Friday, January 20, 2006

What Now?

I’ve just watched an extremely disturbing video. I’ve seen several hostage beheading videos, but this is the worst in its graphic clarity. It shows a young Japanese man with hands tied behind his back and kneeling helplessly before three masked men, one of whom is reading something aloud in Arabic. Then suddenly they swiftly converge on their hapless victim and two of the men hold him down while the other proceeds to saw through his neck with a large knife from the front while all three excitedly shout “God is great” in Arabic. It takes untold bloody seconds to complete the gruesome task, at which time these maniacs drop the head on the body, then lift and dangle it triumphantly before them, and finally they place it on the victim’s chest, mockingly cradled in his arms, where it remains until the video fades.

I feel a level of hatred and rage toward these men that I can’t begin to adequately put into words. I want these men caught and subjected to the most diabolical and excruciating tortures the human mind can conceive while they scream for the mercy they denied their innocent victim. At this moment, I understand, with startling vividness and power, the human desire for bloody revenge, and if I were in a room with them now and had a gun in my hands, I would blow them all to hell without a nanosecond’s hesitation or remorse.

I understand these feelings, but I do not condone them. I feel them, but I want to recoil from them and bury them under a mountain of mindful equanimity. How should I feel toward the cowardly masked men who perpetrated this horrible barbarity? The saints and sages from all the great wisdom traditions speak of universal, unconditional love. But HOW do I love THESE men? How do I love anyone who condones or praises what these men did? SHOULD I love these men or anyone who approves of their actions? At this awful moment, I want to kill them. Kill them all. If I could press a button and make them and all of their thousands if not millions of supporters and sympathizers disappear from the face of the Earth, it would take all of my powers of restraint to hold myself back.

These are the thoughts and emotions I wrestle with in the wake of viewing that horrifying video depicting human beings at their most fanatical and depraved. How should I deal with these thoughts and emotions? And why do I expose myself to all of this in the first place?

Eknath Easwaran would no doubt counsel me to avoid “poisoning” my mind and heart with psychological “toxins” such as that video. But isn’t its awful atrocity part, and a prominent part at that, of the world in which I live? Should I blind myself to everything that isn’t sweetness and light, or should I open my eyes fully to everything—yin as well as yang, ugliness as well as beauty, evil and well as good--and let the reality of it, all of it, permeate my being? Do I confront savage lunacy and murder by turning my eyes, ears, mind, and soul away from them and acting as though they aren’t even there, or do I fling open the “doors of perception” and take it all into me? But how can I take it all in without either being overwhelmed with hateful if not murderous rage or, eventually, by suicidal depression on the one hand, or accepting and trivializing it and becoming heartlessly less than human on the other? And even if I choose a middle ground by not closing my eyes to human depravity while also not seeking it out, more than enough of it will surely seek me out that I will still have to confront and deal with it in some manner. What manner should that be?

Sages such as the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Eknath Easwaran offer various answers, but, right now, those answers ring hollow and ineffectual. Is this because they are truly inadequate, or is it because my mind is too compromised by emotion to appreciate their truth?

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