Thursday, December 29, 2016

My 2016


This year had not been a particularly busy one for me.  It did however, mark two significant landmarks in my life; I turned 65 in October and I celebrated 40 years of being a monk. I made two overseas trips in the last twelve months. Together with a group of friends I visited northern Queensland  and when they returned after a week I stayed behind for another two weeks.  I spent July/August in France visiting family. While there my brother and I visited St. Nazaire where the famous commando raid took place during the Second World War. Over the last decade I have become increasingly interested in the history of WWII, perhaps an unusual interest for a monk. Our society had several prominent visitors this year. Bhante Dhammaswami from Oxford was holed up in Singapore with a broken leg, having fallen down in the Botanical Gardens. Bob Isaacson from Dharma Voice for Animals in the US paid us a visit, and Ven. Anoma stayed with us for a month. My Dhamma work received some recognition this year with the publication of Figures of Buddhist Modernity in Asia published by the University of Hawaii Press which includes a paper  about me by Meng Tat Chai. Other than this my year has generally been quiet. Only one new book came out, A Pilgrim’s Guide to Borobudur was published in Jakarta in English and Indonesian. I contributed an essay for the beautiful new coffee-table Sri Lanka: The Heritage of Water which was published in Colombo just last month. I also finished  my new book, A Banquet for the Buddha: Food and Drink in Early Historical India  although it will not be published until sometime next  year. I decided to cut my speaking engagements, only accepting several invitations  to organizations that have been supportive of our society over the years. Next year I plan to withdraw much more from public engagements so I can focus on writing and meditation. 
I hope all my readers will have a happy, safe and fruitful New Year.

20 comments:

brahmavihara said...

Happy New Year Bhante. Best wishes to you for the year ahead and many thanks for all the great work you do, even during "quiet" years.

Cheers.

perrymhewitt said...

Quiet year or not, your blog is (as ever) a valued and enjoyed refuge from the madness elsewhere.

All the best to you, Bhante, for a Happy New Year!

Wilfried W. A. Linse said...

Happy New Year Banthe.
I wish you health. That's it. Of all other things Dhamma will take care, I think.
In you last post I read about a Dhamma talk in May 2016. The question is in interest of me: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Is this what the Buddha really tought?
Is there a summery or minutes of this event available?
Thanks for a short answer.

Wilfried

Branko said...

Happy New Year Bhante.
I wish you good health and lot of peace at your new place, so we all can enjoy your new writings in the future.
Metta

Mr. Potato Head said...

Thanks, as always, for your interesting and inspiring posts. Re: WWII, have you read Human Smoke
by Nicholson Baker? A history of the years leading up to WWII drawing exclusively on primary sources.
I cannot do justice to the book with a short description but please look it up on Amazon if you are
not familiar with it.

Ken and Visakha said...

Wondering about your thoughts on WWII, which Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi seems to have regarded as different from other wars as a contest between good and evil, to put it simplistically. We have always viewed Buddhism's position toward non-violence as non-negotiable. How do you view this issue? We'd love to have you blog on the issue. Here's a link to the discussion. http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?t=21602 Certainly the issue has never been more relevant than now!

Happy New Year, Bhante and as always thank you for all you do.

In the Dhamma,
Visakha and Ken

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Mr. Potato Head, I have not read ‘Human Smoke’ but I will look it up and check it out. Dear Ken and Visakha, thanks for contacting me about Bhikkhu Bodhi’s views which I will read when I can find the time. Right now I am taken up with so much other stuff. But briefly, I would agree with Bodhi that in WW II the lines were pretty clearly drawn, i.e. between the ‘manageable samsara’ that we are all familiar with, and sinking into an abyss of horror “a new Dark Ages made all the more terrible and perhaps more protracted by the light of perverted science”. Given this, I think that any thinking person would have decided to do everything they could to prevent this from happening. I agree that the first Precept should be non-negotiable, that killing should always be seen as wrong. But in certain cases I think it has to be considered required. You may know that when it looked like the Nazis might invade Switzerland Gandhi wrote an open letter to the Swiss telling them that they should sit blocking the passes to their country and let themselves be massacred. The Nazis would, he said, be so sickened by their deeds and shamed by world opinion that they would eventually stop. All the evidence we have about the Nazis suggests that they would not have been sickened or shamed. Until someone comes up with a sound, practical solution I can see no other way to stop or prevent unmitigated evil than meeting it with force. Just as there are degrees of goodness there are degrees of evil. Some wrong is more so than others, and while killing is always wrong it can be less wrong, sometimes far less wrong, than other types. After I read Bodhi’s comments on war and violence I will try to give my opinion on this issue.

