The Smaller Sukhavativyuha Sutra speaks of the “Last Dharma Age,” a time filled with chaos, strife, and a proliferation of natural disasters—a time I couldn’t help but think of as I watched the video clips capturing the burning of Lahaina, Maui. They left me speechless. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for the people, residents, and tourists who were trapped there.
On August 7th, the news reconfirmed that there would be high winds across the Hawaiian Islands due to Hurricane Dora passing south of the Hawaiian archipelago. Many of us hastily expressed a sigh of relief that although it would be windy, Hawaii would be spared major flooding and other damages caused by heavy rains experienced in recent storms. On the morning of August 8th, however, there was a report of brush fire in the Lahaina area of Maui, and even earlier, another brush fire in a different part of Maui was also reported. By mid-afternoon, the fire that would consume the town of Lahaina would dominate the news.
The winds from Hurricane Dora fanned a fire that became billowing flames soaring into the sky. The lingering drought did not help. Under normal conditions, the fire probably could have been contained after causing some damage, but with the relentless, whipping winds, it was clear that these were not normal conditions. It was a conflagration. Everyone watched in disbelief as the fire consumed the town, claiming (at the time of this writing) 115 lives. Post-fire photos show Lahaina looking like a devastated war zone. According to current reports, over 2,170 acres were burned, over 2,000 people evacuated to shelters with 1,000 people still unaccounted for, and close to 3,000 structures were damaged or destroyed.
Among the destroyed structures are three Buddhist Temples: the Lahaina Hongwanji Mission (est. 1904), Lahaina Jodo Mission (est. 1912), and Lahaina Shingon Mission (est. 1902). The clergy, or ministers, of these temples safely evacuated, but temple buildings were not spared the flames.
However, the definition for “mappo,” or the Last Dharma Age, in A Dictionary of Buddhism, by Damien Keown, made me think. “While this may appear to be cause for despair, many in East Asia actually responded to this analysis not by giving up, but by advocating new and creative doctrines.” Likewise, the people of Hawaii, and even beyond the shores of the Islands, have not given up on Lahaina. Monetary donations, donations of material goods and services, and human resources are pouring into Maui to help those who are still suffering and with the long road to recovery. Aloha and dana are manifest in the words, thoughts, and actions of thousands of people who are lending assistance and support in this dire time of need, including the Buddhists of Hawaii.
As collection drop-off sites were announced, some temples, like the Aiea Hongwanji Buddhist Temple Affiliate Organizations, began collecting goods to be donated and shipped to Maui. Also, each of the Buddhist denominations affected by the fire, as well as other Buddhist organizations, like the Hawaii Association of International Buddhists (HAIB), empathetically joined other community organizations to establish fund drives, encourage donations, hold memorial services in honor of those who died in the conflagration, and help those who are still suffering.
As we engage ourselves in compassionate action, it is also endearing to witness the wisdom of the dharma providing guidance, as evidenced in comments by fellow Buddhists.
Bishop Clark Watanabe of Koyasan Shingon Mission of Hawaii: “For the Koyasan Shingon Mission of Hawaii, the loss of the Lahaina Shingon Mission Hokoji is extremely painful because the Lahaina Shingon Mission was first Shingon temple to be established in Hawaii and outside Japan… When I reflect on buddhadharma, the main teaching is of change. Change is never easy to accept and this change that has happened in Lahaina is extremely difficult and painful to accept…The best practice we can all do is to deeply listen, with wisdom and compassion, to the people of Lahaina and the Island of Maui. By deeply listening, we can, in a small way, alleviate their suffering.”
Bishop Kosen Ishikawa, President of the Hawaii Buddhist Council and Bishop of the Jodo Mission of Hawaii: “Burnt buildings could be rebuilt. There is even the possibility that you could have better buildings. However, lost lives cannot be revived. As long as we have life, we can always hope for the future.” Referring to the minister who safely evacuated, he said, “The temple building could attract people, but cannot say anything while Sensei can share the dharma and encourage people no matter where he may be. Though it’s sad we lost beautiful Lahaina Jodo Mission buildings, a living temple (the ministers), the spirit of dharma, is not lost…I’d like to support living temples in this face of adversity.”
Bishop Toshiyuki Umitani of Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii: “Recovery on Maui could take years…As fellow travelers of the nembutsu, let us stand in solidarity with those who are experiencing suffering and sorrow brought about by this unprecedented encounter. Even though the temple buildings have been damaged, our sincere aspiration of listening to and sharing the nembutsu teaching never disappears…Lahaina Hongwanji has not yet disappeared. It is still standing in our hearts as Namo Amida Butsu…May the wisdom and compassion of Amida Buddha embrace us all. May the sound of the nembutsu bring us peace and comfort, and give us the courage to move forward. Namo Amida Butsu.”
As for myself, what is Lahaina teaching me? It makes me reflect on the many facets of impermanence. On one hand, some manifestations of impermanence can be challenging, filled with sorrow and sadness, as in the loss of life and destruction of property because of the fires. But, at the same time, the fact that everything can change in an instant reminds us how truly unique and precious life, and every single moment, is. Because nothing lasts forever, Lahaina, with everyone’s help, will recover and rise from this tragedy. The buddhadharma encourages us to value and love each other all the time, but especially when there is hardship and suffering. Let us be guided by the wisdom of enlightenment to understand the changing nature of existence. Nurtured by compassion, we can be a caring presence to each other.
While any donation to any relief organization is encouraged, for those who may wish to extend a helping hand to the Buddhist temples on Maui affected by the fire, some ways to contribute directly to the temples are below. We of Hawaii, and especially of Maui, thank you for your metta and dana.
Lahaina Jodo Mission
GoFundMe link https://gofund.me/df1b0cf2
A donation, check payable to Jodo Mission of Hawaii with a memo “Maui fire relief fund,” can be sent to:
Jodo Mission of Hawaii
1429 Makiki Street
Honolulu, HI 96814
Lahaina Hongwanji Mission
Go online at www.hongwanjihawaii.com by clicking on the “Maui Wildfire Disaster Relief” button under the “Donate” tab.
GoFundMe at the following link: https://gofund.me/ff77a520
For checks and cash donations, check payable to HHMH and in the memo line designate “Maui Wildfire Disaster Relief” to ensure proper credit and mailed to:
Hongpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii
1727 Pali Highway
Honolulu, HI 96813
Lahaina Shingon Mission Hokoji
GoFundMe link https://gofund.me/6317428c
Or checks, payable to Koyasan Shingon Mission of Hawaii with a memo “Lahaina relief” can be sent to:
Koyasan Shingon Mission of Hawaii
457 Manono Street
Hilo, HI 96720
For further information, please contact by email email@example.com
In anjali/gassho, Eric Matsumoto
Namo Amida Butsu (Entrusting in All-Inclusive Wisdom & All-Embracing Compassion)
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