Rioting on the streets of England and in our own minds


What do you make of all these riots sweeping across England right now? People are getting hurt.

They are reminding me of two things:

(1)   The uncontrollable nature of anger

(2)   How influenced we are by others

In the newspaper I was reading online, a commentator tries to figure out what exact grievances are leading to the riots, e.g. poor housing, drugs, sink schools, gangs. But he concludes:

“While these phenomena may explain many forms of crime, my attendance at some of these occasions made me aware of the sheer momentum of a mob sensing a licence for an orgy of destructive mischief.”

A good friend of mine in Manchester just emailed me to say moreorless the same thing, which got me thinking. And what I am thinking is: “This sounds just like my mind of anger!” Anger starts with some pretext and then dwells on perceived grievances with inappropriate attention and the next thing you know the mind is on fire. It is far easier to put out a match than a forest fire. If no effort is made in anger’s early stages to control it, it rapidly spins us out of control. And it often thinks that it’s enjoying itself at the time, and that it’s valid, especially while we are still surrounded by other like-minded, over-excited “friends”. It’s only later, when the inappropriate attention has died down, that any remorse kicks in and we realize what destructive idiots we’ve been. There were other ways to do this, whatever it is.

Inappropriate attention is #6 of the six causes of delusion identified in Buddha’s teachings. Take anger for example. Cause #1 is the seed – we all have the seed of anger within us until we have abandoned our delusions by means of the wisdom realizing emptiness, and meantime we can prevent it ripening by stopping the other five causes. #2 is the object – we need some pretext for our anger, great or small. Nothing is inherently irritating but if we’re not careful anything can set us off, especially if we are prone to anger through familiarity with it – and #5 is familiarity. Bad habits, #4, don’t help, such as generally doing lots of stealing, drugs, arguing, watching violent movies and so on. Which leaves us with # 3, distraction and being influenced by others, which really does seem to be a major factor in what is going on in the streets of England as we speak.

In Joyful Path of Good Fortune, Geshe Kelsang says:

Our friendships have a powerful influence over us. Since we tend to imitate our friends, we need to associate with friends who admire spiritual training and who apply themselves to it with joy.

That is, of course, if we want to make spiritual progress as opposed to get off with as many stolen video games as we can cram into our stolen shopping carts, have a good laugh at others’ expense, and possibly end up behind bars. Compare the riots to people’s uplifting accounts of the friendships made at the recent NKT Summer Festival, for example!

Anyway, a sad but useful reminder that until we uproot the six causes of our delusions, no one is safe, not even on the usually calm suburban streets of Croydon or in our own minds.

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 36 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to our everyday lives, and vice versa. I try to make it accessible to everyone who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

29 thoughts on “Rioting on the streets of England and in our own minds”

  1. Don’t agree that this article and some ot the comments are non-judgemental. even a bit smug and complacent possibly? It seems to be about ‘them’, not ‘us’. We are nice calm, detached, probably middle-class buddhists; more aligned with the magistrates etc who reacted so savagely (though in measured tones). It seems a bit one-sided not to give the fuller picture.
    There seems to be more than enough pontificating about things and people outside one’s own experience already on the BBC etc.

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    1. You are probably right. But this article was written during the riots, long before the — to my mind — shamefully over the top retribution. I never wrote about that because it seemed to speak for itself, in a way.

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  2. Two amazing and hopeful things have happened in the midst of all this madness:

    A grieving father who has more provocation to be angry than anyone else appeals instead for peace:

    ‘Visibly emotional, Jahan added: “I lost my son. Blacks, Asians, whites – we all live in the same community. Why do we have to kill one another? Why are we doing this? Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise, calm down and go home – please.” ‘

    And many people turn up with good humor and brooms to clean up the streets, showing the power we also have to bring out the best in each other: http://observers.france24.com/content/20110809-london-riots-cleanup-clapham-hackney-brooms-london-citizens-clean

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  3. It seems clear to me that an unintended consequence of well meaning social policy can be that it increases delusions in the citizens it was intended to help.

