Practices for Natural Disasters

Practices for Natural Disasters

Date Posted:
August 2006

A student who lived in an area prone to annual hurricanes sought Rinpoche’s advice on what he could do for protection. Rinpoche wrote a general letter to students regarding different types of natural disasters.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching at the Seventh Meditation Course, Kopan Monastery, Nepal, 1974. Photo: Wendy Finster.

You may wonder what to do, what prayers to make, when there are disasters such as tornados, hurricanes, heavy rain, storms, floods, earthquakes, or fires, as well as disasters that destroy crops, destroy entire towns and cities within an hour, cause billions of dollars of damage, and where hundreds and thousands of people die or become homeless, have no food or clean water, and so forth. Here are some suggestions on what to do, so that you can help your country and save many people’s lives. These suggestions are to prevent the destruction of houses, villages, and cities that is caused by the elements—fire, water, wind, and earth.

Even though these kinds of problems are big, if one person with a sincere heart takes refuge one-pointedly, without any doubts, in even one buddha such as Chenrezig, Padmasambhava, or Medicine Buddha, and recites their mantras (such as the name mantra), it can change the situation completely. It can avert natural disasters and prevent war. Whatever problems there are can be made less, and even completely stopped, if someone takes strong refuge and prays to even just one buddha. The weather can change in that very hour by the power of one person making prayers. There is no question that if the person who makes the prayers has realizations, such as the realization of bodhicitta, which is actually the best realization, then every single prayer has incredible power.

There are stories of many bodhisattvas and great saints in the past who were able to prevent floods, change the direction of rivers, stop them altogether, and walk across them to the other side. There is one story of Lama Kälsang Jamyang Mönlam, who had bodhicitta realizations. When Tashi Lhunpo monastery was in danger of being flooded, he wrote on a stone, “If it is true that I have bodhicitta, then the water should turn back.” After writing this on the stone, the river actually turned backward. There are many stories about the power of bodhicitta, showing how it can control and affect the elements.

There are also examples in Christianity. There is one story about the great St. Francis of Assisi. One time he was living and meditating in a cave with his disciples. His disciples asked him to stop the water that flowed inside the cave, which was disturbing their meditation. St. Francis went to the place where the water was flowing down the mountain and said, “Sister, my disciples can’t meditate.” Then the water stopped flowing from that time until the present day. It would be considered very inauspicious if the water started to flow again. The water stopped flowing due to the power of St. Francis’s bodhicitta.

St. Francis is exactly like the Kadampa geshes, even in his external appearance, even though he was from another tradition. His mind was totally pure; there was no stain of the eight worldly concerns, and he was a totally renounced, pure, spiritual person. Like the Kadampa geshes, St. Francis also asked his disciples to criticize him. He preferred to be criticized rather than praised. You can even feel his gentleness from his statues and from his face, which is a sign of having bodhicitta and a totally tame, subdued mind. He seems so peaceful and humble, and is wonderful to look at, very inspirational. All the birds loved him and always stayed around him and perched on his body. This is also a sign that he was a great holy being, a saint with bodhicitta.

In the Bodhicaryavatara (A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life) by the great Indian bodhisattva Shantideva, who was a scholar and highly attained bodhisattva, it says:

If the inner enemy, delusion, is subdued
It is like having destroyed all the external enemies.

If, for example, you have leather under your feet, then it is as if the whole earth, all the thorns and bushes, are covered by leather, because wherever you walk no thorns can harm you. In the same way, once your enemy, the delusions, are extinguished, even though there might be many enemies outside, they too are stopped and destroyed—not only in this life, but forever, in all future lives.

One time in Italy there was a wolf in the forest that harmed many people, and no one could enter the forest. St. Francis of Assisi said he wanted to go and talk to the wolf. The people begged him not to go, but when St. Francis met the wolf, the wolf licked his feet, like a dog meeting his master. St. Francis asked the wolf not to harm the people, and said that in return he would beg food for the wolf, and give it to him. After that, the wolf stopped harming others. Because St. Francis’s mind was subdued and he had no ego, no self-cherishing thought, even vicious animals could not harm him.

One great Tibetan master, who was a top scholar and ex-abbot of Sera Je (one of the largest monastic universities around Lhasa, where there were many thousands of monks studying), had a cat. From the moment the cat came to live with the abbot, it stopped catching and eating mice. Even when the cat saw mice running around the room, it just stayed very quiet near the abbot. This was due to the abbot’s blessing, due to his tamed mind, his bodhicitta blessing, and his good heart. The abbot’s bodhicitta transformed even the cat’s mind so that it did not harm others.

By having bodhicitta realizations, your prayers become incredibly powerful. Similarly, if someone has realizations of emptiness, their prayers also become extremely powerful. Also, if a spiritual person who has a very pure heart, unstained by the eight worldly concerns, makes prayers, their prayers will have a lot of power. If a person who is living a pure life, in pure morality (lay or ordained, but especially ordained), prays, their prayers have a lot of power.

