Thursday, March 27, 2008

So what is going on in Taiwan

Taiwan just held an election in which the more or less pro Independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and their standard bearer Chen Shui Bien who had been elected president in 2000 was defeated by the Kuomintang (KMT) or “Chinese Nationalist Party.” The Chinese Communists hate Chen because of his pro-independence beliefs. The Communists were happy to see the Ma Ying Jeou and CMT take Chen’s place. The CMT were defeated by the Communists back during the Chinese Civil War but they never lost their affinity for relations with China. China has always seen the CMT as more conciliatory and more likely to bring Taiwan “back” to China.

Given the poor state of the Taiwan economy and Chen’s lack of diplomatic success, Ma was heavily favored to win the election. However, even though Ma won a landside, the size of his victory did not match polling predictions. In the immediate run up to the election, China cracked down on Tibet, and many Taiwanese voters saw what was playing out in Tibet as a glimpse into their own future if Taiwan were ruled by China. Many independent voters who might otherwise sided with Ma to send out the DPP changed their minds at the last minute, wary of what China intends for Taiwan.

This is actually a very dangerous time in China. Tibet chose this moment to assert their nationalism since if ever the Red Army would be restrained it is in Tibet, immediately before the Olympics. If other restive provinces decide to press their dissatisfaction with the 300 million unemployed, vast income disparity, heavy handed and incompetent regulation of the economy, China will be faced with a dilemma. Crack down violently to maintain their control or risk being seen to lose the Mandate of Heaven. If China does crack down on these protestors with a substantial loss of life, there is a good chance that many countries will pull out of the Olympics, causing a loss of face that might in itself hasten the end of the dynasty. Then, the cycle will only worsen. Chinese communists will be all the more angry and fearful at what losing face and power would mean to them personally (thing Ceausescu and Mussolini) and all the more likely to take brutal reprisal. No one holds a civil war like the Chinese and the potential loss of life there could be staggering. A minor uprising prior to the Boxer Rebellion in western China killed 800,000. A minor rebellion. Something major like an uprising to depose the Communists would get very ugly. Do not expect them to fade away the Gorby and the boys in the Soviet Union.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Test driving a new slogan for Barack Hussein Obama rallies

Hey, hey, hey Barack
Stab another ally in the back

He is going to go over great with the military.  He will have to fire a dozen Generals before he finds one disloyal enough to the US to enact his policies.  In fact, he is probably going to have to bring back that grasping Gen McPeak to surrender to the Moslems.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Losing is for Losers, Loser!

Lance Lawson Theme Song

La – ance Lawson
La – ance Law – aw – son!
He monitors all police scanner channels
But he only needs four panels
To solve cri – ime, ime, ime – imes.....
That BAFFLE! (Big blast of trumpets here)

This is the theme song that goes through my head on Thursday afternoons. I am more of a librettist than composer as you might be able to tell. I think the melody for the first couple of lines is the opening bars of the Dragnet theme, then it becomes kind of brassy jazz tune.

Lessons from Tet

Bergerud argues that the tactical or operational success of the American military was irrelevant to winning or losing the war in Vietnam. He closes his book with the sweeping statement that the United States lost because the generals “underestimated dealing with enemy forces,” and because civilian leadership underestimated the enemy, and overestimated American’s stomach for the fight. Bergerud’s message is that America lost because there was no way for America to win the Vietnam War: “In short, American leaders, both civilian and military, committed a strategic blunder that has brought many a general to grief: They chose the wrong battlefield.” 1 Bergerud describes the ordinary US soldier and Marine infantryman who carried the fight as proficient, able and deadly. The author’s example was the25th Division. “Yet the evidence indicates that most combat units of the 25th Division retained a high degree of skill and cohesion until the end.” 2 To the extent that there were units that lacked skill and cohesion, the blame lay not with race relations, or drugs or officer and NCO leadership, but with the strategic: politics back home. “The biggest problem facing combat morale dealt not with pathologies but with politics…Every soldier knew that Nixon was withdrawing the troops. Most American combat soldiers assumed that this meant that the United States was selling out South Vietnam.” 3 Bergerud makes the case that defeat was inevitable because of strategic errors but this case is based to faulty assumptions.