    Britain, in its attempt at bringing the poorer members of society in to the fold, via a benefits system designed to prevent unskilled workers from being left in destitution during times of unemployment, has effectively created two very distinct segments within society.

    One group works and sometimes at thankless jobs to support themselves and their families. They contribute via the tax system to the schools, the health system, all of the infrastructure, and the benefits system. Some of these people sometimes find themselves in need of support from the system, too. The other group never works, or at least never at anything they don’t want to do, and lives in extraction mode their entire lives, living on benefits and/or grant money. They feel no shame about taking absolutely no responsibility for supporting themselves and any children they choose to have along the way. That the welfare system has effectively replaced fathers for a very big segment of the population is not a win for feminism, to say nothing of the fact that it has created situations that place lots of children at a lot of risk for abuse and neglect. But the real kicker for me is that oftentimes these people sneer at the fools who are supporting them, while they live a life without consequences.

    This is not a class issue, rather one of people being supported in their deluded sense of their own worth, and being actively encouraged to believe that it is their right to spend their entire lives at the receiving end of the generosity of others. I know more than a small number of university graduates in Britain, now in their mid-thirties, who have chosen never to work, or at least to work here and there at “passion projects” after being the fortunate recipients of an expensive education courtesy of the tax payer. So while my childhood neighbor, a musician in his heart but, cursed with a work ethic passed down from his working class parents, does the music thing on the side and works as a welder in order to support himself, these graduates live the good life. My musician friend and other “fools” like him doubtless work more hours so that they can overcome the tax burden of supporting people who choose never to work at all.

    I believe in the welfare state but when it was created, we did get some things very wrong. The sheer volume of people who are living with this belief that they have no responsibility to contribute is, in my opinion, the reason the riots are happening.

    These rioters are the product of a culture that has taught them they can have whatever they want and that no matter how little effort they make to contribute, they’ll always be taken care of. They are used to being able to stick their hand out and have all of their needs taken care of, so it’s not a stretch to understand that grabbing their wants by throwing a brick through a shop window and taking goods is second nature. Entitlement is a delusion.

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  4. Thinking again, I see that I feel disdain towards the rioters. In that disdain I am depersonalising them, distancing them from myself. They must be feeling a lot of disdain and distance themselves to be doing what they are doing.

    This disdain is our downfall. (And I should be counteracting mine with practices such as Lamrim).

    If we all recognised and felt our kinship to everyone, we would know that, despite appearances or behaviours, everyone is the same. We all have a mind and feelings and want and don’t want the same things at a deep level. We all have a ‘kind and tender heart’ and if we all felt kinship, none of us would want to hurt any of those tender hearts in any way.

    None of the present problems would arise.

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  5. One thing that keeps coming in my mind is, they are we. We are all interconnected, as Geshe-la says in Universal Compassion, we are different parts of one body united in our wish to be happy and free from suffering. Just as the hand doesn’t ignore the foot if there is a thorn stuck in it, so we each should feel responsible for these things but also understand by the same token that our patience, prayers, moral discipline and so forth are also on behalf of all beings. So I feel that even if we can’t help physically our practice really will help to solve these problems. As Geshe-la also says, I think in 8 Steps, one person with pure love in a community is like a mythical jewel that purifies even filthy water just by dipping it in. So, let’s be jewels :-)) That’s my conclusion.

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  6. Thank you so much Luna – advice and wisdom I have heard many times from beloved teachers. I once had one opportunity to teach a Dharma class in a prison – just one time! What would I tell them? First, I cried openly for the immense suffering in the room – theirs, mind and all samsaric prisoners.

    Then I asked, What does it mean to be Buddhist? We are all here, in this room, because we have some interest in Buddhist teachings, right? As a practitioner, I want to get my mind to become so peaceful that if one of you sat down next to me you could sense the kindness and freedom within my mind and feel comforted. As a Buddhist, our neighbors can relax around us because they know we will not kill them, steal from them, lie to them, sexually abuse them, disparage them or be jealous of them. Think about a “celly” like that!

