Saturday, April 27, 2013

What Am I Doing in a Cemetery in Bali?

     I am writing this (once again in the prehistoric fashion of ink on paper) in a hut on the outskirts of a Chinese cemetery near a village in the mountains of central Bali. The hut is made of bamboo, with a roof thatched with grass (a much better thatching job than I ever saw in Burma, incidentally), and I share it with one rat and one gooey-looking, mud-colored tree frog the size of a gerbil.
     The purpose of this post is to explain how I got here, and to describe the most noteworthy experiences I've had since my last post on current events more than a month ago.
     When I was still at the little Burmese temple in California, maybe a week or two before coming to Burma in January, I received an email from a person calling himself The Cahyadi Adiguna, offering to donate my plane tickets to and from Burma, and, if I liked, to and from Bali also. Although I like playing up the mysteriousness of The Cahyadi, I had a pretty good idea who he was: A few years ago, shortly before returning to the USA for the Big Experiment, I met an Indonesian monk named venerable Vijaya (Pali for "Victory"), who comes from a wealthy family in Bali, and who had given me a general, non-specific invitation to that island; The Cahyadi is one of ven. Vijaya's brothers. I informed The Cahyadi that I already had a round-trip ticket to and from Burma, but was quite willing to visit him in Bali. We agreed that the easiest way of going about it would be for me to change the round-trip ticket to one-way, and then he would provide transportation from Burma to Bali, and then from Bali back to the USA. I changed the ticket, and then received no further communications from him. There was no reply to my subsequent emails. So, I flew to Burma with no return ticket, no attendant, and no money, but with the faith that something would work out.
     I've already chronicled the adventures of my first two months in Burma in previous blog posts, so I'll take up where I left off—I left Wun Bo Wildlife Refuge Monastery on the 7th of March, shortly after the beginning of the hot season, and took up residence in the congregation hall of Migadawun Kyaung, "The Deer's Playground" (named after the park near Varanasi where the Buddha is said to have delivered his first formal sermon), near a town with the ridiculous name of Pyin Oo Lwin, on the cool Shan Plateau, east of Mandalay. The abbot, and often the only monk there, is an intelligent, crusty, interesting, and misanthropic Burmese monk named U Vimala ("Stainless"). He seems to dislike most of the human race—and this despite the fact that he's been declared a sotāpanna, i.e. a saint, by none other than the internationally famous (and similarly crusty) Mahasi U Paṇḍita himself—but he likes me for some reason I don't fully understand. Hopefully he'll continue to like me if he reads this.
     On March 15th, exactly one month and one day after seeing the spectacled cobra at Wun Bo (see "The Cobra," posted March 23), ven. Vimala knocked at my door and said, "Do you want to see a cobra? There's one in the brick pile near my cabin." So off I went to see another cobra. The Balinese monk U Vijaya had arrived at Migadawun the day after I did, so he came along to look at it too. When we reached U Vimala's cabin, the cobra was no longer in the brick pile, but was slithering on the ground nearby. This one was about five feet (1.5m) long and as big around as a person's wrist, and an overall darkish greyish brownish color, with no obvious markings at all—so I guess it was a king cobra. The Balinese monk, apparently knowing my desire, handed me a long stick, and I immediately began pursuing the snake around the compound, poking at it and stirring it in an attempt to get it to stand up and spread its hood. It didn't want to play ball, however; the most I could get it to do was briefly to flick its hood open a couple of times. It mainly just wanted to get away from the weird human that was pestering it. U Vimala also grumbled a little over how I was harassing his snake.
     Another highlight of Migadawun was a visit I received from my friends Damon, Conor, and Juli, who drove up from Yangon partly to check out some kind of retreat/workshop on permaculture and similar Green topics. The workshop was held at a place that Burmese laypeople emphasized was not a monastery, but a "Dhamma training center"—this was presumably because, although monks live there and the place is presided over by a sayadaw, there is virtually no monastic discipline there whatsoever. Conor said that a monk who was one of his roommates during the night he stayed there stayed up most of the night getting drunk as a monastic skunk on gin. Actually, a great many "progressive" monks (certainly not all, but many) are not so different from this; they have little or no interest in Dhamma practice, so they occupy their time in such secular pursuits as public demonstrations, fundraising, rioting, permaculture, gambling, and/or drunkenness. In other words, monks who are most lax in Dhamma practice are often most keen on secularizing the orientation of the Sangha, sometimes in utilitarian ways, sometimes not.
     I have always had a profound appreciation for exquisitely bad jokes, and shortly after his arrival dear Damon facilitated a really lovely one: he was discussing the ridiculous schedules of the international schools in Yangon, and said something like, "The Spectrum School closes in the middle of August! What school closes in the middle of August!?" whereupon I casually observed, "I think that Spectrum one does." Damon turned to Conor and said he was sorely tempted just to get up and walk out of the room, but Conor reminded him that, after all, he had handed that one to me on a platter. I was actually proud of that joke. Gawd what a brilliant dumb joke it was.
     During their visit we also went to the botanical gardens (well worth seeing if you ever happen to be in Pyin Oo Lwin) and fed bananas to a takin there; a takin being a creature which inhabits mountainous forest areas of upper Burma, which looks and acts like a cross between a goat and a buffalo, and which prefers its bananas unpeeled. At a different time I explained to Conor that his own name, when pronounced as a Burmese word, literally means "sick pigeon." And Juli enjoyed the honor of being the first and only woman to be allowed to spend the night at Migadawun Monastery. Sayadaw U Vimala's getting soft in his old age. Up until recently even unordained men were not allowed to sleep there, only monks and novices.
     Another highlight of Migadawun is that I served as the reciter of the Bhikkhu Pātimokkha on uposatha day there, something I had not done in years. I had forgotten most of it and had to read it from a book, and still it took almost an hour. 
     It was around this time that the Buddhist/Muslim riots occurred in the city of Meiktila, about 150 miles away. The way it started was explained to me as follows: A Buddhist village woman and a man (I assume her husband) came into town to sell a gold hair comb. They went to a shop run by a Muslim man who, when he was testing the comb to determine its value, accidentally broke it. He refused to pay them what they said it was worth, claiming that it wasn't worth nearly so much. This developed into a heated argument, and the village man was either beaten up or just shoved so that he fell down. The two villagers returned to their village and excitedly complained to all who would listen about the ill usage that they considered they had endured. So, a kind of vigilante committee loaded into a truck, went into town, and wrecked the Muslim's shop. By this time a group of Muslims had accumulated also, the shop probably being in a largely Muslim neighborhood; and seeing a Buddhist monk among the village vigilantes, some of the Muslims invited the monk to come with them to discuss how to settle the situation peacefully. The monk agreed, and he was taken to a mosque or some other kind of Islamic community center—where the Muslim men allegedly splashed battery acid in his face, and then either cut his throat or else cut his head all the way off (U Vimala simply said, "They cut his neck"). 
     The murder of the monk was apparently the spark that got the whole conflagration blazing; and I was told that all of the mosques in Meiktila, about six of them, were burned to the ground, at least one of them with people inside. Muslim houses and shops were also destroyed, and Buddhists armed with machetes were allegedly hacking Muslims to death in the streets, with some of the machete-wielders being (abnormally unvirtuous) monks. U Vimala, after wondering aloud at the suicidal belligerence of the Muslims, who form a small minority in Burma, stated that Sitagu Sayadaw, by far the most famous and influential of the modernizing, secularizing monks in Burma, has declared in his public speeches that the Muslims have gone too far, and that the Buddhists have been too patient.
     Anyway, ven. Vijaya somehow made arrangements for my plane ticket to Bali, and on the 26th of March we arrived in Yangon. Despite riots in a distant city I was feeling very content and serene, often in meditative states even when not sitting, as though my spiritual batteries had been fully recharged in the forest monasteries of upper Burma. Hanging out with Damon, Stacy, their little daughters, and their friends, neighbors, and staff was like a blessing to me, and a fruition of my stay in Burma. I was happy to be a guest of honor at a women's meditation group Stacy leads, and answered questions and gave basic instructions to the Western wives of officials of embassies and charitable organizations. Also I experienced the delight of telling another dumb joke that had Damon threatening revenge. 
     Associating with Westerners and businesspeople as I was, I learned things about the new, open Myanmar that I had been clueless of before. It seems that the businesspeople of Myanmar are in the midst of a shark-like feeding frenzy, gobbling up as quickly and ruthlessly as possible the international funds being poured into the Burmese economy. Burma is practically owned nowadays by approximately eight astronomically wealthy Burmese businessmen who, with the help of generals still pulling the strings of government, are dividing amongst themselves (with a share for the generals) all of the business deals worth having. One gets Toyota, another gets GM, another gets Ford (and I was told that the same guy who got Ford also got Coca-Cola)—plus countless other contracts. Two typical examples of this principle of Open Myanmar for the Sake of Making a Few Very Rich People Even Richer are 1) An American-based NGO was to build housing for poor people in Rakhine State, but was required by the Burmese government to buy all of its building materials in Yangon, hundreds of miles away, and only from specified dealers; and 2) it is illegal to set up any kind of restaurant or shop anywhere along the new 400-mile Yangon/Mandalay highway except at two specified rest stops regulated by the government—obviously in order to have as much money go into as few Burmese pockets as possible. It is easy not to think of such things in remote, peaceful forests.
     One more bit of interesting news I picked up was from my friend Dylan, who left Burma on the same day as I did because he was longing to do things that are not convenient to do in Burma. He told me of yet another Westerner claiming to be fully enlightened: an American man named Daniel Ingram. On his website he actually makes the following claims, and I quote:

          I make the following claims to attainments:

               I am an arahant, having attained that in April, 2003.
               I have mastery of the samatha jhanas, including Pure Land One and 
                    Pure Land Two, The Watcher, and Nirodha Samapatti
               I have some experience with some other traditional attainments.
               I can access the state that this place calls No Dog.

I think that, based on first impressions, I have more faith in the attainments of Wayne Wirs. (You can check him out for yourself on YouTube, or Here.) As the Tao Te Ching and J. Krishnamurti have said, those who know do not say, and those who say do not know. Which renders me a little skeptical of some of the Buddha's alleged claims as recorded in the Suttas, and may render many of you even more skeptical of me. 
     For many years I have worked with the hypothesis that it is a good sign for things to go wrong at the beginning of a journey. The idea is that any "ripe" bad luck is being worked out of the system and cleared quickly, and thus won't crop up later on, in the middle of the trip. If that is the case, then this trip to Bali has some major positive fruitions in store.
     The first wonderful omen was simply a week of hot, very sticky Yangon hot season weather. In such weather an electric fan has little effect but to evaporate one's sweat, leaving behind a residue of sticky, salty grease.
     The second omen of great fortune occurred on April Fool's Day, the day before I left Burma. I had an opportunity to check my email account, and found that a young woman I know had written me two or three long, complicated emails describing, for the umpteenth time, what she considers to be my defects, and earnestly urging me to adopt her view of my case and to act accordingly. I wrote back to her, after consideration, making a few observations, especially 1) that she is literally addicted to finding fault with virtually everybody, including herself and me; 2) that she has an unrealistic ideal about how people should be and behave, and when NOBODY lives up to that ideal (except possibly for Ammachi the Hugging Saint), instead of discarding the ideal she puts the blame on everyone, making herself, and those close to her, miserable; and 3) that whether we see people positively or negatively depends upon whether we have a positive or negative point of view—it is a matter of our own attitude. Although she has freely admitted to all three of these points on previous occasions, on this occasion her immediate reaction was fury, and she fired off a retort in which, again for the umpteenth time, she appeared to regard me as the most foolish, arrogant, hypocritical, dishonest, wrong-headed, rigidly egocentric, and insensitive heart-retard in existence, informing me that we are no longer friends and that someday I will realize my pain and loss, and requesting that I never write to her ever again. Ever. In all typicality, within 48 hours of this "Final Communication," as she called it, she had sent me five or six more emails, including a request that I contact her, and also including more or less of an apology to the effect that, upon a second reading of my response to her, she realized that her rage was not called for. However, considering that this sort of episode has become a horribly regular occurrence, I am inclined to go along with her earlier judgement that our friendship is over. Up until recently she was my main supporter and dearest friend in America; so it is not surprising that my heart has been full of bitterness since that day, sometimes swelling into silent bouts of disgust, resentment, and anger, not so much at her as at the whole situation…but still at her sometimes. At times like that it seems like the best we can do is just watch it come up and not identify with it. It is only on the morning that I write this, a week after the aforementioned events, that I have begun feeling some joy again, and have begun settling back into a meditative state of mind. Over the past week I've been reminded again and again of the feelings, despite my profound appreciation for the glories of femininity (from a man's point of view at least), that facilitated my decision to become celibate almost 25 years ago. If this post seems less upbeat and at a lower vibration than most, this incident is mainly why. Even monks can have woman troubles, and may the gods have mercy on all of us.
     The next great omen occurred at the Yangon Airport, when I was attempting to check in my luggage and acquire a boarding pass. The lady behind the counter asked if I had a return ticket from Bali, and when I said No she frowned, and went away to consult with someone officially higher up than her. She came back to the counter and asked if I had a letter of invitation. I said No, but if she had Internet I could show her my email of invitation. She seemed to find that amusing, and went to consult with the higher-up again. I began experiencing a sinking feeling that I would not be allowed on the airplane on the very day my Burmese visa expired; but she finally came back with a kind of release form I was required to sign, promising not to sue Malaysia Airlines if I was denied entry into Indonesia, or denied access to my checked luggage there, and furthermore promising to reimburse Malaysia Airlines for any damages they might incur for letting a vagrant such as me go to Bali.
     The next auspicious sign for my journey was a 16-hour overnight layover at the Kuala Lumpur Airport. I spent the night sitting in a chair with no headrest, so I never managed to become all the way asleep. Considering that I was a Buddhist monk coming from a country where a Muslim minority was very recently burned and hacked to death, I was a little apprehensive at spending the night in a strongly Islamic nation like Malaysia; but it turned out that there were so many scantily-clad non-Muslims running around the airport distracting people that nobody paid much attention to me. I have been told, though, that Malaysia is such a devoutly, officially Islamic country that it is actually illegal for anyone to teach a non-Muslim system to a Muslim there. For example, if a Buddhist or Christian gives religious instruction, he or she must ascertain that no Muslims are in the room. If even one Muslim is in attendance during the talk, the teacher may be arrested and prosecuted. This explains the strange warning I have seen on Dhamma books published in Malaysia: NOT FOR MUSLIMS. It turns out that it's not any sign of spiritual snobbishness or "casteth not your pearls before swine"—it's simply the law, enacted by the Muslims themselves.
