By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea,
There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
“Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!”
………….. Come you back to Mandalay,
………….. Where the old Flotilla lay:
………….. Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay?
………….. On the road to Mandalay,
………….. Where the flyin’-fishes play,
………….. An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!

‘Er petticoat was yaller an’ ‘er little cap was green,
An’ ‘er name was Supi-yaw-lat — jes’ the same as Theebaw‘s Queen,
An’ I seed her first a-smokin’ of a whackin’ white cheroot,
An’ a-wastin’ Christian kisses on an ‘eathen idol’s foot:
………….. Bloomin’ idol made o’mud —
………….. Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd —
………….. Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed ‘er where she stud!
………….. On the road to Mandalay . . .

When the mist was on the rice-fields an’ the sun was droppin’ slow,
She’d git ‘er little banjo an’ she’d sing “Kulla-lo-lo!
With ‘er arm upon my shoulder an’ ‘er cheek agin’ my cheek
We useter watch the steamers an’ the hathis pilin’ teak.
………….. Elephints a-pilin’ teak
………….. In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
………….. Where the silence ‘ung that ‘eavy you was ‘arf afraid to speak!
………….. On the road to Mandalay . . .

But that’s all shove be’ind me — long ago an’ fur away,
An’ there ain’t no ‘busses runnin’ from the Bank to Mandalay;
An’ I’m learnin’ ‘ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
“If you’ve ‘eard the East a-callin’, you won’t never ‘eed naught else.”
………….. No! you won’t ‘eed nothin’ else
………….. But them spicy garlic smells,
………….. An’ the sunshine an’ the palm-trees an’ the tinkly temple-bells;
………….. On the road to Mandalay . . .

I am sick o’ wastin’ leather on these gritty pavin’-stones,
An’ the blasted Henglish drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
Tho’ I walks with fifty ‘ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
An’ they talks a lot o’ lovin’, but wot do they understand?
………….. Beefy face an’ grubby ‘and —
………….. Law! wot do they understand?
………….. I’ve a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!
………….. On the road to Mandalay . . .

Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren’t no Ten Commandments an’ a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin’, an’ it’s there that I would be —
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;
………….. On the road to Mandalay,
………….. Where the old Flotilla lay,
………….. With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
………….. On the road to Mandalay,
………….. Where the flyin’-fishes play,
………….. An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!

………………………………………………………………..Rudyard Kipling (1890)



  1. Christopher Woodman said,

    May 7, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    Love this post, Bill, and all sorts of wonderful thoughts arising.

    I tried my best to track down another contemporary photo of a young Burmese girl with a cheroot, and couldn’t come up with one better than yours. It’s obviously taken in a studio, so that makes it all the more interesting that this girl has got one. Just shows you how normal it was for a young Burmese girl to light up at the time.

    Many older Thai peasant women smoke large cheroots in the countryside around where I live in Chiang Mai, so it’s still socially acceptable on the village level. The only time I’ve seen younger girls smoking them is on building sites where the women work right beside the men hauling bricks and mortar. That’s because the majority of such workers are illegal Burmese laborers — they only get $3.00 a day while the minimum wage for Thais is $5.00, so they are heavily exploited by Thai building contractors. The young women are usually married to other Burmese workers on the site, otherwise they’d be servants of one sort or another and never be allowed to smoke.

    I did find an extraordinary photo of a beautiful young Burmese girl photographed in 1903 by that most remarkable of all 20th Century women, Gertrude Bell. One can only imagine Gertrude Bell in the improvised studio in her garden carefully arranging the hair, makeup, and fine silk clothes on the prettiest girl she could find in the household or market, and all that jewelry! The girl hardly looks comfortable in this exotic fantasy, with her large dark hands (not made up?) giving her away, but she does know how to hold the cheroot. It’s so large it almost looks decorative — perhaps Gertrude Bell just rolled up a piece of paper!

    Burmese Girl with Cheroot - Gertrude Bel 1903

    And look at the size of her feet too. Is she maybe a boy?


    It’s very important to recall that the class structure in the British army was very rigid — the officers were upper class Public School boys and spoke with Public School boy accents. It’s obvious from the narrator’s accent that he’s an ordinary working class enlisted man, indeed probably from the east end of London — many of the things the narrator talks about in the poem an officer couldn’t possibly do.

    Neither Masterpiece Theatre nor William and Kate’s wedding are going to help you much with whatever’s “English” in this poem.

    I like the following photo of a few of the lads gaining local knowledge. Kipling did that too as a young journalist even though he was a member of The Club, and too much familiarity with the natives was frowned upon. Kipling was highly unusual in that way.

    British Soldiers Observing Indian Craftsmen

    I feel Kipling romanticizes the working class soldier in “Mandalay” to some extent, and perhaps even identifies with him — he wrote the poem after he had left India, so it’s already a fantasy. Kipling’s own social background was very borderline, a painful truth which he was always aware of, even when he was famous, so this adds another dimension to how you might deal with this poem in a post-colonial discussion.

    The soldier in the poem is being elevated by the girl, isn’t he, and not vise-versa?

    And yes, it’s still happening today in Chiang Mai!


  2. wfkammann said,

    May 8, 2011 at 1:51 am

    In 2009 Ida and I took a trip to Myanmar and then on to Chiang Mai to help Christopher celebrate his 70th Birthday. We flew in to Rangoon and then on to Bagan which is probably the most important archeological site in Southeast Asia. From Bagan we took a boat up the Irrawaddy to Mandalay and from there to the summer home of the British Raj: Maymyo.

    The town was originally a Shan Village in the hills above Mandalay and was named Maymyo in 1887 after Colonel James May. Maymyo mean’s May’s town. Today it is renamed Pyin U Lwin by the military government of Myanmar. In 1915-17 the town built it’s own English Garden modeled on Kew Gardens in London.

     Maymyo Gardens

    There are numerous Victorian mansions as well as a Catholic and Anglican Church and the famous Purcell Tower, a gift from Queen Victoria.

    Maymyo Infantry Brigade Area was headquarters for Battalions of the Burma Rifles among others and this military tradition continues today. The town is home to the Defense Services Academy and Defense Services Technical and Medical Schools. These are the finest schools in the country. Here’s a photo of the entrance to the Academy.

    Burmese Military Academy

    A local young man who was rejected from the Academy because of flat feet explains. “The point of going to the DSA is so you can become a rich and powerful person,” he says, relating the trajectory of a schoolmate who attended Burma’s West Point. His childhood buddy is now a rising star at a northern regional command, which means he can profit from government timber and mining businesses. “He is rich, his parents are rich, his brothers and sisters are rich, his children will be rich,” says my friend. “They don’t worry about anything.”

    A British hill town is now the West Point of Burma. Sound familiar?


    I remember the day when I first came here
    And smelt the sweet Abbottabad air.

    The trees and ground covered with snow
    Gave us indeed a brilliant show.

    To me the place seemed like a dream
    And far ran a lonesome stream,

    The wind hissed as if welcoming us,
    The pine swayed creating a lot of fuss

    And the tiny cuckoo sang it away,
    A song very melodious and gay.

    I adored the place from the first sight
    And was happy that my coming here was right.

    And eight good years here passed very soon
    And we leave you perhaps on a sunny noon,

    Oh Abbottabad, we are leaving you now
    To your natural beauty do I bow.

    Perhaps your wind’s sound will never reach my ear,
    My gift for you is a few sad tears.

    I bid you farewell with a heavy heart
    Never from my mind will your memories thwart.

    Of course, not every poet was a Rudyard Kipling. This poem by Major James Abbott, founder of Abbottabad, was referred to as “one of the worst poems ever written” in The Guardian newspaper. The word Abad means a place of living. “Abbott’s abode”

    Today Abbottabad is home to the Pakistan Military Academy: Pakistan’s West Point.

    So EAST is EAST and WEST is WEST and West Point is everywhere in the East as well as the West.

  3. wfkammann said,

    May 8, 2011 at 9:11 am

    EAST is EAST and WEST is WEST and never the twin shall meet?

    Here’s a painting of General Sir James Abbott, the founder and patron of Abbottabad while it was still part of British India. He was painted dressed as an Indian nobleman in 1841.

    General May

    And here’s a photo of a Saudi-Arabian nobleman who lived in Abbottabad in our times. Descendant of proud Bedouin nomads in tents, here he’s dressed as an Arab Mujahedeen warrior.

    Bill's Osama


  4. Christopher Woodman said,

    May 8, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    And of course Colonel T.E.Lawrence, Gertrude Bell’s great friend.

    Lawrence near Jeddah

    Here he is in Bedouin garb with a pistol in 1917 near Jeddah in what is today Saudi Arabia.

    Lawrence as Governor

    Here he’s back home after the war and being considered for the posts of both Chief of the Imperial General Staff of the British Army and the Governor of the Bank of England.

    Lawrence Augustus John

    It’s now 1919 and he’s being painted by Augustus John. This is also the way he chose to appear while representing King Feisal at The Treaty of Versailles, causing considerable confusion. (Lawrence was devastated by what he felt to be the betrayal of the Arabs at Versailles, a settlement which created Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Saudi-Arabia, the bin Laden fortune and, indirectly, 9/11.)

    Lawrence as bloke

    At the end just a working class bloke and a mechanic. Close friend of George Bernard Shaw and his wife, whose family name he adopted (Lawrence wasn’t his real name either). Also of Thomas Hardy, E. M. Forster, Winston Churchill, and so many others of inestimable value. Slept on the floor if at all. Died on a motorcycle.



  5. wfkammann said,

    May 9, 2011 at 4:00 am

    Lawrence Tibbett from the movie “Metropolitan” (1935)


    In the poem the soldier fancies himself the new “idol” of the Burma Girl. True love, or his fantasy as he beats the streets of London looking for a job? Is the dream of the East ever attainable? Can we live OUR lives in another culture; in another language, in another mindset? If we lose OURSELF what or who is left?

    The British colonialists talked about “going native.” Lawrence certainly went all the way.

    He wrote: “In my case, the effort for these years to live in the dress of Arabs, and to imitate their mental foundation, quitted me of my English self, and let me look at the West and its conventions with new eyes: they destroyed it all for me. At the same time I could not sincerely take on the Arab skin: it was an affectation only.”

    He’s lost his “English self” but but without a second skin to crawl into. The English culture must have then seemed more strange than the Arab and his self without an anchor. Is this the goal of selflessness? The enlightened state? Or is it rather an identitiless mental illness?


    Wholeness operates differently than duality.
    Wholeness is impartial, duality is in parts.
    Wholeness is two that are one.
    Duality is one that is two.
    Oneness knows no other, no distance, no division.
    Duality knows no mystery.
    Tao is the subtle mysterious oneness beyond division.
    It is in and through everything, but it is no-thing.
    To enter this space we must become space.
    To become space is to become all space.
    To become all space is to embrace all form.
    To embrace all form is to know no division.
    This is universal love.
    This is the redemption of the world.

