Category: essay

Buddhism

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The day my mother died I wrote in my journal, “A serious misfortune of my life has arrived.” I suffered for more than one year after the passing away of my mother. But one night, in the highlands of Vietnam, I was sleeping in the hut in my hermitage. I dreamed of my mother. I saw myself sitting with her, and we were having a wonderful talk. She looked young and beautiful, her hair flowing down. It was so pleasant to sit there and talk to her as if she had never died. When I woke up it was about two in the morning, and I felt very strongly that I had never lost my mother. The impression that my mother was still with me was very clear. I understood then that the idea of having lost my mother was just an idea. It was obvious in that moment that my mother is always alive in me.

I opened the door and went outside. The entire hillside was bathed in moonlight. It was a hill covered with tea plants, and my hut was set behind the temple halfway up. Walking slowly in the moonlight through the rows of tea plants, I noticed my mother was still with me. She was the moonlight caressing me as she had done so often, very tender, very sweet… wonderful! Each time my feet touched the earth I knew my mother was there with me. I knew this body was not mine but a living continuation of my mother and my father and my grandparents and great-grandparents. Of all my ancestors. Those feet that I saw as “my” feet were actually “our” feet. Together my mother and I were leaving footprints in the damp soil.

From that moment on, the idea that I had lost my mother no longer existed. All I had to do was look at the palm of my hand, feel the breeze on my face or the earth under my feet to remember that my mother is always with me, available at any time.

– Thich Nhat Hanh, in “No Death, No Fear”.

 

“Around us, life bursts with miracles, a glass of water, a ray of sunshine, a leaf, a caterpillar, a flower, laughter, raindrops. If you live in awareness, it is easy to see miracles everywhere. Each human being is a multiplicity of miracles. Eyes that see thousands of colors, shapes, and forms; ears that hear a bee flying or a thunderclap; a brain that ponders a speck of dust as easily as the entire cosmos; a heart that beats in rhythm with the heartbeat of all beings. When we are tired and feel discouraged by life’s daily struggles, we may not notice these miracles, but they are always there.”

– Thich Nhat Hanh

Kent State and Me

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As an older white man, I am amused by the sudden outpouring of animosity I come across with increasing frequency on the Internet. People like me are responsible for everything wrong in the world today. Gee, just think of what I could have accomplished over the last fifty years if I’d only been paying attention! Instead I was acting out, exerting my privilege without knowing it, stomping on the toes of my fellows and earning myself a life sentence in Hell when I shuffle off this mortal coil.

I do remember what I was doing when Kent State happened. It was early May, the first days of early spring at the University of Missouri campus, and I was doing my laundry. Every month I would wash my sheets whether they needed cleaning or not. I was still a virgin, so as long as my bed smelled like me it was fine with this budding substance abuser.

Some people doing their laundry were watching TV in the main lounge of our building, and there on the news they kept showing a loop of the black and white film showing students just like me being fired upon my other young men just like me, only who had had the misfortune to join the National Guard to avoid being sent to Nam. My first reaction was self-centered. “Great, I finally get to college and they’re shooting us.”

I knew who the enemy was. It was the Man. He was all those rigid old men whose photos you saw on the walls of banks and real estate offices, stern, rigid men who had served in WWII and were now in charge of everything. Indeed, they were all white. They enjoyed sports and thought the Boy Scouts of America improved the lives of the young men who would some day take their place as pillars of the community. They were staunchly anti-Communist, and believed America had a sacred mission to spread democracy one bomb at a time.

Thank God I was unaware of all my privilege and advantage or I would have probably taken more LSD than I actually did and skipped even more classes by hanging around in the student union and flirting with languid young women who were just plain lazy and unmotivated.

Rain?

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It hasn’t rained for four months. This afternoon the temperature reached 105, typical for this time of year. The plague has ensured that almost all business are shut, and I finally decided I couldn’t take sitting in my room staring at Facebook for one more minute, so I jumped on my motor scooter and raced away. The Internet said a storm from was arriving from China. So I pointed myself to the Northeast and headed towards China, hoping to catch a cool breeze or a shower even only a few minutes before I would have if I had stayed at home.

