Buddhism And Blowing Up The Boston Marathon

MeTranslatingI didn’t really want to write about the incident at the Boston Marathon today.

I was all set up to write a perky piece about my weekend. I had a phenomenal weekend! I got to translate on stage for three of the stars of the original Ultraman TV series; Susumu Kurobe, who played Hayata, the man who transforms into Ultraman, Hiroko Sakurai, who played Agent Fuji, the cute girl on the team of monster fighters in the show and Satoshi “Bin” Furuya, who was inside the Ultraman costume. The event took place at Monsterpalooza held this weekend in Burbank.

I’ve known Hiroko Sakurai for several years now. She was the only Ultraman cast member who went on to become an employee of Tsuburaya Productions, where I worked in Tokyo for over a decade. So I used to see her fairly often. She was my first big celebrity crush back when I was about eight years old. So it was pretty awesome to get to know her as a real person. I had met Susumu Kurobe a couple of times and, weirdly enough, he even remembered me. I’d never met Satoshi Furuya before last Saturday. But he was a very cool guy.

Hiroko Sakurai, when I was crushing on her.

Hiroko Sakurai, when I was crushing on her.

I didn’t expect such a large crowd to show up for the Q&A with the Ultraman stars. I figured American audiences wouldn’t really be that into them. And since Monsterpalooza is not specifically geared to Japanese stuff, I also thought that would cut down the crowds.

Much to my shock, there were a couple hundred people in the room. Maybe more! I hadn’t done any Japanese to English translation since at least 2008 and even when I was doing it regularly, I rarely did it in front of an audience. I was sweating up on stage! I kept praying the next question wouldn’t be something I couldn’t translate. But it was all fine. My friend Bob video taped the whole thing, so I hope I’ll get a copy and can upload it here. An edited version will be on a future episode of Sci Fi Japan TV.

*   *   *

That’s what I wanted to write about.And about how much I love those people, and how great it was to be among all the monster-loving crazies this weekend.

But I was eating at the cheap-o Indian buffet around the corner from the place where I’m cat-sitting this week when they broke into the cricket match they were watching on TV with news of two bombs going off at the Boston Marathon.

As is typical when these kinds of things happen, the news guys didn’t really know much. They just kept repeating the three facts they did know over and over. Two bombs went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Two people were killed. An unknown number of others were injured. Nobody has claimed responsibility. And that was pretty much all anyone really knew the last time I checked in.

I remember after the gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system happened, Nishijima Roshi said that those who perpetrated the deed should be found and “removed from society.” He said this very forcefully. It was unmistakable in his tone that “removed from society” meant anything from being jailed to being executed. He made it clear that he thought that a society was in the right to take the life of someone who did such an act.

My reaction at the time was kind of typical of people who are relatively new to Zen. I was pretty shocked that a Buddhist master would condone killing people. Doesn’t the first precept say, in effect, “Thou shalt not kill”? How can a Buddhist master think it’s OK to kill even those who kill others? Isn’t it all about peace, love and understanding?

Well, yes. It is. But it’s also about facts.

One very significant fact is that Buddhism has only ever flourished in stable societies that had powerful militaries and police forces to defend their citizen’s ability to practice. Stephen Batchelor famously said something like this in response to 9/11. You cannot meditate in a war zone. Well, I suppose you can. But it’s not easy and you’ll probably be killed while you sit.

Our societies have to be stable before we can engage in our practice. This is an absolutely necessary prerequisite. That means we have to be able and willing to defend our societies against those who would disrupt them. There have to be very strong penalties against doing things like blowing up the Boston Marathon. In his comedy special broadcast this weekend, Louis C.K. made jokes about how great it is that there are laws against murder. “Because if there weren’t, everybody would murder at least one person.” Those who hadn’t murdered anyone, he said, would be seen as weirdos in a society where murder was legal. It was funnier when he said it.

So I, for one, hope they find the piece of shit who did this and rip him to shreds. He deserves it. Whether they find him or not, his own actions will be his undoing. It can’t happen any other way. And yes, this news makes me angry. I wouldn’t be a real human being if it didn’t.

Still, society needs to make efforts to resolve matters like this without anger. Because an angry response leads to further tragedies, like the angry response of the people West Memphis, Arkansas that led to the wrongful conviction of the “West Memphis Three.” Still, one can expect anger as a response to something like this. I suppose the worthless motherfucker who perpetrated this bombing intended it that way. In the end, it doesn’t matter. Society has every right to remove him from its midst in any way it sees fit.

So even while I pray for the well-being and safety of those affected by this incident, I’ll also be hoping that whoever did it is caught and punished. Not only out of anger, but out of a conviction that the smooth functioning of human society is one of our greatest challenges and duties to each other.

OneEyeApeThe folks at Monsterpalooza are healthy because they deal with their monsters by turning them into works of art, like the weird and macabre sculptures on display all over the event.

Horror movies serve an important function in society. They allow us to externalize that which disgusts us the most about ourselves and to deal with it in a sane way. I’d rather see more people making zombie movies and sculptures of one-eyed ape monsters and fewer people bombing big cities.

Not that I think that’s the ultimate solution. But it’s been on my mind as events unfolded today.

*   *   *

I just paid my taxes, like you folks did too I’m sure. So I’ll understand if donations are a little slow. But every little bit is still appreciated especially right about now.

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49 Responses

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  1. drocloc
    drocloc April 15, 2013 at 4:21 pm |

    First reaction was sadness for the d-bag(s) who did it. The effect on living and dead will pass. . .but the DEBT created by this action for hooliganism’ s sake will be staggering. Good luck with every average persons reaction/revenge. Action, indeed.

  2. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote April 15, 2013 at 4:26 pm |

    Great to hear that you were able to get together with former costumed crusaders and such, and act as a translator for them at the Monsterpalooza.

    I’m with the President, on Boston. Read a little piece in the paper yesterday about a man being cited for harassment in Oregon, seems he was contacting relatives of the Aurora theater incident and telling them it never happened, the casket was empty. I think the President was right to tell his staff that he wanted no drama in his campaign in 2008, and I think that’s his theme right along; we live in a television/video game world, and it can feed some strange illusions.

