Wednesday, April 24, 2013

From ‘Magic Bus. On the hippie trail from Istanbul to India’ by Rory Maclean


The academic said, ‘Before 1979, we used to drink in public and pray in private. Now we pray in public and drink in private.’

Iran has struggled for security throughout its history. The Persians built an empire stretching from the Mediterranean to India only to surrender it to Alexander the Great, the Parthians and then the Sassanians. In AD 637, five years after Mohammed’s death, the country was conquered by the Arabs. Persian society flourished under the caliphs and the Seljuks, until destroyed again by the Mongols.

In modern times, Iran has continued to be a battleground for foreign and internal rivalries. The CIA helped to topple a democratically elected nationalist prime minister in 1953. Both Washington and London had disapproved of the nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, forerunner of BP. But the new Shah’s brutality and impatient reforms inspired anti-American Islamic fundamentalists to hijack the 1979 revolutions which overthrew him.

That February, 3 million Iranians too to the streets to celebrate the Ayatollah Khomeini’s return to Tehran.


‘Mountains do not come to other mountains but man can come to man.’

‘I remember laughter, music, tablecloths spread under the trees, the phht-phht of the pressure-cooker,’ she says, her quick laugh like a string being plucked. ‘Once I rode on the roof of a bus (inside which were two sheep and a bag of rice for another picnic) high into the Hindu Kush, winding through an indescribable landscape, thinking, “If I have to go, let me go now. Let me breathe in this beauty and go.”’


…… In Lucknow, a beggar sits next to the ash-covered torso of a dead baby on a toy trolley. No sight can surprise me, even if a sacred cow stands on its hind legs and takes to the air.

‘Stop trying not to die,’ Ginsberg wrote during his sixteen-month Indian sojourn, ‘fly where you can fly.’

Every day, 14 million passengers travel on Indian railways. This morning, half of them seem to be on my train.

‘The (plane) door opened and I smelt India – a mikniva of shit and urine. I walked around Colaba in wonder, watching the puja, seeing the light, feeling no fear, thinking I’d landed in my mother’s lap.’

My old mother from Guernica had a saying. “La esperanza muere ultima.” Hope dies last. Lose hope and you’ve lost everything.

Then he details the ride-by-ride bus fares from Istanbul to India. Total 1971 cost: $15 to cross Asia.

From ‘In the Land of the Ayatollahs. Tupac Shakur is King. Reflections from Iran and the Arab World’ by Shahzad Aziz

The ink of the scholars was weighed against the blood
of the martyrs and overweighed it.
- A saying of the Prophet Mohammed (al-Khatib, Tarikh)

Shall I hear the lament of the nightingale, submissively lending my ear?
Am I the Rose to suffer its cry in silence year after year?
The fire of verse gives me courage and bids me no more to be faint.
With dust in my mouth, I am abject to God I make my complaint.
Sometimes You favour our rivals then sometimes with us You are free,
I am sorry to say it so boldly. You are no [more] fickle than we.
- Complaint to God, Mohammed Iqbal

For the West, irrespective of the artistic merits of the book, Rushdie’s ‘righ to write’ touched upon one of the foundations of Western civilization, the right of free expression, of freedom of speech and thought. It was not a fanciful or abstract right, a right whose merits could not be measured. The unprecendented success, influence and continuing dominance of Western civilization is, in part, built upon Western constitutions protecting and promoting the fundamental rights of their citizens.

….writer Ziauddin Sardar responded to the death sentence by commenting that, “Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa not only declared a death sentence for Rushdie, it made me redundant as an intellectual. Implicit in the fatwa is the belief that Muslim thinkers are too feeble to defend their own beliefs ”.

…Rushdie argues that “language and the imagination cannot be imprisoned, or art will die, and with it, a little of what makes us human.” But not everyone’s ‘language’, nor everyone’s ‘imagination’ can be equally expressed. As Rushdie knows all too well, power is not distributed fairly and equally in society. And if the language and imagination of people who are privileged enough to operate in the dominant culture of our times (such as Rushdie) is misused and abused, especially against the subaltern and marginalized, then although it might not result in their precious language, their precious imagination, their precious art being imprisoned or left to die, it does place at serious risk the language, the imagination, and the art of the subaltern, of the marginalized, being imprisoned and being left to die a slow death, and with it, a little of what makes ‘them’ and ‘us’ human will also die. Salman Rushdie, once a spokesperson for the oppressed, seems to have forgotten this.

