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Buddhist response to global terrorism

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British Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1974 states that, for the purpose of legislation, terrorism is the 'use of violence for political ends, and includes any use of violence for the purpose of putting the public or any section of the public in fear,' (H. B. Mishra, Terrorism, Threat to Peace and Harmony, Delhi, 1999, p.17). Mishra, while commenting on this statement says 'One cannot find fault with a statement of this kind but at the same time, it also applies to a great many other manifestations of violence for instance, mass violence in the form of riots, violent demonstrations, street battles or civil war'. Act of terror may be carried out by individuals, groups or states.

All mamnifestations of terrorism seem to be now a global phenomenon. Whether it is at national or global level, an act of terrorism is an act of crime. so these evil acts bring destruction to individuals, society and to the world in its entirety and have the tendency to destroy peace and harmony in addition to law and order. Therefore it becomes necessary for us to seek effective ways and means of controling and curbing all terrorist activities in whichever form it appears.

Buddhism can respond to individual, national or global terrorism at two levels, namely Buddha and Bodhisattva. The level of Buddha is applicable to people of interlectual advancement and the level of Bodhisattva is applicable to the general pulic.

Initially, we must ascertain the nature of terrorism, its course and effect and then we must think of ways and strategies of controling and curbing it finally. Ethics of non-violence is a concept expounded and practised by Sakyamuny the Buddha, and his contemporary disciples in the 6th century BC and it was handed down from generation to generation of bhikkhus to be practised by the rulers such as Emperor Asoka of the 3rd century BC.

Theory of non-violent ethics of the Buddha

The first group of sixty disciples of Buddha, was instructed by the master to walk individually and to preach both to gods and humans to achieve development, well-being and happiness (atthaya hitaya sukhaya devamanussanam). This statement of the Buddha has global application. The number of disciples was eventually increased and with them the Buddha taught his doctrine of non-violence as a strategy and as a way of life in India for a period of forty-five years. After the passing away of the Buddha and his contemporary disciples, generations of bhikkhus spread this ethics of non-violence to various parts of the world with royal patronage.

Buddhist non-violent ethics never remained merely as a concept but it was put into practice by wisemen and women in order to achieve permanent peace for themselves.

They also directed otherwise people to achieve the same goal.

Those unwise, always had to live with violence and they are the people who need to be well educated in ethics of non-violance and be controlled by righteous rulers following the teachings of the Buddha.

In Buddhist politics the ideal ruler, called Cakkavatti or universal monarch, is instructed to learn about the norm (dhamma the law of truth and righteousness) honour, respect and revere it, to do homage to it, hallow it, to be a Norm-banner (dhammadhaio), Norm-signal himself, having the norm as his master. He should provide the right watch, ward and protection for his own folk, army, nobles, vassals, brahmins, househoders, town and country dwellers, for the religious world, and for beasts and birds. Throughout his kingdom he should not let any wrong-doing prevail. And he should let wealth be given to poor in his kingdom because poverty is one major cause of terrorism.

When men of religious life of very calm bearing approach the king from time to time, and question him concerning what is good and what is bad, what is criminal and what is not, what is to be done and what is left undone, what line of action will in the long run work for weal or for woe, the monarch should hear what they have to say, should deter them from evil, and bid them take up what is good. This is the Aryan duty of a universal monarch. It is noteworthy that the Buddha encouraged the universal monarch to follow and implement any non-violent ethics preached by all the religious leaders.

The universal monarch shall slay no living beings, shall not take which has not been given, shall not act wrongly touching bodily desires, shall not speak a lie, shall drink no maddening drink. As a result of observing these five moral laws, kings in the regions would become vassals to the universal monarch. (Dialogue of Buddha, III, pp.62-64) Buddhist way of life is the eight-fold path, which includes wise attention, wise concept, wise speech, wise earning, wise lively-hood, wise exercise, wise mindfulness and wise contemplation. This path covers both wordly as well as spiritual life.

