Saturday, January 30, 2016

Appendix on Bhikkhunis and Equality


     In the previous post I discussed the phenomenon of Theravada Buddhist monks “strictly following a corrupt tradition,” that is, breaking the rules in the texts without acknowledging the fact by following later corruptions of those rules. In another recent post I mentioned having seen two of the somewhat controversial new bhikkhunis, the first two I’ve ever seen. And what I noticed is that these bhikkhunis were evidently conforming to the same kind of corruption of monastic discipline as the aforementioned “strict-ish” bhikkhus (for example, neither of them was wearing the regulation clothing of a bhikkhuni), in addition to simply ignoring some of the other rules specifically pertaining to bhikkhunis (for example, with regard to sitting in the presence of a bhikkhu). So this post is a kind of appendix to the previous one—a logical continuation of the same theme, although moving in a tangential direction. The big question herein is: Why revive an ancient order if those who revive it are unwilling to follow the code which defines that ancient order? 
     The following discussion may turn out to be very politically incorrect. I’m not deliberately trying to be politically incorrect, although I do freely admit that I consider political correctness to be insane bullshit. Furthermore, cutting through bullshit is one of my callings in life. So mainly I’m just trying to cut through some bullshit here, so that somebody might see a certain situation with a little more clarity, or at least from a different angle. *Fair warning*

     How many new bhikkhunis sit crosslegged, say, when they meditate? Guess. Probably most if not all of them, right? I figure that’s probably the case. But did you know that it is against the code of monastic discipline for a bhikkhuni to sit crosslegged? She is required by the Pali Vinaya to sit with both feet tucked in to one side, the way Burmese women traditionally sit. Almost every Vinaya rule comes with an official explanation for why the Buddha established the rule in the first place, and the official reason for the prohibition on nuns sitting crosslegged is to prevent them from “consenting to the touch of the heel.” I. B. Horner, the translator of the Pali Text Society’s English rendering of Vinaya, included in her translation a quaint, innocent little note discussing the question of whose heel these nuns were consenting to. Based upon an ignorance of the lotus position and/or of human anatomy, combined with some old-fashioned maidenly naïveté, she concluded that bhikkhunis sitting in a group were causing distraction by having their protruding heels rubbing against other bhikkhunis. Personally, however, I don’t think her theory is correct. Long ago, before my ordination, a female friend told me that as a young girl she learned how to masturbate by sitting on her heel and rocking back and forth; and I’m pretty sure that that’s what “consenting to the touch of the heel” really means. So the rule which probably nobody follows is intended to prevent nuns from turning their meditation into a masturbatory experience. 
     It may be that most of the new bhikkhunis are simply ignorant of the existence of this rule, although ignorance is no excuse for breaking it. Even if they find out, I’d guess that they’ll continue to sit crosslegged, possibly without seeing it as an offense. It could be argued that the rule shouldn’t be followed because it discriminates against women: monks are allowed to sit crosslegged, and nuns aren’t. On the other hand, some rules are less strict for nuns than for monks, but that is not used as an excuse for monks to ignore their own rules. For example, masturbation itself is a much more serious offense for monks than for nuns; but monks don’t refuse to do penance for masturbation using this discrimination as an excuse. Besides, the rule against bhikkhunis sitting crosslegged is due in large part to the biological fact that female genitalia are designed differently from that of males; and there’s not much that can be done about that. So again, women want to be acknowledged as bhikkhunis, but they don’t want to follow the ancient discipline required of bhikkhunis. This strikes me as a serious stroke against the credibility of their cause.  
     It isn’t just “lesser and minor rules” either which may be seen as discriminatory against ordained women. Bhikkhunis have twice as many pārājika rules—the most serious rules, which result in automatic excommunication if broken—as bhikkhus have; and anyone who understands how Vinaya works knows that there’s no way in hell that that is going to be changed. It can’t be changed, unless maybe via some extraordinarily radical decree of an international Great Council of the Sangha, which is very unlikely to happen. Also, the ordination procedure discriminates against women, for example by the embarrassing personal questions asked of a woman before she is ordained; and changing these rules would no doubt be seen by many conservatives as simply rendering the ordination invalid, thereby worsening the situation.
     Many politically correct individuals, especially in the West, vehemently insist that the bhikkhuni order must be revived and immediately modified, not caring about such quibbles as technical validity or even democracy, for the sake of gender equality—despite the plain fact that inequality is built deeply into the system of the Bhikkhuni Sangha. In this case political correctness trumps obvious facts and also the will of the majority, the majority here being the majority of Theravada Buddhist monastics, almost all of whom are Asian. The whole situation is quite a dilemma.  
     So again, the big question is: Why go to the trouble of reviving an ancient system that pretty much nobody really wants to follow, and then immediately overhaul it so that it is no longer the ancient system, but is something else? Why try to reinstate an extinct order defined by Vinaya, and then reject much of the same Vinaya which defines it? The answer seems pretty obvious: Mainly what these folks want is the name, the official status, the worldly recognition of women being genuine bhikkhunis, which is largely a desire to make a political statement, to assert an idealized social principle. The trouble with this is that names, official status, and worldly recognition (let alone political statements) are part of the very same worldliness that a true renunciant is supposed to renounce. It has nothing to do with genuine Dhamma. It is a symptom of Western mentality that social issues, political correctness, and other superficialities take precedence over what is truly essential. What is truly essential often isn’t even on the radar. 
     I have suggested before (and I still think it is a good idea) that an obvious solution to the dilemma of reviving an ancient system that pretty much nobody wants to follow is to start a new order. Maybe two orders could be started—one for women, and one for men. The founding members could establish whatever rules they considered to be appropriate for a modern world, with female and male monastics being completely equal, so that presumably it would be a matter of seniority and nothing else that would determine who bowed to whom, and who got to go through the doorway first. Technically it wouldn’t amount to full ordination as bhikkhunis and bhikkhus, but so what; I do not believe that official ordination into a particular ancient tradition is necessary for enlightenment anyway, and enlightenment is supposedly the main purpose of the whole thing. Furthermore, this way would not amount to real schism, so long as the women and men were not claiming to be really ordained bhikkhunis and bhikkhus. The Japanese Buddhists and the Catholics already have something like this. I would guess that the officially ordained Theravadin Sangha would even allow the existence and affiliation of a kind of quasi-Sangha more suited to the West. Possibly the biggest problem with this scheme, if it were really to become manifest, is that politically correct Westerners might make a deliberate show of disrespecting the older monastic system as remaining incorrigibly sexist…which could then warrant dissociation from Theravada proper. We would then have a new sect—Navakavada, or “Doctrine of the Newcomers”—which might still manage to avoid the stigma of schism if its members just minded their own business and did not consider themselves to be officially ordained bhikkhunis and bhikkhus. They could call themselves anything else they liked, however. I think it could be a really good idea, and one more likely to be without sticky problems than reviving the official bhikkhuni order, or just controversially attempting to revive it, and then mutating it, in the face of opposition of the majority and lack of official recognition.
     But of course, this scheme would not provide what many appear to consider the essential point of the thing: the absurd crap of worldly status, which crap of course the new renunciants ideally should be renouncing. It’s the name “bhikkhuni” that seems to be the primary issue for some. Trying to reconcile Dhamma/Dharma with the Western point of view is really a dilemma. Dhamma just doesn’t fit into Western society without it being dismembered and the pieces that fit stuck in around the edges.
     In Buddhism it is taught that it is the inner state that is most important; the outward form of things is of secondary importance at best. Good and bad, right and wrong, just and unjust, are mental and volitional, not external, physical phenomena. And even the Pali texts show the Buddha freely admitting that women are the spiritual equals of men, being equally capable of enlightenment. So really, if women are not equal to men NOW, they never will be, unless maybe genetic engineering or some such changes one or both human genders. What is on the inside is what really matters, and what is on the outside is supposed to be mindfully let go of by a renunciant. If you think that artificial laws, social patterns, and political correctness will somehow make women equal, and that they are not equal already, then you are more worldly, superficial, and sexist than I am. But maybe more about this some other time.
     If there are any women who read this who want to be real bhikkhunis, then I respectfully suggest that you follow the real rules for bhikkhunis, and not an amputated, mutated version of same. On the other hand, if you don’t want to subject yourself to such discrimination, which is understandable, then please create something better. Something different. I know you are equal, and I’m really on your side, and am willing to help. At least I feel like I’m on your side. appamādena sampādetha.




a modern Western conception of female equality




APPENDIX TO THE APPENDIX: MASTURBATION RULES AND THE ORIGINS OF THE BHIKKHUNI MONASTIC CODE

     In the foregoing discussion I mentioned that the rules against masturbation in the pātimokkhas for monks and nuns differ between the sexes. There are more rules in place for preventing bhikkhunis from playing with themselves at all; yet masturbation all the way to orgasm bears a much stricter penalty for bhikkhus, requiring them to do six days and six nights of penance, followed by a large, inconvenient reinstatement ceremony. In fact nuns' masturbating to orgasm is not mentioned in the Pali, and thus carries no stricter penalty than simply the insertion of a finger past the second knuckle. My explanation for "complete" masturbation being a saṅghādisesa offense for monks and only a medium-severity pācittiya offense for nuns is this: The puritanical celibate Elders who came up with the rules did not know that women are able to have orgasms! Otherwise, there can be little doubt that they would have penalized it severely.
     Now, I would assume that Gotama Buddha, being an extremely wise person, would at least be aware of this relatively important aspect of female sexuality. After all, he had lived a sensual life before he renounced the world, and had a wife, and maybe even a harem. Consequently I consider this masturbation rule business to be one of several bits of evidence that the Buddha himself did not devise the bhikkhuni pātimokkha—and possibly not the bhikkhu pātimokkha either. Some very ancient texts actually warn against a renunciant subjecting himself to systematized rules; and it is fairly clear that a primary purpose of the first Great Council, convened after the Buddha's death, was to formulate a monastic code. 
     There is circumstantial evidence in the Pali texts that some Elders did not like the idea of having a Bhikkhuni Sangha; and the texts themselves have the Buddha himself asserting that instituting it was a bad idea which would greatly shorten the lifespan of the Sāsana in this world. But that assertion, plus much of the negative discrimination, may have been added by the aforementioned unsympathetic Elders who participated in the formulation of official Doctrine. It may be that the Buddha really did allow an order of ordained nuns; but the extant monastic code for these nuns (and maybe for monks too) may not have been his idea.
     Therefore, I consider this to be another argument in favor of spiritually-oriented Buddhist women today simply creating a brand new order more sympathetic to the needs of women. In order for it to work, pretty much all that is required is to avoid that one contentious word “bhikkhuni,” since technically a bhikkhuni is defined by the same monastic code which is designed in part to drive women away from the Sangha, and possibly back into the arms of insensitive husbands who don’t even know that they can come.




