More Thoughts on the Boston Bombings

godzilla1954a1Sometimes I get a little experimental with this blog. In my last entry I tried something that had once been very helpful for me, but in a new context.

When I first started practicing Buddhism the big, scary bugaboo in the world was not terrorism but the Cold War. Throughout the Reagan Years the world sat perched on the verge of total nuclear annihilation. It would’ve all been over for humanity in mere seconds if the doddering right-winger who believed that Jesus was on his way back any minute had decided to push the button that sent a strike against the Soviet Union. And I who was raised on a steady diet of Godzilla films, which were allegories of nuclear destruction, and Black Sabbath songs like War Pigs, was scared shitless.

But when I got into Zen I started thinking that being scared shitless was not the Zen Way. The Zen Way was to be cool and calm in the face of everything including the looming fear of being wiped out by hydrogen bombs, I thought. One time I was talking to my first Zen teacher, Tim, and I said something like, “I used to be worried about nuclear war, but I’m not anymore.” I said it because I thought that was the thing I was supposed to say and because I had convinced myself that’s how I felt.

Tim’s reply really surprised me. So much so that I still remember the conversation although I’m sure Tim has long since forgotten. He said, “Really? Because I’m pretty worried about it!”

It was so freeing to hear him say that. Ultimately, I mean. At first it was just confusing. But then I realized that I wasn’t really unafraid. I had just forced my fear into a dark corner where I couldn’t see it anymore. Understanding that it was OK to be afraid, or to be angry, or to be sad, or to feel any of those “negative” emotions that I thought were forbidden was like having an enormous weight lifted off me.

So when I heard the news of the bombs in Boston and felt that surge of anger against the perpetrator, I wondered, “Should I express this?” And I thought about that conversation with Tim. So I decided to go for it and see what happened. I wrote, “I, for one, hope they find the piece of shit who did this and rip him to shreds. He deserves it.”

I think most people understood the sentiment as it was intended. But predictably several did not. I got sent a number of hastily written but deeply impassioned essays about how I was not expressing the proper Buddhist sentiments. One guy kept trying to draw me into a debate on the subject in the comments section of Facebook. But you cannot have any kind of reasonable dialogue in the comments section of Facebook, so I declined. This just got him posting more and more increasingly longer comments. He declared that he was a pacifist and that he had the moral high ground. So I told him he could have the moral high ground and wished him a happy life there.

I’m not laughing at him, though. Because I know exactly how that feels. It’s a painful situation. The moral high ground is a lonely place. It seems like there’s only ever room for one up there. I used to try to stay there. But it was too sad. So I came back down.

I don’t feel that my declaration of my feelings is going to inspire any angry mobs in Boston to rip anyone to shreds. That’s not what’s going to happen here. There will be a few weeks of investigation after which the perpetrator will be found and brought to justice. It will be a media circus and soon all of us will know his name. I’ll even indulge in a bit of speculation. I believe the perpetrator will be a white male, around 30 years old with a bizarrely twisted political manifesto. He will not belong to Al Qaeda, the Taliban or the North Korean military. He won’t really be right-wing or left-wing. His ideas will be all over the map. He’ll get on the cover of all the papers and news magazines. There will be a long and spectacular trial after which he will be convicted. Since there is no death penalty in Massachusetts, he will spend the rest of his life in prison. After the furor dies down he’ll be largely forgotten by the public.

What I feel about him won’t change his fate in any way. I’d hoped, though, that maybe my expression of those feelings might prove useful to those who struggle with and feel guilty about their “bad” feelings when they’re trying to be good Buddhists. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it won’t help at all. But you gotta try.

I really like what my former fellow Suicide Girls columnist Patton Oswalt had to say, though. So I’ll quote it here,

Boston. Fucking horrible.

I remember, when 9/11 went down, my reaction was, “Well, I’ve had it with humanity.”

But I was wrong. I don’t know what’s going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem. One human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.

But here’s what I DO know. If it’s one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. (Thanks FAKE Gallery founder and owner Paul Kozlowski for pointing this out to me).

This is a giant planet and we’re lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness.

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak.

This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”

I agree with him. It’s something we all ought to remember.

