With metta, Ken and Visakha Kawasaki Buddhist Relief Mission

“… In Living Everyday,” July 28, 2018

In 2001, after Visakha’s mother passed away, we decided, since we had no more responsibilities, to accept the invitation to attend Ven. Achariya Buddharakkkhita’s 80th birthday celebration in Bangalore. We already had our return tickets to Bangkok, so it was reasonable to begin there. South India being close to Sri Lanka, we decided to make a big circle–Bangkok-Sri Lanka (to meet Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, with whom had corresponded but never met in person)-Bangalore (for the celebration)-Kolkata (to meet Ven. Dr. NandoBatha, whose projects, including Bodhisukha School, we had supported for many years, but whom we had also never met)-Bangkok. There was no way to know, when we left Bangkok, how much that journey would influence the direction our lives would thereafter take.

In Sri Lanka, we met Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi and discussed the publication of the Jataka Tales we had been working on for many years. He too was preparing to attend the celebration in Bangalore, and, several years later, not only did we visit his monastery in New Jersey, but we also invited him to Michigan and arranged his admission to the pain clinic in Ann Arbor. That short time in Sri Lanka also planted the seed which grew into our decision to resettle there (here?) in 2005. In Kolkata, we met Ven. Dr. NandoBatha at Bodhisukha School and discussed the possibility of conducting intensive courses there, which materialized in 2006, and have continued since.


In spite of these important visits, however, the biggest surprise was, perhaps, Bangalore. After a tour of the MahaBodhi Society headquarters there, we were taken to Tumkur for several days of meditation led by Ven. Buddharakkhita, with a group of German and Swiss devotees. Then we accompanied the group to Mysore for the birthday celebration itself. When our bus stopped at the Mysore Mahabodhi Society Center, Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi and two other monks got on, and we were told that we would be taken to lodgings where we would stay for several days. After a few minutes, the bus stopped at a posh hotel, and all the other meditators disembarked. We were asked to stay on the bus. A little later, we stopped at a simple guest house, and we were told that the three monks, Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, Ven. Ratanajothi, and Ven. Pannasila and we were to stay there. It has been assumed all along that we would take care of the monks’ needs. We were surprised but honored. We were glad to have the oppportunity to spend time with them and to discuss the Dhamma in a relaxed setting.

Vens. Pannasila, Bodhi,and Buddharakkhita

Ven. Pannasila, we learned, had recently spent two years as Secretary of the MahaBodhi MahaVihara in BuddhaGaya and was involved in the movement to reestablish Buddhist control of the temple. In our discussions, he suggested that, if we were to undertake a pilgrimage to the holy sites, including BuddhaGaya, he would be happy to help us and, perhaps, even to join us.

Click the image to begin a slide presentaion of our pilgrmage with Vens.Pannasila and NandoBatha in 2001.

This was in March. During our visit with Ven. NandoBatha in Kolkata, we mentioned the possibility of a pilgrimage, and he encouraged us to do so, also volunteering to help and, perhaps, to join. A few months later, we discussed this with Bruce, and he urged us to plan the pilgrimage for December-January when he would definitely join. We contacted both monks and started planning. bThe result: Both Ven. NandoBatha and Ven. Pannasila accompanied Bruce and us for the entire twenty-one day tour, which included Lucknow, where Ven. Pannasila introduced us to a Dalit Center dedicated to Dr. Ambedkar, which was under construction. The two monks were very happy to get to know each other, and we were delighted to learn so much about both Dr. Ambedkar, the leader of the Dalits in the great Buddhist revival in Inda, from Ven. Pannasila and Ven. Chandamuni, the great Arakanese missionary monk who was also instrumental in reestablishing Buddhism in India and Nepal in the 20th century, from Ven. NandoBatha, as well as the connection between the two leaders–for it was under Ven. Chandramani that Dr. Ambedkar took Refuge and the Five Precepts in 1956 with half a million followers.

Click the photo for the report and photos of Ven. Pannasila’s Sri Lanka tour in 2006
Click the photo for the report and photos of our tour of Maharashtra

In January 2006, Ven. Pannasila visited us in Sri Lanka, and together we took a grand tour of the Cultural Triangle. Then he participated in the First Bodhisukha Intensive Buddhist English Course two months later, offering an invaluable activist Indian perspective to the Burmese students from Magadh University and Nalanda Institute. Later that year, we returned to India for a tour of Maharashtra with Ven. Pannasila, which lasted more than a month and included the fiftieth anniversary celebration of Dr. Ambedkar’s taking refuge (Dhamma diksha) in Nagpur on October 15, 1956, along with 500,000 other Dalits.

During that tour, we visited Ven. Pannasila’s newly-established hillside monastery in Satnur, near Amaravati (a town in Maharashtra, not the ancient stupa in Andhra Pradesh). We also met Ven. Pannasila’s brother Ashok, who is a doctor, and their mother, who, having become Buddhist has taken up residence at the monastery as an Angarika.

