The past week has seen four tragic massacres:
The Navy Yard shooting; the Kenya Mall torture, murder and mutilation, the Pakistani Church bloodbath and the Boko Haram anti-Christian pogrom.
Regrettably, anti-Buddhist propagandists are trying to link these together as religiously motivated terrorist attacks in an attempt at guilt by association in order to smear Buddhism
The influential Roman Catholic writer George Neumayr wrote:
"Joseph Ratzinger called popular versions of Buddhism “autoerotic spirituality” that offer “transcendence without imposing concrete religious obligations.” He boldly predicted that “Buddhism would replace Marxism as the church’s biggest foe by 2000.” He was wrong on that score — Islam proved the bigger threat by that year — but he had a point: as a more cushy false religion than Islam, Buddhism was sure to snatch more western souls over time.
In Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Pope John Paul II said that “Buddhism is in large measure an atheistic system” and tends to make people indifferent, not holy.
“The ‘enlightenment’ experienced by Buddha comes down to the conviction that the world is bad, that it is the source of evil and of suffering for man. To liberate oneself from this evil, one must free oneself from this world, necessitating a break with the ties that join us to external realities existing in our human nature, in our psyche, in our bodies,” he said. “The more we are liberated from these ties, the more we become indifferent to what is in the world, and the more we are freed from suffering, from the evil that has its source in the world. Do we draw near to God in this way? This is not mentioned in the ‘enlightenment’ conveyed by Buddha.”
So what does any of this have to do with Aaron Alexis? More than one might think. CNN, among other media outlets, expressed shock that a Buddhist like Alexis could be responsible for the Navy Yard massacre. “When I learned he was a practicing Buddhist, when I learned he spent so much time vacationing in Thailand, it was not the profile of who I expect to pick up a weapon and kill 12,” offered CNN host Ashleigh Banfield. Fellow anchor Chris Cuomo chipped in that “You know, it is a very defined philosophy. And being someone who has a violent tendency and appetites does not square with the philosophy involved there.”
Their prattle assumed that Buddhism is a religion of peace and rationality. But if one follows the argument of John Paul II that it violates human nature and denies God, one can see that it is really not.
While far less flagrantly violent than Islam, Buddhism is plenty capable of more subtle forms of it. What other religion, for example, produces monks who set themselves on fire? A religion that permits self-immolation is not a religion of peace.
Besides ignoring the violent strands of Buddhism in Thailand — where clashes with Muslims occur regularly — Banfield, in clinging to her Oprah-like understanding of it, failed to engage the solipsistic and negative character of the religion, which would appeal to a self-centered fiend like Alexis."
In seeking to conflate Buddhism with terrorism, Mr Neumayr has ignored the following facts.
(1) Alexis was a paranoid schizophrenic ('self-centered fiend' in Mr Mr Neumayr's diagnosis) before he came into contact with Buddhism, whereas jihadist terrorists become mentally ill as a result of their religion.
(2) It is likely that Alexis had turned to Buddhism in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to control his paranoia demons, whereas jihadists are drawn to their religion as a divinely legitimized outlet for their aggression and lust.
(3) His actions go completely against the tenets of Buddhism, which forbid killing. In contrast, the Jihadists were acting in total accord with their religion, which encourages and rewards the murder of infidels.
(4) Alexis was a complete loner, acting in isolation with no support or encouragement from any part of the Buddhist community. The jihadists, in contrast, acted as organized gangs having wide and deep support among their faith community.
(5) Alexis shot randomly, whereas the Kenyan, Pakistani and Boko Haram attacks were all aimed specifically at at non-Muslims.
(6) Alexis' aim was simply to kill, whereas jihadists usually seek to mutilate, humiliate and degrade their victims before they kill them, often by sexual violation.
(7) Buddhism has no use for terrorism, whereas Jihadism can't survive without it. Jihadism is so morally repulsive and intellectually moribund that it cannot compete for followers in a free marketplace of ideas, but must eliminate its competitors and retain its adherents by intimidation, thuggery and outright terrorism.
Although outwardly Jihadism gives the impression of being a hard, aggressive, macho warrior-cult; this bullying belligerance and bluster is a sign of weakness rather than strength. Jihadists show by their behavior that they are insecure in their beliefs, probably because subconsciously they suspect that their cult is nothing more than a scam founded by a child-molesting confidence trickster. Anything that activates these repressed doubts, including the mere existence of competing religions, will provoke murderous rage.
On the other hand, Buddhism has a system of ethics based on compassion for all sentient beings, it is founded on a secure rational philosophy, and is well able to compete in the modern global intellectual marketplace.
Buddhism and mental illness
The lesson for Buddhist sangha from the Navy Yard shootings is that extremely disturbed people may from time to time turn up at Buddhist meditation meetings seeking help with psychological problems, which are so severe that they can only be treated medically.
Meditation is very effective for some mental disorders, such as depression, but it cannot overcome severe disruptions of brain biochemistry, anymore than it could counteract the symptoms of drunkenness in someone who had just downed a bottle of whisky.
The brain is an organ which has evolved to project a deluded view of the world onto the mind, and when its biochemistry malfunctions, that view becomes even more deluded.