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Hurricane Aftermath

Venerable Tenzin Gephel

Venerable Tenzin Gephel

Resident Namgyal Monastery Monk
Cornell University Buddhist Chaplain

Edited by Pat Connor and Dianne Fox

Recently Katrina, a gigantic hurricane, struck the Gulf coast here in the United States, creating immense havoc, not only in the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, but also throughout the entire state and in neighboring states as well. We grieve when such tragedy happens, especially for the tragic loss of lives. The monks of Namgyal Monastery, the board of directors, staff members, students and friends extend their condolences and share in the grief surrounding these events.

Because of this tragedy, all people around the world, including those of different faiths and nationalities, prayed for those who died as well as for those who survived. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, too, sent prayers and words of comfort. His blessings and prayers extend equally to those who have died as well as to those who still live.

His Holiness has said that the people who have survived this tragedy, in spite of having lost loved ones, should not dwell in deep sadness and should not lose hope. Desperation and depression do not bring family members back from death. Such states of mind may actually harm the consciousness of those who have passed away. Those who died most likely suffered horrific fear at the time of death, but probably did not experience hatred or anger; thence, their consciousness would not be greatly affected. If families keep their balance firmly, and if they try to rebuild, they may extend some peace to the consciousness of those who died.

A hurricane is a natural disaster. Unlike man-made disasters, it is hard to find the original cause of hurricanes that cause mass destruction. Death and destruction cannot be reversed, but in time, the effects of this and similar tragedies can be healed. In this kind of situation, even though we have no power to change the effects, there is no point in falling into a deep and long-lasting sadness. Depression and loss of hope only cause more pain for us and does nothing to change the situation.

Although we do not know the root cause of the hurricane, this natural disaster is an example of cause and effect, of the interdependence of all phenomena, which we often call "dependent origination". Weather patterns create conditions for a storm. The hurricane then comes into being. In the wake of great winds and vast amounts of rain, flooding occurs. Homes and businesses are destroyed. People and animals die and suffer. The ecology of the land is altered. One tragedy leads to another. All these causes and effects are linked. From the viewpoint of the very foundation of interdependent nature, the hurricane does not inherently exist or spontaneously arise with no previous causes.

The good news is that the links of dependent arising work in two directions. The causes for healing, rebuilding, and reviving life exist in the very midst of destruction. Interdependence should give hope. Life continues. Although this tragedy is something we cannot cure or remedy, still there is no point wallowing in depression and succumbing to despair. Things will eventually work out and return to normal. We can take action to create good and to promote healing.

The interdependent arising process includes not only the victims, but also the national and state governments and the many volunteers who all interact to bring together resources aimed at achieving the best possible results. We rejoice in all the heroic efforts of those who have helped to ease suffering.

As a reminder, in an interview aired on CNN, called "Spirit in Times of Disaster," the Dalai Lama said that first of all, victims need to minimize anxiety and sadness so that, with hope and determination, energy can be put into effectively rebuilding their own lives and the lives of others. Positive energy helps to diminish negative effects.

His Holiness often offers this advice: meditation on compassion is like charging a battery. The important thing is to implement compassion and transform it into action.

Finally, we say prayers to prevent the imbalance of natural elements and to soothe fears of elemental destruction. We pray that all conflict will soon cease in the world. May peace prevail.