Monday, March 14, 2011

But seriously, folks

Pure nine-year-old altruism is
powerful stuff.
It's hard to fathom why bad things happen to good people. We grapple with this in Buddhist study, just as Christians wrestle with this inequity. The difference in Buddhism is that there is no God, no ultimate deity, to look to for answers. Buddha is not omnipotent, but he did strive to end suffering in the world through his enlightenment and teachings. Now the question comes down to us all—Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jew, etc.—what can we do to help alleviate the suffering in the world?

Today many are faced with incredible hardships, and none more difficult than the circumstances right now in Japan. We've all seen the images from the devastation in the aftermath of the tsunami. The death count at present is upwards of 10,000. Thousands are homeless and millions without water, power, heat or transportation, according to this morning's New York Times. These people certainly didn't deserve this horror anymore than the people of Haiti deserved the sorrows they faced after last year's earthquake; or the residents of New Orleans deserved the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Buddhist principle points to karma, but who's karma delivers such sorrow upon the world?

Yesterday at the Losel Maitri Buddhist Center, we prayed, just as Christians and Jews and Muslims and all people of faith prayed yesterday for the living and the dead in Japan. And those of us who can, will send money via Red Cross or other charitable organizations, which aid in disasters. But will that end the suffering? No. Not at once, at least. When we pray or when we open our wallets, are we trying to alleviate the suffering of others, or, are we trying to make ourselves feel better for not suffering? Surely a bit of both is in play. Even the most altruistic among us must feel a sense of there but by the grace of God go I. Natural disaster is random and nonjudgemental, but helping those in need should be universal and constant. Perhaps, just maybe, it is through these devastations that we learn about our true nature. If not me, then who? If not now, when? Everyday is opportunity to reach out and help our neighbors, our friends, our family, our colleagues, but how often do we step up and come across?

Today I took a break from work and I stopped by the house to see what Jack was doing. It was a fine spring day, the first day of his Spring Break. As I drove up our street, I saw him conversing with a neighbor. I thought he was playing with the children there, but then he rushed off to another house. "Jack," I called, "What are you doing?"  "I'm raising money for Japan!"he shouted.

Jack created cards, providing our neighbors information on where they could send donations to help the people in Japan. We had talked about the tsunami yesterday and I explained to him how important it was that we all do whatever we could to help the people there. I wasn't sure he was really paying attention, or understood the gravity of the matter. I didn't preach to him, just laid out the plainest of circumstances. Apparently, that was enough. Maybe there is hope in this world.


  1. Go Jack!

    Reminds me a personal essay I did for Marketplace's September 11th first anniversary special. Shortly after the attack I found Miranda sneaking out of the house with a suitcase. I thought she was maybe running away?? But, no, she explained, she was going to go door to door selling her stuffed animals (all crammed in the suitcase) to raise money for the 9-11 relief fund. I asked her why she didn't just go door to door asking for donations. And she said people like to get stuff for their money.

    It was very touching -- and somewhat troubling -- that my kid didn't think people would give for giving's sake. That every thing needed to be an exchange of money for goods.

    Wish I could find the audio. I"m sure it's on the web somewhere. Just can't find it.

  2. @ tanya: Ah! Selling her stuffed animals for charity! I dare say Jack is not that altruistic.

  3. Jack is one special guy.