Twelve Easy Pieces, October 7, 2012

I. Publishing II. Burma III. Birthdays IV. Prison
V. Visitors VI. Merit VII. Nezumi VIII. Visas
IX. Intensive Course X. Kurunegala XI. Ven. Pannasila XII. Human Rights

I. Publishing

Just in time for the 2012~13 pilgrimage season in India, we've finished A Pilgrim's Companion: Readings from Buddhist Texts to Enhance a Pilgrimage to the Sacred Sites. The E-book version for the Kindle is available here. (Epub not yet formatted.)The Foreward by Ven. S. Dhammika gives the book its historical context, and our introduction tells the story of its development. Along the way, we've gotten kind words of encouragement from many people. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote that he found our edited versions of the translations both true to the text and readable. Ven. Anandajoti Bhikkhu said that it sounded like an excellent project, and "one of those things that you stop and think: why did no one think of doing that before!" Ven. S. Dhammika wrote, "Funny you should think of such an idea as the same occurred to me some time ago and for the very same reason. I'm sure such a book will be useful and used." We certainly hope that it will prove to be so.

Rather than search for a commercial publisher, which could mean many months in negotiation and preparation, we decided to publish it ourselves. We already have the ISBN, and, with Mike's help, it has been sent to the printer. Release date: October 15, 2012. As Mother always said, "If you want something done right, do it yourself."

A second brainstorm! The biggest market for the book is, of course, India, that is, the Buddhist pilgrimage circuit. Getting books there, either from the States or from here, is atrociously expensive. What could be easier than simultaneously printing here and there?! The PDF file of the text and the JPG files for the cover have been sent, and Ven. Nandobatha is going to have the book printed in New Delhi. In December, the Russa Road Buddhist Student Literacy Mission will be beginning construction of the center in BuddhaGaya, in a ceremony presided over by Ven. Sitagu Sayadaw U Nyanissara. We would be honored if perchance A Pilgrim's Companion could be launched at that time.

Hardly a day goes by without a query about the Jatakas, so here is an update. The books we'd sent to Bangkok well over a year ago got incredibly delayed because of flooding but, when they "surfaced," they were in fine condition and safely collected by the good people of Asia Books and Kinokuniya. The set is still available at Pariyatti in the US, but there are no more copies in SL nor the UK, so we're eagerly awaiting Buddhist Cultural Centre's new edition. It seems that the price has not yet been set. The ebooks are selling at the rate of about one volume a day, mostly on Amazon and Istore, but it's also available at Lulu, and Barnes & Noble. We keep getting lots of inquiries. As soon as the new edition is available we'll tell the world.

II. Burma

The news came by phone calls and e-mails, and several people sent us the official list. After twenty-four years, we, along with several thousand others, have been removed from the black list for travel to Burma. We had to be pleased to see our names next to Bertil Lintner, John Pilger, Corazon Aquino, and Madeline Albright. Of course, we have no plans to go anytime soon, but there are some dear friends we'd love to see again, and we delight in the photos we see of the family reunions regularly taking place there now.


III. Birthdays

Visakha's celebration was quieter than Ken's in August, but we enjoyed feasting four monks and a nun. Ven. Amilasiri came from Kurunegala for the morning, and Ven. Upatissa, Ven. Nyanatusita, Ven. Nissarano, and Sister Nirodha were here after a long time. Thanks to all well-wishers who helped us serve lunch.

For Mike's and Lily's birthdays, a milch cow and a bull were rescued from slaughter and safely transported to Kurunegala. Although it is against Sri Lankan law to send a cow to the abattoir, it still happens. Mike and Amal went together on the project. The bull will live happily on Amal's family plantation, while the cow will be donated to a happy family near Ven. Amilasiri's monastery. Of course, Mike will have unlimited visiting rights. On October fifth, we celebrated in Kurunegala, and, after dana at the vihara, the cow was handed over to the villager. Ven. Amilasiri continues to provide dignity and care to sixty-seven elderly and infirm monks, so we are always pleased to support his work. May merits be for our relatives who have passed away. May all beings rejoice and be happy.


