Again and Again, July 26, 2017

In our last two reports, we made an appeal for funds to help Ven. Amilasiri purchase land for a new monastery for the elderly monks. This was due to the drought in Kurunegala and the complete lack of water at Bodhirukarama. We are happy to announce that donations have covered more than two-thirds of the total purchase price of $10,000. Further donations are, of course, very welcome and will be much appreciated (Button below), but Ven. Amilasiri feels confident that, somehow, he will be able to find enough to cover the balance. In any case, the land has been procured, and construction has begun. We regret that we have not been able to make a visit to the site and take photographs of the work. Unfortunately, the drought continues throughout the north of Sri Lanka, including all of Kurunegala. There were a few days of rain, but they were not nearly enough.

Twice, in recent months, we have received donations, completely unsolicited, for Bodhirukarama, with requests that dana be offered on the donor's birthday. In each case, the money was promptly sent to Ven. Amilasiri with the donor's name and the date. We are very happy to assist with this. Sadhu! Sadhu!! Sadhu!!!

Several times in recent weeks, we've heard the view expressed that Buddhists should not be concerned about politics, that they should focus on purifying their minds and getting out of Samsara, and that knowing about current events is distracting and unimportant, a digression from the real business of Buddhism! One American averred that she didn't want to know anything about the environment or what Trump is doing because it was disturbing and that she wanted to live undisturbed, with a happy mind. By living in a meditation center and maintaining silence, she expects to achieve enlightenment and to be well out of the mess. She also claimed that the monks of Burma had an even worse government than the US and that they stayed aloof from worldly affairs and pursued their own salvation with diligence. (That simply is not true. Monks were shot and imprisoned in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, and many were active in the border areas in subsequent years.)

Of course, we don't want to be distracted by irrelevancies, but, in order to practice compassion, it is important to know what is going on. We have to see the big picture to understand the real causes and to be able to respond wisely. Compassion (karuna) is one of the four Divine Abidings (Brahma Viharas), but it alone, just as loving-kindness (metta) alone, is not enough.

As a guard against our natural tendency toward tribalism, loving-kindness, because it is universal, protects compassion from favoritism or discrimination. Likewise, compassion functions to prevent loving-kindness and sympathetic joy (mudita) from neglecting the reality of dreadful suffering in the world and from lapsing into complacency. Compassion calls upon us to see even the most wretched as the same as ourselves, stirs us not to be lazy or selfish, and urges us to wholeheartedly engage in relieving suffering in the world. Sympathetic joy gives us encouragement, viewing the wholesome successes of others, while both equanimity and sympathetic joy function to prevent us from being overwhelmed by suffering and to protect our compassion from succumbing to dark, numbing depression. Compassion, likewise, prevents equanimity from becoming cool indifference. All four encourage our practice of patience endowed with courage to avoid evil and to do good, while purifying our minds.

As the world heats up, tempers rise. Those who profit from hatred and conflict know how to divide and conquer, how to manipulate, how to propagandize, and how to inspire the hatred and conflict that enriches and empowers them.

Interestingly, current polls also show that when people personally know someone who is a Muslim, the bias is much less. This confirms what psychology scholar Gordon Allport concludes in his seminal book, "The Nature of Prejudice," that meaningful contact with those who are different is crucial for reducing hatred. Indeed, before we can truly say "love thy neighbor(s)," we need to know and understand them.

"Islamophobia in America: Rise in Hate Crimes Against Muslims Shows What Politicians Say Matters,"
by Brian Levin

Certainly, one countermeasure to the forces of hatred is to be curious about other cultures, other religions, other languages, and other lands. Knowing people, not cutting oneself off from others is important for us and certainly helpful in thwarting those who would create disharmony.

Loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity did not originate with the Buddha. We can find textural references to them in the Upanishads of Hinduism and in the sacred texts of the Jains. To what extent and in what form they exist in other world religions we leave to others to discuss. The Buddha called them sublime because they are the ideal way to conduct oneself toward others. According to Ven. Nyanaponika, "They provide, in fact, the answer to all situations arising from social contact. They are the great removers of tension, the great peace-makers in social conflict, and the great healers of wounds suffered in the struggle of existence. They level social barriers, build harmonious communities, awaken slumbering magnanimity long forgotten, revive joy and hope long abandoned, and promote human brotherhood against the forces of egotism." (Divine Abidings in The Four Sublime States: Contemplations on Love, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity.)

In the Divine Abidings, there is no room for hate. By assiduously developing them in one's conduct and meditation, they will become inseparable companions, enabling one to live with ease wisely and blamelessly, in the progression toward liberation.

As we race toward climate catastrophe and political disintegration, there is plenty of evidence of a corresponding increase in suffering. As inequality increases, we see intolerable injustice and cruelty proliferate. As totalitarianism spreads and strengthens itself, we see, on the one hand, more brutality and, on the other, increasing callousness and selfishness. As wars for oil, water, and land proliferate, the world is witnessing, or rather perhaps ignoring, massive migrations of people--refugees and migrants--fleeing intolerable misery and desperate for safety. In vast swaths of the Middle East we see modern warfare, rubblization -- the total destruction of villages, towns, and entire cities, rendered unlivable, without infrastructure, without shelter, without electricity, without water, and without livelihood. That is the new meaning of "victory" for the US in Iraq and Syria, for Israel in Gaza, and for Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

Compassion opens one's eyes to see suffering and opens one's heart to know the pain felt by other beings. Most people are attuned to their own problems or joys and woefully indifferent to that of others.

Consider this social experiment:

Again quoting Ven. Nyanaponika:

Bound by selfishness, their hearts turn stiff and narrow. Being stiff and narrow, how should they Athat only release from selfish craving will effect their own freedom from suffering?

It is compassion that removes the heavy bar, opens the door to freedom, makes the narrow heart as wide as the world. Compassion takes away from the heart the inert weight, the paralyzing heaviness; it gives wings to those who cling to the lowlands of self. The compassion of the wise man does not render him a victim of suffering. His thoughts, words and deeds are full of pity. But his heart does not waver; unchanged it remains, serene and calm. How else should he be able to help?

Thus armed, we need to stand up for each other, speak out for each other, and always and everywhere resist with wisdom and non-violence.

Well-intentioned people everywhere need to work to break the cycles of war, to defend and protect refugees and immigrants, the poor, the disabled, and the most vulnerable, and to be alert to those who would try to weaken them, by uniting, by speaking out, by strengthening their communities, by resisting hate and ignorance, by easing suffering, by feeding the hungry, and by comforting the afflicted.

In this regard, our concern and our concerted action must not be solely for our fellow humans. The world itself and all living beings in it are suffering and calling upon us to act. This is an excellent book which we recently discovered and have begun reading together with the monks and nuns in one of our classes.

Previous to this, we read Lily de Silva's "The Buddhist Attitude Towards Nature." Although this was written thirty years ago, before almost anyone realized the dire urgency of the environmental crisis, it is still relevant. It clearly posits a relationship between morality and social and environmental degradation.

In previous reports, we have discussed the Buddhist principle of non-harming. Two fairly recent articles are worth reading.

"Is Nonviolence Effective?"
Evidence is mounting that it may be more effective than the alternatives.
by Mikhail Lyubansky Ph.D.


"Violent Versus Nonviolent Revolutions: Which Way Wins?"
Why boycotts outperform bombs
by Douglas T. Kenrick Ph.D.

We have had to renew our Sri Lankan resident visas about twelve times, and each time has been different. It seems that you have to try to stay one step ahead of the changes in the process, and that has been a challenge. This year there were several new wrinkles. We can't complain; it's what makes life interesting.