     The final omen for my prosperous journey occurred at the Denpasar Airport in Bali. I arrived to find that the "free visas on arrival" I was told about cost $25 US, which was infinitely more than I had on me, and a sign was saying, in capital letters yet, that visas would be issued only to people with a return ticket or through ticket from Bali. I stood there in the airport with the aforementioned heart full of bitterness, no sleep the night before, frazzled nerves, and no idea what to do. I mentioned my predicament to a young Balinese woman that I had met at the airport in Kuala Lumpur (she was returning from India, where she had been with her guru Swami Shivananda), and she very graciously volunteered to help—it is interactions with people like this that give me faith that there is hope for the human race. She didn't pay the $25 for me, but explained my situation to the officials, and I was allowed to leave my passport at an Immigration counter and go out in search of The Cahyadi Adiguna.
     The Cahyadi hadn't come to fetch me, however, nor had his brother ven. Vijaya. I was met by a young Javanese Buddhist nun dressed in white. Fortunately she kept eight precepts, not ten, and was able to pay for the 30-day visa. She had brought with her a car and a driver, so we walked out into the sunny, colorful streets of Denpasar, climbed into the car, and went off to meet ven. Vijaya's family.
     At this point I will mention that I had already heard some of the details of this nun's life. She was, and is, pretty and graceful, with a sweet, musical voice and a very humble and very sweet disposition; and this beauty of hers had caused her a great deal of trouble earlier in her life. I suppose one of the main reasons why she became a nun was to rise above this kind of trouble (although even nuns can have man troubles). For a spiritually-oriented woman, outward beauty may be much more of a liability than an asset. This goes for some non-spiritually-oriented women too.
     Anyway, we drove through the suburbs of Denpasar, past shrine after shrine, religious statue after religious statue, tourist after tourist, until we reached the guarded entrance to a family compound of small villas, with a partially constructed Dhamma center in the center. Ven. Vijaya was here, and I met most of his immediate family including The Mysterious Cahyadi, who I was slightly disappointed to see wearing a T-shirt and blue jeans. Ven. Vijaya's wise, virtuous, wealthy, and influential mother has decided to devote her remaining years on this planet (and I hope they will be many) to practicing and supporting Dhamma. One of her movements in this direction was to acquire some forest land in central Bali where the family intends to start a kind of spiritual community with monks and nuns, an old folk's home, a school for children, and a meditation retreat center, all free of charge, with the economy of the community possibly being supported by the profits of a hotel and/or restaurant, plus maybe some farming. It was mainly for the sake of having "good" monks living at the forest center that I was invited to come check out the place. The whole idea is very similar to what my friend Damon is trying to set up in Burma, and through a lovely turn of events he and his family, after a trip to Nepal, will be coming to Bali soon, where he plans to learn environmentally friendly techniques for preserving structural bamboo, and where he will meet the family here and possibly help design the forest center. Also I suspect he'll hang out with me a little.
     And so, here I sit in a bamboo hut between a tiny patch of jungle and a cemetery in the mountains of Bali, with a rat and a gooey frog, looking out at the rain. (Last night while I was sitting inside the hut I heard a loud thump, like something big was in the hut with me. I grabbed a flashlight and shone it around, and found that the resident rat had fallen out of the thatching in the roof and had landed right beside me. He seemed as startled as I was.)
     So, where do I go from here? Probably in a few weeks I'll be back in Bellingham, Washington, ironically the one place I have lived as a monk where the Buddhist community in general is not happy to support me. Not coincidentally, it is also the one place I have lived as a monk where the Buddhist community in general is of European ancestry. After all, American lay Buddhists call themselves Sangha, and take Refuge in their own meditation societies. They seem to have little use for monks, or at least for this one. Lukewarmness and indifference, plus my own limitations and incapacity thus far to improve the situation much, may result in my becoming a homeless street person there. Oh well, I've lived under trees before, and I know my friends there won't let me starve or freeze to death. Besides, as I've taught many times, it is a virtual impossibility to make significant spiritual progress without discomfort. Who knows, maybe my presence in Bellingham will cause some beneficial spiritual discomfort in others there also.
     But my heart sinks a little at the thought of giving up and spending the rest of my life in tropical Asia, possibly even starting from scratch in a new foreign country with a new culture and a new language to learn. Some people might consider it ridiculous for me to turn down being supported by wealthy patrons in about as close a place to Paradise as there is on this planet; but, for better and for worse, I'm an American, and I'm tired of sweating in tropical Asia. Plus I really think America has more need of someone like me than Asia does, even though there seem to be few Americans who agree with me on this point.
     One of my favorite mottoes: Everything happens the way it's supposed to happen. For me it's almost a mantra. A fundamental principle for a deeply spiritual life, which almost everybody rejects, is "Give no thought for tomorrow, what you will eat or where you will sleep. Let tomorrow take care of itself." If we have enough faith in Dharma, in God, or even in our own deepest selves, then everything will work out. (It may not work out the way we want it to, but it will work out.)
     May all beings be well and peaceful. 

