Reactions to the Terrorist Attacks
Does the philosophy of Krsna consciousness demand only indifference to the tragic events of this world?
When terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon stunned the people of America, many devotees of Krsna grieved along with their fellow Americans. Was that a proper response for persons trained in the philosophy of Krsna consciousness? In the days following the attacks, many devotees pondered that question and similar ones, and not everyone reached the same conclusions. Here we present some thoughts by three members of the Krsna consciousness movement.
[Originally written as a letter to disciples soon after the events.]
Surely by now you have all heard about the recent terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. Since we aspire to be servants of the Lord, it is important that we not take a casual or dismissive attitude toward these events and say, for example, "It's just a fight among the materialists" or "People are just suffering their karma." Were this to be the full extent of our response to these events, I think we would be deficient in our devotion to God. Why do I think this way?
Lord Krsna states in the Bhagavad-gita (6.32) that a devotee should feel universal empathy. Srila Prabhupada translates this verse as follows: "He is a perfect yogi who, by comparison to his own self, sees the true equality of all beings, in both their happiness and their distress, O Arjuna!"
This verse, among other meanings, recommends a kind of universal empathy. In his purport Srila Prabhupada stresses the point of empathy: "One who is Krsna conscious is a perfect yogi; he is aware of everyone's happiness and distress by dint of his own personal experience. In other words, a devotee of the Lord always looks to the welfare of all living entities, and in this way he is factually the friend of everyone."
We find another explicit, powerful call for devotional empathy in the Bhagavatam (6.10.9): "If one is unhappy to see the distress of other living beings and happy to see their hap-piness, his religious principles are appreciated as imperishable by exalted persons who are considered pious and benevolent."
This is how we can apply such empathy in the case of the recent terrorist attacks:
First, we can imagine what it would have felt like for us to have been on one of the four planes that were hijacked and destroyed, or in one of the three attacked buildings. There is ample information available so that we can be quite specific and explicit in imagining the experience.
Second, we will probably have to honestly admit that we would feel significant discomfort, pain, or anxiety in such a situation. If we are capable of deep empathy, if we are able, as Srila Prabhupada states, to understand the experiences of others by comparing them to our own experiences, and we are "factually the friend of everyone," then we experience true Vaisnava compassion.
In other words, we should not be more detached from the suffering of others than we are from our own suffering. We should not arrogantly dismiss the anguish of others, as if we are beyond anguish. A devotee who is truly transcendental to material suffer-ing, and who would not have suffered at all in one of those four airplanes, or in one of those three buildings, would be a most exalted pure devotee and as such would feel great compassion for the fallen conditioned souls. Those who are not compassionate, and who dismiss as trivial or unimportant such great suffering, are not actually demonstrating advanced detachment in Krsna consciousness, but rather they are demonstrating a disturbing lack of common empathy, and are in fact embarrassing our movement by their neophyte response.
ISKCON devotees oppose animal slaughter. How can we not oppose human slaughter? If one says, "It's their karma," then we reply that the same is true for cows and other animals that are slaughtered. If one says, "This is just a political fight among materialists," I would reply that in the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna clearly distinguishes between acts in the different modes of nature, and He specifically describes certain acts as not only materialistic, but as evil and demonic. It is surely evil and demonic to murder thousands of innocent persons. Let us remember that in Vedic culture we are required to treat people according to their innocence and guilt in this life. God will take care of their past karma. We are not allowed in Vedic culture to abuse people, harm or kill them, and then say, "It must have been their karma." Vedic culture is not moral anarchy in the name of karma. We should be above mundane morality, not below it.
During the Bangladesh War in the early 1970s, Srila Prabhupada strongly condemned the Muslim atrocities against the Hindus, and indeed against other Muslims, in Bangladesh. Of course, in every country on earth there are tragedies, and the devotees will benefit themselves personally, and greatly enhance their preaching, if they are able to achieve a real state of deep empathy, not in the cause of materialism or the bodily concept of life, but as a symptom of a budding self-realization that leads one to feel liberated compassion for all suffering beings.
Hridayananda Dasa Goswami is an editorial advisor for Back to Godhead.