Karma, Compassion & Giving

Hurricane Katrina. Once again, a catastrophe of enormous proportions has befallen our nation. Hundreds are dead. Tens of thousands are homeless, having lost everything they owned. Families search for missing loved ones. Memories of 9/11 bring the inevitable comparisons. The President declares a national day of prayer.

As this tragedy unfolded, the usual scenario began to play out. Many questioned the role of God in this event. Some implied that the “decadence” of New Orleans was the reason for this disaster. Politicians, commentators and others looked for someone to blame. Even as people continued to suffer and die, they were busy trying to find fault. Thankfully, the vast majority focused on more important actions, compassion and giving.

Buddhism does not have a belief in a supreme being. Rather, karma, the law of cause and effect, determines all events. Warmer waters spawn stronger hurricanes. The levees were not adequate. Many of the residents were unable to evacuate. Understanding the cause of this calamity is important to prevent a recurrence. When finding fault we must ask ourselves what part we played through our actions or inaction.

The Buddhadharma places a great emphasis on Dana. Roughly translated this means charity or giving. However, the meaning is much deeper. Dana is giving with no expectation of anything in return. Dana is giving without any thought, simply because it is the only thing possible at the time. Dana takes many forms. Financial and material donations, volunteer work, emotional support, all can be forms of Dana. A child selling lemonade to send money to the victims is true Dana. The child expects no reward, no recognition. All they know is that someone is in need and this is what they can do to help. Compassion is the driving force.

Shakyamuni Buddha recognized an infinite compassion in the universe. In times of crisis we understand the level at which we are all interconnected. The Buddhist teaching that as long as one is suffering we all will suffer becomes clear. In the faces of the victims we see ourselves. Next time we could be the victims. The compassion we feel for them is the same compassion we hope others would feel for us.

Every day, suffering surrounds us. Many of us look away convinced it is not our problem. Others are selective about who they will help based on religious, racial, political or social connections. Shakyamuni Buddha taught that these distinctions are artificial. The enlightened being goes beyond distinctions. All sentient beings should be the object of our compassion. The needs of the victims of Hurricane Katrina are immediate. However, once this story has faded from the headlines suffering will continue. The Buddhadharma tells us that we must remain aware of this suffering. We are all part of the universal “Oneness.” Ultimately, when we help others we are helping ourselves.

For more information about Buddhism and Tuesday night Zen meditation contact me at BASEWI@aol.com.