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Buddhism in the News


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sandy Hook Elementary Massacre: A Buddhist's Response.

As the horrible mass shooting of children in Connecticut echoes around the world, millions are trying to fathom such senseless violence. Of course, the initial reaction is to ban assault weapons in America for the average citizen, which I support. No one needs a machine gun to hunt for food. In places like Europe that have strict gun control laws, you just don't see the kind of mass shootings and rampant violence that you do in America. Sure, there are a smattering of examples but they are few and far between:
The FBI's Uniform Crime Reports for 2009 list 10,224 homicides [in U.S.] that involved a gun [...] Mamoru Suzuki of Japan's National Research Institute of Police Science e-mailed us that there were seven gun murders in Japan during 2009. For the United Kingdom and Germany, we had to extrapolate, taking firearm murder rates per 1,000 people, then, using population statistics, calculate the number of firearm murders. The data, from a United Nations survey of crime trends, cover 1998 to 2000, the most recent available for firearms deaths. We found that the United Kingdom had 63 firearm murders, and Germany had 381. Experts we consulted said the figures sounded about right.
I think, however, it is bigger than just guns. The United States has one of the most stressed populations in the world, which stems, in large part, from the worship of greed. The worship of money is one of the major poisons to our peace of mind that Buddha warned against. It breeds class resentment having to work longer hours for less pay because of greedy bosses. It fuels anger, which never leads to anything beneficial. It also creates stress for families, while at the same time government is cutting health care benefits that include mental health care.

Other countries invest in their workers, so that they can focus more time with their families and each other; such a policy reduces stress and makes for happier people, happier workers. And that means a less violent society. They have a better social safety net to catch and help the most needy individuals deal with mental trauma, that if left untreated, can lead to disastrous results.

I am a firm believer in meditation, and I think it would greatly help Americans reduce stress. I know it does because it helps me, and I suffer from a psychiatric disorder. It's a wonderful way to deal with anger, as well. Perhaps if we taught a secular version of meditation to our kids in school, they'd have some tools to help them deal with the stress and complicated emotions of youth, without having to resort to violence. If our police officers knew how to meditate then perhaps they'd be better able to handle the stress of such a job. Imagine a less stressful job-place if companies did morning meditations for about 10 minutes each day before work!! Perhaps it would prevent people from being over-worked until they mentally snap and show up with a gun to work.

The Buddhist teaching of oneness is also helpful in preventing violence. If we can realize that we are one with all beings then compassion for others is easier to realize. It's harder to hurt (either verbally or physically) someone that you see as apart of you. If can learn to see one another as apart of us, rather than as competitors, then patience is easier to achieve, which helps reduce the chances of conflict arising.

Then there is the Buddhist idea of attachment. When we attach to the idea of ourselves being separate and apart from others, it breeds selfishness and disdain for people not like ourselves. Attachment leads to an unending cycle of "wants" which propel us to justify anything in the name of trying to satisfy the "hungry ghost" of the ego. In turn, we resent people who have what we want, and that poison can eat away at our sense of morality until we blame others for our perceived lack of happiness. And, just like in war, once the violence begins it breeds further violence from retaliations and so on.

All of these issues, and more, must be apart of the solution. No one issue can solve the epidemic of violence in American society. Tighter gun laws are needed, yes, but we need a holistic approach encompassing numerous reforms in vast and diverse areas of modern life. We need to teach our children not to bully fellow students. Bullying in schools leads to rage, depression and isolation. That kind of harassment can easily lead them to commit violence either against themselves or others. We can no longer pretend that such problems don't affect us. As Buddha proved, interconnection demands we pay attention to the troubles of others. By ignoring them, we might delude ourselves but sooner or later we will suffer the consequences, too.

~i bow to the Buddha within all beings~

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Shannon said...

I love this post. Thank you.

Jenny Sherman said...


Embracing Freshness said...

Thay teaches us that in the here and the now we can touch the ultimate dimension and the historical dimension.

Touching the historical dimension, we know that we need gun control and we know that in this time of budget slashing, we need to preserve what few resources we have left for the mentally ill, and indeed, add many more.

