New Zealand Buddhist Council Update
Email Newsletter No. 3, March 2011
Warm greetings and welcome to the third issue of the New Zealand Buddhist Council newsletter.
It has been a time of great upheaval in the world, not only the devastating earthquakes in Christchurch and north eastern Japan, and floods and fires in Australia and elsewhere, but major political unrest and change in many places too. Let us sit, and chant, with all who are suffering, in a spirit of solidarity and love, backing up spiritual aid with material aid where possible.
What can we learn from these events? The natural disasters remind us of sentient beings’ powerlessness in the face of Earth’s elemental forces, and of the power of compassion and selflessness. With the very close and detailed reporting that has come out of Christchurch since the big quake we have heard so many stories of heroism, simple kindness, and hours of freely-given hard work; an extraordinary outpouring of Bodhisattvic energy following in the wake of all the destruction and death. Through the American Zen Teachers’ Association list-serve I’m hearing of similar stories from Japan. The “faceless fifty” workers at the nuclear plant, who continued to work while exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, so others would not be, deserve special mention.
The human disasters of violent repression and war now unfolding in North Africa and the Middle East also remind us of human limitations. Some of the regimes there have yielded to change to prevent further bloodshed, while others appear to be descending into civil war. It is not yet clear what the outcome will be now that Western powers have intervened militarily in Libya, to “protect” civilians. Despite the massive military might of the nations involved, the results of their actions are uncertain.
At the Buddha’s birth it was predicted that he would grow up to be either a world conqueror or a sage. A sage is one who has conquered himself. All efforts to conquer the world are partial and temporary – whether through First World technological sophistication, repression and tyranny, or overwhelming firepower. The Buddha taught:
“One who conquers himself is greater than another who conquers a thousand times a thousand on the battlefield. Be victorious over your self and not over others. When you attain victory over yourself, not even the gods can turn it into defeat.” (The Dhammapada)
All of us as Buddhists are engaged in this vital work of conquering ourselves. The more we see through the “small self”, the more able we are to open our hearts and reach out to those in need.
On behalf of the Buddhist Council executive, much metta to all those suffering as a result of the earthquake in Christchurch, and the quake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear emergency in Japan. I know that many Buddhist groups have been chanting for those affected as well as collecting donations. Some have sent needed items. It is also encouraging to read that the Tzu Chi relief organisation has been assisting those who have been displaced, in both Christchurch and Japan. We have provided more information about the Christchurch situation below.
Other information in this newsletter includes: an invitation to participate in a review of the Burials and Cremations Act, a range of community notices, and a reflection on the earthquake from the Insight Aotearoa newsletter.
In the Dharma,
Buddhist Council News
The New Zealand Law Commission has been asked by the government to undertake a first principles review of all aspects of the Burials and Cremations Act 1964. This legislation is to regulate the appropriate handling of human remains generally. It involves the issuing of legal death certificates and notification to the authorities of the place of burial. It also covers management of crematoriums and cemeteries and various other associated matters.
The Law Commission is being asked to consult widely with different ethnic and religious groups. They want the new legislation to enable us all to manage burials and cremations in a culturally appropriate manner.
At this stage they are particularly interested to hear about the experiences we have had around burials or cremations so far. They are also keen to understand the spiritual significance of the processes we Buddhists undertake for the deceased and, more generally, Buddhist attitudes towards human remains.
The New Zealand Buddhist Council has agreed to give a summary of relevant points to the Law Commission. If you have had some experience of this process in New Zealand, especially if you felt unable to give your loved ones the funerary rites you wanted, we would be very happy to help you voice those experiences to the Law Commission.
Peter Small in Dunedin has taken on this role for the New Zealand Buddhist Council. He would be happy to talk to anyone directly or receive emails about your experiences. His contacts are: during work hours 027-434-0376, at home (03) 477-9805 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please contact him before 31 March if possible.
