Where Were the Buddhas When the Tsunamis Hit?

by Shen Shi'an, The Buddhist Channel, Jan 19, 2005

Singapore -- If there are countless Buddhas with perfect compassion and wisdom, why did they not prevent the tsunamis? The answer is that it was our then inescapable karma at play.

We attain Buddhahood (become Buddhas) when we thoroughly understand the the ways of the universe, including that of karma (law of moral cause and effect). Individually and collectively, we experience our karma's effects from moment to moment, as we create new causes for future effects. For instance, one who smokes everyday might experience the short-term ill effect of bad breath and the long-term effect of cancer.

We reap what we sow; we do not reap what we do not sow. Even breathing in second-hand smoke is an effect caused by our ignorance of its ill effects. Our self-created karma, which can be carried from life to life, is our personal burden. Even the compassion of the Buddhas cannot relieve it if we choose to stay deluded, to not become wise.

Just like cigarette smoke has no intention to kill, the tsunamis had no purpose of their own. They are simply natural reactions of nature. But what governs nature? Nature itself, naturally. But man too, is an integral part of nature, even when he chooses to lord over it at times, disrupting its balance with pollution, deforestation and other "unnatural" crimes. Nature then wrecks its mindless vengeance on man as a natural response. Take the hole in the ozone layer and the greenhouse effect for example - we are the ones who caused them. Nature was only responding appropriately. Man and nature are thus not two.

We live in a web of interlinked cause and effect. This is the bigger picture of collective karma. Mysterious as it may seem, nothing happens randomly and there are causes for every physical and mental effect we experience. There are no random acts of violence in nature - they are part of an exact science of cause and effect, and we are all deciding variables in nature's equation.

Interestingly, in some traditions of Buddhism, every form of natural disaster which affects man is linked to a corresponding human defilement.

With our limited wisdom, we should not judge that those who perished in the tsunami are guilty of any specific misgiving, but what we know is that nature is innocent. Who is guilty then? Is it not wiser to think that it is us humans collectively, than no one at all? Yes, lest we become complacent and continue disrespecting nature. Are we taking care of nature well enough for nature to take care of us? Taking care of nature would include respecting all life, both flora and fauna.