Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Deer's Playground

"Expect poison from the standing water." —William Blake's Devil

     I just noticed that a "current events" post hasn't been posted since April, so I reckon it's time to catch up.
     The melodramatic saga of The Bhikkhu Without a Country left off just after a short, yet formidable, fast atop a mountain in Bali. The remainder of my stay in Indonesia was rather mild, and I spent most of my time in town, trying to get as much accomplished with my musical friend Marcus as possible, as we've been working on a kind of musical Dharma project together, (two roughish samples of which may be found on the website Aside from this, possibly the most noteworthy occurrences during my stay there was that I got fatter than I've ever been in my life, and for several days, I somehow acquired the rather distracting ability to smell my own nose. After two luxurious months in Bali, I flew back to Burma.
     I spent one month in Rangoon/Yangon with my dear friends, the family of Z. In addition to being dear friends they are also great and generous benefactors to me, and I really have no desire to criticize them on this blog. That being said upfront, I still will remark that staying with them always reminds me of Somerset Maugham stories about English colonists living in Southeast Asia during the days of the British Raj. It's not just them; there appears to be a whole new breed of Western expatriates in Burma—or if they're not new I simply didn't know that they existed until recently. 
     Prominent themes in my thoughts and feelings of Burma are bullock carts creaking down dusty roads, village girls gracefully balancing clay pots on their heads as they walk barefoot to the river or well to fetch water, sampans slowly motoring up and down rivers, faithful Buddhists standing in front of their houses in the morning to offer food to wandering monks, and little kids and village maidens with their faces done up with cosmetic thanakha bark paste so that they look like little witch doctors. Staying with the venerable Z family is more like staying in Marin County, California, than like being in the same country as the bullocks and little witch doctors. Most Western expats appear never to learn the Burmese language, even after years in the country, so they mostly associate with each other, and with Burmese people mainly on business or if they are servants. Otherwise, the few Burmese friends that they have seem to be thoroughly westernized and speak fluent English. The expats live at a standard of living almost beyond the imagination of most of the inhabitants of the country, buy expensive imported food (even the fruit juice is imported), watch tennis on TV, and go to restaurants in which the only Burmese people present may be the serving staff. It is as though they spend most of their time in Burma inside a kind of western bubble, like temperate zone plants protected from the foreign, tropical climate by a special, artificial environment. I don't see that there's anything necessarily wrong with this…but still it seems bizarre. A certain sweet person who I sometimes call the "mem sahib" (which is what British ladies were called in colonial times) has requested that if I write about her lifestyle I should mention that she is happy.
     Speaking of a high standard of living, rents and property values in Burma, presumably still a fourth-world country, have skyrocketed into the stratosphere since the grand opening to the West, and continue to skyrocket higher. I've been told that land, bare dirt, in some of the better suburbs of Rangoon may sell for $85 US, or more, per square foot, or approximately $3.7 million per acre. A simple bungalow in Rangoon may rent for $5000 per month, even though it may also flood in the monsoon season, be infested with cockroaches, and have electricity that goes on and off at random. Property values in the less remote areas of Burma have increased twentyfold over the course of a few years. (Meanwhile, the average Burmese family probably earns the equivalent of about $1200 per year.) I've been told that UNICEF pays a rent of $80,000 per month for its headquarters in Rangoon (almost a million dollars a year), for no better reason than a desire to have their headquarters in a stylish neighborhood—thereby lavishly donating UNICEF's funds to rich landlords as well as to poor children. Some of the people who work for NGOs in the new Myanmar, not to mention embassy staffs, live in relative opulence; so those of you who make charitable donations to such organizations might want to investigate a little to see what proportion of the donation goes to the poor, and what proportion to the rich. (In America, I have been told, the rich receive more in charitable handouts than the poor do.)  One more observation on Burmese urban society is that more and more houses are being surrounded by brick walls topped with military-style razor-sharp concertina wire. Those who are making the most money obviously intend to keep what they've managed to rake in.
     One of the great highlights of the month in Rangoon was the privilege of hanging out with two little blonde girls, one seven years old, one four. Once I was requested to read a story to the four-year-old. She asked where I would sit, so I pointed to a chair and said, "How about there?" But she informed me that we couldn't both fit on it, and suggested I read to her on her bed. So I, the bhikkhu, wound up reclining on a bed with a little girl right beside me, reading a story about Girard the dancing giraffe. She didn't understand all the words, but it didn't bother her at all, because understanding the words wasn't really the point of the thing. Afterwards we had a uniquely enjoyable conversation about pink bugs. Later I discovered about this little person that when she plays cards ("go fish"), with me at least, winning or losing is totally irrelevant. In fact, if the game is disrupted before reaching its conclusion it doesn't matter to her at all. The whole point of all of it, as far as I can tell, is simply interacting with another person. I've had relatively little experience with small children since I was one myself; and I don't know if this is an individual character trait, or if children in general go through a stage like this. By comparison, when her seven-year-old sister plays a game, she's out to win.