    I’ve spoken before about the train illusion, where a person sits in a train, and as the train next to their train pulls out they suddenly feel they are moving backwards. Even though their train is stationary. The eyes enjoy a tight connection to the part of the brain that senses physical location; that’s so that we can turn our heads while we’re watching a bird fly past, or just avoid having our vision shake the way our bodies actually do (there’s a disease where the patient loses this stability of vision, so they know). Meanwhile, the other senses connected to the the brain where the location of the body is figured, the senses of proprioception, equalibrioception, and also of gravitation, those senses take a back seat to the eyes in most of our population. If I had to describe zazen in three words, they would be equalibrioception, proprioception, and the sense of gravity, although all the senses are involved, of course.

    so no surprise, that when everyone is glued to the screen, common sense tends to goes out the window. Even in those who haven’t been diagnosed.

    Meanwhile, I’d like to affirm Terry Trueman’s observation from the close of the last thread:

    “(I) find myself constantly challeneged to not let the little bit of wisdom or at least desire for wisdom I have attained be trumped by my ability to spot phoniness and meanness, pettiness and cruelty in people’s words and deeds; and spotting such, that lead me towards feelings of hopelessness and cynicism.”

    I’m 62 myself, Terry, and I know what you’re talking about. My former supervisor used to constantly remind me that the glass can be half full, too, and I think that “deliverance from thought, without grasping” is some kind of relief from suffering, indeed.

    1. Terrytrueman
      Terrytrueman April 16, 2013 at 8:00 am |

      Regarding Mark Foote’s comments re my comments yesterday, which I made BEFORE I’d heard anything about Boston, in fact I think Boston hadn’t happened yet. And regarding Brad’s blog about Boston–maybe my zen practice isn’t working, but dealing with anger towards the perpetrators of the bombing and sympathy towards the victims and recognition of people’s needs to find a place to understand events like the bombing, seem to me to be exactly up the alley of buddhist experience. I felt and feel that this thing that happened, like a storm or a shark attack or spilling yer last plate of food or falling on yer ass on the ice, sorry but ALL of it is part of it–the reasons we are seeking to escape/deal with the pain in life. Mark said he is angry and human–okay. I am not particularly angry, more like curious to know what this all means. I am more committed than ever to seeking a path forward that allows me to separate drama and the way I’m spozed to feel, from sitting quietly and letting in whatever lessons I need to learn–the noble 8 fold path? Maybe . . .I certainly hope so . . .we’ll see.

  3. Ted
    Ted April 15, 2013 at 6:01 pm |

    Removed from society? Sure. Killed? No. For fuck’s sake, man. This is the exact line of reasoning that’s led to us torturing people in Gitmo (see yesterday’s NYT op-ed). If Buddhism isn’t a safe space for us to let go of “the ends justify the means,” I guess there is no refuge left.

    You should have just gone with the Hiroko story. Strong emotions following a terrible event are never a good guide.

  4. ookami
    ookami April 15, 2013 at 6:24 pm |

    i think anger is a natural reaction, but it soon fades and forgiveness pervades. am i saying we should let this person go free? no, of course not. if you take another person’s life, regardless of the reason, it seems logical that taking your life is a viable option as well. but i feel your article is more anger than forgiveness, which is unfortunate.

  5. Domyo
    Domyo April 15, 2013 at 6:39 pm |

    I have students, classmates, and friends who were running today in Boston. I am a recovered marathoner, and there were many people I’ve run with in other races who worked sometimes years to do Boston and have their families waiting for them on the 600 block of Boylston, which is where my wife would’ve been waiting if I’d qualified this year. And I am also a dharma practitioner and a student of Dogen and I am the same reality as the victims and the bomber and the suffering and delusion that pervades this entire day and as I watched the afternoon and evening unfold and thought about a dead child and people with their limbs shattered and blown off all I could come back to was letting go of the three poisons that bring us to these moments. I don’t want to rip anyone apart. Hasn’t there been enough of that already?

  6. buddy
    buddy April 15, 2013 at 7:08 pm |

    When I hear you say that Nishijima said that about the subway attacker, and especially about the U.S. being completely justified in dropping the atomic bombs on Japan, it really makes me question the wisdom/compassion/sanity of the old bugger.

    More to the point, though: the problem with this kind of ‘rip him to shreds’ mentality is that it’s pure reactionary scapegoating, that treats the perpetrator as an isolated individual with no context. It’s easy to say, ‘lock the bastard up and throw away the key!’ in situations like this (and of course they should be locked up, for the safety of society and ideally their own rehabilation, a factor which the death penalty renders impossible). But it’s also a convenient way to abdicate responsibility.

    An interesting thought: had this been a shooting instead of a bombing, I have the feeling, based on things you’ve said in the past, that at some point in this post you would have brought up a (completely justified) plea for gun control. Why could you make the wider connection in those situations but not this one?

    Finally, the U.S. military dropped a bomb on an Afghan wedding today, killing 30 civilians. Why no angry rants about that? Just a price we have to pay for our great stable society where we can practice our zazen in peace?

    1. Alan Sailer
      Alan Sailer April 16, 2013 at 6:57 pm |


      Your comment about the Afghan deaths in an American bombing keeps sticking with me, enough so that I’ll reply.

      I have noticed, at least for myself, that my sense of moral outrage matches my proximity to the victims of that outrage.

      For example, if my wife was hurt by a bomb, I would be really upset.

      My next door neighbor, upset, but not as much.

      Someone in the next town, further down the spectrum.

      You get the picture…

      Judging from what I see in others I am not alone on this sliding scale.

      Wishing that it was otherwise is just contrary to human nature (as I see it).


  7. t s mushin crisman
    t s mushin crisman April 15, 2013 at 7:49 pm |

    I deny your premise that a society needs be safe and protected for real practice to occur. During the time of the Buddha his world was in turmoil and he was continually being solicited by a relative or a neighbor for assistance in their cause. At the jump of Buddhism China there were innumerable persecutions of Buddhists with near en masse exterminations at one point. This is often the story told of the origin of the rakusu. In Japan, even in Zen itself persecution ran rampant. Some historians cite this as the rationale for Dogen to leave the Kyoto/Kamakura center of power and establish Eihei-ji on the other side of Japan. On the other side of the fence Buddhism has a long and checkered history with the martial arts. From the 18 hands of Lohan migrating from India to China, purportedly with Bodhidharma, and becoming the basis for Shaolin Kung Fu, to the samurai culture of feudal Japan and on into the martial enamoration of contemporary Japanese and American culture.

