist Responses to September 11
His Holiness The Dalai Lama's Message to President George Bush
I am deeply shocked by the terrorist attacks that took place involving four apparently hijacked aircrafts and the immense devastation these caused. It is a terrible tragedy that so many innocent lives have been lost and it seems unbelievable that anyone would choose to target the world trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. We are deeply saddened. On behalf of the Tibetan people I would like to convey our deepest condolence and solidarity with the American people during this painful time. Our prayers go out to the many who have lost their lives, those who have been injured and the many more who have been traumatized by this senseless act of violence. I am attending a special prayer for the United States and it's people at our main temple today.
I am confident that the United States as a great and powerful nation will be able to overcome this present tragedy. The American people have shown their resilience, courage and determination when faced with such difficult and sad situation.
It may seem presumptuous on my part, but I personally believe we need to think seriously whether a violent action is the right thing to do and in the greater interest of the nation and people in the long run. I believe violence will only increase the cycle of violence. But how do we deal with hatred and anger, which are often the root causes of such senseless violence? This is a very difficult question, especially when it concerns a nation and we have certain fixed conceptions of how to deal with such attacks. I am sure that you will make the right decision.
With my prayers and good wishes
The Dalai Lama
September 12, 2001
North American seat of Dalai Lama (Kagyu)
Ven. Tenzin Deshek's words of advice for a difficult time
I am Tenzin Deshek from Namgyal Monastery in Ithaca, New York. I very much appreciate the opportunity to share a few thoughts with you. At this tragic time, when virtually all Americans and those who love America find themselves filled with anger and anguish. Here in Ithaca, at the Monastery of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, we pray daily for peace throughout the world and of course, continue to do so with added fervor. But when faced with such overwhelming tragedy, we realize yet again that world peace must begin with the peace of mind of each individual human being.
The most meaningful way in which we as individuals can triumph over the nation's enemies is to begin to restore our own peace of mind. When we are overcome by mental turmoil, they have accomplished their goals. Our anger and despair are the marks of their victory as well as the fuel which will increase the magnitude of the confusion which they seek to produce in our hearts and in the nation.
Today, and probably for many days to come, we will all find it difficult, if not impossible, to turn our attention away from the destruction that has shaken America. But we must reclaim our control over whether that attention is directed in a positive or negative way. If we allow the gaping holes in New York's skyline and the Pentagon to fill our minds with anger, then we are in danger of turning our own hearts into gaping holes of darkness and confusion, not unlike the hearts of those guilty of these horrible acts.
We must begin, instead, to strive for a constructive response to these tragedies. By turning our thoughts toward plans for the long-term emotional and physical support of the many victims who are injured and the families of those who are lost and toward discovering means of insuring a harmonious future for the world's people. It is impossible for our minds to hold both positive and negative thoughts or emotions at the same time. By deliberately and forcefully directing them toward that which is constructive rather than destructive we can begin to restore our peace of mind and will thus have defeated the goals of our attackers and established ourselves as individuals firmly on the side of all that is good in America and in the world.
So, every Saturday we will have special prayers for the victims. If you like, you can join us in person or in spirit. If you'd like to make a donation for the lighting of candles for the victim, please contact our administrator.
I pray that America be blessed. Thank you.
On the Terror Attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.
Dharma Drum Mountain
"While praying for victims of this tragic event, we hope that the public will face the event rationally,
and will not further the conflicts between nations and religions with deeper hatred. With great love and
compassion, we ought to protect the prospect of future peace for all humankind," Master Sheng-yen,
leader of Dharma Drum Mountain International, said with great sadness upon hearing the news of the
attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. He also pointed out that we should face this calamity
with calmness, and that meeting violence with violence will not solve the problem; it will only
aggravate the endless cycle of revenge.
Master Sheng-yen states that this is a great human tragedy on the dawn of the twenty first century.
Although the event happened in the United States, it affects everyone everywhere in the world. It
disturbs people's minds and strikes fear into their hearts. Therefore he calls for religious leaders
around the world to pray for the victims of this tragic event and to work to ease people's fear and calm
their minds in its aftermath.
