Letter 1 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: Fri, 10 Dec 2004
I have enclosed two pictures from the many I've taken, to try give you an idea of what I am up to over here.
The first picture is from the Loy Kraton Festival of Lights in Chiang Mai, Thailand. This festival honors the river by people asking forgiveness for anything harmful they have put into it. At the same time, in addition to the absolutely phenomenal floats with their silk bedecked Thai beauties, people send small boats about a foot in diameter down the river with all their bad luck sent away.
The second picture is of a gold leaf adorned building at Wat That Luang, in Vientiane, Lao PDR.
Yet the heart of a country is not found in pictures, as glamorous as these may seem, but in the people and the personal contact one gets.
As someone who has studied Buddhism for 30 some years, I was in a unique position to get a sense of the heart of these two countries. I have just spent three months visiting and staying at three different Monasteries, meditating and just as important, just hanging out with the monks, many of whom are highly developed.
Buddhism in Asia is actually two religions. The popular religion is one of images of the Buddha, temples with gold roofs, deep piety of the laity serving the monks, who are accorded great esteem. Frankly, many monks, with their cell phones and cigarettes are hardly worthy of the respect they are accorded, but one person pointed out that it is not the person but the role in society that matters.
And indeed, the "Institutional Buddhism" is these countries' method of maintaining social cohesion, a common identity, and a social welfare network. Monasteries take on the suffering of society in the form of everything from stray dogs and cats to orphans and kids who get into trouble.
On the other hand, there is the Buddhism as the Buddha originally taught it--a means of deep character development, to liberate people from their conditioning and delusory ideas of what they think life is.
One of the interesting experiences I had early on was the exercise of noting exactly what I was doing in the present moment. So as I would walk, I would pay close attention to the lifting, moving and placing of each foot. But try as I might, my mind would wander away to thoughts literally thousands of miles away. It is this fragmentation--the difference between what we are actually doing in the moment, and what we think, that can create enormous problems.
Most of the time, we don't know what our own hidden agendas are in our actions. On a macro level, this turns into "Destroying a country in order to save it", to paraphrase a Vietnam era statement. As Jesus well put it, "Lord forgive them for they don't know what they are doing".
Many people think that Buddhism is very negative because it states its "First Noble Truth", that "Life is Suffering". But a very good monk explained this to me in a very simple compelling way.
Find a nice comfortable chair, and sit in it for a while. You'll find that you can't stay comfortable and have to move. Hungry? Eat and keep eating, and you will feel full. Tired? Go to bed and stay there. We are never satisfied for more than a brief period of time before some new discomfort comes up that forces us to do something.
On the other hand, as an old song that came up for me went, "A rock feels no pain, and an island never cries."
So what is the solution? The world's first "12 step program" to bring us into the present moment, and ultimately break thru the conditioning that takes us away from the present.
Meeting people who actively practise this is a real eye opener. They are not perfect, it is very hard to be "perfect", whatever that term means. In fact the desire for ourselves, our partner, or whatever else we encounter, to be "perfect" is part of the problem. But we can't give up and just not eat or sleep or clean our selves or do something to make things better, either.
I do find that they are generally quite insightful and most important very kind. Heaven knows, if there is just one thing the world lacks right now, it is kindness.
So here I am trying to see through my own foolishness, and face my anger, unresolved sorrows, and deceptions as they are, in the present.
In my travels, I have also had the chance to meet many people, of greater or lesser degrees of development. However, always they give me a chance to learn.
My current delusion is a desire to go to a temple in the deep mountains near the Thai Burmese border. The novel by Herman Hesse had a seeker named Siddhartha sit by a river, where he had a deep insight. Interestingly, this temple has a monk who says that Nature itself is the best teacher. Maybe so, maybe not. Practitioners disagree on what works and what doesn't.
Ultimately, though, there is no magic bullet, no "personal Savior" who can solve our life or for that matter, the world's problems. It doesn't even matter whether some guy 2500 years ago lived or not, was somehow special or not. But the guy who described himself as "Aware" (that's the English translation for "buddha") had some pretty good advice.
Don't rely on others, whether secular or spiritual authorities, to provide "the Truth" or do the work that is right in front of us. A monk once asked the Zen Master for instruction. The teacher asked, "have you finished your lunch?" "Yes, the monk replied." The teacher instructed, "then go and wash your dishes."
Work out your own salvation with diligence, and then in daily life help others along the way.
PS: Concerning Election Fraud 2004, check out this excellent powerpoint primer on the stolen election prepared by Peter Dreckmeier and Amy Adams.
cell: (415) 595-1289
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