Updated: May 27
Week after week, we can’t seem to escape another tragic mass shooting. In a short span of 10 days or so, we had the shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, the shooting at a church in south Orange County, California, and then the horrific shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in which 19 children and two teachers were gunned down.
How does a family endure such a tragedy of losing your child or your parent or partner in such a terrible shooting? How does one resolve the grief, the sorrow, of such a loss of an innocent person, doing nothing more than being a student or a teacher in a public school? It must be too much to bear, too harsh of a tragedy, too painful of a loss.
During the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, there was the tragic story of Patacara.
Patacara was pregnant and close to giving birth with her second child, and wanted to return to her family’s home to deliver her baby. She and her husband and their young child began the journey to Patacara’s home. Along the way, Patacara’s husband was bitten by a poisonous snake and died. Patacara continued on the journey to her home, and then went into labor and had to deliver her baby all alone. Now, weakened from the delivery, she continued with her newborn infant and her older child.
Along the way, they came across a swollen river that they had to cross to reach her home. Fearing that she wasn’t strong enough to take both the baby and her child across the river, she took the baby across first, and made a little nest of leaves and placed the baby in the nest, and then entered the river to go back to get the older child. Halfway across the river, a large hawk began to circle over the baby in the nest. Patacara tried to wave her arms, screaming, trying to scare off the hawk. The older child on the other side of the river, thought Patacara was calling to him to come, so he entered the river, and was swept away by the swift current. The hawk then swooped down and snatched her newborn baby and flew off.
Patacara, now having lost her husband, her older child, and her newborn infant, continued on her journey to her home. Finally, as she got closer to her home, exhausted, she saw smoke in the distance. She asked someone what the fire was. The person said, “Do not go there. A terrible tragedy has occurred. An entire family has perished in a fire.”
When Patacara reached her home, to her great shock, it was her home, and her parents had perished in the fire.
Patacara went crazy from her shock and grief. Fortunately, the Buddha happened to be in the area and began to console and comfort Patacara. Through the Buddha’s compassionate and tender counsel, she returned to her senses, and then dedicated her life to helping other women who encountered tragedy in their life.
One can only hope that the families of the victims in the Uvalde, Texas, shooting, and the family of the shooter as well, who was shot and killed, all find a way to work through the grieving process to someday live in a meaningful way. There are no words to ease their grief, to ease their sorrow. It is just a tragedy beyond words.
But there is a path. There is a light amidst such darkness and tragedy. Patacara found it and received it from Shakyamuni Buddha. It is the light of the Dharma, the light of great wisdom and great compassion, the ultimate source of comfort in times of grief, tragedy, and despair. We too, and all beings, can open our hearts and minds to receive this timeless and unobstructed light of comfort, amidst great tragedy and sorrow.