Vol:V Number: 4
By Gene Reeves
The magnitude of what happened in the United States on Tuesday, September 11, is beyond imagination. Thousands of people are still missing, more than ten thousand were injured and hundreds of thousands were directly affected. We do not yet know the exact number of victims.
of this horrible act of terrorism, there are children returning home to
no parents, parents going to bed knowing their children are probably dead,
wives and husbands returning home to no spouse, friends dead, friends missing,
friends in grief.
dead are not only Americans but people of more than 30 countries. All of
us are related to these people in a variety ways. Some of us will discover
in coming weeks that people who have been close to us died in this tragic
response was predictable—disbelief, shock, grief, fear, sadness, anger,
even hatred. All are forms of suffering.
Americans, at least, now feel more vulnerable, no longer safe, feel as
though their home is no long a place of safety. Although Pearl Harbor was
attacked by the Japanese in 1941, it is in Hawaii, a long way from North
America. The United States mainland has not been attacked for nearly
in human, or Western, nature there seems to be a need for revenge, retaliation,
striking back, inflicting pain and punishment on those who have offended
or wronged us. This is usually called "justice." In America, the "criminal
justice system" is for the purpose of punishing criminals, as a way of
It is likely, however, that Tuesday's terrorists believed deeply that they were working for justice, giving their own lives for what they believed to be justice. One of the saddest things to see on television news was of some people in Palestine cheering the attacks on the World Trade Center buildings and Pentagon. What was in their experience that led them to such a reaction to the killing of thousands of innocent people?
others want to punish Arabs, or even Muslims, everywhere as potential "terrorists,"
and bomb the extremely poor country and people of Afghanistan into oblivion.
Too often this is the nature of "justice." An eye for an eye, says the
Bible. Justice looks back to correct wrongs or get even by inflicting punishment.
These days, religious people all over the world are being encouraged to
subscribe to Western notions of the "justice."
is not, however, the Buddhist way. Buddhists are asked, even in the midst
of enormous suffering, to look back in order better to understand the causes
and conditions giving rise to suffering. They have to ask not only who,
Buddhists are also asked to try to look forward—asking for, seeking for,
a way ahead, a better world, a world of peace. Not to right the wrong,
but to create the good.
creates both a challenge and a problem for Buddhists. The problem is how
there can be peace in a world in which so many seek justice through punishment
and retaliation, people who have no interest in causes or reasons, only
in striking back. It is clear that Buddhists have an enormous healing ministry
terrible attacks on America and the cries for violent retaliation remind
me of the story of Devadatta. Devadatta, the cousin of Shakyamuni
and older brother of Ananda, was known throughout the Buddhist world as
the embodiment of evil, almost as a kind of devil. He told lies about Shakyamuni
and tried to kill the Buddha several times, once by arranging for hired
assassins, once by releasing a mad or drunken elephant to charge at the
Buddha, another time by trying to poison him, once by shooting at him with
an arrow, and later by pushing a rock off a mountain down toward the Buddha,
where a fragment cut the Buddha's foot. When the Buddha refused to make
him the head of the sangha, Devadatta tried to split the community of monks
by starting his own movement. Perhaps his most infamous act was to inspire
Ajatashatru to imprison and kill his father, King Bimbisara of Magadha,
and usurp the throne. Old texts say that Devadatta was so evil that he
was reborn in complete suffering in the deepest hell. Many Buddhists at
least could not imagine anyone being more evil than Devadatta.
Lotus Sutra, however, says nothing at all about the wickedness of Devadatta.
Instead, he is thanked for teaching Shakyamuni. The beginning of the chapter
Buddha is a story about a former life of Shakyamuni in which he was a king
who learned the dharma from a wise man, a wise man who was Devadatta in
a former life. Because of Devadatta, the king could become enlightened
and became the Buddha. Thanking him, Shakyamuni announced that in a future
age Devadatta too would become a Buddha.In a sense, the Buddha says to
Devadatta, "Thanks a lot; despite everything, I've learned a lot from you;
and you too are a bodhisattva on the way to becoming a Buddha."
is impossible now for us to be thankful for Tuesday's devastation.
