The First American Buddhist Terrorist?

Aaron Alexis, US Navy base shooterThirteen people are dead as of this writing. Our understanding of what happened is still unfolding (including an NPR story stating that this was not deemed an act of terrorism), but one twist in yesterday’s events revolves around shooter Aaron Alexis’s religion, which turns out to be Buddhist.

As Buddhism has spread in the West, it has put forth and maintained an image of being a peaceful religion. This is a myth that still holds fast among many, if not most, Western Buddhists and it is one I bought into, at least provisionally, in my undergrad years studying philosophy (and Buddhism). But it didn’t take long in graduate school, looking closely at Buddhists in history – in my case the history of the Dalai Lamas – to see that a great deal of violence has been present in Buddhist societies.

Buddhism in this sense is not entirely non-violent.

For those, like me, who like to focus on texts – especially the earliest ones – there can be a sense that Buddhist teachings are thoroughly non-violent.

So the idea might arise that “Buddhism” stripped of all its cultural past could be the non-violent cure to our violent world. But stripped how? And down to what? And by who? These are questions that need to be asked in any conscious attempt of appropriation of Buddhism in the modern world – if, in fact, that is what one is looking for.

Meditation is often touted as a likely candidate for “what we can take away from Buddhism” – tradition, hierarchy, history, culture, and superstitions be damned. However, as we found out in the case of Anders Breivik in Norway last year (The Dark Side of Meditation), meditation alone may have no effect whatsoever on one’s morals and hence overall life. And it might also, as many people find out early in the process, actually open up deeper layers of pain, anger, and guilt that have been effectively repressed.

Willoughby Britton and Michael Stone discuss the “Dark Side of Meditation” in many of the same terms: the problems of Western bias, even among academics and scientists, the emotional/physical issues that can arise in meditation, and the need to remain grounded in tradition or at least a rich theoretical framework:

So what does this tell us about Buddhism’s role in the actions of Aaron Alexis? Not much. As with the two Muslim men who killed the British soldier in London last May (see Buddhism, Islam, and a serious talk about fundamentalism) other factors are clearly more important than religion. The role that Buddhism played is, if anything, a diversion from other issues, specifically Alexis’s mental illness:

Seattle police released details late Monday of another shooting incident in 2004 in which Alexis shot the rear tires of a vehicle owned by a construction worker doing work in his neighborhood. Alexis told police he had an anger-fueled “blackout,” but added that he felt he had been “mocked” and “disrespected” by the workers.

Alexis also told police he was present during “the tragic events of September 11, 2001″ and described “how those events had disturbed him.” Detectives later spoke with Alexis’ father in New York, who told police Alexis had anger-management problems associated with PTSD, and that he had been an active participant in rescue attempts on 9/11.

In fact, while his meditation might have opened up some violent feelings, we have to be careful not to suggest that he was part of a violent religious group or one that in any way condoned violence. As I wrote in the case of the killings in London, it helps to get some perspective (historical, textual, etc) on the religion and violence – so re-read/listen to Buddhism and Violence on the BBC.

If knowing that the shooter was a Buddhist allows us to empathize just a tiny bit more with him, all the better. It is too easy to dehumanize him, to other-ize him in ways that conveniently leave us disconnected from his actions. But while I may have some connection with him through his religion, I find a much easier wellspring of empathy when I see him as a traumatized young(ish) man trying to get by in America, a nation that leads the world in mental illness but lags far behind in help for those who are ill.

As taxpayers and citizens we all have a connection, a karmic bond if you’d like, to the growing failure of mental health care in America. In a more recent article, WaPo points out that, “Access to mental health care is worse than other types of medical services” in America andMental health care is pricey, with 45 percent of the untreated citing cost as a barrier.” The only good news in the article is that “Recent federal legislation requires more expansive insurance coverage for mental health services.

So that is one area of action we can and should turn to – national and state political support for the mentally ill. But a second area is within our sanghas. Could members or leadership at the Thai temple he meditated at have spotted Alexis’s problems and found some way to direct him toward treatment? Are there any resources out there for sanghas? If not, these are things that should be developed, along the same lines as the codes of conduct that have popped up, been discussed, and spread in the wake of recent scandals.

