What a Piece of Work is Man! May 31, 2021

(Throughout this report, clicking on any thumbnail of an article will open that article in its original website.)

The news these days is grim, depressing, ghastly, and even scary. The Thesaurus has a million ugly words for what all conservatives, fascists, racists, white supremacists, sexists, and casteists have in common:

They share a superiority complex, as well as race, sex, or caste entitlement; they value property over people; they lack empathy; they display behavior that is stingy, cruel, heartless, feckless, ruthless, selfish, and violent; they are sociopathic, egotistical, self-centered, and goal oriented, bullies; unloved and unlovable, sadistic, two-faced, liars; they are grifters, rabble-rousers, and fear-mongerers; and they abhor science and facts and spew unhinged conspiricy theories and propaganda without shame. We can call them morally bankrupt.

They gather and fester on social media and the so-called "news" outlets that cater to them. Revive the Fairness Act, please! The airwaves and social media have become dominated by tyrants and bullies, wannabes, autocrats and those behind them, arms-dealers, dirty politicians, and the cops.

Let us agree, however, that " Enough is enough!" We have had enough of them! There is no need to even say their names. For sanity's sake, let's turn our attention to the truth-tellers, the wise, the thoughtful, the kind, and the best among us. Let's look to those who do good, use reason, respect facts, and care about others. Let's pay attention to those who want a decent future for all, a liveable future for the planet. Let's forget about the dregs of humanity and consider the heros, large and small.

There is no denying the crises we face--the pandemic; endless wars; extinction; losing our only home, in all its infinite variety, to name a few. In order to overcome these crises, we need to be heedful. Rather than being distracted by the the loudest, the rudest, and the roughest voice, it is that still, small voice of wisdom and reason which we need to hear. We must distinguish right from wrong, kind from cruel, and wise from dangerously stupid.

There! Doesn't that feel better? Actually, it might be a very dangerous mistake. We need not listen to the sociopaths, the tyrants, the demogogues, but we absolutely do need to watch what they are up to, what they do, what they plot, and then we need to resist, resist, resist! We can't become complacent. We can't compromise the truth for the sake of bipartisanship. Democracy is very fragile, and letting down one's guard can have disastrous results.

Since May 10, the predominant issue in the news, apart from the pandemic, has been the violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Anyone who believes in the sanctity of human rights has to be appalled at the wanton destruction in Gaza caused by the Israeli air strikes, including the complete demolition of the eleven-story building housing the international media offices, namely, Aljazeera and the Associated Press. Here are two articles offering insightful perspectives of the problem.

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As you have probably noticed in these reports, we respect Juan Cole, Professor of History at the University of Michigan. We were pleased to find this comment by Barbara O'Brien:

A few days before the latest escalation of violence began, we posted on Facebook an article by Juan Cole. It elicited this response from a friend (?).

".... I have blocked you. You are the most Jew hating people I know. Thank heavens you don't live here. Hitler would love you. You two are no longer friends of mine. Shame on you. Every time I see your anti jewish writing it ruins my BuJew day. Horrible people. I have blocked you. Too bad you never faced prejudice. ALL LIVES MATTER YOU LOUSY RACISTS AND YOUR PAL JUAN COLE. Disgusting! "

We did not respond to this tirade, but we would like to state that we are not "anti-Jewish." We try hard to be both objective and compassionate. We stand unashamedly for human rights, for truth, and for justice. For complete and unbiased TV coverage, we depend on Al Jazeera. We were impressed that that channel televised most of the special session of the United Nations General Assembly, while other channels blithered on about inconsequential local issues, fashion, and bitcoins. Here are two articles we have gathered from blogs, which we feel present a fair, honest, accurate picture.

Thankfully, there is now a ceasefire between Israel and Palestine (as the second article indicates), with celebrations, at last of Eid Mubarach in Gaza, as people return to their destroyed homes and devastated neighborhoods.