    ——-Jack Haas

  6. Christopher Woodman said,

    May 9, 2011 at 8:21 am

    The jury is still out on both Kipling and Lawrence, and without condoning anything he did to wreck havoc and hurt people, I’d say there’s still a lot of thinking to do about the nature of Osama bin Laden. Who were these giant chameleon’s really, all three so unstable and culturally amorphous yet with a steely resolve which enabled them to focus on things and make them happen — things that changed the world?

    That is, if I’d be allowed to say that Kim, The Jungle Books, The Just So Stories, and poems like The Road to Mandalay and Gunga Din changed the world in the same way that The Seven Pillars of Wisdom did. And don’t forget, the manuscript of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom got lost in Paddington station and had to be entirely rewritten from memory. (If you read it and think of rewriting it you’ll get a glimpse into the power and borderlessness of the mind that created it.)

    And whether any of it is true or not on that level simply doesn’t matter any more, at least to me.

    How extraordinary that it was while actually on the road to Damascus in the final days of the Arab campaign (1918) that T.E. Lawrence should have realized his own personal truth — “all established reputations were founded, like myself, on fraud.” And of course, Lawrence removed himself from public life altogether shortly after his return to England, and had himself regularly beaten.

    For a human being I would say that the next step after leaving public office should always be leaving it and then applying for the job of janitor in the same office under a different name. Or like here in Thailand, shaving all your hair off, including your eyebrows, and then re-entering the world as if you weren’t in it.


    Intrigued by the Jack Haas. Personally I have no patience with new age wonder-chatter, however profound and true the content. It just seems to me there are things that shouldn’t be said out loud, or if they are they should be hidden in silver boxes or in caves in the desert. Coming upon such truths when you’re ready to understand them means that you’ve already understood them and would feel silly saying such obvious platitudes out loud. Oh, unless you’re an artist — then you can say anything, or just hold your tongue and arrange the flowers.

    Like what “The Road to Mandalay” says about the god and the goddess — what we call “worship.” What you say, Bill: “In the poem the soldier fancies himself the new “idol” of the Burma Girl.”

    Would that we all had the chance to shine so invisibly!

    Or as St. Teresa of Avila says in an extraordinary love poem you lent me:

    …………I Would Cease to Be

    …………….my mind – my separation.
    …………….I cannot describe my intimacy with Him.
    …………….How dependent is your body’s life on water and food and air?
    …………….I said to God, “ I will always be unless you cease to Be,”
    …………….And my Beloved replied, “And I
    …………….would cease to Be
    …………….if you

    ……………………………………………St. Teresa of Avila

  7. Christopher Woodman said,

    May 10, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    So we have a young British soldier from the Indian Army back in grey old London, an ordinary enlisted “ten-year man” dreaming of a girl he encountered in Burma and thinks may still remember him. The poem was written by a young, unknown Anglo-Indian journalist named Rudyard Kipling who was just making the same attempt to move back “home” to England, which it never was for him. Though his whole life would be spent celebrating the Indian experience, its culture, religions, people and animals, he would never settle in the sub-continent again. Indeed, he was already writing with a sense of loss and longing, as if the Empire was a vision that was already passing, a paradise gone. He was only 25 and Burma had only been part of the British Raj for 5 years at that point, 1890, and would not achieve its independence until 1948, yet the romance of lost innocence and significance was already setting in.

    Like all true missed love is the last chance a-bloomin’.

    Modern poetry is steeped in that romance from the very start. Almost all its great early poets are exile-romantics in this sense, and dreaming of a significance and meaning that they felt was owed to them. “Make it new” means make it fresh to them, like the pre-lapsarian paradise they were promised. (Isn’t that what it means, being “modern?”)

    Big subject.

    Here’s a striking parallel. I love the male voice even though I don’t know whose it is. The male voice is speaking as the young girl he’s in love with who is also “the Great Gawd Budd.” (And what rhymes that one leads to, all three of them!)

    An’ I seed her first a-smokin’ of a whackin’ white cheroot,
    An’ a-wastin’ Christian kisses on an ‘eathen idol’s foot:
    …………….Bloomin’ idol made o’mud —
    …………….Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd —
    …………….Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed ‘er where she stud!
    …………….On the road to Mandalay . . .

    Don’t be shocked — just be grateful for it:



  8. Christopher Woodman said,

    May 11, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Of course, it’s not a translation in the conventional sense, and certainly not a translation “from the Chinese by Ezra Pound” — I can’t recall any place where he claimed it was. It’s a recreation of what Pound imagined the 8th century Chinese poet Li Po might have written based on the notes of his mentor, Ernest Fenellosa, a loose Japanese translation Pound could possibly have read by himself, and his own experimentation both with Chinese calligraphy and “imagism,” as he was starting to call it. But whatever its genesis, and however much the original might have been distorted in the process, the poem is a huge success — certainly it has had a profound influence not only on my development as a poet, but specifically on how I write about where I live. It’s right up there with Kipling for that — I would never have been the same writer without them.

    And the author is romantic — self-conscious and mean but at the same time unabashedly romantic.

    ………………….Ezra Pound - Romantic

    The poem is one of the most beautiful and romantic ever written.


    …………….While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
    …………….I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
    …………….You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
    …………….You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
    …………….And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
    …………….Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

    …………….At fourteen I married My Lord you.
    …………….I never laughed, being bashful.
    …………….Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
    …………….Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

    …………….At fifteen I stopped scowling,
    …………….I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
    …………….Forever and forever and forever.
    …………….Why should I climb the lookout?

    …………….At sixteen you departed,
    …………….You went into far Ku-to-en, by the river of swirling eddies,
    …………….And you have been gone five months.
    …………….The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.

    …………….You dragged your feet when you went out.
    …………….By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
    …………….Too deep to clear them away!
    …………….The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
    …………….The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
    …………….Over the grass in the West garden;
    …………….They hurt me. I grow older.
    …………….If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
    …………….Please let me know beforehand,
    …………….And I will come out to meet you
    …………….As far as Cho-fo-Sa.

    ……………………………………………………………..Ezra Pound

    In my childhood, about 9, I think, I received a copy of The Morte Darthur illustrated by the great American artist, Howard Pyle, for Christmas, and that was major too. His women are for me still the most beautiful in the world, and though they’re dressed in Medieval robes they’re unmistakably oriental. Pound’s work on The Spirit of Romance was published in 1911, the same year Howard Pyle died in Florence, of all places. The Cathay poems, which included “The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter,” were published in 1915. (The photo of Pound is 1913.)

    Did they meet? Did they know each other? And what about all the others struggling with their cultural identities in London, Italy, India and China?

    Henry James published William Wetmore Story and His Friends in 1903, the same year my mother was born. William Wetmore Story (1819-1895) was a well-known sculptor who had his studio in Florence and worked in Carrera marble — there are quite a few of his big white neoclassical pieces in the American wing of The Metropolitan today, and we had one at home. The friends included Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and James Russell Lowell, of course. I’m a descendant of William Wetmore Story on my mother’s side, and some of her relatives and family friends continued to live in Florence right up to the 1st World War — and afterwards too, when things had settled down. So all that was my background growing up even as late as the 1940s, almost as if I were there. And Rudyard Kipling, above all The Just So Stories in a beautiful edition which I’ve subsequently mislaid.

    Somehow I can see it all in the wonderful Howard Pyle illustrations that haunted my childhood.



  9. wfkammann said,

    May 12, 2011 at 1:52 am


    Ida just showed me an article in The NY Review of Books called “Will There Be a ‘Duel of Dalai Lamas’?” Tim Johnson’s new book is entitled Tragedy in Crimson: How the Dalai Lama Conquered the World but Lost the Battle with China.

    China has filled Tibet with Han Chinese and crushed the Tibetan People; destroyed their culture and their monasteries. Beijing calls the Dalai Lama “a wolf wrapped in robes, a monster with a human face and an animal’s heart.” I read how Rupert Murdoch called him “a very political old monk shuffling around in Gucci shoes.” The Wal-Mart effect and the fact that the Chinese own our debt are deadly to moral protests. The British Prime minister meets the Dalai Llama at Lambeth Palace and Barack Obama welcomes him to the White House.

    In 2009 when California legislators sponsored a resolution to establish “Dalai Lama and Tibet Awareness Day” the resolution slid into limbo after Chinese threats of economic sanctions. Business interests run the world. Ethic cleansing and “Lebensraum” are alive and well.

    I was just mounting my high horse when I remembered the train that connects Beijing with Lhasa. It’s the highest train in the world and facilitates the influx of the Han Chinese into Tibet. And then I remembered….

    ……..The Golden Spike 1869

    The Famous Golden Spike

    Six years after work began, laborers of the Central Pacific Railroad from the west and the Union Pacific Railroad from the east met at Promontory Summit, Utah. It was here on May 10, 1869 that Governor Stanford drove the Golden Spike (or the Last Spike), that symbolized the completion of the transcontinental railroad. Few were aware that the spike was merely gold plated, gold being much too soft for the purpose, and probably not billable.

    In perhaps the world’s first live mass-media event, the hammer and spike were wired to the telegraph line so that each hammer stroke would be heard as a click at telegraph stations nationwide. Technical problems occurred, so clicks were actually sent by the telegraph operator, which makes this, most likely, the world’s first fake mass media event.

    Indeed, there were four spikes driven that afternoon, and those spikes, along with the special polished California Laurel tie, were replaced with ordinary ones as soon as the celebrities went off to their gala parties.

    A message was then transmitted over the new telegraph lines that read: “DONE.” There was great celebration around the country, travel time from coast to coast was reduced from six months to one week.

    Labor on the Transcontinental Railroad

    The majority of the Union Pacific track heading westward was built by Irish laborers, by Mormons who constructed much of the track in Utah, and after the war by veterans of the Union and Confederate armies. Chinese immigrants did most of the work on the Central Pacific track. Most White men received between one and three dollars per day, but workers from China received less and were supervised by Whites. Eventually, the Chinese went on strike and gained a small increase in salary.

    So there they are building railroads to facilitate the elimination of native populations and culture. “Manifest Destiny” was the policy that gave “The White Devil’s” the God-given right to populate and dominate the continent “from sea to shining sea.” Germ warfare (plague, measles and smallpox) and numerous treaties and promises to further constrain the Indians on “worthless land” which was later taken when minerals, metals or gold was found. Greed won; and as far as I can see, is still winning.

    The Plains Indians, like the Jews at the time of the Maccabees, could only hope that the “ghost dancers” or “the messiah in the clouds” would come and rid the land of the oppressors.



