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Why Men Love Breasts

The Buddha on Why Men Love Female Breasts

I know, I know. As a nun I’m not supposed to unwisely ponder such topics. And I don’t.

The question arose in the news recently when an expert proposed a biological imperative supposedly causing male fixation on this female attribute. People are taking his idea seriously. Yet the Buddha already answered this question well using solid reasoning about human nature.

Image from Wolchover's article New Theory On Why Men Love Breasts, crediting Creative Commons

Image from Wolchover’s article (1), crediting Creative Commons

So why do men love women’s breasts? The expert explains in terms of evolution. His theory is that male attraction to breasts leads to a behavior that triggers female pleasure and affection, hence increasing the male’s success in reproduction. No need for me to spell out the details; here’s the info if you want to read about it yourself. Article: Why Men Love Breasts (1)

Here’s what the Buddha said about such attractions, explaining them in terms of desire and ego:

A man attends inwardly to his masculine faculties [physical traits], masculine gestures, masculine manners, masculine poise, masculine desires, masculine voice, masculine charms. He is excited by that, delighted by that. Being excited & delighted by that, he attends outwardly to feminine faculties, feminine gestures, feminine manners, feminine poise, feminine desires, feminine voices, feminine charms. He is excited by that, delighted by that. Being excited & delighted by that, he wants to be bonded to what is outside him, wants whatever pleasure & happiness that arise based on that bond. Delighting, caught up in his masculinity, a man goes into bondage with reference to women. This is how a man does not transcend his masculinity.(2)

In other words, according to the Buddha, first a man delights in his own masculine traits. Then based on his self-desire & conceit, he feels attracted to the other gender’s traits which contrast with his own traits and thereby highlight his own traits. Thus he gets fixated on the breasts and other female attributes.

A woman does the same thing, enjoying the maleness that contrasts with — and therefore highlights — her own femaleness in which she delights. Thus she gets fixated on male attributes.

The Buddha’s explanation suggests taking responsibility, since people actively set themselves up to be assailed by lust in all its various forms, and his explanation implies a way out. (One can escape lust by choosing to direct one’s inward attention wisely, not triggering the initial underlying excitement.) It is more useful than a theory of a biological imperative that leaves people without responsibility for their lust and hence without much recourse.

By the way, neither the Buddha’s explanation nor the modern theory seem to account for gay preferences. Since attraction begins with delight in one’s own traits, we can theorize that perhaps a natural variation causes some people to fixate outwardly on attributes that are similar to their own, rather than attributes that contrast. (Just reverse the gender in the 3rd sentence of the above quote. See?) So there may be some flexibility in the Buddha’s explanation to encompass gay sexuality, but not in the evolutionary theory.

(1)  “Why Men Love Breasts” by Natalie Wolchover, Life’s Little Mysteries Staff Writer, 26 September 2012, http://www.lifeslittlemysteries.com/2946-why-men-love-breasts.html; “Breasts: The Real Reason Men Love Them” by Larry Young, PhD, and Brian Alexander, 25 September 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/larry-young-phd/breasts_b_1910401.html.

(2)  “Saññoga Sutta: Bondage” (AN 7.48), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight, 4 July 2010. Retrieved on 29 December 2012. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an07/an07.048.than.html


The Buddha’s teaching on impermanence is clear but sometimes we need help recalling even what is most obviously true.

The Buddha said it is okay to remain attached to anything just so long as it is yours. But what belongs to you? “The eye, monks, is not yours; let it go. The ear is not yours, let it go. The nose… tongue… body… mind… not yours; let it go.” Also sights, sounds, smells, tastes, bodily tangibles, thoughts and other mental objects: let them go as well. Apparently everything isn’t yours, and if not yours, it must be let go. The Buddha pointed out that he knows of nothing that one can cling to without pain resulting.

But what about sand?

After teaching children one Sunday afternoon last month I noticed a strange big bottle of something – was it sand? – left upon the dining table. It turned out indeed to be sand, a special type lightly combined with an acrylic to make a kind of sand Playdough for sculpting (BrookstoneSand). This sand has more stick-to-itself stability than regular sand yet remarkably does not stick to one’s fingers, making it a delight to touch and mould. And there it sat on my table with everyone gone home.

