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Buddhism in the News


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Buddhist Community Outraged Over Demon Beating Incident.

Both parents of a 3-year-old southwest Harris County boy beat him with bamboo sticks and poked his feet with chopsticks in a violent attempt to remove demons from his body, a prosecutor said Tuesday in a court hearing. Assistant Harris County District Attorney Darin Darby, citing a witness statement from the boy’s 6-year-old sister, on Tuesday presented new details of the attack on Saturday to state District Judge Debbie Mantooth Stricklin in the case against Phung Tran, 36.

She and her husband, Jacky Tran, 35, are charged with injury to a child with serious bodily injury, a first-degree felony. He was arrested on Saturday. His wife was charged on Monday. Both face up to life in prison if convicted. Prosecutors say the parents, Buddhists and vegetarians, believed demons entered the boy through meat he ate.

HOUSTON – Houston’s Vietnamese and Buddhist communities are outraged over what they claim is a distortion of their religious beliefs. "We don't want to be looked upon as sharing the same kind of beliefs and actions as that man. Everybody condemns that action," Vu Thanh Thuy of Radio Saigon Houston said.

The Vietnam Buddhist Center in Sugar Land also condemns Tran’s actions. They wanted to make it clear that Buddhism does not teach anything about removing demons, especially at the painful expense of another human’s life. "I think he has a problem with his mind. I don't think it has got anything to do with religion," Lien Tu of the Vietnam Buddhist Center said. In fact, the major landmark at the Vietnam Buddhist Center is a 720-foot tall statue of the Bodhi Safa. In Buddhism, this is the goddess of peace and mercy, which is the opposite of the religious claims being made in the case of Jacky Tran.

The communities want to send the message that Buddhism is about alleviating suffering, not causing it, especially when it comes to a helpless 3-year-old boy.

James: It is my view that demons aren't real and that they are better understood as parts of our illusory self. In other words we all have Buddha nature but demon nature as well. Buddha taught us that we must take ownership of our ill fortunes and realize we are our own saviors and demons. We must take responsibility for our actions and problems--not conveniently shift the blame onto some invented bogeyman.

"By oneself, indeed, is evil done; by oneself is one defiled. By oneself is evil left undone; by oneself, indeed, is one purified. Purity and impurity depend on oneself. No one purifies another." (Dhammapada, chapter 12, verse 165).

I've said this before but personally I find belief in demons to be dangerous as people can justify just about anything in the name of fighting an amorphous, unverifiable "demon." Such beliefs can too easily lead to placing our focus and attention outside of ourselves and allow us to blame our weaknesses, mistakes and problems on this idea of demons, which in many ways has become a scapegoat for a rampant ego. Now, I'm not saying that believing in demons always leads to this kind of behavior and if you believe demons are real and beneficial to your practice and are otherwise a very peaceful, non-violent, reasonable being than I have no quarrel with you.

As for this particular case we can clearly see that they are not practicing Buddhism but rather a very perverted, twisted and deranged immitation. In the first place vegetarianism isn't mandatory in Buddhism but second I want to know where the 3 year old got meat from if the parents were vegetarian? The main thing that I wanted to underline with this post is that Buddhism does NOT teach violence and is often seen as the most peaceful religion on Earth today. Of course there will be wackos who do this kind of stuff and try to call themselves Buddhists but that does not take away from the underlying message of Buddhism, which is peace, non-violence, love, respect and kindness.

---End of Transmission---

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Dhamma81 said...


I've never heard of anywhere in the Canon where the Buddha talks about demonic possession much less beating it out of someone. Interesting to say the least.

Paul said...

Hi James, I had to respond to this as I whole heartedly agree with you. It was when you said "In other words we all have Buddha nature but demon nature as well. Buddha taught us that we must take ownership of our ill fortunes and realize we are our own saviors and demons." that I had to click to make a response.

Not sure if others have noticed about my username for blogger but you need to break it up into 3 words. Mara...My...Friend. I chose this name a it reflects exactly what you say here. I work towards living the dharma, I work toward my buddha nature, but to have a buddha nature I feel I have to recognize my Mara nature too. Not saying I am a bad person but I am far from enlightened. It is like I only know what white is when I compare it to black. I can therefore only recognise my buddha nature by realising my mara nature too.

Therefore I see Mara as my friend, as to embrace my mara nature and see it for what it is makes me also see the opposite side. My buddha nature.

Without night, I would not know what day is.

They call him James Ure said...


Yeah me neither. I've never heard of demonic possession in the Canon or elsewhere within Buddhism. Maybe they were apart of some cult that they claim was Buddhism.


I like the way you explained the "Mara my Friend" title. It's so very true and I'm the same way. I need to understand all sides of my nature before I can fully realize my Buddha nature. Well said.

walkingtowardrefuge said...

Nicely done, James! Interesting comments, as well!

Kyle R Lovett said...

It just goes to show that people still blame or use as a reason religon to do horrible things. I agree James, they sound like they belong to some very twisted cult.

mikethepikey said...

Very strange indeed.

As a friend once told me, "Don't judge a religion by it's followers."


Samuel said...

I guess this is proof that any religion can be distorted and taken out of all context for the worse.....

Mark said...

I absolutely agree with you both, James and Paul. Very thought provoking.

Spiv said...

I think it's impossible to talk about this stuff without recognizing that this part of the world (and indeed, many others, though in different ways) is rife with superstition and unreason. Buddhism is very metaphorical about the demons within, and tries to lay it out in such a way as to be understood as our interpersonal conflicts. Unfortunately some will always want to stretch these things back to believing in gods,godesses, demons, and fairies who intervene on our daily lives no differently than zues, artemis, and the rest of the Greek/Roman theater.

I'm not saying belief is harmful by nature- but that thinking on faith and superstition alone can be a very bad habit that can lead to very bad things. Like they say, any tool is a weapon if you hold it the wrong way.

They call him James: Beware the "No True Scottsman" argument you're making. Among any belief or philosophy, there will always be outliers. If we are compassionate we can work to cure their ills before, or even after they have done some wrong. If we fail to do this we are giving up and justifying it through the dehumanization of them as "cultists" or "criminals."

Pete Hoge said...

Through the meat he ate?


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AngelaFerreira said...

Reading this is disturbing and sickning... It is difficult to feel any empathy or compassion for the parents... Hope the boy tottally recovers mentally and physically!

They call him James Ure said...


Yeah it's too bad because there is a lot of good in religion. I'm a soft atheist but I think religion does have a lot of good to offer. At least some religious paths.


Yep. We can always find yahoos within any group of diverse people. I just hope that people don't judge all of Buddhism by these two mentally ill people. It has much more to do with their mental health than Buddhism.


Yeah, exactly.


I agree that too much superstition can be a bad thing. A lot of Buddhism in Asia is influenced by traditional beliefs in those regions before the arrival of the Dharma.

I like the saying on any tool being a weapon if held the wrong way and you're right about compassion being the right answer. I don't want to give the impression at all that I judge all Buddhists by these two.

Robin said...

mindfulness, wisdom and compassion..

we seem to have too little of them

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