P.S. I should add here that Conor has his own blog, chronicling the trials, tribulations, and odd experiences of an American layman living and working in the new Burma. It's one of the very few blogs I read, and the man writes with true panache! Panache, I tell you. His site is at:

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Love Like You Can't Be Hurt

     It is a good thing for people living alone in the middle of nowhere to have at least one dry, difficult, thick book to read. This is partly because it will last three times as long, and occupy one-third as much space, as three fascinating page-turners. Also, solitude and lack of distraction allow one to read difficult yet important and valuable books that might be nonstarters in such a distraction-rich environment as an American city. It was only after leaving the USA and moving into a forest cave that I was able to wade through the entire Old Testament, for example. (I had started reading it a few times as a layperson, but always bogged down at Exodus.) And of course, reading difficult books is good exercise in self-discipline, concentration, and sometimes patience.
     My designated difficult book (DDB) for this recent trip to Asia was going to be The Idea of Justice by Amartya Sen, which a nice Bangladeshi lady gave me more than a year ago; but then a philosopher in Canada sent me The Essential David Bohm, so I read that one instead. (Bohm was a brilliant theoretical physicist who loved to philosophize, and who believed that a true understanding of the external universe can be realized only by integrating Physics with a thorough understanding of our own consciousness and thought processes. His Psychology was heavily influenced by his interactions with J. Krishnamurti.) To give some idea of the reading level of the book, section 7 of Chapter 1 is entitled "Reciprocal Relationships and the Approximate and Relative Character of the Autonomy of the Modes of Being of Things." The chapter entitled "Soma-Significance and the Activity of Meaning" was particularly slow going, taking me several days to grind through it. However, much of it is interesting, and although Bohm writes just like a physics professor, some of it is not so hard to read. I really can't consider myself a dedicated Bohmian though.
     One evening, in a relatively light chapter called "Structure-Process and the Ego," I encountered the following passage:
What happens is that there is something you want – call it A. This something entails B. But you don't want B. Nevertheless, the ego process, being childish, tries to get rid of B while keeping A. Thus, it sends tremendous disapproval and negations against B. But this starts to get rid of A too. So it then sends in more urgent signals to hold on to A as well. This is all possible because, through confusion one loses sight of the relationship between A and B, as well as of the signal that is keeping A going and thus generating B. This buzzing cloud of confusion is generated by the mind, in response to another urgent signal, with which one reacts to the unpleasant fact that you can't have A without B. A great many conflicts have this childishly elementary structure.
So, I stopped reading and thought, "What would be a good example of this?" and within a few seconds arose this one:

        A=deep intimacy and love
        B=letting down one's barriers and being vulnerable

Some people, especially men I suppose, resolve this dilemma by dismissing both A and B; they endeavor to "score heavy with the babes" as a pleasant substitute, with little or no deep intimacy and love. Some women do this too. But I think women are somewhat more inclined than men to crave deep intimacy with another person. The trouble is that very many of them, maybe even most of them, are profoundly afraid of being vulnerable and getting hurt. They yearn for A, but A implies B, and they are terrified of B. It may even be that the situation is further complicated by the fact that, due to an unfortunate childhood or unwise choices in the past, they have even formed a subconscious association between love and pain.
     So what people tend to do in such a situation is to seek a mate (I don't like the standard American term "partner" – it reminds me of a law firm) that is not threatening, one with whom they can feel safe enough to dare to lower their barriers and open their heart so that intimacy can happen and Love can flow. But what happens in so many cases, so many, is that even if one finds such a mate – he may be a really gentle, sensitive guy who sincerely loves the girl – one is still deeply afraid of being vulnerable. So the fear generates doubt: maybe he really isn't safe. Sometimes this results in the woman "testing" him (and this can work the other way too of course, with the man being the tester), "acting up" in worse and worse ways until the guy finally explodes, lashes out, and/or walks away. Then the woman may feel that her fears were vindicated – "There, you see! He's just like all the rest." But of course, the deep yearning for Love is still there, so once some "safe" distance is created the desire to get back together may immediately follow…until next time. In more extreme cases a person may find a mate so sweet that their barriers, their defenses, begin spontaneously to dissolve with true love – resulting in a sudden panic fear of being defenseless, triggering an abrupt termination of a beautiful new relationship, and leaving the other person standing there with his or her mouth open. Messes like this, caused by deep craving and fear, happen all the time, possibly even in places like Burma.
     Long ago an American monk friend lent me his copy of Games People Play by Eric Berne, one of the first best-sellers in the "self-help" genre way back in the 1960's. According to Dr. Berne, most people are simply incapable psychologically of intense, sustained intimacy, romantic or otherwise, with another person. I assume that for many this is because of fear, conscious or subconscious, of being vulnerable and hurt, as already mentioned; but that many others are incapable of deep intimacy because they've been surrounded by Pink Floyd's Wall for so long that they are oblivious of any other way of being. Alienation is all they know; and telling them not to surround themselves with an invisible wall is about as pointless as telling a fish not to be wet. Anyway, getting back to Dr. Berne, he says that, because most people are incapable of real intimacy, they play games as a way of satisfying their needs for human interaction without it getting too close and scary. In romantic and family relationships a common "game" is fighting. One variation of the fighting game is what I call "Break Up…Get Back Together…Break Up…Get Back Together." I had a girlfriend in college who favored it. We'd get along fine and everything would be beautiful for three months or so, and then I would do or say something that would have her outraged and wanting to break up with me. Deep down, both of us knew that she didn't really want to break up. What was expected is that I would romantically apologize and honey her back into a good mood, after which would come the big emotional payoff of the passionate kiss-and-make-up love scene. Those love scenes very much helped to make the process seem worthwhile. 
     Anyway, getting all the way back to Bohm now, the day after reading that passage from his book, I read it again, and tried to come up with another good example of the A/B dilemma. Again, within just a few moments one came up:

