Keeping our hearts free from hatred in the face of tragedy

Richard Martin.jpg

During this time when so many sounds, images, and words are being broadcast to report on the horrific bombings in Boston, I feel myself moving toward an explosive indignation.  I walk along those familiar streets.  Yet I am met now in my thoughts by the gentle voice of Maha Ghosananda chanting a calming, reassuring, ancient teaching:  Na hi verena verani / sammantidha kudacanam / averena ca sammanti /esa dhammo sanantano.  “Hatred does not cease by hatred; it only ceases by love; this is the eternal law.”

Some incredibly hateful person (or group) attempted to cause terror by maiming and killing our innocent brothers and sisters.  A boy of just 8 years old was killed.  We are hurt and we experience sorrow.  But I do not see people responding in terror.  Even a single second after the first detonation, when no one knew how many more bombs would explode, people ran into the chaos to give aid and comfort.  And in the minutes and hours that followed, a community, a city, a state, and a nation gathered closer together, expressing an outpouring of support for the victims.  We are not terrified.  We are resolved not to be cowed by the perpetrators whose minds are poisoned by malice.

The tricky question for people of faith is whether we will allow ourselves to be poisoned as well.  We are naturally inclined toward hatred for those who have done this harm.  And nearly everything in the national discourse (in the news media, on social networking sites, and in workplace conversations) invites us to cultivate a normalized, blameless hatred.

But there is the late Maha Ghosananda as an example of a different path.  He witnessed his entire society destroyed during the Khmer Rouge genocide.  Everyone close to him was murdered, and society itself crumbled around him.  He was marked for execution simply because he wore the robe of a Buddhist monk.  When he was able to go back to his country, he went first to the remaining Khmer Rouge stronghold, not knowing if he would be summarily executed.  He walked chanting that hatred cannot be met with more hatred or it will never cease.  The soldiers and civilians fell to their knees in the middle of the road weeping in the face of the eternal law.

This might be the hardest path to follow.  But keeping our hearts free from hatred in the face of hatred is in fact the only way to guarantee that the dreadful act in Boston fails in its evil intent.  We will not be deterred in living a joyful life, no matter how hard a few, lost, ignorant souls may try.

A picture has now surfaced of the little boy, Martin Richard, who was killed by the blast.  In the picture he’s holding a sign that says, “No more hurting people.  Peace.”  In this moment, that little boy is our wisest sage.