Should we commemorate 9/11?

I’ve got a bit of a dilemma, and I’m wondering if you can help me out.

I’m a Buddhist representative on the interfaith body, Australian Partnership of Religious Organizations. APRO’s role is to foster interfaith relations, and in particular to show how religions in Australia work together for peace.

In line with this principle, members of APRO have suggested that we hold a commemoration for the victims of 9/11 on the upcoming 10th anniversery of the tragedy. The idea is that we hold a simple interfaith service, with perhaps a prayer or message for world peace, and invite some dignitaries. It will be a media event, with the rationale that, on that day, the media will be looking for stories and we can fill that space with a positive message. A working group has been appointed, and while it is not fully confirmed it seems likely it will happen.

Of course there is no question that the purpose is good and the message is essential. Yet I feel uneasy about using this event for this purpose.

I’d like to hear your opinions – what do you think? I won’t explain my doubts in any more detail yet, as I’d like to get your unfiltered responses. Also, I am not entirely clear for myself what is best to do. The other members of APRO seem to find the idea unproblematic, so I wonder if I’m just being weird.

Anyway, should we support the event? What message would a Buddhist presence (or absence) send? Is there a way it could be done that would work?


74 thoughts on “Should we commemorate 9/11?

  1. No, you shouldn’t go Bhante. Of course, the death toll is tragic — but the day has been symbolised and reified as a political tool to kill more and more Muslims.

    Also, whilst I am no conspiracy theorist, no one knows the full story yet of who were ‘the main players’ on that day. Going to the 9/11 commemoraton would be the same as supporting the US/GB narrative of what happened, which countless people no longer can bring themselves to believe in.

    Dr. Norman Finkelstein, the Holocaust scholar from a Polish family, all of whom ( besides his parents) were exterminated in the camps, refuses to go to Holocaust memorial days, for the simple reason that he believes those days are by no means a genuine dedication to the real victims ( ghetto Jews ) but rather, he sees them as a ceremony which has now been mystified and reified to a ‘sacred totemistic’ level, precisely to then use as a tool to justify the murder and persecution of Arabs and robbery of their lands under the ‘victim’ tag.

    Hajo Meyer , another Holocaust survivor is of the same opinon.

    Don’t go. Don’t join the US/UK/Israeli murder circus.

    • Thanks, and always good to get a straight opinion! Interesting to hear of the Holocaust survivor’s perspective. It is the case, to play the Devil’s advocate (or Mara’s advocate?), that the meaning of these things can change. Australia’s ANZAC day is one such event, which has, I believe matured over the years, from a straightforward memorial to the bravery of soldiers, to a more sober reflection on the costs of war. The Aussie soldiers gradually became strong friends with the Turkish soldiers against whom they fought in WW1. This shifting emotion was brilliantly captured in, and perhaps influenced by, Australia’s greatest folk song.

    • I live in NYC;(the borough of Staten Island)(5 boroughs make up NYC-not just Manhattan).. there were Muslims killed too that day. It is a sad day for all. My neighbors next door to my house are dear dear friends and are Muslims. Most NY people have tons of Muslims friends… it is the newspapers that like to make it seems that NY and the WS people are prejudice against Muslims.. (not so). The news in America like to make everything seems Worse than it is .. to SELL more newspaper or to sell more commercials on the news (more viewers; higher profits). They only focus on the bad things that are stated .. by people that are low-thinking and egotistical and just want to ‘hate’. We in America have to stop getting OIL from other is all political and cause so much grieve and trouble. We are no longer a Democracy; but more Corporate Run.. .. the politicians are more like puppets. (Americans number one prescription drug is now MOOD medications/Pain Killers.. everyone is so numb. WE could use as much Spiritual Influence here as any of you Enlightened Monks can bring.. !! Please come. Ignore the rhetoric; and you make the focus on Compassion and Love for all.. !!

    • Mario / Jul 2 2011 8:12 pm

      Of course every body should go in respect for the loss of life- no matter.

      You should be in my opinion DEEPLY ashamed of yourself.

      Innocent people died

  2. PS I absolutely love your Blog — you raise the real questions that other Buddhists don’t want to talk about.

    I haven’t read your page for many months now — since the ordination row — I just returned, and I m so glad to see you still raising the challenging questions.

  3. So many people have suffered and died in so many conflicts around the world, it has always perplexed me why the American tragedy gets singled out. This is coming from an American who moved to NYC a few months after 9/11. I don’t mean to diminish the event, but why would an Australian interfaith group choose to commemorate an American terrorist attack? I get that we’re a big, powerful nation and we made sure the world knew how hurt and angry we were after the fact, but I’ve always felt that whole attitude, and the wars that ensued from it, seriously lacked perspective.

    That aside, if one was going to publicly remember those who lost their lives on 9/11, it would be good to use it as a platform to talk about the Brahmavihara or Kamma or Buddhism generally. In fact, I have a hard time thinking of any Buddhist teaching that couldn’t be related to here, and I think it’s the mark of a good teacher (and parent) that can turn seemingly disconnected occasions into insightful Dhamma talks. So naturally I’m interested to hear what your reservations are.

    • Yes, another relevant point. The response would be that Australia has been implicated in the events surrounding 9/11, especially the related Bali bombings. I guess the intention is to provide more perspective on the events, but whether that will have any meaning is an open question.

  4. Bhante,

    This sad event (one amongst many thousands that would have happened and gone unnoticed on that same day and at that same time) shows clearly the Buddha’s teaching that hatred begets more hatred. The victims were not only those who died that day.

    As far as hoping to have some media attention for a message that is positive/peaceful…well…can APRO control the context and manner in which the media will portray their event?

    Also will this event include members of the Islamic religious community too? And will APRO be able to control whether or not the media focuses on this? Or rather on the multi-faith/harmony/peaceful cooperation etc… that exists within APRO?

    Just a few thoughts/questions. Good luck.


    • Dear Kanchana,

      Thanks for the comment. Of course, we cannot control the media, so this is always a consideration. As far as the Islamic community goes, they are part of APRO, but the Muslim rep was not present at the last meeting, so while I assume they would be present, i couldn’t say for sure.

