AUSTRALIA’S BUSHFIRE CRISIS – HOW YOU CAN HELP
Australia has been devastated by bushfires, following many years of prolonged and severe drought.
The scale is immense. Nearly 11 million hectares burned; more than 2,000 homes destroyed; 27 lives lost, and; an estimated 1 billion-plus animals dead.” (CNN, January 10 2020)
At the time of writing 30 people have lost their lives in the crisis. Over a billion animals and “hundreds of billions” of insects, have been killed in bushfires throughout the state of New South Wales alone this season, according to leading wildlife experts (Source: ABC News, Chris Dickman from the University of Sydney). Other states such as South Australia and Victoria have been equally hard hit. (Data current as at 18th January 2020). Fires have also affected Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia.
We have been overwhelmed at the outpouring of compassion and the desire to help that has come from across the globe. This, coupled with local communities’ and individual’s support and care for each other, has been a source of great emotional comfort at a time of huge loss, fear and anxiety. FPMT in Australia has been deluged with people wishing to help in practical ways and through prayers and practices. Below is a list of the prayers advised at this time, as well as organisations that people can donate to. At the bottom of this page, we detail some of the bushfire damage experienced through Australia.
How you can help
There are ways that you can help Australian sentient beings and habitat affected by these bushfires. The crisis has seen an outpouring of support from everyone from His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche, to our FPMT Geshes, as well as FPMT centres world wide and across Australia, not to mention Queen Elizabeth II and global leaders everywhere. There are recommended prayers that can be said as well as practical help that you can give to those who are assisting with the crisis.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave the following advice to Detong Ling, and for all FPMT centers, projects and services in Australia: recite the prayer to Guru Rinpoche to help when under threat of attack by bushfire. The short and the long versions of the prayer follow:
PRAYER TO GURU RINPOCHE TO CLEAR OBSTACLES ON THE PATH
Precious guru, embodiment of all buddhas of the three times;
Great bliss, the lord of all accomplishments;
Wrathful power, who dispels all hindrances and subdues demons;
Pray bestow your blessings.
Please remove the outer, inner, and secret obstacles and grant your blessings to accomplish wishes spontaneously.
Du sum sang gyay guru rinpoche
Ngo drup kun dak de wa chhen poi zhap
Bar chhad kun sel dud dul drak po tsal
Sol wa deb so jyin gyiy lap tu sol
Chhyi nang sang wai bar chhad zhi wa dang
Sam pa lhun gyi drup par jyin gyi lob
When, due to the obstacles of the elements earth, water, fire and wind,
This illusory body, which is rented, is meeting the time to be perished,
Requesting undoubtedly, without two pointed mind to Padmasambhava and the Goddess of the Elements,
[there is] no doubt the four elements get naturally pacified.
I request, Orgyen, the One Arising From the Lotus (Orgyen Pädma Chung Nä),
Please bless the wishes to succeed naturally.
OM AH HUM VAJRA GURU PÄDMA SIDDHI HUM (Recite many times)
Click here for the collection of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s advice to dispel fires (on fpmt.org).
Click here for the longer version of Sampa Lhundrup (The Prayer to Guru Rinpoche that Spontaneously Fulfills All Wishes)
The following is the short Prayer to Dispel Natural Disaster from the extended Guru Bhumtsok prayer book:
PRAYER TO GURU RINPOCHE TO DISPEL NATURAL DISASTER
SA CHU MÉ LUNG JUNGWÉ BARCHÉ KYI
When obstacles arise in earth, water, fire and air
GYULÜ NYEN CHING JIKPÉ DÜ JUNG TSÉ
To threaten these illusory bodies of ours with destruction,
YI NYI TETSOM MEPAR SOLWA DEB
With no trace of doubt or hesitation we pray:
ORGYEN JUNGWA SHYI YI LHAMOR CHÉ
O Guru Rinpoche, with the goddesses of the four elements,
JUNGWA RANG SAR SHYIWAR TETSOM MÉ
You will harmonize the elements into their natural state— of this we have no doubt!
ORGYEN PEMAJUNGNÉ LA SOLWA DEB
To the Lotus-born Guru of Orgyen, we pray!
SAMPA LHÜN GYI DRUBPAR JINGYI LOB
Grant your blessing, so all our wishes be spontaneously fulfilled!
Click on the links below if you wish to donate to any of these organisations.
Donate to charities helping people and communities
Kangaroo Island Mayoral Relief & Recovery Bushfire Fund
South Australian Country Fire Authority
Vinnie’s Bushfire Relief NSW
Australian Red Cross Disaster Relief
Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund
GIVIT – connects items with bushfire affected people
Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal
Donate to rescue and care of animals and wildlife
Donate to local fire services and brigades
- New South Wales Rural Fire Service
- Victoria’s Country Fire Authority
- South Australia’s Country Fire Service
- Support for the families of volunteer firefighters who have tragically been killed while on duty
Here is a helpful link to helping animals in bushfire disasters
A summary of the damage so far
At the time of writing this article rain has come to many of the firegrounds, dampening their threat. But experts warn that the fire season still has months to go and that the drought has not ended.
