August 2004


The Buddha went about teaching the Path to Enlightenment for 45 years. When he was 80 years old, he became ill and predicted that after three months, he would enter Nirvana.

When he journeyed to Pava, a blacksmith by the name of Chunda offered him some food and the Buddha became seriously ill. He continued on his journey and reached the forest near Kusinagara.

Lying between two large sala trees, the Buddha said his last words to his followers gathered around him: “Make yourself a light. Rely upon yourself. Do not depend upon anyone else…

”Consider your body. Think of its impurity. Knowing that both its pain and its delight are both causes of suffering, how can you indulge in its desires? …

“Control your own mind. Keep your mind from greed and you will keep your behaviour right, your mind pure, and your words faithful. By always thinking about the transiency of life, you will be able to resist all evils… Be the master of your mind.

”…Our parting is near… do not vainly lament, but realise that nothing is permanent and learn about the emptiness of human life. Do not forget that death is only the end of the physical body…“

Then the Buddha entered into perfect tranquility.

His body was cremated by his friends at Kusinagara. The ashes of the funeral pyre were divided among eight great countries and were also given to two rulers. Ten towers were built to enshrine his relics and his ashes.

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(Picture: A scroll in an antique shop in Tokyo, photographed with permission)

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What are you afraid of? People replied all sorts of things. One said wild animals–things like snakes, rats and roaches. I can understand that. I shudder with disgust whenever I see a cockroach.

Another one said he was afraid of Death. I can understand that, too. Everybody is afraid of the unknown. All throughout history, both Religion and Science have strived to explain the great Unknown.

But do you know what you should really be afraid of? Do you know what you should really fear? It’s not wild animals or the future or some other petty thing. What you and I should really be afraid of, where the real danger lies, and what the real threat is — is Man — and the Evil he is capable of.

Somewhere in a far off country, someone is walking along minding his own business when a car bomb goes off beside him. Recent news is the fighting going on in Najaf.

A French journalist had witnessed an American soldier treat an Iraqi with such humiliation and disrespect, the fighting in Najaf was the most highly probable result. With a baton, the soldier had poked the behind of an Iraqi colonel, a respected man in the eyes of his army, telling him to get at the end of the line. The problems in Iraq are indeed complicated, and the “washing off” of humiliation is the issue here, as it was in Falluja.

Americans. Who do they think they are?

__ “For Fallujans it is a shame to have foreigners break down their doors. It is a shame for them to have foreigners stop and search their women. It is a shame for the foreigners to put a bag over their heads, to make a man lie on the ground with your shoe on his neck. This is a great shame, you understand? This is a great shame for the whole tribe.

“It is the duty of that man, and of that tribe, to get revenge on this soldier, to kill that man. Their duty is to attack them, to wash the shame. The shame is a stain, a dirty thing; they have to wash it. No sleep–we cannot sleep until we have revenge. They have to kill soldiers.”

He leaned back and looked at me, then tried one more time. “The Americans,” he said, “provoke the people. They don’t respect the people.” —

What is America Asking For?
Who are Iraq’s Mehdi Army?
American Intelligence Personnel Also Involved in Abu Ghraib Abuse
Why It’s Different in Basra

sidgau-tm.jpg When you pass away, your soul is reborn in another body. But the condition or state you are reborn in depends very much on your actions, your thoughts and your words in your previous life. This past life, called “karma,” determines your next life.

Believing in karma encourages good behaviour. This concept also explains the reason behind the injustices in life–those who have misbehaved are reborn in lowly conditions or reborn as animals. Those who are without luck or have misadventures were bad in their past life.

The only way to free yourself from karma is to detach yourself from worldly ways. When you have done this, then you have arrived at nirvana.

(I believe Karma is one of the most controversial concepts in the Buddhist philosophy. If my soul in the previous life is reborn in another body, why should I be made to suffer for misdeeds in a previous life that I have no recollection of and that I can no longer correct in the present life? If I can correct my karma with good behaviour, it will only be my next life that will reap the benefits of the present life. Meanwhile, I am made to endure the punishments of sins in a previous life. What a terrible injustice).