Saturday, January 23, 2016

Technical Matters: Vinaya Rules Even Strict Monks Break


or: How to Follow Strictly a Corrupt Tradition

     First of all, I would like to specify that the kind of rule-breaking I intend to target in this post is not the kind in which a monk breaks a rule, sees the offense, confesses it, and expiates it. Most strict monks, and almost all “exemplary” ones, do break Vinaya rules in this way regularly, however, so I may as well discuss the matter a little before moving on to the target.
     There are very many Vinaya rules for monks, I’d guess somewhere between two and three thousand. Many of them are obsolete or otherwise difficult to break (e.g. offering food with one’s own hands to a naked non-Buddhist ascetic, using an alms bowl made from a human skull, eating lion meat); but there are plenty than can be broken easily, even by strict monks. For example, the rule against drinking alcohol is worded in such a way that even if the monk drinks something alcoholic accidentally, he still breaks the rule. Thus on one occasion long ago I was offered some herbal medicine stuff that I was assured contained no alcohol, but when I tried a sip of it, it tasted like it was about 80 proof. Or on a few other occasions I was offered some drink that, in the hot Burmese weather, had started to ferment spontaneously; I’d take a drink and the stuff would taste like wine. So in such cases one takes the hit and confesses it. 
     Also, some rules can easily be broken in a moment of careless unrestraint. For example, unnecessarily looking up in a public place (as monks are supposed to look down in public). Or making a humorous reference about somebody else while talking. Or using water while suddenly entertaining the doubt that maybe there are living creatures in it. Such offenses can occur rather often, especially if a monk is not Vinaya-obsessed, and again, the thing to do is simply to confess it, and the ecclesiastical reset button is pushed, clearing the offenses.
     Then there are rules that even a serious monk may break deliberately, considering not breaking the rule to be more objectionable than breaking it. For example, it is against Vinaya for a monk to practice medicine on laypeople. The purpose of this is partly to prevent monks from working for a living like “householders who enjoy pleasures of the senses,” with people going to them for health issues rather than Dhamma (with such monks consequently practicing Dhamma less and teaching it less), and another reason is that, if the monk messes up and the person gets worse or dies, then people may blame the Sangha for it. Anyway, when I was living in a remote forest area of Burma a supporter of mine, really a good guy who I liked as a friend, told me that his daughter had had malaria for several months. (Malaria is endemic in this area, and potentially deadly.) I had some state of the art malaria cure; so, even though it was against the rules I considered it to be better to break a minor rule than let a person remain very ill and possibly even die. So I gave him the pills for his daughter, and she got better. Another example of arguably “righteous” rule-breaking occurred long ago when a young and very serious American man wanted to be ordained as a bhikkhu under venerable Taungpulu Sayadaw, but he didn’t have the permission of his parents to be ordained, as they were devout Christians who disapproved of such a course. Taungpulu Sayadaw ordained him anyway, saying, “The Sangha is willing to make the sacrifice.” That is, they were willing to break the minor rule of ordaining a man without his parents’ consent, for the good of helping him to live the Holy Life. Afterwards they confessed the offense.
     Then again, there are rules the breaking of which is practically unavoidable. For example, it is against Vinaya to enter a toilet with one’s upper robe on; one should strip to the waist before entering an outhouse. At the same time, it is against Vinaya to remove one’s upper robe in a public place. So any monk who has to use the toilet at a public place just has to choose which rule he prefers to break by taking the pee, since he breaks one either way, yet his back teeth are floating, he has to pee so bad. So in all these cases, when a monk breaks a rule, he just makes confession to another monk, in accordance with other Vinaya rules designed to deal with the situation. It’s all built into the system. Almost all monks break rules like this. There are a very few bhikkhus who are so conscientious, or fanatical, or whatever, that they would actually let a girl drown rather than break a rule by swimming out and saving her, or who never unnecessarily look up in public for that matter. Such are rare specimens.
     But, as I say, this kind of rule-breaking, with the monk committing, seeing, and expiating the offense (as I notoriously did in a big way a few years ago), is not the kind of rule-breaking that I intend to discuss here. The kind I intend to discuss is with regard to rules broken chronically and habitually, sometimes even as a matter of monastery policy or venerated tradition, with no acknowledgement of the offense, and consequently no confession or other expiation. Because of this phenomenon even many strict and “exemplary” bhikkhus never have a single day of pure Vinaya restraint or pure morality in the entire course of their life as a monastic. 
     This sort of thing is common in religious systems, I think. It’s common in the human race. Conformity is seen as essential, even if it is conformity to a corrupt tradition. The idea seems to be, “If everyone else is breaking the same rule, then it’s all right”—but this is essentially a bovine herd instinct, and not Dhamma. 
     The issue of conformity arose at the second Buddhist great council, in ancient times. Monks had started handling money and breaking other rules, and one topic of debate at the council was whether it was right to follow one’s teacher with regard to Vinaya interpretation and practice. The Theravadin side argued that sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t—implying that following one’s teacher is valid only if one’s teacher’s conduct is in harmony with real Vinaya. The Theravadin side won the debate. So regardless of whether breaking certain rules is justified and universal in a tradition, technically it’s still breaking rules. Following are some examples.

     Clothing (including shoes, hats, etc.): With regard to robes, I may write someday a more technical article than this discussing the originally correct manner of sewing and wearing robes, as well as their correct size, although here I’ll skip the manner in which robes are made, the proper materials, etc., and will just mention one thing about size. According to the 92nd pācittiya rule of the bhikkhu pātimokkha, a monk may not wear a robe as big as or bigger than the Buddha’s upper or outer robe, which was nine handspans by six, according to the size of the Buddha’s own hand. The Vinaya commentarial tradition has decreed that the Buddha’s handspan was 3½ times the length of an ordinary man’s handspan, thereby causing the rule to mean that a monk may not wear a robe more than seven meters in length, which of course is no rule at all, since nobody would even want to wear a robe that big. Assuming that the Buddha’s hand was not much bigger than that of the average monk, and certainly not three and a half times as big, then the size of the average monk’s robe nowadays is about twice the allowable size. If one reads the texts one may see that in the Buddha’s time monks wore relatively small robes; and two of the most influential Vinaya texts in English, the Vinayamukha translation and Ajahn Ṭhanissaro’s The Buddhist Monastic Code, point out this very fact that monks’ robes should be much smaller than the ones usually worn. But if you see a picture of either of the venerable authors of these two books you will see that, more than likely, they also are wearing big robes which they admit are in violation of the rules of Vinaya. Why? Conformity. But that doesn’t make it any less against the rules, even though the author of the Vinayamukha was a Thai Sangharāja.    
     The ironic thing about this for me is that monks living in the temperate zone, like in Western countries, continue to wear robes in conformity with a corrupt South Asian tradition, which then serves as a justification for breaking more rules. They continue to wear robes suitable for a hot, tropical climate, with thick cloth being too thick to wear in the peculiar Asian way, especially in the Thai manner with the robe wrapped around one arm most of the time. So this difficulty is seen as a sufficient reason for breaking the rule against keeping and wearing extra clothing also.
     According to the first nissaggiya pācittiya rule of the pātimokkha a monk is allowed to own and wear three robes (lower, upper, and outer), with any clothing in excess of this to be relinquished (given or thrown away) within ten days of acquiring the excess. Any piece of cloth larger than eight finger widths by four finger widths (according to the Buddha’s hand again) is counted as robe cloth, i.e. clothing, unless determined for some other use, such as a towel or bed sheet. Thus the rule includes not only robes, but also underwear, shirts, sweaters, coats, socks, stocking caps, and Mahayana Buddhist pajamas. All of this technically is against Vinaya, yet almost all monks living in the West, including the “exemplary” ones, violate the rule without compunction, and do not confess it—which wouldn’t work anyway unless they relinquished all the extra clothes beforehand, which they do not want to do. The stocking caps, underwear, socks, etc. are also layman’s clothing, the wearing of which is in violation of another rule. 
     One important point to bear in mind, it seems to me, is that, according to the Pali texts, it was during the coldest time of year in the ancient Ganges Valley that the Buddha decided that three robes are enough for any monk. It is stated that at this time of year (in ancient times before the greenhouse effect kicked in) the temperature got down to around freezing. Also, allowed in the Vinaya texts is a kind of woolen felt blanket called a santhata, also called a pāvāra or pāvuraṇa, which may be worn as a cloak. I can assert from my own experience that three small, thick robes and a felt blanket are plenty for staying warm in environments that are freezing cold. Western monks dressing like Eskimos in temperatures above freezing is simply a case of bovine conformity, weakness, or both. At temperatures well below freezing, however, some “righteous” rule-breaking may be in order. But still it would probably count as breaking rules, and something to be confessed. 
     One way that ostensibly strict monks avoid the rule about extra clothing is by determining all extra clothes (and sometimes the regulation three robes also) as “accessory cloth,” i.e., cloth not used as clothing, but kept for other uses. But what the hell is that, if not lying? There are two ways in which a monk may determine cloth for this or that use: by speech and by physical action. It is stated that if a monk determines a robe to be accessory cloth by physical action, he just holds it and waves it around a little while mentally determining it as whatever. But what more obvious way of determining a robe physically than by just putting it on and wearing it! If one wears it as a robe, then it’s a robe. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…. Seriously. By refusing to acknowledge that they are in fact breaking rules, monks creep into the realm of dishonesty, or just following and believing corrupt nonsense, refusing to see the obvious. 
     This very same approach could be used to avoid all sorts of rules. Want to drink whiskey? Call it medicine, or “accessory liquid.” Want to use money? Call it “accessory paper.” Don’t want to admit that something is what it is? Call it something else! It wouldn’t count for diddle at a real trial at a real law court, as such reasoning is obviously bogus, but no matter. The situation reminds me of the old Burmese monastic saying, “If one is skillful in Vinaya one may kill a chicken.” Skillful in all the lame loopholes, that is.  
     With regard to shoes, only certain kinds of sandals which leave the toes and heels open are allowable. Some strict-ish monks break this one in the temperate zone, but most of them break a different one: A monk is not allowed to wear shoes at all in public places, unless he is unwell. The danger of frostbite in subzero weather would presumably count as a valid reason for wearing shoes in town, but that usually is not a present danger. Again, bovine conformity and weakness prevail over Vinaya.

