Let Friendship Double Up Our Powers, June 5, 2020
Several weeks into the lockdown, we began rewatching the TV series Columbo, from the beginning. It has proved the perfect antidote to the harsh, brutal, and dreadful news of the day, of pandemic, soaring death tolls, police brutality, vile politicians, critical shortages, feckless egos, rare heroes, despicable villains, and sheer selfishness on an unimaginable scale.
Colombo is an unconventional detective who resolves his murder cases, not as "whodunits", but as "howcatchems" and without ever carrying a gun. He's the antithesis of an American cop, and it's quite astonishing that the series was ever made in Hollywood. Colombo is modest, polite, kind, apologetic, observant, and logical. He uses reason, empathy, and compassion to disarm the culprit and to lead him (or her) to a confession or, at least, a silent admission of guilt. Most of the murders involve the wealthy, and much of the action takes place in extravagant mansions in Los Angeles. After enjoying a few episodes, Visakha had an interesting dream.
In the dream, Ken and I were sleuthing around, trying to solve some mystery or other when we happened upon a compound with several seemingly deserted warehouses and garages full of food. The walls were lined with fully loaded shelves; the floor was covered with overflowing bins; built-in closets were full to bursting. At first we noticed cases of tinned fish, cartons of milk, bottles of juice, boxes of cereal, jars of jams and chutneys, sacks of rice, flour and beans, and piles of potatoes and onions, but everywhere we looked there were more kinds of food. There was more than we had ever seen in any supermarket. Strangely, amid all this food, we also found thick wads of currency of every kind--yen, dollars, rupees, pounds, and much more. There were bundles of bills strewn everywhere.
We thought of getting a truck to carry the food away, but, suddenly, many other people began arriving in big limousines, SUVs, and fancy vans. They swarmed into the warehouses and started grabbing as much as they could carry. A few tussles broke out, so obviously noone was in charge. We figured that these people had no right to what they were taking, and it seemed obvious that they didn't need it either, judging by their vehicles!
We called the police, and, almost immediately, Columbo arrived.. He ordered everyone to stop, rounded them up, and sat them down outside the building. We called a meeting to order, and everyone admitted that they didn't actually need the food, but that they just wanted to keep it, in case of a shortage or an emergency.
Our friends from Michigan Citizens for Peace in FlintPat, Ruth, Bob, Carlos, Gale, Jennie, and Joewere there, as well as Bernie Sanders. We had enough sets of Coopoly for everyone to play, and we discussed Mondragon, the famous Basque cooperative community. After one cheerful game of Coopoly, we all agreed to form a co-operative, called "Not Me US", which would use all the food to feed school kids, the unemployed, the homeless, the elderly shut-ins, and anyone else who was hungry and needy. There was certainly enough food for everyone and enough money to keep the whole operation going and the mood was optimistic and friendly.
The Buddha answered, "This is due to envy (issa) and meanness (macchariya)."
Envy is aversion to the prosperity and welfare of others and resentment of other people's welfare. These evil desires make one malicious and destructive and cause suffering for both the person who harbours them and those who are envied..
The envious person does not want to see another person prosperous, successful, good-looking, educated or promoted. A powerful man will seek to ruin the person he envies, and by so doing, he turns the other into his enemy who may pay him back in kind.
On the other hand, a person of goodwill cultivates sympathetic joy (mudita) and rejoices at the good fortune of others. He is happy when he sees or hears of another's prosperity and helps to promote others' welfare as much as possible.
Meanness (macchariya) is extreme possessiveness and keeping one's possessions secret. A mean or miserly person does not want others to share the object of his attachment. There are five kinds of meanness.
The first kind of meanness relates to dwelling and food. A miserly person is attached to and does not share his home or his food. He does not care about the miserable living conditions and hunger of others.
The second kind of meanness relates to friends and associates,. The miserly person does not want to share his friends and demands loyalty from those he befriends.
The third kind of meanness relates to material goods. The miserly person hordes his wealth and his possessions, whether or not he can use and enjoy them himself.
The fourth kind of meanness relates to attributes. For example, a miserly person might be obsessed with physical beauty, while resenting the same quality in others.