A few months ago, we were pleased when Ven. Pannasila informed us that his mother would be coming to Sri Lanka with a tour group in the middle of June. We looked forward to meeting her again. We were even happier when we learned that, since her passport was not issued in time for her to join the tour, Ven. Pannasila would be accompanying her to Colombo, and after placing her with the tour group, he would visit us in Kandy. As it turned out, she was not able to join the tour, so the two of them spent a few days in the Cultural Triangle, before coming to Kandy and staying with us for three days. How wonderful!

Click any of the photos to see more photos of the Sri Lanka tour of Ven. Pannasila and his mother.

Despite inclement weather, they were able to see everything they wanted–the Dalada Maligawa, Kandyan dances, the International Buddhist Museum, Lankatilika, Gadaladeniya, Embekke, and the Royal Botanical Gardens (with Ashoka), and the Elephant Orphanage (with Tissa). We were able to have them with us for morning puja, meals, and evening discussions. It was a delightful three days. Lily was very happy to share her upstairs apartment with Bhante’s mother, and Mother was delighted that Nezumi deigned to sit with her.

We were touched to see how Ven. Pannasila cared for his mother and how she revered him, like an embodiment of that beautiful sutta:

A person of integrity is grateful and acknowledges the help given to him. This gratitude is second nature to fine people. It is the mark of a person of integrity.

“There are two people who are not easy to repay–your mother and father. Even if you were to carry your mother on one shoulder and your father on the other shoulder for one hundred years and to look after them by bathing and massaging their limbs and they were to defecate and urinate on you, you would not be repaying your parents. Even if you were to establish them in abundant wealth of the seven treasures and in sovereignty over the entire world, you would not be repaying your parents. Why not? Mother and father do so much for their children! They care for them, nourish them, and introduce them to this world. However, one who rouses his unbelieving parents and establishes them in the Dhamma, rouses his unvirtuous parents and establishes them in virtue, rouses his stingy parents and establishes them in generosity, and rouses his foolish parents and establishes them in wisdom, is, to that extent, repaying one’s mother and father.

–Anguttara Nikaya 2, 31-32

In previous reports, we have mentioned our involvement with Buddhist groups in US prisons. During the last 25 years, we have corresponded with quite a few inmates in several states. You may recall that, in Michigan, we worked with the Department of Corrections as Chaplain Consultants, and we still receive occasional requests for assistance. We were delighted that, very recently, we received heartening letters from the two inmates we have kept in touch with the longest, Steve and Calvin. We would like to share those letters, which are wonderful lessons in patience, compassion, and diligence in practice under difficult circumstances.

Hello Ken & Visakha,

May this letter find you enjoying good health and with peacefulness of mind. I am doing well here. I received your latest offering (Bookends) this past week. Thank you. It has been a while since my last email and hope you can forgive me for it.

It was a real joy to see all the pictures. They ALWAYS are! They were a greater joy this time, as I was able to see younger versions of you. I am amused sometimes when I look at my earliest visit pictures of my family and me. One can surely see the passage of time. The long lost memories do come flooding back, don’t they?

Although I am contuingly saddened by the news, I am grateful for your updates on the Buddhist/Muslim relations over there. I’ve seen almost no coverage here of such events. I’ve always been proud to say that Buddhism was the one religion that did not harm others for its own existence. I feel that I can no longer make that claim.

Thank you for the article by Ewen Arnold on silence. I’ve observed that many around me are unable to be in their own thoughts with silence, and try to fill that space with as much noise and/or nonsense as they can. Two individuals will be sitting right next to each other discussing something truly trivial, and they will talk so loudly. It’s as if they are 200 feet apart or that volume makes their point more valid. I have actually asked some of them (at different times) if it was possible for them to just sit there for a few minutes in silence. Some of them answered in the affirmative, but followed that up with, ‘But why would I want to?’ It’s at that point, I realize my folly for even posing such a question to them in the first place.

I JUST LOVE THE AIRPLANE STORY!!! I like how the stewardess solved the woman’s problem! Yet I have no doubt that if this were a true story, that the woman wasn’t much happier afterwards. I would venture to say that she felt more than a little slighted by not being offered the upgrade. But I would like to believe that I’d of done just as the stewardess had done.

Your inclusion of Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s teaching on the power of judgement, was a very timely one. I’ve recently been discussing with the group here, how important it is to help one another cultivate wholesome conduct. How one should walk the walk themselves, and when attention is brought to one’s lapses, one should come from a position of compassion and not judgement. It’s all nice and peaceful to meet with each other on Monday nights. But if one wants to progress along the path, they must put in the work throughout the rest of the week. Since many of these guys are relatively new to practice, they aren’t used to being mindful of their conduct. Let alone understand the subtleties of wholesome/unwholesome conduct. I continue to learn more about that myself to this day.

As I said at the top of this letter, I am doing well. I continue to be a GED tutor in the school building. My family all seem to being doing well. I am sure that if my parents knew that I was writing you, that they would want me to pass along their warmest regards, and I do so now.

