- A computer-guided rocket supposed to be able to strike within a yard of its target went wrong and hit a compound crowded with Afghan civilians, killing - among others - at least five children.
- In Elkhardt, Indiana, people who can't afford to buy houses are buying them for the tax credit. Economy stimulus gone wrong, perhaps.
- A neuroscientist who was denied tenure and shot three colleagues is found to have a history of violence.
Do you want to label these events with the three poisons? Greed, hatred, ignorance, take your choice.
But the day's news got worse on the inside pages. How security guards in Seattle watched the beating of a teenage girl without intervening. In the Business Day section, news of "dark scary content" I won't even hint at is now found on CNN. And to cap it, the Arts section reviews a book titled The Death of American Virtue, about Bill Clinton's impeachment trial. We all remember that, don't we? How he sat there not quite smiling and said that what he and Monica Lewinsky did was not sex.
Was that moment really when American virtue ended? I wondered. Was there ever an America characterized by virtue? This is a country founded on colonizing its indigenous populations - oh yes, there is an obituary today of a former chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Philip Martin. He brought his people out of poverty by attracting or building industries; they include two casinos, which take people's money by giving them cheap alcohol and fostering delusions.
Reading story after story I found myself imagining America as a disk. Half of it is dark, convoluted with the struggles of violence and greed and delusion. The other half is white, representing the ideal of life lived according to Buddhism's basic five precepts for behavior.
The precepts are simple and down to earth, though they can be interpreted carefully and thoughtfully. We are to abstain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech, and intoxicants. They seem to be fundamentally about not harming - a basic manual for building safe, gentle communities. Indeed, it's hard to imagine any one of the stories above happening in a community where most people seriously aspired to follow these practices. Some monks recite them every day.
I can't figure out how to make members of Congress recite them daily. But it is interesting to think about. Here is a quote from a very nice, concise discussion of the Precepts by Thanissaro Bhikku:
The Buddha's path consisted not only of mindfulness, concentration, and insight practices, but also of virtue, beginning with the five precepts. In fact, the precepts constitute the first step in the path. There is a tendency in the West to dismiss the five precepts as Sunday-school rules bound to old cultural norms that no longer apply to our modern society, but this misses the role that the Buddha intended for them: They are part of a course of therapy for wounded minds.In fact, it is interesting to think of our sanghas adopting this ancient practice of virtue. It is interesting to think of doing it ourselves.