Wednesday, May 18, 2016

New dimensions of dementia or: what was this monk thinking?

My friend told me that in a super holy spot in Sri Lanka there's a monk who people go to. I can't say his name or the name of the super holy spot or the name of the monk because that would betray his confidence. You my friend were kind and considerate to send me some of your field notes and I want to respect your privacy. There are a lot of super holy places in Sri Lanka and many of them, like this place, attract large numbers of tourists as well as pilgrims. So maybe a perceptive reader will figure out where in this Sri Lankan landscape of amplified holiness I am referring to. Anyway maybe this monk is already famous enough for the wonders he works that I don't have to give away the name. Sinhalese patriots must know about him already because you found out from your Sinhalese friends  who he is and what he does. How he works his magic of memory swipe. 

I don't know what monks do in Sri Lanka. I mean I've been around a decent number of monks and I've seen them lead religious events, seen and heard them chanting and blessing and giving and taking offerings and eating and riding buses and all that. But I'm not sure what they do. I know that they are highly political and that they are sometimes violent in their political involvement. Is that an unfair assessment? A Tamil friend of mine told me, very charitably I think, that monks absorb the pain of their parishioners. He told me that this is a beautiful thing about Buddhism and I believe he meant it. The one monk I know of here in Batticaloa may absorb his congregants' pain. I don't know. I do know that he's done a lot to increase the measure of pain experienced by the local people here. That is, Tamil people.  

But his is a kind of patriotic work isn't it? He's making this part of the world, that is the Eastern Province, specifically lovely Batticaloa, better for Buddhism. A place where more Sinhalese people can come to live. A way of diluting the unhealthy Tamil influence. And if he has to make it worse for some Christian Tamils and some Hindu Tamils (who knows how he interacts with Muslim Tamils here) well, that's a question of collateral damage. When you're changing a Tamil place into a Sinhalese place it's gotta be take no prisoners, no? Let's not call it ethnic cleansing. Too many bad connotations. Let's just call it ethnic "replacement." Is lebensraum too severe a term? Colonizing? Settling?

But you got me off track in my discussion of a new dimension of dementia. I'm deeply disappointed by what I've seen in Sri Lanka and highly critical. But I'm not embittered. It's not my country to be bitter about. Just to write about the way I see it. But by getting me off track you'd like to suggest that I'm the demented one. No way. Not yet. It's what's going on here in Sri Lanka that's demented, derailed, way off track. Lost in the woods. 

It has to do with what you might call a moral compass. This is something we talk about in the West (decadent isn't it?) and I guess we assume that it's something all enlightened peoples share at some level or another. But as it turns out, one man's moral compass is another guy's depravity. And "enlightenment" is relative isn't it? I mean. Think 18th century Europe. Think Theravada Buddhism. Two different things altogether. So where's the enlightenment compass? Maybe leads to the same place anyway, if you consider how the Nazi phenomenon sprang from the forehead of the Enlightenment. So let's get to it why don't we. 

Here's what my friend wrote based on his conversation with Ven. ____, who discusses people "forgetting past traumas."

"if you make a wish, or if there’s some sort of problem, it’s resolved by that. [nature] When a period has gone by indeed it is resolved by that. Now, look, before, we asked a great multitude to kill, asked them to kill people. After that the people who carried it out were asked to have it removed from their memory. Now the people who asked don’t have a single memory that there was the war. That they asked to kill so many people."

So those few people who remember those days are only us. Afterward, the people who asked don’t have a single memory....Without a memory of that they go on. The time came when the memory disappeared and they went on"

Moving on is what a lot of people in Sri Lanka do. It's I guess, a kind of "reconciliation," reconciliation with one's past? Resignation that that's how things are? But reconciliation and resignation are different things, as different as the two kinds of enlightenment. But what about this memory swipe?

This isn't confession. This isn't absolution. And it's not atonement--farthest thing from it. It's more like exorcism. Abracadabra and all that, you're freed of your memories! A great multitude of you are. Couldn't live with your actions? Ask for them to be erased. And get "nature" to do it for you. See why I was talking about dementia? And like dementia this is seen by the monk as a "natural" process. So people seek forgetfulness, seek to lose memory of the killing they've done, and poof they are free of it! And when the monk says "we asked a great multitude to kill" he's not talking about the lonely individual who has killed. He's referring to a national movement, something like Nazi Europe. We asked a great multitude to kill. It's a national program. Killing. And forgetting. And erasing memory as if by magic. 

To the monk's credit he goes on to hint that the killers may still wake up in the next life as dogs, that they'd better get busy "making merit" if they  are interested in the good life next time around. But how can they do their "merit" if they've forgotten the root of their evil? The firebomb they lobbed into a home with sleeping children, the corpse they raped, the burnt body parts they threw across the fence? Are you kidding Mr. Monk, venerable monk, or are you that depraved?

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