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DHARMA IN THE MODERN WORLD
By Sarah Shifferd
When I was a small child, we had a family friend – a rather eccentric fellow who drove a TR7 the color of neon baby aspirin and insisted it was burgundy – who referred to Good Friday as “Hurray They Got Him Day.” He didn’t sincerely wish to celebrate the capture and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. He just had a twisted sense of humor.
Today was Hurray They Got Him Day in the United States of America. And it’s no joke. After nearly 10 years of devoting huge resources of manpower and money to the search, US Navy Seals and CIA operatives raided a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. After a lengthy gun battle, they walked away with the dead body of Osama bin Laden.
Like most Americans who were adults or teenagers at the time, I remember September 11, 2001 like it was yesterday. I remember the voice of a close friend on my answering machine, choking with tears and panic as she urged me to wake up and turn on the television. Like most Americans, I spent the day glued to that television. I watched the second plane strike. I watched the fires burn. I watched the South Tower collapse, then the North Tower. I watched coverage coming from Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where brave passengers forced the terrorists away from the controls of the plane, knowing they would all die as it crashed into the ground. I watched the Pentagon, looking for all the world like an ashtray that some drunkard knocked to the floor without putting out his cigarette. I watched the endless replays and the commentary. I cried and shook with fear. I called friends. I listened to the tears in my father’s voice as he – always the good historian – gave me context for what I had just witnessed.
That night I sat huddled on my couch, a mere seven miles from Logan Airport in Boston, and listened to the military planes buzz overhead. The next day, I watched as newscasters flashed pictures of the hotel where many of the terrorists had stayed on September 10 – a place I drove past nearly every day. I heard that Logan Airport, my airport, was littered in box cutters. And then it started – the names of people from the Boston area who died. Names of those in the Twin Towers. Those on the planes. Those in the Pentagon. The names of the terrorists. The endless names, the grief, the outrage, the makeshift memorials all over New York and Pennsylvania and Washington, the boards where people posted pictures of missing loved ones, the firefighters who wouldn’t stop looking through that monstrous pile of rubble for their colleagues and loved ones.
And I watched Osama bin Laden take credit for the worst terrorist attack ever to occur on the soil of the United States of America. I watched George W. Bush vow retribution and send troops into the wilds of Afghanistan to hunt him down. And I watched tonight – May 1, 2011 – as President Barack Obama informed the nation that it was over, that Osama bin Laden was dead at last.
To me, it seemed like an echo of old news. Bin Laden was so often rumored to be dead and had fallen so completely out of the 24-hour news cycle, I had almost forgotten we were still looking for him.
But it wasn’t old news for anyone else. Again, I watched – this time via streaming internet video instead of a small TV with a jerry-rigged antenna. I watched the crowds gather in the night outside the White House, chanting “USA! USA! USA!” I cried as firefighters in Times Square raised their fists in the air while the famous ticker relayed the news. I watched the spontaneous celebrations all over my country. The evil man who hurt us so badly was dead. I watched as President Obama, looking weary but happy, told me, “The world is safer.”
And I watched my mind. I watched the initial confusion and disbelief. I looked at pictures on various news websites, all of which interspersed pictures of September 11 with pictures of Osama bin Laden at various stages of his life. I watched as the emotions I felt on September 11 reared up again in response to those pictures – men standing 110 stories above the ground outside of Windows on the World, cloths pressed against their faces, smoke spewing out of the restaurant behind them. The Twin Towers burning. Firefighters laying in the street, their skin blackened, their colleagues exhausted. The Twin Towers burning. The rubble pile. The Twin Towers burning, burning, burning, burning, burning. Burning from every possible angle and direction, that thick plume of black smoke as real in that moment as it was nearly 10 years ago. And I watched as, in response to President Obama’s words, a very faint voice inside me said, “We got him!”
And I watched as another faint voice laughed and wagged a finger and said, “Uh-uh-uhhh! Negative rejoicing!” And I smiled and purified.
I called my friend Annie and listened to the tired grief in her voice upon hearing the news. I thought about the other people who died alongside Osama bin Laden. I wondered who the soldier was who pulled the trigger, or if there was more than one who had the honor of bringing down the world’s most wanted man. I wondered what now. What will happen now that he’s dead?
I thought about negative rejoicing and how for most people, that’s normal and right and sane. I thought about the karma needed to create September 11 and darkly wondered if we weren’t just creating it all again, on an even grander scale.
Then I watched another memory. I watched Lama Zopa Rinpoche on my computer screen, standing in a temple somewhere in Tibet. His back was to the camera and he held a khata in his hands, ready to offer it to a statue. I watched Rinpoche talk about the benefits of offering to the Buddha. I watched Rinpoche pause and clear his throat loudly a few times. Rinpoche said, “This is Osama bin Laden’s khata. Offering for him. Probably this is the only time … the only time he ever gets to create merit.” I watched Rinpoche throw the khata towards the statue. I sat in that memory for awhile, then I turned it off and went to bed.
The clip mentioned above is found in Mystic Tibet, a 90-minute documentary that captures Lama Zopa Rinpoche leading 50 pilgrims from around the world on a journey to Tibet’s most sacred sites.
Sarah Shifferd (formerly Gyalten Mindrol) is a freelance writer and editor offering service to FPMT Education Services and Mandala. She also writes for various classical music organizations and is currently researching a book on Buddhism and social responsibility.
DHARMA AND THE MODERN WORLD: NEWS FROM A BUDDHIST PERSPECTIVE
This resource guide is a continuation from “Peaceful Jihad,” an article by Ven. Gyalten Mindrol from the January-March 2011 issue of Mandala located on page 45.
Understanding truly starts with knowledge. So does compassion. If you’d like to learn more about Islam, check out these resources:
Islam for Dummies
The Koran for Dummies
Great World Religions: Islam (The Teaching Company)
What Can I Do?
- If you live in an urban area, check it out! Are there any street fairs or festivals run by your local mosque or Muslim community (think Pakistan, Iran, etc.) that you could attend? Bring your kids!
- Take a class at a local college, community college or adult learning center about Islam, the Middle East, etc.
- Invite a speaker from a moderate mosque to give a talk on Islam at your local Dharma center. Before the speaker comes, inquire about proper etiquette for the event and any cultural considerations that the center should be aware of.
- Organize an interfaith conference at your Dharma center and invite Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and anyone else you can think of to talk about peace or justice or compassion …
- If you’re a center director, invite the director/manager of a local mosque to lunch and compare notes about running a religious organization. You might learn something useful and make a friend.
- Show the video series Great Religions: Islam at your Dharma center.
- Check out the charitable work of your local Muslim community and offer to volunteer a few hours or give money (or clothes or food, whatever they need).
- If you meet a Muslim person while traveling or in everyday life, be friendly. Ask them about their religion in a non-threatening way, be sincerely curious and kind.
- Donate money to Islamic Aid: islamicaid.org.uk
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