At Twilight

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Location: Midwest, United States

Thursday, September 24, 2009

'Neath the Bodhi Tree

Artwork by Joan Medina ©2007

An indisputably talented blogger/writer, Selma be her name, posted an entry about the International Day of Peace.

I rather adore Selma. She’s “good people” as I am often wont to say.

And as so often happens when I read her musings, I began pondercating. I took to thinking about peace...

My thoughts turned to Ashoka the Great (Asoka to some):

King Ashoka, the third monarch of the Indian Mauryan Dynasty, has come to be regarded as one of the most exemplary rulers in world history. The British historian, H.G. Wells, wrote this:

"Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history ... the name of Asoka shines, and shines almost alone, a star."

Although Buddhist literature preserved the legend of this ruler -- the story of a cruel and ruthless king who converted to Buddhism and thereafter established a reign of virtue -- definitive historical records of his reign were sorely lacking. Then, in the nineteenth century, there came to light a large number of edicts, in India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. These edicts, inscribed on rocks and pillars, proclaimed Ashoka's reforms and policies and offered his advice to his many subjects. These edicts offer us insights into a powerful and capable ruler's attempt to establish an empire on the foundation of righteousness, a reign that makes the moral and spiritual welfare of his subjects its primary concern.

Who was this Ashoka? Why is it that his name is lost in the fog of the past?

Glad you asked.

Ashoka was an Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled almost the entire Indian subcontinent from 269 BC to 232 BC. He came to reign over most of present-day India after a number of military conquests. The empire stretched from present-day Pakistan, Afghanistan in the west, to Bangladesh and the Indian state of Assam in the east, and as far south as northern Kerala and Andhra . Ashoka conquered the kingdom named Kalinga, and therein resides the heart of his unique story...the horror and the grace of his life’s story.

It’s a historical fact that Ashoka conquered the Kalinga. It’s a fact that more than 100,000 Kalinga were brutally slaughtered. As the legend goes, the day after the battle/rampage was over, Ashoka ventured out to roam the city and all he could see were the burnt houses and scattered corpses. This sight made him sick (literally) and he cried out in what remains a famous monologue:

What have I done? Is this a victory? What's a defeat then? Is this is a victory or a defeat? Is this justice or injustice? Is this gallantry or a rout? Is it valor to kill innocent children and women? Did I do it to widen the empire or for prosperity or to destroy the other's kingdom or splendor? Someone has lost her husband, someone a father, someone a child, someone an unborn infant...What's this debris of the corpses? Are these marks of victory or defeat? Are these vultures, crows, eagles the messengers of death or evil? What have I done!

What have I done!?!

And so, distraught Ashoka took to wandering to expiate his demons. He encountered the son of a pepper merchant and revealed his troubled mind. The man told him to sit beneath a bodhi tree, just as Buddha did, and reflect. And so he did.

Oh, yes, he surely did!

His empire came to be the only empire in world history devoted to non-violence and the propagation of the teachings of Buddha.

Ashoka's edicts are scattered in more than thirty places throughout India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Most of them are written in Brahmi script from which all Indian scripts later developed. Ashoka's edicts have survived the centuries because they are forever engraved on rocks and stone pillars.

His edicts were written in his own words. Ashoka told his subjects that he looked upon them as his children, that their welfare was his main concern. He apologized for the Kalinga war and reassured the people beyond the borders of his empire that he had no expansionist intentions towards them. It was evident that Ashoka embraced Buddhism and that he hoped his subjects would, likewise, adopt his beliefs. It was also clear that Ashoka saw his reforms as a reflection of his duties as a Buddhist. But, even though he was an enthusiastic Buddhist, he was not intolerant. He decided that one of the duties of the State was to protect all religions, to promote and foster harmony between all. He encouraged everyone to practice his or her own religion with the same conviction that he practiced his.

Ashoka did not expound the truths of Buddhism, but informed the people of his reforms and encouraged them to be more generous, kind and moral. In his edicts, he spoke of morality. The morality Ashoka espoused was imbued with the Buddhist values of compassion, moderation, tolerance and respect for all life. He gave up the predatory foreign policy that had characterized the Mauryan empire and replaced it with a policy of peaceful co-existence. He reformed the judicial system to make it fair, less harsh, less open to abuse, and those sentenced to death were given a stay of execution. He opened the coffers of his treasury for public works such as the importation and cultivation of medical herbs, the building of rest houses, the digging of wells at regular intervals along the main roads, and the planting of fruit and shade trees. Ashoka sojourned frequently on inspection tours. He averred the State had a responsibility not just to protect and promote the welfare of its people but also its wildlife. Hunting of certain species of wild animals was banned, forest and wildlife reserves were established and cruelty to domestic and wild animals was prohibited. He established the first animal hospitals in recorded history.

