Saturday, March 26, 2016

The End of the American Rope (I Give Up)

     I was considering letting this be the very last post on this here blog before shutting the thing down, for reasons which ought to be woefully obvious to regular readers. But, I’ve already written a few more posts which haven’t been published yet, and I do enjoy writing, usually, and it helps to keep me out of trouble while I’m here in Babylon, sort of, so what the hell. This won’t be the last post, although it appears the end is near. This one is pretty much the end of the last chapter of this tragicomedy, however, with everything that comes after being by way of epilogue. I will try to restrain urges to let this degenerate into an impassioned tirade, at least until I am near the end, although I may change my mind and start ranting at any moment. Today I’ve been feeling less disgusted, indignant, disillusioned, and heart-achy than usual lately (lucky for you), so I was actually thinking maybe I should hold off on writing this until I’m more worked up; but let’s just get on with it.
     I suppose I should start with a rather simplistic synopsis of the flight of the lead balloon, or whatever it is, which will be review for some of you who are already familiar with the story.
     In the summer of 1991 I officially renounced the world and became a Theravada Buddhist monk. I did this mainly for two reasons: I wanted to dedicate my life to the cultivation of wisdom, and to understanding Reality, considering that to be the worthiest thing I could do with my life; and also I could not take American culture seriously—it is just too shallow, too superficial, too confining for me to find deep satisfaction in it. It may be that just about any worldly culture would be the same, and the wisest philosophies and spiritual movements tend to agree that wallowing in a worldly life is an obstacle to realization.
     My primary interest as a new monk was to follow the teaching of Gotama Buddha as closely as I could. I had zero interest in conforming to American-style Buddhism, to which I had almost no exposure anyway, and I also had little or no interest in conforming to traditional Southeast Asian “ethnic” Buddhism. I wanted to follow what the Buddha originally taught as purely as I could, so I kept my eyes on the Suttas and Vinaya and tried to live like an ancient Indian Buddhist ascetic.
     Before long this resulted in me being an outsider even to the Sangha, and driving myself harder and harder until I was living alone in caves in remote tropical forests and semi-desert wastelands. I followed the rules as strictly as I could manage, and over the course of my first ten years or so as a bhikkhu I figured I was averaging about six hours of formal sitting meditation per day. If enlightenment was possible for me, I was determined to find it, and not by ignoring or simplifying Dhamma to make it more convenient. (If I were a Jew I would have to be kosher, and if I were a Christian I would have to take seriously such universally ignored tenets as “Gather not up your treasures upon the earth.”) For years I was a radical fundamentalist Buddhist, perhaps bordering on fanaticism in my profound desire to follow Dhamma. 
     Burmese villagers revere monks in general, in accordance with their Buddhist tradition, and they respected and loved me for renouncing my own world in order to live in poverty in theirs, out of respect for their own religion; and the fact that I was practicing so strictly and conscientiously besides had many of them considering me to be a saint, possibly even a fully enlightened being. To this day in certain areas of Burma people make offerings at little shrines dedicated to my honor, or so I have been told. Burmese villagers are very poor in a physical sense, but they were eager and honored to offer support.
     After many years in Burma, though, I began burning out. Mainly it was the isolation and the blazing tropical heat. I started telling my best supporter that if I stayed there much longer I would go insane or die. I made some effort to come back to America, but by this time my father was dead, my former supporters in America, what few I had, had drifted out of contact, and I didn’t know how to leave. Lousy communications (this was before the country opened up and before Internet was available) almost ensured that I would remain in life-long exile. 
     By this time I felt that I had learned much of value from my practice and experiences, and that it could be good, for others as well as for me personally, if I returned to the West and shared this in some kind of interaction. I knew that the overwhelming majority of Westerners, possibly even the overwhelming majority of Western Buddhists, wouldn’t be interested, but it seemed extremely likely, pretty much a certainty even, that there would be some kindred spirits who could appreciate someone like me, and would be willing to form some kind of symbiosis. I didn’t want reverence so much as someone who could appreciate what I could share, and could communicate with me—being more philosopher than priest. Going back to America really seemed like the thing to do, essentially the next step in my practice.
     Yet because of lack of communications with people in America while I was in solitude in Burma, there seemed to be no obvious way of returning. Finally, with the help of a generous Burmese donor, I took a huge leap of faith and just flew back to my old home town of Bellingham. I knew only one person there by this time, and I couldn’t just move in with him indefinitely, but I felt that Bellingham had a noticeably higher level of consciousness than most cities, and it is a beautiful place, and I felt the need to move somewhere, so I took the plunge and started the great adventure. I wasn’t even sure if anyone would meet me at the airport.
     I had come back briefly a few times over the years to visit my parents, but this time, coming back indefinitely and in need of support, the strange, amazing ordeal began, probably a stranger shock to my system than when I first went to Asia. I really felt that I had something of great value to offer, and there have been Western people who agree with me on that, but the difference between Buddhism in Burma and Buddhism in America was like the difference between day and night, with America being night. It was like diving into ice water, the contrast was so great.
