What can Buddhists, and everyone else, do after mass shootings?
Last night, on October 1st, 2017, over 50 people were killed and over 500 injured at an outdoor concert when a lone gunman shot them from his Las Vegas hotel room. This became the largest mass killing in American history.
During the incident, we saw many acting as if they were Bodhisattva’s.
In Buddhism, Bodhisattva’s are beings that sacrifice to benefit all sentient beings (such as humans). Many helped others during the concert, husbands covered the bodies of their wives to take the bullet for them, and police officers bravely rushed in to save injured people and even rush them to emergency rooms. Afterward, the citizens of Las Vegas (Clark County, NV) lined up outside blood donation banks in record numbers to meet the request for blood for the victims.
These are but a few of the selfless actions of these “Bodhisattva’s” who are there to help others.
What happens after? With so many killed and injured, the grief process is just now beginning.
The Sandy Hook School Mass Shooting
Neil Heslin, the father of a Sandy Hook Elementary School victim (which was the deadliest mass shooting in 2012 at either a high school or grade school in American history), went to Blue Cliff Monastery in Pine Bush, NY, to talk to the internationally famous Zen Buddhist monk, Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh (who was nominated for the Noble Peace Price by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.).
Neil wanted to know what could have prevented what happened that day which resulted in the death of his son? What changes could we all make to help try to prevent suffering like that in people in the future?
Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh responded:
“The person who did the killing was a victim. He did not know how to handle the suffering, the anger, the violence in him. His teacher, his father, his mother has not instructed him how to handle the energy of violence and anger in him. Sometimes he may be kind and sweet but sometimes else he’s pushed by the energy of violence and anger and despair to do these kind of things.
And we look into a young person we may see all these possibilities of being loving or of being violent. So, your son is telling you and us that we should do something in order to prevent that to happen again. We should practice, we should know the way to handle the violence and the anger in us, and we should transmit that practice to the younger generation.
The purpose of retreats like this is exactly to do that. How to learn how to be happy, learn how to handle suffering violence, fear, anger in us. That is why many of our monks and lay teachers are working with school teachers and parents in order to transmit that kind of skill, that kind of practice. And after having mastered that they can transmit it to their children and students in school. And please support us. I think your son is telling you to support us in this kind of work. We have helped thousands of school teachers in Indian and other countries as in other countries as well and also in America. Governor Brown of California, he allowed us to experiment that kind of transmission [training] in two private schools in California, and we have many people who are ready to support us in that.
You don’t have to be a Buddhist in order to learn and to practice this. To learn how to handle fear, violence, despair in yourself…how to say things that can restore communication and reconcile. You do not need religion in order to practice this.
So we suffer the same kind of suffering that you have experienced. If the situation happens like that we have to suffer. But there is a way to suffer. If we have some mindfulness and concentration and insight, we will suffer but we will suffer less. The period of suffering may be shorter. And after that we can develop our understanding and compassion and we can transform our suffering into something more positive and help other people especially the younger generation.”
I agree with Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh.
Let us suffer and let us grieve. And then let us work on helping to transform suffering in others and helping them to handle the fear and violence that can gravely impact others.
Laws and restrictions will never be able to end all violence on their own. Actively working to help others transform their suffering and hatred into compassion and understanding is a monumental and crucial mission we should all embark upon.
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline (U.S.): https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
- Donating to the American Red Cross (U.S.) is a supportive way to assist: http://www.redcross.org/
- International Red Cross & Red Crescent: https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc
- “Two Practices for Times of Tragedy” on Lions Roar: https://www.lionsroar.com/two-practices-for-times-of-tragedy/
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