What advice might the Buddha give us about the bombings in Boston last month? How can we understand and respond to heinous crimes?
Let’s think about all the ways in which we do respond (select any that apply): disbelief, confusion, anger tending to vengeance, resentment (a form of anger), sadness, generosity (donating money or blood or other things), appreciation for those helping the victims or the investigators, contemplation on the question of the event’s significance. We try to understand why people do irrational, unforgivable things.
Things like the Boston Marathon bombings are “not supposed to happen”. The first truth that the Buddha posited was the truth of dukkha – this life is full of things, large and small, that “are not supposed to happen”. We get old, we get sick, our loved ones are in trouble or in pain — the full catastrophe.
Our duty with respect to the first truth is to ACKNOWLEDGE it.
Suffering should be understood; the source and origin of suffering should be understood; the diversity of suffering should be understood; the result of suffering should be understood; the cessation of suffering should be understood; the way leading to the cessation of suffering should be understood.
– from AN 6.63, translated by Bikkhu Bodhi
Our tendency is to hold on to the idea that bad things shouldn’t happen, at least to innocent people. However, there is daily evidence that bad things happen to everyone, good and bad. Good things happen, too, but somehow we tend to overlook those things or take them for granted.
To what degree is our suffering caused by holding on to the idea that something shouldn’t happen? What would it feel like to resign ourselves to the fact that there will be more bombings, more shootings, that more people in Syria will die and be injured and displaced? One writer (Nate Silver in The Signal and the Noise) pointed out, long before the Boston bombing, that the USA had gone 11 years without any significant event that could be called a “terrorist” attack. From this he deduced not that there wouldn’t be anymore attacks, but that we were overdue. He pointed out that in Israel, bombings of cafes and buses are regular occurrences, and that people, for the most part, have adjusted.
And what of our personal tendency to want such acts to be avenged? In our hearts we may want to kill the perpetrators. We must notice and be on guard; these feelings can damage our hearts irreparably. Look deeply into the experience when it happens – understand the cause, recognize the clinging, and let go with wisdom. Otherwise, we’re giving the mayhem a home in our hearts.