    Our karma brought us here today, this very moment, in fact, is a karmic occurrence that we all had a hand in creating. One big difference, in 50 minutes I will walk out those gates and you will go back to your cells. Do not think for one minute your prison is any worse then the samsaric prison my delusions will create for me. My conditions may be better for now – but unless I practice the Dharma I have learned – causes and conditions could all come together I could have to stay here too.

    Shared with the Sangha of Sumter State Prison – Fla USA Oct 2008

    Blame the delusions – not the unenlightened beings – they have no choice but to follow their uncontrolled minds! As Langri Tangpa said, … I find it difficult to find anything in samsara to smile about. Whenever I see someone I think of their suffering, and instead of laughing I feel like crying”

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  7. Thanks Luna. It helps to remember that what we’re seeing is, at the end of the day, a reflection of our own mind anyway.

    Also, you know, I try to remember that they’re not inherently bad kids doing all this stuff. I got in with a ‘wrong crowd’ when I was a young teen and it wasn’t long before I became that ‘wrong crowd’ and started having an influence on my other, more well behaved friends. It’s easy for one thing to lead to another, especially when we’re seeking thrills and happiness outside of ourself ie in external things. Each buzz just doesn’t last so you have to seek another, more exciting thing. In my opinion (and I could be completely wide of the mark here) it’s not a sign of anything the government or parents are doing wrong – it’s a sign that happiness cannot be found outside of our minds and that the more we search for it in the external world, the more desperate measures we have to turn to to find even temporary happiness. What these kids need isn’t a good dose of the army life, or a stint in prison – what they need is Dharma and for people to pray for them to find inner peace. It’s what everyone needs because it’s the only thing that works. It worked for Angulimala and it can work for these kids too.

    If we all say as many Tara mantras as we can over the next few days, praying from the depths of our hearts for all strong delusions in people’s minds to be pacified (not just in England but in all troubled countries throughout the world) – I’d bet it’ll all calm down. Let’s give it a try, eh?! Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha 🙂

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    1. doing Tara’s a class idea. Geshe-la suggested we do a Tara succession at MMBC for all those affected by th Mad Cow Disease epidemic a few years back. (can anyone remember why Tara in particular, aside from swift compassion?)

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  8. It seems that much of th ‘rioting’ was really just looting. Very little to do with some bloke who got shot. More like opportunists feeding their self-cherishing with new ipods, jewellery n trainers. Greed isn’t much better than anger, n as Luna says, th Spiritual Path is th only solution.

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  9. Think you nailed it….. enjoyed article. On a positive note… on the news at the moment are scenes of young people and others in Manchester who organised themselves on twitter to go to the city centre and clean up the streets! the same happened in london. More people turned out to clean up than riot…

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  10. It’s mostly down to the culture of self-cherishing — a lot of the people doing this see them self as deprived and most are workless and no suprise due to a element of criminality those we see offending now are as likely to have been like this before it started. When the Anarchists came out the criminals tailed along behind them seeing it as an opportunity to do whatever they want regardless of whatever BS they come out with about poverty, I know many decent people who are in such situations and they don’t resort to thuggery.

    Self-cherishing gives rise to anger, and it also gives rise to people thinking they can do whatever they want without consequence.

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  11. Phew, to answer your FB question Luna – from a Dharma perspective:

    I see the riots as ‘human nature’. Just people displaying all their many mental facets.
    With the rioters – they mainly strike me as unthinking. Much the same as how the people who would march behind the bands in Northern Ireland, where I grew up, struck me.

    But at the same time, I remember a kind of excitement swelling within myself in response to all that (bands and all that jazz) – identifying with the ‘other side’. A ‘righteousness’, being ‘fired up’, being posessed by a ’cause’. I don’t feel it for all that so much now ‘thank God’, as I’ve been away from there for years. I don’t feel it for the same stuff as the rioters but maybe it’s similar to what is posessing them?

