“There’s a kind of profound question when change is imposed on you in a violent way,” said David Kaczynski. “How does one make meaning of it? The option is not to ‘get over it.’ The question becomes, is there a way to reconnect and develop a sense of hope?”
David Kaczynski is the executive director of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Inc, a Buddhist monastery in Woodstock, N.Y., and former executive director for New Yorkers for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and assistant director of Equinox Youth Shelter in Albany, N.Y.
He is also the brother of Theodore Kaczynski, better known as "The Unabomber.” It was because of David’s intervention with the FBI upon reading the Unabomber’s manifesto in The Washington Post that his brother was arrested and imprisoned, ending 17 years of terrorist bombings and violence.
David Kaczynski will join Buddhist teachers Lama Kathy Wesley (Gyurme Chotso) of the Columbus Karma Thegsum Choling in Ohio, and retired prison chaplain Lama Tsultrim Yeshe (John Samuelson), as well as Dr James L. Knoll, director of forensic psychiatry and associate professor of psychiatry at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, N.Y., at a Sandy Hook Promise presentation, “Violence, Loss, and Emotional Healing: a Buddhist Perspective,” Wednesday, March 13, at 7 pm, at Congregation Adath Israel, 115 Huntingtown Road.
Although not a victim of direct violence himself, said Mr Kaczynski, he was deeply affected by negative feelings surrounding his brother’s dismissal of the family and ultimate discovery that Theodore Kaczynski was responsible for the injuries and deaths inflicted by random bombings between 1978 and 1996 at universities, airlines, and technology stores.
Guilt, shame, fear, and family devastation are feelings that Mr Kaczynski has addressed, from the time his brilliant mathematician brother began writing abusive letters to his parents to the present day, when his letters to his imprisoned brother go ignored and unanswered.
His brother was always somewhat “different,” he said, but even as late as the last time the brothers had contact, in 1986, he thought of Theodore as eccentric, rather than dangerous. “My brother had never been violent before,” Mr Kaczynski said, and he had no indication then that he was in the presence of the Unabomber.
What he failed to see, he said, was that his brother was exhibiting signs of mental illness. “When mental illness is in the family, it can be harder to see,” he said. “I thought I could teach him to see the world differently.”
There are commonalities between his brother’s and Adam Lanza’s disturbed personas, said Mr Kaczynski, that will allow him to share the family perspective on what that experience is like at the March 13 program, and how Buddhist teachings have helped him deal with the violence and the pain of losing a brother.
He had attended teachings and classes in Buddhism for years before taking refuge in the practice in 1998. As a social worker, he found the Buddhist teachings to be complementary with social work. Legitimizing human feelings, exercising empathy, and not judging others are only a few of the similarities he discovered.
What he took away from the classes was the premise that suffering is inevitable in human life, but that negative emotions can be transformed into compassion for others. “Essentially, you train the mind to disengage from negative emotions and express a greater love for others,” Mr Kaczynski explained. The saddest thing about negative emotions, which, he added, are completely human nature, is that they are more harmful to the person experiencing those emotions than the one to whom they are directed. Compassion for self is as important as compassion for others, he learned.
He hopes that participation in the Sandy Hook Promise presentation will help others deal with conflicted feelings. He finds that the Sandy Hook Promise premise that the victims will not be forgotten, and that the legacy of 12/14 will be something positive, is in keeping with Buddhist teachings.
Mr Kaczynski is pleased to find himself in the company of the other speakers for that evening, saying both of the Lamas are quite well known, as is Dr Knoll.
“I think that all of the presenters will have a message of hope, that life can still have meaning [after acts of violence],” he said.
Buddhism, he noted, is a “many life” process. “I see this as a slow, patient process that requires commitment and devotion to compassion. Life confronts us with a lot of different opportunities, not just ‘I choose or don’t choose love.’ The path of transformation,” he said, “is always there in front of us. You can’t turn away forever.”
“Violence, Loss and Emotional Healing” is free and open to the public, and will explore the intersection between Eastern mind training and Western psychology to address the problem of violence and to promote healing from the emotional trauma caused by violence, according to literature provided by Sandy Hook Promise. In addition, the presentation will attempt to explore how a community’s path of healing from violence might also create a framework for preventing future violence.
Space has been donated by Congregation Adath Israel, and Rabbi Shaul Praver will offer opening remarks.
Each speaker will present for approximately 15 minutes, followed by a brief question and answer period.
Registration is not required.