The New Zealand Buddhist Council’s AGM will be held on 30 July, hosted by Srilankaramaya Temple in Otahuhu, Auckland.
10am start, with lunch break at 11:00, then a guest speaker. Details to be confirmed.
Minutes of the 2010 AGM together with the Chairperson’s and Treasurer’s full reports to the AGM are available on request from email@example.com.
We are redeveloping the Buddhist Council’s website in 2011. We have a wonderful new logo and style manual, a generous offer to host the URL, and plans for the structure of our new site, but at present we have no web designer to make the site a reality. Do you know any web designers who would be able to kindly donate time to help us with this?
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Department of Labour has published a ‘summary of submissions document’ on the review of immigration policies available to religious workers. The document can be accessed here. Please note the Minister of Immigration has not yet made decisions on potential policy changes, if any. From the perspective of the Buddhist Council, two areas could be of concern: the language requirement and the age requirement. If you have any comments on this, please contact NZBC executive member Simon Harrison, phone (09) 378 9433 or email Simon.email@example.com.
Rukman Wagachchi from the NZBC executive has been in Christchurch and visited several Buddhist groups. He also attended the memorial service for victims of the Christchurch earthquake, which was held on Friday 18 March in Hagley Park. The service included prayers from leaders of various faiths. Venerable Manshin, Abbess of the Fo Guang Shan temple, read a prayer invoking Compassion Buddha. Rukman said the the Abbess also advised Buddhists to stay and provide hot meals and comfort, and to help others in any way they could. The audience responded positively, he added: “Not only Buddhists, but all the people loved the different religions being up there on stage delivering prayers and speeches – the different ways people look at things.” The Christchurch Fo Guang Shan temple in Riccarton held a Buddhist memorial service on the Friday evening, which Rukman attended on behalf of NZBC. The Fo Guang Shan temple will hold further services, as spiritual aid for both survivors and the deceased.
We have one member organisation in Christchurch, the Diamond Way Sangha. They report that their members and building are safe. We also have an associate member in Christchurch, Ven Somarathana of the Samadhi Buddhist Vihara. Their vihara is currently closed, due to earthquake damage.
If you or your Buddhist organisation has been affected by the earthquake, or if you have been involved in helping others in the recovery, we would be grateful to hear about it from you so that we can share stories on our website and in our next Update. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please provide a contact email and phone number.
For the time being, we have compiled earthquake-related information below.
The community of the Vimutti Buddhist monastery near Auckland packed and sent canned food, clothes, toiletries and loads of toilet paper down to Christchurch as part of the nation-wide relief support. Ajahn Chandako comments: “As traumatic and difficult as that earthquake has been for New Zealand, we can only imagine the scale of destruction and suffering in Japan and send our empathic compassion for their hardship, pain and loss. Nature still remains our primary Dhamma teacher.” (Source: News from Vimutti Buddhist Monastery, March 2011).
Insight Aotearoa newsletter co-editor Kanya Stewart writes:
For most of us, the natural and immediate response to the suffering caused by the Canterbury earthquake is one of compassion and solidarity for the people of Christchurch. We are a nation in mourning. A tragedy of such massive proportions in our midst breaks our hearts wide open, bringing down the barriers of separation that keep us locked into our own small world of personal concerns. The nation has become unified in a way most of us haven’t experienced before. There are so many inspiring stories that make the reality of connectedness tangible and heartwarming. Generosity and acts of kindness have, like a tidal wave of goodness, flowed out in abundance from every part of the country and beyond.
When we are open, not turning away, we can receive the vastness and depths of loss, despair and grief into our own hearts. The losses have been unprecedented in New Zealand; some have lost family, friends, workmates; many have lost their homes, jobs, community, the city that they love, and all that was familiar. Few of us alive today have seen this level of suffering so close. Bearing witness to the trauma brings home to all of us that life is unpredictable, that everything can be taken away from us at any time.