    As well, of course, as it all being a handy outlet for their frustrations, their suffering of hardships in life, their anger (just like the band followers).

    Like the band people, I think they’ve created an external ‘enemy’ too. In the case of the riots, the ‘enemy’ is the Police.

    Last night, the rioting in Liverpool started in our area – literally 5 minutes walk up the road. Riot police and gangs were outside our house on a big main road. Cars were burning in 2 different directions 5 minutes from us. I was fearful for our cats – bricks or rubber bullets through the windows, who knows. I kept them away from the front room. Also fearful for vulnerable people, for example old people who may be living alone in the area and completely helpless.

    I felt and feel some anger about the riots. Well I suppose it’s anger although it doesn’t feel disturbing (touch wood!) in the same way as so much of the other angers I’ve felt/feel do.

    It feels like ‘wrath’ although I might well be deluding myself there and maybe true wrath can only come from a completely pure mind, I’m not sure.

    I feel protective towards some and like giving some others a very scary front to sort them out! In my head anyway.. Sadly, people who actively try to stop thugs/rioters often end up dead. One poor man is in intensive care now, in London I think, because he tried to stop youths damaging bins or buildings. (I’m not sure which).

    From a Dharma perspective too, the riots have ‘brought out the best in people’, with families and neighbours feeling compassion and protectiveness and pulling together to help each other. We’re lucky here, we’ve got great neighbours.

    Most of the time, no matter what my reactions are, I’m aware that they really should be something else. Your comment about the best reaction is so true Luna. I’m kind of looking at your comment and what it means and, if I’m really honest, thinking ‘yeah, that’s brilliant, I aspire’. Ha, maybe it’s all chipping away at me, I hope so!

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  12. On our way back from Manjushri in Manchester Airport, we got an oportunity to practise patience when we were told that we were not on the list for departure, a Sangha friend and me. I realized this was an oportunity for us to practise again, as on our way home from Sao Paulo last year after the autumn festival con Gueshela, this friend did not pass the examn, I mean, she did not practise, let her emotions take hold of her and had an awfull time.

    This time I was with her again and could remind her thas this was another oportunity for her. She agreed, she got her anger under control reciting mantras while I could negotiate with the friendly and helpful lady at the ticket desk. It took hours, no chance! Later this lady looked for us in the airport while we were trying to get in touch with our travel agent in vain, it was after midnight at home…and she left the ticket office unattended and searched for us to tell us that she found a solution! We got home at the same time with a different schedule that night. I also learned something, namely how it is when you forget about yourself and help others, a wonderfull feeling and wondered why they put me into the business-class department, I never travelled so comfortably like this time. We both put Dharma into practise and arrived happily.

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  13. Initially I thought that the riots were politically motivated against the Conservative austerity measures, co-ordinated by social media such as Blackberries and Facebook (a bit like the Egyptian events earlier this year). But there does not seem to be a macro-structure to the organization. It is definitely bad behaviour spreading from one group to another, and it is definitely pure anger expressed as thuggery, breaking down norms that usually keep us in check.

    So what is motivating it?

    Even though no political objectives have been stated, it may be an ‘undercurrent’ or ‘unconscious’ resistance to austerity or the global economic / capitalist order in general. A friend said that in London recently, there has been an air of violence and tension in the air as younger people see no way forward within the current world order. Although they may not be able to articulate these positions, the anger does spread out, assuming a meaningful outlet for this tension.

    For me, the boat is still out as to the causes of this insanity, but I suspect that it will be a wake-up call the the Tories and the message they are putting out regarding the future of young citizens .. reducing educational opportunity, jobs, and benefits simultaneously.. that may have amassed to breaking point. If they do not change their messages, it unfortunately could be a regular event.

    Angry rioting, without any political cause, is inexcusable, but it never sparks in a vacuum, just for the fun of it. If this is a political strike in a very hidden way, we should stop the rioting, but seek to understand underlying causes in the hopelessness that many young people may feel, and develop compassion for these causes in more peaceful times.

