Monday, April 16, 2007

Making peace with mass media tragedies in our society

Today in the news we have: Officials: Gunman dead after bloody campus rampage ... the story? A lone shooter goes on a rampage on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg VA, he managed to kill 31 people and wound many more. The police sent in SWAT teams, found the killer, and shot him dead.

This is clearly a tragedy, one which will be a focus of the mass media attention for a couple weeks. Or at least until the next mass media tragedy comes along. We don't yet know why this happened, what motivated the person who perpetrated the shooting. We know from past shooting incidents like this that the people have been disaffected people in pain about their lives, etc.

Such violence can only be perpetrated by a person who believes violence is a way to ease their pain. Perhaps they are unwilling to acknowledge their pain, and need to lash their pain out to others instead. But it's easy to get lost in second-guessing why someone else might commit such an act. Many spiritual traditions such as Buddhism teach that the universe is one consciousness, and that our ego's create an illusion of being individuals with identities separated from the identities of everybody else. Hence, the spiritual teaching is that our true identity is unitive consciousness and that everything which happens, every persons individual thoughts and hopes and fears and pains, all happen within that unitive consciousness.

Clearly in our world as it stands a lot of people are in pain. We have seemingly unnecessary death happening all over the world in all forms. If the teachings of the spiritual traditions are true, then in our true identity as a being of pure universal consciousness, all those unnecessary deaths and pain is happening within us. In particular Buddhist practices ask us to seek inside ourselves the pain we see in the world. And to hold that part of ourselves in compassionate awareness.

Essential Phowa Practice contains a very good and clearly described method from a Buddhist perspective.

While looking at the CNN.COM web site for news I saw the following title: Having baby at 12, 18K dead a day; $34 to stop it

It's a link to a video about world hunger, and discusses how at least 18,000 people per day die of hunger. There's an intriguing contrast between this figure, 18,000 people per day, and a single incident involving 32 deaths. This clicked something in my mind .. often the mass media goes into a frenzy over certain stories while ignoring other stories that have similar attributes. Last week the frenzy was over "shock jock" Don Imus and an inflammatory and racist statement he said on his radio program. The frenzy over that event led to his firing as a radio personality, but isn't it interesting how there's a whole industry of "shock jocks" who are famous for pushing the bounds of indecency, who regularly get fined by the FCC for public indecency, etc, and why does this one incident by this one guy get so much frenzy when the same thing happens every day by dozens of other shock jock's?

Similarly why will this shooting incident get so much coverage compared to the tragedy of 18,000 deaths per day due to hunger?

Tragedy is happening every day in every corner of human society on this planet. While we may be led to incredulously ask Why?, it's clear this has been the path of human society for millennia and it shows every indication of continuing for the forseeable future. I believe that a practice of praying for and manifesting peace around the world is a necessary part of changing the course of this pattern in human society.