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Metta is benevolence towards all beings, without any discrimination, free of attachment and free of hatred. How we can develop metta for terrorists?

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I am going to try my reply, based on the assumption that by 'terrorists' you are referring to the recent events in Middle East, 'Sydney Siege', Charlie Hebdo and so forth.

Personally I would take the following approach:

Ensure my own 'safety' first

By 'safety' I mean to ensure I do not lose my own Metta. Within the eternal tides of Samsara, the wellness of my current physical body can not compare to my heart's purity. Terrorists attacks mainly originates from the hatred poison, and I must ensure I do not have delusions of justice which can subject myself to the same contamination.

In reality, I am a commoner with no political influence on international affairs. Therefore, as a son, father and husband, I am obliged to ensure my, and my families', safety so I can continue to fulfil my duties. I shall remain respectful to all parties, and always keep a graceful distance.

Repent my own poisons

Upon witnessing the aftermath of much hatred build-up, I shall reflect within myself, "am I still poisoned with the same or similar traces of hatred? if so, can I let go of them? if not, then I shall continue to diligently abstain from hatred."

Offer my merits to them

Buddhism teaches that we are one with every being in all realms. We all share the same essence, and the existence of 'me' and 'them' is an illusion.

Everyone in the cosmos is like the trillions of microscopic cells in a human body. When a body part is malfunctioning, the body proceeds to repair it, not avenge it. For example, if my teeth accidentally bites my tongue, would my tongue exact revenge on my teeth? If differently body parts start to turn against each other, the violence multiplies and we will all eventually perish together.

There is an African village that doesn't punish fellow villagers whom has committed misconduct. They consider 'bad people' are simply unfortunately confused, so they would band together, and sing and dance around the 'bad person'. They would sing to praise nice things about him, and remind him that he should return to being the wonderful person he has always been.

We may need to stay vigilant in the short term to protect our safety, but in spirit we must be mindful that anyone is capable of greatness, everyone can attain Buddha-hood, and work towards that goal.

As a Pureland Buddhist myself, I would ask Amitabha Buddha to help us and dedicate merits to the situation at the end of every practice.

Proper education

As a Chinese Buddhist I practise Confucian virtues as a core foundation before diving into Mahayana wisdom. An essential part of Chinese Buddhism (and Chinese culture, in general) is cultivating filial piety. By fulfilling our filial duties we focus our life on full and proper care for our parents, our first and most important benefactors, and then gradually expand that love to our direct family members, friends, community and, with Mahayana teaching, expand the love to all realms.

The confucian book 'Di Zi Gui' (sometimes known as 'Pupil's Guide') summarizes criteria of filial piety into 7 parts: filial to elders, care for juniors, exercise caution, trustworthiness, love all beings, get well acquainted with the wise, and study arts (e.g. literature, skills, music etc) once the former criteria have been well established. This is commonly thought to be taught to children, but has been highly encouraged for adults to practice and 'fill in the gaps'. After all, how can you be Buddha, if you can't even succeed at being a human being?

If we can promote education towards love and wisdom (Metta), then we can cultivate better empathy for others and work together to foster happier families, and better communities. The most efficient way to convince others is not to approach them, but to first practice Metta diligently, set a great example, and convince others with our actions.


I hope the above has been helpful. I must be honest to say that I am not the expert in global affairs, but I can act on what I know and try to be a better human being. Any feedback to my reply above would be very much appreciated.

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A well known way of practicing metta is to start out by wishing that we ourselves will be well, happy, free from harm, etc. We then wish that someone we care deeply about will be well, happy, free from harm, etc. We then wish someone we feel neutrally about will be well, happy, free from harm, etc. We then wish for someone we dislike to be well, happy, free from harm, etc. And from there we may included good wishes for everyone in a small geographic area, then everyone in a larger geographic area, and eventually building up to everyone in the cosmos.

So it's a building process; you ease into it rather than starting out trying to summon up benevolence for someone who is very challenging for you to feel benevolent towards. This takes some time and regular practice. The benefit of metta is that it helps dissolve greed (jealousy), aversion (hatred), and ignorance in you, yourself.

We shouldn't think that any category of beings are outside of our capacity to "wish them well". When a person is acting with extreme hatred and delusion, they are not well mentally and wishing them well is a way of wishing for mental clarity for them so that they will not continue to act in hatred and delusion.

If there is any doubt that we should include those acting in hatred and delusion in our wishes for well being for all, there is the fascinating story of Angulimala, a serial killer back in the Buddha's day who became an Arahant.

Here is an audio link to the style of metta meditation described in this post.

https://soundcloud.com/bhikkhu-samahita/metta-meditation

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You need to change your perspective of terrorists. Instead of seeing them as terrorists who are agents of evil, we need to see them as regular people like you and me, who, just like you and me, are afflicted with the defilements (kleshas) like hate, wrong views etc.

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  • I do try to look at them in this way, but alas, I don't succeed... – Guy Eugène Dubois Jan 12 '15 at 11:40
  • Try to reflect on times when you were afflicted with these defilements and could not see through them. For e.g. if you are consumed with hatred, you cannot see otherwise. – ruben2020 Jan 12 '15 at 23:50
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One practical approach is to recognize that "terrorism" is a vastly over-inflated risk, especially in the US. And it's also (sometimes) such a complex moral area -- e.g. Nelson Mandela would have been called a terrorist by some people at one time -- that in some ways it's easier to have compassion and understanding (compared with, say, the damage done by ostensibly legal but raw greed and financial jiggery-pokery).

In other words, avoid singling out "terrorists" as being in some way especially challenging in the context of metta. Greed, aversion, and delusion afflict all of us, and we all need to express compassion because we all need to receive it.

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Christianity has a famous motto, Love the sinner, hate the sin.

Similarly a preschool teacher might be taught to say, to a misbehaving child, "that's a hurtful action" not "you're a bad boy/girl": because you're supposed to love the child (unconditionally) and disapprove of bad behaviour.

So you might dislike terrorism.

You could wish that all sentient beings (including terrorists) might be free from the anger and ignorance associated with terrorism.

A sutta quoted in Wikiedia is,

May these beings be
free from animosity,
free from oppression,
free from trouble,

I dodn't see why you wouldn't want to wish that terrorists were free of animosity and oppression etc.


There are the opening verses of the Dhammapada too, for example:

  1. Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.

Don't you believe that?

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Once you give people that label are you without discrimination and attachment yourself?

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  • This answer has potential, but a lot more detail would be most excellent. – Anthony Jan 14 '15 at 2:54

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