Monday, May 28, 2007


Wakefulness is the second chapter of the Dhammapada.
I only have about 2 minutes to say something about wakefulness because I am running late to catch a bus. Maybe just a quote to contemplate while I head up the Nam Ou in Luang Prabang Province, Laos.

"The beggar who guards his mind
And fears the waywardness of his thoughts
Burns through every bond
With the fire of his vigilance.

The beggar who guards his mind
and fears his own confusion
Cannot fall.
He has found the way to peace."
While I type these words, I wonder how much more peace there can be. Can I help it along in some way. Can I guard my mind from wayward thoughts and become a better person? Can I reject confusion and serve as an example somewhere to a more peaceful world? We will just have to wait and see.


Choices is the title of the first chapter of the Dhammapada.

We have choices. On the corner of the main street in Luang Prabang there is a market selling textiles and other Laos souvenirs. Along the edge of the sidewalk are a number of vendors all selling baguette sandwiches. All the vendors sell the same type of sandwich for the same price. I go to the same vendor every day. She can’t speak a word of English. A translation dictionary does no good because her eyesight is poor and she can not read. Why, then, do I choose her baguettes over the others? Because she is happy. She has a big smile. She doesn’t care that I can not speak Laos well – she just keeps talking to me. I enjoy my lunch each day quite a bit. Her heart is pure. She just wants to earn her living laughing, talking and making sandwiches.

My guesthouse, Nam Now Guesthouse, came highly recommended by a Bavarian friend of mine. I can see why he recommended it. It is a lovely building and the rooms are clean and spacious. Some of the rooms have balconies overlooking the Nam Khan river. The guesthouse is off the beaten path but not too far from the town center. Outside is a very nice garden where guests and family sit and eat and talk. It is an idyllic setting.

When I arrived at my guesthouse, they were very pleased to welcome me as a guest. However, when I pulled out my passport, I felt a rapid change in the mood. It seemed that being an American, was not in line with what they were expecting. At first, I thought it was my imagination. Even now, there is a chance that I am imagining things. However, I have observed very carefully how the owner and his family interact with the guests. Most of the guests are Japanese. Others are from Australia, England, Germany and Canada. All of the guests who are not American – which means everyone but me - are treated quite pleasantly. The family likes to joke with them and they smile at them and they remember what they have for breakfast everyday. I, on the other hand, am treated with indifference at best and civil hatred at times.

The owner of the Nam Now Guesthouse has a choice. They can choose to hate Americans regardless of how peaceful and polite the American may be. They can choose to pretend not to speak English despite all evidence to the contrary. They can choose to pretend that their guest can not speak a word of Laos – especially please and thank you. They can choose to blatantly insult their guest as if the guest was a complete idiot. They can choose to be mastered by something which will enslave them forever.

“Look how he abused me and beat me,
How he threw me down and robbed me.”
Live with such thoughts and you live in hate.

“Look how he abused me and beat me,
How he threw me down and robbed me.”
Abandon such thoughts, and live in love.

In this world
Hate never yet dispelled hate.
Only love dispels hat.
This is the law,
Ancient and inexhaustible.

I, too, have a choice. I can think about the happy sandwich lady. I can focus on how much I don’t mind paying for a small triangle of mad cow cheese with my grilled bird flu sandwich. I can go to any number of the available guesthouses in Luang Prabang. I have considered changing guest houses every day for the past week, yet, I have chosen to stay here because I refuse to allow prejudice to win. Instead, I have gone out of my way to be as polite as possible. I have chosen to give a friend free English lessons in the guesthouse garden where they can see what I do. I have chosen to confront their hatred with love and decency and an example of generosity. I don’t seem to be making any progress at all, but I will not be intimidated by ignorance. Not all Americans are evil and those of us who are not must serve our ambassadorship with pride.

