A Jain Perspective on Newtown Shootings

Snow-covered stuffed animals with photos attached sit at a memorial in Newtown, Conn. Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012. People continue
Snow-covered stuffed animals with photos attached sit at a memorial in Newtown, Conn. Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012. People continue to visit memorials after gunman Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Friday, Dec. 14, and opened fire, killing 26, including 20 children, before killing himself. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

By Anop Vora

The rampage that occurred on Dec. 14 in Newtown, Conn., utterly shocked the whole nation, including the 100,000 Jains who live in North America. Most of the 26 people killed were energetic young children who will never get to explore the joy of human life.

What can we do moving forward to prevent this tragedy from happening again? As President Obama has said, changing gun laws will help. As the National Rifle Association has said, providing more security in schools and other public places will help. As many health care providers have said, recognizing and treating mental illness will help.

The U.S. Congress, the President, and our health care providers will discuss the whole issue and hopefully come up with workable solutions. Yet, these are only small, short-term steps. We need to go deeper and find the root cause of this violence. Here is where the wisdom of Jain spiritual saints may help us bring an effective and permanent change.

Jain seers have said that at the macro level these problems are the product of what is going on in the human mind every single moment. Thoughts lead to speech, and this then leads to action. While our soul is pure and nonviolent, the seeds of violence are deep within each of us, and we need to be constantly vigilant. We need to realize that physical violence does not start by itself. Usually it is preceded by either a trace of anger, ego, greed, or a combination thereof in our thoughts or speech.

Therefore if we wish to minimize violence, we need to learn how to control the toxic emotions of anger, ego, deceit, and greed in day to day life by focusing on the development of their antidotes, namely forgiveness, love, compassion, humility, honesty, and contentment. These are not just Jain values, but can be found in all the cultures and religions of the world.

How do we translate this wisdom into our daily life and achieve serenity, peace, and harmony? We need to focus on giving these values to our young people in their formative years. This means teaching them the importance of spirituality early on. Because of the separation of church and state, we can't expect government-run schools to teach spirituality. This task must be done either by parents at home or by religious institutions, in churches and temples.

In other words, the seeds of tolerance, forgiveness, humility, and other important human qualities must be planted in kids when they are very young, before they are in high school. If we wait until they are in their teens, we will probably miss our opportunity. By that time, the die is already cast. Indeed, the killer Adam Lanza was only just out of his teens, 20 years old.

According to Jain beliefs, non-violence is our beacon of light, the most powerful tool for achieving a lasting change in society. We need to practice non-violence every single moment if we wish to minimize problems like the shooting spree in Newtown. This personal dedication to peaceful action is the real key to achieving a long-lasting solution to such violence.

Anop Vora is a former president of JAINA and Jain Society of Rochester and founding president of IAAMJV, International Alumni Association Mahavir Jain Vidyalay. He has written articles on topics including anger, arrogance, forgiveness, theory of karma, meditation, samyag darshan and control of kashayas. He has attended Vipassana meditation camps in Springfield, MA and Preksha meditation in Ladnu, India. He has also participated in interfaith programs at Barcelona, Spain and Monterrey, Mexico.