Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ching chong, it means I love you

My life has recently been filed with violence and the rationalizations for it – er, well in a rhetorical sense. I have been bemused by many of my fellow Buddhist friends who believe that one can act aggressively if one does so out of compassion. At least they recognize there will be consequences for such action and there are actions to take to mitigate the karma created.

But I’ve also been reading an anthology of articles that examine how Buddhism carries and Buddhists practice a violent doctrine. It completely befuddles me that there are some who believe in “compassionate retaliation.” Intervening to stop violence or aggression is one thing, but engaging an aggressor on equal terms is simply more violence. That’s my view. If you truly have compassion, you would be unable to respond with aggression, no matter what the outcome.

I began to wonder if my point of view was just a bunch of Pollyannish hokum until I heard an interview with Jimmy Wong on NPR, and then saw a video of him being interviewed on MSNBC. The MSNBC video is below.

This bright young man realized that his initial response to the “Asians in the Library” video was infused with anger. So he waited to craft his clever song, which has become a viral hit just as much as the offending video that started it all.

I guess my point is retaliation doesn’t change anything. All it does is make us feel better for the moment. So maybe a bullied person finally gets fed up and retaliates. The bully stops bullying that person. But did punching out the bully change the bully? Will the bully stop bullying others? Not likely. All the aggressive response did was make the bullied person feel better. And a person who in the past would not act violently suddenly has. An unskillful condition that did not exist now exists. Remember the Four Right Efforts?

For me, it recalls the opening scene from the Daniel Craig version of “Casino Royale.” You know, when the bad guy tells Bond that killing a person gets easier the second time, and Bond replies, “Yes, considerably.

Here is the original “Asians in the Library” video that created the stir.


And here is Jimmy Wong’s reply.


Thank you Jimmy for a wonderful video and a wonderful song. And gawd, is he ever cute!


  1. I think sometimes we can't be 100% sure that our motivation is free from any ego or anger or hatred. So, unless we are Buddhas, there might be a slight chance that our aggressive actions may be tainted with negative intent - however slight it may be.

    You are right, though - Jimmy is cute as a button!

    It's amazing where our preferences come from. Personally, I have always enjoyed reading your blog! :)

  2. Thanks Shirley,

    I am becoming aware of how I have failed to express myself effectively. I guess what I object to is how we seek to justify an aggressive act through conversations about "what if" situations. All we can do is act the best way we can given the situation we find ourselves in. But whatever situation I am in, I brought myself to that situation through previous decisions and actions. So if I act mindfully, I can avoid finding myself in situations in which violence becomes an option.

    But we must do what we must do, and I shall never fault someone for doing the best they could in any situation.

    Thanks for your comment Shirely! And thanks for stopping by.

  3. A lot of the discussion over at Kyle's blog felt trapped in emptiness, using abstract situations that people almost never face in their lives as justification for dishing out violence. I had to stop commenting because I was actually getting irritated, lol.

    It's so easy to stand on the side of violence. That's the norm. Jimmy's a good example of what you can do when you check your anger and rage. I hope more people get it that he consciously chose to respond differently, using that energy to offer something that challenged the bigotry and hatred in a more intelligent way.

  4. @Nathan, a while back I think I coined my own koan: what if spiders wore boots? Maybe I should use it more often, lol.

  5. @Richard - Well, I guess we will disagree. When you say "So if I act mindfully, I can avoid finding myself in situations in which violence becomes an option." I don't think that is always possible. People wanting to do evil bad things won't end anytime soon, and unless one insults themselves from society, no one can ever guarantee they won't find themselves at some point in that situation.

    @Nathan- "A lot of the discussion over at Kyle's blog felt trapped in emptiness, using abstract situations that people almost never face in their lives as justification for dishing out violence"

    Which is why I used a specific example of that video, since that is a violent situation that happens often, and many of us have been in the same shoes as the kid being bullied.

  6. @Kyle, well, I feel we are responsible for the situations we find ourselves in because of the choices we made to be where we are at any given moment. I agree there are people "wanting to do evil bad things," but there are reasonable steps I can take to avoid them. If I'm out at 3 am in Albany Park, I will likely get mugged. But if I avoid that area at that time, then I reduce my chances of being mugged. It's within my choice options. So I can take steps to avoid these situations. Everyone can. If I'm in a bar and someone harasses me, it was my choice to be in that bar. If I wasn't there, no one would harass me. The world is not quite as random as some would have you believe.

    I can't address geopolitical issues from this perspective because I am not the president and I don't have his information. And I can't second guess how another behaved by watching a video. All I can do is deal with what's in front of me.

    Now, someone might come back at me and say, "well, what about that kid getting bullied? He has to go to that school. How has he made a choice to put himself in that situation?"

    Good questions. But that situation isn't just about that kid and that bully. It's about the other kids watching. It's about the school and the administrators there. There are a lot of dynamics going on. Everyone has options, everyone makes choices. And in that situation, it appears that a lot of people made very poor decisions. If it were me being bullied at that moment, I might have done the same thing. In fact, I probably would have. But it still isn't right. It still isn't the right choice. It still isn't the Right Action.

    And the fact remains it wasn't me in that situation. And it wasn't you in that situation. Maybe you were in a similar situation in the past, but you weren't in that situation in the video. That kid responded the best way he could at that moment. I am troubled by the cheering on the sideline. And you know what? I would likely be among those cheering. It still bothers me.