As for my comments about Buddhism and its relationship to the military, I will refer you to an essay called Spaces in the Sky by Stephen Batchelor. He said it a lot better than I’ll ever be able to. The link will take you to the full essay. But here’s my favorite bit:

That “hatred will not cease by hatred but by love alone” is true because the statement is a tautology. If an old lady were being driven to distraction by noisy neighbors, how would she benefit from being solemnly told: “Noise will not cease by noise but by silence alone”? The Dhammapada verse, like this hypothetical advice to the woman, is true at such a level of generality that it offers little help in dealing with specific situations. It merely states the conditions under which a long-term solution to hatred would be possible. It may reinforce one’s faith that human beings can relinquish hatred and inspire one to seek to love others unconditionally, but it doesn’t answer the question of how to respond to an act of violence that threatens one’s way of life here and now.

The challenge for Buddhists is not to let a commitment to the principle of nonviolence blunt one’s critical acumen or deflect one’s gaze from looking steadily into the nature and origins of violence. It is far too simplistic to think of violence as originating solely in the psychology of hatred and anger. Violence is intrinsic to the function of the nation-state. Our freedoms and privileges in a liberal democracy are ultimately guaranteed by the willingness of the state to use violence to protect them.


When I first read that back in 2001 it angered me the way my comments along the same lines anger a lot of people who read me. But I’ve reflected on it over the years and, much as I would like to deny it (and believe me, I would!), Batchelor is right. I think it’s really crucial that we as Buddhists do not refuse to face reality.

In his new comedy special, Louis C.K. talks about slavery and how horrible it was. But then he holds up his Smart Phone and says� something like, “But without slavery we wouldn’t have these!” This refers to the established fact that the workers in the factories in Asia that make our Smart Phones, our Nike shoes, the computer you’re reading this essay on and so forth are living under conditions often worse than those suffered by the Africans captured to work the plantations of the Old South. Louis C.K. concludes, “We could have candle light and horses and buggies and all be nice to each other, or we could have these!”

Denying the facts doesn’t change them. It’s important to face the fact that your freedom to openly hate the government and the military without fear of reprisal is guaranteed by the government and military and by their willingness to kill those who would try to stop you. I don’t say it’s good that it’s that way. I don’t even say it has to be that way. But I know that it is that way and that’s important.

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138 Responses

Page 3 of 3
  1. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote April 23, 2013 at 7:37 am |

    ‘“Therefore Subhuti, all Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas should thus produce a pure mind which does not rely on forms, sounds, smells, tastes, tangible objects or dharmas. ”

    Isn’t it what we could call a kensho experience?’

    That’s an interesting translation. The thing I just wrote, I don’t know if you’re interested, but it concerns the three senses that aren’t included in the list above and the sense of place that a person can experience just before they drop off to sleep, a sense of place that moves.

    Now it happens that if you physically take a step backward, you engage the other three senses, because your eyes no longer inform your sense of equalibrium, and you rely on proprioception, or the sense of where things are generated by the muscles and tendons of the body- these two senses together with the sense of gravity come forward as you step backwards.

    That the location of awareness can shift in the body as all the senses including these three are differentiated, to see the location of awareness instead of what is in awareness can be described as “turning the light around”.

    I always figured kensho was the experience of action out of place in the movement of breath, as opposed to action out of choice.

  2. shade
    shade April 23, 2013 at 7:50 am |

    human beings as herbs? Okay, see this is part of the problem that I have with certain Buddhist doctrines, specifically the negation of the human self and human soul. Frankly I do think human beings are more “important” than plants and bacteria. But roman’s comment makes a point in so far as it shows up the screwy logic of this negation. From reading Brad’s work in particular, I get the impression that Zen regards the human beings (or all beings) as sort of like a pack of cards, with each card representing an individual “self” which that person inhabits, moment to moment, over the course of a lifetime, however long that may be (some packs are bigger than others I guess). But if that’s the case there’s no difference between killing another human being and tossing a pack of cards in the fire.

    Furthermore, this throws all notions of “guilt” and “innocence” right out the window. Can a plant be guilty of a crime? If not, than what’s the point of having a justice system or any moral code whatsoever? The Boston Bombing suspects, Ted Bundy, Stalin, Genghis Khan, ect. – none of these can be condemned any more than you could condemn a tree for falling on someone’s head.

    And when our friends and loved ones die in horrible (or even not so horrible) ways – why mourn them? Do you mourn when your rose bush dies? Okay, maybe you do, but not as much as if your brother were shot or your wife got the black plague. Unless you were psychotic.

    Maybe there’s something I’m missing here… I don’t claim to be an expert on Zen and I don’t meditate. I certainly have never had a “satori” experience or anything like it. And that doesn’t mean I think Zen is total BS – far from it. Otherwise I wouldn’t keep visiting this particular website. But this “no self” business is one thing that I’ve never been able to swallow.

