I am facing overwhelming emotions concerning the shooting yesterday in Alexandria, VA, and the response I read in The Washington Post. James Hodgkinson from Belleville, IL opened fire at a Republican baseball practice for an annual charity game against Democratic Senators. According to one of the people who left the stadium, Hodgkinson asked him what party the players belonged to, and when he had been told they were Republicans, Hodgkinson walked away. Sometime later, Hodgkinson returned and began shooting people. Besides four other people, Senator Scalise was shot in the hip, and was taken to the hospital in critical condition. Hodgkinson died later from gunshot wounds sustained from a shootout he had with the police.
He was a Democrat who supported Bernie Sanders, and he would send angry letters to his senator exclaiming Trump’s betrayal of the United States. The media, along with some members of the Republican Party, spun Hodgkinson as a left wing extremist. Rodney Davis, R-ILL, referred to the shooting as an act of terrorism, and Chris Collins, a representative of New York said the Democrats, “need to tone down their rhetoric.” Did they forget the words of Donald Trump during his campaign, and how he offered to pay for the lawyers to represent his supporters who attacked protesters (New York Times March 13, 2016)? Did they forget the veiled threat Trump made should Hillary Clinton be elected? “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although, the Second Amendment people—maybe there is, I don’t know (New York Times Aug. 9, 2016).” And a final example out of many when Trump said, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Ave. and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters (CNN January 24, 2016).” Trump’s rhetoric against Muslims, immigrants, people of color, and LGBT has emboldened many people in the United States to attack these groups without consequence.
Is the Republican Party trying to be ironic? The terrorism the United States has faced before 9/11 and after 9/11 has been, mostly, from white, Christian, right-wing extremists. Where is the crackdown on the extremism from the Right concerning the violent behavior of their constituents? From my perspective, I call bullshit, and I call hypocrisy. One side cannot do consistent acts of violence, get away with their crimes, and cry foul when the opposing side responds in a similar manner. Violence is reprehensible no matter who does it, and the issue isn’t simply political. Besides the shooting in Alexandria, VA on June 14 there was also a shooting in San Francisco at UPS where four people died.
As I write this there have been 154 mass shootings in the United States this year. It’s June 15, 166 days into the year. The statistic is similar to what it was in 2016 where there seemed to be a mass shooting everyday. Like Trump and the polarization of the United States, I think the mass shootings are symptoms of a deeper sickness. Generally speaking, people don’t pick up a gun to kill people and themselves without some kind of grievance. Instead of looking within, they will strike outside themselves to find a form of healing they will never have. They are ignorant of what to do. We are ignorant of what to do.
To break this down, all of us want to be happy, we all want to be free of suffering, and we all want to live in peace. Regardless of our various political stances, philosophies, religions, or socioeconomic status we all want fulfilling lives. To paraphrase The Buddha, all life is suffering, suffering is caused by attachment, we can be free from suffering, and that freedom from suffering comes through right mind, right speech, right action, and right livelihood. What I said was a mouthful, but I think the teachings applicable for the first steps towards a solution. To stop the violence we see in our world, we need to stop the violence in ourselves. We begin the changes by taking a few minutes to focus on our breath, to let our thoughts be, to realize we are not our thoughts, and that we are all interconnected. In these breaths we take refuge in our own Buddha nature, or whatever holy nature that resonates with you. We take refuge in the Dharma, the teaching directing us to our true selves. We take refuge in the Sangha, or community because that is what we are. All living beings are completely interdependent to one another, and when one suffers, we all suffer.
One of my favorite Buddhist teachers, Jack Kornfield told the story of one of his teachers who was an abbot of a monastery in Viet Nam during the war. There were Christian missionaries who found themselves caught in the crossfire between the Viet Cong and American troops. These missionaries were granted sanctuary by the abbot. The missionaries observed the monks’ constant meditation, and one missionary became so angry he confronted the abbot, “There’s a war going on out there! People are dying, and all you and your monks do is sit here and do nothing!” The abbot nodded and pointed to his heart, “If I don’t stop the war in my heart, I will never stop the war outside these walls.” The missionary took in the words of the abbot, and soon the Christian missionaries were participating in the monastery until they left. Meditation and breathing seem overly simple, but they seem to work with those who live and serve in violent areas. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to understand change begins within ourselves. Not only do we need to live the change we want to see, but we need to change our hearts and minds to see. The only thing we have to lose is our knee jerk trust in violence.