Following news of the devastating earthquake in Nepal, there is an urgency to respond to the immediate needs of survivors and to support long term recovery efforts.
Nepal has been devastated by an earthquake which struck the capital city, Kathmandu, and surrounding areas on Saturday. More than 5,000 people have been killed and around 8 million people have been affected by the devastation.
There has been widespread damage in the Kathmandu valley and the death toll is climbing rapidly. Many vulnerable people have been left homeless without adequate shelter, food and water. All donations to this fund will support disaster recovery and relief efforts for the earthquake in Nepal.
Karuna’s partner organisation in Nepal runs mother and child health work in the district of Pharphing. The district has been very seriously affected. Half of the houses there have been destroyed and as access to the area is still restricted we are as yet unaware of the total number of fatalities. What we do know is that there will be people who need our help now and in the coming months.
Green Tara Trust
NEPAL EARTHQUAKE RESPONSE
A powerful earthquake has hit Nepal. Green Tara Trust is there. The good news is that our are staff are safe. The bad news is that our programme area has been decimated. We are trying to get through. There will be people who need our help, mothers delivering babies and children without food or shelter. They need our help now & in the coming months.
In the Triratna Buddhist tradition, which I joined in 2008, we recite the first precept as follows:
I undertake the training principle of not harming living beings, [Negative form]
With deeds of loving kindness I purify my body. [Positive Form]
When I first heard the five precepts, this one felt like a ‘no brainer’. I had been a vegetarian for years and remember secretly patting myself on the back and thinking “1 down, 4 to go”.
Now, 7 years on, I no longer have the view that I’ve ‘attained’ this precept in any real way.
I feel like the first precept is the Buddhist version of the Golden Rule, in that it ultimately covers all the other precepts.
One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated. [Negative Form]
One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself. [Positive Form]
If I follow the golden rule, and don’t harm myself or others, aren’t I really following all the other precepts? Non-Killing/Non-Harming seems to incorporate not stealing, right speech, right sexual conduct, not taking intoxicants. Concerned with my actions as an individual and wanting to practice the precepts, I simply try to take care in my everyday life.
In reading chapter Six of Reb Anderson’s Being Upright, The Teaching of the Two Truths, I was interested to learn about the conventional truth aspect and ultimate truth aspect of the Bodhisattva precepts. Anderson points out, when we can move beyond the conventional, we can practice the precepts not as something external we impose on ourselves and create anxiety around, but as natural expressions of our understanding of life.
Reflecting on these two aspects, it seems that I focus mainly on the foundational conventional truth level and haven’t really explored or moved towards the “ultimate truth” aspect as yet.
I reflect on how I kill in the area of consumption. The skincare and cosmetics I currently use are not cruelty-free. There are other items in our home that are not environment- or animal-friendly. I’ve simply been purchasing the cheapest or most convenient brands, without consideration of impact. I am starting to make changes in this area now. Clothing is another area I have considered, but haven’t made any changes as yet. I buy from big box stores where the labels say “Made in China/India/Vietnam”. I don’t know the conditions the workers have, or if they are paid fairly. Price is my main driver. The savings I enjoy may actually be paid by other people across the planet. People whose birth just happened to be less fortunate than mine. Does this give me the right to exploit them? Am I not killing their health, their life expectancy, their happiness by feeding my desire for cheap clothing? And perhaps is this too simple a view? What if that sweatshop work is actually a better choice than the alternative? Low pay and exploitative conditions vs. no pay and starvation? What is the ‘right’ thing here?
“A bodhisattva sometimes finds it necessary to break a precept in the conventional sense in order to fulfill the compassionate purpose of his or her life”.
This is another idea in Anderson’s book that stood out to me as I have some guilt and anxiety around my daily medications. They are tested on animals. I sometimes agonize over this. I see that I am not separate from any other being. We are all suffering together and there is no formula for ‘doing the right thing’ I can follow here. I take these medicines to keep myself disease free and healthy so that I may work and contribute my time and resources to causes that help people and animals. I’m not a bodhisattva, but I take comfort knowing that as humans, there are times we may choose to break a precept because we believe there is a ‘greater good’ to be attained.
Another area of killing I’ve reflected on this month is around virtual relationships. Since moving to NYC, I use Facebook to stay in contact with friends and family. I notice that since these relationships have transferred from the physical realm to the mental realm, my anxiety and tendency towards negative thoughts has increased. I miss these people, and it seems like they’ve carried on with life just fine without me. Who knew that they didn’t need me to live full and happy lives?! My poor ego is wounded. Instead of just reaching out, being vulnerable and saying “I miss you guys, let’s make time to talk”, I indulge in provocative posts and comments designed to solicit attention, even negative attention. This pattern of seeking attention and validation, even if negative, is an old one rooted in childhood. In Getting Unstuck, Pema Chodron speaks of shenpa, the “hook” or “urge” to indulge in unskillful habits. I feel myself turning towards this shenpa, going to poison for comfort. Am I not killing these relationships by engaging in behaviour that is essentially unkind, both to myself and to them?
When I moved to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I met two homeless men in my neighbourhood, and there are rich lessons for me in these relationships. In my eagerness to “help them”, I have been challenged to reflect on what “helping them” really means. For example, I agreed to call the hospital for some info for AR. When I got it, I was so eager to tell him that I walked up to him sitting in his wheelchair and just blurted it out. I failed to notice that he had, in fact, been asleep. Instead of the grateful reception I was anticipating, he berated me for waking him up. I went through such a range of emotions. I walked away feeling guilty and embarrassed at my lack of mindfulness. Great lesson! Just because AR lives on the streets, doesn’t mean he deserves less common courtesy. It may not be convenient for me to come back another time, but shouldn’t I have noticed he was sleeping and thought maybe he needs sleep right now more than the info I’m so keen to give him? I need to look, notice and be mindful when approaching someone. Gauge whether they are ready to receive me. And if I make a mistake, be humble, apologize and keep on trying.
