Friday, January 14, 2011

A Buddhist perspective on "A Buddhist Perspective on Access to Guns"

Via Reverend Fisher, I came across an article by that name by one James Baraz of the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre CA.  Mr. Baraz is a board member of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, an organization I generally admire.  Let's do some right speech here...

Our country spends 60 percent of its budget on the military and more than the next dozen nations combined. Is it just a coincidence that we have so many civilian gun killings? Pima County sheriff Clarence Dupnik sarcastically commenting on the easy access to guns said, "What will be next -- Uzis in kids' cribs?" Yet, we were still shocked.

 I sort of agree: the military budget crowds out things that would be vastly cheaper if they were made part of the commons, including but not limited to universal access to health care, including mental health care., as well as means to help people avoid dire straits.  Moreover, the stigmatization of the "other" including the mentally ill is the stigmatization of the "other" that leads to war: it is maintaining a deadly illusion of separateness.   But the Uzis in kids' cribs line, that might be an Arizona issue, where it seems the common assumption is anyone can carry guns anywhere.  That's not a good recipe, I'd opine.

Every human being wants to feel safe and have peace. That's a tall order in a culture that glorifies violence.

Culture is not separate from one. This, too, is a stigmatization of "the other."

The Buddha ...taught, "Hatred never ceases by hatred. Hatred only ceases by love. This is an ancient and eternal law."


When the news about the shootings first came out, many assumed that right wing conspirators were behind it. That conclusion led to outrage. Later, when it became obvious that the killer was mentally unstable, the outrage lessened a bit, at least toward the suspect, because he was clearly confused. Even though what he was doing made sense to him, he was ignorant of his actions on some level because he was out of touch with reality.  

It is not at all clear to me that those who exhibited the most outrage in the media weren't faking it.  Some of them, such as Glenn Beck, have been known to feign emotion in the past, even doing the onion-to-make-you-cry thing.  Too,  I think even now it's a bit early to tell how ignorant Mr. Loughner was of his actions.  And, as I've stated in the past, it's a bit early to tell how willfully blind or not his immediate friends and loved ones were to his behavior.  It's more complex than Mr. Baraz lets on here, to say the least.

The real villain is in this story is not Jared Loughner. It's not the media. And it's not the gun rights advocates. The real villain is ignorance. Because of ignorance, people project their fear and turn those who are different into enemies -- both in their minds and in actuality...

Recognizing separation is, as I've shown, very tricky business.   In fact, even putting this in the framework of "A Buddhist Perspective" is itself a kind of separation. I  have found over and over and over and over again that it is imperative that when a Buddhist wants to use Buddhist practices to make peace with non-Buddhists,  it's a good idea to speak past the psychologizing and philosphizing and stick to the observable and agreeable.

Right now, this tragedy is capturing our attention. Can anything good come from it? Unfortunately, Columbine and the shooting spree at Virginia Tech had little effect on the access to guns by anyone including the mentally unstable. The NRA is stronger than ever. And the cowboy mindset in this country, from our military budget to Second Amendment advocates, is still entrenched in our psyche...

And those words ain't helping, in my experience, as I've explained above. 
Each of us has love and hatred within us. The more we can be aware of how our own anger and ill will colors our thoughts, words and actions, the greater the chance for real transformation within ourselves. That transformation can lead to genuinely understanding how the confusion of an individual or a group could create greater pain and sorrow for themselves and others. When we can see the real villain as ignorance, we can stop demonizing "the other side." Then our words and actions, based in clarity and compassion, minus the hate, will be more effective and be part of a larger transformation in human consciousness.

 To whom is Mr. Baraz speaking? Is he speaking to an NRA member? Is this what he would say? What does he think the NRA member's response would be? I have an idea, based on right-wingers I have known and know.  It wouldn't be "You feel you need your guns because you're ignorant and need to replace your anger with love."  These words, or more to the point Mr. Baraz' words are highly ineffective in changing society, because society will not be changed by a "Buddhist" analysis that still separates "us" from "them,"  but rather meets people where they are and challenges them to go beyond the politics and rhetoric, not with a quietist acquiescence,  but with an engagement that doesn't point out the flaw in the other but rather makes pointing out such differences unnecessary in the first place.