As for dealing with the perpetrators of this horrendous crime, Master Sheng-yen calls for "proper,
reasonable handling that does not harm the innocents." He especially warns against vengeful acts so
that we do not initiate a cycle of endless killing. Master Sheng-yen points out that numerous factors
must have accumulated for a long time that have led the perpetrators to apply such violent and
extreme methods. The violence of such acts is the result of an extremist misinterpretation of a
On this subject, Master Sheng-yen solemnly emphasizes that, "if one finds that the doctrines of
one's faith contain something that is in contradiction with the promotion of peace, one should make
new interpretations of these relevant doctrines," a point he also made in the Millennium Peace
Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders in August 2000. "Since all religions advocate peace,
forgiveness, love, departing from hell and entering paradise, such ferocious acts should never have
In response to the urgent call of its leader, Dharma Drum Mountain International has mobilized its
branches and affiliates around the world to pray for those who suffer from this grave event. The Chan
Meditation Center in Queens, New York, will participate in the rescue and relief efforts of the city.
Kyabje Gelek Rinpoche
Jewel Heart Sangha (Gelugpa)
Chicago, Sept. 22, 2001
We say we would like to destroy Osama bin Laden. But we have to destroy our own Osama bin Laden. Your hatred, my hatred, is our own Osama bin Laden hiding in the mountains of our heart. We need a surgical operation to take him out of our heart, our brain. As citizens of the U.S., as persons with compassion and caring, we have to put in our two cents, do whatever we can to reduce hatred, to eradicate it, and to save life, not destroy it because hatred will not help us, it can only hurt us. The recent attacks are a vivid example of how hatred can hurt even innocent people.
I couldn't help thinking that day, how many children were waiting for their parents to come home. A young kid goes to school in the morning, comes home for dinner, then sits there waiting for a father or mother to come home, and they don't. The consequences of the September 11th attacks will be felt for some time. The mental and physical pain, the depression, sadness, they are all the result of hatred: past, present and future hatred.
What does that knowledge do to our mind? It can lead to compassion, or it can lead to hatred. If you think about the victims, you are going to develop compassion. People who were seen on television cheering in the streets had no thought about how this really hurt people, and of how they themselves would be affected by the attacks. They thought: a plane, an explosion, a fire, boom, and America is taught a lesson. That's all. That is ignorance. The real essence of any true spiritual path is overcoming negative emotions. Our leaders tell us retaliation is necessary for this to not happen again. That may be true. But what kind of retaliation? Is it going to build more hatred, or will it contribute to nonviolence? This situation puts us to the test. How good are we on love and compassion?
Where are we on hatred? It is a test for each and every one of us, particularly those of us who are open-minded and seek to develop love and compassion. That is spiritual practice. We're not talking about politics here, we're talking about spirituality. Judge yourself. Let's judge ourselves, first, individually. How good are you? I, personally, have my disgrace. I was angered by these events. One thing I learned from my friend, the late poet Allen Ginsberg, was to be open. My friends know I hide nothing. So, I admit, I was angry that day. That Tuesday night, I gave a teaching at which I said I was angry. I couldn't get the image of that second plane hitting the second tower out of my head. In the evening when I heard that there had been explosions in Kabul I caught myself thinking, "Good. I hope it was surgical." That is the effect of anger.
Some of you might become sad or depressed instead of angry. Don't do that. You'd be hurting yourself. I don't want to say anger is OK, but it is natural for it to rise. Look at me. I was angry, though as a Tibetan reincarnate lama I have been in the love-compassion business for sixty years. For those who don't have that much experience in the business of love-compassion, it's OK. We just cannot say that we shouldn't be angry. Not right now. Not for a while. Nobody should feel guilty about being angry. Every day of your life, anger, jealousy, and hatred will arise. Disappointment will arise. They are all OK because we are human beings. We have feelings. But despite objections I am repeating what I said that night, on September 11th. It doesn't mean we give our anger free rein, or that we let it run out of control like a wild horse. We must put the bit in our anger's mouth and hold the reins tightly and direct that anger, making sure it doesn't become hatred.
