Dienstag, 1. September 2009

Leaving Hate Behind

The following article by Pamela Bloom is taken from the newspaper "DER STANDARD", which publishes a choice of collected "NY Times" articles each Monday.


The modern world has given us a lot to cope with, but who really has the skills? The whirlwind of emotions caused by Scotland's release of the Lockerbie bomber has illuminated a common psychological problem. How de we move on from grief and rage? Loss is inevitable in life. But when the scale is huge - a terrorist attack like September 11, the breakdown of social justice as in Iraq or Rwanda - the rage and resentment left behind is often more cancerous than the event.

Is there a way to recover from extreme trauma that allows us to let go of the pain and reboot our lives? Many of the stories I collected for a book titled "Buddhist Acts of Compassion" point to a radical shift in perspective that could transform the way we deal with such issues, not to mention inspire profound social change. A slogan in Buddhism speaks to these moments: "Just like me." Just like me, others suffer. Just like me, others desire happiness.

Of course, it is excruciatingly difficult for a grieving mother to see any resemblance between herself and her child's murderer. But the exiled Dalai Lama, himself a victim of persecution, made no such distinctions when visiting Auschwitz for the first time. Speechless at the piles of tattered shoes left behind by the victims, he wrote: "I stopped and prayed - moved profoundly both for the victims and for the perpetrators of this calamity... And, in the knowledge that, just as we all have the capacity to act selflessly out of concern for others' well-being, so do we all have the potential to be murderers and torturers, I vowed to do all I could to ensure that nothing like this happened again."

Such saintlike sentiment may feel out of reach, but the teachings of Buddhism say it isn't. That's because when we drop our personal sense of self - the one that says "I'm right, you're wrong, go to hell" - what arises in its place is a wide open heart that excludes no one, not even one's persecutor. Buddhists say this heart is our true nature, not the one that is forever seeking "Kill Bill"-style revenge.

To discover that state of mind, start small. A beginner's prayer in Buddhism encourages you to wish happiness for all beings, not just the ones you approve of. If that feels impossible, start by extending good will to yourself. Eventually you extend it to those you care about, those you don't know, and finally those you can't stand. Imagine centuries-old bitter rivals doing this and breaking the cycle of revenge.

When suffering seems too deep to bear, Buddhism suggests dedicating your pain so all those hurting in the same way might be relieved. It's a form of meditation that has profoundly helped a friend of mine navigate through AIDS. And it's one that could help victims of terrorism discover a common bond that is healing.

If you think this approach is just mind games, think again. These are the very practices that have allowed Tibetan Buddhist nuns and monks to withstand years of torture. Especially for those in exile, these meditations have helped them forge new lives - with clarity, compassion and little or no rancor. Outer wars start from within, the Buddha taught. And as Lama Zopa Rinpoche, a Tibetan meditation master, once said: "As long as you do not change your mind, there will always be an enemy to harm you."


Pamela Bloom is the author of "The Power of Compassion: Stories that touch the heart, heal the soul and change the world", to be published in 2010. Send comments to intelligence@nytimes.com