  10. wfkammann said,

    May 13, 2011 at 7:32 am


    Sonam Gyatso was the Abbot of Drepung Monastery and was granted the title Dalai Lama by the Mongol ruler Altan Khan in 1578. Sonam Gyatso means Ocean of Merit in Tibetan and the full Mongolian title is “the wonderful Vajradhara, good splendid meritorious ocean.” Since Sonam Gyatso was the third reincarnation of his lineage he is called the Third Dalai Lama and the title was bestowed posthumously on his predecessors.

    In Buddhist Philosophy most beings are reincarnated as the result of the karma (action) which predominates at the time of their death and entry into the Bardo, or transitional state between death and rebirth. However, some beings (tulkus), through Tantric Practice (Vajrayana) are able to direct their rebirth for the benefit of all beings. There are thousands of Tulkus in Tibetan Buddhism and all of these lineages follow this same pattern. Famous Tulkus in Tibet include the Dalai Lama, Panchen Lama, Karmapa and many other high reincarnations.

    Since Tibetans are a nomadic people and great horsemen, these tulkus would sometimes appear on horseback in Lhasa during annual festivals. They were truly deathless warriors in the minds of the Tibetan People.

    Tulku on Horseback

    The Dalai Lama is also the manifestation of the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara. The Karmapa is likewise Avalokiteshvara while the Panchen Lama is the emination of Amitaba Buddha. Other tulkus embody other Buddhas such as Manjusri or Yamantaka.


    You’d think that the Chinese would think twice before messing with these people.


    • Christopher Woodman said,

      May 13, 2011 at 10:11 am

      East is East and West is West, but suffering, heroism, identity, trying to do one’s best and failing miserably, and being supremely successful in the midst of failure seem to be pretty constant everywhere on earth.

      And before you read the following, and can still see through your tears, I want to make it very clear that I would have backed the CIA’s covert attempt to support the Khampas in East Tibet partly because my friend Trungpa Rimpoche was a Khampa, and he told me such a lot about them. I also might have backed the CIA’s covert support of the Hmong in Laos had I known anything about the Hmong at the time, many of whom are now my neighbors here in Chiang Mai. I certainly would have supported unequivocally the CIA’s covert and extremely dangerous attempts to extricate the Hmong from the jungles in Laos after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Indeed, there is still much work to be done to save what remains of this brave and industrious Tribal Nation in their homeland, and wherever as refugees they still remain unsettled and vulnerable.

      My point is not to lay blame, not even on the CIA, but on the contrary to be sure we recognize that all these Asian people are distinguished cousins of our own great-spirited but ravaged Native American Nation.


      Listen to the HONORABLE CHIEF CRAZY HORSE, Lakota
      Tribal Elder, Leader of the Sioux Nation

      “Upon suffering beyond suffering; the Red Nation shall rise again and it shall be a blessing for a sick world. A world filled with broken promises, selfishness and separations. A world longing for light again. I see a time of seven generations when all the colors of mankind will gather under the sacred Tree of Life and the whole Earth will become one circle again. In that day there will be those among the Lakota who will carry knowledge and understanding of unity among all living things, and the young white ones will come to those of my people and ask for this wisdom. I salute the light within your eyes where the whole universe dwells. For when you are at that center within you and I am that place within me, we shall be as one.”


      ………..Buddha's Warriors


      ………..The Sky is Falling


      …..Wounded Kee - 4000 Teepees


  11. wfkammann said,

    May 14, 2011 at 12:03 am


    I have been slogging through Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Christianity: the First Three Thousand Years. He writes:

    “ When in 1007 Christianity gained its first success among the Mongols, it was thanks to the long-dead Syrian St Sergius — a tribute to how this hugely popular military saint had impressed himself on imaginations far away from the site of his Roman martyrdom seven centuries before. Sergius had power, and the Mongols became increasingly interested in power. Perhaps also these warriors who relied for their success on their close bonding found Sergius’s intimate relationship with his soldier-companion Bacchus a good model for their own warfare.

    “It was indeed to one of the most powerful rulers among the Mongols that Sergius appeared in a vision. In or around 1007, the Mongol Khan of the Keriats, adrift in a snowstorm, became convinced that he would die lost and alone, but the saint promised deliverance in return for conversion, and deliverance from the blizzard duly arrived.”

    200,000 were converted to Dyophysite Christianity, and the priests even tolerated the distribution of mares’ milk blessed on the altar by the Khan himself. “As a result of Genghis’s carefully planned set of alliances with Christian Derait Mongol princesses, a series of Great Khans had Christian mothers, including Kublai Khan, who in the years up to 1279 fought his way to become the first Yuan emperor of China.”

    …………….Sergius & Bacchus

    The Syrian traders brought the Orthodox Church to China. The Church accommodated itself to Taoism and Buddhism but never became a permanent part of the culture.

    Mongol-Christians. Go figure!


  12. Christopher Woodman said,

    May 14, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    Dear Bill,
    I’m always challenged by your short-hand, which I know is good for me, not being able to keep the lid on my own kettle very well. But the preceding is more laconic than usual, and I suspect you are either hiding your hunches, pulling your punches, or both!

    So are we supposed to know who Sergius the Military Syrian Saint is? A sort of male Joan of Arc, do you mean, St. George or Napoleon Bonaparte, or just onward Christian soldiers? And the story of his “intimate relationship with his soldier-companion,” presumably Bacchus?

    Bacchus??? Surely not that one? Or was there another Bacchus beside Dionysus, and this one a Christian who had some sort of intimate relationship with a soldier which was a good model for other soldiers, presumably Christian Mongols on horseback? Is that what we are supposed to go figure?

    “Dyophysite Christianity?” Really? And the priests even tolerated the distribution of mares’ milk blessed on the altar, and by no less a personage than the Khan himself, meaning presumably Genghis? And again we’re supposed to go figure?

    A born-again cousin visited me from Houston Texas during the Iraq invasion and made it clear to me that George W. Bush was just fulfilling God’s plan. As things looked pretty messy after the mission was accomplished in God’s name, I asked her what went wrong. She said nothing went wrong. Indeed, it was all going very well considering that not all the American soldiers were Christian. I looked perplexed, and she said that that was main-stream reasoning in Houston.

    She also said go figure.

    And who are these delicately robed boy’s dressed up as saints in the painting, or is it an actual icon? And what are they wearing? Is that too part of the problem? Is that what it says in the Arabic script down below?

    Just asking.


  13. wfkammann said,

    May 15, 2011 at 12:17 am


    I do apologize if these short posts leave more questions than answers. The Khan was “The Khan of the Keriots” as it states; not Genghis. It seems though that from Achilles/Patrocles on (at least) the idea of “Soldiers in arms” had a number of meanings. The Spartans, as you know, were famous for this. Christology is a fascinating field and one that lives on today. No time here to explain the little I know on the subject.

    East is East and West is West but I’ll be damned if I knew that the Khans were Christians. Mare’s milk, blood of the Lamb? Go figure.

    But on to the next matter…..


  14. wfkammann said,

    May 15, 2011 at 9:34 am


    Also known as The Great Schism, this dispute is alive and well today but goes back to 1054 (over 600 years after the fall of Rome) when Pope Leo IX and the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, outlawed respectively Greek and Latin in their domains. That year Roman legates arrived in Constantinople hoping to deny Cerularius the title “Ecumenical Patriarch” and force him to recognize Rome as the mother of the churches. He refused. Cardinal Humbert of Rome then excommunicated Cerularius and he in turn excommunicated the Cardinal and other legates.

    In 1965, Pope Paul VI met with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and nullified the anathemas of 1054.

    …………….Hagia Sophia

    …………….Hagia Sofia

    Theodosius the Great, who established Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, died in 395 (16 years before the fall of Rome), and was the last Emperor to rule over a united Roman Empire. After that, East was East and West was West. East was Greek and West was Latin.

    If it hadn’t been for the Franks there might have been no Western Church at all.

    Papal Supremacy

    The basis for Papal Supremacy is a series of forgeries completed from 847-852 in the ecclesiastical province of Reims.

    Known as the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals, they are fictitious letters ascribed to early popes. The crux of this is the assertion that St. Peter was the “first” Bishop of Rome, and therefore the church of Rome should have primacy since Jesus said: (Matthew 16:18) “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

    That, along with the “Keys of Heaven,” is Rome’s claim to fame.

    ……..Bernini's Baldachin

    ……..Bernini’s Baldachin above the tomb of St. Peter.

    The Old St. Peter’s Basilica had the remains of the Saint behind the High Altar. But St. Irenaeus says that Pope Linus was the first bishop of Rome and Pope Cletus the second. It is further conceded that St. Peter was bishop of Antioch and was then succeeded by Evodius and Ignatius. Needless to say, the Eastern Orthodox do not hold the primacy of the Roman Pope.

    The story of the search for St. Peter’s bones is fascinating. Suffice it to say, bones that were found by chance by Prof. Margherita Guarducci were announced as the relics of St. Peter by Pope Paul VI on June 26, 1968.

    So, was Peter martyred in Rome or buried in Jerusalem?

    As the Fox News people say, “You decide.”


  15. Christopher Woodman said,

    May 16, 2011 at 8:54 am


    ….Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
    ….Where there aren’t no Ten Commandments an’ a man can raise a thirst;
    ….For the temple-bells are callin’, an’ it’s there that I would be —
    ….By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;
    ………………On the road to Mandalay,
    ………………Where the old Flotilla lay,
    ………………With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
    ………………On the road to Mandalay,
    ………………Where the flyin’-fishes play,
    ………………An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!

    What did Kipling have in mind here, and what would we have in mind if we explored the riddle of East and West in those terms?

    “Where the best is like the worst?”

    What would that have meant to the “Mandalay” narrator in 1890, a 10 year enlisted man who has had the magical experiences described earlier in the poem and is now back in London braving the weather, feeling lonely, insignificant and hemmed in by ugliness, and, of course, looking for a job. Even the London girls disappoint him after his experience with his girl in Burma — stronger than disappointment even, I would say, revulsion! “Beefy face an’ grubby ‘and[s],” that’s how they look to him – and I even feel that way about my own face and hands sometimes when I’m in a Thai, Laotian or Cambodian gathering. Also hairy. Also smelly, I’m afraid, as much as I wash — and, of course, many times too tall. A Brobdingnagian.

    How Gulliver felt when he returned home after his sojourn among the Hounyms.

    ….I am sick o’ wastin’ leather on these gritty pavin’-stones,
    ….An’ the blasted Henglish drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
    ….Tho’ I walks with fifty ‘ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
    ….An’ they talks a lot o’ lovin’, but wot do they understand?
    ………………Beefy face an’ grubby ‘and —
    ………………Law! wot do they understand?
    ………………I’ve a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!
    ………………On the road to Mandalay . . .