three ways of wearing robes

     Food: Non-strict monks may break all sorts of food rules, such as eating food that wasn’t properly offered (which includes a monk touching a huge table that he couldn’t lift while laypeople intending to offer the food on the table also touch it or group-lift it), eating food stored at the monastery, eating before dawn (possibly going with some chart that claims dawn has dawned when meanwhile the sky remains totally dark), eating food that they cooked themselves, and so on. But strict monks from Thai traditions notoriously eat cheese and dark chocolate in the afternoon…which on the face of it appears to be eating food at an unallowable time. Now, there is nothing inherently immoral in eating a piece of cheese in the afternoon. What is at least verging on immorality, however, is the cheesy justifications given for breaking the rule by eating it. Venerable Ajahn Ṭhanissaro, in his first book on monastic discipline, actually suggested that eating cheese in the afternoon is all right because cheese is not substantial food, but is actually a kind of butter, which is allowed as a medicine. Almost needless to say, this strikes me as blatant sophistry of a rather base sort. (I call it “backwards logic”: starting with the conclusion one wants to arrive at—that eating cheese in the afternoon is allowable—and then working backwards, cooking up the most plausible rationalization for it.) Of course cheese is substantial food; it is a meat substitute for vegetarians, right? It’s almost pure curd…although it can’t be called curd by the monks who want to eat it, because curd is considered to be substantial food in Vinaya and thus must not be eaten in the afternoon. So they can say what they like, but strict-ish monks who eat cheese in the afternoon are doing it because of 1) conformity and 2) weakness or else a simple desire to eat something. The only Burmese monks who would eat cheese in the afternoon would also eat rice and curry in the afternoon—and I admit there are quite a few of those. 
     Dark chocolate is a slightly more subtle issue. One argument I have heard is that dark chocolate (with no milk, as milk is considered to be substantial food) is actually a kind of congealed juice, and juice is allowable in the afternoon. What to me sounds more plausible is that dark chocolate is not substantial food, and is medicinal in some way. Even if it is congealed juice, because it contains a significant amount of sugar in solid form it is to be treated as medicinal. (Yes, sugar is medicinal. It’s good for you.) So only monks who are unwell are allowed to eat it in the afternoon. Unfortunately, however—or fortunately, depending on how one chooses to look at it—the medieval commentarial tradition states that a monk who is tired or just hungry may consider himself to be unwell. So a monk can’t eat chocolate in the afternoon as food, but he can eat it because he’s hungry. My question here is, What’s the difference? How many people think things like, “I’m not hungry right now, but I want to eat this in order to replenish depleted nutrients,” eh? Not very many. And even if they do, they’d probably be more likely to eat spirulina than chocolate in such a case. It’s just more traditional corruption and sophistry which is very convenient for monks to follow. I’ve been told that at Wat Pah Nanachat the monks pass the afternoon treat tray around the sangha three times, with the monks sitting there eating the most expensive designer dark chocolate, “like householders who enjoy pleasures of the senses.”
     This condition that medicinal substances like sugar be eaten in the afternoon only if a monk is not feeling well applies not only to chocolate of course, but also to hard candy and other treats. But the main reasons why it is indulged in are conformity, weakness, and a borderline-dishonest desire for it not to be against the rules. Unless you sincerely believe that feeling hungry is the same as being unwell.
     Money: There is one Vinaya rule concerning money that may be virtually impossible to follow correctly, with very few monks succeeding, especially in the West, and that is the rule prohibiting monks from handling the stuff. The thing is that a monk is not only prohibited from handling it, he is prohibited even from consenting to someone else keeping it or handling it on his behalf. The rule states that if someone expresses the intention of having some money kept in a fund for a monk’s benefit, if the monk doesn’t like the idea at all he may remain silent, thereby allowing it to happen, but if he likes the idea he is required to tell the person not to do it. If they stubbornly persist after he forbids them, then it is allowable. I have found that the most viable way to follow this rule is to live in some remote forest area of tropical Asia where people have little money, and to avoid monasteries; or at the very least to live in a deeply Buddhist culture where monks are supported, and to avoid having anything at all to do with money. But in the West especially it can be damn near impossible.
     Some strict-ish monks don’t actually touch money, but they not only consent to it being kept for them, they also tell supporters or monastery attendants what to do with it. Endorsing a check is a similar case: although technically it may not be handling money, it is still endorsing an order to “pay to the order of,” which is still handling money indirectly. So that also is against the rules, and an extremely convenient one to break for abbots running a monastery especially. Much of this kind of rule-breaking is by monks conscientiously trying to follow rules but being unaware of all the technical complications in Vinaya. It requires careful study to avoid breaking rules, and most monks, even most conscientious ones, don’t do enough of that. And even if they do, conformity to the corrupt tradition is considered to be more important than conformity to the original rule, which behavior is totally in conformity with human nature.
     Some Miscellaneous Ones: The bogus measure of the Buddha’s allegedly giant hand results in several other broken rules even among strict monks: for example, a monk’s bed may not be more than eight finger widths above the floor, or about 15cm. Also, quilted bedding, like sleeping bags, are against the rules. Some rules with regard to human females are very easily broken, especially in non-Buddhist countries, and are broken by many “exemplary” monks, such as traveling by arrangement with them or sitting alone with them (and whether or not a door is open is irrelevant, as a rule is still broken if no other male can see and hear them). Even using a full-length toothbrush is technically against Vinaya, as there is a rule that a monk may not use a tooth-cleaning stick longer than eight of his own finger widths (or shorter than four). I still have a habit of cutting off part of the handle of my toothbrush, which I have retained from my extremely strict days. So again, almost all monks, including strict ones, are breaking Vinaya rules all the time, generally without acknowledging them or confessing them. And, as I pointed out in a previous post on Vinaya, even the way they confess their offenses is usually against the rules. 

     Towards the beginning of Ajahn Ṭh.’s first book on Vinaya he called for reform…and then throughout the rest of the book he pretty much ignored genuine reform and endorsed an amazing quantity of lame loopholes from the medieval commentaries and Thai tradition, as well as cooking up a few new ones. That was disappointing, especially as my hard-ass strictness was going full blast in those days. Really, though, Western Theravada Buddhist monasticism seems to be blowing a golden opportunity for some really beneficial reform, since there is really no call for importing traditional Asian corruptions along with Dhamma/Vinaya. But not only have the old corruptions been maintained, new corruptions (like the arctic expedition gear unnecessarily worn by so many bhikkhus) are being added. And this in addition to the almost mandatory luxury of life in modern Western civilization. 
     If Western monks really do not want to follow ancient Vinaya rules, it seems to me that one obvious choice is to develop a new order of renunciants in the West, not officially bhikkhus but something else, with rules adjusted to fit a new world order. This would also allow for a genuinely equal order of nuns to be established—although that will be a topic for the next post.
     Which is better: breaking a rule, acknowledging that one has broken it, and expiating the offense in accordance with Vinaya itself, or breaking it and refusing to admit that one has broken it at all, and furthermore justifying the act with absurdly flimsy rationalizations? Or in other words, which is better: to be straightforwardly lax, or to rig the game so that one can consider oneself to be strict? The first option may seem more shameless, but it is also more honest, with oneself as well as with others. But do as you like. That’s what I do too. (I laugh)



    
     

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Interview with a CreActivist


     A few months ago I was contacted by a person in the Netherlands who is a founder of a movement called CreActivism—evidently an inspired attempt to combine artistic and other forms of creativity with activism, an attempt at improving the world through inspired creativity. She had somehow encountered my blog, liked it, and asked if she could record an interview with me, and I said Sure.
     Following is a slightly edited transcript of the interview, conducted late last November. Both of us are talking as the Spirit moves us; and I suppose that if we were to sit down and leisurely and thoughtfully write out our ideas, they would appear in a somewhat different, smoother form; but this way is good too. As Blake’s devil says, Improvement makes strait roads; but the crooked roads without Improvement are roads of Genius. Besides, I like showing how we as human beings really talk also, with all the bad grammar and uh’s and um’s, etc. Um…well, her excuse is that she’s Dutch. My excuse is that I acquired uh…a speech impediment due to being attacked by a radioactive mutant as a child. Anyway, here’s the interview. She’s EF. I am P. Eventually I will provide a link to the video, insh’allah.

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EF: …Yeah…

P: Just make sure that it works. One time I gave a Dhamma talk to some people in Indonesia and they tried to record it, and they thought it was recording, but then it didn’t record. 

EF: And what happened?

P: Um, well I gave the talk and the people that were there liked it, but uh, they couldn’t show it to anybody else because they forgot to record it.  

EF: (laughs) What do you think was the effect of that? Did they appreciate the moment more, or…?

P: Um, I’m not sure what the effect was actually. (laughs) But it was, eh…everybody survived, so it was no, no major disaster. 

EF: OK, great! Um, yeah, so hey, you have a very nice backdrop, first of all. 

P: Oh, yeah. You can see the ugly one covered with the uh, the towel, right there. (turns camera to show ugly Buddha statue)

EF: (laughs) That’s hilarious.

P: About half of them are ugly, but that one’s…there’s like, good ugly and bad ugly, and that one is bad ugly. There’s some good ugly ones that I don’t have to cover.

EF: OK! So, tell me where are you, now? 

P: I’m here! (laughs) But if, uh, you want, uh, a little bit more specific, then I’m in, uh, the suburbs of Fremont, California, at a little Burmese temple, called Kusalakari.

EF: Cool, man. Um, yeah so, eh, I’ve got a few questions, um…

P: OK! But we should, uh, we should get to know each other a little better before we start the official interview.