Petteri Sulonen said...

What a nice, catch-all culprit that pesky 'ignorance' is, isn't it? No moral stigma attached to it either. Blaming 'ignorance' is so much simpler than trying to disentangle all the messy social, political, ideological, tribal, psychological, and religious stuff going on here in the realm of the conditioned.

Guess we can all go back to floating serenely in the unconditioned, then. Glad that's sorted out.

(Snark directed at Mr. Baraz, not you.)

bodhianna said...

Just because some will not accept does not change truth. Petteri, Buddha teach that ignorance is beginning cause of suffering. If you try to learn about this you will see it is not as simple as you suggest.

NellaLou said...

Dismissing complex causes of complex situations to the reductionist point of ignorance changes nothing. It gives Buddhists another thing to feel smug and superior about by labeling everything including other Buddhists as ignorant without bothering to do any actual analysis including analysis of that ignorance.

bodhianna said...

Ignoring universal truths and labeling them reductionist do nothing either. No one say things are not complex. Buddha try to find root cause for them. Taking one word "ignorance" and dismissing everything behind it as too simple is not too wise.

Petteri Sulonen said...

Ignorance is the root cause of suffering, for sure. The trouble is that most of us aren't anywhere near the root. We're deep in the jungle. That means that a huge amount of work is needed to make our way through them, to and beyond the root. There aren't any shortcuts.

Saying "ignorance is to blame" is about as useful as saying "everyone's enlightened from the beginning." Meaning, it can be useful in some particular context—for example, if someone's deeply stuck in a cycle of ill-will, blaming himself or others for his suffering, or clinging terribly to the idea of enlightenment as a future goal to be attained. Those thoughts can be effective antidotes to those particular poisons.

However, in the context Mr. Baraz said it, it's not useful at all. It's a banality; a distraction; even a poison. It soothes us and makes us feel comfortable about detaching and doing nothing when what we really ought to be doing is facing all that pain, suffering, and complexity, trying to make sense of it.

You can't go beyond something without first facing it and then going through it, and I believe very strongly that anyone telling you otherwise is either deeply deluded or lying.

bodhianna said...

Petteri you make no sense. You agree that ignorance is root cause of suffering but then you say do not deal with it because it is banal. How is fixing the source of the problem not facing pain and suffering? Maybe you need to read Mr. Baraz article again and more careful this time becuase I think you miss the point.

Mumon said...

Thanks all for the comments.

@Petteri, @bodhianna, @NellaLou...

I see "right" things in what all of you are saying; my point was even if the Buddha taught that ignorance is the root of all suffering it does not follow that one is not ignorant simply because one is aware of that fact!

Further, though there may be complex causes to all of this, etc., the remedy must be skillfully, consciously exercised from the marrow of one's self and applied in the moment at "the sorrow in the street/the holy places where the races meet/from the homicidal bitchin' that goes on in every kitchen/to determine who will serve and who will eat." It must be applied when one first greets one who might conjure up thought of "the other" in one's self.

And that's why I found Mr. Baraz somewhat misses the mark.

Petteri Sulonen said...

@mumon "my point was even if the Buddha taught that ignorance is the root of all suffering it does not follow that one is not ignorant simply because one is aware of that fact!"

Yes, that's my point too.

@bodhianna "You agree that ignorance is root cause of suffering but then you say do not deal with it because it is banal."

No, that's not what I'm saying. Let me try this again. I'll use a metaphor I picked up from somewhere.

Imagine a monk traveling through a jungle to a seashore and then crossing the sea to get to the other shore.

The other shore is awakening.

The sea is ignorance.

The jungle is suffering caused by ignorance—ill-will, delusion, clinging, greed, what have you.

If the monk is in the jungle, it's not helpful to give him oars. He can't do anything with them. In fact, they'll only burden him down and make progress through the jungle more difficult as they get caught in the branches.