From ‘Eurydice Street. A Place in Athens’ by Sofka Zinovieff

Come home to Greece!
- Greek National Tourism Organization Slogan

….more significant is Greek parents’ overwhelming ambition for their children, and tremendous love of ‘letters’. The respect for politismos – a word meaning both culture and civilization – is universal and unquestionable

If there is one thing that characterizes Greek conversation, it is a lack of reticence in expressing opinions. In fact, such is the natural argumentativeness and critical nature of many Greeks that what is a perfectly natural conversation can appear on the outside like a frantic matter of life and death.

‘…..folk music runs deep inside us. In Greece we live with our emotions, we cry more easily than others …..’

‘You cant even start to understand anything about Greece if you don’t realize that everything is expressed through poetry and song,’ …..that almost every other person in Greece is a poet.

… the middle of the nineteenth century there were still far more Greeks outside Greece than inside. When Athens was still a small town with 30,000 citizens, there were 120,000 Greeks in Constantinople and 60,000 in Smyrna [Izmir]

The Greeks, like the Russians, can be the most hospitable and welcoming of people, but they can also be uncompromisingly suspicious and even hostile to the outsider.

During the 1940s about 1,000 villages were destroyed, agricultural production fell by over seventy per cent, and about eight per cent of the entire population died. The proportion of people living in rural areas fell from about two thirds in 1940, to less than one third in the 1990s. Greece became an urban country in less than half a century.

Greeks speak louder, interrupt more often, and if they cant use their bodies as well they feel drastically handicapped….

Smoking embodies countless Greek ideals about spontaneity, living in the moment …..It also forms such a perfect accompaniment to lengthy cups of coffee and wine-filled evenings that it sometimes seems surprising that there is anyone in Greece who doesn’t smoke. Newspapers report that one in four ten-year olds smoke…..

Whereas about a third of babies in Britain are born out of wedlock, in Greece they only account for about three per cent. It is true that this remarkable traditionalism goes hand in hand with the highest rate of abortion in Europe, something which often stands in for contraception.

Whatever Greece’s turbulent history, its people are extraordinarily homogeneous as far as religion goes. ….almost everyone is Orthodox. Over ninety-five per cent of Greeks declare themselves to be so, and there is a widespread belief that ‘religion is the only thing keeping us Greek’. …. Unlike Catholicism, there is little preoccupation with sin and guilt. I’ve never spoken with a Greek who was worried about his or her morals from a religious point of view….. People also bring an easygoing, homely attitude to church. You see shoppers popping into a church while out on their errands in Athens. They put down their shopping bags in a corner of the dark, incense-filled church, and, with a casual efficiency, light a candle and make a quick tour of all the main icons, which are given due respect with a kiss and a sign of the cross.

‘He who never flew a kite didn’t look high enough,’…..

From ‘Original Dwelling Place. Zen Buddhist Essays’ by Robert Aitken

Strip off the blinders, unload the saddlebags!
- Hsueh-Tou Ch’ung-Hsien

Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!
- Walt Whitman

Nyogen Senzaki…..recorded his last words before he died in March 1958.

Friends in Dhamma, be satisfied with your own heads. Do not put any false heads above your own. Then minute after minute, watch your steps closely. Always keep your head cold and your feet warm. These are my last words to you.

“Every act is a rite,” Thich Nhat Hanh had said……. “When you sweep the garden, you are sweeping your own mind,” the [Soen] roshi said to me…

….lines from Tennyson

Our little systems have their day;
They have their day and cease to be,
They are but broken lights of thee,
And thou, O Lord, are more than they.

Thich Nhat Hanh has said that you are like a TV. If you want a peaceful channel, you can turn to a peaceful channel. If you want some other kind of channel, you can turn to that.