EF: OK! Well it’s already started, just so you know. (laughs)

P: Oh! All right.

EF: Yeah, and you, you are American, you are from California?

P: No, I’m originally from Alaska.

EF: Wow!

P: Yeah.

EF: That’s cool! 

P: But—yeah it’s very cool this time of year. And then, uh, when I was a baby there was a big earthquake, and uh, the, the town was pretty much destroyed, so then we moved to Washington state, which is in the Pacific Northwest. Like Seattle, up near there. And then I lived there, I went—I lived there until uh, I went to the monastery in California, and became a monk in California. And then I went to Burma and lived in Burma for about twenty years.  

EF: Wow! Can you tell me how that happened?

P: (laughs) How all of it happened? 

EF: Yes!

P: It would be a long story!

EF: Yes!

P: Wow, all of it…it would take hours I think, to explain everything. But um… What, what in particular do you want to know? 

EF: What, when was the moment that you said, (snaps fingers) “Yeah. I’m gonna become a monk.”  

P: Probably before I was born. (laughs) You know I’ve, I’ve always felt like it’s, like that was the plan for this life, was to do this. But um, for me as, as uh, a human being in this life, I was about seventeen, seventeen years old. And then I got the idea. I wanted to be some kind of monk, I wasn’t sure what kind. But, American culture I couldn’t take seriously; it’s too shallow; I wouldn’t really fit. My mind wouldn’t fit into it. So, from then on, from about the age of seventeen I decided I wanted to be some kind of monk, but I wasn’t sure what kind. For a while I was thinking of just getting a wool robe and a bowl and just, start walking. But I figured if I joined or entered some kind of order that already has an established system going, then it would be more stability for me—I’d have more self-, self-discipline, if I already have, you know, if I’m not just calling my own shots, but have like a tradition to enter. So, I eventually decided to be Theravada Buddhist.  

EF: Ummm, OK, so, from a young age you perhaps had a deeper understanding about life? Or were searching for that? 

P: I think I’ve always wanted to understand reality. And when I was little I just assumed adults automatically knew reality. So I just figured I didn’t understand it because I hadn’t grown up yet. But then when I was maybe thirteen I started having doubts, like maybe the adults don’t really know reality either; and by the time I was about sixteen it was pretty obvious, and so, I eh, pretty much rebelled, the way a lot of sixteen-year-olds will rebel. Just rebelled against the system and got into lots of trouble. And it was because of that that my father became very angry and sent me to, um, a kind of youth counsellor, like a social worker who specializes in talking with uh, messed up teenagers. And it turned out that he was very spiritually oriented, and he started giving me spiritual books to read which…I didn’t really understand them because it was so different from anything that I had ever been exposed to before, but I—just intuitively I felt that, this is better than, like materialism, you know, just playing the game, you know the mainstream, and just being…you know, chasing money, that kind of thing, or else, is also better than just partying all of the time and getting into trouble. You know, just like a roller coaster. So, that was when I was about seventeen. From then on I had this idea, That’s, that’s really something that I can take seriously; I can respect that.  

EF: And what was your image of Buddhism then? 

P: My image of Buddhism then… It was…I saw it as a philosophy that described reality, or at least came as close to describing reality as a philosophy can come. 

EF: Mm-hmm. 

P: And with regard to Theravada I was naive, and I thought that was the original Buddhism, that was, went all the way back to what the Buddha taught, and that they were afraid to change anything. But then gradually after I became a monk I started realizing that, you know, any form of Buddhism or any system that has existed for 2500 years is going to be evolving and changing over time. So, it’s not exactly the same as what the Buddha originally taught, but it probably comes closer than most, or maybe comes the closest of any. 

EF: What image did you have of Buddhist monks? Because you had this idea already when you were sixteen or seventeen that, that, about monks…perhaps influenced by the media—what image did you have? 

P: Well the media had almost nothing to say about monks. I mean, in America almost the only monks you would ever see on television would be uh, Kwai Chang Cain on the old TV show “Kung Fu.” I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that…? David Carradine? 

EF: What’s his name? 

P: Uh, David Carradine was the star of it. It’s a old TV show called “Kung Fu.” You can see it on YouTube. It’s about a Shao Lin monk…who…he uh…he kills the Emperor’s nephew, and so he runs away to America. He goes to California during the 1800’s with cowboys. So you’ve got this Buddhist monk walking around with, like cowboys and, and um, you know they’re always trying to kill him but he knows martial arts, and so he never gets killed. And he’s wise, so I was…that was like the first Buddhist monk I ever saw, was on this TV show. 

EF: So do you know kung fu? 

P: No, no, that’s a different kind of Buddhism.

EF: (laughs) I’m just playing. Um….

P: But aside from that it was almost nothing in the media. And so I learned mainly about monks from reading a book called the Sutta Nipāta, which is a, ancient Pali text. And in that, the monks were like tough guys; they weren’t, they didn’t fight or anything, but they just wandered around homeless, and they slept under trees, out in the forest, and they were ascetics. You know, they were, they were these, uh, they were like uh, spiritual Rambo. You know, and I liked that idea, ‘cause I had like, a tough guy father, you know, he taught me to be tough, all this kind of thing, so…that was one thing that I liked, is that, eh, they were…they were not only wise, but they were strong. So I liked that also.

EF: So it was also a certain idea about manhood. 

P: To some degree, yeah. 

EF: Was that, this idea of manhood, something you struggled with? 

P: Mm, not especially. 

EF: OK. 

P: No. It was just kind of an ideal. 

EF: Yeah. 

P: Or it’s like, um, there’s a book called, uh, The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James—it’s a classic—talking about uh, you know the different ways that people feel religious experience or spirituality, that kind of thing. And he talks about how asceticism, like being a Buddhist monk, is one of the two ways of having like a masculine ideal. The other way is like being a soldier or a fighter, and I never really was into that. I didn’t want to kill anybody.  

EF: Oh, right.

P: So I never wanted to kill anybody, I didn’t want to shoot anybody, anything like that. So in a way being an ascetic monk was like a…a different approach to, to the same ideal of, you know freedom, and strength, and this kind of thing. 

EF: Interesting. OK, um, I can imagine, however, uh, in your development in becoming a monk, because how you…it’s something that, ah, how you…eh, a purity, or a…yeah, it, it has several steps I’m guessing. Um, but perhaps it’s good to start from, uh, from when you were starting to get in touch with spirituality, what steps you took towards becoming a monk, if you could just explain that. 

P: Um, at first for a long time I just read lots of books. Because there were no monasteries—I had no idea where there was any monasteries, anything like that, I’d never seen a real monk until I was…I think when I was about nineteen years old I saw one in Canada, standing on a street corner in Vancouver. That was the first Buddhist monk I ever saw. And um, so first it was just reading books and studying, not just Buddhism but just religions. You know, reading any kind of scriptures, you know, Hindu scriptures, the Bible, um… Jain scriptures, anything, just anything I could really get my hands on that looked interesting, I would start studying it. And I liked Buddhism the best—

EF: Why? 

P: Um, partly because there was the least amount of story that you have to believe. Most religions, you have to believe a story. You know like uh, in Christianity there’s, you know, Jesus was born for our sins and, and um, so there’s this story of Jesus that you have to believe to be true. But in Buddhism there’s almost no story at all. So, you don’t have to have as much belief in what you are told. That um, you can discover most of it, whether it’s true or not, just by practicing it.  

EF: Yeah. 

P: So I liked that part. And it’s philosophical, and for most of my life I’ve been a very head-oriented person. You know, there’s like two approaches, there’s the head and the heart. And men, usually, are more head than heart. I think maybe women are more the other way round. And for a head-oriented person Buddhism is an excellent approach. Because it’s a very head-oriented system, especially Theravada, which is, you know it’s, it’s a system developed by men that just avoided women mostly. (laughs) So there’s almost no female influence at all. And so, um, it was compatible with me at the time. Although now I’ve realized, after coming back to America, that um, that there is female wisdom that’s a whole different approach. You know, it’s like a whole different way of going about it, and so I’m interested in that, and would like to practice that a little more. 

EF: OK. (laughs) Interesting. Um, yeah, OK, so there’s two topics that I find interesting in what you just said. One is uh, the head, and um, and how Theravada is something, a method that allows you to deal with that; and the second one is gender. Um, so let’s start with the first one first: Can you explain a bit about what…first of all, the fundamentals of Buddhism for people who don’t understand Buddhism. 

P: All right. Well, technically you can say that there are two ways of going about it. There’s the head way and the heart way. And in Buddhism the head way is usually more emphasized. And in the way of the head, you’re trying to eliminate delusion, to eliminate ignorance; that’s how you reach Nibbāna, or that’s how you uh, you know, you become enlightened. You eliminate all delusion. Whereas with the heart way it’s more a matter of eliminating suffering, or dukkha as it’s called in Pali. So you can…if you’re trying to eliminate suffering that’s more of a heart-oriented approach, and if you’re trying to eliminate delusion and ignorance that’s more of the head approach. And in Buddhism it’s really geared more towards the head, although there’s some heart involved also, like compassion and mettā, this kind of thing.  

EF: OK, um, and then, yeah, what is Theravada Buddhism?   

P: Theravada is um, it’s mainly an ancient Indian approach. It’s based on ancient India. And, it comes the closest to the, the oldest form of Buddhism, that’s still in existence. So, it’s eh…like in Zen, it’s mainly developed in China, so it’s more geared towards medieval China. That’s, that’s when the system got developed. And um, so Theravada, it’s based on an ancient Indian tradition where the monks were homeless wanderers mostly. And uh, the scriptures are written or composed in the Pali language, which is similar to Sanskrit, it’s an ancient Indian language. And that’s one reason why I liked it, is it seemed it came closer to the Buddha than other systems. And for a head-oriented person that’s important.   

EF: OK. And is meditation also a part of…?

P: Oh yes, definitely. 

EF: OK. And which types of meditation?

P: There are two main types. Like uh, usually they are divided up into samatha and vipassanā.

EF: Samādhi?