     From the beginning I met with indifference. The representative of the local Vipassana group in Bellingham didn’t even answer my emails introducing myself. (This has proven to be quite common actually; about half of Western Buddhist organizations do not reply.) As I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I met with at least as much cool disdain inside the local Dharma hall as outside on the streets of Bellingham. Polite standoffishness was the most common attitude, with some anxiety apparent on the part of the teachers of the group that I might somehow attempt to “take over” the organization.
     To complicate matters somewhat, the only person in town to offer shelter, and desire eagerly what I could teach her, was a young, unmarried American woman. I moved into a greenhouse in her back yard, at her enthusiastic invitation. In addition to providing shelter, she also was providing most of the food I ate, sometimes feeding me five days out of seven, and she organized most of the other support I received. We were overwhelmed with gratitude for each other, and eventually fell in love. After it ended, and I admitted to all of it publicly, the board of directors of the local Vipassana group used it as a golden opportunity to be rid of me once and for all and unanimously excommunicated me from their “sangha”—although this was obviously a case of jumping at the opportunity to make official what many of them had been doing unofficially from the beginning. Even before I was finally excommunicated in 2013 I was living on the floor of a massage studio, fasting once a week to reduce the burden on my few supporters, and eating corn chips and cheese two or three additional days per week, which food was bought with money donated by Burmese Buddhists in California.
     The “Let This Be a Lesson” episode has been seen by others also as a justification for non-support, although possibly none of them would have supported me in any case. I will say that the only time when my efforts to live supported by my fellow Americans seemed to be working was when my great benefactress and spiritual sweetheart was acting as a kind of agent or business manager, in some ways compensating for my own lack of (or disdain for) social skills, my aversion for hyping myself, and the rules of discipline preventing me from doing my own business. It appears that without some kind of manager it just doesn’t work. Also, I consider our romance, even though it was not consummated in the biological sense (as I did manage to remain celibate), to be the most profound and beautiful experience I have had since coming back to America in 2011. Even though it eventually hit the rocks and resulted in a great deal of unhappiness, I feel it was still well worth it, and cannot possibly regret it, even though I’m not planning to repeat the experience.
     Anyway, the thundering silence of the Buddhists of Bellingham was apparently no anomaly, as American Buddhists in general seem to be pretty similar in this regard. In addition to almost total lack of interest in what I can teach, there has been almost zero interest in providing a senior Buddhist monk (me) with even the bare necessities of existence—food and shelter. Needless to say, this also indicates a lack of motivation to help a fellow human being.
     A common observation is that Westerners aren’t familiar with supporting the minimal needs of an ascetic bhikkhu. This is no doubt true; although it is also true that virtually nobody is willing to learn. They just don’t see the point, and don’t want to see it. Often it is simply a convenient excuse for apathy, or indifference, or whatever. American Buddhists prefer to cling to the familiar, with their Buddhism modified and lukewarmified to fit with that. I am reminded of a senior teacher of the group in Bellingham saying that she wouldn’t support me because she did not know what lineage I came from—although I had offered the information in the past, and she had made zero effort to find out, and continued to make zero effort. It was a convenient rationalization, although perhaps not a very rational one.
     A similar issue involves the idea, considered by some Western Buddhists to be quite reasonable, that the Buddhists of Bellingham were justified in not offering support to the only Buddhist monk in town because they had not invited me. But consider such an attitude in ancient India: Let’s say a wandering monk happens to pass through a village. The villagers, considering themselves to be Buddhists, say nevertheless, “Let’s view this monk with suspicion for three years or so before deciding whether or not to offer him support.” Well, of course Buddhism would have died out in ancient times, wouldn’t it. For that matter, why gives alms to a street beggar? You didn’t invite him. Why support your aging mother? You didn’t invite her either. Generosity makes little sense in a consumeristic society.
     So of course, from the beginning Americans have been urging me to live at an established monastery. “Go stay at a temple!” they have said. For the most part this entails choosing between the Ajahn Chah tradition and Asian “ethnic” Buddhism; and neither is really for me, for reasons I needn’t go into and which most readers wouldn’t understand anyhow. Westerners tend to have only the vaguest notions of what monasteries are like, or are supposed to be like. If there is a monastery in the West where I would really fit in, I don’t know where it is. I have been staying at a little Burmese house-temple in California for the past several months, where the Burmese offer plentiful support, and where I meet approximately one Westerner per week, and usually the same guy. He’s a good guy though. But I figure it’s better just to go back to Burma, because the Euro-Americans obviously don’t give a damn. I get more physical exercise there also, have many more options, and actually have more freedom.
     Considering that Westerners are supposedly openminded, and that Western culture in general is spiritually bankrupt and unsatisfying, the failure to find kindred spirits willing to make the effort to have me around has struck me again and again as a kind of bizarre anti-miracle. It’s totally amazing to me, especially considering the enthusiastic support in other parts of the world. I have tried to understand it, and have written several posts on this blog attempting to analyze various aspects of the situation. Obviously there isn’t just one big reason, but apparently very many, maybe twenty or more that I could list. Maybe thirty. Recently in a mood of despairing wonder I asked a Canadian man who has offered long-distance support from time to time what his explanation was. His response is interesting, and worth repeating:
