Live and Let Live; Kill and Be Killed, January 30, 2024

We wish we could say that we had that dream last night, but we can't. That dream has been buried under rubble, drowned in the sea, destroyed in the hail of bombs, and forgotten. That glimmer of hope is kaput, finished, and as dead as a doornail.

For several years, in our reports, we have discussed the impending threats of climate catastrophe, pollution, habitat destruction, wildlife extinctions, famine, and war. Here in Sri Lanka we have access to BBC, CNN, ABC (Australia), France 24, and EuroNews (Germany), as well as Al Jazeera, which, for the past 100+ days, has covered the War on Gaza virtually 24/7. That means we're living in a very different world from many. Every day, Al Jazeera has provided up-close, on-site, and personal reporting from Gaza, Israel, Yemen, etc., with graphic footage of the destruction and suffering. They know the territory and cover the stories with honesty, clarity, and empathy. We have witnessed destruction and horror on an absolutely terrifying scale. We have also closely followed several excellent blogs, such as "Informed Comment" (Prof. Juan Cole, University of Michigan), "Truthout," and "Common Dreams." With all of this information, it is unbelievable that so many of the powers that be regard this genocidal war as acceptable. We've also followed Jewish Voices for Peace, and B'Tselem (the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) for years, so we have never had any illusions about Isreal and its rule of Palestine. Of course, we've always understood that, for the weapons industry, every war is profitable. Every bomb that is dropped puts money in someone's pocket!

Having just reread the Atthasadda Jataka, "The Case of the Eight Sounds," we were comparing its clear morality and hopefulness to the ever more frightful slaughter Israel is carrying out with US weapons and "moral" support. Just then, Robert Koehler's latest article, "The Cry of the Wounded: End War," came into our inbox and we felt encouraged to continue this painful report!

In this Jataka, the Buddha relates that, one night, a king was awakened by eight terrifying sounds. When he consulted his Brahmin advisors, they unanimously agreed that the sounds were dangerous omens, threatening harm to the kingdom or to the king himself. They averred that the only means of preventing doom was to perform a bloody animal sacrifice, from which they, of course, would reap great rewards and a sumptuous feast.

One young brahmin, however, refused to be a part of the preparations. When he happened to meet a wise ascetic (the Bodhisatta), he took that opportunity to introduce him to the king. The ascetic explained that those eight sounds were not threats, but pleas to the king for help. Overjoyed to hear this and firmly convinced of its truth, the king stopped the bloody sacrifice. By following the ascetic's advice and teaching, the king not only relieved the suffering of those beings who cried, but also was able to restore order and harmony in his palace and his capital.

What were the causes of the frightening sounds that the king had heard?

  1. A crane, half dead from hunger, in a dried up pond in a neglected royal garden
    The king ordered that the garden be fully restored.
  2. A female crow whose nest in the elephant stables had been destroyed and her newly hatched chicks killed by the one-eyed chief mahout
    The king fired the cruel man and replaced him with a kinder mahout,
  3. A woodworm which was starving because it had eaten all the softwood of a rafter in the palace
    The king ordered his carpenter to find the rafter and to release the insect.
  4. A cuckoo
  5. A deer
  6. A monkey
  7. A kinnara
    These four animals had been captured from the forest and were kept caged in the palace.
    The king released them and returned them to their families.
  8. A dying Pacceka Buddha, rejoicing that he would not be reborn, that this was his last birth
    The king held a beautiful funeral ceremony for the Pacceka Buddha and built a cetiya over the relics.

Relating this story to the world today, first, it's obvious that we have few kindly, reasonable, principled "kings" in our brutal world . Kudos to South Africa! Then what are the sounds (thanks to Robert Koehler), which should frighten us so much that we awaken from our apathy?

  1. Cries from victims of war (e.g. Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan, Myanmar), refugees (e.g. Myanmar, Syria, Sudan)
    Let us not forget the Rohingya genocide
  2. A whale caught in plastic and nets in the polluted seas
  3. A convict on death row (the death penalty, inhumane prisons)
    "To kill for murder is a punishment incomparably worse than the crime itself. Murder by legal sentence is immeasurably more terrible than murder by brigands."--Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot
    N, B., Private Eddie Slovik was executed, with Gen. Eisenhower's compliance, for refusing to fight in WWII
  4. A famine victim (Gaza, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Yemen)
  5. A polar bear (melting icecaps and glaciers and rising oceans)
  6. A hog (factory farming, dog meat, bushmeat from endangered species)
  7. A Dalit in India (human-rights abuse, human/sex trafficking, child labor, slavery and casteism)
  8. An orangutan (environmental destruction and species extinction),
    just to name a few.