I highly recommend the Nam Now Guesthouse in Luang Prabang, Laos. If you are non-American, you will love how kind and friendly the family will be towards you. If you are an American, you will enjoy the free exercises in detachment – or you will check out. It’s just a choice.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

What's Next

Do you remember the paramis? In case you don’t remember, here they are in short form:

· Dāna parami : generosity, giving of oneself

· Sīla parami : virtue, morality, proper conduct

· Nekkhamma parami : renunciation

· Paññā parami : transcendental wisdom, insight

· Viriya parami : energy, diligence, vigour, effort

· Khanti parami : patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance

· Sacca parami : truthfulness, honesty

· Adhiṭṭāna parami : determination, resolution

· Mettā parami : loving-kindness

· Upekkhā parami : equanimity, serenity

I know I said in Free at Last that I reject structure, but now that I’ve stepped away from it, I miss it. Isn’t that always the way – we don’t like something someone some act some whatever or other and then when it’s not around, we yearn for it. I miss the structure. It’s good for me. I think.

I’ve been tossing an idea around for a few weeks and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. Unlike the paramis where I just stepped right in it and had not choice but to wipe it off my boot, my idea is a bit more premeditated. I’ve been looking for a structure to prevent me from posting random thoughts. I considered going over the paramis again, but I can’t be bothered with that right now. So, I’m thinking of using the Dhammapada as a structure.

Over the next 26 days, I’m going to cover the 26 chapters of the Dhammapada. I am using a pocket-sized copy which I have carried nearly every day since 1990 – in truth, it has gone unopened for years at a time, but I’ve still carried it. This particular version is the one published by Shambhala Press in 1993 translated by Thomas Byrom,.

Now, don't get your hopes up. I know nothing at all. As many times as I have read the Dhammapada, I know less and more and everything I’ve learned has turned into something else. I should know more than I do now. I should keep my mouth shut. I should not think so much.

It’s an experiment, Like business or science or marriage or procreation or the idea that we are all better than average drivers, it has a very good chance of failure. But, I will try to get through these 26 topics, if, for nothing else, the structure.

There is one problem. In a few days time, I will be heading into the jungle where there are no internet connections or cell phone service. I am expecting to spend a week or two there. As a result, I will not be able to post on a daily basis. Internet connection or not, my plan is to spend some time each day on each of these subjects. That’s the structure for the next month. Let’s see how it goes.

Clear as Mud

In case you are coming to Laos and are wondering what the official regulations are, I have copied the notice which hangs on the wall in my room. It is transcribed exactly as it was printed in 1999.

Lao people’s Democratic Republic

Peace Independence Democracy Unity Prosperity

Regulation to link the guest who come to stay.

Staying at hotel or guest house to attach guest inside and forige country guests. Come to stay.

I. In order to tidy the sociality and safety – peace to the guest who come to stay also in sure to the way policy nation wided tourism in Lao P.D.R.

The officer authourities had to limited regulation for acting austene as following:

  1. Touris, visisting of the guest had to back the hotel or guest house before 12 o’lock
  2. when you check in the hotel or guest house have to bring your passport, document to the reception section or receptionist.
  3. Guest house will not responsible for you valuable has lost in the room, if necessary please deposit to the reception section or receptionist.
  4. Prohibit to bring any prossession into the hotel or guest house that illegality.Including other weapons exception the officer authori ties military who’s allow to get alicence to hold agun only.
  5. Disallow to apply another dopes and betting in the guest house or hotel.
  6. Every tim you get in and get out please locked your room then bring the key room to the receptionist before you leaving out of the room.
  7. checking out of the guest house, hotel always before 12 o’clock in the afternoon and inspected all your belonging before you get out of the room.
  8. Forbid to get every thing in the room that belong to the hotiel, guest house, whenyou checking out the hotel or guest house.
  9. Please meet your guests at the reception room that guest house, hotle had provided. Awesom received or lead the guests in to your room before you get allowed from the staff of the hotel,guesthouse.
  10. If any one not perform this regulation, will get penalty to put on trialby the law.


Immigratin and foreignes mancegement