Making connections isn't just about whether or not people 'accept' your style of Dharma, but whether they are motivated enough by you to actually make contact and form a relationship. I think much of it is more dependent on charisma and social skills than anything else: It doesn't matter how damn enlightened you are, if people don't find it compelling to interact with you, they won't want to. Just look at how pleasant and charismatic most Western dharma teachers are: half therapist, half entertainer, they make it very easy to connect to. 
I've seen the mistake made more than once that monastics expect the same sort of piety and respect from Western layfolk that they received in the East. Yuttadhammo made the same mistake, but he worked extremely hard to put out massive amount of content on YouTube and to involve people-- he would get them to come to his various monasteries he set up, train them and ordain them as novices. He built his following as a missionary would.
Also I think your style of dharma is also partly to blame: your explicitness and skepticism removes much of the mystique people find compelling in other teachers.
     With regard to this I would just point out, again, that it’s not so much “piety and respect” that I’ve been looking for as simple food and shelter. Even that has been too much to expect in the West, unless it is supplied by foreign immigrants. And if having spent half my adult life as an ascetic in caves lacks “mystique,” then I am incapable of it, period.
     But there is no point in yet another attempt to analyze the almost total unwillingness of American Buddhists to support me, or for that matter to support practice above an elementary level. I will just add to the pile of reasons that my own motives are presumably impure to the point of giving me some hellaciously obstructive karma. The Universe is apparently insisting, really insisting, that I give up and spend the rest of my life in solitude in a tropical Asian forest, so I may as well bow my head, give up, and go.
     Before moving on though, I will mention that sometimes I almost wish that America’s lack of interest in keeping me alive were entirely my own fault—simply a matter of impure motives and an obnoxious personality. But the fact remains that non-support of renunciants in America is practically universal. All monks in America that I am aware of are supported primarily by Asians. American Buddhists are not only unwilling to practice Dhamma as the top priority in their lives (and most people even in devoutly Buddhist cultures are the same in this), but they are also unwilling to support those who are willing. Thus American Buddhism has effectively abolished renunciation, along with the primary purpose of Dhamma: enlightenment in this very life. Dhamma is not merely decapitated, everything is cut off above the knees.
     One interesting point to me is that I encountered a great dilemma in the West: As mentioned earlier I haven’t been able to take American culture as a whole very seriously, and that includes American Buddhism of course, most of which I would call “McBuddhism.” Rather than finding Americans turning to Dhamma because, like me, they are looking for a better way of  life, practically all of them are clinging to the old way of life and force-fitting Buddhism into the spiritually bankrupt container. The kindred spirits I was so confident of finding are so extremely few and so thinly scattered across the world that they make little practical difference, except maybe at some ethereal level. So the dilemma is that I refuse to be hypocritical on the subject and, although I don’t always dwell on it, I don’t always conceal the fact that what most people in the West are seriously calling Buddhism I consider to be a corrupt farce. At least I’m not insulting their religion by it, since Buddhism isn’t their religion anyway. And I’m not insulting them personally, partly because they’re too lukewarm and apathetic to be insulted by it. Maybe I should be saying “you” instead of “them,” since statistically speaking you, the reader, probably fit the qualifications; but I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt. It doesn’t matter anyway.
     Maybe it is a personality defect that I insist upon standing outside the system, just about any system. Pretty much everything I write is an examination of some system or other from the outside. This is actually very valuable; but not only most Americans, or most Westerners, but human beings in general, 99.999% of us, insist not only on standing within the system, but on being enslaved to it, and wallowing in it. One reason why Burmese Buddhists support me so avidly, aside from being very generous and hospitable people anyway, is because they believe, bless their hearts, that I stand within their system, although really I do not, except maybe at the edge of it, as an accidental side effect. Those who do not stand within the accepted system are a threat to the majority’s peace of mind.
     So I have spent my life painting myself into a corner, metaphorically speaking. I am not only a misfit and outcast, but I insist upon being one as a matter of principle. I must continue with it also, and have no real regrets over how I have lived my life. If I had these past few years to live over again there would probably be only some minor adjustments, and it still wouldn’t work out. I’d wind up in the same situation as now. I thought there would be others who could benefit from my nonconformity, but apparently I was mistaken; but regardless of whether I am alone or with other kindred spirits, I have to live according to my own conscience and reason, and not follow along with the conformist herd. 
     I do hope this blog has been of benefit to somebody, that it has helped at least one person out there to be at least a little more awake, a little less entangled in the phenomenal mess called Samsara. Based on the communications I have received, this blog seems to appeal mostly to loners, to those who are unimpressed by their local Buddhist group and are looking for something more satisfying. I am very glad you are out there, and wish you luck. But even the loners appear to be pretty lukewarm. 
     Well, thus far I’ve managed to write this thing without losing my cool and breaking into a fiery rant, although it has been meandering unsteadily all over the place. I guess I’m just too weary of the whole joke to get good and fired up. So I’ll add a succulent passage from a previous post, one written shortly after my formal excommunication from the blind leading the blind. 