Tibetan Buddhist monk, Palden Gyatso, (Photo Anna Branthwaite) spent 33 years imprisoned by the Chinese and drew deep on his Buddhist practice to survive his brutal treatment. He escaped to the West to tell his story and I met him in London to discuss his experiences his searing memoir, Fire Under the Snow movie from amazon also a Autobiography Book from amazon
Palden Gyatso was born in a Tibetan village in 1933 and became an ordained Buddhist monk at 18 — just as Tibet was in the midst of political upheaval. When Communist China invaded Tibet in 1950, it embarked on a program of “reform” that would eventually affect all of Tibet’s citizens and nearly decimate its ancient culture. In 1967, the Chinese destroyed monasteries across Tibet and forced thousands of monks into labor camps and prisons. Gyatso spent the next 25 years of his life enduring interrogation and torture simply for the strength of his beliefs. Palden Gyatso’s story bears witness to the resilience of the human spirit, and to the strength of Tibet’s proud civilization, faced with cultural genocide.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the book is his lack of resentment towards his tormentors. How had he been able to avoid hating the Chinese? After Tsering had translated my question, Palden shook his head vigorously. I had not understood.‘It is not that I was without hatred. Especially when I was being tortured by my guards, I had immense hatred against them because I was being hurt. But, as a religious person, after the event I could reflect on what had happened, and I could see that those who inflicted torture did so out of their own ignorance. As a religious person I have to sit back and ask myself, what is all this? Buddhist teachings say, don’t let your calm be disturbed and do not respond to anger with anger.’
Here’s the wee talk I gave on Relative Bodhicitta and Tonglen on the retreat this weekend (by popular request)
The tradition of ‘Exchanging Self for Other’ comes from Atisa and was explored extensively by Santideva in his Bodhicaryavatara.
Bodhicitta breathing is a kind of metaphor for exchanging self for other. We exchange breath with everyone else. Do we feel, at any level at all, that exchanging breath with others might be unhygenic? That might be an indicator of our lurking ego clinging that on a rational level we might wish to overcome but the feeling of wanting to preserve our separateness from others goes very deep and not all of it is unhelpful. We have a real need to distinguish ourselves from others. That is part of the principle of integration, the most basic principle of dharma practice that should never be abandoned, but it needs to be brought into connection and harmony with the other four principles, that is with positive emotion, spiritual death and rebirth. Until harmony comes, there is going to be conflict, conflict we need to look into and address though our practice.
It is natural to feel a conflict between our need for autonomy, our need for concentration and integration, independence of mind etc., and our need to empathise with others. A lot of people value their personal autonomy a lot more than they value empathy, and will prioritise independence. A thinking person might prioritise their independence of mind. A parent might prioritise empathy. The point is that these valuations are something that people get attached to and spiritual practitioners need to have a care for both. Sooner or later, practitioners also need to look into the other aspects of the path, the insight aspects. Integration and positive emotion are basic, developmental needs. Spiritual death and rebirth are the transformational aspects, the truly dharmic aspects, of the Buddhist path that also need to come into a harmonious relationship with our development of both integration and empathy.
Bodhicitta breathing is a practical method of engaging this kind of conflict. The idea of breathing in the influences of others is a little threatening, and this is where the engagement bites. The more we can accept breathing in their influence, and breathing out our own, and feeling OK with that, the more connected we feel with others and the more real it feels to be an influence in the world. This is the nature of Bodhicitta and of being a Bodhisattva, one who lives according to the Dharma for the sake of others.
The in and out breathing of influences is of course based mostly on just an idea. We use the force of imagination. Even though it is literally true that we share the same atmosphere, and it is literally true that we cannot avoid being influenced by others and vice versa, the sense of pollution that we breathe in, and the sense of pure generosity that we breathe out, are metaphorical. Yet imagination has powerful effects and it plays on the literal truth of personal influence. The practice helps us to be ourselves, accept our influence, stand in our own shoes – in relation to accepting the reality of others influences and allowing others to be who they are. So in the Bodhicitta practice both these elements of integration and positive emotion are brought into a creative relationship.
There is also a relationship with insight, spiritual death and rebirth, because to come to terms with the reality of others entails lettting go attachment to a fixed idea of self, a fixed idea of who we are and what we are capable of; and indeed to attachment to the more basic underlying view that we are something fixed, and that others are fixed entities. It works in this kind of way, for example: I let go my aversion to accepting your influence by getting used to brething you in. I let go my attachment to seeing you in a particular way by breathing you in. I let go my ignorance by engaging with the reality that you exist by breathing you in. I let go even more as I breathe out, because breathing out is letting go. Breathing out, I let go my attachment to a view of myself as having a particular kind of influence. I let go my attachment to seeing myself as having no influence, to my fear of my influence, my fear that no one listens to me or that others dislike me or are critical of me. I let that go by accepting that whatever others think, I have an influence, I can’t help having one. I let go controlling too much what influence I have. I have some control, that’s a good thing, I let go my fear of taking responsibilty for my influence. I let go of my attachment to taking that responsibility. All this modification happens in relation to others. WHen we get into relationship with others, that makes more real our understanding of ourselves and what we can be. All of this relates to spiritual death and rebirtth – to the collapse of the false idea of self and the resulting creation of a real, functioning, creative nonself or a life that’s ego free