The Buddha in President Clinton

Photo by Alan Peto

“On behalf of the people of the United States, I extend sincere condolences to the people of North Korea on the death of President Kim Il Sung. We appreciate his leadership in resuming the talks between our governments. We hope they will continue as appropriate.” ~ President Clinton’s Letter from July 1994

Yesterday, the world was shocked to learn that former President Bill Clinton was successful in the release of two imprisoned journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, from North Korea.

What wasn’t immediately known was the months of secret negotiations, and a small gesture he made 15 years ago, was the key.

When former North Korean Dictator Kim Il-Sung passed away in 1994, President Clinton sent a condolence letter to his successor, his son Kim Jong-Il.  That small gesture paved the way for the release of the journalists.  According to a story by the New York Times, a former official said that freeing the journalists was a “reciprocal humanitarian gesture.”

The letter sent to Kim Jong-Il, which probably cost less than a dollar and a short time to write, had saved two women from horrific and unimaginable conditions.  It was Clinton’s unending efforts to promote international diplomacy, often in the simplest ways, which continues to lead his reputable perception in the world today.  In our personal lives we might call this “being the bigger person” when someone doesn’t like you by still being nice to them, in international politics it’s called being a leader.

Unfortunately there has been some controversy about President Clinton performing this act of going to North Korea; some have implied that it has eroded our stance to not negotiate with terrorists (even though through almost all administrations and political parties this has been done) and that he met with that administration despite them recently insulting his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  However we should look at this a different way, that what he did was doing the right thing.  Human life is sacred and should be saved at all costs, even if it means meeting with someone you don’t like.

In Buddhism, we are often reminded to “plant seeds of peace”.  What this means is that a small gesture of being nice to someone, opening a door for someone struggling with their hands full, a kind word, etc., will plant a seed of peace in that persons mind.  That seed can blossom in that person so they will react in kind and help to plant reciprocal seeds of peace into someone else.  To better illustrate this, imagine if you called a company was a problem and someone was rude and mean to you on the phone, they had planted seeds of hate in you rather than peace and your attitude may be altered that day which will affect others.

So, in effect, President Clinton planted a seed of peace in Kim Jong-Il that helped release those journalists.  Of course, the North Koreans are masters of negotiations and promoting their cause, but the final effect was that of happiness and peace.  For that, we can all be thankful.


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  • Soraya

    I have seen the Buddha in Bill Clinton many times 🙂

    • That’s fantastic! Thank you for your comment Soraya! 🙂