  5. Will APRO hold a commemoration on Oct 7, 2011 for the victims of the war in Afghanistan on the upcoming 10th anniversary of the beginning of the inappropriately named “Operation Enduring Freedom” or a commemoration on March 20, 2013 for the victims of the war of choice in Iraq on the upcoming 10th anniversary of the beginning of the equally inappropriately named “Operation Iraqi Liberation” (yes, the original name of the operation does also turn out to refer to OIL)?

    Innocent people died as a result of those events, too. Not that it necessarily matters how many more, but the numbers are in the hundreds of thousands more.

    My point is that if APRO or anyone else wants to tie a positive message for peace to decisions that lead to acts of violence and a lot of killing, why stop with 9/11?

    At the very least, an equal amount of attention should be given at this 9/11 commemoration to the innocent victims in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

  6. There are so many tragedies throughout the world that we would be busy everyday with commemorations even if we just went to the major ones. Tsunamis and earthquakes in Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia etc.

    There is also the political side of the 9/11 commemorations. It is being used as a tool by politicians, nationalists and racists.

    It seems that an American life is more precious than that of a another to some people. This event has little to do with Australia so if someone attends this one and does not attend another, say commerating the 24,000 dead in Japan’s recent tsunami, than this person may be reinforcing that view.

    However, by not participating it could become known in the media. Headlines such as “Buddhists boycott event” appear. This won’t necessarily be harmful though as it may give you a chance to explain your reasoning.


  7. I am not really returning to this site to comment on this, but if it were me which it isn’t ha ha sucked in Sujato, I probably would go:

    (a) because if it has been a western group that bombed a group of muslims out of a war situation I am sure every Buddhist on the planet would be up in arms about it and commemorating and judging and complaining so why is it OK for Muslims to bomb a public place like that? people who had not declared war on them?

    (b) …this is a bit whatever but I remember someone like Elton John saying “typical bloody Buddhists were are they when something like this happens, they go on about peace but etc etc… which is possibly the view of many that Buddhists are passive dormats.

    (c) If we are going to be honest and while I do not like what is happening in the West with regard to greed and materlism and can see why the Muslems would dislike us – do I see them as any better; Nope!

    (d) I might be good for people to see that there is an alternative to materalism, fanatical suicidal religious groups and/or atheism..Buddhism.

    A media trick that I have heard of that I am sure you know of is to have prepared the message you want to get across; make sure it is something that cannot be shortened, edited, misunderstood etc.
    something short and succint and if they ask you anything then just say your message: ie the Buddha said on war is that with effort we can overcome conflict peacefully etc etc (obviously if they ask you your name don’t say – the Buddhist belief on war is etc etc,but if it is anything vaguely relating to the topic ie: what do you think of this situation? are you a Buddhist etc…anyway I am sure you know that)


  8. Yikes, Bhante. I’m astonished that APRO would move to pursue this without even first consulting their own Muslim rep. It does not bode well. Obviously, the Muslim community is the faith community in Australia that would be most impacted by an event like this. Not only the Muslim rep. but the wider Muslim community should be engaged and deeply involved in deciding whether a commemoration like this can possibly be done in a way that doesn’t cause more harm than good. This is my single biggest objection.

    Second, the issues are so complex that they are invariably over-simplified, if not outright distorted, in glossy media events like this. I think there is a role for interfaith voices to take principled and sometimes unpopular stands on political issues, and that has happened here in the States at times. But it doesn’t sound like that’s what APRO has in mind. It sounds more like some vague, saccharine platitudes will be attached to an event as horrible for the ways in which it has been manipulated and misused as it is horrible in itself. Someone might argue that the intention is to treat it as a something other than a political issue, but that’s also a mistake. To ignore the political context is to reinforce the dominant political narrative.

    And at the risk of over-simplifying yet again (but Daisy’s post begs for the correction), a significant percentage of the victims in the Towers were, of course, Muslim. Just like a significant percentage of the New York population and the U.S. population. Which is not to say an interfaith commemoration is therefore automatically a unifying event.

    I agree with Mario that it will almost inevitably reinforce the dominant narrative of the event and I agree with Kanchana that the media message cannot be controlled. And like Ben, as an American I am surprised that Australians would see fit to commemorate this particular event. To say that Australia has been implicated by surrounding events is weak indeed. If the event still commands an emotional response from Australians (I wonder if it does?), I’m guessing that’s because of its political symbolic value. Again, it comes back to whether an interfaith group can really claim to be innocently making a statement about peace when the political implications run so deep.

    Thanks for asking!

    • Jackie,

      Australia is not a Muslim run country, basically they are guests in this country, as are we all.

      Possibly Apro should ask permission from the Aboriginal community NOT the Muslim Community, or een the Christain church because it is a Christain country, certainly we do not wish to offend the many wonderful Muslims living here, they certainly bring with them a certain sort of deceny and I have worked with many who are kind, honourable and themselves deplore the tactics used by fundamental Muslims and it is these people we hope come to this county.- but then again if they do not like our way of life, culture etc they are free to leave at any time!

      We do not need the permission of the Muslim community to organise any events in this country.



    • Yes, consultation with the Aboriginal community is still lacking in APRO: we have spoken of it, but have yet to get an active indigenous participation. Please bear in mind that APRO is a very new organization, with little funds, and, like so many others, we are just trying to do something positive with the few resources at our disposal. Nevertheless, i will raise this with APRO as a matter of importance.

    • Sorry if I’ve confused things: I didn’t mean to imply that the Muslims had not been consulted. The idea has been discussed at a number of meetings and emails, it was only at the last meeting that Ikebal Patel from AFIC was absent, so I couldn’t confirm 100% that he would be present for the commemoration, although i have no reason to think he would object. I take it for granted that we would not do anything re 9/11 without the Islamic co-operation, as it is such a sensitive issue for them. It would be good to get wider community consultation, i will bring this up – but we have little resources. Technically, APRO is the ‘partership of religious organizations’ and so represents the specific Islamic (and other) organizations who take part, rather than the Muslim community as a whole. nevertheless, we do obviously want to make it as representative as possible – which is why i’m asking the Buddhist community.

      As a Buddhist, i feel 9/11 as such is more peripheral, and i don’t think our decision whether to take part or not should affect the event as a whole. If the rest of APRO think it’s a good idea, then fine, go for it.

      And thanks for the remainder of your comments, well considered as always.