We can enjoy the world without exploiting it, and we need not isolate ourselves. I am fond of the line from the Ts’ai-ken-t’an: “Water which is too pure has no fish.”

Tao-hsin made his bows before Seng-ts’an and said, “I beg the compassion of Your Reverence. Please teach me the Dharma way of emancipation.”
Seng-ts’an said, “Who is binding you?”
Tao-hsin said, “No one is binding me.”
Seng-ts’an said, “Then why should you search for emancipation?” Hearing this, Tao-hsin had great realization.

Hui-neng says that with an enlightened thought, you compensate for a thousand years of evil and destruction.

….a key passage in the “Genjo Koan,” the essay that Dogen placed at the head of his great collection of talks and essays, the Shobogenzo…..

To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things of the universe. To be enlightened by all things of the universe is to cast off the body and mind of the self as well as those of others. Even the traces of enlightenment are wiped out, and life with traceless enlightenment is continued forever and ever.

The Buddha Shakyamuni taught this apparently complex yet actually very simple complementarity more than 2,500 years ago. With the passage of his teaching through many cultures and languages, the original manner and expression of his Way have evolved significantly in a variety of directions. Yet the archetypal message is the same: “Human beings tend to be miserable because they are preoccupied with themselves. When they are free of their self-centeredness they can find happiness.”

Basho wrote:

The little horse ambles clop-clop
across the summer moor -
I find myself in a picture.

Basho’s disciple Sampu painted a picture of Basho nodding along on his little horse, completely absorbed – subjective and objective fallen away, the inside world enlarged to fill the summer moor; the summer moor filling the inside world.

Something has to give. Either koan study must go, or the path of reason. Thus, early on, the student who elects to pursue the path of Zen Buddhism gives up history and philosophy as basic tools and takes up the way of poetry. The way of poetry is the way of staring at the word or words with only the question “What is it?” occupying the mind. The point either emerges or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, one’s only recourse is to go on staring.

There are many such stories of death used as an upaya, a skillful means of turning the Dharma wheel. Death poems were upaya. Here is Hung-chih’s composition:

Illusory dreams, phantom flowers -
sixty-seven years.
A white bird vanishes in the mist,
autumn waters merge with the sky
Bassui advises a dying man:

If you think of nothing, wish for nothing, want to understand nothing, cling to nothing, and only ask yourself, “What is the true substance of the Mind of this one who is now suffering?” Ending your days like clouds fading in the sky, you will eventually be freed from your painful bondage to endless change.

….Philip Larkin’s despair in his poem “Aubade””

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night,
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
And interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

….Bokkei’s presentation with the famous haiku by Issa, on the death of his baby daughter:

The dewdrop world
is the dewdrop world
and yet – and yet.

“It is true that this world is transitory,” Issa is saying. “All beings are ephemeral. I know this, but when I am faced with the death of my baby girl, I look desperately for something to give me hope and comfort.”

It is Geist that is missing, Landauer says – communal spirit, the volkseele, or folk soul, the larger self of people in a particular region, culture, or nation. It dwells in the hearts of individuals who give themselves over to the unfolding of this spirit as they work together in communal units that interpenetrate to form a “society of societies”. Geist can be compared with Plato’s philia, the friendship of high-minded individuals who are drawn together by their affinity for noble conduct and their rejection of self-centered materialism.

As the acquisitive system burgeons, its collapse is foreshadowed by epidemics, famine, war, and the despoliation of the earth and its forests, waters, and air.

I envision a growing crisis across the world as managers and their multinational systems continue to deplete finite human and natural resources. Great corporations, underwritten by equally great financial institutions, flush away the human habitat and the habitat of thousands of other species far more ruthlessly and on a far greater scale than the gold miners who once hosed down mountains in California.