    I would contend that Buddhism has survived, and perhaps even been nourished by these all too human forays into bloody, messy, politically contrived disasters. So with Boston, incense and bows for all.


  8. Justin Lewis
    Justin Lewis April 15, 2013 at 7:52 pm |

    Well Brad, if it makes you feel any better, at least I agree with everything you have said here. Especially the part about the usefulness of expressing through monsters and horror in art. I’m a fantasy monster buff myself, you know, trolls, goblins, kobolds and the like.

    I have faced down people in my own life that I could smother with all the care-bear “I’ll do you no harm” syrupy goodness I can physically stomach and they would have taken that opportunity to stab me in the guts and rape the love of my life to death. Sometimes the other guy needs to know that if it comes to it, you are willing to wipe him out permanently. Luckily, I’ve never had to follow through. But there are situations I can remember where I was very acutely aware that I was in real danger and that if I was not willing to defend myself by being physically and mentally prepared to kill someone, I and my loved ones would have come to great harm and perhaps lost our own lives.

    Saying this does not mean I condone killing poeple for whatever other reasons and by whatever means you can conjure in your imaginations. I’m just saying that I agree with the statements in this blog post because they resonate with my own experience…

    I hate saying shit like “resonate”, guh. So I appologize for that.

  9. A-Bob
    A-Bob April 15, 2013 at 7:56 pm |

    I told my wife tonight that I hope they find these fuckers and hang them.
    She just looked at me..
    She has said similar things to me before and I always claimed to be against the death penalty.
    I still am but it’s getting harder and harder..

  10. mtgholmes
    mtgholmes April 15, 2013 at 8:29 pm |

    Maybe I’m stretching your point, but I don’t think that military states, say Myanmar, where Buddhism flourishes should be idealized because people are protected to sit. We’re an individualistic society, and I think that’s great. Sometimes tragedies happen, and people are evil, and each and every one of us is capable of unknown evil, but if we’ve learned anything from the War on Terror, I think it should be patience. The enemy is so diffuse that there is no enemy. I’m not sure removing people from society, or life fixes anything. I hope they’re caught, and that there is justice, but what difference does it really make? It’s just the rules of the game. Justice should not be mistaken for the truth. Suffering and evil are constant on earth, and I am so sorry for the victims.

  11. Shodo
    Shodo April 15, 2013 at 8:36 pm |

    A different take on Buddhism and the Precept of Not Killing…


  12. senorchupacabra
    senorchupacabra April 15, 2013 at 8:54 pm |

    Well, considering that Zen has actually flourished in some pretty fucked up places and times (ancient China, feudal Japan), I’d say a “stable” society only makes its practice easier, not possible. Also, it kind of reeks of selfishness to say, “We should kill people so I can practice my Zazen” and I honestly believe it misses the “point” of “Zen” to say such a thing. What good is a religion (as defined by people like Blythe, Suzuki, etc.)/spirituality/philosophy/way of life if it can’t help me get through the absolute worst of things? In fact, if there’s a Zen master of some sort living in the Middle East or in Central Africa, that’s the kind so Zen master I want to learn from. And when I say “Zen Master,” I merely mean someone who has found some sort of peace with the world. And I believe these sorts of individuals exist in such places, so…..

    I have no doubt that the people who did this will be found, tried and punished accordingly. But I honestly don’t worry about it. The fact that they are capable of this kind of act suggests they are already in a hell beyond my reckoning. The thing about those who cause suffering, is that destruction, like a curse, will always come back on those who caused it. We don’t need a law, or a government or a stable society to exact revenge. If anything, “The State” stands in the way of retribution. And if you don’t believe me, read Tolstoy….

    Furthermore, who’s going to be found, tried and punished for the aforementioned Wedding-day bombing in Afghanistan? 30 innocent people were killed for that. In my mind, the people responsible for that are just as much “pieces of shit” as the the people responsible for the Boston tragedy. Or is that just the price for our being able to practice Zazen in “peace?

    Forget that. The whole reason that not-killing is a precept is because if you die at the hands of a murderer, it’s the murderer’s karma that is tainted, not your own. I don’t believe in the traditional interpretation of karma, but I believe there is more truth in that reasoning than many would like to believe.

  13. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote April 15, 2013 at 9:00 pm |

    Thanissaro says this:

    “When formulating lay precepts based on his distinction between skillful and unskillful, the Buddha never made any allowances for ifs, ands, or buts. When you promise yourself to abstain from killing or stealing, the power of the promise lies in its universality. You won’t break your promise to yourself under any conditions at all.”

    Wonder what Thanissaro thinks about wet dreams, whether or not an arahant could have one; sounds like he would come down on the side that became “the way of the elders”, as opposed to Mahayana.

    How about this:

    Matthew 5:33–37
    33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

    what Domyo said, was eloquent to me.

  14. Caodemarte
    Caodemarte April 15, 2013 at 9:08 pm |

    Everywhere is a war zone. There is no other place to meditate. Death comes. There is no permanent stability.

    To argue, like St. Augustine, that to save others or ourselves some we may have to arrest, or kill, or war on others (like the Bodhisattva on the ferry) is one thing. We can love our enemy at the same time we know that s/he must be removed from society to prevent greater harm. To suggest that it is ok to do so to provide a good environment for Buddhism or to punish bad people is disturbing . “Vengeance is mine, saith The Lord.” It is not our’s.

    1. senorchupacabra
      senorchupacabra April 15, 2013 at 9:36 pm |

      Damn. I spent probably 4 times as many words trying to capture what you just did. This is the perfect response. Cheers.

