In September, Bhante Wimala, Buddhist Monk originally from Sri Lanka had the opportunity to spend time with members of the Coalition Forces serving at US Central Command. These senior military officers are from over sixty nations and their mission is to coordinate efforts in the war against terrorism. So, you may ask, what does a Buddhist Monk have in common with military men?
Let me explain briefly. This was Bhante’s second visit this year to meet various Senior National Representatives to discuss the issues surrounding disasters and disaster relief. Formal and informal meetings covered a wide range of topics. One of the highlights was the perils of post traumatic stress syndrome that the military officers and enlisted men could experience while participating in sometime harrowing relief work.
The military often has an enormous responsibility when they are called upon to help at the time of disasters. Disaster relief often is part of their commitment to serve their respective countries. Bhante’s years of experience in disaster relief in Asia, Africa and North America gives him the basis to create a wonderful partnerships with military forces in many countries.
Our discussions also focused on the problems faced with working with non-governmental organizations, (NGOS). How some of these organizations are poorly run and are ineffective. How lack of respect and insensitivity for local cultures create problems during disaster relief. When the military leaves after stabilizing the situation it is these organizations that are left with the task of normalizing life.
One of the very interesting parts of this contact between Bhante and these military officers was how everybody’s perceptions shifted during our discussions. I know Bhante often looks for possibilities of broadening and expanding his relief work with people he can trust to follow through with these projects and has found willing partners with shared desires for to that aim. And conversely I think the contact with the military and meeting the representatives from many countries has opened many of them to a man dedicated to relieving suffering. It is amazing to see and hear the respect they have for Bhante’s philosophy and work.
Since Bhante’s first visit to the Coalition last year he has worked closely with Bangladesh Lt. Colonel Ataul Hasan to respond to the devastation of typhoon Sidr. He has also worked with Major Bharat Gurung of Nepal to begin the ground work to build a school in a remote area of Nepal. Bhante also has begun building homes in Kenya with the help of Colonel Samuel Thiuta to help those who became homeless due to political violence. Bhante has met with Colonel Negash Abraha from Ethiopia and with his help we are planning to distribute wheelchairs in Ethiopia.
I think this answers how the meeting of a Buddhist Monk dedicated to non violent principals can find common ground with military officers trained in the art of war and yet viewing themselves as peacemakers. I believe that such dialogues can create an environment to bring peaceful solutions, promote peace and end suffering in a world beset with much turmoil.