Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Last week's dreadful events in Mumbai had me thinking, in a previous entry, about death. They also triggered some thoughts about vengeance. Thus far, India has been commendably restrained in its response--at least insofar as action is concerned. There have been the press reports about high officials laying the blame for the attack on Pakistan but, to my knowledge, no rattling of sabers or deployment of troops to the border as in that earlier incident, back in 1992-93, when terrorists attacked the Indian Parliament. The exchange of angry words is inevitable; the return of violence for violence is not, if reasonable minds prevail.

The desire for revenge is understandable. Humanity 101. You slap me in the face, my hand itches to hit you right back. The Mumbai incident, obviously, provoked memories of the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, and of the American response. Most of us, including my not-quite-completely Buddhist self, could not but feel that urge to respond to bloodshed with further bloodshed. The attack on the Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, whose support and training had enabled the 9/11 hijackers, seemed to me justified as an effort to protect ourselves from further harm.

In retrospect, though--and particularly in view of the current deteriorating situation in that unfortunate country--I question whether the American initiative was either practical or necessary. It has certainly proved ineffective in the long term. My sense is that the practical necessity for self-protection was so clouded by the spirit of revenge that intentions became unclear and confused, with the result that the real mission was left incomplete. The return of the Taliban today surely gains strength from that same spirit of revenge. The cycle is tragic and unending.

Insult to mind or body offers opportunity, however. I can respond in kind and give myself the momentary, illusory satisfaction of having repaid the offense; or I can swallow my pride and, in the words of that other great prophet, "turn the other cheek." In the latter case, I risk appearing weak in the eyes of the world, and of showing myself as a person to be taken advantage of--a risk not to be taken lightly in today's dangerous world. The risk, though, is perhaps even greater and more imminent if I choose the other path, returning violence for violence, satisfying my ego but opening myself to further retaliation.

I hope that India will seize the opportunity with a measured response and an invitation to continue along the path of peace. Under our current reckless leadership, we set the worst of examples. Had we responded soley with our attack on the Taliban and the terrorists they harbored, we might perhaps have stood justified in the eyes of the world. In following that up with the invasion of a country in no way related to the provocation, we lost our moral bearings as a country. An eye for an eye is poor policy for a great nation. Two eyes for one--and more--has proved an unmitigated disaster. Let's hope that India chooses a wider path than we did.

The Buddhist teaching is pretty clear: in exacting retribution, I am likely to do more harm to myself than to my enemy. As always, though, it is easier in the theory than in the practice. To follow the teaching requires some honest and fearless inner debate.


Pete Hoge said...

Thanks for reading.

I like your blog and it's content
but didn't have a comment.

I am trying to build up a large
list of Dharma themed blogs.


carly said...

P: I Spoke with an intelligent Indian-born and raised friend, about this matter. He said, "Pakistan is finished."

I also have read British reporter commentary which said a move against Pakistan is inevitable.

The most important thing is that it proceed correctly, with the end goal being balance and stasis, not revenge nor abuse of victory.

I also think the problem is more than about revenge and retribution. War and other drastic measures are always a last measure, but I do believe in self-defense. Evil may take the form of an attacker who finds holes in one's guard and strikes him. Our attacking the Taliban to get at Bin Laden has some validity, because he is a continued threat to stability world-wide. Viewing the Pakistan problem, the basically peaceful and beautiful Hindu people are under great pressure to be attacked again and again, endlessly.

It would help if American do-gooders would stay at home. it would help to dismantle military bases abroad and concentrate all that on defense.

While I proudly and successfully dodged Vietnam, and think Bush/Cneney are war criminals, If enemies came to our shores, I would pick up the fight, for cowardice is a reality I could not live with and death from pacifism isn't a dignified or honorable death either. All things have their limits when they correctly change into their opposites. And I would deeply disrespect any person who did not join a defense. I would not have any sympathy for his demise. Pacifism can easily become enslavement. Ghandi was not a pacifist. He was a defensive fighter.

The Book of Changes is not a pacifistic philosophy. It's about correct movement in all situations. I agree with Churchill, who was, like myself, a painter.

carly said...

Expansion will meet with resistance.

A non-provisional statement of knowledge.

Abe said...

I feel the same way as your blog post. As an Indian-American who is in London on a layover to Mumbai, this is very personal to me.

I am working on a blog post that will mirror some of your thoughts. I'll share it with you when I put it up.

Carly: I disagree with your friend. If Pakistan is finished, then so is India. A war would accomplish what exactly? Remove the current 'moderate' govt in Pakistan for a more radical one? Will India reclaim all of Jammu and Kashmir? Then what? The violence will continue.

The situation is dangerious, but I believe cooler heads will prevail.

PeterAtLarge said...

Good to hear from you, Pete, and to discover your blog. I'll be back again. And will be interested to hear more about your plans.

Carly, as usual, wise insights. I myself am not a pacifist, though I would be in an ideal world. I'm old enough to have lived through WWII. But I trust that your Indian friend is wrong about Pakistan. What would replace it? Violence, I suspect, and chaos...

Abe, good to hear a new voice. I'll look forward to further exchange.

carly said...

"Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari promised Rice his country would take "strong action" against any elements in Pakistan involved in the siege."

I think action will be taken and it's inevitable.