  15. buddy
    buddy April 15, 2013 at 9:10 pm |

    ‘ One very significant fact is that Buddhism has only ever flourished in stable societies that had powerful militaries and police forces to defend their citizen’s ability to practice. ‘ I’ve always cringed a little whenever you bring that ‘fact’ out, and the more I think about that, the less I believe it. If by ‘flourish’ you mean a large portion of the population being nominal Buddhists, then yeah maybe. But as far as a deep and vibrant practice, the opposite may be the case. Besides the examples Mushin mentioned above, there’s the more recent example of Vietnam: Thich Nhat Hanh may eventually have fled his homeland for his life, but his practice began and matured in the most unstable and wartorn of environments. It could be argued that even in America the practice was more dynamic and revolutionary when it first arrived and was seen as odd and marginalized, as opposed to now when every other city has a fusion diner or massage parlor called ‘Zen’. Conversely, look at what happened in Japan, first with the co-opting of Zen by Samurai and then later Imperial culture. All manner of militarist-fascist bullshit was justified in the name of a Buddhism that was completely defended by the ruling class. It would be like arguing that true Christianity only flourishes when it is protected by the state; from Constantine to the Crusades to the Tea Party, it’s pretty obvious that those privileged conditions bring out the worst in the tradition.

  16. intokyo
    intokyo April 16, 2013 at 12:03 am |

    Brad you were at Monsterpalooza! I heard about it but didn’t go. If I had known you were going to be there I would have gone to get your autograph man.

    When I heard about the bombings today I just hoped that everyone would take a deep breath and stop for a second before anything else happened. A friend posted on Facebook, “If America didn’t stick their nose in everyone’s business, things like this would never happen. #Pray4Boston”. I agree with him to an extent, but thought it was in bad taste to post something like that so soon after it happened. Why not just try to help the people affected first? Pointing fingers can wait.

    I think what happens is something like this happens and peoples first reaction is usually wanting answers and some kind of quick revenge but that isn’t going to do anyone any good. It would be better if we all took a step back from the situation, did our best to help and tried to find a peaceful way out. I agree with domyo, hasn’t there been enough violence? I also agree with buddy. In a situation like this you can’t deny historical context. It’s like saying whoever did this did it just for shits and giggles. Find them, put them away for our protection and for theirs and try to remember that even though they’ve done something really shitty, they don’t suddenly become less than human.

  17. Jayarava
    Jayarava April 16, 2013 at 12:55 am |

    Brad, I haven’t read your blog much or commented before. This post caught my eye via a Tweet.

    My first comment is that Buddhists seems to want to have an answer for every. I can understand Buddhists responding, but I can’t understand “a Buddhist response”. I can understand someone saying that they want the perpetrators of a crime ripped to pieces as a way of expressing inarticulate emotions, especially anger. Though if such a thing was done I for one would feel sick. If I thought you’d had a hand in it, or that people had responded to your suggestion, I’d hand you over to the authorities without a second thought because as you say an orderly society is valuable to a practitioner, and your reaction seems to contribute to a disorderly society. How ironic to use this post in particular to request donations.

    My second comment regards this statement “One very significant fact is that Buddhism has only ever flourished in stable societies that had powerful militaries and police forces to defend their citizen’s ability to practice.” You posted a very similar, pro-military, thought back in 2008 with no attribution to Bachelor. (http://hardcorezen.info/like-your-buddhism-thank-a-veteran/561).

    My reaction to this was “bullshit, Brad!”. With a little more reflection there are several problems here. It simply does not reflect the historical realities of Buddhism. It’s a fantasy of someone living in a powerful military power and which is seeking to justify an almost constant policy of military intervention to protect it’s economic interests with no regard for the people it kills to guard those interests. The word “quisling” comes to mind.

    Firstly until about the 1950s most Buddhists lived in military dictatorships or were serfs in feudal societies (or both) – they were not citizens in the sense that you use the word. Indeed right into the present many Buddhists live in these conditions. Buddhism works particularly well in feudal societies where superstitious serfs can be convinced that charity will lead to a better *afterlife* (keeps them barefoot and working); and where rulers anxious to justify their authority will find those justifications in the sutras (Golden Light and Lotus in particular). Monks parasitise this relationship, sometimes to their cost when the relationship breaks down – as it did in fatally in India, and several times in China (particularly with the collapse of the Tang dynasty).

    Secondly there was little suggestion until very recently that ordinary people should do anything more than provide for monks. It was monks, on the whole, who practised Buddhism and benefited from military interventions. However just as often Buddhist monks played the politics in such a way as to make them targets of state hatred. In China for example the monasteries became incalculably wealthy in the Tang Dynasty, and rather than let them bankrupt the empire causing untold hardship on the serfs, the rulers would sack the monasteries. The parasite would irritate the host too much sometimes. Several times in history pious Buddhist kings have bankrupted states with temple building.

    Thirdly Buddhism has frequently survived in military dictatorships not because the citizens practised it, but because royalty did. Buddhism was for much of it’s history a religion primarily of the elite, and without elite support tended to die out. There are counter examples to this – communist China being one. Though the Buddhism that survived there is hardly about “hardcore” practice, eh?

    It would be interesting to see you work through the history of Buddhism to try to show that it only thrived where it was combined with a strong military. No doubt many Buddhist countries have been militaristic but showing a causal link would be quite something.

    Every wants to live in a stable society. At present members of the monetarist Western societies suffer from various perturbations because their governments have cultivated instability and inequality, both internally and externally. History has documented what happens when this happens. I’ll be panned for saying so, but Americans seem particularly ignorant of their own history of imperialism and the central role that US government and business interests have played in the current destabilisation. And the forces of power are frequently turned on the citizenry – reading the BoingBoing blog gives a striking view of how US citizens are being repressed and oppressed on a regular basis by the powers that you find so attractive.

    It’s such an obvious choice to be angry about terrorism and to speak out against it. But bombs are only a symptom of a much deeper problem that has been brewing for much longer. To decry terrorism is the easy choice. Every politician is doing it today. Everyone is “horrified and appalled”. But no one is asking why people do this kind of thing. Everyday in Waziristan US drones kill civilians. Maybe you’ve already spoken about this? I don’t know, but searches don’t throw up any results. All I found with reference to Afghanistan for example was your praise of soldiers. Who have achieved what precisely? Peace for the USA? Not hardly.

