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Entries in monk (2)


The Fakir of Wolseley

Early on May 15 1919 in the neighbourhood known as Happyland (which later became Wolseley - neither happy nor unhappy due to Restoril and Xanax) a man, posing as a monk, was nabbed in the act of deflating bicycle tires and opening the diaper flaps of idling dray horses.


For weeks, Happyland-Wolseleyites had glimpsed the miscreant and there was a whisper campaign where he was dubbed "The Barbarian" or "The Anarchist". Some suspected he was a Bolshevik since that word was in vogue. It was thought a few of them had infiltrated from far away and were trying to lure young sons into the ballet.

They caught this barbarian-monk very near the spot where the Westminster Tot Lot and the Organic Planet Worker Co-op exist today but for reasons of national security we are unable to be more precise, or even to disclose how we came on this info.

Suffice to say the rogue claimed complete innocence, pleaded for mercy and said he was just going door-to-door canvassing for alms. But really, there was little doubt in the minds of most that he was a disturber of gumbo-grade excrement. Besides, no one had really even heard of alms since the term for this, in Happyland, was baksheesh.

He was caught when an observant Wolseley gardener, peering from behind her cannabis and rhododendron bushes, saw that the Rasputin-like sneak had the only wheels with air. Everyone else's had been deflated.  And she reported smelling a horse-dung vapour trail mere footsteps behind wherever he trod. The rogue also was also wearing that weird purple robe you see on monks today when they stand together in unity with Justin Trudeau in Myanmar, which was then Burmese territory of British India and no Trudeau had been elected even for the first time.


Anyway the purple robe was a dead giveaway when you really stop and think about it.

And so folks knew intuitively that the erstwhile monk was a ne'er-do-well. And when he made the mistake of rapping on the ornate oak door of the home of Charles Frederick Gray the jig was sauced. "Begging for arms? I'll show you arms!" Gray poncified, as he also happened to be the city's mayor. And so, because he was empowered to do so, Mayor C.F. Gray called in the fire brigade. (And when you look in the history books you discover there was something going on between third parties and the mayor and fire brigade at the time.) But then C.F. Gray also ended up reading the Riot Act, because he was empowered to do so. And one thing led to another. And the good people of Wolseley (aka Happylanders) felt empowered and so gave the monk-poser all the alms he could beg for alright. They fastened that rogue-culprit-monk right then and there to a wide Wolseley elm - so that he might contemplate through the day the suffering they might later inflict on him.

Now it remained early in the a.m., remember, and so off was the direction in which most of the Wolesleyers fucked, as they travelled to work and then arrived against the granularity of others who were not working that day, it being the apex of a general strike. Still, the Happylanders huddled together and pondered what to do with the rogue. "Look at the hook on that Bolshie - he's one of those foreign fakirs," suggested the mayor. "For sure this is the son of a daddy-fakir and mother-fakir," agreed the educated water-cooler crowd who gathered at City Hall, not just a few Happylanders among them. And the bunch of them got whipped into a bit of a froth over the whole thing. "The eyes. Like those of the football club manager," said one frother. "He likely does capital markets business at Deutsche Bank," whispered another.

An aperitif; Winkler sausage

So on and so forth, back and fro-to. Until finally the majority of Happylanders decided the best course would be to throw the son of a mother-fakir into the Assiniboine River after they got home from work, had an aperitif, dinner, and laid on his every bone a good beating. This was justified seeing as how monk hook-mother was probably from the North End, anyway.

And this is where it got interesting. Because it was precisely then – high noon - that the local ice wagon driver (who sold harpitars, Fuller brush and Avon products, Singer sewing machines, Colliers Encyclopediae, MSG-free Winkler sausage and vacuum prototypes as well as ice blocks) was driving his cool wagon along the Wolseley rues and vards. The ice-vendor saw the misbegotten monk tied to the elm tree and quizzified him.

"So what's on you mother-fakir? You feel me? Why are you tied to this tree?"

Incidentally, the iceman-Fuller etc wore a strawberry-hued cap with a vacuum cleaner advert that said: Filter Queen Sure Sucks. Who could dare say that he was not the sharpest sword in the celestial armoury?

"Ah, some men have put me here because I won't accept their money," explained mother-rogue monk-poser think-ahead sneak.

"What do you mean, you won't take their money? And why do they want to give it to you?" asked icicle-Fuller-feely man, his eyes narrowing.

"Can you not see from my Trudeau-appealing robe that I am a contemplative? They are trying to corrupt me. Godless bunch these Wolseleys."

"I feel you," said iceman, who had a suggestion and a plan. And so he unbound the poor fakir from the elm tree and they changed places.

Later, following an aperitif, dinner, and a few digestifs, a crowd gathered beneath the phattest neighbourhood elm for an early evening beating and river-tossing. They put a sack over the head of the Fuller-ice-sausage-feely guy. Down to the riverbank among the scrub-oak branches which rose all scraggly like the arms of the crucified, they dragged their victim.


And together they tossed him into the Assiniboine.

Now in 1919 the Assiniboine River was at its highest and swiftest since 1883 when everything got disrupted by Krakatoa, the sky turned a queezy purple, and Charles F. Gray's second cousin Marvin strangled the six starlings. So ice-man drowned.

The day followed the night and Wolseleyite-Happylanders were amazed to see the rogue-nosed barbarian-mother enter their hood on an ice-wagon with all of this Avon-Fuller vacuum paraphernalia dangling out all jingly-jangly.

"Where have you been and where did you get that fabulous MSG-free Winkler sausage?" they asked.

"In the Assiniboine are kindly spirits who reward all who jump in and 'drown' in this manner," said the rogue, taking a swig of bottled Avon-water.

