Letter 12 from Eric Arnow Arnow Letter Index
Eric Arnow has his own web site now. For years I've been putting his letters from Asia here. From now on they'll go on his site, the Bumble Buddhist which also now has all the previous ones from cuke and photos more. - dc
From: Eric Arnow <firstname.lastname@example.org>
After my story about the lesson in manners from a monkey, several people asked me to send a picture. So it is attached. 134 KB. Not too much to download.
As it is, after staying at the mountain temple for over a month, conditions changed --as they say Theravada Buddhism.
The basic idea here is that we can hypothesize (and hopefully prove for ourselves rather than accept on faith) Three Characteristics of Existence which the historical personage known as the Buddha identified-- life entails dissatisfaction, impermanence and no intrinsic self.
Basically, in 21st century terms, he was saying that
1) If anything can go wrong, it will. Feel tired? Go to bed and stay there. What? after 24 hours you are restless and hungry, great. Get up and eat. And eat, and eat. Whoops now you feel full. Whoops now you are tired again. Won't you ever be happy with exactly what your condition is?
2)The law of entropy. Things are always changing, and energy dissipates. One might say that life is planned obsolescence. Sorry, nothing lasts forever.
3) There is no specific identifiable thing that is separate from other things. What we regard as "I", on close inspection is made up of and dependent on other things. If you think you are separate and independent, try being independent of air. But air is dependent on trees creating oxygen and oxygen being used. Everything is interdependent.
Well that's the idea. And as it happened, things kinda went south at the temple Wat Tam Wua. The one person there who is a native English speaker asked me for money, having blown his last 15 bucks on, as he put it, cigarettes and junk food. But my refusal got him really upset.
I wasn't interested in being codependent. Also, the bugs were always really bad and what I have wanted all along is a quiet place to practise meditation. There was a village gossip quality that I found counter-productive. I still like it there and still recommend you visit it if you have the chance. But it was time for me to go.
The first place I went to last August had me stay up all night for three nights, with the resolve, "May the three gross characteristics of existence disappear and may the subtle realization manifest."
In other words, see things with a mind of freedom. Hard to explain if you haven't heard of this before. Nirvana, Rapture, Heaven. It seems that when one reaches a really still point in the mind, the various personal obstructions, internal conflicts, faults no longer have a hold on us and everything seems bright and clear. We may have inklings of this or memories but to live with that mind all the time is what I and, I think everyone deep down aspires to.
Yet paradoxically it also seems that having conditions conducive to developing that mind of freedom is important. And interpersonal conflicts, and the other conditions I mentioned above caused me to reconsider staying.
Some people I met in Lao recommended a highly respected Vipassana Meditation Center in Burma (founded by S. N. Goenka), so I emailed them with a bit of my background and absent even an application, they signed me up for a ten day retreat. So I am going to give this center a try.
Burma has some serious problems, but maybe that contributes to the deep kindness and spirituality I have heard characterize the people.
I once quoted an old Jefferson Airplane Lyric that has come up, "You were a bird and you lived very high, you blew with the wind when the breeze came by. You said to the wind as it took you away...THAT'S where I wanted to go today." The Japanese word for a monk is "Unsui," floating cloud. And Jesus said something like "Consider the lilies of the field".
This wandering around living in the present probably sounds totally irresponsible, but to be totally truthful, I have several friends who died recently, several more who are quite ill, the world is in a state of war and suffering, and I am not getting any younger. With adequate backup for any business issues that come up, I can afford to take the time to do this. What is more important, Asian culture VALUES going away from society at least for a while.
All the great prophets and teachers likewise have done so, not with selfish intention for aggrandizement, but because deep questions burned inside that needed to be answered ---by introspection. In Judeo Christian terms, the prophets and Jesus went into seclusion at times, often coming back to society with truths unwelcome to the powers that be, and to the masses. But they did offer a way to discover the most precious commodities--truth and integrity. The prophet Elijah severely criticized corruption and most of his followers were killed. But Jews always remember Elijah as a great prophet, whose integrity earned him a ride to heaven on a flaming chariot. (Don't worry, I am not looking for such a ticket! Just an airline ticket to Burma.)
So I sent my passport off to get a one month Burmese visa, and ordered my plane ticket for this Saturday, 6 days from now.
Before I go to Burma though, I want to touch on a topic that has been eating away at me for some time, and that I have written about a bit.
Most of you don't know that I majored in German in College. Kind of weird for a Jewish kid to study the language of a country that exterminated so many of my brother and sister Jews, people remarked at the time.
But I wanted to understand WHY. Also, as a child I read the biographies of Albert Einstein and Albert Schweitzer, a doctor who served the poorest people in Africa. By American standards of medicine, Schweitzer was a fool. All that medical training wasted on people who couldn't pay him a dime. And Einstein had a deep social conscience which directed me towards Pacifism.
When I was a child, I was beaten up regularly by an older cousin. I might have gotten the attitude of "be the toughest meanest bastard you can be" but instead during one harrowing encounter with my cousin, I thought "No one should be treated like this, and I will never do what is happening to me to another person." Now bear with me on this thought line.
After WWII, the world held not just the Nazis, but the entire German people responsible and indeed guilty for WWII, and for years, many wouldn't buy German products.