     But by far the most important event of my visit occurred two days before I left for the north. It started when a friend gave me a small amount of ayurvedic butter infused with "sacred plant medicine" of a non-hallucinogenic variety, because she believed it would be good for me. I took the stuff, and when it was starting to have some effect I met my friend Conor, and mentioned that I'd like to parasitize his cell phone sometime before I left town, as I had a few things to do with Internet, and didn't know if I would have access to it at Migadawun monastery, which is where I was headed. He said something like, "OK, let's do it now," which was not what I had in mind, considering the ayurvedic butter. But, make hay while the suns shines, and all that, so I used the digital aura of his phone to check emails. As is not at all uncommon in Rangoon, the Internet connection was so slow and crummy as to be virtually nonexistent; and I was barely able to read one email, from my brother in America. He was totally distraught, and informed me that our mother had just died. She was 80 years old, and her sense of balance and reflexes were not so good anymore, and she fell down sometimes. I had encouraged her in the past to use a cane, but I think her female pride would not allow that. Anyway, she was in a parking lot, and fell down, and hit her head (I suppose on the pavement), and she died. That's all the information I received about it, and to this day that's still all I know about it.
     So I felt that I really should contact my distraught and weeping brother and find out more if I could, like, was he sure? and if so, what kind of funeral arrangements there would be, and whether or not I should immediately start looking around for some way of flying back to America. With the ayurvedic butter kicking in, I went to Conor, explained the situation, and asked if he could take me somewhere where the Internet might actually be functional. He kindly escorted me to a French restaurant with free wifi, we drank some fruit juice, and I sent an email to my brother asking for more information and consoling him as well as I could. 
     Upon hearing that my mother was dead, my heart was thrown into a strange turmoil. I certainly was not totally unmoved, yet the main thought that bothered me was, Why am I not more bothered than this? It wasn't that I didn't love her, but I didn't cry, or really get upset. In fact I felt a sort of relief in that she was able to leave this world so quickly, painlessly (I hope), and mercifully. I used to worry about her; I used to wonder what would happen if her health became so broken down that someone had to feed her, bathe her, and wipe her behind, and all that. I didn't like at all the idea of her going to a nursing home, and felt that I might be the one who wound up feeding, bathing, and wiping her—which I was willing to do, although it would have been a feat for an ordained monk with no money. As it was, she was pretty much self-sufficient up until the day she fell, hit her head, and suddenly left this world. So very much better than dying slowly in a hospital bed with a plastic tube up one's nose! Along with the other elements of chaos in my chest, there was gratitude that she, who I think was really afraid of death, was allowed to make her exit so easily.
     Still I wondered, is my lack of tears indicative of wisdom, or simply of a cold heart or of being "shut down"? Buddhism teaches that even grief over the loss of a loved one is unskillful, or "bad karma." This particular kind of unwholesome suffering, in addition to being called soka, sorrow, is called macchariya in Pali, which includes any kind of aversion or unhappiness concerned with loss. As the Salla Sutta of the Sutta Nipāta declares, "lamentation is useless." It may seem inhuman and politically incorrect by Western standards, but that, as far as I'm concerned, is totally irrelevant. Buddhist training and wisdom may be part of my lack of tears, but it's almost certainly not the whole story, and that has troubled me.
     Edgar Cayce, in trance, once said that we usually have a strong karmic connection with one of our parents, but rarely with both. If that's the case, my strong karmic connection obviously was with my father. My mother was my mother, who loved me very much, as mothers do; but my father, in addition to being my father, was also a close friend with whom I could communicate deeply, and also my first important guru (—going with Indian lingo, he was just an upaguru, not a satguru). I loved him more than anyone else on earth, with the possible, occasional exception of a young beauty I was passionately in love with; yet even when he died, although I felt a deep, hollow, empty sensation in my chest, like I had never felt before, for about a week, I didn't shed a tear. It's very strange. I've cried over dead dogs before, and I remember once even getting choked up and teary-eyed while watching a claymation version of The Little Prince (it was during the scene in which the snake who speaks in riddles informs the Little Prince that it's time for him to die), but when my own parents die, I don't cry. I've pondered this, and am still not sure exactly why it is. One guess is that crying over little things is a kind of luxury, but when something big happens, like the death of someone close to me, a wiser, or at least more objective, level of consciousness takes possession of this meat puppet I call "myself." That's just a guess though. A soldier may have tender feelings at home, and may dearly love his comrades as brothers, yet on a field of battle he may see one of his dear brothers get his head blown off, and he may simply run over the top of the body as though it were a log of wood. I don't know.
     So anyway, I did my best to scavenge Internet access for the next two days, but heard no further news from my brother. Also, I had no obvious, viable way of getting back to America at very short notice. So I left Rangoon, according to plan, for Migadawun monastery, knowing essentially no more about my mother's death and its aftermath than what I have already related here.