    “A neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land,” the narrator concludes in despair. And what do the girls here in London understand about love? he asks – “Law! wot do they understand?” Indeed, I often ask myself the same question when I hear young westerners I meet here in Chiang Mai talking so sensibly about love, as if it weren’t a mystery anymore, as if it were something you only did when you were grown-up enough and knew the ropes: trust, respect, being open, knowing how to give, knowing how to receive, to listen, to forgive, indeed even how to move-on afterwards (as if you ever could if it were love!). That would not have been the discourse in Hackney in 1890, where nobody had yet been on the couch. Furthermore, the Gold Rush had only just set the stage for what would become much later California, the place where you could study “personal relationships” at institutes with names like the ‘Center for Studies of the Person.’ On the other hand, already in 1890 there would have been the assumption in London that marriage is a bond you enter into voluntarily with someone that you know, like and, of course, that you chose. And make no mistake about it, this is not an assumption in much of Asia even today – perhaps not even in most of it. And it certainly had nothing whatever to do with what happened between the English soldier and the young Burmese girl by the old Moulmein pagoda, looking lazy at the sea.

    And right after the “Law, wot do they understand?” passage comes the line — “Where the best is like the worst.”

    Which is one mighty riddle, and one I’ve never seen handled satisfactorily — or even taken seriously. Yet in some ways it gets right to the heart of what’s unique about Kipling, and could even be used to counter George Orwell’s devastating dismissal of him: “It is no use pretending that Kipling’s view of life, as a whole, can be accepted or even forgiven by any civilized person.”

    Ouch, and out of the mouth of one of my heroes! So I really have to try.

    Here’s a reading that appeals to me with all my education and privilege. Poverty is, in a sense, a higher privilege because it frees you from ambition; lack of opportunity means you can relax, smile, and accept things as they are; over-crowding means you’re never lonely, forgotten or depressed; illness means you don’t go bankrupt alone in a hospital, superstition means you still believe in all sorts of things and your life is full of magic, awe and, minor detail, meaning; lack of respect for the individual creates a much closer sense of bonding in families and communities; cruelty is just the ugly side of charm, and perhaps the only constant in human life so you’d better not paper it over with fine sentiments like, ugh, fairness! (So English!)

    Or does it mean that the norm in the East, the “acceptable,” in other words, even the “best” of it, is equivalent to what we in the West find utterly unacceptable and specifically, morally and legally, illicit? Or where value judgments aren’t made at all, where everything goes, where you can fulfill any appetite you want, however perverse, and you don’t have to suffer for it, no guilt, no fine or imprisonment, not a glance of disapproval from the authorities or the neighbors, or even from the parents of the girl, or the boy – or even from his or her husband?

    ….Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
    ….Where there aren’t no Ten Commandments an’ a man can raise a thirst…

    Or does it mean total permission at both extremes, both to be oneself and to enjoy oneself, where you don’t have to worry about breaking the 10 Commandments because there are no 10 Commandments, a pre-ethical world, in a sense, so one in which you can both be yourself and more than yourself all at once. Yes, you can drink as much as you want and nobody’s going to complain and call the cops or recommend, sincerely, the AA. You can also see whatever you want, and have whatever feelings you want about what you see without all those terrible religious and social obligations which so hedge us about at home in our own cultures.

    Rimbaud in Abyssinia: “what am I doing here?” And quoted by Bruce Chatwin in his wonderful study of the Native Australians, Songlines. And, of course, Kipling’s soldier on the Thames embankment.

    Which gets to the point, to have the chance for once to be oneself without limits either from above or below. No spriritual hang-ups cut in stone on Mt. Sinai, Westminster or Washington, no moral, social, or political imperatives drummed into us by our teachers and our parents, no laws even, not even any gender obligations…

    Here’s a picture of the riddle: “Where is the best like the worst?”

    ………Tsunami - Life Magazine

    Look at this woman on the beach in Phuket on the cover of Life magazine. She’s not a red-neck retiree looking for a bar-girl half his age who will love and respect him, not a college kid with a naked tyre round her midriff and her belly button pierced looking for her own Bruce Lee with nice abs or any other (good) college kid, or a bo-bo in paradise looking for a guru or whatever other spiritual delight or titillation, including enlightenment and opium. No, she’s just a well-educated, intelligent, fit, self-confident professional woman with her bra on and her dark glasses at her fingertips with a good book in her bag and a pack of Marlboros. And she knows all about the tsunami that’s just wiped out the world of the other person, formless, genderless, almost invisible, and with her tall white stride and determination she’s going to do something about it.

    And I’m not saying that cynically about her at all. I’d like to meet her — I’d borrow a cigarette from her and we’d talk about it.

    The riddle continues: “Where the best is like the worst.”

    ………Blowpipe Dream

    And it beats me, that’s the problem — including how this almost certainly very good young man probably from Oberlin, or Swarthmore perhaps, ever got to be so BIG when human beings who really work hard, who make all their tools by hand (that’s a blowpipe in the photo) and better know how to use them because there’s nothing else, have only just enough to eat and only very flimsy shelters, how they always keep their dignity, and always feel bien dans leurs peaux (good in their skins!) — which the big guy in the photo, properly fed and supplemented, obviously doesn’t. They also know who they are which is why they remain small and so beautifully toned and proportioned. Look at the westerners posture by comparison, his upper body, the shape of his legs, the position of his feet. And aren’t those gym shorts he’s wearing, or some other athletic department issue? Isn’t that what it says? And the logo on his shirt? Is that a team he supports, or plays for? Doubt it, but he still dresses in clothes that would suggest he’s an athlete, and the little man just wears a skirt.

    My point is not to mock the young western man, who is in fact an eco-tourist visiting an indigenous ‘Negrito’ tribe in a remote mountain area of southern Thailand, and they really do need his good, well-meaning support. But if they get it, will they have to become just like him and me in the end, beefy-faced and grubby-‘anded?


  16. Christopher Woodman said,

    May 17, 2011 at 10:24 am


    ….Tho’ I walks with fifty ‘ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
    ….An’ they talks a lot o’ lovin’, but wot do they understand?

    How painful it is, the sense of dislocation this demobilized soldier feels on his return home to England in 1890. Even the women’s talk alienates him, and where else is he going to rediscover the beauty, mystery and magic but in the arms of one of the girls?

    So what are they talking about, these London housemaids on their day off taking a stroll from Chelsea to the Strand? Flirting, obviously. And wearing their finest, no doubt — they know what fine looks like too because they are serving fine people. Even small terrace houses in central London had a domestic servant, and a large, detached house in Mayfair, for example, as many as a dozen. The girls worked out of the kitchen and pantry downstairs below street level and slept in the attic up above. In between was their model — for their hats, gloves, scent and ribbons, or at least as much of that sort of habberdashery as they could afford on their miniscule wages. Free room and board with some warmth and security, that was most of the pay of a domestic in London in 1890 — as it is still here in Thailand where ‘anybody’ can afford a cook, a gardener and a maid…

    And the housemaids are into that already, property, possessions, looking good on their way up. And looking for men who will support them on the ladder, talking about what they will wear, talking of how lovely it will be in the parlor.

    D.H.Lawrence used this as a theme over and over again in his essays and novels, what women talked about, what they wanted, what they expected marriage to provide. This is from the essay, “Nottingham and the Mining Country,” a superbly provocative look at city planning. But very troubling too in what it says about men and women, what they want from each other — “Law, wot do they understand?” asks the soldier with the tinkly temple bells on his mind.

    “The real tragedy of England, as I see it, is the tragedy of ugliness. The country is so lovely: the man-made England so vile. I know that the ordinary collier, when I was a boy, had a peculiar sense of beauty, coming from his intuitive and instinctive consciousness, which was awakened down pit. And the fact that he met with just cold ugliness and raw materialism when he came up into daylight, and particularly when he came up to the Square or Breach, and to his own table, killed something in him, and in a sense spoiled him as a man. The woman almost invariably nagged about material things. She was taught to do it; she was encouraged to do it. It was a mother’s business to provide money. In my father’s generation, with the old wild England behind them, and the lack of education, the man was not beaten down. But in my generation, the boys I went to school with, colliers now, have all been beaten down, what with the din-din-dinning of Board schools, books, cinemas, clergymen, the whole national and human consciousness hammering on the fact of material prosperity above all things.

    The men are beaten down, there is prosperity for a time, in their defeat — and then disaster looms ahead. The root of all disaster is disheartenment. And men are disheartened. The men of England, the colliers in particular, are disheartened. They have been portrayed and beaten.

    Now though perhaps nobody knew it, it was ugliness which really betrayed the spirit of man, in the nineteenth century. The great crime which moneyed classes and promoters of industry committed in the palmy Victorian days was the condemning of workers to ugliness, ugliness, ugliness: meanness and formless and ugly surroundings, ugly ideas, ugly religion, ugly hope, ugly relationship between workers and employers. The human soul needs actual beauty even more than bread. The middle classes jeer at the colliers for buying pianos — but what is the piano, often as not, but a blind reaching out for beauty. To the woman it is a possession and a piece of furniture and something to feel superior about. But see the elderly colliers trying to learn to play, see them listening with queer alert faces to their daughter’s execution of “The Maiden’s Prayer,” and you will see a blind, unsatisfied craving for beauty. It is far more deep in the man than the woman. The women want show. The men want beauty, and still want it.”

    ……………………………….D.H.Lawrence, Nottingham and the Mining Country (1925).

    Kipling and Lawrence and the 10 year man — who could never settle down in the parlor with the experience of something else that they had had, something that could never be domesticated or put tidily on a London side table by the couch.


  17. wfkammann said,

    May 17, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    My Grandfather called it his $1,000 song.

    My mother could still play “The Maiden’s Prayer” from memory even with those long fingernails clacking on the keys. My Grandfather said “When I was poor and had nothing, in Brooklyn, I was a communist too.”

    But when he moved up to the Grand Concourse he could afford “The Maiden’s Prayer.”

  18. May 18, 2011 at 5:03 pm


    ….‘Er petticoat was yaller an’ ‘er little cap was green,
    ….An’ ‘er name was Supi-yaw-lat — jes’ the same as Theebaw‘s Queen,
    ….An’ I seed her first a-smokin’ of a whackin’ white cheroot,
    ….An’ a-wastin’ Christian kisses on an ‘eathen idol’s foot:
    …………………Bloomin’ idol made o’ mud —
    …………………Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd —
    …………………Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed ‘er where she stud!
    …………………On the road to Mandalay . . .

