Early morning Dec. 13: I was sitting at Delhi airport waiting to board my flight which was scheduled for 4AM. With time to fill I was looking around the Internet on my laptop and decided to check out the Blogisattva website. Turns out I had won one of the awards, in the category Best Engage-the-World Blog, from the six categories in which I had been nominated. I looked at that list:
- Best Engage-the-World Blog
- Best Achievement Blogging Opinion Pieces or Political Issues
- Best Blogging on Matters Philosophical, Psychological or Scientific
- Best Achievement in Skilled Writing
- Post of the Year! For the post: Sex and the Sangha:Forgiveness, Retribution or Justice
- Blog of the year, Svaha!
What kind of reaction to have to all that?
So I got on my flight, slept a couple of hours until it touched down briefly in Bangkok, ate a little breakfast on the plane and slept again until I reached Hong Kong where I had another few hours to pass. I wandered through the airport, looking for one of those airport massage set ups since my neck was stiff and painful due to both sleeping on the plane and the building results of a case of whiplash which occurred due to an accident we had on the way to Delhi the day before. Someone talking on a cell phone had clobbered us soundly from behind, causing damage to the car and two of the four passengers including me. The other injured person, my landlord’s uncle who was catching a ride to Delhi with us to visit his newly married daughter and see her new home for the first time, had bumped his head.
There is a massage/Chinese medicine outlet in the HK airport but it was a little too busy at the time and I didn’t feel like waiting around for an appointment, which may or may not have been completed by the time I had to board my next flight.
So I connected to the airports excellent, very high speed, free public wireless (YVR take a lesson) and checked my email. A note from my sister informed me that my uncle had just died.
I had just chatted on Facebook with my aunt the morning before I left home for the trip to Delhi and she had let me know that his condition, due to a stroke in June, had deteriorated and he hadn’t been wanting to eat any more. He didn’t want to participate in any kind of rehabilitation for the effects of the stroke since it happened. A lot of family members and friends had tried to encourage him but he had just given up upon realizing the paralysis of one side of his body.
These events set me to thinking about the months, as a teenager, that I had gone to live with that particular aunt and uncle in northern Canada, up near Flin Flon Manitoba. It was a tumultuous time in my life and I was not getting along with the rest of my family so to be in a new environment was really quite welcome (for everyone).
My flight was called and for the next 12 hours on the way to Canada, between naps, the distraction of a movie and meals, attempts to exercise my increasingly stiff neck, recalling things left undone and to some extent unsettled back in India, anticipating holiday travel plans to visit relatives including my aunt, there was a fair bit of turmoil going on in my mind.
Upon reaching Vancouver the jet lag of an 11 hour time change and the full on effects of the whiplash set in as I plowed through months of mail, unpacked, got laundry done, arranged further holiday travel and about a thousand other things.
So interspersed with these highlights from my past week’s life stream was the thought that I ought to address this Blogisattva situation. Considering that I had made some amount of noise about the advisability of this kind of competition on this blog in the posts The Buddhist Contest in 2008 (Yes I gave Tom a little grief about it in the past-so the current curators needn’t feel singled out) and Blogisattvas last June, as well as comments elsewhere there is some amount of, if not irony, then oddness about both being nominated and winning something.
I am highly ambivalent about awards because there is always a certain amount of subtext either immediately present or implied or imagined somewhere down the line. This subtext in this instance involves the Good/Bad Buddhist dichotomy, convert Buddhist stereotypes, the advisability of competition in the Buddhist endeavor, the potential of misdirected intentions, sensations of inadequacy-either Buddhist or writerly for being unmentioned, sensations of grandiosity-either Buddhist or writerly for being mentioned…the latter two reminds me of a little Voltaire quote that often applies to competition type situations:
The only reward to be expected from the cultivation of literature is contempt if one fails and and hatred if one succeeds.
Such a situation is only beneficial for practice if one is willing to wrestle with it and one’s own competitive feelings. The competitive feelings of others are for them to wrestle.
Uku wrote in his blog post Why I don’t like blog contests and awards:
I don’t think this world needs celebrity-awards-contests-glamour-shit.