Our group here just took a drubbing as three out of the six in our group have transferred to other prisons. One member is gong home in about two months, and may contact you at some point. His mother practiced Buddhism for a time (unbeknownst to him until a short time ago). I was given the impression that his interest this past year may have reignited her interest.. I’d explained that if he was unable to locate a local sangha, that I might know some folks who could possibly help. It’s my hope that he will contact me once he’s able to get himself settled in and life started back on track. He really seemed to take to Buddhism and participated enthusiastically in the dhamma discussions.

May I be for others, what the two of you have been for me through all these years. I have been fortunate beyond words with your friendship. May you remain well, peaceful, and happy by the power of the Triple Gem.

With Metta,

Dear Ken and Visakha!

Spring has been delightful with all kinds of weather but mostly sun, The scent of flowers and pine mingle in harmony with sea air for a very aromatic blend. Wonderful! I hope this season is just as enjoyable for you.

Thank you for your newsletter of photos, perspectives, teachings, and the very interesting material at the end on racism and bias. It is always nice to hear from you and receive your informative material. I appreciate that you included me in you mailings. Many thanks!

Over the course of several years, we’ve struggled to finish the ‘pagoda project’ particularly the garden. I’ve spent months and months trying to get confirmation when and if we can move forward without much success. But earlier this month the chaplain returned to work after several months away. As soon as he returned we immediately put in the request for plants and other garden supplies. Last Friday we were finally able to finish planting! Now, we only have to complete the meditation path which is partially done, and then add some decorative touches to conclude this project that was started in 2013. This has been a huge lesson for me in patience and motivation. But another benefit comes when I sit out in the pagoda with the sangha or alone, and I hear a variety of nearly a dozen birds singing or calling as I take in the heady scent of spring infused nature, I feel such serenity and peace. When I see sangha members in need of some solitude sitting out there, I am reminded that this is one of the reasons why we built it in the first place. I have to remind myself not to get lost in the ‘project’ and lose track of the ‘why’ I am doing what I do. There were times when the project seemed to take control but we always seemed to find ways to bring ourselves back to why we were doing this…to build community. Lots of people, (Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike), have been involved with building, designing, garden work, maintenance, painting, fund raising, and meditation or practice, (mostly Heart Sutra). It actually built community and brought lots of people together. This has been such a challenging experience and certainly one I would not trade off too lightly. I hope one day you’ll be able to see for yourself the results of our efforts. Of course you are invited to our event on August 8th. This is an open invitation with the understanding that your schedule, obligations, distance and logistics could prevent your participation. I just want you to know that you are always welcome.

The main reason I am writing you though is to share with you something I’ve been involved in for sometime which only recently also came to a conclusion. A prisoner in Arkansas, Chris, contacted me in September 2013 asking about Buddhism after reading my book. He entered prison at 17 years of age and had done seven years on a 20 year prison term. Throughout the time that we’ve been corresponding he went through a lot of trials and tribulations. He is only 62 inches tall and being so small he is an easy target of the more aggressive prisoners. He often had to defend himself which resulted in solitary confinement on several occasions, sometimes for months. In one instance a couple of prisoners attacked him and broke his jaw and fractured his eye socket. He had to spend a couple of months in the infirmary to recover. He wrote dozens of letters asking me for advice and my perspective on many subjects. I tried my best to help him navigate a much more difficult prison experience than the one I went through. In Arkansas they do not pay prisoners for work but they do take one day off of their prison sentence for each day they work on the ‘chain-gang’. They also give one day off of their prison sentence for each day they attend school. Throughout the time we’ve been writing each other, I tried to encourage him to meditate, avoid conflicts, work on the ‘chain-gang’ and get his education to help reduce his sentence. To his credit he did all of that and more. To encourage him I would order books and quarterly food packages for him since he had no source of income. One day out of the blue Chris sent me his GED diploma that he finished on 2-2-17, and a few months later his first of two vocational training certificates. He sent them to me saying I pushed him so hard to earn them that 1 deserved to have them. By working and attending night school he earned an early release in May 2017. But the parole broad required him to return to his home state of Illinois. To apply for parole he had to pay a $100 Interstate Tranfer Fee. I sent the parole board the funds and after a month or so it was denied due to lack of address. He applied two more times later in 2017 and both times I sent the Parole Board the non-refundable transfer application fee and both times it was denied. Finally, late last year the Parole Board granted his request to be released in Arkansas, The stipulation was that he had to secure viable housing but at least no fee was involved. After making several calls and writing numerous letters I got in touch with a friend in Little Rock who was willing to help locate a place for Chris nearby. She found a two bedroom house for $500 a month! The house needed a little work and some serious cleaning. My friend got some of her friends together and they cleaned the place from top to bottom. They also did a some painting, added some curtains, picked up some kitchen items, furniture and a bed with sheets, and they donated blankets, and a pillow. Amazingly too, the owner said that if Chris would pay the rent for 14 years he could have the house. I sent in the rent money and secured the house as Chris went through the approval process. After nearly three weeks his parole was approved but rent was almost due again by that time and I made sure that was covered as well. Last month, late, on a Friday night I got a call…it was Chris to tell me that he was out of prison and calling from the house. He was excited and so happy! Within three days he had a job with a construction company making a good income and will be able to pay his bills. Other people are helping him but adjustment is hard. Chris called me last weekend in tears saying that he is lonely. He spent so many years of his life constantly around people in a prison setting that being by himself was overwhelming. We talked about that and the challenges of adjustment. Since then we’ve talked a couple of times and he seems more settled. It will take time to fully transition from prison life to life in society. I just wanted to share this with you because your support and the support of many others in the Buddhist community really had a major impact on my ability to help Chris. The ripple effect of that support made it possible for Chris to have a chance at life outside of prison. He is doing better with the adjustment with each passing day. I never met him and probably never will but I feel honored to have had the chance to help. This accomplishment has been very meaningful and satisfying on many levels.