    How men and women make idols out of each other when they fall in love, and even more artificially when they codify each other in their cults of marriage, or sanctify each other in their rituals in ‘Church’ — for want of a better word.

    In Thailand there are still to this day couples in which the husband lies down first and then the wife ‘wais’ him at his feet before she crawls up beside him — they’re on a mat, don’t forget. ‘Wai’ means the woman joins her hands together palm to palm at chin level, and having done that she then prostrates herself at her husband’s feet as if he were a Buddha — signifying “My Lord You” as the River Merchant’s Wife called it in Pound’s poem above. Indeed, “a Buddha” is the way westerners used to describe any golden image that was bowed down to by devotees — meaning an idol, a totem to our anthropologists, a Golden Calf to our Christian devotees steeped in The Bible. In this case a British soldier who nails it as a “bloomin’ idol made o’ mud —/Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd.” Great rhyme — but having nothing whatsoever to do with the girl’s experience, of how the Buddha lives and breathes in her embrace.

    But that’s jumping ahead.

    Make no mistake about it, “Mandalay” tells us almost nothing about what the Burmese girl believes or actually does, or even about what she wears for that matter — her world is seen through the soldier’s eyes, and he knows nothing about her or her culture really. With but one exception, the “whackin’ white cheroot” — that’s the only detail which is described completely accurately, I think — as you can see from the two old photos introduced earlier in the thread. On the other hand, whatever she had on her head is very unlikely to have been a “hat” if it were “green” — a “hat” would have been made out of straw, reeds or bamboo, and would have been for protection from the sun while working. If it were “green” it’s going to have been a beautiful head cloth of some sort, a scarf or something wrapped in her hair. Ditto the “skirt” — think 1890 housemaid strolling on the Strand again, and you’ll know it certainly wasn’t a “skirt” she was wearing, at least in any western terms. A sarong or “longyis,” a long swathe of light cotton wrapped around her waist down to her ankles — worn equally in Burma by both men and women, even today, though shorter for men.

    Rudyard Kipling is writing the poem, and he knows all these things very well — but the soldier doesn’t, and Kipling knows that. In addition, the soldier is recalling something in the streets of London which is now as remote as something from another planet, or a gift from heaven. Kipling’s gift is to get under the skin of his characters in the most simple, direct and memorable language imaginable, which is what he does here in this poem and in a most moving way. He gives us a Burmese girl seen through Cockney eyes, and she’s both English (“hat” and “skirt”) and profoundly exotic at the same time, indeed as eastern as you can get. And it’s not the cheroot this time, which is a wonderfully authentic detail, but it’s the bowing that does it — and specifically the kissing of the Buddha’s feet.

    Because I don’t believe the kissing part for an instant. I think the kissing is all in the soldier’s head!

    What Kipling has done here is make the soldier’s fertile, yearning imagination transform a normal Buddhist practice — bowing down with your forehead touching the ground in front of the Buddha — into something very different. He has allowed his memory of the sexual intimacy, beauty and openness he had experienced with her to become her actual religious practice. And to make that more vivid, just imagine her. She will have had honey-colored skin combined with thick, thick black radiant hair possibly down to her waist. On top of that, she will have been slim in a way very few English girls who grow up on porridge and potatoes in a cold climate ever can be, and she will have had the large round breasts most south east Asian women still do, having been a largely bare-breasted culture in the country-side up until about 1920. Certainly no bra, nor any self-consciousness about it. And all but hairless, everywhere but her head, and as flexible and soft as a child. In other words, a vision, nothing less.

    Sorry to say all that, but there we are — God has not been fair in the way he has favored south east Asian women, and the soldier will have felt he was blessed by God’s presence in her body.

    So with that introduction the image of the bowing can really develop in the imagination. But let me say this first. In my 16 years in south east Asia I have never seen anyone kiss the Buddha’s feet — and only very rarely kiss in public at all. This is not a kissing culture, and even on the soap operas, which are truly as passionate and romantic as anywhere on earth, even at the very moment when the lights are going down and they’re getting closer and closer and the violins are straining the hardest, he just sniffs her cheek. That’s all — but I tell you, it’s more than enough!

    Kissing in private, yes, in making love for sure. But never, oh never, in public (western tourists take note!), and certainly not kissing Buddhas, anywhere.

    But the soldier is recalling an exquisite passion and delicacy without repression that can only be expressd in religious terms, and he transforms what they do together into a temple vision.

    Working from there the rest falls neatly into place — I’d rather let you do it.

    The soldier has no knowledge of Buddhism, and he takes the imagery of the idol and transfers it to become the imagery of the love he has experienced with a girl in Burma. And I think that’s absolutely brilliant.

    (Wish somebody would challenge me on that, and also would disagree with me when I say the only blunder in the whole poem is the mention of “Theebaw‘s Queen” — a real name and a real person, but the soldier would never have known that. Just the author, and maybe an editor.)


  19. wfkammann said,

    May 19, 2011 at 10:51 am


    Here’s a moment of East meets West — the young Japanese pianist, Ai Mori, plays the Polish composer Tekla Badarzewska’s famous “La prière d’une vierge.”

    When my mother was married, the two popular songs, “Always” and “Remember,” were on the piano. I sang “Always” at my sister’s wedding at Carmel by the Sea.

    ………Buddha's Golden Feet

    And here is a woman bringing offerings to the feet of a gigantic standing Buddha.

    Originally there were no statues or other representations of the Buddha; only footprints, Dharma wheels and Bodhi trees. Where did the statues come from?

    More soon.


  20. May 19, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Precisely, Bill — she is at the feet of the Buddha and at the foot of his bed at the same time.

    And I do hope that any visitor will have the pleasure of listening to that young Japanese girl play “La prière d’une vierge” at the same time as looking at the image of the girl at the Buddha’s feet. Hopefully the rendition will last long enough to accompany the following images as well.


    The radiant, devotional, passionate aspect of Buddhist imagery is fundamental to those lucky peoples who are immersed in it, a fact which westerners, particularly those from protestant backgrounds, sometimes have trouble getting their minds around. Kipling taps into that in an extraordinary way in “Mandalay” when his soldier connects what the Burmese girl does at the feet of the Buddha with what she does with him.

    On the other hand, all lovers know that, it’s just that puritans, protestants, and humanist fellow-travellers tend to leave the lover in them at home in bed when they go to ‘church,’ or wherever they go to worship, theistic or not, on Sunday mornings.

    Look at this. What had Gustav Klimt been looking at when he came up with this iconic piece of sacro-eroticism? And do notice the position of her legs.

    ………Gustav Klimt - The Kiss

    And of his hands.

    ………Golden Buddha Hands


  21. wfkammann said,

    May 21, 2011 at 9:20 am


    During the 4th Century BCE the Macedonians under Alexander the Great conquered not only all of Greece but Egypt and the Persian Empire before stopping in the north of India. Here, in Bactria, the fertile area between the Pamir and the Hindu-Kush mountains, Greek civilization influenced the development of Mahayana Buddhism and, in turn, Buddhism influenced the philosophers traveling with Alexander.

    Buddhism was traditionally brought to Bactria by the Buddha’s first two students: Bhallika and Tapassu. The area of northern Afghanistan, Tajikistan and northern Pakistan (yes, Abbotabad) were part of Alexander’s conquests and remained Greek for centuries after his death, a cultural crossroads along the Silk Road.

    ………………………..Alexander the Great
    …………………………………………..Alexander The Great

    …..Alexander's Empire
    Alexander’s Empire. (You can also click here to go to a larger map showing all Alexander’s travels and campaigns — click on ‘View Full Size Map’ for the largest view.)

    From Bactria, Buddhism made its way to China and then on to Korea and Japan.

    Alexander was the scoliotic blue-eyed/black-eyed student of Aristotle who with his boyhood friend and lover, Hephaestion, placed wreaths on the tombs of Achilles and Patrocles, and then conquered Asia. They stopped in northern India when the Macedonians refused to go on. At that point they turned back to Baghdad.

    Hephaestion died of a fever on the way, and Alexander of the after-effects. The empire was divided among his generals, and Ptolemy took his body to Alexandria in Egypt.

    Bactria was the easternmost province of the Macedonian empire, and from 325-125 BCE was first part of the Seleucid Empire and then became the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom. From 180 BCE the Greco-Bactrians captured various areas of northern India until 10 CE.

    From the 1st to 3rd century CE, Bactria was part of the Kushan Empire, and Hellenistic influence continued into the 5th century CE.

    Alexander had Greek philosophers with him including Pyrrho, Anaxarchus and Onesicritus. During their stay in Bactria and Gandhara they interacted with Gymnosophists (‘naked philosophers”).

    Pyrrho became the first Skeptic. One of his sayings is:

    “Nothing really exists, but human life is governed by convention.”
    “Nothing is in itself more this than that.”

    According to Strabo, the philosopher, Onesicritus, a Cynic, learned the following precepts in India:

    “That nothing that happens to a man is bad or good, opinions being
    …….. merely dreams,”

    “That the best philosophy is that which liberates the mind from both
    ……..pleasure and grief.”

    So East again meets West and teaches that “the best is like the worst!”


  22. wfkammann said,

    May 22, 2011 at 1:42 am


    Kipling’s soldier goes home to a bunch of Chelsea ‘ousemaids:

    ………….“Beefy face an’ grubby ‘and —
    ………….Law! wot do they understand?”

    The phenomenon continued after the turn of the century and America’s entrance into the First World War gave us the same phenomenon. Only the appropriate line is, “And who the deuce can parleyvous a cow?” Walter Danaldson from Brooklyn, N.Y. gave us this one. The lyrics are by Joe Young and Sam M. Lewis who wrote “In a Little Spanish Town” among many other famous songs.


    ………….Reuben, Reuben, I’ve been thinking,
    ………….Said his wifey dear,
    ………….Now that all is peaceful and calm
    ………….The boys will soon be back on the farm.
    ………….Mister Reuben started winking and slowly rubbed his chin.
    ………….He pulled his chair up close to mother
    ………….And he asked her with a grin,

    …………………….Chorus (sung twice after each verse):
    ………….How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm
    ………….After they’ve seen Paree’,
    ………….How ya gonna keep ’em away from Broadway,
    ………….Jazzin around and paintin’ the town,
    ………….How ya gonna keep ’em away from harm, that’s a mystery.
    ………….They’ll never want to see a rake or plow
    ………….And who the deuce can parleyvous a cow?
    ………….How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm
    ………….After they’ve seen Paree’?

    ………….Rueben, Rueben, you’re mistaken,
    ………….Said his wifey dear,
    ………….Once a farmer, always a jay
    ………….And farmers always stick to the hay.
    ………….Mother Reuben, I’m not fakin
    ………….Tho you may think it strange,
    ………….But wine and women play the mischief
    ………….With a boy who’s loose with change.