Mother (1933-2014), with little Davey (1963-    ), a long time ago

     Migadawun Monastery was established in the early 1980's, on the western edge of the Shan plateau about 45 miles east of Mandalay (by winding road), mainly as a refuge for Western monks ordained in the Taungpulu tradition who just couldn't stand the blazing, furnace-like heat of Taungpulu country, i.e., central Burma, especially the area around Meiktila, south of Mandalay. It was named after the deer park near Varanasi where the Buddha, according to tradition, delivered his first formal sermon after his enlightenment. The original purpose of the place has almost come to an end, since, as far as I know, I am the last and only Western Taungpulu monk remaining in Burma—the last of my kind, sort of like that last swamp sparrow at Cape Canaveral in Florida. The total number of Western Taungpulu monks on earth is probably only two or three now, four at most. I am sure of only one other, and he has followed the Mahasi tradition practically since his ordination. The last I heard, he was living in Mexico.
     If one looks at this area on a map it may still declare a large area east of the monastery to be a "wildlife refuge"; but long before I first came here in 1993 it had been chopped down, allegedly with the connivance of the Forest Service, except for a smallish last stand of trees used by the Burmese movie industry for filming forest scenes. Within the past few years the brushy wasteland which remained has been, illegally I've been informed, divided up into parcels and sold as real estate; so Migadawun, which had been a forest monastery situated on the outskirts of Yay Chan Oh ("Cold Water Pot") Village, is now being engulfed by some giant real estate amoeba, and now has masonry walls enclosing new properties, some of it topped with broken glass or razor wire, on almost all sides. 
     So inside the monastery boundaries there is still thick forest, and it is relatively quiet, but I suspect there are no more deer (little barking ones the size of German shepherd dogs), and no jackals or mongoose anymore, and since coming here in July I have heard no owls and only one half-hearted nightjar, although they were numerous here just a few years ago. Maybe they died off from trying to perch on razor wire. I would guess that there are still a few cobras though, one of which I saw last year. And I am very sure that there are still myriads upon myriads of mosquitoes, although fortunately no malaria. If one is courageous or foolhardy enough to pee outdoors, one is practically required to pee while marching in place, to keep them from clustering up on one's legs and ankles and feasting on human blood. This trick (of peeing and marching simultaneously) takes a little practice, and I've peed on myself many times in my efforts to answer the call of Nature while feeding as few mosquitoes as possible.
     There are only two of us spending the rains retreat at Migadawun this year, Sayadaw U Vimala being my only companion here. (He lives on the other side of the property, and we see each other only about twice a week.) And this despite the fact that this monastery is really a pleasant place, relatively speaking, as Burmese monasteries go. The weather especially is quite comfortable up here in the hills, except during the cold season, which is actually cold. 
     I suppose the solitude of this place is largely due to ven. U Vimala's rough edges: he doesn't get along with everybody, and to this day I'm unsure as to why he seems to like me, and even welcomes me here. He is much mellower nowadays than he used to be, but his reputation persists. One reason why Burmese monks in particular don't stay here much is because the place is just too peaceful. When I arrived here in July there was a Burmese monk here who had almost reached the end of his rope, in a state of mild desperation to hang out with someone. I was not in the mood for satisfying his social instincts at the time, though, and neither was U Vimala, so the visiting monk moved out in search of a less quiet place to spend the rains retreat. One reason why some Western monks don't like it here is because of the rough food. Most of my alms food is offered by poor people, some of whom live in simple shacks; and so I receive a lot of unidentifiable glop, flavorless boiled weeds, and smelly bamboo shoots that would be better if they were flavorless. There is a little mohinga (a kind of Burmese noodle soup) stand by the Mandalay-Lashio-China highway, the proprietors of which offer their specialty almost every morning; and sometimes I hit the jackpot, like when a nice Gurkha lady offers a big bowl of fried potatoes; but some days the smelly bamboo shoots are offered relentlessly. I'm not nearly as fat here as I was in Indonesia. Living on rough food is good practice though. In general, outside the epicurean westernized bubbles in the largest cities, Burma is not a good place for fussy eaters. A handy rule of thumb: Don't Eat Anything You Can't Identify.
