Solutions to Mass Murders: The Lone Wolf Theory, Gun Control and the Buddhist sutra 19

What kind of thoughts were in their minds?

What kind of thoughts were in their minds weeks before losing it?

There is an ongoing public discussion about the nature and origin of the current wave of violence in our society: is it ‘crazy’ people, terrorists, the economy or human nature? Could it be a mix? The view we adopt as a society will show up in the kind of policies the government would enact to reduce violence in our midst; this is not idle chatting.

Content
Of cops, guns and the mind
Our response: not now, please.
They were inclined to it, so are we.
You just photobombed your own selfie
Sutra 19 ‘Two kinds of thoughts’ What is it about?
“’Why don’t I keep dividing my thinking into two sorts?’
Conclusion: ‘lone wolf’ theory produces indifference.


Of cops, guns and the mind

In that public discussion, the government, with the authority emanating from its political power, has the advantage of making its perspective on violence the official version. Through law enforcement and mental health departments it has been disseminating the ‘lone wolf theory’ to explain ‘random’ and ‘unconscionable’ acts of violence, applying it to either individual ‘crazy’ civilian or to the ideological terrorist when politically expedient.

The lone wolf theory has become a ‘one size fits all’ explanation of acts of violence which doesn’t need to be questioned because it is the ‘official’ explanation. We discuss those acts as titillating movie-like drama of ‘planning’, the evil mind at work out of his social context, the act of one rotten person.

Well, I see a crack in the official explanation: people are starting to question it. A “lone wolf” is only a figure of speech. There is no human ‘wolf’, let alone a ‘lone’ human disconnected from society. There is only people we choose to ignore.

Gun control advocates have their own theory of violence: guns are the cause of violence in society. They bring their statistics, comparisons with other nations…They seem to be oblivious of a planet aflame with violence, where women are the #2 highest casualty, second only to animals (e.g., the billions of animals we torture before killing to eat them each day, for lab testing, and for fun, as in the movies – where they are the only real casualties – and hunting).

The Buddhists, for their part, believe that good and evil (cruelty) are, not only expressions of the human nature, but also states of minds of that humanity, inclination of their mind towards them. Their theories of the mind, of impermanence and Dependent Origination, and their meditative practices give them the certainty that it is possible to change those states of mind: everything in this planet and in our existence is impermanent, subject to change and interrelated; and the mind is unruly when unchecked but at the same time pliable and resistant under fire. That is a philosophy of hope, that you can change your mental states for better.

Their goal is reducing the personal and social suffering we inflict on ourselves and others by developing the power of our mind. Powerful meditation techniques and mindfulness can help us reach a level of moral and ethical mental balance that shuns thoughts and acts of hatred and cruelty. No need for government control of your mind for this; it’s all personal.


Our response: not now, please.

But that’s a high climb towards our understanding and solution to the problem of violence. It requires from us a purposive slowing down from our daily mental preoccupation with consumerism to consider why is there so much violence around us, and how do we personally contribute to it. Not now, please, time is gold.

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They were inclined to it, so are we.

Independently of the means used by these mass murderers, at its base, common to all of them is the inclination of their minds BEFORE committing the acts. You can be sure that these criminals were not inclined to thinking in the following terms (who does?):

“Each action with body or mind should be a mirror to reflect whether it leads to my or others’ affliction, or both.” Sutra 61: Advice to Rahula

Can you smell the moral fragrance that emanates from it?

Before focusing on what sutra 19 teaches us, picture this description of what the ‘inclination of the mind’ looks like. The teaching says that everybody ‘s mind is inclined to something:

“Whatever a bhikkhu [person] frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his mind.”

So, there are inclinations of the mind in our leaders at the Pentagon, politicians, soldiers, cops, burn-out workers of all professions and trades, teachers, the mass of the unemployed, happy people, scorned lovers…Happy people don’t tend to kill. But, if you are always thinking about wars and killing hated ‘enemies’ because that’s your job, or about every citizen as a potential criminal because that’s your job as a cop, or about how you are ‘losing’ your ‘white or black privileges’ because you are obsessed with racism, or you are seriously angry at your lover…that’s the direction your mind will go: towards thoughts  of hate and anger, and now you are at risk of acting on those thoughts to ‘liberate’ your mind from the negative passion consuming you. It won’t stop until it is satisfied one way or another: through verbal or physical acts of violence.

He invested a lot of time and thinking on planning that, didn’t he?


You just photobombed your own selfie

Because everybody has a state of mind, anyone could potentially be a mass murderer. All it takes to go on a rampage is a disturbed state of mind, an inclination towards acting to satisfying or calming those thoughts. Even the happy person, who will become unhappy eventually because those moods are never permanent nor consistent (especially with our economy) could potentially become available to the pool of ‘fed up’ people and go on a rampage. “He seemed so happy and had a good future ahead of him” seems to characterize many shooters.

You see, you ARE in that picture I just asked you to mentally take; you just didn’t recognize yourself in it.

That’s the meaning of “that will become the inclination of your mind”, as I see it.

We know that these murderer’s minds were inclined to killing because they were constantly thinking about their particular issue, most of them about race hatred, but mingled with other problems. Now, consider it a fact that there will be more violence like that to come because there will be more people in the ‘fed up’ state of mind due to the many other social problems: lack of jobs, of (mental) health services, racism…

Remember, everything is interrelated. For how long can you keep the ‘lone wolf’ illusion alive before realizing that we all are potential ‘lone wolves’.

