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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Burmese Monks Defy Ban on Private Relief Efforts.

Myanmar's military government, which has a relief hub just 10 miles north in the town of Bogalay, has not delivered aid to scores of remote villages like this across some of the most devastated areas of the Irrawaddy River delta. For now, the villagers' only hope is goods that arrive from time to time in an underground supply chain operated by Buddhist monks in Bogalay, who are defying the ban on private relief operations in the delta.

James: The Burmese Sangha has shown such courage and compassion toward the people from the protests last year to helping victims of the recent cyclone. They clearly understand the importance of compassion to the point of risking their own lives and safety to help as many people as they can. All despite many monasteries being destroyed and severely damaged.

Their efforts are even more noble when you consider that the monks themselves don't have a lot and usually rely upon the laity for their food. Yet here they are giving and helping in any and all ways they can. However, I'm not surprised being how centered in oneness that these monks know and practice. They intimately know the interconnected between all beings and that helping others is not different and no less important than helping oneself.

It is not an exaggeration to say that monks are trained to help the people. Their vows are quite centered upon working for the betterment and liberation of the people from suffering and their response to the aftermath of this disaster is a powerful expression of those values.

They are a cherished example for me in how to deal with severe suffering in my own life and in the lives of other people. The monks have suffered as much as the people and yet they are being pro-active and not wallowing in their sorrow. They are a wonderful example that helping others can help ease our own suffering. Too often when I am in deep pain and suffering I retreat from others into a place where I feel self-pity as if I am the only person suffering in the world. The monks are a beautiful reminder of why I do my best to follow the Dharma.

In the confusion of the aftermath of cyclone nargis many believe that it was the result of the "bad karma" of the victims. That, however, is somewhat short-sighted says one Burmese monk, "If the government would have warned people, they would not have died. So this disaster is not karma; it is a natural case of cause and effect by humans."

~Peace to all beings~

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My Wife the "Green Collar" Worker.

As some of you know, my wife recently graduated with a degree in accounting all the while working full time. She ended up graduating within the top of her class and thus graduated with honors. She had been in the banking industry for years before and has been wanting to get a job in the green industry (renewable energy and other environmental jobs).

Well she applied to an up and coming solar company in the area awhile back and didn't hear anything back from them for a couple of weeks but then received a phone call from them awhile later to set up an interview. The interview went well and they were quite impressed with her and ended up giving her the job working in their accounting department. She is so excited to be working a green collar job as getting a job working in the green industry has been her dream job.

Part of why she wanted to work in this industry was because being Buddhist she has wanted to gain employment with a company that was involved in giving back to our environment and working to reduce our negative impact on our Earth.

She is also excited to be working for this company because they are just starting to hire for their accounting department so she will be able to start off getting experience in all areas of the field. This is the beginning of her career and she's in a great spot to launch it.

Well today is her first day and I'm anxious to hear how it's been going, she's going to try and call me at lunch. I'm so proud of her and all the hard work that she has put into gaining this higher education to help improve our lives. She is amazing and so incredibly smart that I just had to brag about her a bit here.

Wish her luck!!!

~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Tornados Hit Near our House.

Yesterday was pretty wild here in Northern Colorado, USA. There were seven to eight tornado touchdowns here across a wide area covering at least two counties including the one we live in and the one where my wife works. This amazing video (click here) shows the biggest tornado crossing the major highway that my wife travels everyday to work but thankfully she was at work when it crossed. She did have to take shelter in the basement of their building for about 30 minutes though.

The video below will show you some pictures and footage of the damage from that main tornado slamming into the town of Windsor which was the town hit the hardest. It was a monster tornado that was about a mile in diameter and categorized as an F3 on the Fujita scale (about 150mph or 241kph):

Windsor is only about 15-20 miles from where we live (I can drive to it in about 10 minutes). Yesterday I was over at my parent's house spending time with my Dad. We usually get together once a week to go to lunch and watch some movies. Well we were listening to the radio and were told to take cover so we went into our basement and waited out the warning. It turns out that a tornado touched down just north of their house in our city. It hit only about 10 miles away from their house where we were hunkered down but the damage was thankfully minimal with that particular tornado.

It turns out that one person died but it could have been worse as there was a day care that was destroyed. There were 150 children there but they had been evacuated in time and were sheltered in a bank vault across the street. The storm could have been so much worse in terms of loss of life but the property damage is extensive and many are without homes. There are many places with wooden boards strewn about like toothpicks. This is what my wife saw coming home from work:

When I left, I had no idea where the tornado hit in the town where I work, and I happened to go a different way home because I needed to stop somewhere, and I drove right through the path of the tornado. Crazy--power line after power line was down on farmland, and looking ahead, all the trees were "leaning" in the same direction. As I got closer I found that all the trees were actually broken in that direction. I drove by a small area of buildings that were torn apart--it looked like there were some trailer homes. Turns out I drove right by where the fatality was.