Ven. Upatissa had mentioned that the Sasana Ministry required a new form. In the past, we simply appeared at the Ministry office (Monday or Wednesday), gave them the letter from Ven. Dhammawasa and the papers approved by the Central Office, received a new letter, and went to Immigration, where we could usually get our visa that afternoon. It was all accomplished in one trip to Colombo. This new form, it seemed, asked for lots of information from the past. To be on the safe side, we asked Lily to call. She learned that there was, indeed a new form, but we would be able to get it from the office on any Monday or Wednesday. We weren't free for a week or two, so we waited. Then we asked Ven. Lekdron to call again. After she asked a few questions, the clerk announced, "I told you this before!"

"No, you didn't," Ven. Lekdron calmly replied.

"You're lying!" exclaimed the clerk.

When she realized that the clerk was mistaking her for Lily, she clarified the situation. (Those Kawasakis have got lots of people helping them!) Finally, Ven. Lekdron asked whether the clerk would send us the form by post, and she readily agreed. It arrived two days later, but it looked like a photocopy of a photocopy with which no one had been careful in lining up on the platen before pressing the COPY button.

In his usual obsessive-compulsive fashion, Ken scanned the print-out, erased the extraneous blotches, straightened it, darkened the faded lines, and retyped missing letters. He then inserted the resultant jpg image into WordPerfect and set about filling in the form. By doing it this way, we have the file ready for simple updating next year. The form does indeed ask for residences and employment positions for fifteen years, but also for all international travel (including dates) for the past ten years, as well as all current bank accounts, of which we have many. (N.B. Just to prove to himself that he could do it, Ken later completely recreated a perfect version of the form in WordPerfect which we are happy to share (as a jpg or PDF) with anyone who applies for a "Religious Worker" resident visa.)

It took us a full day to pore through notebooks, files, and both old and new passports to find all the information, sometimes struggling to decipher ink-splotched entry permits stamped willy-nilly in passports. Luckily, we always travel together, so, though one stamp was smudged, the other was usually clear. Certainly, we could not have filled in this document at the office! The form does not ask for it, but the clerk at the Ministry had mentioned that we needed to show current proof of legal residence. We have not updated the rental contract for this house, but, fortunately, at the time of making the first contract, the landlady's father had given us an informal letter stating that the terms would remain unchanged for three years. We included both this letter and the original (expired) contract. Armed with our dossiers, amounting to about ten pages each, we hired Tissa and his van for the trip to Colombo, accompanied by Ven. Lekdron and Lily.

Ven Upatissa had informed us that this new form would be sent to the Ministry of Defense and that, upon its return to the Ministry of the Buddha Sasana, which could take up to one month, we would receive the letter we needed to take to Immigration. This was in May. Our visas did not expire until July 19, so we expected to submit the forms, to return to Kandy, and to wait for notification. We arrived at the Ministry at about ten, were shown into the office, and handed over all the documents. We just stood there smiling and let Ven. Lekdron do the talking. One woman replied (in Sinhala), "We will send these to the Defense Ministry and notify you when they come back." Another woman glanced at the hefty packets and said (also in Sinhala), "This is a routine case which is going to be approved. We'll give you your letters today. Please wait about one hour." Voicing our appreciation, but trying hard to suppress our surprise, we told the women that we would go for lunch and return later for the letters.

We returned to the office after a delicious lunch at Shanmugas in the Crescat Boulevard Food Court, and the letters were ready. As the clerk handed them to us, she said, "You can go now and submit these to Immigration." We knew that one can submit the application to Immigration only in the morning, so we just smiled and said that we would come back to Colombo to do that on another day.

About ten days later, we went again by van to the new Office of Immigration in Battaramulla. As opposed to the rabbit warren we were accustomed to in Punchi Borella, the new office is in a sprawling complex. The visa office itself is divided into several clearly labeled sections and highly organized. We showed our applications to the woman at reception, who gave us a number and told us to wait in Section C. We sat in front of the offices of the Controller, the Assistant Controller, and the Deputy Controller, waiting for our number to appear on the big screen. After about only thirty minutes, our number appeared, and Ken went into the Controller's office. The Controller looked through the forms, made notations, and stepped into the main office at the back. A few minutes later, he returned and announced, "The approval hasn't come from the Defense Ministry yet, but we will accept the application. Come back next Monday."

