A year ago, on March 11, Japan suffered from a terrible earthquake and tsunami that left an estimated 19,000 people dead, and many more wounded and homeless. (I wrote an article about it here.)
It doesn’t seem like a year ago to me, but it probably feels like a decade to those who still have to live daily with the glacial rate of reconstruction and the other fall-out from this disaster. This includes the nuclear fall-out, which leaves hundreds of thousands of people in Fukishima and the surrounding area living in fear and anxiety. Yoshika Ota, for example,
“Keeps her windows shut. She never hangs her laundry outdoors. Fearful of birth defects, she warns her daughters: Never have children…. She’s so worried that she has broken out in hives.”
Reading this Huffington Post article, I couldn’t help but think it sounded like a description of living in samsara in general. This helped me relate more personally to the people of Fukishima, for although they are experiencing far more manifest suffering than me at this particular point in time, we are all in the same samsaric boat.
For example, samsara gives us no choice:
“It’s not really OK to live here,” Yoshika Ota says. “But we live here.”
Our unpeaceful, uncontrolled minds, the so-called delusions, are our main enemies, but they are states of mind and even more invisible to us than nuclear radiation:
“A sense of unease pervades the residents of Fukushima. Some have moved away. Everyone else knows they are living with an invisible enemy.”
We are never safe in samsara, but we never know the exact nature of the threat or what to expect next:
“People are scared to death,” says Wolfgang Weiss, chairman of the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, which is studying Fukushima. “They are thinking, ‘Tell me. Is it good or bad?’ We can’t tell them. … Life is risky.”
In Buddhism we talk about contaminated life, which is life contaminated by the inner poison of delusions and negative actions. For as long as we live with these, our life is like a contaminated ocean throwing up wave after unpredictable wave of fear, anxiety, sickness and pain.
“All most residents know is that their bodies are contaminated. What the numbers mean is unanswered.”
So it is not enough to wish them freedom just from these waves of suffering, terrible as they are – we all need to be freed from the entire samsaric ocean.
With more instructions on what we are up against, we can avoid giving in to useless fear and take responsibility for ourselves:
“Kunihiko Takeda, a nuclear and ecology expert who has been more outspoken about the dangers than many others, says people become less afraid after he explains the risks. ‘They are freed from the state of not knowing,’ says Takeda, who has a blog with instructions on how parents can protect their children from radiation. ‘They now know what to do and can make decisions on their own.’
I’ve now mentioned delusions umpteen times on Kadampa Life! So I’m soon going to write some articles on what delusions are.
But today my thoughts and prayers are with the Fukishima residents and thousands of others affected by the tsunami. May they quickly find release from the contamination of nuclear fall-out, and every other type of contamination arising from delusions.
“We couldn’t take the animals with us, so I stayed behind.”
Last but not least, here is a video of Naoto Matsumura who is the only one left in his radiated town within the exclusion zone. Why did he stay? To look after his animals. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas do not desert us to our fate either, but keep emanating to help us until samsara is over.
A Kadampa Buddhist living in Japan has just sent me an article about the tsunami from a first-hand perspective, which I have posted below this on the home page.
I watched a documentary the other day-about th tsunami. I had not seen most of what was captured. People screaming at the waves to “GO BACK…STOP…” as it chased them or swept onto streets washing away unsuspecting motorists-as though we could stop what is already occurring. One man with a camera watched from a high place and cried “….Oh My God…Everything is over…”. Their horror was palpable.
This sent chills through my heart.
I thought, how many times did this happen over time? Sudden natural disasters, sudden man-made disasters, accidents, occurrances ad infinitum. Everything is over. Countless living beings unprepared to die… wanting to live more, do more, be more.
Perhaps one of the stories that moved me most profoundly was of an official entrusted to rescue the survivors. He was then, suddenly, ordered to abandon the effort and evacuate those who could leave. He started crying as he said “…perhaps if I were stronger, I could have saved them (about 100 or so)… if we had gone in that night with searchlights… if we hadn’t waited there would have been time… if we only waited a little to evacuate… we left them to die after they survived…”
The sadness and the sufferings seem overwhelming..however, this can be what shakes us out of our complacency, if we allow it. I do not wish to be taken by surprise when the end of this life is upon me. Only Dharma can prepare me in this way.
Thank you, as always, for your article. May we remember.
Thank you Malerie for relaying these poignant scenes from the tsunami. Each one of these people has a world of heartache to contend with. May we all swiftly wake up to the truth of suffering so we can work to bring it to an end.