It’s always nice to share good news. Especially during these times when the news we do get is often so depressing. Thank you for inspiring me to help whenever I can. Have the best day ever!

Many thanks for all you do,

A Buddhist Life in Prison
by Calvin Malone
Foreword bySteven C. Rockefeller
“Razor-Wire Dharma is not just for Buddhists, it is for anyone who values cultivating patience, forgiveness, tolerance, and a kind heart.” –—Thubten Chodron, author of Open Heart, Clear MindCalvin Malone has plenty to teach us all about ideas that we rarely associate with the penal system: Dignity. Compassion. Freedom behind bars. He speaks from experience: Malone is nearing the end of a 20-year prison sentence himself.

Razor-Wire Dharma is his eloquent, enlightening, and utterly inspiring personal story how he found Buddhism—and real, transformative meaning for his life-despite being in one of the world’s harshest environments.

Some of his stories are hilarious, some are harrowing, but all express Buddhist wisdom as vividly as any practitioner could hope to do. Malone is living it, and in the unlikeliest of places. For him, the choice of staying true to his principles often requires that he quite literally jeopardize his life, safety, and the few small comforts available to him to try to do what’s right.

Razor-Wire Dharma makes it clear that if Calvin can do what’s right in jail, he can do it anywhere. What’s more, it proves that we can, too.

The meditation pagoda which Calvin’s Sangha built
Available from
A drawing Steve sent us several years ago

We were also pleased to learn that our friend Terry has become involved with Buddhist prison work. Here is a recent message from him:

My teacher, Ajahn, and I have become official religious volunteers in the Prison System. It was a long process. The wheels of bureaucracy grind slowly as ever. We received out ID badges last Thursday when we went to a state prison. We also prevailed in our request that we be given special consideration because we have to drive over 600 miles to meet with the Buddhist prisoners. I know you are very familiar with the prison system and how it is not really meant to promote rehabilitation. The rule we were fighting against was that ‘no religion’ can have more than 90 minutes per week of services, ceremonies, etc. We convinced them that this was impossible due to the nature of ceremonies which include meditation, walking and seated, and chanting as well as a Q and A session with the teacher. They relented and so we will have 4 hours over two days each month. During Vassa we will have to do a day trip as we cannot stay out of the Wat (or me out of the Vihara) over night unless it is an emergency. The prisoners are so wonderful and grateful. I must say that I didn’t expect the kind of respect that they show to Ajahn Sararyut and to me. I would like to have time to talk to them but they are not encouraged to have long conversations with the volunteers one-on-one. We will begin to go to a juvenile facility and also help with meditation at the nearby Federal Prison starting as soon as our applications are approved. One of the chaplains at the Federal prison refused a request from a Buddhist prisoner for a meeting with a monk and when we found out, we filed a complaint and, guess what? The visit was approved immediately.
We also received this amusing tidbit with a photo from Terry
This is my Preceptor in the new robes that were made in N. Thailand especially so he is not hassled constantly about the orange color of his regular robes when we go to the prisons to teach. One guard accosted him inside the prison and asked if he was a new inmate!!

Sadhu! Sadhu!! Sadhu!!!

A few days ago, we received Ven. S. Dhammika’s latest book, which was just published by BPS. We are delighted that it is finally readily available. It will be a valuable reference.
Click the image to view larger.
Click here for the BPS website, but. as of July 28, 2018, the book has not yet been posted for sale. It should be there soon

It seems that every year we explain the process of renewing our residence visa at the Department of Immigration in Colombo. The reason for this is simple: Every year it is different, and it is always amusing, if you can call that funny.

Our visa expires July 14, and it is wise to apply about one month before expiration. We got all the papers ready, including eight letters (one for each of us to be presented to the local Secretary of the Sangha, the Central Province Office, the Ministry of Buddha Sasana, and the Department of Immigration) on Subodhararma letterhead. Unfortunately, Ven. Dhammawasa, our sponsor, who has to sign the letters, was in the US until June 22. That afternoon, we called him and made an appointment for 3:30 PM the next day, Saturday. We arrived at the temple and found an exhausted abbot in his beautiful office at Subodharama. Still suffering from jet lag, he’d spent his first night back at at an ordination which lasted until the wee hours of the morning! He kindly signed the letters and smiled wanly as we paid our respects and left.

The following Monday, after our class at Vajirarama, we went by three-wheeler to meet the new secretary. The temple is near the river at the bottom of the hill below our house. We presented him with a copy of A Pilgrim’s Companion, gave him two of the letters from Ven. Dhammawasa, and showed him the visa applications, which he signed and stamped.

