June 05, 2008
Since the devastation of Cyclone Nargis, it is hard to wisely hold the suffering of all the news coming out of Burma. As a Buddhist monk in Burma I received the immense generosity and kindness of the Burmese people. Now I want to do all I can to help. Friends and those hundreds of staff working on the ground for our Foundation for the People of Burma in the Irrawaddi delta, tell us amazing stories …With heroic perseverance these people surmount daunting obstacles to their work on a daily basis. Maung Lay, a student volunteer, drove a truck full of rice to 3 villages that had almost no food for 2 weeks. The military roadblock stopped him to confiscate the food. Maung Lay looked directly at the young soldiers and replied, “You will have to kill me first.” They let him pass and the food got through. Despite military harassment, threat of disease, and challenging logistics, the local network of a few groups like the Foundation for the People of Burma have brought life saving relief and begun the rebuilding and replanting process in numerous delta villages.
Alas, as the news reports daily, the military junta demonstrate tragic and paranoid resistance to aid from other sources. Yet the people of Burma are resilient. In one area south of Rangoon, an entire girls’ dormitory collapsed. Thankfully, all of them escaped. However, they are now sleeping/living in a former pigsty that they cleaned out to use for shelter. There are estimates that there are approximately 70 girls living in the pigsty. Friends on the ground there from our Foundation are looking into the feasibility of rebuilding the school as soon as possible.
Others write: “The Delta Region is still in a very bad state. I had to pass through several checkpoints to get to the village we stayed at, which was only accessible by boat, about 3 hours from Dedaye. There are still rotting corpses in the river and in the rice paddies, and there are tens of thousands of people begging along the dirt and concrete roads who have received no relief from anyone except from private donors. I’ve never seen so many people in my life.
The worst thing I saw there was a policeman beating a man for begging. I saw the policeman yell at him and strike him as he cried and cowered, but he didn’t stop. This was his punishment for begging. The government has announced that the relief period is over and that people must return home for the reconstruction phase. I think we were all crying on the way back after having seen all of this. However, what shocked me most of all was those that they said that they want war- and this came from the women. I couldn’t believe what these people were saying. These people are so peaceful, kind and good-hearted, yet they stated (a number of times) that they were not afraid any more and they want war and to see the government overthrown.”
Along with a few organizations inside, like the Foundation for the people of Burma and Save the Children, the NY Times says that monks and Sayadaws (masters) of the Irrawaddy Delta have done the most. These monastics have won the peoples’ hearts with their care. When a group of us marched over the Golden Gate Bridge in April with 1000 people in support of the Burmese monks and nuns, little did we know that the political oppression would become a life and death matter for so many.
As this tragedy continues I breathe in and practice compassion for all who are suffering, and those who are causing suffering. And I breathe out and try to help. I’ve been scrambling to write media and web appeals for help, find donors, envision events and concerts all the while with a full schedule of retreat teaching. How does the Dalai Lama remain so calm in the eye of the storm? Those of you reading this who can, please go to the FPB website at: http://www.foundationburma.org and join us, donate and help. It will take a long time to rebuild in the ruins of the cyclone. Your help is a treasure needed now more than ever.
Spirit Rock Meditation Center