Slaughter of the innocents

_64778224_64778223There is a dreadful poignancy to the mass killing of school children and their teachers, two millennia after the slaughter of the innocents – the Biblical massacre that took place in Egypt following the birth of Christ.

It is tempting to ask if humanity has made any progress, and to question human nature. We ask ourselves what can be done to prevent such tragedies from happening again. President Obama, in his heartfelt address, spoke of this: “As a country, we have been through this too many times . . . We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics,” he said.

As members of a global community, it seems important for Shambhalians to see this in an even broader context. This horror is the latest in a series of mass killings that have taken place in countries around the world, many of them deliberately targeting children and young people.

For a community exploring the principle of basic goodness, these are vital moments. We are forced to examine our own understanding when we are confronted by extreme cruelty like this. What does it mean to speak of enlightened society against a backdrop of mass murder? What is the basis on which to accommodate, understand and feel sadness for the cruelty of beings?

In his recently published Treatise on Enlightened Society, the Sakyong, Jamgön Mipham Rinpoche, directly addresses this question. I am posting it here for the benefit of anyone who wishes to use it as a starting point for their own contemplation and for their discussions with others. You are warmly welcome to post your heartfelt responses on this site as we reflect on this together worldwide.

“At times of great challenge, just when people need to be able to care for each other and the planet, they fall into fear and aggression. In that state, the vision and intelligence needed to solve the crises become buried deep within humanity’s consciousness . . .

“However, if that society mutually experiences the innate goodness of beings, its conduct reflects that point of view. Because of the backdrop of this greater understanding, even if beings behave with aggression or foolishness, that behavior is considered to be an irregularity and an anomaly; it is not considered to be their nature at the core. In this light, enlightened society will always face such challenges and obstacles; it is not a state of utopia. However, even in the midst of great suffering and challenge, enlightened society stays open and awake to basic goodness. If the message of basic goodness is fearlessly proclaimed, and if human relationships reflect this message, kind and virtuous conduct spreads throughout the society. Then, even when situations become difficult, our conduct improves.”

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About Richard Reoch

Richard Reoch was appointed by the Sakyong, Jamgön Mipham Rinpoche, as the President of Shambhala in 2002 -- a position he holds to this day. He heads the Government of Shambhala and chairs the highest governing body of the mandala, the Kalapa Council. Prior to his position in Shambhala, he was the global media chief of the human rights organization, Amnesty International, and continues as a trustee of the Rainforest Foundation and Chair of the International Working Group on Sri Lanka, a network of diplomats and major agencies devoted to peace making.

27 thoughts on “Slaughter of the innocents

  1. Thank you for posting this. Even now, as I sit here in my living room with my father who is exclaiming that the shooter is a “chicken shit coward” and expressing his anger, I am confronted with my own questions of basic goodness in this situation. Just trying to hold all of this in my heart that feels so broken- imagining my sleeping child in his room right now and the devastation of those parents. This tender heart is so so sad and the tenderness so strong- making the necessity of these teachings that the Sakyong is offering us and that we offer each other so vital.

  2. Thank you so much for these wise and comforting words Mr. President. As a teacher, this tragedy struck my heart very deeply. It’s amazing to me how something that occurred so far away from me, and involving people I’ve never met, could affect me as if it happened to my own brothers and sisters. The thought occurred to me this morning as I practiced tonglen for the victims, as well as for the deeply disturbed assassin that, as a society, we don’t give ourselves enough time to feel. We seem to jump into debate very quickly. I read the Treatise this morning as a condolence. Much love to all. Our hearts can only grow larger from here.

  3. Thank you for this, President Reoch.

    I found this first link helpful in thinking about how to discuss the tragedy with my 10-year-old daughter.

    And if you are one who thinks, as I do, that there are WAY too many guns in the U.S., this next link discusses—passionately and politically (be warned)—President Obama’s announcement on the 14th of December, and the increased resistance to gun control likely to arise from the NRA and other sources. It’s a hot discussion, but a smart one.

    • Thanks David. We need to talk about basic goodness, and we also need to talk about taking action to do the right thing. It IS a smart discussion.

  4. In addition to staying open to basic goodness — in fact, as an inherent part of it — the US citizens of Shambhala should take political action to institute strong gun controls. There will always be violent, unstable people — but they should not be able to get their hands on the tools of mass destruction.

  5. Along with my sadness for the suffering inflicted yesterday with this slaughter, I am inspired by the bravery and example of warriorship of the many teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School that no doubt saved the lives of many other children. Teachers have become under-appreciated and at times demonized in the U. S. This disregard and generalization is undeserved and in large part they are being scapegoated for some of the larger problems in the U. S. such as we witnessed yesterday.
    I just heard a reporter interview Mrs. Sullivan, a third grade teacher at the school. She recounted how she calmly moved her class of children to the safe part of their room, locked the door, pulled the blinds and moved desks around the children to protect them from any possible view through the slits in the blinds. She then sat on the floor with them, told them she loved them all and would protect them with all her heart and might. They had started to cry when they heard the screaming and gun shots but remained attentive to her and for the most part very quiet as she had urged them to do. She said she was very proud of their bravery and that they were ‘amazing’. I think she also was amazing. I was reminded of a quote I heard on 9/11 from a teacher who evacuated her classroom in a school in lower Manhattan near the twin towers as they were coming down. That teacher said that she learned a very good lesson that day – that she was only as fast as her slowest student.