     When I was young and Diogenes was my hero, I rebelled against society. I no longer rebel against it; now I'm content just to renounce it, more or less. It seems madness and futility to rebel against 99.99% of the human race. I'm willing to let society be. I don't really rebel against the Bhikkhu Sangha either, although I renounced that institution also, more or less, when I was still a young monk, still not at my peak of strictness, after realizing that more than 95% of bhikkhus don't seriously practice Dhamma or Vinaya (and that is not an exaggeration). For years I avoided the company of other monks whenever it was convenient to do so. But now, in my less fanatical maturity perhaps, I'm willing to let the Bhikkhu Sangha be also, and am more willing to associate with my colleagues in that organization, whether or not they are willing to associate with me.
     But there is one institution that I still consider worth my while to rebel against: and that is what many (but certainly not all) people in America are pleased to call "Theravada Buddhism"—a movement in which laypeople who may not take three refuges or keep five precepts call themselves "Sangha," and if they do take refuge in the Sangha, take refuge in themselves; in which the members believe more deeply in scientific materialism and politically correct humanism than in Dhamma; in which even many teachers do not believe in fundamental principles of Buddhism, even Nibbana, because scientific materialism cannot explain it; in which the members sew new patches onto old cloth, and are essentially worldly materialists with a little Buddhist flavoring added; in which the possibility of miracles is rejected out of hand; in which monks are required to be politically correct, smiling politicians, or saints, in order to be considered the equals of the lay community; in which a monk must prove himself worthy of even receiving a bowl of food every day; in which many of the teachers are more ignorant of the Buddhist texts than a typical Burmese villager with a grade school education; in which most of Theravada Buddhism is rejected or ignored, with the system reduced to little more than a few elementary meditation techniques, being a pale shadow of a mutilated fragment of Dhamma; in which complacent lukewarmness is standard, with anything more than that being considered extreme, unnecessary, or "cultish"; in which truth is covered up with phony politeness for the sake of not ruffling feathers, or threatening people's fragile self-esteem; in which true renunciation is scorned; in which austerity is pretty much a nonstarter, with luxury and wimpiness being virtually mandatory (with the Goenka folks not culpable of this one); in which "sacred" is regarded as a superstitious word; in which Liberation in this very life has been replaced by enhancing the quality of their mental prisons, because the members are unwilling to go beyond a very casual and elementary level of commitment; in which a radical way of life designed for enlightenment has been rejected in favor of watered-down, soft, easy, convenient, comfortable, non-threatening, politically correct fluff designed to help them stay more comfortably asleep—THAT I rebel against. I lift my lower robes and fart in its general direction.

