Reverence for life and the death penalty

“Because all manifestation has both an individual an collective aspect, it would not be correct to say that a young man in prison bears the whole responsibility for his crime. He is the product of his family, his schooling, and society. If we look deeply, we may find that when he was younger, his parents often fought and caused each other and their child to suffer. Perhaps he was abused. Lacking love, lacking education, he tried to forget himself in drugs. With drugs, his ability to make good choices diminished even further. Committing a crime was the result.

Looking deeply, we see that the conditions for this young man’s actions did not arise only from his own mind and experiences. All of us bear some responsibility for creating the conditions that led him into the cycle of crime and addiction. If we only condemn or punish him, it will not help. People use drugs because they are in pain and want to run away from life. Putting someone who is suffering like this in prison is not the way to solve the problem. There has to be love and understanding, some means to bringing him back to life, offering him joy, clarity, and purpose.“ Thich Nhat Hanh, Understanding Our Mind.

Image courtesy to pbs.orgWednesday evening, September 10, 6 pm CST, Texas State killed Willie Trottie. Because he killed his ex-girlfriend Barbara Canada and her brother Titus.

I joined my Sangha to sit as a silent witness at the steps of the State Capitol in honor of our first mindfulness training: Reverence for Life. “Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivate the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life.”

I thought of offering myself as a replacement of the convict to take an active stand against executions as a strategy for safety. I thought about it a long time. Then I realized that I would be terrified, panicked, and anguished in the certain prospect of death. I am too attached to life, and too averted to pain and suffering. Instead of peace, trust, love, openness, and understanding of impermanence and interbeing, I would offer fear and terror. I am pretty sure that would not help.

I think the only thing that helps is practicing compassion, understanding, love, and mindfulness in our thoughts, speech, and actions. For ourselves, for our beloved ones, for our not so loved ones, and for our society. So that we would help create a society where everyone receives so much support, acceptance, belonging, understanding, and compassion, that no one needs to kill to get their needs met.


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2 Replies to “Reverence for life and the death penalty”

  1. Always an interesting topic. I learned a long time ago not to make a stand one way or another until I too, have walked in the shoes of the victims. When I was in high school, I was on a debating team. The topic was Capital Punishment. I was on the team for the pros. It was an interesting experience. On the con side was this girl who I really had a crush on. She was good, and her ending statement about Capital Punishment was so good, that I felt a little bad about being on the pro side of the table. About six months later, the girls sister was out with friends and they went to party with some older guys. Two days later they found her sisters body. Beaten, raped, stabbed and thrown out of the vehicle onto the side of a road like a piece of trash. A few months after that I saw her in school again. She looked like she aged 10 years. I really felt for her. While we were in class, one of the pro Capital Punishment people said out loud, “Hey Cindy, what do you think about Capital Punishment now?” Cindy flew out of her chair screaming and went to attack the jerk. I felt so bad for her. Her pain was terrible. It actually hurt me to see her. The boy who made the remark was expelled from school. I’m grateful I’ve never been a victim, on the other hand I truly believe that what makes man so unique is the fact that he knows right from wrong regardless of how screwed up he grew up. Killing is a choice, if we choose to kill, then we must live with the consequences that follow.

    1. Gosh, Richard, tears well up in my eyes as I think of this girl whose sister was raped, beaten and stabbed to death. I have no words. Yes, killing is a choice. And I think it often comes from deep seated ignorance, anger, and the inability to support precious, beautiful needs in a compassionate way. I can only express my hope that we will find ways to support each other, so we never act in such violence.

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