How long will it last? Who knows, but perhaps things will be different this time? The worldwide solidarity, including from the Rohingya and other Burmese dissidents, was moving and heartening. Dare we be optimistic?

One way to approach a nightmare such as this is with satire. Here are two articles which appeared before the ceasefire.


Let us digress for a moment. We are distressed by many in Sri Lanka who apparently hate trees. Recently, three thickly-wooded tracts were denuded and have for months stood barren. One neighbor cut down a magnificent jackfruit tree laden with fruit and poisoned another. We had thought it was illegal to cut a jackfruit tree without a permit. It is commonly said in Sri Lanka that one jackfruit tree can feed a village.

Apparently, one motivation for felling the fruit trees is so as not to attract monkeys. Our neighbors often fire air guns and explode firecrackers, so loud and annoying, to scare away the monkeys. We, on the other hand, welcome them. It is a joy to watch them leap from tree to tree, cavort in the garden, and drink from the birdbath. Michelle loves to sit at the window and watch them, too. Sometimes they reciprocate by batting at her, which she finds delightful! Our vegetables are safe in "monkey cages," and we don't mind sharing the flowers or some of "our" fruit. When the simians become too rambunctious, Lily has an effective way of chasing them away.

The current climate catastrophe is certainly exacerbated by the destruction of forests, the wanton felling of trees, and the loss of entire ecosystems. Many activists are proclaiming that one possible remedy is reforestation, the wholesale planting of trees. Trees grow so slowly, though, that the felling of any large tree is to be mourned, and we must respect those who respect trees. We remember, years ago in Thailand, seeing saffron robes around the trunks of the most majestic trees, placed there in ceremonies by local monks for protection of the trees. Can't we agree that those who love the trees and animals and the land itself are the ones who deserve to live on that land?


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One further comment on the Israel-Palestine conflict. The "Movement Memos" interview above mentions "skunk water." We first learned of this on Al Jazeera, but we have not heard it mentioned on any of the western news channels. Here is a clear explanation of what it is.


Here is one more article offering a perspective which is not commonly presented in the mainstream media.

At the begining of this report, we mentioned that we would like to focus on heroes. Let us sbegin with Nobel Laureates.

Aung Myo Min is a remarkable person. As an activist, a leader, and a friend, we would say that he is a hero, and we are proud to have known him for 32 years.


Amal told about another hero in the struggle for environment.

We long dreamed of opening a coffee shop (Japanese: kisaten), where like-minded people could get together, discuss important issues, read books, and listen to great music as they tried to save the world. Here is an article about a young woman who made that dream come true.


Here is a new video by a heroine we have lauded in several previous reports.


<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WvehTbuvIo>

Friends have asked us about the Covid-19 situation in Sri Lanka. We would like to assure all of you that, for the time being, we are safe. We are isolating ourselves as best we can. We go out only when absolutely necessary, and we have had virtually no guests since the pandemic began. Lily takes excellent care of us. Nimal cleans and maintains the property. Kumar has recently joined our staff as gardener, and Ashoka does the shopping and many odd jobs, such as keeping Michelle's claypot clean. These are four jewels. This is not to say, however, that the overall situation in Sri Lanka is safe. Here is a recent article painting a pretty grim picture.

Here is the latest update on the situation in Sri Lanka, which even increases the madness:

Sri Lanka will continue lockdown style Coronavirus restrictions till June 07, relaxing controls on May 25, May 31, and June 4 to walk to the nearest shop to buy foods and medicine, Transport Minister Johnston Fernando said.

On days that movement restrictions are relaxed people will be only allowed to buy food and medicines, he said.

"Don't go in vehicles," Transport Minister Fernando told reporters on May 24. "Walk to the nearest shop."

. . .

Taxis and three wheelers are not expected to operate except for medical purposes.

