Batman Tragedy

Before I begin, a couple of things. First off, tomorrow (July 21, 2012 for those of you reading in the future) I will host the regular Saturday zazen at Hill Street Center, 237 Hill St., Santa Monica, CA 90405. It starts at 9:50 AM with zazen instructions for anyone who needs them. Those who don’t need instructions can show up at 10. We sit at 10 AM and afterwards we talk. Beginners and first-timers are welcome. Every time you sit zazen is the first time.

Also, this new blog seems to randomly send certain comments to be moderated. It’s not supposed to. Sorry! I’ll keep an eye on that. This blog has no comment moderation. However, you do have to register in order to comment.

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I was planning to write a different article today but then I heard the news about the shooting at the premiere of the new Batman movie in Colorado. If you haven’t heard about that, click on the highlighted words in the previous sentence and read the CNN article.

Last night I was driving down Sunset Boulevard around eight o’clock and saw a line of people outside the Vista Theater apparently waiting for the midnight premiere of Batman: The Dark Knight Rises. I recall thinking that after the mind-numbing yuckiness of The Amazing Spiderman, I just did not want to see any more superhero movies for a long time. This, from a guy (me) who worked in the business of making superhero movies for fifteen years.

Addressing the incident in Colorado, President Obama said, “If theres anything to take away from this tragedy its the reminder that life is very fragile. Our time here is limited and it is precious. And what matters at the end of the day is not the small things, its not the trivial things, which so often consume us and our daily lives. Ultimately, its how we choose to treat one another and how we love one another.”

True that. You do not even want to get me started on the matter of the Second Amendment and gun control. That debate was over and settled for me on the night of December 8, 1980 when John Lennon was murdered by a maniac with a legally acquired gun. There is no further need to discuss the matter. You will not change my mind on this issue. So please do not bother trying.

But facts are facts. People in the United States of America are allowed to have guns. I am not complacent on this issue and I will continue to do everything I can to change this fact for as long as I’m alive. Nonetheless this is the situation. I’m an American and I like living in this country. So I have to do what I can to make it better.

To me, this most recent tragedy is part of a much larger problem, which most people barely seem able to grasp. As technology advances, more and more people will continue to have access to greater and greater destructive power. The attacks on New York and Washington, DC on September 11, 2001 are the best example of this. Up until then, such an attack could only have been carried out by one of those very large, highly organized units of humanity we call a nation.

Nations have banded together to commit horrific atrocities in the past. This is certainly true. But it’s very hard to get that many people to participate in something really awful. Hitler, to take the most obvious example, really had to work at it. If he’d been able to get the holocaust or the blitzkreig attacks on London going with just the first fifty guys who showed up at one of his beer hall gigs in Munich I’m sure he would have. But he couldn’t. He had to get thousands of people to support him. The difference between then and now is that now you can get something really horrific going with a handful of people. Or even just one. The technology has progressed and will continue to progress along those lines.

In Japan, where I lived for eleven years, as in most of the civilized world, not just any lunatic can go buy a stash of guns the way they can here in America. This doesn’t mean there are no homicidal crazies in Japan. It just means they have to use more primitive technology. When I was over there a guy went into an elementary school in Osaka armed with a great big knife and killed eight children. I’m sure he would have used a gun and killed more if he could have gotten one. But he couldn’t.

Our continuing greater access to advanced technology is the factor that makes fundamental human change extremely urgent right now. In the past we could get away with a lot of shit because we didn’t have access to such tremendous destructive power. We couldn’t do that much damage to each other, to our planet and so forth. Now we can.

We’ve all heard the argument that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Of course the fact is that people with guns can kill people far more effectively than people without guns. But this has been said so often it’s a cliche. Still, even I have to admit that it’s true that if everyone who owned a gun were moral and sane, people could have as many guns as they wanted. Unfortunately not everyone is moral and sane. Nor can we effectively test everyone who tries to buy a gun as to their level of sanity and morality. So we need to control the access to such weapons. Again, this is just a fact, not something I want to debate.

To me, the most urgent issue in the world is not gun control. It’s morality. I’ve always felt this way. It’s one of the most fundamental points in all of Buddhism. People who say that Zen Buddhism has no stance on morality do not understand the very strong stance Zen Buddhism takes on morality. Some of this is the fault of Zen Buddhists who fail to (or are simply unable to) explain our ideas of morality clearly. But it’s also because the Zen take on morality is so very different from what we’ve been used to that it’s hard for people to grasp even when it is explained clearly.

I’ll make what will probably be an inadequate attempt at explaining it here on this little blog. Please forgive me if this just ends up being confusing.

All attempts to regulate morality through rules are doomed to fail. Even the tougher gun control laws that are clearly needed in the United States will ultimately fail. People will still be able to obtain guns if they really try hard. The difference is that they’ll have to try hard and thus may be deterred from doing whatever it is they want to do with their guns because it’s too damned difficult to get them. Yet there will be those few who are determined and those few will be able to do terrible things.

But guns are far from our only problem. Our most basic problem is that we do not know how to behave morally. In part this is because we imagine that morality is based on rules imposed by others. We associate moral behavior with the avoidance of punishment. Religions try make us believe in an imaginary place where even those bad things we’ve done that the law or our parents or whoever have failed to punish will be punished by an imaginary being who sees everything. The law of karma in Buddhism is too often poorly explained as yet another means by which this is supposed to occur. We’ll be punished for our bad behavior, it’s often wrongly said, by a kind of invisible moral force somewhere in the universe.

