The Answer, My Friend, February 19, 2021

In these unprecedented times, with fascism surging, the virus mutating while the pandemic is raging, and climate catastrophe threatening extinction, we look back with something like nostalgia to the time when Joseph Welch's retort to Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1954, "Have you no sense of decency, Sir?" had great moral gravitas. The question has never been more relevant than now, when so many leaders lie, cheat, steal, assassinate rivals, start wars, stage coups, and beggar their people more blithely than ever before.

In the U.S., there is no point in elaborating on Trumps's unconscionable behavior during his four years in office, but that the majority of the Republican Party continue to support his actions, including the inciting of the insurrection, raises the same question: "Have you no shame?" As for corruption and financial manipulation by Wall Street firms, we will turn the discussion over to Trevor Noah:

As for Republicans in the Senate Impeachment trial, here is Stephen Colbert's take, with a one-minute sarcastic clip from the full thirteen-minute video:

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

In the same vein, consider these few examples:

Vladimir Putin's attempted assassination and then rearrest of a recovering Alexei Navalny, as well as the arrest of hundreds of peaceful demonstrators, protesting Putin's corruption.

Narendra Modi's imposition of new agricultural laws which will devastate millions of India's farmers and his refusal to allow them to even enter the capital, let alone to air their grievances.

Jair Bolsonaro's anti-democratic policies and his disregard for the suffering and death of the Brazilian people in the Covid-19 pandemic.

Benjamin Netanyahu's refusal to grant any recognition to the rights of the Palestinians for whom he is responsible under international law.

In these cases, as in so many more, it is obvious that these leaders know exactly the cruel results of their actions and policies which create unspeakable suffering and intolerable injustice. It is often claimed that such behavior is the result of greed for power and wealth, but, obviously, they and their cohorts and enablers display a lack of any sense of decency, of shame. In short, they have no conscience, no "still, small voice."

How does one develop the ability to distinguish right from wrong? Where does conscience come from? Parents? Teachers? Books? Is it just luck that some of us learn it, and that others don't? One of Visakha's earliest memories is of injustice, when she was punished for doing something extra, decorating the border of a picture in first grade, which got her paper marked "Unsatisfactory". It wasn't fair! Her mother agreed and went to a Parent Teacher Association meeting to say so.

Certainly, the foundation of morality is the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you," but why don't people remember it and follow it? If they did, peace and harmony would reign throughout the world. Here is an essay about shame and fear:

The Guardians of the World
Adapted from an essay by Bhikkhu Bodhi

Like the Roman god Janus, every person faces simultaneously in two opposite directions. With one face of our consciousness we gaze in upon ourselves and become aware of ourselves as individuals motivated by a deep urge to avoid suffering and to secure our own well-being and happiness. With the other face we gaze out upon the world and discover that our lives are thoroughly relational, that we exist as nodes in a vast net of relationships with other beings whose fate is tied up with our own. Because of the relational structure of our existence, we are engaged in a perpetual two-way interaction with the world: the influence of the world presses in upon ourselves, shaping and altering our own attitudes and dispositions, while our own attitudes and dispositions flow out into the world, a force that affects the lives of others for better or for worse.

Click HERE to reasd the entire essay.

One of the greatest rulers in history was Emperor Ashoka of India in the third century B.C.E. Although renowned for his benevolence and morality, Ashoka was not always such a paragon of virtue. In fact, at the beginning of his reign, he was known as "Chandashoka" ("Cruel Ashoka"). There are unsubstantiated legends that he killed all of his brothers to attain the throne and that he had 500 women of his harem burned alive for mocking him. In the conquest of the kingdom of Kalinga, which was his final war in unifying almost the entire subcontinent, more than 100,000 people were killed and 150,000 prisoners were taken. Seeing this carnage, Ashoka was overcome with remorse, a sense of shame, if you will, and dread of the consequences of such an act. Ashoka renounced war and adopted a policy of peace and non-violence, which he fulfilled by embracing Buddhism.

Much of what we know about Emperor Ashoka comes from edicts he had inscribed on rocks and pillars throughout his realm. A translation of all the edicts can be found in a book by Ven. S. Dhammika. At left is a photo of one of the rock edicts, now in New Delhi, and an abridged translation of Rock Edict 13.

