Friends have asked me for a Buddhist perspective on the loss of 150,000 lives, swept away. Perhaps half or more of those who died were children.
What can be said of these events, so seemingly random and cruel?
Our first response must be silence in the face of forces and scales exceeding easy human comprehension. One friend of mine sent me the diagram below, a graphical representation of 100,000 people. We cannot imagine how much that is by the number alone. As it instructs ...
Pick one dot on the page and imagine that it is a human being, picture the life and family of that one dot. There is much need for support in this area of the world. Please help do what you can.
We may be left baffled, or angry at a universe that permits such nightmares. We cannot see reason or justice in a realm of senseless death to the innocent.
I do not know if there is a single Buddhist teaching that applies alone, and there are many perspectives on these things. I can offer only a personal view. One that comes to mind may seem, at first, very cold and uncaring. It is this:
There is the birth of life,
There is the end of life.
Nothing is permanent,
and all things must change
That is the natural condition. It is not to be avoided, it cannot be avoided. No less, it may be embraced and accepted as but the condition of life itself. It applies to one person, it applies to tens of thousands of persons, it applies to all of us.
Human suffering arises when we seek for a universe that fits our demands, our self-centered perspectives and desires. Human suffering arises when we fail to accept the world just as it is, with all its twists and turns. Mankind's self-absorbed concepts of 'perfection' and 'imperfection,' 'flaw' and 'failing,' 'tragedy' and 'comedy' are creations of the human heart.
The world is movement, change, nature's forces in motion. That is the setting in which lives are lived (otherwise, we'd be frozen as stone). But natural movement takes surprising courses, increase and change may run wild as cancer.
Sometimes, the waters are calm. Sometimes, the waters rush forward, breaking their banks.
When we put aside our little judgments, we can accept the natural movements, not fear the change, flow along with the forces in motion. All is just what it is.
We cease all weighing by the conscious mind,
The endless gauging of our thoughts and views ...
Just letting life be, life's ways.
Accepting it all ...
As it is, just as it is.
It may seem strange, but when we quiet our thoughts and confused emotions, we can put aside concepts of life being "long" or "short." The measure of time's passing is seen as a matter of the human heart, not bound by any clock. Each life is just what it is, and death is as much a part of life as is birth ... each life lived for as long as it is lived.
We yield to the waters and let the current carry us away.
As well (and this may seem truly strange to the uninitiated) our very concept of being separate from the world can soften, or completely drop.
We may see ourselves much as waves on the surface of a sea, each one rising individual and unique, but just the sea itself ... undivided water of that water (the very idea of wave and water cast away).
As the waves on the sea, just the sea.
So, what of the sea is swept away by the sea's own flood?
Where else is there to go? Where to be carried away to?
We may not understand how the tides of fate brought us into this life, nor where the tides will carry us "after" (Where does a ladle of water go when poured back into a sea?). So, we just yield to it all. What else can we do?
We just live this life we have as best we can, while we have it.
And so, while doing that ... WE LIVE! We seek to preserve life, and make this world as best we can.
While not resisting the waters, we can run for our lives for the highest hills, give aid to those in need!
Thus, while accepting the world as just-what-it-is, accepting each of the sorrows of the world, the hunger, the pain and disease ... we can accept without accepting ... We simultaneously can seek to feed the hunger, salve the pain and search for cure of the disease (so, give whatever you can). Compassion arises hand-in-hand with Wisdom. We shed tears for the suffering.
That's what we Buddhists do.
Peace, Jundo Cohen