Hence, I did the only reasonable thing, which was to delve into it with both hands before trying to find the owner.

The result:

Sand Dog

Sand Dog

That task done, I sent around a photo of the dog sculpture by text to those most likely responsible for having left the sand, with the query, “Do you know anything about this?”

The bottle of sand turned out to belong to Jason, a member of Charlotte Buddhist Vihara’s Board of Directors. As a man who loves meditation, works as a kindergarten teacher and fathers a small child, Jason capably leads some children’s programs at the Vihara. He had brought the bottle of sand in case we needed a crafts project that day, and forgotten to take it home. He did not intend to forfeit it. Yet on seeing the sand sculpture photo he kindly opted to leave the sand at the Vihara on an indefinite loan, explaining that it would be useful in case I need to keep any visiting children busy. Perhaps he was actually curious what else this nun might end up making out of it, or realizing that I need artistic outlets? Whatever the reason, in letting go of this product that he had purchased for teaching purposes he demonstrated admirable generosity and the wisdom of non-clinging.

Yet why should it remain a loaner, not a gift? I can’t say for sure, but by leaving the sand with me on trust as a loan, Jason can feel assured that I won’t give it away in a spontaneous gesture of generosity – always a potential hazard for objects that belong to me personally (though not with things intended for the greater Sangha). In fact just yesterday a dear supporter named Heather, having seen my newly-discovered love of sand, kindly brought me a small container of sculpting sand for my very own, to keep. It came in a cute little glass-topped container, a delightful small gift that she had received during a training for her corporate job, like a party favor for businesspeople. Within a few hours I had already given it away, joyfully handing the cute container to an employee of the City of Charlotte, a nice young lady whose job is to motivate citizens to get organized in neighborhood coalitions; she will find it useful in her work. That was fun!  Thanks, Heather!

Having created an image in the safely loaned sand, however, I faced an unexpected dilemma. It would have been nice to move on and make new sculptures in its wooden “sand box” container, but the highly unstable sand dog couldn’t be moved at all without tearing it up, and I simply could not bear to do that. The dog was, you know, too good, almost seeming alive, as though looking up at me as if to say, “You wouldn’t mush me would you?” In other words I had gotten attached right away. The image was neither ‘permanent’ enough to try to preserve longterm, nor so impermanent as to fall apart and go away gracefully when my interest waned, so my clinging held me in limbo. This dragged on for more than a week. I was stuck.

Despite all my knowledge of the Buddha’s teaching, including the part about pain associated with holding on, I needed help with letting go.  Yes, of an image in sand.

Therefore I left the dog sculpture out in plain view during our New Year’s program. Children would attend. Enforcing and hastening laws of impermanence regarding delicate things is a special duty of children. Surely one child or another would stick his finger into the fragile dog sand sculpture, ruining any endearing quality and thereby setting me free from the dratted thing.

It worked!

When our many guests had left at the end of New Year’s Day, I investigated the dog. Sure enough, clear damage had been done, the nose having been lightly squeezed into a misshapen triangle that indicated a frantic effort to undo the damage of a curious finger-poke.

As soon as I managed to stop laughing, I mushed the sand image into no-thingness, delighted to find letting go easy once the true shifting nature of sand was again made clear. Finally I could start anew.

Thus I could create this:

Sand Angel

Sand Angel

Yet whether dog or angel it is just sand. We all know that. Everything remains just sand, none of it ours, all to be let go.

Meanwhile I can’t use this sandbox.

Say, got any kids who wouldn’t mind coming over here to do me a favor…?


Ayya Sudhamma Bhikkhuni (Buddhist nun)

 January 6, 2015



Encounter with American Children

One time as I walked a mile-long residential road that leads from my mother’s home towards the Vihara I came across a batch of young boys vigorously playing in the street. It was a group with mixed backgrounds, several of them looking white, a few black, two or three perhaps Asian; a few of the black kids looked somewhat familiar from saying hello on past walks but the rest were new to me. They paused to greet me pleasantly as I passed.

