A Zen Master Comments on Newtown

Brad Warner, a Zen master in the Soto lineage, is a relatively new voice and one of my favorite Zen teachers, not least because he became a Zen master and teacher almost by accident — he studied with his direct Zen ancestor, Gudo Nijishima Roshi, because he was crazy for Japanese monster movies and was working for the company that makes Godzilla movies in Japan. Perhaps because of that, he doesn’t “stink of Buddhism” as many more traditional Zen teachers in the US do.  He wrote about the Newtown murders, saying:


The media loves this kind of stuff. It’s terrific for ratings. A shooting at an elementary school around Christmas-time has got to be like a godsend for the news media. They’re going to milk it for all that it’s worth.

When that happens, we are shown a steady stream of images designed specifically to excite us and enhance whatever feelings of fear, grief, outrage, horror and so on that come up when things like this happen. It presents to us a consensus of what we supposedly ought to be feeling. Those of us who don’t feel the way the media is saying we ought to can often start to believe there’s something wrong with us. But that’s not true. It’s OK to feel however you feel about this.

As far as making sense of this tragedy, I think that might be impossible. Human beings often do things that are simply irrational and without any real sense. We’re driven by powerful forces that we cannot ever fully comprehend. In Buddhism we identify greed, hate and delusion as the three categories of things that drive us to do wrong. Once a month on the full moon people living at Zen monasteries gather together and chant, “All my ancient twisted karma, from beginningless greed, hate and delusion, born through body, speech and mind, I now fully avow.”

We all have greed, hate and delusion. The kid who shot those children wasn’t so different from us. But he failed to understand that the best way to deal with this is to refrain from doing wrong. In Buddhism we value refraining from doing wrong much more highly than doing right.


Buddhists think about Avalokitesvara, “the Bodhisattva who hears cries”, also known in China as Guanyin, and in Japan as Kannon, at these times.

One mantra associated with Her is the one most people hear of most often: om mani padme hum.


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