The fifth kind of meanness relates to learning. A miserly person might refuse to share his knowledge, begrudge another person education, and deny him the chance to advance himself in society.
A glaring example of meanness is the action of the CEO of a huge corporation which owns exclusive hotels and luxury resorts, who happens to be a mega-donor to Trump, who managed to get Congress to insert a clause in the stimulus bill, which would allow individual units of a big business to apply for assistance meant for small business relief. As soon as the bill was passed, many of his hotels applied for $126 million and received nearly $70 million. The fact that the scheme was discovered and the money ultimately returned does not hide the unabashed contempt some of the wealthy have for the rest of us.
Another example is that Amazon has announced that it will end $2-per-hour hazard pay for workers at the end of May, despite the report that more than 600 Amazon employees have tested positive for COVID-19, with six dying of the disease. During this pandemic, just since mid-March, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the richest person on Earth, has seen his wealth increase by $30 billion and he is set to become the world's first trillionaire.
As for inequality in dwellings, one economist estimates that unemployment due to Covid-19 may result in a 45% increase in homelessness in the United States, raising the total number to more than 800,000 people. At the same time, it is reported that 14.3 million U.S. households suffer from food insecurity. An insignificant fraction of the wealth of two or three of the richest men in the United States could solve both of these problems.
Meanness is the only reason why comfortably ensconced politicians and pharmaceutical and insurance company executives deny basic medical treatment to millions of citizens of the United States when it has been proven worldwide that universal healthcare is not only the fairest but also the most economical policy for any nation.
The Trump administration has called for the cancellation of food stamps for more than 700,000 unemployed adults during this pandemic crisis when 40 million people cannot find jobs.
The U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has invoked an unlawful and unconscionable policy of garnishing the wages of nearly 300,000 student loan borrowers during the pandemic.
The civil wars in Syria and Yemen have been raging for nine and four years, respectively. Now Covid-19 is also threatening the lives of more than 30 million people, and the healthcare systems in both countries have completely broken down. Nearly six million refugees have already fled from Syria since the civil war began, and Yemen has been declared the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Still the rest of the world looks on, with the US supplying much of the arms and weapons doing the killing while at the same time denying funds to WHO and other international organizations.
In India, the government declared an immediate lockdown with a stay at home order, ignoring the fact that millions of migrant workers were hundreds of kilometers from their homes with no way to return other than walking. Of course, because they were no longer working, they had no money to buy food and water during that trek.
What is the cause for the envy and meanness which is so prevalent in the world today? We posit that the ultimate causes are failures of moral education and the skewed economic norms in many societies around the world.
In a capitalist society, success is viewed as individual wealth and power. More important that anyone else's well-being is the bottom line--profit.
The ultimate in meanness has to be the "dog in the manger" phenomenon. The earliest reference to this expression is found in William Bullein's "A Dialogue Against the Fever Pestilence," (1564)::
|Like cruel dogs lying in a manger, neither eating the hay themselves nor suffering the horse to feed thereof himself.|
Interestingly, precisely the opposite of the "dog in the manger"syndrome is found in the Mahosada Jataka, where two animals develop a friendship and cooperate to survive and flourish.
In the palace compound, there was a billy goat that had discovered the abundance of lush grass in the elephant stables. Whenever the elephant-keepers saw the mischievous goat eating the elephants' grass, they drove it off. One day, a fierce mahout caught the goat eating and chased it away, but not satisfied with that, he grabbed a big stick and hit the goat's back as hard as he could. The poor goat, suffering great pain, lay down on a bench by the palace wall.
That same day, the royal cook had finished preparing the food early, had dished it up, and was standing outside, wiping the sweat off his brow. A dog, overcome by the temptation of the savory meat dishes, sneaked into the kitchen, knocked the cover off a large pot, and began to devour the roasted meat. When the cook heard the noise, he ran into the kitchen, saw the dog, and gave it a fierce blow with a stick. The dog dropped the piece of meat and ran, yelping, to the courtyard. Arching its back with pain, it limped to the place where the goat was lying. "Friend, why are arching your back like that?" the goat asked.
"I've just been beaten for trying to eat a little of the extra meat in the kitchen," the dog replied. "What about you, friend? It looks like your back is also in pain."