    • Dear Bhante Sujato,

      Wouldn’t it be difficult for Muslims to oppose a commemoration for the victims of 9/11 or not to show up for it if there is going to be one?

      People who are driven by greed and/or by delusions of grandeur turn innocent people into victims every day.

      Why is it even necessary to single out the anniversary of 9/11 as if the violence on that one day is somehow different from other acts of violence?

  9. In terms of the question – ‘do you support APRO’s stance re 9/11 or not?’ – rather than going to the cognitive and all the pros and cons for guidance – what does your ‘gut’ say? your intuitive sense of your response to this – and all that is implied in this invite – It’s probably not very buddhist to say this – but ‘let the belly lead’

    Oh – just remembered – it could well be buddhist..

    a few tips from venerable master hsuan hua… as told to me,

    ‘don’t push forward through the use of will,
    know when to go forward and when to retreat,
    in accordance with the way.’

    Q to the master – How will I know the difference?

    ‘You will know through staying connected to your belly’

    blessings to you bhante in your awesome and tireless work.

    • Thanks, yes, I feel my belly talking, just trying to figure out exactly what it’s saying… but i’m getting a better idea…

  10. Dear Ven. Sugato

    I’m one person who lived in NYC right after the event as volunteer traveling on the subways which was abandoned in fear due the bombings, and my daughter survived it while at middle school there but neither of us escaped the consequences of remaining in NYC during the next 5 years.

    I support whatever decision you make. But as you are a monk doing some kind of funerary service or a part of commemoration I think you should go ahead and do as well as supporting services for the living. Why? Because the horrific events required such force of energy to recover from that it took almost 5 years for that city to come back to itself socially and resume a normal NYC life again. Any kindness you show those still living even in good thoughts is more that welcome.

    I’d like to remind you that It was a global event with many citizens around the world right there in or near the towers; that were killed, injured and the following aftermath with residents like me exposed to toxic air, all kinds of hazards. Also it impacted safety and changed how it’s handled by countries around the world, also don’t forget the bombings in various countries close to that time and afterwards. It stopped air traffic across the USA and trains were release shortly afterwards (that’s how I got there).

    They didn’t publicize the massive illnesses from that toxic dusts, leading to lifetime injuries, debilitations and deaths, or cover the many suicides, or the counsel of concerned parents fearing the worst for their unborn child with many just choosing abortions rather than the agony of the 9 month wait. The elderly sickened right away and our hospitals were overcome with massive injuries and desparately ill, making it seeming much like war zones!

    This was hard for people there to deal with for normal life it was not. I was right there in the ERs very busy in the first 2 years among the 5 buroughs, with the police, in ambulances, with people screaming, crying, and begging for help. My daughter was 12 years old and she bears scars on her arms from what we don’t know neither have the skin doctors, and now we both keep inhalers for what the doctors labelled as the fallout effects of 9/11 toxins.

    In the temples we had many services for the sudden deaths and many more for those who I mentioned earlier. Also while the churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples remainded open unti 10pm 7 days a week in a response to the mayors requests to offer counseling to anyone who came in asking, we did on top of our daily schedule, also colllected clothing in a 20 block and 5 street area, walking int ourselves, for those suddenly unable to return to their homes in the affected area or who had toxic dust in their homes, it went very far due to the sea and the winds.

    Commemorating those who died quickly or dying agonizing slow deaths in the aftermath or those who were lucky survivors in the aftermath (and that’s a lot of people) is not a bad act. It will help those whom you may have never met. Just ‘cuz we are from the USA is no reason to forget to be compassionate to our people who suffered greatly at that time.

    And what does one’s religion have to do with survivng or dying because of 9/11? Did we not learn anything from it, of course! It’s an event that was as every bit as powerful of an impact as the Holocost (which hurt my family too… so don’t jump on me about it!) and brought about more global change as a result, and totallly remade how we travel, what we take, and who we look for as terrorists. It changed our global lifestyle.

    • Thanks for that, and for the very relevant reminder about the wider impact of suffering. It spreads out in space, and also in time, echoing down through the generations. Of course, 9/11 is not unique in this respect – any war or act of violence has impacts that go far beyond the immediate victim.

  11. Hi Bhante Sujato,
    If you weren’t the Buddhist representative on APRO you wouldn’t have the question.

  12. …just to clarify
    is this seen as an event or a remembrance for the dead….to calculatingly use a remembrance to sell any message of any kind seems wrong, they do this at christian funerals many people r sick of going to funerals whereby christians just try to sell god, and i would not like to go to a funeral of a loved one where it is used as a venue to get across a message or sell a religion of any kind rather than what it is suppose to be about, the person who has past on.

  13. Interesting dilemma. I notice that Conservative groups in the US are gearing up to profit from the commemoration of 9/11 by preparing merchandise (and not just merchandise). At the same time, the American Red Cross is asking Americans to commemorate the event by donating blood. The Feds are probably pleased about this since they are concerned anxious that terrorist groups may be planning their own ‘commemorations’.

    So should spiritual leaders get involved, making a spiritual gesture that parallels the more bodily suggestion of the Red Cross – ie encouraging people to use the occasion to reinvigorate their commitment to global peace and the promotion of just and generous relations across cultures, working to address the causes of terrorism (eg poverty), and actively expressing friendship (a kind of spiritual blood transfusion in readiness) toward those who are likely to feel the threat of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab prejudice at this time? You haven’t said much about what the message of APRO would be, but I imagine (and hope) it would be along these lines, rather than suggesting that the victims of 9/11 are more worthy of attention that those of other violence, or somehow reinforcing anti-Muslim prejudice, as some people on this blog fear. Or should spiritual leaders and their followers remain quiet and simply meditate or pray that this anniversary will pass peacefully?

    Peter’s comment implies (I take it) that spiritual leaders ought to stay out of politics, including media oriented interfaith groups. I understand this position – Samuel Weber describes entering politics as signing a pact with the devil, and saying goodbye to any form of absolute ethics. It is naivety to think that you can get involved in political or media events and remain pure (or never be misunderstood or misrepresented). But this sacrifice is necessary if one is to take up the ethic of responsibility, and have an effect on the public life of one’s community. I think it is appropriate and important for spiritual leaders who have the skills and aptitude for it (including Buddhists) to take up this ethic of responsibility.

