No Justice No Peace?


The author in Tokyo’s Harajuku district mid-1990’s.

We are still having trouble with the blog. I can post again, but when you (or I, or anyone else) try to log in to comment it doesn’t work. We’re getting that fixed. For now, I decided it’s better to start posting again than to keep waiting. If you want to comment on this, you can follow my author page on Facebook and post your comments there. You can find it at:

My friend Jayce Renner and my first Zen teacher Tim McCarthy back in Ohio have signed an Open Letter Seeking Peace to the Cleveland Police Department. You can read the text yourself by following the link. The basic gist is that the cops need to stop doing bad things.

Like a lot of people, I was pretty horrified to see the rioting going on in Baltimore last week over the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of the police. It’s a familiar story we’ve seen in Ferguson, Missouri, in Los Angeles when Rodney King was beaten by the cops and elsewhere. Cleveland cops killed 12-year old Tamir Rice in a park for playing with a toy gun. Clevelanders reacted with remarkable and surprising restraint.

And today is May 4th. On this day in 1970 at Kent State University, where I did most of my Bachelor’s Degree, four students were shot to death by the Ohio National Guard. The security forces who were supposed to defend citizens were instead turned against them.

When I was researching my forthcoming book about Dogen (to be released later this year) I came across a statement in one of the works I consulted that took me aback. The author mentioned that in the era and place Dogen lived, 13th century Japan, there was no police force. I thought about that for a while because it had never really occurred to me. There was a government in Japan in those days and something we could call a military, but there were no cops.

In those days, if somebody robbed you or raped you or broke into your house, you couldn’t call 9-1-1. You couldn’t even flag down a passing officer of the law to help. If you wanted justice you could try petitioning the local government, but you weren’t likely to get any help very soon. The best you could do was to make friends with a samurai clan who might be able to avenge you. But even that was a long shot because they might already be pals with whoever wronged you.

Nowadays there are police forces pretty much everywhere. Some are far better than others. But for the most part it’s a system that works. And by that I don’t mean it’s perfect. Not at all. But it’s a better system than roaming samurai who work for the highest bidder.

Which is not to say that the cops don’t often do that too. But the important difference is that they are not supposed to. That is significant. The samurai had no reason even to try and pretend they were working for the good of all citizens.

We have cops now because we understand their necessity. I live in Los Angeles in a neighborhood where street gangs are still active. I am glad that there are police around.

Back in the Zero Defex days we sang a song called Go Blue Go Die about the abuse of police power (the link is to the version by Agitated who also did the song). The ending refrain is “Serve and protect? Bullshit! Bullshit!” But when our band was attacked by rednecks at a gig in Dover, Ohio, we called the cops and they kept us from being killed.

When police abuse their authority, everyone suffers, including the police. Their ability to exercise authority is eroded when people begin to doubt that the cops are really on the side of justice.

But there’s no reason for me to write yet another article that says the same things you can find all over the Internet. The more interesting question for me is; What can I do?

I’m a white male in America, part of the privileged classes. That has not always been the case for me. In Japan, being white meant that you were viewed as a potential threat. As a foreigner I did not have the same rights as most people around me. I never had a run-in with the police over there. But I knew very well that if I did, it would go much harder on me than it would on a person of the dominant race and culture. I was aware of the same thing when I lived in Kenya, that I was a member of a minority and that, as such, I was not accorded the same protection of the law as most of the people around me.

Those of us in the privileged classes need to be aware that things aren’t always the way we see them.

I don’t think there is an easy answer to the question of what to do about police injustice. Some people misunderstand the Buddhist idea of acceptance as a call for complacency. It is not. At the same time, the idea I’ve encountered that Buddhists must be politically engaged in a very specific way is not an idea I can agree with either.

I think we engage with the world in many ways we don’t usually acknowledge. It’s not all about mass gatherings and protests. The way you conduct yourself on a moment-by-moment basis is a far more powerful thing. You make a difference in society when you treat the people you encounter with respect and dignity. You make a difference when you recognize your own biases and refuse to act on them. You don’t have to post any hashtags at all.