Bergerud’s analysis is akin to drawing a straight line back from the ultimate defeat in 1975 to the entry of the United States in the early 60s, and interpreting every victory or good decision and every set-back or bad decision in relation to that downward trajectory towards ultimate defeat. The NLF was ruthlessly violent: this ensured discipline and solidarity in the villages and undermined US resolve. The US and GVN were ruthlessly violent attacking the popular front: however, this policy was alienating and off-putting in the villages, and steeled the hearts of the NLF. Communist instuted land reform was well implemented and convinced the peasants to support the NLF. The government of South Vietnam instituted land reform that failed to convince the peasants to support the Government. Smashing defeats of the VC in Cambodia and during the Tet Offensive were actually not that bad for the North Vietnamese, while the victories won by the US forces and the ARVN where chimerical. This analysis is hard to refute because the author starts with the premise the defeat of America was inevitable and uses the defeat as evidence of the validity of his premise. He explains away the tactical successes of US troops as being in spite of the strategic blunders, poor quality rear-area soldiers and an antagonistic civilian populace. Any strategy, development or action that would refute his premise can be waved aside as “doomed” or “not enough.”

Interestingly, Bergerud may well be correct in his analysis. Perhaps the United States would have lost Vietnam even with inspired intuitive generalship and even if the South Vietnamese government had proven to be a stalwart and respected ally. However, it seems that the author’s assessment that defeat was inevitable rests on two shaky pillars. One shaky pillar is that had the US launched a conventional attack into North Vietnam, this would have provoked the Chinese or the Russians into some kind of response that would have led to a wider war. It is telling that “not even the most ambitious contingency plans advocated an all out invasion of the DRV” but Beregud never answers the question, “why not?” 4 The author sees no reason to answer this question since the answer is an article of faith.

Not every observer saw the Communists this way. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, although in retrospect, thought the Soviets were not interested in directly confronting the US. “I offer what follows somewhat as conjecture, but with a measure of conviction. The Soviet Union never intended to invade Western Europe, or generally speaking, engage in a third World War with the West. The leaders in Moscow were, for a while there at least, Marxist-Leninists. That doctrine decreed that class revolution would come regardless.” 5 In a similar analysis, it seems unlikely that in the mid-Sixties, the Chinese would have be willing to, or much able to reinforce North Vietnam had the US launched a conventional invasion of North Vietnam. China was reeling from the effects of the disastrous “Great Leap Forward” and suffered from internal political maneuvering that threatened a civil war or coup. Further, Mao had a history of provoking the US with bluster for his own internal political reasons, without being willing to act on the bluster. One example to illustrate this point occurred during the shelling of Quemoy and Matsu. Rather than launch an attack across the Taiwan Strait that would have provoked the US, Mao preferred to play games by shelling islands near-by the coast of China that were in the hands of the Chinese nationalists: “the islands are two batons that keep Khrushchev and Eisenhower dancing, scurrying this way and that. Don’t you see how wonderful they are!” 6

Western intelligence analysis of Communist intentions, “Kremlinology,” was little better than guesswork piled on faulty assumptions. The feckless nonsense that passed for insight into Communist intentions that was proffered by Western “Kremlinologists” would have been humorous had not leaders in the West made such important decisions based on this “intelligence.” The West essentially had no clue what the Soviets or the Chinese would do in response to any particular stimulus. This was a “fundamental failure at the intelligence level. For instance, a commentator noted that it ‘beggars incredulity’ that the CIA “had no idea that that the Soviet Union was on the verge of radical change after spending 50 percent of its budget on Soviet analysis.” 7 Based on CIA guesstimates, the civilian leadership in the US assumed that attacking the NVA center of gravity in the North would have lead to a counter-attack by China, and this was not something anyone in the US was willing to consider. Hence, the US focused on the doomed counter-insurgency fight that contemporary observers could tell was not effective. The US strategy of fighting the war in the South even though their real enemy was in the North is reminiscent of the joke about the drunk who insists on looking under the streetlight for the wallet he lost in the alley “because the light is better out here.”