So all in all it was quite a lively day around here but everyone I know are fine but many are injured and their houses wiped out. I hope that they can find some comfort and peace. I also hope that they can rebuild their homes without much trouble and cost.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

When We Fall.

When we fall on the ground it hurts us, but we also need to rely on the ground to get back up.

-Kathleen McDonald.

James: This reminds me of something Thich Nhat Hanh has said, that we need manure to grow roses. It's a great reminder that our problems, struggles and suffering all have benefits if we look close enough. It sure is difficult to be aware of that when you feel depressed and isolated in a hole of pain but the truth remains.

Also, I wanted to just say Happy Vesak day!! I don't have anything enlightening to say about it except to say that for me it is really poignant this year given the situation in Burma, Tibet, China in the aftermath of the earthquake, Iraq and many other places around the world in turmoil. It seems that now more than ever the world needs the Buddha's message of peace, compassion, loving-kindness and oneness.

~Peace to all beings~

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Burma's Junta and Cyclone Nargis.

We have known for a long time that the repressive government in Burma has been distrustful of outsiders but they should be more concerned with their people--especially after the recent protests. As a historian, I know that in many cases the fall of a brutal regime comes from within the populace more than from a foreign power.

The junta has extreme paranoia of the international community. This suspicion has been expressed through resisting foreign aid after the Cyclone Nargis out of fear that somehow allowing aid would undermine their unquestioned authority. They seem to believe that allowing in help from these countries is a back door attempt to affect revolution. They seem to be concerned that the Burmese civilians will see foreign aid as a sign that the junta isn't capable of helping them and help erode their iron grip on power. The problem is that they are so isolated and out of touch with their own populace that they don't seem to understand or aren't willing to accept the reality that the people have long ago known that the junta is incapable and unwilling to aid them.

The regime assumes that the international community has ulterior motives for sending this humanitarian aid rather than doing it out of pure compassion and concern. I believe this is because they are so ruthless that they can not believe governments actually do things out of the goodness of their hearts. They seem to assume that there is always a catch because that is how they operate, they can not believe that a government actually helps it's people simply because they have compassion for them.

Their paranoia of the international community will be their ultimate downfall I believe because they are continuing to neglect their citizens and their very neglect is what led to the protests of '88 and of '07. So now the populace is hungrier, sicker, more homeless and poorer than before the cyclone and in many cases literally have nothing else to lose. When people become this desperate then revolution can be sparked by the tiniest flame. The irony is that if the junta would just allow the aid into the country I think that many people might actually have an improved opinion of them.

However, blocking the help that they need to save their children might just be the final injustice that causes an uprising so massive that the junta will have not a chance at stopping it. There are also reports that the average soldier is extremely embarrassed at the neglect of the generals during the aftermath of the cyclone and I think it is only a mater of time before the junta's carefully constructed web of control unravels.

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Don't Forget the Animals in Burma.

I received an email from Lauren of Animal Voices about making sure we help the animals caught up in the cyclone devastation in Burma. Animal Voices has a great interview with Buddhist scholar and advocate of ecological balance, Dr. Joanna Macy.

Often our animal brothers and sisters are over-looked in the aftermath of natural disasters. I remember seeing animals stranded on rooftops, stair cases and car tops in the flood after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. It was heart breaking to see.

Fortunately there were many people and organizations who fought to rescue those animals and if needed find them new homes across the country.

As Buddhists we can not over look the needs of all sentient beings who suffer just as much during natural disasters as human beings. We are interconnected with all living beings and as nature goes, so goes man. Our survival is inextricably linked to the well-being of animals and especially in agricultural societies such as in Burma. When animals get sick with disease it can easily spread to humans. So with that in mind, I found a great organization that is working to help the animals of Burma.

The IWAF (International Fund for Animal Welfare) is waiting final approval to enter Burma and get to work bringing relief aid to hurt, hungry and stray animals. So I hope that we can all give a little (or a lot if you can) amount of money to help these silent and most vulnerable victims of this disaster. They need our help immediately.

In other News: The junta in Burma is now ordering many monks to kick out survivors of the storm from the shelter of their monasteries. Such an order is causing extreme anxiety amonst the monks because such actions are utterly opposite of the Buddhist creed of compassion. The government doesn't want too many people gathered together in one place for "security reasons."

~Peace to all beings~

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Natural Disasters.


