I was watching tv news the other day about Libya before the US got involved and the thought entered my mind, “Someone should assassinate Quaddafi.” I was a little surprised at the violence of the thought. Could that be my thought? I like to think I don’t have such aggressive thoughts. But I got kind of curious about it. Was it an enlightened thought, full of compassion for the people of Libya who the government was shooting down, or was it a violent thought full of self righteousness of the “me good, you bad” variety. I really didn’t know. Was I breaking the first precept, “Do not kill; affirm life” with this thought? My intention was certainly malevolent, even if there were no action, and it is intention that determines the morality of an action.
How do I think about such a thought arising in my mind? On the one hand, whatever arises is the dharma and at the same time bad intentions create bad karma. Of course, I have the luxury to sit in not knowing and examine my own thinking because I am not in Libya and have no means of assassinating Quaddafi. There is no self interest in my thought. I would not benefit personally in any way. Yet it is very tricky imagining I know what is best for other people, other countries.
I decided to do some research as I remembered that the Buddha justified some murders under the right circumstances. In a collection of essays called Evolution of the Precepts, prepared by the Soto Zen Buddhist Association, I found the following:
“In Yogacarya-Bhumi-Shastra attributed to Maitreya, we find the following passage (Taisho 1501, p. 1112):
Those Bodhisattvas who observe the pure Bodhisattva precepts well may, as a skillful means to benefit others, commit some major misdeeds. In doing so, they do not violate the Bodhisattva precepts; instead, they generate many merits.
For example, suppose a Bodhisattva sees that a vicious robber intends to kill many people for the sake of wealth; or intends to harm virtuous Shravakas, Pratyekabuddhas, or Bodhisattvas; or intends to do other things that will cause him to fall to the Uninterrupted Hell. When seeing this, the Bodhisattva will think, “If I kill that person, I will fall to the hells; if I do not kill him, he will commit crimes which will lead him to the Uninterrupted Hell, where he will suffer greatly. I would rather kill him and fall to the hells myself than let him undergo great suffering in the Uninterrupted Hell.”
Then, deeply regretting the necessity for this action, and with a heart full of compassion, he will kill that person. In doing this, he does not violate the Bodhisattva precepts; instead, he generates many merits.”
I see clearly in reading this quote that my compassion was for those Quaddafi is murdering and not for him. And thus my thought of wishing to see him stopped by murdering him is not one of compassion, but of hatred, a transgression of the worst kind. In Buddhism, the ends do not justify the means. Back to the cushion!