That's what is happening, unfortunately. How ignorant it is when somebody shoots a Sikh in a gas station or when a pilot throws an Indian man off a plane before he will fly it. That is fear and hatred combined. It's wonderful to be waving the American flag, but we have to be really careful. There is only one legislator who voted against the war resolution, and she now has to be surrounded by bodyguards because she voted no.
Freedom and individual rights. They can be destroyed from inside as well as outside. If we forfeit our individual liberties, the terrorists will have really succeeded. It is very good to have a national feeling, and unite, but democracy doesn't always have one single view on which everyone agrees. We don't all think alike which is what makes us a democracy. We don't have everybody agreeing with one single view in Great Britain, or even in India. So the effect of the 911 attack is a real emergency. For life, for death, for politics, freedom, the economy, all of it. Each and every one of us has a responsibility to help ourselves, our children, to keep our way of life, to keep our nation, to keep our freedom. Then, of course, how do we do it? And how do we support those who died? How do we heal ourselves? The emotion of anger is going to be felt, no matter how old you are. Even if you pretend not to be angry, it will bother you. Video games fool us. Because on TV or video games you see a bomb, you see fire, and you don't see any blood or anybody getting killed. In Somalia, 8 people got killed, and you saw them being dragged through the streets.
We don't want to develop more hatred on top of hatred. So we have to take care of our own situation first. We have to clear our own head. We have to stop hatred, otherwise it will go from hatred to more hatred. We have to transform hatred into compassion. That may be one good thing to have come out of all this. And not virtual compassion, but compassion in action. Compassion in action really means working with our own mind, using the horrific image of the fireball in the middle of the tower, the dust coming out, the darkness it produced, all those images-using them to develop compassion. We saw people running in the debris who couldn't breathe. It isn't hard to develop compassion. Nor is it difficult to develop compassion for those who lost their lives, those 6,000 plus people. These are vivid examples of how we can generate compassion. Then go one step beyond that. Let's take the example of the pilots. The hijackers. Do you think that they would have been happy to die for nothing? They were willing to die because they thought there would be a reward, a great life after death, that the gods would reward them for their service. Extremism was a virtue for them. Perhaps they thought that the more people got killed, the greater the reward. If someone who thinks that way is not an object of compassion, then what is? Compassion should not only react to blood and pain. If you think of that hijacker, who is absolutely sure he will be rewarded when he dies, and you realize that stupidity made him lose his own life and those of so many others, that's how we can change our hatred into compassion. We transform it. That's how we can take advantage of the situation and turn it into something else. If we can't do that, then we are a failure. That is our immediate way of handling this situation.
I feel very strongly that there is no justification whatever for what the hijackers did. I'm not interested in where they were coming from because I know they were coming from hatred. The "love and light" people might like to say, "They [the terrorists] suffered this, and we did this to them, we had the CIA supporting dictators, this war, that war." Think how Bin Laden developed. He was an extremely rich Saudi. Just as with Noriega, we built him up through the CIA. We gave him money, so he could challenge the Soviets. Then there were three or four governments in Afghanistan. One was Democratic, supported by India. We began to support that government then switched back to the Taliban, a very extremist faction, and let them run the government. It's all true; I'm not denying it. But it may come out sounding like a justification. They destroyed some of the most ancient Buddhist images in the world. I am not a sympathizer of the Taliban in any way. They are human beings - ignorant, brainwashed beings, and they hurt themselves even more than they hurt us. But I don't want to travel backwards. I want to move forward. Yes, taking the Taliban, the hijackers, terrorists in general as a subject or object of compassion means moving forward. Trying to give some justification for what they did is moving backwards. Love and compassion don't mean you have to be a doormat. Yes, it's true that you shouldn't even hurt a fly, provided the fly doesn't hurt you. We must stop the terrorists, or more people may get hurt. Stopping their horrifying acts is an act of compassion, provided you come from the perspective of compassion and caring. If you come from hatred and revenge, then it is an act of hatred. That's how we have to handle this situation. Many of you look to me for comfort and guidance, and if I didn't share my thoughts with you openly, I would be doing you a disservice.