        A=enlightenment, Nirvana, freedom
        B=abandoning all attachment, all reliance, and thus all security

     Most Buddhists, somewhat like the rascal scoring heavy with the babes, avoid the dilemma entirely by not wanting enlightenment. Burmese laypeople are very candid about this; they freely admit that they're not ready for enlightenment, and are content to enjoy their modest pleasures and hopefully to try hard enough to score rebirth in Heaven, or at least as a rich, beautiful human on this world next time around. (This helps to explain why they so devoutly honor monks, whom they believe, usually naively, to be trying for Nirvana.) Western Buddhists appear more inclined to camouflage their lack of desire for enlightenment and not to acknowledge it to themselves or anyone else. Either way, the number of Buddhists, lay or monastic, who really yearn for the A of enlightenment, even half-heartedly, even with fear of the implied B, are relatively very few. 
     This is not so difficult to understand. If knocking down Pink Floyd's Wall just in one place, just for one person, just enough to make a doorway, can be so terrifying, then what can we say about knocking down the whole fortress and being completely vulnerable, with no boundaries at all, no "self"? It seems the hardest thing in the world. Really, it's the easiest thing in the world, but most of us are clueless and the rest of us are afraid.
     The most ancient Buddhist texts explain that a person who is intent on enlightenment in this very life should wander around homeless, not relying upon anything at all, completely at the mercy of the Universe; yet most monks nowadays are unwilling even to stop relying upon the security of using money, even though the rules of monastic discipline strictly forbid monks (and nuns) to use it. The situation is similar to the woman insisting upon feeling safe before daring to open her heart. In fact the two sets of A and B listed above are clearly very similar. Both "true love" and the Divine Love of Enlightenment imply loss of security. Security is something to rely on, to protect our "self," and something to rely on is something to cling to – and clinging is non-freedom and the cause of all suffering.
     What seems to be required in this case is what the Tao Te Ching calls "the strength of the woman," the strength of water, the realization that yielding is stronger than rigid, wall-like resistance. Stone is harder than water, but the ceaseless movement of the supple waves breaks down entire cliff sides and grinds them into sandy beaches. If a sword is thrust into water, it penetrates easily, yet as soon as it is withdrawn the opening closes up, the ripples fade away, and the water is just as perfect as it was before – on the other hand, if the sword is dropped into the water and left there, it eventually rusts away. Paradoxically, the perfection of vulnerability is infinite strength. One does not ward off a beating with armor and fortifications; one accepts the beating and forgives the one who is giving it; and, miraculously, the beatings become fewer and fewer, and one goes fearlessly wherever one likes.
     So, whether you yearn for true love or Nirvana (again, not so different), if you insist on security before opening your heart and really "going for it," then it will never happen. This world is not safe, and it probably never will be. It's not meant to be safe. Even so, true love is worth a broken heart; it's worth taking a beating for. And full Enlightenment is well worth a thousand times a thousand beatings. So don't wait for some guarantee, and don't be afraid. Go ahead and take the plunge. Even if you are afraid, maybe you should take the plunge anyway. If you don't, you are practically assured of failure.
     Thus endeth this commentary on "Structure-Process and the Ego."


Saturday, April 13, 2013

New Age Feminism, Old Age Communism, and the Eternal Divine Masculine (part 2)

(continued from last week…)
     A few months ago a senior Western ajahn was telling me about how he had been asked his expert opinion on the recent attempts to revive the order of ordained Theravada Buddhist nuns; and one of the objections on his longish list was that there are no senior nuns to give necessary training to the new ones. In response to this objection he was informed that nuns do not need training, as women possess inherent wisdom to guide them. However, the personal experiences of almost fifty years, with careful observations and special consideration of the time I've spent among spiritually-inclined people in America after my return from Asia, cause me to be fairly confident that women are just as foolish as men are. In fact this is one of the most important points I feel called to make in this whole long article I started last week, and so I will repeat it for emphasis: Women Are Just As Foolish As Men Are. In that respect we are equal.
     One complication to this is that unlike, say, 200 years ago, nowadays female foolishness is more politically correct than its male counterpart, and thus people may have more difficulty in recognizing and acknowledging it. For example, one kind of socially acceptable feminine foolishness that I've touched on already is fearfully preferring security to freedom – security practically being freedom's opposite. Maximum security is found in prisons. On the other hand, true freedom is dangerous, unpredictable, and scary, and perhaps should even be outlawed. Or so some people seem to feel.
     Another example is confounding public opinion with enlightened absolute Truth – and hence fashion trends, spiritual fads, and political correctness hysteria itself.
     Anyway, partly because men and women are equally foolish (although in overlappingly different ways), I am totally in favor of social equality between the genders. I'm not sure exactly what form this equality would take, however. For instance, it would be absurd if professional football teams were required by law to recruit an equal number of female and male players, for the sake of gender equality. The same uncertainty holds true in romantic relationships: If the woman and the man are absolute equals, then how does the relationship avoid becoming a monster with two heads, which eventually tears itself in half when the heads can't agree on which direction to take? There appear to be very many such torn monsters in America nowadays. Most relationships wind up this way. One solution I've heard from a woman I know is that a relationship should cultivate such a connection that it forms a third, higher entity, a unified "Us" which naturally, harmoniously solves its difficulties with love and care. However, realistically, most people may be insufficiently mature and psychologically incapable of cultivating such a relationship, including most of the people who endorse the solution; and to find a relationship with both partners capable would be harder still. Alternatively, another possible solution is an agreed-upon division of authority, which would be a variation on the way things have always been. Or maybe the spiritual teacher Paul Lowe is right when he asserts that in the modern West sustained monogamy has simply become obsolete. 
     In addition to the ideal of equality, I also agree with liberal feminists on the idea that civilization must place more emphasis on gentleness and compassion if it is to survive. This would go beyond the mere notion that we're all in the same boat and so should co-operate, and would probably involve real compassion, real empathy, real transpersonal connection. However, this idea does not at all mean that masculinity would be abolished. Over the past two years more than one person on more than one occasion has told me that in America men are not allowed to be masculine any more. (One of the people who has told me this is a wise and rather feministic female, and it was too much even for her idealist tastes.) It seems that cojones have become politically incorrect. To some degree, even a backbone may be a social liability. Following are a few verses by my father, who was infused with more Divine Masculine than most men I have known, describing the plight of the modern American man:

     Your destiny is written in the books upon your shelf
     For history invariably returns unto itself,
          And all the seers and the sages
          Who survived throughout the ages
     Have decreed that you will castrate yourself.

