By Tyson Davis
This weekend a couple of people asked about security measures for our sangha.
In light of the recent shootings in places of religious gathering, we were asked if our Zen Center needs some type of plan or procedure. Although I personally think Zen Centers are probably pretty low on anyone’s list of religious targets, I can understand the concern.
We have had an upswing in first-time visitors the last couple of months. Sometimes, people who come to a Zen Center can be a little damaged, so a plan may not be a bad thing.
Now my personal home safety contingency plan is already in place. I have several guns located throughout my house just in case someone decides to come in without knocking. I don’t want to ever have to use them, but if it comes down to me, my fiancé, or my French bulldog dying or the person trying to rob and kill us dying, I’m going to do my darndest to make sure that person is sent to the Pure Land first. And for the record, even though I own guns I am for stricter gun control.
I doubt many, if any, would want me to bring a gun to our center, and that’s fine. But, if a deranged person comes in with a gun, I’m not sure how much a plan will help. Hopefully since we are in such close quarters a couple of us could tackle the person before they were able to hurt too many people, but that is definitely not guaranteed. During zazen, most of us are staring at the floor instead of having our head on swivel (as the military types say) so a shooter might be able to injure more people at our zendo than at most other religious houses.
I posted this concern on some of Zen Facebook discussion groups and couple of the answers I received were pretty good pieces of advice:
- Make sure two or three senior students keep cell phones on them at all times. Dialing 911 during a crisis is the best way to help with the crisis.
- Make sure to have plenty of first aid supplies on-hand (we don’t have a first aid kit as of now, so this is a great suggestion).
I was also sent a copy of the FEMA Active Shooter guide, which gives some basic preparation and procedure suggestions that are very helpful and probably worth downloading and discussing with your board of directors. Most local police departments are usually willing to come talk to places of worship about what to do in cases like these (and maybe you can get the police to stay and meditate after their presentation…they probably need it).
Interestingly, several respondents to my request in these Facebook groups gave a similar comment that went something like this, “The chances of that happening at your sangha are almost zero. The fear of it happening is worse than the chance it will actually happen. The news media is causing us to believe it could happen to you.”
I tend to agree with this thought. Although it doesn’t hurt to have a plan in place, a first aid-kit, and people prepared to dial 911, in all likelihood there will be no need for any of these things. Just thinking and talking about them in the sangha may cause unnecessary fear and suffering. It could foster a sense of distrust to newcomers, and that is the last thing I think we want as Buddhists.
In my opinion, it’s best that we don’t discuss this with the sangha in general, although I’m probably going to be overruled.
And that’s fine; I prefer a democracy, but I won’t change the way I do things. I told my teacher that when I took the 16 precepts, I accepted a little danger and not knowing. Saving all beings isn’t always safe work. I will continue to be open, or as open as this introvert can be. If by chance someone does pull out a gun and start shooting, I would hope that correct function kicks in and I run toward instead of away from the shooter. I can’t guarantee that will happen. We’d all like to think we would be heroes, but, it’s fight or flight.
Hopefully I’ll never have to see what that version of me would do.
In memory of the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting:
Daniel Stein, 71
Joyce Feinberg, 75
Richard Gottfried, 65
Rose Mallinger, 97
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
brothers Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and David Rosenthal 54
husband and wife Bernice Simon, 84 and Sylvan Simon, 86
Melvin Wax, 88
Irving Younger, 69
Editor: Dana Gornall
Tyson Davis is not a Zen teacher. In fact, his main practice is “don’t know.” So don’t take anything he writes as the proverbial gospel (or sutra as the case may be). He studied Buddhism for a decade or so before he began practicing Zen. He’s been practicing meditation and Zen for about 10 years now. He grew up on a farm, retired from farming at age 22 and moved to civilization. He has a wonderful fiancé and a French bulldog named Ombre.
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