P: Samatha; it’s based on samādhi. And so…yeah…samatha, S-A-M-A-T-H-A. That’s uh, literally it means like “tranquility.” It’s uh anyth— It’s a system that makes you more peaceful, it quiets the mind, makes it clear, simplifies it. And um, so that’s one method. The other method, that’s more well known in the West is what’s usually called “vipassana,” although it’s more based on mindfulness, or satipaṭṭhāna. So that’s the two main, two main approaches to meditation in Buddhism, are samatha and vipassanā, and it’s best to do both, if you’re able to. 

EF: OK.

P: So they don’t really rule each other out; you can do both at the same time. Anything that makes your mind more quiet and more simple and more clear is, is like samatha; and anything that brings you more into the present moment, and accepting whatever is happening in the present moment, is more mindfulness. And if you do one of them perfectly you’re doing the other one perfectly because they come together. 

EF: OK. Wonderful. Um, of course I have a understanding about that, as well, as a Vipassana meditator; um, but can you explain a bit more for viewers, people who might watch this, um, what the effects of meditation can be? What the…the struggles but also the benefits of this type of meditation. 

P: The only real struggle is uh, the main struggle is just teaching yourself not to think. That, uh, it’s a tool, thinking is a tool. And if you don’t need to be thinking, you don’t have to think. But most people are stuck in their thinking and their feeling. They say “That’s me.” You know, they think that if I stop thinking I’ll just cease to exist; and so in some people, if their meditation starts to get good and their mind becomes more and more quiet, they start to get frightened, because they think they’re going to disappear or die. But what you learn is that the thinking isn’t you. If you can meditate to the point where your mind is completely silent, you see that not only do you not disappear, but you’re even more there than when you were thinking. It’s more—you’re closer to reality; you’re closer to what you really are, if your mind is clear and silent, and you’re just wide awake, with your mind as like glass, or a mirror, or something. Then you’re actually closer to what you really are, closer to reality, than if you’re just thinking and uh, believing the thoughts, believing that that’s you. 

EF: Yeah.

P: So like in Christianity it’s like you’re experiencing your soul and not just, not just your thoughts and your feelings.

EF: Would you not argue that the soul is also a form of attachment? 

P: Well, in Buddhism, technically they say there really isn’t a soul. So that’s like one of the fundamental teachings of Buddhism, that’s possibly one of the teachings that uh, is different from any other religion, is that, um… or it comes closer to a kind of Hinduism where, um, you can say that everybody has the same soul. You know, like, uh, using, uh, theological terms you say God is everywhere, the spirit of God fills everything. So the spirit of God that’s in here (points to his chest), I can call my soul. But it’s all the same spirit of God. So that’s, that’s sort of like what the Hindus teach; although the Buddhists, they just, um…there’s this paradox in that anything that is infinite, you can’t really say that it does exist or that it doesn’t exist because it’s, it goes beyond the, the boundary of “is” and “isn’t.” So anything that’s formless and infinite, you know, there’s no boundaries, it’s, you know, zero and infinity become…you can’t tell them apart. And so in that sense you can say that uh, the soul or the spirit of God or whatever it is, it—you can’t really say that it does exist or that it doesn’t exist, because it’s just completely off the scale of “is” and “isn’t,” it’s not plus or minus, it’s…you can’t really talk about it. So in Buddhism it’s more a matter of just saying—you have to say one or the other in order to talk; so in Buddhism they just say “isn’t,” and, you know, it’s all emptiness, but where like the Hindus are saying that it “is,” and then they call it God, or Atman. But really it’s just two ways of trying to say what you can’t really say anyway.   

EF: Very well said. Sadhu. (laughs) Um…yeah, that’s a very beautiful, uh, idea, um…

P: I got the idea from Hegel, unfortunately.

EF: Sorry? 

P: I got the idea from Hegel! Like the German philosopher. 

EF: Hegel! OK! 

P: Mm. Yeah, you said that you, you’d read some Schopenhauer, in one of your videos. 

EF: (laughs) No! A little bit. He’s quite hilarious, and depressing. (laughs again)

P: Yeah, yeah, he’s…he’d say we’d all be best off if we just all committed suicide, I’m pretty sure. 

EF: (laughs) Yeah! But I just wanted to go back to this idea of emptiness, because a lot of my friends, um, some of my friends, um, intellectuals particularly, who have done Vipassana—I’ve got quite a few Vipassana friends—and Vipassana by the way, for people who see this, it’s Insight Meditation—uh, so, like scanning your body… 

P: Ah, so that’s Goenka. 

EF: Huh? Like Goenka-ji, yeah. I don’t know if we have the same understanding, but…um, yeah, so I, I follow, uh, yeah, the school of Dhamma, or whatever, or I don’t like to separate or label myself from other people who strive to end suffering. Um, but um, yeah, this form that I have done, it’s a ten-day meditation retreat, in silence, um, with a very strict um, regime, or very strict, um, order of the day: you wake up at 4:30, you meditate for two hours, then you have a breakfast, then you do another two hours, then you have lunch, a warm lunch, and then another two hours, and then you have uh, some fruits, and then two hours (laughs), and then you sleep. So basically all you can do is eat, sleep, or meditate. And um, yeah I’ve—   

P: And watch the video every now and then.

EF: Um, yeah, I did it twice, I did the course twice; so the first time was horrible! (laughs) Uh, I really hated it. Um, and I cried a lot. Um, and then, uh, a lot of stuff came up, and then I had to deal with that with therapy and things like that. Um, and then the second time I realized this—so the first time I didn’t fully get it, but the second time I think I realized…I’m not sure if it’s the Second Noble Truth, but that, basically, I made my own life hell. (laughs) Through attachment to my own ego and perfectionism.

P: Mm. We create our own reality.

EF: Um, and once I let that go I discovered a freedom in myself to…yeah…love and to create. And of course it oscillates, but um, it’s something I practice every day…um…but yeah, that was a really beautiful gift. Uh, but then I’ve got some intellectual friends, um, who, who are kind of…who I sense are kind of—no, this is what they say: They say that if Shakespeare didn’t have an ego—an ego for me is an attachment to an idea of who you want to be or who you think you should be, so ego is attachment, essentially—um, and some of my intellectual friends, they say, I feel, uh, they say, “Oh, if Shakespeare didn’t have an ego, he would have never created great things.” Um, and I question that, because I have a feeling that they’re afraid of this idea of emptiness in Buddhism. 

P: Yeah, well if, if Shakespeare never went beyond his ego he never would have created anything. 

EF: Yeah.

P: Because true creation comes from silence. I mean it’s like, true creation is, if you really create something really creative, really important, you don’t know what it’s going to be, it’s like you have to make your mind peaceful, and then it comes out of the, out of the, the silence. Because if you’re just thinking about it, you’re using your ego, you’re just recycling thoughts that you already have, you know, it’s just the computer program, you know it’s, it’s only dealing with what is old. Because it’s only dealing with what’s stored in the computer; you’re not creating anything new, you’re just maybe rearranging thing—, rearranging ideas, but even the way you do it is going to be according to old methods, it’s not anything really creative. So if you want to create something, even if you’re a scientist, even if you’re an intellectual, you have to get to this “I don’t know” where your mind is just quiet, and then the idea comes up, through intuition. 




EF: Yeah. If I would have to compare that to things that I have done, uh, in CreActivism for example, every moment that I had to do something great (snaps fingers), eh “great,” eh, whatever you want to call it, um, I had to fully submit myself, in a totally vulnerable place, that I was open to any kind of reaction. Um, so, that’s why on the sixteenth of December 2014 I did a performance, and I really let myself go in the moment. And I had people that, that I really care about, and that I care about how, what they think of me, or, um, I care about them, in general, um, and uh, that was, I felt so powerful, um, with my emotions and, and um, I felt so connected with them as well. 

P: Mm-hmm…

EF:  Um, so, we, we talked about the Theravada thing, um, so, that’s um, I think a stream in Buddhism that also has its, maybe cultural ideas, or um, set of rules…? Can you explain a bit more about that? 

P: Yes. Um, well, the ideas are ancient Indian ideas. So like I said earlier, it’s based on ancient Indian culture, ancient Indian cultural conditioning. And um, with regard to rules there’s lots and lots of rules, especially for monks. Like for laypeople there are five precepts. I assume you’re, you’re familiar with those…? 

EF: Eh, yeah. Don’t kill, Don’t…yeah yeah. Can you name them? 

P: Yeah. It’s no killing; no stealing; no sensual misconduct, which mainly means no adultery, but it can mean other things also; no lying or wrong speech; and then finally, no ale, wine, or intoxicants which cause cloudedness of mind. Anything that makes you stupid, you shouldn’t, you shouldn’t do it.  

EF: OK! 

P: (laughs)

EF: Nice. (also laughs) 

P: Yeah. So that’s like the five precepts for laypeople. But for monks there are, there are thousands.

EF: For monks there are thousands. 

P: Yeah, thousands of rules. 

EF: Damn! That makes it a little harder. 

P: It does especially at first. After you’ve done it for years, then it’s just like a habit, you don’t even think about it. 

EF: Yeah. Yeah. So, a few dilemmas. I want to discuss some few daily dilemmas… 

P: OK. 

EF: …with you. My housemate makes really good cookies sometimes. And sometimes at night I get hungry (laughs) and then…but I know she’s very, um…very open, or she’s always very sharing. Uh, like “Oh, you want this?” or “You want that?” and I do that too for her, so it’s a nice, uh, “karma loop,” I guess…

P: Mm-hmm…

EF: …and sometimes I take the cookie. Is that stealing and is that bad?

P: It depends on your intention. Like, in Buddhism all, all right and wrong depends upon your intention. That’s what karma is, is intention. So, if you think that she wouldn’t mind, and you take it, then that’s not stealing. 

EF: OK. That’s good to know. OK, another one…

P: So even a monk, even a monk can do that. 

EF: (laughs)

P: He can take, he can—well, he can’t take the cookie, but he can, if…he can take something if he thinks that the other person wouldn’t mind; or, if he’s planning to give it back. 

EF: Yeah.

P: You know, he’s just going to borrow it. Then that’s not stealing either. 

EF: OK. 

P: Although borrowing a cookie is gross. You don’t want to give it back after you eat it. 