    • Thank you for posting this Susan. Hearing specific and concrete stories of people responding to fire with love fills my heart and makes basic goodness abundantly clear. How I wish there were some way for us to go back in time and share some of this love with the shooter when he most needed it, before his own basic goodness became layered under hatred and fear.

  6. as I feel for all the once involved in this horrible display, and fully agree with all the comments and insights. Let us just look around in how many countries are wars and ego powered politics now and people ..children animals and the planet are destroyed.
    We are so furtunate ,to be able to trust in basic goodness, lets do it, and there is no other way then manifesting it where ever we can, everywhere all the time, including in our dreams .

  7. Young children are the embodiment of basic goodness. Non-conceptual basic goodness. How interesting that they are being targeted. If you are able, find a way to spend time with a child and their parents. They need our protection, confidence and encircling love.

  8. My thoughts are focused on the man who caused this. I have not listened to the news so I don’t know the “facts” of his life. But I know that he was unable to notice or allow his own basic goodness. He was completely trapped in and consumed by his mind. I believe the “completely” is what separates functional humans from those we identify as mentally ill.

    As a society, our courage and honesty is called upon to acknowledge that we know what it is to be trapped in and consumed by our minds. Each of us has taken actions unconsciously, with no awareness of our true inner radiance. But some good fortune has led us out of that trap to here…to the incredible grace and good fortune of not only learning but experiencing the truth. We are all basically good. This man, too, was once an innocent child.

    Bearing witness to this unfathomable event is our call to embrace the truth of basic goodness…and to vigilantly not only notice it in ourselves and others, but delight in it as it unfolds. Maybe it was this act of noticing basic goodness that was the cause of your good fortune in arriving here. This is something we can share.

  9. This tragic event should fill our hearts for compassion for the parents and family members of victims. This tragedy should also, strengthen our resolve as Shambala members to do what is in our means to make a better society. There are no easy solutions, but every day one lives one’s particle by daily exercise of awareness, compassion and wisdom, it decreases the possibility for events like there to occur again.

  10. “Slaughter of the innocents.” But what about Shambhala?

    Until the Shambhala community adapts a cruelty free diet, they are by no means part of any awake human society. They are part of the problem. It is impossible to neglect the suffering and exploitation of animals while we extend our sense of compassion to end the suffering and exploitation of humans. It is likely we will see a time in our history where the current putting to death of non-human animals is viewed the same as the killing of humans. A time where future generations will hold our era wholly accountable for the extinction of thousands of the earth’s species; when the full impact of this senseless raising, terrorizing and eating countless trillions of beings is fully comprehended.

    Human beings see oppression vividly when they are the victims. They shake their fists in anger and righteously protest. Even make movies about it. Otherwise they victimize blindly, sadistically and without a care.

    • Good point Marcus. I’ve taken the position of keeping my vegan practice to myself, only talking about when asked. I guess this is an exception. Every now and then, after sitting practice, and chanting the Dedication of Merit, our group goes out to eat or orders in. It’s discouraging that literally minutes after saying “May the dark ignorance of sentient beings be dispelled. May all beings enjoy profound brilliant glory”, folks chow down on meat. If we don’t practice what we chant, we are clearly taking the position that the animals we eat are not “beings”. Maybe we should change the Dedication – “May the dark ignorance of human beings be dispelled. May all human beings enjoy profound brilliant glory”. If you haven’t checked it out, Peter Singer’s “Practical Ethics” has a compelling discussion of our casual mistreatment of animals.

      • Agree. Thanks Michael. It appears we may have passed the tipping point on this; that even the intellectuals cannot make the connection anymore between meat and human violence. Appears, too, that because of it, the wars will continue, random acts of violence will continue, and so forth. It’s not just diet, but converting humanity to veggie based eating will have a big impact for sure. Might even see people bury their guns.

    • And I share the view expressed by many others, that this horrific event finally tips the scales and results in the adoption of meaningful measures to control the possession of firearms in this country. That would be a step towards eliminating some “dark ignorance.”

  11. I feel a sense of profound importance after these horrific events…we must come together for children’s day. Its is 23 Dec at our Center here in San Antonio. We must come together as a community and enjoy our children and discuss this irregularity and anomaly. Celebrate basic goodness. We must be brave and discuss mental health versus mental illness as clearly as we do diseases of our body. Our children must be comfortable with this concept…as we become.
    Much Love,

    Much love,


  12. Dearest President Reoch ,
    Thank YOU very much for sending this at this time. I think That is just because of basic goodness that I burst to cry when I heard the news although I didn’t know any of them and I live far far away from them ( Iran ). So in these dark age I feel that ONLY basic goodness can work to achieve an enlightened society. Thank you to you and all these teachings that made me (us) feel by doing Tonglen at least I (we) can do something for these children and their families.