If you have something to contribute to the discussion, contribute it. Sign that letter or compose your own. But more importantly than that, be a real human being. Then do it again and again and again.


Every Monday at 8pm I lead zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!

Every Saturday at 9:30 am I lead zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome!

Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website,



July 8-12, 2015 Vancouver, BC Canada 5-DAY RETREAT at HOLLYHOCK RETREAT CENTER

August 14-16, 2015 Munich, Germany 3 DAY ZEN RETREAT

August 19, 2015 Munich, Germany LECTURE

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August 30-September 4, 2015 Holzkirchen, Germany 5-DAY RETREAT AT BENEDIKTUSHOF MONASTERY

September 4, 2015 Hamburg, Germany LECTURE

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September 10-13, 2015 Finland 4-DAY RETREAT

September 16-19, 20015 Hebden Bridge, England 4-DAY RETREAT

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27 Responses

Page 1 of 1
  1. mtto
    mtto May 6, 2015 at 5:28 pm |

    Comments should work now.

  2. mb
    mb May 6, 2015 at 8:54 pm |

    Um, my “user experience” is not very good, despite apparently being able to post a comment (well, we’ll see about that). To wit:

    To get from the main page to the Log In page: 4 minutes

    To actually get logged in: 4 more minutes

    Once logged in, to get to the article page: 4 minutes

    mtto and Mark Foote: was this your experience as well?

    Anyway, spending 12 minutes to get to the point where I can post a comment is a bit trying – would be better spent staring at a wall in full lotus, if you know what I mean. Hope it improves!

    My conjecture is that it will take another 4 minutes once I click the “Post Comment” button. Will report on that in the next message…

  3. mb
    mb May 6, 2015 at 8:58 pm |

    To post a comment: only 3 minutes!

    Total time spent making a post (not counting typing it, which is the quickest part): 15 minutes!

    Is the new server running on a 56k modem or something ??

    1. mtto
      mtto May 6, 2015 at 9:08 pm |

      It is on Godaddy. Not slow for me.

      1. mb
        mb May 6, 2015 at 9:20 pm |

        Well, craperoony. It is noticeably faster connecting from my desktop PC than my Mac laptop – about 1 minute per each operation instead of 4. I’m connecting to the net with Verizon Fios (fiber optic line) which is normally quite fast. Still fast for everything…except HardcoreZen. Well I may have to revert being a lurker once again if the posting experience proves too frustrating or this situation doesn’t clear up on its own.

  4. anon 108
    anon 108 May 7, 2015 at 6:43 am |

    I appear to have logged in straight away with no problems. I’ve got a 10 year old desktop computer still running xp. Preferred browser: Firefox. Let’s see…

    1. anon 108
      anon 108 May 7, 2015 at 6:44 am |

      And there it is. Just like the old days!

  5. Fred Jr.
    Fred Jr. May 7, 2015 at 8:10 am |

    No problems here. Nice job web monkey! Where are you Dad? I’m so attached today.

  6. anon 108
    anon 108 May 7, 2015 at 8:51 am |

    For two years in my late 30s I worked as a solicitor’s clerk, taking notes and liasing between clients and barristers during trials in the Crown Court (the court trying the more serious criminal cases in thr UK). I then qualified as an Accredited Police Station Representative. For eight years I represented suspects being interviewed while under arrest at police stations.

    I spent every day in civilized negotiation with placid, professional police officers or harrasing zealous, excitable police officers for failing to disclose evidence and/or for failing to observe statutory Codes of Practice. Much of the time the behaviour of the police was consistent with what you’d expect from people playing cops in a game of cops and robbers: adversarial, sometimes aggressive. It was my job to see that they played by the rules, and they were fair rules.

    Very occasionally (once that I remember) I encountered a client who had for sure been ‘fitted up’ with manipulated, possibly manufactured evidence. The judge who eventually heard that attempted murder case threw it out before a jury got to screw things up (I did jury service in my 20s and was not impressed by the intelligence and commitment of my fellow jurors).

    Most of which may have little or nothing to do with what Brad’s talking about. Cops in the USA have guns. Many others do, too. A moment of panic during a routine traffic stop can leave a person dead or permanently disabled. And your racism is more…hardcore…than ours. Not that racial/ethnic discrimination isn’t alive and well in the UK and everywhere else on the planet. But we don’t routinely carry guns in the UK and I think that makes a big difference to the way things go.

