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…

21 thoughts on “The Grand Gulp Theory of American Paranoia

  1. I hope Buddhism is not too big a gulp for us. So far, so good: people here seem to like Buddhists.
    It was a pleasure to meet you at Vajrapani Institute. I will continue to visit you here (on your blog).

  2. Bhante Sujato said:

    “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!”

    Akaliko…a thousand lotuses blossom in the heart at these words….Sadhu Sadhu Sadhu…

  3. Ven. Sujato:

    I am glad that you have a more informed view of the U.S. America bashing is easy, and like anything else, the reality on the ground is far more complex. Next time you come thru LA give us advance notice, there is a large and diverse Dhamma community here, and I know that many would want to hear you speak.

  4. “He told me that I should send some of Santi’s bhikkhunis to start a bhikkhuni monastery in Thailand”. It would certainly look good on the old curriculum vitae.

  5. Peter,
    As a fellow blogger, I must say this is getting rather tiresome. I would like to point out the arrogance in making such assumptions (the cv business) and declaring them publicly, which is ironic, given it is a kind of arrogance you are trying to attribute to someone else. But if I look at this more closely – there must be some level of arrogance in my pointing this out to you. Right? So where does it end? If I don’t say anything then we can’t hope for some small awakening that might arise from chewing around this little nub. And I sincerely wish for your interest in contributing to continue and to be held in a wholesome place.
    May I share where I am at on this?
    Judgements of this kind arise in this mind as in anyone else’s, but commitment to this path is to investigate. (Or is commitment to things like resentment and blind faith?)
    Where are these judgements coming from? Within me. Why do they arise in me and why do I feel compelled to act on them? Is there any wholesome intention in it?
    What is the basis, if any, for any truth behind the assumptions? What is my responsibility to investigate that? How do I go about it? Do I investigate to find the answer I am looking for? Do I investigate to get closer to the truth?
    The content of what Bhante has written above is cause for great joy to arise.
    What is your contribution to this moment of joy, Peter?
    _/\_

    • Dear Lisa

      No need to let him wear you down. Try to look at the bright side. He is rather comical, although not yet of tragic proportions. Let’s see what other entertainment he can serve up when his patighanusaya acts up. Oh, and not forgetting his iddhis when penetrating Ajahn’s motives.

      We don’t have to own his manosamphassa dukkha vedana…

    • No worries Sylvester. I do think it is important to engage from time to time; to keep our hearts open; to be fearless.

      “The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger a confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes.”
      — Pema Chödrön

      A Kalyanamitta can help point the way…but we should not detract or digress for too long from the topic at hand, allowing what could be a joyful and envigorating discussion to degenerate.

      Back to the timely blog topics at hand? _/\_

      Since the W Bush era, 9/11 – exacerbated by the recent economic melt down, there has been a massive shift in “the West” to the right – in Europe, Canada, the US, the Caribbean, Australia -we have seen a deepening polarization between left and right and a politic and consciousness of fear has settling in – getting watered, fertilized, rooted so deeply by media empires that make their fortunes by stoking fears…

      While I like your Grand Gulp theory – I am not convinced. I wonder if the average person feels threatened by anything more complex than fear itself – as it is pumped out every day in the 5 hours per day people watch the telly, the news and listen to the radio.
      .
      Does it occur to any of us in “the West” how much we have taken on? How vulnerabe our economies and democracies are to the mistakes that have been made (trillion dollar`wars tha Oz, Canada and US/Europe are embroled in; billion dollar deficits, climate catastrophes, chucking of our faith and interest in civil liberties, forsaking voting; corruption which we never seem to label corruption) and our vulnerbility to the rise of India, China, Brazil etc? I think the average person doesnt fear these things because their worlds are not this expanded – the odd headline may stoke the undercurrent of meaningless fear…

      I think it is a steadily fuelled habit energy – gradually over the past decade, politics and media of fear and hatred have taken root in the systems, collective and individual cosciousness. The tea party movement in the US, the uncanny intransigience in current Canadian politics due to a fearful PM and an oppostion that is even more fearful – and a critical mass that is starting to commit to tactics, behaviour, ethics, discourse and media that play on fear to sway public opinion…(is it not rather similar in Australia at this time?)

      A snippet from Canada:
      The PM was allegedly trying to push American-style hate media onto Canada’s airwaves, on the tab of taxpayers, bending laws t pave the way for a “Fox News North” to mimic the kind of hate-filled propaganda with which the News station has allegedly poisoned U.S. politics. The channel was to be run by the PM’s former top aide and funded by the average Canadian’s cable TV fees!

      An Avaaz petition brought the house down. (Wuhoo) http://communities.canada.com/vancouversun/blogs/communityofinterest/archive/2010/10/06/fox-news-north-not-savour-the-victory.aspx
      But it marks a nasty little trend that started down South. And has spread its evil tentacles across the planet…

      Civil liberties and polite, rational, constructive conversations and political debates are being tasered to death. (there are of course pockets of innovative activists and Nobel Prize Winners who are trying to save the sinking ship!)

