I know people live and then people die. I know. But this guy walked in and murdered 20 little kids. It was very real and it hurts, I don’t want to grieve and mourn like my Catholic family, I don’t want to hate this man and I don’t want to say these sweet angels are going to heaven because I don’t believe that. I believe that of all the things in the world, Buddhism has made the most sense. Your books have made the most sense. Will you please Brad Warner this one up and explain to me how to deal with this and how to make sense of it, if it’s even possible. How do I help others that feel the same way? My kids are in the same age group as those 20 kids, it hit home for me and many others. I don’t know if I’ll hear back from you, but I have to admit typing this out has made me feel a little less like I’m drowning in all my worries. Thank you for writing those books.
And thank you for writing me this email.
I don’t have a TV. Actually, my roommates and I have a TV set. But it’s not hooked up to an antenna or cable. We just use it to watch DVDs. So my experience of this is probably somewhat unlike that of many Americans. It seems like whenever I visit people’s homes — I sleep on a lot of couches on my speaking tours! — they often have a TV that’s on for several hours every day. I’m guessing that news of the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut is on heavy rotation right now.
The media loves this kind of stuff. It’s terrific for ratings. A shooting at an elementary school around Christmas-time has got to be like a godsend for the news media. They’re going to milk it for all that it’s worth.
When that happens, we are shown a steady stream of images designed specifically to excite us and enhance whatever feelings of fear, grief, outrage, horror and so on that come up when things like this happen. It presents to us a consensus of what we supposedly ought to be feeling. Those of us who don’t feel the way the media is saying we ought to can often start to believe there’s something wrong with us. But that’s not true. It’s OK to feel however you feel about this.
As far as making sense of this tragedy, I think that might be impossible. Human beings often do things that are simply irrational and without any real sense. We’re driven by powerful forces that we cannot ever fully comprehend. In Buddhism we identify greed, hate and delusion as the three categories of things that drive us to do wrong. Once a month on the full moon people living at Zen monasteries gather together and chant, “All my ancient twisted karma, from beginningless greed, hate and delusion, born through body, speech and mind, I now fully avow.”
We all have greed, hate and delusion. The kid who shot those children wasn’t so different from us. But he failed to understand that the best way to deal with this is to refrain from doing wrong. In Buddhism we value refraining from doing wrong much more highly than doing right.
As for how to deal with it, I think we need to be practical. The Huffington Post has run some very good pieces about this. Here is a piece offering practical advice about how to help the victims of this terrible incident:
And here is one by a Reverend from the United Church of Christ offering hints about what not to say to people who have been victims of acts like this:
I don’t know if those children or their brave teachers are angels in Heaven now. But I do have a very strong conviction that they have not departed from this universe. I don’t think there’s really anywhere else they, or we, could go. The same applies to their killer. All of them live within us in a very real sense. Not just metaphorically, but actually.
Like everyone else, I mourn the loss of the victims and feel anger toward their killer. And I’m angry at the careless lobbyists and organizations who continue to allow this stuff to happen. But my feelings of grief and anger contribute very little of any real value. They’re just feelings. They will pass.
I know you must fear for the safety of your own children now. My sister felt the same kind of fear when she took her 16 year old daughter, my niece, the great and wonderful Skylar, to school today. But just in terms of simple statistics, it’s very unlikely something like this will happen to your children or to Skylar. Luckily, we live in a pretty civilized country — even though it’s far too easy for insane people to get assault rifles and we really need to change that. You can’t protect your children from everything that might potentially harm them. That’s just an unfortunate fact.
My Zen teachers always said that the best thing to do with difficult feelings is to sit with them. I used to think they were crazy. But then I tried it and found out they were right.
Thank you for all your donations. It’s really helped out with some recent unforeseen expenses.