“If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun.”
- Dalai Lama XIV
I came across the above quote whilst looking up something else. I was a bit surprised, after all, don’t Buddhists respect all life and refuse to kill or injure anything? Does not their belief in reincarnation mean that the departed may come back as anything, hence the old chestnut about not stepping on an ant because it may be your grandmother?
Snopes.com, the authoritative website that looks at urban myths etc says that the quote is genuine. It also offers information about the circumstances in which the quote was made and its relationship with Buddhist philosophy. Read it at:
- The comment was made by Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, in 2001 whilst addressing high school students in Portland, Oregon.
- Asked how to react to a school shooter, he responded as above, but also added that one should aim to wound and not to kill.
- According to a report on the school visit in the Seattle Times:
“Students, in a question-and-answer period, asked some hard questions.
One girl wanted to know how to react to a shooter who takes aim at a classmate.
The Dalai Lama said acts of violence should be remembered, and then forgiveness should be extended to the perpetrators.
But if someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, he said, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun. Not at the head, where a fatal wound might result. But at some other body part, such as a leg.”
- Snopes says that the image of exaggerated pacifism associated with Buddhism and Hinduism is a projection by Europeans and Americans. This has been from various motives and for various purposes. The reality is that there is violence in the Buddhist world but that compassion should be the overriding purpose.
My own view is that the Dalai Lama’s answer was reasonable, given that he was in a 'damned if you do/damned if you don’t' situation.
What is more concerning is how his words have been seized upon by the gun lobby. To those of us in Oz, where gun ownership is strictly controlled and where much more restrictive uniform gun laws came into force after the Port Arthur massacre, the American situation is both frightening and confusing. Why do suburbanites need to own high powered assault rifles? And please spare me the "guns don't kill people, people kill people" type rhetoric.
Here are some pics of the Dalai Lama’s words used for propaganda and merchandising:
(The baby pics are from a website selling baby clothing with pro-gun messages:
Other religious figures have also been co-opted into the gun cause:
“America is a country founded on guns. It's in our DNA. It's very strange but I feel better having a gun. I really do. I don't feel safe, I don't feel the house is completely safe, if I don't have one hidden somewhere. That's my thinking, right or wrong.”
- Brad Pitt