  13. “There is a dreadful poignancy to the mass killing of school children and their teachers, two millennia after the slaughter of the innocents – the Biblical massacre that took place in Egypt following the birth of Christ.”

    I think this is a very odd and off-putting comparison. The Biblical slaughter of the innocents was precise, targeted, and political. That seems more similar to drone killings of children than this. No one knows the shooter’s motives, but they don’t seem to be directed at eliminating those who threatened his power.

    This seems a cold and intellectual response. No mention of compassion or kindness or feeling your emotions and holding space for others.

  14. Thank you President Reoch and all the others who have replied,

    I, too, was surprised at my response, bursting into tears when I heard that the Principal was killed. I guess it was because I was sure that she was killed because she was trying to protect the children.

    I am contemplating the sorrow of this, and contemplating what I can do. These things change our society. I know people who won’t go to the movies because of the killings in Colorado. It is not a solution to stay away from public places — we must revive and expand our connection to others.

    I don’t want to just say “The NRA has too much power and so nothing can be done about gun control.” Something must be done about the guns, and also about how people continue to be lost in our culture until they do a horrific act. We need to be finding and caring for these folks before they hurt and kill others. I don’t know how to help with these two things, but I will look and ask the question — “How can we work together so that our public places and our children are safe?”

  15. Thank you for posting, Mr. Reoch.

    Last night my daughter, her baby daughter and I attended an inter-faith vigil in town. We stood in the cold darkness, a ring of firelight. In the middle of this circle, on the church steps – three little girls of six or seven, lighting candles, placing each on ice stone steps, then skipping back to light another and place, until they reached to twenty.

    Could we hold all children so freely and firmly in our ring of protection? And him, the shooter, tightest of all? I believe that last night that’s what we said we’d do.

  16. let us also remember that this recent american tragety involving children is but one of many daily tragedies involving the violent death of children around the world. these are indeed very dark days. we need to look deeply into the tremendous powers of the Shambhala teachings and practices–let us use them creatively, earnestly and with deep respect for their transforming potential.

  17. I find the reference to Biblical events that likely never took place to be equally puzzling.
    I also find the dire picture painted to be profoundly inaccurate.
    Mass killings have been steady, at about 20 per year for at least a century. (2006 was an outlier with nearly 30)
    In fact, violent crime worldwide has been dropping steadily for centuries. So much so, that Steven Pinker, in his recent book ‘ The Better Angels of our Nature’ argues, quite successfully, that we are living in the least violent time in human history.
    Some on this thread have called for gun control as a solution. I may go to the trouble of posting on Shambhala network why there is absolutely no statistical justification for this theory. I won’t get into the details here.(incidentally the largest mass killing in US history was done with dynamite)
    I will however point out that another theatre shooting was thwarted by an armed guard just the other day in Texas, two wounded including the shooter, none killed.
    And if anyone thinks that the use of force is not justified to stop the killing of others,
    A little Ghandi’:…He who cannot protect himself or his nearest and dearest or their honour by non-violently facing death may and ought to do so by violently dealing with the oppressor. He who can do neither of the two is a burden. He has no business to be the head of a family. He must either hide himself, or must rest content to live for ever in helplessness and be prepared to crawl like a worm at the bidding of a bully …’
    Such a contrast after receiving the lung for the treatise that is quoted above to read this piece, and the responses. Humanity has come a long way, now most of the violence is done by governments.
    The Obama quote is equally troubling. The head of an administration that is responsible for the killing of thousands, not tens of ,has the gall to fake tears about this tragedy, and gets quoted by the president of Shambhala.
    I do hope that we hold the victims in our hearts, it is truly a tragedy. And. . . we need to let our judgement of the state of the world be guided by substance and fact,rather than emotion. It would be wonderful if there was no longer any killing by violence in the world, but it will not happen overnight. How we proceed in the interim must be based on reality, lest we deny relative truth.

  18. Somewhere in tribal Pakistan a child will be dead because of a drone strike within the month. I will probably never hear his name or see his face. His death will be systematically diminished by “my” goverment and ignored by “my” media. Had that same child emigrated to Sandy Hook, CT, he would now be a focal point for collective empathy, compassion and grief from around the world. I find that a horrifying and difficult truth to lean into but it seems more likely to genuinely help me learn to extend compassion than it would to experience my own heart as a nationalized US territory, willing to accept this tragedy as the mad opportunity for American exceptionalism it has swiftly become. I want to learn to hold that distant child in loving kindness as naturally as I might a child in New England. To me, this seems the most fitting way to honor these young lost lives and it shapes the intention with which I will practice.

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