When someone with any of these realizations prays, then the devas, nagas, and all the other beings, including the eight groups of worldly beings (who are very connected with the weather and the elements and who cause the elements to be destructive), will listen more closely and obey these practitioners. Even if the practitioner does not have the other realizations mentioned, but at least lives in morality, then these beings will obey this person, and the harm and destruction from the elements can be stopped.

Some years ago there was a tornado in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, and it was coming toward Deer Park where my guru Geshe Sopa lives. Geshe Sopa is one of the great, rare, outstanding scholars, who is very learned, very pure in morality, and has a good heart. He is also the guru of Lama Yeshe. Geshe Sopa was teaching in the university in Madison for about 20 years, but now he is retired. On the day of the tornado, Geshe Sopa had been teaching at the university, and he thought that Deer Park would definitely be seriously damaged. When Geshe-la was returning to Deer Park, he wondered what might have happened to the monks and geshes there. On the road the police were stopping all the cars and not letting them go in the direction of Deer Park. Geshe-la explained to the police that he was returning to his home in Deer Park. Then the police found out that Deer Park was a Tibetan monastery. They said that a very strange thing had happened—the tornado had been moving toward Deer Park, but then it went around Deer Park and didn’t damage the center at all. Although the tornado damaged many of the houses in the area, Deer Park itself was not touched. This was due to the monks living in the center, due to the power of their practice and pure morality.

Also, a few years ago there was a very bad earthquake in Taipei, Taiwan. Many people died and a lot of houses and buildings collapsed. One simple family, who had very good hearts, who were always helping people and were extremely devoted to Buddhism, lived in a shaky, old house. The house looked as if it would easily collapse. However, after the earthquake hit, there was absolutely no damage to their house. They also had many offering bowls in the upstairs room, filled with water, that they offered to the guru, Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. They thought that the water would surely have spilled from the bowls, but when they looked, the bowls were still full, not broken, and not a single drop of water had spilled. The bowls were still completely full of water. This was because the family made many prayers and chanted Compassionate Buddha mantra every day, and they were extremely devoted, very good, pure-hearted people. So, the Dharma had protected them and their house.

Some years ago in Florida it was reported in the news that a hurricane was going to hit Florida. One long-time student rang me to ask me to make prayers. I did some Mickey Mouse prayers, and then I gave him a job (even though he had asked me to do it). I gave him the job of reciting the Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s mantra. He made strong prayers by taking refuge in the Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha. The hurricane didn’t hit Florida but went around. He was so astonished that he rang me, and said, “It worked!”

There are many methods, but here are some suggestions for you to get an idea of what to do when these problems arise. This is not only to protect yourself and your property, but also if there are problems in other places, other countries, you can definitely help by doing these practices, or whatever you can, with a sincere heart, full of faith. This will help save the lives of so many people, as well as many animals and properties. Even if we are not in danger, we have the responsibility to protect other sentient beings. When we get sick, we take medicine or go to the hospital. In the same way, these are just methods to help. Here, it is a question of staying alive or dying.

Practices to Perform for Natural Disasters* (tornados, hurricanes, heavy rain, storms, floods, earthquakes, fires, etc.)

Tea offering to the merit field (which includes the Three Jewels [Buddha, Dharma, Sangha], mind-seal deities, bodhisattvas, arhats, dakas, dakinis, and protectors who are beyond samsara).

Offer tea to the eight worldly ones (de gyä), especially the eight groups of worldly devas, who are closely connected to the elements and who create the wind, water, earth, and fire and the destructive violence and disasters that are created by these elements.

When reciting the prayers to the deities such as Lion-face Dakini, etc., visualize the deity and then recite the mantra with full confidence. Rely upon the deity, thinking that the deity has power and has manifested for us, sentient beings, in different aspects for different purposes.

Medicine Buddha practice is not only for healing. In addition, it is very powerful for achieving success and for solving any problems. Medicine Buddha practice is good for someone who has died, for family problems, for someone who is sick, for attaining happiness and freedom from suffering, for finding a job, for success in business, etc.

White Umbrella deity is very powerful to protect from the danger of the elements. With strong faith and strong refuge, you can put the White Umbrella deity’s mantra or picture in your house. Then, you should visualize that rainfalls of nectar are emitted from the deity. This nectar stops fires and purifies the negative karma of all sentient beings. All are liberated.

*Note: One could mistakenly understand the term "natural disasters" to mean disasters that exist in nature without a "man made" cause. It must be understood that these events are the result of karma created by sentient beings. These disasters do not occur from their own side without a cause and while they manifest as forces in nature they are the result of the actions of body, speech, and mind of sentient beings.