Sunday, February 28, 2010

Atheism And IQ

A recent survey conducted at the London School of Economics and Political Science found that people who identified as liberal and atheist had higher IQs. It also found that high-IQ men were more likely to be sexually exclusive than lower IQ men, although this same correlation was not found in women.

Friday, February 26, 2010


Torture (karana) is the deliberate infliction of physical or psychological pain by one or more persons on another. When pain is self inflicted as is sometimes done for religious reasons, it is properly called self-mortification (attakilamatha).Torture is used to extract confessions or information, as a punishment, out of revenge, or to create an atmosphere of fear amongst the wider population. Less commonly, psychopaths sometimes torture their victims for pleasure. Torture was probably done for all these reasons during the time of the Buddha, although only judicial torture is mentioned in the Tipitaka. A certain type of legal officer whose job it was to investigate crimes routinely brutalized suspects and judges often handed down punishments that included torture (S.II,258). The Koliyans had a type of policemen with a distinctive headdress and a reputation for cruelty. In his conversation with the Buddha, Pataliya said of these officers, ‘If there are any wicked rogues among the Koliyans, it is they’ (S.IV,341).
Some of the types of torture mentioned in the texts include flogging, scolding with boiling oil, burying alive up to the neck, amputation of limbs, nose and ears, impaling and being trampled by elephants. According to one account, an enraged king tortured a man by having a nest of stinging red ants broken over his head (J.IV,375). In the Majjhima Nikaya the Buddha lists some of the dreadful tortures that were inflicted on criminals as a punishment, all of which would have resulted in death (M.I,87). It was no doubt that executioners (coraghaataka) and prison guards (bandhanaagarika) were condemned by the Buddha as having a cruel livelihood because they often committed such cruelties (M.I,343). To countenance torture or to inflict it would go against the most basic Buddhist principles of kindness, compassion and justice.
In 1252 Pope Innocent IV issued a bull entitled Ad Exsitirpanda authorizing torture during the questioning of heretics and apostates. The Inquisition continued to use torture up until the 19th century in the Papal States, Goa, Mexico, the Philippines, etc. In other parts of Western Europe and the US torture as a judicial procedure began to become unacceptable in the 18th century and by the end of the 19th century it had become illegal in these places. It was informally reintroduced and widely used by the police and military during the Nazi period in Germany and became legal again in the USSR from1931 until the 1950’s. Torture under certain circumstances was legalized in the US in 2006 and banned again in 2009. Although illegal in all Buddhist countries torture is still common in prisons and police stations.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

How To Lose Money Without Really Trying

Singapore’s first casino has just opened. Under the country’s former Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew such an establishment would have never been allowed but with the need for more revenue and gambling available just across the border in Malaysia, the present government feels it is justified. Also, the so-called ‘integrated resort’ is creating 16,000 jobs and will bring in more tourists. At a public meeting the other day Mr. Lee made his feelings about gambling fairly clear when he commented with a laugh, ‘They want to gamble. I don’t understand why they want to lose. You surely will not win’. In reference to Resorts World Sentosa, which is operating the casino, he added, ‘The boss counted $3.5 million on the first day and $3.7 million on the second day.’ Singaporeans clearly see gambling differently – 149,000 of them visited the casino in the first week. For me, despite all the glamour, glitz, world-class entertainment and up-market cuisine, it’s really just about relieving people of their money. But maybe I’m just an old killjoy.
Gambling (jutakila) was already an ancient activity by the Buddha's time and the Vedas, the most ancient Hindu scriptures, contain the famous 'Gambler's Lament' in which a man cries after having wagered and lost his wife and children. Such extreme betting is also mentioned in the Tipitaka (M.III,107). Hardly surprisingly, the Buddha saw gambling as an unskillful activity. He said: 'There are these six dangers of being addicted to gambling. In winning one begets hatred; in losing one mourns the loss of one’s wealth; one's word is not accepted in court; one is avoided by both friends and officials; one is not sought after for marriage because people say a gambler cannot support a wife' (D.III,183). On another occasion he said that 'squandering wealth on dice' leads to one's decline (Sn.106). However, we might distinguish three types of gambling - recreational, habitual and addictive. The first type is when someone occasionally plays cards for small stakes or buys a lottery ticket to support a charity. Habitual gambling is to gamble a significant but manageable percentage of one's income on a regular basis. Addictive gambling is the inability to resist the opportunity to gamble and thus be constantly in debt. From a Buddhist perspective, recreational gambling would be considered harmless and not against the Precepts. However, because all gambling plays on at least some element of greed it is certainly unbecoming for Buddhist organizations to raise funds by lotteries and games of chance. Habitual and addictive gambling are psychologically, socially and spiritually harmful because they are motivated by and reinforce delusion, avarice and the mistaken belief in good and bad 'luck.' For the Buddha, it is being virtuous that makes one 'lucky', not having a winning streak. He said: 'If a gambler were to win a fortune on his very first throw his luck would nonetheless be insignificant. It is many times more 'lucky' to conduct oneself wisely with body, speech and mind and after death be reborn in heaven' (M.III,178).