    …………………….Chorus (sung twice after each verse):
    ………….How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm
    ………….After they’ve seen Paree’,
    ………….How ya gonna keep ’em away from Broadway
    ………….Jazzin around and paintin’ the town,
    ………….How ya gonna keep ’em away from harm, that’s a mystery.
    ………….Imagine, Reuben, when he meets his Pa
    ………….He’ll kiss his cheek and holler “OO-LA-LA!
    ………….How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm
    ………….After they’ve seen Paree’?

    Four 366th Infantry Officers
    Officers of the United States Army’s segregated 366th Infantry Regiment on board the Aquitania, enroute home from World War I service c. 1917-1919.

    Although the army remained segregated during the First World War, one of the most distinguished units was the 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the “Harlem Hellfighters.” They were on the front lines for six months, longer than any other American unit in the war. (Reminds me of the Buffalo Soldiers sent to Cochise County to fight the Apaches: a win-win situation!)

    Lt. James Reese Europe and his 369th U.S. Infantry (Hell Fighters) Jazz Band comprised of African American Soldiers traveled over 2,000 miles in France, performing for British, French and Ameican military audiences as well as French civilians. The “Hellfighters” also led the Triumphant returning U.S. servicemen Down 5th Avenue in New York City at the end of the War. And so began Europe’s love affair with Black Jazzmen and the start of ragtimitis in France.

    Here’s the band performing “How ya Gonna Keep em Down on the Farm” from 1919 with vocal by Lt. Noble Sissle.

    Here’s the number as part of the Our Gang Follies of 1936. (Not the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936, but close). Buckwheat and the monkey? How you gonna’ keep the boys in line once the monkey’s loose!

    The song became a cultural icon. Here’s Judy Garland from the movie “For Me and My Gal” 1942. The US was already in WWII after Pearl Harbor and the song has the flavor of “Here We Go Again.”

    And finally Benny Goodman. By now Jazz was not just a Black thing anymore, and we’ve moved from an army jazz band to the great clarinet man and a “dixie-land” sound.


  23. May 22, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    “THE WHITE MAN’S BURDEN:” a positive riff on an infamous poem.
    …………[you can read the poem itself in Comment 26 below]

    There’s accompaniment for this one.

    Click on that, and try to listen as a poet while you read—

    …and perhaps imagine yourself in a drawing room somewhere East or West. In the East let’s slip unnoticed into a summer villa in Simla in the Hindu Kush with Rudyard Kipling standing in the shadows near the side-board to make room for the ladies including his beautiful sister sitting next to Lady Dufferin — that’s his beloved sister Trixie who’s being courted by her nephew, I think. Of course, she was to go mad in the end, as they almost all did, and me too.

    …or where in the West? Boston? Marlborough Street? Let’s try that.

    …1944 or 45, and the room is full of chinoiserie delivered dutifully to my ancestors along with the chests of tea in the holds of my great-forever grandfather’s Billy Gray’s clipper ships — Boston Harbor, sometime after the Revolution when social positions were made with so much money that whole generations could forget that anybody had ever earned it, that real money just came with the territory. Of course, there was nothing left by the time I arrived in 1939, or much less anyway, a pittance by comparison, but still nobody was prepared to tell me during my whole childhood that one day I would have to get a job.

    Yes, Boston. That’s where I was to acquire my first living models for my personal “White Man’s Burden:” urbane old Loring Chandler whose bow window down the street just allowed me to see him making naughty signals to me as I was supposed to be being put to bed by my nanny, or my father at war in Italy who was really shooting partridge in the Abruzzi, or trout fishing far from what at home most people thought of as WWII gunfire — or my cousin, another, much later Gray incarnation, also named Billy, a handsome Marine in his mid-20s just back from Iwo Jima with the most wonderful stories for me, five, and my older brother Tony, seven, of hand to hand combat and fearless, never-say-die warriors like at Kartooum or the Kyber Pass — I remember a Samurai sword caught in the camouflage netting just over his head at night, and the sound of his shot.

    …And how did I ever sleep? He didn’t, I feel sure — nobody told me at the time but he was soon dead as well, don’t ask why or how as I never thought about it until many years later, and of course there’s nobody left to tell me. Yet we’re all thinking about it now, how we hid so much and tried so hard to live up to the burden we carried.

    Because I do hope you’re hearing the melody of the human imagination steeped in too much culture, too much education and too much financial/social/existential freedom, and the realization that at a certain point you have to take on the awful burden all by yourself, that you actually have to be better, not because you are better but because you have an awareness that has been bred into you by generations of not having had to worry about where the money came from to go to boarding school, abroad, university, and of course always to have been properly accoutered if one wanted to be, and when it was appropriate, of course, but if one didn’t, or when it wasn’t because you were a brick-layer now, or a gardener, still always to have been sensitive to others, to have been fair, or tried to be, and good — like in Kipling’s poem. Altruism, that’s what we call it — twisted but nevertheless. How your very being has been short-circuited by the evolutionary process, and far from making you more dominant, has fitted you better to be a perfect laborer or servant.

    What a terrible irony, what a glorious reversal — that the Fittest should feel obligated to serve! Because all I was left with after all that privilege was the obligation to work for a gentler world inhabited by people who with a little help could become gentler, happier, more constructive too.

    When I was 15, I think, I realized I also had to be a violinist as well as a poet. I felt my station in life not only demanded that of me but fitted me for it as well, that Parnassus went with the Palazzo, so to speak, and that Beauty was an imperative along with Fairness, Honor, Humility and Good Taste.

    And the song I most struggled to master was Mendelssohn’s beautiful setting of Heinrich Heine’s “Auf Flügeln des Gesanges,” “On Wings of Song,” as it’s known in English (more anon!). For when you listen to it you’re hearing the heart of my education and the fuel for everything I’ve accomplished since then. Not much, admittedly, at least in real terms, but no one can tell me that my privilege was not well spent!

    What also put the stamp of ‘Imperial Values’ on me were the private schools I was sent to as a boy, one English and one American — the famous prep school in New Hampshire, Saint Paul’s, attended by the family, uncles, cousins, right back to its founding, and at just 17 to the great English ‘Public School’ called Winchester College, also with family connections.

    At both places, but particularly at the latter, I was taught how to suffer and be best at the same time. Of course I also had my violin with me in both places, and secretly tried to play this wonderful song of Mendelssohn even when I didn’t really have any gift for it or the time to practice. I was a violinist of the soul and I would play my life always as if I were up on the stage, a Jascha Heifetz, David Oistrakh or Yehudi Menuhin.

    And I like this analogy very much as I write it because I was brought up in a world with a huge amount of racial prejudice, and Mendelssohn, Heine, Heifetz, Oistrakh and Yehudi Menuhin were all, of course, Jews. Yet prejudice like that was never communicated to me as a child — it was there, it has to have been looking back on the time, but my parents and close relatives never imposed it on me, or even mentioned it. On the level of art, of understanding, sensitivity and philosophy, indeed of the highest human dignity and value, I was obliged to shoulder my burden of privilege, but that message did not have racial overtones for me as a child — any more than it did, or still does, for that matter, in the great Jewish families who accomplish so much, the Rothschilds, the Warburgs, and the Guggenheims. And that’s a fascinating parallel indeed!

    The obligation “to shoulder the white man’s burden,” in either Rudyard Kipling’s sense of it in his famous poem, or in my own as a very late imperial child, is a complex historical and cultural imperative. Certainly, the same metaphor used today is met by outrage in those places in the world suffering from tensions based on skin color — and I myself am 100% with all those who fight against racism and willingly “take a knee” at the slightest provocation. But I don’t think it takes a great deal of imagination to understand the flip side of that either, how the British imperial values of the 19th century could also inspire a lot of positive behavior, including patience, generosity and tolerance, and inspire commitment in artistic families like the Kiplings — Lockwood the father, gifted illustrator, consummate artisan, archivist, designer, and indefatigable teacher, his gifted wife, Alice Macdonald, and her three, equally remarkable sisters, Georgiana Burne-Jones (yes!), Agnes Poynter (yes!), and Louisa Baldwin (yes, mother of the Prime Minister!), and of course the gauche yet uniquely endowed son, Rudyard, whose genius was fully manifest by the age of 23 when he returned home to England forever. And of course there were a great many other British colonial officials, merchants, soldiers, scholars, adventurers and their families all over the world who were motivated by the same feelings of obligation to serve the people they administered, the schools and hospitals they built, the government structures they put in place, the courts, and the love of learning which is still there in so many of the territories they administered — for the most enduring gift one can give to any people of any color or persuasion anywhere in the world is a love of learning!

    Of course I admit that I’m also hoping to be let off the hook a bit as well, for lots of things. I never mastered the Mendelssohn, for one thing, or was ever very good at poetry either, my other great passion, and one which I’m still not through with at all, I’m afraid — which is why I’m still here! On the other hand, I know that by example as well as by decades of very hard work I have inspired 100s, perhaps even 1000s of young people all over the world who didn’t have the chances that I did, and that many of them were not of my own country, religion or color. Indeed, I think an astonishing number of my friends, students and colleagues over the years have chosen paths similar to my own, and have become doctors, nurses, artists, faithful helpers, gardeners, carpenters and activists, better parents and, above all, dedicated teachers, and they are of all colors, shapes and sizes! Yes, and I am very proud to say that my own children and grandchildren are expressing their particular globo-genetic generosity in their personal lives as well, each one of them making his or her own unique life decisions, and I mean in the body too: African, Chinese, Cuban, Tasmanian, West Indian, and Irish, the grateful descendants of a profligate Bostonian miscegenist like me!

    In other words a grandfather a little like Rudyard Kipling — yes, in my own humble way I’m Kim’s legacy too, and I mean the boy himself, black and Irish, indistinguishably fused.


    Now you deserve this, dear friends — and there’s obviously a lot more to say about it. “Auf Flügeln des Gesanges,” begins Heine’s poem — and by the third line we’re back in India, “Fort nach den Fluren des Ganges.” (Flügeln des Gesanges (wings of song) > Fluren des Ganges (fields of the Ganges). Powerful!)

    So who’s going to get all that assonance, consonance, alliteration, and rhyme into an English translation? Bill?

    (The rhyme of the East rises up in the West yet again!)


  24. Milo Beach said,

    May 23, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    With the rhyme of the East comes the wisdom of the East, and what is wiser than these words from the (not otherwise always wise) New York Times:

    NY Times Clipping

  25. Wfkammann said,

    May 24, 2011 at 8:19 am

    Yes, rebirth as a Gandharva might help Christopher with his violin playing. An afternoon nap would be nice but what about the rest of the day with the screaming kids and dirty diapers?

