As the international media is reporting, Thailand is currently experiencing one of the worst floods in living memory. Hundreds of people have lost their lives and thousands more have been made temporarily homeless. Even now a wall of water is gradually descending on Bangkok and no-one seems to be able to predict how much more damage it will cause. (The floodwaters have reached my neighbourhood and although I’ve booked a taxi to the airport for an early morning flight to London I’m anxious about missing my flight.)
A Thai friend has predicted that the impact on people’s lives will be more serious than that caused by the tsunami in 2004. Although fewer people will die, the number of people seriously affected will be greater. There are many people who were counting on that next pay check to feed their families and pay their debts. As rice fields, orchards, and industrial estates have been submerged, so too the hopes of many people.
Thailand was formerly a saving society. The rate of saving (GDS) was in the range of 30 to 40 percent, among the highest in the world and adequate to cover the investment needed for growth. The Thaksin [Shinawatra] government has encouraged people not to save but to consume, and to go into debt to consume. Household debt has roughly quadrupled.
‘Thaksin: the business of politics in Thailand’ by Pasuk Phongpaichit & Christopher John Baker
Although natural disasters are often inescapable, they give us an opportunity to reflect on how we live our lives and what expectations we have.
Apart from encouraging compassion—the active effort to assist people who are in distress—the Buddha repeatedly urged people to look inwards and to recognize the roots of suffering. Here is a teaching that is apt to the present circumstances:
There are these four floods: the flood of sensual desire, the flood of becoming, the flood of views and opinions, and the flood of ignorance. This Noble Eightfold Path is to be developed for direct knowledge of these four floods, for the full understanding of them, for their ending, for their relinquishment.
S. V. 59