That being said, a successful counter-insurgency does not necessarily need the “correct strategy” at the highest levels. Therein lies Bergerud’s second shaky pillar. The Philippine Army conducted a successful counter-insurgency roughly as the same time as the Vietnam War, even though the Philippine’s civilian leadership and the Army was every bit as corrupt and incompetent as their South Vietnamese counterparts. Thomas Marks notes “as the efficiency and legitimacy of the Marcos regime declined, there was a commensurate increase in the extent to which armed force, as represented by the 70-odd, individual military battalions, became the crucial foundation upon which the government survival depended. This proved significant, because in the absence of any other viable government presence, it was the battalions which became, like so many warlords, the rulers of their domains.” 8 Bergerud makes the case that the military remained effective in Vietnam at the Battalion level and below, so it can then be asserted that a hands-off policy with regards to Battalion operations in Vietnam may well have succeeded to the same extent that such a policy worked in Vietnam. No two historical analogies are perfect, and there are many differences between the Vietnam War and the Philippine Counter-insurgency. Most notable of the differences relates to what may be the immutable law of the counter-insurgency fight. A successful counter-insurgency need time to fight onto victory once they discover what works. In the Philippines, the government forces had the luxury of time, since they had no place else to go. In Vietnam, the clock had been ticking since the first combat deaths and by the Tet Offensive, the time had run out. No victory, no matter how definitive or apparent at the time would have mattered unless it was clear to the American public that troops were literally on the march to total victory. In Vietnam, the American public certainly did not have this perception.

So, perhaps the defeat in Vietnam was not as inevitable as Bergerud describes it. However, American Intelligence did not have ability to discern Communist intentions, the American Military did strike at the real center of gravity in a conventional sense, nor did they hit upon the right counter-insurgency strategy with enough time left on the clock of American public opinion: therein lie the dynamics of defeat.


1. Bergerud, Eric M. The Dynamics of Defeat (Boulder: Westview Press) 1991. Pg 335.
2. Ibid., pg 290.
3. Ibid., pg 291.
4. Ibid., pg 331.
5. Moynihan, Daniel Patrick. Congressional Record, Senate - 1 May 1997. Page: S3891.
6. Zubok, Vladislav Martinovich and Konstantin Pleshakov. Inside the Kremlin's Cold War: From Stalin to Khrushchev (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press) 1996. Pg 226.
7. Perry, Mark. Last Days of the CIA (New York: William Morrow) 1992, pg 308 quoted in Ofira Seliktar; Politics, Paradigms, And Intelligence Failures: Why So Few Predicted the Collapse of the Soviet Union (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharp) pg 4.
8. Marks, Thomas. Maoist Insurgency Since Vietnam (London: Frank Cass) 2003, pg 125.

Protecting the oldest tree in the world -OR- Buddhists v. Monkeys

The oldest documented tree, and the most sacred tree in Buddhism is under guard in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. The tree is thought to be 2300 years old, and grew up from a shoot taken from the Bohdi tree that sheltered the Buddha as he attained enlightenment. The shoot was replanted in the spot where it now grows by a Sri Lankan princess. (Fraser) Twenty-three years ago, in 1985, Islamic LTTE guerrillas attacked the monastery where the tree is located, and killed three monks, 25 worshippers and 117 pilgrims. The goal of the attack was to destroy the tree seen as a symbol of both the Sri Lanka government and of Buddhism itself. Now, the threat to the tree is not from terrorists, but from monkeys that are raiding the tree for fruit and leaves. (AFP)

The raids by the monkeys put the monks at the temple into a quandary. The monks, because of their vows, are forbidden to hurt the monkeys who are destroying the tree, but non-injurious attempts to drive away the monkeys have been completely unsuccessful. However, if the monks continue to be unsuccessful, the tree will die. The monks have tried clanging bells, bursting firecrackers and flashing lights at the monkeys, but are not looking for some kind of technological solution to non-violently drive away the monkeys and protect their sacred tree.

The tree itself has been featured in English literature for more that 120 years. Even HG Wells published an account of the tree in 1922. His description is remarkably close to the condition of the tree in the present day. “It has been carefully tended and watered; its great branches are supported by pillars and the earth has been terraced up about it so that it has been able to put out fresh roots continually.” (Wells, pg 434) Another earlier observer, James Ricalton in 1891, also described the tree in terms that are very familiar today. “The several divisions of this tree are feeble, gnarled, and bent; the leaves lack the fresh verdancy of a vigorous growth, and plainly show the yellowish pallor of decrepitude.” (Ricalton, quoted in Fraser) Nowadays, the tree is surrounded by gold plated fencing, and is guarded around the clock by an army of well wishers, monks and Sri Lankan soldiers. “The tree already arguably has the tightest security in Sri Lanka.” (AFP) People continue to scramble for leaves, just as they have done for thousands of years. The monks want to keep the tradition alive, whether in the face of terrorists or monkeys.