What’s really going on is that we misunderstand ourselves to be autonomous units who can inflict harm upon other autonomous units without suffering ourselves. But this is like thinking your right hand can stab your left foot and get away with it. Of course in some sense it can. Your right hand will not feel any pain if it does that. But your right hand can only do this if it is able to ignore the fact that it is part of a larger unit that does feel pain when it harms another part of that same larger unit. It’s not that the right hand will die and go to hell and be punished for stabbing your foot. Nor will the bad karma of stabbing your foot find its way back to your hand some time in the future. It all happens instantaneously.

The problem is that we are deeply, deeply steeped in a kind of huge collective delusion. Our mistaken way of understanding things has become so pervasive that we take it to be a fact. Our right hand really does think it’s not connected to our left foot. But it’s not that hard to understand for ourselves right now that it’s a mistake. It just takes a bit of work to allow ourselves to settle enough that we can start seeing things as they actually are.

I am not trying to suggest that if only that guy in Colorado had meditated a little we wouldn’t have had this tragedy. In fact, there are so many meditation centers in Colorado I would not be surprised to learn that he did meditate. Perhaps even regularly. Meditation is not a magic solution to mental illness. In the short run sometimes meditation can seem to make mental illness worse by bringing it more to the surface.

But I do believe that our society desperately needs to establish a culture of meditation because we need a new basic foundation for moral action. We need a new foundation for moral action because the means for great destruction are now in the hands of far more people than ever had access to them before.

Obama is right. Ultimately, it is about how we choose to treat one another and how we love one another.

My heart goes out to all those who have suffered because of this recent tragedy and all of the other tragedies like this that we’ll never hear about.

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63 Responses

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  1. mtk
    mtk July 20, 2012 at 3:41 pm | |

    Hi Brad, thanks for this article. You and Obama are right by saying, that this sad event is all about how we treat each other. To me the question occurs, how to establish this ‘new’ morality (discover that we all are hands connected to feet), without being filed under these esoteric / religious labels. Or people do confuse zazen with meditation (being absent from the world) and / or think it helps them to become kinder, happier or smarter. What’s the right way to approach these guys? Is it a good idea to approach people or is it better to wait until someone comes up and asks? Wasn’t mission always a bad idea?

  2. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel July 20, 2012 at 4:30 pm | |

    I’m just reading a book by a great German philosopher, Richard David Precht. His last book already was fun (“Who Am I And If So, How Many?”), but this, “The Art of Not Being An Egoist”, touches right on: in his chapter “Friend of My Self”, at the end, he talks about what Aristotles and Kant have to say about morals, anhe says:

    “Without doubt, Kant had found a weak point in Aristotles’ ethic. But his repair, as an afterthought, doesn’t really make its object better. Kant makes his ethic more binding than any other –not religious– philosopher before him. And he makes it more logical. His followers improved it even more in that respect. And so became 20th Century ethics ever more logical, but unfortunately not psychologically. One should then say: the more logical becomes a moral, the stronger it loses its psychological strength of persuasion. Because the more logical must be a moral rule, the more does it get bypassed by the naturally unlogical nature of Man.
    What remains behind on the road from Aristotles to Kant and his followers is Motivation. It is not the same when I hear from Kant that it is good to live a life according to reason (Does it do that, really?), and when Aristotles toells me that to do good will help me live a happy and fulfilled life”

    To state it more briefly, ethics work when the person would rather look good in her own eyes (and be able to see herself in a mirror) than look good in public but feel wretched inside. Heroes are of that sort, who care little about what people think, but do as they think they ought to.

  3. Lucky Number 42
    Lucky Number 42 July 20, 2012 at 4:39 pm | |

    Brad said:
    As technology advances, more and more people will continue to have access to greater and greater destructive power. The attacks on New York and Washington, DC on September 11, 2001 are the best example of this. Up until then, such an attack could only have been carried out by one of those very large, highly organized units of humanity we call a nation.

    Probably quite off-topic, but this passage (and other parts of your post) reminded me very much of the “Integral accident” by Paul Virilio. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Virilio#The_integral_accident)

    “When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck; when you invent the plane you also invent the plane crash; and when you invent electricity, you invent electrocution… Every technology carries its own negativity, which is invented at the same time as technical progress.”

  4. Hardboiled
    Hardboiled July 20, 2012 at 4:41 pm | |

    Brad said: I am not trying to suggest that if only that guy in Colorado had meditated a little we wouldnt have had this tragedy. In fact, there are so many meditation centers in Colorado I would not be surprised to learn that he did meditate. Perhaps even regularly. Meditation is not a magic solution to mental illness. In the short run sometimes meditation can seem to make mental illness worse by bringing it more to the surface.

    Sadly, this is true. Anders Breivik used meditation to “numb the full spectrum of human emotion happiness to sorrow, despair, hopelessness, and fear” which made him better able to commit his atrocity. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2012/may/22/anders-behring-breivik-meditation

  5. Fred
    Fred July 20, 2012 at 6:30 pm | |

    “Zen’s non-dual philosophy obscured Buddhism’s ethical teachings;”

    How is that?

    “Breivik used meditation to serve the murderous objectives of his racist ideology.”

    A psychotic could say that his psychotic delusions are meditations, but they aren’t

    “Meditation, or any other practice, is just a technique. Its effects, for good or ill, depend on the system of values that guide how a person uses it”

    Have you experienced this in your practice, or do you just enjoy the rambling
    narrative of your conceptual mind?