IV. Prison

Recently we received a letter from our friend Calvin, who is, at long last, being released from prison in Washington State. Some of you may remember that he has organized Buddhist groups in all the prisons where he has stayed. We been in touch with him since before we left Japan, and we visited him in Spokane in 2000. He is the author of Razor-Wire Dharma, which is a truly inspiring read. He sent us this article, which he calls "Swan Song." Although he marked it as a DRAFT version, it's well-written, moving, and proof of his wisdom. We deeply appreciate his insights.

V. Visitors

During the Perahera, we had some lovely Servas visitors from Hokkaido, and it was great fun speaking Japanese again. Following requests from local members and from travelers, Servas Sri Lanka is getting better organized. We hope to have regular meetings, to encourage members to take more active interest in it, and to recruit new members. It certainly is a great organization, and we have benefitted from it, both as hosts and as travelers for more than thirty-five years.

A few months ago, Mike moved into a house not far from ours. While a new ceiling was being installed, he occupied our guest room. We did not mind at all that what was supposed to be a four-day job took all of two weeks, but the tales he brought back of the workmen's foibles and woes had us in stitches! We look forward to the book he is going to write about his experiences with carpenters--pure slapstick, and it should be a bestseller!

The morning of Visakha's birthday, David arrived from Thailand. It's always good to renew old friendships. He stayed with us a week before going off to meditate in a forest monastery near Kegalle and we expect him back when the time is right for him.

VI. Merit

Our classes continue much as before, and our ESL textbook, Merit, is growing. We have had two offers of collaboration. Jake, an acquaintance from our days in Japan, now completing a degree in TESOL in San Diego, is interested in incorporating it into his research on curriculum. Josh, who has just completed his degree at MSU is arriving shortly to spend several months helping us create grammar exercises and activities. We are excited. Now we need to find an illustrator. Anyone?

VII. Nezumi

It began as an ordinary day. Lily was off, to see a lawyer with papers for the land case she and her neighbors have been involved in for something like twenty-years. (These things are more Dickensian than you'd ever have believed--the British legacy of grief and slow tribunals!) We went off to class, and, when we returned, Nezumi was waiting at the front door. We fed her, but that was the last we saw of her. She's an independent cat and has her duties around the compound, so we didn't worry until late afternoon. Everyday at four o'clock, give or take five minutes, she comes strolling in for her fish treat and to get locked in the library while we meditate. She doesn't meditate and seems offended that anybody else does, but she has agreed to sleep quietly during that period, as long as she gets her food first. That day, however, she did not appear. We wondered but did not really worry until we began hearing her mournful cries. We looked in all the closets, opened all the doors, moved furniture, peered into all the spaces where she might have gotten caught. No cat! The meowing continued intermittently and seemed to be moving from room to room. Most peculiar! We walked all through the house and all around it, calling, but that did not help. Ken climbed the stairs over the fishpond and surveyed the entire roof. No Nezumi! Then, as he stood there at roof height, he seemed to hear mewing through the wall. Perhaps, we conjectured, she has gotten into the space between the ceiling and the roof, which is polecat country. She must have gotten in the same way the polecats do, but, if that were so, why didn't she come out the same way? (We have no idea where the entrance and exit are, but they seem to have no problem finding them.) Ken stepped inside the studio at the top of the stairs (where Nezumi sometimes disappears in the evening) and tore off some boards, making an opening to the crawl space. He could see where Nezumi had certainly been five minutes before, but, by that time, she had disappeared. He shone the flashlight, but could see no sign of her. Lily happened to stop by and, peering into that dark space thought she saw some rats. Was Nezumi chasing them? We called Mike, and he came quickly to investigate. He climbed onto the wall between our house and Charles', just outside the library, and, shining the light into the crawl space through a tiny crevice, spotted the beastie. She was wandering around, neither injured not caught, seemingly trying to find the way out. Ken returned to the studio and called through the opening, but she didn't seem to understand. He left some food beside the hole, hoping that the smell of fish would lead her there. Hours later, just as Visakha was closing up the computers for the night, Nezumi nonchalantly strolled into the office and demanded food and affection. As to how she'd gotten herself stuck or gotten out, she wasn't talking. She spent most of the next day grooming away the dust she had collected.