What Mr Baraz did was distribute oars. Understanding that ignorance is the root cause of suffering is useful if you're standing at the shore, wondering how to get across. But clinging to that insight if you're in the jungle will just get you lost deeper in it.

"Here, have this oar. It'll help you through the jungle." If you believe that, you will feel better for a while, as you drag the oar through the jungle. You might even get really attached to the oar, and angrily attack anyone suggesting you might really need an ax. You might drag it along all your life, and if you ever do reach the shore, you might even have completely forgotten what the oar was supposed to be for. Or you might eventually figure out that it didn't work, angrily throw it away, decide it was all a lie, and abandon your quest to get out of the jungle and just try to make your life in it as tolerable as you can.

This banalization of the Dharma is really harmful. It turns profound insights into homilies and platitudes, and Buddhism into a gaudily-painted hollow shell of what it's supposed to be.

Bottom line: I'm not saying 'don't deal with it because it's banal.' I'm saying that dealing with it is a great deal more work than just accepting that the root cause of suffering is avidhya.

bodhianna said...

Your analogy is convoluted to me. What we are talk about in Buddhism is suffering caused by a fundamentally flawed way of looking at life and the world and everything. The main ignorance is that we are separate from others. If you cannot see that this underlies most everything and that it is a profound truth, I feel sorry for you.

To find something banal mean that it lack originality, freshness, or that it is boring. But Buddhism take this concept from Indian philosophy and use it as the beginning of the 12 Link Chain of Dependent Arising and as one of the klesas, the three poisons, which does not seem banal to me. All you offer is that there is a great deal more work than accepting ignorance is the root cause, which is a very general and vague statement and it is wrong also because no one say we should not do all the work only that all the work you want will be ineffective if based out of ignorance and not on wisdom, as long as your views of the world are flawed so will be all your efforts. You may not like this but that is the Buddha dharma.

Petteri Sulonen said...

"What we are talk about in Buddhism is suffering caused by a fundamentally flawed way of looking at life and the world and everything. The main ignorance is that we are separate from others. If you cannot see that this underlies most everything and that it is a profound truth, I feel sorry for you."

I have good news for you, @bodhianna. I do see it, and I do see that it's a profound truth. Intellectually, that is. Sadly, I have yet to actually realize it. How about you?

Now, hold that thought and re-read what I wrote earlier on, and you might understand what I'm saying. If you do that, you will see that it's not as simple as you suggest.

Petteri Sulonen said...

One more thing, @bodhianna: your tone in this conversation is awfully condescending ("If you try to learn about this, you will see...") turning to passive-aggressive ("If you don't see this ... I feel sorry for you.") That's not conducive to a constructive exchange of ideas, and I personally am particularly bad at dealing constructively with these tones. It puts me in full-on combat mode, which usually leads nowhere good.

Now, if you want to have a conversation, I think it would be better that we started afresh. I'm ready to drop the snark if you're ready to drop the condescension and passive-aggression. Let me know if you're interested, and I'll restate my position in a neutral tone.

bodhianna said...

Sorry, I am a German girl and do not write in English as good as you. You say ignorance is too simple, distracting, a poison, we are too far away from it, banal, it soothes us, makes us feel comfortable about detaching, it does nothing, and we should be doing something else. I don’t know what you find so soothing and comfortable about that we base everything on ignorance of the true natural of everything. Many others have realized this wisdom. I guess you do not or you try to see the Buddha dharma only from your own point, which is not too interesting to me for discussion.

Petteri Sulonen said...

@bodhianna: All right, then, I'll try to state my point again in as simple language as I can.

(1) I accept that ignorance is the root cause of suffering, and that that is a profound insight into the human condition.

(2) I believe that a truth spoken at the wrong time is harmful. (Cf. Right Speech – "What is pleasing and true, he knows the right time to speak it.")

(3) I believe that Mr. Baraz spoke this truth at the wrong time.

The rest of my messages were elaboration on (2) (how it was harmful at this particular time) and (3) (why this particular time was wrong to speak it.)

Do you understand?