EF: Yeah. Because I find that interesting because, ummm, yeah, I don’t believe in a sense of ownership, on a profound level. I don’t believe I own this laptop I’m speaking with, I don’t believe that I own this house, I don’t believe, um…but you know, on a practical level it’s handy to say OK, these are my glasses, I, I need to use them so I can function.

P: Yeah.

EF: Um, so… (laughs) how does the idea of not stealing fit into that? 

P: Not stealing….Well it’s, uh, it’s mainly a, an action based on greed, and it’s causing suffering to others because they have a sense of ownership. 

EF: OK, so if we were all happy Buddhists we would actually only be borrowing.

P: Well if we were all arahants, if we were all enlightened, then there wouldn’t be any personal property at all. You couldn’t steal anything because nobody would, would think “This is mine.” 

EF: Yeah! That would be awesome. 

P: So we’d all be, we’d all be like communist anarchists. 

EF: (laughs) Communist capitalists, maybe. 

P: No, there, there’d be no capitalism if, if there was no greed, and there’s no “mine.” No I, me, or mine and there’s no capitalism. 

EF: Interesting…. OK, so there’s many precepts, um, in the Theravada…monks, so I, I want to stay maybe still on the micro/meso, and then later we’re going to the macro. Of what it means for the world, and things that have, have been happening in the world. 

P: Mm-hmm.

EF: Ummm…so within this Theravada tradition, so there was a certain submission you had to go through, um, because I was watching some of your videos on the alms…that you received? And for me this is something, um, yeah—as a person that’s been, eh, both conditioned in the Middle East and the West, um, I, I…I find it tricky to, um, to, yeah, to…accept maybe? Or, I accept it, but, I find it difficult to understand, um… 

P: Mm-hmm…

EF: …the alms-giving part…uh, yeah, that you…yeah, on the one hand I find it quite interesting that you submit yourself to others, that you, to the moment, to, um…that they give you food. But on the other hand I’m also like, Oh, why don’t you just make it yourself, (laughs) or something. Um, can you expand on that? 

P: Well that’s one of…actually there’s a lot of rules with regard to food. Like a monk is not allowed to cook his own food. He’s not allowed to eat any food that isn’t given to him. He’s not allowed to ask for it, unless he’s sick. And so, it’s based on ancient Indian culture, where, um, the ascetics lived in the forest and they owned nothing, or almost nothing. And then they would just take their bowl and walk into the village, and anyone that wanted to put food in would put food in. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be, although it doesn’t work for me that way for me in Burma very well, because I can’t just walk through the village because there are so many people that want to give me food that they line up at the entrance.

EF: Wow. Why is that? 

P: And—Um, it’s, it’s very much a part of Buddhist culture, that um, um…for one thing, they think that they are getting good karma. You know, they’re getting merit by offering food to a monk. But also, the way the system is set up, is that, um, most people aren’t ready to really strive for Nibbāna in this life. You know, like most Asian or Burmese Buddhists, most villagers, they’re more interested in, in just getting a better life next time. You know, they want to be…they want to go to heaven, or they want to be rich and pretty, or, or something like this the next time. And so, um, they, they support monks who really are trying, or who they think, at least, really are trying for Nibbāna. You know, so they’re…even though they’re not ready to do it, they’re helping the others that are trying to do it. You know, it’s sort of like mountain climbers: They’ve got the base camp, and then most of the people stay there, and then they send a few up, up to the top of the mountain; whereas—but you need the base camp or else nobody’s going to make it to the top of the mountain.

EF: Yeah.

P: So to some degree, um, in Theravada Buddhism, it’s like the laypeople, the villagers, the people that are feeding the monks and giving them what they need, they’re like the base camp. And they’re, they’re helping someone to get to Nibbāna even though they’re not ready for it. That’s another way of looking at it. 

EF: That’s uh—Yeah, that’s also quite beautiful in a way, um……and, and I, I also, I saw on the video that they also bow down towards you…um…yeah, which uh, has maybe some devotional, eh, connotation for me…or how do you interpret that? 

P: Well, um, in Burma especially the people have very much respect for monks. Even the word for “human being” is not used for monks. A monk is not considered to be human. (laughs) So it’s…ah you know, when I was sixteen I never would have thought that I’d be, you know, having people bowing down, that sort of thing, but, it happened. 

EF: How does that make you feel, when they do? 

P: I’m, I’m pretty much used to it now. You know, it’s happened for a long time. At first I would get embarrassed, because, you know in America you don’t bow down to anybody, you don’t bow down to the president, you don’t bow down to the Christian minister, you don’t bow down to anybody, you know?  

EF: Mm-hmm.

P: So—and like, when I would bow down I felt very embarrassed, ‘cause I just wasn’t used to it. You know, bowing down to somebody, it was like the way I would feel when I would dance without being drunk yet. You know, just very, kind of uh, self-conscious. 

EF: (laughs) It’s funny, I experienced that yesterday, I went out, and I don’t drink or do drugs or anything, any more, um, eh, and…yeah, Dutch people, yeah, drinking culture is quite um, normal here, and um…

P: Mm-hmm…

EF: Yeah, Dutch people, they kind of dance like this (comically raises and lowers one hand, laughs), or, like, or they look around awkwardly like, “What am I doing here? I’m so self-conscious!” (laughs again) You know? In a negative way. 

P: Yeah!

EF: And um, you know I’m just dancing like “RAAAHHH!” like that! “Ba-pa-pa-pa-paahh!” And everybody thinks I’m high, you know? Everybody thinks I’m on drugs, but I’m not. And uh…yeah…

P: High on life. 

EF: Yeah, high on life. (laughs) Exactly. But back to this alms giving. So, there’s a cultural aspect to it…

P: Definitely. 

EF: Ummm…

P: Which is one reason why it doesn’t work in America very well. 

EF: Yes! Yeah, I can understand why, and I, uh, I know how commodified everything is over there, so uh, I can imagine, uh, that wouldn’t work very well. Um…but what I still struggle with, maybe this is even more, is uh, that I can imagine that you have, you have some kind of dissolution of your ego; you experience this, um…then comes room for love and, you know, mettā, so, unattached love, um, yeah…don’t you feel when you have, have that feeling that you want to give, or that you want to do for others, or help…how does, how do, uh…how does Theravada think about this?  

P: Traditionally…a monk is helping the world by raising his consciousness. You know, it’s sort of like all consciousness is connected, so if one person becomes wiser it kind of uplifts everybody, you know, it changes the center of gravity…or like in Christianity when it talks about, you know, God saving the world for the sake of, you know, ten good people. Something like that, you know? And um, one of my favorite Christians is Saint John of the Cross—I don’t know if you’re familiar with uh, like Catholics—um, he said that, you, you can have two people: one person is practicing meditation alone, like deep meditation, like maybe jhāna; and the other person is like, say, a Peace Corps worker and they’re doing everything they can to help people. You know they’re, you know, helping sick people and giving food to hungry people and, and just doing as much help as they can. And he says that the one that’s helping the world the most is the first person. 

EF: Wow.

P: Because really, it’s, it’s like the, the level of consciousness determines the amount of suffering in the world. So the second person is helping the symptoms, but not really curing the, the disease. You know, it’s like the disease is, is desire. Or craving, that sort of thing. And so if you’re not curing that, then in a way you’re, you’re treating the symptoms without really curing the disease. 

EF: Yeah. 

P: Although it doesn’t work very well if a person has a materialistic point of view, because if you have a materialistic point of view, then everyone’s separate. But if you realize that everybody’s not separate, that it’s all one big consciousness, then, then by one person becoming wiser you can see that it, more easily that it helps everybody.

EF: So that uh, that alone meditator automatically radiates a certain consciousness and influences others, positively.

P: Yeah that’s, that’s the idea. And it’s—

EF: But for the moment we do need people who do go into the Peace Corps. 

P: Mm-hmm. Sure.

EF: And also meditate, because that can also be traumatizing…

P: Mm-hmm. 

EF: …to um…yeah, I can imagine…or a doctor, you know? 

P: Yeah.

EF: Yeah I can imagine that uh……

P: Although, in, in Buddhism and also in Hinduism, in ancient India in general, there’s the idea that this whole world is just a dream anyway.

EF: (laughs) 

P: That it’s not even, it’s not even the highest reality. It’s not really real. It’s kind of real, it’s sort of real, but it’s like a dream. And so, um, in a way it’s like trying to wake up is the best thing you can do. ‘Cause like, trying to help other people in a dream, you know, it just keeps the dream going, rather than, than helping people to wake up out of the dream. 

EF: Wonderful.

P: But if you can do it wisely, if you can do it with consciousness, then you can help them and help them to wake up at the same time, which is the best.  

EF: Yeah. Yeah. Very nice. Um, yeah, “beyond the measurable measure,” I would say. Um because, yeah, I—I as an activist, that in every context you have a measure of what’s good enough—in your high school, in your university, in your business, in your home, of what’s good enough. And um, an activist becomes aware of eh, his or her context, and then starts to ask questions: “Hey, why is this like this?” He uses his empirical abilities to observe what is going on: “Oh, where is suffering, where is the truth?” and then he or she is able to rise above that in a way that is selfless. And he does that for the benefit of others. You know, like a whistleblower like Edward Snowden for example: he went beyond the measurable measure, because he realized, he was very aware, that what he did, uh, would have…wouldn’t benefit him ver— in a lot of ways. He had to leave the country. He had to leave his wife…he had to leave—or his girlfriend, or, um… But he did it anyway because he felt people should know about this. Um, so that’s the first interpretation of “beyond the measurable measure”; and the second one is enlightenment, that you, um, yeah, go towards a certain transcendental um, thing, and there are no words for it, uh, I think. 

P: Mm. Reality can’t be measured.

EF: Yeah. Exactly. So, yeah, it’s a useless thing to talk about. Um… (laughs) I think the, the second topic that you were interested in talking about was uh, gender, as well. Um, and I find this very interesting because this is a topic I’m dealing with, very profoundly, as well. Um, so you were mentioning how in Theravada culture, Buddhism, uh, there’s a lack of female wisdom. Can you expand on this? 

P: Well, uh, as I said it’s, uh, it’s largely a male-oriented system. And um, that’s one of the reasons why it’s popular in the West, is because people in the West have so much head involved. 