VIII. Visas

Every September we have to renew our residence visas. The procedure is different every year, so we never know what to expect. Always before, we have tried to do everything in one day, renting a van, leaving at five o'clock in the morning with a monk, driving around Colombo, and returning to Kandy in the afternoon. Last year, we discovered that we did not need the monk's assistance, and the office flatly refused to issue the vias in the afternoon. Therefore, this year we decided to take it easy. Instead of paying for a van, we made a reservation at the Hilton using our points (not completely free, but, with the upgrade to Executive, well worth the cost.) We caught the morning train, very comfortable Rajadhani class, and arrived relaxed. After a delicious breakfast in the Executive Lounge, we caught a three-wheeler to the Sasana Ministry office. Our driver's name was Lucky, so we felt we couldn't lose. It was after one o'clock, but no one had yet returned from lunch. There was a monk waiting in the office, and he greeted us with a smile of familiarity as we sat down. A few minutes later, he moved to sit beside us and explained that he had, many months ago visited our house with Sister Susila. He was trying to get the documentation he needed to apply for a tourist visa to Australia. Sister Susila had sent the letter he needed to show the clerk, but his computer was in Galle. After a few minutes, he said, "If there were an internet café nearby, . . ."

"Oh, is the letter in gmail?" we asked. "If that is the case, our three-wheeler driver could take you to a café." That was quickly arranged, and he was back in a very few minutes. How serendipitous! About two-fifteen, the woman who had to sign our letter arrived at the office, and we were finished. The rest of the afternoon was spent over cappuccino and a scrumptious cheese board and salad bar in the Executive Lounge. We put on our suits and proceeded to enjoy a superb swim in the virtually empty pool, next to which workmen were erecting a gigantic TV screen with the biggest speakers we'd ever seen in a temporary pavilion. Beginning the next day was a nationwide Twenty20 Cricket tournament. (Don't ask!) Then the pool and poolside would be packed. How serendipitous that we were missing it!

The next morning, Ken took the applications to the Immigration Office and was back in less than one hour. The Deputy Controller did not even look at the bank statement which had been the sticky wicket two years ago. At one o'clock, he returned to pay the fee and to pick up the passports and visas. It's a little tricky to understand the system, and you never know what is going to happen, but, when it works, it works.

Taking advantage of a late check-out (more cappuccino--the Hilton is a wonderful hotel!), we called Lucky, and he took us to Dushy's. We hadn't seen her since before we went to India and she went to Giessen early this year. Lal and Vivi joined us for pizza in the evening. Of course, the conversation centered around the strike by FUTA (Federation of University Teachers' Associations). It's been going on for three months, and our three friends are directly involved. We were fortunate to fit into their protest schedule. The next morning, as we left, we dropped Dushy off on Galle Road so that she could join the march which was to culminate in Hyde Park where 120,000 people rallied in support of State Education.

The week before there had been a massive FUTA rally in Kandy. We scrupulously stay out of Sri Lankan politics, but we wanted to encourage our friends, so we sent Lily and Ashoka there with enough buns, peanuts, and juice for the everyone on the Open University bus. We heard that the snacks were much appreciated.

IX. Intensive Course

The drought continues over much of Sri Lanka. The hot days don't feel like autumn at all. Still, we just got a letter from Ven. Vilasagga saying that the Burmese monks in Colombo are hoping for another Kandy Intensive Course in January. We're ready when they are and expect there will be more eager volunteer teachers to help make it the best so far. Watch this space!

Past Kandy Intensive Courses
2009
2010
2011


X. Kurunegala

The roof of the annex to one of the wards has been completed, and some of the rooms are already occupied.
As we prepared for the visit to Bodhirukarama, there was a startling new development in Kurunegala. It seems that the previous abbot of the temple, who had been ousted some years ago by the local villagers, wants to regain control of the improved temple. He demanded that Ven. Amilasiri vacate within three months and threatened a lawsuit to force him out. Ven. Amilasiri calmly replied that going to court is unseemly for a monk and that he would leave. The local villagers have pledged their support to Ven. Amilasiri and have donated an acre of land for a new temple. He will also be able to keep the two wards for elderly monks, the land with the well, that we helped purchase for him last year, and the land with both the residence he had constructed and the new novice residence hall, for which only the excavation has been started. Of course, that construction has been put on hold. Furthermore, these three plots of land are not contiguous, so daily life will become rather inconvenient. The novices will continue staying with him. He has begun construction on a new temple building, but it seems that he needs about US$2000 more for that.


