An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind

Tonight American news anchors reported the “jubilance of Washington” at the death of Osama Bin Laden.  This causes me to pause, as I cannot relate to this style of discourse.  Jubilant is a word I would have expected in conjunction with the Royal Wedding, not the death of a terrorist.

We tell our children not to routinely ‘hit back’ in the school yard, to use words, and to seek mediation.  Of course I’m not suggesting that this complex web of international conflict can be easily navigated, especially in the situation of terrorism.  But perhaps a more mature and sober reflection on what has gone on would better model our values.

I believe Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye just makes the whole world blind”.  Unfortunately tonight I heard reports that before election President Obama said, “We’ll kill Bin Laden”.  What about the idea of capture, of trial, if possible?  What about the idea of restraining anti-social individuals from society rather than joining in on the violence by exterminating them.   I can understand that it might not be possible to capture a terrorist alive, but to set out not to do so is a completely different thing.  To rejoice afterwards, even more morally suspect.

Yoga scriptures and the broader Indian wisdom tradition offer us the concept of ahimsa – non-harming.  We intend no harm, or the least possible harm.  Sutra I:33 offers valuable insight here: “Calmness of mind is achieved by cultivating friendliness towards the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous and dispassion for those who have done wrong”.  This last bit is the trickiest for many of us.  What is dispassion?  Just like Jesus’ “turning the other cheek”, it does not mean letting people get away with things, but rather that peace cannot begin with violence.  The surprise caused by an absence of vitriol, the absence of retaliation may open a space for change, a space for dialogue, a space for different responses.  Dispassion means letting go of our visceral reactions of anger, condemnation, and retaliation and simply responding to situations as skillfully as we can.  I heard recently on the CBC about a woman meeting a man who had been imprisoned for IRA bombings that killed her father.  They were able to hear one another’s story; to open themselves to compassion; to understand better the complexities that led to violence, and the fruitlessness of violence.

Post 9/11, I think there was a real inner call for us as a global society to try to reduce discrimination, religious intolerance and economic and power disparity that are the breeding grounds of distrust, hatred and violence.  Maybe this type of mandate could have shone a light on what to do about the perpetrators of mass violence, and how to approach justice.  Tonight broadcasters are speaking for the American public about gladness and justice.  I feel that this discourse shrouds us in the dim.  Since when did the death of another person, no matter who, make anyone truly glad.  The story of the English woman and the former IRA bomber really touched me, and was an incredible demonstration of what can happen when we open the door to dialogue, and let go of hatred.  As in the above sutra, calmness of mind, closure, peace, can only come when we let go of automatic reactions and judgements.

I do not feel death is a vindication.  Violence begets more violence.

I put the intention for peace.  I put the intention to remind myself in my daily life to act to reduce the illusion of separation.


12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Peggy
    May 02, 2011 @ 09:32:47

    Thanks Chetana. I especially love the last line.


  2. Haley
    May 02, 2011 @ 11:12:17

    Dearest Chetana
    Thank you so much for sharing and finding the words to describe what I hope many of us are feeling. This morning as I heard the news my first thought was disbelief and as they finished with his body was left at see I don’t believe the story at all. It does not feel True. Secondly the next report was of the joyful gatherings, this left my tummy feeling unsettled. Who gathers to party over death. An illusion indeed and a lesson I am most thankful my daughter is yet too young to be observing. Unconditional love while practicing discipline and calm mind.
    Thank you once again


  3. Nancy Bhakti Priya
    May 02, 2011 @ 11:38:30

    Chetana, these are good words. What does this say about our society that we rejoice over the killing of another human being? How are we to evolve our collective consciousness when we drop to the low level of savoring and celebrating this killing? Altho Bin Laden had a mental illness of ignorance and hate, he was also a son, brother and father. I agree a capture and trial would have better served our world to bring him to justice. Also, not allowing a proper Islam burial is disrespectful to the Islamic religion and people. Will this not enrage Moslems and cause further karmic results in the world? Oh divine Mama, when will our world begin to wake up?


  4. Bee
    May 02, 2011 @ 12:41:06

    Thank you, Chetana… I shared this one on


  5. Britt Bahle
    May 02, 2011 @ 12:42:17

    Thanks Chetana. You have eloquently described my reaction to this news. As an American I was not only saddened by the reaction of my fellow Americans, but also embarrassed that we could rejoice in a situation which I consider a complete tragedy when seen from every angle. Thank you for your insights. Namaste.


  6. Jennifer Hilton
    May 02, 2011 @ 19:47:11

    Thank you for your insight…I wanted to share with you this video, it speaks so much to what you spoke about. It is two mothers who reconciled after the September 11 terrorist attach. One lost her son and the other mother’s son was involved in the attach…it is very powerful.


    Jennifer Hilton


  7. Chelsea Jnan Murti
    May 02, 2011 @ 21:36:04

    Thank you so much Chetana. I have been reflecting on the reactions of media to Osama Bin Laden’s death and one headline in particular reading “Rot in Hell”. I completely agree with every point in your article. I had been feeling confused and slightly upset over his murder and now I understand why. It may seem silly that I did not understand my own feelings but my vision was also obscured by the hatred and violence surrounding his death.

    It is naive to think that killing one man is going to reduce terrorism. Like a many headed snake, someone new will rise to take his place.


  8. Tiziana Stupia
    May 02, 2011 @ 22:01:40

    Thank you Chetana. You touched my heart with this article. I couldn’t agree with you more.


  9. Colleen Collins
    May 03, 2011 @ 09:37:58

    This is so true and any death -especially a violent death is not a time to rejoice


  10. Lillian D'souza-Muise
    May 05, 2011 @ 13:01:57

    Thank you Chetana, I agree fully with you. I too listened too the documentary on CBC on the IRA bombing that killed the woman’s father and how she dealt with it. It touched me greatly and I thing we should have these forms of rehabilitation and dialogue in our prison systems.

    I miss our conversation.


  11. Sandy W
    May 06, 2011 @ 12:51:52

    Yes Chetana, thank you very much for sharing this. Padi om


  12. akhandayoga
    May 26, 2011 @ 15:56:24

    Thank you everyone for commenting on this last post. I am sorry I did not approve all the comments earlier; normally I get an email notification to do so, but it must have been malfunctioning.

    I appreciate so much the dialogue, and the TED video contributed.

    Hari Om!! Chetana


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