"If you have to go to hospital, you can use your own car or a taxi," DIG Rohana said.

https://economynext.com/sri-lanka-lockdown-style-coronavirus-restrictions-extended-till-june-07-82326/

As of this posting, the opening on May 31 and June 4 has been canceled.
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We wonder how the elderly and handicapped, who cannot easily walk long distances or carry heavy groceries, are supposed to cope. These restrictions obviously favor the rich!

Click the photo to read Ven. Tsundue's letter with her photos
For now, the most serious Covid-19 crisis is in India. Even CNN covered the crisis every night for about a week. Here is a first-hand report from Ven. Tsundue, who has been BuddhaGaya for about one year. We have no words to describe her remarkable Dhamma practice; certainly because of her being there, many, many beings have benefitted.
Click the image to read the annuncement from the Abbot of Wat Buddhametta.
In her letter, Ven. Tsundue mentions the higher ordination of Ven. Dhammapala. This refers to Terry Jennings, whom we first met in Japan when he was the representative for Prentice Hall Regents at JALT conferences for many years. We have kept in touch with him since then, and he was a teacher in our Kandy Intensive Buddhist English Course in 2016. After he returned from Sri Lanka, he became involved with Wat Buddhametta, the Thai Temple in Tucson, Arizona. Several years ago, he undertook the eight precepts for life as an Anagaraika. Then, during a pilgrimage to India with his abbot, he ordained as a novice. On May 12, he received his higher ordination as a bhikkhu. We congratulate him and send him our best wishes. For several months, he has been receiving experimental treatment for blood cancer. Despite having to go to the hospital 4-5 days a week, he has managed to divest himself of all property and is truly homeless! Sadhu! Sadhu!! Sadhu!!! He's also helping his teacher/preceptor prepare for opening the Wat to the public. "We have already opened (with strict guidelines) for silent meditation and chanting," he wrote. "It is very few who can come in the mornings on weekdays but we have more and more on Sundays. We have asked our community people to get vaccinated, and the success rate of this campaign is very high. No one believes all the silliness about the vaccines having nanoparticles that can tell the government everything we are doing. LOL! When did 'foolishly gullible' become a laudable trait? LOL!"

Click this drawing whtich Steve did for us several years ago to read his recent letter.
We also received an inspiring letter from Steve, an inmate in Michigan, which we would like to share.

Click the photo of Linda to read her letter and to see some of the Hmong pieces we sent
A few years ago, we received a request from Linda Gerdner, to use some of our photos of Ban Vinai in one of her publications on the Hmong. When she learned that we had a lot of Hmong needlework, she also asked to use several photos of those as well. A few months later, she sent us a copy of one of her books. As we continued corresponding, we were increasingly impressed with her work and both her love of and expertise in Hmong culture. As many of you know, while we were working in Ban Vinai in the 1980s, we collected many pieces of Hmong needlework which followed us to Sri Lanka. For several years, we had been wondering what we should do with them. It certainly seems a waste to keep them here in storage. About a year ago, we determined that Linda would be in a much better position than us either to use all this beautiful handicraft or to donate it to an institution for preservation. With the pandemic, mailing was impossible. Finally, in April this year, we were able to pack everything and send it to Iowa. Linda has received it all and is enjoying looking through these beautiful pieces which gave us great pleasure over the past forty years. Here is the joyous letter we just received.

Continuing our series of thematic crossword puzzles, during the hours when we would have, under "normal" conditions, been developing materials and teaching, we created a set of three refugee crossword puzzles. We found the exercise very educational for us. We hope you enjoy learning from them as much as we did making them.

Click the photo to read about Ven. Nanda's plan.
We have frequently reported our support for Ven. Nanda, the bhikkhuni staying in the hermitage in Wattapatthana. During the intermittent lockdown, it has become increasingly difficult for the villagers to offer her dana. Lily has gone several times by three-wheeler to take dry rations, vegetables, and medicine. Recently, she informed us that she would like to expand her kuti. The project will cost more than we can immediately provide. We welcome donations.