Yes, Aaron Alexis was a Buddhist, but first and foremost he was a fellow human being, suffering very deeply in a world that could have helped him, but didn’t.

 

If you, or someone you know is in crisis, please seek help immediately. Contact the following organizations for information about 24-hour crisis services in your area:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s 24 hour toll-free crisis hotline, 1.800.273.TALK (1.800.273.8255) can put you into contact with your local crisis center that can tell you where to seek immediate help in your area.

The Child-Help USA 1.800.4.A.CHILD (1.800.422.4453) crisis line assists both child and adult survivors of abuse, including sexual abuse. The hotline, staffed by mental health professionals, also provides treatment referrals.

(via Mental Health America; see also the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the PTSD Hotline)

* you can read my “mea culpa” and discussion of reactions to this here.

  • Bodhipaksa

    Buddhism is not “inherently non-violent.”

    You’d have to define what you mean by “Buddhism.” Is it the teaching of the Buddha? Is it the teaching of the Buddha plus any subsequent cultural developments arising from it, no matter how far they depart from that teaching? The first is, as far as I can see, “inherently non-violent” in that the Buddha doesn’t ever seem to have advocated or condoned violence. The second is of course true, because anything involving human beings is going to end up generating violence at some point. But your statement, because it doesn’t define its terms (and we haven’t even touched on “inherently”) is ambiguous and therefore questionable, and suggests that there is in fact something violent, or advocating violence, in the teaching of the Buddha.

    As for “Buddhist Terrorist,” I can see that as a term it’s good for getting people to read blog posts, and perhaps for generating heated emotions, but it inevitably suggest someone who was motivated to be violent because of his religious outlook. So far I don’t think there’s a shred of evidence to support that.

    I’d like to see more light and less heat.

    • justinwhitaker

      Thanks for the comments, Bodhipaksa. I’ve updated the post to (hopefully) remove the ambiguity.

      And ‘Buddhist Terrorist?’ (don’t forget the question mark) is, I must admit, not my own formulation. It was borrowed from an academic Buddhist discussion list. It first appeared late Monday when details about the shooter being a Buddhist came out, which is when I borrowed it and started the post, and before officials deemed it not an act of terrorism. I can’t speculate about the motive behind the original question (on the list-serve), but with the Fort Hood killings not far in the past and that being deemed, controversially as far as I know, ‘terror’ by some, it seemed/seems to be a question worth asking.

  • Dave Pangburn Jr

    Following Buddhist principles does not alleviate mental processes. Buddhism as I know it is a path to be followed that each of us must determine within. I choose to follow the teachings of the Buddha, but that does not mean I no longer have to deal with anger, depression, and other forms of suffering. You could just as well say that this man was a Christian, or a Muslim, which also teaches a path of love for fellow men. People do not always adhere to the faith they try to live. I think it is unjust to peg him as a Buddhist in light of his failure to act in an acceptable way. Is this Media Sensationalism that Patheos is engaging in to generate readership? You should be ashamed to be a voice for spirituality on the internet, yet raise such a dubious issue regarding a man who was suffering from mental illness. I work in Mental Health, and I find people of all faiths who suffer from schizophrenia, bipolar, and many other diseases. It has nothing to do with their faith. You greatly offend me Patheos.

  • andrew123456789

    Buddhism in its teachings is indeed inherently non-violent. Humans, however, are not. Buddhism would not deny that.

  • smtypnts

    I take issue with your article, because you posit that Buddhism is a religion, but in actuality it is a philosophy.

    • drfaustus72

      Anything that teaches belief in reincarnation does not qualify as philosophy.

      • Thomas Armstrong

        Buddhism doesn’t require belief in anything, yet it is different than “a philosophy,”

        • drfaustus72

          Are you saying you can be a Buddhist without believing in reincarnation? Buddha is turning over as we speak.

          • Thomas Armstrong

            Buddha wasn’t and won’t be reincarnated; he’s “in” paranirvana. Only his empty carcass might be turning over in any grave — but I doubt that, what with worms over the course of 2500 years.

