Osama bin Laden’s death: Reactions from a Buddhist or mindful perspective

Yesterday on our Facebook page we pointed to a new post on the Interdependence Project’s website, from author and frequent Shambhala Sun contributor Susan Piver. Titled “On Killing Our Enemy,” Piver’s reaction to the news of the killing of Osama bin Laden quickly spread virally, piling up comments, both on the IDP blog and among our friends. Check out the post and see what you think. After the jump: What others in the Buddhist and mindfulness communities have had to say about folks’ reactions to this historic news, including Elisha Goldstein, Ethan Nichtern, and more.

At MindfulnessAndPsychotherapy.com, Elisha Goldstein has published a post called “Osama Bin Laden is Dead: A Mindful Response.” See Goldstein’s complete post here.

In addition to posting Piver’s piece, The Interdependence Project found themselves represented, by way of head teacher Ethan Nichtern, in the New York Times, along with Tibet House’s Ganden Thurman and Linas Vytuvis, vice president of New York’s Kagyu Dzamling Kunchab Center. “Live Blog: New York Reacts to Bin Laden’s Death” features all three in a section called “Killing of a ‘Monster’ Poses a Conflict for Buddhists” and can be read here.

Elsewhere on the web: Barbara O’Brien offered “On the death of Osama bin Laden,” writing that “This is a time for equanimity and for compassion for all beings. This is not a time to divide the world up into ‘our side’ and ‘their side.'” The Reformed Buddhist’s Kyle Lovett took a somewhat different approach: “I don’t feel bad one bit,” he wrote. “He has had it coming for a long time, and it’s about damn time.” One reader commented that this was an “un-Buddhist” sentiment, to which Lovett openly responded, “Could you define what is Buddhist and what isn’t a Buddhist thing to do, and why you feel that way?” (A response is pending.) You can read the full post here.

At Elephant, Jon DiGilio offers that it’s “A Time to Reflect, Not Celebrate.”

And over at the Dangerous Harvests blog, author Nathan articulated just how hard it is for him to decide how to feel at this moment:

To be honest, I still don’t know what to think about it all. It’s kind of like we killed a ghost out of belief that in doing so, the world will be a safer place. But there’s no knowing if that will be the case.

Read his whole piece here.

We hope you’ll check out each of these posts, and share your feelings, but on these blogs and here on SunSpace, in our comments section. We’d also love for you to point us to other posts we might have missed, including your own.


  1. says

    I celebrate the incredible discipline and commitment of the Navy Seals whose mindful and compassionate action rid the world of this demon.

    • terry evans...Wales says

      there are many truths but this is not one of them….scary!!

  2. Rod at Shambhala Sun says

    Some comments via our Facebook friends:

    David O: "And this is why I am a Taoist."

    Gerald R: "Buddhism, in particular Zen, is not about having some proper moral stance. This is an error of fundamentalism that almost every Buddhist authority makes. If a Zen practitioner is happy about bin-Laden's death, then the answer is not to feel guilty or overlay one's vengeful feelings with loving kindness meditation, it is about experiencing one's vengefulness with awareness. If one is celebrating bin-Laden's death, then celebrate it with awareness. Be aware of the thought processess and emotions what ever they are. Experience the vengefulness as deeply as possible. Telling Buddhists that they alway must strive to be peaceable is just appealing to one's willpower. It does nothing to heal the emotions. There is a lot of fear behind admonitions to be peaceful. I really have no answer to this but unfortunately a peaceable attitude cannot be willed, it must be honed over time by allowing oneself to experience whatever we are experiencing whether noble or whether 'full of crap'."

    George F.G.: "';I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."-Martin Luther King, Jr. this quote sums it up for me!"

    (A fine quote, indeed, but it should be noted that it cant be wholly attributed to MLK; see this post via Salon about how this mis-attributed quote went viral: http://www.salon.com/entertainment/tv/feature/201… )

  3. mandy says

    I don’t think this is a time for celebrations.A man is dead and thousands of others have died due to the search for this one man. He was a human being just like us, if you demonise another you stop seeing them as human and one starts to see the us and them. Bin Laden believed he was fighting a war against a west that constantly interfered in Islamic countries politics.I think this deserves our attention and meditation.

  4. Alan says

    When I was a school kid, we were shown a documentary movie about an Asian hunter-gatherer. At one point he had trapped an animal, and before killing it, he offered prayers to the animal. His way of life demanded that he take advantage of whatever food came his way, but he still recognized killing as problematic. Hence the prayers.

    I don't know whether we needed to kill Osama bin Laden or not, but I think we can still see that even if it was necessary, it was also problematic. What prayers would be appropriate?

    As for the resourcefulness and courage of the U.S. operatives and soldiers who made this possible, I know that I am filled with respect for what they were able to do, and with gratitude that they were not physically harmed. I can't help thinking, though, that having to go into battle and then kill someone, even a "great enemy", must cause them suffering. What prayers can I offer them?

  5. Samantabhadra says

    I celebrate the boundless ignorance of all sentient beings whose very nature is the same eternal reality.

  6. Jett says

    Re comment of Gerald R "Buddhism, in particular Zen, is not about having some proper moral stance."

    I think that George R's comment is incomplete. Yes, we should be open to realizing that we do not understand ultimate morality and avoid a mere "stance", but the Eightfold Path calls for both Right Action and Right Intention, along with Right Mindfulness (and the other 5-they no doubt have an impact as well that I don't appreciate at the moment). George R's comment suggests that any action is ok, if it is done mindfully. Buddhism (and Zen) are, to me, about transforming our suffering-taking emotions such as anger, vengefulness and fear, and acting upon them in a way that does not cause us or others pain. As Thich Nhat Hanh puts it in a Sun article,

  7. Jett says

    Mindfulness does the work of massaging your internal formations, your blocks of suffering. You have to allow them to circulate, and this is possible only if you are not afraid of them. If you learn not to fear your knots of suffering, you can learn how to embrace them with the energy of mindfulness, and transform them.