     There you are. To those of you who have generously offered support in the past (and there are some), and to any of you who really have derived benefit from my presence, I do apologize for all this. But even so…fuck it. I quit. As a large alien humanoid once said on the old Star Trek, and as I used to say to myself while sitting alone in Burmese forests, “My life is forfeit.” As the Burmese say, becoming a monk is a form of suicide. It’s pointless to say any more—in fact it was probably pointless to say most of what is above, since maybe nobody gives a damn anyway. Better to spend the rest of my life in exile, and in solitude.  


  1. U Pannobhasa,

    For what it is worth, I do give a damn, but have not been capable of giving much more than that as my own situation is also precarious and I am dealing with my own tsunami of past kamma, without the benefit of thousands of hours spent rewiring my neural network through meditation.

    This whole time I have had contact with you I keep wondering if this is your "real personality" or just an act you put on to mirror things for us. No insult intended, but you are in some ways teaching what not to do, what to avoid. I seek to avoid some of the views expressed above (and elsewhere) explicitly because they create division and unconstructive isolation.

    You told me of a vow you made long ago and I pray you have recanted it. I have made my own similar mistakes and I am very fearful of repeating them. For fear of unwholesome kamma I avoid arguing with monastics so if the conversation takes too much of an argumentative turn I am simply forced to shut down. I have done so with many ethnic Bhikkhus who have expressed various forms of what appears in my world to be "wrong view." I am also fearful of the dreaded "Sangha splintering" kamma hence the "lukewarm" approach. Afraid to accept, afraid to reject. Non-acting does not create new kamma, I have heard.

    It is no surprise to anybody that Western culture, which is almost the culture most diametrically opposed to Dhamma on this planet, would be struggling in adopting "Theravada Buddhism." But it is still in its infancy, and many high-level lay and monastic practitioners from all over the Earth are still working to seed the West with Dhamma so I assume the endeavor is not entirely without purpose. I for one have witnessed supramundane phenomena and am even willing to accept the scorn of claiming it, and I know that some of these practitioners have the ability to penetrate spacetime and see into the future. Meaning, what they do is not entirely without knowledge or purpose. But, I accept your scolding. I for one, am very inspired to see the "bodhi tree" spreading its branches to all four corners of the Earth.

    I am sorry I was not able to offer more attention or support. I have difficulty in traveling outside my city, and have missed many Dhamma opportunities, so it is not very personal to you in my case. I continue to wish the best for your physical and mental well-being.

    Arthur Damm

    1. Yeah, this is my real personality. I don't remember what vow I told you of, unless it was that vow that if I ever find it impossible not to handle money I will disrobe. I suppose that isn't the vow you're speaking of though.

