Who decides which life has greater value?
The recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School has been first and foremost on most peoples minds ever since the day that it happened. And certainly this is a day that will live in infamy for most Americans. And while there is no question that this was a most horrific atrocity, this has also been a time of increased awareness for me. And awareness of our connectedness, as well as a lack of clear understanding, or as it is explained in the Buddha’s teachings of “sati-sampajañña“.
And please understand that I could in no way be able to tell you how it feels to lose a child, much less losing one under this type of circumstance. It is truly incomprehensible for me.
But I do see that for most of us, the passion that erupted from this event may have clouded our deeper understanding about this life. Not simply in the First Noble Truth, that there is suffering, but that death has likely come to visit each of us many times before. In a practical sense, it has touched each of us with the loss of parents, children and other loved ones many times already. And in the Buddhist sense, the Assu Sutta teaches us:
“Long have you (repeatedly) experienced the death of a father… the death of a brother… the death of a sister… the death of a son… the death of a daughter… loss with regard to relatives… loss with regard to wealth… loss with regard to disease. The tears you have shed over loss with regard to disease while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time — crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — are greater than the water in the four great oceans.
“Why is that? From an inconstruable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. Long have you thus experienced stress, experienced pain, experienced loss, swelling the cemeteries — enough to become disenchanted with all fabricated things, enough to become dispassionate, enough to be released.”
With this in mind, I fully understand that not all of us believe in rebirth, and I personally have no direct knowledge that would support it. But I do know that death is a part of life, and there is no escape from that truth. And I do not see where there is more or less value in any one life over another. Because someone is a prominent figure, or is someone whom I have a personal relationship with, does not make any difference. That all life and death are of equal value and deserving of my loving-kindness, goodwill, and compassion. And I believe there is a skillful empathy that can be developed and cultivated through mindful awareness and understanding of this. One which is neither attached nor detached, but filled with a deep heart and mind connection that is filled with unconditional love and understanding.
My intention here is only to offer the opportunity for each of us to become more open to the precious life, suffering and death that we all share. Whether it be a starving child in Africa, a freezing homeless person in Russia, or your next-door neighbor who is battling cancer. We are only separated by the delusions that we create based around the concept of self. The self that thinks how “I” feel, and how “I” am personally affected. There is a much bigger World out there, and we are all so very much apart of it all.
May you be well, happy and peaceful.