Letters

How Does Buddhism Explain Natural Disasters?

Question: Why are some places affected by natural disasters, including some religious places?

Answer: Of course, there are scientific reasons to explain them, based on natural processes. However, there are also human-made causes, making natural disasters also unnaturally human-made and sustained disasters. A powerful universal reminder would be how the current climate crisis is perpetuating ‘haywire’ extreme weather – due to humans’ past and present neglect and ongoing pollution of the environment. Thus, natural disasters that result in suffering of sentient beings are really created by themselves.

Since all in this defiled land have unresolved negative karma awaiting to ripen, our collective and individual karma can manifest through nature’s wrath. This is why we aspire to reach Amituofo’s (Amitabha Buddha) Pure Land, where there are no supporting conditions for any suffering to arise. In his Pure Land, there are only peaceful and blissful conditions that support our swift growth in compassion and wisdom for personal liberation, and for guiding others to liberation too.

In the Buddhist teachings, disasters with great waters (大水) are metaphorically linked to the flooding of overwhelming greed, with great fires (大火) linked to the burning of fierce hatred, the heat of rage, with hurricanes and typhoons linked to the blowing of the ‘black winds’ (黑风) of murky swirling delusion that obscure clarity of vision. Just as these Three Poisons of greed, hatred and delusion are intertwined, they can be mixed to have cross-manifestations during environmental disasters too.

Of course, for example, having a flood does not mean everyone affected only had greed, as we all have a mix of the Three Poisons, but a dominant poison can lead to a more specific kind of disaster. For example, heavy meat-eating leads to a health ‘disaster.’ This is more karmically fair than leading to all kinds of other disasters, although one disaster can lead to another if the Three Poisons are not kept in check.

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