This tree is significant because it highlights the Buddhist commitment to non-violence, but it is similar to the Afghanistan buddhas in that the Muslim terrorists would be happy to destroy the tree, absent the extraordinary security precautions.


AFP. “Monks battle monkeys to save Buddhism's holiest tree” 26 February 2008 at accessed 27 February 2008.

Fraser, Anna. “Buddha and the Bodhi tree” The (no date) at accessed 27 February 2008.

Well, H.G. The Outline of History: Being a Plain History of Life and Mankind (New York: Review of Reviews Company) 1922.

Similarities among insurgencies

What is remarkable about various insurgencies is how similar they all sound. A weak central government loses the ability to effectively assert its authority in rural areas. Long pent up grievances held by farmers are exploited by insurgents who have moved into the power vacuum left by the receding power of the central government. In Vietnam, the South Vietnamese government never addressed perceived and real agrarian inequalities, and the North effectively exploited those grievances. Other countries that have faced a discontent by rural peasants found that real land reform effectively forestalled insurgency. Taiwan, Bolivia and parts of India have instituted land reform that has done much to undermine insurgencies. However, successful land reform is difficult since landowners who must give up their land also provide the capital and taxes that any government needs to stay in power. Consequently, governments facing a crisis that has sprung from agrarian inequalities must negotiate carefully. There is a real tension between the need to distribute land equitably to aggrieved peasants and the interests of entrenched landowners loathe to surrender their title to lands. Skilled, successful and relatively uncorrupt governments can do it, Diem was none of these things. Not surprisingly, he failed.

Mao and his disciples have sought to exploit rural discontent. Communist ideology appeals to landless, disenfranchised peasants because it seems to offer a chance to retain their claim to the land. Skilled Maoist propagandists exploit these desires to gain a foothold among villagers. These insurgents can swim among the “fishes” of the local people, always present, enforcing discipline, but relatively invisible to government forces. Then, these Maoist true believers use ruthless tactics to maintain discipline, and to thwart attempts by the government to counter their influence.

The North shrewdly recognized the dynamics of the government of the South that replaced the French colonialists. The political and economic environment had not changed, so it was likely that the tactics that prevailed against the French would work against the Diem government. This assessment was correct.

Devotion to Buddhist Enlightenment?

One day, while the Buddha was meditating, a monk, Malunkyaputta, came to the Buddha to ask what might be called “eternal questions.” Among the questions the monk asked were: Is the cosmos eternal or not? What is the nature of the soul? What is the nature of the Buddha? The Buddha dismissed these questions as questions upon which he had not commented. Buddha then gave his reasons for his silence: "And why are they [the answers to your questions] undisclosed by me? Because they are not connected with the goal, are not fundamental to the holy life. They do not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, calming, direct knowledge, self-awakening, Unbinding. That's why they are undisclosed by me.” 1 Buddha also related a parable about a man who was struck by a poison arrow, and spent his last moments asking for information about who had shot him. What was the man’s profession? What clan did he come from? What were his physical characteristics? What was the arrow made of? What were the feathers on the arrow made of? Even as the man was asking his questions, he died without ever getting the answers he sought. 2

I will examine why Buddha remained silent to Malunkyaputta’s questions, and the Buddha’s belief in the foolishness inherent in irrelevant spiritual pursuits. Then, the paper will examine some similarities in the Buddha’s focus on the Way that can be found in other religious traditions. Later, I will examine Buddha’s goal for his followers, then a look at how the current human condition, given the similarities in religious traditions, can benefit from Buddha’s goal.

Why no answers?

