Posts Tagged Buddhism

I Volunteer!

All manner of information has been published recently about the benefits of volunteering. As I appear to have a bit of time on my hands at the moment I thought I would give it a try. As part of the appeal of volunteering is to get out into the big wide world and do something practical I approached the State Emergency Service (SES) first up. I have long thought of putting my hand up with the Country Fire Authority (CFA), who do a fantastic job every summer, but my too close for comfort experience with the Black Saturday bushfires put me off that idea. Besides, the SES appear to offer more variety, cutting trapped people out of smashed cars, pulling trees off houses, etc. So I gave them a call and the woman I spoke with said she would pass my name on to my local representative. If they had not got in touch with me after a few weeks, call again. This did not strike me as the sort of organisation that was tripping over itself to get new helpers. I felt a bit discouraged with the lukewarm response to my offer and, needless to say, I have not heard a thing since my phone call.

Being a veterinarian I thought Birdlife Australia might be useful. I have experience with mist netting, bird banding and handling. I even joined up as a member. While I was pointed at a couple of subsidiary groups within Birdlife Australia the person I was suggested to email about volunteering my services has also declined to respond.

How about a nice conservation organisation? Unfortunately World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and others are all based in Sydney, so I tried Friends of the Earth. I used to frequent their shop as a student to buy my groceries each week and I thought that a regular spot helping out there would be useful. I filled in their form, registered my interest and have heard nothing since.

I contacted Kiva, the microloan organisation, as they need people to vet their loan applications. Thank you for your interest. You have been placed on our waiting list.

Perhaps I should try something specifically veterinary? Vets Beyond Borders run several programs in India sterilising street dogs. Unfortunately these places have a “no euthanasia” policy, presumably on some kind of strange religious grounds (as an aside, my wife met a Cambodian Buddhist at her book club the other week. She was most surprised to discover that it was okay from him to eat meat as long as he did not kill it himself. An interesting loophole that can be exploited by any carnivores who are contemplating Buddhism). Recently I watched a program featuring Luke Gamble, a vet working with Worldwide Veterinary Services (WVS). He visited an animal refuge in India. The entire place was full of paralysed, emaciated dogs dragging themselves around on their back ends, with various limb ulcers that needed constant bandaging. The Dutch woman who ran the place refused to entertain the notion that most of these dogs were in constant pain, had no quality of life and should be euthanased. I don’t think I could work in that sort of hypocritical environment that promotes animal welfare without acknowledging that, sometimes, animal welfare can best be promoted through euthanasia.

I thought about volunteering with WVS. Unfortunately many of their placements require a significant time commitment, while others, like Earthwatch, expect you to pay for the privilege of helping them out. Is it not enough that I am prepared to forgo payment and cover my own costs without having to pay to work too?

Perhaps I am just being too picky but, I must admit, I have been quite surprised at the sort of lukewarm (ice cold) responses I have received. Most organisations appear more than happy to accept donations of money but seem curiously unenthusiastic about donations of time. Maybe I should just go and plant some trees?

Dr. F. Bunny

 

 

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Turning Japanese

I have just returned from two fantastic weeks in the Land of the Rising Sun. This being my first trip I was struck by the country’s unique ability to embrace both the old and the new. The people were all incredibly friendly, polite, law abiding and helpful. Compared with Australia, Japanese society seemed very structured with a long list of social conventions that regulate people’s daily lives. While this may appear restrictive once I had deciphered the system I found knowing what was expected in various situations to be oddly relaxing. It was probably just my German background enjoying the predictability of it all. The old joke about why the German crossed the road (The little man is green now. It’s allowed) is equally applicable to the Japanese. People formed orderly queues on railway platforms to board the trains, the doors of which always lined up with the carriage numbers marked on the ground. The trains were insanely punctual and reliable. People did not eat in public. Shoes were removed before entering temples, restaurants, homes, castles and sumo rings, which is a very common sense way of not tracking dirt everywhere. If you do decide to visit Japan do not, under any circumstances, wear a pair of lace up hiking boots.

Given that the majority of Japanese claim no personal religion they have presumably decided on their social conventions all by themselves, producing a set of guidelines that work for them. Considering their extremely low crime rate, compared with many devoutly religious countries, it certainly seems to be working for them. Japan does, however, have two major religions and, interestingly, most people profess to follow both.

Shintoism is Japan’s own home grown religion. It has no major prophet and no all-consuming deity. In fact there are eight million deities or spirits as all animate and inanimate objects contain a kami or spiritual essence. It is not necessary to swear allegiance and forsake all others to be Shinto. Anyone who practices Shinto rituals is counted as belonging to the religion. The Japanese have also imported Buddhism and see no contradiction in following both this religion and Shintoism, picking the best bits from each. It is refreshing to see religion working for the people instead of the other way round. Most people celebrate birth events according to the Shinto way but use Buddhist rituals for funeral arrangements. According to what one Japanese person told me the Shinto afterlife is not as appealing as the Buddhist nirvana. There are no Shinto cemeteries. Cremation is a Buddhist ritual. I was told that Shintoists believe the spirit returns to the earth and bodies were either thrown in the river or left on a hillside, presumably for scavengers to dispose of. I can feel myself becoming more Shinto all the time.

As a member of one of the world’s fattest countries it struck me how few overweight Japanese there are. This should come as no surprise as the Japanese consume virtually no bread products and no chocolate. In fact almost none of the places we ate at featured a dessert menu. Dairy products were also all but absent from the diet, which is probably sensible too as we appear to be the only species that drinks the milk of another well into adulthood (apart from my wife’s border collie who used to zip into the milking shed of any farm she visited, in order to clean up the spilled milk). Foods are minimally processed with a strong emphasis on raw foods including fish. I did enjoy my sashimi but I will be worming myself as soon as I get the chance. We cooked many of our restaurant meals ourselves much to my son’s indignation who felt that, as we were having a night out, the least the restaurant staff could do was to cook it for us. We made our own sukiyaki, which featured melt in the mouth Hida beef, that I’m sure was not particularly healthy given the reason for the meat’s flavour and tenderness was its intense marbling. We also concocted our own chankonabe, a stew containing seafood, chicken, vegetables, rice and egg designed to bulk up the sumos, and our own okonomiyaki, a type of savoury pancake filled with whatever takes your fancy. It was also good to see the Japanese making the most of local produce consuming a wide variety of unrecognisable mountain vegetables, as they called them. I found the fern to be quite tasty but I don’t think I will miss the lotus root. Our diet does not seem to be nearly as varied as theirs. All of this no doubt contributes to the fact that the Japanese now have the highest life expectancy in the world.

And the best part? Tips are neither given nor expected. Politeness and good service are an expected part of the culture.

Dr. F. Bunny

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