The community came together recently in support of the Japanese people, in an evening called Japan in Our Heart, sponsored by South Sound Buddhist Peace Fellowship and Interfaith Works.
Each speaker reminded us of our connection with the people 5,000 miles away who are suffering from the chain of natural and man-made disasters.
It was helpful to physically stand with others and to have words, prayers, mediation, bells, and singing as outward expressions of our compassion. The night also generated an estimated $5,400 for relief efforts.
I am reminded of an image used in the Buddhist and Hindu religion of Indra’s Net of interconnectedness.
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We think of a net whose strings connect all living beings in the universe. At each vertex there hangs a jewel with multiple shining facets. Each jewel reflects the radiance of the other jewels in the net.
When an earthquake and tsunami rocks the world across the ocean we feel the trembling of the net that connects us. Immediately we feel compassion for the suffering of others; it is a natural response of the heart. In the Pali language, karuna is the word for compassion and it is often translated as “the quivering of the heart” which feels so appropriate in the reverberations of this devastating earthquake.
As we are shaken by the tragedy of others, we in turn can send kindness and compassion their way, trembling the net from our hearts to theirs. Anything we do with a loving intent can radiate some peace across the net to others. Monks and nuns meditating for healing, communities gathering to offer prayers, people sending a donation, and so many acts of kindness helps to hold the pain of the last few weeks.
Sometimes I feel small and overwhelmed in the face of such pain. What can I possibly do as I see photos of the tsunami waves moving houses and anything in its path so effortlessly?
In addition to the feeling of overwhelm there is a risk of hardening of the heart, as we watch events in Japan, Afghanistan, Libya, and so many other places.
When these images come to me I have taken on the practice of saying to myself, “Yes this is suffering” and, at that moment, to offer a wish of peace and comfort.
Acknowledgment and not turning away from their pain is a small compassionate act. If we acknowledge this pain and don’t become numb to it we also may honestly look at our own fear or grief that arises.
This is a compassionate act for our own heart, too. Acknowledgment is the first step in determining wise action.
Our lives are not just connected during tragedies. Indra’s Net is in place through out our whole lives. Our mistakes shake others.
Our acts of compassion and kindness comfort others. Our honest exploration of our own feelings of fear and grief inspire others.
And the kindness of others is a gift in our own healing and rejuvenation. With this knowledge we feel the stretching of our heart or as the Buddhist Metta Sutta calls for the “cultivation of the boundless heart.”
So today may we polish up our jewels so that they might radiate goodness throughout this world. May we offer and receive kindness and compassion. May we use wise action in the support we offer. May our prayers, thoughts and donations fulfill their purpose in Japan. We offer this in celebration of that which connects us.
Annie Clay is a Theravadan Buddhist practitioner, member of Thurston Insight Meditation Group, and hospice chaplain.
Perspective is coordinated by Interfaith Works in cooperation with The Olympian. The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Interfaith Works or The Olympian.