Most of you don't know this, but the historical record shows that Hitler got major financial support from Prescott Bush, George Bush's grandfather, and major US corporations financed and supplied and equipped the German military. Prescott Bush, and chief executives of Standard Oil, General Motors, Ford Motors, Alcoa, IBM to mention a few profited from their Nazi business but were never jailed, yet thousands of innocent Japanese American whose only crime was their nationality were sent to internment camps.
So the German people saw their country bombed and destroyed. Many innocent people died, even those who were in opposition to the war and the Nazis. They had lost control of their country's government, and they paid the price.
On the other hand, the Nazi propaganda apparatus and Security state (Gestapo, SS, etc.) had convinced most Germans that Hitler was a good man. That Germany was the best country. He convinced them that Poland had attacked Germany and so started WWII. He convinced them that the Jews were the big problem, and persecuted and killed millions. And too many believed him and his propaganda Minister Goebbels' lies.
Please read this article http://www.thirdreich.net/Thought_They_Were_Free.html
to see one man's story.
Now consider the case of Adolph Eichman. The most important course I took in college was The German Resistance to Hitler. In that course, I read books by Hannah Arendt, who wrote the Banality of Evil, how average bland technocrats like Eichman committed no direct crime, but by merely arranging train schedules were participating in genocide.
Another book I read was called Schzophrenic Germany. How did the country that produced Beethoven, Goethe, Mozart, Kant and many other great writers, musician and thinkers allow such a destructive shadow to take over? Well one way was to marginalize and demonize the opposition. The German Theologian Martin Niemoller wrote that he didn't stand up for the communists, or socialists, or Jews or labor unions or others, until, when the authorities ultimately came for him, there was no one to defend him.
And that my friends is exactly what is going on in the United Sates today. Stating simple facts gets you into trouble because they pop the bubble of delusive thinking. And people are deeply attached to their delusions..
Today's news give yet more evidence of torture of innocent people sent by US people in black masks to foreign countries to be tortured, their main offense being Muslim.
Scott Ritter, a Marine Officer and Iraq weapons inspector insisted that Iraq had no WMD. He was ridiculed and threatened. But he was right. Every day in the Thai newspapers one reads of how China and other countries simply do not want to finance US debt--the direct result of huge tax cuts to the weathiest 2% and vast increases in military spending. But US news hardly reports it. An Italian journalist and her secret service body guard were "accidentally" attacked.
She writes for a left wing newspaper.opposes the war, and has a lot of information about US use of napalm against civilans in Fallujah. Numerous journalists have been killed. Mere coincidence? I don't think so.
And the idea of Democracy breaking out in the Middle East is a cruel joke, because the Iraqi constitution foisted on the people gave no control over their assets i.e. oil, that are sold out from them to global corporations that milk Iraq's wealth for wealthy foreign shareholders. As the Iraq invasion started, Tom Brokaw said: "One of the things we don't want to do...is to destroy the infrastructure of Iraq because in a few days we're going to own that country." All paid for with your tax dollars. Please disabuse yourselves of the notion that democracy exists in Iraq. Or America for that matter.
The German people, who learned a very bitter lesson of "those who live by the sword die by the sword" demonstrated against Bush in huge numbers on his recent visit. But if an American questions the official story nowadays they are suspect.
Once a Mexican woman told a friend of mine, "your country is run by gangsters". That sentence encapsulated how much of the world sees us. And here is the point.
Whether we like it or not, whether it is justified or not, the behavior of our government does have consequences. One Canadian I met recently, who had taught classes in Kuwaiti has left because of the hostility to all westerners. This is a direct result of the war on Iraq, according to him.
So let me finish it here. There is a shadow in American life that allows these wars to go on and on, that allows the torture, the waste of trillions of dollars ($2.3 trillon according to Pentagon Inspector General Robert Lieberman) on weapons most of which have killed innocent people, or like Star Wars have yet to prove they work, but make billions for the weapons makers.
This is the shadow that allowed "nice" people to protect themselves from the "redskinned savages" whose crime was to defend their lands that were stolen from them and who died in what would now be termed genocide. Two years after Columbus discovered America, the tribe he contacted had lost 90% to slavery and disease. And it was the same in North America. This shadow is our collective responsibility --our collective karma if you will--that really makes me wonder how all this will end. If it is true that "as ye sow shall ye reap", what have we sown and what will we reap? The stated policy of harming others, and striking out in revenge or simply "being preemptive" will come back to haunt us in moral and economic bankruptcy, if not worse.
This is probably very difficult to read, and maybe, as happened recently with a dear cousin, I will get some angry responses. Or some ill stop reading my lettters. So I will say that the reason I write this is because writing somehow seems to help me get this horrible situation into the open. "The truth will set you free".
This is not to say that we'll all wake up one morning and the world will be set aright. But that with a deeper understanding of ourselves we can at least understand and accept.
In closing, I recall that Steve McQueen, who played a tough guy on TV and the movies smoked and died of lung cancer. Before he died, he made a public statement. "DON'T SMOKE!" It didn't save his life but maybe he felt he could save another's life by stating the truth. We are experiencing a moral cancer and are in denial about its existence and its consequences.
My truth is 'WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER', that is the motto of the Friends Committee on Natiional LegisIation (the Quaker lobby, every one of the bills it has backed has been voted down.)
I invite you to check out a website that has both daily news as well as background stories that have helped me understand things. www.informationclearinghouse.info
I read it whenever I can. Its subtitle is "The news you didn't get on CNN or Fox news."
Check it out.
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