Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Suffering Caused By Misperception

Previous installment: "The Buddha on Love"

by Jack Lawlor

There is a corresponding side to Buddhist contemplation that cultivates a radical type of wisdom, radical in the sense that its does its utmost to see and perceive the roots of conflict deep in the human heart, and tries to determine which skillful means can be engaged to mitigate suffering.

The following lines from the Collected Sayings of the Buddha, known as the Dhammapada, are illustrative of the Buddhist approach to cutting through confusion and identifying the roots of conflict:
"We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with a pure mind
And happiness will follow you
As your own shadow, unshakable...

`Look how he abused me and beat me,
How he threw me down and robbed me.'
Live with such thoughts and you live in hate.

`Look how he abused me and beat me,
How he threw me down and robbed me'.
Abandon such thoughts, and live in love.

In this world,
Hate never yet dispelled hate.

This is the law,
Ancient and inexhaustible."
What do we really know about the people the U.S. government is killing through drone warfare? We know that the drones have accidentally attacked wedding parties and other family gatherings. What imminent harm are those on the drone death list not only intending, but capable of inflicting on our country? Was the threat to our country direct? Were imminent, feasible attacks on the U.S. prevented by drone killings taking place thousands and thousands of miles from the U.S., or do we simply slay tribal leaders who are making the lives of other tribal leaders who are more consistently favorably disposed toward the U.S. more difficult?

Have the people we've slain ever actually harmed us? Is the nation where they reside even capable of harming us? Or is it our government's view of their ideology and their religion that slates people for death? If that is the case, is death by drone justified? Do we simply chose to live in hate?

How much misperception are we suffering from? How far gone are we from what is human, what is sane? What has happened to us?

An elderly Vietnam War veteran approached the microphone during a question and answer period with Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh in northern Mississippi in the summer of 2011, attended by approximately 1,000 people from throughout the American South. The vet very humbly asked Thich Nhat Hanh to recognize that many, many of the young Americans who went to Vietnam as soldiers did not do so to inflict havoc upon the country, but to help the Vietnamese people. He asked that everyone acknowledge that.

Thich Nhat Hanh's response was very telling. He acknowledged the honorable intention of so many of the young Americans who went to Vietnam in such huge numbers in the mid 1960s. But Thay had a request of the American people in return. Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh asked us, as Americans, never, never, to go to war again based on a misperception. Think of how we entered war in Vietnam based on the misperception that North Vietnamese torpedo boats had attacked two U.S. Navy destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. Think of how we entered the War in Iraq based on the misperception that it was brimming with weapons of mass destruction. Think of how we are about to borrow more money from the Chinese to go to war with Iran based on our -- perception or misperception? -- that it is assembling nuclear weapons and is an imminent threat to world peace.

Is there reason to believe that our use of drones is based on any more accurate perceptions of who to kill, remotely, without ever confronting them or providing a chance to speak? Where is the declaration of war authorizing these acts? Where is the rule of law?

Next installment: "Modern Applications of the Buddha's Teachings on Love and on the Suffering Attributable to Misperception"

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