Friday, December 29, 2006

winding down

I escorted Uncle Bill and Aunt Merrilee back to the Kathmandu airport after a hasty sighteeing trip to the vast Pashupati Hindu Temple complex this morning. They will be happily back in Houston in a few days, and wondering if what they saw on the exact other side of the world actually was real, or they suffered from a collective dream orchestrated by one of their more essentric nephews, the one who seems to walk to a different beat regarding practically everything (commerce, education, religion, diet, hygiene) and has the gall to sometimes even act like everyone else is crazy.

Around three years ago, while living without friends or family or orientation in the orient, in kathmandu, I did feel like I was going crazy, and finally I think around the New Year 2004 came to terms with that insanity, and decided that it wasn't so bad after all. OM MANI PADME HUM HRI! Actually quite empowering, and fun...

I will be back at the airport tomorrow morning to fetch the twin brother on this boss hog, my purple Royal Enfield Indian Bullet 350cc beater.

Last month I gave a speech on International Philosophy Day to the Nepal Philosophy Forum. I was asked to talk about the importance of spirituality, but I mainly discussed the necessity to act upon our words, rather than just talk about what would be nice. I also told a few humorous stories, and being the only westerner in the room, I think I was well recieved.

The sunset from the path north from Boudha to Nagi Hermitage, where I attended a short meditation seminar. The veiw is obviously to the west.

Chris with the venerable Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, posing for a group photo after the 2006 Seminar on Vajrayana Buddhist Meditation at the White Monastery.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

about marijuana fields

this photo was sent to me by my twin brother (, and the link below is an article about this meditating 17year old. he asked me to say a few words about him.

this is the famous "Buddha Boy" that has reemerged from hiding yesterday, this time with a sword. Apparently, he has been meditating constantly for many months without eating anything but wild herbs. Some say he is a reincarnation of the Buddha, which makes no sense, because according to Buddhist cosmology BUDDHAS DO NOT REINCARNATE as the media and also the Chinese government likes to think. Buddhas are no longer ruled by the law of the cause and effect of actions (karma), and therefore are out of cyclic existence and do not take rebirth in one of the six realms of existence. Although all beings take rebirth, only very highly advanced meditation practitioners can purposely direct their consciousness to its next birth, like the Dalai Lama. Maybe this kid is a reincarnation of a great spiritual master, but not the Buddha. This is basic stuff.

As I'm living in Kathmandu I haven't gotten out to the remote location he has been meditating, nor do I feel compelled at all to, because as a meditation practitioner I realize that he probably wants nothing more than just to be left alone until he is finished doing what he has set out to do, which seems to be silent quiet solitary retreat for many years. My advice to people who are interested or want to meet him is not to, rather they should go learn some meditation practice themselves from a teacher who is willing to actually talk right now to students, and leave the poor kid alone. That is the reason he disappeared in the first place, and also may be the reason he's carrying a sword now.

a photo of three of the other fulbright scholars with me at the Fulbright South Asia Conference on study abroad last week, held in the Indian state of West Bengal.

Uncle Bill and Aunt Merrilee are in Nepal for 4 days visiting over the holidays, a hop skip and a jump away from Kuala Lampur in Malaysia where my Uncle has been teaching piping design for 6 weeks. Its been fun, and it looks like they are getting a lot out of the new experience and perspective of one of the least developed nations in asia. We've gone for a day trip to the town Bhaktapur in the eastern part of the Kathmandu Valley and today visited Chapagaon, the town where I have been staying in a monastery and also went to Lelegaon, a village at the southern edge of the Kathmandu Valley, because they wanted to see how average Nepalis really lived, and that requires going to the farming villages.

Uncle Bill informed me that there had been some whispers around the family about a picture I have posted of myself standing in front of some very large marijuana plants (gasp!). It is a real photo of me with the real devil weed, clutching the branches of the menace of society in my arms with a great big grin. I have a few things to say about this.
a)marijuana and hemp grow wild all over south asia and other parts of the world, and used to grow wild all over north america as well. for this reason one often encounters it while walking around the hills of Nepal, where the particular photo in question was taken.
b)the marijuana plants in the photo were definately cultivated intentionally, because the buds of the marijuana plant are mixed with grain and other herbs as a particularly affective medicine for goats and cows with stomach illness and indigestion. it is quite common to find some growing or drying around the villages of Nepal.
c)posing in front of large patches of marijuana is funny.
d)even if it were a forest of pot that was being grown to smoke, why is that a big deal? although it is illegal in most countries due to the misinformation of mr. anslinger, medical science has taught us that marijuana when smoked is usually nothing more than a mild high that is nontoxic and has never been fatal, and is much less destructive than alcohol and much less lethal than cigarettes, both of which are abused by millions and kill thousands daily. i personally consider cigarettes to be the most dangerous and personally destructive of all substances that can be consumed, next to poisons.
e)regardless of people's opinions, i have been completely clean of any drugs, or marijuana, or any other smoke, or even a drop of alcohol for the past 5 months, and will continue in this lifestyle for the next 5 months, as i have taken a strict vow for the said period.

lets move beyond the stigma and demonization of marijuana, there are much more important things to think about and waste our breath on.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

a question from a friend

recently a good friend asked me in email whether or not altruism is an appropriate desire.

i think this represents a misunderstanding of Buddhism, coming out of the simplistic way the Dharma is often presented. This is not confined to westerners, but i do think that an emphasis on a very old Pali textual tradition of Buddhism that likes to present itself as the original teachings of the Buddha, without historical change or "corruption," that has been overemphasized by those that write on "pure Buddhist philosophy" without the degradation of guru worship/Buddha image worship/belief in spirits/etc.

