Lament and Mourn
By Venerable Master Sheng Yen
- Relief Efforts in Cyclone-hit Myanmar and Earthquake-stricken Sichuan, China
- Empathize with the afflicted: relief work without discrimination in the spirit of philanthropy
Recently, I've been feeling great sorrow. Myanmar was hit by a strong cyclone; Sichuan province in China was devastated by a big earthquake. Since these disasters, I have hardly been able to sleep at night. It's not because I was born in China myself, it's because I am a Buddhist monk. When I see, or hear the suffering of people—regardless of their country, ethnic group, or religion─I feel as if I am suffering myself. I wish that everybody here can feel the same way.
Although the resources of Dharma Drum Mountain are limited, whenever a disaster strikes we always strive to reach the stricken area for disaster relief as soon as possible, no matter where it is. For example, when Iran was hit by an earthquake, we were quick to enter the country, as was the case with Pakistan and Afghanistan following disasters there. Although these countries are opposed to Buddhism, we treat them equally without discrimination, regardless of distance or their affinity with us, and so we went to these countries to contribute to the relief effort. Now Myanmar and Sichuan have been hit by massive disasters, we will definitely come to their aid.
Disaster relief teams reach the stricken areas instantly
For the moment, we have sent two relief teams to Myanmar to conduct relief work. The situation in Myanmar is utterly devastating, with more than ten thousand people believed to have lost their lives. Myanmar is run by a military junta, which employs strict limitations on contact with the outside world, and so although the disaster had struck on May 3, we couldn't get visas until May 10. The very next morning, our relief team immediately brought relief materials such as food and medical resources with them, and, with the help of the local Taiwanese businessman Mr. Cai Fengcai and his wife, they were able to reach the disaster area and distribute the materials into the hands of the stricken.
We organized a relief team right after the earthquake hit Sichuan on May 12. In order to raise the money required for the relief work, I started making phone calls starting from the morning of May 13, and have been promised several big donations, including one from the Ruentex Group. With substantial supplies and financial support, we then set off for the disaster area on May 13, the very next day. There are three Dharma teachers on our relief team. Apart from the vice provost, one has a PhD degree in Public Health and the other is a qualified social worker. With the help of Mr. Yin Yanliang of the Ruentex Group, we were able to recruit some medical doctors and nurses from Taipei Veterans General Hospital and National Yang-Ming University Hospital to join in our relief work. Our team has therefore become a multifunction relief team.
The first batch of around 1,000 kilograms of aid materials we brought has been distributed to the stricken by our disaster relief team. They arrived at Dujiangyan on May 16 and reached Mianyang County on May 17. Meanwhile, on May 17, Mrs. Zhang Shufen, the wife of Mr. Zhang Zhongmou, Chairman of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, donated a significant batch of aid supplies, which were immediately sent to Sichuan that very evening. This is the first phase of the relief material and medical supplies we have provided to the disaster areas.
As Buddhists, when people lose their lives in disasters, another first-stage effort we must conduct is the relief ritual, in order to console and deliver the souls of the dead. I hope that people of all walks of society, regardless of their religious backgrounds, can all say prayers or pray for blessings in accordance with their respective religious beliefs. For us Buddhists, we will recite the Buddha name to pray for blessings for the dead and victims in the disaster areas. This is very important, and very beneficial.
By helping oneself and others, there will be limitless hope in the future
In the wake of the tremendous catastrophe, what should we do? Firstly, we must rescue the lives of people. However, access to the disaster areas is very difficult, and the material resources is seriously lacking there. Under such circumstances, the primary things that people in the disaster areas must do is to save and help themselves, and stay calm and at peace. However difficult the situation is, they must strive to survive. Even if they lack material goods, food, and all other daily necessities, they must try to live on. To live on is the most important thing. Then they can wait for rescue.
When people come to the rescue of the victims, they can only rescue a part of them. So the victims should rely on their own efforts and try to stand on their feet, not only helping themselves, but also helping the people around them. As long as we try to help other people, we ourselves will be able to survive. Besides waiting for the help of rescue teams or government, we should be careful not to fall ill, be wounded, or be harmed by the polluted water or air of the disaster areas.
People who have lost their loved ones, homes, or homeland may find it hard to bear the distress, and may think of committing suicide. We hope that the victims of this earthquake won't think this way. They should know that as long as they can still breathe, there will be a great prospect and a bright future ahead of them. They will surely find a way out and survive. So don't commit suicide, but strive to live on.
Our disaster relief groups and government should also pay attention to this. They should provide the victims in the disaster areas with psychological counseling and show loving concern to them, so that they can bravely face the calamity and tide over the difficulties.
DDM uses the donation from society in the three phases of disaster relief
DDM will use the donations received from all sectors of society in three phases.