    The irony is that had the USA not been so aggressive, imperialistic, and militaristic over the last century or more it, would have far fewer enemies. Military interventions create enemies. The same applies to the UK where I currently live. The condition for present fear is past military aggression, combined with economic policies which have increased economic inequality and destroyed lives.

    You seem to be living in a dream world. One can only hope that you’ll wake up sometime soon and see what’s going on around you.

    1. Andy
      Andy April 16, 2013 at 9:45 am |

      Hi Jayarava

      It is a mis-reading of both articles to gloss Brad’s views in these as ‘pro-military’ – in the conventionally and pejoratively political sense that you are using it.

      To me you appear to be making the same kind of ‘easy choice’ in your responses, as those you criticize in your ‘To decry terrorism is the easy choice.’ I don’t think many would accuse you of being pro-terrorist there, but I’m sure there are some on the polar-opposite to your own political views on such matters who might take such words like a red rag to a bull and argue that your views marked you as an apologist for the violent means certain people use – and probably an insidious threat to all they hold good, sane and healthy.

      You write: ” It would be interesting to see you work through the history of Buddhism to try to show that it only thrived where it was combined with a strong military. No doubt many Buddhist countries have been militaristic but showing a causal link would be quite something.”

      It would be interesting to see you work though history of any historically significant institution that flourished and try to show where it wasn’t enabled by a martial force in that tribe, community, society or nation equal to maintaining the stability of them from forces within and without.

      I hold it as one of the more stand-out and yet often least readily digestible features of human history- and especially for the integrity of political stances once they are acted upon – that anything that has culturally flourished has done so from stable situations bedded down, maintained and perennially destroyed and corrupted by human violence, the threat of it – along with so many of the other blights one might name – and the various justifications that go along with it.

      In pointing out the inequities and corruptions in the past or present, we must take care to put human beings doing human things into all points on the map. None of them nor you and I can possibly hope to steer the Titanics we’re on at acute right or left angles, even the Hitlers or Mandelas of this world are brief captains of the dirty great ships we sail on that have already disembarked.

      The one-sided and blind-siding utopianism I read into views like your own annoys me as much as its ‘right-wing’ dancing partner. But I go easier on myself these days about that, and so I’m less of a danger to myself and to others.

      “One very significant fact is that Buddhism has only ever flourished in stable societies that had powerful militaries and police forces to defend their citizen’s ability to practice.”

  18. Martin_R
    Martin_R April 16, 2013 at 3:08 am |

    I wouldn’t pity the convict killers as much I would the executioners. Such a messy affair.

  19. AnneMH
    AnneMH April 16, 2013 at 6:11 am |

    Yeah, it sucks, again. I would much rather talk about your cool translating. It sounds like fun in that context. I work with Spanish/English translators and sometimes we have Arabic and Vietnamese students/families. Sometimes a translator does not know a word and it is okay.

    About the bombing, I can’t imagine what this person was focusing on. One thing I thought of is that this was a super healthy event, even bystanders are probably people who exercise even if they don’t do a marathon. Now there are a lot of injured (and dead) people who were at risk because they were focused on health and in the wrong time and place? Can they walk again, function again? who knows.

    I had not heard about the movie theatre stalker person. That is very close to home, my daughter was working there that night and the theatre is very much part of the community so we knew a lot of people. These other shootings and bombings bring some of this back for her,

    Well at least I don’t feel like a ‘bad Buddhist’ anymore. I used to feel like a crappy one and stayed away from groups because I could not get over liking punk and a few quirks, and then because I honestly agree that some people need to be removed from our society. We have the means to incarcerate them now, but I know in traditional Native American society they had no way to incarcerate and so a death penalty was the only way it seems.

  20. Mumon
    Mumon April 16, 2013 at 6:51 am |

    I had to respond but it took a big blog post…:


  21. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote April 16, 2013 at 7:42 am |

    Rhys-Davids, the English civil servant in Ceylon who formed the Pali Text Society and began the translation of the sermon volumes, wrote a little book in which he claimed Gautama’s teaching was made possible by the advent of a middle class in India, that his teaching was in many ways a response to the alienation from nature of “civilized” human beings.

    The folks who are struggling to live in Boston probably won’t think so, but this was a pretty homemade pair of bombs. I think they will find someone along the lines of James Holmes, a little less intelligent perhaps, was responsible. And the motivation was like Bill Clinton’s, just because they could- what this really says is that we are cultivating a deep alienation in our society, and in the age of information and the NRA the individuals who twist out can lash out with previously unheard of violence.

    We need look no further than the successful employment of the courts and the media by the upper class to relieve the general populace of the possibility of middle-class income and meaningful employment (and a healthy environment), we don’t need to get into the uselessness of the CIA or the fact that walls to keep people out and drones to destroy enemies can also keep people in and destroy the enemies of the political party in power at home.

    My vent, sorry! Ok, on another topic (Zen and Buddhism)- still thinking about Thanissaro. The difficulty in his point of view is that skillful means is not something that is acquired through willful action, whether that action is for good or not. Keeping the precepts willfully, in the belief that one is taking the high road and acquiring skill, will result in ill- there’s a passage in the Pali suttas where Gautama talks about “what we will, what we intend to do, or that which we are occupied with” and explicitly states that regardless of whether such action is for merit or demerit, ill will result. I would say that skill along the lines that Gautama spoke of is acquired through the experience of absorption in my own nature, not otherwise, and that this experience begins with the freedom of the sense of place and the contribution of an ability to feel “with no part left out” to the movement of breath. The disciples of Gautama were described as like wild beasts, and the person making the description considered that a good thing.

    1. Jayarava
      Jayarava April 16, 2013 at 8:14 am |

      “Gautama’s teaching was made possible by the advent of a middle class in India, that his teaching was in many ways a response to the alienation from nature of “civilized” human beings.”

      This is true to some extent. Though the middle-class (the gahapati) were few in number and all male in gender, and the society was still sharply divided. Probably nouveau riche would be a better description than middle-class. However I think “advent” is the wrong verb. The Buddhist religion would no doubt have had it’s advent in any case. As often as not people begged from the poor as much as the well off. But the sustaining and blossoming of Buddhism into a universal religion required a bigger resource base than local peasants could offer.

