Mar. 31, 2019 Sermon
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting (often referred to as the Parkland
shootings) occurred on Feb. 14, 2018. More than a year has passed, but the hurt of the
premeditated murder of seventeen students and faculty is not going away. Recently, two
survivors of the shootings have committed suicide.
Sydney Aiello, 19, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on Mar. 17, 2019. She was
diagnosed as having had post-traumatic stress disorder. She was suffering from what is
called “survivor’s guilt”, that she was living whereas seventeen other fellow students were
killed. She was also especially close to Meadow Pollack, one of the students who was shot
and killed. Sydney’s mother noted that she struggled to attend college classes because she
was scared of being in the classroom. She had aspired to work in the medical field to help
On Mar. 23, 2019, Calvin Desir, aged 16, took his life. It is not clear whether the
shooting last year had weighed on Calvin’s mind as it had Sydney’s, but it is a fact that he
was a sophomore at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, and that he had experienced the
horror of the shooting.
Then, on Monday, Mar. 25, 2019, there came the news of the suicide of Jeremy
Richman, 49, the father of Avielle Richman who was killed on Dec. 14, 2012 with nineteen
other children, and six adult staff in what is known as the Sandy Hook Elementary School
shooting. Jeremy Richman was a neuroscientist whose wife had launched a charitable
foundation in memory of their daughter to investigate the “underpinnings of the brain that
lead to violent behaviors.” The following is what he had written on the foundation’s
website: “In the years since the murder of our beautiful six-year-old daughter, our
heartbreak has been repeated with hundreds of school shootings in the United States, not to
mention the daily occurrences of homicide and suicide on our streets and in our homes.”
I can speak of the deranged cruelty of the perpetrators of these murders, or the wanton
proliferation of guns in our society, but today, I shall not. Rather, I would like to comment
on the burden of the survivors of these shootings. No doubt, these suicides were influenced
partially, if not, wholly by the onerous grief caused by these shootings. Those who commit
suicide are so burdened by their problems that it overweighs any fear of their own death. In
other words, death becomes the only alternative for release for them.
First of all, you can be a survivor and still be a victim. Whenever there is a loss in our
society, the obvious thing that everyone sees are those who are directly affected. But,
society as a whole is equally affected vicariously. Just because one is not wounded by
bullets directly does not exempt them from the hurt caused by the shooter. That said, some
people will be so affected that they may want to commit suicide. How can we help them?
Let us study Buddha’s example.
One day, the Buddha was walking along the Ganges after receiving alms. He spotted a
young woman who appeared lifeless, with no desire to live. He stopped her and said, “To
live is difficult, to die is easy.” Most people would want to live as long as possible, and try
to extend their lives even if it is for just one more day. Yet, there seemed to be no desire for
this in this woman. The Buddha meant to say that it is difficult to be born a human, why
would you want to throw that fortune away? The woman explained that she was pregnant,
and the father would not take responsibility. She had hid her pregnancy from her family for
a few months, but now that her pregnancy was evident, even her family had become
unsupportive. This was not to mention the people in her neighborhood who filled their
spare time by spreading rumors about her. She had reached the point where she thought that
her only way out was to end her life.
The Buddha understood her pain, but proceeded to tell her a story of the ox and his cart.
There was an ox that was asked to pull a wooden cart. Every day, every day, he pulled a
heavy load. One day, the ox thought, “If this cart was not available, I would not have to
pull this heavy load.” So, one day, he purposely ran the cart into a large rock using the
momentum on a downhill road, completely damaging the cart. The ox was delighted and
lounged in what he thought was a great idea because now he was left to do what he wanted
for a whole month. Little did he know that his master was having another cart built. This
time, his master decided to make the cart out of steel so that it would not break too easily.
As soon as the new cart was delivered, the ox was hooked up to the cart. Suddenly, the ox
realized that what was previously manageable with the wooden cart was now unbearably
heavy. Because he pulled the cart so slowly, his master would use a whip on him. And at
the end of the day, the ox found himself bleeding. The ox understood now that his actions
were without merit. What one may wish for may not be what one gets when one tries to
orchestrate something that is beyond what is reasonable. Try to find meaning in what you
already have. After hearing this story, the young woman become the Buddha’s disciple and
lived a long life together with her child.
In Buddhism, taking a life, whether it is that of another or of oneself, is not without
consequences. That is, whenever a life is taken, bad karma is created. Such an act is to not
only devoid of compassion, it curtails one’s complete development, disallowing the
fulfillment of their calling, leaving all of society sad and wanting. A community cannot be
complete without the existence and participation of all its citizens. No one should be
considered “undesirable” or “unnecessary”. And, no one should lose their lives for these
The Buddha would rather one concentrate on what s/he can contribute to society than
what one may gain from pursuing something that one knows nothing about. Why take your
life to find more delusion? For the Buddha, no one is born in this world without worth.
When individuals cannot find it, we must help them realize their value. If Sydney Aiello
could be convinced to continue to pursue her dreams within the medical field, one can only
imagine how many people she could have helped. If Jeremy Richman could be convinced
to continue his research in neuroscience, he could have discovered why people were apt to
pursue violence. Those of us who are close to people who are contemplating suicide have
the responsibility to help these people to find their value or purpose in society, so that they
may one day eventually help others. (Eisei Ikenaga)