So yesterday I went on CNN again. As one does (insert fake upper-crust vaguely British accent).
The last time I was on CNN I did a show called something like… oh what was it? Spiritual Sunday or something along those lines. It was a Sunday morning show in which they interviewed various spiritual teachers then cut those interviews down to about 35 seconds. So I got my 35 seconds of fame. It was fun. That must have been around five years ago.
This time I got an email on Friday asking of I could come on CNN and talk about Buddhist funeral customs. Since I just conducted two memorial services for friends and had spent a lot of time researching Buddhist funerals I figured I could handle it so I said “Yes.”
It turned out they wanted someone to comment on the funeral of Wenjian Liu, one of the New York City police officers who was murdered by a crazy person on December 20th. There’s been a ton of press about this because many are linking his murder to the various protest movements that have sprung up in response to the killing by police officers of unarmed, loose cigarette seller Eric Garner in New York City. While it’s clearly ridiculous to blame Liu and his partner’s murders on the protest movement, it’s equally disingenuous to say there is no connection at all. Reality is messier than that.
Anyway, here’s what I said from the transcript CNN published on line (somewhat edited by me for space, I also corrected it in some spots).
BRAD WARNER, ZEN BUDDHIST PRIEST: When you say somebody is a Buddhist, it’s like saying somebody is a Christian. In Christianity you have Catholics and Christian Scientists, Mormons. The same thing goes for Buddhism. So the tradition that exists in the region that Officer Liu comes from tends to be a syncretic tradition with a lot of mixtures of different types of Buddhism, mainly Zen and Pure Land along with some Chinese customs that predate even Buddhism.
So the thing about the burning of the paper money isn’t exactly a Buddhist custom. It’s more of a Chinese folk custom. The monks would usually be chanting “homage to Amida Buddha” who is supposed to have prepared the Pure Land for people to go there in their next incarnation and learn about the Dharma from him. So basically they will be chanting that in a usual Chinese Buddhist funeral for about eight hours taking turns among the family members doing that chant.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN ANCHOR: Tell me what the monks sort of bring in to help the family at such a painful time.
WARNER: Well, the general Buddhist belief about what happens to a person when they die, we don’t have a belief in an immortal soul the way Christians do. But there is a belief that a person is the result of causes and conditions that go in to create a human being and a human life and that those causes and conditions will continue on after the person has departed. So I would imagine the monks there would be kind of consoling the family in the idea that Officer Liu in some sense continues on and continues to be a presence within the universe rather than simply disappearing from it.
FEYERICK: And it does seem that that’s what the NYPD certainly is trying to do. They’ve renamed two streets in the area. They’re also saying that his legacy, his life, will continue as a reminder of all the values that he incorporated. Eight hours, is that traditional, the length of the ceremony?
WARNER: Yeah, that’s the general Chinese tradition. I don’t know for certain that they’re going to do this ceremony for eight hours, but that’s the usual tradition. They generally don’t believe in embalming in the Chinese Buddhist tradition, so there’s a kind of a sense of getting it done quickly because you’re dealing with a body that’s not prepared like that.
FEYERICK: Sure. To sort of spirit him on his way, so to speak. What about the funeral – what about the burial itself? What are we likely to see?
WARNER: Well, generally in Chinese Buddhism, which differentiates it from the Japanese Buddhism I studied, is they don’t tend to favor cremation. They tend to favor a burial of the body. So they would do this — the ritual chanting as a preparation for that, and then they would bring the body to the burial place just as in a usual sort of Western type of arrangement.
FEYERICK: All right. Brad Warner, thank you so much. We appreciate your insights on what we’re expected to see.
And that was it.
Mostly I sat in their studio on Sunset Blvd., next to Amoeba Records, waiting around to be put on air. I was there from just before 7am until about 11am. I had an hour break when they went to a taped program but then they wanted me to stand by in case the anchor decided to ask me some more questions. She didn’t, but the next anchor threw it over to me for a nanosecond. I said the same stuff to her adding that the full ceremony would be 49 days long.
I’m sure a lot of people are saying a lot of things about this particular funeral. Obviously most of the thousands who turned up didn’t know Wenjian Liu from a loaf of bread. Nor did they, as mostly fellow police officers, simply care that one of their own had been killed in such a horrible way. Sadly, that happens a lot to police officers and rarely does a city have to shut down a mile of its streets for their funerals.
It was a backlash against the protests about the clear and obvious misuse of police power in the death of Eric Garner and the very likely misuse of police power in the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. There was a strong right wing element to the funeral and to much of what the other commenters said as I sat and waited for my turn. It had to have made Liu’s grieving family even sadder to see how their loved one’s death was being turned into an excuse to flaunt politics.
