It’s been a rough few days. My heart goes out to the families in Newtown CT and globally in places we never hear about who are going through what, to me, is unimaginable loss. I have no wise words, no salve, no offers of hope for ease and peace. Often, when such tragedies strike, I find myself watching it all unfold, mesmerized by the way online characters respond to words written on this posting or that. Often, when I read cruel and mean-spirited comments or just plain ignorant ones, I find myself turning to Frank and asking him to explain (yet again) the mentality I think is reflected in the words I’m reading. Together, we sit and he tries his very best to explain this aspect of his birth culture and I fail (yet again) to grasp the senselessness of the physical, verbal, and emotional violence so many witness and endure.
For so long I have deeply wished we could eradicate all the weaponry of emotional and physical hurt. I have this delusion that the suffering left will be manageable, witness-able, containable. But I know that is not likely to be the end result. So I’ve vowed to stop trying to make sense out of something that cannot make sense – not even in how we reference it because “senseless” violence is the oxymoron of oxymorons. In fact, to call it that subtly opens a door to discussion for what constitutes “sensible” violence. And caught in our deluded states of mind (often armed with statistics), there is no end to what we each believe is sensible in these circumstances. However, nothing can ever justify violence or our reluctance to do what is necessary to prevent it. But, couched in these discussions, there is a subtle “bait-and-switch” that leads us away from the real issue. Because violence and death are often dramatically coupled, violent deaths become the salient aspect of an event and the focus of all our energies. Caught in our passion, we miss that it is the finger pointing to the moon.
Embedded in these events is a deeper truth and it opens to the possibility of digging further into our practice. In sangha, after we honoured the pain and suffering of all grieving families in the ten directions, we shared our thoughts about the events at Newtown and other occasions of profound suffering. One sangha friend pointed out wisely that even if we managed to prevent these and other deaths, we are still left with the reality of suffering that is inherent in living. This is the intimate truth of all living beings; being born is the most predictable cause of dying and it is not preventable. Furthermore, there is much suffering that arises in the process of getting from birth to death. These many variants of suffering themselves become the roots of all forms of suffering – including but not exclusive to pre-mature death, sometimes from violence. These are, in large part, preventable.
This First Truth of suffering is the touchstone to which we must return each and every time we are confronted with the inexplicable. Only then can we begin to see the bigger picture of what is necessary and possible. Only then can we embody our practice of compassionate action through our civic, spiritual, and personal paths as we take determined steps to dig out the roots of many forms of suffering. If not, if we focus only on weapons or violence or drugs or whatever is salient in this moment, we are only cleaning out the compost bin and not the septic bed it sits atop that itself needs to be dug out.