    This doesn’t answer your specific question. But I would suggest that before making a decision, you discuss your doubts with the other members of APRO. It seems to me that whatever they are, they probably aren’t Buddhist-specific (I don’t think any of the concerns raised here so far are particularly tied to Buddhism). I mean if you have good reason to withdraw from the event APRO is planning, your reasons will probably hold weight with other members of the group, too. Maybe rather than simply withdrawing to a position of purity (or one that is popular with your ‘constituency’), you could have a salutary effect on the design of the event, or on the whole group’s decision whether or not to pursue the idea.

    • Hi juzzeau
      I enjoyed your post. I don’t think all spiritual leaders should stay out of all politics. A good example of a spiritual leader who made a very valuable contribution to a just political movement would be Martin Luther King, Jr.

    • Hi Juzzeau, thanks for the reflection. I hope that our message would be along the lines you suggest – but always remembering that nuance is the first thing the media discards.

      I have discussed my concerns with the APRO committee, and so far no-one has really seen any problem with the idea as such, although of course the need to do it appropriately is a major concern. In addition to this forum I have raised the question in many different Buddhist groups over the past couple of weeks, and i must say, I have received several clear ‘no’s, a lot of concerned questions of the sort that have been raised on this thread, and no clear ‘yes’s – apart from Robert’s. Which answers one of the main questions I started with: am I just being weird to worry about this? Apparently not.

    • yes, the reason for the “event” needs to be made really really clear, sending out press releases or whatever with a clear message of why APRO are doing this ie “spiritual people pray for peace” and making sure it is not interpreted as political; or taking sides or against muslims etc, if you do go.

      Also if there are no Muslim representatives I would think it would be better not to hold it as it wouldn’t to me look good either way saying ie Muslims don’t support peace or that APRO are making a stand against Muslim (which personally if it didn’t add to to threat of being attack by Muslim would be good thing, it seems we all have to cower in the corner and go along with muslims out of fear of being attacked and bullied by them rather than going along with them out of respect)

    • I’m sorry, but this whole thing of Muslim attendance has been completely misconstrued. There is no question of the Muslims not being involved or not attending. All I said was that the Muslim rep on APRO happened to be absent for our last meeting, so I can’t say what he said, because he wasn’t there.

    • Clearly you’re not being weird, Bhante – sensitive to the complexities of the situation, more likely.

      One way to read the responses your question has elicited is that the thought of 9/11 brings up a lot of negative feelings – anger, fear, vulnerability. To my mind, this is why a clear call for peace and human solidarity across cultural differences could be very useful and powerful at this time.

      Another way to read the responses is that many people within the community around you are hesitant to come out and unambiguously support an initiative that you have declared you have doubts about. Out of respect for you, we are following your lead, or second-guessing it. This shows the influence you have, an influence that I think you could use to displace some of the anxiety around this event and replace it with more positive emotions, along the lines that Robert suggests. Maybe what the world needs now is metta :).

      Daisy, I think a lot of people in the Muslim world probably feel the same way you do – except that they feel that they are the ones having to go along with Christians or the West out of fear of being attacked and bullied. Wouldn’t it be great if no one felt attacked or bullied? Or if all the ordinary people who are just trying to get on with their lives, whether Muslim or Christian or Buddhist or totally disinterested in religion, etc, could stick together for the sake of peace, rather than let extremist views separate us?

  14. Singling the victims of 9/11 out and raising them to the level of political martyrs who died ten years ago at the hands of Islamic extremists plays into a narrative that has continued the violence, i.e. provides a rationale for continued violence.

    Americans question the official narrative about who was really behind the attacks, as do significant portions of the populations of all other countries, especially those with majority Muslim populations.

    Americans also do not support the wars that were waged in the aftermath of 9/11.

    On the upcoming 10th anniversary of 9/11, I expect to see more protests against the ongoing violence and killing than commemorations for the victims who died ten years ago on that one day.

  15. Dear Bhante,

    I was on holiday in Bali in October a couple of years ago and happened to visit Kuta on the 12th. There was a large party on the beach – banners everywhere declaring: “Bringing community & unity and sending love to the world”. Much enjoyment was being shared by locals and visitors and a feeling of goodwill pervaded the gathering. It was only after speaking with a few people that I realised the occasion was the anniversary of the bombings. Here was a wonderful example of how people can respond to acts of violence with love rather than hatred, very consistent with the Buddha’s teachings albeit from a community that is largely Hindu.

    My response to your question, for what it is worth, is that the media interest is the anniversary of 9/11 provides an opportunity to promote the Buddha’s message of peace and goodwill. Maybe even to reflect on the further damage that has been done by the west’s response based in hatred and revenge.

    • That’s terrific, thanks so much, Robert. Yours is the first unambiguously supportive response that I’ve received, and well informed by your Bali holiday. Perhaps we should have a beach party, instead? That would really get some headlines….

  16. Dear Bhante,

    My first response to your query is Negative. I wouldn’t want to commemorate that day. Though it might be meant to promote peace, the fact that we commemorate that day could be considered a criticism of the attacks — You attacked me, yet I love you and forgive you. You are defiled, so you used violence to express your anger. I’m so noble, I love you, despite.

    Imagine another scenario. A group of people commemorated a day in May, saying that they were promoting peace…

    Shouldn’t we just let go of the past by stopping commemorating and romanticising the past?

    Just my two humble cents.


    • Thanks, Dheerayupa – ahh, yes, the ‘holier than thou’ syndrome. Especially hard to avoid when you live in a safe, prosperous country which has never experienced a terrorist death on its soil…

  17. APRO seems to have had some success in accessing politicians and making its presence felt in Australian political circles, so the fact that it’s relatively young, is still small and doesn’t have a big budget doesn’t seem too relevant. The organisation appears to be representative so it will have credibility in the media and it will get coverage so long as the message is ‘newsworthy’ and well presented.

    Sitting quietly at massacre sites in various parts of Australia may convince you that Australia has indeed experienced terrorist deaths on its soil. They are difficult to get to but there is plenty of documentary evidence for them.

    My gut tells me not to support “a commemoration for the victims of 9/11” unless it is absolutely clear that the victims include all who have died and suffered in the intervening 10 years, wherever, however and whosoever they may be.

    A big party seems like a great way, perhaps the only way, to commemorate these ten years of suffering for so many people.


