Another Day in America, Another . . .

The Inland Regional Center, scene of yesterday’s horrific mass shooting, is a state-run center for people with developmental disabilities. Mostly it helps families of disabled children. They provide housing and work programs, and therapy and social services. They send out caseworkers and therapists to work with kids who have autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and other intellectual disabilities. According to the IRC website, the center serves more than 31,000 individuals in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. And it has been doing this for 44 years.

The Washington Post calls it “inspiring work.” You can get a better feel for how the IRC touches the lives of disabled kids in this article by Colby Itkowitz and Emma Brown.

Yesterday, December 2, was the 336th day of the year. According to what I heard on CNN last night (and they got their info from a mass shooting database called shoottracker.com), there has been more mass shootings than days in 2015. The San Bernardino incident was the 355th.

Some years ago for my birthday I received a book, 365 Buddha, a collection of Buddhist quotes, both ancient and modern, for every day of the year. The quote for December 2, the date of the deadliest mass shooting in 2015, came from the Dhammapada:

All beings tremble before violence.
All fear death.
All love life.

See yourself in others.
Then whom can you hurt?
What harm can you do?

Another day in the United States of America. Another mass shooting. These events have risen to a level the President says has “No parallel anywhere else in the world.”

As the quote from the Dhammapada suggests, peace starts with us. Some folks are now saying that an end to gun violence “starts in your town.” I live 65 miles from San Bernardino, but it’s SoCal, so it’s still my turf.  If you have had enough, you can do something about it by joining Everytown for Gun Safety‘s movement to end gun violence.

CVQ_4EeUsAEV2NaX

Share

The End and the Means and the Killing In-between

The bombing in Bangkok that killed 22 people and wounded 120 took place at the Erawan Shrine, the most famous temple in Thailand and a popular attraction for tourists. Erawan Shrine was built during the mid 1950s, and its construction was plagued by so many problems that after consulting with an astrologer it was decided to dispel the bad karma by erecting a shrine to honor the Hindu deity Brahma, the god of creation. In Thailand, Brahma is known as Phra Phrom, the four-faced Buddha.

According to Monday evening’s news reports, it is not yet clear who placed the three kilograms of TNT stuffed in a pipe and wrapped with white cloth inside the shrine area or to what extent the statue of Phra Phrom was damaged.

ABC News says, “Previous to the August 17 blast, the statue had also come under attack in March 2006 by a lone man who smashed the statue with a hammer. The man was beaten to death by bystanders . . .”

On Hollywood Boulevard, just a few blocks from my apartment building, is Thailand Plaza (this part of Hollywood is Thai Town). It houses a Thai grocery store and a restaurant on the 2nd floor. Outside the plaza, next to the sidewalk, is a Phra Phrom shrine (see the photo rightFour Faced Buddha-1b). You can pass by almost any time of the day and you will probably see someone lighting incense and offering prayers to the four-faced Buddha.

Many years ago I heard about a study, I don’t recall the details, but a group of people were asked this hypothetical question: If the CIA asked you to kill a VIP, even if he or she were totally protected, would you agree to do it? An astounding 90% said yes.

Men and women have always been willing to kill for a cause, because they believe the end justifies the means, and I have always thought that to be one of the most evil concepts humanity has ever developed.

Traditional Buddhist teachings maintain that if you kill another human being, in your next existence you will have a short life. These days, I find that concept to be difficult to accept as well. However, I do believe there is something in the Buddhist view of the law of cause and effect, and that once you make a cause, someday, no matter what, a result from that cause will manifest. In that sense, killing is the worst cause.

Killing is a complicated issue because there are various ways to kill and different degrees of what we call murder. What I am discussing here is the killing of innocents with a bomb or beating a person to death out of anger, revenge, or for a cause. Buddhism does not have a perfect record of non-violence. Nevertheless, I feel its reputation as a philosophy of peace is justified. The First Precept in Buddhism is “Refrain from killing.” And if there were one mantra that transcends all the various Buddhist traditions, it would certainly be “Do no harm.”

Actually, to get through life without harming or killing is difficult, but I once heard someone say that when we become non-violence itself, when we become compassion itself, we embody those qualities in our world. Buddhism teaches that we accomplish that by looking within our mind to recognize and subdue the negative thought patterns that allow the potential for harm to arise.

Share

Buddhism and Violence

I don’t have any problem admitting that we in the West have a rather romantic view of Buddha-dharma, especially when it comes to the image of Buddhism epitomizing pacifism. I also don’t think that having a romantic view is necessarily a bad thing, as long as it is grounded in hard, cold reality, nor do I think the conception of Buddhism as a pacifist philosophy is incorrect.