The solutions to the problems which gave rise to the cries which the king heard were simple and could be easily remedied, but his brahmin advisors were greedy for material gain and eager to feast on the delicious meat after the sacrifice. They pretended to know the portents and lied for their own benefit.

The problems facing the world today might have been resolved long ago, but, throughout modern history, greed, hatred, and delusion have prevailed to the extent that colonialism, imperialism, predatory capitalism, narrow nationalism, sexism, and corruption have trumped morality, justice, international law, art, science, the sense of shared humanity, and concern for the planet.

Ever-expanding wars create profit for the weapons industry, refugees, and famine. Revenge builds hatred among the oppressed and a cycle of violence. Censorship and prejudice breed ignorance, destroy freedom, and deny human rights to many.

Our leaders, unlike the honest king in the story are not amenable to wise advice, and they are not paying heed to dissidents and progressives, who like the young brahmin student, are calling for reform and drastic change before it's too late. Where can we find honest advisors today who are not swayed by the favors and donations they receive from industries exploiting workers, creating weapons and dangerous technology, destroying the environment, and spreading propaganda which hides the truth, sows confusion, and threatens to end life on planet Earth? Too many advisors today advocate endless wars (Remember the "War to End All Wars"?), sanctions (e.g. Cuba), union busting, tax cuts for the wealthy, border walls, banning books (Those who don't know the past ... .), and internment camps (Will Guantanamo ever be closed?). Leaders are increasingly canceling welfare programs and services for the poor and removing regulations which protect citizens from exploitation nad harm.

The loudest and most urgent cry today is from Gaza. The devastation of Palestine is unprecedented. It is intense, concentrated, and merciless. This is the obliteration of an entire indigenous people, already virtual refugees in their own land, who have nowhere to escape to. It is the destruction of everything--olive groves, agriculture, homes, schools, churches, mosques, hospitals, museums, bakeries, shops, and all infrastructure--water supplies, gas lines, electricity, roads, and means of communication. Everything Palestinian is being eliminated and turned into rubble. If we include the missing, who are certainly buried under this rubble, the death toll, at this point, exceeds 30,000. Innocent victims include parents and children (sometimes whole families), babies, pregnant women, the elderly, critically ill patients, students, health workers, reporters, and UN workers. No one is exempt or safe.

One noteworthy thing we've observed about the Palestinians is the strength of the family. They have very close family ties, and they love each other. Watching grieving parents on Al Jazeera is heartbreaking, and the suffering of relatives who, because of the Israeli communication blackout, cannot connect with relatives, is very disturbing. Palestinians also have strong ties to their land. They deeply respect the ancient mosques and churches, the herds of sheep and goats, the donkeys, and, of course, the ancient olive trees.

Here are two videos of Palestinian folk dances and songs. The first is performed in Gaza before the war. You can see many beautiful buildings in Gaza before they were destroyed. The setting of the second is ruins of villages which were taken over by Israel in 1948. The song describes the yearning of the Palestinians to return to their homeland and to live once more in peace.

Dabke Palestino
Make Hummus, Not War
Palestinian Folk Dance and Song
Click each image to watch the video on YouTube

As we were writing this, we watched an interview on Al Jazeera with their informed, articulate analyst, Marwan Bishara, who pointed out that, around the world, Jews are the Palestinians best friends. It must be clarified that opposition to the war and demanding a ceasefire are not anti-Semitic. The Palestinians are also Semites. The problem is colonialism, that is, the Israeli Zionists and all those who support Zionism are essentially imperilalists and colonials. Most Israeli Jews emigrated from Europe and North America where they had become very "Westernized." The Palestinians are the indigenous people of that area, the regional equivalent of Native Americans, Australian Aborigines, and New Zealand Maori, just to name a few.

As for divine favoritism, a case in point is certainly "Manifest Destiny," the notion that The United States had/has the right to extend "from sea to shining sea." This hubric principle resulted in the genocide of millions of indigenous people and the stealing of their land, decimation of the American Bison, and the extinction of the passenger pigeon. Plowing of the prairies and converting them into farmland resulted in the disaster known as the Dust Bowl.

