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Buddhism in the News


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Josef Fritzl, Buddhism and Angulimal.

Incest monster Josef Fritzl says he's turned to Buddhism - and wants doctors to help cure him so he can be reunited with his wife Rosemarie. Fritzl spends much of his 23 hours a day in his cell studying the peaceful Far Eastern philosophy and is considering formally changing his religion in prison.

Speaking through his lawyer Rudolf Mayer, Fritzl said that he has found a lot of comfort in reading Buddhist literature and finds the religion "fascinating". Fritzl first discovered Buddhism on a family holiday in Thailand but has only started studying the religion in depth while behind bars.

Fritzl's facing the rest of his life in jail after imprisoning his daughter Elisabeth as a sex slave in a home-made cell under the family home in Amstetten, Austria. She was locked up for 24 years where she gave birth to seven of his children. An eighth child was miscarried.

James: Clearly Mr. Fritzl is extremely mentally disturbed and needs to be imprisoned to protect innocent people from his horrific impulses. However, as a Buddhist who stands against killing human beings I stand against the death penalty for even this deranged man. It's hard to find any good in a human being such as this Fritzl but he is afterall a fellow sentient being and as I am a believer in karma I feel that his punishment has already but laid out by his actions, which will extend probably into several lifetimes.

I've never done anything nearly as horrible and disgusting as this man but I do know something about how Buddhism can heal and bring about personal change and growth. I use to be a very bitter, angry nihilist who wasn't taking medication for my severe mental illness and at my lowest wanted to blow up the entire world with nuclear weapons. Living in a psychoticly deluded state of mind I thought such a destruction would be doing everyone a service because of all the suffering. This was of course before I discovered Buddhism and now I'm as peaceful as I have ever been in my life and I literally don't hurt a fly.

I hope that Mr. Fritzl will benefit from the greatness that Buddha and the Dharma have to offer. I hope that none of my readers assume that this man has no more value to this world because of his horrific crimes. If so consider the example of the seriel killer Angulimal and Buddha:

Angulimal means a man who wears a garland of human fingers. He had taken a vow that he would kill one thousand people; from each single person he would take one finger so that he could remember how many he had killed and he will make a garland of all those fingers. In his garland of fingers he had nine hundred and ninety-nine fingers--only one was missing. And that one was missing because his road was closed; nobody was coming that way. But Gautama Buddha entered that closed road.

The guards said to Buddha, "Don't unnecessarily take the risk." And do you know what Buddha said to them? Buddha said, "If I don't go then who will go? Only two things are possible: either I will change him, and I cannot miss this challenge; or I will provide him with one finger so that his desire is fulfilled. A very beautiful man of such immense charisma was coming towards him [Angulimal]. Who could this man be?
He had never heard of Gautama Buddha, but even this hard heart of Angulimal started feeling a certain softness towards the man. He was looking so beautiful, coming towards him. It was early morning... a cool breeze, and the sun was rising... and the birds were singing and the flowers had opened; and Buddha was coming closer and closer.

Finally Angulimal, with his naked sword in his hand, shouted, "Stop!" Gautama Buddha was just a few feet away, and Angulimal said, "Don't take another step because then the responsibility will not be mine. Perhaps you don't know who I am!"
Buddha said, "Do you know who you are?" Angulimal said, "This is not the point. Neither is it the place nor the time to discuss such things. Your life is in danger!" Buddha said, "I think otherwise--your life is in danger." That man said, "I used to think I was mad--you are really mad! And you go on moving closer. Then don't say that I killed an innocent man. You look so innocent and so beautiful that I want you to go back. I will find somebody else. I can wait; there is no hurry. If I can manage nine hundred and ninety-nine... it is only a question of one more, but don't force me to kill you."

Buddha came very close, and Angulimal's hands were trembling. The man was so beautiful, so innocent, so childlike. He had already fallen in love. He had killed so many people... He had never felt this weakness; he had never known what love is. For the first time he was full of love. So there was a contradiction: the hand was holding the sword to kill the person, and his heart was saying, "Put the sword back in the sheath."
Buddha said, "I am ready, but why is your hand shaking?--you are such a great warrior, even kings are afraid of you, and I am just a poor beggar. Except the begging bowl, I don't have anything. You can kill me, and I will feel immensely satisfied that at least my death fulfills somebody's desire; my life has been useful, my death has also been useful.