I hoped CNN’s anchor might ask me how a Buddhist feels about the way police officers have a legal right to kill people when necessary. I could’ve given them an earful on that topic. But it wasn’t my place to interject such things, so I didn’t.
Some people have questioned why I, of all people, was asked to comment. I’m not really sure. I imagine it was because I did a CNN show before and I must be on somebody’s Rolodex. I would imagine they wanted someone who not only knew about Buddhist funerals but who they could be certain wouldn’t freeze up or get weird on the air. I’m sure they could have found someone more well-versed specifically in Chinese Buddhism, but they might not have known if that person would be able to handle themselves on TV.
Some of you are aware that I reached out on Facebook the night before asking for people who might know about Chinese Buddhism. I got a few responses but nobody offered me much info. But my friend Sam, who’s lived in Shanghai since the 90s, was helpful. My friend Dale, whose wife is Chinese, gave me some good info on Chinese people living in the US. My friend Gesshin asked a friend of hers who studies Chinese Buddhism for some info that proved very useful. Also, I wasn’t completely ignorant of the subject. I mainly wanted to be certain I was correct in what I already thought I knew. A lot of being an “expert” on something involves knowing who to ask and what to ask them.
So that was my Sunday.
* * *
CNN did not pay me for my appearance, by the way, or for the hours I spent there. Though they did send a limo to get me, so that guy got paid! Your donations can really help me a lot at this time. Thanks!
* * *
Remember now that I’m in LA, I’ll be at almost every event at Dogen Sangha Los Angeles. I’ll be leading zazen tonight, for example. See their website for all the details.
Plenty of Chinese Buddhists around here in New York State you could have consulted, but sounds like you did OK.
Hey, John! –
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YLB WCR, ZW FCYTCL, G RFGLI KW JMTC YQ PYPC
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Safe travels, Officer Liu!
Namo Dizang Wang Pusa!
Brad, Can tell us how you feel about the way police officers have a legal right to kill people when necessary?
Or when it’s not necessary? There seems to be a lot of murdering going on.
And would a real Buddhist kill someone while performing their job for
What position does the McMindfulness group take on killing people? Is it OK to
take someone’s life as long as you are fully mindfully aware while pulling the
The police officer that choked to death an asthmatic man suspected of selling loose cigarettes is on suicide watch.
If the Police Officer had been practicing McMindfulness would he have used as
much force when arresting a semi-non-compliant black man suspected of selling
I live in Canada, and am not really experienced with conditions in the U.S., although some people in Canada have been murdered by the police.
Hey caused death by resisting arrest. It happens.
Showing off… I used http://rumkin.com/tools/cipher/caesar.php to break the cipher.
MY MISTRESS’ EYES ARE NOTHING LIKE THE SUN;
CORAL IS FAR MORE RED THAN HER LIPS’ RED;
IF SNOW BE WHITE, WHY THEN HER BREASTS ARE DUN;
IF HAIRS BE WIRES, BLACK WIRES GROW ON HER HEAD.
I HAVE SEEN ROSES DAMASKED, RED AND WHITE,
BUT NO SUCH ROSES SEE I IN HER CHEEKS;
AND IN SOME PERFUMES IS THERE MORE DELIGHT
THAN IN THE BREATH THAT FROM MY MISTRESS REEKS.
I LOVE TO HEAR HER SPEAK, YET WELL I KNOW
THAT MUSIC HATH A FAR MORE PLEASING SOUND;
I GRANT I NEVER SAW A GODDESS GO;
MY MISTRESS WHEN SHE WALKS TREADS ON THE GROUND.
AND YET, BY HEAVEN, I THINK MY LOVE AS RARE
AS ANY SHE BELIED WITH FALSE COMPARE.
If you dislike the police, the next time you’re in big trouble call.. A pacifist?
Toronto cop killing a kid with a knife:
He’s charged and going to trial
Are you a Buddhist, Harlan?
What if I don’t “dislike” the police? What if, like, I just don’t want them to go around killing people because they–at most–feel vaguely threatened? What if, since I help pay their checks, and since their supposed to be trained to handle such situations more responsibly than the rest of us, I want them to use violent force in an intelligent, discerning manner?
I personally enjoy having the option of calling the cops if need be. I don’t think anybody needs to be above reproach.
Calling a pacifist might be safer.
Fred, No I guess I can’t be. I dislike violence but would use it without hesitation if family or friends were threatened by someone who just didn’t give a shit.
Senor, The pacifist comment was tongue in cheek.. It’s easy to say that cops should be discerning in their use of force when it’s them putting their lives on the line. I don’t think any physical threat feels vague when it’s made against you. You have heard of the flight/fight response right? People react to threats with a discharge of the sympathetic nervous system, chemically priming them for fighting or fleeing. Fleeing isn’t an option for cops. Sometimes I imagine, adrenoline kicks in and over-reactions occur. Mistakes are made. I just can’t blame the cops entirely when all the guy had to do was not resist. All that being said, changes need to be made in the way cops confront people.