The long-term goal is to be able to destroy hatred in general, completely. That's why, every day of our life, when we do spiritual practice, when we're with our own children, our friends, our friends' children, or our spouse, we have to think that way. Our motivation is important, particularly now, keeping in mind those of us who were indirectly or directly involved in these horrifying circumstances. As you go about your everyday life, going to work, think about your motivation.
New York Insight Meditation Center
The three letters below were sent to NYIMC to be read during our afternoon of metta on Sunday, September 16, 2001.
1. This is a time to express through our actions, our words, and our silence, the power of our Dharma practice. It is the power of compassion for the enormous suffering of so many beings. It is the power of lovingkindness as the central motivation of our lives. The Buddha expressed it so clearly: "Let one cultivate a boundless good will toward the entire world free from ill-will or enmity." And it is the power of wisdom. What are the appropriate responses to violence and hatred in the world? This is a difficult question and we can only understand it in the silence and peace of our own minds. May the merit of all our practice and wholesome actions be shared by beings everywhere. May all awaken from the sleep of ignorance. May all be free.
2. Just a few weeks ago I was sitting a retreat with a Tibetan teacher, Tsoknyi Rinpoche. One day someone asked him a question, "What do you do about the intense anger you might feel about evil people?" It was a startling question, coming out of nowhere. Tsoknyi Rinpoche seemed to think deeply about it, then said, " You could begin by contemplating, 'Do they really have free will?'" He was saying that people can be so governed by the conditioned forces arising in their minds that they are really at their mercy. This week I felt tormented by seeing Palestinian children dancing with glee in the streets of the West Bank, exultant at the devastation in America. I kept thinking, "How young to be so highly trained in hatred." And I thought of Tsoknyi Rinpoche's answer.
I think we need to be very grateful we know a way to work with our minds, to not be governed by habitual forces of separation and disconnection. This week I've felt more committed than ever to use those tools I've been so lucky to learn. And I've been immensely inspired to hear stories of people in NYC taking care of one another, helping each other, reminding all of us of the power of connection and love.
P.S. Here is a quote from Aung San Su Kyi, leader of the democracy movement in Burma: "There is darkness in the world, but it is merely an absence of light. All the darkness in the world cannot dispel even the smallest candle flame. We need only to accustom ourselves to the dim vision, and then the blessing of light will grow."
3. During such times of nightmare there is a strong energy that pulls us into the content of the tragedy (only natural) and our meditation practice is overwhelmed. This natural tendency needs to be seen and understood and the energy of seeing reinstated. This not to say avoid or deny the content but rather to be able to meet the challenges we face with as clear a mind as possible. This makes it far more likely that our responses are adequate i.e. wise and compassionate.
So please remember to use your vipassana practice right now! It is So easy to get lost in sorrow, outrage, fear etc. if you face such Feelings when they come up, you will be much more clear and Able to respond adequately to the challenges of living in ny During this nightmare.
Yours in the dharma,
Larry Rosenberg of Cambridge and IMS
Mountains and Rivers Order (Zen Mountain Monastery)
9/11 • Daido Roshi's Remarks to the Monastery Residents a Few Hours After the Attack:
This is a great tragedy for our country and for the people of the world. And the problems are just beginning. The fall-out from these events is going to reverberate around the world for a long time. For most of us this is something that's beyond anything we've ever experienced before. We're in a state of shock and don't know how to deal with. As spiritual practitioners, this is what we train for. This is what our practice is about.
This is a time for religious tolerance, because the cry is going to go up against Islam and Muslims, and we need to understand that Islam is a world religion, just like Buddhism and Christianity. It doesn't advocate this kind of violence. But there are fanatics in all religions, and there are fanatics in Islam. It takes a small group of them to create the kind of hell and chaos that's been created. We need to be tolerant. We need to keep our hearts opened to everyone.
