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Tsunami Response

Any major tragedy in the world invokes a three-step response. The first step that is appropriate comes from the heart - compassion, prayer, sympathy. The second step that comes after that, is from the hand - we need to help in various ways. The third step is from the head - we need to think about it.

Unedited Transcript:

We have put out two messages in response to the tsunami. We have a general one on our website, which I am sure you have all seen. This is a more specialized one, written to go out to Sri Lankan Tamil temples. It talks more about Yogaswami. We don't have any quotes from Yogaswami on the one on our website. It is more specific. So, I thought I would share that this morning but first of all, introduce it (in a very,) as an overview. So, in terms of response to the tsunami or any major tragedy in the world, a simple way of thinking about it is, a three-step response. (One,) Step one, step two, step three.

The first step that is appropriate comes from the heart - compassion, prayer, sympathy. The second step that is appropriate that comes after that is from the hand - we need to help in various ways. The third step is from the head - we need to think about it. What does this mean? Philosophically, am I OK with this? Are my beliefs shaken here? Is my philosophy alright? Do I have a solid way of encompassing this or in a way that is really discouraging to me? Sometimes, we get discouraged by events and we don't even realize it because from our head or from our philosophy, we haven't really encompassed them - (About,)how that could happen or why that could happen, how can I look at that.

So, that is the 3-step response. The heart, the hand and the head. Easy to remember. So, let me read.

Over the last few days, I have been asked by a number of individuals to share some thoughts on the massive global destruction and death caused by the South Asia Tsunami that ravaged such a large part of the world in the last days of 2004.

The first and foremost response, of course, is the need to awaken our compassion and offer our prayerful thoughts to those who have passed on and give expression, inwardly and outwardly, to our deep-felt sympathy for the relatives and friends who survived.

That is the heart. The first response.

The natural second response is to provide practical help as millions face the challenges of the aftermath of this awesome natural catastrophe, the worst in our lifetime. I have noticed a remarkable welling up of such support among devotees of the monastery and the general public in many countries, and seen people go to extraordinary lengths to collect medical supplies, raise funds at work and even offer to fly to the affected areas to provide succor with their own hands. These are life-saving, life-affirming reactions, for without the generous financial and in-kind donations that reach the affected areas many more could die in the days ahead for lack of food, medical supplies, temporary shelter and sanitary water.

So, that is the hand. The hand comes in three time frames. First is immediate, immediate help.

Medium term, communities need to be rebuilt and resources provided to individuals to enable them to resume supporting themselves through their chosen occupation. For the longer term, governments need to ponder the issues of providing effective warning systems, such as currently exist in the countries in the Pacific Ocean region, to protect their populations against future tsunamis, and to better prepare their populations for any large-scale disaster, whether from earthquakes, storms, droughts or other threats to security. On all levels, we need to learn from this experience, so we face our next massive threat better.

So, that is the hand. It is interesting that lots of the damage, at least in Sri Lanka, was caused to people living too close to the ocean, building too close to the ocean. We have been in touch with the ideas of rebuilding there and it seems the Sri Lankan Government is coming out with a new law that you cannot build within 300 meters, approximately 300 hundred yards, of the ocean. That is a very simple way of protecting the population in the long run, against similar disasters.

Now, we move on to the head.

On the personal level, major disasters in the world cause everyone to stop and think--think about ourselves, our family, friends, community, nation and the world itself. If our faith is not strong, our thoughts can be of a negative nature. You have heard people wondering aloud why God would allow such a thing to happen, why good people are suffering so, how can there even be a God if such tragedy can occur on Earth? However, if our faith is strong, then our reflections and our reactions remain positive.

From the Hindu point of view, our soul is eternal and through its many lives on Earth undergoes a variety of experiences - many joyful, others sorrowful - but benefits spiritually from all experience, whether seemingly good or bad. Gurudeva, Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, boldly proclaimed that everything is as it should be, including the occurrence of major disasters. "When a large group of people pass on to the inner world," says Gurudeva,"drop off their physical body unexpectedly through a natural disaster, it is called a group karma. They were all born to have this experience at the same time in togetherness."

Paramaguru Yogaswami of Jaffna many years ago foresaw the difficult times that Tamils in Sri Lanka have faced for over two decades. He expressed his advise on how to cope with these adverse situations in his Natchintanai song, Nalluran Tiruvadi: "Even if war and famine come and the world is burnt to ashes, shall we know any fear, O Parrot? Arumukam is our refuge." In other verses in his Natchintanai, Yogaswami stresses that the atma is eternal and states that Murugan is our protection and clinging to his holy feet will cause all distress and anguish to disappear. Yogaswami's sagely advise is clear - difficulties are a part of life on this planet and the sorrow they bring can be overcome through the worship of Lord Murugan.

Those with strong faith when confronting a major disaster such as the recent tsunami have the ability to step back from life's daily routine and look more deeply at themselves to see if there are changes they could make to add deeper meaning to their life. The physical and psychic power of this tsunami offers such thoughtful people an opportunity to examine and change their own lives, for life-changing moments are rare and often provoked by something bigger than us.

Perhaps there are changes you have been considering for years but always end up putting off. Now is the time to implement them. Perhaps there are new patterns of life, new habits, new commitments that can take root at this rare moment in our personal and global history. Perhaps our love for family members needs to be verbalized more often. Now is the moment to begin. Perhaps we have plans to improve our community. Now is the time to set these plans in motion. Perhaps we have always wanted to deepen our spiritual efforts and expand our charitable work. Now is the time to make such ideals real.

In all these ways, we can take the energy surrounding this catastrophe and transmute it into something that benefits our lives, our family's lives and our community, rather than diminishes them. As Gurudeva would often say, "It matters less what happens to you in life than how you react to all that happens."

Aum Namah Sivaya! Thank you.

Photo of  Gurudeva
There is in much of the world the belief that life is a burden, a feeling of penitence, that it is good to suffer, good for the soul. In fact, spiritual life is not that way at all.