Gods, where were you at 8:00AM on December 26, 2004?
Not only people are taking vacation on Christmas holidays and having fun, it seems all the Gods are on vacation as well. Recent news of tsunami disaster in South Asia is so shocking and millions of affected people might be wondering why it hit so hard on them just after Christmas day. Where were you, Gods?
The 9.0 magnitude earthquake, the largest in 40 years and the fourth largest in 100 years, struck the Indian Ocean off the western coast of northern Sumatra, Indonesia on December 26, 2004 at about 8:00AM (Bangkok time). The death toll has reached over 80,000 including hundreds of European and American tourists in about 12 countries caused by 30 feet tall tsunami tidal wave after two and half hours of the quake.
No matter how we human are strong and the most intelligent species on earth, no one can prevent natural disaster something like this nor can Gods protect us. I have some questions that have been disturbing in my mind for a long time. (I always want to ask many questions to any Burmese Buddhist monk, but I don’t know whether it is appropriate or not.)
As I mentioned before that I’m a Buddhist according to my family’s background. Sometime, I also like Christianity as well after having in touch with some Christian friends. But still, I’m not any devoted religious person in any religion yet. I like to stick with one for my life, but I’m still learning and trying to understand more about religions.
Before you continue, please be clear that I am not attacking or against any religion at all. Please try to see me just like a newborn baby who is so curious about everything, know nothing, and just want to explore the world.
Of course, I respect all religions and all other believe systems. But my problem is that my father is not a serious Buddhist and my grandfather was the same too. Although my mom and grandmother are devoted Buddhists, no one taught me about Buddhism since I was young, and so the result is I don’t have any strong believe in any religion yet.
At this point, I want to make clear that I am not an atheist either. You can say I am a freethinker: I am ready to accept any religion, God or believe system whenever I am ready.
What is religion? A believe system in which one or more Gods are related to that believe. Why religion? By nature, we human beings fear of death, insecurity, lost of something, and etc. We want to have good luck, good fortune, good everything. Therefore, we become members of a society or a community in which we believe in something together and practice together, and we feel safe and protected.
I have exposed two great religions in my life so far: my original background, Buddhism, and Christianity. I have read and known a little bit about both religions. In my understanding, the essence of Buddhism is to understand the suffering of life, the causes of suffering, and the ways of how to escape those continuous suffering. Buddha did not tell us how and when human being started, but showed the ways to reach nirvana and to escape the circle of life, which is suffering.
In deed, all the Buddha’s teaching is very deep and it’s not easy to understand everything at once. I agree Buddhism is a very high level of moral teaching for human being. Although I don’t practice meditation and I don’t go to temples very often, I really like some of Buddha’s teaching which I think very important and meaningful in dealing with this ordinary human life. What I don’t understand is those things: heaven and hell after death, after life or next life and etc. If you can see, I believe there are paradise and hell in this life.
Many donate money and things to monks and pagodas, but with purposes: to be successful, to get richer, to be healthier, prettier, to be famous in next life, and to be a winner of Super Lotto. I remember a sentence printed on a paper on a wall while visiting a Buddhist temple in San Francisco years ago. It said, “If you donate or give anything, don’t expect anything back.”
In Buddhist teaching, we are very lucky to become human beings in this life only because of our good deeds in the past. Depends on what we do in this life, we could become an animal: an ant, a dog, a cow, a monkey or a fish in next life. Even Buddha, he lived in many different lives: monkey, elephant, etc, but he practiced and did all the best things in all lives before he became Buddha.
So it is not enough to do all the good things and practice in this life only in order to escape the suffering and reach nirvana. The best hope we can get is to become human again in next life. If there is another life, there will be another suffering. I believe that peace, joy and happiness exist in this life. Are they just temporary? If everything is Anatta (doesn’t last forever), we shouldn’t be happy anymore or just think about suffering? So ... I don’t know. That’s how I understand.
Here are a couple examples we should ponder. I attended a Burmese literature talk, which was sponsored by a Burmese community group, in Fremont, California a few months ago. A well known Burmese poet, Mg Swan Yee, at one point mentioned that he wondered whether our Burmese Buddhism is a reason that Burma has become a poor and under developed country. He said he did not know. He had no answer.
A friend of mine once said if there is circle of lives: human becomes animal and animal become human again; the number of human population should be constant or the same. We all known human population has increased each year. Does it mean more animals do good things so they reborn again as human or there are more good people these days? He questioned.
Let discuss a little bit about Christianity as well. I am so naïve in this great religion. There is God or Jesus. He created this world, trees, oceans, animals, day and night, and human being. Because of Adam, Eva, and an apple, all human being is born with origin sin. His love is so great that he forgive everyone who has sin, but he will forgive and save only those who believe in him, Jesus.
Basically, how I understand is this: Jesus died for us (Have you watched the movie “Passion of the Christ”?) Jesus will return one day as they call Judgment Day when he will decide who is good or who is not after death. A good person will go to heaven and a bad guy will be punished.
Then again, a few questions stick in my mind like a gum. Why he will save or forgive only those who believe in him? Why not every single human since he loves us so much and we are created by him? Why there are more killings, more diseases, more disasters, and more global problems?
I sometime imagine whether there can be a Universal God who love and forgive every single human. Human desperately needs a universal God who can prevent us from disaster, disease, bad guys, and bad government. I know this sounds too childish and foolish.
Looking at the news of recent tsunami deadliest effect in South Asia, whether it is just a natural disaster or is there anything related to Gods? I have learnt those millions of victims of tsunami live in the countries which are so poor: no good communication system, bad transportation, and lack of education. Experts said more lives could have been saved if they had tsunami warning system in those areas.
I think many agree good education, science and advanced technology play a major role in today’s societies. It is information age, twenty first century and rapidly changing world. Whether poor countries suffer more or whether people who don’t believe in Gods suffer more. I do not know.
I can feel the suffering of those victims smashed by tsunami in South Asia. I wish all the best for them. I hope Gods will hear their cries.