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XI. Ven. Pannasila

Last week we received a letter from our teacher, Ven. Pannasila, the Indian monk who was Secretary of the MahaBodhi Temple Committee in 2000. He accompanied us on our pilgrimage in 2001 and we visited Nagpur and traveled extensively around Maharashtra with him in 2004 and 2006. Ven. Pannasila has taught us a tremendous amount about caste and untouchability in India. Through him we've met many Dalits who have converted to Buddhism. His monastery is called Shanti Vana, and it is in a Satnur, Maharashtra. A laywoman supporter has commissioned an artist from Nasik to design a forty-foot Buddha statue near the monastery, and Ven. Pannasila is constructing a meditation pagoda with a ten-foot Buddha statue in the compound. He welcomes visitors who want to learn about the revival of Indian Buddhism and volunteers who would like to assist him in his work. Buddhist Relief Mission would be pleased to forward donations to his monastery and mission.


Make a donation to support Shanti Vana
PayPal
Check or Money order

Pay to: Morgan Stanley, Buddhist Relief Mission, #574-688944
may be sent to:
Morgan Stanley, PO Box 951106,
South Jordan UT 84095, U.S.A.

(US$ Only)

Please send an email informing us of your donation, with special instructions, if necessary

XII. Human Rights

The recent attacks on ancient Buddhist temples in Bangladesh are deeply saddening, coming on the heels of riots in Burma with mob and state violence against Rohingyas, a much despised ethnic minority there. Violence against any minority should be disturbing. Ethnic and religious discrimination may be as old as human history itself, but with information and misinformation spreading like lightning on social networks, inflammatory comments are particularly dangerous, and right speech and calming words more desirable than ever.

For centuries, Arakan, the lowlands of Bangladesh, the Chittagong Hills, and Northeast India have been home to various groups. Political decisions have carved up these regions and awarded them to various governments, creating religious and ethnic minorities in each. Buddhists feel threatened by Muslims in Bangladesh; the Muslim Rohingyas are regarded as illegal immigrants in Burma and denied all recognition and protection; both groups fear Hindu fundamentalism in India and deplore evangelical Christian conversions.

A few weeks ago, thousands of Buddhist monks demonstrated in Mandalay, calling for the expulsion of all Rohingyas from Burma and condemning the UN and NGOs for protecting them. The monks' protests were sanctioned by the Burmese government. It is ironic that the monks would support the oppressive policy of the government against which they themselves were demonstrating a few years ago. Have they forgotten the military's abuses of the Sangha and the massacre of monks throughout the country?

More recently, hundreds of Bangladeshi, Burmese, and Sri Lankan monks marched in Colombo, calling for "accurate justice," and requesting UN help in condemning deplorable Islamic violence in Bangladesh. Most troubling was a prominent banner demanding a "Final Solution." This is the very phrase which Hitler used in reference to the Jewish population in Europe, which resulted in concentration camps and the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Though the demonstrations were ostensibly peaceful, some of the signs and slogans seemed to be calling for genocide!

Our teacher in Japan, Ven. U Khe Min Da Sayadaw, frequently reminded us of how careful a member of the Sangha must be in observing the vinaya. If a person, he explained, should, at the suggestion of a bhikkhu, kill another person, the bhikkhu himself would be responsible for that taking of life. Sayadaw might have seen the demonstrations in Mandalay and Colombo as perilously close to that.

It is asinine to argue that granting basic human rights to another person or group endangers one's own security. Indeed, quite the opposite is true. Unless human rights are universal, no one's human rights are safe.

In Buddhism, there is no wiggle room when it comes to morality and practice. One must extend precisely the same loving-kindness to all; there is no justification for excluding any particular group ("which I can't stand!"). This includes friends, strangers, enemies, the loveable and the unlovable, those far and near, and those known and unknown, as well as oneself. It is just this universality of Buddhism that is its strength and its appeal. When a Buddhist discriminates in the name of the Sasana, he defames the Dhamma.

Perhaps the only answer is recognition of the teaching which the Buddha gave in the Dhammapada:

"He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me."
Those who harbor such thoughts do not still their hatred.

"He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me."
Those who do not harbor such thoughts still their hatred.

Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world.
By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.

--Dhammapada 3-5

Amida Triad from Lady Tachibana's Shrine, Horyuji, Nara, Japan, 8th century
Abhaya (Granting Fearlessness) Mudra


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