    • You’re quite right, I was too easily accepting the modern, politicized notion of what constitutes ‘terrorism’. Actually, i think the whole notion of ‘terrorism’ has become so ideologically loaded that it is useless. The basic idea of the term, as I understand it, is to demonize those who use violence in ways that lie outside the conventionally accepted ideology of a ‘just war’. But since I don’t believe in a ‘just war’, the distinction is meaningless to me.

      And while we’re on the topic, Sydney’s Council has finally adjusted to reality by recognizing that Australia was invaded by the English.

  18. Hi Bhante,

    I must admit, my first response was initially a negative one. I sympathise with the views expressed by those sharing on this post and my initial reaction was not disimilar. I do though feel otherwise after some time to consider.

    This event in essence is a coming together of people with positive intentions. Sure, we can think of many reasons why it is inappropriate, unjust and why September 11 should not take precedence over the attrocities committed before, since and as a direct result of the event. I feel however this misses the point completely. In the end such reactions and responses create further division, animosity and seem to be the antithesis of the intended message the event is intended to convey. Do the organisers intend to use this as opportunity to contrast 9/11 to other events? I think not.

    Undeniably, 9/11 was one of the most prevelant and impacting events of modern times. The ripple effect it has created has been equally pronounced. If however, this gathering is a unified, multi-faith attempt to foster forgiveness, compassion, kindness and peace well, I think the good outweighs the bad. In the end, a Buddhist no-show would signal more harm than it would good and the message it would convey to the inter-religious community would be questionable.

    In the end, a stance of equanimity should be considered. One should cherish all living beings. Therefore, the point is missed if the heel of ethical principles is dug too deep.

    Anyhow, that’s my take on the whole issue.


    • “One should cherish all living beings. Therefore, the point is missed if the heel of ethical principles is dug too deep.”

      So beautifully said Sam. A very lovely point. _/\_

    • Undeniably, 9/11 was one of the most prevelant and impacting events of modern times.

      But it shouldn’t be. And the impact has mostly been to use an act of violence to justify more violence. Regardless of the intentions of good people, commemorating the event only serves the interests of those who will use it to justify more violence. Remembering innocent victims of violence is fine, but not when it is done in a way that will serve to validate ongoing violence.

      Participating in the 9/11 narrative will not lead to peace. Religious leaders who lend their credibility to the solemnity of the event need to be mindful of the way their sincere lovingkindness toward past vicitims is being used to create more and more victims of violence right now.

  19. Bhante,

    I’ve tried to avoid personalizing this discussion, but I find that I can’t make my point without doing so. I was born and raised about 30 minutes away from NYC, so I understand the feelings that the event produced. One of the victims of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing grew up with my parents. And my sister-in-law worked in one of the towers for two years in the 1990s.

    Now I live nearly 1,000 miles away from NYC and DC, in the South. The people of this mid-sized city felt the need to erect a monument to 9/11, putting the names of the victims on it. As far as I know, none of those victims were from this city or even this state.

    Meanwhile, young men from this city and state enlisted in the military to fight back. The son of a woman I work with joined, armed himself, and was sent to Iraq for George W. Bush’s war of choice. There, he fought. There, he was killed.

    Every time I look at that monument outside the city courthouse, all I think of is how many young men were convinced to arm themselves for war, how many killed and were killed, and I wonder what it was that so many have died for.

    Most of the world religions have some sense of a “just war.” Why is it that Buddhism does not? What would a Buddhist say about the need to fight someone like Hitler?

    • Hi Ratanadhammo,
      Not sure about “Buddhism” having a just war but Theravadan Buddhist have certainly had the idea of a just war for example the horendous civil war in Sri Lanka which seems to have been brought to an end in the most brutal of ways. There was also Kittivudho Bhikkhu who infamously justified the killing of communists in Thailand.

    • 1.2 million Americans have served in Afghanistan since it began…so many have returned with debilitating conditions – and are not being supported…there are many voices of reason that could be raised on such an occasion…

  20. Hi Ratanadhammo,

    I hear your points and by all means I certainly am in agreeance of much of which. What I don’t concur with however is feeling that September 11 shouldnt take heriachial order over the endless attrocities that have occurred since and as a direct result. It shouldnt! Hatred is hatred, violence is violence. Although my intellect wishes to justify one means over another, my heart says otherwise; hatred can never be justified and through choosing not to attend based on principles is a subtle form of animosity. Whether it’s for a seemingly just cause or not is besides the point.

    I don’t see any fruition that arises from weighing moral scales and to focus on the political agendas as if through ceaseless finger pointing we’re going to arise at some beneficial conclusion. Such just continues to create division, animosity and once again human kindness takes the back seat.

    Sure political agendas have been run from September 11. It bugs me frequently that we’re ever reminded of the event and in many ways is blatant hypocrisy and disregard for those who have been subjugated to unjust violence as a result. 9/11 was however a starkly clear symbol of how little progress we’ve made in the realms of kindness, acceptance and compassion. In my opinion however it is the no-show to this event that speaks louder than putting aside moral principles. It is little more than further perpetuating divisiveness. I’m sure that those attending this event have their own opinions regarding many of the points outlined on this post. They’re big people and can make up their own mind. What I can only conclude however is they should take secondary precedence to the wonder of people of diversity coming together to generate feelings of warmth, love, forgiveness and compassion.


    • Sam,

      Not to be mindful of how such an event can be manipulated – indeed, how the memory of 9/11 has been manipulated – by others and pretend that only one’s own good intentions matter fails the kusala test. And saying that others are big people who can make up their own minds doesn’t particularly work as a rationalization either.

      If saying enough to the violence is divisive, I’m ok with that.

  21. Hi Again,

    I think it’s also worthwhile to raise the validity of personalisation in regards to such discussions. Clearly, Ratanadhammo you have means to feel emotive about your plight. Does this invalidate the personal reasons for the families of September 11 victims who would wish to commemorate such an event? Or perhaps those who have been subjected to the attrocities caused through US foreign policy? Perhaps those displaced, tortured and marginalised through brutality, hatred and violence? I’d think all have equally valid personal reasons to be torn and deeply saddened. To validate one emotive means is to invalidate the other and as a consequence division and animosity is perpetuated.