I don’t think the world “needs” that either but it’s here so it has to be dealt with.
Socially one is expected to follow a gracious script of acceptance upon receipt of recognition. I have been kind of stuck deciding if I want to play against the script about this award situation or not. In seeking the answer to that dilemma a few questions arose that I had to address. These are things like:
Is there such a thing as healthy competition? I don’t really think so. I have yet to see one example of competition where all, or even the majority of the participants feel satisfied with the outcome. If someone can name one such situation I’ll be happy to reconsider that position.
How are any of these categories quantifiable? To make a comparison between things there has to be some kind of criteria. And to be fair it has to be somewhat objective. There would be some distinguishing characteristics by which to judge. We have the 32 marks of the Buddha, either taken literally or metaphorically, but what are the 32 marks of “best blogging”? And with such an amorphous blog subject matter as “Buddhist”.
What does “engage the world” mean? The only time one is disengaged from the world is if they’re dead, so I don’t understand this category fully.
What am I doing here on this blog and why am I doing it? This blog is like a form of dana to me. The giving of what few gifts I have. Maybe not always the nicest gift sometimes but that’s what’s within my means at that particular moment. If such a gift is not appropriate for someone they are free to pass it on or just pass on it. That’s pretty much my theme today.
I am being “participated” here whether I choose to be or not. It’s a situation based on the decisions of others to put it another way. Quite a few things in life are like that. If my taxi driver decides to quit his job while we’re stopped at a red light then it’s likely I won’t get to my destination. If my grocer has an argument with a supplier then it’s possible my favorite cheese won’t be available. If a friend decides to make dinner for me then I’m going to be well fed or vice versa. Someone may decide to strap on a suicide bomb and blow it up at the market I’m visiting that day. Someone may decide to give me a winning lottery ticket for Christmas. It gets complicated when thought about in those terms.
Now I am not ungrateful for the nominations. That is a gift of sorts also. I feel the intention. So to those who chose to enter my name in the contest I accept under those terms. Thanks.
As for winning in this specific category I am neither going to fully accept nor fully decline. Nor am I going to follow the gracious script or play against it. I am going to rewrite it.
I want to give this award away.
And the blogger I want to give it to is Bhante Sujato.
He writes Sujato’s Blog:Buddhism for a small world: views and opinions and you can follow him on Twitter @sujato for blog updates. What he can do with a recycled, or is it regifted, Blogisattva Award I don’t know but he seems to be a resourceful person so I’m sure he’ll think of something.
I’m not doing this to try to make some kind of karmic merit, that manifestation of some kind of imaginary spiritual currency that in some situations pays off alleged debts or stokes the spiritually materialist egoic notions of accumulation. I don’t know Bhante Sujato, never met him and probably never will. He’s not my teacher or even an acquaintance.
But he really walks the talk.
Bhante Sujato is a student of Ajahn Brahm’s in Australia. Here is a full biography.
Bhante Sujato (Anthony Best) was born in Perth, Western Australia on 4/11/1966. He was brought up in a liberal Catholic family and attended a Christian Brothers’ school. Impressed by the profound visions of the world opened up through science, and especially the Theories of Relativity, he rejected his Catholic beliefs while in his teens.
He read philosophy and literature at the University of Western Australia for two years, but left to play rock n’ roll guitar. Together with the singer Peggy van Zalm, he formed Martha’s Vineyard, a successful indie band in the late eighties, which however broke up before realizing its potential.
After a number of years drifting around the alternative music scene, he became disillusioned and, needing a drastic change, went to Thailand in 1992. There, despite having no previous experience of Buddhism, he fell into an intensive retreat at a monastery in Chieng Mai. Afterwards he began to seek ways to embody and deepen the insights offered by this experience. Within a year he had arrived at Wat Pa Nanachat, the International Forest Monastery run for and by English-speaking monks in the tradition of Ajahn Chah. He asked for and was granted novice ordination, and in the following year took full ordination as a bhikkhu on 5/5/1994.