      Ha, maybe stating an honest opinion is the example of what to avoid! I am repeatedly advised to be optimistic; and although I am keeping the door unlocked, hopeful optimism seems fairly unrealistic at present.

      I suspect you're really not going to like next week's post. Good karma to you in your own physical and mental (especially spiritual) well-being regardless. And I really do appreciate your efforts to help. You get merit for that, "gathering up treasure in heaven."

    2. U Pannobhasa,

      I keep erasing the things I start writing, both out of deference to your monastic seniority and concern for our kammas. What can I say to you that is useful? Perhaps for now only this: if you wish any help in keeping the blog online as you move onward I may be able to assist with that. Either way, I have downloaded your blogs to my local drive and I expect to read through your manifold articles as time goes on. I just came across the one of you as the "Monkey Messiah" =)

      Arthur Damm

    3. Well, the blog will remain on the Internet, especially so long as Blogger is free of charge (a really good deal by the way). I'll continue to moderate any comments to it also, during the times that I have Internet access in Burma. Mainly I'll just stop writing posts.

      One advantage of Southeast Asia: More monkeys there. Also I like the little wall geckos.

  2. Dear Pannobhasso Bhikkhu Sir,
    I am sorry that it all had come to this..I have not yet read the whole article and it broke my heart..I was hoping White Europeans would sustain you for another 3 years (ca. beginning 2019) before I could make for permanent arrangements for you in Germany..well I am not a white European, but I understand Western Civilization as much and as thoroughly as any Indian could. On top of that I am beginning to be fairly well connected to German society/families/circles and there is a tremendous positive cache around Buddhism (mostly to do with Dalai Lama), Yoga, vegetarianism (around 40% of progressive women here), New Age

    I am wondering is there a strict non-no in Buddhism to use the Law of Attraction to manifest supporters for oneself?

    My Guru (who is also White European ancestry btw) has done that from occasion to occasion to tide over rough patches in his life

    Sorry that I havenot yet formulated a response to your comment on the comment section of the previous post..Let's just say my crisis was extremely severe that it also induced in me a loss of confidence about the value of the past 3,000-3,500 years of Indic Civilization..anyways I will honour your response to my comment by a thoughtful comment of my own at the end of the previous post

    I am starting again a long fast and I sincerely hope that your problems are too ameliorated by the end of next week


    1. Even after I stop writing blog posts you can still contact me. May your fast be a good one.

  3. One thing that sets you apart from any other monk or spiritual person I have ever known is your immense ability to acquire knowledge from different sources about various Civilizational system , world views and philosophies including Scientific Materialism ...This is not unlike me as I also quite prolifically acquire knowledge from various sources but no in that exaggerated capacity that you are capable of ...but here as unsavoury as it might be I must make the remark that other Buddhist monk mentioned in your article is much more literalist, much more of a fundementalist evangelical Christian when it comes to reconciling the Truth of Theravada Buddhism with other world systems..This makes for some seemingly comical observations like Thailand is better than any other country on earth...But he is great and has done a lot of good in spreading the Buddhist message (at least the Theravadin interpretation of it)...I surmise that your message is more geared towards themuch more intellectual , less heart oriented crowd..This makes you compleiing only to the above 115 IQ crowd..and that too mostly men..problem is 115-120 above crowd are only 15 percent of the society..and 97 percent of them are Scientific Materialists..the rest 3 percent who might be spiritual are so because they are having some severe crisis in their lives (money related compared to their potential or health related) or are into things like Digital Physics, Russian Cosmism or New Age (the first two these days form Nwer Age)...The other monk caters mostly to the White mean of IQ 100

  4. Pannobhasso

    Finding your blog renewed my faith that true seekers are still out there. I share a lot of your views, disagree with some and some the jury is still out on.

    Unfortunately your view of American culture is spot on. I too have dreamed of renouncing this world myself, but my own love of American comforts and distractions is very strong, even though I see this condition as an addiction that I hate myself for.

    I am recently going through a great upheaval in my comfort zone as you have wrote about recently. A kind of bourgeois rock bottom. Now my entire view of myself has taken a dramatic shift.