When we devote ourselves to the Buddha Way, we practice loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity in the market and in our households ….. We internalize these ideals and extend tender care, as Torei Zenji advises us, to beasts and birds – and indeed to plants, pancakes, orange juice, and undershirt. The haiku poet Issa wrote:

Don’t kill it!
The fly wrings its hands;
It wrings its feet

From ‘Mind is a Myth’ - Conversations with U G Krishnamurti

His biological sensitivity (and there is no other kind) is so acute that the movements of celestial bodies, especially the moon, have a visible strong effect on him.

U.G.: The energy you are devoting to the search, to techniques, to your sadhana, or whatever you wish to call it, is taking away the energy you need to live. You are obsessed with finding meaning in life, and that is consuming a lot of energy. If that energy is released from the search for meaning, it can be used to see the futility of all search. Then your life becomes meaningful and the energy may be used for some useful purpose.

U.G.: My interest is not to knock off what others have said (that is too easy), but to knock off what I am saying. More precisely, I am trying to stop what you are making out of what I am saying. This is why my talking sounds contradictory to others.

……..You are interfering with the natural functioning of the nervous system all the time. When a sensation hits your nervous system the first thing you do is to name it and categorize it as pleasure or pain. The next step is that you want to continue the pleasurable sensations and stop the painful sensations. First, the recognition of sensation as pleasure or pain is itself painful. Secondly, the attempt to extend the life of one kind of sensation (pleasure), and to stop another kind of sensation (pain), is also painful. Both activities are choking the body….. The attempt to extend pleasure and stop pain only succeeds in destroying the sensitivity of the body and its ability to respond to sensations. So, what you are doing is very painful for the body.

……..Thought will use any trick under the sun to give momentum to its own continuity. Its essential techniques is to repeat the same thing over and over again; this gives it an illusion of permanency.

……You must build a huge bonfire within you. Then you will become an individual.

U.G.: There are no persons, and no space within to create a self. What is left after the continuity of thought is blown away, is one disjointed, independent, series of interactions. What happens in the environment around me, happens in here. There is no division. When the armour you are wearing around you is stripped away, you find an extraordinary sensitivity of the senses that respond to the phases of the moon, the passage of the seasons, and the movements of the other planets. There is simply no isolated, separate, existence of its own here, only the throb of life, like, a jellyfish.

Q: Can you describe a little of this recurring death process you go through?

U.G.: It is of course defies description. But I can mention that in this death state, the ordinary breath stops entirely and the body is able to ‘breathe’ through other physiological means. Among the many doctors I have discussed this strange phenomena with, only Dr. Laboyer, an expert in childbirth, gave me a sort of explanation. He says that newborn babies have a similar way of breathing.

Monday, April 8, 2013

From ‘The Mystique of Enlightenment’ by U. G. Krishnamurti

The body feels the pain. That’s a very painful process. ….It is a physical pain because the body has limitations ……The energy that is in operation there does not feel the limitations of the body; it is not interested; it has its own momentum. It is a very painful thing. It is not that ecstatic, blissful beatitude and all that rubbish stuff and nonsense! ….. Even Ramana Maharshi suffered after that.

A great cascade – not one, but thousands of cascades – it went on and on for months and months. …..

There were pains all over the body. Thought has controlled this body to such an extent that when that loosens, the whole metabolism is agog. ….there were pains in the marrow of the bones. Every cell started changing. And it went on and on for six months.

And then the sex hormones started changing. I didn’t know whether I was man or a woman ….Suddenly there was a breast on the left-hand side. All kinds of things, it went on and on and on. It took three years for this body to fall into a new rhythm of its own.

Since there is nobody who uses this thought as a self-protective mechanism, it burns itself up. Thought undergoes combustion, ionisations ….. Thought is, after all vibration. So, when this kind of ionization of thought takes place, it throws out, sometimes it covers the whole body with, an ash-like substance.

If I cover the eyelids, there is still light inside. There seems to be some kind of a hole in the forehead, which doesn’t show, but through which something penetrates. In India, that light is golden: in Europe it is blue. There is also some kind of light penetration through the back of the neck. It’s as if there is a hole running through between those spots in front and back of the skull. There is nothing inside but this light. If you cover those points, there is complete, total darkness. This light doesnt do anything or help the body to function in any way – its just there.