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Just Under The Surface

The visitors stood at the edge of a large fenced-off pit where a ninth-century Hindu temple had recently been unearthed here on the campus of the Islamic University of Indonesia. On the other side of the pit, where a mosque’s large dome rose in the backdrop, the muezzin would soon call the faithful to the sunset prayer. The discovery of the nearly intact Hindu temple was a reminder of the long religious trajectory of the country that now has the world’s largest Muslim population. In few places on earth have three major religions intermixed with such intensity and proximity as in Indonesia’s island of Java. If the sultan of Yogyakarta’s palace lies at the heart of this city, Java’s spiritual center, Borodudur, and one of the largest Hindu temples, Prambanan, stand in its outskirts. About 90% of Indonesians are now Muslim, with only pockets of Buddhists and Hindus left. But Hinduism and Buddhism, Java’s dominant religions for a much longer period, permeate the society and contribute to Indonesia’s traditionally moderate form of Islam. For more than a decade, proponents of a more orthodox version of Islam have gained ground in Indonesia. More women are wearing head scarves and more Indonesians are adopting Arabic-style religious rituals as fundamentalists press for a purge of pre-Islamic values and ceremonies. But Indonesia’s traditional Islam provides a counterpoint. “This is Indonesia,” said Suwarsono Muhammad, an official at the Islamic University. “In the long history of Indonesia, we have proven that different religions can live peacefully.” In that spirit, Mr. Muhammad said, the university planned to showcase the Hindu temple prominently in front of a library to be built around it, in the shape of a half-circle. It all began last August when the private university decided to build the library, “the symbol of knowledge of our religion,” next to the mosque, Mr. Muhammad said. In the two decades the university had occupied its 79-acre campus outside Yogyakarta, no temple had ever been found. But chances were high that they were around. Most of the nearby villages had the same prefix in their names: candi, meaning temple. By Dec. 11th, a construction crew had already removed nearly seven feet of earth. But the soil proved unstable, and the crew decided to dig 20 inches deeper. A backhoe then struck something unusually hard. The crack the backhoe left on the temple wall would become the main sign of damage on what experts say could be the best-preserved ancient monument found in Java. Researchers from the government’s Archaeological Office in Yogyakarta headed to the campus the next day, excavated for 35 days and eventually unearthed two 1,100-year-old small temples. In the main temple, 20 feet by 20 feet, a perfectly preserved statue of Ganesha, the elephant-headed deity, sat next to a linga, the symbol of worship for the god Shiva, and a yoni, the symbol of worship for the goddess Shakti. In the adjacent secondary temple, about 20 feet by 13 feet, researchers exhumed another linga and yoni, as well as two altars and a statue of Nandi, the sacred bull that carried Shiva. “The temples are not so big, but they have features that we haven’t found in Indonesia before,” Herni Pramastuti, who runs the Archaeological Office, said, pointing to the rectangle-shaped temple, the existence of two sets of linga and yoni, and the presence of two altars. Researchers surmised that the temples were preserved in pristine condition because they were buried in a volcanic eruption a century after they were built. The lava from Mount Merapi, about 7.5 miles to the north, is believed to have filled a nearby river before flowing over the temples, minimizing damage. Indung Panca Putra, a researcher at the Archaeological Office, said the temples’ walls and statues contained refined details not found in the dozen small Hindu and Buddhist temples discovered in this area. Officials moved the most valuable artifact, the statue of Ganesha, to the Archaeological Office. For further protection against thieves, workers erected a fence on the campus, and guards limited access inside. The two Buddhist monks, though, had had no trouble getting inside. They had traveled from their monastery, about an hour away by car, to visit. “These are our ancestors, so we have a sense of belonging,” said one monk, Dhammiko. Historians believe that Hinduism spread in Java in the 5th century, followed three centuries later by Buddhism. Kingdoms hewing to both Hindu and Buddhist beliefs flourished in Java before they were eclipsed by Islam in the 15th century. But Islam itself incorporated beliefs and ceremonies from the other two religions. Just as some unearthed temples in east Java have a Hindu upper half and a Buddhist lower half, some early mosques had roofs in the shape of Hindu temples, said Timbul Haryono, a professor of archaeology at Gadjah Mada University here and an expert on Hinduism in Southeast Asia. Early mosques faced not in Mecca’s direction, but west or east in the manner of Hindu temples. “Things didn’t change all of a sudden,” Mr. Haryono said. “Islam was adopted through a process of acculturation.” In Indonesia’s arts, like the wayang shadow puppetry that dramatizes Hindu epics, or in people’s private lives, traces of the earlier religions survive, he said. Food, flowers and incense still accompany many funerals for Muslims, in keeping with Hindu and Buddhist traditions. “Hinduism was Indonesia’s main religion for 1,000 years,” he said, “so its influence is still strong.”
From the New York Times.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

In Hot Water

A sauna is room or house designed to induce sweating, for either hygienic or medical reasons. The sweat can be induced by wet heat (steam) or dry heat. In the Vinaya, the rules for monks and nuns, the sauna is referred to as a bathroom (jantaghara) or more specifically as a fire room (aggisala). The Vinaya give a detailed description of how these saunas were designed and used. They consisted of a room with tight-fitting doors, windows and ceiling to keep the heat in. Seats and benches were arranged around a fire and there were bowls or troughs of water for sprinkling on the body and on rocks heated by the fire. Clothes were hung on wall pegs, drains led excess water away and pipes let the steam out (Vin.II,120-1). Monks were not allowed to be naked in the sauna. The normal procedure was to smear fine clay on the body, probably as an abrasive to remove old skin, and rub or massage the limbs until the clay was washed off by the sweat. There were four kinds of ‘sweating treatment’ (sambharaseda) – using steam made from water with certain herbs it, steam made from water with cannabis in it, ‘great sweating’ and udakakottaka, which may have meant soaking in a tub of very hot water (Vin.I,205).

Indian Buddhist monks introduced the sauna to China from where it spread to Korea and eventually to Japan. The Daito Seiiki Diary by Genjo Sanzo(602-664CE, mentions Chinese Buddhist temple with saunas that were open to the public. They also provided medicine and food for the benefit of the poor and the sick. From the introduction of Buddhism in Japan during the Nara Period, many of the larger temples had saunas from which the modern baths, the sento, evolved. In the beginning these baths were meant mainly for the monks but occasionally they were open to others. Records mention that the wife of the Emperor Shomu, Koumyou Kougou (701-760 CE) allowed the sick the opportunity to bathe six days every month and even personally washed them. From the Kamakura period (1185-1333), it was normal to make temple baths available for the sick. When public saunas and baths were established away from temples they continued to be built in the style of temples, a tradition that continues even today. Since the 1960s when Japanese houses were more commonly designed with bathrooms, public saunas and baths have declined in popularity.
Picture –19th century Japanese sento.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Close But Distance, Far But Near

On the day I posted The Hem of His Robe Venerable Anandajoti (Feb.19th) just happened to be translating these verses from the Javanahamsa Jataka (Ja.IV,217), which have a similar theme. Noticing this happy coincidence he sent me his translation of the verses and based on it I share my own rendering on them with you.

The cry of birds and jackals is easy to understand
But to understand the cry of humans is much harder.

One may think ‘He is my relative, my friend, my comrade’
But one who formerly gave happiness may later become a foe.

Though far away, the one who delights our mind is near.
Though close, the one who displeases our mind, is far from away.