      The nouveau riche had disposable income with which to support a growing unproductive class who parasitised them by playing on the idea that supporting men in robes lead to a better afterlife.

      It’s also true that Indian Buddhism did well out of the aggressively militaristic regimes of people like Ajatasattu and Asoka (“remorseless”). Partly because they offered forgiveness and redemption to rulers; and partly because they were able to capitalise on the extended trade routes that emerge as a result of conquest. Ultimately however it was an overly close association with military regimes which lead to the downfall of Buddhism. First in the collapse of the Gupta Empire at the hands of the Huns and then later with the Muslim invasions, Buddhism was no loner capable of supporting it’s own weight. Left to itself the parasitic monastic institutions required enormous resources to sustain them. Only a dictator could divert enough resources to maintain them. Once the regimes collapsed and trade collapsed with it, neither rulers nor the nouveau riche could support them.

      I’d still rather be living in Boston than in Bagdad or Kabul.

  22. Terrytrueman
    Terrytrueman April 16, 2013 at 8:09 am |

    As far as I’m able to understand Mark’s comments above–I agree with them and embrace them. Pulling back veils, or maybe sitting quietly as the breeze blows the viels out of the way long enough for us to grasp glimpses of dharma is likely the best we can do–and it’s more than good enough.

  23. mtto
    mtto April 16, 2013 at 10:52 am |

    First point: the motive for the bombings is unknown as of now. Speculation about US military involvement around the world creating the cause for yesterday’s terrorist act is just emotional speculation, although that is of course one possibility of several I can imagine. It is also possible that the motive is one that none of us can imagine at this point.

    Two: as mentioned repeatedly above, Buddhism has been practiced in unstable societies. Your practice looks different if bombs are blowing up villages and schools. We don’t get to pick our circumstances. I’m grateful to live in relatively peaceful conditions most of the time, but I wouldn’t stop practicing Buddhism if there were more riots or a civil war.

    Three: I’m against the death penalty in the United States in the year 2013. The state should aspire to be better than that. And more practically, since we don’t want to execute someone who is innocent, we give them decades of costly appeals. We end up not executing that many people, just spending lots and lots of money talking about maybe executing them in the future. It is a waste. Lock them up, end the unjustified appeals, try and rehabilitate them even while serving a life sentence. Maybe they can develop remorse. Maybe they can do some good while living behind bars. More just, more humane, and we can’t afford the current system.

  24. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz April 16, 2013 at 11:40 am |

    My issue is with people fixating on one instance of extreme suffering, and avoiding the rest that is always on-going around them. It’s like peripheral vision. Right now, in a downtown city of USA, there are people dying from starvation and poverty. Violence is occurring, and America having a strong military has done nothing but inflict countless suffering on others. Look at Vietnam, Iraq, Cambodia, and so much more. I do not see how this country is powerful and helping its citizens. Rather, it is overworking and alienating them. In this day and age of globalization, people need to go back and focus their energies on their communities. There is nothing I can do for the unfortunate people in Boston, Japan, or whatever. Instead, I can go outside and lend a couple dollars to those walking the streets, afraid of whether or not they can get food the next moment.

    Moreover, I don’t see how society is privileged enough to say whether someone deserves “this” or “that” on the basis of “this” or “that”. If someone were attacking me and trying to kill me, I would defend myself and most likely kill him. I would not, however, judge him. I do not know what made him to do what he did, most likely inner pain and suffering he kept bottled up.

    It is kind of paradoxical that I am saying, “We should focus on the community and mind our business,” yet I say, “We should not tell people they “should” or “ought” to do.” This is paradox is central to our practice, making it formless.

    In regards to the victims, give a deep bow, but why not bow for the flesh you consumed in your burger, the person who died near you after committing suicide for having his house taken by the IRS, or whatever else? Stop rationalizing your views and let the understanding break down. You cannot end horror by forcing love.

  25. Brent
    Brent April 16, 2013 at 5:58 pm |

    A few hours before the explosions happened I was standing across the street, halfway between the two spots. It was my lunch hour at work and I went to see the marathon winners go by. There were so, so many people lining the road. I was about ten people back from the curb. Every few minutes huge cheers would erupt and I thought it would be the leading woman or man, but instead it was another wheelchair participant. Just the cheers and then the sight of someone who had come so far was enough to make me choke up a bit each and every time.

    Later in the afternoon I was back in my office in downtown Boston, plunking away at the computer. My manager came into the room and mentioned the explosions which we had heard out the window a few minutes before. Sirens were starting. We went online and read the breaking news – still thinking that it must be a gas main accident. About a half hour later we all left for the day.

    I went by the grocery store on my way to the subway. Ambulances were passing because the store is close to a major hospital. I saw someone I knew who I had not seen in many years. We spoke and forgot to speak about what had just happened. Out on the street again, runners were starting to appear on the sidewalks on the other side of Beacon Hill. I saw a cop giving two women walking directions to their hotel in Cambridge.

    The subway was surprisingly uncrowded. Probably because it was only running half the stops. I got on at North Station which had a huge police presence. The bus I took after the subway was very crowded and quiet. It was about 5pm by then. Everyone was glued to their phones. Not that they aren’t usually. It’s just that the air was full of shock.

    I went to a meeting tonight. One kid by the front door was describing what it was like on the street at the time of the explosions. He was there and he was shaken. We asked around to see if anyone knew the girl from Medford (the next town over). No one knew her directly but a few people knew people who knew her. Fuck. Just thinking about their families. Death is always hard. One of my sister’s childhood friends was on the plane that left Boston and hit the first tower. We’re all feeling an echo of that day here I think.

    I like the stories I’m seeing about Mr. Rogers saying to focus on the helpers. That’s great and means a lot. I have to go back into work downtown tomorrow. I don’t think I’ll be too nervous to get on the subway, but you know I might just walk it all the way in.

    Prayers to all those who lost someone this weekend, or who were hurt badly or even just frightened. And thank God for the rescue workers showing that the basic fabric of our cooperation does indeed work.