Having accomplished this, we went immediately to the Central Office in downtown Kandy. Visakha, who was still recovering from a bout of flu, was going to wait in the three-wheeler, so she took the passports out of her purse and gave them to Ken. He quickly put them in the folder with the other papers and hurried inside to hand them in before the clerks left for lunch. He easily found the proper office, presented the applications, the letters from Ven. Dhammawasa, and the passports. The clerk, a friendly woman, told him that it would take a few minutes and asked him to wait in the corridor. In previous years, Ken had sat in the office at an empty table, where he felt that he was being watched by the entire staff, so he was happy to sit on a padded bench in the corridor.

Expecting to have to wait about an hour, Ken took out his Kindle and settled down. After a few minutes, the clerk appeared and handed him two 5000-rupee notes and quietly said, “We don’t need any money.” Utterly surprised, Ken took the notes and replied, ‘I’m sorry.’ Before he could explain that he hadn’t known that the money was in the passports and that it was a mistake from his wife’s purse, the woman had disappeared. Ken realized that she had assumed that the money was meant as a bribe. He was a little embarrassed, but pleased that the clerk was, indeed, pefectly honest. Kudos to the Central Office! About thirty minutes later, the clerk returned with the passports and the applications, signed and stamped.

The Ministry of Buddha Sasana accepts applications only on Mondays and Wednesdays. June 27 was a full-moon day, a holiday, so we arranged for our excursion to Colombo on July 2.

Figuring on a three-hour drive, we left at 5:30 AM. We would be at the office by 9:00, which would give us ample time to take the final applications to the Department of Immigration. The driver was competent, though the car was quite cramped, compared to the van we usually take, but we didn’t arrive at the Ministry until after 10:00. A security guard viewed our applications and accompanied us up in the elevator and to the door of the office to present our papers, which included the applications signed by Ven. Dhammawasa, the Sangha Secretary, the Central Province Officer, the letter from Ven. Dhammawasa, and a special form to be sent to the Defense Ministry for clearance. On this form, we had to list all bank accounts, local and foreign, all foreign travel for the last ten years, all employment history, and all resident addresses. Wisely, we had last year’s form in the computer, so it was a relatively easy matter to update it and print it. The two women in the office accepted our papers, nodded their approval that everything appeared to be in order, and told us, through Lily, to wait in the hallway, where several monks were also waiting. We noticed that one of the monks had a screen saver of Mahinda Rajapaksa on his phone and overheard that another was going to the Sri Lankan temple in Japan. During the next hour, some of the monk’s received their letters and others arrived to submit their applications. Finally, one monk, having noticed how long we had been waiting, kindly suggested that we should inquire about how our business was progressing. Lily stepped inside and was informed that it was standard procedure to serve the monks first. At about noon, one of the women came out with the letters which we had to take to the Department of Immigration aross town in Battaramula.

In previous years, we had always gone to Immigration in the morning, so we were not sure that applications would be accepted in the afternoon, but, already being in Colombo, it was worth a try. The day before, we had read in a letter to the editor that clerks in that department had been waging a work-to-rules strike and that there had been chaos and crowding at the office with long lines of people waiting for passports. We did not know what to expect. The driver did not know exactly where the office was, but he knew how to get to Battaramula. Ken loaded a map (with GPS) on his tablet and directed him, pointing out landmarks–McDonald’s, Juicy Shop, NBD Bank, etc–to make sure that we stayed on the right road. The flight across Water’s Edge was achieved without a hitch. The car stopped right at the steps of the proper building, much closer than we had ever driven before, and we quickly made our way to the elevator.

At the reception desk, we recognized the clerk who had taken care of last year’s fiasco. She accepted our papers, looked them over, shouted something to clerks at another desk, received a positive reply, and, instead of printing a new queue number, picked up one from her keyboard and handed it to us, pointing to the desk across the aisle. We presented the papers there, and a woman typed something into her computer and told us to proceed to Section B. There, we recognized the Controllers’ offices that we had visited last year. Airport-like monitors announced which numbers were being served and which numbers should prepare their documents. We sat to wait. Ken kept his eye on one of the monitors, but was a bit distressed to see that, although numbers higher than our RV1100 were displayed, ours was not. After fifteen minutes, he was about to return to the receptionist to ask whether there had been a mistake, when RV1100 popped up. About twenty minutes later, our number appeared in second place on the monitor in front of Office #2. Five minutes later, we were called in. The Controller asked us to sit at the desk and took our papers, checking each item and marking acceptance on each one. As he started the second application, he returned to the first, compared documents, and seemed a bit puzzled. Then he pointed out that one of the two letters from Ven. Dhammawasa had not been signed. We were as surprised as he was puzzled, but we quickly explained how tired the poor monk had been when we had visited him. The Controller nodded, asked us to sit on the sofa beside his desk, and took the papers into the main office. A few minutes later, he returned without our papers and called in the next applicants, a family with a cute little girl. Just as they finished successfully, a woman entered from the main office and returned our documents to the Controller. He called us over to his desk and said that there was no problem. The application was accepted, pending approval from the Ministry of Defense. We were to return on August 6, one month and one week later, by which time, clearance would have come from Defense, and we would receive our visas. At that time, we should bring the letter with the sponsor’s signature. At another desk, we submitted the documents one last time and were given a receipt for our passports. The receipt has the correct numbers for the two passports, but please notice how our names appear!