"It is," replied the goat. "A mahout just beat me for helping the elephants dispose of the grass that their keepers are always throwing at them."
As they related their stories to each other and commiserated that neither could, for fear of his life, ever return to the scene of his punishment, the goat brightened up. He had an idea.
"Tell me what you are thinking!" the dog pleaded.
"Well," the goat began, "I can't go to the stables any more, but you can. You can't go to the kitchen any more, but the cook does not know me. If you go into the stables every day and bring back several mouthfuls of grass for me, I will saunter into the kitchen and grab some meat for you. No one will ever suspect either of us."
"That's a great plan!" exclaimed the dog. "It's a deal!"
Thereafter, the two animals became the greatest of friends. Every day each brought food for the other, and they ate together in the courtyard.
This is a perfect example of a small cooperative, where each member recognizes his own skill and utilizes it for the benefit of the other member. Each realizes that by helping the other, he ultimately helps himself.
This is not the only example of a cooperative in the Buddha's teaching. Kulavaka Jataka presents an even stronger case for cooperatives.
Magha was the leader of a group of young men who repaired roads and bridges, built rest-houses, and carried out other projects for the welfare of the community. This upset the corrupt headman of the village who had, formerly, made a lot of money from these men, not only in revenue from the liquor they drank, but also from the fines he charged them for their misdeeds. Now, however, that they were devoting themselves entirely to serving the community, his source of income had dried up. He went to the king and falsely accused all of the men with robbery and other serious crimes. Without making any enquiries, the king had them arrested and sentenced to death.
Though bound hand and foot and lying in the courtyard, Magha calmly said to his friends, "Bear in mind the precepts. Extend loving-kindness to the headman, the king, and the elephant tasked with executing us. Wish for them to be as happy as you yourself would like to be." His friends listened and complied. When the elephant was brought into the courtyard, it refused to touch the condemned men. No matter how much the soldiers prodded it, the great beast would not trample them. Instead, the elephant raised up its tail, trumpeted loudly, and ran away. The soldiers brought in other elephants, but each animal acted in exactly the same manner.
The king ordered that the prisoners be searched to see whether they were hiding some drug which was warding off the elephants, but none was found. Then he suspected that them men possessed some spell which repelled the elephants. When he asked them, Magha explained that they were protected by their morality. He explained to the king what they had been doing and how the headman had falsely accused them of crimes.
The king immediately set them free, gave them gifts, and conferred on them permanent ownership of their entire village. Furthermore, the corrupt headman was reduced to being their slave. The young men devoted themselves to community service more zealously and vigorously than ever. After death, Magha became Sakka, and his comrades became devas in his celestial abode.
These stories demonstrate the advantages of a cooperative society, as opposed to the more common "dog-eat-dog" or predatory capitalism under which we now suffer.
Detrioit, which was one of the great cities in the United States, but which filed for bankruptcy in 2013, is making a remarkable comeback. Today, there are more than 1400 cooperatives in the city, mainly gardens, such as "Grown in Detroit." Communities are working together to transform thousands of abandoned lots into thriving sources of fruit and vegetables.
Cooperatives are generally democratically owned and governed by the employees themselves, called worker-owners. Thus they are more protective of workers than regular businesses, an extremely important consideration now when 40 million Americans (1 in 4 workers) are unemployed. Because worker co-ops share the benefits in the good times and the burdens in the hard times, they are a more sustainable form of business.
Author and activist Naomi Klein sees worker cooperatives as a pathway out of the current economic crisis. In a recent workshop, she said, "As small businesses go into crisis, we need to be pushing for worker ownership. Rather than being shut down, every workplace should have the option for workers to turn it into a cooperative before it goes into bankruptcy."
Brian Van Slyke concludes his article: "We are heading toward a period of great economic upheaval, and worker-ownership may be one of our most powerful tools in the immediate and long-term aftermath to build economic resiliency for everyday people."
What this points to is economics where people matter, which is a paraphrase of E. F. Schumacher: Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered. This collection of essays, first published in 1973, has been ranked among the 100 most influential books published since World War II. Naming one of his essays "Buddhist Economics," Schumacher does not hide one of the sources of his arguments. He is following in Magha's footsteps by applying spiritual principles and moral purpose to the question of wealth. One of Schumacher's most important points is distinguishing between "work" and "labor." The former is a person's meaningful fulfillment of a task, whereas the latter is the expendable exploitation of a worker by his employer. In a cooperative, everyone is equal, and everyone's work is equally meaningful.
