So much death this week related to the divine.
The title quote is from Seneca.
Their music may not be so easy to find outside Nepal, though there are a couple of online sources. For those of you interested in sampling their sound, here's one track you can download from their latest release, which is already a couple of years old. The group is still active and will be playing a free concert next Saturday as part of the celebrations of the anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
Kutumba is a folk instrumental ensemble, group of seven professionals from Kathmandu. Having come together for the preservation of their culture and art, Kutumba wishes to spread love and joy of Nepali folk music throughout the world. Self motivated and self driven, Kutumba is a group with their own unique sound and vision.The seven members have different roots and backgrounds in music. Kutumba is the harmony of traditional roots, culture and new sounds.
A tireless champion of civil liberties who began his political career as a labor activist, Ambedkar later came to stress the primacy of social, rather than economic, revolution. He believed untouchables would never claim their full rights until Hinduism, a system built on caste and the moral justification of oppression, was repudiated and replaced. It was precisely for this reason that Ambedkar tussled with Ghandi, who dismissed casteism as an unpleasant accretion that could be cut away while maintaining the romantic (and, according to Omvedt, historically suspect) idea of India as a Hindu nation.
In Buddhism Ambedkar discovered the perfect vehicle for reformation, a home-grown religion in which individuals practice rather than believe, in which individual inquiry is held in higher regard than devotion to gurus or sacred texts, a religion based on ethics rather than metaphysics. After several years of careful study, he came to the conclusion that contemporary Buddhism had become cut off, distant, and unresponsive to the common man and was unsuited for the purpose of liberating the underclass. What was most needed was a new school of Buddhism, a Buddhism for the modern world, a socially engaged Buddhism that worked for enlightenment and nirvana for all people in this lifetime on this world. And so he composed a Buddhist catechism that rewrote some of the fundamental ideas of the religion as it has been passed down over 25 centuries.
Scholars and clergy have questioned whether this is a real form of Buddhism, or something entirely different posing as Buddhism. It is just this question that frames Gail Omvedt's study, a survey of the history of Indian Buddhism in search of antecedents of Ambekar's most controversial reinterpretations. These include shifting karma from the individual to society, setting nirvana as the earthly goal of stilling the passions, and reimagining the purpose of the monastic as a social worker rather than a self-absorbed recluse.
A naturalized Indian scholar in Dalit studies, Omvedt's sympathies clearly lay with the oppressed, - with untouchables, laborers, the peasantry, women - as well as with those forces associated with their empowerment - with Buddhism over Brahmanism, with Ambedkar over Ghandi, rationalism over romanticism, modernization over traditionalization. She presents her case concisely in clear prose, demonstrating through her survey that Ambedkar's ideas are nothing new in the history of Indian Buddhism. Observing that millions of Indians today practice Navayana, Omvedt concludes there is “no way that any true Buddhist of any school can deny that this is a form of Buddhism.”
Read the publisher's book description here.
Seven years ago I couldn't work myself up into a state of panic and grief and I began to feel irritated, even angry that people were allowing themselves to get so worked up. By watching the same scenes of death and destruction again and again, by talking about it day and night, they allowed themselves to be consumed with fear, despair, and hatred, all of which eventually fed into support, explicit and tacit, for the tragedy of the Iraq invasion. This time I can't get myself worked up to celebrate Obama's victory. The emotional states being fed and nurtured will perhaps lead to better outcomes, to opening instead of closing, to compassion rather than hate. But there is sure to be disappointment. And that's because the change is superficial.
I've lived through 8 years of Reagan, 12 of Bushes, and 8 of Clinton. 12 of those years I lived in the US, 16 outside. And except for a rebate check now and then, I can't say that my life has been affected by the change in presidents or parties. My life has been no better or worse under Clinton than Reagan or the Bushes. None made me richer, nor wiser, nor happier. They may on occasion have caused some distress, but that I see as my own fault, the fault of having expectations.
Of course like many Americans I have felt embarrassed by the know-nothing Reagan and Bush regimes, but I learned to put away the idea that the president represents me any more than other cultural artifact such Kleenex, Hershey's chocolate, Corn Flakes, or Tom Cruise. I didn't vote for Tom Cruise anymore than I voted for Bush (or any other Republican or Democrat). He is what he is and has nothing to do with me. Sometimes, though, because I might be feeling insecure and want other people to feel good about me, I have to assure them that I don't think Bush is a swell guy doing his best to preserve moral order in the world.
In this sense, the sense of wanting to make favorable impressions, I understand why many feel so strongly about Obama. He's a guy they can feel good about, a guy who seems more like them. A guy like me, in fact - urban, educated, from a mixed family, lived overseas, rides a bicycle to work. But that's just cosmetic. It's an image people can feel good about. Like owning an iPod or a Louis Vuitton handbag. I would guess most voters don't know what Obama's policy positions are. In fact the voters that made the difference, the swing voters, were I suspect those exasperated by the last eight years (or four years) of mismanagement and bad news and willing to vote for anything or anyone not connected with the current administration or political party.*
So, yeah, he's different. He is a Democrat instead of Republican. Of mixed race, rather than white. Young, not old. Intelligent and erudite. And so now for those for whom it matters they can feel good about being American again. They can say, yeah, that's my president.