The tragedy and loss is too great, but we can learn from it.
might learn that violence produces more violence. Retaliation does not
cut the chain of violent retribution. We might learn that we should look
into the causes and conditions creating the attitudes that enable someone
to kill thousands of innocent people, along with oneself. The terrorists
obviously were not pursuing their own selfish interests or desires. They
apparently thought they were doing justice. If we are to work to create
a better future we need to understand their motivation.
Americans might learn that great profits from arms sales to Israel and
others may not be so profitable after all. Selling weapons has been a big
business for the United States.
optimistic we may have been, we should have learned that the way to peace
is a long and difficult one. Maybe Wonderful Voice Bodhisattva in Chapter
24 of the Lotus Sutra was correct when he asked Shakyamuni Buddha about
people of this world:
your ailments and troubles few? Is your daily life and practice going smoothly?
... Are the affairs of the world tolerable? Are the living beings easy
to save? Are they not excessively greedy, angry, foolish, jealous and arrogant?
.... Don't they have wrong views and inadequate goodness? Are they not
unrestrained in their five emotions?"
want to conclude by suggesting four things Buddhists can do now in response
to this tragedy.
of all, we can express sympathy through prayers, meditation, chanting,
and dialogue—sympathy for the victims, their friends and loved ones; sympathy
for those who have worked so hard to rescue or treat or comfort victims;
and sympathy, too, for those who are now and will suffer from acts of vengeful
we can reflect on what contributed to Tuesday's tragedy. We might ask ourselves,
for example, whether American policies on the Middle East contributed to
we need to work to spread the Dharma. Too few Buddhist voices are being
heard in America today. Buddhism is becoming more and more popular in the
West, but since the attacks I haven't heard a single Buddhist voice on
American television or radio.
Finally, we might cooperate with those who seek peace. Many Christians, Muslims, and Jews are, in a sense, practicing Buddha-dharma without knowing it. Through a variety of international agencies we can try to support them, encourage them in many ways. The same Bible that says "an eye for an eye" also says "turn the other cheek." We need to join the peacemakers of every religious tradition, promoting interfaith cooperation and encouraging them to work together to build a more peaceful world.
means one who seeks to be enlightened by working for others. But another
meaning of "bodhisattva" is one from whom we can learn, just as Shakyamuni
learned from Devadatta. May Tuesday's tragedy be Tuesday's bodhisattva
for all of us?
Gene Reeves, a UU minister and former head of the UU-related Meadville/Lombard
Theological School at the University of Chicago, is the International Advisor
and regular dharma preacher for Rissho Kosei-kai's International Buddhist
Congregation (IBC) in Tokyo, Japan. The IBC is a new and unique organization,
recently created to
serve the needs of people in the Tokyo area who would like to study and practice Buddhism in English. It holds weekly services and classes based largely on the Lotus Sutra.
by Jeff Wilson
Happy Halloween to our readers! As the air turns chill and shadows lengthen, UU Sangha turns to an exploration of the dark side of life. Buddhism abounds with tales of monsters, serial killers, ravenous ghosts, and visions of the infernal regions. While modern Unitarian-Universalists aren’t likely to take a literal approach to such things, there are still lessons to be learned from these old stories and metaphors for the evil that we find in the world.
We begin with a look at real life evil in all its horror, as Gene Reeves reacts to the terrible events of 9/11. In the weeks following the attacks we have all been struggling with a new immediacy to dukkha and impermanence. Drawing on the wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, which proclaims the Buddha-nature of even the worst criminals of our world, we are offered some thoughts on how we might process these events from a Buddhist approach and respond appropriately. Holding to the UU affirmation of the inherent dignity and worth of all people, how might we grapple with the murder of thousands of innocent civilians?
This issue also contains a couple of traditional Buddhist stories dealing with cannibalism and the supernatural, retold by modern commentators. While such motifs provide a frisson of fear that can be fun in the October season, such stories in Buddhism usually act as bearers of imbedded messages, as these two examples demonstrate.
Finally, we’ll be
accepting submissions for the next issue, due in January, until New Year’s
Day. In honor of the end of what looks now to be a very bleak year
and hope for a better one to come, the next issue’s theme will revolve
around the concept of rebirth. If you have any thoughts on rebirth,
or any poetry, artwork, or other contribution, you’re encouraged to submit
them. What is a UU perspective on this ancient—and for some people
obsolete—pillar of Buddhism? Off-topic submissions are also entirely
welcome. Please send all submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I consider no power, brethren, so hard to subdue as the power of Mara.”