In a discourse on all the influxes, the Buddha explains the means of controling influxes. I think it is very useful to understand what the Buddha ment by influxes. The Pali terms for influxes is asava and it has been rendered into English giving different terms such as 'cankers', 'influxes', and 'corruption'. I prefer to use influxes as the appropriate term. There are four influxes, namely, attachment to the five-fold sensual realm (kamasava), attachement to the planes of form and formlessenss (bhavasava), attachment to teh false views (ditthasava) and attachement to teh ignorance (avijjasava).

The Buddha realised and saw these as harmful influxes. And taught us to destroy them. Those who have destroyed them or controlled them can live a peaceful life. In this case the emphasis is attached to the wise attention (yoniso manasikara) and unwise attention (ayoniso manasikara). From unwise attention influxes arise that had not arisen, and also influxes that have arisen increase. But from wise attention influxes that had not arisen do not arise and also influxes that have arisen decline.

There are influxes that should be got rid of by vision. The vision refers to the first stage of prefection or arhatship at which stage the first vision of nirvana is perceived.

There are influxes that should be got rid of by control, there are influxes that should be got rid of by use, thee are influxes that should be got rid of by endurance, there are influxes that should be got rid of by avoidance, there are influxes that should be got rid of by elimination and there are influxes that should be got rid of by training of mind (bhavana). It becomes important in this context that one should know and see the influxes within him. Those who have eliminated influxes have destroyed all causes of violence.

Those who can control their influxes can prevent themselves from being violent. These are the higher ethics that individuals should follow to achieve permanent peace and tranquillity (Middle Length Sayings (PTS) London, 1976, pp.-9-10).

Application of Buddhist

Application of Buddhist ethics of non-violence to the society is given at different levels. As far as less educated or uneducated ordinary people are concerned, the strategy is moral education and Buddhist philosophy and training in conduct. I can give you one practical example: in 1971 we had a terrorist problem in the south of Sri Lanka staged by then JVP under the leadership of Rohana Wijeweera.

Nearly fifteen thousand young boys and girls, who actively got involved in terrorist activities against the legitimately elected government, lost their lives. Some others were put behind bars or sent to rehabilitation camps. Except very few all others were Sinhala Buddhists by birth, who were not well educated in Buddhism and trained in Buddhist ethics of non-violence in Sunday Dhamma Schools.

I agree with you that there were some young monks who joined the terrorist group because they were under the spell of the reactionary elements of JVP mainly in universities. I am very deeply convinced that we must make the young generation well informed in Buddhism and give them good training in Buddhist ethics of non-violence in Sunday Dhamma Schools to refrain them from terrorist activities. Those who observe and practice the five precepts respect the others right to live, private ownership, consumption of consumable items, not to be cheated and not to be harassed by after-effects of alcohol.

These ethics if followed, I can guarantee you, that peace and harmony of society will be restored.

I wish to cite an example from Buddhist scriptures about a man who took to extreme violence at one stage of his life but was successfully converted into a man of peace by the Buddha. This is the story of Angulimala. His first name was Ahinsaka and as a result of his violence he was known as Angulimala. He was born under the thieves constellation.

At Taxila (Pali Takkasila) he became a favourite at the teacher's house, but his jealous fellow students poisoned the teacher's mind, and the latter, went on his destruction, asked as his honorarium a thousand human right hand fingers. Thereupon Angulimala waylaid travellers in the Jalini forest in Kosala , India , and killed them in order to take a finger from each.

The finger bones thus obtained were made into a hang round his neck like a garland, hence he came to be known as Angulimala. As a result of his deed, whole villages were deserted, and the king ordered a detachment of men to seize the bandit, who's name nobody knew. But Angulimala's mother guessing the truth, started off to warn him about the royal decree.

By now he was short of one finger to complete his thousand, and having seen his mother approaching, he was determined to slay her in order to get the required finger.

The Buddha having seen his potential for arhathood went himself travelling about hundred and twenty miles and intercepted Angulimala on his way to slay his mother.