     About four days after I arrived, I somehow became sick as the proverbial dog. At first I was a little worried that maybe I was sick from drinking stagnant water, as the rainwater in my water tank had a film of fungal and bacterial scum on the surface almost thick enough to be opaque; but I figure in retrospect that it was some kind of flu. I'm happy to say that, after a three-week long, almost daily ritual of scum-skimming when fetching water, the film of decaying dead spiders, etc., is almost gone. The water's fine now. Anyhow, while I was sick I was practically incapable of reading anything heavy, so I flipped through a few old Reader's Digest magazines from the 1950's that had somehow found their way to the Migadawun library. Approximately two weeks after remaining tearless at my mother's death, I was moved to tears while reading stories about dogs in a 1955 Reader's Digest. I don't fully understand this.
     While on the subject of dogs, I may as well mention that my favorite dog here, named Wa-dote, went blind a few years ago and then recently disappeared. I have had very bad luck with favorite dogs in Burma, and have occasionally considered that I should avoid having a favorite, for the dog's sake. I suppose Wa-dote may have been hit by a car, since he was never very alert with regard to traffic even when he could see; but U Vimala is convinced that some people who live nearby caught him and ate him. Some people do eat dogs in this country; but then again back in 2010 U Vimala was reluctant to give some excess puppies to a Franciscan convent, even though the sisters were quite willing to accept the dogs, because some of the sisters belong to the Karen ethnic group, and Karens allegedly eat dog meat. So I figure if ven. U Vimala can suspect Christian nuns of killing and eating dogs, he can suspect anybody. 
     Due to the aforementioned rough edges and solitude, along with the material poverty of most of the people in the vicinity of Migadawun, I as a newcomer, or rather a very infrequent inhabitant, have almost no supporters other than the good people who put food into my bowl when I walk for alms down a dirt road and then down the highway. Back at Wun Bo, "my" monastery, I'm the Sayadaw, practically the king, and a little too famous for convenience, but here I'm nameless, just a visiting foreign monk. I have everything I need: food, water, shelter, soap, etc.; but there was one thing I very much wanted to have for six weeks without getting it, and that was access to the Internet. 
     A computer is like an extra sense organ, and a computer with Internet is like a fully functioning extra sense organ. Once I got used to having it, suddenly being deprived of it was almost like going deaf, and definitely more inconvenient than, say, suddenly losing my sense of smell. After a few weeks of no supporters coming forth with an offering like, "If you ever want anything, Bhante, please tell us," I began to be rather frustrated. By the time I had been here almost six weeks with no Internet access at all, not even bad Burmese Internet access, I was very frustrated, and disgusted, and wanting to leave Burma and never come back. On my 51st birthday I remember thinking, "I wonder if screaming into a pillow would help me feel better. Probably not. Besides, someone might hear me." Then I looked over at a little umbrella that someone had donated, and thought, "I wonder if smashing that umbrella into little pieces would help me feel better. Probably not." Later that night as I lay sleepless on my bed, I considered punching the wall a few times to relieve my frustration, but decided that punching a brick wall would very likely mess up my hand. 
