I wrote this on the occasion of the Boston bombings, but the technique for transforming senseless tragedy into spiritual insight applies to everything that is going on today as well. For example, I am using it to meditate on the thousands of people still trapped up Mount Sinjar, starving, terrified, stranded.
“It was a beautiful, cool day when two bombs unleashed chaos and killed three people. Friends of those killed say they are devastated by the senseless deaths.” CNN
Much of the response to the Boston bombings this week has been, as always, the question “Why?”
I don’t know what motivated the two young brothers to do it, so I’m not even going to go there in this article, but I did meditate today on “making sense” of it from a spiritual point of view. As well as praying for those suffering so much today as a result of all this, I also wanted to find ways to think about it that could be helpful — otherwise this and all the other tragedies around the world are just piling misery onto misery with no seeming way out for any of us. Also, if there is no constructive way to think about suffering, the danger is that we disengage from it and look away, as opposed to connecting with others.
On the occasion of the 9/11 bombings, my teacher Geshe Kelsang prayed:
“We pray that the people who die will find a good rebirth and we pray that the world leaders gain wisdom. For those who are suffering, we pray that they are swiftly released from their suffering and receive blessings from the Three Jewels. It is very clear that without compassion and wisdom there is no possibility of being released from this kind of tragedy. We should learn how Dharma is the truth.” ~ Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, 9/11/01
“Apply meditation to whatever circumstances you meet”
is a Kadampa motto, so I used the Boston bombings as the example. There is a type of meditation you can do called “scanning meditation” where you spend just a few moments or minutes on each of the stages of the path meditations to get an overview – we do this, for example, when we recite Je Tsongkhapa’s Prayer of the Stages of the Path in Prayers for Meditation. The following are just my own first thoughts on the subject – there are clearly thousands of ways to think about each one.
(1) Precious human life: I just watched a very moving video of Krystle Campbell’s grandmother saying how her Krystle once told her that she liked to take each day as it came and loved life. Krystle “had a heart of gold. She was always smiling,” said her mother. She moved in with her grandmother to take care of her and was by all accounts a happy, compassionate person. I was thinking that she seemed to use her life, short as it was, to bring joy to others, and that it was a precious life while it lasted and even now.
(2) Death: You never know when or how you’re going to die. Really, never. None of us do. Best to start preparing today.
(3) Dangers of the lower realms: Described in the media as: “The festive race into a hellish scene of confusion, horror and heroics.” The resembling physical hell realm at the bomb blast and the pure torture of the anger in human minds is like the tip of the iceberg, indicating the hells we are quite capable of creating for ourselves.
(4) Refuge: Especially in Dharma on all its levels, including these 21 meditations. Our main refuge commitment with respect to Dharma is never to intentionally harm others. Or as the 8-year-old killed in the blast said earlier:
(5) Karma: Don’t bomb other countries if you don’t want your own country to be bombed. This bull in a china shop option has no real subtlety or nuanced understanding of cause and effect. We have to stop perpetuating vicious cycles in our own lives and in the world at large.
(6) Renunciation: While delusions rage in human minds, it will be forever thus. We need a radical solution, actual liberation from our real enemies, the delusions.
(7) Equanimity: Agony as it is for the Bostonian victims, perpetrators, and their families, this scene is playing out all over the world and I think could benefit from our equal recognition.
(8) All living beings are our mothers: If we realized this we could not harm them but, also, we could perhaps hope to start a process of forgiveness, understanding that people are not their delusions, even if they are currently controlled by them.
(9) Remembering the kindness of living beings: People have been remarking that a lot of stories of heroism have come out of this, such as that guy in the cowboy hat. There has been an outpouring of kindness.
(10) Equalizing self and others: Every single person in this scenario equally wants to be happy and free from suffering. That gives a lot of food for thought, stops it being so much about “us and them”. We realize we’re in this mess together and have to help each other get out of it.
(11) The disadvantages of self-cherishing: Where to start?
(12) The advantages of cherishing others: Any moment of happiness that has come out or will come out of this derives from the kindness of people helping and saving limbs, eg, the medical profession, the outpouring of love and prayers all over the world, and so on.
(13) Exchanging self with others: We can do this with both the victims and the perpetrators. Again, it gives a great deal of food for thought.
(14) Great compassion: This means compassion not just for obvious physical and mental pain, but for the causes of suffering, delusions and negative actions, or karma. In which case, there is no one in this scenario who is not a suitable object of our compassion. May everyone swiftly be freed from delusions and pain. See Geshe Kelsang’s prayer.
(15) Taking: You could spend all day taking on the suffering of the victims, their families, the perpetrators, their families, and everyone else in similar circumstances around the world. A powerful day it would be, too.
(16) Wishing love: Love is the great Protector. With love in our hearts, there is room for everyone in this world. Without it…
(17) Giving: Act like a Buddha and send healing light rays giving relief and happiness to everyone involved. There is always something we can do.
(18) Bodhichitta: Seeing from this bombing the futility of trying to solve all the world’s problems without removing our own faults and delusions, and without having all the necessary qualities such as wisdom, compassion, and skill, it is imperative to become a Buddha as quickly as possible. And if I don’t, who will?
(19) Tranquil abiding/concentration: In short supply at the bomb site. If we have a chance to focus on controlling our own minds through concentration, we will be able to help others do the same as soon as the conditions are right. But life is crazy, so our time to train in concentration is now.
(20) Superior seeing/wisdom: See Geshe Kelsang’s prayer. The interviewer asked Krystle’s grandmother, “Does this feel unreal?” Everyone is saying, as they always do when tragedy strikes: “This is a nightmare.” And it is. With wisdom realizing the true nature of things, we have the actual solution to this and every other problem – we can wake up.
(21) Relying upon a Spiritual Guide: We need experienced guides to steer us out of the madness of this hall of distorted, bomb-blasted mirrors, and into lasting peace and freedom.
Over to you: How do you make sense of the senseless?