Postcard 54 from Robina: Amsterdam, April 12, 2015

2015-04-29 11:00:00

From Athens I flew to Amsterdam on Monday April 6. I stayed the night there with my old friend Australian nun Ven. Kaye Miner in her lovely light-filled Amsterdam flat. Then to Loenen, where there’s a residential center, also called Maitreya. A lovely place, a former hotel.

Maitreya Instituut gompa, and the center itself, a former hotel in Loenen, 100km southeast of Amsterdam.

I hung out with my friends Annelise, Carmen, and Annette. We drove from Loenen into a nearby village for tea and ice cream; the old architecture near Loenen.

The speed limit here (kph not mph!) is not enforced!

I enjoyed real mint tea – and an ice-cream.

Eating my ice cream reminds me: My friend Sarah does a Facebook page for me and a few months ago she posted a photo of me in a cheese shop in Liverpool. Well, that created a bit of a storm: I got stern messages from outraged vegans. I didn’t reply – I’m not interested in politics – but I found a couple of stories that I had Sarah post. One was the result of some research by a Dutchman that found that trillions of insects are killed by cars every year. He got a certain number of drivers to count the dead insects on just their number plates during a certain period and covering a certain number of kilometers.

Using his findings he came to this conclusion: “With 200 million cars in the US, driven an average of 12,500 miles per year, the entire nation travels approximately 2.5 trillion miles annually, and kills around 32.5 trillion insects in the process.”

In other words, sentient beings die at the hands of humans, including vegans and vegetarians, every day. Unfortunately, due to our obsessive attachment to eating food, people get especially upset about dead creatures when they’re used for food. There’s no question, we must do everything we can not to harm sentient beings, but it’s naive to assume that just because we don’t eat meat or cheese that the sentient beings whose bodies we’re not eating somehow don’t get killed. Of course they do! Or that we’re not killing sentient beings in other ways, just by existing.

One of the millions and millions of field mice slaughtered to make way for growing wheat in Australia. Photo

Just as interesting was a story I found online by a science journalist, Mike Archer, with the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

“In all the towns around Australia that are wheat producing towns or centres, on average about every five years they have a mouse plague. And these mice get killed in the millions and millions, mass slaughtered in horrible ways that cause their deaths to be really unpleasant. Some of the grains are fed to cattle, but they are also the core of the diets for a lot of people who don’t want to eat any meat.”

I visited a prison the next day. One of the things I’ve noticed over the years among people in prison is that those with long sentences are the most serious practitioners. Makes sense, I suppose. As long as there is attachment in our minds – and it runs the show as far as Buddha is concerned – we’ll always find something to “look forward” to: that’s one of its functions. The fundamental energy that drives attachment is dissatisfaction with the present and the constant yearning for something in the future.

When you’re in a ugly prison with no hope of getting out, what in worldly terms is there to look forward? Not much! You either go nuts – or you practice.

In Holland most had very short sentences, the prisons are quite civilized, and their life is relatively pleasant. And they have their life outside to look forward to, so there’s not the same incentive to practice.

It’s same if we’ve been told we’ve got a terminal illness. In reality, as Lama Zopa Rinpoche points out, we’re all dying, it’s simple a question of time. But we certainly do not believe it! As Rinpoche also says, we divide the world into living people and dying people and just because we’re not terminally ill we assume that we’re living people. Which means we have a life, something to look forward to. Well, living people die before dying people every day!

I remember reading about a man, a CEO of a big company, who was diagnosed with a terminal illness that would show symptoms gradually. He first decided not to tell anyone but then changed him mind and told his board. They fired him! Who wants a dying person running their company!

The trouble with attachment is that when it gets what it wants we lull ourselves into believing everything is fine, life is permanent, so we sit back and relax. But it’s absurd to wait till we are told we are going to die or till we get thrown into prison for life to realize that we all need to work on our minds, to practice.

Often my friends in prison would say that this was their “wake-up call.” Well, best we give ourselves our own wake-up call.

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