A Buddhist Perspective on Nuclear Energy, Weapons and Taking Responsibility

While attending a weekend of meditation, prayer and the dedication of 108 statues of Amitabha, also known as the "Buddha of Buddhas," I had the chance to interview Sungjang Rinpoche. He is both a laughing spirit, yet beautifully focused young man who is recognized as the reincarnation, by the Dalai Lama, of the fourth Ngawang Drakpa, the disciple of Je Tsong Khapa, who founded the school of Dalaï-lamas in the 15th century. Sungjang Rinpoche is living in exile at the Tatsang Ling monastery in France, and as more and more Tibetans flee the hardship and suffering in their native land, we are horrified to learn that the number of Tibetan Buddhist monks self-immolating has now reached at least 76 in the past few years. Petitions are circulating to help bring awareness to the horrific destruction of the environment, people and traditions of Tibet.

When I knew I would be interviewing Sungjang Rinpoche, I thought we would focus on Tibet, or Buddhism, but what we ended up talking about surprised me. When I asked him what he felt was the most important thing he could speak about to a wide audience, he replied, "We live in a dangerous time, of nuclear threats." He spoke of how these man-made threats, precisely because they were made by man, could also be stopped by man. And that we each had an important responsibility, not politicians, not governments, but each one of us, to take responsibility for our world. He spoke about Fukushima and how we do not really know how much radiation has already or will in the future rain down on us. Fukushima is still unstable yet we hear very little about it anymore. Sungjand Rinpoche said, "Fukushima releases a lot of radioactivity in the sky and it can fall on America, Alaska, China, Russia and Europe. We should end all nuclear energy because even that can be like a nuclear bomb. It will kill everybody. The main point is in society we have to change the dissatisfaction and selfishness to Love."

He spoke of the Cold War and how even though it is over, unstable nations with nuclear weapons threaten us. I was happily amazed at how he was completely focused on this issue of a nuclear threat which could destroy the planet and cause illnesses. I told him I had written a great deal about Fukushima and that I thought it was being forgotten. He repeated that we were destroying the future for our children, destroying the planet, and bringing about destruction which in Buddhist teachings is usually left to unkind, technologically advanced aliens travelling to Earth to bring about the Shambalic ending of this world.

This plain-speaking young man in his deep red and gold robes, praying with such intent for all of us, a living Buddha in his own right, expressed a deep compassion for the suffering of the entire planet and all of the living beings on it as he spoke of the nuclear threat. Interspersed with his usual child-like laughter, he would sway between a serious frowned brow and an open face smiling and sharing.

I asked him about the series of prayers we had dedicated to those who harm us, the humans who treat us cruelly and whose negative energy attempts to hurt us. We were taught that these people could be our greatest spiritual teachers and that we should in fact thank them. I asked him if the destruction and pollution of this planet could also have a lesson in it. He agreed and once again brought up the nuclear threats all around us. He spoke of the threat to all sentient beings, not just human beings. He spoke of how we need to no longer speak as countries as each country's interests destroys the others. He added, "Think globally. Act globally. We need to be careful not to hurt people. The Lord Buddha said do not destroy others' happiness for your own happiness."

"We are interdependent economically, environmentally, everything is connected. We are all human. We are all the same. We are all world citizens."

I wish to thank Celine Menguy for inviting myself and my daughter to participate during these amazing two days of dedication, initiation and prayer and Sofia Stril-Rever for all of her hard work and devoltion to Buddhism and hosting us at the monastery. My daughter and myself were extremely moved by the two days in the presence of someone who truly is focused on bringing more compassion to this world.