Those of you who follow this blog know that I am working my way through the 547 Jātaka Tales, editing and illustrating them. One of the things that strikes me as I go through this exercise is that these stories were how people for many centuries learned about the teachings of the Buddha. But even more importantly, they were the popular entertainment of the time. If you were a child in a Buddhist culture, you probably spent your evenings listening to these stories. They were TV.
When you grow up immersed in stories about patience, kindness, caring for animals, honesty, compassion, wisdom, and all the other virtuous qualities, they become part of your marrow.
Compare that to how we live.
I used to watch the program The Blacklist, but after a while I was so horrified by the extreme violence that I stopped. I could not believe that anyone thought it was appropriate to put such images on over-the-air television. More recently I started to watch the Netflix series Godless, partly because it was filmed near where I live in New Mexico. By the time they had shown the second graphic rape scene, I decided that this is not something in which I wanted to participate.
Did television cause the shootings in Parkland, Florida? Of course not. Life is always complicated. How we get to a specific point in time is influenced by an infinite array of causes and conditions. The Buddha once said:
“The result of kamma is an inconceivable matter that one should not try to conceive; one who tries to conceive it would reap either madness or frustration.” – [AN 4.77]
But at a certain point people decide how they want to be. This happens to us as individuals and it happens to us collectively. And unless we decide that we want virtue to be a centerpiece in our country, then it will be – as the New York Times headline said – “Leaders Offer Prayers. Children Are Buried. Repeat.”