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Compassion for Killers, Revisited December 14, 2012

“For as long as space endures and the world exists, may my own existence bring about the end of suffering in the world.”

– Shantideva (8th Century Indian Buddhist Scholar)

ResponsibilityEnergy(June12)*  *  *

I cannot dwell in resentment.  Because if I do, I am only adding to the pain of the world.

In light of today’s tragedy in Connecticut, I have compiled some segments from a few of my past pieces about Ahimsa (avoidance of violence) and about aphorism 1.33 from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

Wishing you a mind, heart and soul free of resentment.  Ahimsa Now.  OM Shanti.

*  *  *

From “Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention – The Final Word,” July 10, 2012

Ahimsa Now.  I just spent 100 days exploring violence, its patterns, its causes and the tools for avoiding it.  (For background, see “The Roots of ‘Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention’” at the bottom of this post.)

What rings true in all of my observations and experiences – when someone is in pain, that person is likely to inflict pain on others.  This is on my mind today, as I consider the news from Aurora, Colorado.  What pains a man so deeply that he must kill?  I am always saddened not only for the victims of violence, but also for those who commit such harm.

I grieve over the profound presence of pain and the cycle of hurting others in our world.

How can I – one breath, one thought, one action, one day at a time – observe, address, process and decrease my own pain in order to decrease the cycle of violence?  How can I modify my actions and interactions to aim high, and to cultivate kindness, acceptance, tolerance, understanding, compassion, love?  This is tough, deep and challenging work.  Ask any of my very kind, accepting, tolerant, understanding, compassionate, loving friends who have been the recipients of my overreactions when I am triggered into great fear or pain.

MorningSadhanaList(July12)I am not trying to be “perfect,” but I do feel responsible for my behavior.  And although often weary from the work, I am committed to discovering and using the tools and practices to cultivate a less reactive, more peaceful Holly.

Once I have those tools and practices in place – and try to use them with the humanness of fallibility, honesty, humility and forgiveness – how can I help decrease, process and decrease the pain of those around me?  Can I influence family, friends, neighbors or strangers?

I can only start by using yoga and other tools that nourish my own inner peace.  By committing to these practices.  Never skipping them.  It’s just too essential.  When I feel peaceful, I share that peace with those around me.  As I maintain accountability for feeding a cycle of peace, that energy inevitably vibrates outward.

I believe that one breath, one thought, one action, one day and one person at a time, this violent world will be touched.  Pain will diminish.  And acts of violence will no longer occupy our hearts, minds, lives.

Ahimsa Now.  OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

The Roots of “Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention”

“Ahimsa” is a Sanskrit word meaning, “Avoidance of Violence.”  It is mentioned in many ancient texts, including the Yoga Sutras, a collection of aphorisms handed down by yogic sage Patanjali approximately 5- to 7-thousand years ago.  In the Sutras, Ahimsa is one of the “Yama” – five recommended abstentions, or rules of conduct rooted in abstinence.  The five Yama comprise the first limb of Patanjali’s prescribed Eight Limbs of Yoga.

Avoidance of something takes great effort.  And if violence were not naturally inherent in human beings, we wouldn’t have to try to avoid it.  So, dreaming of launching “Ahimsa Now” – a nonprofit whose mission is rooted in Ahimsa – my responsibility is to come to understand the human impulse toward violence, and, to explore every available practice that impedes that impulse.

So from April 5 through July 13, 2012, I committed to a 100-day exploration of Ahimsa.  And after July 13th, I will continue to share my series of “Peace Tools” – practices for cultivating dependable inner peace and living with accountability.  Thanks for coming along.  OM Shanti Shanti Shanti.

*  *  *

From “Infinite Compassion,” June 28, 2012

THWL1(18June2011,HandsCrop)The world is full of violence.  And in my experience and observations, people commit violence when they themselves are hurting.

One of my friends says, “Violence is not natural for the atma, the spiritual being who is having a human experience.”  But I believe that we are spiritual and human at once – there is no separation.  To me, it seems that if the ancients created a word for “avoidance of violence” (“Ahimsa”), then they knew and accepted that violence was a natural part of being alive.  And therefore yoga – whose goal is to remove disturbances of the mind and whose result is inner peace – presented a system of practices for avoiding causing harm.

One of those practices is compassion.

*  *  *

From “Boy, 9, Dies from Gunshot Wound,” November 16, 2009

A grim headline for a yoga blog.

I was preparing to write a piece about cultivating compassion toward the cat callers who hassle me as I walk to the studio.  Instead I’m writing a piece about cultivating compassion toward killers.

Last night, as I returned home after dinner, I heard sirens, saw a SWAT helicopter circling and sensed that something beyond the typical robbery had happened in our ‘hood.  The DC police officer who guards our lobby told me that just minutes before, a child had been shot in his own home.  I went to sleep wondering whether he was alive.

Then, today’s news confirmed: 9-year-old Oscar Fuentes died after being struck by a stray bullet (* see Correction, below) from the hallway outside of his family’s apartment.

Thankfully, I … remembered to use my yogic tools in order to cultivate compassion.

