Filed in Community

Letters to the Editor

Talking Heads

Congratulations on the Richard Gere interview [Spring 1996]. Once again, Tricycle has played its trickster hand. This time converting a cherished image of Gere as the main representative of designer dharma into a portrait of a guy who is really wrestling with his practice just like the rest of us. He is one wonderful photographer as well.

Bob Schumann
Madison, Wisconsin

The last issue [Spring 1996] was spectacular - filled with heart, with an exceptional amount of material that really gets under the skin. Especially fine were the interviews with Richard Gere, Gavin Harrison, and Gretel Ehrlich.

Betsy Davis
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Please cancel my subscription to Tricycle. I cannot take any magazine seriously that features an interview with Richard Gere.

Anthony James
New Orleans, Louisiana

Thank you so much for the interview with Gavin Harrison [Spring 1996].

A year ago, I was introduced to Buddhist meditation by a friend who felt certain it would help me deal with a severe and life-threatening illness. It did not. At least not yet; I have not given it up. In the meanwhile, what does help immensely are those people who do seem to have come to grips with their situation in ways that elude so many of us. I have experienced this with people who are Buddhists, Christians, Jews, atheists, agnostics. In each case, it has not been their religious conviction or lack of it that is so compelling, but their own personal determination to explore the matters and mysteries of life and death. Mr. Harrison’s interview was instructive, full of courage and honesty.

Marcia E. Leighton
Stonington, Connecticut

St. Augustine’s Just Due

The article “Apology of a Buddhist Soldier” by Capt. Lawrence P. Rockwood [Spring 1996] was very informative. However, Capt. Rockwood repeated a common misunderstanding of the “just war” theory of St. Augustine.

Capt. Rockwood states that “the tradition rests on the mitigation of injustice by military force,” and that it is “argued that war could be a means toward a just end.” The theory put forward by Augustine was actually criteria for proper self-defense, not a justification for initiating hostilities. St. Augustine held that no Christian should kill in self-defense, but also stated that rulers have a duty to protect their subjects against serious injury, and that, if all avenues for non-military pursuit of peace have failed, they may, as a last recourse, use armed force. The armed force used should be in proportion to the attack, and the safety of non-combatants, on both sides, must be safeguarded. It should be noted that Augustine was never satisfied that his theory was compatible with Christian charity.

In our own times the position of the Catholic Church was succinctly stated to the General Assembly of the United Nations by Pope Paul VI, and constantly repeated by Pope John Paul II, “War, never again!”

Fr. Andrew McAughan
Abbey of Gethsemane
Trappist, Kentucky

Under Fire

In the Spring 1996 editorial, the National Rifle Association (NRA) is accused of lobbying “for the right of citizens to kill each other.” I am a life member of the NRA but I have never heard the NRA lobby that “citizens have the right to kill each other.” We lobby for the right to legally collect, own, and use firearms lawfully.

I have firearms that I purchased before I became a Buddhist. I used to do a little hunting and reptile shooting, but now I use the guns for target practice. Capt. Rockwood, in his article “Apology of a Buddhist Soldier,” says that one can be a soldier and a Buddhist. In the United States the right of self-defense is well-established. Properly licensed citizens and the police can use deadly force to protect human life and sometimes even property.

Is a right to self-defense mentioned in the Buddha’s teaching? It seems that the first precept “to abstain from killing living beings” does not allow even self-defense, let alone abortion, state executions, or the killing of animals. What about the killing of mosquitoes to prevent the spread of malaria? What about a person shooting an armed criminal to prevent that person from taking his life? Does a soldier, a citizen, or a police officer have a “right” to take a life even to save another or to defend his country?

James T. Pinkerton
Buckatunna, Missouri

Just Say No

Compassion is often a missing ingredient in a greedy, violent, mechanical, selfish consumer culture. Sam Hamill’s “Saying No to the War on Drugs,” [“UnCommon Sense,” Spring 1996] is a succinct and pertinent and useful commentary. I am grateful for his clear and candid statement. The inane anachronistic and failed policies of “getting tougher” by hiring more police, making more arrests, passing tougher laws, setting longer sentences, and building more prisons certainly demand a reordering of our priorities.

It is shameful that our approach to drug use and abuse remains so puerile, ignorant, and vindictive. We need truthful information about responsible and irresponsible drug abuse of both licit and illicit drugs. We need to change from a repressive response (using police, prosecution, and prison) to a compassionate response (using education, treatment, and rehabilitation) by demonstrating that existing policies are counterproductive, only exacerbate a horrible situation, and are in need of drastic change. We seem unable to learn from the painful history of alcohol prohibition. Perhaps today’s bodhisattvas can assist by a more clearheaded approach.

Al Germann
Mt. Shasta, California
e-mail

I am glad that Tricycle has included an article that speaks out against the excesses of the drug war [“Saying No to the War on Drugs,” UnCommon Sense, Summer 1996], but I think it’s important to note that the War on Drugs is itself a troubling excess of government control over every individual’s pursuit of wisdom and good.

The War on Drugs is the government saying that it will bring its might down on anyone who ingests a plant or chemical in order to entertain an unauthorized state of consciousness. The controlled-substance analogue laws make illegal any substance - even one that has yet to be discovered or invented - that leads to an altered state of consciousness. It is the state of mind caused by the drug, not its harmfulness or addictiveness, that makes it illegal.