Ken and Visakha said...

Dear Bhante,

Thanks as always for your generous and kindly consideration. We were long ago disabused of the hallowed lies about American history, mainly by reading Howard Zinn. Of course we also grew up with the glorification of World War II. We found this extremely helpful for another point of view. As for two separate samsaras -- that certainly flies in face of our experience, working first with Cambodian, Lao, Hmong, and Vietnamese refugees, and later Burmese students, monks and refugees on the Thai/Burma border. During our university days we learned that black lives were not nearly so manageable as white lives in the US, that slavery was horrific (Just learned that the death toll from the Atlantic Slave Trade (1452-1807) was 16 million!). More recently we've learned about caste violence against Dalits, another truly dreadful reality in India (Jai Bhim!). We've been extremely privileged, being white and having had good educations (not so easy in contemporary America), and the opportunity to benefit from travel and many good teachers. Can there really be a manageable samsara with easy wars? It seems that Stalin ((Soviet Union 1928-53)Death Toll: 20 million) was not much better than Hitler, say, or Mao (Mao Zedong (1949-75)Death Toll:40 million) with his Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution were any less horrific than WWII. Is there any such thing as "unmitigated evil"? Don't all human beings have a Buddha nature? Of course WWII was "our war" and there are hundreds of films about it, and we got the whole world from it -- we won. With Hiroshima and Dresden and Nagasaki. Still, looking seriously around at what is happening in England and the US, it seems that we're going to do it all over again, and this time, the allies will be the Nazis?

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Ken & Visaka, first let me say that neither in my blog post or subsequent comment did I say I think that the Allies in WW II were paragons of virtue. There was much heroism and self-sacrifice but there was also many dastardly deeds, lies, betrayals, cynicism too. My interest in the conflict is as a human drama that played out not long before my birth and in which my father, uncle and several other family members participated, not as a good v. bad crusade. There was no ‘glory’ whatsoever in that conflict or in any other. But I will make one comment and pose one question related to Bhikkhu Bodhi’s ideas about the possibility of a just war. You point out that Stalin’s and Mao’s reigns were little better than Hitler’s. At least in terms of the numbers killed I would agree. But Russia and China today are in some respects liveable societies, serious limits on personal freedoms, but liveable. What would Eastern Europe look like today if the Nazi’s had won? Well, after all the Jews and Roma had been eliminated together with a good number of Poles, Slavs and other ‘sub-humans’, the remaining peoples would have been enslaved, a project far larger than the Atlantic slave trade. Eventually the Nazis would have developed nuclear weapons, biological weapons, genetic engineering, etc. and there is no doubt that they would have liberally used them. These scenarios cannot be dismissed as lurid fantasies, some of them were already being carried out before the whole ghastly thing was stopped. In Rudolf Hosse’s confession (commandant of Auschwitz) he wrote matter-of-factly that after some trial and error he was somewhat surprised by how easy it was to gas 10,000 people a day and that the only real problem was how to dispose of all the bodies. Not even Stalin had in mind something like this. So my position is that some wrongs or evils are worse than others, and sometimes much worse. I might even consider the possibility that some things are so evil that wrong done in countering them is no longer wrong but good – but this is a point than needs more careful thought. This leads to my question – If confronted by a great evil such as Nazism what does a person committed to the Dhamma do?
I look forward to a response. Anyone else interested in discussing the issue is welcome to do so too but let’s keep it to the point and let’s keep it polite.