One of radiant mind is still radiant-minded though he be across the sea.
Though far beyond the sea, one of corrupt mind is corrupt-minded still.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Buddhism, The Dalai Lama And Same-sex Marriage

I found this article by James Shaheen of the Huffington Post and thought it worth sharing. As Buddhism’s profile in the West increases its position on various issues is being sought. In the process some of the myths, misunderstandings and imaginings about Buddhism are being dispelled. Here the writer explains that contrary to general perception, the Dalai Lama does not represent all Buddhists, he doesn’t even represent all Tibetan Buddhists. In fact, he represents no more than 3 or 4 % of the worlds Buddhists. On another matter, scholars may well consider the various sects of Buddhism to be different religions – which I take of yet more evidence that scholars don’t always know what they are talking about (see I agree with Ven. Thanissaro’s comment on what would be the Buddha’s position on same sex marriage and for my own take on this issue (see The word for husband in the verse I quote from the Kama Sutra is parigraha, the Pali equivalent being patigaha. In the commentary on this verse from his Jayamangala, Yasodhara (12th cent ?) says; ‘Citizens so inclined, reject women, willingly do without them and get married, bound by a deep and trusting friendship.’ This may indicate that some form of same-sex marriage existed in ancient India.

A lot of people ask me what the "Buddhist take" on gay marriage is. Well, it depends on who you talk to. A few years back, in an interview with the CBC, the Dalai Lama rejected same-sex relationships to the surprise of many convert Buddhists, who sometimes too easily assume that Buddhist ethics are consistent with their typically progressive views. As the Canadian interview bounced around the internet, some people were shocked and perplexed, but the Dalai Lama’s position shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the issue. After all, he has been consistent. At a conference some 12 years ago, when gay leaders met with him in San Francisco to discuss the Tibetan Buddhist proscriptions against gay sex, he reiterated the traditional view that gay sex was "sexual misconduct." This view was based on restrictions found in Tibetan texts that he could not and would not change. He did, however, advise gay Buddhist leaders to investigate further, discuss the issue, and suggested that change might come through some sort of theological consensus. But at a time when same-sex marriage has taken front-stage center in American politics, the Dalai Lama’s more recent statements come as unwelcome news to proponents of civil rights. Does this mean Buddhism condemns same-sex relationships? Not at all. Contrary to popular perception, the Dalai Lama does not speak for all Buddhists. As the leader of the dominant Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism, he speaks for one slice of the world’s Buddhist population. The vast majority of Buddhists do not practice in his tradition — however much they respect and admire him — and the Tibetan texts the Dalai Lama refers to were written centuries after the Buddha had come and gone. Buddhism is perhaps even more diverse than Christianity. In fact, the differences among schools can be so vast that some scholars consider them different religions. Indeed, according to Thanissaro Bhikkhu, abbot of the Metta Forest Monastery in southern California, the Buddha never forbade gay sex for lay people as far as we know. "When he drew the line between licit and illicit sex, it had nothing to do with sexual tastes or preferences," he says, citing early texts. "He seemed more concerned with not violating the legitimate claims that other people might have on your sexual partner." The Buddhist monastic code, which contains detailed — and sometimes ludicrous — guidelines (think Leviticus), applies only to monks, leaving the rest open to debate. Western dharma communities are known for their tolerance, and the Dalai Lama himself has openly gay students. It’s rare to hear of anyone being drummed out of a Western Buddhist community for being gay, and in most Buddhist traditions practiced in the West—including the Tibetan communities—sexuality is rarely if ever an issue. Nonetheless, in the current political climate, hearing the world’s most famous Buddhist declare homosexuality to be "sexual misconduct" can’t help but lead people to believe that the Buddha’s teachings proscribe same-sex relationships. They don’t, any more than they promote them. Friends of mine have argued that the Dalai Lama doesn’t really look askance same-sex relationships, that he has no choice but to uphold his tradition’s dictates; and that maybe the Dalai Lama is just stuck with the old texts’ proscriptions in the same way that a Catholic, say, must deal with Thomas Aquinas. Of course, we can’t know and must take his public statements at face value. In his case, though, our expectations tend to be different than they might be for the local minister, priest or orthodox rabbi. And so many of us who have benefited greatly from his teachings are apt to feel disappointed.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Tiger Apologizes

Tiger Woods has publicly apologized for his infidelity and it was a sincere and dignified performance. Fame and wealth, he said, led him away from Dhamma, into temptation and to feel that the rules did not apply to him - a situation I think most of us can understand and sympathise with. I also thought his account of Buddhism, while very brief, was a good one. He said, ‘Part of following this path for me is Buddhism, which my mother taught me at a young age. People probably don't realize it, but I was raised a Buddhist, and I actively practiced my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years. Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security. It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint’. I hope Woods’ Buddhist mentor is familiar with these words of the Buddha and will show them to his wife, ‘By three things the wise person can be known. What three? He sees a failing as it is. When he sees it he tries to correct it. When another acknowledges a failure the wise person forgives it as should be done’ (A.I,103).
And one last thing. Woods certainly did the right thing in apologizing to his wife and friends, but I think it was not incumbent on him to also apologize to his ‘millions of fans’. Some surveys in the US shows that up to 50% of males and 38% of females admit to having committed adultery at least once. How many of the others surveyed didn’t admit to it? Did all these people really need an apology?

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Hem Of His Robe

Even if one should seize the hem of my robe and walk step by step behind me, if he is covetous in his desires, fierce in his longings, malevolent of heart, with corrupt mind, careless and unrestrained, noisy and distracted and with uncontrolled senses, he is far from me. And why? He does not see the Dhamma, and not seeing the Dhamma, he does not see me. Even if one lives a hundred miles away, if he is not covetous in his desires, not fierce in his longings, with a kind heart and pure mind, mindful, composed, calmed, one-pointed and with restrained senses, then indeed, he is near to me and I am near to him. And why? He sees the Dhamma, and seeing the Dhamma, he sees me (It. 91).

