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.

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