In the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, the situation of Native Americans must not be overlooked. Particularly, the infection rate in Navajo Nation is higher than that in the hotspots of New York and New Jersey. The reason for the imbalance is easy to see. About 30 percent of homes of the Navajo Nation are also without running water. Healthcare is poor, and hospitals are inadequate, though these issues are the responsibility of the federal government. The US Government has never abided by the terms of any of the treaties signed with Native Americans. For hundreds of years, these people have been treated as third-class citizens and essentially forgotten. In South Dakota, when the Sioux set up checkpoints and roadblocks to control the virus entering their reservation, the governor sought federal support for removing them.
Despite these blatant acts of meanness on the part of the government, the Native American communities have managed, by relying on their own strength, to survive and to flatten the curve, at least a little. In recognition of Navajo veterans who served in the 1950-53 Korean War, the Government of South Korea sent 10,000 masks to the Navajo Nation. The Navajo have also been aided by the international organization, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders). As far as we know, this is the first time for MSF to become involved in the United States. This is certainly one more piece of evidence to prove that the United States, which claims to be the richest nation in the world, is, in reality, a failed state.
When the dust settles from the Coronavirus, no one knows what the world is going to be like . It seems certain, however, that it will not be "business as usual." Experts are predicting that the virus will be with us for several years. Curfews and social distancing may be part of the new "normal." Looking at the larger picture, we need to consider the complex causes of the crisis, including environmental degradation, climate catastrophe, factory farming and food processing, as well and human greed. In addition to forming cooperatives in order to ensure our survival, we should investigate aboriginal societies, which offer insights into a saner and more sustainable relationship with the environment than modern society has adopted. This would include Native Americans, and the many tribes of Latin America, the aborigines of Australia and New Zealand, the forest dwellers of Southeast Asia, and the Adivasi of India.
Recently we read a detective novel by Shamini Flint, an environmental activist and an advocate for fair-trade products. One paragraph from A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder,the first volume of the Inspector Singh Investigates series, aptly describes the world view of the Penan on the island of Kalimantan.
|But Rupert had become accustomed to the Penan way. For them [the Penan ], nature was all powerful. Their ability to survive depended on a symbiotic relationship with the jungle around them not a parasitic one. Rupert wondered why the parasites who lived in cities did not understand the most fundamental tenet of nature that a parasite eventually kills its host. Did these people not know that if they continued to feed and spread and grow, with the tendrils of their greed wrapping themselves around their host, the day would come when it could no longer sustain them, and, when it died, they would too? How much better was the Penan way that posed no threat to its surroundings? Their practice of molong never taking more than they needed was in such desperate contrast to the people he could see far below, scurrying about their acquisitive businesses, never content with what they had, always wanting more.|
As we were writing this, we found another article which combines, as we have been trying to do, the Covid-19 crisis with climate catastrophe. In the words of H. Patricia Hynes, retired professor of environmental health:
"We are living with two life-threatening crises: Covid-19 and the climate crisis. They pose a common stark fate for us the risk of illness in the case of Covid, and injury and destruction of our environment in the case of climate; both are harbingers of death for many. But it is their equally stark differences and our response as a world that matter most for survival."
"Unlike Covid, no one country or city can save itself from the global climate crisis, even with emergency plans and equipment. Turning back from the perilous path of unchecked global warming and biodiversity loss requires global cohesiveness and a massive cooperative effort among all countries, especially the largest, most industrialized, most consuming and most militarized. Unchecked global warming and the accelerated loss in biodiversity could collapse whole ecosystems within 10 years, according to the most recent climate science. Ten years of action, beginning now, to aggressively slow the climate crisis, is akin to acting one week sooner to stem the pandemic."
