Back home, when we have natural calamities, we turn to God to make sense of our experience and suffering. We pray for help and also ask why such things happen, and of all, to us. We have a word similar to karma called "gaba." A landslide that kills miners is considered a nature's gaba to the men who deface and defile the environment. We view nature as a powerful avenger and ally that avenges for the oppressed. If a cargo ship sinks after a giant wave hits it, it is the nature's way to avenge the cheap labor of the poor exploited by the cargo ship's operator. Gaba, as widely believed, happens between individuals, groups, and communities. It also happens between spirits and people or gods and mortals.
What have happened in Japan--earthquake, tsunami, and volcanic eruption--have made me wonder whether Buddhist and religious leaders in Japan and the entire Japanese people also self-introspect and entertain the idea of collective karma in their current awful situations. I hope this post will not come out insensitive and be construed as foul. Deep down, I have nothing but pity for the suffering Japanese. I just think the concept of karma, to some people, is obvious in the current problems and predicaments of the Japanese. It can psychologically help to come to terms with the collective karma the Japanese people of today get due to the evil deeds of their ancestors and their father's and grandfather's generations. The thought why they have to suffer can ease suffering and hasten it. It's all about acceptance and moving on, but in doing so, they have to understand their collective karma, which no amount of science can easily replace..
I grew up listening to my grandparents' stories about the cruel, barbaric Japanese soldiers in our village during World War II. What made me cry always was the story when they swallowed kernels of corn because they could not cook them. The Japanese bombed wherever there was smoke. They could not also chew them because they were dried and hard. Later, they would strain the kernels in the river after defecating them for their next meal. For some reason, the said story was more powerful to me than the beheading of priests, the rape of nuns, the sexual slavery of comfort women, the labor camps full of emaciated brown men, and many more too painful to enumerate. My grandparents died with their hatred towards the Japanese unchanged and unforgotten. They wanted revenge but they could only pray for gaba to befall the Japanese from generation to generation.
Such vengeful feelings towards the Japanese are common among the elderly who experienced the war and the cruelty of the Japanese soldiers. The young ones who only read them in history textbooks do not care as they wait in line at the Japanese Embassy for working visas and marriage licenses. If the Japanese people want to fully understand their suffering they must also understand the suffering of others that still haunt and debilitate. Maybe to start, they should put closure to the comfort women issue, where the ageing victims are still crying and asking them to apologize. Maybe they should rebuild the lives of the communities they destroyed seventy or so years ago. Maybe they should erase the memory of suffering among their victims who cannot easily forgive and forget. In collective karma or gaba, it is believed that its potency is ever-present and never-ending if without reconciliation. What the evil father does will come back to his innocent children and grandchildren and that the cycle will only stop if there is apology and forgiveness between the inflicter and the inflicted.
Asking for and giving forgiveness is very powerful in suffering and healing. As the village seer once said, "Whoever makes you suffer will suffer many folds if not from god and from other people, it will be from nature, and he will only know of gaba if he finds out that he suffers because someone does," I could not help but think of the day when the Japanese would finally pay their dues. I wonder if the Japanese think of collective karma as they currently suffer from the wrath of nature. I am sure there are older Filipinos who do not rejoice but believe their gaba is, indeed, very potent, and,after all, it works. Maybe there are others who think of Japan's collective karma as the retribution they have been waiting.