Under the Right Conditions... (Part 1)

In December the small town of Newtown Connecticut became all of a sudden very well known, but for all the wrong reason. I don’t need to go into what happened there, because everyone knows. There are many aspects of what happened there that, from a Buddhist point of view, I could talk about. But without going on about such a tragedy I will talk about one point in particular. After the killings people from various religions were interviewed by television stations. Priests were at a loss to explain what made someone do such a thing. How could their religion explain this? The answer is that it couldn’t. Not knowing what else to say, people threw out the word ‘evil’ to explain the person behind the crimes. I also heard this word being used by supporters of guns rights. On the other hand people who support gun control would say the killer was ‘sick’ or ‘deranged’, indicating some kind of illness. I go along with this belief. This man must have had some kind of mental illness to be able to inflict such damage. To me saying he was ‘evil’ was an excuse, or an excuse for not having an answer. For those who are pro gun rights, saying that the killer was ‘evil’ is a way of protecting their right to own guns, because they know that since such a mass shooting of children is rare, therefore ‘evil people’ are also rare, so guns cannot be blamed. “Guns don’t kill. It’s the people who use the guns, that kill” has been bandied about frequently. It seems this is a convenient way to explain the killer, Adam Lanza.

But doesn’t this explanation of ‘evil’ agree with the Buddhist perspective of human beings? And since I am a Shinran follower, should I agree with this explanation? Master Shinran said about himself, “My evil nature knows no end” after his true self was revealed to him. Since I am a Shinran follower, wouldn’t it make sense that I agree with people when they say that the reason why this person committed this murder was because he was ‘evil’? Logically it would seem so, but it is not so simple, and Shinran’s statement requires an explanation.

For someone to come out and say such and such a person is ‘evil’ is a statement based on a matter of convenience. It is human judgment. Buddhism explains this in the metaphor of the three mirrors. It explains that we see ourselves through ‘mirrors’. The first is the mirror of Others; the second is the mirror of the Self, and the third is the mirror of Buddha. It is explained that only the mirror of Buddha can be relied upon because the other two have the following flaws: The mirror of Others is based on convenience. We label someone ‘good’ when they are convenient to us, and ‘bad’ when they are an inconvenience. This explains why people who support gun rights label the killer as ‘evil’ to explain his actions. The mirror of Self is flawed because of human conceit. We can’t see ourselves in a bad light. Even if we do see something bad about ourselves, we take pride in being able to see bad in us. However, the mirror of Buddha is completely different. This mirror is based not on human perception, but on the wisdom of Buddha. In his Letters Master Rennyo wrote that the Buddhas of the universe abandoned all people because our evil was too heavy for us to be saved. However, because of our conceit we are unable to see this nature of ours. The only way for us to see it is to have our minds illuminated by the power of Amida’s light. In an instant, when our darkness of mind is eliminated, our true self is revealed for the first time and this knowledge remains with us till we die. It is only when our mind is revealed with this knowledge that we can truly say that we are ‘evil’. Everything else before that is human conceit or convenience.

To be continued...

Frank Costelloe, USA

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #24 | 2013, Under the Right Conditions... (Part 1)

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