Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Desert Buddhists

A thought wandered through, grazing like a rabbit, and like a fool, I followed.

I was exercizing my avocation, which is studying the arid lands, and it came to me that the majority of Buddhists in the United States live in the Sonoran Desert Region.

I got attached to the idea.

Then, it seemed to me that the majority of Vajrayana Buddhists in the world (along with 300 million other people) live in arid regions -- Tibet, Ladahk, Mongolia.

Well, if not the majority, then a comfortably sizable number, at the very least.

Deserts are the way of the future. As years go by, we will have more and more of them. Someday, this planet will be one big desert. Whether that happens later, rather than sooner, depends on a good deal more than you buying corkscrew lightbulbs. Whether that happens at all is, I think, rather beyond debate.

Deserts are interesting places. Everyone assumes they are "dead" and "monotonous," but that simply isn't true. I have been to most of the world's great deserts, and I found each one to have its own, endlessly fascinating characteristics. Deserts are literally teeming. I have spent most of the past decade living in the desert, helping it teem, and every day I learn something new. Once, I even wrote a little book about the desert, just to amuse myself.

Examining nolina parryi: teeming.

I spend a lot of time drifting around my favorite desert, the Mojave. This is highly subjective, but I seem to see more and more Buddhists taking up residence. It is surprising what one finds. There is a 60 ton white marble statue of Kuan Yin out in the middle of nowhere. There are ubiquitous retreats and hermitages littered about like creosote bushes. Some days you can't swing a cat without hitting a shaved head.

So, in addition to occasionally writing about rabbits -- did I ever mention that I am rather fond of rabbits? -- I decided that I will occasionally write about deserts, sharing tidbits with all the other Desert Buddhists who I know read this blog on a regular basis.

Tidbit Number One: Swamp coolers, like brown shoes, don't make it. Neither does central air conditioning. I have three words for you: ductless air conditioning. Specifically, Fujitsu Halcyon. I have tried everything, and that one really, really works. You can rig the thing to run off solar power.

Tidbit Number Two: Regardless of whether you are in California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, or Texas, get a copy of Bruce M. Pavlik's The California Deserts: An Ecological Rediscovery (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008). This is an example of what a desert book should be like, written in such fashion that even if you have no interest in deserts whatsoever, you will still enjoy reading the book. Most desert writing is turgid. This book is not.

Tidbit Number Three: The biggest challenge we face comes from the notion that (1) golf courses are necessary, (2) non-native things like green lawns are necessary, and by extension (3) urban planning disasters like Las Vegas and Phoenix are necessary. First things first. Give up golf, and stop watering the miserable lawn! Next, move out of Las Vegas. It is scheduled for cosmic destruction on the New Orleans model anyway. Move out of Phoenix while you're at it. Life is way too short to keep ignoring (and sacrificing) the beauty that surrounds these places. How will you live? Forget the black card. You'll just live.

Tidbit Number Four: None of us are Buddhists. We are slowly becoming Buddhists. In the desert, that seems to happen a little quicker.

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4 reader comments:

Mama Mojo said...

It's an odd experience driving from the Navaho Nation in Southern Utah into Utah itself. The Natives are very good at living in their environment, since they've been doing it for thousands of years. No green lawns on the reservation, but only tidy patches of red or brown in front of Native homes. As soon as you leave the reservation you start noticing the lushness of the lawns. This comes from Northern Europeans moving from countries where it rains a lot to an environment where it almost never rains. The lawns look so out of place there....

I'm an American-Dutch Buddhist living in the Netherlands now, but I'd much rather be a Desert Buddhist, and in fact often long for the dry rock of Utah, where, incidentally, there are plenty of growing Buddhist communities.

Anonymous said...

I never thought about it until I read your article but you are absolutely right. Most dzogchen practitioners live in deserts or what is about to become a desert. Maybe we are Buddhist Essenes?

Anonymous said...

Hello,everybody!I was wondering,and how about cold regions?How many buddhists are there in these times? And in the past ?Has anyone wondered about that?

Editor said...

Well, it depends on what you mean by "cold region." Tibet, although arid, is rather cold. But you do make a point and it does beg a question. Seems that Buddhism emigrates to the warmer climes, and I wonder why that is?