Ken and Visakha said...

Just read this and found it heartening:

"As a society, we have studied violence for centuries. That’s all we know. So, we assume that’s the only thing that’s going to work, or it’s the most radical thing, or the most effective thing, as a last resort. And that’s because that’s what the state teaches us. We have not studied nonviolence. We do not know what it means or how to use it effectively. We have never given it a real chance, despite the evidence that is out there. We have not invested in it the same way we have with violence.

"There is nothing radical about violence. There is nothing revolutionary about a force that has destroyed communities forever, a force that we are all too familiar with and a force that got us into this mess. What is radical and revolutionary is using a tool that is new. If you resist violence with violence, you’re not resisting violence. You’re resisting people, and empowering violence. You are not addressing the root cause.

"Violence is the enemy. That idea that we can use force, fear and intimidation to get what we want, to force our will, is what needs to change, not the faces that are in power."

Being interested in "skillful means" this seems very practical indeed! http://www.ericachenoweth.com/research/wcrw/

All of this seems consistent with the Dhamma. and to accord with the teaching that the only thing the Buddha recommended the killing of is hatred.

In the Dhamma,
Visakha

Ken and Visakha said...

Seem to deleted the original link to Prof. Cole's Informed Comment: Sorry. http://www.juancole.com/2017/01/violence-brought-nonviolent.html

Mr. Potato Head said...

The German Lutheran Theologian and pacifist Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis for his participation in
an attempt to assassinate Hitler. Bonhoeffer suggested, to paraphrase, that although it is always a "sin" to kill, there are rare
circumstances where any action at all is a sin and so one must summon the courage to take the action which has the best chance of alleviating suffering in the end and then accept the consequences. This strikes me as a realistic appraisal of
the situation in WWII. Though, as the book Human Smoke by Nicholson Baker shows so well, there were many who were clear-eyed enough to see the war coming and tried to prevent it by non-violent means. And many who later opposed the Nazis, like
Churchill, were more or less well disposed toward HItler until he invaded Austria.

Ewen Arnold said...