  6. Ted
    Ted July 20, 2012 at 10:01 pm | |

    Fred, if you think “meditation” == “just sit,” then a lot of things that other people call meditation will not qualify for you. The usual definition is just sitting and thinking something. Maybe thinking not thinking, maybe thinking about compassion, maybe visualizing a deity, maybe thinking about that fucker who cut you off in traffic and what you’d like to do to him. So in that sense, meditation is neutral. I think if you really do restrict it to thinking not thinking, then you’re probably right.

    mtk, I don’t know how it is in the Zen tradition, but in the tradition I follow, it’s customary for a student to have to ask a teacher three times before the teacher consents to teach. IOW, you do not go out looking for students. Instead, you let your own actions, your own way of living and reacting to people, be the advertisement for whatever teachings you might offer to a student if they were to come to you begging for teachings.

    Personally, I think it’s a nice incentive to practice. How are we ever going to make the world a better place if we don’t start somewhere?

    Brad, thanks for the article. I like your explanation about the arm stabbing the foot. There was a study recently that showed that people who believe in hell are less likely to behave badly, but maybe that’s because they haven’t come begging you for teachings yet… :)

  7. Hungry Ghost
    Hungry Ghost July 20, 2012 at 10:36 pm | |

    I agree with the sense of urgency, hopefully it will prove prudent more often than prescient. There’s a Frank O’Hara poem, I can’t find it so I’m paraphrasing, that says something like for all history we’ve been trying to find ways to kill more and more people, now we’re trying to find ways to not kill all people.

  8. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 20, 2012 at 10:37 pm | |

    Yes we have an imperative to change, and it’s an imperative because our own survival and the survival of others depends on it. That’s my feeling.

    At the same time, when I’ve been in situations that were threatening, the most important thing to me was the sentiment that Obama expressed: being accepting of the situation where I am, of my impermanence, and looking for the best for all concerned. This allows me to relax and fall into the place I’m in, and everybody and everything is there, and everybody and everything acts as one. The right hand and the left foot as one, as Brad says.

    Learning to get close to people is the heart of the art, whether it’s self-defense or loving relationships at home. That’s my belief. The guy in Colorado was one lonely dude!

  9. boubi
    boubi July 21, 2012 at 9:34 am | |

    I still don’t know (nor understand) why people pin “morality” to meditation and buddhism in particular.

    All buddhism is about is recognising our mind true nature (correct me if i’m wrong), uncluttered and free as in the Heart Sutra.

    Then i think you loose reasons to “act badly” because attachments cease to exist. You cut your own wood as in here http://oaks.nvg.org/huinengi.jpg, not because you became a “moral being” but because you have no reason to act differently.

    That norvegian criminal’s killing spree didn’t originated from meditation, on the opposite he looked (quite properly) in meditation for a cure for the suffering caused by his kind of insanity, he didn’t succeed and his mind went down that insane path. In case he had succeeded he would have found something else to do.

    But if by “meditation” he meant to cook an obsession in his own mind over and over till it burst, i would think he entered some “hellish realm” (psychiatrists should have some other definition)

  10. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 21, 2012 at 11:36 am | |

    “All buddhism is about is recognising our mind true nature (correct me if im wrong), uncluttered and free as in the Heart Sutra.”- that!

    “Good morning, where am I?” – Sasaki

  11. wiggle87
    wiggle87 July 21, 2012 at 12:24 pm | |

    The American NRA appear to be very exercised by the current plans for a global arms treaty. In a particularly offensive video they suggest that last year’s London riots would have been HELPED if everyone was carrying a gun. Just to check I wasn’t going insane in thinking this has to be crap I looked up some figures. For every 100,000 population in America 10.27 die from gun-related reasons. In Australia it is 2.94 while in England and Wales it is 0.46 (yes wikipedia).

    I think Brad is right to talk about morality here, but I think that the moral shift is needed to introduce gun control. In a fantastic reversion of NRA logic, the British police do not carry guns because they feel it would encourage others to do so to defend themselves. I would suggest that the introduction of strict gun-control laws in countries that don’t already have them will follow a widespread change in perception about fellow citizens. The idea that a home must be ‘defended’ assumes that people are going to attack which is, to me, deeply depressing. The figures above suggest that it is a self-fulfilling assumption too.

  12. Domiter
    Domiter July 21, 2012 at 3:55 pm | |

    I recently got in a discussion with a friend and the question was “How do know what is moral. Do you follow your brain or your gut.” The example given walking past a seemingly homeless woman who has a cup for change in her hand, but is silent and does not approach you. She looks very dirty and smells and there is no expression on her face, although she looks at you. Do you put money in the cup?

    If you followed your gut, you may feel repulsed, but years of Catholic school catechism classes about the Christian duty of charity says ignore your gut and put money in the can.

    Alternatively, your may feel suddenly very sorry for her, but your brain says that she is probably going to use it to buy whiskey .

    What do you do?

    Well, I think the brain/gut dichotomy is a false one. The source of morality is compassion and your awareness and sense of connectedness.

    On one hand we are all very connected to the victims of the shooting and our sense of compassion leads to their pain.

    On the other hand we are equally connected to James Holmes and he should not repel us. As much as the victims, he has buddha-nature.

    Obviously he is a very crazy, fucked man and as a member of our society, he has to face what happens to him. (Although personally I think the death penalty is itself a crime that teaches us a very wrong lesson.) But still, he is as much as who we are as the victims.