    I think we all would have differing opinions on a myriad of just causes. Some are more emotionally moved on a personal level. Does this allow us to work together for a common motive of compassion and human progress? Perhaps at times but more often than not I think it stalls the process. We get caught up in our own distorted agendas of why we’re more right than others.

    Perhaps I’m being idealistic, but I think this warrants some consideration.


  22. Just wondering also, who sets the rules for the Kusala test? I think under your premise, Ratanadhammo, they’re relatively governed by views and opions. As my view differs from yours, as does many others on this blog, surely they’re not an intrinsic truth. Therefore, my perspective is as equally valid and invalid as yours.

    So, any decision made regarding this issue will inevitably subjugate one group to work for the cause of another.

    • Sam,

      I’m honestly not sure what you’re arguing. Surely, Buddhism is about more than helping others grieve for the dead. Surely, Buddhism is about more than clinging to the past. Unless I’ve missed something, Buddhism is about thinking and acting skillfully. I have no idea who set the rules for the kusala test, but I’m fairly certain that not being mindful of how such an event can be manipulated – indeed, how the memory of 9/11 has been manipulated – by others and pretending that only one’s own good intentions matter fails it.

  23. Hi Ratanadhammo,

    It seems you’ve brought great complexity to this issue.. I’m not here to debate what Buddhism is or isn’t about either. Rather, Ive raised a simple point; there are many angles this issue can be debated but positive intentions should override. This by no means condones or supports any agendas of hatred and injustice. Clearly your emotive response limits you ability to empathise with another perspective.

    I certainly sympathise and agree with your points. They are valid and worthy of consideration. Through feeling that attending the event to be worthwhile I see little
    purpose in debating a heirachy of worthy (or unworthy) causes. It seems however there to be a lot of thinking with heads and less by heart. I think by construing the simple act of unification to recognise the damage
    caused by hatred as serving political agendas is an exaggeration. I hardly see this event to serve as a framework for divising future foreign policy and political agendas. Perhaps you think otherwise.

  24. Hi Ratanadhammo,

    You seem to be concerned that any attempt to commemorate 9/11, however well-intentioned and oriented toward peace, will be manipulated in the service of more violence. Is this because you think that those who have already used 9/11 to justify violence are so powerful that it is pointless even trying to provide a different perspective? If so, how should we respond to this? Don’t you think it’s worth at least proposing that the suffering associated with 9/11, which clearly is not limited to the immediate fatalities of that day, could motivate compassion and become a spur to greater loving-kindness, rather than a reason for inflicting still more suffering, as Sam has eloquently suggested? I agree that intention is not enough on its own, we also need skillful means, and a willingness to act. But maybe this is precisely what Bhante’s interfaith group could provide, especially if he stays involved with it.

    It seems that a lot of the worries about the project are related to the fact that it is framed as a memorial for the victims of 9/11, and people are concerned that this limits the scope of concern to certain victims only, implying that others don’t matter, or even that the deaths of some justify inflicting violence and death on others, or constructing defensive barriers against them. But surely these ideas are precisely what APRO is designed to work against. So maybe there is a problem in naming the event a memorial for the victims, or this needs explanation.

    For many people it will be important to remember the human victims of 9/11, but ten years on, we also need to remember the values that were the more abstract victims of this event – like trust, generosity, understanding across cultures, commitment to peace. Damage done to these values by the reactions to 9/11 has clearly contributed to the ongoing loss of life that you have movingly spoken of. Can we use the ten-year anniversary of this event to call for the renewal and celebration of these values? The wars you have written about suggest that the violence of 9/11 sent a lot of people to sleep, or into a kind of ethical coma. So maybe rather than a memorial, a wake for the victims would be more appropriate – a wake that calls us to wake up and challenge the dominant meaning of this event.

    (The idea of a wake incorporates the celebratory element endorsed by other writers, too, without going quite as far as proposing a beach party…)

    • “We also need to remember the values that were the more abstract victims of this event – like trust, generosity, understanding across cultures, commitment to peace. Damage done to these values by the reactions to 9/11 has clearly contributed to the ongoing loss of life that you have movingly spoken of. Can we use the ten-year anniversary of this event to call for the renewal and celebration of these values?” Well said and a good indicator of how such conversations can unleash a creative process that can serve to dispense the Dhamma and move public policy through interfaith collaboration in a way that is politically neutral – as in – it does not have to to with political parties or left or right nor does it attack any specific policy per se.

  25. Well I personally don’t think alms mendicants should be becoming overly involved in secular activities. but if we take this small group as being representative of the “Buddhist Community” it would seem that Bhante Sujato cannot really attend the event if he is to be there as a Buddhist “representative”.

    • Stand up for peace! In your hearts and in the world! There comes a time when people need to hear the teachings. It can be done in a way that is not controversial. For goodness sakes, they let TNH address congress prior to the invasion of iraq – he hasn’t died as a result – and he could not change their minds, but the message needs to be heard again and again before it sinks in, and in order for the message to be heard it has to be spoken, again and again and by people with credibility and influence. There is ample room to deliver the essential messages using the language of the Buddha and outside the parameters of high political controversy. We as Buddhists have to get off these Zafus! Speak! Roar, Lions! or watch the Titanic sink and pull us down with it! _/\_

    • I agree Karuna. But it should be you and me who do the roaring and we should be doing it as humans. We do not need a proxy.

      On a previous thread I mentioned that I found Bhikku Bodhi’s commitment to the uplifting but also undermining. For some causes, for the very brave, even the which may be most treasured will need to be relinquished.

    • Karuna,

      The event that Bhante Sujato is talking about will not be a Buddhist event. The only reason I can think of to go to it is to speak out against the violence that is happening right now. If I were given 15 minutes to speak at the event, I would do nothing but talk for the whole 15 mintues about the innocent victims of wars that are happening today.

      Otherwise, please do not underestimate the power of merit produced on zafus.


    • Dear Peter,

      Which is why I wanted feedback – the spectrum of opinions offered here are more or less in line with those expressed when i have discussed this on several occasions with groups of Buddhists. Nevertheless, for the record, while of course I try to represent the buddhist community generally, technically it is the Australian Partnership of Religious Organizations, and i am there on behalf of the Australian Sangha Association. At our committee meeting the other day there was a general sense that we should not go.