Japanese warrior helmet from Edo period with “sacred title” of the Lotus Sutra headpiece.

Many times, I have heard it said that there has never been a Buddhist war, or a Buddhist crusade. This is true as far as large-scale conflicts are concerned, however, it is also true that Buddhism has had its violent periods. Buddhism in Japan has a particularly violent history. Almost all of the Japanese Buddhist sects (and their sub-sects) during the Medieval Era maintained standing armies. Warrior-priests were called sohei. In my last post I talked about the Tendai “marathon monks.” At one point, Enryaku-ji, the Tendai headquarters, was split into two factions: the Mountain Branch (Sanmonha) and the Temple Branch (Jimonha). One day the Temple Branch decided to visit their brothers up the mountain, and when the two groups were finished with their exchange of greetings, some 4000 Tendai priests lay dead. Think about it: that’s more than were killed on 9/11, and the slaughter was accomplished using primate weapons such as swords and spears, in a single afternoon.

While it seems to be less well-documented (historically speaking), Buddhism in China has its violent past, as well. The warrior-monks of Shaolin Temple are well known, and they wouldn’t have been fighters if there hadn’t been some fighting to do. And there is an entire genre of Chinese fiction called wuxia that dates back 1700 years and is still popular today, concerning the martial exploits of warriors who were often Buddhist or Taoist, involved in adventures which had Buddhist/Taoist philosophy woven into the narrative.

Suppression of racial minorities is not unknown in the Buddhist world either. The often “un-Buddhist” like treatment of the Sri Lankan Tamil people by the Theravadin majority resulted in a long civil war that officially ended in 2009, however tensions between the two groups still persist.

Now we have reports of the Buddhist oppression of the Rohingya Muslim community in Burma. This is not a new situation. The Rohingyas have been persecuted in Burma since the end of World War II. I wrote a post about it on June 11 called Sectarian Violence in Burma. Unfortunately, something happened to this post and half of it is missing, including some historical information I provided. The copy I normally keep on my hard drive is missing, too.

In any event, the causes for the current turmoil in Burma are not clear. I have yet to see anything in print that provides an explanation of just what the Rohingya have done to warrant this repression, other than that they are considered illegal immigrants. Naturally, I can’t conceive of anything that would justify the violence committed against them. And while the headlines you see on the Internet play up the Buddhist angle, it is the Burmese military government that is the main oppressor here, and perhaps have been inciting the Buddhist involvement.

Already, some people have taken this as an opportunity to poke holes in Buddhism’s pacifist image. But the holes were already there if you took time to see them. What is always “true” Buddhism to me is that which is true to the spirit of the historical Buddha. Over the centuries, we have drifted far afield from that spirit. For instance, the Buddha discouraged his followers from revering his image. That didn’t last very long. Sometimes this drift has resulted in an positive evolution of Buddha-dharma, and other times it has just been the layering-on of nonsense.

As far as I am concerned, Buddhism is a philosophy of ahimsa, “to do no harm,” which is reflected in the many texts in the Pali Canon that deal specifically with the subject of non-violence, although term ahimsa may not be actually used.

There is an undeniable set of facts, as Buddhist historian Robert Thurman told the New York Times,

There is a Buddhist theory of war, of self-defense, and there is also a kind of theory of surgical violence. The optimal ideal thing is non-violence. But sometimes you have to do a little violence to prevent a larger violence. The Buddhist have thought about this as they are not simplistic.”

While at the same time, another historian, Huston Smith, reminds us that,

[Actually] Buddhism has, I think, probably the best social record of any of the great religions . . . [looking] at the whole history, we see relatively few instances where Buddhist teachings were used to justify violent action. There are exceptions, but overall not many.”

And we have these words, reportedly spoken by the Buddha:

“Violence breeds misery; look at people quarreling. I will relate the emotion agitating me. Having seen people struggling and contending with each other like fish in a small amount of water, fear entered me. The world is everywhere insecure, every direction is in turmoil; desiring an abode for myself I did not find one uninhabited. When I saw contention as the sole outcome, aversion increased in me; but then I saw an arrow here, difficult to see, set in the heart. Pierced by it, one runs in every direction, but having pulled it out one does not run nor does one sink.”

Sutta Nipata IV.15*

Because human beings have a mind and not ruled completely by instinct, I don’t accept the proposition that the world must forever be sunk in violence. We choose violence, in myriad ways. We can choose a world without it. And I believe that Buddhism is an excellent vehicle to help accomplish that goal. Maybe I’m just a romantic dreamer. That’s all right. I choose it.

