June 16, 2008

"Compassion must lead to action."

My Burmese teacher Sayadaw U Pandita wrote, “Compassion must lead to action. Furthermore, wisdom is required so that action may bear useful fruit.” I think of the all sorrows that have fallen on Burma resultant from decades of oppression: human rights abuses, ethnic cleansing, rape, forced labor, land confiscation and the imprisonment of political activists including the Sangha and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi whose 63rd birthday is on June 19. Now Burma has suffered immeasurably from a natural disaster, made exponentially worse by the junta’s stubborn refusal to help its own people. If compassion and wisdom are to flower there, we have to help cultivate them with our own practice and action.

It is deeply troubling to see how many of the 2.4 million Burmese afflicted by the cyclone still lack the basics of survival. This week, U.N. officials raised concern that there are 10,000 pregnant women without any access to medical care among the cyclone victims. But the military government is still actively blocking delivery of aid by international humanitarian agencies commensurate to the scale of people in need. I frequently hear encouraging stories of how monasteries and churches in stricken areas are literally offering refuge to those who have lost everything. But these shelters are regularly being closed by the junta, and, according to first-hand reports, cyclone victims are being forced back to villages that no longer exist.

Few of us are able to witness the cyclone’s devastation directly. Nor could we personally be with the monks and nuns last September as they transmitted lovingkindness widely in a nationwide protest. But we can continue to bear witness to the sorrows, and we can offer material support to grassroots organizations in Burma who are quietly and effectively aiding those who still suffer the impact of Cyclone Nargis. While large aid agencies are caught in the frightened junta’s calculated maze of red tape, with our help concerned Burmese — young people, monastics, and ordinary citizens — daily carry in tons of relief to the worst affected areas. Metta and Dana merge into wise action.

I encourage you to support one of these grassroots relief efforts. Working through monasteries, churches and schools, The Foundation for the People of Burma has helped organize a network of 350 volunteer, almost all of them Burmese, delivering rice, cooking oil, beans and water purification tablets deep into the stricken communities in the Irrawaddy Delta and in flooded townships outside of Rangoon. A trained medical staff of forty has reached nearly 125,000 people.

Please consider making an online donation. Please keep Burma in your heart with lovingkindness for all its people; and with U Pandita’s message in mind — “Compassion must lead to action.”

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