Ven S Dhammika said 'If confronted by a great evil such as Nazism what does a person committed to the Dhamma do?' This is a complex question, deserving of a longer answer than the one I am giving here, but here goes.
First of all, we need to look at the historical causes of the rise of Nazism. One major cause was the reparations demanded by France and Britain at the end of WWI and the effect they had on the German society and economy. At the end of WWII the Marshall plan seemed to indicate that that lesson had been learned.
Secondly, we need to consider the point in time. As Nazism rose many opposed it, including some parts of the Christian churches, socialists, communists and the labour movement. Many of these adopted a non-violent approach to opposing Nazism. It can be argued that without the economic problems caused by the reparations and with more support inside and outside Germany this could have been successful.
Thirdly, we need to consider the racist ideology that underpinned Nazism and how to oppose that. Education, public debate, and openness are required. 'People committed to the Dhamma' need to oppose racism in all its forms including that represented by the current president-elect of the USA.
Fourthly, as pointed out above by Ken and Visakha, non-violent opposition IS often more powerful than violent opposition, especially civil disobedience. Even the German army at its height was unable to defeat Norwegian school teachers (https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/jorgen-johansen/hitler-and-challenge-of-non-violence). So often it seems to me do we reach for violent solutions to violence and as Juan Cole (also above) points out, violence begets violence.
Fifthly, I have no idea what Eastern Europe would look like if the Nazis had won. (I'm not even sure what 'had won' means.) But as the Dalai Lama has pointed out many times in respect of the situation in Tibet, all empires end. WWII cost between 50 million and 70 million lives. I cannot see how that can be justified.
Finally, the judgement as to when it is justified to break the first precept relies upon a subjective judgement, the ability to see 'narrow self-interest', as pointed out in Bikkhu Bodhi's original article, and that (again according to Bikkhu Bodhi) one 'sincerely believes the reason for fighting is to disable a dangerous aggressor and protect one’s country and its citizens.' In my lifetime (64 years) it has often been the case that those fighting (and sending others to fight) in wars have sincerely believed that they are disabling a dangerous aggressor and protecting their country (Unfortunately, there have also been many examples of wars fought for very different reasons.). Our minds are capable of rationalising all kinds of behaviour.
These minds (our minds) often hold contradictory views, they change frequently, they can persuade their owners of (rationalize) almost anything. It is very difficult for a mind not trained in meditation to recognize ‘narrow self-interest’. (This is possibly even more so for those in power. Tony Blair still argues that the Iraq invasion was ‘a good thing’ although his reasons for holding this opinion have changes considerably over time.) I do not trust my mind or our current leaders and our soldiers to recognise 'self-interest' and make their decisions ethically. I will therefore continue to oppose violence non-violently.
I would also welcome any comments on this.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Ewen, thanks for the general overview of the lead-up to WW II including to the important fact that there were people who did things, peaceful and violent, to try to avert it. It is also important to point out, as you have, that non-violent action sometimes does bring positive change, e.g. the civil rights movement in the US. I also agree that violence is too often resorted to when a deeper commitment to other methods should at least be given a chance. But again my question is - what is one to do when all this has been avoided or tried and a belligerent, violent and determined evil stands before one, e.g. a Tutsi family surrounded by a machete-wielding mob, or the Polish or Ukrainian people during WW II? ‘Narrow self-interest’ aside, ‘rationalisations of all kinds’ aside – when everything reasonable had been done and a bully or bullies, individual or international, raise the cudgel to strike, what is one to do? I was moved by what you have said and agreed with most of it, but my question remains to be answered.

Ewen Arnold said...

Dear Venerable Dhammika

Thanks for your swift reply. I'd like to recap quickly. In the face of the rise of what you call 'great evil' there are a great many actions that can be taken, for example, civil disobedience of many kinds, education, etc, and there are many examples of this being successful for example in the Independence movement in India in the middle of the last century and against Apartheid, and as you say in the Civil Rights movement.

The question you pose in your reply to my comment 'what is one to do when all this has been avoided or tried and a belligerent, violent and determined evil stands before one, e.g. a Tutsi family surrounded by a machete-wielding mob, or the Polish or Ukrainian people during WW II?' seems to me to be much more specific and situated, and to pose two different situations. In the latter case, there are many examples of how those at most risk, Jews, the Roma, gay people, etc, escape Nazi clutches were helped by hiding them or getting them out of harm's way.

John Lennon was asked the equivalent question to the machete-wielding mob (ironically a few days before he was brutally murdered). His reply was 'run away' and I would certainly consider this option. But the honest answer is that I do not know what I would do. Meditation practice amongst other things prepares one to meet everything in life skilfully including one's death. Wishing 'all beings' happiness, health, wellbeing, etc, means just that, and therefore includes the machete-wielding mob. I hope I would be able to meet them skilfully and without violence, without harming them, but unless and until those circumstances arise I have no idea what I would do. In this lifetime I have seen people meet their death with great courage and openness. It is something I aspire to.

A final note! The question you posed about the machete-wielding mob is usually phrased as 'What if your loved ones were faced with a machete-wielding mob? What would you do then?' and the answer has to be the same. 'My loved ones' must be enlarged to include those who wish me harm, or even those trying to kill me or 'my loved ones'. Would I stand idly by and watch my loved ones be killed? I have no idea. I hope I would do my utmost to protect them without harming others, but I honestly can't say.

Ewen Arnold said...

PS I have found Thich Nhat Hanh's poem 'call me by my true names' as well as his writings on non-violent action a great inspiration.

