Reflections on the killing of Osama bin Laden

Like millions of Americans, I watched with rapt attention as our President spoke from the East Room last night, announcing that an American special-ops team had infiltrated a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and killed Osama bin Laden, the exiled Saudi millionaire/jihadist who had inspired and financed the 9/11 attacks.

For a time, I felt pleased that this evil man had finally met his end. Although I like to think otherwise, I’m sure part of my satisfaction was attributable to a feeling of retributive justice—the sort of “eye for an eye” kind of Old Testament thinking that came naturally with my Jewish upbringing.

Then, waking up this morning and seeing images of jubilant crowds celebrating in the streets adjacent to Ground Zero and along Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, I wondered if this was not some national expression of schadenfreude.

As a Buddhist and as one who tries—as the Old Testament prophets might say—to live justly, love mercy and walk humbly through this life, I would not want to celebrate the suffering of another. But was bin Laden’s killing a necessary evil, the unfortunate imposition of suffering on a few that many, many others would not suffer?

It is, of course, hard to say. There are many who oppose the use of violence in any form, for any reason, rejecting any notion that a few may have to suffer for a greater good (the prevention of further or broader suffering). Should bin Laden have been left be? I do not think so. Letting him continue to live freely, unmolested, would possibly result in further acts of terror in which hundreds or thousands of innocents would be slaughtered.

Was there any other option? Without knowing more about last night’s lethal raid, who’s to say?

But perhaps there was another way, a strategy under which he could have been seized, arrested and put on trial—a real trial, with civilian judges, a jury, and all the procedural accouterments that we afford to others accused of crimes.

Those who argue that men like bin Laden or Khalid Sheikh Muhammad can’t be tried in court forget that, sixty-odd years ago the free nations of the world did just that with the heinous perpetrators of the Nazi Holocaust. Twenty years later, the Israelis—yes, the Israelis, whose populace had been far more deeply scarred by the Shoah than Americans have been by 9/11—put Adolf Eichmann on trial, in front of judges, in accordance with normal judicial procedures. In all such cases, the guilty were convicted, and justice was served.

So is it true that this was the only way—that the only way to settle the score with bin Laden was to assassinate him under cover of darkness?

I am not convinced. And if there was another way—a way that would have favored a judicial process rather than an extrajudicial killing—wouldn’t that have been a more ‘American’ approach? We are a nation of laws. If we cannot uphold the values of due process and justice under these challenging circumstances, then due process and justice can be compromised, or worse—abandoned—when the crimes complained of are too severe.

This mass expression of jubilant schadenfreude masks something far more disturbing: a willingness to abandon the basic principles of justice and freedom for which our country supposedly stands.

Sometimes there’s no other way. But sometimes there is—and it takes courage to choose the other, more difficult way.

With mettā,

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Eggplant Parmagiana recipe


1 spray(s) cooking spray 
1/3 cup(s) seasoned bread crumbs, Italian-style 
1 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese 
1 tsp Italian seasoning 
1/4 tsp garlic powder 
1 medium raw eggplant 
2 large egg white(s), lightly beaten 
1 jar tomato-based pasta sauce
1 pint mushrooms, sliced
1 large yellow onion, diced 
1/2 cup(s) part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9 X 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray; set aside.

Tomato sauce: Saute onions in pan until translucent, then add mushrooms to pan and continue sauteing until mushrooms are soft. Transfer to pot and combine with pasta sauce, then simmer over medium-low heat. 

Combine bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning and garlic powder in a medium-size bowl; set aside. Remove skin from eggplant and trim off ends; slice eggplant into 1/2-inch-thick slices.

Dip eggplant first into egg whites and then into bread crumb mixture. Bake eggplant on a nonstick cookie sheet until lightly browned, about 20 to 25 minutes, flipping once.

Place a layer of eggplant on bottom of prepared baking dish, then add 1/3 of tomato sauce and 1/3 of mozzarella cheese. Repeat with 2 more layers in same order. Bake until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbling, about 10 minutes more. Slice into 4 pieces and serve.