    So in case another western seeker shows up at your cave one day, I hope you don't chase him away with a stick

    1. One piece of advice I would give you is that, no matter what, you shouldn't hate yourself. Also I would advise you, based on my own experience, that giving up a luxury is most difficult before you do it; after letting it go you find that it is much easier than you thought.

      And yeah, true Dhamma, along with forgiveness of oneself and others, is simply not in fashion nowadays. You are welcome at my cave, although I recommend a winter visit, as the place is like a furnace most of the rest of the time.

    2. It's not just giving up luxuries. There is going to be great upheaval if I renounce the world. Walking away from family life for spiritual way faring is not a normal thing in America as in Asia.

      It will be a completely foreign occurrence. What was he thinking? Did he join a cult? How could he leave his wife and kids?

      I seem to be worried about what will be thought of me. But if I am seeking spiritual attainment, for real, aren't I benefitting my family in the long run? Even if they don't see it now?

      It's getting almost impossible for me to fake it-this life of working more and more trying to find security and peace based on material comfort.

    3. "Your own self-realization is the greatest service you can render the world." —Ramana Maharshi

      I happen to agree with that statement. I sincerely wish you good luck on your path, regardless of which path you take.

  5. I dont know what happened to my comment but it was something like I do give a damn, even if your hundreds of miles away, i feel you still have so much to share and I can learn from you! maybe your unique thoughts will give shape in a different form. Love the enemy outside as you must love the enemy within

    1. I can honestly say that I don't see Western Buddhists as the enemy. I don't see anything inside me as the enemy either. However, I do see Western culture in general as sadly incompatible with some of the most basic aspects of genuine Dharma, and I confess that it is sometimes very frustrating and aggravating for me, as well as saddening.



  7. How can we visit your cave in Burma?

    1. If you can find your way to the San Myat Theeta Mahasi center in the city of Monywa and ask where the American monk lives, at Wun Bo Forest Monastery, they can help you to get there. Unfortunately sampans are becoming obsolete, as going by boat is the most scenic, pleasant, and comfortable way of going.

      Or if you seriously intend to come, you can email me (the address is on the website, and I can give you more precise instructions. I probably won't arrive there until around November, as I will probably spend the rainy season near the town of Pyin Oo Lwin.

  8. Hey Bhante,

    You have 35 years left to live, give or take. What is it you wish to accomplish in this world? Reading your blog, it sounds like you want to change people: for a meditation retreat, you proposed an exercise wherein each retreatant would look deeply into each other's eyes for an extended length of time-- which (I assume you assume) would provoke some meaningful change. If this is what you want to accomplish, why go back to sulking about samsara in some cave? What good would that do? You could accomplish more if you isolated yourself less, which would require getting yourself out of small Buddhist monasteries and into the world.

    However, it may be the case that you've been institutionalized. That is, even if you wanted to disrobe, you wouldn't know how to reintegrate into the lay life. Perhaps you're so accustomed to the monastic lifestyle that the thought of disrobing is distressing. I wouldn't be surprised if this was a problem for many Western monks, though I've yet to see it addressed.

    You wonder why people don't support you. You'll have to forgive them: Firstly, monks are a strange sort of people. Secondly, Theravadin monks are a strange sort of monk. Thirdly, you're a strange sort of Theravadin monk. You send out mixed messages: you've set yourself apart from others, yet you also desperately desire to form connections with them. This is a personality trait I can actually identify with.. I'm a difficult person to become friends with as I will usually not pursue friendship, even though I desire it. The few friends I have retained were both very patient and aggressive in maintaining a relationship with me, and I am very grateful for that effort. It's your desire to be both separate yet connected that people may not know how to interpret.

    Monks are sacred and revered. If you want to be treated as a human, be a human.

    - Mark

    1. Well, as I have told you before, more than once, the bottom line in the West has not been respect or even connection, but simple food and shelter, and so long as Westerners are unwilling to provide it I may as well return to Asia. I've even stated that connection would not be necessary so long as some strange person or persons were willing to support a philosophical recluse. I haven't been so much trying to change people as trying to be of benefit to anyone who can benefit from what I could offer—more a matter of being a catalyst for their own self development, if that is at all appropriate. You can call it trying to change people if you like, but you could accuse anybody of that so long as they are offering something unusual. I assure you that I don't "desperately" desire to form connections.