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Contradictions, Interpolations And Criticisms

In my reply to several comments to my post of 9th January 2010 I pointed out that the Buddha could be very critical when he thought it was necessary, and that on occasion his criticism could be quite hard. I gave as an example of this the sutta where he compared some brahman’s behavior unfavorably with that of dogs. In reply to this Yuri wrote that there could only be two explanations to this admittedly harsh comparison – that either (1) the Buddha was contradicting his own teaching or (2) that the text has got corrupted, i.e. that the Buddha never really said this. I would like to say something about Yuri’s comments as he is a regular and a valued reader of my blog and often has something useful to say.
I know of nothing the Buddha ever said or did that contradicted what he taught. Yuri thinks that the Buddha must be contradicting himself by criticizing brahmans because he (Yuri) thinks that Right Speech mean that we must never say anything unpalatable or that might challenge or upset others. (Hitler! Such a nice fellow but badly misunderstood. And anyway, who are we to speak! You must keep in mind that he had a difficult childhood. And don’t forget, he loved dogs. And Pol Pot? Lovely chap! Of course he might have made a few mistakes. But haven’t we all?). The Buddha never said that we should not criticize others or upset them. Prince Abhaya once asked him if he could ever ‘use speech that was disliked and disagreeable to others’. The Buddha replied that he could, but added the proviso that he would always do it out of compassion and at the right time (M.I,395). The Buddha was ‘a teacher of gods and humans’ and given human defilements and delusions, a teacher might sometimes have to censure, scold and rebuke his or her students. And the Buddha did not shy away from doing so. Therefore, in criticizing the brahmins, and perhaps even offending them in the process, the Buddha was not contradicting his Dhamma.
So is it possible that the ‘brahmans like dogs’ text is corrupt or ‘put in later’, and is therefore not really authentic Buddha Vacana? Perhaps, but there is no evidence for this. Yuri thinks this is must be the case because he, like many people, just can’t imagine the Buddha being changeling, upfront or critical with his appraisal of certain ideas or actions. If the text under discussion was the only one where the Buddha was critical we might consider the possibility that it is a later interpolation. But it is by no means the only one where the Buddha is depicted as being very straightforward. When Devadatta tried to take over the Sangha the Buddha called him Chavassakhelapakassa! If you want to know what this means have a look at When he was comparing his Dhamma with other teachings he was usually generous, mild and restrained, but certainly not always. He considered Makkhali Gosala to be a fraud and his teaching to be harmful nonsense. ‘I know of no person who causes such loss to the many, such discomfort to the many, such loss, discomfort and sorrow to gods and humans as Makkkail, that infatuated man’ (A.I,33). And he was even harder on his ideas. ‘Just as a hair blanket is considered the meanest of all woven cloth, being as it is cold in the winter, hot in the summer, ugly to see, bad to smell and unpleasant to touch, so to, of all theories taught by ascetics, those of Makkhali are the most miserable’ (A.I,286). He could be very brisk with those who distorted his own Dhamma and was quick to rebuke them and correct them when they did. ‘Stupid man! (mogha purisa) When have you ever known me to teach the Dhamma like that? Stupid man! In many discourses have I not explained that obstructive things are obstructions..? But you, stupid man, have misrepresented me by your wrong grasp, harmed yourself and stored up much demerit which will lead to your harm and suffering for a long time!’ (M.I,132). The brahman Lohicca got the idea that one attained enlightenment it would be wrong to teach it to others ‘because what can one person do for another’. The Buddha told him that he considered this to be ‘an evil line of reasoning’ (papakam ditthigatam upannam) and a ‘false view’ (miccha ditthi) that could well result in being reborn in purgatory (D.I,227). The ascetic Nigrodha is depicted as a bit of a boaster who thinks in a debate he could send the Buddha away with his tail between his legs. The Buddha comes to hear of this boast and goes to meet Nigrodha and his cronies. After teaching them the Dhamma and trying to reassure them that his aim was to help them, not just to make converts, he waits for them to ask him more about the Dhamma. When they don’t, almost in exasperation, he says, ‘Every one of these stupid men is so possessed by Mara in that not even one of them thinks, “Let us follow the holy life under the monk Gotama”’ (D.III,56). Then he turns and leaves. There are many more examples of the Buddha speaking his mind. So the ‘brahmans as dogs’ text is unlikely to be a later interpolation because its theme of criticism is anything but out-of-place or unique in the Tipitaka.
Of course, to think that the Buddha spent all his time rebuking and criticizing others and their ideas would be wrong. But it would be just as wrong to think that he never censured, challenged or criticized, which is a modern construct just not consistent with his character as depicted throughout the Tipitaka. But returning to Yuri’s comments, we should never forget that we (or at least I) do not have the Buddha’s sensitivity and patience, his tact and wisdom, and we need to be cautious and reserved with out criticism. And as is to be expected, the Buddha gives some excellent advice we need to consider whenever we feel that a rebuke is necessary, see for example A.II,100 and M.I,395. But one of my favorite pieces of advice on this subject is to be found in the Bhaddali Sutta. Referring to monastic training, the Buddha says that if senior monks rebuke and correct a junior monk constantly and for every little mistake, he may well become despondent and lose heart. He compares the situation to a person who has only one eye. Those who care about him should guard his good eye with great care (M.I,444). I assume this simile is meant to suggest that at times, overlooking the problems and focusing on the good points is more helpful.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Arising Of The Sun

Just as the dawn is the forerunner, the herald of the arising of the sun - so too, friendship with the beautiful is the forerunner, the herald of the arising of the Noble Eightfold Path. When one is a friend of the beautiful, it may be expected that he will cultivate and develop the Noble Eightfold Path. (S.V.29)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

At The Jain Temple

Last Saturday and again this morning I was a guest of the Singapore Jain Religious Society’s temple for the consecration of their new image. I had offered the Society some water from Lake Manasarovar which I had brought back from my recent trip to Tibet, an offer that was most happily accepted. Like we Buddhists, the Jains considerer such water to be particularly auspicious and whenever possible use it in consecration rituals. Mr.Desi and others welcomed us and introduced us to Sri Bhadrabahuji, the community’s teacher, who kindly invited me to participate in the actual consecration. How different such ceremonies are to our Buddhist ones – there was so much music, singing, clapping, ringing of bells and waving of yak tail whisks that we quite got caught up in the jubilation and the happiness. At the appropriate time I was ushered forward, covered my mouth in accordance with Jain tradition, and tipped the holy water mixed with saffron and sandal over the new image to complete the consecration. Later we mixed with the guests of which there were about 2000. It was such a delight to see all the beautiful saris, kurtas and sherwanis with their colorful and ornate embroidery and also the more ancient pure-white robe-like attire. I noted that Sri Bhadrabahuji’s robe was almost identical to mine. I also met Dr. Purnima S. Metha, reader in Jain and Buddhist literature at Ahmanabad University who invited me to an up-coming conference on the two religions in Guyjarat, an invitation I will, unfortunately be unable attend. A little angel in the audience. Chatting with Dr. Metha.
A beautiful Rajasthani sari.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Humanism And Buddhism