     The Romans lasted near a thousand years,
     An Empire carved with axes, swords, and spears;
          The world trembled at their feet
          And saw their harvests reaped,
     Their cities raped and plundered, through their tears.

     But they grew soft and weak and lazy just like you,
     And the men who survive that combo are too few;
          All the jewels on their sandals
          Couldn't stop those howling Vandals,
     And they fell like gutless wonders always do.

     You're as weak as milk, and soft as currant jelly,
     So beware the Vandal with the empty belly.

          He will never leap the net to shake your hand;
          He will never try to make you understand;
               He'll kick you in the ___,
               Grease his tank treads with your guts—
          At least you'll do to fertilize his land.

     The point of course is not that men should become, or remain, howling Vandals. The point is that we should have the unflinching fortitude to face those howling Vandals, in whatever form they take, when they come – and that, at the very least, is courage, an aspect of the Divine Masculine.
     Thus men should not stop being masculine, but, in order for civilization to continue, should cultivate wise masculinity. For example, the natural male urge for machismo would not artificially disappear, but would outgrow and leave behind violent fist-pounding and adopt something more along the lines of stoic austerity: not just accepting physical discomfort with equanimity, but willingly facing the harshness of the world when it comes. The sun is burning hot; winter ice is freezing cold; diseases, disasters, and death come and go regardless of laws and social reforms; and Vandals may still occasionally howl and grease their tank treads. And from what I have seen, the "yin" oriented New Age appears not very adept at accepting harshness; and to this extent at least, the New Age tends to be, in my opinion, spiritually soft and flabby. (At least they're making an effort.) Trying to avoid, or even disapproving of, the unpleasant realities of existence isn't going to work in the long run. And trying to fix those unpleasant realities, which has become the American obsession, will not be entirely effective either. The first Noble Truth of Buddhism always holds true.
     As with early 20th-century Communism, I suspect that the high and praiseworthy ideals of early 21st-century Liberal Feminism may be realizable only through a wiser, more genuinely spiritual approach. As things are going now, the predominant male foolishness would simply (or complicatedly) be replaced by equal and opposite female foolishness, which may be no improvement. To abolish the standard of a woman being a sex object, a voluptuous plaything with the purpose of giving comfort to a man (not always, but pretty often), and alternatively to establish the tradition of a man's primary purpose in Relationship (women seem to use a capital "R" for this term) being to intensify his mate's insatiable psychological processing, would not be much preferable to celibacy for a significant percentage of males. At least it would help me to remain a monk in the West. The progression should not be from male foolishness to unacknowledged female foolishness, but from male and female foolishness to male and female wisdom, that is, to a balanced combination of Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine. 
     But, as thinkers like Dostoyevsky and Krishnamurti have observed, it is not social reforms, but reform of the individual heart that will truly change the world, and maybe even save it. This does not require any social ideals, nor conformity to any system (let alone political correctness hysteria), but involves being as awake, and as unattached to any supposed system of "truth," as possible. In other words, it requires freedom. In such a case it is unnecessary to predict how things ought to happen; they will unfold spontaneously, often in unpredictable ways. So long as society has sufficient wisdom, its outward form will take care of itself. If society doesn't have sufficient wisdom, then we're essentially diddled.
     Even if we succeed in creating a Paradise on this Earth in which women and men live in equality and harmony, our human instincts may not change all that much. Our eyebrows may obstinately continue to go up and our mouths continue to drop open when we're suddenly surprised; men may continue to enjoy ogling the smooth curves of pretty women they don't even know; and many women may stubbornly continue, deep down, to desire being dominated by the man of their choice. The trick will be not to overthrow human nature, but presently to observe the more harmful negative aspects of it, and through mindful self-discipline learn not to take them too seriously, and not to react to them by acting them out. This will include a drastic reduction of stereotypically masculine violence, and also of the stereotypical feminine passion for raising cute, cuddly little babies, as well as the stereotypical feminine com-passion which turns into a worried desire to eradicate anything potentially dangerous, from nuclear warfare to wheat gluten. For the world is already grotesquely overpopulated, and if male violence doesn't keep our population in check, then our other options for controlling it are starvation, disease, and/or stoicism. It is not masculinity which must be overthrown, but selfishness and the insane belief that our outward circumstances determine our happiness.
     All this reflective meandering may not help anybody with regard to the issue of male/female relations, but perhaps at least now you have some idea as to why I've spent so many years as a celibate, cave-dwelling recluse.

     —completed at Wun Bo Wildlife Refuge Monastery on the first day of the waxing moon of Tabodwei (in the year of the one-legged flaming owl)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

New Age Feminism, Old Age Communism, and the Eternal Divine Masculine (part 1)

     "A devotee of Truth may not do anything in deference to convention." —Mahatma Gandhi