EF: Have what? (rough Skype connection)

P: You know, so much thinking. Head. So much thinking. You know it’s uh, very thought-oriented, rather than feeling-oriented. And uh, it’s really since coming to America, or coming to the West, that um, the female influence has really started becoming strong in it, with regard to more emphasis on mettā, more emphasis on, on helping, that sort of thing. But uh, traditionally it’s uh…women mainly are the supporters; you know, like if you’ve noticed in the videos, it’s almost all women that are offering food. 

EF: That’s beautiful, yeah. 

P: And it’s been that way since, since ancient times. It’s always been that way. 

EF: Yeah. Interesting.

P: But uh, in order to have a predominantly feminine spiritual system…I don’t know if there even is one really. Unless it’s some small, obscure one in New Age or something like that. So it would be interesting to see what would happen…

EF: What, what do you think this female wisdom is?  

P: Um, I think it’s largely compassion. 

EF: What is compassion? 

P: Compassion……feeling others’ suffering, realizing that we’re all connected, and realizing that uh, one way of saving yourself is to save the world. Although I’m not the, the highest authority on the female point of view. 

EF: (laughs)

P: (also laughs)

EF: Yeah. 

P: But it’s definitely more, eh, it’s more of, um, gentleness- and compassion-oriented, more love-oriented.  

EF: Yeah. 

P: It’s like, um…there’s two ways of reaching infinity: One is to just contract downwards into nothing, which is the same as infinity; and one is to expand outwards into infinity. You know it’s—and, the, the ancient Indian way is more inwards. You just become less and less and less until you’re nothing. You just disappear. Whereas, if you expand outwards outwards outwards, that also is just…you eventually disappear when you stop having boundaries. So I think the, the heart-oriented way is more outwards, and the head-oriented way is more inwards. So the head-oriented way you can save yourself, but you save others only indirectly, you’re not…I mean it’s, it’s sort of you’re, you’re uplifting the consciousness around you; but, but still it’s, uh, it’s more isolated. The person, the individual…

EF: Can you repeat the last thing you said again? 

P: It’s more isolated. You’re more alone. 

EF: Interesting. So in a way, you’re kind of striving to go next level, because I would say love is the next level. 

P: Well, if love is perfect, then that—then you’re it, you’re enlightened. Only an enlightened being can have perfect love. 

EF: Great! Awesome. Um…

P: You know, like in the Bible it says God is love. 

EF: Wow. That’s beautiful. 

P: So it’s like…yeah it’s like um, in order to have perfect love you have to have no separation; you have to have no walls; you know, like Pink Floyd’s wall. I don’t if you’re familiar with Pink Floyd.

EF: (shakes her head) 

P: Oh! There was this, this album in like 1980, The Wall, which is, the story is, everybody’s building this wall around themselves, everyone’s surrounded by this wall, they’re closed off and alone, because their ego is this brick wall that completely surrounds them. And some people, they, they feel vulnerable, they’re afraid, unless they have the wall. But that same wall that, that supposedly protects them, is completely closing them off from everybody and preventing them from loving anybody. 

EF: Yeah!

P: Because you have to be vulnerable with, with…you know, if you’re going to love another person you have to have an open door, there has to be some connection between you; and in order to love absolutely everybody there’s…you can have no wall. It’s just empty. There’s no, no walls and you know, so there’s no “you” anymore. 

EF: Yeah.

P: Because there’s no boundaries.

EF: I would like to add to that: everything you hate about yourself, you hate about others. 

P: Yeah….So you can’t love others unless you love yourself. 

EF: Exactly! (both laugh) Put that on a big poster! (laughs again) It’s so true, but…

P: Yeah, that’s the problem in…that’s a problem in the West I think, at least in America, where they have this ideal that you have to be successful. You know, there’s this ideal about how you’re supposed to be, and then most people, they can’t do that. And so then they, they like, hate themselves, or they, you know, they feel sorry and guilt, and…because they’re not living up to a stupid ideal anyway.

EF: Like Death of a Salesman.

P: Mm, yeah. He should have been a carpenter. 

EF: (laughs) Yeah, yeah. OK. So, we talked about love, about feminine wisdom, um….It’s interesting, because I’ve experienced that as well, recently in my personal life, um, that, uh, yeah, I’ve broken down many walls that I’ve had, but other people are not aware enough, or um…maybe that’s my own judgement, as well, could be, but um…that they also have issues, but that they’re not fully conscious of them yet.

P: Mm. 

EF: Um…and uh, I find it difficult sometimes because I know, I’ve experienced a way for me to relieve my suffering, um…and I would like to share that with others, um…but on the other hand, um, sometimes I could be too, uh…forceful, like “Hey, meditate, man!” (laughs) You know. Like, “Just do it!” 

P: Mm. Yeah. 

EF: But, people have certain ideas about spirituality, especially in the Netherlands, that it’s “floaty,” and that it’s, um, kind of “hippie-ish” or, um, irrational.

P: But pure rationality is a robot. 

EF: Yeah.

P: (laughs)

EF: Yeah. (laughs too) That’s a good one. Um, but, yeah, perhaps what I learned recently is that instead of saying, “Oh, you should do this,” or “Oh you should do that,” is just to be really strong in yourself, and to inspire others with, with what you, with what you do and what you are. Um……

P: Yeah, I’ve found the best way to teach others is just to uh, be an example.

EF: Yeah. Yeah. That’s very nice. Hey—so let’s, let’s uh, go out into the world; of course um, Buddhism is very much about self-awareness, uh, but let’s say, What’s the state of the self-awareness of the world?  

P: The self-awareness of the world! That’s a tough one. I think it’s, uh, becoming less stable, there’s becoming more variation now, with more people being wise, and also more people being foolish. I think things are becoming less stable. So things are starting to shake up and get stirred up.

EF: What do you think the effects of that will be? 

P: Change. Probably. But whether it will be good change or bad change I don’t know yet. 

EF: (laughs) I could almost predict your answer. That’s very nice. (laughs again) But um…yeah, change. So a bit like the Obama poster, of his first election: Change. 

P: Is that what it said? 

EF: Yes. (laughs) I will send you it later. Um, change…and that of course connotated that it would be good. Um…

P: Mm.

EF: And that’s I think a bit uh…perhaps, when we are not equanimous and balanced, and we start to use these words with moral connotations, moralistic or positive or negative connotations, it becomes more difficult to look at the reality as it is. What do you think about that?  

P: Well if you look at reality as it is it’s neither good nor bad. It’s just the way it is. But really, like in Buddhism, like I’ve already said, it’s, what’s most important is the uh, the intention, or the mental state. So the outward, the outward state is not nearly as important as the inward state. For example, I lived in Burma for twenty years, like among villagers who have very little—they’re very poor by Western standards. But actually they’re happier than, than Americans are.  

EF: Beautiful. 

P: They have less suffering. You know, they’re smiling, they’re, for the most part, they’re happy people, even though they, they make maybe three dollars per day and, and live in a one-room shack with grandma and grandpa and the babies and everything, and no electricity, no running water. You know, the girl still carries the, the clay pot of water on her head, you know, for the, for the hut, every day and…. And they’re happy, you know? They live the way people have lived for thousands of years. It’s natural. And they have few desires; and that’s…in Buddhism that’s the cause of all suffering, is, is desire.  

EF: Desire and aversion.

P: Yeah, well, aversion is just the desire to be away from something; it’s still a kind of desire. 

EF: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, very good. 

P: So that’s, that’s really the uh, the, the secret of, of happiness—you know from, at least from the Buddhist point of view, is just uh, you know, if you don’t want anything you don’t have any suffering.  

EF: Yeah.

P: And whether you want anything is, is really a matter of attitude; it’s not a matter of whether you have enough money or whatever. It’s possible to be happy with zero money. 

EF: Yeah. So how does that relate, then, to—can you tell some experiences that you had in the United States, uh, which perhaps contradict this, or give you another view on this? 

P: Oh, in the United States there are, there are good people that are generous people, although there still is a lot more suffering in America than in Burma, despite what you see on the news and all that…. And it’s partly because people have desire—they’re taught by the culture to have desire. You know, all the commercials, every commercial you see is telling you to desire something. Which means, Be happy: You won’t be happy unless you buy this. And so it’s like propaganda; people just have it fed into their minds almost all the time, coming from all directions, that they should have desire, which just makes them more unhappy. And then also, in the West, partly because people are so much in their head, they’re all closed off from everybody else, which also helps to…it decreases love, increases unhappiness. ‘Cause the more closed off you are the less you can love anybody, and love is happiness.  

EF: So how does, how do you position yourself in this context? How can you live, as a monk? 

P: How can I live as a monk? 

EF: Yeah, in this context. 

P: Um…in the American context I’m almost not in the American context at all, because almost everyone who supports me here is Burmese.

EF: (laughs)

P: I see Americans maybe once a week. I speak more Burmese here than, than English.

EF: Funny…amazing.

P: Yeah, there’s a lot of Burmese people and they support the monks, and Americans usually don’t. So it’s…um, actually, I might have more exposure to Burmese culture here in California than when I’m in Burma.

EF: Wow!

P: ‘Cause when I’m in Burma I can just go off alone into a forest where there’s no culture. 

EF: Yeah. Wow. OK, so…so they give you food, and uh, accommodation.

P: Yes. 

EF: OK. That’s very nice. 

P: And they’re happy to do it, they’re very eager to do it. 

EF: Wow. 

P: Like they give too much sometimes. 

EF: (laughs) OK. Yeah. And, and this is the…what room are you in, in the kind of meditation room? 

P: Yeah, it’s the congregation hall. Technically it’s called the sīma. Which is, all the monks—if the monks are going to do some kind of uh, formal act of the Sangha, they all have to meet together here and do it. 

EF: OK…do you do something like that? 

P: Mmm…mostly, Burmese monks don’t follow the rules very much. (laughs) So, so usually they don’t do it. If I do it I just do it by myself here. 

EF: OK. (laughs) Nice, nice. Cool. OK. Um…I think we covered a lot of topics….And um…yeah….the commodification of Buddhism…

P: Mm. 

EF: …itself. Uh, so, you might have…have you noticed, mm, that people are more busy with mindfulness, or yoga, or certain Eastern practices of spirituality? What are your thoughts on that? 

