When we are aware, we see that the more confused a person is, the more deluded he or she becomes, and the more self-absorbed. Buddhism teaches that selfishness is the expression of our delusion. The more estranged we become from ourselves and others, the more selfish we become until sometimes that selfishness consumes our whole world—it becomes lethal. We see this most dramatically when people become completely lost in their own minds, and are unable to really see—much less feel—those around them. When they then have access to some means of power that is used as a weapon against others, the results can be truly horrible.


Photo by Dez Rain

In this koan, the pointer says, “Lurking in the grasses, sticking to the trees, one turns into a spirit. Being constrained and unjustly punished, one becomes a ghostly curse.” If we are caught in false views and avoid life, we may look like a human being, but we’re not living a fully human life. On the other hand, if our views turn into chains of bondage, then we become rigid and forced, unable to move freely.

“When calling it, you burn paper money and present a horse. When repelling it, you curse water and write charms.” If we hold on, we lose that very thing we want to have. If we push away, that which gives life becomes a kind of poison. All the while, we’re in conflict—destroying what’s precious and preoccupying ourselves with things that cannot bring satisfaction.

“How can you get peace in the family?” The Buddha realized that the calling and repelling is an eternal state of conflict, a constant state of siege. Pushing back the enemy, gathering in the allies, building up and tearing down. Is it any wonder that human interactions are so frequently characterized by conflict? The Buddha realized that “peace in the family” is not found through attachment or rejection. That’s an endless cycle. We can’t predict how it’s going to turn out, but its result is never a surprise. We couldn’t have predicted that the young man in Virginia was going to express his anger, his fear, isolation, and loneliness in the particular way that he did. Many people feel those feelings and don’t express them in that way. It’s unpredictable, but it’s not surprising—not to a bodhisattva—someone who understands the nature of the self and the nature of has the capacity to both kill and to give life.