The True Story of how survivors of the Mumbai Terrorist Attack answered hatred with Compassion
In November 2008, Virginia-based spiritual teacher Master Charles Cannon and 24 associates traveled to India on a spiritual retreat. On Wednesday, the 26th, the group participated in a public meditation session in their host city, Mumbai. After that, it was back to the hotel, the luxurious 5-star Oberoi. By 9 p.m., some were in their rooms unwinding from the day; others gathered to chat in the hotel restaurant.
Meanwhile, Pakistani terrorists were positioning themselves in 11 popular tourist spots and hotels, including the Oberoi. They soon unleashed coordinated bombings and shootings in the heart of Mumbai, India’s commercial capital. Fires spread. Hostages — especially Americans, Brits and Israelis — were taken. Bullets were sprayed. Three days later, the dead numbered 164, and more than 300 people were wounded.
From the group with Master Charles Cannon at the Oberoi, a father and daughter were killed, and four others were injured. But what was surprising after the attack were statements from survivors, expressing compassion and understanding toward their attackers, rather than anger or hatred. Even the mother who had lost her child and husband forgave the killers.
“We must send them our love, forgiveness and compassion, we must,” she told a reporter. “As Jesus Christ said long ago, ‘Forgive them, they know not what they do.’ They are shrouded and clouded by so much fear that we must send them love, because love overpowers fear. That’s my choice.”
Following the event, Master Charles Cannon [mastercharlescannon.com] began writing what has become Forgiving the Unforgivable: The True Story of How the Survivors of the Mumbai Terrorist Attack Answered Hatred with Compassion: The Power of Holistic Living (2012, SelectBooks). His book shows how principles of enlightened living proved themselves imminently practical during a traumatic, life-threatening circumstance.
“This book is about forgiveness but, more essentially, it is about how to live in a certain state of consciousness out of which forgiveness arises naturally and effortlessly,” writes renowned spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle in the forward.
The following is an interview with Master Charles Cannon about his personal journey through the terrorist attack, as well as the spiritual practice that made it possible for him and colleagues to survive the experience with compassion and unconditional love.
First of all, thank you for sharing this experience with us. Why did you write this book?
Master Charles Cannon: In the aftermath of the Mumbai terrorist experience, I appeared in many international media interviews in which I was compassionate and forgiving of the terrorists.
We received responses from thousands of people all over the world who said, number one, “You have inspired us,” and number two, “Who are you and how did you get to be the way you are (compassionate and forgiving)?” And number three, “How can we participate (how can we learn and share the same experience)?”
This book is written in response to all these beautiful people whose time has obviously come to open to the possibility of a new way of living…a holistic way…in which we are more wakeful and responsible for the experience we create and the contribution it makes to our world.
Many of those in your group say the Mumbai experience helped them cleanse and release old baggage, even karma. What do they mean by that?
Master Charles: Everyone has their database of enculturated beliefs, the stories we tell about who we are and what life is. While some of it is conscious and some unconscious, all of it is our baggage. As we journey on our life experiences, we grow and our consciousness evolves. Proportionately our baggage shifts, our beliefs and stories change.
Such is the journey of evolving individuated consciousness referenced in all the great wisdom traditions. It is a journey from illusion to truth, from fragmentation to wholeness. When we encounter very radical experiences, there can be equally radical changes in our database. The unconscious becomes conscious and we see what works and what doesn’t work in terms of where we are now in the progressive evolution of our consciousness. As a result, a clearing and updating process takes place…a release of old baggage as it were…within which we are more current and congruent with who we are now and who we are choosing to be. Everyone in our group observed this evolutionary process in themselves both during and after the terrorist experience.
You describe techniques used to sustain balance between body, mind and heart as Technologies of Now. Please elaborate.
Master Charles: True holistic reality is only ever experienced in the here and now of life…or what is termed the Eternal Now of consciousness. The only experience of life we ever have is within the here and now of true reality. All else is illusion.