Confronting the existence of evil is a basic concern for all religions, and yet there is a widespread misperception in the West that because Buddhism does not set up rigid categories of ultimate good and evil, but instead focuses on context and intention, that it is fairly silent on the issue of evil. This perception is further strengthened by the Buddha’s heavier focus on discovering the mysteries of the inner world of the mind, rather than the regulation of specific external human behaviors.
Mythology and drama are devices frequently used in Buddhism to communicate key concepts. This skillful means finds its expression in the stories surrounding the Buddhist personification of evil, known as Mara (literally, “Death” or “Murder”), and the infernal regions into which evildoers may fall. Many Westerners are largely ignorant of the existence and significance of the hell regions in traditional orthodox Buddhist thought. Beyond the usual difficulties of translating a foreign tradition into a new cultural consciousness, this may be due to the fact that many people come to Buddhism out of relinquished faiths which emphasize the judging, damning aspects of a literal place called Hell. This is probably especially true of UU Buddhists. Scarred by early negative experiences, such people may be reluctant to look into the Buddhist idea of Hell or even to acknowledge its existence. But this understandable hesitation nonetheless robs Western Buddhists of an important element of the Buddha’s religion, cutting them off from a set of useful teachings that are psychologically and spiritually insightful, as well as a rich store of folklore. When placed in their proper position amongst the myriad Buddhist teachings of wisdom, compassion, relativity, and rationality, the Buddhist teachings on the nature of evil and its punishments buttress the other, more familiar, Buddhist doctrines.
Evil is seen in Buddhist thought as a secondary effect of ignorance, rather than something self-existent and eternal. According to the doctrine of the twelve interdependent links of causation, ignorance gives rise to attachment, and attachment brings about the poisons of greed and hatred; attachment is the cause of birth and therefore death. Death is personified in Buddhist mythology as Mara, the Evil One, who is best known as the antagonist in the drama of the Buddha’s Enlightenment.
As the Bodhisattva Siddhartha Gautama, the future Buddha, sat in meditation beneath the Bodhi Tree, the god Mara looked down from his place in the heavens and became alarmed. Unlike Satan, the evil tempter of Christianity and Islam, Mara does not reside in the hell regions, but in the divine realms, where he is the lord of the sixth heaven of the realm of desire. There he rules over all beings that are caught in ignorance and disregard the truths of impermanence, non-self, and suffering. He is a jealous overlord, and when he saw that a new Buddha was about to be born to preach the way of escape from the cycle of Samsara, he gathered his army of demons and angry gods and charged forth to do battle against the future Buddha.
First Mara called upon the Bodhisattva to abandon his meditation because it was an unfit activity for members of the warrior caste, into which Siddhartha was born. Thus Mara revealed himself as an apologist for the ancient Brahman orthodoxy of India, which sought to mollify death by offering sacrifices and which kept beings within his realm of power by promising them rebirth in the realm of the gods. As anything that Mara proposes is sure to be of an evil nature, this suggests the immorality of both the caste system and any artificial separation of humanity into higher and lower categories and classes.
Having defeated Mara—that is, having dispelled ignorance and overcome the last traces of evil—Siddhartha proceeded deeper into his meditation and soon became the Buddha.
Mara is a being unique to Buddhism—he has no true equivalent in the Hindu system. He is described as having four aspects. The first is Aggregate Mara. The aggregates are the five constituents of personality- form, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness. In the Samyutta Nikaya, the Buddha proclaims, “What is this Mara? Form is Mara. . . Feeling is Mara. . . Perception is Mara. . . Mental Formations are Mara. . . Consciousness is Mara. . . With regard to this Mara, you should overcome your longing.” The aggregates have Mara-nature because they are impermanent, and thus subject to death (Mara). Attachment to them prevents enlightenment.
Mara’s second aspect is as Defilement Mara. The defilements are essentially the same as Mara’s army—they are the powers by which Mara influences sentient beings to remain within his realm of endless suffering and desire. They act upon the aggregates, ensuring ignorant beings’ rebirth, and thus eventually bringing about Mara’s third aspect as Death Mara.