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  14. Thank you, it’s so nice to see a positive and non-judgemental response to what’s going on, facebook is filled with angry responses- but fighting fire with fire simply does not work. Like you say Luna, a small spark is the beginning of a raging fire. It really does worry me to see all these small sparks flying around all over the place.

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  15. Victoria Kaya
    Thanks Luna at last some wisdom. It is sad to see such destructive behaviour on the steets of England it worrys me that so many are influenced by others, I was listening to the radio today and one looter spoke of poverty and misfortune experienced in these areas which leads to social exclusion,with this he then added that he had the right to take what belonged to others and that it was hard luck if people did not like it. It saddens me that the world is degenarating before our eyes and that the looters try to justify their actions. The fire of anger fuels their actions , my heart goes out to the innocent people who are affected , In degenarate times we need refuge more than ever!

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  16. I love your posts so much. I don’t often get time to read dharma books but I do make time to check emails. Receiving your emails amongst the junk I get is an utter joy. How wonderful to be reminded 8am this morning that a great deal of the pain I and others presently feel is simply due to inappropriate attention. Understanding this, it seems easy to free ourselves from suffering. Thank you

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  17. i suspect that girls mostly don’t or can’t understand the sheer exuberance in destruction that boys feel. kids from a very early age display this difference. Boys come into a place and break stuff, Girls are all about ‘You’re not my friend because x,y and z’..
    if that offends then sorry.
    i can completely understand the glee felt by rioters. it’s not just anger.

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  18. Hmm the riots puzzle me too. But it seems like most things that happen on a big scale are usually happening on a smaller scale beforehand. If you check inside England’s inner cities you find lots of graffiti, shops boarded up and places that used to be peaceful have become dangerous. The reason is that young people are out of control. This is because they don’t have good upbringing and role models. Therefore the answer from what I can see is healthy family. Healthy family comes from people caring about each other and maintaining responsibilities, which is part of love. So love solves it. But there is also an intense pessimism about the future of society. Because of this young people do not have faith in the current ‘system’ and will rebel against it. Our current society is just one huge experiment of completely abandoning all traditions and starting again from scratch. In my opinion abandoning tradition is reckless and part of having no respect for the previous generations….i.e. our mothers. If you develop respect for your elders you realise that the way they set up society was based on conclusions reached through deep life experience, and that is something to be valued not tossed aside. One example is how we abandoned the tradition of building things that last… replacing it with building things that we just use once then throw on a landfill.

    Love your family and respect your elders and set a good example in society. Stop being so experimental and strengthen what you have already created making it functional. Don’t always be rushing to new innovations…check the current innovations are correct 1st. There is no rush! Innovation is happening so fast now that by the time you’ve read one list of rules the rules have been changed…it’s very destabilizing and creates a lot of chaos. P Parenting is radically developing new ideas such as giving children ipods etc but we aren’t even evaluating these methods and if the children are turning out well before we are bringing in another strange element to their childhood.

    Its like the world is gathering pace but because we have no traditions left we are running faster and faster with no brakes. We need to slow down. Try to improve quality of society. Especially we need to get rid of debt habits. Debt caused all this. It’s why we reduced the quality of our craftsmanship. Its why we got cheaper labourers, its why all the industry went abroad, Its why the workplace became a place where staff are cut so there’s less people to do a backbreaking volume of work. Then the workers offer a poor service or product and can take no pride in their work.

    If we practice love it solves all this but the love has to be applied. It needs to be expressed and shared not just hidden inside for future lives.

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    1. @Michelle and Alex, you both make good and interesting points. But, as i just replied to you on FB, the only thing that won’t do our head in — given that we’re a long way off from victorian childhoods (or even fifties’ ones) and the neoliberals and Tories aren’t going anywhere anytime soon — is to get rid of our delusions and mistaken appearances. There, I said it! Call me a navel-gazing Buddhist if you like. ‘Course, we can then act from that perspective, if we see an opening.

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