The reason we had hired a car and driver and taken Lily with us, rather than taking the train to and from Colombo (much cheaper), was that we hoped that we would be able to finish both offices quickly enough to stop on the way back to Kandy in Avissawella to view the construction of Ven. Amilasiri’s ward for the elderly monks. It was, indeed, still early afternoon, so we headed there. Fortuitously, from Colombo, Battaramula lies in that direction. We made a short stop for lunch and proceeded. Again, Ken followed with his GPS, but the driver knew how to get to Avissawella. However, only Lily knew where the temple was, and that only vaguely from various landmarks. After only a few wrong turns, we found ourselves on a narrow lane which looked familiar. We stopped to ask a villager about the new temple, and she joyfully responded that it was just down the road. She even walked ahead to show us the way.

Click the photo to see more photos of the construction site.

At the site, we met one of the workmen, who informed us that the construction was approximately 80% completed. They were going to lay the floor the next day, and some of the walls, as you can see in the photos, have already been plastered. Everyone in the village is delighted with the prospect of the opening of the new temple

. Ven. Amilasiri hopes to transfer some of the elderly monks to Avissavella as soon as September.

For several weeks before we went to Avissawella, we had been concerned because we had been unable to contact Ven. Amilasiri. His phone was switched off. A few days after our visit to Avissawella, he called and informed us that he had been in the hospital in Anuradhapura with a high fever. Because he’d donated a kidney some years ago, an infection is a serious matter. When he first spoke, he sounded terribly weak, but the next day his voice was much stronger. It had been a urinary tract infection which had finally responded to treatment. One more reason to relocate–the drought in Kurunegala had eased, but the quality of the water was still not good. About a week later, we spoke with him again and learned that he was feeling much better and that the water had cleared up.

For the last few months, unspecified viral infections have affected people all over the island. Ashoka spent four days in Kandy Hospital on drip while undergoing innumerable tests. Visakha, too, was under the weather for about a week, though not enough to be hospitalized. The biggest threat, however, is still dengue fever. The newspaper daily reports the number of cases and deaths in each province, and it is alarming.

Ven. Amilasiri also told us that some of the elderly monks staying at Bodhirukarama suffer from kidney disease, which is endemic in Sri Lanka. Since treatment is not available in Kurunegala, they have to go to the hospital in Anuradhapura. He has been offered space at a temple in Anuradhapura for those kidney patients, but he will have to build a small residence hall cum ward. The cost is estimated at about US$13,000, and he has asked whether we can help. Once more, Buddhist Relief Mission appeals for contributions. We don’t expect to be able to raise the entire amount, but we hope that we can provide part of the cost. Donations are welcome.


Ironically, the phrase “American exceptionalism” was initially used, dismissively, by Russian dictator Joseph Stalin, but, over the years, it has become a point of honor and a source of pride for those who claim to love America the most.

Citizens of every country have a strong sense of patriotism, but for most of its history, beginning with the Declaration of Independence, the United States of America (the shortened name of which usurps two continents), has claimed a unique role in the world. With almost messianic zeal, taking the Statue of Liberty as its symbol, this nation has proclaimed itself a beacon of freedom and justice. This proclamation conveniently ignores the genocide of Native Americans and the barbarity of slavery, just as the claim of the world’s best education and medicine ignores the deplorable state of our schools and the lack of health care for the vast majority of the population.

In “Common Sense” (1776), Thomas Paine described the country as a beacon of liberty for the world: “Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.”

In his address to the U.S. Naval Academy, President Wilson declared, “The idea of America is to serve humanity.” Describing the United States as a bastion of freedom and altruistic service, he exhorted the graduates “to take these great engines of force out onto the seas like adventurers enlisted for the elevation of the spirit of the human race. For that is the only distinction that America has.”

President Reagan said, “I’ve always believed that this blessed land was set apart in a special way.” Even President George W. Bush waxed uncharacteristically poetic, saying: “Like generations before us, we have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom. This is the everlasting dream of America.”

The crack in the American dream has been well-documented by Howard Zinn (A People’s History of the United States), but it became personal with involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and opposition to the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. According to a Gallup Poll in 2010, however, 80 percent of Americans believed the United States “has a unique character that makes it the greatest country in the world.”

Ironically, America has, today, demonstrated its exceptionalism in its vulnerability to racism, anti-intellectualism, jingoism, hyper-patriotism, violence, and legal corruption. Everything about the Trump campaign, election, and administration is exceptional in all the worst possible ways. Craven cowards in his party and Congress aid and abet a psychopathic, lying, ignorant, infantile president as he and his minions wreak havoc on families, the poor, the handicapped, the elderly, minorities, refugees, and students. We have recently witnessed the removal of almost all the regulations–corporate, financial, and environmental–which have somewhat protected us from the greed of unrestrained capitalism. The proliferation of for profit institutions–prisons, immigration detention centers, and schools–proves that the government of the United States is no longer dedicated to “service.” As Michael Moore so graphically pointed out in “Where to Invade Next?” America is not the greatest country in the world.