Touching the ultimate dimension, we breathe into our hearts of compassion so that our hearts have room to include not only those lovely, beautiful children, not only their families, but also the shooter and his family, and even all of those who are so deluded that they think more violence, more hatred, more discrimination is the answer. When compassion knows no bounds, there will be no more sorrow.

Confessions of a Wanna Be Yogini. said...

You're so right James. I've missed your posts immensely. Namaste brother.

Hanzze B said...

Children, Bullets

A gun shoots its children — its bullets — outward. We shoot ours inward, into our heart. When they're good, we're shot in the heart. When they're bad, we're shot in the heart. They're an affair of kamma, our children. There are good ones, there are bad ones, but both the good and bad are our children all the same.

When they're born, look at us: The worse off they are, the more we love them. If one of them comes down with polio and gets crippled, that's the one we love the most. When we leave the house we tell the older ones, "Look after your little sister. Look after this one" — because we love her. When we're about to die we tell them, "Look after her. Look after my child." She's not strong, so you love her even more.

(Ajahn Chah)

CJ said...

Hello James, this is a beautiful, insightful post. I am fortunate to have just found your blog today.

Just wanted to comment on the Newtown tragedy... so horrible, and so disgusting how desensitized we have all become. I re-watched Bowling for Columbine this week to gain some more perspective on the source of the insanity and violence, now already 13 years since that tragedy... with no significant change. The closing interview with Charleton Heston is just eery and telling, the coldheartedness. There truly seems to be an emptiness within us, a sick emptiness, where we lack the capacity for Love and Belonging -- essential, bridging human needs per Maslow's hierarchy... and so the continued loss of morality as part of the potential for esteem and self-actualization. Do you think this may be part of what perpetuates the mean-ness? Didn't Australia (albeit not an empire like the USA) somehow have the courage to ban weapons in 1997? May we one day get there.

I also just wanted to share this piece on Newtown from Bill Moyers which I thought was good, and yet saddening --

May there be peace on earth... someday soon. Merry Christmas!

Bhadra Kali said...

Namaste James - Thanks for your post.

Om Try am ba kam ya ja ma hey su gan dhim push ti vard ha nam. Ur va ru kum iva band ha nan mirt yor muk si ya mam ri tat. . . . .

From Atlanta,
Bhadra Kali

Student of Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati

Sandra said...

Thank you for your post. Things are so simple yet so complex. I was watching the movie Amistad and realized once again how "greed" was at the cause of such atrocities such as slavery. I think many people think that they can "shoot" themselves out of "problems" instead of seeking understanding and compassion. Thank you for your post.

theghosher said...

Thank you for posting this. I have a question for everyone here. I am affiliated with no religion, but have always leaned toward buddhism. Having said that, I recently had to sit through a methodist sermon in which the minister said that "if you believe in Budhism, then the kids who died at Sandy Hook, did so because in a past life they did something horrible, so they deserved to die." Obviously I think he's completely short sighted and looking at it at Karma's base and most simple understanding, but how would I respond to him on this?

I've always defended my belief in Karma by saying as long as I'm a good person and do good for others, then in the end, I'll reach nirvana and maybe have a good life in my next go-round... so how do I respond to his understanding of the shootings with the kids? Kids are so innocent... someone help?

They call him James Ure said...


Thank-you for visiting the blog. The comment from the Methodist minister about karma is obviously misguided. Due to all the past lives lived, the shear enormity of experiences over eons, it's essentially impossible to determine what specific action(s) in the past led up to current events in this life.

Karma isn't simply on an individual level, as is often believed. There is the collective karma of a society that imposes itself (for better, or worse) upon us.

So, most likely, those children didn't deserve it due to behaving badly in a past life. They endured it because the collective karma of others imposed itself upon them in a tragic way.

Thus, sometimes we are the victim of another's negative karma, which doesn't necessarily mean that we fall victim to violence because of something bad we did in a past life.

Therefore, I would suggest that innocent life taken through the imposition of negative karmic actions thrust forcefully upon them by others would actually mean those victims would be rewarded karmically for enduring such destructive actions.

The law of Karma, important as it is, is only one of the twenty-four conditions described in Buddhist Philosophy that determine one's station in life.

Check out this page for more in-depth explanations of karma:

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