1. Religion & Spirituality
Barbara O'Brien

Dharma and the Aurora Shooting

By July 23, 2012

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This week 12 people were killed and 58 wounded by a gunman in an Aurora,  Colorado movie theater. Random mass shootings are not limited to the United States, but we do seem to have more than our share of them. In the U.S., unspeakable tragedy is the new normal.

There's much we still don't know about the Aurora shooting. But it must be said that the United States is a violent country. By some calculations our homicide rate is 20 times higher than that of other western countries. I believe we are also the only western democracy with a death penalty.

Here's another startling statistic -- the U.S. defense budget accounts for 45.7 percent of total military spending in the world. We also have a rapidly growing number of homeless children and little political will to do anything about it.

The U.S., my country, is a place that values toughness. Our culture encourages us to be armed and armored against anything that we don't like. The dharma, on the other hand, values tenderness, and being open to things as they are (see "Practice as Tenderizer"). It also teaches us to avoid being jerked around by our likes and dislikes.

Brad Warner wrote yesterday that "Our most basic problem is that we do not know how to behave morally." Many Americans think the U.S. is exceptionally moral. In their minds, the U.S. exhibits a standard of morality the rest of the world should emulate. The homicide rate suggests otherwise, of course.

Brad Warner is right. There are exceptions, of course, but American cultural ideas about "morality" are more about self-protection, tribal loyalty, and vengeance than about peace, compassion and harmony.  And this has set off a destructive spiral of more fear and more violence.

Years ago we were warned about the dangers of a "military-industrial complex," but the American gun industry has a powerful political-commercial complex in place that may be even more pernicious. And a large part of the population has been demagogued into believing that they must be allowed to possess military-grade firearms for "protection," or some nameless awful thing will happen. So, after each shooting tragedy, only a few politicians call for restriction on firearm ownership. Then those few are quickly slapped down and told to shut up, and nothing changes.

Sensei Warner has more interesting stuff to say about morality, so do read the whole post.

The question is, what can we as practitioners of the dharma do to turn this around? At this point, our first responsibility is to look to our own fears and self-clinging, and gently encourage others to do the same.

After the 9/11 tragedy, Thich Nhat Hanh said, "We must learn to speak out so that the voice of the Buddha can be heard in this dangerous and pivotal moment of history. Those of us who have the light should display the light and offer it so that the world will not sink into total darkness."

Yes, we must learn to do that. Sometimes it seems hopeless, but this is where faith enters. We must do our best without attaching to a result, which we may not see in our lifetime. Mindfully planted dharma seeds will ripen.

July 23, 2012 at 10:30 am
(1) CL says:

What we do “over there” we do, have done, and continue to do over here. It’s that simple. Blankets of delusion are trustworthy companions if one is trying to warm themselves from the cold hard facts. America is a violent nation built on the forcible removal and exclusion of both native peoples and ‘inconvenient’ peoples. Therefore, the starting point for us as, at least, social beings is based on a contract written in human lives, stolen lands, and the superimposition of a false narrative of liberty, a “kind of revolution” (as Howard Zinn puts it).

What we do over here is to inflict economic violence on our citizens through the esotericism of complex financial instruments and the default setting of competitive overconsumption. What we do over here is inflict emotional and psychological violence by pretending that our culture isn’t really more of a ‘cult’ and that within that cult there are cults and withing them more cults. What we do over here is inflict violence to our once natural world because nobody’s looking, nobody has got a voice amid the heavily medicated, heavily media-saturated public space, getting smaller every day and over and over again we see the violent action amidst the violent sprawls, never understanding that the movie multiplex is a house of mirrors.

July 23, 2012 at 1:21 pm
(2) Mila says:

written by Thich Nhat Hanh, while bombs were being dropped on Vietnam:

I hold my face
in my two hands.
No, I am not crying.
I hold my face in my two hands
to keep the loneliness warm,
to cradle my hunger,
shelter my heart
from the rain and the thunder.
Two hands protecting,
Two hands nourishing,
Two hands preventing
my soul from leaving me
in anger.

I hold my face
in my two hands
My hands cupped
to catch what might fall
from within me –
deeper than crying.
No, I am not crying,
I am in my two hands.

July 23, 2012 at 5:56 pm
(3) David says:

Thanks Barbara, CL and Mila. I’m with all of you, though it must be added that it would be hard to find any country that does not have its history of violence and displacing of others at some point in its history. I am reminded of a talmudic saying (written in the masculine oriented language of the time) “In a place where there are no men, be a man.” All we can really do is be a light of dharma, however that is expressed. There is a clear karmic choice here–react to this killing by becoming angry and fearful (and buying arms) and thus keeping the karma of this event going, or reacting the opposite way and stopping the karma (promoting non-violence and control of deadly weapons). We need to keep this simple choice in our minds and ignore the frantic voices around us.