The sky ahead was just as hazy and hot as it has always been over the last four months. After riding for an hour, I noticed a strong breeze had come up from the Southwest. That seemed odd, as the weather was supposed to be coming from China. Suddenly the smoke haze we have been blanketed under was lifting! As I arrived home I looked to the Northeast, and darn if the sky in that direction wasn’t a bit dark blue, verging on gray!

I’m so hopeful I can’t stand it. Before jumping in the shower I put the hose on my favorite plant, which I’ve just transplanted, hoping to nurse it back to it’s phenomenal growth of the last season.

Ex Pat Voice Crying in the Wilderness

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As an American living abroad and addicted to Facebook, I am well aware of what’s going on in my home country, especially regarding politics. I do my best to voice my disdain for Trump, but these posts of mine seem hollow gestures at this distance. I am also living in a second-world country that is for all practical purposes, a dictatorship. I dare not express my opinions about this government for fear of being thought an unwelcome guest. Also, in this time of Corona virus, I’m not sure it’s safe to do so.

Compared to its neighbors, Thailand is modern and developed, with better roads and infrastructure, but most of the population is very poor and getting poorer by the minute, now that everything is shut down by Quarantine. Things here could rapidly fall apart. In Indonesia in the mid-sixties, Suharno took power and ushered in a decade of repression where half a million people were slaughtered in the name of Anti-Communism. The sheer extent of this makes what happened in Argentina and Chile a decade later seem like a totalitarian hiccup.

There is a documentary film made by the Dutch, in which the film makers interview those hoodlums who became self-appointed executioners in Jakarta. To this day they are proud of their blood-letting, and thought the film’s producers were making this film to turn them into celebrities for their garroting of tens of thousands of innocent people who were simply suspected of being Communists.

Things can fall apart in Asia in a manner that makes Europe seem stodgy and disciplined. Thais smile a lot, and seem light-hearted, but when pushed to a certain point, they all of a sudden become vicious. Lately, the Minister of Health has started blaming “dirty foreigners” for bringing corona virus to their country. Foreigners don’t subscribe to the wearing of sanitary masks to the same degree that most Asians do, and this has turned into a focal point for resentment. Thais noticeably stiffen in fear when approached by a foreigner who is not wearing a mask.

Most lower class Thais have never traveled on their own, and certainly have never experienced a world-wide pandemic like this one, so they form their beliefs based on what they see, hear and what their neighbors believe. It’s the same way they learned to drive. There are precious few driving schools, and most motorcycle owners don’t bother with licenses, so they way they learn to drive by imitating what those around them are doing. This partially explains why there is no concept of “right of way” in Thai driving, nor any attempt to enforce this abstract Western notion.

When a government is being criticized by its own citizens, it tends to point blame elsewhere. Even if people don’t start dying in massive numbers here, the economic impact on the populace will prove brutal. People are going to want to know who’s fault it is. Those “dirty foreigners” will trip lightly off the tongues of those under attack.

CRIMES AGAINST NATURE

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The noise in my head is very loud.

If I’m going to be a criminal, I want to do something to attack the social fabric that tears a really big hole, one that will be remembered for years. Fuck propriety. Where did following rules ever get me?

Some people talk about a “social contract” as if it had been drawn up by lawyers and signed by witnesses. From what I’ve seen, it’s a bunch of unspoken agreements designed by those who have to exclude those who haven’t.

If I want to have sex with barnyard animals, that’s up to me and the critters. If I want advice, I’ll ask for it. Of course you’re free to accuse me of crimes against nature, but I think you’re talking more about yourself here than about me or Nature.

By the way, I don’t want to have sex with animals, that’s just something that came to mind while I was writing. A lot of what I say surprises me. I’m the first one to hear of it as my fingers dutifully type what the voice in my head dictates.

In fact, if the noise in my head were audible to others I’d surely be jailed or hospitalized before the day is through.