In our ZOOM class we have continued discussing Buddhism and war. In response to Ven. Thanissaro's insistence that the Buddha was absolute in observing non-violence and the first precept, not to kill, one student suggested, "That's too idealistic." Our reaction is that Buddhism is the ideal, and that non-violence is the only solution to any problem, including international conflict.

One sect of Buddhism which strictly professes nonviolence and not killing is Nichiren-shu of Japan. To help propagate this notion, this group, led by the late Daisuke Ikeda, has erected Peace Stupas in many countries all across the world. The article, "Resolving Conflicts as Buddhists," explains that one guiding principle for this is that "Everyone is a Buddha, worthy of utmost respect." If I respect your Buddha nature and bow to the Buddha in you, how can I possibly wish to kill you? In the beginninglessness of Samsara (the round of rebrths), it is certain that each of us has in someway been related to every other being: "He was my relative, my friend, my companion."

Since we began writing this report the situation in Gaza has deteriorated dreadfully, and, by the time you are reading it, the Palestinian genocide will include famine and plagues, with the outrageous cancellation of Western funding for UNRWA. A number of friends and acquaintances have remarked: “I can’t bear to watch the news because it’s just too depressing!” We agree that the suffering of the Palestinians is depressing, but we feel that it is important to hear the cry of the suffering and to know what is actually happening, and, in Palestine, this is only possible by watching Al Jazeera. Whereas other news channels simply “report” the disaster, Al Jazeera is continuously providing live coverage of Israel’s total destruction in Gaza of the hospitals, schools, universities, residential buildings, mosques, and churches, as well as the raids in the Occupied West Bank. Only by seeing this can one truly understand the unspeakable conditions in which the Palestinians are struggling to survive and dying. As Americans, we have a duty to know what our government is doing in our name, and increasingly other nations are following suit. Seeing the devastation in Gaza, shouldn’t one feel outrage at the callous opportunism of the leaders of Western governments and attempts to vilify those calling for a ceasefire and humanitarian aid for the Palestinians? How we long for the morality of JFK and Jimmy Carter! If you do not have access to Al Jazeera on your TV, we urge you, beg you even, to visit the website, watch a few videos, and read some of the commentary. It is no exaggeration to say that this Qatar-based news channel deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for its courageous and comprehensive coverage of the "War in Gaza" and the "Palestinian Genocide" since October 7.

Here in Sri Lanka, Buddhist Relief Mission continues to distribute food and medicine to monks, nuns, needy families, schools, hospitals, and other institutions. In this, we cooperate with like-minded friends and organizations. It is very rewarding to see the smiles of the recipients and to feel that we are helping to make life better for those less fortunate.Certainly, there are places in the world where people are suffering much more than here, but we are here, and we do whatever we can. We are extemely grateful for the support we get from so many. Sadhu! Sadhu!! Sadhu!!!

For information on making a donation by bank transfer, click any flyer.

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have had very few guests, and the virus has not disappeared, by any means. We still wear masks when we go shopping or to the bank and most of the time with visitors. Nevertheless, we have begun to welcome visitors for meals and overnight. In November, three university students spent several days with us, discussing a wide range of topics, enjoying our food, watching movies, and just hanging out. They didn't stay overnight, but they spent a lot of time with us. They were part of a Buddhist study program, each carrying out research in a different field. Cat was concentrating on the practice of metta. Nicholas was investigating the effectiveness of social media in Dhamma dissemination. Marcos was evaluating relief activities of Buddhist organizations. It was so refreshing to have them here. They made us feel younger than we have in many years.

SERVAS has also suddenly revived as well! In mid-December, Elisa, a Belgian SERVAS traveler, and her French friend, Sandra, joined us for lunch, and we had a lovely afternoon. They were enjoying particularly the fresh fruit in Sri Lanka. They wanted to taste durian and were disappointed to learn that this is not the season. We told them, however, about Durianzilla, the only durian restaurant in Sri Lanka. Before going to Sri Pada, they stopped at the restaurant and were delighted.

