So in my town there was an out of towner who visited and shot & killed a dozen people. The Washington post tasked two journalists unfamiliar with Buddhism to write about the shooter’s religious activities. There wasn’t a debate before, but the article trigger a debate about if the article was … how to put this into words? bad, wrong, disrespectful and many other words. By the comments, it was a very oneside debate, generally it was the evangelitical Christians rushing to the defense of the journalists– they liked the cut of that anti-buddhist jib. In WaPo’s defense, though they hardly deserve defense, the article was re-written to be less inflamatory and another post written from the Theravada standpoint thoroughly repudiated the shooters actions and the possibility that Buddhism had something to do with it. None of that got the attention of the original.
Background.Buddhism is a large religion elsewhere, a small religion here in the US.
Atheists see it as the same sort of nasty superstition as Christianty, Islam and Judaism. Yes, there are scholars like Suzuki (who want to pretend that Buddhism was more secular than it was) and scholars like Lopez (who relish disabusing anyone of that thought and rubbing the readers nose in every instance of superstition and myth as if that was the Buddha’s main message)
Christians view it as Christian heresy (i.e. worshiping an immortal, all powerful Buddha as a means for salvation from hell, free passes on sin and entrance to heaven), because they haven’t taken the time to actually read about what it is. Comparing Christianity and Buddhism is hard because unless you stick to Pure Land Buddhism, such as Shin Buddhism, you may conclude that Buddhism isn’t a religion any more than Cognitive Therapy is. N.B. There are many varieties of Christians, the UU in fact let people use their building for Buddhist Meditation.
People who don’t care about religion, probably confuse it with Islam, Chinese food, the movie The Matrix, Jedi’s and a Seattle grunge rock band. The WaPo could have helped these people and cooled heads who would like to think that Buddhists are mass murdering assassin terrorists.
“Your shit stinks too!”
Why is this important express?
If stereotypes hurt, even positive ones, than having an opinion is a razors edge– dislike something too much and your a bigot. Think too well of something, we’ll, you’re a soft bigot. The implicit solution to this is everyone should just be the same as us so that we don’t have to deal with people who are different and admirable or not. As if all people and all actions and everything will be equally good. (Oddly that is sort of a Buddhist sentament, but it is born from a desire of wanting to pass judgement on those who like the things that you don’t like– a desire to pass judgment on those who would judge anything as good, bad or neutral.)
No true Scottsman…
This is a logical falacy where you refuse to believe that a Scotsman would do such a thing, and if they did, they’re not a true Scotsman. However, being a Scotsman is just tribal membership and doesn’t entail any ethical code of conduct. Buddhism on the other hand, is an ethical code of conduct.
Was this act of mass murder conducted in the capacity of a lay Buddhist to further Buddhist aims? No, no Buddhist would do that. (But what about Burma? What about medivial feudal landlords in Tibet? Well, what about them? Are they maurading my town mowing down civilians? The shooter attended a Thai immigrant meditation center– the WaPo artile is trying to say something about Buddhism in America, not Buddhism during the reign of Ashoka, in pre-communist Tibet or under ultra-nationalist communist Burma/Mjanmar.)
Buddhist acts vs Acts of Buddhists vs Acts of Buddhist Wanna-bes
Buddhism doesn’t as part of its doctrine allow for hardly any violence. There isn’t an Old Testiment with tribal genocide. There isn’t a repudiated chapter on Jihad.
All people seem to want to harp on is that there have been acts of violence in history commited by Buddhists– after all is has been state religion from time to time and the armies of those countries didn’t replace their weapons with flowers. But this article isn’t on how to run a country where *everyone* including the cops, petty criminals and military are Buddhists. This is about a minority religion in the US popular among seekers, asian immigrants and upper middle class (mostly) white people.
The better question is the quantity of violence in Buddhist countries does it exceed those in in communities that are of other religions or largely apathetic or militantly anti-religious? It’s a measurable question, without the numbers, it’s just slander. Did Buddhist doctrine encourage or promote these acts? Do these acts fit in with Buddhist doctrine for any sect?
He’s one of us. He ain’t one of us.
The sutras had in mind Buddhism for the monks. Buddhism for the laity was a later thing, an after thought. Monks were expelled from the sangha for un-Buddhist like behavoir. If he was one of us, he ain’t now.
Excomunication in Catholicism is a big deal– someone in a position of power needs to do it and for phenomenal reasons. In the Buddhist system, there is a fairly long lists of things that can get you kicked out of the sangha. And the guy wasn’t an ordained monk, neither robed nor disrobed.
Buddhism will drive you mad! Your madness will drive you to Buddhism! Buddhists are Buddhists because their madness drove them to it!
You actually hear variations of this even from Buddhists, especially those who believe in a strong form of the medico-mystical efficacy of meditation. You also hear this from militant atheists who just really got a chip on their shoulder on topic related to religion. Does it cause madness? It’s a testable question, but without the test, without checking to see if Episcopalianism or strident atheism causes madness, it’s just slander.
The suggestion that mental illness is overrepresented in Buddhism is testable, but without the data it’s just slander. I hypothsize that there is no more link between Buddhism and psychology degrees– I’m sure some percent of people picked that major because they suffered from some mental malady themselves.
What could have been done?
Inform the community of what Buddhism is. I learned more about Heaven’s Gate (the cult that killed themselves for crazy reasons many years ago), than I learned from WaPo about what Buddhism is. They could have figured out right away there isn’t a link between the action of a wanna be and doctrine. (As if Buddhist were debating if their doctrine was the spark of this man’s madness or the blueprints for his crimes? Slander)
Find out what the Buddhist response would be. How do Buddhist deal with madness? (not at all, medicine isn’t part of Buddhism anymore than aerospace engineering is) How do Buddhist deal with murder? (Its against the rules and against the rules in more cases than in cival law and in many other world relgions) How do Buddhist deal with those who have murdered? Oddly they have hopes for the reformation of such people.
If there is hope for Angulimala, there should be hope for these journalists, maybe they too can learn something about the Dharma and can do something to cool their own fear, hate and delusion.