     When I am unhappy I am in the habit, or practice, of carefully assessing what it is that I desire, since according to the Second Noble Truth all unhappiness is caused by desire. So first of all, of course, I wanted Internet access. That general desire also contained some more specific sub-desires, like the desire to contact my brother and find out more about the situation with our mother. Also, I desired not to lose contact with friends and supporters beyond U Vimala. I lived in almost total isolation of that sort for many years, and I do not wish to revert to that. Also, and I hope at least a few of you out there can sympathize with this, I desired to keep this blog going. This blog is possibly my greatest and most satisfying means of communicating with other members of my species most of the time, and I like it. And helping to motivate those last two sub-desires, to some degree anyway, was the desire to return to the West and live there, in some kind of association with beings who can appreciate what I have to offer—at the very least, an unusual and not particularly stale approach to Dharma. Breaking off contact with friends and supporters and breaking off the upkeep of this blog would probably not be helpful in that regard. I have found that being famous can be a pain, but I've also found that being a completely unknown Buddhist monk in America can easily lead to starvation. So it seems appropriate to "put myself out there." Also, I very generally had a desire for sufficient physical freedom to do as I please, especially when it's not something completely, outrageously unreasonable. To the average person who handles money, walking (or even driving) to an Internet place, or getting it hooked up in one's home, is no big deal at all. It's easy. But for me it was like having to scale an iron cliff, or maybe having teeth pulled. So, to recapitulate: I was frustrated.
     I observed the frustration, and analyzed the desire, and was humbled to think that just a few years ago I had no computer at all and no Internet access at all, and it simply was not an issue. (In those days just to make an ordinary phone call required an all-day trip by sampan into town and back, leaving at dawn and returning at dusk.) Now it was a big, icky issue. I remembered some humbling passages from Schopenhauer that I had come across recently while looking up something else, with regard to the ancient Cynic philosophers, like: 
"…the Cynics followed a very special path to this goal [of happiness], one that is quite the opposite of the ordinary path, that, namely, of carrying privation to the farthest possible limits. Thus they started from the insight that the motions into which the will is put by the objects that stimulate and stir it, and the laborious and often frustrated efforts to attain them, or the fear of losing them when they are attained, and finally also the loss itself, produce far greater pains and sorrows than the want of all these objects ever can." 
and this:
"…the fundamental idea of cynicism is that life in its simplest and most naked form, with the hardships that naturally belong to it, is the most tolerable, and is therefore to be chosen. For every aid, comfort, enjoyment, and pleasure by which people would like to make life more agreeable, would produce only new worries and cares greater than those that originally belong to it." 
Buddhism teaches much the same thing of course, although in a more ancient Indian manner of speaking. I knew that all I had to do was to say Yes to the situation—"Yes, I have no Internet access, and I can accept that, even if I lose contact with friends, don't find out about Mother for a few more months, have to shut down the blog, and even if I am required to live here in Burma for the rest of my life." I knew this, but rebelled against the thought. I also reminded myself that I could still make efforts to avoid terminal isolation, and that being frustrated didn't help anything. I could clearly feel the relief in acknowledging this…but old habits die hard, and I quickly lapsed back into chronic frustration. I could exhort myself with monologues like, "Look on the bright side: It could be a lot worse than this—and undoubtedly will be soon. I mean, compared with how bad things are going to be, this is practically nothing! So cheer up!" But even that didn't work. I obviously had a stubbornly rooted desire that resisted relief. I acknowledge that I just do not want to be cut off from communication with friends, and with the "outside world," for more than, say, 15 days at a time. 