The thymus, one of the endocrine glands, is located under the breastbone ….it is active through childhood until puberty and then becomes dormant. When you come into your natural state, this gland is reactivated. Sensations are felt there; you don’t translate them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’; they are just a thud.

In the natural state there is no entity that is co-ordinating the messages from different senses. Each sense is functioning independently in its own way. When there is a demand from outside which makes it necessary to co-ordinate one or two or all of the senses and come up with a response, still there is no co-ordinator, but there is a temporary state of co-ordination. There is no continuity; when the demand has been met, again there is only the uncoordinated, disconnected, disjointed functioning of the senses. ….Once the continuity is blown apart – not that it was ever there; but the illusory continuity – its finished once and for all.

…it is thought that provides the build-up without which no sex is possible. …. In the natural state there is no build up of thought. Without that build up, sex is impossible. And sex is tremendously violent to the body. The body is normally a very peaceful organism, and then you subject it to this tremendous tension and release. Which feels pleasurable to you. Actually it is painful to the body.

What makes one person come into his natural state, and not another person. I don’t know. Perhaps its written in the cells. It is acausal. There is absolutely nothing you can do.

…..the animal becomes a flower. That seems to be the purpose – if at all there is any purpose in Nature ….We have only a handful of flowers, which you can count on your fingers: Ramana Maharshi in recent times, Sri Ramakrishna, some other people …..

These glands are outside the control of thought. The Hindus call them ‘chakras’. The glands are located in the exact spots where they speculated the chakras are……. I don’t want to use the word ‘chakras’. I would call them ‘ductless glands’. Unless they are activated, any chance of human beings flowering into themselves is lost

You have to become completely disillusioned, then the truth begins to express itself in its own way.

So all your morality, and all your practicing this, that and the other, has no meaning. That is why the Upanishadic seers never talked of morality or sadhana, whereas the saints have emphasized them because they are second-class imitators……. And I maintain that it is genetically fixed: only in such a man does this kind of thing happen.

From ‘A Land of Two Halves. An accidental tour of New Zealand’ by Joe Bennett

….New Zealand appears to be a land of contradictions. It has a masculine image but it was the first place in the world to give women the vote. It sits in the South Pacific but until recently it traded almost exclusively with Great Britain. It sent soldiers to Vietnam but it has banned American warships. It promotes itself as a virgin paradise, but it has destroyed 90 per cent of its native bush. It’s a rural country but most of its people live in cities.

……the shot of the waterfall in the bush or the sun rising, and the uplifting spiritual apophthegm. God always gets the credit for the good bits. I have yet to see a poster of a pox-raddled beggar’s corpse in Delhi, labeled ‘I am the way the truth and the life’. God’s gone down the same route as nature. Just as nature has turned from implacable enemy into colourful David Attenborough entertainment, and an ingredient in shampoo, health food and happiness, so the fierce father of the Old Testament has turned into a celestial Care-Bear. It’s a form of cuddlification, like making a musical about Jack the Ripper.

Over the course of the Gallipolli campaign, 8450 New Zealand soldiers disembarked, 7473 of them were either killed or wounded.

…..population of the country had reached four million……Auckland houses over a quarter of the country’s people. The North Island, including Auckland, houses three quarters. The South Island, which is roughly the size of England, is home to just over one million people.

…..internet cafĂ© in Owaka …..Several hundred emails await my attention. Most want me to enlarge my penis, though there are also several inviting me to study other penises at work. All the rest are concerned with money or drugs. Collectively they offer me an inspiring view of the human condition.

A woman in lycra strides ferociously past, driven by an angry devotion to health.

Its an Old English pub which, of course, is neither old nor English but it does employ a barmaid so cheerless, discourteous, inattentive, inefficient and unremittingly idle that there is almost no point in asking her where she’s from. But I do.

‘Barnstaple,’ she says, and manages to turn its three syllables into ‘fuck off’. It evokes a feeling in me that approaches nostalgia.

