Not This, Not That ~ INTRODUCTION

This is the second volume of my memoirs ~ following on from SO MANY ROADS ~ and covers that period of my life from 1978 until 1998. It is advisable to read the first volume otherwise many things in the second will not make much sense. And if I do not lose interest and feel inspired, there will be a Part III, and possibly a Part IV, in due course.

Rather than call it SO MANY ROADS, Part II, I decided on the present title. And if you think it odd, let me say that in ancient India, when people asked of a sage, “Master, what is Truth?”, often, the master would reply, somewhat cryptically, “Neti, neti”, meaning, Not this, not that ~ that is, we cannot say what is truth, but can approach it only by a process of negation, much like a prospector, looking for gold in a stream, removes all that is not gold from his basin ~ first, the water, then the stones, sand, twigs and mud ~ and, when all the not-gold has been removed, perhaps he will be left with some particles of gold, gleaming there in the bottom. He does not begin by taking out the gold.

I know, as I write this, that I’m sticking my neck out, and that there will be complaints, not just because of the contents but also be-cause of my style. I considered this, but still decided to write, as there is a need to tell things as they are. And look, without criti-cism, we would still be living in caves, and would you like that? Criticism is like a double-edged sword: it has two forms; one destructive and the other constructive; the second is invaluable and we could not do without it, as it not only helps us maintain a standard, but to improve things. We should propose something positive in place of that which we criticize.

As anyone who has been to Kathmandu will have noticed, the streets there are in a shocking condition. People dig them up whenever they feel like laying pipes and cables, then loosely fill in the holes without any attempt to restore the surface to what it was before; consequently, the roads have great bumps and hol-lows in them which become very muddy when it rains. Nepalese obviously don’t think much about it (nor about letting their dogs bark all night without trying to prevent them; Kathmandu should be renamed Dogmandu, as there are so many barking dogs!); civic-consciousness is far from their minds. And that is a criti-cism, made because I know they are capable of better things; if they were not, it would be pointless to criticize them.

As a citizen of the world ~ hackneyed though this cliché might be considered by people who do not feel this way ~ I could not keep quiet about this, and several times told shop-keepers in the tourist-belt that they should return the streets to their original condition after digging trenches across them. I was gratified to see that in two cases, my complaints resulted in attempts being made to correct the irregularities, but I’m pretty sure that had I not complained, nothing would have been done. How sad that it needs someone like me to shame people into doing what com-mon-sense should tell them to do! But this is my world just as much as anyone else’s, and I care about it, instead of turning away and letting it degenerate. It is easy to let things go, but hard to build them up. I respect and am grateful to anyone who tries to improve things.

It is essential to understand the difference between the Con-tainer and the Contents: Buddhism and the Teachings of the Buddha. If people are satisfied with Buddhism it is alright, of course; but for those who are not, and who want something more than the mere name-and-form, it should be said that though Buddhism is now old, tired and travel-stained, having come a long way and endured many ups and downs, the Teachings of the Buddha are still quite intact. However, these, too, should not be looked upon as something magical that produces miraculous effects just by being believed or recited, but should be understood and realized, for they are a finger pointing at the moon, not the moon itself. There are 3 levels, as it were: (1) Buddhism, the organization, which deserves our respect for having pre-served the Contents until now; (2) Buddha-Dharma, or the Teachings of the Buddha; and (3) Dharma itself, realizing which, Sakyamuni became the Buddha, and thereafter tried to point it out to others. If we insist on clinging to the Con-tainer while disregarding the Contents and making no attempt to understand, it is such a waste, to say the least.

Now, Buddhism is more than 2,500 years old, so it is not sur-prising that it has changed a lot since it started out on its long journey. Not only is it tired and travel-stained, but things crept in along the way that have very little to do with what the Buddha taught; like a damp stone gathering moss, it gathered its fair share of superstition. This was unavoidable, and there is little we can do about the past except learn from it. This doesn’t mean, however, that we should be complacent and condone the ongoing corruption, but should understand how it happened that things crept in, and ask ourselves if this is what we want. For my part, I am not content to just let things go, as I’ve seen better things, and see no reason why improvements cannot and should not be made. I consider my criticism ~ though it might not be sweet ~ to be constructive. The words of Lao Tse had a great impact upon me: “Sweet words are seldom true; truthful words are seldom sweet.” If we are serious in our quest, we should be prepared to face the unpleasant at times, as it will not always coincide with our desires or expectations.

I passed my 34th year as a monk in May this year, but it was only because I realized the difference between the Container and the Contents ~ Buddhism, the religion, and what the Bud-dha taught ~ even before I became a Buddhist, that I was able to make it this far; had I not done so, I would have given up in despair long ago. So, it is my responsibility to point out this dif-ference to others; there are people even today with just a little dust of ignorance in their eyes, who might still understand. I have come across such people, one here and another there.

The front-cover shows a church, a mosque, a Hindu temple, and some Buddhist stupas. Draw your own conclusion.

And to anyone reading this, I will say as way of benediction, May you be Well and Safe, rather than Well and Happy, as no-one is happy all the time, nor can be. Accept the vicissitudes of life and make what you can of them. Have a good journey!

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