Saturday, May 28, 2011
An election will be held in Thailand on July 3rd and larger than life posters like this one have sprouted on cement telephone polls all over Bangkok. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolved the House of Representatives and called the election two weeks ago. Candidates from his Democrat Party are campaigning against those from the Pheu Thai Party and their recently appointed leader, Yingluck Shinawatra, the attractive but untested younger sister of the fugitive former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. Although there are nearly two dozen political parties fielding candidates, Pheu Thai and the Democrats are expected to win most of the votes and who's in the lead of this close race depends on which poll you believe. This is no ordinary election.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
"The earth is contaminated everywhere by human activity," Colin Soskolne, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Albert, Canada, told the audience last Friday during a conference on "Buddhist Virtues in Socio-Economic Development." Vesak 2011 was organized by my school, Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya Buddhist University, and featured two days of events at the campus in Ayutthaya, Thailand, and one at UN headquarters in Bangkok.
Environmental Preservation and Restoration," fifteen professors, monks and environmental activists from ten different countries echoed Dr. Soskolne's sentiment in different ways, telling horror stories about deforestation, water pollution, overfishing of the world's oceans, harm from invasive species, damage to sites sacred to Buddhists in India, cultural disruption in Ladakh, and the devastation caused by war and too many cars. They offered examples from the Buddha's life to show how he lived in harmony with his surroundings and established rules for his sangha of monks to prevent pollution, insure hygiene and protect nature. Most of the panelists spoke of Buddhism's core values of interdependence, moderation, respect for all beings, and restraint of desire, in order to argue that these values are necessary to solve the world's environmental crisis.
Bangkok Declaration issued by the organizers of the conference. As we saw it, the seriousness of the environmental crisis was not lessened by new sources of alternative energy being developed or by ethical principles for behavior such as those contained in the Earth Charter.
pdf) in a 2004 essay which was expanded into the book-length Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility three years later. The authors argue in their book and web site for a "post-environmental" politics that abandons the traditional stress on nature protection and "the politics of limits" to focus on creating a new sustainable economy. Political strategies that worked for smog and acid rain will not work for global warming, they write. Rather than defend nature, as if it's an all-powerful god outside ourselves, Shellengerger and Nordhouse urge environmentalists to abandon doomsday narratives that scare rather than persuade people to give up things they enjoy, like cheap oil and food, and jobs in industries that pollute. For this a new inclusive politics is needed. Environmentalism needs to be reframed as a global issue. Environmental historian Richard White once wrote an article called "Are You an Environmentalist, or Do You Work for a Living?" to illustrate the vast gulf between elite proponents of wilderness preservation and protectors of rare bugs and the working people whose interests are largely ignored by them.
Guardian of London: "All of us in the environment movement – whether we propose accommodation, radical downsizing or collapse – are lost. None of us yet has a convincing account of how humanity can get out of this mess. None of our chosen solutions break the atomising, planet-wrecking project." He expanded on this pessimistic appraisal with details in "Our Crushing Dilemmas," and he asks how environmentalists can "fight without losing what we're fighting for?" Paul Kingsnorth co-founder of The Dark Mountain Project writes that “the green movement has torpedoed itself with numbers” and is now trying to save the world “one emission at a time.” Environmentalists “feel obliged to act like speak-your-weight machines just to be heard.” He calls for new stories in "The Quants [number crunchers] and the Poets," because "the whole squabble between world views is not about numbers at all. It is about narratives," and which ones can help or hinder.
So, what do we do? Be kind to each other, I suppose. And condemn the corporate behemoth (which we are powerless, really, to stop). The Buddha's First Noble Truth of suffering applies to the world as well as to living beings, and all we have to offer each other and the planet is compassion.
Wednesday, May 04, 2011
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
--John Dunne, 1623
My friend Holly Dugan died last Friday. She was 70. None of her friends in Bangkok knew she was sick. From diagnosis of intestinal cancer until death took less than two weeks. In an email to her long-time friend Pandit Bhikku, the Buddhist monk, she wrote
As it is, I am grateful that I didn’t feel worse before now, because I have a cancer that looks like a whirling globe of fire, burning everything next to it. If they colored up the CAT scan, it could be psychodellic. It’s the power of denial that has fed my delusion that I am a healthy person. And enabled me to ignore quite a number of symptoms. Not that I wouldn’t die. The terminal aspect of the diagnosis is a great comfort in many ways. I am prepared (to my amazement).Dozens of letters of tribute to Holly, her friendship and her life, are pouring in to the web site of Little Bang Sangha, the Buddhist group for expats and visitors that she helped found with Pandit four years ago. They recall her wit and wisdom, and her ability to listen and respond to whomever she was with, a predilection for compassion and generosity that made her a fine clinical psychologist. She studied at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco and taught here in Thailand in the graduate division of psychology at Assumption University.
believes the celebration of revenge is wrong. "This is bin Laden’s lamentable victory -- he has changed America’s psyche from one that saw violence as a regrettable-if-sometimes-necessary act into one that finds orgasmic euphoria in news of bloodshed." Everything the U.S. has done since 9-11 has been a recruitment poster for al-Qaeda. "The presence of American imperial bases, dotted, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Doha," Chris Hedges has written, "has done more to engender hatred and acts of terror than anything ever orchestrated by Osama bin Laden." The commentators I read agree that Osama's death is largely symbolic, a "mission accomplished" on Obama's watch (although the right-wingers are giving Bush the credit since it was his idea to go into Afghanistan to get him). The long-standing practice of attributing historical events to the influence and decisions of individuals was thankfully overthrown by social and cultural historians in the 20th century I studied who showed that great men were more the product of social forces rather their initiators. Globalism and corporate colonialism are the culprits, not the spokespersons on either side.
Vesak 2011 will be held May 12-14 at my university's campus in Ayutthaya and at the United Nations headquarters in Bangkok. Several thousand monks and laypeople from all over the world will be in attendance. Like last year, I will be secretary of the Environmental panel on Protection and Restoration during the conference proceedings on Thursday. Academics and students of Buddhism from all over the world will deliver papers on this and other important topics, and I'll get to work again with Dr. Colin Butler from Australia. Although I haven't seen the university's schedule yet, the following week should be the beginning of the next school term. I'm looking forward to seeing my students again, now in their fourth year of undergraduate study of English. Finally, May 29th is the second anniversary of my first meeting with Nan and I hope to do something special with her. I've been listening carefully, but have not yet heard the bell tolling for me. When it does, I hope to be as ready as Holly. RIP, my friend.