The FPMT’s De-tong Ling Retreat Centre on Kangaroo Island, in the state of South Australia, has suffered greatly from the impact of the fires. DTL was saved, but the neighbours who helped fight the blaze, some protecting DTL, weren’t so lucky – many lost their homes. Fires on the island had been burning for four weeks and intensified, claiming two lives. The total area destroyed by the Kangaroo Island bushfires now stands at more than 200,000 hectares which is almost half the island. Wildlife such as bees, the endangered glossy-tailed cockatoo and dunnart marsupial are feared to become extinct, and 30,000 koalas are believed to have been killed.
In the NSW World Heritage listed Blue Mountains and Wollemi National Parks, more than 400,000 acres of wilderness have burnt, and towns such as Dargen, Lithgow, Clarence lost dozens of properties. FPMT”s Kunsang Yeshe Centre hosted over 60 RFS fire crew who used the centre and its surrounds as a staging post to fight the nearby firefront. Wildlife habitat and thousands of animals have been destroyed in the pristine Jamieson, Megalong and Grose Valleys and iconic tourist spots such as the Jenolan Caves were surrounded by flames. Fires are still burning at the edge of the Blue Mountains’ and surrounding areas’ villages and towns, although recent rain has helped to dampen these (as at 18th January 2020)
A number of Southern Tablelands fires merged to become the Green Wattle mega-blaze, which killed three people, and destroyed many historic properties across the towns affected. In the Snowy Mountains ancient eco-systems such as bogs and heathlands, dried out by the drought, were decimated. Heritage huts and other properties were destroyed as fires merged into a megafire that destroyed 600,000 hectares.
On the South Coast of NSW thousands of people had to evacuate under apocalyptic skies, many being trapped on the beach, with some escaping by boat. Many were stranded for days at evacuation centres with no power, food, fuel or water.The fire there joined with the fire burning on the Victorian border outside of Albury-Wodonga to become a megablaze.
In Gippsland, in the state of Victoria, three died as a state-wide state of disaster was declared, and firefighters managed to slow the progress of a 60,000 hectare fire that threatened the alpine townships of Bright and Harrietville in the Victoria’s north-east. Fires have also broken out in Western Australia, near the capital, Perth, and a terrible fire in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia claimed around eighty properties and a life. South east Queensland and Tasmania have also been affected.
“Ecologists have calculated that at least 6 million hectares of habitat that is home to at least 250 different threatened species has now gone up in smoke.” (Michelle Ward, University of Queensland). Many animals and birds were burnt or suffocated, whilst others have died of exhaustion and starvation, and are now vulnerable to predators. The Blue Mountains National Park has had 80% of its habitat affected for example, with thousands of animals, birds, reptiles and insects having died and the habitat for those remaining being seriously compromised.
James Watson, director of the Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science at the University of Queensland, says that many threatened species only have small amounts of habitat left. Species such as the long-footed potaroo, the Hastings River mouse, spot-tailed quoll, mountain pygmy possum, southern brown bandicoot, and large-eared pied bat have had at least half of their habitat destroyed and there are now grave fears for their survival.
James Todd, executive director of biodiversity with the Victorian Department of Environment Land, Water and Planning, said that entire range of some native fish in Gippsland had been burned in the fires and warned of a possible fish kill if and when it rained heavily.
The toxic smoke from the mega-firefronts have resulted in cities such as Sydney and Melbourne, recording the world’s highest pollution rate for various days. In regional and rural areas the toxicity has sometimes been five times higher than in the cities, and the smoke has stayed for weeks and months. The long-term effects to health are not clearly knows, but hospitals have seen a massive rise of presentations of lung and cardio related illnesses to their emergency departments.
The impact of bushfires on Australia’s Aboriginal people
Aboriginal Australians have a different experience, than non-Aboriginals, to the bushfire crisis. As governments and communities look to recovery, it’s essential that their grief and loss is understood. Several centuries of dispossession of their land, assimilation and racism impact Aboriginal people’s lived realities. Bhiamie Williamson, Jessica Weir and Vanessa Cavanagh, write about how Aboriginal people have been refused access and management of their traditional homelands and how these factors compound the trauma of the current unprecedented fires. (Click here for article).
How do you support people forever attached to a landscape after an inferno tears through their homelands, decimating native food sources, burning through ancient scarred trees and destroying ancestral and totemic plants and animals?” (, The Conversation)
More and more, indigenous fire management techniques are being examined as a way forward. These techniques have historically been neglected due to the removal from Country of so many Aboriginal people, and the dominance of Western approaches to the curtailing of fires. However, organisations such as Firesticks Alliance, founded by Bunjalung man, Oliver Costello, ( click here for more info) could help greatly with strategies for the recovery of the land.
Indigenous leaders such as Victor Steffenson have been warning about a bushfire crisis for years. and believe that much can be learned from a cultural approach to fire management. An example would be for indigenous fire practitioners to live on Country full time and use their complex knowledge built up over tens of thousands of years to manage the risk of fire and the survival of wildlife habitat.
The approach to recovery of the land needs to be skilful, with long term solutions developed. Genuine consultation with Aboriginal people about solutions that could be adopted for the land that they have been custodians of, is required.