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Engaged Buddhism

A couple of people who follow me on Twitter have referred to me as a practitioner of Engaged Buddhism.  The all-knowing font of knowledge, Wikipedia, says that Engaged Buddhism is particularly popular in the West, with the implication being that it is not so popular among Buddhist communities in Asia.

I am not sure I would agree with that—looking at the monks in Tibet digging people out of rubble with their bare hands, and the large numbers of Buddhist monks in Thailand and Myanmar who have participated in popular demonstrations against the governments of those countries.  I wonder sometimes if all of the discussion about Engaged Buddhism begs the question as to whether there is (or should be) such a thing as non-Engaged Buddhism.

Engaged Buddhism is popularly defined as a movement in Buddhism whose practitioners seek to apply the teachings or insights to address social, political, environmental or economic suffering or injustice.  It seems to me that Buddhist teachings can be applied to relieve one’s own suffering (by way of meditation, mindfulness practice, etc.) and to relieve the suffering of other beings.  Both these types of bodhicitta have the objective of relieving suffering, but it is the latter form—reaching out with compassion and giving aid to other beings—that is spoken of in the Bodhisattva Vow:

May I be a guard for those who are protectorless,
A guide for those who journey on the road;
For those who wish to go across the water,
May I be a boat, a raft, a bridge.

May I be an isle for those who yearn for landfall,
And a lamp for those who long for light;
For those who need a resting place, a bed,
For all who need a servant, may I be a slave.

May I be the wishing jewel, the vase of plenty,
A word of power, and the supreme remedy.
May I be the trees of miracles,
And for every being, the abundant cow.

Like the great earth and the other elements,
Enduring as the sky itself endures,
For the boundless multitude of living beings,
May I be the ground and vessel of their life.

Thus, for every single thing that lives,
In number like the boundless reaches of the sky,
May I be their sustenance and nourishment
Until they pass beyond the bounds of suffering.

The Mettā Sutta contains what I’ve always found is the most useful metaphor to describe the kind of compassionate lovingkindness with which we are supposed to regard fellow beings:

“As a mother would risk her life to protect her child, her only child, even so should one cultivate a limitless heart with regard to all beings.

With good will for the entire cosmos, cultivate a limitless heart:

Above, below and all around, unobstructed, without enmity or hate.

Whether standing, walking, sitting, or lying down, as long as one is alert, one should be resolved on this mindfulness.”

This is a call to all of us to reach beyond the constructed boundaries that separate us from one another and from all other beings, and to act affirmatively to reduce the amount of suffering in the world.  Whether you ride your bicycle to work, adopt a homeless pet, recycle, give danna to your favorite charity, carpool, work as a literacy tutor or participate in a political campaign, if it is done with the aim of making the world a better place for humans and other life forms, it is bodhicitta.

If, on the other hand, one focuses one hundred percent of one’s efforts on achieving one’s own enlightenment, without lifting a finger to help another being, while this may qualify as “absolute” bodhicitta from a doctrinal standpoint, it seems to be very far away from what most of us would regard as a Buddhist way of life.

So, for me, the only way I can practice Buddhism is to practice “Engaged Buddhism,” to learn the dharma and put it into practice as I make my way through this life, trying to do the right thing to make the world a better place.  For me, Buddhism without engagement is empty, and—dare I say—worthless.

So I’ll keep on doing my thing—adopting my dogs, recycling, bringing my own bags to the store, giving danna to various charitable causes, participating in various politically progressive causes—because acting in a selfless way to help others is the best way I can help myself find my way from dukkha to nirvana.

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Wearing a mala

From time to time, I’ll see folks (young women, usually, although occasionally a young man) wearing a bracelet of the type frequently marketed as “power bracelets.”  To us dharma practitioners, we recognize these as malas—but recognize that these malas are typically worn for the same reason people will buy a Buddha statue to adorn their apartments.  See the blog The Worst Horse for a brilliant parade of examples of the commercialization of Buddhist imagery and language (the “Dharma-Burger” phenomenon).

