An article came out recently in the Washington Post called Aaron Alexis was no Buddhist. It is instructional in some ways for the general population and that’s the good part, but in other ways it contains a dangerous undercurrent. Some of that is captured here:
Buddhism differs from these religions, and this should be made crystal clear to the average citizen.
Even to become a Buddhist, one must formally take the pancha sila vow, sometimes known as pansil or the “Five Precepts,” in which one agrees to refrain from killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, and using intoxicants. So, was Alexis, who is also reported to have been a “hard-core drinker,” a gun-lover with previous gun violence arrests, and a murderous killer, a Buddhist? In name only, based on these facts. And based solely on the observance of the basic Buddhist tenets described above, and other such tenets as metta, or loving-kindness, Alexis cannot accurately be defined as a Buddhist. This is because, simply put, Buddhist is who Buddhism does. However, that having been said, Alexis was still a sentient being who suffered his own demons, and for this reason, real Buddhists will extend to him, or to his memory, the compassion and loving kindness that all beings deserve.
There is a certain disingenuousness in the latter paragraph. What the author is doing is using this man’s social and psychological instability to bolster Buddhist exceptionalist ego and then paying lip service to some Buddhist principles.
I can’t even ennumerate the number of times I’ve seen this kind of thing happen in all sorts of contexts. “Real Buddhists”? Really? This sort of prescriptive discourse is meant to enforce conformity of thought and action. Not that thinking about killing people is a particularly useful thought, but had Alexis been able to communicate those thoughts to someone in the sangha somewhere, without fear of being labeled “Not a Real Buddhist” and marginalized as the author is doing in that article, perhaps his tragic actions and his tragic end could have been avoided.
I wrote a comment on Facebook when I posted it:
Buddhist exceptionalism. Of course. "We" are special and "real" Buddhists don’t do bad things. That kind of delusion is pretty dangerous because the more you buy into a purity cult (which exists in potential in any ideology, religious or otherwise) the more others are demonized, excluded or shunned. The vanguard approach (an elite core who uphold doctrinal/ideological purity) is all about exclusion and elitism, comparison, competition and measuring one’s self against others.
There’s much more that could be said about this and I’ll get to it (and lots of related stuff) more in upcoming months but for now the kind of rhetoric that appears in the article about Buddhists and their “special” understanding of the universe is as divisive as what is put out by any other ideological group that seeks to set itself above others.