    As for the woman with the can, I would look back at her and go from there.

    1. Kman
      Kman July 22, 2012 at 9:46 am | |

      Domiter: An often-unrecognized part of the homeless equation is that the homeless represent a disproportionately large portion of the mentally ill population. The woman holding the cup is far more likely to suffer from mental illness than James Holmes. I don’t believe that one has to be “crazy” to kill another human being.

      Proulx Michel: Interesting observation. To be honest, if someone cut off a piece of my penis because of an invisible man in the sky, I’d probably have a fair amount of pent-up rage as well.

  13. aarbon
    aarbon July 21, 2012 at 5:21 pm | |

    “Meditation is not a magic solution to mental illness”
    “Obviously he is a very crazy, fucked man”

    We don’t know shit about this guy right now other than what he did. If you want to label him mentally ill, crazy or deviant, how can you accept arguments of karmic consequence? Doesn’t that apply to whatever causes that arose for him to commit the atrocity? Does this mean we collectively responsible for his actions as well?

  14. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi July 21, 2012 at 7:53 pm | |

    One theory I have heard about karma and the death penalty, is that if someone has committed terrible crimes, and does not die as a consequence in this life, that it’s actually worse, in that they will then have karma for future lifetimes to deal with, but without the awareness of the source of those karmas. They will tend to feel like a victim. So in some respects its considered better to be executed for one’s crimes in this lifetime, when one can show direct remorse and even repentance, and accept responsibility for both one’s crime and one’s punishment, and be done with it all, so that it doesn’t carry forward into future lives. I have to say the theory makes good sense to me.

    So I’m not against the death penalty in principle. I do have reservations about how it is used in our system of justice, however. I think that if I had committed some terrible crimes, I’d rather be executed for them and be done with a life in which I had gone that far off the reservation, than try to squeak by and avoid the consequences of my actions. But then again, thinking that way is one of the reasons I don’t commit terrible crimes in the first place.

  15. boubi
    boubi July 22, 2012 at 8:04 am | |

    I wouldn’t talk about karma and crime, i would keep it on a personal level, mainly because i don’t have a clue about what karma really is.

    Anybody knows what karma is?

    I believe that introducing a variable (karma) into an equation that i don’t grasp (the behaviour of those lunatics) would just make everything even more incomprehensible to me.

    Karma being related to reincarnation, my former teacher, you know from that Linchi’s evil bunch, told once that “having experienced eternity, you don’t care to reincarnate” while on the other hand he gave an apparent opposite explanation stating that “we reincarnate each instant if we stick to attachements”. He kept it this way. I think it’s like the wave and particle explanation of light propagation.
    Both work.

    I think that life sentence is worse than death penalty and it could give the opportunity for the person to reconsider his/her deeds.

  16. BikeTattoo
    BikeTattoo July 22, 2012 at 8:54 am | |

    Please watch the video in this news story:

    http://www.latimes.com/news/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-internet-cafe-shooting-20120717,0,303528.story

    A 71 year-old man, legally carrying a concealed weapon, fired upon 2 would-be robbers. One was armed with a gun, the other with a baseball bat.

    From cursory reading, it appears Colorado has some fairly stringent gun laws, and the theater itself does not allow concealed weapons.

    Let’s play ‘what if’ for a moment. What if there had been an armed citizen, like the 71 year-old, at the theater in Aurora? How could the outcome have been different?

    I doubt I’m going to change any minds here, but at least consider how the gun laws in effect may have taken the tool necessary out of the hands of a law-abiding citizen that may have significantly altered the outcome in Aurora.

    It sounds trite, but it’s true: when seconds count, the police are only minutes away.

    Yes, I am a practicing Buddhist. I’m also a fan of the US Constitution, including the Second Amendment. Yes, I have moral reservations about the prospect of taking another life. But which is more compassionate? Not taking a life while other lives are being taken, or taking a life to prevent the loss of others’?

    (And in case anyone has lasted this long into my post and is wondering or cares, the answer is No, I do not think the death penalty is legitimate form of punishment. )

  17. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel July 22, 2012 at 9:05 am | |

    There is somewhere on Youtube an experiment, where people accustomed to hand weapons, and firing them regularly are put into a situation where some gunner comes in a starts shooting around. They never get to pull their weapon out in time. In other words, their being armed is useless.

    Yes, weapons, per se, are not a problem. The Swiss are just as heavily armed. But the difference is, they’re civilised.

    It does seem though, that there is a direct correlation between infant circumcision and societal violence…

  18. Ted
    Ted July 22, 2012 at 9:31 am | |

    Speculating about others’ karma is harmful, because it leads us to forget our own. Okay, suppose killing someone early if they have committed a crime helps them. What does it do to _you_? Do you think that you get a pass because you killed only in retribution? If so, why? Do you think that if someone else does the killing, and you only approve of it, you don’t share the karma? If so, why are you willing to let them take on that karma for you?

    The whole thing sounds like a rationalization to me. We stop murderers from killing again to protect society, which doesn’t work, and to protect them, which does. There’s no need to kill them.

  19. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 22, 2012 at 12:00 pm | |

    It is possible to feel another person in one’s own place of occurrence of consciousness, to realize a balance that moves without knowing, and to respond to situations before they occur. That’s why they practice with a blindfold in Aikido, and that’s why the soft slam-dancing at Mabuhay Gardens when Dirk Dirksen was the impresario was so much fun.