The concepts of shame and guilt are not, by any means, exclusive to Buddhism. They are universal. Likewise, there have been benevolent and morally virtuous rulers in various countries, and they followed different religions. King David and King Solomon were Jewish. Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius were Roman. Duke Wen of Zhao was a Taoist. Akbar and Saladin were Muslim. Catherine the Great and Charlemagne were Christian. You can read about all of them and more at: <>

Another great leader, whose name is something of a household word, but whose real life is probably unknown to all, except a few scholars, is Hiawatha, referred to as "perhaps the most famous Native American in history." Hiawatha was "a peacemaker, a leader, and a spiritual guide. Skilled in putting positive political plans into action, Hiawatha helped persuade five Native American tribes who shared a similar language, namely the Iroquois, the Onondagas, the Senecas, the Cayugas, the Oneidas, and the Mohawks to come together to form the Five Nations of the Iroquois confederacy." ( "Great Chiefs & Leaders: Top Ten Most Famous American Indians In History")

This two-part video series tells the story of Hiawatha's uniting the five nations. It is full of fascinating details.

Part 1
Part 2

Hiawatha, is so well-known because of the poem, "The Song of Hiawatha," by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The hero of that poem, however, is not the historical personage cited above. Longfellow's Hiawatha lived near Lake Superior, whereas the historical Hiawatha lived near Lake Ontario. The poem is based on the Manabozho legends of the Ojibwe. Longfellow had originally planned to call his hero Manabozho, but changed to the more familiar Hiawatha, mistakenly believing that the names were synonymous. (From Wikipedia)

There is reason to believe that the present situation of the world, with the concurrent crises which threaten our happiness, well-being, and even our very survival, is the result of bad leadership. Certainly, the crises have arisen, at least partly, because of bad decisions by many world leaders, perhaps pressured or influenced greed, selfishness, corruption, or corporate interests. We find this stated in the Bible, in a Buddhist sutta:, and in an Islamic text:

Judaism & Christianity
When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice, but when the wicked bear rule, the people mourn.

When cattle are crossing a ford, if the chief bull goes crookedly, all the others go crookedly because their leader has gone crookedly. So, too, among human beings, when the one considered the chief behaves unrighteously, other people do so as well. The entire kingdom is dejected if the king is unrighteous.

When cattle are crossing a ford, if the chief bull goes straight across, all the others go straight across because their leader has gone straight. So too, among human beings, when the one considered the chief conducts himself righteously, other people do so as well. The entire kingdom rejoices if the king is righteous.

The ruled cannot prosper unless the rulers are sound, while the rulers cannot be sound unless the ruled are steadfast. If the ruled fulfill the rights of the ruler and the ruler fulfils their rights, then right attains the position of honor among them, the ways of religion become established, signs of justice become fixed and the Sunna gains currency. In this way time will improve, the continuance of government will be expected, and the aims of the enemies will be frustrated.

Proverbs 29:2 Anguttara Nikaya 4:70 Amirul-Mu'minin, Quoted from Nahj ul-Balagha , in "The Ahlul-Bayt; Ethical Role Models," by Sayyid Mahdi as-Sadr

There is a Jataka which also exemplifies this truth. Of course, it was a much simpler time, but the story is refreshing and delightful.

Jataka Tales of the Buddha
An Anthology
Retold by Ken and Visakha Kawasaki
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Click the image to read the entire Jataka Tale.

Cllick the photo to read a tribute to our teacher, Ven. U Khe Min Da
We first went to Burma in March of 1979, while on our year-long return to the US from Japan. We were in Burma for only a week (seven-day tourist visa), but it was one of the high points of our travels. We were impressed by the friendly people, the smiling children with thanaka on their faces, the magnificent pagodas in Rangoon, the solemnity of Pagan, and the absence of plastic refuse. At that time, we did not know that we were Buddhist, but we were very touched by the devotion we witnessed everywhere. In 1983, we visited Burma twice, and after we returned to Japan, we had long summer vacations, so we arranged a trip to Burma every year. Our love of the country became even stronger when we met Ven. U Khe Min Da Sayadaw in the spring of 1986 and began meditating with him at Moji Pagoda, in Kyushu. That summer, we also spent six weeks at the Mahasi Meditation Center in Rangoon.