Then again, let’s think that a past life is not worth recollecting and it has been conveniently erased from memory. How then can you learn from past mistakes if you don’t know what those mistakes were? Or how can you avoid repeating past mistakes when it is precisely these mistakes that you learn from? So I could be living a never-ending cycle of repetitive mistakes.

A somewhat similar depiction of injustice can be found in the Christian belief where all humanity is made to suffer death as a result of Adam and Eve’s taking a fruit from a forbidden tree. What an injustice.

There you go frolicking through life– working for a living, having the occasional drink with friends, going on holidays, playing tennis, going to the cinema… Then lightning strikes. Not the kind that makes a lot of noise and hoopla, but a banal incident that opens your eyes and sets you thinking about the future.

You realise that all those petty nuisances, those little thorns on your side that you have decided to endure and therefore make life miserable for you, are really nothing at all, next to what you define to be your life and your future. And you conclude that your happiness is important and anything outside of that is simply outside of your life. But then you think of reality…

… and reality is MONEY. Will I have enough until the end of my days? Will I end up a vagabond, looking through bins for my next meal? Then all this frolicking and happiness must be redefined…

Vous chantiez? Eh bien! dansez maintenant.

La Cigale et la Fourmi

gibran.jpg  In my youth I was told that in a certain city every one lived according to the Scriptures.

And I said, “I will seek that city and the blessedness thereof.” And it was far. And I made great provision for my journey. And after forty days I beheld the city and on the forty-first day I entered into it.

And lo! the whole company of the inhabitants had each but a single eye and but one hand. And I was astonished and said to myself, “Shall they of this so holy city have but one eye and one hand?”

Then I saw that they too were astonished, for they were marvelling greatly at my two hands and my two eyes. And as they were speaking together I inquired of them saying, “Is this indeed the Blessed City, where each man lives according to the Scriptures?” And they said, “Yes, this is that city.”

“And what,” said I, “hath befallen you, and where are your right eyes and your right hands?”

And all the people were moved. And they said, “Come thou and see.”

And they took me to the temple in the midst of the city. And in the temple I saw a heap of hands and eyes. All withered. Then said I, “Alas! what conqueror hath committed this cruelty upon you?”

And there went a murmur amongst them. And one of their elders stood forth and said, “This doing is of ourselves. God hath made us conquerors over the evil that was in us.”

And he led me to a high altar, and all the people followed. And he showed me above the altar an inscription graven, and I read:

“If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee; for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut if off and cast it from thee; for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”

Then I understood. And I turned about to all the people and cried, “Hath no man or woman among you two eyes or two hands?”

And they answered me saying, “No, not one. There is none whole save such as are yet too young to read the Scripture and to understand its commandment.”

And when we had come out of the temple, I straightway left that Blessed City; for I was not too young, and I could read the scripture.

The Madman: His Parables and Poems by Kahlil Gibran (©1918 by Kahlil Gibran and ©1946 by the Administrators CTA of Kahlil Gibran Estate and Mary G. Gibran)

louis-ix-and-the-catholic-crusades.jpg   Louis IX (1214-1270), was a French king known for his piety and judicial reforms. He led two of the Crusades to the Holy Land and was canonized by Pope Boniface VIII in 1297. Louis IX belonged to the Capetian family of French kings.

Louis was born in Poissy, France. He was the son of King Louis VIII and Blanche of Castile. Louis IX came to the throne at the age of 12. His mother ruled wisely on his behalf until he turned 21. As king, Louis established a code of conduct among his officials and expanded the role of the royal court in administering justice. But like other rulers of his day, he also persecuted Jews and people considered heretics by the Roman Catholic Church. Nevertheless even many of Louis’s enemies considered him a just ruler and bore him no ill will.

Louis led the Seventh Crusade, which lasted from 1248 to 1254. In 1250, Muslim forces in Egypt took him and most of his army prisoner. The Muslims released Louis and his troops later that year, after he agreed to give up a captured city and pay a ransom. Louis led the Eighth Crusade in 1270, but died that year in northern Africa of natural causes.

by Sue Helder Goliber, Ph.D., Mount St. Mary’s College

(I took a photo of this painting in the church of Les Invalides in Paris).