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Puja of Compassion vs Wildfires in Greece

Wildfires blazing to the north of Athens

In 2007, some of the worst wildfires in decades broke out in Greece and killed more than 70 people. Two years later on the 20th August 2009, large number of wildfires broke out once again in this Mediterranean country, torching forest, farmland, olive groves and houses in part of central and southern Greece as well as on the islands of Evia, Skyros and Zakynthos. Wildfires which started from the north of the Marathon plain swept rapidly across Mount Penteli towards the urban area of Athens while to the northwest of the capital, blazes were getting closer to the coastal town of Porto Germeno. Hospitals, campsites, villages and suburban areas around the outskirts of Athens had to be evacuated as gigantic clouds of dark smoke blackened the sky over the capital and showers of ashes covered the city below. Hundreds of firefighters joined by army and emergency services from Austria, Cyprus, France, Italy and Turkey battled to contain this late summer inferno.

Venerable Lama Dondrup Dorje during a Mandala Offering at the Summer Retreat

Venerable Lama Dondrup Dorje who was conducting the Pathgate Summer Retreat in Epidavros (125 km from Athens) at the time was not informed of the wildfires until the evening of 23rd August when one of his students who owns a newspaper in Athens placed an urgent phone call to him requesting him to help in any way he could because the extremely windy conditions had made it impossible for the fire fighters to put out the fires. When asked what he intended to do, Venerable Lama Dondrup Dorje explained that at this late stage of the wildfires, only rainfall could put out the blazes. He further added that the coming of rain would be preceded by sea breezes. Those who heard this reply were doubtful that rain would materialise in August since there is usually no rainfall during the summer months in Greece, which tend to be hot and dry from May to October.

Early next morning on 24th August, under a cloudless blue sky, Venerable Lama Dondrup Dorje commenced to perform a series of puja and prayers with such strength of compassion and clear ferocity of purpose that few students could keep up with the momentum of his chanting. Within hours, sea breezes began to gather strength off the shore of Epidavros while masses of rain clouds formed in the sky above the retreat area. By the time the first part of the evening practice was concluded, a heavy rainfall showered upon the retreat site for over an hour as the rain cloud continued to expand and shift in the direction towards Athens. Reports from Athens later that evening confirmed the sky over the entire city was blanketed by masses of rain clouds and no more wildfire was sighted anywhere around the capital. Venerable Lama Dondrup Dorje response to the news was simply that the Local Deities and Dharma Protectors have been very supportive and helpful, but there was still some work in Athens for him to finish once the retreat was over. No one at the time had any idea what Venerable Lama Dondrup Dorje meant until the following Monday when some students were sight-seeing in Athens. For the remainder of the retreat, Greece was again baking in dry summer heat.

Storm Clouds photographed from Lycabettus Hill

The following Monday after the retreat was brought to a successful conclusion, three of Venerable Lama Dondrup Dorje’s students from Singapore, Germany and England were on their way to take the sightseeing bus to the National Gardens in Athens, but they missed the 3pm bus by one minute. They decided to walk there, but lost their direction and ended up walking towards Lycabettus Hill instead. It was a 45-minute up-hill walk, but for some strange reason, they just kept going, and when they finally got up the hill, they saw storm clouds gathered over an area to the north of the city surrounded by otherwise cloudless sunlit blue sky. They were so intrigued by what they witnessed that they took a series of photographs of the storm cloud. The storm cloud then opened up with loud thunder and a heavy shower rained upon an area, which they found out later, was ravaged by wildfires only days before. What they also failed to realise at the time was that Venerable Lama Dondrup Dorje was actually in that area at the time when the thunderstorm occurred.

Venerable Lama Dondrup Dorje explained that the rainstorm was necessary to regenerate the vast area of scorched earth which was once green belt of the city. When asked how it is possible that weather could change so immediately as a result of his practice, Venerable Lama Dondrup Dorje’s response is simply that a Dharma practitioner whose action is motivated by true compassion; whose expression of body, speech and mind embodies that of sincerity, whose store of merit is vast due to practices of the Six Perfections of Generosity, Discipline, Patience, Diligence, Concentration and Wisdom, whose faith in one’s heart guru is firm and who thus has the support of the lineage blessing, is capable of achieving what others perceive as impossible. Simply put, the effectiveness of one's practice has everything to do with the authenticity of one’s strong faith and devotion in one’s spiritual master.

To the long-time students of Venerable Lama Dondrup Dorje, incidents such as sudden change of weather and many other phenomenon, which others perceive as miracles, are common occurrences around Venerable Lama Dondrup Dorje. His advice to students on such matters is to approach it with equanimity without focussing on the phenomena, but instead strive to implement the essence of reverence, humility and gratitude in one’s daily life for the benefit of all beings.