….Wanaka ….To get some idea of the place, take the English Lake District, heighten the mountains, file their edges, fold them more tightly, cover most of them with snow, iron that snow, enlarge the lakes, intensify the brightness of the light by a factor of ten, banish all drizzle and shoot fourteen out of every fifteen people.

My driver lives and works in Wanaka ……’….Great place to live though, I mean,’ and he gestures out the window at the mountains, ‘look at it.’ ………

…. ‘Look,’ and here he pauses to search for a way to say something that is clearly there in his head, but wordless. ‘Look, sometimes I come home from work and I’ve had a shitty day and I’ve got a head buzzing with shitty little worries and I go outside and I look at the mountains. And I think, shit, those fuckers have been there one fuck of a long time. And then I feel better.’

It’s pure Wordsworth. Wordsworth might have put it more decorously, but he could hardly have put it more honestly……

‘Nice place, New Zealand, but some of the towns, well, you’d find more life in a cemetery.’

…the assorted songs of the bellbird, none of which sounds remotely like a bell, are all of such ineffable purity and unlike any bird song I have heard anywhere else in the world ….some travel writers have been known to go just a little over the top

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….even though there are more bookshops per capita in New Zealand than in most European countries, publishing here remains a precarious business, largely because there are so few actual capita. The only sure way to make money is to publish biographies of All Blacks or books like Your Guide to Ultimate Incredible Outdoor Experiences.

On 31 August 1865, E. Mallard, Charles Brookes and Charles Cuiped were charged with being ‘in a state of vinous elevation, totally inconsistent with their own wellbeing and the public peace’. Good to know that the law was as pompous then as now.

Their monstrous backpacks have littler backpacks attached to them like suckling young.

The North Island ….has a different history, a different geography, and a different climate. Seventy per cent of all New Zealanders live there, and ninety per cent of Maori. Crudely put, the North Island thinks of the South Island as scenery dotted with yokels. The South Island thinks of the North Island as Auckland. And it thinks of Auckland as hell.

The evening takes off its tie and rolls up its sleeves.

I wake at five in the position that corpses adopt for detectives to draw chalk lines around them.

We start with formalities couched in maiden-aunt English. Then Peter drops in a ‘bullshit’. I don’t react, deploy a ‘bastard’ of my own. Soon Peter unleashes a ‘fuck’ and it’s implicitly, semi-consciously, agreed that there are no linguistic taboos. I like that process of feeling out the territory. It’s a type of courtesy.

Trout were introduced to New Zealand in the nineteenth century by groups known as Acclimitisation Societies who imported wildlife from Europe for reasons of sport or nostalgia or food. What they achieved was catastrophe. The rabbits, for example, bred like rabbits. Instead of the farmers eating the rabbits, the rabbits ate the farms. So in came the stoats and weasels to control the rabbits. They cheerfully tucked into the rabbits, until they discovered the native birds. They proved particularly fond of kiwi chicks. Just about the only exception to this catalogue of disaster was the trout.

…..the panoramic view of the volcanoes, the lake, and the little township parked decoratively at its northern end ….. Each home is designed to exploit the view, and each does its bit to spoil it.

Rugby Union springs from the great British public schools, where it combined with cricket, the Church of England and militarism to form a four-pronged defence against masturbation.

The haka belongs. It is unique to this country, and its ferocity and masculinity and bellicosity are entirely apt to the circumstances. It fires the blood.

….The haka that the All Blacks perform was supposedly composed by the warlike chief Te Tauparaha when he was hiding from pursuers in a kumara pit. The early settlers feared and hated Te Tauparaha, but his haka is loved. In translation it goes:

It is death. It is death.

It is life. It is life.

This is the hairy person

Who caused the sun to shine.

Abreast. Keep Abreast.

The rank. Hold fast.

Into the sun that shines.

They are wise to perform it in Maori.

Though Auckland houses more than a quarter of the country’s population, that’s not much over a million people, a number dwarfed by the world’s major cities. And yet Auckland occupies an acreage larger than either Paris or London.

Hamilton ….city …. Its civic motto is Hamilton. More than you’d expect which is less a motto than an admission of defeat.