CHENGDU, China (AP) -- One of the worst earthquakes to hit China in three decades killed nearly 9,000 people Monday, trapped about 900 students under the rubble of their school and caused a toxic chemical leak, state media reported.

The 7.9-magnitude earthquake devastated a hilly region of small cities and towns in central China. Xinhua said 80 percent of the buildings had collapsed in Sichuan province's Beichuan county after the quake, raising fears that the overall death toll could increase sharply.

James: The sad irony is that the Chinese have been working to get aid into Burma this past week following the devastating cyclone that hit the country. Now China is facing it's own natural disaster. Meanwhile, in the U.S. 70 tornadoes have been tearing up cities across the country over this past weekend and throwing cars around as if they were toys. About two dozen people have been killed and many more left homeless.

Nature has been tamed and conquered in many ways by man over the centuries (for better or worse) and so often we walk around doing our day to day things without paying nature much attention. However, our planet is alive and still let's us know that we are not master's of our own fate. Natural disasters are tragic events that change peoples' lives in so many ways and they are also reminders of the fragile nature of this life. They remind us that we are not immune to sickness and death. They humble us and that is a good thing because being humble helps us not waste the present moment. It also allows us chances to reconnect with humanity and remember that we are apart of a bigger picture than just our immediate sphere of influence.

I have been in a state of whining and complaining lately about things in my life but these recent natural disasters have shaken me awake to reality. I have a roof over my head, clean running water and plenty of food to eat and I am not sick with a severely life threatening disease such as cholera. My heart oozes with compassion for those caught up in these disasters. It can be easy sometimes, especially here in America to sit in our comfortable homes and watch our televisions that are a luxury that most can't afford in much of the world and feel detached from these disasters. But we are not immune to disaster and change no matter how much money we might have. In the end our money isn't going to do much good in the face of a tornado, a cyclone or an earthquake shattering our fragile world. We must accept that we are not much more secure in our life than the smallest, more vulnerable ant. As nature goes, so goes man.

And you know, there is a lot of freedom when I remember that I don't have much control over anything. It frees me up to just go along with life as it comes and not worry so much. We should not fear nature and life because of events such as these, such is the course of this existence. We can not worry our lives away wondering if we might die in a natural disaster. Some people even worry about a meteor hitting Earth and whipping out life as we know it. I'd rather enjoy the beauty of the trees outside my window right here, right now and the squirrels eating the peanuts we leave out for them because death and sickness will come no matter how much we try to prepare and keep ourselves healthy. Why anxiously wait for it and waste the opportunities for beauty and joy in each present moment?

We might not die in a severe natural disaster but we everyone's days are numbered. That being said, life is precious and we should do everything we can to save lives when and where possible. Being open to change doesn't mean that we become callous and ignore the pleas of the sick and dying because, well, that's life. Yes, suffering is inevitable but unlimited suffering is not inevitable and as no one wants to suffer we should do all that we can to ease pain and suffering where possible. In my opinion there is no point and reason to suffering needlessly.

So rather than letting these horrific natural disasters force us into an emotional tailspin we should take them as reminders of how wonderful life is and cherish each breath we have been given to open our eyes and enjoy the awesomeness of being apart of this grand project we sometimes label, existence. It's kind of like being on vacation isn't it? We are on this Earth to learn and enjoy all that this time and place has to offer us and then we move on to the next destination on our journey.
~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Burmese Junta Blocks Aid to People After Devastating Cyclone.

This from U.S. Campaign for Burma:

The news is staggering and in many ways unfathomable. Yesterday, Shari Villarosa, the leading US diplomat in Burma said that
100,000 may have died and 95% of the buildings in the affected areas could be wiped out. The death tolls could increase as water born diseases such as cholera are beginning to spread, and in these worst hit areas aid has not to arrive.

The Burmese regime's blocking of aid is beyond horrendous. Minimal aid is being allowed in. There are still many people and supplies waiting to go, but the Burmese regime continues to deny access. Yesterday, the French government launched a push in the UN to try and enforce aid delivery, but China blocked the effort. If you haven't already, email UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and urge him to step in. Yesterday, within hours after thousands of our members writing in, Ban Ki-moon did start speaking out about Burma.

The New York Times:

The United Nations suspended relief supplies to Myanmar on Friday after the military government seized the food and equipment it had already sent into the country but said it would resume the aid flights on Saturday. The United Nations World Food Program said it would send in two relief flights as planned on Saturday, while negotiations continued with the government about the distribution of supplies.

Under the military government, the public health infrastructure has been crumbling for decades, he said.