            But, yes, Dr. Faustus, I am saying that a Buddhist isn’t required to believe in reincarnation. I don’t firmly believe in reincarnation and I claim to be a buddhist. I have a membership card, gym membership, the dental plan, and everything.

            • ThisIsTheEnd

              Are Buddhists required to believe in anything? As is probably clear from my question, I know very little about the religion.

            • drfaustus72

              You meant to say he was reborn in paranirvana, escaping samara by collecting enough karma points? Last I checked, the cycle of death and rebirth was the most central concept of the buddhist faith – the buddhist path of life being the way out of it. But maybe the board of directors has changed policies on that. That said, if I were you I would check my dental plan to make sure you’re still covered when you reach nirvana.

  • Sally Ember, Ed.D.

    This article is very inflammatory, inaccurate, and downright mean-spirited. This man is NOT a Buddhist just because he proclaims himself to be. Buddhism’s first and main precept is DO NOT HARM. HE IS mentally ill and should have gotten help from mental health professionals, not meditators. that premise is absurd. His “religious community” is not tasked with curing serious mental illness any more than judeo-christian congregations are.

    • Ted Meissner

      Respectfully, Sally, I disagree. This isn’t inflammatory simply because it discusses valid questions about what role, if any, Buddhism played in the situation. I find it to be a good area of questioning — was there a sangha, and if so, could they have helped get this person needed mental health intervention? Or did they simply rely on their religion as the fix for any problem whatsoever, to the detriment of the victims?

  • rrring99

    Irresponsible blog posting, lacking the thorough examination such an effort required due to the charged nature of the material. Your thoughts are so loose, that you have made a Drudge Report linked article and in my opinion damaged the spread of dharma in the West.

    • gwvanderleun

      “…. damaged the spread of dharma in the West.” Oh, puh-leaze! Get a grip on your trip.

      • rrring99

        cute phrase :)

      • Sarah Blackmun-Eskow

        dharma = Buddhist teaching. Nothing very exotic about that.

    • http://www.withouthavingseen.com Ryan Haber

      That’s a terrible thing for a Buddhist to say. A Buddhist tries to cultivate detachment, right? So why are you affected by this?

      • Sarah Blackmun-Eskow

        Are we sure that rring99 is a Buddhist? Are we sure he/she is “affected,” or is he/she just trying to set the dharma straight?

  • gwvanderleun

    It’s always well to remember the key role Buddhism had in keeping billions of Asians poor and politically tractable for centuries. As we like to say in veterinary circles, “It’s all fun and games until someone ends up in a cone.”

  • AlgernonSidney

    It is obviously untrue that Buddhism is anything other than a peaceful religion (or rather, mode of spiritual awakening). The author provides no credible basis for his assertion to the contrary. Historically, people may have killed in the name of Buddhism just as people have killed in the name of Christianity, Islam, etc. etc. etc. but that does not make any of these religions “violent” by nature.

    • drfaustus72

      To make normal people do awful things you need religion.

      • Ann_W

        Enforced utopian atheism has killed 10′s of millions of people. Religion doesn’t come close to that number.

        • drfaustus72

          See reply below. There is a difference between doing something *because* of atheism vs doing something “while also being” atheist.

          • Ann_W

            Oh no, being atheist was a huge part of their belief system that enabled them to perpetrate the horrors that they did. Lennin created the League of the Militant Godless to stamp out religion, because it was the enemy of all they were trying to accomplish. (All communist countries have considered religion the enemy.) When Richard Wurmbrand was imprisoned by Romanian communists his torturers told him repeatedly that they were so glad that there wasn’t a God because they didn’t have to worry about an afterlife as they enjoyed torturing their prisoners. Rationalize all you like, but your self-righteous belief is untrue.

            • drfaustus72

              You misunderstand what atheism is. Atheism is not a belief system or doctrine. There are no moral values or principles attached to atheism. It is simply the position of not believing in any gods. What you are talking about in your post is the result of communism which saw religion as competition in shaping people’s world views. In essence, communism was replacing traditional religion as has been described, studied and shown in many scholarly works.

