I finished Aidan Delgado's book, "The Sutras of Abu Ghraib" over the weekend, and I do want to give it some thought in these pages. I need to take a bit more time, however, to let it all sink in, and don't want to write about it under the kind of pressure that Monday morning inevitably brings as we prepare for the return to Los Angeles from the beach. So please stay tuned. I know that I'll have something to say a little later in the week.
In the meantime, yesterday was the monthly visit to our sitting group from Thanissaro Bhikkhu. It's always a great pleasure and a great learning experience when Than Geoff comes. He leads us into an hour-long sit with guidance that is by now long familiar, but which is still a helpful reminder of the meditation practice that he teaches. After the sit, he answers questions for another hour--always with patient wisdom, a profound sense of humanity, and often just plain good sense. Gifted with a wry and generous sense of humor, he often has us laughing at the predicament of simply being human, at ourselves and our pretensions, even at himself.
He brings books, too. He has written so many of them that I sometimes suspect that he's up every day at four and has another one ready for the press by eight. They are all give-aways, their production and distribution made possible, I suppose, by the generosity of those who support the Metta Forest Monastery of which he is the abbott.
(This beautiful photo comes from the monastery's website.) Aside from the books, Than Geoff's articles are constantly appearing in Tricycle--and probably other journals of which I'm unaware. A naturally quiet and scholarly man, he seems to have some kind of inner fount of wisdom that is inexhaustible. Added to which, I'm sure that the focus and concentration developed through years of intense meditation practice enable this incredible creative flow.
I asked him about Buddhism and warfare and, thinking of Aidan Delgado and, of course, Burma, whether it would ever be permissible for a practicing Buddhist to engage in military action. His answer was a clear "No." He was critical of those Burmese monks for stepping beyond that line in marching in the streets. The monk's true moral authority, he said, comes from the ability to turn his bowl upside down in a gesture that refuses alms--and the blessings and implicit approval that the donor can expect to receive in return. That gesture, in a Buddhist country like Thailand or Burma, is itself sufficient reproof and political protest. To march in the streets, as Than Geofff sees it, is to sacrifice a good part of that moral authority.
A fellow sitter asked about the history of the samurai warrior and Zen Buddhism: was this not a warrior tradition with Buddhist underpinnings? Than Geoff argued that the samurai myth was an invention of 19th century Japanese revisionists, who needed for political reasons to discredit the pacifism inherent in Buddhist teachings. Interesting. Was there anything, ever, I wondered again aloud, that would justify a true Buddhist taking arms? Than Geoff remained clear and unambiguous: nothing. Ever.