     Back in May a friend of mine, a layperson (formerly a monk) who lives in Burma, offered to help me obtain Internet access while I was at Migadawun. He drove up here from Rangoon, with me still in Rangoon at the time, but was too preoccupied with his own affairs to attend to the monastic Internet project. Upon return he asked if I could wait till his next trip upcountry, which would be between July 5 and July 17. That seemed like a long time to wait, but since I had no other supporters who were in a position to help, I said I could wait. I was told that he came up during this time, but stayed only a short time and then went back to Rangoon. Around the 20th he returned, dropped by for a few minutes, said he would help, and then didn't come back for more than a week. Now, one of my life-long pet peeves is having to wait for people; and this combined with the aforementioned chronic frustration contributed to my becoming rather disgusted with my friend—even though I was fully aware that I had no right to insist upon anything. Around the same time that I was contemplating the value of screaming into a pillow, I had halfway decided that if my friend did actually show up again I wouldn't open the door to him. I'd just stay in my room in the congregation hall and refuse to come out and meet him. But then, when he did eventually show up, I opened the door readily; and after one or two gruff statements regarding his lateness he was my good friend again. One of the greatest blessings I have gained over the past few years is that, although I can still find fault with people at a distance, in their presence I automatically forgive them and accept them as they are. Almost always. Looking through one eye, everybody in the world is hopelessly messed up. Everybody. Looking through the other eye, everybody in the world is divine and perfect. Being close to someone helps me to see them through the second eye. I am deeply grateful for this.
     To make a long story even longer, my good friend's help was simply coming too slow for my tastes (and I really shouldn't criticize, since he's handling my visa stuff in Rangoon too), so ven. U Vimala, not nearly so crusty as he used to be, compassionately helped me out by contacting a generous shoemaker in town who lives next door to an Internet place, and was happily willing to pay my tab there. The Internet is crummy, slow Burmese Internet, but it's enough to check my emails sometimes, and to maintain this blog. The website, on the other hand, may require a faster connection than I am likely to find for awhile. 
     Sayadaw U Vimala's help was all the more appreciated since I have heard through a certain Balinese grapevine that he is of the opinion that computers, and a desire for fame(!), will eventually destroy me. He knows of "Let This Be a Lesson," so why he didn't throw in desire for a woman too, I don't quite understand. Maybe it's because deep in his heart he also desires a woman—as most monks probably do. 
     Anyway, during this whole issue of support, and lack of it, it occurred to me that having to rely on another person, when that person loves you and when you are an important part of his or her life, can be part of a truly beautiful relationship; but having to rely on a person who is otherwise often becomes uncomfortable and unpleasant for both parties. It can still be beneficial for both however—it may help to cultivate generosity and other skillful states in the giver, and encourages gratitude, consideration, and contentment with little in the receiver. All in all, it is best for a monk to ask for as little as possible. The Dhammapada contains a verse comparing a monk walking for alms to a bee, lightly moving from flower to flower without causing any disturbance to any of them. Such considerations help to explain why Westerners are less likely to support monastics: not only are monastics not a very important part of their life, but they suppose that the lifestyle of a monk is necessarily expensive, since their own lifestyle is expensive. Monks may easily live under rough circumstances that Western laypeople would consider so unacceptable for themselves that they do not consider the possibility or advisability of anyone living that way. Plus in America, living below a certain standard of living is simply illegal. But I digress.
     So here I sit as one of the two bhikkhus spending the rains retreat at the Deer's Playground, with no more deer. I spend my days "chilling," reading, writing, sweeping (with a soft grass broom indoors, with a stiff bamboo and palm-frond one outdoors), meditating sometimes, pacing back and forth in the mosquito-free congregation hall, carrying water, and thinking compulsively (let alone eating, drinking, sleeping, bathing, using the toilet, doing laundry, and hanging out with a dog named Uncle Wiggly, an old friend and associate of my old favorite who went blind and disappeared). Any blessings directed toward my mother, which might help her in the transitions she is currently undergoing, if any, would be gratefully appreciated. 
     And now we're caught up again, more or less.


