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All is Fleeting and Elusive

By U. Mapa
Buddhism : The Tsunami experience from a Buddhist perspective
"The Tsunami experience from a Buddhist perspective provides that the law of nature is equal to all and no Divine hand can save anyone from Samsaric suffering"

While the ferocious Tsunami tides shattered the concrete structures, tossed fishing trawlers, buses and railway carriages like balloons in the hands of children, the Buddha statues that were hit by the mighty waves remained undamaged. This somewhat unusual happening, interpreted by some as a miracle, is being over-publicised perhaps, to highlight the power of the Dhamma.

True spirit of Dhamma
What if someone picks up a damaged Buddha statue from the Tsunami affected area that has been washed off? Will it diminish the sanctity of the Buddha Dhamma?

No, it is not the intelligent Buddhists who would be carried away by miracles. The Buddha himself condemned the performance of miracles to win confidence and for propagation of his teachings. The Buddha was once living in the city of Nalanda when one householder's son named Kevadda went to Him and said, "Lord, Nalanda is successful, populous, prosperous and follows your Dhamma. Wouldn't it be nice if you could appoint a monk with supernatural powers capable of performing miracles, so that the folk of Nalanda may venerate you even more?" The Buddha declined at once to accede to Kevadda's request.

He said "Kevadda, I do not teach the Dhamma to monks in that way. But yes, some monks do work miracles to impress the masses." The Buddha who too was capable of performing such miracles, including the twin miracles of simultaneously causing the appearance of jets of water and fire from his body, said, if miracles are displayed in order to impress people, the monk then becomes a magician. The Buddha regarded such display of miracles by monks as a source of shame, humiliation and disgust. Of course the Buddha praised and approved one single miracle: the miracle of instructing people, in brief or in detail, to guide them on the path of Dhamma.

We must therefore approach these so-called 'miracles' and natural disasters from a purely Buddhist perspective. The Tsunami we witnessed last December was yet another natural hazard; millions of which we have experienced and suffered in our Samsaric sojourn.

Tragedy for all
For us, who are proclaimed Buddhists, the recent devastation caused by the Tsunami should be a fitting event for wise consideration - for the application of Yoniso Manasikara. Not only the poor, but even the rich who travelled thousands of miles from other countries to spend their holidays were robbed of their lives and their loved ones. Many of them may have taken all possible precautions like medical checks and health insurance before they left their motherlands; perhaps they had come to spend a relaxed holiday as a means to live a healthier and longer life. They were caught up in a situation which they would never have dreamed of. But this is the reality of Samsara.

The Tsunami eloquently demonstrated to us the fleeting and elusive nature of that 'state' which all of us yearn for the so called 'state of happiness' which we seek in a pervading state of unhappiness. This is an aberration caused by not seeing things in the correct perspective (yatha bhutha nana). We always see pleasant in the unpleasant, permanence in the impermanent and a self in the non-self in other words, it is our eternal (wrong) belief: that we have 'mastery' over phenomena. Even in the highest realm of existence - say, the Brahma world - this is the stark reality. That is, everything is fleeting and elusive.

It is our Avijja (not knowing reality in terms of the Dhamma) that keeps us always yearning for this fleeting nature. Many examples are given in the texts to illustrate the point: like the crab that joyfully plays in the pot of water until it's boiled; like the grasshopper that is attracted by the glow of the flame. The problem with us is that we cannot, rather we do not like to take the trouble to, even conceptually understand the Samsaric danger. Our consciousness which is so much caught up in the aberrations referred to above, will do every trick to prevent us from pondering over matters that would eventually get ourselves disenchanted with the nature of existence through realisation.

To the young, the mind will prompt "don't be in a hurry, there's still time for you, just enjoy life", to the old it will whisper "why have a pessimistic outlook, just be your normal self and enjoy life". However the Tsunamis and other agents of nature that bring you sorrow and sadness will not patiently wait until you wear the safety belt.

Law of nature
No wonder the Buddha gave up practising under his initial meditation masters; Alara Kalama and Uddakrama Putta. For their goal ended in the formless Brahma realms which are conditioned.

Whatever existence or thing that arises which is dependent on conditions is subject to cessation. This is the most fundamental law that the Buddha realized (yan kinchi samudaya Dhammam sabbantham niridha Dhammam).

This law of nature is equally applicable anywhere in the universe or multiverse, in all thirty one realms at all times. This nature of things (Dhammatha) is the cause for dukka (sorrow). That is why the Buddha compared "existence" in any form - be it as a human being or a saint or a brahma - to human excreta; no matter whether the quantity is little or big, it stinks! The Buddha, realising the futility of following the path of the two meditation gurus resolved for Himself, to find the path that leads to deliverance from the conditioned existence. And, by re-discovering the 'Ancient Path' which the Buddhas previous to the Buddha Gothama had tread namely, the Noble Eightfold Path, and treading along it, he attained the goal He desired: Nibbana.

So while we help those affected to overcome their traumatic experience and untold suffering, let us take it from the Tsunami experience a sound lesson and make the best out of the situation following the path that Patachara who underwent a similar experience.
No amount of miracles can save us from the Samsaric suffering, unless we ourselves tread the path of Dhamma wisely. Even Venerable Maha Mogallana, one of the Buddha's chief disciples who was acclaimed by the Buddha as the foremost in performing miracles among his disciples, was beaten to death (as a result of a previous kamma) by hired criminals.


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