A Kadampa view on the tragedy in the U.S.

As everyone is now aware, a gunman went on a rampage at a school in the U.S., killing more than 20 and mentally scarring a nation and a world.  The question then becomes how are we, as Kadampas, able to relate to this in a positive way.

The difficulty with events such as these is it just seems wrong to maintain pure view saying that it is all emanated.  If we are not careful, we wind up sounding like that one Senate candidate that said a rape is God’s will, so therefore God is a rapist.  Of course there are other forces at play – delusions – and this is what they lead to.  Delusions drove the gunman and delusions drive the angry response.  Events like this are a powerful reminder of where delusions lead.  Seeing where the path of delusions lead we realize the folly of even going down them a little bit in our own life.

As Kadampas we make a distinction between the person and their delusions.  Just as those children were the victim of the gunman, so too the gunman was a victim of his delusions.  Our normal reaction is we do not want to generate compassion for the gunman so we resist this.  But we need to check our own behavior, and if we do so honestly we will have to admit that the more our mind is overrun by our delusions, the more we lose control over our actions.  How many times have we all gotten angry, said or done something hurtful, and then later regretted it?  How many times have we been seized by attachment to somebody we find attractive and found ourselves engaging in all sorts of stupid behavior even though we know it just creates more problems?  What will now follow in the press is a debate about whether the gunman was insane or not.  I’m sorry, the answer is obvious, only an insane person would do something like this.

Saying somebody is the victim of their delusions does not, however, absolve them of the personal responsibility for their actions.  In each moment we have a choice to follow our delusions or to not.  Sometimes the choice is a very hard one to make, such as maintaining one’s commitment to never smoke again, but we do have this choice.  So we are responsible for our actions, no doubt.  But if we have never learned that it is even possible to say no to our delusions and we have never learned methods for how to do so and we have no history or habit built up of doing so, it is not difficult to see how our delusions can overwhelm us.  Look at Gen-la Samden.  Here is somebody who clearly knew the Dharma, was a very sincere practitioner, very close to enlightenment no doubt, yet he too was overwhelmed by the trickery of delusions.  So there is no contradiction between acknowledging delusions render us uncontrolled and maintaining that we must each assume personal responsibility for the continuum of our actions.

On this basis, a Kadampa response to events such as these begins with compassion for the victims, the families and the community.  But it also extends to the gunman and to those who now want revenge on him.  The gunman is no doubt in hell now.  Rejoicing in this only guarantees that we will soon join him.  A Kadampa wants noone in hell and wants all in a pure land.

So the question then arises, how can we maintain pure view of events such as this.  We can do so only internally, not externally.  Pure view is a personal thing informed by an accumulated wisdom of knowing how to look at tragedy in a beneficial way.  From a conventional point of view, this is horrible, plain and simple.  Conventionally, we must acknowledge that.  But horrible things contain within them powerful lessons about why it is better to be pure and good.  Pure view does not mean that we say horrible appearances are perfect  from their own side, rather it means we know how to internally receive perfect benefit from whatever appears.  We know how to learn something pure and perfect from even the most horrible appearances.

Nothing is emanated from its own side, but it becomes “emanated” depending upon our view.  With faith and wisdom we can derive spiritual lessons from tragedies and therefore use them as powerful motors pushing us along our path to the final solution of enlightenment for all.  We may feel “guilty” about receiving benefit from something so bad, but this is not correct.  In fact, we can say the only way to truly honor the dead and make their loss have meaning is if we use it for something good.  If we don’t, then it is only tragedy.


11 thoughts on “A Kadampa view on the tragedy in the U.S.

  1. Beautiful words. Thank you for sharing. In the midst of great tragedy and suffering I saw amazing acts of kindness and continue to see the best come out in so many people all over the world as they respond to this unfathomable act.

    I was also struck by how as Kadampas we understand that we live in this impure samsaric world because we share the collective karma to experience these things and how we can transform terrible acts like these by allowing them to help us further develop our renunciation, compassion, and bodhicitta — rather than turning away from them to bitterness and fear and hatred.

    What great fortune we have to have discovered the three jewels and to be able to go to them for refuge, and to Geshela’s kind teachings.

  2. I’m not sure there is “no doubt” the murderer is in hell. If anyone knows for certain, that’s OK, but I certainly couldn’t be 100%. He may remain in the bardo for up to 49 days or be headed somewhere else for reasons unknown to me.

  3. When I gave a Dhama talk in a prison in Fla. I saw wasted human potential being warehoused in a nearly compassionate place. Several of the inmate sangha had multiple life sentences. When I got off my cushion to speak to them I cried first for the suffering I felt around me and the suffering they caused.

    When I got home I did Vajrapani puja and meditated over and over to build positive energy in my mind so that my uncontrolledind would never get me into a place like that involuntarily. Voluntarily I would go there anytime to share Dhama.

  4. 20 humans got shot – out of millions of people who are massacred every day, raped, mutilated and burnt for witchcraft and so on around the world. Universal Compassion has a much more realistic view in that it encompasses a greater degree of human suffering.

    How are we as Kadampa’s to relate to it? However we decide.

    • Of course if we had universal compassion, we would care equally about everyone. But as long as we don’t yet have it and are merely training, we use the examples that DO move our mind, such as this tragedy. Very often a mistake people make is they see how their reaction to certain suffering is disproportionate to equal or worse suffering they see elsewhere, and then they wind up reducing the compassion they feel because it seems biased. A good example of this is the Tsunami in Indonesia several years ago. There was an outpouring of support and care. This was all good. After a week or so, some “oh so clever commentators” asked the question “why so much caring for those in Indonesia and not the thousands who die slow motion every day in Africa?” Of course, their intention in asking that question was to get people to care as much about those in Africa, but the actual result was people then said, “you’re right, I do nothing for those in Africa so I should likewise do nothing for those in Indonesia,” and the giving dropped dramatically. This is completely wrong. It is better to feel genuine compassion in a biased way than little to no compassion in a universal way.

      • That actually came from a teaching Gen Tharchin gave on having an unbiased and realistic compassion. Am I still welcome to post comments on your site?

  5. Hi RealKadampa, I don’t think there is any contradiction here. Of course we need to eventually have universal compassion. My only point is we should not decrease our strong compassion (biased) for a few because we can’t yet generate it for all. Rather, we need to take the biased compassion we have for some as an example of the compassion we should have for all and try raise our compassion for all to that level. But if in doing so we find that our strong compassion for some decreases, it is a sign that we are not universalizing our compassion correctly. I am sure Gen Tharchin would agree with that. Of course you are welcome to post on this site, as are all. Any comments which are harmful, however, will be eliminated. This is true for everyone equally.

  6. Thank you, Ryan, for an excellent article about a horrendous situation. I agree with you that you cannot have universal compassion unless you start with compassion for selected individuals first, such as all the victims and the deluded gunman. There were also huge lessons about karma here, since on the same day children were stabbed in China and another gunman was planning the same type of attack in Oklahoma. The violence and delusion is unbelievable. This was a big wake-up call to generate bodhichitta and become a Buddha so this sort of thing can never happen again.

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