Why We Experience Earthquakes

Why We Experience Earthquakes

Date Posted:
October 2005

After major earthquakes shook Taiwan in 1999, Rinpoche offered the following advice over the course of several weeks to students there, for dealing with floods, etc.

As far as what scientists say about earthquakes, they never mention the mind, the doer who experiences things. They explain what happens purely in terms of external evolution. Even if this is correct, it is only a short-term explanation. It doesn’t really explain why the external evolution had to happen in the first place.

Similarly, why is a baby with disabilities born to a particular family? It’s the same question. Why did that baby have to be born to that family? Even if it is explained by genetics, why couldn’t that child have been born to a different family that didn’t have that genetic problem? There are no answers to these questions if we don’t mention the mind.

From the simplest teachings of Buddhism, you can understand where hurricanes and earthquakes come from. They come as a result of the ten non-virtuous actions. The cause of the karma to experience these things can be committing one of the ten non-virtues, or it can come from committing several of the ten non-virtues. It could be the negative karmic result of stealing. It could be the result of ill-will toward others, or it could be the result of heresy, saying that reincarnation doesn’t exist or that Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha don’t exist as objects of refuge. Part of the negative karmic result of heresy could be not having shelter or guidance after an earthquake. It could be the karmic result of killing or of any of the other ten non-virtues. It could be the result of one or several of them.

It is due to karma that one experiences the earthquake or hurricane. The mind that has this experience comes as a result of the self-cherishing thought, from either attachment or anger. But attachment and anger are closely related. The real root is ignorance, the unknowing mind, the mind that does not know the ultimate nature of mind, the “I,” or the aggregates.

So, remember, there is the cause—karma—and then there are conditions. The earthquake is not coming from outside. It is coming from your mind. We should also remember that even if outer precautions are taken, if there is a cause for harm, then there will be that result. For example, buildings that were built with all the precautions against earthquakes have been destroyed during earthquakes, and buildings constructed without any earthquake precautions have been left undamaged. If there is a cause for the building to be destroyed it will happen. If not, it will not.

This is according to the view of all four schools of Buddhist philosophy. They all accept what Shakyamuni Buddha said: “You are your own guide, and also your own enemy.”

That is reality. Every day, whether you have problems or happiness, is due to what you do with your mind, which way you make your mind think. If you make your mind think positively, you have peace. If you make your mind think negatively, you have problems.

Ultimately, the best solution would be not to experience these problems ever. This is possible if, in our everyday life, we purify the cause of these problems, which is within us, not outside, and is our negative, disturbing, emotional thoughts (the self-centered mind). In relation to this mind, ignorance, anger, and attachment arise. Then we engage in actions that become negative, with these negative attitudes, and create the evil karma that harms others and ourselves. Any external explanation, even if it is correct, is just an explanation of the conditions for these problems. Without the inner cause—the negative karma—the outer condition for this problem couldn’t happen.

Every day, we should pray to purify our past negative karma. Every day, we should try to abstain from negative karma. This is why it is important to take vows (lay or ordination), to live in morality, and not create negative karma. By taking vows, by mentally making the decision to not do something again, it helps us not to commit the negative karma again. Even if you cannot take the vows in the presence of holy objects, the community of Sangha, or from your spiritual teacher, you can still strongly make the decision to abstain from negative karma and to live in morality.

The conclusion is: the best, ultimate solution for problems is Dharma practice, especially actualizing the path within your own mind and purifying the causes—karma and delusion—of every suffering (rebirth, old age, sickness, and death).

This is also the best solution for all sicknesses and health problems, such as cancer, and is the best solution in order to have a long life, to be healthy, to have wealth, power, and reputation, to have harmony, to be peaceful and happy, to receive help from others, to receive affection and love from others, to receive support, and so forth.