for The Houston Chronicle on Sept. 12, 2009
On September 11th, 2001, I was in England, and that day I happened to drop off a fellow from my faith at London's Heathrow Airport. At the curb in front of the terminal, a concerned Brit detected my accent and said, "Hey mate: Are you an American? You'd better go inside and see what's on the telly!"
Leaving my car parked illegally at the curb, I ran in and joined a crowd that was transfixed, watching a BBC or CNN live report. In front of our eyes, the Twin Towers were going up in flames! It seemed unreal; but no, it was real. What was especially shocking to me as an American was that the same sort of violence which happened frequently in the Middle East was hitting America, which had seemed somehow to be impervious to such things.
When the news of the attack went out internationally, a wave of sympathy and well-wishes came to Americans from our neighbors all around the world. They assured us we are all in this together. For a short time, it seemed that 9-11 brought us together, and more importantly, it helped us understand that whether we like it or not, we are part of a complex, interrelated world. We not above it, or separate from it.
After the initial shock and humility, of course, America's military response was to attack Afghanistan then later Iraq, and our nation's soldiers are still engaged in difficult wars in those two countries, trying to quell the terrorists who were behind 9-11. While it is true that right after 9-11 some Americans vented their frustrations on people of non-mainstream faiths, especially Muslims, most of our countrymen did not react small-mindedly with increased hate, "fighting fire with more fire." And today, on September 11, 2009, we don't find that most Americans are more reactionary or close-minded about religions other than their own than they were before the Twin Towers were hit. As Lisa Miller recently wrote in Newsweek:
According to a 2008 Pew Forum survey, 65 percent of us believe that "many religions can lead to eternal life"-including 37 percent of white evangelicals, the group most likely to believe that salvation is theirs alone... Stephen Prothero, religion professor at Boston University, says. "It isn't about orthodoxy. It's about whatever works. If going to yoga works, great-and if going to Catholic mass works, great. And if going to Catholic mass plus the yoga plus the Buddhist retreat works, that's great, too."
In other words, seven years after the 9-11 attacks in New York, Americans were found to be statistically more tolerant and accepting of other faiths than ever before. This is an important development.
While America has still not found its notorious external enemy Osama Bin Laden, India's Bhagavad-gita clarifies who the real enemy actually is, and where the greatest enemy is lurching:
It is kama or lust - selfish personal desire - ... which is the sinful, all-devouring enemy of this world [and which is] ...never satisfied, and which burns like fire. The senses, the mind and the intelligence are the sitting places of this selfish desire.
If a house is on fire, what do the fire-fighters do? Do they get out a flame thrower and attack the flames with hotter ones? Do they pour gasoline on the flames? No, they put water on the fire.
On Sunday, September 13th, members of my congregation will be celebrating World Holy Name Day by chanting the great prayer for peace, the Hare Krishna mantra, at the Houston Zoo in Herman Park from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 in the understanding that glorifying the names of God helps to purify the hearts of the chanters and listeners of the subtle contaminations - our real enemies - which cause us to act aggressively and unkindly to our neighbor. Such sincere efforts to cool the fire of this world can only help. Please feel free to join us, or to help create a better world in your own way.
What do you think is a good way to counteract the fire of hate and violence in the world?