  26. Dear Bhante Sujato,

    I think that this discussion in part has moved to questions about ‘just war.’ It was a point that you had first raised in one of your comments. For Christians in the West, theories of ‘just war’ (‘jus ad bellum’ and ‘bellum iustum’) were worked out by theologians like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. For Muslims, the idea of extending ‘jihad’ to warfare seems to go back to at least the 8th century. But, while there appear to have been Buddhist thinkers who supported one war or another in the past, is there any evidence of a clearly articulated theory of something like ‘just war’ in Buddhism?

    I had also asked above what a Buddhist would say about the need to fight someone like Hitler. It seems like there is perhaps some point at which fighting might be necessary. Would sending armies to fight Hitler be justifiable as self-defense?

  27. to feel uneasy with that its fine,more than fine is profound,if I may I like to say that to me what we all should do as buddhists an human beings is to have a long day of reflexion to be able to look deep inside our selves.
    If we all seat in meditation and stay still for the day maybe the people will realise that the problems of the world are inside us and that is time to look and change the way we see.
    To me anything else is making the gap between “us and them” and right and wrong even bigger,

    • While vacuuming this morning, I started thinking about those old stickers you used to see a lot on cars, saying “Practice Random Acts of Kindness.” It occurred to me that a grass-roots movement like this one would be a great thing to promote on the occasion of the anniversary of 9/11.

      I also like Monica’s idea of a day (or even an hour) of meditation – loving-kindness meditation would be particularly appropriate. Imagine if it went international, a great wave of metta rolling across the world, following the sun…

  28. Dear Bhante,

    While in Melbourne on his recent tour – HHDL said how much he loves George Bush and how on his recent visit to the US he flew down to Texas to chat with him. Prior to the US reaction to 9/11 HHDL sent a letter and emphatically discouraged Bush from responding with violence, TNH did the same. Both warned that it would become long and protracted and very difficult to end. We knew this because of what we know through the Buddha’s and all faith teachings. On this recent trip HHDL challenged Mr. Bush on the decisions he took at the time, asking what he thought about the results of his decisions as they look today. He also warned that if you kill one Bin Laden, you give birth to 100 more.

    My gut says, if there is an opportunity to raise an interfaith message that “mourns” ALL of the victims of 9/11 i.e. to finally publicly expand the definition of “victims” – to publicly acknowledge the millions of people touched by both the immediate and the ensuing cycle of violence – including and moving beyond Americans in New York City – including Muslims and people of many faiths – and to speak to the violence begets violence theme (as Australia, the US and Canada look to disentangle themselves from a right mess that looks like it has no end in sight- and God help the women in Afghanistan when troops pull out) – if there is ANY opportunity to expand people’s awareness regarding how far reaching the cycle of violence following 9/11 was -in which ways it affected the lives of Muslims everywhere – that one should take every opportunity – first to move the interfaith community in this direction, then to make a concerted and unanimous statement – with solid interfaith consensus on these three messages: there were victims in NYC and far beyond; violence begets violence; learn from this tragedy to guard against intolerance and build greater interfaith tolerance – and to find a different way of responding after the next 9/11.

    With great respect Dear Bhante, you are an engaged Buddhist, are you not? If you do not help to raise the collective voice for peace, who will? So if you can first win the collaboration of your interfaith colleagues, unleash a creative process and craft a unified message, not only will your Muslim colleague be more eager to attend future meetings, but you will shine a great light on Australia and possibly have a contagion effect on the wider interfaith community. You may well find support from the international interfaith community from the get go in terms of crafting the Australian presentation of the message.

    If this process is not ready to happen in Australia, then I would have difficulty commemorating 9/11 – as it would be yet another exercize in narcissism.

    With Metta,
    Go, Bhante!

  29. Sam, as someone who has too often dug in my ethical heels, I really took your comments to heart.

    Yet my heart compelled me to say something very different. Because even to characterize 9/11 as an event caused by hatred, intolerance, and a failure of kindness is to reinforce the dominant narrative. The primary cause of 9/11 was greed and lust for power, and it was enabled by utter indifference to others’ suffering, not by hatred or a failure of kindness and tolerance. It was not caused by a handful of hateful extremists. That version of events is unsupportable by the evidence, to anyone who cares to look and know for themselves. It’s not hard to sift the hoaxes from the research and judge for yourself. Call it conspiracy theory, I really don’t mind. Call it a giant conspiracy-shaped hole in the evidence and in the ludicrous 9/11 Commission Report. Call it an insult to the victims of the crime, but it’s survivors and victims’ families who’ve helped to lead the 9/11 truth movement.

    “Now she’s gone too far,” some of you may be saying. No, I think I haven’t gone far enough. Given the utter negligence in the investigation of 9/11 and the serious likelihood of U.S. government complicity in yet another massive crime (this time on U.S. soil), what is the kusala Buddhist response? What is the sane human response?

    Before the invasion of Iraq, some of us believed that non-violent civil disobedience was the sane response. Our governments were about to enter into an illegal war in our name, and we believed only non-cooperation on a massive scale could prevent it. We were told we were going too far. Liberal moderates were very fearful that our small efforts at civil disobedience might taint their great peaceful, lawful, orderly protests. The protests were great, on an unprecedented scale. And they failed to prevent the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just a few years down the road, and the crackdown on domestic dissent was already so complete that it was too late for civil disobedience. At the FTAA protests in Miami, a new, innovative militaristic approach to crushing dissent was invented, peaceful lawful protesters were tasered and arrested, and friends of mine were harmed by authorities while in prison. The protest wasn’t even reported in the mainstream media. Since then, irony and humour and the internet have been the weapons left to us, but you can see how much ground we’ve lost.

    So what next? A feel-good media event about tolerance and love? I guess, if that’s the best we can do. But forgive me if it makes me feel a little ill. I’m really not sure it’s saying anything about anything, and meanwhile there’s so much suffering enabled by the stultifying silence. Who gets to feel good in the new world order? Who gets to be peaceful?

    I’m a Buddhist, but I don’t share the political views of liberal middle-class moderates who seem to make up the vocal majority of non-Asian Buddhists. I have more in common with those of other faiths who take a critical approach. What’s being expressed here when we talk about hatred, tolerance, and a failure of kindness as causes of 9/11 is a particular political view (specifically, a liberal moderate one), all the more so when its political implications are denied. I understand the intention is to not be political, but as historian Howard Zinn said, “You can’t stand still on a moving train.”