What can we do? We need to do what we always do: create a sanctuary of peace, nourishment and calm. Remember your zazen. Remember the still point in your heart. Do what you need to do when you're asked to do it in a way that's peaceful and centered. You can do it. You know how to do it. And we'll just be ready. I have no idea what we'll be called on to do, but whatever it is, I want to be able to respond with people that are calm, efficient, and ready to serve. Let zazen be your sanctuary so that when people come here or we hear from people, we can provide sanctuary and nourishment for them. We'll watch, we'll wait, we'll be prepared. We'll also offer a liturgy to the victims. We'll do a regular memorial service for the victims, and hope for peaceful resolve of this situation without the world going berserk. Let's hope that wisdom and compassion will prevail. It's there in all of us, President Bush included. There's a Buddha buried in all of us. Let's hope that this tragedy brings that Buddha to life so that this doesn't get any worse than it is.
9/13 • Daido Roshi During On-Line Question and Answer Session:
Event of this magnitude, and as horrific as it was, creates a series of reactions that people usually go through. It begins with the trauma that our bodies and minds experience, a kind of numbness that will not allow any kind of processing. A kind of suit of armor begins to encrust us that won't let anything in or out. It just hurts too much. At this point, all we can do is to sit with it. If we begin to open up through the sitting and the feelings begin to happen, we need to allow them to arise and not attempt to suppress them if we possibly can. But we can only deal with these tremendous feelings for short periods of time and then need to consciously let them go and return to our still center. Let the still point reestablish itself, and then again we must let the feelings come in and process them. This needs to be repeated again and again. It's a process that will take months or even years, depending upon the intensity of the trauma. Sooner or later, for some, anger may set in. In a sense, this is another way of protecting ourselves. It gives us something to direct these intense emotional feelings toward. We need to recognize it when it happens and realize that anger is a series of chain-reaction thoughts that results in a physiological state. When those thoughts are budding they are weak and it's possible to deal with them; let them go. If you don't get them then, all you can do is to experience the anger. This sometimes then leads to feelings of despair or hopelessness. This is where we need to reach out and help; give ourselves to those who need us. Bring comfort and nourishment to others, and in so doing, we not only heal others, but ourselves as well. All of this is easy to say, but very difficult to do. The strength to do it arises out of our practice, our vows, our commitment to wisdom and compassion.
9/13 • Daido Roshi During On-Line Question and Answer Session:
From Zen Buddhist perspective, justice should result in the person or persons guilty of this act to never be in a position to continue this kind of activity. That does not mean that they need to be taken out. There are many ways to accomplish this with wisdom, compassion and world consensus. The majority of the peoples of the Earth seemed to have all condemned these actions with one voice. We should take advantage of this and bring this to a conclusion without having to result to violence. Whether or not we have the wisdom and compassion as a nation to do this, is another question. However, it is incumbent upon us as Buddhists to do everything we possibly can to convince our fellow Americans that there is indeed a safe and just way to bring this to a conclusion without resorting to violence or war.
9/11 • Myotai Sensei During Evening Question and Answer Session:
There are going to be many people who for the next night and night after will want to close their eyes to go to sleep. But this is not going to go away. This hurts deeply and wants us to open. They're saying on the news that there's an amazing rush to give blood, because there's absolutely nothing else that anyone can think of doing. There are churches that are holding prayer meetings. Here, we're going to sit and allow and acknowledge. I think every individual is going to go through that. The feeling is too much to bear, so either you go a little crazy or you go totally into doing. To actually find a sane, clear, loving life in this is going to be a long challenge for many days to come.
9/11 • Shugen Sensei During Evening Question and Answer Session:
The reason that we're meeting together is because it's hard to find any clarity or an answer that takes away the pain and confusion. The challenge becomes how do you hold pain and confusion and proceed. I was thinking of the danger of just going back to business as usual, and yet at the same time, that's one of the unique aspects of human nature -- in the midst of incredible tragedy to continue living, and to see life rather than just to get lost in the catastrophe. Tragedy holds the potential of being a way of losing ourselves, but also a way of coming back to life.
