Enormous Compassion: An Interview with Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche

The following article is from the Autumn, 2001 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.


September 18, 2001

QUESTION: People in this country are having many strong emotional responses to last week's terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington D.C. What advice would you give to someone who came to you overwhelmed with emotion or feeling a desire for revenge?

TENZIN WANGYAL RINPOCHE: It is natural to have deep feelings like shock, loss, confusion, or anger. From the practice point of view, it is good to allow these feelings, as we do in the rushen practice, while not losing connection with oneself. Allow the grief, allow the anger, hut stay connected also. It is better to not watch television too much since these images can get into your system in a way that is not very helpful. Instead it would be best to engage in one's own day-to-day activities in as normal a way as possible. Then, when these feelings arise, try to cultivate compassion for people who have passed away and their families, as well as for the people who committed the terrorist acts.

One needs to reflect on one's own side of how these terrorists came to exist. Innately every being is good. How did the evil force awaken in them? We should pray, "May this evil force not manifest again." But also, as Americans, we need to look honestly at our actions in the world and reflect on how we have created these enemies. We mean well, but we do not always have very skillful means. Perhaps in the future we can have more awareness about our own behavior and how we create enemies for ourselves.

Also, it is important that people from all the different spiritual communities pray together. This is very helpful, to help people come to peace with themselves. We need to pray for the people who have lost family members, for the souls of those who have died, and also for the people who are afraid of dying. In Afghanistan, many innocent people are very afraid, running to the border, trying to get out and save themselves from being bombed. We should pray for them also, not just for our own citizens. To awaken compassion fully, it helps to put oneself in the place of the other. Can you imagine if, because of something our government did, another government was about to bomb Charlottesville? We would run away and not even know why we were being attacked. How frightening that would be for us.

As for the incidents of extreme hate, of individuals attacking Sikhs or Indians or people of Middle Eastern descent, that is just ignorance. If someone cannot tell the difference between a Sikh and a terrorist, they need more education. That is very ignorant behavior.


Q: I have heard some community members express concern about President Bush's apparent rush to go to war. At a time like this, as good spiritual practitioners, we do a lot of practice and prayer, but should we also speak out in the world, even if it means doing so with some anger?

TWR: From the Buddhist point of view, of course it is important to not allow strong emotion to cause one to lose the connection with oneself. At the same time, one should not ignore the fact of what happened, which is huge.

Actually I have a lot of compassion for the President. His job is to worry about the whole country. This is very different from a practitioner's point of view or from a dharma teaching point of view. As an individual practitioner I can say, "If the airlines shut down, fine, I'll do my meditation." But that cannot be the point of view of the president. One week shut down, a billion dollars lost. Every airline is losing millions of dollars. This effects the stock market and the whole countiy. This is the material world and we are in a capitalist society. When the world markets are effected, everybody feels the shake. This financial structure is an essential part of this country, its ego and identity. What is happening is enormous.

It is proper to show the terrorists that what they have done is not fair. Karmically they need pay for it so the rest of the people understand that it is wrong and not allowed. They can't just do it and get out of it, that's not right. Of course, the president needs to be very skillful. The whole world is very vulnerable and there are lots of sensitive issues. For example, there are long-term issues between Pakistan and India, between Muslims and Christians and Jews. There are some who are just waiting for an excuse to get into it. So we pray that the President is skillful and that innocent people are not hurt.

Q: AS Buddhist practitioners we are non-violent. How should one respond when there are bad things in the world?

TWR: If you see an airplane about to crash into the World Trade Center, there is no question that if you have the power to shoot it down, you shoot it down. You would have the negative karma of killing the people inside, but you would save so many other people.

Q: Many people are doing practice and praying. For many this is a great comfort and, they feel that they are helping. But I have also heard some people express a sense of despair. One friend of mine said, "It's so big, a million mantras can't touch it." What would you say to her?

TWR: There is no limit to compassion, no limit. Prayer has no limit. One has to open one's heart to everybody, bigger and bigger. As it is said, great compassion is to all sentient beings. We don't limit it. Prayers are very important. Collective prayers especially are very powerful.


As Americans, we need to look honestly at our actions in the world and reflect on how we have created these enemies. We mean well, but we do not always have very skillful means.

From the shamanic, or causal vehicle, point of view, important prayers and rituals need to take place. The energy of shock in New York City is huge and could be very negative. The World Trade Center area is an important place for the whole country, especially practitioners on the spiritual path, to focus their prayers on a long-term basis. Six thousand people, dead in an instant. Think of how these people died. We ourselves are in shock, but we are still alive. We know how to come back to our homes, we can eat breakfast and lunch, we don't end up at somebody else's door. But with a death like this, sudden and terrifying, a soul can become very lost. We need to pray for them and for a long time.

Even when one is feeling overwhelmed, still one can say, "I dedicate my practice to all the sentient beings who most need it. I dedicate to all." Do not limit who you love. Dedicate to those who are dead and those who are afraid they will die. Dedicate to the Afghani women who are hungry and thirsty, running away from bombs, with children in their arms. Pray for everyone. Pray, pray, pray, pray, pray.

Q: One last question, Rinpoche. Buddha gets up in the morning and turns on the TV. The World Trade Center is on fire and thousands of people are dying. What does the Buddha do?

TWR: Of course the Buddhas want nothing but peace on this earth and they send their blessings for that. Since they are not on one side or the other, the Buddhas see a completely different picture: they see the confusion and ignorance of both sides. And there is enormous compassion for everyone. Enormous compassion.

[Interview taken from The Voice of Clear Light, published by Ligmincha Institute. For more information about Ligmincha Institute, the teachings of Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, or retreats at Serenity Ridge or our regional centers, please contact"

Ligmincha Institute

P.O. Box 1892,

Charlottesville, VA 22903

434-977-6161 fax 434-977-7020



Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche is the author of Wonders of the Natural Mind and Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep. His latest book, Healing with Form, Energy and Light will be released by Snow Lion in May 2002.

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