4 years from now - 8 years from now - will you be a better person? A happier person? Will Barack Obama have had any impact on your personal well being?
All things are possible. But if history is any guide, your life will be better (or worse) because of you, not the president of the US. (Unless, of course, you happen to live near areas targeted by the US military.)
*Three-quarters of those polled said the country was on the wrong track, more than 9 in 10 rated the economy in bad shape and 7 in 10 disapproved of the job Mr. Bush is doing; those voters overwhelmingly supported Mr. Obama.
Nearly half of all voters said they expected Mr. McCain to continue the Bush policies, and 9 in 10 of them voted for Mr. Obama. Similarly, the big share of voters who disapprove of Mr. Bush went overwhelmingly for Mr. Obama.
Voter Polls Find Obama Built a Broad Coalition
04 Nov 08
After lunch I stopped by the Flavor's Cafe, Boudha's hangout for the students in Kathmandu University's Buddhist Studies program. Most are white, middle-class Europeans and North Americans, young men and women in their 20's and 30's who image themselves, I imagine, as somewhat more progressive, open and tolerant than average, the kind of people who express their individuality through consumerism, the kind of people who make statements with goatees, malas, and Macintosh computers and iPods.
I'm sure most of them are quite nice on a one-to-one basis and over a coffee or beer we could find more than a few common interests and opinions. But Wednesday they were a herd, an obnoxiously loud gaggle barking and baying about the election results, making lunch miserable for any other customer not a part of their circle. For people who study Buddhism, they displayed a disappointing lack of concern for others or any sign of personal restraint. It seemed to me, too, that in their enthusiasm for Mr Obama they missed one of the important lessons of their faith, detachment from views or outcomes.
I was at the cafe for the internet service. For those with laptops it offers an office away from home, a comfortable place to spend a couple of hours doing computer work. But as yesterday was anything but comfortable, I packed up and headed over to the competition, Little Britain. The American owner of the shop had set up a TV and was broadcasting live news feeds for his customers. When I arrived the television was off and he asked if I was there to view the election returns. I said, no, just to use the internet. But shortly afterwards others arrived and the television was turned on and I was then subjected to the inanities of the talking heads on American news programs, as well as clips of Obama and McCain's speeches.
I fled to the patio to escape the noise and some of the ridiculous statements being made by “celebrities” and even by Obama himself. A European woman in her 60's came out to the patio and asked me if that - pointing to the crowd in front of the television - is exciting. Apparently to some it is, I said.
We reached the Gorakhpur train station about 9:30 PM. We have read lots of accounts of travelers in India and their descriptions of the horrors of the train stations. So, on the abstract level, we were prepared. But on the physical visceral level the only thing that could prepare one for this experience is perhaps being dropped into a brimming septic tank. The train station is a large affair with people sleeping with their possessions on just about every available space. What isn't covered with bodies is covered with feces and urine. Then there are the beggars. Our noses burn, our stomachs tighten and we grit our teeth as we steel our senses to make our way through this real life Dante's Inferno. This is the quintessential Indian train station. This is a nation that has nuclear weapons!You can read more of their adventures here.
In the sutta, a wise young man of 16 asks of the Buddha, “How does one preserve truth?”
The Buddha replies:
If a person has faith, Bharadvaja, he preserves the truth when he says: 'My faith is thus'; but he does not yet come to the definite conclusion: 'Only this is true, anything else is wrong.”
If a person receives an oral tradition, he preserves the truth when he says: 'My oral tradition is thus'; but he does not yet come to the definite conclusion: 'Only this is true, anything else is wrong.'
If a person reaches a conclusion based on reasoned cogitation, he preserves the truth when he says: 'My reasoned cogitation of a view is thus'; but he does not yet come to the definite conclusion: 'Only this is true, anything else is wrong.”
If a person gains a reflective acceptance of a view, he preserves the truth when he says: 'My reflective acceptance of a view is thus'; but he does not yet come to the definite conclusion: 'Only this is true, anything else is wrong.”
In this way, Bharadvaja, there is preservation of the truth; in this way he preserves truth; in this way we describe the preservation of truth. But as yet there is no discovery of truth.
Undercover in Tibet is not an easy film to watch. There are no scenes of blood and only a few of bodily brutality. But the stories average Tibetans tell are heartbreaking – torture in return for non-approved political or religious expression, forced sterilization, marginalization of the native language, the herding of nomads into reservations far from any source of economic self-sufficiency. It is the same program carried out on Native Americans, on Inuits, Ainu and Aborigines. The Dalai Lama is not a person given to exaggeration or overstatement. He speaks today of of cultural genocide.
Mr McCain promises to shake things up in Washington; Mr Obama promises to deliver change. Will either do anything to alleviate this great suffering? Will American, European or Japanese firms be prepared to take an economic hit for the people of Tibet?