Many times in my life, in myself and others, I have seen how inaccurate, incomplete, often negative views can be reinforced by brooding or brainwashing — by a person going into some kind of echo chamber (in their head, on the Internet, only spending time with similar people in the real world, etc.) for a long time and repeating certain thoughts or feelings over and over until they become more and more extreme. The same was apparently true in the Buddha’s time, about 2,600 years ago: “‘He insulted me, he hit me, he beat me, he robbed me’ — anger will never cease in those who dwell on such thoughts” (Dhammapada, 3).
But real people are small and complicated. Everyone finds themselves born into a certain body, family, country, etc., which can be hard to escape. Everyone has had many unique past experiences that informed them. No one can see or learn everything. The only way to understand the complexity of life or people is to get out of your comfort zone (either mentally or physically) and have strange, new, different experiences. Brooding or brainwashing in isolation usually only makes one’s views more xenophobic, unrealistic, inaccurate, and incomplete; having difficult, new conversations and experiences usually makes one’s views more connected, realistic, accurate, and complete.
Here is a nice Ted talk, which says pretty much the same thing:
Here are three things, related to reconciliation and reparations, I wish the US would do:
- Give Native American nations some percentage of the land, of their choosing and under their administration, in every county of the US where they have historically lived, so that they are no longer confined to marginalized/poor reservations and can regain all of their ancestral lands to some degree.
- Create a federal Department of Slavery Reparations, which would have these five mandates:
- Work with the IRS and historians to tax white people whose ancestors held slaves, and either give the money directly to poor black people whose ancestors were slaves or make public colleges in the US free for such black people.
- Offer free historical family investigations, done by PhD historians and geneticists, to black people whose ancestors were slaves, going back to the tribe/village in Africa from which they were taken.
- Fund numerous community development and job-placement programs in majority black neighborhoods across the US, organized and led by African Americans.
- Create minimum quotas for African American inclusion/hiring in every American company and at every American mass media network/studio (every movie, TV show, etc.).
- Work in similar ways to repair the effects of other types of historical and modern slavery/trafficking in the US (e.g., indentured servitude, sex slavery, etc.).
- Coordinate with African governments and companies to allow African Americans to take free flights to/from Africa and to find housing, insurance, and decently paid public-service work in Africa, both to re-connect with the homeland from which they were stolen and to help all Africans lift themselves up from the colonialistic legacies that have weighed them down for so long.
Disclosure: In the 1700-1800s, some of my ancestors had a few (maybe 10) African slaves, and my ancestors settled on lands that were taken from Native Americans. Of these things, I am not proud.
What is appealing about eating, or wearing, the rotting carcas of a dead animal or plant?
Why are captive, genetically weakened animals and plants more valued than the freer, stronger animals and plants in the fields and forests?
Why do larger, more intelligent animals (cows, pigs, etc.) deserve to be killed and fed to smaller, less intelligent animals (cats, dogs, etc.)?
Why is a human brain and body configuration more valued than non-human configurations?
What positive contributions do you make to the world that justify killing thousands of other beings for you throughout your life?
Why are humans in other countries less valuable than humans in your country?
Why are children you give birth to more valuable than orphan children who have already been born?
“Good men are constant[ly good]” (Dhammapada, 83, Lal’s translation).
“He is indeed virtuous, wise, and righteous who neither for his own sake nor for the sake of another (does any wrong), who does not crave for sons, wealth, or kingdom, and does not desire success by unjust means” (Dhammapada 84, Acharya Buddharakkhita’s translation).
“Think not lightly of evil, saying, “It will not come to me.” Drop by drop is the water pot filled. Likewise, the fool, gathering it little by little, fills himself with evil” (Dhammapada 121, Acharya Buddharakkhita’s translation).
“By not holding to fixed views, the pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision, being freed from all sense desires, is not born again into this world” (Karaniya Metta Sutta, Amaravati translation).
There are so many (often-conflicting) philosophies and religions in the world. Why is yours the right one? Have you taken the time to really study and practice the world’s philosophical and religious traditions, to find the one(s) with which you actually most agree and feel are true, or do you just believe what your family or society tells you to believe? Similarly, do you believe what you want to be true, or what you think is most likely to be true?