Within the relative reality that governs all experience, wholeness or truth is proportional to balance of the relative polarities. All techniques of balance are designed to deliver wholeness or holistic experience…or the experience of true reality. Thus, I refer to all balancing techniques as Technologies of Now. For example, meditation is the foremost balancing technique or Technology of Now because it delivers the experience of true holistic reality in the here and now of its happening.
Please share specific techniques used by yourself and others in your group to remain in balance during the Mumbai attack. How were you and members of your group able to rise above and not allow fear to overwhelm you in a situation where being fearful was the normal human response?
Master Charles: The techniques of balance that we used during the attack were the same techniques that we had all used for many years. The primary technique is meditation. We were all very seasoned meditators.
Regular meditation practice develops a consistency of balance and proportional holistic awareness or what is termed wakefulness…within which one is a more detached observer of the experience that is happening than unconsciously attached and identified with it. Such wakefulness allows one to remain fully present and at choice in their physical, emotional and mental experience.
In addition to meditation, we used additional balancing techniques, such as breath equalization focus and wakeful directed truthful thinking. Thus, we were able to remain calm, focused and alert and available to the creative insights of consciousness with regard to the experience that was happening.
This is not to say that there was no fear. Fear is a primal response within the human brain to such life-threatening experience. But, we were able to remain wakeful of it and not totally identified with it. Fear was thus minimized and a more wakeful holistic perspective was maintained. It could be said that our years of meditation and holistic lifestyle experience paid off big time and enabled us to maintain a most wakeful presence within a most challenging situation.
You write about witness consciousness, being able to observe both the comedy and tragedy of life. How did perceiving the Mumbai terrorist attack from a witness consciousness transform the experience for you and others in your group?Â
Master Charles: Witness consciousness is holistic experience within which you are wakeful that both relative polarities…comedy and tragedy…positive and negative…subject and object…are the same consciousness. Witness consciousness enables you to embrace consciousness as it is happening and allow it to be the way it is, rather than thinking it should be other than it is. Since the former is truth and the latter illusion, witness consciousness delivers a truthful perception of reality.
The holistic experience of witness consciousness has great amplitude to its power and that greater amplitude of power affects every dimension of your multi-dimensional consciousness. For example, it affects the physical, emotional and mental dimensions and changes the biochemistry, hormonal chemistry and neurochemistry. It increases the production of opiates…the feel-good, tranquilizing and intoxicating chemicals within these systems.
In the mystical traditions, such holistic experience is termed bliss. Thus, we were able to remain calm and peaceful within this life-threatening experience. Again, such are some of the benefits of long-term meditation and holistic lifestyle practice.
You use the word holistic frequently in this book, referring to holistic truth, Holistic Model of Reality, Holistic Lifestyle. How do you define holistic?
Master Charles: Holistic is derived from the word whole. If you are whole rather than fragmented in your consciousness, your experience is holistic. The word holistic emerges from philosophies of holism which posit that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Holistic Models of Reality within human experience have existed for thousands of years and find their origins in the philosophical systems of the Veda and the Tantra. They have been in consensus in the West since the Age of Idealism.
The basic premise of the Holistic Model of Reality is that there is only one…that all and everything is but the modification of one unified substratum or ground of being; thus, the term…unity in diversity. There are many names for the holistic ground of being…Source, Consciousness, God and Life are among a few. Since the true nature of reality is holistic, the more whole we are, the more truthful is our experience of reality.
And finally, fulfillment is proportional to wholeness in human experience. The more whole we are, the more fulfilled. It is interesting to note that in our times modern science, quantum science, is increasingly validating the unified position of the Holistic Models of Reality.
What value is there in sharing our holistic experiences with each other?Â
Master Charles: The sharing of holistic experience can assist us to validate it. Because it is a minority experience, it can seem quite radical. In the sharing of it, we come to see that it is valid and that we are not alone in such experience. Through sharing with our peer group, we better understand the experience we are having and can open more fully to it.
Also, the expression of our experience is the contribution we make to our world. Holistic experience is life-affirmative, love-based, harmonious and truly fulfilling. It offers another way in a world that is dominantly life-negative, fear-based, conflicted and unfulfilled.
How does forgiveness relate to the Holistic Lifestyle and what does it mean to us collectively that some of us are able to respond to a deadly terrorism attach with compassion?