Ven. U Vicitta
Tipitaka Mingun Sayadaw
In 1986, we had the honor of attending the opening of the State Pariyatti Sasana University, where we met the founder, Mingun Sayadaw. We were very impressed by the new university, and the rector invited us to teach English to the monks. We agreed to consider the proposition. Two years later, when we again visited the university, the rector showed us the house in which we could live. In Rangoon, we visited the Ministry of Religion and discussed the possibility of getting a visa which would permit us to live and teach in the country. Of course, that was the summer of '88 when Burma was "boiling over." We visited Sagaing shortly after the massacre (see Outrage) and got one of the last planes out of the country. Back in Bangkok, we met Daw Aye Aye Thant who told us about her efforts to send plasma and medical supplies through diplomatic pouch to hospitals in Rangoon to treat the wounded protestors. Soon after we returned to Japan, the military coup in September erased any hope that we might teach in Mandalay. We began raising funds, which we sent to Daw Aye Aye Thant. The next summer, she introduced us to some of the students who had fled to the border, so that we could directly assist them. We established Burmese Relief Center--Japan to provide support for the students of ABSDF, the monks of ABYMU, Mae Tao Clinic, and various welfare and education projects of the ethnic minorities and refugee groups on the Thai/Burnma border.

After 1988, we have never returned officially to Burma (We were on the Black List for many years.), but, as long as we were working in Japan (until 1999) we spent part of every summer in Thailand, and much of that time was on the Thai/Burma border. We received generous donations of money, medicine, medical equipment, books, clothes, sewing machines, eye glasses, and much more for the students and refugees. Every year, friends joined us in Bangkok, and we organized working border tours, visiting camps on both sides of the border. We met many activists and opposition leaders, attended meetings of the Committee for Coordination of Services to Displaced Persons in Thailand (CCSDPT) in Bangkok, visited immigration detention centers, and demonstrated every year at the Burmese Embassy on August 8th.

To help explain the situation in Burma and to encourage donations, we created a slide presentation on Burma. The program had four parts:

1. The beauty and peacefulness of the country
2. The poverty often unseen
3. The uprising in 1988
4. The students and refugees on the border

Using primitive audio-visual tools, in the days before computers, we converted the slide presentation to a video, which we called "Land of Pagodas, Land of Refugees." Unfortunately, the quality is not very high, but we believe that it captures much of our Burma experience and gives a glimpse of the country as it used to be and why we care so much about the Pa'O, Kachin, Karenni, Chin, Wa, Intha, Danu, Rohingya, Mon, Shan, Karen, and other ethnic groups. The recent coup clearly demonstrates that the Tatmadaw is and has always been a fascist army. Their policy of "Four Cuts" tells you all you need to know about how they "rule."

Here in Sri Lanka, our affinity with Burma, now Myanmar, has continued. It was after two Burmese students asked to join our class at Subhodharama that the class was transformed into a university-level program. Our intensive courses, both in Kolkata and in Kandy were originally organized for Burmese university students. Because of the pandemic, all of our classes have been indefinitely put on hold, but, late last year, we were asked to teach a course via ZOOM for students in Myanmar who want to teach the Dhamma in English. We immediately began arranging the material and recruited two additional teachers. We were set to begin in February. Surprise! The coup in Naypyidaw threw that into a cocked hat. We wonder whether the course will ever materialize.

In 2005, we knew that our thirty-day Thai visa was going to expire, so we had scheduled a quick trip into Laos. It was our first time to cross the Mekong, and it was a lot of fun. We did not venture outside of Vientiane, but we thoroughly relished the relaxed atmosphere of the city compared to the frenetic pace in Bangkok. Near Pha That Luong, the most important stupa in Laos, we noticed an artist's studio and stopped to admire his work. The walls were covered with hundreds of beautiful framed paintings. The artist explained some of them and introduced us to his wife and daughter. We were so impressed that we bought two water-colors painted on hand-made paper, much cheaper, of course, and easier to transport than the huge canvases. We have appreciated these two paintings, but we never thought much more about the artist. A few weeks ago, we decided to do a Google search, using the signature as a guide. To our surprise, we discovered that that artist, Khamsouk Keomingmuang, has been designated the National Artist of Laos, and his work is displayed in several museums, including the Singapore Art Museum.

