Dharma heroes

Editorial, The Buddhist Channel, Aug 27, 2009

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- It is nicknamed "Shangri-la", a paradise untouched by people and industry. The pristine mountains are heavenly sights, so say those who had been fortunate enough to have seen them, and ever so often conjured in awe inspiring images published in the National Geographic magazine.

But in this paradise in the clouds, the region's geographic makeup is cold, remote and moonscape like. Welcome to Ladakh, a district in the state of Kashmir, Northern India. The state nestles comfortably in the Himalayan Range, bordering Tibet to the East and Pakistan to the West. The region is remote, hilly and rugged. The people there are among the poorest economically in India.

It is in Ladakh where a highly respected monk, the Venerable Sanghasena established the Mahabodhi International Meditation Center (MIMC). In this center, hundreds of orphans, the homeless, the poor and the sick are given free assistance as part of their Dharma outreach program.

Although Venerable Sanghasena's work is largely localised and benefits mainly the community surrounding the center, his work had inspired many to come and help from all over the world. Volunteers from places as far away as Germany, England and India have come to contribute with their skill, time and energy to support the community there.

Among the newly converts to the monk's initiatives were a group of Malaysian individuals, who code named themselves as "MIMC Ladakh Helpdesk". Their aim and objective was simple, that is, to bring an awareness to Buddhists in Malaysia about the lives of the poor and destitute in this part of Ladakh, and how the efforts of one monk was making all the difference.

A few trips were made by this group to visit MIMC, and a charity dinner was organised to raise some funds for the center. The effort of this Malaysian group was undeniably successful. In this arid highland, water is a component which is in short supply. So a dam was commissioned and built to hold water. As the center's hospital and mobile clinic was operating with bare necessities, part of the funds were used to purchase better equipments. These were just some of the few things that the Malaysians were focusing their energy on.

But in the latest visit to the area by this group, tragedy struck.

A car carrying five members of the 30 strong entourage plunged into a steep ravine, killing 3 of the devotees, seriously injuring 2 (including the Ladakhi driver) while one is still missing.

The deceased Malaysians were identified as Angie Lee, 52, Lee Ah Yem, 59, and one female passenger Tan Guat Gnoh, 54. Another person, Renee Lim Bee Hong, 47, and the local cab driver Tsering Stobdan were seriously injured while Cheong Swee Chun, 42 is still missing at press time.

On trips to remote regions such these, such risks are always imminent and ever present. But as we acknowledge the tragic event and sober up on the fact of the fateful trip, perhaps the best acknowlegment that we can give to the deceased is our highest respect for their honourable bravery.

They made the trip not because they wanted to see the mountains. They were there for the poor, the destitute, the sick and the homeless. They were driven there to see out the noble vision of one courageous monk.

But just like the dichotomy of the Ladakhi landscape, their lives were met with an untimely end in the rocky, rugged, remote hills, just as gorgeous snowy capped mountains looked down from above.

The pristine and the tragic could not be more aptly applied.

In Buddhist teachings, it is taught that death is not a stranger.The Dharma teaches about the ever presence of impermanence and the frail nature of life. Every day our lives brings us a day closer to our death.

And death can come in so many ways: cancer, stroke and heart attacks being the common expectation. But death may also appear suddenly long before any illness  creeps in. In the Dhammapada, the Buddha describes the approach of  death as ".. a flood that sweeps away a village sleeping in the night".

It is said that for all the ways that one give our lives to, it is death on a pilgrimage, or to be in the service of the Dhamma, that is the best way to go.

Angie Lee, Lee Ah Yem and Tan Guat Gnoh gave their lives for a reason. In their hearts, they could not bear to see suffering children, orphans, the old and the sick.

They intimately understood what compassion meant, and how by being there thousand of miles away from  their home and giving their support to this monk and his helpers meant putting compassion to work.

They did not die in vain. And they never will.

From the deep gorges where their bodies were found, their bravery and deep compassion will shine crystal clear like the pristine mountain views from atop, and their determination to see beings "free from suffering" like the cloudless blue sky looking down from the heavens above.

They are in true essense, Dharma heroes.

May we all be motivated to learn and to put compassion to work, for their sake and for the sake of all suffering beings.

The Buddhist Channel sponsors the MIMC Ladakh Helpdesk's website. The site can be viewed at: www.bovis.tv/mimcladakh