It is hard to tell what thoughts were running through the minds of the terrorists.
It is hard to tell what thoughts were running through the minds of the terrorists as they plunged airplanes into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and a field in western Pennsylvania on Sept. 11. Judging from their irrational acts, however, it seems that they surrendered their own power of reason and human decency to a higher power of their imagination—whether it was their political ideal or God. Such perversion of philosophy and religion occurs when people subordinate the sanctity of life to ideology and dogma.
As Nichiren Daishonin admonishes, “Life is the foremost of all treasures” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 1125). What we saw on that day was the destructiveness of the human tendency to give up oneself to external authority. This deep-seated human weakness is called authoritarianism, which many people, if not all, share to some degree. As the recent tragedy illustrates, violence is often an outcome of an authoritarian orientation—a willingness to give up our freedom and independence to external authority in exchange for the false, temporary sense of security that may be felt upon our release from the burden of responsibility to seek self-knowledge and shape our own destiny, as Erich Fromm suggests in his Escape from Freedom.
Violence is a deliberate wish for the destruction of life; it is a symptom of the weak, passive self that seeks to validate its existence through dominating and destroying other lives or things of value to others. Violent people are weak, for they cannot find the inner strength to overcome their insecurity of aloneness and, therefore, must destroy others so that they may feel empowered. Their power, however, is an illusion since it is over others, not from within.
Power derived from subjugating others is merely a fancy because it requires others and is dependent on them. On the other hand, power from within is genuine because it is independent and free. Despite their aggressive appearance, violent people are passive at the core of their existence because violence is essentially an easy escape from an overwhelming sense of inner powerlessness and isolation, from the responsibility and effort required to make personal change. It is easier to hurt someone else than get real about oneself. A person who resorts to violence as an escape from his or her real challenge is not the originator of self-willed action and is passive in his or her mental reality. The sense of power felt by violent people, therefore, is actually a sign of their weakness and passivity.
Moreover, the sense of power derived from destructive acts is short-lived and addictive; it can only be sustained through further destruction. Compelled by their inner powerlessness, violent people continue to destroy, and when they find nothing more to destroy or find themselves prevented from further acts of destruction, they destroy themselves to escape from themselves, which is the source of their powerlessness. In this sense, violence is not a reaction to external objects per se, but rather a destructive drive arising from inner weakness simply waiting for a convenient outlet.