Our paintings
In the artist's studio
Economic Catastrophe
In the Singapore Art Museum

Three women from Flint joined us for that border tour and trip to Laos. We stayed in touch with all of them, but we hadn't seen Jean Munro on Facebook for quite a while. We tried calling her, but her voice mail was full. In December, with the help of Pat, a member of Michigan Citizens for Peace, we learned that Jean was suffering from pancreatic cancer and was in hospice. We were able to contact Shela, who was taking care of Jean, and Shela suggested we call as soon as possible, no matter what time. We called immediately, even though it was about 2 AM in Michigan. Shela held the phone to Jean's ear, and we could talk, recalling happy memories. (On the trip to Thailand, Jean donated a microscope to a border hospital.) She said very little, but we knew that she recognized us and was glad we could talk. We were in tears at the end, but so grateful for the chance to say goodbye. She was gone the next day. Amazingly, she died without pain; she just faded gently away. Jean was the chaplain at Hurley Hospital in Flint and a fellow member of the Flint Interfaith Council. During our five years in Flint we had spent many happy hours with her. We will always remember her sincerity, her friendship, and her dedication to helping others.

"This is from Jean Munro and Shela Moyer. God Bless them both. If you are reading this, I have gone home to Jesus Christ. I have had a wonderful life filled with many dear friends and all kinds of adventures. I have traveled the world including Scotland, Russia, Thailand, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and many other countries. In the early 80's, I moved to Michigan, and I have thrived here. I've visited most of the lighthouses, spent summer weeks on McNally's front porch on Mackinac Island. I learned to love Vernors, pasties, Koegels, and especially Mackinac Island fudge. I do love my adopted state, especially the lakes and abundant lighthouses. I've had a blessed and wonderful life. I've met wonderful friends, seen phenomenal views, and been touched by the nature of God. Many panoramas live in my heart. I am at peace. I want to say a special thank you to Shela Moyer and her family for adopting me over 30 years ago. May peace be with each and every one of you."

We first met Ven. Ayya Vimala, a German bhikkhuni, in Japan. We were quite pleased to meet her again in Sri Lanka. For several years, we got together frequently while she stayed in Kandy studying Pali. During her years here, she completed one book, Marananussati, and worked on several others. About a year and a half ago, she returned to Hawaii, where she had lived before and done research on Mary Foster, a prominent dayaka of Anagarika Dhammapala. She hopes that that book, MARY MIKAHALA FOSTER--The Noble Hawaiian Lady and Anagarika Dhammapala, will be published soon. For much of her sojourn in Kandy, whe stayed at Malwatte Rest, where she befriended a resident cat. As soon as she heard about our new kitten, Michelle, she sent us a poem she had written. We would like to share it. The drawing was done by Prof.Chakrabarthi, UH Manoa. and the coloring by Kaveen. Ven. Vimala hopes, pandemic permitting, to come back to Kandy this year.

As we have announced in the last few reports, Buddhist Relief Mission offers High Tea to the patients at the Kandy Cancer Home on the fifteenth of every month. The Kandy Cancer Home, which is completely dependent on private donations, provides free accomodation and board to out-of-town patients while they are receiving treatment at Kandy Hospital. Before the pandemic, we were able to offer afternoon refeshments to the patients in person.They are so dignified and appreciative that it is always rewarding to serve them. Now, we can only hand over the sandwiches, vegetable cutlets, semolina balls, soup, yoghurt, cake, and bananas to the matron and attendants in the parking lot. Nevertheless, it is a great pleasure to spend the morning preparing the food and to deliver it to the Home. Occasionally, the matron gives us a list of medicines which are needed. We are happy to provide as much as we can, depending on the donations we receive.

Click the photo at left to see photos and to read about the High Teas in January and February. We invite donors to participate in this meritorious work. By providing nourishment to the patients, one can also share merit with a departed loved one, with a friend or relative who is suffering from illness, or to celebrate an auspicious occasion.
Click the photo to see more photos of the orphanage.