Why the Buddha would have not have answered Malunkyaputta’s questions, the total number of which is given as ten 3 or fourteen 4 depending on the translation and whether longer questions are actually broken into more shorter questions, is a popular question among students of Buddhism. These questioners look for a deeper reason than the one that the Buddha himself gave. There are four general theories to explain the silence of the Buddha in the face of these universally pondered inquiries from Malunkyaputta. One theory is that the Buddha was silent because he was only interested in practical matters, and had no time to ponder imponderables. Another theory is that Buddha simply did not know the answers. Malunkyaputta, the monk of the parable, seemed to think this was the reason for the Buddha’s silence. 5 Malunkyaputta, exasperated, said to the Buddha: “But if he doesn't know or see whether the cosmos is eternal or not eternal, then, in one who is unknowing & unseeing, the straightforward thing is to admit, 'I don't know. I don't see.'” 6 The monk then repeated this accusation. He seemed clearly perturbed that the Buddha would not answer, although, in fairness, Malunkyaputta eventually went away satisfied. The final words of the parable are: “That is what the Blessed One said. Gratified, Ven. Malunkyaputta delighted in the Blessed One's words.” 7

Still another theory for the Buddha’s silence is that the Buddha did know the answers to the questions asked, but his listeners did not possess the vocabulary and comprehension to understand the explanation should he give one. Therefore, the Buddha never bothered to speak the things that he knew. A final theory is that the Buddha would not answer the question because the monk’s act of asking such a question was evidence that the questioner was still striving and grasping, and the Buddha would not be a party to such actions. 8

Ultimately, the most compelling justification for the Buddha’s silence is the one given by the Buddha himself. The Buddha would only speak if he had something of import to pass to his listeners. There was nothing hidden in the silence, because there was nothing in the silence worth knowing. The Buddha only said exactly what he meant, and he meant everything that he said. Nothing else was of any importance. “And why are they disclosed by me? Because they are connected with the goal, are fundamental to the holy life. They lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, calming, direct knowledge, self-awakening, Unbinding. That's why they are disclosed by me.” 9

Foolishness of irrelevant spiritual pursuits

The questions asked by the poisoned man in the parable were entirely irrelevant to finding a cure for his poison, or finding a cessation of the suffering the man was feeling, but he persisted in the questions, nonetheless. Asking these questions was the embodiment of foolishness. Squandering one’s last moments in the quest for answers to unanswerable and in fact pointless questions is the opposite of wisdom. Speculating about the “eternal questions” is a fool’s errand because there are no definitive answers offered to mortals although there is plenty of conjecture. As one commentator remarked, “in the final analysis, such speculation remains a matter of belief or opinion, for in this life these questions cannot be settled with any certainty. Furthermore, seeking answers to unanswerable questions diverts precious time and energy away from the real of heart of spirituality: the quest of wisdom and compassion. To be wise and compassionate does not require that we settle the many metaphysical questions we might pose.” 10

Similarities of the Buddha’s Way found in other religious traditions

Other religious traditions share the Buddha’s disdain for seeking answers to these large questions. Paul Tillich, a Christian theologian made the point that spirituality requires that a man must put aside that which he considers wisdom, and seek holiness as does a child. Tillich’s idea is that man will be unsuccessful in trying to discern the answers to large questions but must ask those questions in order to be prepared to recognize that the path to fulfillment is paradoxically in not finding the answers. The path is one in which the mind accepts that reason will not provide the answers that the brain can craft. Tillich called this paradox the “divine foolishness.” “This certainly is ecstatic and paradoxical, and it should not be brought down to the level of a divine-human chemistry. But it should be understood and experienced as an expression of the divine foolishness that is the source of wisdom and the power of maturity. “ 11 Tillich here was recapitulating an idea first offered by Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians: " Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.” 12

Another religious tradition expresses sentiments similar to those of the Buddha. Taoism, based on the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu includes many verses that make it seem like the writer was not interested in delving into the nature of that which cannot be observed or commenting too explicitly on these matters. Instead, the Tao, which literally means, “the Way,” was designed to provide guidance to those who would live the right way in this world. At the earliest period of Taoism, the practitioners were primarily interested in living the right way to the exclusion of other considerations. “If the essential defining characteristic in the diachronic analysis of an early Taoist tradition is that its members all practiced the ‘techniques of the Way’ – a term that encompasses apophatic inner cultivation aimed at a mystical realization of the Way and its integration into everyday life.” 13