      Finally, I have no choice but to be human. I'm human already.

    2. Excuse my accusations, I tend to project/create theories about people that are often wrong.

      Are you exceptional enough to merit someone supporting you? Such support of a monk is a huge burden. What is it that you offer which would convince someone to support you? How are you different from everyone else? What can people get from you that they couldn't get from a meditation retreat, or a yoga group, or a zen group, or drugs, or Burning Man? If the person who supports you must be 'strange,' doesn't that suggest their support would not be reason-based?

      If not to change people, it sounds like you at least wish to be of use to people. If that's the case, you should offer what you have: tremendous knowledge about the Theravadin religion, Burmese culture, and practical monastic experience. You'd make a good teacher, but you have to make yourself accessible first, you can't rely on deus ex machina. (You sometimes sound like a fatalist in this regard, resigning yourself to the actions of the world, as though it has its own agency, rather than acting as a free individual yourself.)

      Sorry if I'm being offensive or dumb.

      - Mark

    3. I think you are raising good questions, Mark, although it is possible they may appear "dumb" from a certain perspective.

      I think you are raising an important issue here. Namely the fact that everything has to be "for sale" in certain ways in our global capitalistic modern culture. And I think even things like common hospitality and generosity become somehow more and more "marketized". (You can see this on the internet for example on such fundraising platforms like "indiegogo" or "", just to capture the rough sentiment of what nowadays is considered appropriate and socially acceptable. While at the same time "normal" more oldfashioned, considerate and hospitable ways of interaction are not really existent anymore.
      But that just goes contrary to buddhist monastic tradition and I think it would be at least a borderline Vinaya offense to put oneself up for offer in such way while advertising certain "selling points" for interested customers as a "monk for rent" or whatever. (Not suggesting that you're actually suggesting something in such a crass kind of way. But just to somehow illustrate my point a bit more markedly.)
      Buddhist monks are not supposed to be "outgoing" in this kind of way. And he has to "resign himself to the actions of the world" to quite a considerable extent if he is not to compromise the principles he has committed himself to live by.
      Just that "our" culture (I guess you're American, I'm European, but it is perhaps similar enough) is not accomodating this kind of thing very much.

      Here on the internet I think there is actually a whole other level of difficulty to it. Because we get so accomodated to see the people we interact with or that we "follow" and "stalk" silently somehow, as just avatars, and it is really difficult here to connect with the actual human being behind it without putting quite much effort into it and being quite "outgoing" and have a lot of patience. We have to think and make assumptions and mistakes, and have to formulate, all very tediously. We are so much more used to being "customers" and "consumers" here than anything else. And we can discuss and idle around very much without accomplishing anything useful while having still somewhat pleasurable illusions about it. It is difficult to "connect" here while maintaining actual genuine contact with/in reality somehow.

      I thought I could say something a bit more substantial. This all seems kind of flat and maybe not of much use and depth. And I'm tired and my brain is frozen somehow from too much senseless lounging around in front of the computer.

      I can see the benefits of living in a "primitive" rural third-world society where people have to be still a bit more alert to each other's actual situation and a straightforward natural sense of how to interact appropriately.

      Hmmm... maybe I've gone off on a tangent to something irrelevant. Happens so easily here..

  9. Is that old Burmese monk that stayed near your cave in a cemetery still around? Are this type of monk common in burma? Can you tell us more about him? I will probably want pay him a visit as well when I come over.

    1. I assume you are referring to ven. Ywa Mun Sayadaw, who I mentioned in the post "The Elder Sister of All Alms Rounds." He died more than ten years ago. Monks like him are common enough that there are several of them, maybe even a few dozen, in Burma at any given time, although rare enough that people will travel hundreds of miles to meet them.

  10. Yeah someone quote you in a forum discussion on whether there is any modern day arahat. I have much curiosity and admiration for monks that live in solitude. In the sutta, it stated that this route is a "make it or become adrift like a floating pumpkin". Personally I believe this is the most usual final phase for the 95% meditators.