Then one of the white boys, having gained the idea from who knows where, suddenly made a bow in my direction. Not an Asian anjali, for that gesture is unknown to our culture. Rather, he made a full Shakespearean bow, bending at the waist with left hand behind his back and right hand making an outward flourish. Quite surprised I nodded appreciation, exclaimed, “Oh very good!” and added: “Someone has trained you well!”

I heard a murmured echo of those last words, pronounced reflecting my accent: “…train’djee wayll!” Anywhere else in the world I might have thought it mockery, but my accent is normal around here. A child was drawing out the words in appreciation, marveling to hear such high praise.

Suddenly the boys surrounded me on every side, bowing enthusiastically, bending deeply at the waist, right hands flourishing, urgently seeking my attention and praise. Each boy repeated the gestures with greater exaggeration until he could catch my eye and get a nod and words of appreciation: “Very good, well done…!”

When all were satisfied they returned to their game and I resumed my walk, yet I paused upon noticing high-pitched wails coming from a nearby house. Squinting, I could just barely see over a porch railing the top of a little girl’s head as she cried out for my attention – doubtless the little sister of one of the fellows, still too young to leave the porch unsupervised. Then her head dipped below the rail, presumably making a bow as well, or perhaps a curtsy; I couldn’t see through the rails. Still standing in the street I nonetheless gave her my full attention, and estimating the right moment, expressed warm praise. The little head popped back up and no more wails came from that direction so I assume that we, too, had a successful transaction.Ayya Suvijjana edited on Hilliard Drive

I smiled the rest of the way home. What a wonderful thing it is to be part of bringing Buddhism and the sight of Sangha to a new land!

– Ayya Sudhamma (2 Dec 2014)

In the Waiting Room

A nun friend who recently suffered a concussion from a fall had an MRI and other brain scans done a couple of days ago. While in the radiology waiting room she noticed the suffering of others, and wrote:

There are visibly very sick people waiting for scans. But also interesting to me how easy it was to connect, share a story or a joke and feel warmth together. We are all brothers and sisters in old age, sickness and death, and when we take a few layers off to get closer to this reality, it accentuates the importance of small kindnesses and acts of being together.

Her comment reminds me of a time 20 years ago, in my lay life, when I went for a follow-up CAT scan after a year of brutal cancer treatments. Sitting in the radiology department’s waiting room I noticed an elderly Chinese couple also waiting for a scan. The worn-out looking old man in hospital clothing sat unmoving, without expression or response while his wife softly chattered incessantly at him in a disconnected manner.

Out of habit I touched the beads of my bracelet while waiting for the scan. Throughout my cancer treatments I wore a Kwan Yin bracelet that a stranger had slipped onto my wrist after I mentioned in a public venue that I had just been diagnosed with cancer. My benefactor had slipped away without me catching sight of him or her in the crowd. The mysterious arrival made it seem like a gift from heaven. The bracelet’s pale green imitation jade beads nicely caught and reflected the light, and it had a lovely glow-in-the dark (!) Kwan Yin pendant, held together by an elastic string. Despite the simple materials I treasured it, often wrapping my fingers around the beads or the tiny glowing Kwan Yin image during times of uncertainty and difficulty.

(Certainly, belief in Kwan Yin Bodhisattva  isn’t taught in Theravada Buddhism, doesn’t appear in any early scriptures, has no place in early Buddhism. But who can really argue with the idea of an embodiment of compassion who listens with open heart to the cries of the world, and rescues the most helpless and desperate beings – sailors on rough seas, women fearing loss of a pregnancy, the imprisoned, and those deathly ill with a terrible disease such as cancer?)

My treatments having finished, I had returned to the hospital for a final scan just to make sure of my recovery.  My fingers touched the bracelet; I no longer needed it.

On impulse I stepped up to the elderly Chinese couple, smiling broadly.

Quan Yin Boddhisattva of Compassion,  Vien Quang Monastery, Clover, SC USA

Quan Am (Kwan Yin, Guang Am) Bodhisattva of Compassion

Kneeling in front of them, I gently but swiftly slipped the bracelet onto the old man’s wrist. The wife’s chatter abruptly ceased. They both stared with mouths gaping. With a quick bow, beaming with joy, I retreated to my seat on the other side of the room. Last I glanced at the couple they remained as though frozen with astonishment, staring with wide eyes at the bracelet on the man’s wrist.