  3. boubi
    boubi April 23, 2013 at 8:55 am |

    Hi Shade

    I don’t know what Brad is saying about “self”, i had myself a few disagreements about some of his points of view, but find he is a very good and honest person.

    This said, IMO “a self” is a construct, it is what we think we are opposed to … who the hell knows.

    Ever seen people who believe they “are someone”?
    Are they that big deal, even knowing what a “big deal” could ever mean?

    Are we the same all day long?

    Aren’t we (i am) a bit of an asshole in some moments and absolute “pillars of the society” after 10 minutes? Selfish in finding a parking place after going round the block 15 minutes sweating, and generous the very next instant?

    Cause and effects? Are we the same asshole one moment good guy the next? What are we in fact?

    Sometimes i wonder if we are not just some kind of (black*) box where you give an input one side and get an effect the other side, kind of some “logic” circuit, reward/repulsion driven.

    You see someone smoking, someone else sucking on a candy, another buying some clothes, going around with a (never enough) big car, kissing, listening to music … sometimes i really have the impression they (we) are just reward mechanisms, playing pinball with some brain pleasure receptors.

    So what are we ?

    What are our reward/repulsion? I think they van be called attachments, ask more knowledgeable people, i’m not sure of it.

    A teacher to me once that we shed layer, kind of superposed suits of armor, another teacher of mine said that you go on shedding and in the end you find this void …

    So what are we ?

    Does it matter once we stop pretending to be?

    If i only knew.

    * not so black because with a very little effort we can understand want are our reward button, it’s called psychology

    1. Terrytrueman
      Terrytrueman April 23, 2013 at 9:09 am |

      Nice job boubi. The more time/attention I spend on this site and meditating the more deeply I am able to understand/accept/clarify for myself at least, the oppositional nature of zen. Self=ego, and/or self=being, bad/good and on and on. Susuki’s great line, something like, ‘For the beginner there are many possiblities, for the expert, very few’. For some people the paradoxical nature of zen ‘truths’ feel like sophistry or more generously like Wittgenstien’s “An expression only has meaning within the stream of life” Yet like Wilder expressed in Our Town, ‘we know, in our bones that there is something more than just ourselves going on in this world.’

      The catch is maybe, developing acceptance and appreciation of all the paradox–reveling in contradictions rather than fighting them.

  4. boubi
    boubi April 23, 2013 at 8:58 am |

    Socrates said “know yourself”

    I don’t


  5. anon 108
    anon 108 April 23, 2013 at 8:59 am |

    Hi Shade,

    My tuppence-worth:

    There’a a lot of confused drivel spouted about ‘no-self’ and ’emptiness’ in some Zen/Buddhist quarters. For a start, Gautama Buddha didn’t say “There is no self” and left it at that. He also said “There is neither self, nor no-self”.

    Buddha – and others before and since – taught that there is no permanent, unchanging ‘soul’ or ‘self that is separate from, but takes up residence in a body, and that transfers to another body post-mortem.

    But clearly, there’s a you and there’s a me. Each of us is an individual material body with private mental states. We feel pain and happiness. We’re not just assemblages of meaningless bits and pieces. And we share this time and place with others. What we think and do has consequences outside ourselves.

    So it makes every bit of sense to treat yourself, and others things and people, well – things go much better that way, for everybody and everything.

    It also makes perfect sense for society to have procedures that remove dangerous people to places where they can do no harm to others – redardless of whether those dangerous people could have done differently, or whether they acted as a result of causes and conditions over which they have no control.

    There’s not much use for revenge, anger and retribution in such a view, but there’s plenty of room for safeguarding and rehabilitating.

    1. anon 108
      anon 108 April 23, 2013 at 9:28 am |


      I wasn’t referring to Roman’s post when I wrote “There’s a lot of confused drivel…” I know Roman a little, and Roman is a good bloke. I was a bit confused about the point of his post, though. I’ll read it again…

  6. Terrytrueman
    Terrytrueman April 23, 2013 at 9:12 am |

    I like this one too shade.

  7. Fred
    Fred April 23, 2013 at 11:44 am |

    “But this “no self” business is one thing that I’ve never been able to swallow.”

    Don’t swallow it; let it swallow you.

  8. Fred
    Fred April 23, 2013 at 11:55 am |

    “We don’t do this practice expecting to obtain something by doing it. This is a very different kind of action. In one sense, it’s quitting human business and going to the other side of the human realm.

    We experience some kind of dying in sitting, which relates with what’s true and what’s not true. What’s not true dies, so we suffer. We wish to hang on to the self which we believe exists. The contents of what “I” means, or the pieces of the idea of the self, are consistent, but when you sit you observe no substance in those pieces of self.” – Kobun

    So, is Kobun full of shit?

