When murderers meditate…

I wonder what kind of “meditation” Anders Breivik — who shot 69 people on an island in Norway last year, as well as killing another eight with a bomb — was doing?

According to this report,

When prosecutors Friday asked Breivik whether he felt empathy for others, the killer said he taught himself to dull all emotions – “from happiness to sorrow, despair, hopelessness, anxiety, fear” through meditation.

It’s possible that Breivik was not doing anything resembling traditional Buddhist meditation, which encourages compassion and non-repression of emotions. I’d be 100 confident that Breivik was not practicing lovingkindness or compassion meditation!

Traditionally, meditation is only one part of the spiritual path, and it’s accompanied with an ethical code that strongly emphasizes non-harm. Stripped of this traditional context, there’s no guarantee that meditation alone will make someone a better person.

It’s also possible to practice meditation in an unbalanced way that results in an unhealthy form of emotional detachment and a kind of emotional deadening. Sangharakshita, my own teacher, has mentioned seeing some early western practitioners of the Burmese Satipatthana Method becoming very detached from their emotions and from their physical experience. This seems to have arisen from their having misunderstood the nature of the meditation practices they’d undertaken (or perhaps they had a bad teacher or teachers).

But meditation can be used quite deliberately in ways that are at odds with the Buddha’s teaching. It’s said that samurai warriors would practice meditation in order to quiet the mind and make them better warriors, so this use (or mis-use, from the perspective of the Buddha-Dharma) of meditation techniques would not be new.

I’d encourage all meditators to practice lovingkindness meditation as well as mindfulness practices, and to consciously practice the five Buddhist precepts of undertaking not to kill, take that which is not given, commit sexual misconduct, speak falsely, or indulge in intoxication.

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2 Comments. Leave new

Anders Behring Breivik is an extremely confused individual and this just proves more of it. He seems to be totally devoid of any empathy at all. I wonder if metta could help a person like that. Ps. He did his heinous act in Norway, not Sweden.


He doesn’t seem totally devoid of empathy to me. He’s under the sway of a compelling ideology of hatred, but he does describe how inner voices tried to dissuade him from pulling the trigger. I think that was his conscience, but that his addiction to ideology caused him to override this.

He also said he’d wished he could have used bombs instead of guns, because it’s easier to push a button than to kill someone more directly. Again, that’s a sign that he is aware of having a conscience.

Yes, I stand corrected. It was just a slip of the keyboard…


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