It's becoming clear! There's a lot of need out there. We would like to establish an organization to help locally. In addition to the Cancer Home, the Orphanage, various Elders' Homes, the Women's Shelter, there are individual needs in the community.


Good Heart Society

Lily told us about an elderly teacher who is partially paralyzed. Recently, her wheelchair broke beyond repair, and she is in urgent need of a new one. We've checked at a local pharmacy, and a basic wheelchair is not very expensive. We will buy one and get it to her as soon as conditions permit.
Some time ago, Lily told us of an old, partially paralyzed retired tea estate worker near Hatton. The old man's wife is working as a live-in domestic, but he had been living under plastic, on an unfinished foundation. His relatives and neighbors were willing to provide the labor, gratis, but they had no money for the raw materials--cement, sand, and blocks. Could we help? Of course. Lily managed the transportation of goods, and the finished shelter is neat and weather-proof.
A local three-wheeler driver, Sashikumar, needing to make money to support his family during these Covid times, had gotten work renovating a local hotel/guest house. He's a diligent worker and did a good job, until a ceiling he was working on partially collapsed, injuring his legs and fracturing his ankles. He's had several surgeries, and skin grafts and is still hospitalized, because, like so many in this part of the world, he is severely diabetic. The hotel owner has provided dry-rations and support for the family (wife and three children). Their landlord, however, came demanding that they pay the rent! The Lighthouse Church has been very supportive. The three-wheeler drivers joined together to help, and so did we. When she heard, Rosalie joined us. He'd often driven her while she was volunteer-teaching, and she remembered how cheerful he was. Happily, he's making a slow but steady recovery, but these are tough times!
Near Ashoka's house lives an elderly couple with a dog, which has the habit of sleeping under a car parked nearby. Usually, the driver checks before he starts the car, but one morning he forgot, and the dog was run over--its back legs seriously injured. The couple were terribly upset, but only Ashoka stopped to find out what had happened. He continued on his way to our house and told us what had happened. We immediately gave him some money and told him to take the owner and the dog to Peradeniya University Animal Hospital, where Ashoka is a familiar face. Happily, the operation on the dog's legs was a success and after a few days of treatment, the dog was returned to his owners. A few weeks later, Ashoka showed us a picture of the infected foot of the man's wife. Her clinic visits are free, but the medicine she needs is not covered, and it is too expensive for them. We could help and look forward someday to having a cup of tea at their house and petting that lucky dog.
A few months back, during a torrential downpour, a woman in a hilly area north of Kandy, was disposing some trash, but she slipped and fell into the gushing runoff. Her husband saw it happen and tried to rescue her, but he, too, was swept away. Both of them were drowned, leaving behind three children. Ashoka told us that a local lawyer, who is on the board of an orphanage, was concerned about their future, investigated the village and their school, and arranged that they will be taken care of without being separated and that they have funds for their schooling that cannot be used for any other purpose. We made a donation and collected more from several friends to help.

Click the photo to see more of Pedro's photos of New York.
In previous reports, we have mentioned our friend, Pedro. Several months ago, he moved from Arizona to New York City, where he was born. He is adjusting to life in the Big Apple, and has embarked on a journey of rediscovery. He has found a Chinese Buddhist temple which he visits frequently, and he continues to send us a monthly donation. We are impressed and grateful. Recently, he took a ferry trip to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We have never visited either site, so we were delighted to receive a complete set of his photographs. One of the Statue of Liberty is outstanding.

Click the photo to read the story of Ven. Vimala's journey back to Sri Lanka
We said above that we have had no guests since the pandemic started. We are pleased that we have one guest now. Ven. Vimala, a German bhikkhuni, is currently staying with us, and cannot move until the lockdown is lifted. How she arrived is a story in itself.

