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One City

What would Sid do about the crisis in Haiti?

By Lodro Rinzler

Many people look to Siddhartha Gautama as an example of someone who
attained nirvana, a buddha. Each week in this column we look at what it
might be like if Siddhartha was on his spiritual journey today. How
would he combine Buddhism and dating? How would he handle stress in the
workplace? What would Sid do? is devoted to taking an honest look at what we as meditators face in the modern world.

week I’ll take on a new question and give some advice based on what I
think Sid, a fictional Siddartha, would do. Like us, Sid is not yet a
buddha, he’s just someone struggling to maintain an open heart on a
spiritual path while facing numerous distractions along the way.
Because let’s face it, you and I are Sid.



I just have been feeling sick inside getting glimpses of the chaos in
Haiti. Being a Haitian-American who’s never been there, I feel close
yet far away. As a Buddhist, compassion and love are my most immediate
frame of reference. These may be labels but it is my experience. What has everyone been thinking, feeling, doing?
 Also, what would Sid do??
Many blessings to all, Gemma


Looking at the footage of the earthquake in Haiti on CNN
I can’t help but empathize with you Gemma. Natural disasters happen
so suddenly and there is something that my mind cannot fathom about a death toll of as many as 100,000 people. Yet there it
is, images of Tuesday’s devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake that left bodies in the streets, the elderly wheelbarrowed to safety,
and young girls crying having lost the rest of their
family. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.


It can also feel disempowering for those of us overseas watching these
events unfold. If Sid was sitting beside me on my couch watching this
footage I have a couple of ideas as to what he might do.

When one becomes a member of Shambhala there are three things requested
of them: that they practice and study the teachings of the Buddha, that
they offer their service in the form of volunteering to help their local
meditation center operate, and that they give something financially to
help pay for the space and staff that keep the place open. I think this
model for membership can be applied to a Buddhist response to the
Haitian crisis



Even if we are novice meditators we can keep our hearts open to the
suffering we see and hold the victims of the earthquake in our
meditation practice. If you know tonglen practice you can do tonglen
for Haiti
, for the victims and their friends and families. At the very least you
can meditate on loving kindness and, in your own words, dedicate your
meditation practice to all of those suffering in Haiti.


Opportunities for people who want to volunteer in Haiti are few and far between. A hot tip directed me to the Center for
International Disaster Information
but it seems that they have already been inundated with volunteers and are no longer accepting offers. If anyone has a lead for medically trained professionals who wish to offer their services in Haiti please leave that information in the comment section.


I salute anyone who is engaging Haiti relief work. However, if you are like me and unable to able to
offer your services directly to the victims you can help
raise awareness about the need for financial support.


Many organizations state that in the midst of this crisis the most highly recommended form of support is through making a donation. There are a number of organizations that you can donate to in order
to support Haiti. The Red Cross is one of the first that pop into my
mind but that may just because everyone and their mom has donated their
facebook status to read, “Please donate to the Red Cross for Haiti’s
relief efforts.” All you have to do is text HAITI to 90999 and $10 will
be sent to the Red Cross and added to your phone bill. If everyone who
read this post were to do that simple act I think we as meditators
would have made a tremendous impact. I just did it. Maybe you’ll join


Other excellent organizations to consider are Doctors without Borders,
CARE, Oxfam, and Freedom from Hunger. I’m sure people will list other worthwhile organizations in the comments section.

The important thing to remember is to continue to keep an open heart and not shut down and ignore the suffering of our fellow human beings in Haiti. If we can offer our practice, service, or generosity to the victims of the earthquake then we no longer need to feel disempowered. I imagine this is what Sid would do in response to this tragedy and invite others to share their own reflections on how we can help our friends overseas.

Comments read comments(17)
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posted January 15, 2010 at 4:08 pm

what does tonglen do for the people of haiti? I’m not being a wise ass, really. I just don’t get what tonglen does for the people who are the object of it.

