Here’s a guest post from Ojichan about his experience (and lack of) with people’s reactions to the disasters in Japan. I’m posting it here not to embarrass anyone or beat anyone up, but just to encourage us all to be a bit more aware of what’s going on in our surroundings. I’ll post a link below to the original comment and my response, but for now I’d like to let people think about this for themselves.
And congratulations to Nat, who raised nearly 8,000 bhat for Japan through her yoga classes!
Thank You and Metta to you all for your discussion here about our Buddhist response to the Japan disaster. So glad as well that your immediate friends and family were OK.
I am troubled about my practice and am hoping some of you might offer me some helpful advice or guidance.
I have Japanese family in Tokyo, Kyoto and Aomori and friends in Sendai. They have all now been found alive and OK. However, the first several hours we were very concerned that our family in Aomori were gone. They live near the harbor at sea level. When we called early, they answered “Hello…” and then the phone lines went dead. It was about 48 hrs. before we knew everyone of our close family and friends had survived. No tsunami in Aomori. Our friend in Sendai was evacuated.
I have practiced Vipassana, mostly off and on, for 42 years. But in the past 4 years I have been very committed. Daily practice, active leader in my sangha, several retreats and recently accepted as a student by a well-respected teacher in another city.
Here’s my dilemma: All my teachers, all the dharma talks, all the Sangha members are always talking about the importance of compassion for others and practicing metta.
All the people in my sangha are always so appreciative about the many gifts of sushi my wife has made for their gatherings. But when this happened, for a full week after, only one person called or even asked when I walked past them on the street. I tried not to notice, to surrender, to accept. But the silence was deafening and painful. My wife understands and responds with the stoicism of the Japanese. I can only attempt to imitate it.
In an effort not to go into victim hood I wrote a letter, describing the events and deep emotions for our family in those first few days of unknown. I added a very helpful letter I received from a Buddhist friend who was amongst the survivors at Sendai, describing all the enlightenment she and others were experiencing as they supported each other to recover and survive. I sent it t the one person who called. She sent it on to the entire Sangha. I then got about four very brief condolence emails. That felt a little better. But since then, nothing more… I myself lead a Tonglen meditation for the People of Japan the next week. There was good turnout. But since then, silence again.
I sent a copy of our experiences with our family, the letter from Sendai and the materials I organized on “A Buddhist Response for the People of Japan” to my personal teacher. I suggested she might find it useful for any of her presentations or retreats. No response. Then last week she emails me that she wanted to reschedule our next 1:1 talk because she was too busy…again, no comment about our family or any of the events in or the Buddhist people of Japan. I checked her website, her sangha’s website, hoping to see that she had responded in some way with an offering of metta for Japan. No comment at all. I’m scheduled to attend another retreat this weekend with another prominent teacher. I checked his website. Nothing there either.
I googled the internet looking for anything from Buddhists in response to one of the greatest disasters ever. Very little there either.
I was so pleased to see your comments here, but I’m very troubled and honestly don’t know what the truth is about why our fellow Buddhists, our world-wide sangha is so silent at a time like this. Perhaps, what I’m hearing from myself, is that the lesson in this is to build my trust and faith only in my own daily practice. To not put other’s words or opinions, even teachers above my own mindful observations while following my breath, and through my own metta, even in the midst of such apparent mindlessness all around me. But so many teachers, even the Buddha, also urge us to take sanctuary in the Sangha.
I honestly don’t know what to do with that now! I ‘m also unsure about how I should respond to my teacher when I do speak next with her. I know I need to surrender somehow and not add to the suffering. But it also seems unskillful and nonloving to simply repress this and never ask my sangha or my teacher to look more mindfully at what appears to be a pretty huge gap between their dharma talk and their actions in a time of real need amongst their fellow Buddhists in Japan. I have no idea what right speech or action, might be in the midst of this apparent silence.
I’d very much appreciate, anything you’d care to offer here in the way of wisdom, understanding or guidance.
In the meantime, my wife and I are going to Japan in a few weeks. We will roll up our shirt sleeves and pitch in what ever humble opportunity we can find there in our neighborhood and I’m planning to go find the local monk, and ask him if he has something I or my sangha can help. “Gambarimasu!”