“It is a hopeless misjudgement to think that one could force a dictatorial regime upon the our nation. Our diversity calls for democracy.”


One might truly imagine that this is a declaration of American exceptionalism, but take a look at the original:

“It is a hopeless misjudgement to think that one could force a dictatorial regime upon the German nation. The diversity of the German people calls for democracy.”
— –Theodor Wolff in Frankfurter Zeitung, Jan 1933


Initially, few had any inkling that Hitler would use his position to establish a dictatorial single-party regime. No one expected Trump to win the election, but his megalomaniacal policies were obvious from his own speeches and from warnings by many columnists during the campaign.

There have been innumerable alarums that the United States is sliding into a Fascist dictatorship. Is the writing on the wall?

Fascism: a political regime that exalts nation and race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.


There’s no exaggeration. It can happen here, and, to a great extent, it already has. We are enduring our second year of fascist rule. There is no question that Trump and his whole administration are just one kind of person of the four sorts, the Buddha identified here:

Wood from a Pyre

There are four kinds of people in the world. One who is engaged in promoting neither his own good nor the good of another, one who is engaged in promoting another’s good but not his own, one who is engaged in promoting his own good but not that of another, and one who is engaged in promoting both his own good and that of another.

“A person who is engaged in promoting neither his own good nor the good of another is just like a piece of wood from a pyre, burnt at both ends and in the middle fouled with dung, which serves neither for fuel nor for lumber.

More worthy than that person is one who is engaged in promoting another’s good but not his own. More worthy than either of them is the person who is engaged in promoting his own good but not that of another. Foremost, however, is the person who is engaged in promoting both his own good and that of another. Of these four individuals he is the supreme.

“Just as from a cow comes milk; from milk, cream; from cream, butter; from butter, ghee; and from ghee, the skimmings of ghee, which is considered the best; among these four kinds of people, the person who is engaged in promoting both his own good and the good of another is the foremost and the supreme.”

–Anguttara Nikaya 4, 95

The current administration of the United States and the Republican Party, especially those in Congress, are maintaining power, but they are certainly not making themselves happier, nor are they working for the welfare of the people. In spite of their “tax cuts,” they, too, will suffer with the impending economic and social breakdown and the inevitable climate catastrophe.

It is difficult to believe the results of a CBS poll: “68% of Republicans think approve of President Trump’s performance in Helsinki.” Looking at Trump’s statements and admissions at that press conference, we ask, “Dare we call it treason?”

Recently, we watched “Judgment at Nuremberg,” which Ken remembered seeing when he was in high school, but of which he could only recall the feeling of its being powerful. We were both amazed at how truly powerful it was. The Academy Award winning screenplay is masterful and unrelenting. The verdict–of course, the German people knew what was happening–rings so true today. Since we are not blind, how can we allow a dictator to destroy the fabric of our society?

Here are two articles we found after we watched the movie. Both were written in 2016, before Trump was elected.

“Above all, there was fear: fear of today, fear of tomorrow … fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves …. Only when you understand that, can you understand what Hitler meant to us: Lift your heads. Be proud to be German. There are devils among us: Communists, liberals, Jews, Gypsies. Once these devils will be destroyed, your misery will be destroyed.”
Those words are from the 1961 film “Judgment at Nuremberg.” They address an eternal question: Why do good people do terrible things?
“Where were we when Hitler began shrieking his hate in the Reichstag? … Were we deaf, dumb, blind?!” Screenwriter Abby Mann’s scripted words were spoken by the fictional pre-war German Justice Minister Ernst Janning, played by Burt Lancaster, as he testified before a military tribunal in the award-winning 1961 film “Judgment at Nuremberg.” The film is prophetic. It’s a reminder to self-governing institutions — including the United States — that the governed must be their ultimate sovereigns. The movie’s message resonates almost daily in our tumultuous 2016 presidential politics.
Click each image to read the entire article online.

And these:


Henry A. Giroux: The Nightmare of Neoliberal Fascism

read the article read the article

Let us pause here to express our admiration and gratitude to all of you (You know who you are!) who are using your energy, your talents, your art, your voices, and your resources, to challenge untruth, to oppose injustice, to protect and support refugees and the downtrodden, to educate the uninformed, and to resist fascism, torture, and war. Bless you, as you stand up for truth; justice; equality; fragile human rights; basic human dignity; and our beleagured earth with its precious forests, nature in all its diversity, fresh water sources, and vast oceans.

On June 18, an earthquake struck Japan in Takatsuki and Ibaraki, exactly where we lived from 1971-1978. We worried about our friends in that area, but a few phone calls assured us that they were OK. Then, shortly thereafter, we read about unprecedented rain and devastating floods. There were reports of as many as 200 killed. Hard to imagine. Then, just last week, the temperature hit 105ºF (41ºC), outside Tokyo.