Here’s my POV.  When I dwell in anger or hatred, resentment consumes me.  I lose my ability to smile through the day, to relate to my loved ones, to be of service where needed.  In this self-centered, negative state, I perpetuate pain.  And when I dwell in pain, I inevitably hurt others.  I believe it is this pattern of being in pain and hurting others that sparks any cycle of violence – from domestic violence to neighborhood killings to world war.

GentleShakeTheWorldGhandi(Dec12)So, when facing the horrific trauma of violence, how can we be true to our emotions, but not live in resentment?  In his commentary on Patanjali’s ancient yogic scriptures, Swami Satchidananda says, “Remember, our goal is to keep the serenity of our minds.”  Whether interested in yoga or not, he says, one tool will help anyone maintain peacefulness through anything.

Sutra 1:33: “By cultivating friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight toward the virtuous and indifference toward the non-virtuous, the mind retains undisturbed calmness.”  This tool is known as the four locks and keys.

To use this approach regarding Oscar Fuentes’ death, consider “compassion for the unhappy.”  I would guess that something created a pain-driven unhappiness in the killer long before this crime.  And I certainly have compassion for people who are in pain.  So, I categorize all gun-wielding criminals as painfully unhappy and therefore try to cultivate compassion for them.

And what about the fourth lock and key?  “Indifference toward the non-virtuous.”  Killing is certainly not a virtuous act.  To address this, I’ll adapt from a book called “Why We Fight: Practices for Lasting Peace” by scholar and philosopher Pandit Tigunait.

To label a person as “bad” or non-virtuous, the judgmental part of our personality comes forward.  In judgment, we distance or withdraw from that person.  Alienation sets the stage for violence.  To change this pattern is to change our own attitude – and cultivate indifference toward the deed, not the doer.  Cultivating indifference toward a human being damages our sensitivity and destroys our capacity for forgiveness, kindness and love.

I choose to say, “That person’s actions are harmful, but I will regard the human behind them as unhappy and therefore have compassion.”

Practicing yogic tools does not spare me of my own humanness.  I’m still crying and will probably cry for a while.  A larger grief includes tears for people who have experienced so much pain in life, their only tool is to harm others.  I think I cry the hardest for them.

May all beings be filled with peace, joy, love and light.  AHIMSA NOW.

(* Correction: Monday, 16 November.  Oscar Fuentes was killed by a bullet that was intentionally fired through his family’s front door from the hallway.)

*  *  *

From “Compassion for Killers,” November 17, 2009

“Compassion for the unhappy.”  “Indifference toward non-virtous acts.” – Sutra 1:33

So here I am, again practicing the locks and keys of Sutra 1:33 (see “Boy, 9, Dies…” post for details).  This morning, 26-year-old Josue Peña was arrested for killing 9-year-old Oscar Fuentes a few nights ago.  (* see Update below)  Immediately, I thought, “Josue Peña must be in some kind of pain in order to shoot-to-kill.”  That’s simply where my heart and mind go when I hear about violent crimes.  I know too much about pain’s ability to turn intentions horribly sour.

But I wasn’t always able to access compassion regarding violence.  It’s taken years for my anger about such crimes to soften – and partially from necessity.  As I’ve mentioned before, resentment is a killer for me.  It sucks away my joy and can turn me dangerously destructive – self and otherwise.  So I had to find tools to express my anger, and then promptly transition to more empathic and forgiving feelings toward criminals.

If Sutra 1:33 just isn’t cutting it for you when it comes to killers, check out the “Charter for Compassion” (re-printed below).

When Inter-Faith leader Karen Armstrong won the TED Prize in February, 2008, she made a wish: for help creating, launching and propagating a Charter for Compassion. Since that day, thousands of people contributed to the process so that last week the Charter could be unveiled to the world.

My favorite line in the Charter, regarding responding to violence with compassion, is: “To cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.”  Visit the awe-inspiring and interactive website at Or, check out the Charter’s text, below.

If you still feel negative feelings toward Josue Peña and other killers…know that you are human.  And that’s A-OK with me.  Still, I urge you to consider finding room in your heart for empathy, understanding and compassion.

Wishing you truth-to-self…and liberation from resentment.  OM Shanti.

(* Update: A few days after being incarcerated, Josue Peña hung himself in his prison cell.  No further comment.)


A call to bring the world together…

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

Me June09We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

(reprinted from


4 Responses to “Compassion for Killers, Revisited”

  1. kyczyKyczy Says:

    This is a wonderful collection of writing and intentions. I also love the Charter. Thank you for posting a process and not just a feeling about what happened today.

    • Holly Meyers Says:

      Kyczy, thank you for reading, and for appreciating. It’s a tough time for everyone, so much to process. The comments on the internet are fierce. I’m just reading them all and sending prayers to all, despite their opinions or expression. I am so glad to have found another like-minded recovery yogini. It’s great to be connecting. OM Shanti.

  2. Amanda Says:

    thank you. thought provoking and words I needed to hear.

    • Holly Meyers Says:

      Amanda, thank you for reading and for your positive comment. If you are interested, since the original post, I added one more past piece about Ahimsa to the compilation. Also, thanks for your December 14th post with that beautiful Ram Dass letter. Such a comforting way to process death. OM Shanti.

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