Given the current US presidential debate environment (about sexism, abortion, etc.), here is my understanding of a Theravada Buddhist view of abortion, which does not seem to be represented by any candidate running for US president. This description will be skewed towards a Sri Lankan perspective, because I am most familiar with that.
“Monks, the descent of the embryo occurs with the union of three things. … when there is a union of the mother & father, the mother is in her season, and a gandhabba is present, then with this union of three things the descent of the embryo occurs” (MN 38). From Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s introduction to that sutta: “Usually in the Canon, the term gandhabba means a being on the lowest level of the celestial devas — devas who are often represented as obsessed with lust. However, the Commentary notes that gandhabba in this context means a being whose kamma enables it to take birth on that occasion, an interpretation supported by a discussion in MN 93” (ibid).
Therefore, perhaps the only way in which a fetus might not possess a gandhabba, and be just a physical shell/husk, is if the fetus dies for some reason during the course of pregnancy (e.g., from a congenital defect), such that the gandhabba leaves that body naturally and seeks a different body. If the fetus is not already dead, a gandhabba probably is still there, at any stage of pregnancy, and killing the fetal body that is supporting the gandhabba probably is the same as killing any living human (i.e., murder, if the killing is intentional, which might cause the killer to be reborn in some type of hell). This prompts a number of questions:
- Should women have the right to choose abortion? Should any human have the right to choose to murder another human? If it comes down to a decision between saving the life of the mother or the life of the baby, who has a greater “right to life”? As I understand it, the law in Sri Lanka, which is a Theravada Buddhist-majority country, is that abortion is legal only if a medical doctor believes/certifies that abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother. Otherwise, the baby has a right to life.
- What if doctors know that the baby will be severely handicapped and/or have a very difficult or painful life? As I understand it, the Buddhist view is that that is the baby’s karma — a natural result of its past intentions and actions. Wherever that mind is born, it must face its karma, so sparing it a life here and now would just send it somewhere else to suffer similarly.
- Women did not consciously choose to be the child-bearers in our species. Is it fair to ask them to sacrifice themselves? As I understand it, women’s gandhabbas did unconsciously choose to be born as women, though it is questionable how much a gandhabba can know about the body it is choosing.
- Is that sacrifice a kind of suicide or self-murder? Many parents (including fathers) love their children more than themselves, and would willingly sacrifice themselves to save their children (e.g., undertake risky travel to help their children, would jump in front of a bus or train to push their child to safety, etc.). Is it selfish of a mother not to be willing to sacrifice herself for her child? It seems to be a “damned if you, damned if you don’t” scenario (i.e., having to choose between killing a child or allowing oneself to die). Hell is not eternal in Buddhism, like it is in the Abrahamic religions, but, still, it is probably not somewhere one wants to go. There is a jataka story (a story about the Buddha’s past lives), where the Buddha, in a past life, before he was fully enlightened (so he could not avoid rebirth in hell) but when he was still quite spiritually accomplished, came upon a family of tigers that were starving. He went to the top of a nearby cliff and jumped off, sacrificing himself so that the family of tigers could have something to eat. He supposedly paid for that suicide with a rebirth in some kind of hell, but was willing to do it because of his great love for all living beings, who were not even his own immediate children.
Donations today often involve a lot of work for the donater, which might discourage people from donating. Not only do you have dig the stuff out of your basement or closet, but you have to find and load up a large enough vehicle, drive it to a donation center, maybe unload the vehicle for them, maybe return the vehicle if you rented/borrowed it, and then find your way home.
What if, for a small fee, a van or truck service would drive around picking up people’s stuff, taking it to whomever/wherever they want it donated in the local region (e.g., a particular non-profit organization, a friend or relative, etc.), and scanning any receipts (for tax deductions) from the receiving person/organization and electronically returning them to the customer?
In case the recipient isn’t available, or doesn’t want, to receive the donation, the service might need a secure warehouse for temporary storage, might need good theft and damage insurance, etc. This idea might be quite future-proof as well (for the business’s owner). The delivery vehicles might become self-driving, the warehouses might become automated, and people probably will always accumulate more stuff than they want/need and occasionally will want to donate some of it.
(This idea is released under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. It may be used commercially.)