    I’ve been both burgled and robbed and the police did nothing to try to apprehend the culprits. But no, I would not like to live in any city that did not have a police force. And yes, I’m grateful that our ( I mean the UK’s) system of justice, flawed though it doubtless is, is not so corrupt or opaque that injustices are never brought to light, challenged and sometimes put right.

  7. Yoshiyahu
    Yoshiyahu May 7, 2015 at 10:56 am |

    Site is blisteringly fast for me. —————Whoooosh——————>

    A large part of police behavior and differences between cities and countries is in the different roles police are given, and different training to act out those roles. We have had a long movement in much of the US towards a militarization of our big city police forces, most notably with Gates with the LAPD in the late 70s and through 80s. And the federal government’s post-911 program to push weaponry and armor more associated with the military into the hands of small-town law enforcement has had a big impact as well. Of course, we also have had a focus on making arrest and entry into the criminal justice system for really minor offences, (broken window policing) as with Bratton and the NYPD in the 00s.

    I am hopeful that the current spotlight on law enforcement abuses will lead to changes in how we think of police, the roles we expect them to play, and the way that their trained, so that people see them as extension of their communities.

  8. SamsaricHelicoid
    SamsaricHelicoid May 7, 2015 at 1:02 pm |

    I wish I were either an elephant, corvid, or cetacean living during a time without man.

    Greater apes and man are very hard to love. What a curse.

    Great apes (e.g., chimpanzees+orangutans), elephants, dolphins, whales, and corvids are established to possess a “theory of mind” (i.e., capable of modeling the thinking of others and attribute mental beliefs, desires, and intentions to both oneself and others). It is highly probable they can link each instance of a mental state sequentially and continuously in their thought. With “theory of mind”, mental states are not experienced as isolated points of disparate events. The evidence points strongly to this:

    Japan and other peoples should cease its whaling activities also, since cetaceans suffer to a comparative level as us. There is reason to believe their depth of conscious experience is to our level, if not more. Elephants also have it tough.

    Man is a plague, and I encourage antinatalism into everyone. Perpetuating this mistake is unacceptable.

  9. SamsaricHelicoid
    SamsaricHelicoid May 7, 2015 at 1:58 pm |
    (Load the entire album, 28 images total (18 remaining))

    Antinatalism for the world!

    Don’t have kids!

  10. anon 108
    anon 108 May 7, 2015 at 2:22 pm |

    I was bored this afternoon so I wrote about me and pressed ‘post’. I knew I wasn’t saying anything worth saying. But I said it anyway.

    Brad had already said something worth saying. What he said had less to do with the supposed rights and wrongs of this and that and more to do with real stuff. Brad said:

    “I think we engage with the world in many ways we don’t usually acknowledge. It’s not all about mass gatherings and protests. The way you conduct yourself on a moment-by-moment basis is a far more powerful thing. You make a difference in society when you treat the people you encounter with respect and dignity. You make a difference when you recognize your own biases and refuse to act on them. You don’t have to post any hashtags at all.”

    1. SamsaricHelicoid
      SamsaricHelicoid May 7, 2015 at 2:32 pm |

      Some theoretical presuppositions are more worthy of respect than others. Everyone knows perception is most likely theory-laden.

      Zen Buddhists are afraid of theory even while they speak from theory (i.e., the idea of some kind of non-dualistic or monistic unity), yet what if this world was nothing but a gradient of difference, which is how the nature of meaning works?

      1. Fred
        Fred May 7, 2015 at 4:30 pm |

        “Zen Buddhists are afraid of theory even while they speak from theory (i.e., the idea of some kind of non-dualistic or monistic unity), yet what if this world was nothing but a gradient of difference, which is how the nature of meaning works?”

        From the viewpoint of dualism, non-duality is not an idea; it is an experience. So the Zen Buddhist is not speaking from theory.

        Of course, John would say there is no experience.

        Can a human speak from non-duality? What would be the point? Some Buddhist priests talk of speaking from the unknowing. Meaning is for egos.

