This post is a bit long, so if you absolutely don't have time for the effervescent prose and thought-provoking details, at least make sure not to miss the photo at the end – KN
Thanksgiving...is such a bizarre concept for a Buddhist monk in Mongolia, even as an American. First of all, there’s the little hitch we don’t talk about much, that Buddhist analysis of, well, reality disallows the existence of a creative, omnipotent, merciful deity to whom one would give thanks. So there’s that. But leaving aside esoteric theology (atheology?), it’s 19F/-7C (you’re welcome, Christian) at 12:30PM with air pollution so thick I can see maybe four blocks down the street; I’m totally listless after two days of food poisoning (bad mutton dumplings! bad!) have resulted in a purge of all of my body’s effluvia in every way imaginable; I’ve been forced to recall that cats, though I love them, are about the least empathetic beings when you’re sick (“Excuse me! Get your barfy butt out of bed and get with the Friskies distribution, stat!”); and the morning’s news tells me another clear-thinking group of homicidal maniacs has unleashed its fury in a city I quite like, Mumbai, on such pivotal political targets as railway passengers and frigging hospital patients.
But. Sustaining this Mr. Whiny routine is boring, is it not? I’ve had quite a lot of time to think the past few days, and there’s actually so much to be grateful for, and not just that I discovered Penguin has recently announced August 2009 as the release date for Thomas Pynchon’s new novel, Inherent Vice.
Yesterday, I hauled my sorry carcass up to the Mongolian National Broadcasting building, answering an invite to be interviewed for a TV program called Gereltei Tsonkh. This means “Lit Window,” and refers to the late-night TV glow. It’s the last show they air before signing off, meant to offer something positive at the end of the day. “Oh, what time is it on?” asked I. “When the movie’s over.” Right.
Anyway, I feigned health and vitality and taped a 15-minute segment with the friendly host, Sara, on the subject of Buddhism in America and our MBRP project here. (If you’re in UB, and so inclined, it’ll air next Tue., Dec. 2. After the movie.) As we talked, it really struck me – I have a lot of freedom, and for this I am grateful. This is especially true in terms of pursuing my spiritual path.
Is this true for you, too? Just in general?
Yeah? Excellent. But aren’t these also the times when we consider others who are not as fortunate, who are struggling for the most basic rights for themselves and their people?
I’m particularly thinking of Burma. There are such brave Buddhist monks and nuns there, trying to secure the simplest humane changes to benefit their fellow Burmese, and currently they're getting crushed by the military junta for their troubles.
Monk Ashin Gambira (amazing biography here), a leader of so many others, has been slammed with a total of 68 years in jail.
Many other Burmese monks are fugitives in their own country, on the run from intelligence units, for the unspeakable crime of mass street chanting of the Metta Sutra (the Buddha’s short discourse on loving kindness – oh look, I’m in tears just typing that, the irony is so brutal) in the streets.
Shoot, they’ve tossed Burma’s most famous comedian,
in jail for 45 years. 45 years! (updated) Now a total of 59 years "...for helping Nargis cyclone victims and speaking to foreign media about the situation of millions of people left homeless in [the] Cyclone devastated Irrawaddy delta."
The UN reaction? An extremely cowardly and weak resolution condemning the Burmese government’s gross human rights violations: 89 nations in favor, 29 opposed (guess who? coughChinacough), and 63 abstentions. I’m happy to report Mongolia voted for it, one of only four Asian nations to do so.
The email alerts I receive from the heroic U.S. Campaign from Burma are urging folks like you (yes, you) to keep sending messages to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, via this site, to personally visit Burma, and to support an all-important arms embargo (did you know Burma has the world’s largest number of child soldiers, often being bought and sold by military recruiters?).
So let’s work together to try to make an impact on this, whaddya say?
And so we don’t end on this sour note, in the spirit of “Lit Window,” I want to share an amazing photo with you. It’s of a young Australian woman named Sophie who is now Venerable Lozang Wangmo. She and her mother (a Chan Buddhist meditator) came to my Dharma talk in Brisbane earlier this year. We chatted afterward, and even though I gave Sophie the cautionary rap about getting ordained so young (she’s maybe 20?), she went and done did it anyway. Now curiously, her brother and wife are Muslim, and they so kindly sent me this, about the most radiantly beautiful picture I’ve ever seen. Isn't this what you'd like the world to look like? For that, I'd give thanks.
Best of everything to you, Ven. Lozang, and I hope we meet again. May you attain supreme enlightenment swiftly, cuz look around. We really need you.