Reflections on the Earthquakes in Kyushu

Posted by:

K. Ken Fujimoto

In reading the Hongwanji Shinpo, the tri-monthly newsletter from the Hongwanji, it has been an education reading about the tragic events of the Kumamoto earthquake and the many ironic situations that have come to light surrounding the devastation. The articles probably do not communicate the depth and breadth of the impact on human lives, but even if they only reveal a portion of the effects, it does reveal the relative powerlessness of human beings.
First some facts:
In the Kumamoto and Oita prefectures, where the greatest impact was felt, 310 Hongwanji affiliated temples were destroyed. To give this some perspective, there are fewer than 60 temples within our Buddhist Churches of America, all of mainland USA, and this would include the temples without ministers. The surface area of Kumamoto Prefecture is 2859 square miles, a little more than double the size of Santa Clara County (1304 square miles). So 310 temples suffered major damage in an area where we might have 4 or 5 temples in total.
There are pictures of whole temples being crushed and flattened due to roof collapsing on top of the hondo. Even more modern temples constructed with reinforced concrete suffered serious damage. An amazing point is that, even in the midst of all of this, only 16 members are known to have died due to the disaster. Though this is a terrible loss for the families involved, it was fortunate that the quake occurred in the early hours of the morning or there could have been many more deaths.
Stories are coming out now that illustrate the irony and inequity in the course of human life. Temples that had just been renovated were destroyed. Others were planning on undertaking retrofit and renovation projects within the month when destroyed. Now they have to struggle to find a place to safely meet. Apparently, there is a minister who parks his car on the temple grounds each day waiting for members to stop by if they should need to talk or otherwise require his services. He has to park and wait in his car since the temple and residence were destroyed and he needs to commute from where he and his family have gone for shelter.
This raises many questions. “What if a temple had completed its retrofit and renovation earlier?” “What if the earthquake had occurred later in the day?” “Where are all of the affected members going to meet?” “How are their temples going to rebuild if people have no place to gather?” There are undoubtedly many more that one can ask.
We can feel sorry for the people there, but even more importantly, we should be grateful that we have been so fortunate and still have a place to safely gather and meet. We should be glad that our retrofit project was completed in time for our Obon festival. Much of the work that was completed may not be visible to most of us, but things were done to make it safer and more convenient for all. There may be things that still need to be addressed, but the bulk of the work has been completed. We may have complaints, but we should first be grateful that we do have the campus that we do. At the same time, we should try to be as prepared as we possibly can for a tragic event that may occur so we can limit the toll in terms of lives and damage and continue to be able to gather as a Sangha.
To feel this sense of gratitude is to live in the Nembutsu.
© July 25, 2016