The morality that Ashoka espoused and fostered included respect towards parents, elders, teachers, friends, servants, ascetics and brahmins. He encouraged generosity to the poor, to ascetics, and to friends and relatives. Treating people properly, he suggested, was much more important than performing ceremonies that were supposed to bring good luck. Because it helped promote tolerance and mutual respect, Ashoka desired that people should be well-learned. The qualities of heart that are recommended by Ashoka in the edicts indicate his deep spirituality. They include kindness, self-examination, truthfulness, gratitude, purity of heart, enthusiasm, loyalty, self-control and love.

Ashoka began massive public works to construct thousands of Buddhist buildings. He built stupas (mounds that house Buddhist relics) and he built viharas (Buddhist monasteries). He built roadhouses for travelers which were free of charge for all. He created edicts against sport hunting and promoted vegetarianism. He initiated the building of universities, irrigation systems, and hospitals.

And he signed peace treaties with many of the neighboring kingdoms even though (given India's resources), he could have conquered them outright.

Today, the Ashoka Chakra, the Wheel of Dharma, is featured on the national flag of India.

* * *

It doesn't matter much to me if one is an emperor or a simple soul.

Methinks it's good to spend some time beneath a bodhi tree.

* * *

Monday, September 14, 2009

I Don't Much Care...

If Love comes knockin’ on my door.
Don't get me wrong...
Love is always welcome, to be sure.
Love would be a revered - absolutely adored guest.
(albeit incredibly mysterious)
But I won't hope against hope.
Or bribe my way into affection.
I’ve paid more than I could ever afford.
And I’m not one to beg.

* * *

This scarred hand’s been outstretched too long, too long.
This wounded palm has come up empty.
Now, I’m not one to want more than I deserve.
So I won’t sell myself dear.
Neither will I sell myself cheap.
Yeah, I had me my tarnished coins.
My thirty pieces o' silver.
It wasn’t enough.


I won’t bend to be accepted.
I won’t grovel at the feet of Love.
I’ll wear my hair shirt.
I most surely will...
Now and forever.

But I won’t sell myself cheap.

* * *

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Been Listenin' To This...

all night.

And I can't really explain why. Seriously. I can't.

Kid Rock/Sheryl Crow...

Whodda thunk!?!

* * *

Gratuitous Non-Sequitor:

My sister thinks I'm handsome.

Does that mean any damn thing at all!?!

Just askin'

* * *

All night long I've been watching an intrepid, miniscule insect traversing tirelessly round n' round my monitor.

Can't say as I understand his/her intent...but I admire the tenacity.

I truly do.

* * *

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Truth About Lies

Lies come in all sizes and flavors. There are the white lies that serve as a social lubricant. Methinks we’d probably suffer without those. Brutal honesty is not always necessary nor sometimes even desirable.

Then again, there are the lies that do great damage. The worst lies of all come with “time-delay” fuses. We come to believe and trust in the words of others. We come to rely on those words or the promises made. We sometimes build our lives, craft our hopes and weave our expectations on words that seemingly mean so much...until the Lie detonates. The lie revealed after dreams are dreamt, after hope is birthed and plans are mapped, is the most treacherous lie of all. To learn that something we relied on, trusted, placed great faith upon was “just” a lie, is to die a gruesome death.

The lie that is revealed after honest reliance on the lie is the most damaging lie of all. It is a weapon of mass destruction that wounds not only the deceived believer but a great many innocent bystanders, too.

* * *

Gratuitous Non-Sequitor:

I'm enjoying a glass of "Camaronazo"

(jugo de tomate y camaron)

It's picante!

* * *

BONUS Gratuitous Non-Sequitor:

Death Stands Above Me

DEATH stands above me, whispering low
I know not what into my ear:
Of his strange language all I know
Is, there is not a word of fear.

Walter Savage Landor

* * *

Sunday, September 06, 2009

I'm No Angel

* * *

No, I'm no angel
No, I'm no stranger to the streets
I`ve got my label
So I won't crumble at your feet
And I know baby
So I've got scars upon my cheek
And I'm half crazy,
Come on and love me baby

So you find me hard to handle,
Well...I'm easier to hold
So you like my spurs that jingle
And I'll never leave you cold
So I might steal your diamonds
I'll bring you back some gold

I'm no angel

No, I'm no angel
No, I'm no stranger to the dark
Let me rock your cradle
Let me start a fire with your spark
Oh, come on baby,
Come and let me show you my tattoo
Let me drive you crazy
Come on and love me baby

So you don't give a darn about me,
I'll never treat you bad
I won't ever lift a hand to hurt you
And I'll always leave you glad
So I might steal your diamonds
I'll bring you back some gold

I'm no angel

No, I'm no angel
No, I'm no stranger to the dark
Let me rock your cradle
Let me start a fire in your heart
Oh, come on baby,
Come and let me show you my tattoo
Let me drive you crazy
Come on and love me baby

Oh, come on baby!