Read this interesting and well-written article on humanism, the prevailing secular philosophical outlook in the West today, and the Buddha’s teachings.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Year Of The Tiger

A happy, prosperous and spiritually directed New Year to all my Chinese readers.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Human/Animal Interaction

The legends, folk tales and hagiographies of most religions include stories in which saints or sages interacted with animals, sometimes even to the extent of them talking to each other. Saint Jerome and the lion, St. Anthony and the crow and St. Francis and his audience of fish and birds are the most well-known such stories from the Western tradition. Most such stories probably have their origins in a naïve understanding for animals but others may be based on at least some experience. Some higher animals are known to exhibit the rudiments of traits like gratitude, affection, loyalty and reciprocity. Likewise, some animals are able to sense certain emotions in humans, especially strong ones like love and fear, and be affected by them. Saints and sages also often lived in wilderness areas where the wildlife would gradually grow used to their presence and lose their fear of them. Visitors would see this and assume that the hermit and the animals has had developed some kind of relationship with each other.
The Jatakas contain numerous stories in which humans interact in a variety of ways with animals, including speaking with them. The Tipitaka also included several such stories. Once Venerable Sariputta was suffering from fever and Venerable Moggallana offered to get him the medicine he required – lotus storks. He went to a great lotus lake, an elephant saw him and asked him if he could help him. Moggallana told him what he needed and the elephant instructed another elephant to get it. This second elephant uprooted a trunk-full of lotus stalk, washed the mud off them, tied them into a bundle and then gave them to Moggallana (Vin.I,214). Another story of animal helpfulness to humans is told in the Udana. The Buddha left Kosambi in disgust at the quarrelsome monks there and went to a nearby forest where he spent a few days staying at the foot of a sal tree. The elephant who lived in the forest cropped the grass around the Buddha and brought him water in its trunk (Ud.41). The ancient commentary adds that a monkey also brought him fruit to eat (Dhp.a.59). Like the former story, this one is about animals being kindly and helpful. But it also adds the idea that noble beings (enlightened sages and great elephants) share a common appreciation for silence and solitude.
A monk once told the Buddha he was being disturbed by a large flock of birds roosting nearby. The Buddha advised him to go to the birds three or four times a night and ask them for a feather. The birds would, he said, soon get sick of his continual request and go somewhere else. The monk did as he was advised and sure enough, the birds left (Vin.III,147). The Buddha used this incident to warn monks not to be always asking lay people for things (Vin.).
Stories based on the assumption that animals will respond to human kindness and love are very common in the Buddhist tradition. The most famous of there is the Buddha/Nalagiri incident Once, in an attempt to kill the Buddha, his evil cousin Devadatta arranged for a dangerous elephant called Nalagiri to be released onto the road he was walking down. Tail erect and trumpeting, the elephant charged the Buddha who, on seeing the furious creature coming, suffused it with metta. The elephant was suddenly transformed from fury into docility. It approached the Buddha and he stroked its head (Vin.II,195). When the Chinese pilgrim Fa-hien was in Sri Lanka in the 5th century he visited Mahintale. While there he was told of a monk who shared a cave with a mouse and a snake. Normally natural enemies, the mouse and snake lived in harmony with each other, so effected were they by the monk’s loving-kindness.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Learning Buddhism On Line

The first of its kind, an in-depth on-line Diploma programmes on Buddhist Studies and English through Buddhism to be offered from Sri Lanka will be available to all from the 1st of November 2009. This is a joint effort by the Ministry of Higher Education and The Damrivi Foundation, under the Distance Education Modernization Programme of the ministry. A sample site for all to try out free of charge is now available at their website Structured on a par with other international teaching sites, the site has links to many resources - dictionaries, Tipitaka , web sites, etc. The programms will be of particular interest to those who wish to learn Buddhism systematically and in-depth, to Buddhist social workers and to Buddhist monks and nuns. Clergy of other religions may well find it an interesting way to come to know Buddhism better too. The Course Director for the two programmes is Prof. Asanga Tilakaratne, Ph.D, Professor of Buddhist Studies, University of Colombo and Chairman, Damrivi Foundation. The course coordinator is Yuki Sirimane, Ph.D, Director Operations – Damrivi Foundation. Lecturers for the Buddhist Studies programme include Professor Oliver Abeyanayaka, Ph.D, formerly of the Postgraduate Institute Pali and Buddhist Studies, University of Kelaniya); Professor P.D. Premasiri, Ph.D, formerly Head Buddhist Studies Department, Peradeniya University; and Prof. Asanga Tilakaratne. The English through Buddhism Programme is conducted by English lecturers from leading Colombo Universities. The Damrivi Foundation is a not for profit organization of academics and professionals for social economic and spiritual development through Buddhist insights and is accredited by the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission of Sri Lanka ( TVEC).
Damrivi has designed and implemented several other innovative educational programmes including a Diploma in Psychological Counselling with Buddhist Insights. It also mangers of the popular web site on Theravada Buddhism - Beyond the net, attracting 200000 hits a month from 97 countries.
The Buddhist Diploma programme and the English through Buddhism program can be easily accessed from home by all those who have ADSL connections. For others, the Sri Lankan Government has set up NODES Centres which would be free of charge upon registering with the course.
The lessons will be released on a systematic basis and participants will have access whenever convenient, day or night. All assignments would be marked by the lecturers and progress monitored on a continuous basis. Presented in an interactive mode, using audio, video, video discussions, on-line group discussions, chat sessions, individual and group assignments, the lessons are designed to avoid the high drop-out rate of most online courses. The abundant learner support systems and the interactive presentations will hold the student’s interest for the full duration of the course.
The language course in particular has been formulated with language exercises such as, cross words puzzles, true or false questions, matching exercises, filling in the blanks, comprehension questions and essays. Developing correct pronunciation and the ability to converse has been taken care of with the recording of the student’s voices for the teachers to listen and correct. In other words, the program will have all the benefits of face to face class participation without the inconvenience of having to come in at a particular time as one would for regular classes but be able to use this site as one would use any other site on the web.
The Diploma in Buddhist Studies consists of five courses - Introduction to Buddhism, Basic Teachings of the Buddha , Buddhist Social Thought, Buddhist Ethics and Mind Culture. The Diploma in English through Buddhism, consists of Grammar and Style, Reading and Writing, Listening and Speech, Introduction to Literature and Contemporary topics. Upon following the programmes for two years A Diploma Certificate will be awarded after an examination. Orientation sessions will ensure that the students get familiar with how to navigate through the lessons and how to engage in the course work.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Pastor Tan Fallout