              • Ann_W

                So if I created the League of the Militant Christians and went around killing Atheists because their ideas interfered with people being forced to be Christians, those attacks would not be motivated by my Christianity? That is utter hogwash and you know it, so are your scholarly works. Atheism is a belief that there is no God who requires moral behavior. That belief has informed behavior every bit as much as religion has. You just would like to change definitions to support your world view that only religions cause bad behavior. It also is very clear that different religions are very different in this area. If you don’t consider Muslims, no religion has been responsible for any significant violence for hundreds of years.

                • drfaustus72

                  Look, you can make up any hypothetical situation you want (particularly false comparisons); it doesn’t change the fact that atheism is not a belief system or doctrine. It is simply the position of not believing in a supernatural power. Just like you probably don’t believe in Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy. You don’t have a word for it, but you are an atheist in respect to those mythical, supernatural beings. I assume you don’t believe in Wotan or Mars or Apollo or Zeus; that makes you an atheist in respect to those gods, but you don’t have a word for it, like Azeusist or Awotanist. Does that mean that you have a doctrine attached to it, or a belief system? Clearly, it doesn’t. It’s just your normal state of being; you don’t believe in those superstitious, stupefying, delusional things.
                  Yes, if Christians created a Christian League, it would be because of their Christianity. But if Communists create an anti-God league it’s because of their communism – sure, they may happen to be atheists, but it’s not their atheism that drives it because atheism can’t. It doesn’t have a doctrine that says you are by a higher power chosen, you are special, you are commanded to spread your belief, you are commanded to kill the unbelievers. There are no tenets, no commandments, no scripture, no teachings. You seem to want to believe that Stalin killed millions because he was an atheist, but it’s plainly obvious that that is not the case. But buddhist monks are actively commanding buddhists to kill muslims THIS VERY MOMENT; the suicide bomber community is exclusively religious; catholic priests in Africa are ordering the killing of homosexuals and children to exorcise the devil. All this BECAUSE of their religion, commanded by their gods, guided by their morals. Don’t you even dare talk about morals and ethics of those who do not believe in this childish, ridiculous nonsense of higher powers and unifying consciousness and burning bushes. The religions of the world have caused enough horror and I – for one – will not be lectured on morals by delusional people who talk to their invisible friend in the sky, or want to make their higher self one with the universal consciousness.
                  And, nowhere have I stated that only religions cause bad behavior and in saying so you expose the weakness of your entire line of thought. So keep on living in your artificial world where facts magically line up with a preconceived notion and the teachings of your favorite religion.

                • Ann_W

                  “And, nowhere have I stated that only religions cause bad behavior and in saying so you expose the weakness of your entire line of thought. ” Compare this quote of yours to another earlier quote from you, “To make normal people do awful things you need religion.” So you were not telling the truth in the second quote. You can dance around me with semantics all you want, but some of the most evil people on this planet have been atheists who have been motivated, in part, by their atheism. Christians are motivated by their religion to be more charitable than non-religious people, you can look it up. I’m done.

                • drfaustus72

                  I’m very sorry, but if you can see that both statements can be true at the same time, I can not help you.

                  You may continue to believe whatever you like, that atheism is a “driving force” in people’s behavior, but you’re infering this from the way your religion informs your life; it is simply not the same in atheism. I don’t care that there is no god. I don’t think about it. It is not part of my life. I don’t go around thinking, ‘ah, there is no higher moral authority that will punish me, so I can kill whomever I want’. Instead, I go around thinking, ‘why are there all these rational, superstitious people who have this childish belief in some ancient fairy tale fucking up the world?’

                  Your statistic about Christians being more charitable might be correct in numbers, but -by your definition – they do it not for charity’s sake but to serve their god. That, in my mind, is quite egoistic. However, religious people are less educated, less intelligent and more likely to have mental problems. Here are the studies:

                  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/14/religious-people-less-intelligent-atheists_n_3750096.html?utm_hp_ref=religion-science

                  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/24/religion-mental-health-angry-god-brain_n_3097025.html?utm_hp_ref=religion-science

      • Sarah Blackmun-Eskow

        Silly. Certainly Stalin was an atheist, and he organized the death of millions of people. Or maybe you want to argue that people who do awful things are by definition not normal–a circular and therefore meaningless argument. Or I guess you could argue that everyone has some sort of religion–e.g., something they worship–the state, their family, caramel lattes, whatever.

