Over the past few years I’ve spent a substantial amount of time in Manchester, England. I was first invited to lead an event there about seven years ago by Matt Ryan of Yoga Manchester. I’ve come to Manchester almost every year since then. I’ve walked through the area where the bomb went off last night a number of times. 22 people were killed in the explosion.
The suspect has been identified as Salman Abedi, the British-born 22-year old son of Libyan immigrants. They say Abedi worked at the Didsbury Mosque. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that Abedi was one of theirs. He detonated a suicide bomb filled with shrapnel intended to cause maximum damage and loss of life.
Abedi grew up in Manchester’s Whalley Range neighborhood. When I’ve stayed in Manchester, I have usually stayed at Matt’s house in Whalley Range. It’s one of the few parts of Manchester, other than the area where the bomb went off, that I know my way around.
It’s very difficult to try to understand what would motivate a young man to commit such an atrocious act, giving up his own life in the process. I’m sure we’ll get details of his story in the coming days, but I doubt any of those details will explain very much.
What is certain is that there are quite a lot of attacks being committed lately and that they are usually motivated by a very specific ideology, and that this ideology claims it is based on the Islamic religion and the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed.
Certainly, there are other ideologies that have motived other people in other times to commit terrible acts. The Irish Republican Army killed a lot of British citizens in the 1970’s in similar attacks, and they were not Muslims but (mostly) Catholics. I should also note that the IRA never used religious dogma as a justification for their attacks. There have been plenty of other examples of terrorist acts committed by people who were not Muslim. There have even been some acts of terror committed by Buddhists.
Most Muslims are not terrorists. That is true. One of my best friend’s mother is a Muslim who was born in Iran and she is certainly not a terrorist.
But we can’t pretend there is no connection at all between Islam and terrorism. That would be as ridiculous as claiming that all Muslims are terrorists.
I don’t want to get into a debate about whether or not terrorism is intrinsic to Islam. I’ll leave that to Sam Harris. It seems like a silly thing to debate. You can find plenty of Bible verses extolling violence and plenty of examples of Christians who used those verses as justification for doing terrible things. You can also find Muslims who say the violent passages of the Koran should be never be taken literally.
I don’t know if Abedi thought he was going to Paradise where he would enjoy his reward of 72 virgins. I kind of doubt it. Even if that was part of it, nobody goes from being a normal, non-violent person to blowing himself up just because someone tells him he’ll get 72 virgins in Heaven if he does. That’s far too simplistic.
I do know, however, that Paradise is not where Abedi is right now. There are no 72 virgins for him. Rather, Abedi is suffering every iota of pain he inflicted upon his victims. He will continue to suffer until all of that heavy burden is burned away. Neither God nor anyone else can relieve him of that.
I guess that sounds crazy to some of you, or like a statement of religious belief. If so, there is nothing I can say that will convince you otherwise, so I won’t bother trying. Others among you may believe the same thing because you’ve heard or read it somewhere. Which is fine. I say it because I know for an undeniable fact that it cannot be any other way.
We are all so intimately connected that “connected” is the wrong word for it. It would be better to say we are all parts of one undivided whole that contains every human who ever lived or will be born. It contains more than people, but for now let’s stick with the human part of it.
When we harm another, we harm ourselves. It’s not that the harm we do to others will someday return to us. That’s an illusion. To harm another right now is to harm yourself right now. When Abedi pushed the button on his vest of explosives, he harmed himself many times more than he harmed anyone else.
The idea of karma is taking a beating these days in Western Buddhist circles. It’s often seen as an irrational belief that we’d do well to discard and just get on with meditating. But even if we think it’s just an unfounded belief, as unfounded beliefs go, it’s a good one.
Certainly, the belief that human beings are all one and that we are connected by karma can be abused and turned into something awful. But it takes a lot more mental gymnastics to do that than it does to turn the belief that we are all unique individual immortal souls into something awful. Even if I did not know that karma and interconnectedness were real, I’d still be in favor of teaching it. I’d probably pretend to believe in karma and the unity of all beings even if I really didn’t believe it because I think it’s a good belief to have and a good belief to encourage in others. In fact, you have no way of knowing whether or not I’m doing that right now.
It seems like human beings will always insist on having some kind of ideology. An ideology based on reality is better than one that’s based on non-reality.
There is no possible way that someone who is grounded in reality could ever think that blowing himself up in the middle of a crowd of young concert-goers was a good thing. It is, objectively and subjectively, in every possible way, a bad thing to do. There is not, nor has there ever been, nor will there ever be, any situation so desperate that blowing yourself up in the middle of a crowd of people leaving a concert is justified. Nor could such an act ever result in anything positive.
Yet, somehow, Abedi convinced himself that this was the right thing to do. We will probably never know exactly why he thought it was the right thing to do. But even if his self-justification had nothing to do with Islam and was about taking some kind of revenge upon the world, we can be certain he did convince himself it was the right thing to do. Therefore, we can be certain that he was completely disconnected from reality.
There is no easy or quick solution to the fact that many, many people in this world — people of all races and all religions — are disconnected from what is real.
There is, however, a very slow and very difficult solution. And that is for all of us to always maintain our own connection with what is real as much as we possibly can and to teach others to do the same.
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September 7-10, 2017 Retreat in Finland
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September 22, 2017 Talk in Munich, Germany
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