The fallout from the Pastor Tan videos continues here in Singapore. Last month two youths were arrested for posting racist comments on their Face book and many Singaporeans are wondering why Tan was only given a warning by the ISD rather than arrested for his public disparagement of Buddhism and Taoism. Why, some are asking, do comments circulated to a few people result in arrests and those made to an audience of 10,000 only merit a warning? To their credit, Buddhist and Taoist leaders have accepted Tan’s apology and have asked that the matter be dropped. The government seems to agree with this measured response and is not pursuing the matter further.
In yesterday’s Straits Times (p. A6) several religious leaders were reported as suggesting that the way to prevent such things as the Pastor Tan affair from happening in the future is to increase inter-faith dialogue. This is, of course, the predictable immediate response but perhaps it could be thought about more carefully. I doubt that inter-religious dialogue, at least as it is conducted in Singapore, really brings about a change in how the different religions feel about each other. I have often attended inter-religious gatherings and I have noticed that everyone is friendly, accommodating and open-minded. The participants are already respectful of other faiths. The ones who could do with a bit of tolerance - the bigots, zealots, fundamentalists and the evangelicals, won’t come. Here in Singapore several major denominations have pointedly refused to join the Inter-religious Organization which they see as fratranizing with Satan. A recent poll amongst 183 Christian clergymen showed that half were leery of any interfaith contact and 40% said they were reluctant even to work on joint charity efforts with other religions (see So in a sense inter-religious dialogue is all too often just an exercise in the converted preaching to each other. I would like to suggest another possible approach to the problem that might be applicable to the Singapore situation. The government should consider something like the Public Service Award, the PBM or the BBM, but to be given for service to interfaith understanding. When such people are looked upon as commendable, socially responsible and worthy, the bigots gradually come to be seen as out-of-step, as a public nuisance, as un-respectable. You can marginalize the intolerant by rewarding and lauding the tolerant.
However, other than one or two particular groups, I have found most religions in Singapore to be amiable and respectful towards each other. When I first came to Singapore I stayed for two years in a Mahayana temple and just recently I had a Chinese Mahayana monk stay with me for two months. As usual, the Catholics go out of their way to be open to other faiths. Reading the fortnightly Catholic News I see Catholic groups have recently visited the Singapore Buddhist Federation and the Singapore Taoist Federation. This is not a hurried response to the recent problem, it is a part of the Church's longstanding policy, i.e. it comes from the heart. Last year, St Mary of the Angels invited me to address a large group on the basics of Buddhist doctrine and the response was warm, welcoming, and most importantly, genuinely so. On Saturday I have been invited to the Jain Temple and on Tuesday will be their special guest at the consecration of their new image, an event I am most honoured to be invited to participate in.
The picture is of Pastor Rony Tan in happier times.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Pastor Tan Tapes

In the 50s and 60s Singapore was wracked by a series of racial and religious riots, much as still happens in some other countries in the region. The government realized that if the country was ever to progress it was going to have to deal with such problems, and to this day the maintainance of racial and religious harmony is one of the cornerstones of Singapore policy. And it’s a policy that has served the country well. Singapore’s various religious and ethnic groups get along very well. One source of possible conflict has been the evangelical Christian determination to make as many converts as possible by almost any means possible. There has been a tactic agreement that evangelical churches will not ‘target’ the country’s Muslims which has meant that the full force of their conversion efforts have fallen on the Buddhists and the Hindus. These efforts have ranged from subtle, to insensitive, to very insensitive, to denigration. Because of the usual Buddhist problems – disunity, passivity, the ‘everything’s impermanent’ syndrome, etc – Buddhists have borne the very insensitive assaults by shrugging their shoulders, biting their lip or grumbling under their breath. And unless there is widespread complaints, the government usually doesn’t take action.
Some weeks ago one of Singapore’s mega-churches put several videos on its web site with interviews between the church’s pastor, Rony Tan, and a former Buddhist nun and supposedly a former Buddhist monk who have now ‘seen the light’. Using the usual cheap shots, distortions and lies, Tan succeeds in mocking Buddhism and getting the audience to laugh at it. I suspect this sort of this thing is standard fare in evangelical churches but the Lighthouse Church made the mistake of putting it on their web site, from where it has been picked up and widely disseminated. It even got on Youtube. There has been an outcry from Buddhists and Taoists (another video mocks Taoism too) and officers from the Internal Security Department have had a word with Pastor Tan. Normally Singaporeans would go to great lengths not to attract the attention of the ISD. The Ministry of Home Affairs has also issued a statement saying that Tan’s comments were highly inappropriate and trivialized and insulted the beliefs of Buddhists and Taoists. Tan has now expressed his deepest apologies and remorse, saying that he deeply regrets his insensitivity to Buddhists and Taoists and has promised that it will never happen again. He has also affirmed that he will tell his members to respect other beliefs and build a harmonious Singapore. Apparently, miracles happen at Pastor Tan’s church on a regular basis (see ). His change in attitude towards other religions has been so sudden and so out of character that it might even be considered a miracle too. But one wonders whether it’s a genuine change or was brought about by some external cause. Will Pastor Tan and other evangelists become more tolerant and respectful - or just more careful?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Caste And Buddhism In India

This first news item describes how many low caste and outcaste people are treated by high caste Hindus in India today, while the second describes what some do about it. Dalit, meaning ‘ground down’ is the widely-used term in India for low caste and outcaste people.