        • drfaustus72

          Far from silly. More like sad. Stalin was a seminary before he became a communist and he knew well the power of submission based on credulity. The argument that “Stalin and Hitler and Mussolini and Pol Pot were atheists” simply doesn’t work, because what they did, they did not *because* of atheism. Atheism has no program, doctrine. It is not so much a position or belief system, rather a description. They did it for other reasons, which by the way are quite “religious’ in nature. You cannot possibly say that Hitler did not build upon thousands of years of catholic antisemitism? Fascism in Italy was basically an extension of the catholic church; Pol Pot led the Khmer Rouge, continuing the myth of god’s chosen people; Hirohito, the Japanese emperor, was a demi-god himself. They relied on blind, superstitious belief and credulity, a mindset fostered by religion. To have otherwise decent people blow themselves up, burn others, mutilate others, condemn others, nothing works as well as religion. And buddhism shows that very well right now, when buddhist monks call for the death of muslims because they are… well, muslims.

      • JasonMankey

        If everyone was an atheist there would still be wars, violence, and all sorts of other ills that plague society. Does greed stop the moment someone becomes an atheist? Do cultures cease to have differences because they don’t adhere to a religious faith? Certainly religion drives ignorant people to do ignorant things, but it’s not what makes normal people do awful things.

        • justinwhitaker

          Excellent points, Jason. My belief is that faith/religion is neither the ultimate problem here, nor should it be seen as an ultimate ‘solution’ elsewhere.

        • drfaustus72

          You miss the point. Yes, there are and always will be people who are violent and sociopathic. So even if there were no religion, there would be violence and war. I’m, however, talking about the other ones; the decent, moral, and compassionate people who are driven to do insane, irrational and awful things because their god told them to. No, atheism won’t do that, because it is not a belief, or teaching, or doctrine.

    • ThisIsTheEnd

      I’ve heard that Buddhism has a bigger kill count than the Abrahamic religions. I need to look that citation up

      • justinwhitaker

        Yes, please look it up. While numbers on such a broad scale are incredibly difficult to add up, I have heard the exact opposite. There is a professor, Nicholas Gier who, last I heard, was working on a grand narrative of Eastern vs Abrahamic faiths in terms of violence and murder and his initial results suggested that the Abrahamic faiths were far more violent. But it is open to discussion and to further factual evidence.

        • ThisIsTheEnd

          Hello. Yeah I will, I think it was a writer on religion called Andrew Brown who works for a UK paper “The Guardian”. He mentioned it as a surprising fact after attending an academic conference on religious extremism. If I can find the article or something else which is credible, I’ll post a link.

        • ThisIsTheEnd

          My Google Fu is strong. He claims Buddhism has killed more in modern times. Which makes a bit more sense.

          http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/andrewbrown/2013/apr/25/religion-violence-why-closely-linked

          • justinwhitaker

            Ahhhh, thanks for that! Interesting article. The “proportion of countries at war where it has a significant following” is the key point there.

            Buddhism has a “significant following” (depending on just what we consider significant) in only a handful of countries, so the wars in Sri Lanka and Burma make up a large proportion (perhaps throw in Korea, which is technically still in a state of war).

            Numerically, there are more wars in Africa, where Islam and Christianity are significant, and by rapid death toll and utter destruction certainly Syria tops all of these (not counting Rwanda)…

            His use of language “proportion of countries at war” is clever and allows us to think about Buddhism from a new angle, but they definitely haven’t “killed more in modern times.” – thanks again.

            • ThisIsTheEnd

              No worries mate

  • Karze

    Its such a misleading title – Buddhist terrorist. Did he say he was butchering people because Buddhist scripture or his priest commanded him to commit this crime. We don’t call New Town or Aurora mass murderer a Christian Terrorist.