But before you cut my head I have a small desire, and I think you will grant me a small desire before killing me."
Before death, even the hardest enemy is willing to fulfill any desire. Angulimal said, "What do you want?" Buddha said, "I want you just to cut from the tree a branch which is full of flowers. I will never see these flowers again; I want to see those flowers closely, feel their fragrance and their beauty in this morning sun, their glory." So Angulimal cut with his sword a whole branch full of flowers. And before he could give it to Buddha, Buddha said, "This was only half the desire; the other half is, please put the branch back on the tree." Angulimal said, "I was thinking from the very beginning that you are crazy. Now this is the craziest desire. How can I put this branch back?"

Buddha said, "If you cannot create, you have no right to destroy. If you cannot give life, you don't have the right to give death to any living thing."
A moment of silence and a moment of transformation... the sword fell down from his hands. Angulimal fell down at the feet of Gautam Buddha, and he said, "I don't know who you are, but whoever you are, take me to the same space in which you are; initiate me." By that time the followers of Gautam Buddha had come closer and closer. They were all around and when he fell at Buddha's feet they immediately came close. Somebody raised the question, "Don't initiate this man, he is a murderer!"

Buddha said again, "If I don't initiate him, who will initiate him? And I love the man, I love his courage. And I can see tremendous possibility in him: a single man fighting against the whole world. I want this kind of people, who can stand against the whole world. Up to now he was standing against the world with a sword; now he will stand against the world with a consciousness, which is far sharper than any sword. I told you that murder was going to happen, but it was not certain who was going to be murdered--either I was going to be murdered, or Angulimal. Now you can see Angulimal is murdered. And who I am to judge?"

James: I don't want nor have the right to deny someone looking for help the Dharma and I truly hope that this man will find relief and clarity from Buddhism and begin to make ammends for his horrific crimes.

~Peace to all beings~

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nash said...

Sathu! You are very resourceful to compare Angulimal with Fritzl. I was surprised myself when I read that he was reading about Buddhism while in prison. I wish the best for him.

By the way, I don't know if you have seen this, but there is another American writer that discuss about Obama and Buddhism.
His reasoning aside, I love one photo he used in the article, the one that looks like Obama is meditating! :-)

Here's the link.

Have a nice day!


Dhamma81 said...

He certainly belongs behind bars but hopefully he can change through Buddhism.

They call him James Ure said...


Thanks for the link, I'll check it out. Yeah I'm glad that Fritzl is turning to something to help control his impulses.


I agree that he should never be released from prison.

forest wisdom said...

Another very well written post James. I continue to be impressed with the quality of your writing here and I appreciate the balanced perspective you seem to bring to the topics you write upon. You make me think...and more often than not I find myself agreeing with you. :)


Tom said...

I agree with the comments in this thread that this is yet another terrific, well-written (and interesting, I would add) The Buddhist Blog post.

Skeptic that I am, I think it is likely that Fritzl is faking an interest in Buddhism in hope of improving his circumstance. Whether or not that is so, I am glad that he, or anyone, is gaining knowledge of Buddhism.

I do wonder how literally we should take the Angulimal story. In other religions [hint: Christianity], there are tales that make vivid important teachings but aren't historically true.

Angulimal would have to have been a psychopath [or very very close to being one], someone incapable of empathizing with others. Psychiatry has been wantonly unsuccessful at teaching empathy to those who exhibit a total absense of it at an early age.

Did Angulimal's tiny bit of mercy toward his mother indicate there was a ray of hope for him that Buddha detected?

Perhaps Fritzl now knows the Angulimal story. Is that story and the wretchedness of Fritzl's own story something he finds "fascinating!?"

In the Mirror story James links to Fritzl says: "I realise now that I am not normal, and I see that somebody who did what I did cannot be regarded as normal."

I certainly wish Fritzl well if his intent is sincere.

They call him James Ure said...


Thank-you. You are so kind.


Yeah I don't take the Angulimal story literally. I see it as a parable. Like you said with Christianity.

Riverwolf, said...

Angulimal's story is fascinating and inspiring. Once again, I'm speechless and have more to ponder.

They call him James Ure said...


Yeah it's a subject that does require a lot of contemplation.

VNTuongLai said...

You’re invited to view my latest video “Sex Slavery & Murder.”

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