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The Cultural Normalization of Carnage

Ven. Am Koe Beighley Su

July 21, 2022

What is it about our society, in general, that creates initial outrage over current events regarding disasters and carnage, then seems to grow weary and, eventually accepts these events as "inevitable and normal"?

The Gun Violence Archive has indicated at least 314 mass shootings in the United States so far in 2022. --More than 22, 000 people have died due to gun violence in the first six months of this year.

-There were "13 mass shootings in the first weekend of June, fewer than two weeks after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, marking the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012."

-The United States has "far more lax firearm laws and policies compared to other countries--the right to own a firearm is even baked into the Constitution via the Second Amendment."

-As a result, firearms have become one of the leading causes of death for Americans of any age, and, according to the Giffords Law Center, they're also the leading cause of death for children below the age of 18.

-In 2021, the Gun Violence Archive recorded 692 mass shootings and found that gun violence overall killed 45, 010 people. That exceeds the general population of many small cities in the United States.

The primary question that arises here is not WHY there is so much gun violence and acts of violence, not only in the United States, but in countries worldwide, but WHAT drives this violence in individuals and groups throughout the world? Additionally, we must ask ourselves WHAT drives our original response of outrage to the opposite end of the spectrum...complacency, or perhaps just general weariness believing that there is really nothing we can do about it anyway? Then, as Buddhist Practitioners, the final question comes down to WHAT is our appropriate response to violence overall?

Question 1: What drives this violence in individuals and groups throughout the world?

For the Buddhist practitioner, this answer is found in the Four Noble truths put forth by the Buddha in his first teaching after his enlightenment. Our suffering is the result of the Three Poisons: Ignorance,

Greed, and Anger. There is NO conflict in our world that does not involve one or more of those three elements!

Question 2: What drives our original response of outrage to the opposite end of the spectrum...complacency, or perhaps just general weariness believing that there is really nothing we can do about it anyway?

From a psychological perspective, this is seen as news fatigue. We are inundated in every news outlet on every device, and, like the constant dripping of a faucet, we grow used to the sound of violence and tune it out over time, although it doesn't end. We just grow weary of hearing about it and seeing it all the time.

Question 3: As a Buddhist practitioner, what is our appropriate response to violence overall.

We have taken vows of non-violence and have committed to work on behalf of alleviating suffering in all sentient beings. However, if we find ourselves in the presence of a clear and present danger to ourselves or other beings, it is my belief that our vows also indicate that we are to take action, in whatever form that may be, to stop the dangerous act and protect ourselves and others. In an effort of full disclosure, it is important that the reader knows I do legally possess a firearm, have gone through the appropriate courses to allow for concealed carry, and have never had an occasion to harm another being outside of the military. There have been occasions that the firearm has been utilized as a deterrent to a clear and present danger to individuals with whom I was in proximity, in what otherwise could have been a deadly situation.

It is time to exercise the part of our vows that call upon us to become warriors. In this construct, warriorship is much different than when the Japanese Temples of feudal Japan were sponsored by the government, and during times of conflict the monks were often conscripted by the government to become soldiers and fight to the death for their country. The warriorship that is referred to at this time is the work of the Shambhala Warrior.

What exactly IS a Shambhala Warrior? In his wonderfully descriptive book, SHAMBHALA: The Secret Path of the Warrior, Chogyam Trungpa, (1940-1987, founder of Naropa University, Shambhala Training and an international association of meditation centers known as Shambhala International.) he goes into great detail about what is necessary, over time, to become and maintain one's Shambhala warriorship. In the Author's Preface, Dorje Dradul of Mukpo writes, "This book shows how to refine one's way of life and how to propagate the true meaning of warriorship. It is inspired by the example and wisdom of the great Tibetan king, Gesar of Ling--his inscrutability and fearlessness and the way he conquered barbarianism by using the principles of Tiger, Lion, Gruda, Dragon (Tak, Seng, Khyung, Druk), which are discussed in this book as the four dignities." While I highly recommend this book as necessary for any practitioner living in this day and age, my attempt to explain a Buddhist's response to the carnage in the current world will come from another source.

A recent article published in (, by Joanna Macy, THE SHAMBHALA WARRIOR: A Tibetan Legend, offers a glimpse into the efforts of Shambhala warriorship:

"There comes a time when all the Earth is in danger. Barbarian powers have arisen. Although they waste their wealth in preparations to annihilate each other, they have much in common: weapons of unfathomable devastation and technologies that lay waste to the world. It is now, when the future of all beings hangs by the frailest of threads, that the kingdom of Shambhala emerges.

"You cannot go there, for it is not a place. It exists in the hearts and minds of the Shambhala warriors. But you cannot recognize a Shambhala warrior by sight, for there is no uniform or insignia, there are no banners. And there are no barricades from which to threaten the enemy, for the Shambhala warriors have no land of their own. Always they move on the terrain of the barbarians themselves.

"Now comes the time when great courage is required of the Shambhala warriors, moral and physical courage. For they must go into the very heart of the barbarian power and dismantle the weapons, in every sense of the word, they must go into the corridors of power where the decisions are made.

"The Shambhala warriors know they can do this because the weapons are manomaya, mind-made. This is very important to remember, Joanna. These weapons are made by the human mind. So, they can be unmade by the human mind! The Shambhala warriors know that the dangers that threaten life on Earth do not come from evil deities or extraterrestrial powers. They arise from our own choices and relationships. So, now the Shambhala warriors must go into training.

"How do they train". I ask.

"They train in the use of two weapons.

""The weapons are compassion and insight. We need this first one," he said, lifting his right hand, "because it provides us the fuel, it moves us out to act on behalf of other beings. But by itself it can burn us out. So, we need the second as well, which is insight into the dependent co-arising of all things. It lets us see that the battle is not between good people and bad people, for the line between good and evil runs through every human heart. We realize we are interconnected, as in a web, and that each act with pure motivation affects the entire web, bringing consequences we cannot measure or even see.

"But insight alone," he said, "can seem too cool to keep us going. So, we need, as well, the heat of compassion, our openness to the world's pain. Both weapons or tools are necessary to the Shambhala warrior."

--Joanna Macy

For the cynical among you who might be thinking, "Sounds a bit simplistic and I don't see how this can help our world." That would be a correct assumption for someone whose mind is closed to the possibilities of the power of interconnectedness and believes that one person cannot make a difference. Let's look at it from a different perspective...

-Do you vote for individuals who consistently over time exhibit the moral qualities of good leadership? (Refer to the Ten Duties of a King in a previous blog.)

-Do you belong to any spiritual or secular groups that work for the benefit of all sentient beings?

-Do you attend any public meetings of influencers or powerful people and use your compassion and insight to influence those decision makers?

-Do you regularly use your compassion and insight on a daily basis when you encounter neighbors, store clerks, homeless individuals; do you ask their name and refer to them by name?

-When faced with the option of anger or compassion, which do you most often lead with?

When enough people engage the Path of the Shambhala Warrior and consistently practice the principles laid out as the "path", we CAN reach a tipping point in our homes, communities, cities, states, and countries and create a lasting change...moment by moment.

May all beings be safe. May all beings be well. May all beings be at peace.

As always, I invite your comments about this or any blog on this site.

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