The Grand Gulp Theory of American Paranoia
This is the last in my series of American blog posts – until next time, anyway. I thought I’d go out with a bang, or a good title at least. There is a Grand Gulp to be dealt with, but indulge me in a little travel talk first.
After my last post, we left Palm Springs for LA. We weren’t staying in LA, but in keeping with the random theme of this trip I asked Chandra if he’d take us off a random freeway exit so we could at least have a bit of a look at LA. Okay, here’s a random exit – and it just happens to be Sunset Boulevarde. Well, nothing special.
We headed north and stayed in the stunning forest north of Santa Barbara. Our camp was just next to the ocean, and I was able to go for a long walk at sunset – not a soul to be seen.
The next morning we’re off thru the central California coast. I was surprised how remote this land was: north of Santa Barbara, there’s really not much at all. Just endless miles of mountains and glorious sea.
We made it to Santa Cruz just before dark. I managed to achieve one of my goals for the trip: to visit a creepy old cemetery. This one was the Holy Cross, the oldest cemetery in Santa Cruz, with suitably decayed headstones and crypts that were mysteriously empty…
Then we’re on to the Vajrapani Institute near Boulder Creek, where this years’ Western Monastic Gathering was held. We were very warmly welcomed by Ven Tenzin Chogkyi, one of the organizers. Time for a brief hello and catch up with some old friends. The warmth and support in the group was palpable; they had been together all week, so we were pretty much just popping in at the last minute.
The developments regarding bhikkhuni ordination had been discussed before we got there. My sense was that the problems really dissolved away in the face of such shared love and respect.
O, and there was a chipmunk.
We left the next day and went with a few nuns up to Aranyabodhi. This is the new hermitage for bhikkhunis north of San Francisco. We were there with Ayyas Sobhana, Suvijjana, and Adhimutta, who had all spent vassa there with several others. The place is stunning, very wild and rugged – and cold. The nuns have worked hard to get together some basic facilities, but it’s still tough – much tougher than any monks’ monastery I’ve ever stayed at. But the nuns were happy and obviously thriving.
A couple of days in San Francisco, spent with our wonderful new friends Lal, Rassika, and Venus, who were the most gracious hosts. We had the chance to visit a few places: the Bodhi House, which is the city vihara associated with Aranyabodhi – Ayya Tathaaloka is staying there, trying to get her back to work properly – and Aloka, where Ayyas Anandabodhi, Santacitta, and Sumedha have been staying. Much awakening Dhamma discussion! And a visit to Wat Buddhanusorn, to pay respects to Chao Kuhn Maha Prasert, one of the senior Thai bhikkhus in the US. He’s been a stalwart in supporting the bhikkhunis, and it was wonderful to see the ease and respect with which he carries the idea and practice of bhikkhunis. He told me that I should send some of Santi’s bhikkhunis to start a bhikkhuni monastery in Thailand!
And after this all-too-brief summary, suitable for such and all-to-brief trip, here I am at San Francisco airport, wondering if I’ll finish writing this before the boarding call.
O, and the Grand Gulp, yes.
Well, one of the things that I have wondered about is, “why is America so scared?” Does this seem strange to you? The most powerful nation, ever, yet obsessed with security more than any other nation I have seen.
So, there are many reasons for this, but one thing struck me in these few days that I had not noticed before.
It’s just a crude thought, but something like this: America has taken in a huge quantity of human diversity, and substantial bits of America just feel a bit overwhelmed. Like you’ve swallowed a huge gulp of food, and really need a bit of a break before eating anything else.
America has accomplished such a very great deal. Such a vast land, so developed, so many people, such culture and diversity. I love a bit of America-bashing as much as the next person, but I guess I’ve got a new appreciation for what they, as a nation, have achieved. And, with the vitality and sincerity of the Dhamma I have seen here, the story of America is not finished yet…