Malaria is already endemic, and many people with AIDS and tuberculosis are going untreated, he said. “We don’t think the blood supply is safe or adequately screened,” Dr. Beyrer said, adding that people injured in the storm and in need of transfusions face the risk of infection and blood-borne diseases.

Earlier, in a statement, Myanmar’s military junta said it was willing to receive disaster relief from the outside world but would not welcome outside relief workers, a key demand of aid agencies who want to coordinate and control their own aid.

James: I was afraid of this that the junta would seize aid for themselves and that little would get to the actual people suffering. I wouldn't be surprised if the government doesn't really care about the death toll, less people to have to control. Perhaps that is very cynical and not very optimistic but the junta has shown before that they have descended into the level of animals gone crazy and rabid.

It appears that the junta wants to take the aid and then give it out themselves to make it seem as though they are in control of the situation and had the food, medicine and other supplies all along. I guess the important thing is that aid actually gets to the people needed. That being said, if the junta doesn't allow the trained humanitarian aid workers and doctors into the country as they are not now then there will be another wave of death.

On the donations front, I have a few other details of trusted organizations. First, is UNICEF or United Nations Children Fund which has people already on the ground In Burma and has been there for a long time. The second group is the U.S. Campaign for Burma who are a trusted, long established that works toward great freedom and human rights for Burma. USCB said this of donations to them:

We will then send the money directly to trusted Burmese organizations inside who are working to help the people. You can send checks to us or make online donations.

Personally I am going to give funds to the U.S. Campaign for Burma as they have a direct link into the country and know people on the ground who can funnel the relief aid into trusted hands.

~Peace to all beings~

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Malaysian Buddhists Rally to Help Burmese Cyclone Victims.

James: Do you want to help the Burmese victims of Cyclone Nargis but don't know who to donate to? Hopefully the below information will give you some direction.

The Buddhist Channel, May 8, 2008

Petaling Jaya, Malaysia -- Myanmar, more than any country in the world had popularised Buddhist meditation, hosting practitioners at its monasteries and sending teachers all over the world.
Now it is in time of need.

Reacting with utter disbelief at the scale of the disaster wrought by Cyclone Nargis where an estimated 100,000 people lost their lives, key Malaysian Buddhist organizations have mobilized their resources to bring aid to the devastated country.

The following organisations are collecting funds and some also accepting foodstuff and medicinal products to help the cyclone victims in Myanmar.

Readers are encouraged to circulate the information to support these relief efforts.

1. Buddhist Missionary Society Malaysia (presently collecting funds only)
Donation may be sent by post to Buddhist Missionary Society Malaysia, 123, Jalan Berhala, 50470, Kuala Lumpur. Donors are advised to make all contribution by cheque only made payable to "Buddhist Missionary Society Malaysia." Please write "Myanmar" behind the cheque.

2. Young Buddhist Association of Malaysia (presently collecting funds only)
All cheques are to be payable to "Young Buddhist Association of Malaysia". Please indicate "Myanmar Relief Fund" at back of the cheques. Donors may bank in the cheques to YBAM Public Bank account: 3063802219 and send the bank in slip for our record at YBAM Secretariat, 9, Jalan SS25/24, Taman Mayang 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

3. Subang Jaya Buddhist Association (collecting funds & material)
Lot PT 12593, Jalan Kewajipan, SS 13, 47500 Subang Jaya, Selangor D.E.
Please donate dry foodstuff (noodles, biscuits, etc), canned food, mineral water, medicine etc. at SJBA for us to send to Myanmar. Cash donation is also welcome.(Tel: 03-56315299, e-mail: sjba@streamyx.com)

4. Siri Jayanti Association , Sri Lanka Buddhist Temple, (collecting funds & material)
Ven. Saranankara Nayaka Maha Thero says that if sufficient amount of items can be collected to fill a container, then it will be personally sent to Myanmar. Otherwise, the collection will be consolidated with items from SJBA to be forwarded to Myanmar.

Meanwhile Tzu Chi Malaysia said that nine of their relief workers are planning to leave for Myanmar this Saturday for ground assessment. If successful, this will be the first batch of Tzu Chi team to make it into Myanmar.

Members of the public who wish to make donations to Tzu Chi are advised to bank in directly into their account:

International Disaster Relief Fund
MBB A/C: 004067500119

Other relief / aid organizations

Those unable to reach the temples can donate online to the following trusted organisations with ppl already in Myanmar.

~Peace to all beings~

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Devastating Cyclone Hits Burma.

BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- As many as 350 people are feared dead (UPDATE 3: 22,464 now dead, 41,000 missing and death toll could reach above 60,000.) after a tropical cyclone with winds up to 150 miles per hour slammed into Myanmar over the weekend, according to local media reports. "We believe hundreds of people are dead," said Khin Maung Win with the Democratic Voice of Burma -- a broadcast media group run by opposition expatriates. "The entire lower Burma is affected. In some areas, entire villages disappeared."