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Nancy Maclaine

posted January 15, 2010 at 6:52 pm

Partners in Health is an NGO that has been on the ground in Haiti for over 20 years (inspiring book about their founder Paul Farmer is “Mountains Beyond Mountains”). This is a good organization to donate too. Keep in mind that if you donate by credit card the credit card company will skim off between 2 and 5 % in fees. Send a check in the mail to avoid that.
a bow of gratitude for all who are donating or traveling to Haiti to relieve suffering.

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Chris McKoy

posted January 16, 2010 at 1:54 am

your name,
I’m no expert on the subject by any means, but as far as I understand it, tonglen doesn’t have any direct effect in the way that most people see cause and effect, however, opening yourself in that way brings you out of your own personal safe bubble, and into the world, shedding your ego, and helping you realize the interrelationship of all things. This, in turn, will likely compel you to help others, because the more aware of how connected you are to others, the most you’ll want to help others.
If I butchered the meaning and reasoning behind tonglen forgive me, but that’s my most insightful (what all that’s worth) answer to that question.

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The Barking Unicorn, Denver, CO

posted January 16, 2010 at 10:49 am

Tonglen helps you feel better. So does texting money. That is all these things do.
The money you text today will never be spent in Haiti or on anything to do with Haiti. It will sit in banks and move between them for months before it is converted into tangible goods and services.
In all likelihood, most of that money will be converted into goods and services that benefit corrupt individuals, not victims of any disaster. Review the scandals of Katrina and the South Pacific tsunami.
“Up to 100,000 Haitians MAY die,” they say. On average, every day, 158,600 people die worldwide. Some of them die within a mile of you, and you could forestall their deaths.
What is the difference between a dying Haitian and your dying neighbor? Why do you prefer to have compassion for the former and not the latter? Why do you focus your attention on images seen on TV and the Web, and not on the flesh and blood within your reach?
The Buddha practiced and preached simplicity. “If you want happiness, help someone,” he said. It’s that simple. The one you help doesn’t have to be anyone in particular.
“Be kind, for *everyone* you *meet* is fighting a hard battle.” That proverb is so old it’s engraved upon Ancient Greek amphorae.
Stop wringing your hands over pictures of Haitians. Get up and step outside. You will immediately see someone who needs your help. Help.
That is what Sid would do.

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Greg S.

posted January 16, 2010 at 10:57 am

Is there/are there Buddhist charities which have international recognition? If so, who are they? If not, is it time that one be created? This is not to say that there are not good secular and other religious organizations that don’t do good work. There are. But they are no means doing all that can be done, yet I realize that one should be strategic as you want to get the best bang for the investment buck. The crisis in Haiti just underscores this in my mind. Anyway, thoughts?

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posted January 16, 2010 at 11:17 am

I am not an Unicorn follower….but today he did speak the truth!bravo! !simplicity thats all, look around you and help someone.

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posted January 16, 2010 at 12:01 pm

I agree that The Barking Unicorn speaks good truth, above here, on this post! But, I didn’t really like reading it. It speaks too closely to my own truth, a truth I’d rather not look too long and hard at. Sure, when it’s easy to do so, I always readily help anybody anywhere and time that I can. But, there are those difficult people who I would rather avoid. Angry violent people, even! They scare me! What if they attack me, and I must fight to defend myself? Not idle speculation. That’s happened before. So no, I don’t feel bad for the people of Haiti. Instead, I feel compassion for them. Why should I wallow in my feeling bad for them? I feel compassion for them, as I continue my way along The Path. Let us all pray and meditate as we will. Peace!

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posted January 16, 2010 at 12:15 pm

As to the specific point of Pat Robertsons’ comments on the recent earthquake being God’s punishment, – whatever exactly he said!. Please correct me if I’m wrong, scholars, but I don’t believe that Karma works that way. I do not believe that God is vengeful, either. I can not imagine any Buddha or God who feels other than I do towards the Haitians. Compassion.