    Although I have seen the YouTube video of the Aikido master being repeatedly punched in the nose, and I recognize that sometimes moving without knowing doesn’t happen the way it’s drawn up, I still believe Ueshiba’s inspiration was as close to the truth of the matter as it gets:

    “… I felt the universe suddenly quake, and that a golden spirit sprang up from the ground, veiled my body, and changed my body into a golden one. At the same time my body became light. I was able to understand the whispering of the birds, and was clearly aware of the mind of God, the creator of the universe.
    At that moment I was enlightened: the source of budo is God’s love – the spirit of loving protection for all beings …

    Budo is not the felling of an opponent by force; nor is it a tool to lead the world to destruction with arms. True Budo is to accept the spirit of the universe, keep the peace of the world, correctly produce, protect and cultivate all beings in nature.” (from Wikipedia)

    That’s why we sit, “to accept the spirit of the universe”, no?

  20. boubi
    boubi July 22, 2012 at 12:06 pm | |

    I agree, carrying weapons is dangerous and even military training isn’t always enough to overcome a civilian, unexpected situation where the shooter is difficult to identify in the middle of the confusion, chaos, noise, shouts, cries, running people, falling things and splintering things under fire. Take cover, identify the direction of fire, extract weapon while other are bumping or tramping you or get hysterical because you have a weapon, load weapon, NOT shoot civilians … The shooter has the advantage of knowing what happens and can identify armed citizen and kill them easily from their pattern of behaviour.

    Now a very good question is WHY this doesn’t happens in other countries where there is a lot of weapons around like Swiss and Israel?

  21. BikeTattoo
    BikeTattoo July 22, 2012 at 12:29 pm | |

    boubi wrote: “Now a very good question is WHY this doesnt happens in other countries where there is a lot of weapons around like Swiss and Israel?”

    How soon we forget: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/22/anders-behring-breivik-attacks-norway-massacre-anniversary_n_1692813.html

  22. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi July 22, 2012 at 2:43 pm | |

    “Anybody knows what karma is?”

    I’m arrogant enough to think I do, at least in the basic sense.

    Karma is a way of describing the unfolding in life of our vasanas and samskaras, the deeper tendencies in our minds. These are patterns of thought, feeling, sensation, and action, that create a kind of “groove” or rut in our deeper conscious being. The more we repeat these patterns, the deeper the rut, and the stronger the tendency will be not only to repeat them, but to be drawn into environments and associations with people and patterns that reflect them. And because this is duality, the patterns aren’t always the same, they also flip between opposites.

    So if we are to use this massacre as an example, one could say that the killer’s action created a massive samskara in him, a deep wounded groove that is going to draw in all kinds of similar patterns in the future, unless he somehow finds a way to heal that wound. And one could speculate that he’s committed this crime because he was already cultivating and repeating these kinds of tendencies of the mind in the past. And that could be both as victim and as killer. And the future of this fellows karmic unfolding can go in many directions, but it will incline him further towards being involved in this sort of activity, in all the respects possible, from victim to killer to bystander to relation to these. To change one’s karma, one has to change these patterns, which is difficult. That’s why it’s best not to do harm to others. It is really doing harm to one’s own mind. It creates patterns in the mind that can carry forth through many lifetimes even.

    One has to remember how common this sort of thing has been throughout history. Guns or not, people have been killing and slaugtering one another for a very long time. It’s an ancient samskara, and few of us are probably completely innocent of involvement in that at one point or another. This guys is just playing out his particular karma in our time and place, when its relatively less common. But only relatively so. And the victims and families and police are also playing out their own karmic tendencies of mind, with God only knows what precedent. Duality cycles back and forth from pleasure to pain, victory to defeat, fulfillment to tragedy, never staying in one place for long. This is one of the bottom points for the people involved in this massacre.

    These patterns go through cycles, which is what karma is about. Getting truly free of these karmic patterns requires release from the inner samskaras and vasanas. It doesn’t happen by blaming anyone.

  23. boubi
    boubi July 22, 2012 at 3:16 pm | |

    Bike Tatoo

    Come on … i know there has been that norvegian lunatic, i just wrote about him a couple posts ago.

    The questions stands, why in countries were nearly every citizen has a war weapon at home, there are not the shooting spree there are in the US? I’m not talking about crime, i’m talking about lunatics shooting people around.

  24. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi July 22, 2012 at 4:17 pm | |

    “The questions stands, why in countries were nearly every citizen has a war weapon at home, there are not the shooting spree there are in the US? Im not talking about crime, im talking about lunatics shooting people around.”

    Well, for one thing, we have a pretty crappy mental health care system. And no universal health care at all. So a lot of people, especially poor and young and otherwise healthy people fall through the cracks.

    And then of course there’s our national character, which is very aggressive, macho, celebrating individuality, celebrity, and focusing on the negative in most media and news. Sick people who aren’t being treated by doctors can easily be drawn into violent, macho fantasies of fame and grandeur by committing horrific mass crimes like this. I mean, it’s not exactly a coincidence that this guy actually thought of himself as the Joker, and shot up a Batman movie.

  25. BikeTattoo
    BikeTattoo July 22, 2012 at 5:07 pm | |

    Boubi,

    I missed your previous reference to the Norway shooting spree. My apologies.

    A cursory search turned up these two stories: one from Switzerland and one from England.

    http://articles.cnn.com/2001-09-27/world/switzerland.shooting_1_shooting-spree-hanspeter-hausheer-friedrich-leibacher?_s=PM:WORLD

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/jun/03/cumbria-shootings-bird-gun-laws

    I could not find any similar instances in Israel.

