North America 31
North America 31
The Buddhist magazine Tricycle sometimes offers really fine writing, and the past Spring issue included an outstanding example that raises all sorts of questions and parallels for historians of Christianity.
The piece in question was “The Buddha’s Footprint,” by Johan Elverskog of SMU (subscription needed for full access). It’s a substantial article, and not surprisingly it will be the core of a forthcoming book. Elverskog looks at Buddhist attitudes to the environment, and he shows that by no means have they always involved the kind of militant environmentalism and tree-hugging that we might expect of American practitioners today. Contrary to myth, early Buddhists were not necessarily in tune with the natural world, dreamy lovers of untamed wilderness.
Instead, he shows that early Buddhism was very clearly an urban movement: “Of the 4,257 teaching locales found in the early Buddhist canon, for example, fully 96 percent are in urban settings. Similarly, of the nearly 1,400 people identified in these texts, 94 percent are described as residing in cities.” Not surprisingly, then, the faith’s earliest texts showed a definite preference for human domination over the environment. A landscape was good if it was controlled, fertile and working for the human good.
Untamed “Nature” was at best suspicious. “If nature is ever employed in early Buddhist texts, it is almost always in terms of impermanence, decay, and as something to be avoided.” Elverskog reports one tale of the Buddha and one of his disciples:
when they looked out upon the surrounding countryside, the Buddha was enchanted by the acres upon acres of irrigated farmland. He was especially moved by the “level fields and level environs adorned with rows,” which were “particularly lovely in their divisions in arrangement.” The Buddha was so taken by this enticing vision of subjugated nature, in fact, that he decreed that henceforth monastic robes should contain this pattern, which they do to this day.
Also surprising to non-experts is the “Prosperity Theology” aspects of early Buddhism. Texts ascribe to the Buddha quite startling views about the material prosperity that will follow believers, ideas thoroughly appropriate to the booming urban and commercial Indian world of the centuries around the start of the Common Era.
Not only did Buddhists believe these ideas, they practiced them, making early monasteries centers of agricultural and commercial development. It is at this point that historians of the Christian West perk up and take notice, as we note so many resemblances to the role of monasteries in Europe and the Mediterranean world, from Late Antiquity through the Early Modern era. The parallels are really striking.
The introduction of irrigation was actually an important element in the propagation of the dharma… As Buddhists pushed into new areas, they not only built irrigation systems to sustain their particular moral economy but also introduced rice growing into areas where it had previously not existed.
Read sheep for rice, and this could be describing Europe’s medieval Cistercians.
Such aggressive development policy then thoroughly reshaped the Buddhist world, and transformed landscapes and cityscapes:
Because rice could produce more abundant yields than any other crop then available in India, the Buddhist promotion of irrigated rice farming certainly played a role in doubling the rate of population growth during India’s early historical period. …. It is precisely such explosive population growth that enabled urbanization and the growth of a trading culture in which Buddhism has historically thrived.
East and South-East Asia look like they do today because of Buddhism.
I am really looking forward to Elverskog’s further development of his argument. The main point, perhaps, is that we should not see the European Christian experience with economic exploitation as anything like unique, and that has huge implications for the enduring question of why Europe was first to reach the industrial/economic takeoff that allowed it to dominate the world. It certainly makes us rethink those ancient Christian-centered debates about “Religion and the Rise of Capitalism.”
Elverskog, in other words, is making a potent contribution to global history, but also to comparative religious history.
Back to me, waiting for the bus to Newport I found a Lincoln County Bicycle Road Guide. I'm getting a great feeling about this part of Oregon, according to the forecast after today it's going to get HOT and the cycling looks like that too. It would be worth returning to this county to explore the cycling in depth and walk some of the coast path
You can get 1/2/3/5 day bus passes. This is a busy route, we pick up all the time, the driver was brought up on a US airforce base in Cambridge and then she spent 20 years driving coastguard boats. Chatting to a young guy who has been dry after 15 years an alcoholic, he attends AA after 60 weeks rehab. He looked so clean and fresh,what a transformation. What do you blame for this condition? So physically destructive and psychologically disturbing. It often comes through the parents in some ways.
The bus is late. It broke down I thought I heard that on the last bus radio. The weather has turned wet again, so it's have patients. One of the passengers is barefooted and the bus won't take him so I slip my sandals off and he's ok with that. One of the riders is a musician, he has his guitar with him and he seems to know everyone including Ray his stories about the famous are riveting. He says that most of the work is at private parties for wealthy revellers. He knew about Phil Ochs the great anarchist singer from the sixties. He goes by the name of Teddy Boy Roix utube live at mulligans.
The connection from Lincoln City to Tillamook was just 8min there's just me and a local fisherman aboard . A lot of the time they don't give tickets, you just pop a few dollars into a box, they don't give change. It feels more like a donation.A quick visit to the famous cheese factory, which really is just a fancy tourist stop with samples. I did buy a French stick for lunch and to get change for the bus.
John comes up to tell me about David Bryan of Talking Heads and his blog Bicycle Diaries. What I love about the Americans that I meet, is their natural openness and a kind of uncomplicated simplicity, I don't mean that in a stupid way just a niceness.
The bus to Portland 75 miles pulled in, it costs $20 return and an all day pass in the city costs $5
I talked to Yellowback a Lakota/German chap who's great grand father was Sitting Bull his girl friend a full native Lakota/Assainabione is a potential writer, poet and a word keeper. I impressed Sitting Bull's relative by mentioning that I had met Ram Das. In our chat they pointed out that all the native Americans have left is their pride.When they left the bus, I turned to the lady behind me who lives around here, just before she alighted she thrust a copy of Watchtower in my hand, that serves me right. The guy on his laptop a fifteen years old, reassured me that his school was fine, the largest class was 26.
Arriving at Cannon Beach as its only another six miles to Seaside I thought I would cycle but the bus was waiting, for a $1 I missed a steep climb. So the 150 miles today cost $17.50. And there's a very nice youth hostel, with loads of left over food for less than $30.
I Love You Oregon PLG Tony
Sounds amazing tony.
I just found Yachats on google maps, and it looks incredible, right next next to what looks like a massive forest next to the coast.