REST IN PEACE
by Thich Nhat Hanh
I am a World Trade Center tower, standing tall in the clear blue sky, feeling a violent blow in my side, and I am a towering inferno of pain and suffering imploding upon myself and collapsing to the ground. May I rest in peace.
I am a terrified passenger on a hijacked airplane not knowing where we are going or that I am riding on fuel tanks that will be instruments of death, and I am a worker arriving at my office not knowing that in just a moment my future will be obliterated. May I rest in peace.
I am a pigeon in the plaza between the two towers eating crumbs from someone's breakfast when fire rains down on me from the skies, and I am a bed of flowers admired daily by thousands of tourists now buried under five stories of rubble. May I rest in peace.
I am a firefighter sent into dark corridors of smoke and debris on a mission of mercy only to have it collapse around me, and I am a rescue worker risking my life to save lives who is very aware that I may not make it out alive. May I rest in peace.
I am a survivor who has fled down the stairs and out of the building to safety who knows that nothing will ever be the same in my soul again, and I am a doctor in a hospital treating patients burned from head to toe who knows that these horrible images will remain in my mind forever. May I know peace.
I am a tourist in Times Square looking up at the giant TV screens thinking I'm seeing a disaster movie as I watch the Twin Towers crash to the ground, and I am a New York woman sending e-mails to friends and family letting them know that I am safe. May I know peace.
I am a piece of paper that was on someone's desk this morning and now I'm debris scattered by the wind across lower Manhattan, and I am a stone in the graveyard at Trinity Church covered with soot from the buildings that once stood proudly above me, death meeting death. May I rest in peace.
I am a dog sniffing in the rubble for signs of life, doing my best to be of service, and I am a blood donor waiting in line to make a simple but very needed contribution for the victims. May I know peace.
I am a resident in an apartment in downtown New York who has been forced to evacuate my home, and I am a resident in an apartment uptown who has walked 100 blocks home in a stream of other refugees. May I know peace.
I am a family member who has just learned that someone I love has died, and I am a rabbi who must comfort someone who has suffered a heart-breaking loss. May I know peace.
I am a loyal American who feels violated and vows to stand behind any military action it takes to wipe terrorists off the face of the earth, and I am a loyal American who feels violated and worries that people who look and sound like me are all going to be blamed for this tragedy. May I know peace.
I am a frightened city dweller who wonders whether I'll ever feel safe in a skyscraper again, and I am a pilot who wonders whether there will ever be a way to make the skies truly safe. May I know peace.
I am the owner of a small store with five employees that has been put out of business by this tragedy, and I am an executive in a multinational corporation who is concerned about the cost of doing business in a terrorized world. May I know peace.
I am a visitor to New York City who purchases postcards of the World rade Center Twin Towers that are no more, and I am a television reporter trying to put into words the terrible things I have seen. May I know peace.
I am a boy in New Jersey waiting for a father who will never come home, and I am a boy in a faraway country rejoicing in the streets of my village because someone has hurt the hated Americans. May I know peace.
I am a general talking into the microphones about how we must stop the terrorist cowards who have perpetrated this heinous crime, and I am an intelligence officer trying to discern how such a thing could have happened on American soil, and I am a city official trying to find ways to alleviate the suffering of my people. May I know peace.
I am a terrorist whose hatred for America knows no limit and I am willing to die to prove it, and I am a terrorist sympathizer standing with all the enemies of American capitalism and imperialism, and I am a master strategist for a terrorist group who planned this abomination. My heart is not yet capable of openness, tolerance, and loving. May I know peace.
I am a citizen of the world glued to my television set, fighting back my rage and despair at these horrible events, and I am a person of faith struggling to forgive the unforgivable, praying for the consolation of those who have lost loved ones, calling upon the merciful beneficence of god/ Yahweh/ Allah/ Spirit/ Higher Power. May I know peace.
I am a child of God who believes that we are all children of God and we are all part of each other. May we all know peace.