Mara’s ultimate aspect is God Mara, who contains the other three aspects within him. Mara is the lord of illusion—he is often pictured as having a hundred or a thousand arms and can assume any shape he wishes in order to lead people away from the path to enlightenment. He is really only perceptible as the deity Mara to those with deep insight—those without it are fooled by his myriad disguises. At first beings fail to see Mara because he hides behind the veil of illusion, which they are caught in due to their greed, anger, and delusion. Then as practitioners progress away from him, he begins to emerge and demonstrate his power in an effort to dissuade them. But when they see through him, they defeat him and escape him, and he melts back into nothingness. Psychologically, this is true as well. If Mara is the mind and its components, then beings exist in a hell-state of ignorance, until they hear the Dharma and begin to work on themselves. Then their true state is thrown into dramatic relief, and they must work diligently against it. So Mara’s forces are religiously symbolized as a host of demons, but psychologically revealed as disturbed mental states. When those hosts are defeated by Buddhist practice Mara loses once more.
After his enlightenment the Buddha encountered Mara many times, and was able to defeat him immediately by proclaiming that he recognized Mara and thus couldn’t be fooled by his tricks. It should be pointed out that Mara does not create the world of illusion, he merely mistakes it for the best possible existence. Also, Mara is a sort of celestial position or occupation, not a specific, eternal entity. In the Maratajjaniya Sutta, Moggallana, one of the Buddha’s most advanced disciples, is possessed by Mara. After calling out that he recognizes Mara, and thus dispelling the Evil One’s power over him, Moggallana goes on to relate how he himself was once the Mara in a previous lifetime. This reveals two important aspects of Mara— like all sentient beings, he is temporary and must die, and furthermore, after paying for the evil karma he has accumulated, he can eventually become a saint and even attain Nirvana. Even Mara, the lord of evil himself, is not fundamentally evil at root. Acting on his own (short-sighted) self-interest, he seeks to keep people trapped in his realm where he can rule over them and receive offerings. He does not realize that all he has is impermanent and he will die one day, to be reborn in a hell for many eons, tortured for his sins. And another ignorant being will take his place, believing himself to be the world-ruler, unaware of the countless other Maras who came before him and the evil karma he is creating for himself.
This possibility of redemption for the personification of evil is an important Buddhist teaching. Evil is evil, but it is not self-existent. Furthermore, though they manifest evil thoughts and actions at times, the fundamental base of sentient beings is goodness. The Buddha said, “This mind is pure and self-luminous in its nature, but it is stained by adventitious defilements.” Evil results from ignorance, and all unenlightened beings have this ignorance to some extent, from the most heinous criminals to the most revered human saints. As such, we can see the potential roots of evil in ourselves and feel some compassion for those compelled to do evil by their karma. Furthermore, the other two poisons, greed and hatred, spring from ignorance, and they are the primary motivations for evil behavior. Thus evil is an effect, not a cause—it is a response born from ignorance and cleansed by the twin lights of wisdom and compassion. And just as the evil symbolically represented as Mara passes away and can eventually be turned into goodness, so too the evil mental states we find in ourselves can be worked on and transformed into wisdom, compassion, and bliss. Evil is thus a challenge and a learning experience which can help the practitioner on the path to enlightenment.
Jeff Wilson is the Editor of UU Sangha and a columnist for Tricycle: The Buddhist Review He lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
“This is my dinner, you go find your own!” the smaller ghost commanded.
“Give me that morsel right now, this is my territory and I’m hungry!” roared the larger ghost.
Revata thought about trying to get away before they noticed him, but he was shaking so hard his teeth started chattering together. The ghosts looked over and saw him sitting there alone. “Hey, let’s get that human to decide who should eat it,” the ghosts said.
“No matter which ghosts I decide should be able to eat the corpse, the other will surely harm me,” Revata thought as the ghastly things crept closer. “Therefore I'll just tell the truth and accept my fate.”
“So, human, who should be allowed to eat this tasty treat?” the larger ghost demanded.
Revata looked at the two frightening ghouls and sighed. “Since you are carrying the corpse,” he said to the smaller ghost, “I think it must be yours and that you should be allowed to eat it.”
