04 February 2007


Michael Coates today. You've probably never seen anyone so happy to see
a dentist.


First things first. Michael Coates is gonna be okay. Like I told you in my last letter, an oral surgeon is going to do the work pro bono. I'm sending the money I was going to use for his care to the Auburn Community Dental Clinic instead because as they said in the follow-up article in the Seattle Times ...

...to really get an idea, people should visit a community dental clinic at dawn on the days they treat poor people needing urgent care. "You'll see a line of people holding their teeth and crying," [Coates] said. "I'm not a special situation."

I did write him a letter directly and sent a few bucks for him to get some ice cream. I told him that when I got my wisdom teeth pulled that's about all I could eat. I told him that I even had to put my birthday cake in the blender. (Cake shake is freakin' ossum, by the way. You should try it!)


Mahakala, the wrathful deity of violent compassion. He will
kick your ass, but in the nicest way possible. This is the thangka
that hangs in my dining room. Mahakala reminds me to eat
my vegetables...or else.

I watched a documentary yesterday about the destruction of the giant Buddhas in the Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan. You may remember that the Taliban government sent out a decree back in late 2000 that all non-Muslim art and statuary was to be destroyed, so that meant the two 1,600 year old giant Buddhas of Bamiyan (180 and 121 feet tall) had to go. So the Taliban rolled up there with a shitload of explosives and spent a couple weeks trying to blow them up. Eventually they were successful. Sixteen hundred years of history and culture blowed to hell.

Seem like a shame? Well here's the ironic thing. Think of it from the dhammapada's perspective. Didn't Buddha preach that "nothing is permanent; everything changes"? As great a loss as it was of irreplaceable historical objects - to paraphrase the ubiquitous bumper sticker, What The Fuck Would Buddha Do? I'll tell you what he'd do. He'd prolly just say, "See? Like I said." And then go off and do shots of rice milk with the monks. I mean, c'mon. Ever seen the kalachakra ritual? A whole phalanx of monks spend a week or more laboring over an exquisitely detailed sand mandala, only to have the Dalai Lama come along and fuck it up. Either it's an object lesson in impermanence, or those monks really have to figure out a way to keep His Holiness' mitts off their sand paintings.

Okay, so the site where the giant Buddhas stood was not uninhabited, mind you. There were hundreds of rooms carved into the cliffs around them, vestiges of an ancient monastery that was part of the whole complex. These rooms were inhabited by the Hazaras, the most persecuted ethnic group in all of Afghanistan. They had been the protectors of the giant Buddhas for the past 1,600 years. Even when the Taliban blew up the statues, they left the Hazara there. It wasn't until some very well-meaning folks from UNESCO and several art-hugging European nations got together and decided that they would rebuild the statues that the Hazara got removed from their ancestral homes. Seems like once you turn something into a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it's okay to keep the frescoes and kick out the folks. No longer living in their cliffside caves, the Hazara have been relocated to a windblown plateau somewhere out in the desert. They're now half an hour from their water source, three hours from the closest bazaar, and freezing their Buddha-loving asses off in the howling wind on a daily basis. Where's the love?

Again, I ask What The Fuck Would Buddha Do? In my self-serving fantasies, I see the Buddha calmly taking in the situation through his all-seeing eyes. Then raising his right hand in the mudra of blessing he says, "Verily, that is some fucked up shit, man." Then, instantly trans-carnating into the form of Mahakala, the deity of violent compassion, he busts down the door at UNESCO HQ and kicks every ass in the place twice. (Those who are not present at that time because they're traveling for business or out sick will have their names taken down by the Buddha for ass-kicking at a later time.) Then re-forming himself into Avelokiteshvara, the Buddha of compassion, he bandages their wounds. Finally, transforming himself one last time back into the Sage of the Sakya tribe, he does shots of rice milk with the entire posse. Then the Hazara go back to their ancestral homes in the Bamiyan Valley caves and live happily ever after. Amen.

So yeah, I know I'm not waking you up to the fact that there's a shitload of misery in the world whether it's infected teeth or eviction from one's ancestral home by well-meaning dipwads. Like I said in my last letter, with so much misery going around, I can see why people do nothing. There's just too much of it, the problem is just too big, and one person can't do anything about the whole problem. But I think that a solution that keeps getting missed is that one person can help one other person. That's not too much to do. There has to be a way to do just that little bit and make a huge difference. Each one help one. That is my rumination for today.

All of this reminds me somehow of my favorite quote from Shantideva. It needs a little introduction if you're not hip to how reincarnation figures into the Buddhist religion. The point is not to try to reincarnate, but to break the cycle of samsara and quit reincarnating. Boddhisattvas are folks like you and me who have sworn off enlightenment and nirvana for themselves so that they can assist all other sentient beings in attaining Buddhahood. Sound like a big job? Oh mais oui. It's probably both the biggest project and the most shit detail on the Buddhist job roster. It's tantamount to saying, "I'm going to forego nirvana and spend eternity trying to bring shitheads to Jesus." (...or possibly bring them to some more appropriate Buddhist deity. -Ed.) So bearing that in mind, it takes compassion-balls the size of pickle jars to say what Shantideva said way back in the 8th century:

For as long as space endures,
And for as long as living beings remain,
Until then may I too abide
To dispel the misery of the world.

Hopefully he got his wish and he's still out there somewhere, bringing shitheads to the Buddha.



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