    If you aren’t holding onto self with your whole life, other possiblities can occur.

  9. Fred
    Fred April 23, 2013 at 11:58 am |

    Kobun Chino:

    “It is very important to experience the complete negation of yourself, which brings you to the other side of nothing. People experience that in many ways. You go to the other side of nothing, and you are held by the hand of the absolute. You see yourself as part of the absolute, so you have no more insistence of self as yourself. You can speak of self as no-self upon the absolute. Only real existence is absolute. “

  10. rkucera
    rkucera April 25, 2013 at 11:24 am |


    Dear Brad Warner,
    Sorry but when the old Ohio Zen man Tim McCarthy told you he was scared of nuclear war, he did not ask for anyone to be killed. You did, and that’s the difference. As a statement of anger what you wrote is totally understandable. As punk rock lyrics; no problem. As a Buddhist teaching, not so much.

    My basic question to you still stands. If it is okay to call for revenge when our enemies attack us then based on what principle would you counsel others to avoid that same urge when subjected to far greater violence? Why should Islamic clerics not call for the deaths of Americans in response to double-tap wedding party drone strikes? How are you as a Buddhist priest calling for revenge to be distinguished from an Afghani Imam preaching the same thing?

    Yes I claimed to be a pacifist simply in that I think it is okay to judge an act based on if the act encourages increasing violence. I also claimed to have the moral high ground with my tongue planted firmly in cheek, as you were vigorously abandoning that ground, A Buddhist priest calling for revenge killing! Of course you didn’t really mean it, your statement was merely a skillful means to help your students deal with there own conflicting emotions. Thanks for clarifying.

    You wrote “It’s important to face the fact that your freedom to openly hate the government and the military without fear of reprisal is guaranteed by the government and military and by their willingness to kill those who would try to stop you.” Sorry but I have to take issue with your patriotic claptrap.

    First off, Who exactly is without fear of reprisal? Many in the USA have been fucked by the long dick of the law. Our Govt has played its hand in political assassination and repression of popular movements since day one. Study the American Indian Movement or Black Panthers for recent examples. While many more Americans have suffered due to poverty, serving prison time for drug addiction or homelessness. Those people are not “without fear of reprisal”. Your statement also fails at the level of causality. Our beloved political freedoms are the direct result of the hard work and sacrifice of American revolutionaries, who pitted themselves against public and private tyrannies. Our freedoms don’t come from expansionist military politics, which is like acid in the face of democracy. Susan B Anthony might look pretty on that dollar coin, but when she was being arrested by the feds she could have told you something about “fear of reprisal”.

    Relating to your second point, the part about how the willingness of the US Govt to kill, is what makes us free. Really? I think the burden of proof is on you to prove that one. Recently the US killed around half a million people in Iraq. How did that make me more free? I don’t follow.

    In summation, More Jello Biafra less Green Day.

  11. boubi
    boubi April 25, 2013 at 1:34 pm |

    — “As punk rock lyrics; no problem. As a Buddhist teaching, not so much ”
    I’m wondering in what a buddhist teacher should be different from the next guy?
    I find it as much ludicrous as me criticizing someone’s job while not knowing that particular job.
    Brad spent a lot of time trying to debunk the “master” mystic, trying to explain that a person is a person.
    Could you explain what is “buddhism”, maybe it is “buddyism”?

    — “Why should Islamic clerics not call for the deaths of …”
    Unluckily for all of us, it is what they have been doing, following their particular book, since the beginning. See below …
    1- The infidels are your sworn enemies Sura 4:101
    2- Make war on The infidels who dwell around you Sura 9:123
    3- When you meet The Infidels in the battlefield, strike off their heads Sura 47:4
    4- Mohamed is Alla’s apostale. Those who follow him are ruthless to The infidels Sura 48:29
    5- Prophet, make war on The infidels Sura 66: 9
    6- Never be a helper to The disbelievers Sura 28:86
    7- Kill The disbelievers wherever we find them (Sura 2:191)
    8- 9:29 [And] fight against those (Al-La-Zina) who – despite having been vouchsafed revelation [aforetime] [40] -do not [truly] believe either in God or the Last Day, and do not consider forbidden that which God and His Apostle have forbidden, [41] and do not follow the religion of truth [which God has enjoined upon them] [42] till they [agree to] pay the exemption tax with a willing hand, after having been humbled [in war]. [43]
    9- 47:4 Therefore, when you meet The infidels (unbelievers), [4] smite their necks until you overcome them fully, and then tighten their bonds; [5] but thereafter [set them free,] either by an act of grace or against ransom, so that the burden of war may be lifted: [6]
    And so forth and so on.
    Please don’t tell that also in the Bible there is violence, first of all it tells stories along nearly a thousand years, second nearly all of it is not glorified but merely a description of things that happened.
    While the imam’s source is relative of no more than 30 years where the violence concentration is far higher.