Which comes first--international or individual cooperation? Perhaps it is akin to the chicken and the egg. Both are important. Both hold the key to survival. We must cease engaging in selfish competition, which the heart of capitalism. One might even envision "Democratic socialism." The author further points out:
"The Covid crisis was immediate and stark, and many, if not most, countries acted successfully in their own deserved self-interest. An exceptional Cuba acted also in solidarity with others, offering generous medical assistance to a stranded cruise ship and to countries in need."
|Haymarket Books is offering this ebook for free right now. You can download it here.|
Two recent donations surpised us, but both were carried out successfully. The first was from Roger in the U. K. The donation was marked for "the Karen or Mon Monastery." We realized that the donor had found mention on our website, which included past projects. For up-to-date information, we immediately contacted a friend in Thailand, a leader in the Mon National Relief Committee. He described a monastery in Mon State providing relief assistance and support to refugees, migrant workers, and internally displaced persons in that area. He assured us that it is the most appropriate recipient for the donation. We have forwarded the funds to him, and he will deliver them in person to the monastery as soon as travel is possible once again. We were touched and heartened by this reply:
|Thank you for taking such good care of my donation. Please let me know whenever there is an opportunity to give dana tp Bhikkhus. This is not so easy here in England.
With warm wishes and Metta,
The second donation was from Judith in the U.S. She expressed her intention to donate her entire Covid-19 government-stimulus check to the Mahabodhi Society in Bangalore, India, where BRM conducted an intensive course several years ago. Through our contact in Kolkata, we were able to effect this donation without enriching any bank with an exorbitant international transfer fee. Sadhu! Sadhu!! Sadhu!! to both donors and to all who helped to complete these donations.
|All donations to Buddhist Relief Mission are used 100% for projects. There is no "overhead." Donations from the U.S. are tax deductible.|
When the lockdown was imposed, our mail service stopped. Then, about one month ago, it briefly resumed, and, on that day, we received two envelopes containing money orders from Pedro, a friend who has been semding monthly donations from the US. We noticed that the checks had been issued one month apart, so we looked again at the envelopes and discovered that the earlier one had been "Missent to the Virgin Islands"! We don't understand, but we are glad that it reached us safely. Of course, we cannot deposit the checks in the BRM account yet, because, with no flights leaving Colombo, the Post Office is not accepting any international mail.
Also regarding the Post Office.... We recently discovered a large box of stationery, greeting cards, notecards, and postcards which we have collected over fifty years. Each brings back a memory. Nevertheless, we realized it is ridiculous to keep them, particularly hidden in a box. "Let's share them!" we exclaimed to each other. At that, we determined to choose a card for each of as many friends as we had addresses for and to send them out. Unfortunately, we discovered that, due to the dominance of email, our address list is in shambles. Therefore, if you would like to receive a card, please send us your postal address, and we will send you one, chosen especially for you and clearly marked with a red notice "Save the Post Office!" However, with international air travel severely curtailed, there is no telling when the cards will go out (or arrive!).
|We would like to point out to our readers and friends that our preferred email address is <email@example.com>, depite from whichever address you may have received this link. We have found it necessary to use several different accounts to send this report to prevent its going into JUNK or SPAM mailboses of the recipients. Nevertheless, if you reply to the address from which your received this link, we will still receive your message with no difficulty.|
For several days, Lily, our friend and housekeeper, had been dreaming about her late mother. One day, she announced that, in memory of her mother, she wanted to offer a robe and slippers to Ven. Nanda, the bhikkhuni we have been supporting. Several days after the lockdown was lifted (again, temporarily), Lily, her daughter Surangi, and her grandson Shehan visited the hermitage with a meal they had prepared. On that occasion, we remembered our Thai friend Eid, Jason's wife, whose death anniversary it was. Jason is currently with his family in Canada, and it's not easy to make and share merit there. We offered milk, tea, sugar, chilli pieces, cleaning supplies, candles, incense, a bag of rice, and the last paper lantern we has left from those we bought years ago in Lumbini. All of this was presented on a beautiful copper tray, which was also a gift to the nun. Of course, we shared merit with all of our donors, as well we always do. We're so grateful to be able do this.