In 2015, our driver, Tissa, had introduced us to an orphanage in Ambepussa, which had been started by a senior monk, now deceased, and which his sister was helping to support. At that time, we visited the orphanage, offering food and toy and games for the boys. The manager informed us that the boys needed shoes to attend school, and we were pleased to be able to provide the funds for their purchase. Early this year, we asked Tissa to call the manager, and he learned that there were only fifteen boys remaining there, but that they were, indeed, short of dry reations and that the kitchen needed a new five-kilo rice cooker. It was very easy to find one that large here in Kandy, so, on Saturday, January 16, Lily and Tissa and his wife delivered the rice cooker, 50 kilos of rice, dry rations, and a calendar. Sadhu! Sadhu!! Sadhu!!!

Around the beginning of the year, we launched an appeal in our neighborhood for used children's clothes. The response was very encouraging. In the next few weeks, we will be distributing the clothes, toys, and supplies to several orphanages and to needy children. One day, we received a phone call offering a particularly interesting donation--Teddy bears! A few hours later, a couple arrived with a sack filled with the cuddly toys. Some children are going to be very happy!

Click the photo to see more photos of Ven. Nanda and her hermitage
In our continuing support of Ven. Nanda, Lily has visited her several times at her hermitage, carrying dry rations. During the pandemic, it has become increasingly difficult for the villagers to offer sufficient food. Lily also delivered the second volume of Anguttara Nikaya, which completed her collection of the Sutta Pitaka in Sinhala. We are happy to announce that, with recent donations received, we will be able to erect a retaining wall and to complete some other construction projects. Sadhu! Sadhu!! Sadhu!!!

Ken's packing skills have served us well here. When we visited Singapore about five years ago, we learned that a large Buddhist bookstore was having difficulty procuring books from Sri Lankan publishers. We offered to expedite the process, and, several times a year, we handled their orders. We posted so many boxes so frequently that we became very familiar with all the clerks at the Kandy Central Post Office, and they began giving us special service. During the pandemic, we had not received an order for a full year, and we were quite concerned. In January, a very large order came through, and, for several weeks, our living room again became a packing station. Hooray!

One day, while Ken was inside a pharmacy on busy Peradeniya Road, Visakha and Ashoka noticed that a tiny kitten was on the verge of falling into the sewer. Men standing nearby explained that the kitten had been abandoned there that morning. Ashoka quickly found an empty box and rescued it. Not sure why, but, even before we got home, we were calling the little darling Michel(le). The courtyard was rearranged as her (as we confirmed) living quarters. (She is too small to face the great outdoors with its marauding cats and dogs, and too rambunctious to be allowed unattended in the living/dining/altar room.) We gave her a sandbox, and she showed her appreciation by sleeping in it. The next morning, there was that familiar malodor, but we could not locate it. A coulple of days later, we discovered Michelle's feces in a pot of anthuriums. She had trained herself. Let's hear it for instinct! We replaced that anthurium pot with a clay pot of sand, and she graciously accepted the change. Now the courtyard, where she dines and spends her nights, is filled with toys, and she is very happy. Leo did not at first accept the intrusion, but they have beome friends and sometimes play together, but, once in a while, he becomes impatient with her teasing.

Of Monkeys (and Men)
By Ewen Arnold

Someone recently posted this on my Facebook page.

"If a monkey hoarded more bananas than it could eat, while most of the other monkeys starved, scientists would study that monkey to find out what the heck was wrong with it. When humans do it we put them on the cover of Forbes."

This got me to thinking about the monkeys that live in amongst us here in Kandy. Where I live we have a troop of monkeys which visits us almost every day. The same troop has been coming for many years. They can be very destructive, but, over the years, we have made our house and garden more and more monkey-proof. When they come, I try to remember that they were here before humans were on this hillside in Kandy and that they (toque macaques) are an endangered species, unlike humans.

Many years ago, My wife and I noticed that a young adolescent male had a hand missing. The most likely reason for this is that he got his hand caught in a snare. People who live in our area set these in the forest to catch porcupines or pigs for eating. They are indiscriminate, and I have twice seen dogs caught in such traps. An animal that is trapped will sometimes chew its leg off in order to escape. Maybe he had to chew his own hand off.

Click here to read the entire essay.

Let us end on a note of hope. We found these in a Google search:

The answers are out there for anyone who is willing to grab them. The real problem is that no one is willing or capable of grabbing those answers.
The answers could be evolving, waiting for us to realize that they've been there all along.
We have to band together and catch the meaning of love for each other. The answers are waiting for us to find the meaning of peace. Peace is not the absence of war. It's acceptance of all.

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