  26. Muddy Elephant
    Muddy Elephant April 17, 2013 at 1:10 am |

    I think empathy and the death penalty can both be realized and actualized. Unfortunately this is not the usual way.

  27. Muddy Elephant
    Muddy Elephant April 17, 2013 at 1:41 am |

    Hey Jayarava,

    I’m not keen on defending Brad for he is better off doing that himself but I really feel obliged since, as a longtime reader of this blog I feel very comfortable in saying that your criticisms are way off.

    First off you characterize Brad as “pro-military”. He does at times seem to be, I’ll grant you that, though over the years Brad has been very consistent in recognizing a very ugly fact of “peace”: that it is the byproduct of sometimes militaristic governments and societies who happen to have found a way to get along for the time being.

    Secondly, Brad’s “anger” is deeply nuanced and if you would bother to read his writing at all you might understand that.

    Thirdly and finally, Brad asks for money in most all of his recent postings so for you to single this post in as “ironic” and “particular” is a really stupid point to be making.

    Just sayin’

    Have a nice day!

  28. anon 108
    anon 108 April 17, 2013 at 5:50 am |

    Well…If, like Brad, you’re angry when these things happen – I mean angry at whoever’s responsible for committing the henious act – then you’re angry. But it makes no sense for society to base its penal code on anger.

    Sure, judicial retribution satisfies (some) people’s very understandable desire for vengeance. But it can lead to disproportionate responses, and miscarriages of justice.

    Sam Harris makes the point that those who do terrible things to other people do them because they’re who/what they are. Even if we have souls, we don’t get to choose them. The guy who blows up innocent people does it because he’s the kind of guy who blows up innocent people. Could he have done otherwise? If he had done otherwise, he would be the kind of guy who thinks about blowing up innocent people and changes his mind. That’s how Sam Harris sees it, and that how I see it too.

    None of which means such people shouldn’t, as Gudo puts it, be ““removed from society.” That doesn’t follow at all. Society needs to pretect itself from dangerous people. And some people are so dangerous they need to be put away for life.

    The simple, practical problem with the death penalty is that you can’t undo it. Mistakes can, will, and have happened. Even the most convincing evidence accompanied by a confession has sometimes been found to be mistaken. I don’t see how we can take the risk of depriving someone of their life – a pretty final solution – in the face of the remotest possibilty of a mistake.

  29. anon 108
    anon 108 April 17, 2013 at 5:56 am |


    I don’t think I made it clear that the point of Sam Harris’ argument – and mine – is that ‘blame’ has no useful part to play in penal policy. Responsibility, yes. But not retributive blame.

    1. anon 108
      anon 108 April 17, 2013 at 6:39 am |

      When I say “… (retributive) blame has no useful part to play in penal policy,” I mean to say that I’d rather it didn’t.

  30. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote April 17, 2013 at 7:31 am |

    Watched Ken Burns’ documentary “Central Park Five” last night. Five black teenagers who were held by the cops for 12-24 hours without food or water and rehearsed to give confessions, which they did on the promise that they could then go home and all would be well. In spite of contradictions in every important detail in their videotaped confessions, and one hold out on the jury (who finally caved due to the unpleasantness of the other 11 jurors rather than the facts), the five were convicted.

    When the actual rapist finally confessed, and his DNA and his facts checked out exactly, neither the cops nor the D.A. were willing to admit a travesty of justice had taken place. That was 2002?- the confessions were wrung from the teens in 1989, I think.

    It’s a fact of human psychology that under physical duress, belief structures can suddenly alter completely to whatever belief structure has been suggested will relieve the duress. I’ve talked on this blog’s comment thread before about a relationship between Sasaki’s “empty hand” and his deepmost beliefs; his hand is truly empty, but unfortunately for him the beliefs that became his in Japan never encountered a necessity for change. That would be my assumption. I think it’s important that we try to keep the facts straight, and be forwarned about the depth of the ignorance we are faced with, our own and in general in America.

    Consumption be done about it? Hak cough!

  31. mark mcgeorge
    mark mcgeorge April 17, 2013 at 7:49 am |

    In thinking about the bombing I think it is important to focus on the entire spectrum of what went on and not just on the revenge. I liked a recent post by Panno Oswalt:


    He comments have a certain quality of being aware of the surrondings and the whole of what has gone on in the aftermath of such a tragady that reminds me of what the Buddha taught about awarness.
    Seeking Justice is the path to revenge against those that caused this to occur. Finding them and making sure they no longer have the chance to do this type of thing again is important. Making sure we get the right people is important too.

  32. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel April 17, 2013 at 12:19 pm |

    It is a little know fact that during the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church (or at least a good deal of the enlightened members of it) staunchly opposed torture, which was the current police procedure. It is for that reason that, at the time of the Crusade against the Albigeois, the Inquisition was founded. The term means “enquiry”. In the novel “The Name of the Rose”, the main character is an inquisitor, as well as his foe, Bernard Gui (who finished as bishop of a city some km away from here). The idea was to lead an enquiry in order to have good and sound charges against someone and not mere denunciations weighed by confessions made under duress. It does seem that this is a fight that needs to be fought again and again, so much does it seem that policemen like the facility of extorting confessions under duress…

  33. anon 108
    anon 108 April 17, 2013 at 1:11 pm |

    There’s also a good deal of research, and some real-life cases, confirming that some people will falsely confess to the most awful crimes without any external pressure being exerted at all.

  34. Mumbles
    Mumbles April 17, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
  35. shade
    shade April 18, 2013 at 8:06 am |

    I’ve been following Brad’s work for many years now and almost always respect what he has to say even when I disagree with it. But this particular post has gotten under my skin such that I feel compelled to respond, even though it’s a bit delayed.

    If Brad had said “I hope they find the perpetrator of this crime and bring him to justice” I would have respected that. If he had said “I hope this person is imprisoned for life” – or even executed – I would have respected that as well, though in the case of execution I might not have concurred. To say “I hope they find this piece of shit and rip him to shreds” is another matter. It evinces a level of fury, even bloodlust, that I find troubling.