Here in Serendib, one thing sometimes leads to another, and that's usually cause for rejoicing! A local company, Rangala House, produces what we have found to be the best peanut butter (in glass jars and without palm oil) this side of heaven. It's also cheaper than any imported brand. For a couple of years, we have regularly ordered up to fifty reusable jars at a time, not only eating it ourselves, but offering it as a gift and making it available to our friends as well. A couple of days before Lily was scheduled to visit the nun, we received a case of the peanut butter. (They even deliver to the house!) In this delivery, the manager had included a gift, a sample jar of new "Tomato and Chillie Jam." Since we indulge as little as possible in chillie, our first thought was, "Let's give this to the bhikkhuni!" This was immediately followed by another thought: "Of course, she won't finish it right away, but does she have a refrigerator?" We realized that, of course, she didn't. This reminded us of an occasion, more than thirty years ago, when we offered a refrigerator to Ven. Assajita in Bangkok. Ken called Singer Mega (where we purchase most of our electrical appliances and which accepts all of our electronic waste for recycle) and learned that the shop had in stock a small and reasonably-priced fridge. Without a second thought, we gave the money to Ashoka and sent him to buy it. From the store, Ashoka called, and Ken talked to the clerk. He explained that we were regular customers, and the clerk offered a sizable discount. What joy! The nun had earlier asked for several empty glass jars for spices and curry powder, so we packed as many as the "Mini Bar" would hold, and Lily delivered it with the dana. The next day, she called to tell us how surprised and pleased she was. Sadhu! Sadhu!! Sadhu!!!
|Click the photo to see more photos of the nunnery.|
|We fondly remember the many times we visited George, Dorothy, and Jonnie in Cleveland. They are such happy memoriesdecorating the Christmas tree, watching the plays at the East Cleveland Community Theater, and many more. For Ken, that goes back to childhood and college, as well. I remember the late night discussions about civil rights and religion (my research paper on Karl Barth, for one!) We wish we could have been closer during the last fifteen yers, but George was frequently in our thoughts with lots of love.|
George Lee Kawasaki
April 10, 1928 - May 19, 2020
|See p.14 of this PDF file|
On May 23, Nezumi passed away. Toward the end, she stopped eating solid food, but was able to lap up the liquid from canned mackeral and even a little of the fish blended. When that became impossible, Lily fed her milk with a syringe. Toward the end, she became very weak and unstable, so we arranged her pan and cat bed in the courtyard. She seldom expressed any complaints or signs of pain. For several hours everyday, we removed her hood, held her in our laps, and petted her, which calmed her. Purrs showed her appreciation. We were holding her as she breathed her last. Lily wrapped her in a the handloom curtain we'd been using as a blanket. She looked peaceful in that elegant shroud. Shehan dug her grave at the edge of the garden, and and the soil was covered with stones to prevent any disturbance. Ashoka (who gave her to us as a tiny kitten 14 years ago) spread flowers. Two days later, Lily transplanted a beautiful a flowering bush at the site.
It was good that so many of the people who had been taking care of her happened to be here -- she knew even at the end that she was loved. We still wake up in the night and listen to see if she needs us. We find ourselves looking around when we enter a room to see where she is. Such a remarkable, wonderful cat! We've received condolences from many who knew her, and there are pujas being offered on her behalf for a favorable rebirth.
Leo, though we love him dearly, has not, by any means, replaced Nezumi in our hearts. Nevertheless, we have begun allowing him more frequent access to the inside of the house, but not too much, because he is, by nature, a bit clumsy. His favorite resting spot is the sofa in the living room.
Click to download the PDF.
|A star on the forehead to anyone who can recognize the title of this report without searching the internet for it!|
Reflections on Grief
Observe how others, born into this world according to their kamma, tremble under the specter of death.
However people think, things turn out to be otherwise. Such is the opposite nature of things. Observe thus the nature of the world.
Even if a person were to live a hundred years or more, he must still yield his life, at last bereft of friends and relatives.
Therefore, listening to the wise and the holy and seeing a deceased friend or relative, control your weeping.
Reflect on the departure of your beloved ones by thinking that separation is natural.
Just as one would douse a burning house with water, let one who is steadfast and wise remove grief, as quickly as the wind disperses a handful of cotton.
Let a person, desirous of his own welfare, pluck out the shafts of wails and grief, which he himself planted.
Having plucked out these shafts, and having attained mental peace, one becomes blessed and free from grief, overcoming all sorrows.
―Sutta Nipata 3,8