The Tao offers practical advice to help keep those who seek the way on the right path. The Tao contains guidance that those who know the answers need not speak them. In chapter 34 it says: There is something mysterious and whole which existed before heaven and earth, silent, formless, complete, and never changing. Living eternally everywhere in perfection, it is the mother of all things. I do not know its name; I call it the Way. If forced to define it, I shall call it supreme.” 14 Later, in chapter 56, Lao Tzu offers the observation that “Those who know, do not speak. Those who speak, do not know. Close the mouth; shut the doors. Smooth the sharpness; untie the tangles. Dim the glare; calm the turmoil. This is mystical unity.” 15 The Tao advises silence when one knows, much as Buddha remained silent regarding the questions that were asked. Just as Buddha remained silent to focus on the more important work of finding the right path to enlightenment, so to do the believers in the Tao focus mainly on the path rather than a higher philosophy. The final stanza of the Tao sounds very familiar to the ear of students of Buddhism: “The Way of heaven sharpens but does no harm. The Way of the wise accomplishes without striving.” 16

The Buddha’s goal

Rather than answering the questions that did not have answers, the Buddha was more interested in the practical. He was interested, as was Lao Tzu, in leading those who would listen along the Way to enlightenment. The Buddha knew that the way to the cessation of suffering is difficult. Another giver of Truth, Jesus, described the quest along the way with these words: “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” 17 However, since the way was hard, and the showing others the path to the cessation of suffering, the Buddha knew that his followers had to husband their reservoirs of power. There was literally nothing that the Buddha could do for his followers except give them a roadmap along the “hard way,” whether those followers would make it to Nirvana was up to those who would follow the Way. “The Buddha has clearly stated that no one can do any thing for another for salvation except show the way. Therefore we must not depend on god and not even depend on the Buddha. We must know what are the qualities, duties, and responsibilities of being a human being. He said that if we have committed certain bad karma, we should nor waste precious energy by being frustrated or disappointed in our effort to put it right. 18

Mark Muess argues that Buddhism’s emphasis on finding relief from suffering, indifference to eternal questions and practical advice for living in a world full of strife and discord make Buddhism particularly relevant for modern society. It also allows one to find a way to put into practice beliefs one might hold from other religious traditions. Buddhism also allows one to find accommodation with whom one does not share political beliefs. “Buddhist spirituality is imminently practical. It provides discipline for the mind and the body, for treating others and oneself. It does not merely say, "Love others"; it shows us how to love others. It does not merely say, "Be wise"; it shows us how we may become wise. Because it is practical rather than theoretical, it may be compatible with other religious perspectives. It does not seek the repudiation of other spiritual and philosophical viewpoints.” 19

Relevance to current human condition

Conserving one’s energy to continue the quest for Enlightenment remains extremely relevant in the current time. The earth’s population is higher than it has ever been, while the proportion of those living in poverty and hunger seems to have stabilized. Nonetheless, in absolute terms, there are more miserable people now living than there have ever been. 20 There are more people with AIDS, there are more people without clean drinking water and there are more people displaced by war than ever previously. In absolute terms, there has never been are more urgent need for guidance in finding a way to relieve the suffering in the world.

Buddhism has particular relevance in this regard. Buddhism offers an escape from suffering, whatever the cause, and whatever beliefs the seeker has prior to following the Eightfold Path. Even though the Buddha revealed what he revealed thousands of years ago, what he revealed still has value for us today. “From the Buddhist perspective I think the analysis that the Buddha offered in his Four Noble Truths still remains perfectly valid. Not only does it need not the least revision or reinterpretation, but the course of twenty-five centuries of world history and the present-day human situation only underscores its astuteness and relevance.” 21

Clearly, Buddhism retains its relevance because human suffering has not changed even as the Four Noble Truths have not changed. Those not paying attention might conclude that with a world full of conveniences and technology, that human suffering should be on its way out. However, there is little practical evidence that human suffering is in retreat. That is because the nature of human suffering remains the same as when the Buddha first diagnosed the cause. The origin of suffering is attachment. Thomas Knierim neatly summarizes in modern English what suffering is. “The reasons for suffering are desire, passion, ardour, pursuit of wealth and prestige, striving for fame and popularity, or in short: craving and clinging.” 22 Knierim’s summary applies to people throughout history, but given the magnitude of wealth that is available in the world, and the magnitude of people in the world who do not have any real access to wealth but have only that brutal longing, there has probably never been an epoch more in need of a way to end suffering. This realization in itself makes Buddhism relevant.