Angulimala was subjugated and taken to Buddha's fold with loving kindness and made to realise the futility and essences of non-violence. When Angulimala came to Jetavana, king Pasenadi filled with wonder offered to provide the monk with all requisites. (Malalasekara, DPPN, I, pp.22-23).

human happiness

The next example is the emperor Asoka (272-232 BC.). Asoka was a ruler and a propagator of Buddhism and was regarded as the greatest of all rulers in the human history by various historians. James M. McPhail says that 'Asoka, in fact, is not likely to suffer from comparison with any of his fellow monarchs of the ancient world.

As a ruler of men his grasp may have come short of his ambition, but the ambition was the noble one, and the grasp was a great and earnest effort to fulfil the high duties of his office. He strove manfully to lessen the sum of human suffering, to increase the sum of human happiness, 'to do all the good he could, in all the ways he could, to all the people he could. 'To us it seems almost inconceivable that one man can have borne upon his own shoulders the burden of the personal and highly centralised government of so extensive an empire under a system that sought to regulate the religion and the domestic life of his subjects as well as all the affairs of State.

He did so however of forty years and there is nothing to show that he ever felt the task to be beyond his powers'. (Ananda W.P. Guruge Asoka Colombo 1993 p.486.) McPhail's impression is that Asoka holds a place important, second only to that of the Buddha Himself.

H. G. Wells remarks that 'Amidst the tens and thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history, their majesties and graciousness and serenities and royal highnesses and the like, the name of Asoka shines, and shines alone, a star'. (Guruge p.486).

What was the strategy followed by Asoka to win the hearts of the world historians? In the early days of Asoka before he embraced Buddhism and had close association with Buddhist sangha he was first an individual terrorist, later State terrorist and known as Chandasoka or 'Asoka the Wicked'. First he ousted his elder brother, the heir apparent and he had waged war for four years with his other brothers and ministers and finally became the king of Maurya empire. Later he extended his state terrorist activities in the form of war against Kalinga.

Asoka won the war but thousands of people died as the result. With this experience and the study of Buddhism he was inspired to give up his terrorist activities and to put into practice Buddhist ethics of non-violence while following the Buddhist political theory of dammadhipateyya the supremacy of the moral law taught by the Buddha as a universal doctrine of political philosophy.

So Asoka as a strategy to establish peace and happiness of his subject who, according to Asoka, were regarded as his sons and daughters, he appointed officials called Dharmamahamatras, whose duty was to make people aware of non-violent ethics and to make sure that they upheld the same implementation of non-violant ethics. Achievement of peace through this effort must have been a very difficult task in such a plural society of a vast empire. Asoka's administration included administration, regulations, causing happiness, and protection by moral law while having respect and close connection with other contemporary religious leaders, in addition to his own Buddhist teachers. Asoka spread non-violence everywhere in his empire by other means such as Dharmalipi or the inscription containing non-violant ethics. Also he spread it through Buddhist missionaries to nine countries in and out of his empire.

According to Buddhism, war is an immoral act and therefore those who kill people in a war will face the consequences in any time in their worldly existence. But when the rulers had to protect their subjects and the state they had to use even military power.

In such a context Buddhist rulers had no support from the Buddha, but they had to look for the support from Bodhisattva doctrine as evident in the Ummagga jataka to face the enemies with skilful means while minimising the killing of enemies and destroying their properties.

It may be concluded that intelligent individuals can study and practice ethics of non-violence. A society with such people can be the ideal society, where the peace would reign. But the unintelligent people, who have no proper understanding and respect for non-violence ethics can, get involved in terrorist activities as they have no moral system of controlling their influxes. Rulers must be able to control their immoral activities by skilful means with minimum harm to them and they must be given knowledge of non-violence and training to practise it in order to control their influxes.

Rulers must strictly follow the non-violence ethics with close connections to the various religious leaders. So I strongly feel that leaders like Emperor Asoka, could control terrorist activities.