Can we make sense of the senseless?

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.

“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

Scanning meditation

“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. Krystle Campbell is second victim killed in Boston bombing

(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: no more hurting people

(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. Mr Rogers and the Boston bombing

(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…

Tara protecting living beings
May everyone  in Boston and elsewhere swiftly come under Buddha Tara’s loving protection.

(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?

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

24 thoughts on “Can we make sense of the senseless?”

  1. I’m readin this in preparation for my Lamrim retreat, beginning tomorrow. I am considering my self guided meditations. Thank you for your words

  2. Luna, knowing of Geshe-la’s prayer on 9/11 actually makes me feel somewhat hopeless. Geshe-la is a much more powerful being than I and even with his prayers, our world continues to decline. It makes me feel I have no power to bring about any kind of change. I know this isn’t the intended take-away. How do we avoid feeling hopelessness given we most likely won’t see the effects of our good intentions any time soon? I guess the answer is faith?

    1. Yes, gotta have the big picture. Maybe check out the article on this blog about climate change in case that answers some of this for you?

  3. Great article, love the scanning meditation.
    I can’t get the picture of the 19 year old boy out of my head. When they were still looking for them and showed the surveillance camera pictures, he looked like my son who is 17. I read that the mother said it couldn’t possibly be her son, he was a good boy, an angel. A heartbreak on so many levels.

    1. I know. That is not the face of a mass murderer. I heard his father saying that about both his sons, they were angels. They must have been, at least some of the time. The delusions are evil, our worse enemies, dwelling within us, destroying our lives.

  4. Thank you Luna for helping us to come to terms with the suffering in the world and to see it for what it really is; the nightmare of Samsara from which we can awake.

  5. Thanks Luna i just loved this article…and is a great idea to do a “scanning meditation” in some special moments…to clarify our mind and be able to keep going….with our prime job… training in love,wisdom and compassion ….

  6. Thank you for sharing this Kadampa insight into such a tragic event. I’ve never heard of this scanner meditation but it’s a great tool in applying Lamrim teachings to any situation in your lives and I’ll definitely be using it. Much Love, ianca

  7. Thank you for this thoughtful, wise and in-depth reaction – with great advice on how to meet this experience with many meditations. I agree with it all, and also the comments people have left. I live a couple of hours north of Boston, and as I listened to my local radio – which was tuned into the radios in the suburbs of Boston and the shaking voices and fear… one thought kept coming to me; Become enlightened, no more wasting time. Do this now – use all your good fortune: a happy upbringing – far away from war – enough money to eat, a roof over your head; lack of overwhelming manifest suffering, and detailed Dharma teachings in beautiful books sitting on my desk. It struck me how blindingly lucky I am – how I need to stop worrying about all the silly, little things, and start to really train in becoming a Buddha – to have the ability to lift others out of suffering. I was also so grateful to Geshe-la for the line of Sadhanas sitting on my bookshelf that I could immediately grab and sit down, and start sending prayers in an active way. Ths morning, reading yet more bad news appearing in the media, in all parts of the world, it strikes me that this is our daily reminder. Of why we’re meditating: the world needs those training in peace and love.

  8. Thank you. Beautiful practical meditation on transforming our daily appearances.

  9. Even the mighty USA with its sophisticated security and massive resources cannot stop ripening karma. Whilst we remain in samsara, as our Spiritual Guide says, such monstrous unwanted suffering is ‘natural’, pouring down ‘like rain’.

    However, the normally unobservable compassion that pervades the world jumps into view when we see others risking their own lives to save others. Kind humans and even animals can appear to help us even in the worst nightmare, like Guru Vajrayogini in the hell realms. Compassion forces action, wisdom knows what action to perform. There’s only one answer: get enlightened while we have the opportunity.

    As always, great teaching. Thank you xxx

  10. Thank you. I really like this idea of doing a ‘scanning meditation’, had never heard of it before. I think it will come in very useful. X

    1. Thanks Kelsang, I hadn’t heard of a it either. A most excellent idea tho. You can see how it gives a whole new perspective on things. One to remember. Thanks Luna 🙂

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