“What?!” the larger ghost shrieked. “Why, I’ll show you!” The big ghost ripped off Revata’s arms and ate them, crunching the bones loudly and smacking his lips. The smaller ghost felt sorry for Revata and replaced his missing arms with those of the corpse. Then the big ghost pulled off Revata'’ legs and devoured them. So the little ghost replaced them with the corpse’s legs. The Big ghost bit off Revata’s head and swallowed it. The little ghost replaced it with the head of the corpse. This went on until the big ghost was full. Then he let out a tremendous burp and crawled away, picking at his teeth with his sharp yellow claws. Seeing that his meal was now ruined, the smaller ghost took off to find something to eat.
Revata was understandably in a state of panic! “Whose body do I have now?” he wondered. “This isn’t my original body, and yet it isn’t anyone else’s body either. It responds to my commands. Who am I?”
In a daze, he picked himself up and wandered down the road. As day broke he came to a village. Revata wandered from person to person, asking “Who am I? Is this really my body?” Everyone looked at him in bewilderment. Finally Revata encountered another monk, much older and wiser. Hearing Revata’s plaintive questions, he decided that Revata needed to seek the Buddha’s wisdom. He took the frightened monk by the hand and led him to the Buddha.
Revata approached the Buddha, bowed, and blurted out, “What is this body? Who does it belong to?”
The Buddha replied, “This body is the remains of another person. It is not really yours.” When Revata heard that straightforward answer, he achieved enlightenment.
“What is it that you have now realized?” the Buddha asked him.
Revata said, “I see that in this world, the bodies of people are really the remains of their parents, the remains of all things, not our own possessions.”
“Indeed you are enlightened,” the Buddha said. “Therefore I give you a new name: Empirical Body.”
One day, the King of Alavi went hunting for deer in the jungle when Alavaka caught him. The king begged to be released, but in return for his freedom he had to send one person every day into the jungle as offering for Alavaka.
Every day a prisoner would be sent into the forest with a plate of rice. He was told that to gain freedom he had to go to a certain tree, leave the plate there and he could go free. At first many prisoners volunteered to go on that ‘simple’ mission. But as the days went by and no one returned to tell the other prisoners what had happened, the prisoners were forced each day to go into the forest.
Soon the prison became empty. How was the king to fulfill his promise of sending a person each day to be eaten by the Demon? His ministers advised him to drop packets of gold in the streets. Those found picking the packets would be caught as thieves and sent to Alavaka. When the word got around, nobody dared to pick up the packets. As a last resort, the king started catching children for offering. The terrified subjects fled the city, leaving it deserted. There was only one more boy left—and he was the king’s son. With much reluctance, the king ordered that the prince should be sent to Alavaka the following morning.
That day, the Buddha happened to be near the city. When he surveyed the world with his Divine Eye that morning, he saw what was going to happen. Out of compassion for the king, the prince and Alavaka, the Buddha traveled the whole day to the Demon's cave and in the evening he arrived at the entrance of the cave.
The Demon was away in the mountains, and the Buddha asked the gatekeeper if he could spend a night at the cave. When the gatekeeper had gone to inform his master about the request, the Buddha went into the cave, sat on the seat of the Demon and preached the Dhamma to his wives.
When the Demon heard what had happened from his servant, he hurried home, very angry. With his extraordinary power, he created a terrifying thunderstorm which shook and lighted up the forest with thunder, lightening, wind and rain. But the Buddha was unafraid.
Alavaka then attacked the Buddha by throwing his spear and club at him, but before the weapons could touch him, they fell at the feet of the Blessed One.
Unable to frighten the Buddha, Alavaka asked: “Is it right that you, a holy man, should enter and sit amongst his wives when the owner of the house is away?”
At this, the Buddha got up to leave the cave. Alavaka thought, “What a fool I am to have wasted my energy trying to frighten this ascetic.” So he asked the Buddha to enter the cave again. The Demon ordered the Buddha three times to get out and three times to enter the cave with the hope that he could kill the Buddha with fatigue. Each time the Buddha did as he was ordered. But when the Demon asked the Buddha to leave for the fourth time, the Buddha refused to do so, and said, “I’m not going to obey you, Alavaka. Do whatever you can but I’m going to remain here.”