  • Karze

    There are thousand of Tibetan monks meditating and doesn’t have this kind of negative mental imbalances. This certainly do do with Western culture of getting everything done in one day. No wonder Westerner go straight to meditation to practice Buddhism without background knowledge where as Tibetan will study many years and debate and discuss and then finally do meditation.

    What will happen if you install a new gadget without reading the guide or without any knowledge. You may end up in blowing up the gadget.

  • Mike Gilmer

    Buddhism is inherently a non-violent philosophy/religion. It is people, like most of the higher animals, who are inherently violent.

    • drfaustus72

      How can any belief be ‘inherently’ anything? If it is a ‘belief’ then it is the people who believe that create it. And don’t forget that the horrors of Japanese imperialism were 100% justified and grounded in Buddhism.

      • Sarah Blackmun-Eskow

        Japanese Buddhism was supposed to act as an antidote to Japanese violence. The samurai practiced Buddhism to keep themselves from going berserk (which they may have done anyway). So it’s not accurate to say that J. imperialism was grounded in Buddhism. Rather, it was grounded in, well, imperialism–i.e., greed.

        Note, too, that Buddhism is a practice or way of life, perhaps not a religion and certainly not a “belief.” Unless practiced, it isn’t worth anything, IMO.

        • drfaustus72

          It might have been supposed to be an antidote, but it certainly – in practice – wasn’t that. Japanese Imperialism was grounded in a racist belief in the superiority of the Japanese as a people based on their emperor being a god. The religious background this was based on was Shinto Buddhism, the mix of traditional Japanese Shinto beliefs with the ritual practices of Buddhism and the belief in the afterlife/reincarnation. To say it was based in greed is simply not correct and oversimplified. As to Buddhism being a way of life or practice; an essential tenet of Buddhism is the belief in reincarnation and god(s) [depending on your strain of Buddhism], as well as spirits and ghosts. That qualifies it without doubt as a religion.

          • Sarah Blackmun-Eskow

            The idea was that Buddhism’s nonviolence and respect for all of life would temper the nationalist-warrior nature of Shinto. After doing great violence, the samurai warrior would repair to a Buddhist retreat to heal himself from the effects of that violence.

            • drfaustus72

              Yes, that is the myth perpetuated in Buddhist circles. I’m afraid it is not accurate.

              • Sarah Blackmun-Eskow

                And you are sure of this how?

                • drfaustus72

                  It’s not hard to find out. There is ample literature about the history of buddhism, shinto, Japan etc. And once you’ve talked to enough western-style buddhist, the arguments keep repeating. Another myth is that samurai warriors were only allowed violence in self-defence. Or that buddhism doesn’t allow violence in its literature (in fact, it does allow it). People in the west need to realize that ‘their’ style of buddhism has very little to do with the buddhism practiced by millions of people around the world. Western-style buddhism is derived almost exclusively from Tibetan buddhism, a comparatively small part of the buddhist universe. And many of the teachings associated with buddhism aren’t buddhist at all. For example, the current Dalai Lama’s doctrine of non-violent resistance does not come from buddhist tradition, but can rather can be traced back to Ghandi and Martin Luther King, and modern values created in the collision and mixing of post-enlightenment with eastern religions and philosophies.

          • Sarah Blackmun-Eskow

            From Thich Nhat Hanh’s Fourteen Precepts of Engaged Buddhism . The first one is: “Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.”

            • Sarah Blackmun-Eskow

              “The absolute truth of which Thich Nhat Hanh speaks cannot be contained in words and concepts. Thus, merely believing in words and concepts is not the Buddhist path. There is no point in believing in reincarnation/rebirth, for example. Rather, one practices Buddhism in order to realize a self not subject to birth and death.”

              • drfaustus72

                And “realizing” that a self is not subject to birth and death (which by the way we know it is), is not a belief?

  • togeika

    Every people, every religion, every race, suffers from mental illness.

  • http://www.withouthavingseen.com Ryan Haber

    Well, presuming that Buddhism is a mystical philosophy that makes people *better*, Mr. Alexis might simply have been very bad at it.

