Sunday, October 11, 2009

Speleological Special

Buddhism and caves have a long history together. I don't really know why that is. I can only speculate. Nevertheless, there are numerous examples of the relationship between Buddhist practice and caves, and we have all read or heard of them many times.

It appears that some Western practitioners occasionally read about caves and think, "That is for me!" They then go running off in search of the nearest cave,  and sometimes get into serious trouble. Now, I like caves, and I spend time in caves, and I have studied and explored caves for many years. I  feel compelled to mention that the trouble one encounters in caves can sometimes be fatal.

Caving fatalities are in many cases preventable through education, and if you want to play in caves, that is just one of the many reasons to join the National Speleological Society. I do not want to say outright that caving is an inherently dangerous occupation, but I will say that caving has inherent dangers. If you know what can go wrong before you crawl in, then you know how to prepare yourself. That makes simple sense, doesn't it?

I have visited several of the celebrated "meditation caves," in Asia and in most cases, these are not particularly extensive dry caves -- in fact, geologically speaking, some are not caves at all.  Hard to get into trouble in these caves. However, in America, we do have extensive caves, both wet and dry, and significantly, we also have literally thousands of abandoned mines. I have often seen people who don't know any better think that a mine is a cave, and this is really a problem. Mines are much, much more dangerous than caves. My advice about mines is very simple: unless you know what you are doing, stay out of them!

If despite this warning, you rush into a cave someday, please bear in mind that you can go in a few yards and everything looks wonderful. You think to yourself, "This is easy," and you turn around to go back out because the battery for your flashlight is going weak. You then fall 100 feet into a pit that you missed on the way in. You will be meditating then, but not in the way you might wish.

One more thing: there's a disease called White Nose Syndrome that is killing all the bats in the northeastern United States. The NSS has a legislative effort in progress, in an attempt to secure research funding. If you like to help spooky critters -- and seeing as how we are close to Halloween -- please take a minute to investigate the bad bat situation.

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