Let your action move us to find a way out of loneliness
This is a letter written by Douglas Bachman, a Buddhist monk and
student of the Vietnamese Zen Master and monk Thich Nhat Hanh, to Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old man who shot his mother, then killed 20 children and six more adults before killing himself at an elementary school in Newtown Conn. Bachman, now known as Br. Phap Luu, grew up at 22 Lake Rd. in Newtown. (Boldface is my addition)
Saturday, 15th of December, 2012 Dharma Cloud Temple Plum Village
Let me start by saying that I wish for you to find peace. It would be
easy just to call you a monster and condemn you for evermore, but I
don't think that would help either of us. Given what you have done, I
realize that peace may not be easy to find. In a fit of rage, delusion
and fear—yes, above all else, I think, fear—you thought that killing was
a way out. It was clearly a powerful emotion that drove you from your
mother's dead body to massacre children and staff of Sandy Hook School
and to turn the gun in the end on yourself. You decided that the game
But the game is not over, though you are dead. You
didn't find a way out of your anger and loneliness. You live on in other
forms, in the torn families and their despair, in the violation of
their trust, in the gaping wound in a community, and in the countless
articles and news reports spilling across the country and the world—yes,
you live on even in me. I was also a young boy who grew up in Newtown.
Now I am a Zen Buddhist monk. I see you quite clearly in me now,
continued in the legacy of your actions, and I see that in death you
have not become free.
You know, I used to play soccer on the
school field outside the room where you died, when I was the age of the
children you killed. Our team was the Eagles, and we won our division
that year. My mom still keeps the trophy stashed in a box. To be honest,
I was and am not much of a soccer player. I've known winning, but I've
also known losing, and being picked last for a spot on the team. I think
you've known this too—the pain of rejection, isolation and loneliness.
Loneliness too strong to bear.
You are not alone in feeling
this. When loneliness comes up it is so easy to seek refuge in a virtual
world of computers and films, but do these really help or only increase
our isolation? In our drive to be more connected, have we lost our true
I want to know what you did with your loneliness.
Did you ever, like me, cope by walking in the forests that cover our
town? I know well the slope that cuts from that school to the stream,
shrouded by beech and white pine. It makes up the landscape of my mind. I
remember well the thrill of heading out alone on a path winding its
way—to Treadwell Park! At that time it felt like a magical path, one of
many secrets I discovered throughout those forests, some still hidden.
Did you ever lean your face on the rough furrows of an oak's bark,
feeling its solid heartwood and tranquil vibrancy? Did you ever play in
the course of a stream, making pools with the stones as if of this
stretch you were king? Did you ever experience the healing, connection
and peace that comes with such moments, like I often did?
did your loneliness know only screens, with dancing figures of light at
the bid of your will? How many false lives have you lived, how many
shots fired, bombs exploded and lives lost in video games and movies?
By killing yourself at the age of 20, you never gave yourself the
chance to grow up and experience a sense of how life's wonders can bring
happiness. I know at your age I hadn't yet seen how to do this.
I am 37 now, about the age my teacher, the Buddha, realized there was a
way out of suffering. I am not enlightened. This morning, when I heard
the news, and read the words of my shocked classmates, within minutes a
wave of sorrow arose, and I wept. Then I walked a bit further, into the
woods skirting our monastery, and in the wet, winter cold of France,
beside the laurel, I cried again. I cried for the children, for the
teachers, for their families. But I also cried for you, Adam, because I
think that I know you, though I know we have never met. I think that I
know the landscape of your mind, because it is the landscape of my mind. I don't think you hated those children, or that you even hated your mother. I think you hated your loneliness.
I cried because I have failed you. I have failed to show you how to
cry. I have failed to sit and listen to you without judging or reacting.
Like many of my peers, I left Newtown at seventeen, brimming with
confidence and purpose, with the congratulations of friends and the
approbation of my elders. I was one of the many young people who left,
and in leaving we left others, including you, just born, behind. In that
sense I am a part of the culture that failed you. I didn't know yet
what a community was, or that I was a part of one, until I no longer had
it, and so desperately needed it.
I have failed to be one of
the ones who could have been there to sit and listen to you. I was not
there to help you to breathe and become aware of your strong emotions,
to help you to see that you are more than just an emotion.
But I am also certain that others in the community cared for you, loved you. Did you know it?
In eighth grade I lived in terror of a classmate and his anger. It was
the first time I knew aggression. No computer screen or television gave a
way out, but my imagination and books. I dreamt myself a great wizard,
blasting fireballs down the school corridor, so he would fear and
respect me. Did you dream like this too?
The way out of being a
victim is not to become the destroyer. No matter how great your
loneliness, how heavy your despair, you, like each one of us, still have
the capacity to be awake, to be free, to be happy, without being the
cause of anyone's sorrow. You didn't know that, or couldn't see that,
and so you chose to destroy. We were not skillful enough to help you see
a way out.
With this terrible act you have let us know. Now I
am listening, we are all listening, to you crying out from the hell of
your misunderstanding. You are not alone, and you are not gone. And you
may not be at peace until we can stop all our busyness, our quest for
power, money or sex, our lives of fear and worry, and really listen to
you, Adam, to be a friend, a brother, to you. With a good friend like
that your loneliness might not have overwhelmed you.
needed your help too, Adam. You needed to let us know that you were
suffering, and that is not easy to do. It means overcoming pride, and
that takes courage and humility. Because you were unable to do this, you
have left a heavy legacy for generations to come. If we cannot learn
how to connect with you and understand the loneliness, rage and despair
you felt—which also lie deep and sometimes hidden within each one of
us—not by connecting through Facebook or Twitter or email or telephone,
but by really sitting with you and opening our hearts to you, your rage
will manifest again in yet unforeseen forms.
Now we know you
are there. You are not random, or an aberration. Let your action move us
to find a path out of the loneliness within each one of us. I have
learned to use awareness of my breath to recognize and transform these
overwhelming emotions, but I hope that every man, woman or child does
not need to go halfway across the world to become a monk to learn how to
do this. As a community we need to sit down and learn how to cherish
life, not with gun-checks and security, but by being fully present for
one another, by being truly there for one another. For me, this is the
way to restore harmony to our communion.
Douglas Bachman (Br. Phap Luu), who grew up at 22 Lake Road in Newtown, Conn., is a Buddhist monk and
student of the Vietnamese Zen Master and monk Thich Nhat Hanh. As part
of an international community, he teaches Applied Ethics and the art of
mindful living to students and school teachers. He lives in Plum Village
Monastery, in Thenac, France.