One can only imagine, and marvel, what it meant to them — a healing image surely once sacred to them long years ago, coming to them so far from home, so unexpectedly, from a stranger, a smiling American girl, arriving in their time of hopeless pain. Perhaps Kwan Yin rekindled their hope. Our encounter certainly charged their energy.

I still taste the joy of that brief connection in the waiting room 20 years ago with a couple of strangers linked to my heart by old age, sickness and death, and a small act of kindness.

Loyal Readers,

My updates trailed off in February 2013, sorry!  Some updates and reflections can be found on Facebook under “Ven. Sudhamma” (www.facebook.com/ayyasudhamma.)

Here are some highlights from the missing months:

February: Realizing that Vien Quang Monastery, a friendly and beautiful Vietnamese temple in Clover, SC, had no internet presence, I created a Facebook page for them,  www.facebook.com/CloverBuddhist. (First I had to learn how to do it.) These good monks and nuns give a heart-warming welcome to all beings. Each day they compassionately  chant & ring an enormous bell half an hour

Vien Quang

Vien Quang Monastery, Clover, SC

at daybreak and again at nightfall in hopes of briefly alleviating the pain of hell-beings, and they are even more kind towards human beings.

My friends and I went to the battered womens' shelter of Charlotte to bring a great lunch. (April 2013)

We brought lunch to battered women’s shelter (April)

March: I gave some teachings here and there, and spent some days visiting Vien Quang Monastery and another temple. At this time I created the Bodhi Calendar of insight meditation sitting groups and related Buddhist activities in Charlotte.

April: Hiked a beautiful local mountain with a great

Rev. Martha at Crowder's Mtn. (April 2013)

At Crowder’s Mtn. (April)

friend, Rev. Martha; did some teachings and some good deeds;

Water-pouring ceremony to honor the deceased loved one.

Leading a water-pouring ceremony

and attended an especially useful week-long meditation retreat at Southern Dharma Center led by Sayalay Susila (photo below).

Sayalay Susila and I after retreat at Southern Dharma Center (April 2013)

Ven. Susila led retreat (April)

May:  Vesak full moon celebrations (Buddha’s birthday). Visited nuns’ communities in northern California for more than a month:

In Aranya Bodhi Hermitage’s thick woods, near Jenner CA, we held a weeklong camping conference of bhikkhunis that we called “Bhikkhuni Camp”. (Right click any photo for a better image in a new window.)

Bhikkhuni Camp (June)

Bhikkhuni Camp (June)

Some of us once visited the nearby beach, where our leader Ayya Tathaaloka walked in the bitterly cold waves to strengthen her balance (doctor’s orders). Ayya t at beach with Ayya Munissara 6-21-2013  (This photo shows her afterwards shivering and getting covered by warm sand.)  Also I visited a couple of centers run by solitary bhikkhunis, giving a Vesak talk at one. And I got to sit a 10 day retreat with an unusually large company of Theravada bhikkhunis and novices, generously hosted without charge by Spirit Rock Meditation Center (photos from Ajahn Sucitto’s retreat with a dozen nuns).


The woods at Aranya Bodhi.

June: Upon my return to Charlotte from California, on the way home from the airport, some friends offered me the amazing opportunity to start a new little Vihara (a suburban house/temple/monastery) in a rental house right here in my hometown. Their motivation?  To keep me here instead of moving into the Vietnamese temple in Clover, SC, where the monks and nuns had kindly offered to give me a place to

The new place

The new place: Charlotte Buddhist Vihara

me a place to live. (I was staying at my mother’s home.) The Vihara house would be within walking distance of my family home, so I’d still be able to assist Mom as needed.  I hesitated for several days, aware of the great commitment involved in organizing a community, before making the decision and happily forging ahead.

July: In mid-July, just before Vassa began, I moved into the new Charlotte Buddhist Vihara, already well-furnished by the efforts of many kind and generous donors.

August-now: It’s all about the new Vihara.

