Here we are again – more unfathomable hate-driven gun violence, senseless loss and grief beyond words. For as long as I can remember I’ve been deathly afraid of guns. I simply cannot understand why anyone needs to carry a weapon. I am fully aware that some of you reading this who I know and love disagree with me. For those of you I don’t know, you may also disagree. I hope you’ll keep reading.
Charles L. Cotton, a National Rifle Association board member who also runs TexasCHLForum.com, an online discussion forum about guns and gun rights in Texas and beyond noted that one of the 9 people slain at the Charleston church, Clementa C. Pinckney, was a pastor and a state legislator in South Carolina. Cotton said:
And he voted against concealed-carry. Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead. Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue.
Does this imply that the victims of this massacre were themselves to blame for being unarmed? And there’s certainly nothing new about innocent people dying because of individual or institutional positions on political issues.
Remember Paris, Ferguson, Columbine, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook. Remember the thousands upon thousands of people who courageously filled the streets of Paris. Remember the protests in Ferguson, and the depths of sorrow at Virginia Tech, in Columbine and Sandy Hook.
We know that violence breeds violence and is profoundly wrong. We know that the right response is to show up and demonstrate the absolute necessity to care. We also know in our bones that it isn’t someone else’s pain or sorrow. It belongs to all of us and we have to make a choice.
When we’re faced with pain and difficulty of any amount, whether internal or external, we can either turn away pulling our heads in like a turtle, or we can turn towards it, be willing to see it, feel it and do something about it. Certainly it takes some skill to sense the right time and place for stepping into the muck, but choosing action over inaction is ultimately what’s necessary, even if sometimes the wisest most effective action itself is inaction. Exercising this kind of restraint sends the courageous message that “the violence stops with me.”
So where do we start? How do we start? The Buddha helps us out with some guidelines for living a life of integrity and non-harming, the Five Precepts, or trainings, for us lay practitioners. They are not commandments, but guidelines, way pointers. Undertaking these trainings is like taking a vow, pointing your life in a chosen direction, like setting out towards the horizon. You know you’ll never arrive, but you can see where you’re going. You’ll take a wrong turn here and there, but you bring yourself back over and over again. This is what the Buddha offers.
As you read through these guidelines pay attention to how they make you feel – whether you get triggered or feel some resistance, or whether you’re curious and want to give it a go. Just notice. Given that we’re not monastics and live mostly secular lives, remember that the intention of each precept is meant to be worked with, tested out, questioned and ultimately adopted in a way that is authentically reflected in our lives.
1. I undertake the training to abstain from harming living beings. Interpret this as both not killing and also doing what makes sense to you to protect and sustain life. Do you kill the fly that’s buzzing around the kitchen or trap it and take it outside? How far you take this is up to you.
2. I undertake the training to refrain from taking that which is not given to me. Literally interpreted as not stealing, including taking the magazine from your doctor’s office waiting room. But it also asks us to explore generosity – being generous with our time, our presence, and our efforts, not just our financial resources.
3. I undertake the training to speak in ways that are neither exploitive nor abusive. This is about much more than lying. Speech guidelines specifically include saying that which is true, useful, kind, and with good timing. Just because we think something is true, doesn’t mean it’s useful or comes at a time that it can be heard. This is an enormous topic and lifelong practice.
4. I undertake the training to express my sexuality in ways that are neither exploitive nor abusive. Beyond issues of sexuality, we are also guided to care for, protect and support our bodies and those of our partners and our children.
5. I undertake the training to keep my mind clear and unconfused, preventing heedlessness so that I can fulfill these commitments. In addition to avoiding the more obvious substances like excessive drugs and alcohol, this applies to everything we consume; materially, relationally, electronically, our time and even what we eat.
As we are tragically reminded once again of the necessity for tolerance and nonviolence, we must up the ante on what it means to care for ourselves, each other and our communities. And if I could choose, it would be without guns.