      The solution? More people need to listen to Pema Chodron.

      And engage when it is within our means.

      _/\_

    • Hi Lisa,

      All true! the Grand Gulp theory wasn’t meant to replace any of the very many other factors including the ones you mentioned, but merely to express an aspect that I hadn’t really taken notice of previously.

      And yes, more people should listen to Pema Chodren; but I don’t think that’s going to solve anything on a social level. Social problems demand social changes, and i’m not sure what Buddhism as such has to offer. There are plenty of good social ideas in the Buddha’s teaching, many of which have been confirmed today – such as that inequality is a prime source of social unrest and unhappiness. To what extent it should be Buddhism’s role to articulate such perspectives is unclear; and in any case, whatever we think, the vast majority of Buddhist teaching will remain focussed on personal morality and development. Which is no bad thing: someone’s got to do it. My only concern is that if we as Buddhists say that meditation can solve all problems, we end up perpetuating injustice and suffering in the social sphere.

    • Hi Bhante,

      Are you sure that listening to Pema Chodron won’t solve anything on a social level? Opening the heart and mind to other people, resolving our own confusion to the point where we are able to face the other confidently and fearlessly… imagine if our politicians, or the people who get interviewed for opinion polls, were consistently able to relate to asylum seekers and refugees in that spirit (just as one example).

      But accepting your (implied) suggestion that Buddhism might need to be supplemented by something else in order to address injustice and suffering in the social sphere, what would that be? Do you see a role for Christian ideas and practices aimed at social justice here?

      I wonder if the instruction given by some Buddhist teachers for Westerners to look into our own religious traditions, and take care of these, is in part intended to make sure that we don’t lose touch with the depth of a tradition that is connected to every sphere of our lives. Perhaps it is because Buddhism is not generally integrated into our wider social and political life in the West that we have a perception that it doesn’t offer clear guidance in solving problems at that level. For Buddhism to speak to us in this sphere, perhaps an engagement with Christianity, or the Western philosophical tradition, is needed.

    • Dear Ajahn Sujato,

      Ajahn Sujato wrote: “My only concern is that if we as Buddhists say that meditation can solve all problems we end up perpetuating injustice and suffering in the social sphere.”

      I would say that meditation is part of the solution and not part of the problem. Many factors such such greed, ignorance, and violence can be sources for problems in society. Purifying the mind is not the source or cause of problems in society. It is a better idea to direct our attention toward addressing factors such as greed, violence, ignorance, etc…rather than criticizing the the purification of the mind/ meditation.

      Besides, there are already various traditions that focus solely on services instead of meditation.

      Compassion and generosity is one aspect of the Buddha’s teaching. The other aspect is wisdom and contentment ( through meditation). Personally, I don’t think that the Theravedans should put meditation in the back burner.

      Rather than decreasing meditation from the practice, it might be more helpful to increase people’s knowledge/practice of a peaceful way of life.

    • Possibly meditation can allow us to realize that if there are no problems we do not need to find solutions. Meditation will not pay the council tax though.

      What’s that parabola about the acrobat?

    • There are religious groups and Buddhist traditions that either don’t practice meditation or only focus solely on solving social problems ( from the outside) since time memorial . The only problem is as soon as one problem starts improving , the same problem repeats itself in another place. New problems also come up faster than it can be eliminated. I believe it is because we are not addressing the root cause of the issue, so they are endlessly coming despite the effort to bandage or curb them superficially on the surface. Although we need people to temporarily ease the situation, we also need people to address the root cause of social problems.

      For example, when you try to loose weight to improve your health condition. If you take up exercise once or twice a week but continue to eat unhealthy food in large amounts, how effective would it be when comparing with someone who exercise to burn fat and at the same time change their eating habit so that he/she doesn’t regain the weight once the weight was reduced. That is not to say that changing eating habit doesn’t contribute to shredding pounds but only prevent it from coming back.

      Albert mah wrote: ” The Ajahn Chah school of forest monasticism with its pre-eminent emphasis on meditation to the exclusion of textual studies is not able to resolve the bhikkhuni ordination issue….So it’s not just in the social sphere but also among those who renounce the sensory world. ”

      Excluding textual studies can lead to the misunderstanding of the dhamma. The cause in the issue of bhikkhuni ordination might have more to do with excluding textual studies of the dhamma rather than the practice of meditation. Also, I heard that Ajahn Summedho doesn’t emphasize jhana but only mindfulness. As we know, mindfulness is only # 7 of the eightfold path. Leaving out # 8 ( Samadhi, the jhanas) makes the path incomplete. With mindfullness, the degree of stillness is not enough to tap into the source of wisdom that is independent of/ does not rely on textual studies. In this way, neither understanding that comes from textual study of the dhamma is present, nor does wisdom that comes from within arise.

      I don’t believe that Ajahn Brahm and Ajahn Sumedho practice or emphasize the same type of meditation, despite coming from the same teacher. If one person doesn’t follow instruction in the text and practice it without result, that doesn’t mean that all meditators get no result or practice meditation the same way. It depends on how you practice it. And different people practice meditation differently based on their understanding of the texts.