    At first I thought there might be a correlation between mandatory military service and a lack of shooting sprees, but that theory fell apart with Switzerland and Norway.

    Other countries are not immune to the killing sprees we’ve seen here in the US. They just don’t get as much press.

  26. boubi
    boubi July 22, 2012 at 6:07 pm | |

    About Budo.

    Budo is not the way of the samurai of the times when they had to kill people in order to maintain their rule over the land and over the people who worked it for them.

    Samurai were supposed to die for their liege, their mafia boss, they were trained killers, and in order to overcome the natural fear of death, they elaborated a philosophy/way of life. Have a look at the Hagakure.

  27. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 22, 2012 at 9:35 pm | |

    I read today, about Holmes:

    “He recently took an intense three-part, oral exam that marks the end of the freshman year of the four-year graduate program (at University of Colorado, Denver), but university officials would not say if he passed, citing privacy concerns.” (Press Democrat Santa Rosa)

    So let’s see, that test would likely have been in May? Holmes started picking stuff up four months ago, that would be March or April.

    Israel and Switzerland, they have two-track education? You may think it’s a long shot, but I think the U.S.A. emphasizes purely academic achievement too much. A lot of young people are totally turned off to our educational system by the time they get out of high school (if they get out of high school), and the ones that succeed in academia end up a mess in a graduate system geared to produce the next great patent.

  28. Senjo
    Senjo July 23, 2012 at 4:58 am | |

    Broken Yogi: “One theory I have heard about karma and the death penalty, is that if someone has committed terrible crimes, and does not die as a consequence in this life, that its actually worse, in that they will then have karma for future lifetimes to deal with, but without the awareness of the source of those karmas. They will tend to feel like a victim. So in some respects its considered better to be executed for ones crimes in this lifetime, when one can show direct remorse and even repentance, and accept responsibility for both ones crime and ones punishment, and be done with it all, so that it doesnt carry forward into future lives. I have to say the theory makes good sense to me.”

    Personally this is exactly the type of reasoning that makes me run screaming from any discussion of Karma and Rebirth. It just seems way too simplistic and allows the user to come up with some ‘karmic’ argument to justify any kind of behaviour. In the past, some Buddhists have justifed murder and war on the basis that by killing the ‘reprehensible’ enemy they are expunging their karma and giving them a chance for a better rebirth! (for example, Zen in WW2 / various pretty brutal internal conflicts in pre-communist Tibet). Additionally, a lot of disabled people get shabbily treated in both Theravada and Tibetan communities on the basis that they must have done something terrible karmically to be reborn like this.

    Recently I was reading some of the Tibetan material in the on-line Alex Berzin Archives. One of the documents actually suggested circumstances when it would be best karmically for a monk to break his vows and have sex with a married woman and separately circumstances when a woman should have sex with a man even when she doesn’t want to (both on the frankly ‘thin’ justification that the other person involved might turn away from the dharma if they didn’t, which is a much worse karmic ‘crime’ apparently). So even adultery and forced sex can still be justified with a handy karmic argument….

    I belive in Karma but it is a lot more complicated than this kind of ‘tit for tat’ / black and white / ‘you did this, so that happened’ kind of belief.

  29. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel July 23, 2012 at 5:09 am | |

    Mark Foote, the Israeli have plenty of people whom they can randomly shoot at, if they feel so. Granted, they shoot at people who would gladly shoot at them if they could. But then, we’re back at “He offended me, he did me wrong, etc. Those who nurture such thoughts (etc.)”…

  30. boubi
    boubi July 23, 2012 at 7:33 am | |

    “Israeli have plenty of people whom they can randomly shoot at, if they feel so.”

    BUT they don’t.

  31. jayce
    jayce July 23, 2012 at 7:29 pm | |

    Hey Brad,
    Currently, if someone submits a comment with 2 or more links, the blog holds it for moderation. That’s because often spammers want to put lots of links on blogs. If you want me to up that limit, just let me know!

    -Jayce

  32. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 23, 2012 at 8:04 pm | |

    That’s good to know, Jayce, even if it stays the same- thanks.

  33. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon July 24, 2012 at 6:05 am | |
  34. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer July 24, 2012 at 9:32 am | |

    Bike Tattoo wrote,

    “I doubt Im going to change any minds here, but at least consider how the gun laws in effect may have taken the tool necessary out of the hands of a law-abiding citizen that may have significantly altered the outcome in Aurora.”

    My major (self) interest in the whole gun issue is my desire to avoid being shot.

    But to say that we can help solve the problem of gun violence by putting even more guns out there is kind of bizarre.

    The logic behind this idea (I am pretty sure) is that there is some group out there that is bad and uses guns to hurt people and another group who is good and uses guns to help people.

    But in my observations of the world, this idea that a good person is always rational and well behaved is false.

    Good people do behave badly.

    And a good person with a gun who is behaving badly can kill someone just as easily as a bad person behaving badly.

    On a more humorous note,

    http://www2.turnto10.com/news/2012/jul/23/woman-80-hurls-mangoes-suspected-robbers-ar-1113221/

    Remember, when mangoes are outlawed, only outlaws will have mangoes…

    Cheers.

  35. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer July 24, 2012 at 10:14 am | |

    I have lived here my entire life, so I can’t comment on how the United States compares to other countries.

    But America has a fascination with violence.

