Sunday, March 14, 2010

So, I got into a fight with a fake Buddhist Monk

I was walking to the library today and I happened to pass by a Buddhist monk, who I'm venturing to guess, is here to study at UC Berkeley. She looked rather young and,  I'd also venture to guess, probably Korean as she wore a grey robe with a brown sash (I've never been to China, but I believe Buddhist monks there wear orange robes. Though it's hard to make generalizations about China, since it's such a huge country). But, my family members always mention there's some famous Buddhist scholar that is studying at Berkeley and that I should seek them out.

Nonetheless, it reminded me of a little incident I had with a fake Buddhist monk last Sunday. Last Sunday morning, while I was outside on Telegraph Avenue having a cigarette -- yes, it's a disgusting habit, but I plan to kick the habit again shortly, and, well, this middle aged white man wearing orange robes - not unlike that of a Buddhist monk -- with tatoos covering his palms and arms in what I took to be Sanscrit characters approached me and said, "I'm a wandering Buddhist monk and I just came back from Malaysia. Would you happen to have a cigarette?"

Normally, I would have just either ducked the question or I would've just given him a cigarette and have been on my way. But, I thought this to be rather peculiar. It's not everyday a Buddhist Monk walks up to you and asks for a cigarette. Well, I told him I had a pack in my car and I was walking there now. If he'd walk with me to my car, then I'd happily give him a cigarette. I was in my pajamas.
Joe: "Malaysia, you say?"
Fake Monk: "Yes. Malaysia. It was a wonderful experience ... "
Joe: "I see. But, isn't Malaysia a Muslim country?"
Fake Monk: "Yes, there are Muslims there, but it's also a Buddhist country. About half Buddhist and half Muslim."

You see, well, I grew up in a family with deep Buddhist roots. In my pre-teen days, I remember reciting Buddhist scripture before going to sleep, particularly 반야심경 or Heart of Perfect Wisdom Sutra ("마하반야 바라밀다심경" (摩訶般若波羅蜜多心経), 日本: 般若波羅蜜多心經, 中文: 般若波羅蜜多心經). Thanks to this fake monk, I actually found the Korean pronounciation along with an interpretation in Korean of the original Sanscrit characters). And, my mom's oldest sister -- my aunt -- is the head monk of a Buddhist temple in northern Seoul. I know very little Buddhist scripture and am probably more aquainted with the Bible -- I took a "New Testament as English Literature" for a single semester. 

Joe: "That sounds like...[nonsense]" -- From what little I do know of Malaysia -- aside from their great commercials telling us to visit the country, I do know they have a very rigid form of affirmative action (and that their country avoided the East Asian Financial Crisis by imposing capital controls). The country is majority ethnic-Malay [Muslims] along with significant numbers of ethnic-Chinese [I'm guessing mostly Buddhistm plus Shamanism+Daoism+Confucianism] and ethnic-Indians Tamils (from India) [mostly Hindus].

So, I went into about a five minute lecture about affirmative action.

Fake Monk: [He went on about five minutes longer about what he saw and an article he read four years ago... ]
Joe: [I popped out my iPhone 3GS and, opened up Safari, and showed him the statistics from Wikipedia].
Fake Monk: "Are you going to believe a person that was there for three years or believe something from a book?"
Joe: "Well, I guess, if I was interested in the life experiences of a fake Buddhist monk, then I would go and ask you. But, if I want to know what the statistics, then I'd turn to an encyclopedia. If I had dropped acid and then said I had some profound insight into the world, you wouldn't take me seriously."

Fake Monk: "Affirmative action is not a bad thing..."
Joe: "I'm not saying it is. I just brought that up to show you that the country isn't half Buddhist or Chinese."
Fake Monk: "A big deal. I was off by a few percent."

Then, I went into a ten minute lecture about the brief history of Malaysia, the exodus of Cantonese speakers into Southeast Asia [and the rest of the world, pretty much] in the 1800s, and how the British brought with them large numbers of ethnic Indians.

Joe: "So, back to acid..."

The fake monk walked away. It had been about thirty minutes since we both finished our cigarettes. I saw him again talking to a different group of college students a couple days later near Johnson's market. I'm not usually one to preach what I think I know or do not know to people who might care less, but hey that's why I'm trying to get into Academia where people might find this useful and interest in these things might come in handy. By the way, I guess this posting might describe how I was ten years ago.

And, no, monks don't even eat meat and, for the most part, are not even allowed to marry. I find it offensive that an individual will go to great lengths to call himself a Buddhist Monk so he can indulge in an "earthly desire."
And, I am indeed at the library to continue writing my senior thesis paper, which I believe will be helped out greatly by a rough knowledge on the background of certain countries (it's a cross country study, where I believe I have hit numbers and an equation that - in my opinon -- have put all examined, published literature of empirical studies on the same topic to shame). But here, I don't trust my judgement of what is good enough and that's where I need the life experiences of a real academic and not a book. Though, it appears what has been published as facts or conclusions are remarkably the mistakes I tried to go around. Anyways, I'm not ready to share that yet. Tho

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