Letter 15 from Eric Arnow Arnow Letter Index
Eric Arnow has his own web site now. For years I've been putting his letters from Asia here. From now on they'll go on his site, the Bumble Buddhist which also now has all the previous ones from cuke and photos more. - dc
Date: Sat, 16 Apr 2005 00:44:58 -0700 (PDT)
Well, I got out of Chiang Mai, and this morning ran into a woman from Kansas (she assures me that some Kansans practise yoga like she does, and she is very well traveled, unlike most Kansans.)
But I pointed out to her that I have met more people from Sonoma County than from the rest of the USA almost put together. two each from tiny Forestville, Sebastopol and Petaluma alone.
She figured as I did that Chiang Mai with a population about the same as Santa Rosa, would be jam-packed with Thai New Year and Water Festival revelers.
Well reveling there was for the past few days. On two successive days I ran into you people in their 20's who invited me to join them, plying me with Seagram's and cheap Thai whiskey (I politely declined, but did nurse a beer over three hours.)
But the really nice thing about my stay in this little town of about 3000 is that it is so reminiscent of Monte Rio (I think) where the Russian River is a great place to hang out on a hot summer day. The water was about 75 degrees this morning but yesterday in the late after noon it was probably bathtub temperature.
Hundreds of people, mostly young. Early in the morning before it got too hot I climbed up the hill where there is a very nice Temple and met the senior monk there, who teaches a form of meditation paying close attention to movement as you walk, stand or do various exercises, kind of like Tai Chi.
The first picture [hit thumbnail to enlarge] is one of young Thai monks. Monkhood is one way for poor young men to get a home and schooling, and I have met several very good monks who came from poor families, in addition to ordinary Thai men who are now living as ordinary people but spent their childhood as a monk.
I also show a cute picture of a Thai family on a motorcycle. I have seen as many as 4 grown men on one motorcycle, and yesterday, being a holiday, had many young families visiting Tha Ton for the festival.
One interesting thing about Thai culture is the modesty of the people. I never saw anyone wearing a bathing suit, and saw only two young men NOT wearing a t-shirt---people bath fully clothed. Maybe its different in the South with its reputation for fast women and a big sex industry, but here except for the large amounts of whiskey and beer, it seems pretty much confined to splashing water both in the river as well as on the streets. I didn't see even too much drunkenness.
Right now it is about 95 in the internet shop and I will be jumping in the river after I finish this.
One question that comes up is, with all the images of Buddhas, and the shrines and so on, are Thai people, and Buddhists in particular, idol worshippers.
At a recent meditation retreat, the teacher pointed out that meditation has nothing to do with believing or not believing anything. It is a method of identifying our own false ideas about the way things really are, by rigorous examination. And this is not intellectual work, but through mindfulness of the body alone. Careful attention shows that the body, as is true with all matter, is mostly space, but true freedom arises from the experience of this , not an intellectual idea.
The historical person who became known as the Buddha, put it quite well, when he said, don't believe what is written in holy books or stated by teachers or authorities or what is conventional wisdom or what is widely reported or believed. Investigate thoroughly for yourself.
He even told people not to believe him but to verify everything for themselves.
That said, it is a fact that this is hard work. It is much easier to get spoon fed information and believe. it. I met a guy from Georgia in Fang and we got into a go around about this.
He believes in the Bible implicitly, because many historical sites in the Middle East have been excavated and seem to confirm Bibilical accounts. However, when we get to things like the world being created in 7 days, 5000 years ago, he says that since so much in the Bible is authenticated, it must all be true. That is false logic, and in fact a common ploy in modern propaganda. Tell part of the truth, then after people believe you throw in lies that they don't bother to question. Each "Fact" must be verified on its own merits or not.
As for idol worship, I know of a number of people who impute special status to pieces of cloth with different colors, or pieces of paper with pictures of dead men and pyramids. PYRAMIDS on them! People spend much of their lives trying to accumulate these pieces of paper, and the more they get of these ALMIGHTY DOLLARS, the closer to bliss they think they will be. They may even lie cheat and steal or even kill for these. So What is idol worship?
As a kid, I used to watch Big Brother , Bob Emery (yes that was the name of the show) and every day, all the kiddies would rise in the peanut gallery (that is the studio audience) and raise a toast -a glass of milk--to a picture of President Eisenhower. This while "Hail to the Chief was played.
One person's symbol is another person's idol. But boy do people get upset if you question the reality of such a transference. A Buddha statue has no more intrinsic value than a dollar bill, but they each mean something to whoever ascribes them meaning.
But one thing about the worship of Buddha images, as well as statues of famous monks here. While the people doing such worship are not doing the work themselves of perfecting their character, as the teacher, Goenka, reminds his students is "the real work", at least they esteem those who have done the work of perfecting their character.
In Thai Buddhism, the highest level of human achievement is an arahant, literally, one far removed from character flaws, having rooted out all greed, anger foolish thinking, etc.
This occurs only after very rigorous self examination. I once asked a monk here, who spends time at different temples and seems to be a quite free spirited sort, "How many arahants do you think there are in Thailand?" He replied, with a twinkle in his eye and a cat who ate the canary smile, "I don't know how many arahants there are in Thailand, but I know my own understanding".
In closing this missive, I want to honor Bob Marley, who wrote Redemption Song.
Bearing in mind the Fraternity of Bush and Kerry at Yale is Skull and Bones (really) which was founded by slave traders and opium smugglers, here are the lyrics
Old pirates yes they rob I
Emancipate yourselves from mental
Won't you help to sing, these
songs of freedom
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
Won't you help to sing, these songs of
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