Courage in the presence of challenge

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by Ven. Suduhumpola Wimalasara Thera

The wise persons remain calm and unmoved whether touched by pleasure or pain. They are serene, in the presence of ups, as well as downs.” – The Buddha in Dhammapada.

Four years ago, a devastating earthquake – 9.0 in the Richter scale struck northern Japan, accompanied by a catastrophic tsunami, bringing in their slip-stream, massive waves of pain, suffering, devastation and an extensive range of damages.

This occurred on March 11, 2011. Recording the unthinkable scale of the power of these natural disasters, an internationally reputed writer provided some statistics: “The quake was powerful enough to shift the earth on its axis and make it spin a little faster, shortening the day by 1.8 millionths of a second. It shoved the island nation one parking space to the east.”

This was nature, at its most destructive guise.

But, as a Sri Lankan Bhikkhu resident in Japan, my intention here, is to draw the attention of the people of my mother country, to the resilience and the grandeur displayed by the citizens of Japan, in the face of this benumbing challenge posed by wrathful nature. Though called upon to meet this colossal disaster so suddenly, they possessed the stamina of the soul to cope with it.


Their courage, fortitude, calmness and above all their unbowed spirit, have to be chronicled with high admiration as an example to all men and women.

I, at times tend to wonder, whether there is any other group of persons, anywhere in the world, who have had to face so massively disastrous challenges as the people of Japan have had to. Hiroshima and Nagasaki still remain the only two places on earth, to have suffered nuclear bomb attacks, in the whole of human history so far. This was way back in 1945 – 69 years ago. But, what is mythical and legendary is the manner in which they once again rose grandly to life, like the mythical bird phoenix, that emerged fully alive from its ashes. Their inner spirit remained unconquered and unvanquished.

They built themselves, and went on to win the world with technology and exceptional manufacturing skills. As for me, I was not even born in those Hiroshima and Nagasaki days.


But, on the other hand, the twin disasters of quake and tsunami in March 2011 and the manifestations of human courage and endurance, associated with those two calamities in northern Japan, four years ago, have indelibly etched themselves in the inner recesses of my being, as part of my Japanese experience.

Lessons implicit in the behaviour of men, women and even children, affected by March 11 disaster, possess a tremendous didactic value to many.

Utterly stressed and distressed, these disaster-victims never allowed their souls to sag. The outlook of the survivors, was not to count their personal losses. They prioritised the need to assist, those who required help. As a built-in reflex, they began rebuilding. Survivors immediately got together to begin the slow process of clearing and reconstruction. All this as voluntary urges. A writer has quoted one of those helpless. “We will all try our best to do this together. That’s the Japanese way isn’t it?”

Pathetic self-pity was not present in that statement. The writer recorded: “The tragedy brought into relief the remarkable resilience of the Japanese people. The dignified stoicism with which the Japanese have faced this tragedy is extraordinary to see.”


Under usual circumstances, any group, surprised into such a vast disaster, will invariably be confused, clueless and in massive disarray. But, the response of those victimised in northern Japan, was deep, unperturbed calmness. To define this state of inner collectedness, they use the Japanese expression – gaman. This is understood to mean a unique mix of endurance and abnegation – somewhat like “iwaseema” in Sinhala or else they use the word shoganai. This may sound very much like “monowakarannada” – the Sinhala expression of calm acceptance of a troubling development.

Commenting on this attitude a learned writer states: “It is not just helplessness but a calm determination to overcome a challenge.” From the beginning the young people united, determined to get over the difficult phase.

Immediately after the disaster, the helpless victims displayed an unbelievable discipline. Though very much in need of even such basics as food and water, the people stayed in long lines, with no trace whatsoever of restlessness and impatience. It was reported at that time that even announcers assumed a polite friendly tone: “Please come enjoy your piping hot rice now.” This was a request to people who had just lost all their worldly possessions.

Personal sorrow

Even the expression of deep personal sorrow was subdued, calm and undemonstrative.

It is this restrained stoic calmness, that has seem Japan through, eras of vast devastation. The united national effort ensures, miraculous revival. Without allowing themselves to be overcome by crippling self-pity, even those grieving survivors, started working.

During the past four years, everyone who could find that time, contributed towards the speedy recovery of their land.

As a Sri Lankan Bhikkhu I have been observing with escalating admiration, the unique personality qualities of the Japanese people – especially in the face of formidable challenges.

Their primary secret is, selfless patriotism, whenever the nation has to be given priority status.


Even four years after the March 11 disasters, individuals and groups donate their time, money and leisure, to contribute whatever they can towards the speedy recovery of the affected northern region.

Once again, the citizens of Japan will rise from the mire of disaster to alluring heights of comprehensive recovery, as they have done from to time. Tokyo was fire-bombed during World War Two. Lives were just erased at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in tons of thousands. Aided by courage, calmness, fortitude and unswerving undivided love of their nation, Japan escalated itself into the third economic power of the world.

In the aftermath of March 11, they are nudging towards the second place.

Such heroic and epic human efforts should be celebrated as distinct human triumphs. This spirit should inspire our mother country – Japan.

As a Sri Lankan Bhikkhu resident in Japan, I am quite keen to request Sri Lankan authorities to assign a special Research Team, to make an in-depth study of the Japanese spirit.

Such a research effort, will be made a tremendous contribution towards our unified effort to achieve singular national progress.

The writer is a Sri Lankan Bhikkhu resident in Japan.

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