January 14, 2011

James Baraz on Buddhism, Guns, and Breaking the Cycle of Hate

From Tricycle contributor James Baraz's recent article on the Huffington Post, "A Buddhist Perspective on Access to Guns."

How can we make sense out of the senseless? When a deranged young man opens fire killing innocent people, what lessons can we take away that can give meaning to the lost lives? Learning something new or deepening our understanding seems to be the best way to honor those who've suffered the most. I'd like to offer some thoughts from a Buddhist perspective.

Events unfold largely due to causes and conditions. An event like this does not happen in a vacuum. An unbalanced person with paranoid delusions, with easy access to guns, immersed in a culture of hatred and violence, whipped up by a media hungry for sensational news, given messages that a politician is threatening his well-being and should be targeted, can produce the tragedy we're dealing with now. All of those factors were likely at play. To only blame the young man's mental stability and simply say, "Oh, he was nuts," misses the point. 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.

Every human being wants to feel safe and have peace. That's a tall order in a culture that glorifies violence. Gun rights groups are now proposing legislation that would require the Arizona Department of Public Safety to provide firearms training to state legislators. Would that have protected Gabrielle Giffords? As Martin Luther King pointed out:

    "The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate...Returning violence for violence multiples violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that."

The Buddha similarly 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.

In Buddhism, ignorance has an even broader definition. One aspect of it is not truly understanding the karmic consequences of our actions. Another is lack of awareness as to where happiness really lies. Basic understanding of karma states very simply that actions which come from greed, hatred or ignorance lead to suffering. Actions based in generosity, kindness and wisdom lead to happiness. After his enlightenment, the Buddha was motivated to teach because of the ignorance he saw: although everyone wants to be happy, most people are acting in ways that lead to more suffering.

Jesus' famous statement on the cross was based on this same understanding: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." He saw that, although on one level they knew very well what they were doing, they didn't understand who he was or the consequences of their actions because their minds were colored by hate and fear.

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. This is the history of war, as Sam Keen brilliantly pointed out in Faces of the Enemy. Once you demonize the "other" they become less than human and you can inflict pain on them without guilt or shame.

Read the complete article here.

Image: Knotted Gun by Carl Fredrik Reutersward. United Nations Building. ©Ron Brown

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casperleslie's picture

This article is a perfect example of stirring the pot of political sensationalism, not to mention the accompanying photo. In what way do the words of the county sheriff and the reference to some "gun rights groups" proposal have to do with the "Buddhist Perspective" the author opened with? What was the real intention of this article? He obviously did not think his real Buddhist message at the end about the real villain being ignorance would sell. Thus it was dressed in media spin and sensationalism. So sad. And such a turnoff for a reader looking for a Buddhist perspective. This was a missed opportunity for a real Buddhist Perspective that could have reached a wide audience.

joshuayeakel's picture

Does that image offend you? I think you're overreacting, the article seems to be straight forward. Gun culture & political rhetoric contribute to the causes & conditions that surround violent acts such as the tragic shooting spree in AZ / Ultimately, confusion is the root of all suffering. It doesnt really seem all that sensational... maybe you should set your politics aside & try being objective.