This was kind of an impromptu post (apologies for typos), but I was inspired by these twitter posts here and here. With all the humanitarian problems happening in places like the Gaza Strip, northern Iraq and Ferguson, MO, I wanted to share some ideas about how Buddhists, or anyone can help. These are not “officially Buddhist” suggestions, there are just personal ideas. Every person should be free to decide how they want to assist, so feel free to take or reject these ideas.
Having the Right Attitude
First and foremost, it’s important to have a proper attitude when approaching situations like this. The Buddha encouraged things like mutual respect, respect for the sanctity of life, peace and tolerance, such as this quote from the Dhammapada:
129. All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.
130. All tremble at violence; life is dear to all. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.
131. One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness hereafter.
132. One who, while himself seeking happiness, does not oppress with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will find happiness hereafter.
133. Speak not harshly to anyone, for those thus spoken to might retort. Indeed, angry speech hurts, and retaliation may overtake you.
Or from the 10th Chapter of the Lotus Sutra:
The abode of the Tathagata [another word for the Buddha] is a great compassionate heart for all living beings; The robe of the Tathagata is a flexible and forbearing mind; The seat of the Tathagata is the emptiness of all things.
Here “emptiness” means that all things are not separate from one another; they all depend on one another. Further, they are impermanent too.
Point being, even if you don’t like the other side, it’s important to remember that they are still human. Everyone has fears and shortcomings. This is easier said than done (believe me), but it’s a gold standard to work towards in your own life.
The best way to help of course is to help directly. Helping on the ground, where possible and feasible, is a brave and noble thing to do. However, also make sure you coordinate with people on the ground to see if you are needed or not. If you do not plan this right, you could end up getting in the way, or putting people at risk. So make sure you do your homework first!
If you cannot help directly, you can still directly contribute by offering donations of food, clothing, water or whatever is needed. The amount isn’t important. What’s important is that you take the first step in giving. Showing up is half the battle! However, make sure you donate through reputable organizations as scam-artists can appear at times like this. Again, do your homework and make an informed decision.
When donating, spend time to think about what’s needed most. Better yet, ask your charity of choice. This is not a good time to “clean out your closet“. Instead, learn what’s most helpful and focus on that. Things may change too, as the situation changes.
Buddhist Prayer and Sutra recitation
In addition to the above, or if you are unable to help, you also utilize Buddhist prayer and sutra recitation as well.
For example, the Golden Light Sutra is a famous sutra for peace and prosperity in a nation. In many parts of the ancient Buddhist world, monks would routinely recite this sutra chapter by chapter, end to end as a way of encouraging peace and prosperity.
For readers at home, you don’t have to recite the entire sutra. Traditionally many people have recited only the first chapter, or maybe their favorite chapter in general (I personally like the 4th chapter a lot).
Additionally, you can also recite parts of the Lotus Sutra, or chant the namu myoho renge kyo which is a particular chant in praise of the Lotus Sutra. Either option (or any Buddhist chant) is appropriate.
When reciting any Buddhist sutra or chant, it’s helpful to first relax your mind a bit (meditation, prayer, whatever works), sit in front of a Buddhist altar if you have one.
Then, when complete, you then dedicate the merit toward peace in general, or a specific place and people. It’s up to you.
People may be skeptical about whether this works or not, but remember, we are all connected. Karma and merit are powerful things, as explained in the 5th chapter of the Earth Store Bodhisattva Sutra:
“Karma is tremendously powerful. It is capable of covering Mount Sumeru, is capable of plumbing the vast ocean depths and is even capable of obstructing the holy doctrines.
Spread the Word
In addition to the above, you can also help but getting information out. However, remember to maintain a spirit of goodwill and be cautious about spreading misinformation or rumors. It’s tempting to want to be the first, but slow down and keep a cool head. Sometimes good intentions can only stir up trouble if you don’t balance it with the light of wisdom.
If you cannot assist with any of the above, or still want to do more, focus your efforts more locally. Since all living beings are connected (or “empty” as stated above), you can still do a lot for humanity by helping in your neighborhood, even if you’re just carrying groceries for your elderly neighbor. No effort is wasted. Trust me, you’ll see the difference in the long-run.
Namu Myoho Renge Kyo