    I have watched us wage a War against Poverty, a War on Cancer, a War against Drugs and a War on Terror.

    I know for my entire life we have been waging real wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Panama, Lebanon, Cambodia, Somalia, Bosnia and others I am sure that I have forgotten.

    And lets not forget the Cold War and all the proxy conflicts that involved.

    Goodness gracious.

    Yesterday I, like millions of others, went to watch the video showing the arraignment of the Colorado theater shooter.

    There was an ad at the beginning of the video, an amazing ad. Blood was raining down on mailboxes, washing down the streets. A women went into a grocery store leaving behind a trail of bloody footprints.

    At one point a woman out on the street licked the blood running down her face, with a look of ecstasy crossing her features.

    It was an ad for some current Vampire series on television.

    But it was an absolutely amazing start to a video introducing us to the man who killed so many people at that Colorado theater.

    And a perfect description of my America and our love of violence.

  36. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi July 24, 2012 at 2:02 pm | |

    Senjo,

    I could understand your objections if we were talking about some bizarre and otherwise unjustifiable response to murderous acts. But the death penalty for murder is hardly bizarre and unjustifiable even on its own terms. It’s something that must cultures have practiced throughout the world for most of human history. So it’s not a stretch to say that an understanding of karma would find it also justifiable.

    The death penalty is a pretty simple principle, and the introduction of reincarnation to the picture is more a question of “pay now, or pay later”, which is also hardly an unreasonable proposition.

    Not saying there aren’t good reasons to oppose the death penalty, but it’s not as if the notion of karma is one of them.

    “I belive in Karma but it is a lot more complicated than this kind of tit for tat / black and white / you did this, so that happened kind of belief.”

    Yeah, me too. My other post in this thread already pointed out my views on the overall complexity of how karma works in these kinds of cases.

  37. boubi
    boubi July 24, 2012 at 3:59 pm | |

    A couple of persons wrote that the absence of other armed people allowed the mass killing …

    It seems to me some kind of reverse logic.

    In the first place the absence of so easily available weapons in the society would have made this and other killings VERY difficult to perform.

    The guy bought everything as easy as he would have bought some books. I’m not sure, but this kind of killers seems to me to be of the nerd kind, not some hardcore criminal with underground connections. Most probably this lunatic wouldn’t have been able to buy weapons let’s say from the blood, the crips, or some latino gang. He would have been ripped or killed.

    From their looks they all seem at some stage of sexual repression. So nerds sexually repressed, from the middle class up.

    So without easily available guns, some sexually deprived nerd wouldn’t be able to kill people, unless he buys a spade and starts to hack people … with limited results.

    Taking out the weapons we cut the origin of the killing sprees.

    Second having armed people returning fire, on whom? In a bloody mess like it happened, how many SWAT are present? I believed that the return fire would kill some more people and just add to the carnage.

    So cut the root cause of this kind of killing, ban weapon!

  38. boubi
    boubi July 24, 2012 at 4:10 pm | |

    “I know for my entire life we have been waging real wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Panama, Lebanon, Cambodia, Somalia, Bosnia and others I am sure that I have forgotten. ”

    It looks like the US were waging war alone, in some vacuum, that there was nobody around.

    For some 40 years there was somebody even meaner than the US, URSS, and with very bad intentions. And you know what? I’m even glad that the US won and not that gang of thugs from some “people republic”.

    Lebanon, Somalia, Bosnia were some degree of peace interventions.

    The US waged wars because the rest of the West was too weak after WW2 and post colonial wars. We in the old world, we held high for the last 2000 years the glorious torch of continuous warfare.

    ;- )

  39. Ted
    Ted July 24, 2012 at 4:33 pm | |

    The idea that we can cause someone to atone for their misdeeds by killing them is pretty much antithetical to the Buddhist teachings on karma. If it were possible for another person to affect my karma, why hasn’t the Buddha done it already? Does the Buddha lack compassion? If so, we might as well just forget the whole thingit’s a house of cards that’s missing the lower row.

    So no, we can’t “help” someone by executing them. If they are going to atone for their misdeeds, they have to do it. If we execute them, that’s our misdeedwe are responding to violence with violence, reinforcing samsarathe cycle of suffering.

  40. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi July 24, 2012 at 6:55 pm | |

    Buddhist societies have been executing murderers for a very long time. It’s not some new idea. It’s not going to end their karma, and no one pretends it will. It just leaves less karma to atone for, if you pay up front and accept your responsibility for the results of your actions. Murdering people does have consequences, one of which is getting executed. It does depend on the murderer accepting his execution as the result of his own actions, to some degree at least, and not blaming others for it. Gary Gilmore comes to mind. There’s something Buddhistic in his refusal to appeal his death penalty.

    Buddhism is not utterly anti-thetical to violence. Buddhists have gone to war, they have police, they put people in jail, all of which involves violence. There’s a just use of violence, and there’s unjust uses of it.

    And how do you know others haven’t affected your karma? I think they have, including Buddha. We are not islands unto ourselves. We affect one another. A murderer affects all of us. As Dylan Thomas once said, “after the first death, there is no other.” The round of karma goes on, and we are participants in it. We live by the violent death of other living beings, even if they are just vegetables. Sometimes, even justice can require that someone be executed, for the sake of all, even the executed. Sometimes that is us even.

    We can help one another in all kinds of ways, some of them quite strange and contradictory. Good luck figuring it all out. Blanket pronouncements are arrogant. The intricacies of this world are at some point impenetrable. Life and death are not what they seem.

