South East Asia :: March - June 1995

Subject: Risking Dukkha.
Date: June 5, 1995 13:30

14:27 MAS FLT 070 Kuala Lumpur -> Tokyo-Japan :: 2 JUN 95

The following taken from a SE Asian daily, The New Straits Times:


BANGKOK, Thurs. June 1, 1995 -Seven senior Buddhist monks face monastic charges of debauchery and improper conduct today after Thai police raided a houseboat, interrupting a drunken party, police said. Chiang Mai police interrupted the raid last night after receiving a tip that there was a wild party in progress on the rented houseboat, which was moored on a small lake in the northern province.
The monks had been drinking, police said. [The Bangkok English-language daily newspaper, The Nation] reported that one monk was found engaging in a homosexual act with a 25-year-old lay follower [a lay follower is any practicing Buddhist not ordained as a monk], but police did not confirm that report.
Police did not arrest the monks as they had broken no criminal law. Instead, they were turned over to monastic officials who will investigate the matter.
In Phnom Penh, a Cambodian Buddhist monk claiming to be 300 years old has been defrocked for sleeping with prostitutes, the Koh Santapheap newspaper said. Yesterday's edition of the popular Khmer-language newspaper said religious authorities in Kandal province expelled the monk for "debauched actions". It said the monk also boasted he possessed magical powers of healing.
The case -- the first reported about sexual misconduct among the Buddhist clergy in Cambodia -- is similar to a recent scandal in neighouring Thailand involving a monk. - AFP, Reuter.

I've been thinking about writing this entry for some time. Finding this article in The New Straits Times seemed an excellent prod. Previous posts of mine extolling the virtues of Buddhism may have left some wondering if I'd converted or something. Rest assured, I have not.

Aside from Buddhism's obvious merits-mental self-discipline, emphasis on ethical behaviour and the individual's responsibility to seek enlightenment as a rational journey rather than simply faithfully following dogmas-the system professes eschewing the only the only human capacity that makes life worth living: passion. Buddhist asceticism is anathema to a romantic.

16:45 MAS FLT 070 Kuala Lumpur -> Tokyo-Japan :: 2 JUN 95

Romantics answer Siddhartha Gotama's First Noble Truth -- there is dukkha, suffering -- with the proclamation, Carpe Diem! A boisterous, "So what?" The Romantics' First Noble Truth: there is passion, ecstasy, bliss. You must court these, follow them home, ask them for a date. In the pursuit of joy dukkha is as likely an outcome as any other. It is a hardship we all share.

Buddha attained Nirvana when he successfully forsook all desire, even for the simple, elemental passion of romantic love, especially for that. The Third Noble Truth states that the path to Nirvana runs via elimination of the craving that brings only dukkha. Where for a westerner 'craving' brings on the image of an addict in need of a fix, the word in its eastern, Buddhistic sense refers to any desire, even one so mundane as wishing for a sunny day.

To a Romantic this is like fasting rather than risk an unpleasant meal. I will risk dukkha for epiphany. In fact, I can revel in dukkha; how much more potent love is in the shadow of a broken heart's exquisite misery. Now, pursuing pain, as do the ascetics, is patently ridiculous, but shying from the possibility of it is equally so. Rapture, the epiphanic moment, in western culture is as often the result of pain as of joy: Christ died on the cross; it wasn't a pleasant experience.

15:18 Babawaki-cho 7-2, Shugakuin; Kyoto, Kansai-Japan :: 4 JUN 95

What is remarkable about Thai monks drunkenly whooping it up is not the juxtaposition of this act against the ascetic Buddhist image. Rather, it is the absolutely mundane nature of the transgression. Jokes about Catholic priests and altar boys ceased to be funny when the frequency of reported abuses signaled a deeply established problem. Jimmy Swaggart and the other fundamentalists caught with their hands on 'naughty bits.' Why should I be surprised that Buddhist monks should respond to their asceticism any differently?

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --

"What good is reason," [Romantics] sneered, "if it drives out beauty, terror, and vivid emotion? Can a thousand facts compare with the epiphanic moment, when a poet stands tall in a lightning storm, hurling challenges at God?"
  graphical element David Brin,
Science Vs. Magic in the anthology "Otherness"