February 2, 2010, Dindigul, Tamil Nadu
Even after 60 years of Independence, there still exists a side of India that is hard to believe. A Dalit man in Tamil Nadu was forced to eat human excreta because he wore slippers in the presence of upper caste people. "They said hereafter no one should come in wearing slippers. Arokiasamy told Anbu to put human excreta into my mouth. They hit me severely on my abdomen and shoved it into my mouth," said the victim Sadayandi."Even men who come by cycle have to get down and push it into the village," said his wife Nagajothi. The police took more than a week to file the First Information Report (FIR) under the Prevention of Atrocities Act. And even after that, they were not willing to book the accused. Instead, they want the victim - who is in hiding because of fear - to prove that the crime occurred. "If this has happened he has to come forward to give some clues and explain about the incident. Only then I can go deep into this matter," said the Deputy Superintendent of Police. The Madras High Court has now asked for an action taken report. A few years ago, NDTV had exposed atrocities against Dalits in the state. In many areas they are forced to remove footwear before entering the village, walls deny them access, thorny fences greet them in fields they use as toilets. Even elected Panchayat leaders are forced to quit. Thanks to vote bank politics successive governments seem to have only gone soft on dominant communities. Politically, Dalits are a divided lot in Tamil Nadu. While the state pampers them with welfare schemes, its tacit support to human rights violations by powerful dominant communities is only making things worse.

Ahmedabad, Gujarat - Close to 11,000 people, including those from the Koli and Kshatriya communities as well as Christian families, embraced Buddhism at a function in Saijpur Bogha here on Sunday. Buddhist monks from Bhante Pragnyasheel administered the pledges to the new converts. The Ahmedabad district collector, however, said no conversion could be effective unless an official permission was granted. “Five Hindu Dalit families that had earlier converted to Christianity also converted to Buddhism at the function,” said Balkrishna Anand, convenor of the Bauddh Dhamma Deeksha Angikar Abhiyan (Gujarat). “We were working on the event for the last few months, touring many districts and conducting meetings to mobilise people,” he said, adding that in all, 350 meetings were held to spread the message across the state. Maintaining that nearly 11,000 people converted to Buddhism at the function, Anand said the neo-converts had come from places as far as Patan, Surendranagar, Rajkot, Vadodara, Junagadh and Mehsana. Renowned Buddhist leader Kalpana Saroj was the chief guest at the function, which was presided over by five Buddhist monks from various parts of the country.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Special Offer!

DONE THE BARS? BEEN THROUGH THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE? SEEN ALL THE LADY BOY SHOWS? WHY NOT CONSIDER BECOMING A MONK? YES, YOU TOO CAN TOP OFF YOUR HOLIDAY IN EXOTIC THAILAND BY PLAYING AT BEING A MONK. WE OFFER AN EXCITING RANGE OF MONASTIC PACKAGES AT ATTRACTIVE PRICES TO FIT ANY BUDGET. EXCELLENT FOOD, GREAT PHOTO OPS, GUIDED TOURS IN THE AREA – AND YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE TO BECOME A BUDDHIST. FOR BOOKINGS AND FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE GO TO Yes, me too. At first I honestly thought it was a joke as well. But then, one sometimes gets the feeling that much of Buddhism in Thailand is a joke. What is more interesting is that the organization that runs this mock-monk program, The Blood Foundation, has a distinct Christian leaning. One of its two published donors, the Partners Relief and Development and the Khom Loy Development Foundation, is strongly Christian. These donors in turn receive support from Christian organizations like the Mekong Minority Foundation and controversial groups like the Richard Haugland Foundation; see This is not to say that all Christian aid organizations have a conversion agenda, but many do, and sometimes it’s carefully concealed under the guise of ‘development’, ‘cultural exchange’ and ‘leadership programs’. This way they get brownie points for doing good, receive donations from people who wouldn’t usually give to missionaries, get help from volunteers unaware that they are helping to evangelize native peoples, and make converts too. A hundred and fifty years of conventional evangelism in Thailand has produced a very merge harvest so ‘development’ has become part of the new strategy. Conventional missionaries are not allowed to operate in Burma so now Burmese refugees in Thailand have become the ‘target people’ like the hill tribes before them. And it’s mainly financed by good-hearted folk in the West unaware of the hidden agenda. And the Buddhists? Not savvy enough or concerned enough to worry too much about it. After all, everything is impermanent, isn’t it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Friday, February 5, 2010


Massage (parimaddana or ucchadana) and limb rubbing (sambahana) were already well-known during the Buddha’s time. Attentive children would massage their aged parents limbs (A.I,62) and sensual massage that stopped just short of being sexual was also known (A.IV,54), a fact confirmed by the Kama Sutra. The Buddha forbade monks from having massages for pleasure (D.I,7) although he seems to have approved of therapeutic massage. On one occasion he is recorded as having been ‘oiled’ (sinehetha) over several days when he was suffering from a particular illness (Vin.I,279). The meaning of this term is not clear. It may refer to the Ayurvedic practice of administering medicine in oil applied to the skin or to an oil massage.
Massage is still an art, sometimes a performing art, in India. Have a look at this truly impressive performance.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Enough Of The Morality Police

The so-called Age of Faith in Europe was no time to be alive. The Church believed it could and should control every aspect of people’s thoughts and behavior including what they did in private. Theologians dictated how you did it, inquisitors peered under your bed sheets to make sure that you did do it that way, and tribunals punished you when you didn’t. And the punishments could be draconian and led to humiliation, suffering and cruelty – but mainly to hypocrisy. Read Uta Ranke-Heineman’s Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven which details some of the Church’s bizarre teachings on sex through the centuries and how they enforced them. You’ll be staggered. The Enlightenment freed us from all that and now morality is a matter of personal responsibility, something between you and your God, except where it directly and negatively affects the community. Much of the Middle East is still to have its Enlightenment and so in some countries ‘morality police’ still snoop into people’s private lives and threaten them with public humiliation, floggings or worse. In Iran you can face a long prison term for dancing – even in private. But in the liberal democracies all that is long gone. Or has it?
Tiger Woods career has suffered a serious, perhaps even fatal, setback because he allegedly cheated on his wife. Now the news tells us that an English football captain may be about to loose his position for the same reason. Neither men have ever presented themselves as paragons of virtue, neither has ever pontificated about morality in the public arena and the sports they excelled at are about being able to hit or kick balls to make them go where they want, not about ethics. Last time I looked football was more commonly associated with hard drinking, punch ups both on and off the field and multiple girlfriends. You may recall that three years ago a popular English footballer said be believed that physically disabled people were like that because they had done something bad in their previous life. There was an outcry, he apoligised, the outcry continued, he made a second abject apology, the howls of indignation got louder and eventually he was forced to resign. Of course, I’m just a simple monk but when we did civics at school I seem to recall being taught that a part of democracy is that you have the freedom to believe what you want and express your beliefs – even if it’s completely stupid. The Buddha’s teaching on marital faithfulness is clear enough, as is his teachings on wrong view. Thoughtful people consider these ideas carefully and try to apply them in their lives. I know of nothing the Buddha ever said that could be used to justify enforcing his ethics or his vision of reality.
It would be good if popular public figures were able to set a good example and it’s sad when they don’t. But, quite frankly, if they don’t that’s their business, that’s a matter for them and their kamma, between them and their conscience, a matter for them and their God. A prying public and a lurid press should not be allowed to take the place of the inquisitors and the morality police. The picture shows Iran’s morality police detaining a young man for having an unacceptable hair style.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Was The Buddha Really A Businessman?