Unable to force the Buddha to do what he wanted, Alavaka changed his tactics and said, “I will ask you some questions. If you can’t answer I’ll split your heart, kill you and throw you over to the other side of the river.”
The Buddha told him calmly, “There is no one, Alavaka, whether man or deva, ascetic, brahma or brahmin who can do such things to me. But if you want to ask anything, you may do so.”
Alavaka asked some questions, which he learned from his parents who had, in turn, learned them from their parents. He had forgotten the answers, but he had preserved the questions by writing them on gold leaves. The questions were:
“What is the greatest wealth for a man?
What brings the highest bliss when well
What is the sweetest of all tastes?
Which is the best way of life?”
The Buddha answered: “The greatest wealth for a man is confidence. The true doctrine when well mastered brings the highest bliss. The sweetest taste is truth. Wise living is the decent way of life.”
Alavaka asked many more questions all of which the Buddha answered. The final question was: “Passing from this world to the next, how does one not grieve?”
The Buddha's reply was: “He who possesses these four virtues—truthfulness, good morals, courage and generosity—grieves not after passing away.”
Understanding the meaning of the Buddha’s words, Alavaka said, “Now I know what is the secret of my future welfare. It is for my own welfare and good that the Buddha came to Alavi.” Alavaka prostrated before the Buddha and begged to be accepted as a disciple.
The next morning when the officers of Alavi came with the king’s young son, they were surprised at the sight of the Buddha preaching to Alavaka who was listening attentively to the sermon. When the boy was handed to Alavaka, he was ashamed of himself to receive the boy as an offering. Instead he stroked the boy on the head, kissed him and handed him over to the officers. After that the Buddha blessed the child and Alavaka.
Indeed, the conversion of Alavaka the cannibal showed how the Buddha,
with his great wisdom and compassion, could tame a savage and change him
into a gentle disciple.
Venerable Pannyavaro is a Theravadin monk in Australia and the webmaster
of BuddhaNet (www.buddhanet.org.au), an enormous resource of Buddhist texts
and teachings on the World Wide Web.
At the recent Tricycle Magazine-hosted Conference: “Buddhism In America: Does It Make a Difference?” I attended Tara Brach’s workshop on “Self-Aversion and Radical Self Acceptance.” She has us do an exercise with a partner, where we got into a meditative state and then one person would repeatedly ask the question: “What is wrong with accepting yourself just as you are?” and the other person had to repeatedly answer it.
This started out as a negative experience for me because I was the only person who could not find a partner, and I felt hurt and rejected. Fortunately however, a woman came in late and turned out to be the perfect partner for me. To make a long story short, as I meditated on accepting myself, I experienced a great deal of anxiety (even an actual physical tension in my stomach and throat). Then I remembered Jan Willis’s (a Tibetan Buddhist teacher and Professor at Wesleyan University) story from the Keynote address earlier that day about how when anger had overcome her, her teacher Lama Yeshe had told her that sometimes she just had to say to herself: “Buddha’s mind is angry today.” So I said to myself “Buddha’s mind is anxious today.” And in that moment, my heart opened up a little bit, and I felt a little bit of self-acceptance and some hope that this teaching really could help me accept myself.
The Buddhist teaching is that we all have “Buddha-nature” (“a spark of the divine” in other eastern religious traditions). So, if my mind is anxious, then, the Buddha's mind is, in fact, anxious today. It seems that the concepts of low self-esteem and self-hatred may be unique to Western culture. According to Ms. Brach and Ms. Willis, in one of his first dialogues with Westerners, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was confused by these concepts and evidently his translators could find no parallel terms in Tibetan! Personally, I find Lama Yeshe’s idea of identifying one’s own mind with the Buddha’s, or with the divine, quite liberating.
Patrick Bruckart is a member of the UU Community Church of Glen Allen, Virginia. He is a newcomer to Buddhism, has been studying it for several years, and currently practices in the Tibetan tradition with the Kagyu Shenpen Tharchin group at Ekoji Buddhist Sangha in Richmond, Virginia.
by Maria Shine Stewart
My son and I have a game.
is the loser.
In kids’ eyes,
we once again
Maria Shine Stewart is a member of UU Church of the Larger Fellowship and a co-manager of the CLF-L electronic list.