     Considering the length of this, eh, document, I've considered that maybe it should be posted on the Nippapañca website as an article; but considering the subject matter, this blog seems more appropriate. Besides, posting it here allows one the opportunity to express her or his indignation, if any, in the form of public comments. This is yet another post inspired by women.
     When I was young, before I became a monk, the females I associated with tended not to be particularly spiritual in their orientation to life. Some were sensitive, artistic, and creative, and some were called to contribute to the general welfare of the world by being vegetarian, volunteering at shelters for the homeless, supporting the Green Party, etc., but none that I knew of were more religious than occasionally going to church, or sufficiently spiritually inspired to try to Wake Up or "see God face to face." In fact many of them were fairly wanton party girls who would chase me if I didn't chase them – by the time I had graduated from college I had acquired two doses of gonorrhea, plus herpes (not to mention at least one case of acute heartbreak).
     After my ordination, and especially after moving to Burma, I began associating with a very different type of female: the type that a guy would practically have to marry in order even to kiss her. I deeply respected and admired the modesty and virtue of Burmese women, their dedication to Dhamma, and their quiet dignity; although at times of "chafing in the Holy Life" when I would consider dropping out and marrying a simple Burmese village girl, all it would take was a few moments of consideration to remind me that it probably wouldn't work out. I won't go into details, but suffice it to say that we would live in radically different worlds, probably too different for our relationship to progress much beyond a superficial level.
     So then I came back to stay in America after many years, and encountered yet another type, or group of types, of woman – a type that disapproves of dividing people into types because it is considered to be a "judgement." These women speak a language I was not accustomed to before, some important words in the vocabulary being "authentic," "connection," "empowerment," "healing," "heart-opened," "heart circle," and "the Divine Feminine," along with some language concerning astrology, yoga, gluten-free organic food, "cleanses," and much else besides. Although a few men have informed me that I missed the so-called "Feminazis" of the 1990's, I found myself interacting with a very different and more "feminized" culture than the one I had left.
     This was partly because as a monk I've been moving in different circles than the ones I moved in as a long-haired, drunken university student, or afterward as a rather solitary fisheries biologist. But also it seems that, just as the Hippy movement was integrated into mainstream popular culture during the 1970's, so the New Age and other relatively "yin" movements have lately been integrating into the American liberal mainstream, and to some extent even into the conservative mainstream. Feminism speaks with a louder and more confident voice nowadays, sometimes even an arrogant one. I shouldn't blame American women for that, however, since we men, including myself, can be arrogant too. Quite recently a young Californian man in Rangoon told me that according to Enlightened, Politically Correct New Age Feminism (⇐ another judgmental stereotype), the patriarchal society of Western civilization will before long be replaced by a matriarchal one. Being a male isolated from twenty years of feminism, and not seeing how swinging to the opposite polarity would necessarily be an improvement, plus having a little fun, I said, "I hope not." Then he responded with, "That's the wrong answer, Bhante. That's the wrong answer."
     One theory I've heard more than once over the past two years is that feminine wisdom, the wisdom of the Divine Feminine, has been suppressed in world culture, even outlawed, for many centuries. Presumably it died out or went underground in the West along with the Goddess cults of the pagan Roman Empire. However, I just don't see it. For one thing, the assumption seems to be that male wisdom has been predominant in world culture; but I don't see that any real wisdom, male or female, has predominated. Wisdom has long been (possibly always been) overshadowed by foolishness. Part of this misunderstanding may be due to some women (and men too) trivializing the Divine Masculine, equating it with such petty qualities as skillfulness at manipulating objects in the material world. But true wisdom in its masculine aspects is much more than this, and has been about as neglected in recent culture as its feminine counterpart.
     But it seems to me that feminine wisdom has not really been outlawed at all, although it may have been much ignored or dismissed in worldly affairs and restricted mainly to the environment of the home. It appears to me, admittedly a relative newcomer and outsider to the scene, that perhaps the form of feminine wisdom that the New Age prefers hasn't existed since ancient times, or maybe even ever; but that the Divine Feminine has always been alive and well in society, if not in center stage. Mere mortals cannot really suppress it.
     A typical yet beautiful example of the influence of feminine wisdom and its long-standing status as Alive and Well in society is Robert Frost's poem "The Death of the Hired Man" (a link to it is here). The harshness of the man's attitude is influenced and softened by the gentleness and compassion of his wife, and by his love and respect for her. Feminine wisdom may shine its brightest in a mother's care for her children, and most of us have been exposed to it plenty during the most important character-forming years of our lives. I'm reaching a bit here, but long ago I read about an incident involving chimpanzees at the Arnhem Zoo in the Netherlands. The chimps there have a large enclosure where they can roam about, and on one occasion the males got into an altercation. They were screaming in rage at each other and picking up rocks to use as weapons, when some of the females quietly sidled up to them, gently but firmly pried the rocks out of their fingers, and let them drop to the ground. This could be called a minor manifestation of the Divine Feminine even among fur-covered apes. These examples may not seem like much, but examples of the Divine Masculine in the world, especially lately, might not seem like much either. Foolishness, or at best mundane wisdom, has been running the show practically forever, even in religion. 
     In some ways, Enlightened, Politically Correct New Age Feminism reminds me of theoretical Communism (including Socialism) a hundred years ago or more, before any country had officially converted to it. Both systems began/begin with lofty ideals which most wise, sensitive people, male or female, would approve of – like equality, universal brotherhood and sisterhood, and the sharing of resources in such a way that everybody has the right to security and dignity. On the other hand, both systems had/have few if any precedents or clear success stories to go on, so before they were/are adopted by a large society, they are mostly untested and merely theoretical. Furthermore, both systems seem to be based on theories which may ignore or deny fundamental qualities of human nature. Finally, both systems have proponents who, recognizing the aforementioned lofty ideals as obviously true and good, consider the entire system to be obviously right – so much so that they may embrace the system with the same profound, unquestioning faith that one may find in an evangelical religion, and may go about it with the same feelings of righteousness. The attitudes of many progressive liberals in WWI-era Russia, post-WWII China, and post-Cold War America seem similar in these respects, although very different in others.
     19th-century Communist/Socialist theorists had little knowledge of empirical psychology to work with, and naively assumed that we humans are – potentially at least – governed by reason, with no instinctive animal drives to speak of. They considered human suffering to be an artificial by-product of unenlightened social and economic systems. They believed that if industry were socialized, the workers controlled the means of production, etc., then almost automatically a Utopian Golden Age would follow. By the oversights of their theories they grossly underestimated the power of human greed – they failed to perceive that the average man, regardless of propaganda, will instinctively be inspired to work harder for his own personal benefit, and that of his immediate family, than he will for some more or less abstract society of Comrades. Largely because of this deep-rooted indifference to the ideal of Share and Share Alike, Communism, when actually put to the test, could not compete economically with greed-oriented Capitalism. The USSR eventually went back to being Russia, and communist China is now undermining its own communism and out-capitalizing the West. Ironically, the one thing that I suspect could have made true Communism viable, i.e. spirituality, was dismissed by the Marxists as "the opiate of the masses" and was virtually banned, with the new systematists insisting upon "enlightened" Dialectic Materialism. If the Bolsheviks had embraced the Russian Orthodox Church and endorsed the truly communistic lifestyle of the earliest Christians as described in the Acts of the Apostles; and had they not even tried to compete economically with the USA, going with the Biblical idea that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to attain the Kingdom of Heaven; then they might have set such an example that the rest of the world could have followed them. (Except maybe for us Americans.)