Normally I wouldn’t trust a man who wears a pink tie with green, yellow and white spots. But I make an exception when it’s Prof. Gregory Schopen, far and away the most eminent contemporary historian of Indian Buddhism. Schopen researches have given us a deeper, more detailed and more realistic picture of Buddhism, particularly Buddhist monasticism. In this video Schopen delivers a paper on monastic involvement in business and finance, together with his usual cheeky comments and humorous asides. I only take issue with a few things he says. Schopen is referring to Buddhist monasticism as it became at least 500 years after the Buddha. To say that ‘…the Buddha’s monastic community was not modeled…on a religious institution, but on a commercial one, the craft or mercantile guild’ is certainly true of fully developed monasticism, but not of early monasticism as depicted in the Pali Sutta and Vinaya Pitakas. These texts are unambiguously hostile to money, financial dealings and even barter. When Schopen says ‘The Buddha said…’ which Buddha is he talking about? He’s talking about of the Buddha as he came to be conceived in the post-first millennium period, not the Buddha of the Pali Sutta Pitaka. Most of what Schopen attributes to the Buddha actually comes from the Mulusarvastvadin Vinaya, a text dating from after the 1st cent CE and composed in north-west India – a long way in both time and space from the real Buddha.
All monasticism, Buddhist included, Theravadin and Mahayanist as well, ancient and modern, always ends up owning more wealth that it originally set out to renounce. By about the 1st cent BCE Buddhist monks were beginning to accumulate extensive properties and be involved mainly in worldly pursuits – as most still are today – academic studies, fund raising, catering to the needs of the laity, money lending and management, wealth-creating projects like festivals and pujas, etc. R. A. L. H. Gunawardana’s seminal Robe and Plough shows how Theravadin monks in Sri Lanka developed the accounting, bookkeeping, bills of credit and contracts needed to manage and increase their vast holdings – all while meticulously following the Vinaya. However, none of this, not even the germs of it, can be detected in the Pali Sutta Pitaka, a fact that Schopen neglects to mention. And this should be kept in mind while listening to his fascinating lecture.
The Pali Vinaya on the other hand, dating as parts of it do from two, perhaps even three hundred years after the Buddha, does contain the beginnings of this compromise with worldly values. I’ll give you but one example.
The Vinaya tells us that once some monks leased out their fields to a farmer who sowed it with his own seed, and on another occasion they leased out their seed to a farmer who sowed it in his own fields. The Buddha is represented as saying that in such cases the monks should take a percentage of the harvest, although what amount is not given (Vin.I,250). The commentary suggests 10%, quite a reasonable amount by usual feudal standards. This rule must have been composed at a time when monasteries owned land, when they had enough grain to be able to lease it out and when they collected rents in kind. It also implies that they entered into (written) contracts, that they kept records of their dealings with tenants, that they had granaries to store excess grain, and almost certainly that they had ways of enforcing agreements when they were broken. It’s only a few steps and a few hundred years from this to what Schopen is describing. But even in this case, the land, grain and the income from it was clearly the property of a corporate body, i.e. the monastery, and was owned jointly by all the monks. But we also have stories in the Vinaya showing that monks were starting to own private property apart from their eight requisites - land, villages, slaves, etc. Although Schopen is always reluctant to say so, working out a chronology of Buddhist texts is possible, and the Pali Sutta Pitaka is generally older than the Viniya Pitaka, and both are much older that even early Sanskrit Buddhist literature.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Why I Like The Dalai Lama

And this is another reason why I like the Dalai Lama – no pretence, doesn’t mind appearing to be human, a good sense of humor.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Turning Over The Bowl

The Buddha conceived the monastic Sangha and the lay community as ‘living together in mutual dependence’ (annamannam nissaya, It.111). Monks and nuns usually took the role of teachers of the laity but sometimes this situation was reversed. The lay man Citta for example, was learned enough and skilled enough in Dhamma to teach monks (S.IV,282-8). The Buddha also understood that there might be times when a monk’s or nun’s behavior might warrant reproof from lay people or visa versa. He said that lay people could express their disapproval of monks or nuns by refusing to give them food when they came alms gathering. According to the commentaries, when the monks of Kosambi were locked in an unseemly squabble, the lay people decided to ‘neither give them salutation nor gestures of respect or offer them alms when they come to us’ (Ja.III,409), which very soon brought the monks to their senses Likewise, monks and nuns may express their disapproval of a lay person by ‘turning over the bowl’ (pattam nikkujjeyya), i.e. refusing to accept their alms. The Buddha gave the conditions whereby monks could consider doing this, all of them concern disadvantaging the Sangha (Vin.II,125).
However, a monk may also decline to accept a lay person’s alms if he knows that it has been obtained by immoral means. I know of a gentle, meditative, forest-living monk in Sri Lanka who turned over his bowl when the a local man tried to give him some food which included venison. He knew that the man was a poacher illegally hunting deer in the nearby forest reserve. The man’s wife was so angry at her husband for causing the family such humiliation, and scolded him so severely, that he stopped pouching. During the 2007 protests in Burma, many of the more aware monks refused to accept alms from the families of government officials, soldiers and even senior members of the military junta. One particular general was so incensed by this (in most Buddhist countries it would be considered the ultimate insult) that the had the offending monks’ monastery surrounded by police who refused to let the monks out and prevented anyone bringing food in. After two days of this the monks had to give in and the general and his pudgy, bejeweled wife turned up with a retinue of flunkies, all looking very self-conscious, and offered food to the monks, who accepted it with unsmiling faces. Less well-known or revered monks bravely did the same thing and were beaten up for it.