Buddhism, vegetarianism, and the ethics of intention

November 22, 2014

smile pigOne of the most attractive things about Buddhism is that it considers ethics to be based on the intentions behind our actions. This perspective is radical in its simplicity, clarity, and practicality.

When our actions are based on greed, hatred, or delusion, they’re said to be “unskillful” (akusala), which is the term Buddhism prefers over the more judgmental terms “bad” or “evil” — although those terms are used too, albeit mostly in the context of poetry. By contrast, when our intentions are based on mindfulness, compassion, and wisdom, they’re said to be skillful (kusala).

For many people accustomed to systems of morality based on commandments, rewards and punishments, the Buddhist ethical perspective is liberating and … Read more »

Buddhists and violence

September 17, 2013

Aaron AlexisIt’s been reported that Aaron Alexis, the former U.S. Navy reservist who went on a shooting spree on a naval base, leaving 13 people dead, including him, was a Buddhist.

This isn’t of course the first time a Buddhist has acted violently. While Buddhism generally has a peaceful history, Buddhist institutions have persecuted non-Buddhists and those from other Buddhist traditions and have sometimes supported war (Japan in the Second World War is a notable example). And Buddhist individuals have committed pretty much every violent act you can imagine, for their own personal reasons, whether that’s greed, hatred, or, in Alexis’ case apparently, mental illness.

Is it possible, in the face of all this, to say … Read more »

Violent Buddhists and the “No True Scotsman” fallacy

June 19, 2012

I recently had a conversation on Google+ (it’s a social network that’s — in my opinion — a much better alternative to Facebook) about Buddhist violence in Burma. Following the alleged rape of a Buddhist woman in Burma by members of that country’s Muslim minority, there was an outbreak of violence in which 2,600 homes were torched and at least 29 people died.

I condemned this violence unequivocally. There is no justification in the Buddhist scriptures for violence. There is no Buddhist doctrine of “just war” or even of “righteous anger.” The Buddha condemned all forms of violence, and famously said that even if bandits were sawing you limb from limb, you should have compassion … Read more »

When murderers meditate…

April 22, 2012

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 … Read more »

9/11: Meditate to Liberate

September 11, 2009

Twin Towers, 9/11On the anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center, we bring the story of how one Buddhist chose to respond by challenging the consciences of those whose business is to promote the sale of weapons war.

9/11 changed everything. We all knew that — the only question was, how? The US government’s “war on terrorism” was swiftly launched and a deep conviction arose in me that this was not the way to go. In their fervor our leaders, especially America’s, seemed utterly oblivious of the simple truth that violence breeds violence. Their response seemed opportunistic and vindictive, Bush’s rhetoric duplicitous and deeply worrying, our leaders seemed uninterested in peacemaking. To me, and perhaps … Read more »

“Pavement: Reflections on mercy, activism, and doing ‘nothing’ for peace” by Lin Jensen

June 12, 2007

Pavement, by Lin Jensen Available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

Lin Jensen’s little book Pavement — Reflections on mercy, activism, and doing “nothing” for peace (Wisdom, March 2007) arrived in the mail a few weeks ago and has been by my bedside since, an almost-daily source of inspiration in the mornings before rising. Its 36 short chapters are an easy read, but squarely address a tough theme — how to respond as a Buddhist when you are a citizen of a country you believe to be violent and to be engaged in violent acts, in this case America and her war in Iraq.

Jensen is a man of deep feeling, a long-standing Zen Buddhist, and possessed of a passionate need … Read more »