He spent three vassa studying under Ajahn Brahm at Bodhinayana Monastery, and several years in remote hermitages and caves in Thailand and Malaysia. In early 2003 Bhante Sujato returned to Australia, arriving at the property then known as the Citta Bhavana Hermitage. The decision was made to develop the hermitage into a training monastery, and the name was changed to Santi Forest Monastery. Since that time the monastery has grown rapidly and has accomplished a number of milestones, including the first samaneri ordination on 9th Mar 2008 and many bhikkhu upasampatha, not to mentioned the various completed or on going building projects and many more future projects pertaining to the financial situation.
The vision for the monastery has always included a role for nuns, and Bhante Sujato has become well known for his articulate and passionate support for the fully ordained bhikkhuni lineage, the most pressing controversy within contemporary Theravada Buddhism.
The main influences in Bhante Sujato’s spiritual development have been threefold. Most obvious is the lifestyle of the forest tradition in which he was immersed. This demanded a strict application of the Buddhist monk’s code of discipline (Vinaya) and the repeated reminder that one’s entire life must be dedicated to the practice.
The second great influence was the Buddha’s early teachings. Having spent nearly ten years studying the canonical Pali scriptures, he became increasingly aware of the outstanding and little-known fact of the existence of thousands of parallel passages in Chinese, Sanskrit, and Tibetan texts. This congruence is regarded as the single most important historical clue to the Buddha’s original message, and Bhante Sujato has taken the lead in introducing cross-tradition text studies to the Buddhist community.
The third major spiritual influence comes from his two main meditation teachers. From the little-known Thai monk Ajahn Maha Chatchai he learnt the practice of loving-kindness that still forms the backbone of his own meditation and teaching. From Ajahn Brahm he learnt especially how to understand this practice within the overall context of the Buddha’s path. In recent years Bhante Sujato has taught Dhamma and meditation to a varied audience in his local area and internationally, and has spoken at several major international Buddhist conferences and events.
His writings explore the earliest Buddhist scriptures, using a comparative and historical approach to illuminate the process of formation of Buddhist ideology and identity; books include A Swift Pair of Messengers, A History of Mindfulness, Beginnings, and Sects & Sectarianism.
A special field of interest is the role of women in Buddhism, and particularly in the revival of the bhikkhuni order within the Theravada tradition. Bhante Sujato brings his text-critical faculties to bear on this urgent modern dilemma, in addition to his work in actually establishing a bhikkhuni community at Santi.
He has acted and spoken fearlessly on supporting the bhikkhuni ordination. He had explicitly expressed his genuine wish…in the statement, “My vocation is to work with the international Sangha for the establishment of the four-fold community worldwide. I think we need to accept that this is where the future lies.”
Bhante Sujato was one of those involved with the bhikkhuni ordination that took place last year and caused such furor in Thailand. He has written a lot about that on his blog.
He also writes about other topics that are pretty important including consumerism, progressive politics, environment, drug legalization, Thai vinaya reform, pornography, poverty, fundamentalism, Christianity and interreligious dialogue, sexism, racial issues, gender issues, schisms within Theravada, philosophy, psychology, consumerism, human rights, world events, ethics, freedom and of course Buddhist practice.
When someone is part of an establishment and has given over their life to fulfill the principles of that establishment, to go against it based on the uneasiness of conscience that certain aspects of that establishment may engender, is very difficult. It is far easier to go along to get along and just attend to one’s own personal business. It is far easier not to risk anything.
But for those few individuals who cannot just go along the risk is of everything. That is everything they’ve committed their life to, everything they’ve become familiar with…just plain everything. The risk is of rejection, ostracization, removal of all that one’s life has been dedicated towards until that point. That’s huge and it’s also fairly uncommon. And to chronicle it, as a participant, is revealing and useful to those of us who also would seek to speak truth to power in our own ways.
Taking such risks have very little rewards. Not that rewards are the least bit related to the motivation of the risk taking.
We all share the struggle in this world, so we all share the glory as well as fleeting as it may be.
Thank you friends for your consideration of the words you find here and for the opportunity to respond to your kind gesture. I hope you understand.
Thank you Bhante for all you do. It is an inspiration.
Bhante Sujato has kindly responded to being regifted the Blogisattva http://sujato.wordpress.com/about/#comment-7302