      Ajahn Brahm is also a disciple of Ajahn Achah who meditates (in a different way than some other disciples), but he has a different view and approach about bhikkhuni ordination than some other disciples of Ajahn Chah. I wouldn’t say that it is because of meditation, but rather the way they practice meditation due to excluding textual studies. Someone who refers to the instruction manual before doing something difficult and abstract would have a better chance of doing it properly and with good results.

      Albert Mah wrote: “Isn’t this a faillure to adequately develop compassion till it transcends meanness and dogma? ”

      I agree that aside from leaving out textual studies of the dhamma, leaving out the development of compassion can also be another cause. As we know, the Buddha teaches about the development of inner wisdom as well as compassion. Leaving out this aspect ( compassion) makes the practice incomplete. One school only emphasize the development of wisdom ( sometimes using the wrong meditation technique), while another school only focus mainly on the development of compassion. Compassionate work would be more effective if it is guided by inner wisdom. I believe it would be more helpful to incorporate the development of compassion rather than removing the development of wisdom through meditation.

      The Buddha spent 6 six years practicing to develop inner wisdom that awakens before he spent 45 years awakening others out of compassion. As we see, there is a time and place for everything. He first needed to find a way to make fire and light his own candle before he can goes around and light up the candles in other people’s house. The Buddha doesn’t spend the first 45 years attempting to enlighten other people then spend the last 6 years practicing for enlightenment. How effective would he be in enlightening others or helping people and proclaiming the dhamma in this way? Yet this is the approach that some use. If the Buddha had used this approach, at the most he would have become another social worker and not an Awakened being . I believe he can contribute much more as an awakened being than as an unawakened being. For his disciples to put social work before developing awakening defeats the purpose of taking up the path to awakening in the first place. I am not suggesting that they don’t do social work, but do it after they have developed inner wisdom as the Buddha does. The establishment of the monastic lifestyle is not simply for the purpose of training social workers, but it is an outlet for the practice of awakening. Awakened people or people that are highly developed in both inner wisdom and compassion can contribute a great deal in improving social issues.

      “Alber Mah wrote: “When we practise loving-kindness (metta) meditation we should not stop at just wiahing all living beings to be well, happy and peaceful. Doing something to help whether it be volunteering time and effort, donating funds or avoiding the consumption of animal products would be far more effective. This is social action as well as developing kindness and compassion.”

      When the seed of compassion or the intention of loving-kindness is effectively planted in the mind, it should lead to actions. The reason we don’t see a lot of people taking action might not be because we only practice metta meditation and not act, but it might indicate that not a lot of people take up the practice of metta meditation in the first place, or don’t practice it properly or regularly enough.

      Also, rather than encouraging those who enter the path of Awakening ( monastic sangha) to abandon their practice for awakening and take up social work/ become soicial worker , it might be more fitting to encourage lay buddhist to get involve in “volunteering time and effort, donating funds or avoiding the consumption of animal products”.

  6. Bhante

    Iam not an American but have visited many times, from the outside I believe America is scared because…..things just aren’t right, Their children have been dying in other peoples wars, so called wars of freedom since Korea, with Iraq & Afghanistan being the latest. At home they have huge unemployment, and have been betrayed by their financial institutions. Their political class is incompetent and as pathetic as Australias, and all the while the rich are getting richer and the poor…poorer In. US today the top 1% receive 23% of the income of the nation up from 7% in the 60’s. They most likely have far to too much immigration, more than their society can handle and change is happening at a huge pace no wonder people feel afraid…..what can they believe in anymore….I think the American Dream is Dead….?…..I hope they can find a new one for all our sakes as a free , healthy & dynamic USA is important for all of us.

    Maybe it’s not so suprising that Buddhism has found fertile ground within which to grow for is not suffering and it’s recognition the inspiration for all who seekmto learn the dharma?
    :).

  7. “My only concern is that if we as Buddhists say that meditation can solve all problems, we end up perpetuating injustice and suffering in the social sphere.”

    Exactly and more Bhante. The Ajahn Chah school of forest monasticism with its pre-eminent emphasis on meditation to the exclusion of textual studies is not able to resolve the bhikkhuni ordination issue. So it’s not just in the social sphere but also among those who renounce the sensory world. Isn’t this a faillure to adequately develop compassion till it transcends meanness and dogma?

    The fact is that those who don’t meditate or meditate little can and are able to resolve social problems however, these problems are innumerable and as soon as some are resolved others arise. So there will always be social problems but we must continually strive to resolve them.

    More on meditation. When we practise loving-kindness (metta) meditation we should not stop at just wiahing all living beings to be well, happy and peaceful. Doing something to help whether it be volunteering time and effort, donating funds or avoiding the consumption of animal products would be far more effective. This is social action as well as developing kindness and compassion.

  8. Bhante, Thank you for that little addition at the end. It’s truly a blessing coming from a monk as wise and straightforward as you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s