  41. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi July 24, 2012 at 7:06 pm | |

    Let me add that Buddhism has no direct involvement or recommendations for the affairs of civil government. Its Sangha is a religious community, not a political one, and it would have no direct involvement in police or judicial matters. So there is no particular Buddhist policy towards capital punishment, since that is not one of its areas of responsibility.

    I am merely looking at how karma, murder, and execution interrelate with one another, from a Buddhist perspective. These are just my own views.

  42. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 25, 2012 at 9:29 am | |

    On the subject of “The Absolute State and the Star Chamber are Back”, here’s Noam Chomsky:

    http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/12570-focus-the-absolute-state-and-the-star-chamber-are-back

    “Let me add that Buddhism has no direct involvement or recommendations for the affairs of civil government. “- Broken Yog

    This I think was a principal ignorance of the Gautamid, if I may say so: the notion that there were four classes in society, and one of them was “home-leavers”, that could withdraw from the affairs of the other three classes and support itself by begging. Right up there with his statement that a woman would seek to ensnare a man, even on her deathbed, and that it’s possible to stroke the sun and the moon with the hand (one of the six miracles). It was a source of controversy after the Gautamid’s death, as to whether an arahant was omniscient about everything or only about the dharma. The decision was, only about the dharma.

    In China, they abandoned the Gautamid’s one meal a day prescription, and his injunction against working the soil (and working in general). In China, I guess, folks didn’t buy the four classes the Gautamid spoke of as the way of nature; everybody had to work, and if you worked you had to eat. I guess.

    I am still focused on the thing the Gautamid taught that was unique, namely the induction of the meditative states, the cessation of the habitual activities, and the significance of these experiences with regard to human suffering. The rest is hogwash, to me.

  43. boubi
    boubi July 25, 2012 at 3:04 pm | |

    Just a short note.

    When i said “old world” i included also asia and africa, i didn’t mean to make an exercise of cultural self-flogging.

  44. Leah
    Leah July 25, 2012 at 7:47 pm | |

    Best thing I’ve read from you yet. This should be in the NYT or something. Of course, it helps that I agree with everything you wrote. Actually I was afraid to read it because I wasn’t sure what I was going to get and I wasn’t in the mood to read anything other than my own opinion :D

    I might differ a little toward the end, though, but not by much:

    “But I do believe that our society desperately needs to establish a culture of meditation because we need a new basic foundation for moral action.”

    That sounds good, but I’d prefer to be inclusive of other belief systems that don’t include meditation and likely never will (not that I expect you to). The stuff that Jesus taught, for example, is very similar to what the Buddha taught, as you probably know, except heaven and hell and all that (but he didn’t mention heaven/hell all that much if I recall correctly–I think very little). I don’t mean the Christian church’s various teachings per se; I mean what Jesus himself taught. And that’s a good place to start a moral foundation (10 commandments aren’t a bad start either). I know the value of meditation and know what you mean, though.

  45. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel July 26, 2012 at 6:08 am | |

    I just thought of something else. In the Scandinavian societies, as well as the Malay society, there is a certain kind of provisional mental illness that was called “Berserk” here, and “Amok”, there. This state occasionally appears. A few years ago, some French boy went into a frenzy, massacred his whole family and never understood how nor why he had done it. This often happens. But, in other societies, the berserker does rarely benefit from a stock of war firearms to sustain his frenzy.

    This shows that those societies consider(ed) that such behaviour is a definite possibility and accounted for it. Ours don’t.

    Maybe that’s where lies the main difference.

  46. boubi
    boubi July 26, 2012 at 7:25 am | |

    Hi Leah

    “The stuff that Jesus taught, for example, is very similar to what the Buddha taught, as you probably know”

    Which is?

    Sorry for asking but i feel a bit thick.

    Thanks

    1. Leah
      Leah July 26, 2012 at 3:55 pm | |

      Hi Boubi,

      Good question.

      “‘The stuff that Jesus taught, for example, is very similar to what the Buddha taught, as you probably know

      Which is?’”

      A good place to start is “Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings” by Marcus Borg/Jack Kornfield.

      Of course there’s a difference but there are also many similarities.

      Just now I googled “Jesus and Buddha” and came up with some interesting stuff about the similarities. Maybe try that.

  47. Fred
    Fred July 26, 2012 at 10:39 am | |

    Boubi, I believe that Jesus said:

    “Duality is an illusion. There’s no entity or character to get to there from here. There’s only the nondual reality. Most are just conditioned to project duality and separation habitually. But it’s a dream. We dream a person, we dream a world, we dream time, we dream it all. You are the supreme source dreaming you’re this person. And the dreamed person is trying to find the source which is impossible. It’s here and it’s now. All that was born was a concept and all that dies is a concept. You can die today and shine in your full glory as luminous timeless nondual vastness”

  48. boubi
    boubi July 26, 2012 at 12:38 pm | |

    Could you give some reference?

    Which gospel?

  49. Fred
    Fred July 26, 2012 at 4:28 pm | |

    It’s in the gospel of Hee-Jin Kim

  50. Fred
    Fred July 26, 2012 at 4:39 pm | |

    Many, many dreams ago there were men, Jesus and Buddha, who spoke to
    wake people up.

    However, it was obvious it was a dream and there was no one to wake up. If it
    was real either Jesus or Buddha would have been a woman.

    So, I guess Lama Christie was right about the Matrix thing.

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