P: Well…there is uh, a lot of mindfulness meditation, you know, a lot of it is “McMindfulness” where it’s, it’s being done for commercial purposes, or capitalistic purposes. You know, like the, the employees of Google or other, other, other corporat— other big corporations, Apple, you know, they, they cause their employees to practice mindfulness meditation; but it’s mainly for capitalistic reasons: It makes them work harder, and also it causes them to get sick less, so that they have less, uh, money loss through health insurance, and uh, this kind of thing. But still, I mean, corporate mindfulness is better than no mindfulness. So that’s better than nothing. Although the whole Western point of view is, is shallow. They can’t really fit in complete Dhamma. All you get is— 

EF: Sorry? 

P: They can’t fit complete Dhamma into the system. They would have to change the system in order for Buddhism really to fit. And so they can only take little pieces of Buddhism, and fit it in. 

EF: Interesting. Um, I’m curious how this will develop in the world, because I know in the Netherlands, for example, the Dhamma Organization (referring to the Goenka system)…they’re doing very well. They only live off donations, so no capitalist ambitions, um, but…and they’re making profit. (laughs)  

P: Yeah.

EF: Or, they have a surplus of money to build new centers.

P: Yeah, the Goenka system is very successful. 

EF: Yeah. Yeah, and I, I know that they have it in America too, and I really hope that they maintain its purity in the sense that, um, nobody tries to capitalize on it, um…

P: Mm. Yeah, it will be interesting to see what happens now that uh, U Goenka is, is passed away. 

EF: Yeah. Wh-what are your thoughts on that? 

P: I have no idea what’s going to happen…

EF: (laughs) 

P: …at least with the Goenka system. 

EF: Yeah. 

P: Hopefully it will continue to work, because it seems to work better than any other form of Theravada in the West. It’s got some strictness to it, and people get benefit from it, and it’s, it’s being supported.

EF: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah I think so too, I have a lot of hope for it, and um…a lot of my friends, especially my generation is busy with spirituality…um, because we are a generation um, that is very ambitions and has been taught we can do what we want…um, but the system, or the world that we live in isn’t always accommodating for us. So the Baby Booner, Boomer generation, they, for lack of a better word, fucked up a lot of things. (laughs) I mean, or, made some good things too, but, um, in terms of the environment, in terms of certain systems they set up, uh, it’s been harmful…so a lot of young people, they really value being happy, and uh, gaining some kind of meaning in their—our lives…we’re stuck in this expectations, uh, gap, where we have these huge expectations for ourselves, and we’re constantly not, not reaching it…. Um, yeah, you could call us the “And And And” generation. We want this and that and and and and. Um, because we have much more tools to be able to reach those, but also not necessarily the experience to, to be able to fit in, um…. So there, there are signs of, of hope. But it’s uh, what I find very powerful about it…. And of course, um, my generation has a lot of Romantic influences. So… 

P: Romantic in what way? 

EF: With a capital R. 

P: Oh, OK, so like the early 1800’s. 

EF: Yes…kind of this expressivistic thing that we have to express ourselves and be ourselves. Um…

P: That’s good. 

EF: Yes, but it becomes an attachment, because we strive for this authenticity, like, “I want to be authentic! I want to be authentic!” 

P: But it doesn’t work that way, because being authentic is just—is like default setting. You just automatically be yourself; it’s only if you try not to be yourself that, that you stop being yourself. It doesn’t take any effort at all to be yourself, I mean you can do it perfectly, it’s the one thing you can do absolutely perfectly is be yourself, ‘cause what else are you going to be? 

EF: Yeah!

P: But it’s like, people try to live up to these ideas about how things ought to be, and they don’t see that everything is already perfect. And it’s…so, by trying to live up to how things ought to be, then it just makes things worse. 

EF: Yeah. Yeah. So you were talking, in a, in an email you referenced this Russian……eh, camp, or something? That he realized that only by changing the people themselves…  

P: Oh, Dos—Dostoevsky!

EF: Yeah!

P: Yeah. Yeah, that was, that was part of his philosophy, like in, part of the message in his, in his books…is that the only way to change the world isn’t by changing laws or changing economic systems or anything like that, it’s by changing the heart of the person. Each person has to change the world inside himself or herself. And I think that’s true.  

EF: Yeah. I think so too. I think so too. Perhaps it’s only just bottom-up.

P: Mm. 

EF: Uh…

P: But that’s the most important part. I mean you can, you can change things on the outside too; and, mostly in the West they try to start with the outside and then work in. But I think it’s probably better to start on the inside and work out. I think that would probably work better. 

EF: Yeah. Yeah. Beautiful. Um, yeah, kind of, think, think globally, but act locally.

P: Yeah. 

EF: Yeah. Wonderful. I, I think um……yeah, I think I, I’m very happy with uh…

P: Good!

EF: (laughs) 

P: Happy is good. 

EF: (laughs) Yes, happy is good. Um…I’m, I’m trying to look for a good way to round this off, because I think we could talk for hours about, uh, all sorts of things…um….

P: Probably. 

EF: But um……perhaps, uh, a nice…way to end would be…uh, I’m very inspired by Rumi, um, and there’s a poem, “Say I Am You.” Um, so of course it, it, it’s uh, in a way it would be impossible for me to be you. (laughs) 

P: Mm. 

EF: Um……but perhaps it could be interesting to say, uh…maybe you think about how, how I might have experienced this interview (laughs) and you, and how I think you experienced the interview, or something like that. (laughs again)

P: I’m supposed to try to explain how you experienced it? 

EF: Yeah!

P: And then you’re going to try to explain how I experienced it?  

EF: Yeah! (laughs) 

P: You go first!

EF: Well, I think, I think um, you were very present, and um, I think very interested, and I think you also used your words concisely and wisely. And um, I think, I think you enjoyed it…(laughs) I hope! And you?  

P: Well, you seem happy; I mean you seem to be, uh, you also seem to enjoy it. And uh, like I said before, you seem to have a lot of passion and, and energy, which is, is flowing through you at the time. And I hope it’s not just because you’re young.

EF: (laughs) Yeah. OK, and then the last thing I want to know is, what are your plans now? You, you said you want to go back to Burma?

P: I don’t necessarily want to, but I think it’s probably going to happen, simply because it’s easier to live there. Like here, like I told you already I’m supported almost entirely by Burmese people anyway, so…if I go back to Burma then I have, uh, more options. It’s also healthier there, I get more exercise. Although it would be nice to interact with Westerners. But it doesn’t happen very much. 

EF: Yeah. 

P: So…

EF: Have, have you thought about Europe? As well? 

P: Yeah, I’ve thought about it. 

EF: Yeah! Because, um, I think there’s…we’re a little bit less uh, messed up, maybe? (laughs, unclear) Uh, or miserable? Um, and…yeah, you could think about living at a Vipassana center…you know? At a Dhamma center. I don’t know if they allow that, but um, um… 

P: Probably not. 

EF: Really? Why? 

P: Oh, it’s not really a monk-oriented system. 

EF: Yeah, that’s true. 

P: You know, they would treat monks like anybody else, so that, you know, you can do the retreat or do the course for ten days, and then you work in the kitchen or something, and…something like that.

EF: Yeah, but you can also stay at the center for a couple months. 

P: Oh, I didn’t know that. 

EF: Yeah, you can. Like, to take care of it, to do the, the green, and to…um…you know, then you do have to meditate like three hours a day, but uh…

P: That part is easy.

EF: Yeah! Exactly. There’s a little bit more—especially the Netherlands, I think, is opening up a lot more for spirituality. And we need people like you. We really do. We need people like you to inspire us, and to show us a good example, like you said. And um…yeah, it is true it’s a capitalist meritocracy also here, uh, but people…I can assure you, people will search for a certain enlightenment in their lives. And if there is, um, somebody who can show them the way, then um, yeah, it can only benefit them, I think. 

P: Yeah, well, most people, they want to search or they want to be happy, but they don’t know where to look; they don’t know how to be happy. 

EF: Yeah. 

P: Everybody is trying, but most people don’t succeed. 

EF: Yeah. Yeah, I, I grant anybody a drop of Dhamma or…a drop of meditation…because……

P: Well if I get invited to the Netherlands maybe I’ll come. 

EF: Well you’re welcome! (laughs) Here’s your invitation! Yeah, just drop by! If you’re going to Burma you have to hop—you know…or you go the other way? 

P: Uh, yeah, I just go across the Pacific O—

EF: Oh yeah! Yeah, (laughs) which is a bit of a detour! (laughs again) 

P: I’ve heard of at least one monastery in, in the Netherlands also.

EF: Oh really? Uh, oh…I don’t know about it, but um…there’s also nuns and stuff you can hang out with. (laughs) If they let you! (keeps laughing) 

P: I might be a bad influence on them. 

EF: (laughs) Induced desire! Let them eh, eh, focus—cheat on Jesus, basically. (keeps laughing) Yeah. Nice. OK. Thank you very much. 

P: You’re welcome. 

EF: Yeah. Yeah, I would love to know more one day about…yeah, what steps, or struggles, you had. It would be nice to know. (laughs) But um, maybe we should keep it at this; what do you think about that?  

P: Yeah, that’s fine with me. 

EF: Yeah? OK. Um, yeah, I’m going to, uh, keep the video, and I’m going to send it to you…um…uh, I don’t know if I should edit it, because…yeah, things are good as they are. (laughs) Um…but people have low attention spans these days.

P: Mm. 

EF: And let’s keep in touch. You’re going to do a retreat, you said? 

P: Yeah, during December. 

EF: OK, wonderful. Do you want to get in touch afterwards? 

P: Good idea. 

EF: I’m really curious how it was for you, and uh…take good care…

P: Yeah, I’m curious to see how it will go too. 

EF: Interesting. Wonderful, um, yeah, please let me know, and thank you so much for your time. Uh, it was really nice to speak with you, you are so wise, um, and it’s been an inspiration for me as well; so I will meditate now, and uh… 

P: I’m glad. 

EF: (laughs) You have a wonderful evening.

P: Oh, I can’t make any promises, but we’ll see how it goes. 

EF: (laughs) All right. Take good care. Goodbye…David. (waves)

P: Bye bye.