Realisation: Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop?

by Shen Shi'an, The Buddhist Channel, Jan 6, 2005

Singapore -- After the "first wave" of tsunamis struck at least a dozen nations on December 26, there is much anticipation of a lethal "second wave" of destruction. The arrival of the first wave was as if a monstrous proverbial "shoe" had fallen out of the sky from nowhere, landing with a resounding thud into countless lives. So much so that it left the world fretting, as they "wait for the other shoe to drop".

It's a matter of time really - if the world gathers similar collective ill karma. What we do not know is what the shoe is and what is its size. It might not be in the form of tsunamis. It might not even be directly linked to the first wave, for the interdependent web of nature can wreck havoc in many unimaginable ways. It could be something much milder or wilder.

The second shoe might drop anywhere any time, followed by a third, a fourth... at unknown intervals. This has been the testimony of history. And it will always be true, natural disasters will always be abound, before our world becomes Pureland. The primary worry now is the probable outbreak of diseases in the affected areas. Is this itself the second wave? Let us allay it best we can. The calm way to live in the aftermath of the disaster is to be on the middle path, living the fine balance between fearful anticipation and apathetic complacence, to realise and treasure this transient thing called life.

Being part of Samsara, ours is a world which alternates between pain and pleasure. The wheel of mis/fortune turns on. After rainy days will come sunny days, which will be followed by rainy ones... As hard as we may be hit, as brave we must be, to realise the cold bleak reality of the impermanent nature of life and nature itself. We are of nature. We have to make peace with nature, with ourselves. What else can we do?

The real killer "wave" each anf every one of us will inevitably face at some point in time is our personal death - be it sudden or gradual. Anything before that are warning signs of our impending demise... be it birth, ageing or sickness. Death is our personal other shoe that will drop, us having already dropped the first shoe of being reborn. Yes, life is a time-bomb Buddhists hope to defuse with spiritual practice, before it detonates, before we experience its devastation with an ill-prepared mind.

Are the natural waves of disaster as random as it seems? Goodness always produces joy, and negativity, be it from this life or a previous, always produces suffering. We can either believe there is no rhyme or reason for the ocurrence of natural disasters, or that there is latent cause and effect at play. Which makes more sense? Either way, what is urgent now is to have faith in the law of cause and effect now, that whatever seeds of kindness we sow for the victims now will bear corresponding fruits of healing.

If you are reading this, you are a survivor, in one sense or another. You have lived through the disaster, even if you did not have to run from the waves. Are you having survivor's guilt? Do you question why it was not you who perished? Guilt is not useful now; compassion in action is. This is a startlingly humbling real life reminder that while we do not know if we have created any causes to become potential victims of such disasters ourselves, we know we can be part of the cause in relieving others' suffering. In the process, we can accrue merits to dilute our own negative karma. Collectively, the world's kindness will change the world's karma forever.

We can no longer ignore the neighbours we are not familar with, whom we share the elevator with daily, whom we share this world with. We can no longer pretend each other does not exist - not when you are moved by compassion, moved by the images of suffering flooding the media. Though we are strangers, we are one large family. If we are not there for our larger family, especially those who lost their families, who will? Please donate generously and regularly to the survivors... be it by cash, kind or physical efforts. Please continually dedicate merits of your good works to both the deceased and the alive. With enough global kindness, the dropping of any second shoe can be delayed indefinitely, if not, put off for good!