From arms to alms

By Suma Varughese

January 2013

The Buddha and the Terrorist, Author: Satish Kumar, Published By: Wisdom Tree, Pages : 87 Pages, Paperback, Price : INR 125

This perceptive and beautiful narration of what is one of the most powerful incidents of the sublime Buddha?s life holds solutions to our present-day challenges with terrorism.

In his preface, Satish Kumar addresses the central contrast between the Buddha and Angulimala by inquiring: ?What happens when a man committed to violence is face to face with a man committed to non-violence? Who is the most powerful? Who can influence whom?? The story of Angulimala relates to the Buddha?s transformation of a fearsome mass murderer who used to string a garland of the fingers of the people he murdered around his neck giving rise to his gruesome soubriquet. Through the power of the Buddha?s love, compassion and innate faith in human nature, Angulimala resurrected into Ahimsika (the nonviolent one) and one of the key teachers of the Buddha?s sangha. This awe-inspiring shift from the very depths of violence, hate and evil to a life of peace and goodness has often stood as a metaphor for spiritual resurrection. The sinner can indeed become a saint. No one, no matter how debased, can be denied the possibility of transformation.

It is this powerful and redemptive truth that Satish Kumar, Gandhian and editor of the beautiful British magazine, Resurgance, seeks to highlight as an alternative to the way terrorism is addressed in modern times. Pointing out in his preface that both governing as well as terrorist agencies are motivated by a faith in violence, he says, ?A war against terrorism which uses and justifies violent means is also terrorism by another name.?

Advocating the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would wish them to do unto you) as the only way to ensure an end to terrorism, he asks, ?Would the American Government allow Saudi Arabia or any other country to establish military bases on US soil? If not, then why should the US have its military bases on foreign lands?? And again, 'Why is it morally and politically all right for some countries to have nuclear weapons but not others?' In the story, Angulimala completes the full cycle of his journey when he assists a woman in the throes of child birth. The man who took away life became the man who assisted the birth of life. The story ends in a trial when those whose families have been murdered by Angulimala gather for retribution. Must Angulimala pay for his past crimes or can society transcend the need for revenge and see him for who he has become ? a force for the good? That?s a question we in modern times could well grapple with. More a novella than a book, its thought-provoking contents makes it worth buying.

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