When people see the lotus-seed mala on my wrist, most of them assume that it’s a fashion accessory—and, for the most part, I have little interest in disabusing them of this assumption.  I do not wear my mala for the purpose of advertising my Buddhist practice or educating others about Buddhism.  Rather, I wear it for me.  I wear it as a reminder to myself to act mindfully, to speak skillfully, to remember always the impermanence of all phenomena and all perceptions, and to remember always my vow to ease the suffering of all beings. And, when I recite mantras, it comes in handy to keep track of how many I’ve recited

With metta,


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Recipe: Ol’ fashioned frontier chili

1 26-oz carton of Pomi strained tomatoes (or similar)
1 can Rotel, drained (or 1 cup diced tomatoes & 1/4 cup diced chiles)
1 can black beans, drained & rinsed
1 can red (or sm red kidney) beans, drained & rinsed
1 lb beef cubed for stew
1 small onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
1 small can corn, drained
1 Tbsp chili powder
A pinch of cayenne (or more if you feel brave)

Combine all ingredients in crockpot and cook on high setting for 5 hours or until beef is fork-tender.

With slotted spoon, scoop out beef chunks, place in a bowl & shred with a fork. Put shredded beef back into crockpot, reduce heat to low and cook for 30 more minutes.

Serve over rice or in corn tortillas with shredded sharp cheddar cheese.

Let me know if you like it :-)

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Moved from Blogger to WordPress…

Had some issues at Blogger with weird ads popping up for some readers, so I’ve moved to WP.

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Pema Chodron on applying compassion practice to difficult people (or, why am I so damn tired?)

I found this on the Shambala site and wanted to share it with you:

You think of the difficult person or people and you wish for them to be free of suffering and the root of suffering. Now, a very interesting thing often happens here. You can really get into wishing them to be free of suffering, because you think if they could be free . . . basically you want them to be the way you want them to be, you know. Could they be free of their lousy personality so that I could feel better? This you might call not quite compassion. It’s more like justifying your dislike of them by using a compassion practice.

And the other thing is, of course, being glad that they’re suffering. Hard to face, but true. When we really dislike people, maybe we’re well aware or maybe we’ll get more in touch with it by doing this practice but there’s a lot of rejoicing, almost, about their misfortune. Because basically they hurt you and you want them to suffer too. So you’re glad when you hear that things aren’t going well for them. And you feel pretty unhappy when you hear that everything is fine for them. Those kinds of feelings come up about people that we find difficult. So, rather than feeling bad about that just notice that that’s what happening. Have a sense of humor. Whatever it is, let the words go and notice the effect.

Sometimes with difficult people, I find it is also quite helpful to actually imagine different scenarios for them. I have actually cooked up some real genuine compassion for some of the very difficult people in my life by beginning to think of, for instance, something happening to one of their children or something that I know that, if that degree of misfortune happened to them, I wouldn’t be glad, that I would really feel compassion for them. So you can use your imagination here if it helps you to feel some kind of compassion for someone who your heart is shut to, a difficult person.

In other words, you find the person or people and you encourage this feeling by saying the words, “May they be free of suffering and the root of suffering.” And then you notice the effect. Then you expand the whole thing by moving onto the next stage. So we keep expanding it in this way, and just notice what happens.

I rather wish I had read this a week ago so I could have had it in mind when FIL was visiting. But in a sense, I was kind of trying to do this by trying to acknowledge my feelings about him and the shenpa he triggers in me, and by trying to be mindful of the suffering he has known (self-inflicted or otherwise). By doing these things, I can try to transform the shenpa by acknowledging it and thus practice shenluk, which Pema Chodron explains in one of her teachings. She points out that, “The interesting thing is that there is no way to really renounce shenpa…[except by] seeing clearly and fully experiencing the shenpa.”

I have to confess, though, that it’s not easy. In fact, managing shenpa by way of shenluk is exhausting. Perhaps with practice, it becomes less so.

In the meantime, I’d totally exhausted by the whole ordeal.

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