A diplomat in Rangoon, the principal city, described the scene in an email to Reuters. "Utter war zone," he wrote. "Trees across all streets. Utility poles down. Hospitals devastated. Clean water scarce." "Where are all those uniformed people who are always ready to beat civilians?" said a Rangoon resident, who refused to be identified.

James: However, reports from DVB (Democratic Voice of Burma) also say that the government isn't doing much to help people. (UPDATE: Reports from U.S. Campaign for Burma say that officials barely gave people notice of arriving cyclone).

DVB talked to several residents in Rangoon and the following are some of their accounts.

Resident 1 They (authorities) are doing nothing. After hovering above us in a helicopter once, they did nothing. They are not even coming to see us.

Resident 2 The (uprooted) trees are blocking all the streets. But no one is coming to chop and clear them away. If the government is doing something, I don’t know where they are doing it now.

Resident 3 Here, there is nothing like a rescue effort. We have to do it ourselves.

Resident 4 No rescue efforts have been carried out. I saw no one doing anything.

Resident 5 We don’t where they (the authorities) are, which corners they have gone to. They only know how to beat up people.

James: As you know, Burma has been facing very hard times and this storm has compounded things even more. Before the storm people were living in terrible conditions and facing shortages of gas and food and now there has been serious damage done to an already dysfunctional infrastructure and economy. I fear that the death toll will only continue to climb.

However, not surprisingly the Buddhist monks have been helping where ever and however they can. Such actions confirm to me the comfort and help that is found when one takes refuge in the Dharma and the Sangha. So may we all stop to think about our brothers and sisters in Burma today. May we hold them in our hearts and perhaps donate some money to the DVB or other pro-free Burma organizations to aid them in helping the Burmese people. May we find any way possible to keep the attention on Burma so that they can finally feel some relief from their profound suffering.

~Peace to all beings~

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

30 Days for Burma: It Can't Wait.

We are thrilled to announce that today, a video by actor Will Ferrell is kicking off a 30-day campaign to help the US Campaign for Burma build one million voices of support for human rights and democracy in Burma. (video by Will Ferrell at the bottom of post).

Every day for 30 days you will be able to tune into our website http://www.uscampaignforburma.org/ or http://www.burmacantwait.org/ (or YouTube, Myspace, and many more sites) to watch a new celebrity video about Burma. Instead of watching one single video with limited information, viewers will be able to learn a great deal about the people of Burma's courageous struggle for human rights and democracy. Each video is different -- some are deadly serious while others have a light touch. Most of these are meant to be different than a typical public service announcement -- more like a short movie or skit.

The videos include many of the top actors in Hollywood and others in music, such as Jennifer Aniston, Woody Harrelson, Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Eric Szmanda, Anjelica Huston, Ellen Page, Sheryl Crow, and more. Make sure you come back each day to find out who are all the celebrities helping us.

Since you already know about Burma, can you tell as many people as possible to watch the videos and join our effort? They are a fantastic tool to educate people and spur them to take action.
Every single video closes by encouraging viewers to join the US Campaign for Burma's one-million person effort for Burma.

Why do we want one million people to sign up? Here is why: we are facing a military regime that has locked up the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi, brutally cracked down against hundreds of thousands of peaceful monks and civilians, recruited more child soldiers than any other country in the world, and destroyed 3,200 ethnic villages -- bordering on genocide. Yet, too few people have taken action to stop these abuses, and not enough have basic knowledge about Burma.

We have seen in history what happens when not enough people take action. Nelson Mandela was locked up in near-obscurity for nearly two decades before millions of people rallied to the cause of freedom for South Africa. We shouldn't wait that long to build a strong effort for Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi has called on us to help, saying "Please, use your liberty to promote ours." Just as millions of people -- including celebrities -- came together to help free Nelson Mandela and South Africa in the 1980s -- we are asking for your help now.

Tell your friends about these videos, watch them on one of dozens of sites on the internet, including our website http://www.uscampaignforburma.org/ or at http://www.burmacantwait.org/. Then, encourage them to sign up to be one of the million. After they sign up, they will receive timely alerts from us asking them to email people in the US Congress or United Nations, host film screenings, and consider organizing events for human rights in Burma. Working together, we can be a powerful force for change.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." Supporting human rights does matter, and together we will do our part to help Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma. It can't wait.

Sincerely,

Aung Din, Jeremy Woodrum, Jennifer Quigley, Thelma Young

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