    — “How are you as a Buddhist priest calling for revenge to be distinguished from an Afghani Imam preaching the same thing? ”
    Any imam can rouse the oumma (community) from the atlantic to the pacific ocean, on anything he deems offensive, from Salman Rushdie to Theo Van Gogh to the last caricatures, and this will answer some of the “fear factor”.
    While all Brad can do is get some post on his blog …

    — ” to judge an act based on if the act encourages increasing violence.”
    So JUDGE ALSO islamic call to violence against gays, minishirted women, infidels and so on …

    — ” I also claimed to have the moral high ground”
    You are just a virtual being with no way to check who and what you do while Brad Wiener is a public figure taking full responsibility of his words and actions. It can be just another tiny winy difference but it’s worth mentioning it.

    — “Our freedoms don’t come from expansionist military politics,
    While the presence of imams from there to there is the direct consequence of and imperialistic, violent, expansionistic, colonial war of aggression intended to share the spoils of war, war wagged on people who became second or third class subjects when were not enslaved. Spoils of war that are celebrated in a dedicated part of their book called “The Spoils of War (Al-Anfãl)”

    — ““without fear of reprisal””
    Salman Rushdie to Theo Van Gogh to the last caricatures and it goes back from the “glorious times” …

    — “Study the American Indian Movement or Black Panthers for recent examples.”
    Please don’t use the American Indian clause until you evacuate the premises and go back to your ancestral hunting territories that i image should be on some OTHER side of the “great sea”. Please have a look above for this part. thanks.

    — “Recently the US killed around half a million people in Iraq. ”
    Base don which statistics, can we talk about it please, do you have a break down on who were the killers because the intersect violence caused a awfull lot of victims, and IT WAS DIRECTLY AIMED AT CIVILIANS, TO KILL CIVILIANS

  12. DharmaApple
    DharmaApple May 8, 2013 at 12:48 pm |

    I love that you speak your mind honestly and openly. We don’t need more fluff in the world. The world needs honesty. And hiding behind phoney, unrealistic moral views is just a lie. Absolutly every single person, on the buddhist path or not, has felt a deep anger for these types of injusitces. Just because you don’t express those feelings in words, doesn’t make you any more moral than anyone else.

    And it’s incredibly sad and dissapointing that it turns into a moral arguement. A judgmental comparison of me vs. you. The important thing, in my mind, is that you see the anger for what it is and don’t lie to yourself about it. It’s ok. You can be angry. I personally feel anger towards these types of things as well. And in my experience most anger comes from ignorance. I can’t possibly undestand why humans do this shit to each other.

    So. I watch the anger. Come and go. Then I tap into compassion. I feel very sad for these individuals who are so blind that they act out in such ways. It’s unfortuante. And it makes me angry and hope they get what is coming to them (ya know, karma and shit). And that’s all cool. But the fact of the matter is, no matter how we feel or what we think, the event still happened. And many more events like this will continue to happen. It’s just the way things are.

  13. Terrytrueman
    Terrytrueman May 8, 2013 at 1:14 pm |

    I’ve been away for a few days, more like a week and have missed the back and forth but in a way, the very existance of this blog is to blame. I hadn’t ever spent much time on any blog anywhere until I discovered Hardcore Zen, which I discovered by finding Brad’s books, which I discovered by getting a kindle Fire for xmas and just punching in Buddhism and up popped Brad’s insane covers, titles and gloriously great writing–I’m getting to the point . . .promise . . . So anyway, after visiting here over the last few months and finally actually sending a donation (albeit nothing too huge, only $50) to support Brad’s work–I finally decided it’s time to start something on my own; ergo I have a blog now too, which I’ll try not to promote too blatently too often, at Seeing as how I’ll be referring my blog vistors to Hardcore Zen (something I’ve already done on Facebook etc) I gotta think I can be tolerated for pitching my own thing a little bit here. This format, or honesty, clarity, immediacy etc seems perfect for the ways I want my life/work/career to progress fomr here on out. Thanks again Hardcore Zen for lively discussions and thoughtful, respectful disagreements– more soon! TT

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