On the other hand, sometimes karma comes back on the police in an obvious way:
Roger has become somewhat of a home-town hero. Several local businesses had “Roger Pion Defense Fund” collection jars for a year or two. It looks like all charges will be dropped.
I heard folks say he just got fed up with the deputies teasing and picking on him for being slow after an unfortunate agricultural accident years ago.
‘The worst part about what I keep reading in all the chatter about race (cops) these days in the wake of the events in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere is how so much of it perpetuates and exacerbates the very thing the folks who write it think they’re trying to fix.”
The way to fix the ” problem ” in Ferguson is for the black people to elect a black
mayor, and councillors and fire the police chief and officers, and prosecuting
Then instruct the new mayor to pass laws reflecting the values of the black
community, and hire black cops to enforce those laws without killing punks that
mouth off to them.
“But there is a belief that a person is the result of causes and conditions that go in to create a human being and a human life and that those causes and conditions will continue on after the person has departed.”
The same causes and conditions that somehow culminated in a particular body-mind that was the sum total of random conditioning resulting in particular opinions based on personally defined concepts will continue on? Where to? & How so? Wha???
Is this a widely held Buddhist belief?
I’m confused. The first statement (in quotes) and the second statement appear to be two different ideas.
My paraphrase of the first statement is that we are here because of certain patterns in the entire universe. Just because we are gone doesn’t mean that those patterns won’t continue forward.
The commonly used analogy is a stream, which doesn’t disappear because one particular ripple goes away.
The second statement with the term “particular opinions based on personally defined concepts” doesn’t seem to match the first at all.
Am I missing something?
“My paraphrase of the first statement is that we are here because of certain patterns in the entire universe. Just because we are gone doesn’t mean that those patterns won’t continue forward. ”
Have not those causes and conditions morphed into other causes and conditions,
not to be duplicated.
What is going forward other than constant flux?
Human want certainty from their rituals, but when all is decay, certainty is just
another illusion propping up an ego.
How certain are you of that?
Nothing is moving! Everything is Solid and Fixed! We are all made out of blocks!
Yeah! You’ve got to do everything you can to break the impasse!
WARNER: …So I would imagine the monks there would be kind of consoling the family in the idea that Officer Liu in some sense continues on and continues to be a presence within the universe rather than simply disappearing from it.
FEYERICK: And it does seem that that’s what the NYPD certainly is trying to do. They’ve renamed two streets in the area.
“The same causes and conditions that somehow culminated in a particular body-mind that was the sum total of random conditioning resulting in particular opinions based on personally defined concepts will continue on? Where to?”
Liu Avenue. Liu Street.
Fred, if you’re wondering where an3drew has wandered:
‘an3drew September 28, 2014 at 5:53 PM
“It’s clear to me that there is something unique about the experience of practicing Zen in Japan”
it’s an autistic culture and the japanese are on “autistic spectrum”
zen is autistic and you probably feel comfortable there !
dogen was autistic !’
from That’s So Zen: What’s “Authentic” About Japanese Zen?
He stops short of saying that Gesshin Greenwood is a spectral being.
An3drew has wandered off under the murmuring gum trees, shotgun in hand, in
search of wallabies for breakfast.
On the way past the Buddha ( Dogen ), expressing the dream within a dream
( Dogen ), nevertheless deluded ( Dogen ).
“He stops short of saying that Gesshin Greenwood is a spectral being.”
How long has she been spectral? Did she notice herself becoming spectral after
doing zazen, or was it an artifact of some type of McMindfulness?
National Teacher Warner and Dirty Harry Feyerick Zenji went to pay respects to a temple supporter who had died of gunshot wounds caused by selling single cigarettes.
HARRY: [tapping the casket] “Acceptable or unacceptable”
WARNER: “I won’t say, I won’t say”
HARRY: “Why won’t you say”
WARNER: “I won’t say, I will never say”
HARRY: [aiming 44 magnum] “Feel lucky, do ya, Punk?”
WARNER: “I spare you 30 earfuls. It would be better if you stopped posting comments on my blog for a while,
but if Fred heard you were leaving, he would throw a shitfit”
Later, Harry went to study at Meister Kaput-Zen’s McMindfulness Spa.
He told the Meister of the encounter with Warner.
HARRY: “Acceptable or unacceptable”
MEISTER: “Feel lucky, do ya, Punk?”
Harry walked out with his gun tucked between his legs
MEISTER: “If Warner had been here, I would kick the cat”
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