When nature misbehaves humans have to weep

Viewed from a Buddhist perspective, by Bhikkhu Professor Dhammavihari Thera, The Buddhist Channel, Jan 3, 2004

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- The recent devastating happenings in the South Eastern sector of Asia through giant tidal waves, encompassing a global mixture of humans, have prompted us to express our opinion as Buddhists on this subject. When Nature Misbehaves, as we have expressed above, it affects the lives of humans who inhabit this earth, anywhere and everywhere, irrespective of caste and creed, religion and ethnicity. Humans Have To Weep. Thanks to  scientific research of today, enough is known by us now as to how and why these happen.

Equal thanks to the diverse forms of media at our disposal in the world, this knowledge is made available to man in every nook and corner. And that, to be sensibly used all the time for the benefit of man, for his security and his well-being. But this disaster could not be averted. Nature moved faster than man. Where shall he succeed and where shall he fail? Better we discover in advance our own limits, every one of us, whether in the east or the west, in the north or the south, and work within those limitations.

Even in the pre-scientific age of the world, these very natural things like earth quakes, volcanic eruptions, tidal waves, typhoons and devastating floods [ not forgetting Noah's ark and the flood], did take place. Man on earth here explained them in his own simple way, elevating these phenomena at times to the level of divine activities or heavenly forces. Thunder and lightning were looked upon by ancient Indians of the Vedic age [ i.e. thousands of years ante-dating the time of the Buddha ], as the assigned functions of the Rain God Parjanya.

It was incumbent on him to strike dead the evil-doers of the land with strokes of thunder and lightning. The gveda is very specific on this when it says  `Parjanya, with his thunder and lightning, strikes dead the evil doers' [ Parjanyah stanayan hanti duktah.].

The God of Waters, Varuna, was equally dreaded. He could be vicious not only in the external world, with violent movements of water, but could also equally well punish the sinner, filling his inside with water and rolling him into his grave as a victim of the then much dreaded disease Ascitis  [colloquially referred to as dropsy]. Man who had not yet discovered his identity and his own inner strength, knelt down in prayer for his security.

Elsewhere, such elemental violence or misbehavior like hailstorms, directly descending from the skies, were explained as expressions of divine wrath or heaven's vengeance on man for  his sinful behavior on earth. They were looked upon as acts of punishment sent down from above, to which man had to helplessly succumb.   
Whatever be the explanation man on earth gives to these phenomena which the ancients reckoned as heaven sent, they are known to everyone today as recurrent events in the world we live, taking place with fair regularity. The nature of the universe being what it is, Buddhists look upon them as natural events, coming under the category of order of nature  or  utu-niyma. They are as regular as the germination of seeds under favorable conditions. Buddhists call this latter, the order of seeds  or bja-niyma.

When these calamitous events take place, they take toll of life of man, bird and beast without any discrimination. Destruction comes to every one and everything in their wake. There is hardly any conceivable judgement of guilt or innocence falling upon on any one, within the pale of disaster or out side. We fail to see any sense in making moral issues out of these.

Nevertheless, in situations like these, everyone of us who has survived, and who in his or her own area of life activity, has erred towards one's fellow beings through neglect and / or by calculation, should now invariably feel within oneself, a deep sense of moral guilt. Our solemn prayer indeed is that this should happen so, no matter what one's religious creed or ethnic identity be.

To every one, this recent incident provides a  real chance in this very life for confession and self-redemption. For those of us who have suffered in this disaster, not necessarily physically, if we really have suffered at all during this crisis, a day of judgement has come. It is not to be missed. This we deliver as a message to mankind. This new thinking and this change of attitude which we now sponsor will undeniably be contributory in a big way to the re-building of a ravaged community anywhere in this disaster-stricken sector. Much more than bag fulls of gold, with or without strings. This alone will restore peace on earth and goodwill among men. 

Think of what has happened. We need to be adequately alerted to our real position in the world we live. We shall not  look upon ourselves merely as privileged persons down here on earth, with direct links with heavens above, no matter in which particular region, to which we continue pledging submission for all favors received to streamline our life here. On the contrary, we humans have to be alive to our relationship to a cosmic totality of far greater dimension. This is the idea of a Biophilia Hypothesis. We have to be conscious of the entire eco-system to which we are linked.

In a perilous world like this where death can be more certain than life, Buddhists are required to live in such a way that all life around us may live in comfort and security. For who knows whether death would come to us on the morrow [ = Ko ja maraa suve ]. Everyone must maximize the benefits of living of / for the other. Sukhino v khemino hontu sabbe satt bhavantu sukhitatt : `May all beings be happy and comfortable. May their lives be safe and secure.' This has to be more than a mere prayer on somebody's lips. This is essentially a charter for healthy and harmonious living in a civilized world.

Buddhists shall not destroy the life of any living thing. They shall not cause others to do so. Nor shall they endorse or approve any form of killing done by others. Compassion has to be the ultimate ethic of humans for their own survival. It is this line of thinking that produced Victoria Moran's delightful book entitled  COMPASSION THE  ULTIMATE  ETHIC.