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Fire, Smoke and Prayers at Amitaba Buddha Pure Land

By Wongmo, ABPL, Washington 2021

As I write this I just realized that our fire began August 15th, 2015, and now it’s the August 16th…meaning fire season here isn’t over yet.  At  least another month to go… gosh. What with fire season and two months of the sky and air full of smoke as we’re pretty much surrounded by fires in the 4 directions (California, Oregon, Canada…).  This time we’ve all bought air purifiers.

One of the Pamtingpa Center students and dear friend was visiting when her husband called and told her to drive home immediately as our road out to the little town of Riverside was burning.  

That evening this was the view from my porch- the spots are ashes.

While speaking with John Jackson, the famous American monk who also lives on Rinpoche’s property here in Washington, Amitaba Buddha Pure Land, we decided I’d drive up to Rinpoche’s house where we’d all meet and then decide what to do.  Then a neighbor who I’d never met before came to my  door and said Rinpoche’s house was the worst place to be now as there’s just one small dirt road out with huge pine trees on each side…if they caught on fire….forget it!  He invited all of us to meet at another neighbor’s house that was safe as it has a large lawn, sprinkler system and no trees around.  Sooo kind of him to think of me/us! 

So John, Kevin (British now x monk) Gelek the painter and I stayed with some other neighbors for the night.  We were basically stuck as there was fire on both sides of Tunk Rd so we couldn’t get out.  

I had ‘evacuated’ my house, with shaking hands and heart packing my car with whatever I could think of as being most precious to save.  Somehow the packing was especially stressful, maybe due to realizing everything could so easily now be lost.

Needless to say we didn’t get much sleep, watching the flames on the nearby hills and of course wondering what their course would be.  John was in touch with Rinpoche who was in New York, who then advised us to leave in the morning, and sure enough, the road to Riverside was just drivable.  

Mary had told me to bring everyone to her house for the night, about an hour from here. The four of us refugees ended up staying there for about 4 or 5 nights, with Mary so kindly cooking delicious meals for all of us.  At one point, the multiple fires in the area threatened her house, so she and her husband Reed started packing up their cars as well!

Throughout the days Reed was on the phone getting information about the current fire situations. We couldn’t return to ABPL as the electricity had gone out and there was still too much fire danger.

Somehow we didn’t do pujas and prayers for fire dangers, but now with the advices we have received these past years from Rinpoche, I do try to do those for the world fires that are even worse this summer. Now when I see photos of burnt houses and so on, I can relate more personally to what those people who lost everything must be going through and maybe have a tiny bit more compassion. The practice Rinpoche usually advises when I mention various dangers, problems and so on is….tonglen.  Always…tonglen.  

Mostly we spent the days helping Reed clear dead branches around his property. 

John would come and go, partly to set up sprinklers around Rinpoche’s house. On one of his outings to Walmart, one of his outer buildings burned to the ground. 

Our neighbor is a volunteer fire fighter who went out every day helping local residents save their houses. On one of those days, his house burned down.

Finally the road was clear enough to drive back so I came home only to find rotten food in the fridge, no water, no way to use the toilet or shower or even have drinking water as the electricity hadn’t yet been restored.  So after a couple of house I left again and stayed a couple of nights with another Pamtingpa friend. The moment I heard that we had electricity I rushed back home. 

To this day when I see dry lightening in the middle of the night, I can’t sleep well from sheer worry and fear (kind of a PTSD maybe).  Then I try to remember the prayers advised by our precious holy guru, Rinpoche. 

Last month Rinpoche sent this practice to me via Skype for the fires happening in Washington:

“When doing these practices it’s very important to have single-pointed refuge in the merit field, with good concentration and motivation of bodhichitta. 

Visualize the Lama Chöpa merit field, or Chenresig or Tara, whatever you feel strongest about. a great stream of nectar comes from the merit field, and it puts out the fires.  

It is especially helping the animals and insects who are suffering and dying in the fires. 

Showers of nectar pour down, purifying the negative karma of the sentient beings who are suffering from the fire, and the six realms sentient beings in general who are suffering, as well as those who are being harmed or destroyed in the fire. 

The nectar is pouring down and changing the karma and the minds of the nagas, dergyey (harmful spirits) and landlord beings, changing their negative mind to not harm anymore.

Recite the particular mantras while doing this visualization.”

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