Monday, May 2, 2011

Death waits for no one

When the news was released, crowds spontaneously gathered at the critical spots, some sooner than at others. The obvious first location was the White House from where the news came – Osama bin Laden was dead. Finally dead. Finally. Dead.

As I write these words, I am struck by the thought of how we view death. That it really isn’t there. That somehow, we and others escape it. Because when it does occur, we respond with shock, horror, dismay, and sadness.

Or if we harbor hate, then with glee. The water dipper couldn't look any clearer now.

Not with equanimity, not with mere observation. Death waits for no one.

Except when it is someone we collectively revile, who has come to stand for a communal feeling of being so deeply wounded that we cannot see the reason or the rhyme.

Gradually, people began gathering at other critical spots: Times Square, Ground Zero. More slowly did they congregate in Shanksville, Pa. I wonder what they did inside the Pentagon.

It was revelry. It was celebratory. It was, like it or not, human. Yes, I let out a brief “whoop!” when I heard the news. But that was it. It was gone. Spent. I did feel a bit of shame at the exclamation. But I am, after all, an imperfect human. And despite what Susan Piver says, and she says many wonderful things, it’s not a problem. It just is.

And I have often pondered what drives a person such as Osama bin Laden to scheme such violence, to nurture such hatred.

And I also often think about what makes us so blithely ignorant of how our actions impact others.

My favorite verse of the Dhammapada is right up there at the right, and it says it all. Everything begins with a thought, followed by a word or deed. Intention arises and we decide whether to act on the intention. But many of us are so automatic that we don’t even understand how the intention arises – we just act.

And actions, mind you, bring results.

Yes, Osama bin Laden was an evil and twisted man. He created great evil in this world. Like a true megalomaniac, he had no thought for others: it was all about him and his vision. Seriously, there are great parallels between bin Laden and Hitler. Hitler at first thought he could do something to elevate Germany, which had been seriously done a major wrong by the Western powers following WWI. But he became obsessed with mind, a mind that sought only to satisfy its cravings. Bin Laden was no different. The narrative quite similar.

And our reaction to the “end” is also eerily quite similar.

There is nothing new. It’s all the same being replayed over and over and over. And each time it happens, we have a choice. Will it be to respond automatically just like always? Or to intellectualize everything, to speak in platitudes so far removed from any actual emotion that we become dead inside while at the same time patting ourselves on the back for saying the right thing, the correct thing, the Buddhist thing.

Or will it be to say, “Wait, not this time. I want this to end.”

Many thanks to Nathan at Dangerous Harvests, to Justin Whitaker who told me about Susan Piver, for William Turner at Being Buddhist, Kyle at The Reformed Buddhist, Adam at Fly Like a Crow, and Maia Duerr at the Jizo Chronicles (Jesus was a very wise man).

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