Monday, August 31, 2009

news from the front

this photo depicts the mountains visible from redlands, the southern californian town i am writing from. over these past two months i have been in semi-retreat writing here, no doubt all sorts of difficult situations and painful experiences have taken place in the world outside this house. but until they penetrate this self-induced bubble, they remain vague 'suffering and causes of suffering.' even now, when serious disaster nears, my head somehow must remain firmly turned to my screen and on that screen Word and not an internet browser must be open.

in the past few months i have written five chapters, and now have the conclusions left. my deadline for handing this to my phd committee is friday, which means thursday afternoon must be spent at kinkos making copies to send them overnight. this is excellent news. except that having offered all the mental and physical energy i had over the past two months, i am running low. and it is 109 degrees, the AC has chosen this summer to become in operative, which has actually been largely manageable because being near the desert, temperatures drop dramatically at night and a well-shaded house like this can be kept fairly cool in the days as long as it gets well cooled at night. but ... at the moment we cannot open the windows at night to let the house cool down because forest fires are devouring the nearby hills. here and in a number of other fires raging across southern california, thousands of home have been evacuated, and already two forest-fighters have given their lives. a crew of prison inmates was enlisted in the struggle to bring this raging force of nature under control, and when the fire began to engulf their campsite, the two firefighters who fell had been trying to find a safe route out for them. one of the two leaves a wife pregnant with their first child, due to be born in the next few weeks. some people refuse to evacuate, thinking they can defend their homes or wait it out, but by the time they are willing to be rescued, the towering flames of fire make it impossible to reach them. men die, children are orphaned, countless animals will be trapped in flames, humans become homeless and fearful for their lives' investments and shelters and dreams. all this only comes to my attention because the air we invisibly share has become dangerous to breathe. so the windows stay shut at night, leaving the house no chance to release its heat out into the night air, and so this house is indirectly warmed by the fire.

today for literally the first time in weeks, i left our yard and looked out and up at the mountains. i last paid them any attention when i was selecting a photo to upload on a past blog entry, in the early phase of this writing. though obviously they have been there this whole time, until they burst into flames their presence appeared utterly irrelevant, one of the million background details our brain processes and doesn't bother us about because it does not matter. we can focus on our little corner of the large world as narrowly as we like, it seems, and even if we can lose sight of it at times, our connectedness to it does not disappear. not even for a moment.

Monday, August 17, 2009

one small bump from china...

chinese authorities apparently permitted the wide publication of an article advocating taking steps towards the break-up of india. echoing darkly the rhetoric used to justify its invasion and occupation of tibet, the article points to india's tremendous internal diversity as evidence that "the 'so-called' Indian nation cannot be considered as one having existed in history."

a china-centered asia would be so much better for everyone involved, the chinese authors of the article concluded.

from an english summary of that article: Adding that Hinduism is a decadent religion as it allows caste exploitation and is unhelpful to the country's modernisation, it described the Indian government as one in a dilemma with regard to eradication of the caste system as it realises that the process to do away with castes may shake the foundation of the consciousness of the Indian nation.

The writer has argued that in view of the above, China in its own interest and the progress of Asia, should join forces with different nationalities like the Assamese, Tamils, and Kashmiris and support the latter in establishing independent nation-States of their own, out of India. In particular, the ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom) in Assam, a territory neighboring China, can be helped by China so that Assam realises its national independence.

continue reading the rest of the article.

for those who read chinese,here is the original article. (the connection is sporadic)

Saturday, August 08, 2009

chapter headings

as i now near the close of the fifth and final chapter of my dissertation, i thought i'd share some quotes that i am placing at the beginning of each chapter, as an epigraph. each chapter itself in part constitutes a sort of reflection on the epigraph, so i will not try to comment on them here. with the exception of the first - a tibetan proverb - the rest all come from the mulasarvastivada vinaya.

"scriptural texts are like soft clay."

"Venerable Nandaka thought, 'Women have little wisdom,' and thinking that, he taught the Dharma [to a group of bhikṣuṇīs] with meanings, sentences and words that were abridged. Because they were wise, they asked him progressively difficult questions, to which Venerable Nandaka replied."

"In saṃsāra, without needing to direct efforts to it,
A body is extremely easy to attain.
In ten thousand million eons,
A worthy place to offer it is extremely hard to attain."
- Mahāsenā, after she had cut out a piece of her thigh to make a medicinal broth for an ailing bhikṣu. (Buddha compares her act to his own deeds as a bodhisattva, and then immediately thereafter bans monks from accepting human meat!)

"All girls are material to be sold by their parents; if my arm or legs are broken by my jumping up or falling down, who will ask for me? Instead, my whole life I would surely become something my parents had to take care of."
- Viśākhā, a young unmarried girl explains why she does not hop and skip like her friends.

"Dharmadattā said to her retinue, 'Sisters, the fact that the Lord has permitted bhikṣuṇīs to go forth, take full ordination and engage in bhikṣuṇīhood: This is all due to Mahāprajāpatī Gautamī.'"