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The intensive courses in Bangalore and Kandy are not yet confirmed, but if your are interested and available in December or Janauary, please let us know, and we will see what can be arranged.

"Is Tuesday OK?" Ken asked.

"Yes," he replied. "Come back on the thirteenth for your visas."

"Are you sure we can get the visas then?" Ken asked.

"Yes. Please wait outside."

About a half hour later, a clerk gave us a receipt for our passports and said, "Come back on the thirteenth. You will get your visas."

On June thirteenth, Ken, Visakha, and Lily caught the early morning train to Maradana, from which it was very easy to get a three-wheeler to the Immigration Office. We showed the passport receipt to the woman at reception. She gave us a number and told us to sit in the waiting room with the payment cubicle. We watched the screen for our number. After about forty minutes, a man carrying several forms came from another office and called our number. He escorted Ken to the Deputy Controller's office.

The Deputy Controller brusquely announced, "Approval has not come yet from the Defense Ministry. We have your contact number. We will call you when it does, and you can come and get your visa."

"But," Ken objected, "we were told to come today to get the visas."

"The clearance has not come," she repeated. "We will call you when it does."

"Why were we told to come today if you were not sure the clearance would come?" Ken asked.

"Usually it comes within this time," she insisted, "but it has not come. We'll call you when it does."

"It's really inconvenient to come all the way from Kandy. Why did you tell me to come today if the clearance was not certain?" Ken asked again.

"The clearance has not come yet," she repeated. "What do you want me to do?

"You could say, 'I'm sorry,'" Ken suggested.

"I'm sorry," she said softly. "We'll call you when it comes."

"Thank you," Ken replied, as he left the office.

The three of us met Lal, Vivi, and Dushy at Crescat Boulevard for another lunch at Shanmugas, which The Daily Mirror has rated as the best Indian vegetarian restaurant in Colombo. Visakha is particularly fond of the dramatic and delicious "paper dosa."

Late the very next afternoon, we received a call from Immigration: "Your visas are ready. Please come and pick them up."

The following week, Ken and Ashoka caught the early train and arrived at Immigration shortly after nine. At about ten o'clock Ken was called to pay the fees. While he was waiting for the passports, there were several calls from Lal, who was hoping to join them for lunch again at Crescat. Finally, just before noon, Ken was called and handed the passports. "Check the visas," the clerk suggested. Ken opened the passports, saw the two visas, which, for the first time, included colored photos, checked the dates, and accepted the passports. Then the clerk handed Ken all the forms that we had submitted. This was another first. Always before, those forms had remained on file in the office. It was already too late to meet Lal, who had been waiting at Crescat, but Ken and Ashoka lunched at Shanmugas by themselves.

As soon as he arrived home, Ken showed the passports to Visakha, who immediately burst out laughing. "What's the matter?" Ken asked.

"Look!" Visakha replied, as she handed Ken the passports.

Ken's visa (with photo) was in Visakha's passport, and hers was in his! Who would have imagined such a mistake? They quickly realized, however, that, if Ken had pointed out the mistake at the office, he and Ashoka would not have been able to have lunch or to catch the train back to Kandy.

Two weeks later, we arrived very early at Immigration and showed the passports to the woman at reception, pointing out the mistake. She smiled, thought for a moment, and asked, "Do you have the application forms?" she asked, clearly expecting that we did not.

Ken whipped two bundles of paper out of the folder he was carrying and replied, "Of course. I'm not stupid!"

She laughed, took the forms, and asked Ken to follow her. She went back to the Controllers' offices and disappeared into the main office. She was inside for about fifteen minutes, and we realized that, for all that time, there was no one at reception. When she came out, she explained that the visas were being corrected and that we should wait.

About an hour later, an official brought the passports with brand new, correct visas. The mistaken visas were clearly marked "UTILIZED."

