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Thread: The Flood

  1. #1

    The Flood

    I wrote the following in answer to a friend soon after the great Tsunami of several years ago swept tens of thousands to their death. Now, with similar news coming out of Burma, I thought I might post it.

    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

  2. #2

    Re: The Flood

    Thanks, Jundo.


  3. #3

    Re: The Flood

    I see that number, and the only way I can make sense of it is to think that it is about three times the capacity of Shea Stadium. Looked at that way, it is so huge as to dwarf my ability to comprehend...


  4. #4

    Re: The Flood

    Things come and go. That's the way it is, but it doesn't prevent us from also having compassion.

    Gassho Will

  5. #5

    Re: The Flood

    Hi Guys,

    I do not receive Dana (donations in generosity) for our activities here at Treeleaf, as we have enough for our purposes. But I do believe in Dana generosity as a central Paramita (virtue) of Practice. Accordingly, these are the US and International addresses for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), and this is a BIG HINT HINT ...


    The 28th Chapter of
    Shobogenzo: Bodaisatta-Shishobo
    The Bodhisattva’s Four Embracing Actions
    Lecture (5)

    Shohaku Okumura
    Director, Soto Zen Buddhism International Center

    As Dogen Zenji said in the beginning of the section of offering (dana) in Shishobo, "Offering means not being greedy." We are born, live and die within the network of interdependent origination. Within this network, things are interconnected, moving and changing, giving and receiving, supporting and helping. To be greedy means to make a wall between ourselves and other beings and trying to make desirable things our possessions and keep them inside the wall and undesirable things outside the wall. This is done by the three poisonous minds; greed, anger/hatred, and ignorance. To be free from these three poisonous minds, especially greed, is the actual practice of offering (dana) as a paramita. Within this network, each and every one of us is included. Unless we take good care of ourselves and our family, we cannot help others. This is why Dogen Zenji quotes the Buddha's saying, "One may offer a gift to oneself and use one's own gift; even more, one can pass it to one's parents, wife, and children."

    Bodhisattva practice is not the way of self-sacrifice. The goal of our practice is to find a way we and other beings can live together without causing suffering to each other. This is the middle way between pursuing only one's own interests and sacrificing oneself. Offering (dana) is a practice of not disturbing the movement of all beings in the network in which ourselves and our families are included.

    Whenever we can give up even one speck of dust for the practice of dana we should quietly rejoice. This is because we have already correctly transmitted a virtue of the buddhas, and because we practice one dharma of a bodhisattva for the first time.

    Because of our self-centered tendency influenced by the three poisonous minds, it is difficult to give up even small things. We would like to make our life secure not only today but also for the rest of our lives. We cannot be completely satisfied even when our stomach is full now, because we can think of the future. We want to accumulate wealth not only for ourselves but also our children. Living with such a principle of social life, if we give up even one speck of dust for the practice of dana, we transmit and manifest one of the virtues of the buddhas. This is the first step of entering into the way of a bodhisattva. Even if our offering is as small as a glass of water when we see someone is thirsty, or giving directions when someone is lost, our small gift can be the first practice of dana paramita. We can quietly rejoice for that.

    The mind of a sentient being is difficult to change. We begin to transform the mind of beings by offering material things, and we resolve to continue to transform them until they attain the Way. From the beginning we should make use of offering. This is the reason why dana-paramita is the first of the Six Perfections.

    Both giving and receiving without attachment to either objects or our own actions is the manifestation of the virtue of dana paramita through which the wheel of dharma is turning. Although the mind of a living being is difficult to change, active offering (dana) is the most powerful way to change living beings and create a friendly, harmonious condition. Common sense tells us that offering material things might be easier, offering kind and friendly sympathy might be more difficult, and offering Dharma might be the most difficult. We should offer whatever we can offer. The action of offering changes the mind of our own and the mind of the people who receive the offering. Dogen Zenji encourages us to continue this practice until both we and others attain the Way (awakening to the reality of all beings) together.

    Offering (dana) is the first of the six paramitas: offering (dana), precepts (sila), patience (kshanti), diligence (virya), meditation (dhyana), and wisdom (prajna). These six paramita are a bodhisattva's practice to help all living beings to ferry from this shore of samsara to the other shore of nirvana. One of the English translations of this Sanskrit word is "perfection." Another translation is "reaching [from this shore of samsara] to the other shore [of nirvana]." Dogen Zenji says that dana paramita is the first of the six paramitas because this is most powerful in terms of changing the mind of living beings.

    The vastness or narrowness of mind cannot be measured, and the greatness or smallness of material things cannot be weighed. But there are times when our mind turns things, and there is offering, in which things turn our mind. ... e16_06.htm

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