Phase I: We'll be sending relief teams to the disaster areas to distribute the various necessities of life such as tents, blankets, food, drinking water, and medicines. This is what we are doing currently.
Phase II: We will make preparation to assist in the reconstruction of the disaster areas, including the schoolhouses, housing for families, and various facilities. We also plan to make preparation to help the orphans and school children because a lot of children in the disaster areas have lost their parents. We will get ready to adopt the orphans and help them settle down. We won't be able to help all of them, but we will try our best to help.
Phase III: We will provide psychological counseling and show our loving care, to help the victims recover from the trauma. With respect to this, we have acquired some experiences from several disaster relief tasks in the past. For instance, in the wake the 921 Earthquake, we set up peace of mind relief stations in Nantou, Puli, and Dongshi respectively, and have been offering caring services until today. When the South Asian Tsunami occurred, we sent a relief team to Sri Lanka, and established a similar service station there, to help the local residents to tide over the hardships, find jobs, and be on their feet again. The victims have regained the confidence to live on bravely. They themselves not only managed to live on, but also help others to live on.
In addition, the DDM Humanities and Social Improvement Foundation has recently trained a group of specialized volunteers for psychological counseling. Before this special group was formed, we have already been providing a psychological counseling service called "Gate of Sweet Dew", which has offered our society a lot of help. We believe that the suicide prevention service that we have provided last year and this year would also be useful for the disaster areas. And we hope that the Mainland China authorities would allow us to dispatch such volunteers there, so we can provide caring services to help prevent suicide.
These tasks cannot be carried out in one year. We will keep on helping the people in the disaster areas, and we hope that all the relief groups could act in the same way, providing help continuously and persistently, instead of retreating after a few days of rescue or relief tasks.
We thank people for their trust in DDM's special experience
We are very thankful and grateful to our society for its trust in DDM. Up to May 17, 2008, the amount of donation we have received is over NT$80,000,000, which amounts to RMB20,000,000. We have never received such a huge amount for disaster relief before. In the event of 921 Earthquake, we didn't receive so huge an amount of donation, nor did we receive it so fast. This time, it takes only two or three days to raise this amount of funds.
This time, we first got help from entrepreneurs including Mr. Yin Yanliang of Ruentex Group, who not only donated a huge amount of money, but also introduced medical teams of Veterans General Hospital and Yang-Ming University to team up with us. On May 17th, 2008, we also received a good deal of goods and materials donated by Mrs. Zhang Shufen, wife of Mr. Zhang Zhongmou, Chairman of TSMC. Promptly, we loaded such goods into a chartered plane and delivered them to Sichuan, China.
The disaster relief work launched by Taiwan this time is very moving. I find that compared to the 921 earthquake, people in all walks of life devote themselves more earnestly to the current relief work in China, donating money and goods or helping personally. Perhaps, it is because we had endured similar disaster in Taiwan before, so we can sympathize deeply with the victims in China in their sufferings. Also, the disaster relief action undertaken by Taiwan's religious communities is very fast. I think that all these factors make people in Taiwan devote themselves so enthusiastically to the disaster relief in Sichuan. I am deeply moved by this. We should be thankful to the whole society of Taiwan.
To share the hardships with others, please make generous contribution to the relief funds
When we see the scene of disaster, we should have sympathy with the victims and offer them humanitarian relief, feeling as if we ourselves are suffering from the disaster. If we can feel this way, then our society will have the compassionate heart to share the hardships together. We have to think that the events that happened in the disaster area are the same as ours, and others will come to our relief too when we are faced with a disaster. We must have this kind of mindset.
We should understand that when we are able to contribute the money to relieve other people, we can surely survive ourselves. In my childhood, my hometown was inflicted by disasters, and our neighbors had no food to eat. But my parents would share with them the food if we still had any food left, no matter whether we would have it or not next day. It is most important to help others. In fact, when we can give something to others, we will also be able to find the food and the money eventually. It is the reason why I didn't die of starvation in my childhood, and am still alive today. I hope that all of you can act with this kind of spirit.
We should trust in experienced groups and specialists in the relief work. DDM has experience in the relief work at home and abroad for more than ten years. So it is worth trusting. Besides, we also enlist specialists to join in our relief work. The specialists include engineers, medical doctors, social workers, psychological counselors, etc. The volunteers we enlisted become specialists in our community and are very helpful in the relief work.
We hope there will be more compassionate people to contribute more funds. Though Taiwan's economy isn't so robust, we are much better when compared with the situation in the disaster areas, where there is even no food to eat. At least, the food is still available to us. Therefore, we should contribute what we are able to. Please do your best to donate generously. Also, I hope our whole society could continue to uphold all the charity and relief work we are carrying out. My heartfelt thanks to all of you! Amituofo!
(This talk was given by Master Sheng Yen at the 6-hour Mindful Prayer Ritual held at Nung Chan Monastery on May 17,2008)