The clerk apologized for the mistake, and we thanked the receptionist for her efficiency in sorting out the problem. After all, we wouldn't want her job! We shopped all the way back, loading the van with a variety of clay pots, both green and sweet pineapples, delicious cashews, a big bundle of string hopper steaming baskets, and a beautiful woven tray. All's well that ends well.

Again and again, they sow the seed.
Again and again, the sky-king rains.
Again and again, the farmers plough the fields.
Again and again, the land produces grain.
Again and again, the beggars come and beg.
Again and again, the generous donors give.
Again and again, when many gifts are given,
Again and again, the donors reach the heavens.
Again and again, the dairymen milk the herds.
Again and again, the calf goes to its mother.
Again and again, we tire and we toil.
Again and again, the heedless come to birth.
Again and again, comes birth, and dying follows.
Again and again, we are carried to the grave.
Only by gaining the path for non-returning,
Is a person of wisdom not, again and again, reborn

Samyutta Nikaya 7, 12

Our involvement with the American Corner Kandy is steadily increasing. We conducted another sing-along with children, and, we joined the celebration of July 4 with a collection of patriotic songs expressing peace, freedom, and hope: "This Land Is Your Land," The Universal Soldier," "I Can See a New Day," and more. Both events were great fun.

Click the photo to view more photos of the workshops,
In June, Menusha asked us to conduct a lesson on plastic for high school students. We compiled a two-page newspaper, Plastic News, with short articles, each with a color photo, about plastic pollution around the world and measures to combat it. The exercise was to match the articles with headlines from a separate list. After this we turned the lesson into a workshop (thanks to a suggestion from Maura!) in which we gave each student a white unbleached reusable cotton bag on which to create a colorful design. We had originally thought that this would have to be done with fabric paint and brushes. (Messy!) We discovered online that Sharpies (perhaps any permanent markers) work perfectly well if all the lines are fixed with rubbing alcohol. (Our collection of Sharpies in 24 colors is thanks to Terry!) All the students, including at least five attending adults, had a great time, and we are seeing the bags now all over town. Perhaps the most amazing thing (We modestly hesitate to call it a result.) of our lesson is that a few days later, the Sri Lankan government passed new and stricter laws regarding plastic pollution, and there are articles about it every day in the newspapers. It certainly makes one feel good! (We repeated the lesson with the class at Subodharama, and we will conduct it again on August 5 at the American Corner for a group of university students.)

The meditation pagoda which Calvin's Sangha built
We continue to be encouraged by the patience and deep practice of our Dhamma friends incarcerated in the US. With Calvin, in Washington, we still rely on the postal system. He recently invited us to the annual event of his Songhai on August 9, but, of course, we are not able to attend. Instead, we have sent ten pounds of dark chocolate-covered cranberries for all the guests to enjoy. Steve, in Michigan, is able to use JPAY, which is much faster coming and going. At fifty cents a page, it seems more expensive, but the same letter by post would cost about eighty cents, so it's a good service. In a recent message, he asked for advice on procuring an altar cloth and a Buddha image for his group practice. We tried unsuccessfully to send them from Sri Lanka, but, finally, we found an image and an altar cloth on Amazon. He should be receiving them soon.

We don't have a car, so more than half of our carport has been converted into Lily's outdoor kitchen, in which Nimal installed a ceiling to help keep it cool. The small area in the front has been dubbed by Ashoka "Dr's Waiting Room." That space had been pretty bleak, so we commissioned Surangi to decorate the wall. We are very pleased with the result!

Our Chinese students invited us to two luncheons. One was a farewell party, and the other was the celebration of the enlightenment of Kuanyin Bodhisattva.

This little bird fell out of our nutmeg tree. Ashoka climbed up to return it to the nest. Dilan, Soman's grandson, now in the Army, visited on full- moon day. The smallest gekko we have ever seen
High tea on June 30
A Malaysian family, dayakas of Ven. Lekdron
Ven. Pannaratana, an American monk, is spending vassa in Knuckles. His dayaka, Patrick, brought him to Anniwatte.
In our garden
Where's Nezumi?
A popular bathing spot

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