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Your Name

posted January 16, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Who is suggesting that one situation should be preferred over the other? I agree Unicorn that our compassion should be equal however: The tangible resources available to some vs. others are not equal. It shouldn’t be help Haitians VS. your nearby neighbors or anyone in particular. Would it be completely off base if I were to give a greater portion of my monthly donation to Haiti right now and a smaller to the homeless shelter in my neighborhood? I don’t believe or feel the homeless individuals at the shelter are ‘less than’ the individuals in Haiti, or deserve any less compassion. Triage of resources (financial, time etc) is not wrong; it is necessary and happens on a daily basis. A rash, a severed pinky, and crushed limbs all deserve attention & compassion in the ER but the reality is that the doctor needs to bring immediate relief to those crushed legs first then assess & reassess from there. In our global community, everyone is flesh and blood and within our reach.

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posted January 16, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Oops, forgot to put name above…@Lodro Rinzler: This won’t be the last of suffering with our global brothers & sisters, of course. But thanks for posting ideas on how to avoid shutting down/apathy.

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Your Name

posted January 16, 2010 at 8:39 pm

I have been praying to God for all the victims in Haiti,my financial support,my girls School are collecting donations for Haiti victims,
i will let my girls hand them my donations at school,so even if we cant call the Red Cross,the school is an open box for donations,and we can help.Thanks.

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posted January 17, 2010 at 12:36 am

When I first heard Robertson’s comments, I was angry. Looking deeply in meditation later on, I saw how my habit energy has has caused me to add suffering to already-difficult or tragic situations with my words.

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posted January 17, 2010 at 2:02 pm

The Barking Unicorn’s broad-stroke comment that giving money only makes you feel better is simply untrue. If you want to help — and as someone said above, there’s no reason you can’t give some help to Haiti and also help people in your community; many are doing both — simply take a few minutes to research the most effective organizations already operating in Haiti before the earthquake and give to the one of the MANY organizations you can believe in. They are now spending money with the expectation that more will flow in, so it is not so simplistic as “money will be tied up in banks.” Also, the need is going to be tremendous for a very long time, so even if some money flows in later, it will still be very, very helpful. There is no city left and the entire impoverished country is dependent on that city. If the only nation is humanity, there is little difference between helping a Haitian and helping someone in Detroit. Ameliorate suffering to the extent you can, wherever you can.

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Anan E. Maus

posted January 18, 2010 at 7:06 pm

“The meditation of the poor is food.” – Sri Ramakrishna
The Good Samaritan parable, the constant discussion in the Dhammapada to do good deeds, Hinduism’s Karma Yoga – the path to God through service…..the entire history of religion is replete with the call to help others.
here’s a link for some Haitian relief organizations:

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Your Name

posted January 19, 2010 at 1:12 pm

The Buddha would suggest compassion in all forms to help.
However, Barking Uni…, the Buddha didn’t say “If you want happiness for a lifetime — help someone else.”
this is a Chinese proverb. Too simplistic for the Buddha.
Also, while I dig the hipness of calling the Buddha “Sid” or more important a spacesaver(?), it is a bit too mundane for me. Many Buddhists suggest that the Buddha be referred to as “The Noble One”, for example, to indicate the profoundness of his teachings. While I don’t go that far, ‘The Buddha’ seems respectful in that regard, “Sid” is too minimal for me, ciao

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Hollywood Locksmith

posted January 26, 2010 at 4:44 pm

I’m glad that the media is covering all the diasters of the world to make people aware of the needs of many people of Haiti and the need of support any way. I’m glad that people are stepping up and giving a hand to another human being. It is sad that it took a natural diaster to get people pour their hearts and money to country of Haiti. Where were these people 6 months ago or even a year ago to help the people of Haiti and i hope it will continue after the media goes away from this natural diaster.

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