When the heart wills the body on

By Bhikkhuni Kusuma, The Buddhist Channel, Jan 11, 2005

Some people watch things happen. Some wondered what happened. Others just make it happen! ? Bhikkhuni Kusuma


Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- On the December 25, 2004, I came to Kuala Lumpur on the invitation of the Buddhist Maha Vihara, where the most Venerable Kirinde Sri Dhammananda is the chief incumbent.  I was invited to participate in the Sanghamitta day celebration slated for the next day, which was also a full moon day.

It was a regular day when I arrived. The famed Maha Vihara, with its large, sprawling temple and its huge buildings provided an instant inspiration which befit the vastness and richness of the Buddha Sasana.

On Sanghamitta day, men and women were dressed in white. They dedicated themselves to the higher precepts and participated in the Buddha Puja, the Bodhi Puja, listening to Dhamma talks, giving dana such as making offerings of incense, flowers, lamps and candles. 

The discipline shown by everyone was admirable, where they prostrated at shrines whenever there was an opportunity and acknowledged one another with clasped hands respectfully.  I had the good fortune to deliver three talks in Dhamma practice, such as meditation and also the significance of the Sanghamitta day.

Soon after, news came that there had been a massive undersea earthquake off Sumatera and Indonesia.  People took time off to watch the news as they were relayed over television.  It gradually dawned upon us that the coast lines of Sri Lanka and many other countries were devastated by a sudden influx of sea water. We heard of waves ? some 10 to 30 metres high moving at 50 MPH.  There were no warnings. No time for coastal villagers to rush to safety further inlands. As the news rolled on, we heard whole communities, villages and towns being swept away by the waves.

Before the great waves came in, the water receded far outwards. This had never happened before. When people saw the bare sea bed where water had receded for up 5 to 10 minutes , some ventured out to collect thousands of dead fish, which they thought were ?god sent?! Minutes later, like a roaring mountain, the huge waves rolled in. There was no escape for many residing along the coast.  As the water rushed in, many clung onto trees and roof tops. Many eventually perished. Perhaps 100,000 people were made homeless, and the bereaved - too many to be determined. Dead bodies were seen washed ashore and rotted for days before being disposed of.

Scientists said mangroves swamps ? which had been destroyed by greed for material gain - could have provided a natural barrier against the waves. Because of the bare coastlines, railway lines and roads which have been around for hundreds of years got washed away.

Victims of the disaster were understandably too shocked to understand what had happened. Those who survived did not fare any better either. Many lost everything and were helpless, inconsolable. In the days to come, many would suffer from sickness, starvation and other mental afflictions.

Some say that the disaster is the result of is the wickedness of man which has roused the wrath of God, and who has brought upon such massive punishment. But it is clear that the tsunami has brought more lessons of life to us than we realize.  The Buddha?s first Noble Truth of suffering is clearly played out here.  Old age, sickness and death ? things that we take for granted, are being demonstrated with impunity, as it is, without sweeteners. For many of us, we believed in the illusion of science and technology which promises to us give endless sensual happiness.  Yet, in the face of such a disaster, where have all the promise of science and technology gone? How is it that, despite all the advances we claimed to have made as human beings, we could not avert the disaster as wrought by the tsunami?

According to the Buddha, the suffering we see and perceive is only the tip of the iceberg.  Nine-tenth are beneath what we see.  Samsara is an endless cycle of birth and death which we cannot see.  The only thing we bring into the world when we are born is the good and bad qualities of past births.  All that we take away at death are also only the good and bad qualities that we have accumulated in this life. Karmma such as these cannot be seen or perceived by the senses. Hence we don?t pay attention to such kammic inter-play. As a result, ignorance of the truth continues to prevail.  Life is taken for granted at its observable level.  The deep reality lies hidden.

Thanks to the Maha Nayaka Theros of Malaysia, especially Ven. K Sri Dhammananda in particular, who has written many books, the Buddhists in Malaysia are well informed of the Truth.  This is evident during the past few days, going by the response to the humanitarian appeal made on behalf of the tsunami victims.

I saw with my own eyes, people making merit in the thousands - rich and poor, men and women, young and old, of all nationalities and religions making their way in unending lines, day and night, carrying huge parcels of food and clothes and medicine, water and packets of money. Every bit of space in this huge temple was filled to capacity with such out-pouring of compassion.

Hundreds of volunteers were seen packing, labeling and storing goods in containers.  Cars of every make - Benz, Volvo, BMW, trucks, lorries - came and choked the roads leading to the temple, bringing an unceasing stream of material aids, and causing a huge traffic jam. 

Even the monks in the temple went out to help, some giving directions to traffic.  Yet in the midst of such chaos, everything was calm and peaceful. In the midst of din and noise, one could observe serenity and joy. In the midst of disjointedness, there was this sense of orderliness. Chaos in the midst of serenity.  An unimaginable scenario.

So many times the tears came to my eyes, seeing the people?s wonderful devotion.  Some were literally carrying babies in their arms and at the same time pushing, pulling, carrying cartons of goods.  The many halls framing the temple compound were packed up to the roof. Rice packets, biscuits, noodles, sugar, milk, cordial drinks ? you name it, stacked right up two to three storeys high.

On new year?s eve, the Malaysian government decreed it as a day of prayers. There would be no traditional new year's celebrations. At the vihara, the night was celebrated with a solemn puja where probably a thousand Buddhists gathered in the compound.  All the religious dignitaries sat on the pavilion and chanted and spoke in many different ways, yet voiced the same thing:  human beings, they all said, need to have discipline and they need to keep the precepts of training, which will help them to attain purity of heart. 

The Ven. Maha Nayaka said that when people become so materialistic, with their hearts full of greed, hatred and ignorance, their infinite number of impure thoughts they raise at every moment of the day can disturb the physical elements of the world. We should never underestimate the power of thoughts, good and bad, he admonishes. Atmospheric and environment changes, disorganization of ecological balance ? all these result in ?natural disaster?. If we think that these are separate and distinct from thoughts perpetrated by wicked minds, then we should think again.

When our minds are replete with unselfish love, devotion and compassion, the environment likewise rests in harmony. In the state of such a mind, when we are in trouble, our call for divine help can avert many unforeseen disasters.  Hence the only way for peace and prosperity is a life of wisdom and compassion. Indeed, the great tsunami disaster is an eye opener.

Some people watch things happen. Some wondered what happened. Others just make it happen!  Yes, some disasters are natural phenomenon, but the pain and suffering are man made.  So too are the sublime happiness of sainthood which brings peace and comfort.  May all be well and happy. May all reach for sainthood.