Click the image to read the article from CNN, which inclues a video.

So, we might as well start placing our bets as to how and how soon the world will end:

Are we doomed? Only with a righteous and moral leader is it even remotely possible that civilization will survive much longer.

The Kings’ Virtues
Rajovada Jataka

Long, long ago, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Baranasi, the Bodhisatta was born as his son and was named Prince Brahmadatta after his father.

At sixteen, he was sent to Takkasila, where he quickly mastered all branches of learning. When, on his father’s death, he became king, he ruled with uprightness and administered justice without partiality. Because he ruled justly, his ministers were also just. Because everything was done fairly, no false suits were ever brought to court. All the bustle of litigation stopped. Ministers often sat on their benches for many days without seeing a single plaintiff. The courts were virtually deserted.

Click the image to read the entire story.

Amidst this gloom and doom, Ken developed an infected ingrown toenail. It required numerous visits to the doctor ($8 -$12 each) and four courses of antibiotics ($3-$8 each) over a period of two weeks. He just returned from another visit to the doctor, which included minor surgery to remove part of the nail ($13) and a final course of antibiotics ($8). We can afford that!

On a brighter note, Leo is becoming cuter by the day. He is a great ratter, but always loses his prey to any crow who asks for it. He loves to eat and will come running whenever we open the backdoor and call, “Kitty! Kitty!”. He enjoys being petted and sits on Visakha’s lap in the waiting room for a few minutes. Then he jumps down and collapses on the rug because he loves to sleep. He’s clumsy and doesn’t leap gracefully. Sometimes he just falls off things. He adores Ashoka’s three-wheeler, preferring the driver’s seat or the roof to the passenger compartment. A few weeks ago, we found one Indonesian batik napkin that had been shredded and wondered what had happened. When we showed it to Lily, she explained that Leo had done it. He steals clothes off the line, plays with them, and, if he can, drags them into his carrying box beside the outdoor kitchen. Lily has found several bandanas, shirts, and hankerchiefs that Leo has brought back from the neighbors’ compounds. In a previous life, was he a cloth merchant or a bandit? No matter; in this life, he’s got it made, and he is enjoying it!

Click the photo to see more photos of Chamara working on the hives.

We have two bee hives. Both are in “monkey cages,” to protect them from the local wandering simians. Unfortunately, one of the hives collapsed, the victim of two problems. That hive was in a cage next to the boundary wall of our garden. Just across the wall is a new house with a very bright light which shines all night. That light upset the bees and many died. Also, leaves fell into the “moat” at the bottom of the pedastal, and ants were able to attack the hive. Chamara, the local “bee-man” came, inspected the hives, and replaced the lost civilization. Nimal and Edmond erected a new, smaller enclosure, next to another of monkey cage and away from the wall, and we moved the new hive into its new home. Chamara also told us that the other hive is ready for harvesting honey. How exciting! We hope that in the not-too-distant future Chamara will be able to make a presentation on bees at our house, and beehives will proliferate in Kandy.

We had received our applications for absentee ballots for the Michigan primary and mailed them promply back. Unfortunately, just then the Sri Lanka Postal Department went on strike. A few days after the strike ended, we called the city clerk and learnned that the applications had not arrived. There was not much time left (Air Mail takes about ten days each way!), but the clerk offered to email us new applications. As soon as we had returned the applications by email, the clerk emailed us the actual ballots.Thus, we were able to vote without any further anxiety whatsoever. It is an important primary, for up for nomination is the first Muslim candidate for Governor of Michigan! Kudos to the City Clerk who made this possible! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
SERVAS guests, Hana and Zdenek, from the Czech Republic. On July 21-22, we hosted a seminar on the Golden Light Sutra, presented by a German nun, Ven. Birgit Schweiberer. This is the altar Ven. Lekdron set up for the event.
Click each photo to view larger.
On Saturday, June 30,Valerie King organized “Night for Rice” in Baltimore, continuing a series of events she had begun in New York several years ago. The event, sponsored by Buddhist Relief Mission, raised money to provide food to Burmese refugees in camps on the Thai/Burma border. Valerie has also received a large amount of clothing and educational material for the refugees. Some of the donations will be used to cover shipping costs.You can see the flyer for the event here, but you can still make a donation to the cause. We hope that “Night for Rice” will continue, perhaps in Ohio, where Valerie is relocating.
Our Vesak lantern; that seems SO long ago!
After pondering long and hard as to how we might use the many toilet paper cores we have colleced, we hit upon this. How reasonable!
It was hard to find a bucket that was not plastic!
Rameshbhai, a devotee of Ven. Pannasila, who has translated Buddhist Knowledge Quest into Gujerati, was visiting Kandy and invited us to his hotel, and we joined the birthday party of one of the tour members. Rameshbhai gave us a gift of two big packs of a Gujerati snack, khakhra, to which we have become addicted. It is delicious!
In our garden

P. S. As we were putting the finishing touches on this report, We found this article from the New York Magazine. Sweet irony! “But something’s lost, and something’s gained …”

Click the photo to read the article.

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Buddhist Relief Mission

About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
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