Zen and the art of fighting crime



I think if I did this in my neighborhood, the instances of the crime of defacing/graffiti-ing religious monuments would go up substantially. Good thing we have a relatively low crime level.

At least one study has shown that even pictures of eyes cut down on bad behavior. I wonder how much of the decrease in crime was caused by the physical presence of any statue that seems to be looking the level with its viewers (eyes closed or not, we know the eyes are there). Whereas with non-religious statuary of heroes and whatnot, we can see where they’re watching and usually it’s at nothing to do with us at all.

Another factor may be that people didn’t want to do bad things when people had gathered around the Buddha or were likely to show up at seemingly unpredictable times.

I know this post probably seems like a lot of pooh-poohing. I don’t quite know how to fix that. Nothing here is meant to suggest that everything in this story is wholly explainable using known psychology. Nor do I mean to disrespect Buddha or anyone who sees more metaphysical explanations of what’s happening here.

I’m not a Buddhist (though if I wasn’t a Discordian, I would be), but I certainly would visit his statue and meditate there regardless. I have a deep respect for Buddha and his teachings. I just see a bit that could be caused by human nature.

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I am a bit confused. Are they saying that if you leave statues of Buddha around, people spontaneously convert to Buddhism?

No, just that they start acting like the Christians they claim to be.


I saw a similar thing happen several years ago in my small Northern Utah town.

A popular Asian restaurant near the local high school offered a cheap-and-fast rice bowl menu specifically for students at lunch time. The place was usually packed at noon, and when you have lots of teen kids in a high concentration, rowdiness ensues. (Well, in that part of the state, it’s “Napoleon Dynamite” level rowdiness.) But it was bad enough that most adults would avoid the place in the middle of the day. At one point, the owners installed a small shrine with a statue of the Buddha, and began leaving offerings of rice and coins. Curious kids (mostly Mormon) asked about the shrine, and soon most of them made a habit of leaving a little pre-meal rice and quarters at the shrine. Some even copied the owners’ practice of bowing slightly when making offerings. The owners also hung quite a few posters espousing views of Buddhist and Taoist teachings, Confucianism, and so forth. And the rowdiness all but disappeared. Overall it was a much more pleasant atmosphere, and grown-ups started coming back for lunch. Did the owners plan this? I dunno. But it worked.

I don’t think it was a matter of “converting” anyone to anything. But just as meditation encourages us to direct our thoughts and passions inwardly and in different directions, I believe that these kids came to this restaurant and saw it as a place that was, well, a little different from Subway or Taco Bell. (Plus it had MUCH better food.) I overheard quite a few discussions of the philosophies that were on the posters; and as far as I’m concerned if they regarded that place as a place of peace, and then somehow carried those things over into their lives outside of lunchtime, so much the better.


I’m suddenly imagining a rock-paper-scissors arrangement of what religion people start to act like when presented with different religious icons.


A sense of wonder and awe for things that are strange and exotic can have a profound effect on people. Things that feel “holy” or “sacred” tend to garner some degree of respect, even if they aren’t necessarily things an individual person believes in.

Of course, this also has a flipside - things that become mundane and everyday are typically not afforded respect. If you put up cheap shrines and “holy” places by the truckload, they become yet another thing to take for granted - they lose their “special” quality, and become one more banal detail of a bland general landscape.

The takeaway, I guess, is that having something genuinely special or unique to a location can instill awe and reverence in folks - whether it’s a religious shrine, or even something completely secular. Attractive gardens or some inspiring artwork could work just as well as a Maitreya statue (but they have to actually be nice gardens and art - not just the lowest-bid contractor nonsense you see in many places where the local government attempts to “beautify” an area).

In general, I find that people behave better when they’re treated better. When people are miserable, surrounded by ugliness and banality, they act more poorly. When people are happier, surrounded by beauty and wonder, they act much more pleasantly.

It’s hard to be a jerk in a lovely place, and it’s rather easy to be one in a depressing area. We are creatures of our environment, and we should employ that fact to our advantage.


That’d be less Rock Paper Scissors, and more Pokemon Type Chart.

And here I was thinking Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock.

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This makes me feel better about being agnostic but having a stone Buddha statue in my house.

most forms of buddhism are completely compatible with being agnostic or atheist, and are philosophies of meditation, introspection, awareness. most of the statues and iconography you see are symbolic reminders of aspects of the practice, and things like mindfulness, compassion, awareness, etc. they are not “worshiped” and do not represent actual deities as much as concepts. buddhism really isn’t a religion in the typical sense of the word, closer to a philosophy or practice.

i have been an atheist buddhist my entire adult life.

not that any of that matters because the buddha statues or buddha heads do make nice decorating accents regardless of what you believe or think, anyone can have one, and you can find them just about anywhere these days. i’ve seen them in walmart even. :smiley:



I’d argue a Buddha sold in a Walmart is a curse upon any souls who share a physical space with the bastardized symbol. And, yeah, I never was sure I was agnostic anyways.

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Right–a standard-issue American roadside memorial type cross wouldn’t do much in this situation, because they are essentially invisible. They don’t generate anything beyond the norm. The Buddha shocks people into reverence. I would guess that a saint’s shrine out of a Catholic grotto might have a similar effect, but probably to a lesser degree, simply because while both are associated with mindfulness and reverence in their respective traditions, the Buddha has more association in the Western mind with reverence beyond the Western norm. While this is at least in part an Orientalist stereotype, it has a social effect. Now if we could just figure out how to elicit reverence for, you know, one’s fellow human beings, rather than for a statue, we’d have this thing licked.


The scientist in me wants to now what the variation in crime rates was before 2012, whether there were other changes that might explain a 2-year drop in crime statistics and whether crime rates in neighbouring areas increased as criminals started avoiding this block. Still, it’s encouraging to see and I fully support the idea that making public spaces interesting can replace feelings of alienation with appreciation.


There’s a Buddhist temple in uptown Oakland (Next to the Taco Bell) that has swastikas set into the tiling over the front door. I’ve never been mugged on that block. Just sayin’.

Obviously good to ask about other factors, but I think there is at least one obvious way in which this would lower crime and that is just having more people around. If people visited the statue then that spot just wasn’t as good a place to do crimes anymore. What I’d be really interested in knowing is whether crime was prevented or just displaced - did crime go a couple of blocks away?

Also, it’s too bad the City of Vancouver didn’t give Satan a chance for comparison purposes:


why, it’s almost as if they don’t really believe in their all-seeing invisible deity, and need a graven image of a pagan god instead as a reminder.



For example, put up a picture of Mohammed and orthodox Moslems go apeshit.