    In Wagner’s Das Judenthum in der Musik he smears the Jews for their inability to speak German. The only composer he faintly praises is Mendelssohn: boy wonder; piano virtuoso.

  26. May 24, 2011 at 9:55 am

    Bear with this marred Gandharva house-wife just a bit more — he’s almost done.


    ……………….. Take up the White Man’s burden–
    ……………….. Send forth the best ye breed–
    ……………….. Go, bind your sons to exile
    ……………….. To serve your captives’ need;
    ……………….. To wait, in heavy harness,
    ……………….. On fluttered folk and wild–
    ……………….. Your new-caught sullen peoples,
    ……………….. Half devil and half child.

    ……………….. Take up the White Man’s burden–
    ……………….. In patience to abide,
    ……………….. To veil the threat of terror
    ……………….. And check the show of pride;
    ……………….. By open speech and simple,
    ……………….. An hundred times made plain,
    ……………….. To seek another’s profit
    ……………….. And work another’s gain.

    ……………….. Take up the White Man’s burden–
    ……………….. The savage wars of peace–
    ……………….. Fill full the mouth of Famine,
    ……………….. And bid the sickness cease;
    ……………….. And when your goal is nearest
    ……………….. (The end for others sought)
    ……………….. Watch sloth and heathen folly
    ……………….. Bring all your hope to nought.

    ……………….. Take up the White Man’s burden–
    ……………….. No iron rule of kings,
    ……………….. But toil of serf and sweeper–
    ……………….. The tale of common things.
    ……………….. The ports ye shall not enter,
    ……………….. The roads ye shall not tread,
    ……………….. Go, make them with your living
    ……………….. And mark them with your dead.

    ……………….. Take up the White Man’s burden,
    ……………….. And reap his old reward–
    ……………….. The blame of those ye better
    ……………….. The hate of those ye guard–
    ……………….. The cry of hosts ye humour
    ……………….. (Ah, slowly!) toward the light:–
    ……………….. “Why brought ye us from bondage,
    ……………….. Our loved Egyptian night?”

    ……………….. Take up the White Man’s burden–
    ……………….. Ye dare not stoop to less–
    ……………….. Nor call too loud on Freedom
    ……………….. To cloak your weariness.
    ……………….. By all ye will or whisper,
    ……………….. By all ye leave or do,
    ……………….. The silent sullen peoples
    ……………….. Shall weigh your God and you.

    ……………….. Take up the White Man’s burden!
    ……………….. Have done with childish days–
    ……………….. The lightly-proffered laurel,
    ……………….. The easy ungrudged praise:
    ……………….. Comes now, to search your manhood
    ……………….. Through all the thankless years,
    ……………….. Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,
    ……………….. The judgment of your peers.

    ……………………………………………………………. Rudyard Kipling 1890

    Of course I’m playing devil’s advocate, and am perfectly aware of the incendiary nature of the images in this poem. After all the post-colonial breast-beating we’ve done since 1948, and in particular after the leg-up we’ve been offered by great-hearted Third World thinkers like Edward Said, a Palestinian, lest we should ever forget – how he lifted us up in the isolated West and made us aware of what being in the saddle actually means for people who aren’t, and how it distorts not only us but the whole human picture. After all that wonderful work on how power is not only maintained but justified by imperial assumptions, nobody can ignore the horrible stereo-types and insensitivities at the heart of an “imperialist discourse” as bald-faced and complacent as this one — “The White Man’s Burden.” The patronizing tone is right there from the start, how we know precisely who is up and who isn’t. The “fluttered folk and wild,” the lesser races are called — as opposed, of course, to you, Mr Overlord, Mr Manifest-Destiny, Mr Man With The Thick Skin – because of course you’ll care for “your new-caught sullen peoples/Half devil and half child” while they serve you and do your most damaging bidding.

    Unequivocal disaster, this sort of rhetoric, and a spade we just have to call it. A terrible, stark, irredeemable spade.

    Yet this poem is at the same time so hard to pin down — if you give it a chance it’s so full of surprising truths and ironies. It’s also so full of unforgettable images like “fluttered folk and wild — your new-caught sullen peoples,/Half devil and half child.” Ravishing whatever the politics. And who doesn’t find their own private yearnings hidden in such images? Who doesn’t feel inspired by them, and long to be in the company of such magical, transcendent human beings wherever they live, color of their skin, or state of their plumbing?

    Isn’t that why we travel to Botswanna and Laos, and go to the movies?

    Isn’t that also why we still read Kim, and always will?

    Because the poem was written by Rudyard Kipling, that’s the point, one of the greatest poets, story tellers and novelists of the whole modern period, who wrote with such a big-heart, eye for detail, and magical inventiveness in language that we simply have to love and admire him. And then we begin to see that nobody has ever brought the mysterious “other” of all human beings and animals over better, regardless of their shape, religion or color, that indeed nobody has ever made us know the great sub-continent of India, and above all its people, more intimately than he has, or made us feel more one with them however dark or peculiar they may have been, or be, and not only to love but admire them.

    So I want to counter George Orwell’s dismissal of Kipling, George Orwell, my hero, remember, by showing you that even when we are brought up in elitist, even racist societies we are still people, and that all the good qualities are still potentially there. In fact, I’m only just beginning to make peace with my own upper-class childhood, I so hated to be stuffed into nice clothes and to play tennis with people because they came from good families and in the evening pretend to enjoy myself at their coming-out parties. Indeed, I have never once been back to either of my two boarding schools, St. Paul’s or Winchester College, or contributed a penny to any of their development funds, as if I had any – why I even managed to forget my 50th Reunion just a few years ago, can you imagine?

    But I know too that there is a flip-side to privilege, and despite all the painful ambiguities I had to suffer as a result of it, I am aware of another side of myself that was enriched by it enormously. I was given a burden by my social position, and though I dropped out of The Social Register very early on, quite literally, I have served in my own way far better for it. Even as an aristocrat — which I still am, and know that I am, and am thankful for it. Because I know how to shoulder that burden, how to make something great of it, something greater than myself.


    As an experiment, re-read “The White Man’s Burden” and substitute some socially acceptable profession in place of “White Man.” Try “The Missionary’s Burden,” for example. Obviously that won’t do at all , indeed much worse — at least I feel that way myself though I’ve known a few truly wonderful, gifted, funny, loving and very effective missionaries in South East Asia who have done nothing but good. Indeed, one of them was even secretly a non-believer (he told me!) – which made the way he carried the burden of service even more remarkable because he wasn’t doing it for God or Heaven but man.

    (I think Kipling was secretly an imperial “non-believer” in that sense too, that like T.E.Lawrence, his friend in later years, he really didn’t believe a word of it…)

    More suitably, try “The Peace Corp’s Burden,” if you admire that initiative, or “The Friends Service League Burden,” or “The Medecins Sans Frontiere’s Burden?” Or “The U.N. Peace Keeper’s Burden” (Darfur? Kosovo?) or “The Pacifist’s Burden” with one foot in Israel and the other in Gaza!

    Read the poem right through with whichever of the above you prefer and you will find out some extraordinary things about what it means to take on such a burden, as did many of the British Imperial servants of Queen Victoria. Then just try the best of all, “The Teacher’s Burden” — and I don’t mean just inner city teachers either. I mean teachers anywhere.

    Then look at this portrait of young Rudyard Kipling, and see if you wouldn’t have wanted to have him burden himself by taking on your classroom too, particularly when you were a really bad teenager with your new-caught sullen person, half devil and half child!

    ……Rudyard Kipling - John Collins 1890


    • commentator said,

      May 25, 2011 at 7:44 pm

      Every American poet feels that the whole responsibility for contemporary poetry has fallen upon his shoulders, that he is a literary aristocracy of one.

      W. H. Auden

      • American Poet said,

        May 25, 2011 at 8:57 pm

        And where else should the responsibility fall but on the shoulders of the individual who has the courage to be indissolubly one? And what human being has more need of that level of integrity than the poet?

        Aistokratia – the rule of the aristos, “the best.”

        To say you are “the best” is not to say that you are better than others, just that you accept the responsibility to be the very best that you can, i.e. no surrender, no compromises, no asking for quarter — right to the end.

        And what poet is going to be held back by considerations like, “Oh, I wouldn’t dare say that,” or, “Oh, how should I presume?”

    • wfkammann said,

      May 16, 2018 at 2:23 am

      A fellow student at the Mozarteum in Salzburg once told me how lucky I was not to be burdened by the History of European Music, being American.

      And even as an American I was not burdened by the patrician cloak of New England sea merchants and the horror of private school and “public school” education.

      As a child I rather imagined I was an Indian as I sat still beside the creek and watched the world come to life around me.

      Yet education had her way with me and compassion too, and yes, by chance, I did my part to bear the White Man’s Burden.

  27. May 25, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    Just working around Kipling on the internet — the wealth of interest and detail is truly staggering

    I am particularly moved to read the comments of what are obviously non-specialists who feel compelled to say something out of gratitude and wonder. So Kipling moves people still, not just me.

    Here’s one I just stumbled on: “Kipling had a weird concept, the middle path of European conciousness.

    He called it the “White Man’s Burden.

    He was a hell of a poet !!”

    and another:

    “Kipling was criticised by the establishment of the Empire at the time of his writing for being too close to the native and too close to the native’s aspirations. Now he is criticised for being right-wing and imperialistic.

    When both sides criticise, I think you have it right.”

    Just saying.


  28. wfkammann said,

    May 25, 2011 at 10:39 pm


    You’ve probably wondered what that big lump is on top of the Buddha’s head. It’s called an Ushnisha, and is one of the 32 marks of a great man.

    ………………Greco-Buddha, Gandhara
    ………………………………….Head of the Buddha

    The earliest representations of the Buddha are from around the 1st Century BCE and come from the area of India called Gandhara, the very area which Alexander conquered. Today it is divided between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

    So what inspired the hairdo?

    ………………Apollo Belvedere
    ………………………………….The Apollo Belvedere

    That’s right! The Greeks, and specifically the God Apollo. (The famous Apollo Belvedere is a Roman copy c. 130–140 CE of a Greek bronze original c. 320-330 BCE)

    Buddhology and Christology

    That men were gods, or at least descended from the gods, was nothing new to the Greeks. Alexander himself, so his mother said, was conceived by the God Zeus. and Alexander gave himself the title Zeus-Ammon once this fact was confirmed by the oracle in Egypt.

    So why should the Buddha be “just a man” who through aeons and aeons of evolution finally became a Buddha? First of all, who has aeons and aeons to wait?

    So, with the advent of Mahayana Buddhism, there developed the same dichotomy about the Buddha that there would with Jesus: was he a man who became God, or a God who became man?

