Now one may well ask why, if we’re born with our unborn Buddha mind and thus are enlightened at birth, do we absorb all of these “harmful” life experiences rather than view them through our unborn Buddha mind and dismiss them. I addressed this question in an earlier post (which I can’t identify right now), but bottom line, my theory is that the Buddha mind is a very passive spirit, it is not a fighting spirit, and so it easily becomes overwhelmed by the forces of learned experience, especially when we are very young. And even when we become aware of what is going on at some later point in our lives, it takes a huge amount of discipline to free ourselves from this learned experience and return home to our unborn Buddha mind.
But I digress. Not only do our learned experiences overpower our true Buddha nature, but they program us to act in certain ways. Thus we in fact do not have the commonly assumed free will to choose between a wide range of options. So when someone does something harmful or bad, he does not choose, in the sense of free will, to do such an act. It’s done because he has been trained, programmed, to think that it isn’t wrong, or so what if it’s wrong, or it needs to be done to protect him.
“But what if an act is illegal?” the reader may ask. Many people are trained to give no credence to the societal view that something is illegal. Others will disagree as to whether a specific act is wrong and should be illegal, and so feel free to act in an illegal way. The fact is that few people will choose not to do something illegal unless their training programs them in a way that either says that that act is wrong or that one should never do something that is illegal.
Just think of how many times you have consciously broken the law because you felt you weren’t doing anything wrong or harmful … speeding, jaywalking, etc. Granted these are not what we usually think of as criminal acts, but the same analysis applies.
If you believe in this Buddhist teaching, how does that impact how you react to examples of someone doing harm, even horrific harm? While not condoning the action, you have compassion for the perpetrator because you are aware that learned experience programmed him to do something harmful. You thus do not hate the person or get angry at the person; you have compassion for his suffering. And from that compassion flows a perspective which informs both our personal interactions as well as how we view the criminal justice system.