You can follow the progress of the new center and our support community on Facebook and on our website: CharlotteBuddhistVihara.org.

Vihara's open house

Vihara’s open house

My efforts to lead a new community, along with ordinary daily duties of nuns’ life, have taken nearly my entire attention these past six months since some friends made the proposal in June.Sprint phone 009

Great elder Master Hòa Thượng of Vietnam honored us with a visit

Visit of a great elder

Board Meeting

Board Meeting


Our sutta study group

However, near the end of October ,      I did take a “vacation”, a 10 day trip to California for the Western Buddhist Monastic Conference (WBMG).

Western Buddhist Monastic Gathering -City of Dharma Realm, Sacramento (Oct 2013) The WBMG is an annual warm friendly gathering of English-speaking ordained Buddhists of all traditions which meets in harmony, focused not on sectarian differences but on what we, as dedicated followers of the Buddha, have in common. Read about the gathering here. or view photos of the gathering and our related hunger walk fundraiser for Buddhist Global Relief.

(While in California I also visited Ayya Tathaaloka’s community’s pleasant and spacious new Vihara in Santa Rosa which opened just weeks after our Vihara.)

A dear friend of many years, Ayya Suvijjana Bhikkhuni, joined me at Charlotte Buddhist Vihara for a 3-month visit August-November. I don’t think I could have managed without her.

Ayya Suvijjana, daily life at the Vihara

Ayya Suvijjana, daily life at the Vihara

In mid-November she returned to her community in California, to Dhammadharini, as she had promised them.Ayya Suvijjana and Ayya Sudhamma at Reedy Creek Park (Nov 2013) I miss her sweet companionship.

Just before she left, our end-of-Vassa (Kathina type) celebration was led by the

Bhante Kondanna, Ayya Suvijjana and Ayya Sudhamma at Charlotte Buddhist Vihara (Nov 2013)

Bhante Kondanna leads celebration, gives teachingsBhante Kondanna teaching children

founder of the Staten Island Buddhist Vihara, the delightful Bhante Kondanna, with a good turnout.

The newest thing: We are initiating meditation groups at the Vihara through Meetup.com, the website that organizes people to meet to engage in hobbies or activities. See our Meetup page: www.meetup.com/Meditate-with-Monk-Buddhism-in-Charlotte. In the week since our page was announced on Meetup an astonishing fifty-two people have signed up for future meditations at the Charlotte Buddhist Vihara.

So this brings you up to date. My apologies to those whose comments have languished awaiting a response since I last used my password here. At least I have mostly maintained updates for the Bodhi Calendar which you can find embedded on this site, Some of Kathina visitors (Nov 2013) therefore to that extent my blog has remained alive.

Some new writings are in the works so this blog will soon again be a place to find Dhamma teachings and monastic life updates.

I hope this holiday season finds you filled with peace and joy — as always!

May you be well, happy and peaceful!

May you be well, happy and peaceful!


Ayya Sudhamma

Fat Laughing Buddha?

Americans new to Buddhism usually soon inquire: Was the Buddha fat?

(Like this statue.)Attribution: By Hannah 50 (Own work by uploader - LOKE SENG HON) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

The answer is no.

The historic person known as Gotama Buddha ate only one meal a day, and he walked everywhere he went. How could he be fat? The early scriptures describe him as tall, lean and handsome — so handsome that some people were unable to pay attention to his teachings due to gazing at his physical beauty.

Where, then, did we get the ugly, fat laughing statue?  The one that invites you to rub his belly for good luck?

Veneration of a fat laughing Chinese deity of ancient times, named Hotei or Budai, has gotten mixed together with the idea of the Buddha. An alternate tale of a similar obese Buddhist monk, named Phra Sangkajai, comes out of ancient Thailand. For a fascinating detailed look at the history of these images see this Wikipedia article.*

The Buddha did not show riotous laughter like these statues, but he remained quietly, serenely happy. By following his teachings, we can too.


Ayya Sudhamma Bhikkhuni, 15 April 2013

A Radiance of Nuns


Days after my higher ordination in Sri Lanka, I wrote a letter to friends & family describing my experience of ordination and celebration afterwards, including our parade through the town’s streets. I also described what it was like walking for almsfood door-to-door in Sri Lanka.