    My politics and my spiritual practice come from the same place. A commitment to truth, a desire to wake up, a wish for the end of violence and suffering. I practice to reach an end to internal violence, but that doesn’t absolve me from a responsibility to do what I can to stem external violence (political, economic, racial, environmental, gender, and on and on) in whatever small way I can. This small statement is my contribution for now. Say or do something real and meaningful and relevant about 9/11 or don’t bother.

    With deep respect to all,

    • Jackie,

      Thank you for this thoughtful, sincere, and eloquent statement.

      Your expression of your politics and your spiritual practice coming from the same place – a commitment to truth, a desire to wake up, a wish for the end of violence and suffering – stated well what I’ve been thinking and feeling.

      It is possible to be Buddhists who are seeking to reach an end to internal violence and also to care about political, economic, racial, environmental, gender and other kinds of violence around us. The Buddha taught many things, but blind ignorance was not one of them! Your critical evaluation of the evidence of 9/11 is admirable. I stop at the conclusion that we don’t have enough reason to accept the official version and that we don’t have enough evidence to know who was really behind it. I’m sure you’re right, thought, when you say that greed and lust for power were motivators rather than hatred, intolerance, or a failure of kindness. Either way, I’m more concerned about the way 9/11 was used to start the 21st century off with a great deal of violence and the way 9/11 will be used going forward as an excuse for even more. The power of 9/11 as an excuse for more killing is still very real.

      You’re also exactly right about the way the authority of the state is now being used to silence and crush dissent. So maybe a feel-good media event about tolerance and love is the best we can do. What it makes me feel a little ill about it is that the very people who have been using 9/11 as an excuse to kill more innocent people love to see these kinds of events.

    • Hi Jackie,

      I agree with you that it doesn’t help to characterise 9/11 as an event caused by hatred, intolerance, and a failure of kindness – at least if the idea is that these failings were all on one side, or unique to one cultural group. It doesn’t take any long investigation to see that that’s not true. But it seems that the most visible responses to 9/11 have been dominated by these kinds of emotions, underpinned by a lot of fear. There has also been kindness, incredibly brave protests and acts of generosity, too, but as you point out, the media doesn’t often seem to pay too much attention to this, or do a lot to support it.

      I can also understand that it makes you sick that a few well-placed spiritual leaders can have the media come running when a whole lot of protestors who put their lives at risk for the sake of a similar message got ignored. But there’s no point in cutting off our nose to spite our face. If the message is substantially the same, let’s stand together and get it out there.

      Metta is real and meaningful and relevant. It’s not just about feeling good. It’s also about letting ourselves feel a bit sick, if that’s what it takes to find ways to understand and listen to people who are different to us (or maybe too much like us). It takes exactly the kind of commitment to truthfulness and waking up that you describe.

      It might seem as though an interfaith media event is only a show of metta, or something that’s too small to make a real difference, but interfaith work is actually pretty hard and I think it’s quite an achievement when it works. I went to a meeting of an interfaith group recently, and although no tough issues came up, I could see how difficult it is for people from different faiths to agree on things. And not many of the people there seemed like liberal middle-class types who hold their faith identities lightly. Actually, the main ones who seemed like they might fit that description were the Buddhists – but not even all of us.

      Anyway, I also wanted to say that I admire your passion for justice, and I think that there’s a lot of metta in that. For me, it’s there even more visibly in the care you take photographing beautiful, ugly, ordinary and extraordinary things and people. Your photos maybe small, but they’re pretty powerful.

    • Jackie can do a better job responding to this mischaracterization of what she said than I can, but I would like to point out that juzzeau has clearly mischaracterized what she said, apparently in an effort to dismiss it unfairly.

      juzzeau wrote:

      I can also understand that it makes you sick that a few well-placed spiritual leaders can have the media come running when a whole lot of protestors who put their lives at risk for the sake of a similar message got ignored.

      This is not what Jackie said.

      And juzzeau wrote:

      If the message is substantially the same, let’s stand together and get it out there.

      Again, this is not what Jackie said.

  30. Fair enough, Ratanadhammo. Maybe I’m the one who has the issue with some voices being ignored while others get more than their fair share of attention. So I was telling myself to get over this, not Jackie. And I’m happy to acknowledge that the second idea was my own, too.

    While we’re at it, there’s another mistake you didn’t pick up. I think I was getting my Jackies confused – with the light of day it has dawned on me that my ‘random act of kindness’ in saying how great I think her photos was particularly random… lol. But great to hear from you, Jackie, now that I realise who you are!

    OK, I’ll shut up now.

    • Juzzeau, you make me laugh and smile often. Please do not shut up. The last laugh was on lettuces sprouting from blog screens and this series is inspiring you with your vacuum being mindful not to hoover up fluffy kittens. I am sorry if this sounds like utter nonsense. It is. I just need to laugh from time to time I find our blogs can get a little serious. Which is as it is. I miss Jason Chan and our jokes and poetry to inspire friendship and tame the flames around our points of view. Where is Jason now? Any news of his ordination in Sri Lanka? Metta

    • Thanks, Karuna. I appreciate your contributions to this blog also, and I’m sorry if you felt I caught you up in my overly-enthusiastic hoovering this time. I did hear that Jason had ordained, but nothing more.

  31. Is there a right or wrong answer ?- why don’t you think it is a good idea to go? – if you don’t think it is right to go don’t.

  32. I hope I’m not too late for a contribution… but I could see why the Buddhist representatives would not want to support the event or have inhibitions. Osama Bin Laden was recently murdered by the CIA, without habeas corpus, and supporting a memorial for 9/11 could insinuate that his murder is justifiable. Also, encourage anger against al-Qaeda forces and maybe even perhaps the Muslim population.

    However, I think it’s the right thing to do, to join in APRO. If Buddhist representatives don’t, it will be a show of passiveness and this isn’t very productive. I would also mention all the people involved in 9/11 and not just Americans.

    Also, I would just like to share an entry to a World Trade memorial competition, a while ago, by Ron Drummond. He’s not a Buddhist and I think his entry was secular, but I found it very inspiring and hopefully it might be of use to you.

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