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Sutra 19 ‘Two kinds of thoughts’ What is it about?

In that sutra the Buddha explored our inclination to cruelty and a meditation technique to counter that tendency. It is about developing the mental power of awareness of what kind of thoughts our mind is inclined towards in a daily basis so that we control them and not the other way around. One assumption is that the mind is of two natures: unruly when running unchecked, but highly trainable – like a wild horse.

This is my interpretation of the teaching.


“’Why don’t I keep dividing my thinking into two sorts?’”

A: All thoughts could be reduced to two OPPOSING types and both have consequences:
1. Thoughts of sensuality [sensual gratification], ill will, & cruelty:

“This [ sensual, ill will, cruelty, each individually] leads to my own affliction, to the affliction of others, to the affliction of both”.

coyote4

 2. Thoughts of renunciation [of sensuality], thoughts of  non-ill will, and of non-cruelty, the opposite of type 1. They do not harm the self, others or both.

B: Mindfulness

Having made it easy to recognize a thought as either type 1 or 2, he becomes mindful of it:

“I understood thus: ‘This thought of [sensuality, or hatred or cruelty] has arisen in me.”

The act of recognizing the consequences of arisen thoughts of type 1 diminishes their power:

“When I considered: “This leads to my own affliction… [to others and to both]”, “This obstructs wisdom, causes difficulties,...it subsided in me;

This is followed by an act of will power, the decision to not accept nor act on thoughts that are evidently harmful or cruel:

“Whenever a thought of sensual desire [cruelty, ill will] arose in me, I abandoned it, removed it, did away with it.

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C: The lesson in The inclination of the mind: It works!

The lesson derived from the exercise in the sutra is powerful, it needs no paraphrasing:

“Whatever a [person] frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his mind.”

“If he frequently thinks and ponders upon thoughts of ill will…cruelty, he has abandoned the thought of non-cruelty to cultivate the thought of cruelty, and then his mind inclines to thoughts of cruelty.”

There are four lessons I learned from this sutra:

  1. There IS a thing called “inclination of the mind”.
  2. Whichever way it goes, it will affect the person and the society at large.
  3. Every thought has its opposite: easy to find the ‘medication’ for bad thoughts. Having ill-will thoughts? Think about loving or caring thoughts for the self, others or both (‘do I want to go to prison and be hated, or do I want to be free?’ Is the act I’m about to commit fair to those who are innocent but will suffer from it?’)
  4. The sutra pursues developing a moral and ethical inclination of the mind: for the benefit of BOTH the personal and the society in which s/he lives.

I practiced this mindfulness exercise when I was angry at someone and it worked! It takes my mind away from hurtful feelings, not by ignoring them but by being mindful of them and changing them. But it requires a want, mental energy and a will to practice this technique under its moral foundations daily.

Conclusion: ‘lone wolf’ theory produces indifference.

Gun control laws may be part of the solution to the problem of violence in society, but it is not its origin. As for the government’s response…One useful Buddhist teaching is that indifference is at the root of the tree of personal and social suffering. The officialdom’s  ‘lone wolf theory’ is one of indifference, it tells us ‘move along, there’s nothing else to see here; it was just some crazy person’.

The origin of this persistent violence in our midst is in our minds, in the persistent and excessive wanting, in the greed that siphons financial resources away from the reach of the many causing social distress which in turn becomes anger, cruelty and brutality towards the self and others. The solution is right there too, in a personal change of mind that will guide our intentions and priorities. The rest of the world will feel the change, eventually.

It takes time to learn and practice this, and not everybody has the ability or desire to do it, but some is better than none. The art consists in learning to recognize the thought behind the impending act on the fly and turning it around if it is negative.

You will not become a shooter if you embrace this sutra.

This is a summary of Sutra 19, but read the whole thing in the book.

“Monks, before my self-awakening, when I was still just an unawakened Bodhisatta, the thought occurred to me: ‘Why don’t I keep dividing my thinking into two sorts?’
“I set on one side thoughts of sensual desire, thoughts of ill will, and thoughts of cruelty, and I set on the other side thoughts of renunciation, thoughts of non-ill will, and thoughts of non-cruelty.”
“When a thought of [type 1] sensual desire…ill will…cruelty arouse in me, I understood thus: ‘This thought of [apply to each one individually] has arisen in me.
When I considered: “This leads to my own affliction”, it subsided in me; when I considered: “this leads to the affliction of others”, it subsided in me; when I considered: “this leads to the affliction of both”, it subsided in me; when I considered: “This obstructs wisdom, causes difficulties, and leads away from Nirvana”, it subsided in me. Whenever a thought of sensual desire [cruelty, ill will] arose in me, I abandoned it, removed it, did away with it.”

“Whatever a bhikkhu frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his mind.”
“If he frequently thinks and ponders upon thoughts of ill will…cruelty, he has abandoned the thought of non-cruelty to cultivate the thought of cruelty, and then his mind inclines to thoughts of cruelty.”

The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, Trans. of the Majjhima Nikaya by Bhikkhu Ñanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom Publications, Boston, Mass. (1995)

NOTE: I used the 1995 edition, I prefer its translation over later editions.

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One Response to Solutions to Mass Murders: The Lone Wolf Theory, Gun Control and the Buddhist sutra 19

  1. Pingback: Solutions to Mass Murders: The Lone Wolf Theory, Gun Control and the Buddhist sutra 19 | the citywide mental health project

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