In almost less time than it takes to tell, all of Happyland dashed to the Assiniboine and leaped in.

And this was how the anarchist-monk son-of-a-mother-fakir took over Wolseley. THE END.


Reader Note: This blog entry was updated 2017, first published here 2012.


(Top Image: Man With Blue Thoughts 14x11 w/c, by David Roberts; Inside image: Sea and Stone 12X16 w/c India Ink by David Roberts)


A Seriously Happy Man

The world's happiest man is Matthieu Ricard, a 66-year-old Tibetan monk and geneticist.

We have no word on the world’s happiest woman. If you know her, grateful that you might tell us, so we may name her here.

But the discovery that the world’s happiest man is a Buddhist monk is a broad and roomy thing. We're intrigued by the enormity of the questions raised by this finding and feel compelled to stab at answering some of them, however tentatively.

What happened is that neuroscientist Richard Davidson wired up Matthieu Ricard's skull with 256 sensors to measure the monk’s meditative brain activity. This was part of a larger experiment where scientists scanned the brain waves of several Buddhist monks as the monks meditated.

Here’s how the Agence France Presse reported things:

"The scans showed that when meditating on compassion Ricard's brain produced a level of gamma waves - those linked to consciousness, attention, learning and memory – ‘never reported before in the neuroscience literature,’ Davidson said.

"The scans also showed excessive activity in Ricard’s left prefrontal cortex compared to the right, giving him an abnormally large capacity for happiness and a reduced propensity towards negativity."

Limited happiness

Sorry, can we disrupt this trainwreck of a thought? Don't you wonder what's meant when they say someone has "an abnormally large capacity" for happiness? One may suppose that if you were an inmate at Turkey’s Diyarbarkir Prison in the 1980s and were about to be immersed in the ritual excrement bath before having your genitals savaged by the warden’s specially-trained German Shepherd, your capacity for happiness, no matter how abnormally large, would be feeling a bit shriveled.

But to suggest our capacity for happiness is to be inferred by wave activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, is absurd. This is why so much of neuroscience seems like reductionist junk and quackery.

Let me say clearly: there can be no limit to human happiness.

"When meditating on compassion" – this is another phrase in the news story about Matthieu Ricard that piques my curiosity. I’m left to conclude that this likely refers to the Theravada practice of Mettā, which is the cultivation of loving-kindness. You receive suffering, you send happiness.


And I wonder what is meant by gamma waves being "linked to consciousness…" How are they linked and what is meant by consciousness in this context, exactly? This is such a mine field, I almost typed "mindfield".

Someone once said consciousness is like the Trinity; if it is explained so that you understand it, it hasn't been explained correctly. In the case of neuroscience it seems consciousness means any state other than being asleep, comatose or dead. A pretty low standard, wouldn’t you say? Consciousness is a slippery thing, but other definitions at least imply a level of intentionality. As psychologist George Miller said 40 years ago it’s a term that covers everything from phenomenalism to panpsychism: "'Consciousness' is a word worn smooth by a million tongues. Depending upon the figure of speech chosen it is a state of being, a substance, a process, a place, an epiphenomenon, an emergent aspect of matter, or the only true reality."

Now in the AFP story, Ricard says that meditating is like lifting weights or exercising for the mind.  He said anyone can be happy by simply training their brain.

"Try sincerely to check, to investigate," Ricard said. "That’s what Buddhism has been trying to unravel — the mechanism of happiness and suffering. It is a science of the mind."

"It's a wonderful area of research because it shows that meditation is not just blissing out under a mango tree but it completely changes your brain and therefore changes what you are," the monk told AFP.

These are fascinating statements, begging to be deciphered: anyone can be a seriously happy man. I wondered about the interchangeability of brain and mind in Ricard’s usage but then realized that for him (unlike the neuroscientists) consciousness is not seated in the brain. Although consciousness can be apprehended by mind – no mind. In other words, as soon as you think you have it, you don’t. Consciousness vibrates with infinite energy, everywhere. Consciousness infuses all. And what the scientists measure is not consciousness. What they measure are brain waves.

Ricard, incidentally, grew up among the Paris intellectual elite as the son of celebrated French libertarian philosopher Jean-Francois Revel and abstract watercolor painter Yahne Le Toumelin. So I’m predisposed to like the guy. A prominent monk in Kathmandu's Shechen Monastery, Ricard divides his time between isolated meditation, scientific research and accompanying the Dalai Lama on trips to French-speaking countries. Plus, he has written a book Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill which I have not read and so cannot properly recommend.


I am very grateful to Matthieu Ricard for submitting to a brain scan and for leaving me to ponder again the nature of happiness. For what it’s worth, I don’t believe we can think our way to happiness. Happiness is an experience not an idea. Winds of consciousness may billow the sails of our mind but the winds are not summoned by the power of intellect.

It has a lot to do with intention. Let us observe, though, that happiness is not the exclusive domain of Buddhists, who are killing and terrorizing Muslims in Myanmar at the moment, expressing ethnic intolerance – some of which is being instigated by those in maroon. No happiness there.

But, I defer to the Buddhists who have it right in the mathematical sense that I am a new person, recreated in each moment. So there is no self to fix on, and what makes me happy now may not make me happy later. My happiness, if it is to endure even for an instant, cannot be attached to anything. Only by virtue of intention and detachment do I experience the ever-present happiness which permeates everything and which is available to us all – in limitless supply.

It is in doing nothing that I see everything is done.

(Top Image: A Seriously Happy Man 11x15 watercolour by David Roberts; Bagan 15x11 watercolour by David Roberts; Rangoon Colonial 15x11 watercolour by David Roberts.)