Therefore, we often hear the classical maxim, a restatement of the 4 Noble Truths uttered by the Buddha in Sarnath that "since suffering comes from desire, by eliminating desire we eliminate suffering, which leads to nirvana." this summer a Chicago man I met in Dharamsala at my hotel replied that he wasn't going to attend the teachings by His Holiness the Dalai Lama that were going on a short walk away because he found that if you had heard one teaching on Buddhism you had heard them all, since Buddhism is really just telling us to give up all pleasures.

What, really?


"the roads of excess lead to the palaces of wisdom" -william blake

from an orthodox vajrayana buddhist point of view (a historical and philosophical development, emphasizing the effectiveness of ritual, that is most commonly represented by Tibetan Buddhism), it is absolutely
essential to have many different kinds of desire to quickly reach
enlightenment. these include the desire [the tibetan word 'dod pa
means wish/want/desire, the word for the negative kind of desire is
'dod chags, which connotates a clinging or attachment to that which is
desired] that all beings may have happiness and its causes, the desire
that all beings may be divorced from suffering and its causes, the
desire for enlightenment, the desire to make your own mind like that
of the enlightened guru's, etc.

"How can we repay the kindness of the sentient beings? Through showing them immaculate love and compassion. Immaculate love is the thought, 'May they have happiness and its causes.' Compassion is the wish, 'May they be free of suffering and its causes.' Because to obtain happiness and to avoid suffering are the two most primordial, inborn instincts of all that live, to give love and compassion is the supreme gift." - His Holiness the Dalai Lama, from "The Path to Enlightenment."

in this way, desire is part of the raft that carries us over to the
other shore beyond the oceanlike suffering of our neurotic mind, and
that raft should be abandoned once we land the raft.

however, we're still on the raft.

there is a misperception that all desire is bad. some desire can be a
shortcut to understanding. especially if you can look into your mind
on the occasions when you are really attached to something or having
lots of desirous feelings. examine where they come from and where
they go, whether they remain and what they are based on. you may see
that they are really just a composition of thoughts and feelings, many
of which are irrational or baseless and that there is nothing substantial to really
point at.

Calm Abiding meditation helps with this. I am saddened to see people that engage in meditation beating themselves up over their negative emotions, lack of clarity, and inability to concentrate, all of which become more apparent when sitting back and examining the mind. These things naturally come up, over and over again. However, they will gradually subside, and we may not even notice that we are less attached to getting our own preferences, and less inclined to react angrily. We may even have the occasional genuine thought like "Well, he's a nice guy, and although I like this girl that we've both been dancing with, if she decides to go out with him, that's alright," or something similar.

it is said that wisdom and the altruistic desire for all beings
to be enlightened (bodhicitta) are like the opposite sides of the same
coin, or two wings of a bird. wisdom, being the realization that
there is no intrinsically real self, is expressed spontaneously through altruistic
activity. although suffering may ultimately be an illusion, since we
interact with it as if it were real, it is real to our minds, and
therefore important to adress. and those who act with a great amount
of altruism will naturally begin to understand what selflessness is
all about. in our culture, we call this "wise."

in a nutshell, some desires are good, and all desires can be skillfully used with the correct training to understand the wisdom of selflessness. so don't feel bad if you find yourself desiring in a destructive way, you are a person afterall, and you aren't a monk, so relax and take some breaths, and see what happens.

Friday, December 08, 2006


so i don't know if i ever update this, but if anyone is feeling like sending a letter or package (christmas is on the way, my birthday is in february, i am a pisces, by the way, ladies):

Michael Smith
Fulbright Commission
P.O. Box 380
Gyaneshwar, Kathmandu, Nepal, Asia

if anyone wants anything cool sent them from asia, i have a good shipping connection, so email me for tibetan/indian/nepali goods.

monk photos

A younger monk at the Chapagaon monastery named Sangye (Buddha), emptying water offering bowls during the evening protector diety offering ceremony. He is in front of a statue of Vajrasatva, the Bodhisattva of purification. His practice also heals illness and amends negative deeds.

I let some of the younger monks play with my digital camera (i have a shock resistant olympus) and a few pictures turned out quite amazing, like this one, taken looking into one of the upstairs prayer rooms.

also taken by one of the younger monks at the monastery, this picture is very charming. i think they had a lot of fun with the camera. i am inspired by the New Orleans Kids Camera Project.

A spider in her web next to her dinner, taken on the hike south over the Kathmandu Valley rim from Lelegaon. The view looks north towards Kathmandu.

some more pictures, finally. since i've been in boudha, even though there are many options for internet, unfortunately i've found myself too busy to get online for very long in the afternoons (the mornings are reserved for mental cultivation, unless something very important is up).

tonight ram and santoshi are making a feast for a friend's birthday, and it looks like we'll go out to the tourist area of kathmandu for some reggae music and juice (other people will be enjoying beer, etc., i am still in the midsts of a one year detox...), and tomorrow night chris and i have been told to go to a punk/reggae show in town which should be pretty cool. the music scene is slightly looking up these days in kdu.

today i began meeting with my old tibetan language professor, Thinlay Dhondrup, for a daily class. we are reading the text i have been translating together, from the beginning, in order for me to put together a mistake free translation. i have translated the first 45 pages of the 60 pages with many mistakes and questions, we can go fast, though, because i've already put a lot of work into it. our class is held in tibetan, no english if possible. the text is a commentary by Chokyi Dragpa of the Preliminary Practices for Jigme Lingpa's treasure, the Heart Essence of the Vast Expanse.