    You might very well say the same thing of the tens and hundreds of millions of Muslims who do not practice concubinage, beat their wives, or practice bloody jihad against their neighbors: whatever their religion commands, they might be very bad at it.

    We must not make an assumption that every belief is good, and still less that every combination of beliefs is good; or that having good beliefs on an intellectual level necessarily permeates a person on deeper levels, necessarily has a transformative effect.

    People are restrained from great evil, often, by our humanity. Likewise, we are restrained from making solid and lasting gains in our attempts to be better by, again, our humanity.

    • Sarah Blackmun-Eskow

      There is nothing very mystical about Buddhism. It’s about discovering what ordinary life is really about (suffering, caused by the delusion that anything is permanent) and how to live with that (by cultivating equanimity)..

      • http://www.withouthavingseen.com Ryan Haber

        I didn’t mean mystical as any sort of insult.

        • Sarah Blackmun-Eskow

          I didn’t take it that way. mystical = inspiring a sense of spiritual mystery, awe, and fascination.

          I don’t think Buddhism does this. It’s very down-to-earth.

    • Thomas Armstrong

      Alexis was mentally ill and spinning out of control. I don’t think at the end he was responsible for himself or could have been. People are, above all, complicated. His good/evil is weighed by his intention and connection with reality at points near to the end of his life. And even then weighing good and evil is a boggling calculation.

    • Sarah Blackmun-Eskow

      Buddhism is not a “mystical philosophy” and it does not make people “better.” It is a practice than may allow people to perceive the reality in which they live and come to live with it with less suffering–with equanimity.

  • Guest

    I read nothing in the article that tells us how we know this person is a “Buddhist.” Is that what he told reporters? Um, he’s insane, right? And he has a connection to Buddhism…… how???

  • Guest

    When you think about Devadatta, one of Buddha’s chief disciples who turned violent, the situation of Alexis doesn’t become surprising.

    When one of his other followers misused Buddha’s teachings for dark purposes, Buddha narrated the parable of the raft, where he equates his teachings to a raft that is used to cross a river. Carrying the raft on one’s back when it is no longer beneficial could even be very harmful.

    If even monks sometimes don’t think about whether or not to set aside Buddha’s teachings or raft after thinking about harm and benefit, how much more laymen?

    Twenty years ago, I had a similar experience with Alexis’ episode. I wrote a 5-book “raft” that I set aside for others to benefit from. It may not be the resources that you are looking for, but it will give you some answers about Alexis’ paranoid schizophrenia:

    http://myconnected.webs.com
    http://syncmyworld.blogspot.com

  • cookiebob

    There is something about this murderer that causes us to pause isn’t there? He fits a profile of a typical murderer in America in many ways… but there is just something more about the whole situation.
    Maybe it’s the Buddhism, but I tend towards thinking that his religious involvement is simply evidence that he had a mental disorder that he, himself, was trying to find an answer to. He was trying not to become, what he became.
    I think he is a victim too. I don’t think he would have chosen to be a mass murderer if he had control of his mind. I think we overlook mentally ill people on our streets everyday, we see, I’ve seen, people talking to invisible people… and I have assumed it was not my problem. That it was a virtue to ignore them, non-judgmental, as though it was a sin to be forgiven, rather than an illness to be treated!
    But this is proof that there is a consequence of ignoring those people. For us and them. It is callous to ignore them, not a virtue at all! It is a cop out to ignore them.
    We need to rethink our whole attitude towards mental illness. We need to find a balance between the awful mental hospitals… where there was abuse, and the neglect of people who need help.
    Sometimes I think modern Psychology has not improved our lives much. But I know it has, mostly. But it needs revisited.

    • Sarah Blackmun-Eskow

      What an enlightening comment! (Truly; I’m not being sarcastic.) Cookiebob gets beyond semantics and says some things we could actually act on–things that would forward the kind of Buddhism set forth in the prayer of loving-kindness: May all beings be happy. May all beings be well. May all beings be safe. May all beings be at ease.

      “At ease” is a way of saying “not suffering.” Perhaps we can think of Aaron Alexis’s suffering and what we can do about people whose suffering is so destructive of others as well as themselves.