Over the holidays, we hosted two French SERVAS couples, Isabele and Claude and Therese and Frank. Then, two weeks later, Rolf, a German SERVAS traveler arrived and stayed for several days. It was wonderful to feel once more part of this internatonal organization and to hear of their experiences around the world. We have been members of SERVAS for fifty years, During that time, we have hosted, at least, one hundred travelers, and, as we traveled in 1978-79, we stayed with families in many countries, including Indonesia, India, France, England, and Ireland. We strongly recommend that anyone who is interested in meeting and getting to know people from around the world investigate SERVAS and consider joining.

On January 23, Daniel, a meditation teacher in the Goenka Vipassana program visited with some friends--Oloo, a Kenyan meditator; Heide, a German meditator, whom we had met several years ago, living in Hirasagala; and Christof, a German meditation assistant. Rolf was here, and Ewen and Ariyadhamma, an American woman planning to retire in Kandy, also came. We had a wonderful, spontaneous Dhamma discussion that lasted two and a half hours. We look forward to having this kind of gathering much more often and with even more participants.
From Germany, Rolf brought two blood pressure cuffs, one for children and one for adults, which he donated to Kandy Hospital and a stethoscope for the Cancer Home. It is wonderful that travelers to Sri Lanka are bringing such valuable medical equipment which is expensive and difficult to obtain here. We hope that more visitors can help in this way. Sadhu! Sadhu!! Sadhu!!!

Other guests, who are also considering retiring in Kandy and increasing our Dhamma communitywere Jacques from Belgium, Peter from Australia, and Puay Yuen from Malaysia. We welcome them wholeheartedly and hope they decide to make this lovely city their new home.

We feel blessed to be able to live in this spacious house at the top of a hill..The "jungle" behind the house is home to many birds and other wildlife. Shortly after we first moved in, we were thrilled to see a pair of gray hornbills sitting on the back fence. It was our first time to see these magnificent creatures. They rested there peacefully for about forty-five minutes, as though they were welcoming us to their abode. Rajiv also saw them in the trees while he was here last year. Remembering this, we were very sad and upset in December when Ashoka called us to the window of our bedroom and showed us one of that pair which had broken its neck flying full-speed into the invisible window. We vowed never to allow this to happen again and asked him to hang shiny reflecting CDs in each window. They don't detract from the view of the valley, and we are relieved that the windows are now much safer for all the birds.

As we have mentiond before, Leo, our big cat, must have been a driver in a previous life. He has a great affinity for vehicles. He gets in or on almost every vehicle--motorcycle, three-wheeler, car, or van--that enters our compound. Several years ago, shortly after leaving the house on our way to class at Subodharama one morning, we heard a "Thump!" Ashoka suddenly stopped, realizng that it was Leo jumping off the roof of the three-wheeler. We had not noticed that he was sleeping there. He had jumped into a gully and landed about twenty feet (seven meters) below road level. A kind man on a motorcycle stopped in front of us, and he and Ashoka climbed down to retreve our frightened feline. Cradling him in our arms, we took him back to the house and asked Lily to comfort him until we returned from class. A couple of weeks ago, we had a delivery of peanut butter from a factory in Matale, north of Kandy. The deliveryman unloaded the boxes of peanut butter, carried the empty jars back to the car, and drove away. About fifteen minutes later, our phone rang. "I have a large cat," the driver announced. "I think he is yours!" We assured him that it was, indeed, Leo, who had surreptitiously climbed into the car. We don't know how far away he had gotten before he noticed Leo, but we are grateful that he came back with our cat. Had he driven much further, Leo would not have known where he was nor how to get home. To prevent a disaster, we have made a sign which we will post prominently on the gate and at the front of the house.

A few days ago, we received our complimentary copies of Volume I of the Russian edition of Jataka Tales of the Buddha. It is beautifully formatted, with one page devoted to each illustration. Daniel carried two copies to India, one for the Russian Embassy in New Delhi and the other for his meditation center in Mumbai. We hope to donate one also to the Embassy in Colombo. At 11 AM, January 29, we got a phone call. A deliveryman had a parcel from India, and Lily directed him to the house. Lo and behold! It was Volume I of the Spanish edition, inscribed on November 27 and sent to India from Bolivia. This, too, is a beautiful book. Soon, we should be receiving copies of the French and Ukranian editions, as well. We are grateful to all those who have worked so hard to make our work available in these translations. Sadhu! Sadhu!! Sadhu!!!

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