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Dharma Connect: Meditation and a Mass Murderer

Aaron Alexis, who killed 12 people Monday at Washington, D.C.'s Navy Yard, was reportedly a meditator who lived for a time at a Buddhist Center in Texas. That fact was featured prominently in news stories about Alexis because it's so contrary to the popular perception of meditators as peaceful.

Here are some links:

Navy Yard Shooting Puts Buddhism in the Spotlight

Aaron Alexis and the Dark Side of Meditation

Friends Say Aaron Alexis Was in It for The Thai Women

Aaron Alexis: Adept Buddhist Chanter and an Angry Man with a Gun

Buddhist Community Ponders Link Between their Religion and Shooter

Aaron Alexis was no Buddhist

What do you think? Is Buddhism necessarily peaceful? Is the commentary unfair? Does meditation bring out a person's dark side? Should his Buddhism even be mentioned?

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Comments

There's a lot of good points

There's a lot of good points been raised here, many of which I agree with.

I didn't know about this event. I've cut myself off from a lot of media. Maybe thats putting my head in the sand but I couldn't take the images, the violence and sensationalism coming into the home.

Any news story, no matter how well covered, seems to me to be only a snapshot of the full story. Buddhism and meditation are the popular tag words but what about guns, violence, healthcare, education, poverty, family dynamics etc... Any number of societal or personal issues could have played a role, which we can never know. This could go back generations couldn't it?

There's a human desire to know things, to label things and compartmentalize a world that doesn't make sense. That's okay as long as we don't get swept up in it and think that we really do know. News flash: Meditators are human.

It's just very, very, sad.

Is it relevant?

I work at a newspaper, and a friend who was proofreading the front page came over to me and pointed to the word. Is it relevant? she asked. (seriously, we debate words on a daily basis.)

I just kind of shrugged. but in retrospect, I'll say yes. if he was a conservative Christian or even a Catholic or Jew who'd been serious enough to live at an affiliated center, that would have been mentioned. anything that gave a clue to his mindset -- and note, these were early stories, before more was known about him.

my assumption is that attention now turns toward mental health care and security screening, which seem to be more relevant in this case. and we can talk among ourselves about what this means for Buddhism. but we SHOULD talk among ourselves -- what brings people to the dharma? in a lot of cases, it's because they're suffering. how are we equipped to deal with suffering that may go beyond dissatisfaction or unhappiness? what can we offer?

and maybe it's a reminder to check in with that person who's looking shell-shocked after a lecture on emptiness (been there). ask, how that'd sit with you? help them ground. let them leave with a smile and a warm feeling.

I'm lecturing now, so I'll stop.

Teach Interdependence Not Emptiness

The Bodhisattva Vows include a bunch of stuff to avoid, one of which is teaching emptiness to anyone who is unprepared.  I think it's taught way too often and way too unskillfully. 

(11) Teaching voidness to those whose minds are untrained

The primary objects of this downfall are persons with the bodhichitta motivation who are not yet ready to understand voidness. Such persons would become confused or frightened by this teaching and consequently abandon the bodhisattva path for the path of personal liberation. This can happen as a result of thinking that if all phenomena are devoid of inherent, findable existence, then no one exists, so why bother working to benefit anyone else? This action also includes teaching voidness to anyone who would misunderstand it and therefore forsake the Dharma completely, for example by thinking that Buddhism teaches that nothing exists and is therefore sheer nonsense. Without extrasensory perception, it is difficult to know whether others' minds are sufficiently trained so that they will not misconstrue the teachings on the voidness of all phenomena. Therefore, it is important to lead others to these teachings through explanations of graduated levels of complexity, and periodically to check their understanding.

http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/practice_material/vows/bodhisattva/root_bodhisattva_pledges.html

thanks

I wasn't aware of this -- definitely gets broken a lot. I think the teaching can be done if you properly ground people before they walk out into the world, bring them back into their bodies so that they remember that traffic lights may be empty but you have to follow them.

meditation is not a cure-all.

meditation is not a cure-all. it won't magically fix your mental health issues, it won't neutralize your misogyny or racism, and it doesn't provide a solution to all of your problems. like any tool, its use is in the intention. a hammer can be used to kill someone or build a house, depending on the intent of the person wielding it, as the saying goes. meditation can open up a huge can of worms, and all the worms are yours. if a spiritual practice is about integrating those shadowy things, and bringing into awareness your dark side, then i think it's important to acknowledge that that dark side does exist.

this is a great reason to find a sangha and a teacher.

i personally think it's good that Buddhism is being demystified as a culture free from violence, sexual assault, and other such issues. placing the practice on a pedestal means it's more likely that instances of these things will be swept under the rug.

Say Word

Caroline hit it right on the nose.

Thank you for posting this Nancy. I thought the same thing reading an article yesterday where the title begun with, "The Angry Buddhist...." While I am grateful my spiritual tradition isn't met with assumptions of violence and hate, I agree with Caroline. Assuming all Buddhists are peaceful, happy, and stand unwavering in front of the long range of human emotions is really damaging. I've seen it all too often in practitioners and non-practitioners alike. 

There is a design below that

There is a design below that is not as well flashyVIOLETRESTAURANT.COM

pie in the sky

yes!  it's good for us all to understand that we can't transcend humanness - not through religion, or therapy, or magic.

Buddhism & meditation without medication might not be enough?

For serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bi-polar, etc. I'm not a psychiatrist, but there are certain mental illnesses where therapy, meditation, etc are not enough without medication to stop the delusions and compulsions. This may be more about the way we treat mental illness (and of course, gun laws) than the effectiveness of meditation, in my mind.

In it for the Thai Women?

Oh brother

I wanted to touch

on the full range of coverage. ;-)

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