Master Charles: The Holistic Lifestyle is designed to deliver holistic experience. Authentic forgiveness naturally arises from the holistic state of being. Within a unified state of consciousness, forgiveness is inclusion. We allow everyone to be the way they are…because that’s the way they are…and if they are suffering we have compassion. In terms of our collective consciousness, it validates multi-dimensional consciousness and the many levels of human experience…from illusion to truth.
If self-awareness is the measure of evolution in individuated consciousness and wholeness is maximum self-awareness, that some of us can express holistic compassion reflects on our progressive evolution as a species. It validates that our collective consciousness is not as retarded from an evolutionary perspective as one might think.
How does the Holistic Lifestyle relate to the evolution of human consciousness?
Master Charles: Wholeness is maximum evolution in human consciousness. The Holistic Lifestyle then is an experience whose time has come for those who are at a certain level of wholeness in human experience. The evolution of consciousness is a progressive process of ever-increasing integrative wholeness and fulfillment.
In terms of evolution, all experience is valid because through it we evolve, yet there is no experience before its time has come.
I am seeing more references to “being present” or “being in the moment” in our culture. To what degree is there a collective shift occurring toward Presence and away from the stories of the past and present, and what is the value of Presence in our lives?
Master Charles: As individuated consciousness evolves and increases its wholeness, there is a proportional shift in the collective consciousness. While the majority remains mired in fragmentation, an ever-increasing minority is actualizing holistic experience. Thus, you see more references to holistic wakefulness within our culture.
Wakefulness is Presence. It is the holistic state of being in which there is a greater amplitude of power impacting all the dimensions of our multi-dimensional consciousness from subtle to dense. Such holistic amplitude of power increases our self-awareness or wakefulness. It is experiential rather than conceptual.
Our wholeness is now dominating our fragmentation…truth is dominating illusion…and Presence is holistic experience.
You write, “From my holistic perspective, most human beings are terrorists, although only a few are violent.” Please elaborate.
Master Charles: First and foremost, we terrorize ourselves with our illusory thoughts and beliefs, our stories…about who we are and what life is. We can be life-negative, fear-based and judgmental of ourselves. We likewise terrorize each other with the same data. It is in this understanding that most people are terrorists. Yet, only a few are violent…with themselves and/or each other.
Such is but the nature of evolving human consciousness.
You advise readers to “first have the experience, then study the concepts.” You also tell others to “walk where your feet are and fully experience what is happening.” Please give us a sense of how these suggestions apply to our ordinary day and how we can transform our ordinary day into something extraordinary.
Master Charles: One of the first steps in the Holistic Lifestyle is the principle of inclusion. All experience is the happening of consciousness, and truthful inclusion is allowing it to be the way it is simply because that’s the way it is. If we are inclusive, we walk where our feet are and fully experience what is happening as the appropriate happening of consciousness. Then, based on the experience, we endeavor to understand why it is the way it is and take responsibility for it.
What is important is who we choose to be, as we are the creator of our experience and we are responsible for it. If on the contrary, we are exclusive and non-allowing, we are illusorily judgmental and that is the experience we choose for ourselves. It is the measure of wakefulness that we bring to our experience that can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.
For those of us who have experienced traumatic events in our lives, please describe a daily practice that you recommend to overcome the effects of this trauma and to regain balance.Â
Master Charles: Increase wakefulness. Begin with balancing your physical, emotional and mental dimensions because holistic wakefulness is proportional to balance. If you build a skyscraper with a faulty foundation, you cannot get to the top and have the 360-degree view.
The primary balancing technique is meditation. Meditate daily and cultivate balance. As holistic awareness expands, you will be able to dis-identify with your past trauma and live more authentically in the here and now of true reality.
Overall, what does the Mumbai experience mean to your life now?
Master Charles: Mumbai was an experience whose time had come and through which I grew and evolved. Mumbai is part of all my life experience that has delivered me to where my feet are now. Perhaps all we can ever truthfully say is that based on the evolution of our consciousness through experience, we are more than we have ever been…more whole and fulfilled.