Shocked like everybody by the Connecticut tragedy, I have been reflecting upon this terrible event and the lessons we can learn from it.
My first reaction is one of incomprehension: how can anybody massacre innocent children and teachers? How is it possible? What possessed this man?
My second immediate reflection is one of grief and pain thinking of all these broken families who lost their children, siblings and friends. In spite of the counseling and support they will receive, life will be very difficult from now on. This event reminds us that life is fragile and impermanent. Will the pain they are now feeling also be impermanent?
My third reaction is a one of anger: why did this man have a gun? We have had several similar happenings in the past months -- although not of the same magnitude -- and they raise again the question of gun control in our country. When will our representatives finally get together and pass stricter laws to control and limit the sale and possession of arms?
I am neither a counselor nor a law maker. As a simple human being, I feel quite powerless in terms of what I can do personally in this situation and how I can contribute to our society so these crimes aren't repeated.
I am recently back from Dharamsala, India, home-in-exile of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. So I decided to look for some wisdom under the lens of this wise spiritual leader by asking myself: What would the Dalai Lama say about this tragedy?
- First he would probably say that he does not want to be involved with our country's politics and it is up to us to make our laws. But, as a Buddhist, therefore an advocate of non-violence, he would support gun control laws. The ownership of guns will only increase violent acts.
- During the teachings I attended in Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama repeated the necessity for our modern society to balance material and spiritual life, for us to be compassionate and help others instead of being self-centered. In cases of violence we can see how an individual acts without any consideration of others but only according to his beliefs, goals, needs, or whatever we can call the real reasons pushing a human being to act like this.
- The Dalai Lama is an extraordinary example of a leader having trained his mind in pacifism. He teaches and practices forgiveness and kindness. "Be kind whenever possible" he says. As the leader of Tibet, he had to leave his country, experienced the Chinese killing what he says is one million Tibetans and destroying temples and Tibetan culture, and yet, he does not hate Chinese people and asks Tibetans to be non-violent.
- Finally, I think the Dalai Lama would also say that peace in the world starts with our own inner peace. Inner peace requires training. Violence also starts with the words, the thoughts we have towards ourselves. We must first be kind to ourselves to be able to be kind to others. A quiet moment every day, an honest look at how we live and act, a compassionate attitude towards ourselves are necessary to build such inner peace. Research suggests how daily meditation is a very valuable to changing our brain and building more happiness.
Psychology shows that we all have some violence in ourselves, some dark sides that we should recognize. However there is a big difference between having feelings and acting on these feelings. Furthermore this tragedy questions the role of the media in the escalation of violence and the concept of heroes.
A compassionate gesture, a hand given to somebody in difficulty are things that everyone of us can do, thereby influencing those around us to act similarly.
Violence and hatred in our society sometimes start with the words we use, the way we react to a person or a situation. Each of us can improve how to react to others.
Our society believes in the value of education, but are we building on inner wisdom, as promoted by the Dalai Lama?
Yes, we need good laws so out-of-control individuals cannot own guns so easily. But we also need to become aware of violence within us and around us in order to control it.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a Buddhist but I believe his teaching transcends religion and addresses the human condition world-wide when he encourages us to build more peace around us by building it within ourselves and to look for a better balance between spiritual and material life. Can we educate ourselves and our children in this direction?