July 24, 2012 at 11:22 am
(4) Yeshe says:

We need to be courageous in our gentleness and love, and in commitment to truth. The propaganda machine constantly tells us how great we Americans are, that all the millions of victims were standing in the way of progress, and that violence and economic injustice are presumably the will of a god. I don’t believe this smelly pile, and haven’t since I was a kid. Jesus had humility and love, and I think Buddha would be in full agreement with much of what he said. I find it ironic that the love of a supreme, loving being is used to defend all the violence. Communist propaganda machines are no less silly!

July 25, 2012 at 12:19 am
(5) Mark Rogow says:

Hellish anger [rage], avarice, and stupiditity [animality], are the Three Poisons. In this age, every last person is heavily stained with the Three Poisons. Were this not true, according to the Lotus Sutra, we wouldn’t have been born together in this Saha World. A counter argument is that man has always engaged in the wholesale killing of others for shallow worldly affairs and therefore, man has always been stained with the Three Poisons.

Careful consideration reveals that only in this age are the Three Poisons in man, society, and the environment capable of destroying all life, both sentient and insient.

Therefore today, the poison has penetrated more deeply and broadly.

For minor illness ordinary medicine will do. Therevadan Buddhism, the Mahayana connecting teachings [all phenomena or dharmas lacking substance by virtue of dependent origination], and the Mahayana specific teachings [a higher level of Mahayana whereby bodhisattvas advance by practicing the Six Paramitas over innumerable lifetimes to eventually attain Buddhahood, are ordinary medicine and at various times in the past were highly effective in curing the minor illness of the Three Poisons during the Former and Middle Days of the law of Shakyamuni Buddha.

Today, the illness can be likened to mesothelioma or pancreatic cancer. Only radical surgery and the finest elixir will cure the illness. The radical surgery and elixir is Namu Myoho renge kyo or devotion to the Wonderful Law of the Lotus Flower Sutra.

July 25, 2012 at 9:04 am
(6) Barbara O'Brien says:

Mark — I believe I may have warned you about this before — this “my practice is better than your practice” is a defilement of the Buddha dharma and has to stop. You might as well put up a sign that says “Nichiren practice is junk,” because that’s what you are demonstrating.

Also, FYI, Nichiren is not the only school of Mahayana that teaches enlightenment can be realized in the present lifetime. Most of them do, actually.

July 25, 2012 at 8:15 am
(7) CL says:

An even closer examination rebeals that exclusionary attitudes, intolerance of other paths and faiths, my “sect”
arianism, and a
misunderstandind of mahayana buddhism leads to further divisiveness and misunderstanding which often leads to one form of violence or another.


July 27, 2012 at 11:48 am
(8) Gilly says:

Yet America has allowed numerous faiths, cultures, and races to exist under one roof. Not perfectly-but it acheived something Europe and Asia did not do before. Our differences are our strengths and the freedom to express the desire and need to do better is as it should be.

July 28, 2012 at 3:51 am
(9) Mayuram V.Sankaran says:

I may be wrong, but I think that the common denominator of ‘American character’ today is to be found in the leading ‘bestseller’ list of American journalism, short stories, novels, plays, poems, essays and the scripts for T.V. serials and the movies!

I have not lived with the Americans, but I do get a secondary glimpse of the general run of the ‘American personality’ from the above — the books, T.V.shows and the movies (shown with caption for otherwise for me the American accent is difficult to follow).

What emerges as the common denominator of ‘American character’ from the above is not at all palatable — nobody would want to live in America!

August 10, 2012 at 8:21 pm
(10) Jean says:

Your essay & Brad’s are excellent. I left a comment after Brad’s essay & he commented back that he was sorry I’d experienced so much violence. I don’t think I’ve experienced more violence than most Americans. I’m probably about average. For most of us the violence in our pasts is like unhealed sores that we try to pretend don’t exist by never looking at them or treating them. Except for the most recent incident, which pops into my head often, I only think of past violence on rare occasions.
Once the violence level drives people to decrease driving, shopping, & going out, watch how fast gun control happens. Remember after 9/11 when the President tried to shove us all to the Malls to shop?
We were considering driving downtown to vote early tomorrow in the primary, but decided not to because it’s easier & safer to vote on voting day because of the more suburban & convenient location.
It’s Friday night. I’m from New Orleans. I’m not dead or sick. Why don’t we want to go out?

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