Drive me crazy, girl!

Drive me crazy!

Come on baby!

Oh, come on baby!!!

* * *

The Kiss

She told me that his one kiss turned her world upside down...

Damn, I wish I could kiss like that!

* * *

One December Night

The average temperature during a December day in the Chicago area is somewheres ‘round freezing. The nights are significantly colder, natch.

I had been invited to a “party” by long-time friend. She had had a brainstorm. Her close friend had lost her husband in months past and this friend had been having a rough go of it...just weeks ago shattering her elbow in a slip on ice at her local “gas n’ gulp”. So this long-time friend calls me to cajole me into attending a mid-December soiree expressly designed to introduce said close friend to a number of eligible bachelors.

Categorically speaking, I was, I guess, an “eligible bachelor” (at that point in time, anyway). You see, I had suffered through a divorce many months ago. I was tall, thin, well-paid, sober, reasonably healthy and somewhat sane. I guess that’s all it takes to be “eligible”.

I felt no great interest in attending the planned “meet ‘n greet”. I was kinda jaded. Not just jaded, actually...wounded...deeply wounded.
I demurred...but did not decline.

That weekend night found me footloose, so I ventured forth to my long-time friend’s abode.

I rang the doorbell and was greeted at the open door by a skeptical gal with an arm wrapped in a sling. She seemed unimpressed. She was the hostess’ close friend...and I was the dazed “bachelor number whatever”.

The evening was pleasant enough. The host and hostess were dear friends. They were/are intellectuals, gourmands. Any evening spent in their presence was guaranteed to be filled with provocative conversation, beguiling victuals and exquisite liquors.

Long past midnight, the host (three sheets to the wind) cracked open a tome of Lithuanian poetry and read a verse that took my breath away. “Skeptical gal” exhibited the exact same reaction.

I offered to drive her home. She accepted my offer.

And so it came to pass that I transported her home...on a December night when the thermometer registered a temperature in the mid-60’s...a phenomenon I had NEVER experienced before (or since).
We were both transfixed. Somewhat flummoxed and dumbstruck.
We spoke in whispers...enveloped in magic.

And so we sat outside in her backyard sanctuary through the warm, dark night hours leading us to dawn. Both marveling at the mystery and strangeness of it all.

And I asked her if she would like to see me again.

And she said “No”.

And so it began...

The story of the love of my life...

* * *

Critters 'n Me

I’ve been reminiscin’ lately. Thinkin’ ‘bout all the critters that I’ve encountered, embraced, loved and revered.

I’m not just talkin’ ‘bout the cats and dogs, the salamander, turtle, gerbils, albino canary and goldfish that kept me company over the decades.


My thoughts've ranged much farther and wider.

To the ‘possum in the dining room.

To the raccoon brood nesting in the chimney.

To the starling in the basement.

To the chipmunks in the garage and the mice in my cupboard.

To the newborn rabbit who died in my cupped hand.

To the bald-headed eagles roosting so majestically in the backwater trees along the Mississippi.

To the mule deer who contested the very concept of right-of–way on a razor-narrow trail on Hurricane Ridge (for the record...I conceded the matter).

To the skunk who lived beneath my shed. The skunk who flashed not a broad white stripe along her skull...but a halo. That’s right. She sported a bright white halo atop her head.

To the squirrel who lived within the boughs of my munificent evergreen. The squirrel I considered to be absolutely bat-shit crazy.

To the coyote who eyed me as his next meal...possibly...although his disdain/distaste for me was absolutely palpable.

To the 12-point white-tail buck that stood majestically atop a butte in the Badlands.

To the grey whale I witnessed at Point Lobos. Urban urchin that I am, I first thought it was a SUBMARINE! Seriously. It was THAT huge. Even today, I marvel at the image...and the remembrance that, just moments later, the sea lions stopped their the earth began to quake.

To the horned owl that ambushed me at sunset.

To the bobcat that made me crap my the exact moment he crapped his.

To the black bear and the bicyclists.

Oh! So many reveries! So many “Brushes with Nature”! Too many to recount. So many, in fact, that I feel rapturously enriched...positively blessed. So rich, in fact, that I swear Midas ain’t got nothin’ on me.

And then I recall the herd of pronghorn antelope I encountered on a back road in Wyoming. As is my wont, I had lost my way and found myself on a rutted dirt path in the middle of nowhere. My two-seat sports car had collapsed in a muddied rut that extended halfway down to China. No matter. Across the meadow grazed some 50 – 100 Pronghorn Antelope. The ENTIRE herd paused to observe this They stood at attention as I exited the shattered, smoking carcass of my car. They eyed me with undeniable curiosity and suspicion. I took one step towards them. They ALL took one step back. Hundreds of eyes peered at me with unmistakable curiosity.

I’d NEVER been contemplated with such intensity...before or since.

* * *

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