*From The Discourse Collection: Selected Texts from the Sutta Nipata (WH 82), translated by John D. Ireland (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1983).

Helmet photo adapted from tokyo-samurai-armor.com

Share

Syud Hossain, Muslim Voice of Freedom

Syud Hossain

I have a book that I got about ten years ago, I think at a yard sale but it’s been so long I can’t remember. If I paid more than a buck for it, I’d be surprised. It is called Gandhi: The Saint as Statesman by Syud Hossain, an author who at the time I had never heard of. This is a first edition, published in 1937, and it turns out that Hossain, a Muslim, was a friend of Gandhi and was active in the Indian Independence Movement.

The book has an inscription signed by Hossain and Carl F. Sutton, the publisher. Dated August 20, 1938, it reads “To Stephanie and Cyril (?) Holton, with best wishes.” What’s more, inside I found two Christmas cards, obviously from the late 30’s or early 40’s (one looks handmade), sans envelopes, given by Syud Hossain to a Mr. and Mrs Ludwik Opid or Ford (the handwriting is hard to read). I don’t have the foggiest idea who these recipient were.

Hossain was an interesting guy, although his biographical information is scattered around here and there. “He exiled himself to the United States to find support for Indian independence, giving lectures and writing articles and books. In 1933, Jacques Marchais helped him organize the ‘Roundtable of Contemporary Religion’ in New York,” is how he is described on the Tibetan Material History website. It also says that “Jacques Marchais was a woman who had an early interest in Tibetan culture and who built a museum on Staten Island [Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art] that she thought of as an educational center to provide American people with a place of encounter with the East.” Sounds like another interesting person.

Here is a description of Hossain written by Blanche Watson for Pearson’s Magazine in 1922 (included the book’s appendix) that has some parallels with today’s situation:

From the moment almost of his landing Syud Hossain has been an animated denial. He has been obliged to deny, not once but scores of times, that the Mohammmedans and Hindus are deadly enemies; that the former are all Turks; that India is the size of Texas; that the Mohammedan is a ferocious war-maker; that India is unfit to govern itself; that England is in India for the ‘welfare’ of Indians; that Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent resistance movement is a preparation for bloodshed and violence.

Unfortunately, the aftermath of Gandhi’s revolution did result in a great bloodletting. As for the rest of that statement, it would appear that the misconceptions about Muslims and the East Syud Hossain had to contend with are not much different from those existing today. We haven’t come too far, have we?

Syud Hossain was born in 1888 in Calcutta to a well-to-do and prominent family.  His father was a scholar and the Registrar General of Bengal. In 1909, he went to England to study law.  In 1916, he became a journalist with the Bombay Chronicle and worked with its legendary editor, B G Horniman. While in Bombay he became involved in the Home Rule Movement, and in 1918 he returned to England as secretary of the Home Rule deputation.

In 1919, he joined the Independent where he gained notoriety with some passionate editorials that provoked the displeasure of the British Government.

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit

Hossain fell in love with Vijayalakshmi Pandit, the sister of Nehru, who was an Indian diplomat and politician. This was a rather controversial relationship that attracted the attention of the international press for several years. The couple faced immense opposition to their marriage, and from some reason, it seems that Gandhi was vehemently opposed to it. According to the April 27, 1949 issue of the Miami Daily News “just a few weeks before her Washington appointment [as Indian ambassador to the US and Mexico] was announced, Syed Hussain was found dead in his corner suite at the famous Shepherd Hotel . . . His intimates there swear he died of a broken heart”.

This is confusing since the site that provided this information also says that Hossain “was made India’s first ambassador to Egypt where he died on February 25, 1949,” and elsewhere it is claimed that he and Pandit eloped and had a child.

While in the United Sates, Hossain became somewhat of celebrity. He was said to be a masterful speaker and he lectured at universities, social clubs, and various international organizations throughout the country on Gandhi and the Indian independence movement.

Much of this information, I culled from an article by Danish Khan entitled “Syud Hossain: India’s Voice For Freedom Abroad.” You can read the entire article at Indian Muslims.

Here is an excerpt from Gandhi: The Saint as Statesman in which Hossain discusses Gandhi’s principle of Ahimsa:

Nonviolence is thus both a principle and an instrument of Gandhi’s technique, but if any Westerner held that nonviolence, in Gandhi’s sense and use of the term, was anything pusillanimous he would make a grievous blunder. There is nothing namby-pamby about Gandhi. He is a spiritual athlete. His is no creed of cowardice . . .