That the government considers it a duty to enforce with the strength of its laws a single, mundane state of mind should set off alarms to anyone whose religion promotes transcendence of these same states.

Dave Gross
San Luis Obispo, California

As an addictions therapist and a nonuser of drugs, I advocate decriminalization of marijuana. According to NIDA (National Institute on Drug Addiction), marijuana has killed zero percent of the population per year versus tobacco which kills more people each year (390,000) than all of the people killed by all of the illegal drugs in the last century (Clifford Schaffer, Basic Facts on the War on Drugs, 1995). It is also a fact that federal dollars have been cut for “Drug-Free Schools” programs and rehabilitation. The gang populations have doubled in cosmopolitan areas in the last two years. We will not do justice or compassion to those who have what is defined by the AMA as a “disease” by jailing our way out of this. Those who wish to seek medical care should be granted this choice with better-spent dollars. Otherwise their destination is zero.

Beth Pachis
Boca Raton, Florida

As a federal narcotics agent, I have seen firsthand the ravages of drugs and the senseless brutality of those who traffic in them. As a student of Buddhism, I have had occasion to pause and consider the effects of the criminal justice system, social responsibility, and the role of the individual. Hamill’s essay seemed to stress two major points. Firstly, the “racist” nature of the war on drugs. Secondly, the notion that because drugs continue to be a costly problem in this country, they should be legalized.

The author seems unhappy with a number of things: that people who are breaking the laws by trafficking in destructive and dangerous substances, are going to jail, and that these individuals, notably black and Hispanic violators, are being unfairly stigmatized by their criminal records. The author seems to say that it is a great injustice that these narcotic traffickers, “otherwise decent men,” are being sent to prison rather than “rehabilitation programs or to school.” This is a blanket statement that ignores the reality that a good percentage of drug traffickers are habitual offenders whose criminal histories often include a variety of criminal offenses.

The essay goes on to presume that if we were to legalize drugs the violence associated with drug dealing would cease. This presumes that violence perpetrated by drug traffickers is purely profit-driven. As a former member of a drug homicide task force, I know that drug traffickers resort to violence for a number of reasons. Money-related issues are only partly responsible for their violence. Just as often drug traffickers resort to violence based on “heat of the moment” altercations over women, clothing, or a misperceived “look.” The use of drugs not only affects the lives of drug traffickers but is responsible for a generation of children growing up in homes where they are abused or neglected. Just how would legalizing drugs solve this problem? How would legalization curtail the use and availability of them? Would the proponents of drug legalization want to legalize murder because the national homicide rate continues to climb?

Curiously lacking in this essay is an acknowledgment that we are all ultimately responsible for ourselves and our behavior. To propose that because one comes from a disadvantaged background, one is less worthy of punishment or incarceration ignores this concept. This attitude certainly seems to play into the practice of finger-pointing that has become popular in modern society. I find this viewpoint curiously at odds with the Buddhist perspective, which places great influence on self-empowerment, responsibility, and the capacity of each human being for transformation. As a law enforcement officer I know that incarceration is not the end solution to the drug problem. I firmly believe that opportunities and support systems should continue to exist for people both in prison and after.

As I have dealt with numerous criminals, one note rings true: those who were habitual offenders took little responsibility for their actions. People are incapable of turning their lives around until they are able to take responsibility for themselves. This truth lies at the heart of both the war on drugs and the personal battles we all wage every day.

Patricia McAleer
Alexandria, Virginia

Virtual Revelation

Re: Mitchell Kapor’s article “Mind On-Line: Life in the MUD” [Spring 1996], I have a hard time seeing that delving deeper into materialism with something like MUD could strengthen my spiritual practice. It looks pretty darn escapist to me. If that’s what someone wants, it’s their choice, but it’s a dangerous thing to include the kind of comments Kapor makes in a religious periodical that new practitioners or practitioners without access to a teacher might look to for guidance. I can’t see any of the monks, nuns, or lamas I have met encouraging students to get involved in that kind of fantasy game. You do not strengthen your mind by playing games; you strengthen it with meditation and a spiritual practice, under the guidance of a deeply realized teacher.

Elin Martin
Portland, Oregon
e-mail

Fire and Ice

Rev. Shimizu Koyo’s fire ceremony [“In the News,” Spring 1996] was not the first to be done in the USA. Goma has been regularly performed in this country for several decades at least at Shingon and Tendai temples and by shugendo trainees in Hawaii and California. V. K. Leary, a Tendai adept who performs parikrama (circumambulation) on Mt. Cobb in Lake County, frequently performs a shugendo-style outdoor goma as part of his practice. There are several American-born Tendai priests trained in the fire ritual currently residing in the U.S. and Canada.

Goma is the Japanese pronunciation of the Sanskrit homa, the Vedic fire sacrifice, which was adopted by tantric practitioners across the full spectrum of religious systems during the final centuries of Buddhism’s flourishing in India. It was brought to East Asia in the seventh century by tantric monks from the great Indian monastic universities and transmitted to Japan within a few generations. It is found among the vast array of methods employed by Tibetans. But it is most widely utilized today by priests of the Shingon and Tendai schools.

Dharma-Aloka
Arya Marga Foundation
San Francisco, California

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