Chenrezig (Avalokitesvara) along with (clockwise from top) White Tara, Amitabha, Green Tara, Vajrapani, Manjushri.
Last week, shortly after Gersimi died, I wrote to Ven. Choekyi Lhamo at The Kadampa Center (FPMT) to seek advice regarding jangwa for Gersimi’s ashes. Because I have not undergone the necessary retreat and do not have the appropriate empowerment to perform jangwa myself, and will not be able to make it to Cary before Sept. 30th (the 49th and final day of Gersimi’s sojourn through the Bardo), I was not sure that jangwa would be a possibility. I wrote to Ven. Choekyi-la:
“On pages 21-22 of “Heart Practises for Death and Dying”, it says that the ashes of the deceased can be purified via jangwa and then one of the options for the now-purified ashes is that they can be sprinkled into the wind from a high mountain. Given we live in WV where the effects of mountaintop removal mining, chemical accidents, and corporate greed and disregard for human and animal life has created a huge amount of suffering (higher rates of cancer, shortened life expectancies, birth defects, poverty, etc.), I thought that purifying Gersimi’s ashes and scattering them in the recommended way would be a wonderful way to help sentient beings in our area.”
This past Sunday, Ven. Choekyi-la asked Geshe Gelek (Geshe-la) on my behalf about jangwa, and what I could do to benefit not only Gersimi, but also other sentient beings during this time. Geshe-la’s advice was to recite Mani mantras (the mantra of Chenrezig – OM MANI PADME HUM), and to then blow on water after finishing the recitation. This blesses the water with the power of the mantra. Afterwards, the water may be sprinkled or poured into a river, thus giving benefit to any sentient beings who would come into contact with the water/body of water into which the blessed water is poured, thus continually benefiting countless sentient beings. This can be done as a continual practise, even after the 49 days, as a means of benefiting other sentient beings. I fully intend to engage in this practise and to do so on a regular basis, even after the 49 day period is done.
Which brings me to the other reason for writing this blog.
As I wrote in my letter: “…we live in WV where the effects of mountaintop removal mining, chemical accidents, and corporate greed and disregard for human and animal life has created a huge amount of suffering (higher rates of cancer, shortened life expectancies, birth defects, poverty, etc.)…” (emphasized to make a point).
We take it for granted that we have clean water to bathe in, cook with, wash with, imbibe, and use for various – including spiritual – purposes. We take it for granted that every time we turn on the tap, that what comes out is potable and safe. Unfortunately, it is reality that people are less able to trust what comes out of the tap than they were a decade ago. In some environments, what comes out of the tap is more likely to kill you than drinking water from a puddle in your front yard. It is reality that a growing number of us know someone whose life is impacted by the toxic hazards associated with fracking, MTR, life near a chemical/industrial plant, etc. Those of us who were affected by the MCHM spill in January of this year got a taste of what life is like on a daily basis for these folks. Having to buy bottled water in large quantity, because you have to buy enough to not only cook or drink with, but to bathe with was a temporary headache for 3,000+ people (my family and I included). But imagine having to do that every week, for years – or having to fight tooth and nail to get companies to grudgingly pay for enough water to fill a water buffalo. Imagine watching family members, neighbours, and friends get poisoned slowly by the toxins in their water and air, watching them develop cancers and other diseases, watching them die. The whole time knowing that the people responsible live in comfort miles away, enjoying clean, safe water and a fat paycheck whose origination is in the suffering of people whose lives are forever destroyed in the name of corporate profit. That’s reality for many folks in Appalachia and parts of Western PA.
In Buddhism, morality is not a theologically-grounded ideology founded by supernatural beings. It is grounded in human experience. Because Buddhism does not ascribe to moral absolutism and ethical actions are based on individual situations and the factors involved, morality is thus concerned with what is beneficial versus what is harmful. The industries tied to fracking, MTR, etc. have for decades worked hard to convince the public through media, lobbyists, etc. that their activities are “beneficial to society”. But how can they truly be said to be “beneficial” when they create such massive amounts of suffering? There is nothing “beneficial” in blowing off a mountaintop or in fracking waste – studies have shown quite the opposite. In addition to the harm to human communities, we’re seeing massive wildlife endangerment and displacement, an increase in flooding and landslides, an increase in air and water pollution, and an increase in earthquakes. These days, you don’t have to live in close proximity to be affected.
MTR and fracking are a violation of ahimsa – “non-harming” . The companies involved routinely violate the second precept (taking that which is not given), acquiring what they want through misinformation, manipulation, bribes, threats, and trickery. They also violate the fourth precept (not engaging in false speech), as they routinely work to “skew”, cover up, and/or lie regarding the damage they do, even under oath in court. As coal jobs decline in WV and poverty increases, drug abuse increases, thus increasing violence, poverty, disease, dissolution of families and communities, and crime: As coal fades in West Virginia, drugs fill void (this is the last of a three-part series; read the whole series, it’s worth it). Despite what some people stubbornly believe, MTR operations do not increase jobs – they require fewer employees than traditional mining operations, and most of the employees they bring in are are from other MTR sites owned by the company. Where MTR exists, miners actually lose jobs, which means their families no longer have a paycheck to rely on. How is that “beneficial”? How is that “good”? How is that “right”, or “moral”? In the quest for “cheap” energy innumerable sentient beings are suffering every day in innumerable ways. “Cheap” energy when viewed through that lens isn’t “cheap” at all – it’s flat-out unaffordable. Unsustainable. Unconscionable. Inexcusable. Immoral.
I pray that more people will come to see the great value which exists in being loving and compassionate towards our fellow sentient beings – not just other human beings, but all creatures, our environment, and ultimately the living organism that is Planet Earth. We create the cause of our suffering – it is up to us to decide when to end it. I’m doing my part in my own way – I am making phone calls, writing, petitioning, informing (and staying informed), supporting fellow activists, taking part in clean-ups, and donating. Will you do yours?
OM MANI PADME HUM