Thoughts of Murder

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!

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2 Responses to Thoughts of Murder

  1. James Jakudo Shammas says:

    I appreciate your honesty, Sensei. Yes, one must be brutally honest with one’s intention when a thought arises. and, yes, I do believe that thoughts and feelings arise when causes and conditions are ripe. I need not feel that that I am bad just because they come up. It’s what I do with them that matters most. And that also means that there is no fixed idea of how a “buddhist” or anyone else with a label should act. Similar to your examples, I believe the Dalai Lama stated he agreed with the assassination of Osama Bin Ladan on the grounds that it was the best possible action to benefit the common good. But yes, I agree, if even the esteemed Holy One was to make such a statement with anger or ill intent, than it would be morally wrong from a Buddhist sense. Yet, even that being said, I suppose all phenomena–even those that arise ffrom ignorance–are dharma, and I guess need to being accepted as is, at least before one can act responsibly or at least as appropriately as one can. I find, too, that there is a gentle self-forgiveness (not exoneration) when I can look at my mind in this way. Through practice, I have realized that I cause my own suffering via my own anger, and I can cure it by my own efforts (with some prodding, of course, by a good teacher from time to time). That possibility of some self-control is very encouraging and not something I feel with other spiritual traditions.


  2. jonathan says:

    You could look at it another way, as I did. Rather than hatred for Gaddafi, love towards the innocent students etc he would have otherwise massacred and all the suffering that would have caused.

    Anyway he was eventually killed by Libyans though sadly the country today is far from free, happy and peaceful.

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