Shravasti Dhammika said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Ewen, again thanks for a thoughtful and measured response. True that many courageous individuals hid and helped in various ways those hunted by the Nazis, but this did absolutely nothing to curb the Nazis violence and millions still died, vastly more than those who were saved. So I so not think this is an answer to my question. You highlight the dilemma in adhering to the first Precept under all circumstances when you say: “The honest answer is that I do not know what I would do.” But perhaps your words also contain an answer, at least in part. In many cases the violent conflicts break out at the end of a gradual build-up. If something were done during this build-up violence may be avoided. I lived in Sri Lanka in the period prior to the civil war and it seems to me that if there had been good leadership and good-will on the part of both parties the subsequent conflict could have been avoided. There seems little doubt that if certain steps had been taken in the 1930s (including the threat of force, interestingly) both within Germany and in the international community WW II could have been avoided too. This is where the solution lies, in the courage, willingness to compromise, understanding of the other, dealing with prejudice, enhancing good-will, etc. when there is still time. But should such things fail, I maintain that sometimes the only realistic alternative is to resort to violence.
Probably like you Ewen, few of us really know what we would do when we become the victims of violence or when we see others being victimised by it. But if we use the Dhamma to spiritually strengthen ourselves now, internalise it now, hopefully we will act in the best possible, or least-harmful way when confronted by evil.
Just one other thing. You mention the Indian independence movement, another historical event that interests me. I consider Gandhi to be one of the greats of the 20th century. But I always smile when I hear him being hailed as “an apostle of non-violence.” Gandhi only resorted to fasting unto death on a few occasions, but when he did the British always gave in to him. And why? Because they knew, as did he, that if they let him die all hell would break loose. It was, if you like, a threat of violence very cleverly disguised as ahimsa, a cleaver strategy, but hardly non-violence as we usually think of it.
Unless any of my readers have anything meaningful to add to some of the points made by us all I think enough has been said on this subject. A stimulating discussion had been provoked by an off-hand comment on a blog post dealing with another subject altogether.

Ken and Visakha said...

Just discovered that the earlier rebuttal of Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi's position on Buddhism and War by Ven. Thanissaro has disappeared. Indeed the entire exchange seems to have been taken down. Happily there is an archived record of it here: http://web.archive.org/web/20151123015056/http://www.inquiringmind.com/Articles/BhikkhuLetters.html and we certainly feel that enough has not been said on the matter, especially as fascism seems to be resurgent, not in Germany, but in the US and the UK.

k anoma said...

Dear Bhante,

It is very interesting about your academic enthusiasm on various subjects. I still remember when I met you first time at BDMS in Singapore. It was my first time in Singapore,too.My mind attracted the book shelf in our center. It was due to your Dhamma booklet 'To eat or not to eat meat'. Your wide range of descriptive explanation and 'let reader decides' writing style in it forced me to visit you for a while. later on , It paved the way for very close association with you.
Since then, You became a teacher , a friend and consultant to me gradually. We , very often , met and conversed in various subjects as a good friend ( Kalyana Mitta).

Pali word 'Sappurisa' simply means good person. The word 'good person ' does not convey its complete meaning. Its whole meaning can be brought out in the Sutta context. Few Suttas in Anguttara nikaya mention about Sappurisa.

' Bhikkus , When a good person is born in a family , it is for the good , welfare and happiness of many people.... 'Just as a great rain cloud nurturing the all the crops ,appears for the good ,welfare and happiness of many people, so too , when a good person is born in a family, it is for the good ,welfare and happiness of many people..' ( translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi)

In another Sutta, the qualities of Sappurisa mentions as 'Dhammannu', one who knows Dhamma. 'Atthannu', One who knows meaning of the Dhamma. 'Attannu', One who knows oneself. 'Kalannu', one who knows proper time. 'Katannu', one who knows gratitude.
It should be mentioned here that Sappurisa is rare. not to be found in everywhere easily.It is through the long time association with you that I came to know Sappurisa in you. Bhante, wish you good health and happiness in your spiritual journey.

K.Anoma with Metta.