Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Capital Punishment Koan

Cristo crucificado Rafael Pi BeldaBut the good news is I did change my heart. It just took a while to generate the will. And that's my right. I also get better at this stuff. And that's all God asks. Live this moment right; the past is his property. I am no different from everything else: I'm not what I was. And I'm not even what I've done. That was the koan Gautama gave to Angulimala, the serial killer who became his disciple. All you have to do to please God is strive. He accepts all progress, even that which is invisible to others, even that which is invisible to you, as full payment. That's why we live so many lives. In point of fact, we live as many lives as it takes. All of us. No Heart Left Behind. Fudo closes the door on an empty room. That's his vow.

And by this truth, capital punishment is not just technically murder, it's the random, joyful murder of serial killers. You never kill the man who killed; every criminal executed is innocent, and that would be the case even if you crucified him the very night. Admittedly, that point is academic. But when you kill a man who has lived twenty more years, suffering in the man-made Hell of prison, you are not only killing a complete stranger, you're often killing a soul seared generous and kind in a fire you set. So don't come snivelling around here with your "eye for an eye;" you've taken a soul for an eye.

Hence the koan of capital punishment: Whose soul have you taken?

Wu Ya's commentary: "Not mine. Anybody missing a soul?"

(Adapted from "100 Days on the Mountain," copyright RK Henderson. Photo courtesy of WikiMedia and Rafael Pi Belda [photographer].)


  1. Profound. My point of view has always been; even if you eye for an eye the killer, does that magically bring the murdered back as if the act never happened?

  2. Of course not. I understand the hunger of the loved ones, and of society, for recompense. When I see reports of the evil some of these death row inmates have done, my own anger flares up and I also want them to be killed, until my better judgement kicks in; there are some bad dudes in prison. But that's not our call. And far more often I see reports of men (as men are virtually the only convicts sentenced to death) who have become someone completely different in the interim. Someone much better, in fact, than those who judged and sentenced them.

    I'm a Buddhist, and I don't believe there's an angry old man in the sky who judges the dead. But for the sake of those who do, they better hope I'm right.

    (I do, however, understand karma, and _that_ we all get to pay down, every one of us in the societies that still practice this barbaric act, whether you actually pound the nails or not.)

    Thanks for the comment, Robbie!


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