Last night many of us watched the news as the Chilean miners who had been trapped deep underground for seventy days were rescued and – one by one – pulled to the surface. When the mine first collapsed they spent two weeks with very little light, little food, and little hope. They had no contact with the world above. They did not know if anyone even knew they were alive down there. They did not know if anyone was coming to rescue them.
They survived by helping one another. Initially they only had two days worth of food. But each miner ate as little as he could so that there would be something left over for the group. In this way they made that food last through the first two weeks. When one miner lost hope, the rest would rally together to raise his spirits. They prayed together, invoking San Lorenzo, the Patron Saint of miners.
Meanwhile rescue teams drilled down into the earth in search of survivors. And after two weeks, the rescuers finally succeeded in drilling into the cavern in which the miners were trapped. They lowered supplies three thousand feet down: food, water, medicine. Eventually they passed letters from friends and family, and notes and cards from all over the world (including San Domenico). But still the miners had to wait another two months before the rescuers could drill a larger hole and free them.
Yesterday they finished drilling this opening and lowered down a capsule to pull up the trapped miners. It was very dangerous. At any moment the whole aperture could have collapsed along with the opportunity of escape. But the miners did not fight to go first. In fact many wanted to be the last to go. They did not want to leave the mine until they knew that their friends were safe.
In the Buddhist tradition, the world is filled with Bodhisattvas – spirits of compassion. One Bodhisattva has placed himself in the lowest hell and will not leave until everyone makes it out. No matter how dark and hellish the situation, this Bodhisattva is there giving kindness and compassion.
Everyone suffers sometimes. We have bad days at school or at work. We experience ordeals, illnesses, and sometimes the loss of those we love. We become angry and sad. We sometimes lose hope.
When we see someone suffering we can show them kindness and compassion. We can stand next to them in the darkness and not leave them until they are free. By giving this gift of compassion to one another we become the Bodhisattva.
As the miners were pulled from their dark prison, they were joyously reunited with their families. They will return home to eat dinner and sleep in their own beds. How will their lives be different after this ordeal? How will they treat other people differently? How will they treat themselves differently?
Many people who go through near death experiences come to a realization. They realize that life itself is the most precious gift in the universe. Each new day is a gift. And all we must do is accept that gift. If we think and act in a selfish or superficial way we squander this gift.
The miners have a new chance at life. They now know how valuable it is. We too can wake up each day and have a new chance at life. We can become the people we want to be. We can think and act according to our highest ideals.
And when we do, we will realize that this life is a paradise. Our school is a paradise. Our friends and families are a paradise. Let us enjoy this paradise. Let us treat each other with compassion. And let us treat ourselves with kindness.