An edited version was published as “A Radiance of Nuns” by Charlotte Sudhamma Bhikkhuni (my name as I presented it at that time), Insight Journal, Spring 2003, pp 24-28.

A Please click to read A Radiance of Nuns (pdf)


The online link is not functioning as of August 18, 2014. Here it is just in case it comes back: A Radiance of Nuns

(Print too small? Use the small magnifying glass in upper left corner of the magazine.)


What Happened to Scar? (Lion King)

What Happened to Scar?

The movie The Lion King told the simple story of a royal lion family wracked by a power struggle when the heir presumptive, Scar, resorted to murder to gain the throne. Scar was King Mufasa’s brother and uncle to the prince cub (and heir apparent) Simba.

Scar seizes power after killing the King and causing the disappearance of the prince cub. Then Scar and his hyena friends slowly ruin the kingdom through their excesses, causing starvation.

Scar. Best villain ever. — FlickFeast’s “Top 10 Animated Films” (click image)

Years later, having fully grown, overcoming his unwarranted shame over his father’s death, Prince Simba returns to free the kingdom and claim his rightful position. After a fight in which Scar plays more dirty tricks, including blaming his friends for his misdeeds to gain clemency, Scar suffers an ugly death when he falls among the outraged hyenas.(1)

To their credit, the writers made the royal father and son merciful, willing to give the bad guy another chance. Yet we don’t get to see why they should value him despite his evil ways, which may give the impression that they were just naïve. The bad guy is drawn as two-dimensional, nothing but evil; the movie barely hints at the painful root of the envy and ambition that motivated Scar.

To fill this void, a fan called Drowfan posted on Youtube the probable backstory to the bitterly ambitious creature we encounter as Scar. To tell the story, he presents a series of pictures from The Lion King film and artwork submitted by fans. Click to watch the short video: The Lion King – What Happened to Scar”.(2) 

There was a time when even the darkest of souls had light and laughter... -- Fan Artist, Balaa

The future villain Scar in his days of innocence — fan art by Balaa

Scar was once the innocent, loving cub Taka; so what happened? Drowfan’s video makes it obvious:

– The intelligent little fellow felt devastated by his father’s choice of his stronger, yet less clever, brother as the one to groom as future king.

(“Well, as far as brains go, I’ve got the lion’s share, but when it comes to brute strength, I’m afraid I’m at the shallow end of the gene pool.” – Scar)

– Jealousy and disappointment fueled Scar’s bitterness.

– Years of focusing unwisely upon his resentments led to his enraged grab for power, as though he could force the world to give to him the happiness that he lacked in his own mental states.

– The final images reveal the lonely misery of King Scar despite his great power. (My favorite is at 6.22 on the video, entitled “Forsaken“.)

Viewers of the video responded positively. One who commented, “Now I understand why Scar was so upset, angry and anxious to be King!” received more than 150 thumbs up from other viewers. Another viewer went so far as to say (receiving 35 thumbs up):

Now I Understand why he so evil and sarcastic you have my blessing Scar or I should say Taka you really don’t deserve this pain that you have. As you die against your own Hyenas, I hope you find the peace and rest forever.

My theory is that if we knew everything, absolutely everything, from the past that motivated any person, we could feel only compassion. Even the most repugnant people who commit the worst crimes would gain our sympathy if we really knew their story. The video on Scar can help us consider this possibility.

‘He insulted me, hit me, beat me, robbed me’ — for those who brood on this, hostility isn’t stilled.

‘He insulted me, hit me, beat me, robbed me’ — for those who don’t brood on this, hostility is stilled. Dh 3-4 — The Buddha (3)

It seems that Scar had some tough breaks, then he brooded upon them. Such wrongly-directed thinking is a typical route from victim-to-villain taken by some of the worst offenders in society. Yet haven’t we all done that at some point — nursing our resentments — albeit less dramatically? If so, who can stand in judgment?

People enjoy hating the bad guys and cheer upon seeing them destroyed painfully. If we brood upon the bad guys’ bad deeds to inflame our hearts against them, cultivating hostility, are we not engaging in the same kind of wrong thinking that creates a villain? What then do we become?  