May 26 was Vesak, the celebration of the full-moon day commemorating the birth, enlightenment, and passing away of the Buddha. Ven. Nissarano posted a Dhamma lesson for Vesak which we would like to share with everyone. The theme is loving-kindness, which is profoundly important in these troubled times and always.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iu77aPHNgIA


In the beginning of this report, we used a lot of choice words to describe the worst among us, who are threatening harm and causing great suffering, for reasons of hatred, greed, ignorance, selfishness, or delusion. While we don't want them to dominate our thoughts and our discourse (or our news), we can neither wish them away nor safely ignore them. Of course, we need to counter their stupidity, their sociopathic tendencies, and their diabolical charisma, but we must not hate them. They, too, must be recipients of our loving-kindness, our compassion (They are NOT happy!), and our equanimity. Metta is universal, there are no exceptions. Universal means ALL. We must see "the loveableness of ALL beings."

Meditation on the Divine Abidings

Metta

May I be free from sorrow and always be happy. May those who desire my welfare, those who are indifferent towards me, and those who hate me also be happy.
May all beings who live in this vicinity and those who live in other kingdoms in this world-system be happy.
May all beings living in every world-system and each element of life within such a system be happy and achieve the highest bliss.
Likewise, women, men, the noble and ignoble ones, devas, humans, those in woeful states, and those living in the ten directions―may all those beings be happy.

Karuna May all those who are in pain, in trouble, facing hardship and suffering find relief. May their troubles be over. May they find happiness.
Mudita May all those who are well, successful, healthy, and prosperous, maintain themselves happily.
Upekkha All beings are the owners of their kamma, heirs of their kamma, born of their kamma, related to their kamma, and abide supported by their kamma. Whatever kamma they do, for good or for evil, to that they will be the heir.

Subduing Anger

When anger arises, there are five ways by which one can subdue it, and by which he should wipe it out completely.

When anger arises, one should develop loving-kindness toward the other person.

When anger arises, one should develop compassion for the other person.

When anger arises, one should develop equanimity toward the other person.

When anger arises, one should ignore the other person and not pay any attention to him.

When anger arises, one should direct one's thoughts to the fact of the other person's being the product of his kamma: "This person is the owner of his kamma, heir of his kamma, born of his kamma, related to his kamma, and abides supported by his kamma. Whatever kamma he does, for good or for evil, to that he will be the heir."

These are five ways by which one can subdue anger whenever it arises and by which one should wipe it out completely.

--Anguttara Nikaya 5, 161


The Advantages of Loving-kindness

Eleven advantages are to be expected from the liberation of the mind by cultivating loving-kindness, by regarding it as a vehicle of expression and as something to be treasured, by developing thoughts of loving-kindness, by constantly increasing those thoughts, by living in conformity with them, by putting them into practice, and by firmly establishing them. What are the eleven?

"One sleeps in comfort, awakes in comfort, and sees no evil dreams. One is dear to both human and non-human beings, protected by devas, and unharmed by fire, poison, or the sword. One gains concentration of the mind quickly and has a serene countenance. One dies without being confused in mind and, if failing to attain arahatship here and now, will be reborn in the Brahma-world.

--Anguttara Nikaya 9, 16

Click the photo to read Ewen's essay.
Coincidentally, Ewen sent us an essay he wrote, also on loving-kindness; obviously great minds are thinking alike!

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"One is called to live nonviolently, even if the change one works for seems impossible. It may or may not be possible to turn the United States around through nonviolent revolution. But one thing favors such an attempt: the total inability of violence to change anything for the better."

--Daniel Berrigan, legendary priest, author, poet, and activist, who died five year ago and would have been 100 on May 9.

The title of this report is the opening line of a monologue in Shakespeare's Hamlet. Part of the monologue was set to music by Galt MacDermot for the Musical, Hair, in 1968. Given the current state of the world and the environment, which ia a direct result of the combined actions of humanity, the words are perhaps more apt now than they were to either the Elizabethans or the hippies. Here is the soundtrack recording with lyrics.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JshdUZ5KRpo

Every morning, Lily gathers flowers for our Buddha altar. Recently, she has outdone herself in creativity.



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