The truth of impermanence on such a grand scale is brutal. Any experience of loss and disorientation is difficult to deal with and the challenge to remain present to what is unfolding requires great inner strength. Resources of faith and trust are tested. When fear of ongoing loss is part of the equation, and the most basic requirements for survival and security are taken away, it takes great inner resources to not get lost or overwhelmed in the intensity of the suffering.
In the New Zealand Herald, Lincoln Tan writes: Migrant communities in Auckland are opening not only their wallets but also their homes to earthquake victims. Distraught tourists, international students and migrants who have lost their homes continue to arrive at Auckland’s domestic terminal – some without money and passports – not knowing what to do next.
The Korean Consulate, which ran a help desk at the airport from Friday, said nearly 70 South Koreans sought help with documentation, food, temporary accommodation and flights home.
“Many are distressed and just want to be somewhere where they can be understood and eat food they are familiar with,” said consulate spokeswoman Rebecca Kim.
“The local Korean community has been wonderful in opening up their homes to these victims.”
The Department of Ethnic Affairs has provided information on resources for coping with the earthquake here.
On March 3, Vimutti Buddhist monastery hosted a gathering of Western-born Buddhist monks and nuns living in the Auckland area. This was a valuable opportunity to discuss topics relevant to Buddhist teachers in a Western context and to build community among renunciates who are often isolated on a small island in the middle of the Pacific, far from larger monastic sanghas and the countries of their Asian traditions. The full day included structured discussion but also allowed much flexibility to accommodate spontaneous arisings in the present moment. This is the second occasion this gathering has taken place, the first being two years ago also at Vimutti. It was a day filled with in-depth discussion of Buddhist topics, much laughter and heartfelt camaraderie.
Source: Email News from Vimutti Buddhist Monastery, March 2011.
Over the last few weeks young Christians, Sikhs, Baha’is, Hindus and Buddhists have been participating in an annual multi-ethnic outdoor leadership course with other participants from diverse backgrounds in Anakiwa, Marlborough Sounds.
The multi-ethnic programme is run by Outward Bound Trust, in partnership with the Human Rights Commission. The Southern Cross course includes young Aucklanders of Māori, Pākehā, Pacific, Asian and other descent. The objective is to provide an opportunity for personal development, teamwork, leadership and an understanding of the diverse backgrounds of fellow course participants.
Outward Bound is the leading organisation in New Zealand for showing people their full potential through challenge and adventure in the outdoors. The vision of Outward Bound is simply stated as helping the development of ‘Better People, Better Communities and a Better World’. This is the 8th year that Outward Bound has run a multi-ethnic course for young Aucklanders from diverse backgrounds.
Source: Human Rights Commission newsletter, Te Korowai Whakapono, 21 February, 2011.
For information about posting notices on our noticeboard, please contact us at email@example.com.
16 & 17 April, Auckland
A weekend workshop in Auckland, based on the principles of Nonviolent Communication. Call Amitabha Hospice for details: 09-828-3321
1-2 April 2011, Auckland
Two major events examining critical issues about New Zealand’s growing ethnic diversity. These forums in Auckland and Wellington will provide stimulating, relevant and provocative views about ethnic diversity in New Zealand. They will provide an opportunity to take stock of New Zealand’s journey as a diverse nation and to begin thinking about its increasingly diverse future.
Sunday 29 May, 8:30am to noon, Auckland
Every year, Srilankaramaya Temple helps the environment by planting trees at Hamlins Hill, Auckland, and you are invited to join in. All the trees will be supplied by Auckland Council using native seeds collected from local area (so please don’t bring your own plants). If you want to plant a memorial tree for a loved one, we can help you to arrange a suitable tree.
Contact Rukman Wagachchi at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
During April, in several cities
Eric Kolvig, an Insight meditation teacher from the USA, is visiting New Zealand and will be giving talks with titles such as: “Mindfulness of the Mind, and Mindfulness of the Body in Challenging Times”; “Engaging With World Tragedy”, and “Practice for Hard Times”. You can read more about Eric and his visit here.