GUN CONTROL IS NOT THE COMPLETE ANSWER:
SOME BUDDHIST REFLECTIONS ON NEWTOWN SHOOTINGS
by Lama Surya Das
Dec. 19th, 2012
I am all for more comprehensive gun control and enforcement in our country, but it just isn’t enough to ensure our safety and security both collective and individual. What is also needed is self-control, achieved through learning the entrainable skills of emotional management—particularly mindful anger management—and other forms of mental training, attitude transformation, character development, secular ethics and emotional intelligence—a glaring omission in most of our schools and homes today
It has always made great sense to me to be especially kind and generous in taking care of those who’ve come from afar, the sick and poor, the marginalized and smallest ones among us. And to provide our children with tangible opportunities to help, too. This morning I pray to lift up all the children in my maroon lama’s robe, into the peace and light of better lives and safer, more secure futures, free from fear, harm, anxiety and want. I wholeheartedly pray to be(come) the Bodhisattva (Buddhist angel) of Children.
On Monday two funeral homes in Fairfield, Connecticut overflowed with mourners grieving for Noah Pozner and Jack Pinto, both 6 years old, who were shot and killed in their classroom last Friday by a lone gunman on a rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School. This is very hard to countenance. School shootings and legislative rhetoric have all happened before, to little avail. President Obama tells us that we must do something to alleviate this recurrent problem. Can we as a country overcome the current climate of entrenched political partisanship, states rightists and gun lobbies, and band together to save and protect the children, and the rest of us?
The tragic events at Newtown are a rare and terrible gift. In breaking our hearts, in shocking us out of complacency and routine preoccupations, they may also give rise to authentic openheartedness and vital opportunity. For suffering can give rise to understanding and even greater wisdom; this can be the pearl beyond price, the product of our heart-rending inner vicissitudes.
Weapons control alone—though sorely needed-- cannot entirely solve the problem, even should it can come into legislative being. If we don’t learn to disarm the heart and cultivate mental peace and inner harmony, mental health and empathic feelings of interconnection, then external peace and harmony shall always continue always to elude us. In the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy, I wonder just where, when and how exactly to meaningfully address the very roots of violence and mental illness in our society? Is it endemic to our modern culture and stressed-out times, as some seem to think? As you are, so your children shall be. Let this be one lesson we never forget. Nothing happens by accident.
As a teacher, cleric and parent, I wonder: How can we address and hope to put an end to such seemingly random violence without addressing both more effective gun control, externally, and violent video games, as well as the inner roots and external causes of anger, hatred, alienation, and mental illness? How to develop and enhance our society’s mental disciplines concerning internal checks and balances, self-control, and emotion and impulse management? This is a marvelously useful, learnable skill set that meditation masters, performance coaches and others intent upon self-mastery and greater awareness are well acquainted with.
I’m all for more comprehensive gun laws and enforcement, yet there are other forms of control which also need to be further developed and implemented—beginning with self-control -- which we overlook and ignore at our peril. I personally believe that we need to look deeper into the potential that emotional intelligence training, and particularly mindful anger management, attention training and reactivity control can offer as part of public education and extracurricular or home activities, bolstering childhood character development and attitude refinement. Also, we need to more thoroughly investigate the various and disparate effects of diet, addiction and overstimulation; violence in media; the breakdown of family values; and other such subtle but definite contributing causes to the problems afflicting us, our violent society and world today.
About 200 people are shot in the United States every day by guns, of which on average 80 die from their wounds. That's a pro football stadium full of shooting victims in this country every month. How many of those were shot by citizens lawfully protecting their homes and persons from assailants and intruders? Very, very few.
The Buddha reminds us that: “Hatred does not cease through by hatred, but only by loving-kindness and compassion”. It’s so important to forgive and remember. Remember the lessons, so that we don’t have to painfully repeat them. Kindness and unselfish good deeds are the rent we pay for inhabiting together this endangered earth.
What lessons shall we draw from the several gun-massacres in schools and public places in our land in recent years? Perhaps it’s too soon to say. And yet, I think it’s crucial now, in our time of grief, that we collectively reflect upon and strive to understand, to recognize this as a defining moment, and to transform ourselves. Let us act now to help enable a sane future to be realistically possible—the future which begins now. We must. For the benefit of all the children, and all of us.
Let me share with you an open secret: To save one child is to save a world. The educators who unhesitantly gave their lives inNewtown knew this. They can inspire us to think globally and act locally, beginning with oneself and each other. What can we, can I, give?
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