        Brad, thank you for the opportunity to see the attachment to this blog commentary.

        1. Fred
          Fred May 7, 2015 at 4:35 pm |

          The guy that broke Freddy gray’s spine had a history of threatening violence while off work, and was censored by his superiors, but they reel him in.

          1. Fred
            Fred May 7, 2015 at 4:37 pm |

            But they did not reel him in.

  11. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote May 7, 2015 at 4:45 pm |

    anon 108, I enjoyed your comment, and I greatly admire you for doing that work in the British justice system.

    SamsaricHellicoid, my life has not been my own since “Silent Spring”. How to find a way to be positive and substantive on a moment-by-moment basis, isn’t that why I came to Zen? And look at me now, sitting once a day or twice and commenting on Brad’s blog for fun; what good is that, when all the world is going up in flames?

    I don’t know. Zazen sits zazen; the Way is traceless, right?

    1. Fred
      Fred May 8, 2015 at 6:48 am |

      The way is traceless; the world will always be going up in flames.

      Following a traceless path through the burning embers of savagery, brutality, bloodshed, mutilation, anger, hate, ideological propaganda.

      1. SamsaricHelicoid
        SamsaricHelicoid May 8, 2015 at 10:24 am |

        Just watched the film Starry Eyes (2014)

        Honestly, I prefer something like Manichaeism or Catharism. Those “burning embers of savagery, brutality, bloodshed, mutilation, anger, hate, ideological propaganda” are intrinsically evil.

        I think older Ch’an Buddhists would agree. However, Dogen and other some Japanese Buddhists would argue that those “burning embers of savagery, brutality, bloodshed, mutilation, anger, hate, ideological propaganda” ARE Buddhanature. I disagree… Dogen was a poor Zen Buddhist because of sophist like logic with, “Deluded mind is Buddha. Just watch a brutal horror film like Starry Eyes (2014) or Cure (1997) and tell me that’s Buddhanature especially during the violent scenes.

        Heaven is heaven, hell is hell, they do not interpenetrate, they have fixed self-natures who can mix without having their assigned meaning dissolve. Heaven is not hell, hell is not heaven. Dualism is not something that should always be opposed. This world is mostly hell with occasional glimpses of heaven, if you’re lucky.

        1. Jinzang
          Jinzang May 8, 2015 at 12:59 pm |

          Buddha nature is neither good nor evil. Don’t be fooled by the word “Buddha” on the label. When we use the word “good” or “evil” there’s almost always an implied “for me” or “for people like me.” I don’t think you can have good or evil except relative to some being. So, good and evil are empty.

          Of course, there is also compassion. But compassion is for people still caught up in the ideas of gain and loss, inflicting further suffering on themselves and others as a result.

          1. SamsaricHelicoid
            SamsaricHelicoid May 8, 2015 at 3:45 pm |

            “Is the meaning experienced in a children’s story the same as the meaning experienced in a horror story?”

            The distinction between evil and good cannot blur or merge without destroying their opposing identities. You can’t have them interpenetrate one another without destroying their identities, so the taiji symbol is not applicable. Good is not evil, evil is not good. They are forever separated by an infinite gulf, and they are defined by a gradient of difference and not by unity.

            I like the Catharist approach to things, I think.

          2. Mark Foote
            Mark Foote May 8, 2015 at 5:17 pm |

            Thanks, SamsaricHelicoid, for the reference to Cartharists- I’d never read about them, fascinating.

        2. Yoshiyahu
          Yoshiyahu May 8, 2015 at 2:29 pm |

          Sure. Violent horror movies can be Buddhanature.

          1. SamsaricHelicoid
            SamsaricHelicoid May 8, 2015 at 3:46 pm |

            I like them, but they’re not Buddhanature.

  12. otaku00
    otaku00 May 11, 2015 at 6:53 am |

    Just wait a while. And a black policeman will shoot a black child with a toy gun. And wait a while longer, and a black policeman will shoot a white child with a toy gun. Until then, some black and some white child will already have shot a policeman with a gun that is no toy. This thing is not just black and white.

Comments are closed.