     21st-century Feminist theory as I have encountered it on the west coast of the USA reminds me of the same kinds of issues. It has undoubtedly very high ideals, but of uncertain feasibility. Its politically correct humanist psychology strongly resembles the psychological theories of a hundred years ago, going with the idea that our behavior, mental as well as physical, is a matter of cultural conditioning and – potentially at least – of deliberate choice. We are not animals. And thus, according to the theory, after liberal political correctness dominates the earth a new Golden Age of peace, equality, etc., will arise almost automatically. Or something along those lines.
     Ever since reading Desmond Morris's The Naked Ape as a teenager, I've been struck again and again by the (to me) obvious fact that we humans are just as laden with animal instincts as any other creatures under the sun. For example, consider what happens when we are suddenly surprised: Our eyebrows go up and our mouth drops open. Why? Liberal humanism may not guide us much on this issue, but consider Darwinism. Let's say a cave-dwelling hunter-gatherer is walking through a forest a hundred thousand years ago, and suddenly a twig snaps in the bushes nearby. He freezes. His eyebrows automatically go up to help him open his eyes more widely, thereby increasing his peripheral vision and his ability to see potential danger. And his mouth drops open to allow him to stop breathing through his nose and start breathing through his mouth, which is quieter in humans and allows him to hear potential danger more clearly. Or, why do people tend to prefer sweet food to bitter? Well, up until we became "civilized" sweet foods, naturally occurring mainly as ripe fruit and berries, were nutritious, while the most common plant poisons are bitter alkaloids. Also: Why do we grin stupidly after doing something embarrassing in public? It is the human equivalent of a dog crazily wagging his tail to show that he's friendly and to avoid being attacked. Most people don't give a moment's thought to this sort of thing, but virtually all of our behavior is deeply conditioned by it. It's just human nature. 
     So it should be no surprise if a million years of human evolution, plus many millions of years of prehuman evolution, have left their mark of Cain on us – and for the overwhelming majority of several million years our ancestors lived in male-dominated societies. Some of this may be merely circumstantial: for example, during the course of the existence of the human race there may have been any number of peaceful, harmonious, female-led (or otherwise feminized) Utopias; but all it would take is one horde of warlike, male-dominated barbarians to sweep through, kill the nonviolent, easily-massacred men, rape and enslave the women, and thereby but an abrupt end to the Utopia. Similar events not necessarily involving feminized Utopias have occurred countless times, and are even mentioned, even endorsed, in more or less historical documents like the Old Testament. Nevertheless, it seems likely that the main reason why men apparently have dominated women for a million years, and why male anthropoid apes apparently have dominated female anthropoid apes for many millions of years, is simply because we have evolved that way, physically and mentally, male and female.
     This is of course straying into the realm of extreme political incorrectness. I have been told that at least one high-profile behavioral scientist who had the gall not only to point out fundamental differences in male and female psychology, but to back up his statements with hard scientific data, actually received death threats because of it. It seems that sometimes truth must be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness hysteria. Regardless of all this, though, it is readily apparent that men tend to be attracted to youth and beauty in women (mainly because they're biologically more likely to bear many healthy babies); women tend to be attracted to power and potential security in men (for reasons not hard to fathom); and my father, who was somewhat of an authority on women, told me long ago, "A woman wants to be dominated by the man of her choice." Other male "authorities on women" have reiterated this idea to me over the years, one of them recently even being a New Age guy. I doubt that American feminists would object to the statement that men are instinctively more violent than women; but the other side of the very same coin may be found very unacceptable: that women are instinctively more fearful and insecure than men. (I assume this is one of Nature's ways of ensuring that women accept an aggressive mate: desire for protection of herself and her children.) It may not be entirely coincidental that as Western culture has gradually become more feminized over the past century, it has also become more fearful and insecure, even though actual danger to life has become less, illustrated by the fact that we have longer average lifespans now. Men also have been infected by the pandemic, learning to fear essentially the same threats that their more "masculized" ancestors accepted with some degree of macho stoicism. Now we live in a less overtly violent world, but a more fearful one, with many of our freedoms being democratically voted away out of craving for security, for our own good.
     There are exceptions to every rule, and there are men not attracted to young, beautiful women and/or not violent, and women not desiring to be dominated by the man of their choice and/or not fearful. These are just generalities (like the generality that men are taller than women). Some of the latter group mentioned just now would prefer to believe that male domination is purely cultural, not programmed into male and female DNA; but biological evidence seems to indicate otherwise. 
     All this doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to transcend our programming – certainly not – but it does suggest that we will be attempting to rise above our own inherent nature, and, as has been pointed out already, the prevalent theories on how we should go about this are relatively untried, and may prove to be embarrassingly unrealistic.
     I think we should acknowledge the likelihood that the world just cannot continue with the consumeristic status quo for very much longer without it resulting in a global collapse of political and economic systems, plus maybe a global population crash as well. We in the world simply cannot continue to increase consumption, urged on by insatiable capitalists who manipulate public opinion (through advertising agencies and the mass media) out of insistence on becoming as wealthy as at all possible. Even these trends in the status quo are phasing out age-old human archetypes, thereby, in my opinion, impoverishing the human condition in the process. The archetype of the woman being the center of the home, the center of warmth, love, service, and beauty, and being the adored and respected queen and/or goddess of the family, is a very sweet one, and I hope it will not become totally obsolete. On the other hand, the archetype of the man being the brave provider and protector of the family, and the leader in the cold world outside the home, seems to be falling by the wayside. This is partly because Capitalism (which ironically makes the same mistake as Communism in underestimating human greed), seemingly incidental to Feminism, has increasingly turned both the man and the woman into providers in order to allow them to make enough money to live up to a socially-endorsed "high standard of living." Also, modern society has been striving to create a kinder, gentler world not requiring much protection, or much bravery either. 
     Further to add to this welter of complicated considerations on the feminizing of the world, my 18 years in Burma have shown me pretty clearly that Burmese village women, in general, are less emotionally challenged and obviously less unhappy than are American women – again, speaking generally – despite the plain facts that they live in a culture that traditionally considers women to be inferior, that they probably have little or no conception of "empowerment" or "the Divine Feminine," and that they live in a physically poor and relatively uncomfortable environment ruled (until recently perhaps) by a brutal and incompetent military dictatorship. This is not to say that they are less unhappy than American women because of these circumstances, although they may live a more "natural" existence, and their poverty may make virtue and a clear conscience more easy. They simply have fewer desires; and as the Second Noble Truth points out, all suffering is caused not by inequality or poverty, but by desire. The main reason why I point out this situation is to expose the Great Lie, the mental illness, of Western culture, namely, the belief that our external environment determines whether or not we are happy. Seriously, whether we are happy or not does not depend upon social equality (laudable as it is), much less on wealth, but is a matter of attitude.
     (to be continued...)