    And again, even that would have been understandable if Brad had some sort of personal connection to the incident – a friend who had been injured or something like that. But as far as I can tell that’s not the case. This level of vitriol is even more peculiar given that his response to the massacre in Sandy Creek was much more subdued.

    An act of violence and homicide of this magnitude is, of course, atrocious. But acts of violence and homicide of this magnitude happen every day. Some of these acts are designated as crimes and some aren’t. Sometimes the perpetrators are brought to justice and sometimes they aren’t. Every day children die under horrifying circumstances – assault, accident, starvation and disease. Some of these deaths can not be prevented, but many can. None of this makes what went down in Boston any less tragic – but to focus on this particular tragedy at the expense of all the others seems to be lacking in both clarity and perspective.

    Finally I find the idea that one must live in a “stable society” in order to pursue meditation and reap its benefits (and I don’t pretend to understand what those are) puzzling. Laying aside the complications of what a “stable society” actually consists of and how such a thing is advanced – isn’t that putting the cart before the horse? Isn’t zazen, enlightenment and all the rest pursued for the express purpose of achieving such a world? If meditation can only be practiced under ideal conditions – isn’t that like waiting for a sick person to recover his health before treating his disease?

    1. Terrytrueman
      Terrytrueman April 18, 2013 at 8:23 am |

      I like so much of what Brad writes and how he writes it, yet I find that this entry by ‘shade’ pretty much perfectly captures my reaction to Brad’s ‘tear ’em the pieces’ comment too. I think that many of the entrys have tiptoed around this issue of confronting Brad with fucking-up. I’ve done that too. But Brad ain’t Jesus (and I suspect that Jesus wasn’t Jesus either, but that’s for another time) and therefore, I’ll just say it, hey, Brad, I think you fucked-up in that line and blog and I think yer emotions got the better of you . . thank God nothing like that could ever happen to someone as fabulously ‘enlightened’ as myself! LOL (On the off chance that my self-deprecating sarcastic tone wasn’t heard . . I’m saying that everybody, including Brad, has a right to a fuck-up once in awhile and everyone else has a right to point it out or not point it out depending on one’s comfort level with virtual or maybe real conflict.

  36. Kaishin
    Kaishin April 18, 2013 at 11:18 am |

    Hey Brad,

    There’s a difference between “firm” and “angry”.

    I ran my last marathon in almost exactly four hours, so I can take this attack pretty personally. Sure, I’d like to remove from society the unskilful person who did this, so they don’t do it again – but anything more would be anger coming through.

    We all feel anger – but isn’t Zen supposed to help us avoid acting on it?


  37. minkfoot
    minkfoot April 18, 2013 at 11:25 am |

    Well, Brad did follow the “ripping to shreds” comment with “Still, society needs to make efforts to resolve matters like this without anger. Because an angry response leads to further tragedies . . .” I wish he hadn’t then said, “In the end, it doesn’t matter. Society has every right to remove him from its midst in any way it sees fit.” Because it does matter. Executions are a bad example and desensitizing, as well. I wish the killer(s) a long life of contemplation and regret, in a friendless and dreary environment.

    Another thing people seem to misread is the statement: “One very significant fact is that Buddhism has only ever flourished in stable societies that had powerful militaries and police forces to defend their citizen’s ability to practice.” One can argue over what “flourish” means, as some of Zen’s best development happened during times of antiBuddhist persecution. I assume Brad means “reached and influenced large numbers of people.” I would agree that some stability is necessary for lots of people to consider ultimate questions other than “How can I live for one more hour?” People who are cold, hungry, and fearful aren’t going to be too interested in developing mindfulness. Note that I am not saying training your awareness isn’t the way to deal with such things, but that it’s not an effective pitch to people who are severely distracted.

    Lastly, I am glad of how much class so many fellow Bostonians are showing despite the deaths and maiming and the affront to a semisacred event. Someone pointed out the Marathon is an event where competitors help the fallen, and no one gets booed. The perps knew where it hurts.

    1. Terrytrueman
      Terrytrueman April 18, 2013 at 11:36 am |

      From what I’ve read of Noah Levine (AGAINST THE STREAM), and I believe he and Brad work together sometimes, he actually only started meditating while incarcerated and rightfully so. That hardly seems a particularly non-distracted environment. As for wishing the perps a long and friendless life, I feel little connection to them but feel a strong urge in myself to save ants that have fallen into a swimming pool–I’ll let you do the math on that one. But here’s a hint, buddhism is fundamentally about trumping the inevitable pain in life and while I can think and feel I want to put my energy into trying to be more content–my contentment will not be increased much by whatever happens to the lost souls who did this carnage and harm–it may, however, be increased by staying focused on how often everything is effected by what causes it and it causes. Too ‘wise’? Probably so. But there I go again. LOL

      1. minkfoot
        minkfoot April 18, 2013 at 12:22 pm |

        Although not a pleasant environment in many ways, incarceration can be conducive to practice. At least, you don’t have to worry about food and shelter. I’ve met some practitioners in prison, and have great respect for them. But we are not talking about individuals.

        Hard times will make some people see that they need something like Buddhismt. But for Buddhism to enter and influence an entire culture, a certain amount of stability helps. Perhaps Brad will expand on what he’s studied in that regard.

        Overly prosperous times might not be optimum, either. Some stress to fire up some spiritual discontent might be necessary, though life is quite good at supplying that for most of us.

        1. Terrytrueman
          Terrytrueman April 18, 2013 at 2:10 pm |

          Good pts minkfoot. And Brad’s new blog, a continuation and explanation of his earlier remarks and sentiments clarify, to me, his feelings/reasonings for his initial reactions.

  38. Terrytrueman
    Terrytrueman April 18, 2013 at 12:01 pm |

    ps. Yes the citizens of Boston did magnificently! And I hope this next comes out right; learning to lie safely and comfortably on a bed of nails (something I have zero interest in trying to do myself) requires, regrettably a bed of nails. The people who detonated the bombs gave the people of the marathon and the citizens of Boston and opportunity to show their class, love, courage and kindness; I’m NOT saying it was worth the trade. I AM saying that only in the face of such horror can the best and most compassionate qualities in people be shown so fully.

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