Appendix: Two Dog Stories from an October 1955 Reader's Digest

     The dog I can never forget is Verdi, a lovely Alsatian. Physically superb, she turned out to be incurably shy and timid. Strangers and loud noises would make her cower and shiver with terror. I despaired of making her a watchdog.
     One day I was alone in the house when Verdi pawed frantically outside the back door and, when I opened it, ran down the basement stairs. A rough-looking man pushed his way in behind her and grabbed me. Just before he clamped a hand over my mouth I shrieked, "Verdi!"
     As I struggled to get free, I heard swift claws clattering up the steps. The next instant a tawny whirlwind struck my assailant. A snarling dog and a terror-stricken man rolled on the floor as I stood by and watched, my knees weak as water. The man managed to wrench himself loose from the slashing jaws, and plunged out of the door. Verdi, in one tremendous moment of indomitable will, had found her birthright.
     A few days later, without warning, she died. The vet said that she appeared to have undergone some unbearable strain on her heart. —Mary Kyle

     We had raised Rawleigh, our black Alsatian, from the time he was a pup. For three years we had treated him almost as a child—and then there came into our life a real baby of our own.
     Rawleigh resented the baby deeply. When he heard us baby-talking, he would come running, thinking we were speaking to him—and when he saw we weren't, he would slink away in misery at our neglect.
     Then one day I left the baby in her cot while I went out to work in the garden. Looking up presently, I saw the most terrifying sight of my life. Our dog was lumbering down the kitchen steps. In his mouth he held our baby. I screamed and fainted.
     When I came to, my baby was lying across my breast, unharmed. Over me stood Rawleigh, licking my face. All around me swirled smoke. Our house was in flames.
     In that hour of emergency, a great-hearted dog had stifled all his hurt and jealousy and saved the life to which our love had been transferred. —Mrs. I. H. Raney

Postscript: Shortly after writing this, my friend who I considered not opening the door to came through in a big way, and provided me with some relatively excellent Internet access. So the blog will continue, insh'allah. Also, another monk showed up for a late rains retreat, so now there are three of us. Plus just a few nights ago I heard a barking deer, and an owl.   


  1. I'm very glad that you did get the internet access - this is a great post in a superb blog which has become unmissable for me. Look after yourself.

  2. I have been a regular reader for some time, thank you for the update and for keeping the blog alive. I have given up on trying to understand what triggers my tears, I can easily cry when read my favourite Japanese manga, but didn't cry at all when my grandparents died a few months ago, or my favourite dog died while I was holding her head. It seems serious situations are not conductive to tears in my case.

  3. U Paññobhāsa,
    This adds a 3rd dimension. I have felt guilt for not providing you with a means to come back to the US. I did not know your brother was here in the states. I thought you were in solitude when I did not hear from you, did not realize the suffering. Thought about a way to offer help with the blog when internet was slow but don't know how to do so. I am also concerned that I will be interfering with your Bhikkhu life when I visit.

    From my perspective this is the best blog you have written to date. It gets into Paññobhāsa. I hope to meet U Vimala in November. Doubt he will want to meet me.

    I offered Metta to your mother for her next life.

    Crazy Busy in Fremont

    1. Well, my experience is that your favorite posts are ones that most other people don't want to read. For example you really liked "The Noble Flight of U Nandiya," which I liked too, but which received few hits. "The Spike" didn't get many clicks either, relatively.

      Anyway, you shouldn't feel guilty about anything, and it will be good to see you in Burma when you come. I might be at the cave at Wun Bo, though, so you may not meet U Vimala after all. Still uncertain.

      As for my own suffering, I've gotten to the point where at least I can observe it with some detachment, so I'm not exactly lost in misery. The situation was impermanent anyhow, like everything else in the universe.

      If I have trouble making it back to America next spring, I'll be sure to let you know.