By ruling our hate from his scheme of things Gandhi automatically rejects and repudiates violence or coercion which he regards as merely the instruments which subserve hate.  To him the attainment of any end, however intrinsically laudable it may be in itself, by methods of forcible compulsion, is a gross immorality. For Gandhi emphatically the end does not justify the means . . .

And Gandhi holds it to be the bounden duty of every individual not to acquiesce in or compromise with Evil, but on the contrary, positively to give it battle. But the difference is that Gandhi gives battle to wrong not by retaliatory hate and violence but by love and self-suffering. In other words, it is the practical unvarying application in daily life and to mundane affairs of the spirit embodied in “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” The application, however, is at once retrospective and redemptive.

Perhaps the most distinctive contribution of Gandhi to the ethical idealism of his time is his application of these principles on a scale that is unprecedented, and in a domain where it has never been tried before, namely, the notoriously sanguinary field in which Imperialism and Nationalism deadlock for mutual destruction.

We may now perhaps better realize how the saint came to be also the recognized and undisputed leader of perhaps the greatest national revolutionary movement of history.

Share

The first woman elected to US Congress was a disciple of Gandhi

Speaking of politics:

Today is the birthday of Jeanette Rankin. A life-long pacifist and Suffragette, she was the first female member of the United States Congress and the first woman elected to the House of Representatives in 1916. She was also a Republican (they were different in those days).

Born in 1880, near Missoula, Montana, Rankin graduated from the University of Montana in 1902 and studied at the School of Philanthropy in New York City. She began social work in Seattle, Washington, in 1909 and in subsequent years worked for woman suffrage in Washington, California, and Montana.

One month into her term in the House of Representatives, Congress voted on the resolution to enter World War I. Rankin voted against the resolution and suffered a backlash from not only the press but suffragette groups, who canceled many of her speaking engagements. Despite her anti-war vote, she supported the military draft and participated in Liberty Bond drives.

In 1918, she introduced legislation to provide state and federal funds for health clinics, midwife education, and visiting nurse programs in an effort to reduce the nation’s infant mortality.

Her term as Representative ended in 1919. For the next two decades, she worked as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. for various causes. She worked for legislation to promote maternal and child health as a field secretary for the National Consumers’ League, and campaigned for the Sheppard-Towner Act, the first federal social welfare program created explicitly for women and children. In 1920, she became founding vice president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

In 1929, she wrote,

There can be no compromise with war; it cannot be reformed or controlled; cannot be disciplined into decency or codified into common sense; for war is the slaughter of human beings, temporarily regarded as enemies, on as large a scale as possible.

She was re-elected to the House in 1940, running on an anti-war platform.  She was sixty years old. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Rankin once again voted against going to war. It should be noted that there was huge opposition to entering World War II, even after Pearl Harbor, a fact that is usually left out of most accounts. Republican leaders in Montana pressured Rankin to change her vote, but she remained firm. By 1942, her antiwar stance had become so unpopular that she did not seek re-election.

Rankin’s interest in India dated back to 1917, when she read some books by Lajpat Rai, a pre-Gandhi Indian author and politician. By the time she left Congress for the second time, she had become extremely interested in Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence. In 1946, she traveled to India where she was able to meet with Nehru, but missed an opportunity to see Gandhi, something she always regretted.

By her next visit to India, Gandhi had already been assassinated. She continued to visit the country many times, mainly to study Gandhi’s non-violent civil disobedience methods.

Gandhi was a religious man, he was. But he was what we would call a politician; he knew what you could do and what you couldn’t do with people. He was a psychologist. He was a politician because he knew what you could expect of the common people and what you couldn’t expect of them . . . Gandhi never used the phrase “non-violence” without the word “truth.” Truth and non-violence. He hunted for the truth and the other side gave in . . . Gandhi used spiritual power to solve modern political problems. Without violence, he obtained the independence of India.

In 1968, at the age of 88, she led the Jeannette Rankin Brigade, a peace group numbering 5,000, to Washington to protest the Vietnam War and to present a peace petition to House Speaker John McCormack.

Apparently, when she died in Carmel, California, on May 18, 1973, Jeannette Rankin was contemplating yet another run for Congress.

Jeanette Rankin was a true maverick. Learn more about this remarkable woman at Women in Congress.house.gov

Or rent A Single Woman, the bio-pic on Jeannette Rankin, starring Jeanmarie Simpson, Judd Nelson, and Peter Coyote, along with the voices of Patricia Arquette, Karen Black, Margot Kidder, Elizabeth Peña, and Chandra Wilson.

Share