Any time we hold on to a resentment about anything anyone does against us or others, we put ourselves onto a similar course to Scar’s. Surely that is not what we want. Instead, let us breathe deeply, try to relax and soften up, and find a better way to think about things. Remembering there must be a backstory to their actions can help us let go of our outrage, so we don’t walk that old path from victimization to villainy. We can cultivate sympathy, kindness, and good will; then with a positive attitude, safely take whatever action is needed to make things better.

(“I still can’t forgive him 😦” writes a fan who probably saw the film as a child nearly 20 years ago. We laugh — yet this is how the mind really works.)

Righteous anger is big in the West, especially in the USA. Someone does wrong out of greed or anger, hurting innocent victims, and people react with anger and hatred. Look at the readers’ comments after any news report of a bad guy having been caught; you may wince at the extreme cruelty of the remarks.

When upset, people may think, “Surely in this situation we have the right to hate!” The Buddha, however, took a very different stand:

Monks, even if bandits were to carve you up savagely, limb by limb, with a two-handled saw, he among you who let his heart get angered even at that would not be doing my bidding. Even then you should train yourselves: ‘Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words. We will remain sympathetic, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate. We will keep pervading these people with an awareness imbued with good will and, beginning with them, we will keep pervading the all-encompassing world with an awareness imbued with good will — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.’ That’s how you should train yourselves. MN 21 (4)

When the Buddha, known as the King of Peace, was pressed as to whether he approves of killing in any type of situation, the Buddha said yes: kill your own anger. (5) What kills our anger? Its opposite: loving-kindness.

The Buddha repeatedly warned us of painful karmic impact to ourselves from our negativity towards others, even deadly enemies. If any of us extend hatred by thoughts, words or actions towards any other being, we ourselves suffer. We  make our life’s journey more painful for ourselves and the world around us, and we don’t find the way out of renewed rounds of suffering. On the other hand, extending kindness, compassion, joyful goodness and other beautiful states in our thoughts, words and actions bring ease of well-being to everyone. The welcome ripple effects of goodness continue ever-outward.

Unfortunately, even people who know these things and can cultivate kindness in other situations may let themselves get shaken into vengeful anger over news of today’s most hated and feared evildoers, such as child molesters or terrorists. Let us look at one example. Among the most vicious terrorists have been the LTTE Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka. Their tactics during 20 years of terror included more than 300 surprise attacks by their suicide bombers against innocent civilians, with no crowded bus, train, office, or neighborhood street ever safe from the possibility of a horrifying explosion coming from the clothing of an ordinary-looking person.(6) Few would shed tears over a failed LTTE suicide bomber sitting in jail. Most would say, “Let him suffer!”

Yet what if we knew the backstory of one? Read this interview with a young woman whose arrest prevented her planned suicide bomb attack.(7) (An advertisement may block the page, so click “skip this ad” in the upper right hand corner.) On learning details of this jailed assassin’s pathetic life — orphaned, abused, forced into a terrorists’ training camp, hurting from a disability, seeing no meaning to her life until she volunteered to be a hero giving her life for the cause — surely we develop more understanding and stirrings of sympathy.

Such compassionate feelings towards a villain can lead to clear reasoning and a more truly Buddhist response to the situation, a response that is sharply intelligent, compassionate, harmless and wise — and perhaps the end of bitter enmities.

A dramatic evil deed happened in the USA on September 11, 2001, when hijackers used airplanes to attack civilian targets. Later, a teacher at a progressive school in California told me that when the news broke regarding the 9/11 attacks, a small boy in her class commented, “Wow, someone is having a really big temper tantrum. I wonder what need isn’t being met?”  If the general public in the USA had responded so wisely as this child, perhaps we would be in much better condition today.

Compassionate wise action does not mean passivity or ineffectiveness. At times, we must take strong action; but aversion never improves such action. To the extent that one mindfully and wisely maintains loving-kindness and compassion, one’s actions will ripen beautifully for the greatest benefit to all beings.

Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal. Dh 5 — The Buddha (8)

In a dangerous slum of Los Angeles, an elderly woman known as Mama Hill has successfully mentored thousands of at-risk children. She has a saying: “Hurt people hurt other people.”  She says that by watching closely, you can actually discern the age at which a person was wounded. When Mama Hill sits down with a new child to get acquainted, the first thing she asks is, “Who hurt you?” Eventually, when ready to start healing, they answer.(9)

We all get hurt; that is part of life. No matter how great the harm done by others, let us not indulge in hatred and thereby worsen suffering for ourselves and others!

Remember, instead we can breathe deeply, try to relax and soften up, and find a better way to think about things, such as envisioning a backstory to bring up compassion. Then cultivate sympathy, kindness, and good will towards ourselves, those who harmed us and all beings, and undertake positive action.

Some young people specially liked the character Scar in The Lion King because they identified with his pain. Are you suffering misery, perhaps remorse, alienation, anger, misunderstanding, confusion, shame or bitterness? Even Scar deserves compassion; and so do you. Don’t deny yourself love and compassion. No more self-hate. No more hurting yourself. You, too, have a backstory. Discover it. Reach out for support to help you understand and embrace your own backstory — and start healing. There is hope! The change starts now.


(1) The Lion King in storybook form: http://www.lionking.org/~hubi/story/index.shtml. See Wikipedia on “The Lion King” at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lion_King.

(2) “What Happened to Scar”:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVUZSjSpFl0. Details, including the name “Taka” for young Scar, seem to have come from a set of novels by Alex Simmons based on The Lion King, entitled The Lion King: Six New Adventures; see “The Lion King Wiki” on Scar: http://www.mylionking.com/wiki/Scar

You may also appreciate the backstory of the hated Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz, portrayed sympathetically in the Broadway musical “Wicked”. See the Wikipedia entry on “Wicked (musical)” at  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wicked_(musical).

(3) Dhammapada v. 3-4 trans. by Ven. Thanissaro, Access To Insight,  http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/dhp/dhp.01.than.html. Accessed 4 March 2013.

(4) MN 21 “Kakacupama Sutta,” “The Simile of the Saw,” trans. Thanissaro Bhikkhu, from Access to Insight,   http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.021x.than.html. Accessed 4 March 2013.

(5) “Getting the Message”, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight, 5 June 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/gettingmessage.html . Retrieved on 5 March 2013.

(6) The LTTE Tamil Tigers claimed 378 suicide bomb detonations (paragraph 68), killing thousands of innocent civilians far from areas of conflict (paragraph 25). “No one and nothing was safe from its violence” – a short description of LTTE terrorism’s impact on ordinary life throughout Sri Lanka (paragraph 30). Humanitarian Operation Factual Analysis July 2006-May 2009, Ministry of Defence, DSR Sri Lanka, July, 2011. http://slembassyusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Sri-Lankan-Humanitarian-Operation-Factual-Analysis.pdf Retrieved 5 March 2013.

(7) “When the Suicide Bomber is a Woman” Interview of Ms. Menake by Jan Goodwin in Marie Claire, 16 January 2008,  http://www.marieclaire.com/world-reports/news/female-suicide-bomber. Photos by Mahesh Bhat, http://maheshbhat.photoshelter.com/gallery/-/G0000WTps_WBr_SU/. Both accessed 5 March 2013.

(8) Dhammapada verse 5, trans. by Ven. Buddharakkhita, Access to Insight, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/dhp/dhp.01.budd.html, accessed 5 March 2013.  (Alternative trans. by Ven. Thanissaro: “Hostilities aren’t stilled through hostility, regardless. Hostilities are stilled through non-hostility: this, an unending truth.”)

In the Lion King-related movie series, peace did not come to the Pride lions until there was reconciliation and exiled lions were re-integrated into the pack. See Wikipedia “The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lion_King_2:_Simba%27s_Pride. Accessed 5 March 2013.

(9) “Why This 73-Year-Old Is a Gang’s Worst Nightmare” a Profile by Amy Nicholson for TakePart, 14 January 2013. http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/01/11/mama-hill-profile Retrieved 6 March 2013.

Posted 6 March 2013 by Ayya Sudhamma Bhikkhuni.