Given that there is so much suffering in the world, and there is such a clear need for Buddhist principles, is it likely that Buddhism will be the answer to the suffering in the world? Is there a possibility that populations that have not been willing to or who have not had the opportunity to embrace Buddhism actually do so? Religious traditions in other cultures around the world have similar goals to that of the Buddha. Other religious traditions even use similar language in pursuing the way. There seem to be so many similarities in the approach to alleviate suffering in the world and in the desired end-state to make the time seem ripe for Buddhism to have a world-wide influence. One observer of Buddhism thinks that it is possible for Buddhism to have such an influence if it makes some minor changes and does more to proselytize. “I think

Buddhism will have to change itself somewhat, and there is no doubt about it. Still the main reason why Buddhism does not have many converts is because Buddhism has never emphasized too much on conversion. There are many who follow their own religion and follow Buddhist precepts. Even Dalai Lama maintains, one should not change his religion. Therefore it is not like pouring water on sand, rather Buddhism is not interested in sowing individual trees at all.” 23
The Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi agrees that Buddhism has much to teach both East and West, and both sides have a responsibility to reach out to one another to ensure the benefits are transferred from one to another. In fact, neither side, East nor West, has an excuse to remain isolated, because technology and communications have become ubiquitous. “In the present age access to these teachings and practices will cease to remain the exclusive preserve of the monastic order, but will spread to the lay community as well, as has already been occurring throughout the Buddhist world both in the East and in the West. The spirit of democracy and the triumph of the experimental method demand that the means of mind-development be available to anyone who is willing to make the effort.” 24 Bodhi goes on to make the case that all the suffering in the world points to one particular solution. He quotes the Buddha’s short discourse in the Satipatthana Samyutta to the effect that:

"Protecting oneself, one protects others,
Protecting others, one protects oneself"

Doing these things, not squandering energy on foolish speculation but instead, taking actions that advance everyone on the way to enlightenment is the best way to remain relevant in this current situation. 25


1 Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta. The Shorter Instructions to Malunkya in Buddhism at accessed 25 February 2008.
2. Ibid.
3. Nila-kantha-chandra. “The Poisoned Arrow” in the Cuckoo’s Call Blog Wednesday, September 13, 2006 at accessed 26 February 2008.
4. Berzin, Alexander. “The Fourteen Questions to Which Buddha Remained Silent” in The Berzin Archives February 2007 at accessed 26 February 2008.
5. The Wanderling. “AVYAAKATA: The Buddha's Ten Indeterminate Questions” in Awakening 101 (Date unknown) at accessed 26 February 2008.
6. Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta. Ibid
7. Ibid.
8. The Wanderling. Ibid.
9. Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta. Ibid.
10. Muess, Mark. “What Does It Mean to Lead a Spiritual Life? A Buddhist Perspective” Explore 2002 at accessed 25 February 2008.
11. Tillich, Paul. Eternal Now (New York: Charles Scribners and Sons) 1963. Chapter 14.
12. Paul. “Letter to the Corinthians” King James Version Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan) 1 Corinthians 3:18.
13. Roth, Harold David. Original Tao: Inward Training (Nei-Yeh) and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism (New York: Columbia University Press) 1999. Pg 185.
14. Lao Tzu, “Tao Teh Ching - Line-by-Line Comparisons: Beck Translation” at accessed 25 February 2008.
15. Ibid.
16. Ibid.
17. Matthew 7:14, Revised New Standard Edition, Layman’s Parallel Bible Grand (Grand Rapids: Zondervan) 1991.
18. Thera, Dr K. Sri Dhammananda Nayaka Maha. “Buddhism As A Religion” at accessed 26 February 2008.
19. Muess, Ibid.
20. United Nations. “People and Poverty 2000: Globalization has yet to benefit the poor” in 17 October 2000 at accessed 26 February 2008.
21. Bodhi, Bhikkhu. “A Buddhist Response to Contemporary Dilemmas of Human Existence” in Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism December 1993 at accessed 26 February 2008.
22. Knierim, Thomas. “The Four Noble Truths” in The Big (no date) at accessed 26 February 2008.
23. Verma, Chapla. Comments to TO, 17 February 2008.
24. Bohdi. Ibid.
25. Bodhi. Ibid.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

I was watching Obama, with that regal bearing of his

And I knew that I had seen it before.