A Buddhist’s Thoughts On Gun Violence

By: Rev. Dr. Brian Chang-Jin Kenna 长金

We’re only 11 weeks into 2018, and there have already been 17 school shootings where someone was hurt or killed. That averages out to 1.5 shootings a week. The victims range from parents, children, friends, neighbors, police officers, managers, teachers –  Every death tears a hole in the intricate network of relationships that unites us.

Buddhism teaches the Three Pure Precepts. Do no harm, Do only good, Do good for others. From these we can cultivate a desire to protect those around us from harm and a willingness to make sacrifices to help even strangers. Cultivating and nurturing this love gives meaning to our short lives. Yet looking within ourselves, we also find our innate self-focus. This self-awareness is a sense that we exist apart from others. Rather than being a negative factor, it is this very self-focus that enables us to feel empathy because it is the basis for our common humanity. It is only because we experience suffering first hand that we generate the motivation to eliminate the suffering of others.
In contrast, many believe that human nature is malevolent, so we need to guard ourselves from others.  We invest in many defense systems ranging from security systems, door locks, firewalls, antivirus software, passwords, all the way to what some consider the ultimate protection – possessing guns.
There are many reasons why an individual would want to on a gun. Aside from protection as mentioned above other reasons could be hunting, target shooting, etc. For every perpetrator of gun violence there is another who uses theirs in a responsible manner. The “why” someone chooses to own a gun is not the issue, and if that is where the focus of gun debate lies then we will never solve the problem of gun violence.
Rather the focus needs to be on the “who” is purchasing and owning weapons and the type of weapons that are made available to the general public. In response to the Parkland shootings many have suggested arming teachers or putting armed police officers in every school. I’m not sure more guns is the correct solution. View Photos
As many have proposed, we need to increase expenditures for public mental health care so that the mentally ill receive appropriate treatment, supervision and care. It must be terrifying for someone who is delusional to be left to survive on the streets all alone.  Strict measures should be taken to ensure the mentally ill are unable to obtain guns.

Likewise, many want to point to the entertainment industry as a cause of violence today. Video games often get a bad rap. I’m not saying that video games per se cause violence. Many of us have played them and are well adjusted individuals. However if we do not educate and talk to our children and tv or video games or another external source becomes their main influence then our children may grow up thinking that aggression is an acceptable means of resolving problem. Violence breeds more violence; today’s killers may be tomorrow’s victims. According to the Buddha’s teaching about karma, actions always have related consequences. Murder is a misdeed because it harms others, not only those who lose their lives but the families of the murderer as well. There are no winners.

Still, many shootings in America are not committed by people who are mentally ill, but instead by people who are angry and restless, and who lack the ability to regulate their emotions. So what is the long-term solution? The Buddha taught that the only real medicine to cure the disease of harming others is by transforming our own minds. Through mindful meditation, we discover that the true source of our problems is not external enemies; instead, it is our own negative emotions and ignorance. Each of us needs to address the underlying malaise and discontent that give rise to our hatred, attachment, fear, and self-centeredness.

By cultivating generosity and compassion towards others we can find meaning and joy in life.  When we focus on the I we are inviting in suffering, however by focusing on others we can invite in happiness. The Bodhisattva ideal teaches of living our lives every day for others. This is not an ideal that Buddhism has cornered the market on, it can be found in may religions. Christianity teaches Do unto others as you have them do to you. When each of us learns to appreciate the critical importance of ethics and makes inner values like compassion and patience an integral part of our basic outlook on life, the effects will be far-reaching.

It is up to each of us as individuals to make these principles the rules we live by and thereby to fulfill our full potential as human beings. I think the students in Parkland are doing this by raising their collective voices and saying enough is enough. Interestingly enough the Dali Lama echoed these very sentiments in a tweet he sent even before the shooting in Parkland. His words are ones we should take to heart: “Although I am a Buddhist monk, I am skeptical that prayers alone will achieve world peace. We need instead to be enthusiastic and self-confident in taking action.”

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