    Was the Buddha sitting in the Tusita Heaven waiting to come down and demonstrate how to become a Buddha? Was Jesus the eternal Logos and a part of the Godhead from the beginning of time?

    Initially there were no physical representations of the Buddha — he himself was unwilling to say what the status of a Buddha is once his physical being is destroyed. As a result he was represented only by Footprints, Dharma wheels, and the Bodhi Tree.

    As they say at the tomb, “He’s not here.”

    ………………The Assault of the Maras
    ………………………………….Mara’s Assault on the Buddha

    The Buddha is represented here just by his empty Throne and the Bodhi Tree — the cushions are a nice detail. Mara gathered together all the forces of the earth in an attempt to prevent the Buddha from escaping. As nobody was there, the effort was in vain.

    Once the Greeks got to India, the Buddha had to stand up and put on a toga to look like a real God.

    ………………Gandhara Buddha
    ………………………………….Ghandara Buddha

    Looks Greek to me!

    ………………Buddha with Vajrapani as Hercules
    ………………………………….Buddha with Vajrapani as Hercules

    Vajrapani means the “Diamond Thunderbolt.” He is a Bodhisattva, and the manifestation of all the Buddha’s earthly powers.

    In some Tibetan shrines Vajrapani can still look a bit like Hercules.

    ………………Vajrapani in Tibet


  29. May 26, 2011 at 10:43 am

    I’ve been wanting to get back to something you said at the very end of your first post on the origins of Greco-Buddhist art — or iconography as I’d rather call it, because we aren’t really discussing art here at all but icons. That’s an extremely important distinction, it seems to me, as a religious icon is more “written” than painted or sculpted. That’s how the great Russian icon painters still describe the process — the sacred image is a manifestation not of the artist’s technique but of how the Word of God writes itself. The craftsman’s hand inscribes the message of the Holy Ghost, so to speak — a sort of automatic writing, the spirit is incarnated in a mysterious, dream-like process.

    To those who revere icons, even when one of them isn’t painted very well, or is badly damaged by time or vandalism, the full power is one hundred percent intact. Even if just the frame remains, or the icon is hidden in a reliquary or behind a veil, the being of it radiates its message. Even if it is just imagined, the devotee, willing, able and ready, comprehends every bit of it.

    Like poetry — but we’ll get to that later.

    And the aniconic can be even more powerful — when the image of something is deliberately withheld by convention or even forbidden as in Islam, for example, it is bestowed with mysterious dimensions superior to our own. It can be argued that the empty tomb in Christian art is still iconic because it’s emptiness is quite literal — Jesus has just stepped out for a moment, it says quite literally, and his absence is proof that he’s in fact just over there. The empty throne of the Buddha, on the other hand, or the footprint or the Bo Tree, goes a step farther because the Enlightened Being is no longer there at all, and not anywhere else either.

    The shock of that sort of emptiness short circuits all attempts at explanation.


    I was fascinated to be reminded in your account that Alexander the Great had Greek philosophers with him on those violent, exhausting, earth-changing campaigns, and wonder what it must have been like for them. The philosophers Pyrrho, Anaxarchus, and Onesicritus were with him in Bactria and Gandhara, you tell us, and they interacted with Buddhists with the result that Greek philosophy became more aniconic while at the same time Buddhist philosophy became more iconic.

    So Pyrrho the first Skeptic says:

    “Nothing really exists, but human life is governed by convention.”
    “Nothing is in itself more this than that.”

    And Strabo says that Onesicritus, another philosopher with Alexander, learned in India:

    “That nothing that happens to a man is bad or good, opinions being
    …….. merely dreams,”

    “That the best philosophy is that which liberates the mind from both
    ……..pleasure and grief.”


    Last night I watched on TV the new images brought back to earth by Nasa’s Swift telescope, I think it’s still called, images of an event from the most distant reaches of space and time ever glimpsed by man. My wife Homprang was sitting next to me — brought up as a Buddhist, she was interested but not much impressed by the numbers or the implications for herself or for mankind. Like a fool, I tried to tell her what Phyrro the Greek Philosopher had said, that “Nothing really exists, but human life is governed by convention.” I told her that I felt the whole discourse of astro-physics was constructed on conventions as well, and that there was nothing in this event that would have caused the Buddha even to pause in his discourse, what is more to reformulate anything he had determined to be true through his own observations.

    Or any information he would have thought more real, or more important for human understanding, or more helpful to lead a good life. “Nothing is in itself more this than that,” he might have said had he been watching the same program beside us.

    The exact words of Phyrro the Greek 400 years later.

    Homprang tries to listen politely when I talk like this, but basically she’s bored. The pictures were extraordinary — why would I want to have ideas about them? Why would I ever want to bring what the Buddha said into a program about a telescope?


  30. wfkammann said,

    May 26, 2011 at 10:04 pm


    As usual, you are a regular Panofsky. All of this iconography is contradicted by the oldest Mahayana sutra: The Diamond Sutra (Vajracchedika Prajnaparamita Sutra)

    If via form (one) looks for the Tathagata
    Or via the sound of the voice beseeches me,
    This person walks a corrupt path
    And is unable to recognize the Tathagata.

    and finally,

    All of the existent, conditioned dharmas
    Are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, shadows;
    Like dew and also like lightning:
    Thus should they be contemplated.

    This is the Silk Road Dharma.

    The following is an image from the Diamond Sutra in the world’s oldest printed book dated from 868 CE (587 years before the Gutenberg Bible was printed.

    ………. Diamond Sutra - the First Printed Book


    • May 27, 2011 at 8:27 am

      “As usual?” Bill. “A regular Panofsky?”

      It’s you who are reading the word “iconography” in a Warburg Institute sort of way, not me. You’re the one who is presenting us with Panofsky-like “Studies in the Historical Development of Buddhist Iconology” as if all you needed were the facts about Alexander on the ground to explain the top-knot on the Buddha’s head, for example, or why he is standing, or why his robe is just Greek. Next you’ll be telling me that wheels on the feet of a baby are just signs that he’ll become a “great man,” of all the ridiculous reductios!

      I know you didn’t mean to stop at your Apollo Belvedere suggestion, for example, or the toga, but to suggest that I did is a cheap shot.

      I take a lot of risks, far more than you do, in actual fact, and at a cost too, I fully admit, but when you try to trump me by quoting “The Diamond Sutra” against me, that’s a cheap shot.

      When you say that my “iconography is contradicted by it,” you are making a point of your own without acknowledging that that’s precisely the point I was making when I contrasted the image of the empty tomb with the image of the empty throne, etc.

      “The shock of that sort of emptiness short circuits all attempts at explanation,” that’s what I actually said.

      What I want to see you do is back-pedal your own studies in iconology a bit and take a stand on which elements in the Buddha’s wardrobe are just historical accidents, and which parts might have some of the mystery and help for the devotee that I associate with icons.

      Because like a poet, I take icons seriously. I believe in them!


      • wfkammann said,

        May 27, 2011 at 10:46 am


        They said that the world was supposed to end last weekend, and perhaps it did in Thailand and we haven’t heard about it yet in Mexico.

        In any case, standing Buddhas are Greek, Sitting Buddhas are probably Greek as well and Buddhas lying on their sides are either sleeping or dead.

        I think none of these images helps in the least and the Thai’s understanding of Buddhism is proof of that. No alms; no merit, no image………

        Now the swirls on the feet, that is another matter.


  31. Dawn Potter said,

    May 26, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    In regards to those telescope images, I stand with Homprang. Yet I’m nothing like a Buddhist.

  32. May 27, 2011 at 9:19 am

    I’m nothing like a Buddhist either, Dawn, and the irony is that 99.9% of the world’s Buddhists aren’t either. Including Homprang!

    But what Homprang has that we don’t have is a bed-rock of culture under her feet that provides all the answers, and I mean all the answers to everything.

    Homprang’s sister, Giab, is 20 years younger than she is — same mother, same father. Giab lived with us when she was first at college, and one of Homprang’s house-rules was that unmarried girls don’t receive phone calls after 9pm. Giab was 18, and couldn’t even talk with a classmate on the phone about homework after that hour — and as she was studying electronics she was the only girl in the whole class!

    Savage — to be so culturally sure like Homprang. Because she’s sure too that the only spiritual progress a woman can make in a lifetime is by having a son who becomes a monk (women are not allowed to become nuns in Thailand)! And most boys do become monks at some point, if only for a few months — and they do so early in their lives because once they get married the good karma they acquire by becoming a monk goes to the wife, not the mother. And mothers are fierce in this culture, and they’re not going to share any of that good karma with a daughter-in-law. Never!

    The point is that the Buddha taught none of that, that none of that is there in the Buddha’s actual teaching as recorded in the Sutras. That’s all cultural stuff that Thai Buddhism absorbed when it first came to South East Asia — an area which had already been immersed in Hinduism for centuries before, and before that in all sorts of animism, shamanism, and magic, which still exist too, even in the temple. Most of a native-born Buddhist’s views and habits all over the world are derived from the deep pre-Buddhist cultural patterns that define birth, marriage and death, and although Homprang is profoundly influenced by the Buddhist emphasis on acceptance, for example, she knows almost nothing about Buddhist philosophy. Indeed, you may know more than she does.

    When I first met her she had never even heard of The Four Noble Truths and The Five Precepts. I taught her all that she knows about Buddhism, though she’s a Buddhist and I’m not.

    What Homprang was saying to me in front of the TV, I think, is that I am foolish to think about Buddhism at all. Indeed, I often feel she looks down on me for thinking as much as I do about everything, that she really believes it when she says, “How could a man with so many degrees be so stupid” — she left school when she was 11. And of course she’s right, as I think I made clear.

    Finally, Dawn, I wonder if you got a chance to look at what I said about the Burmese girl kissing the Buddha’s feet in “Mandalay” earlier in this thread, or to look at those images culminating in the two golden hands?

    That’s also what I mean about “conventions,” as I feel the experience behind that sort of imagery is as conducive to understanding the true nature of things as is our obsession with measuring the size of the universe.

    THE SIZE OF THE UNIVERSE — speaking of reductios ad absurdum. Why, even astro-physicists know that. Just look at the language they use to describe the new bricks and mortar they invent every day. And for sure they know the “standard model” (that’s what they actually call it!) just isn’t working.

    Ptolemy could have worked out the details just as well were he alive today, and some new Vatican would come along to make it all Orthodox, for sure — and then to slam the door on some new Galileo because he proved black holes were portals to Salvation, or something like that.

  33. Dawn Potter said,

    May 27, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    What I said was not cultural commentary but merely a remark on personality. One thing that has always mystified me is the need to debate and dissect. I hesitate to apply a gender label, but in truth the people I know who love such conversation are always men.

  34. May 27, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    Oh dear, Dawn — that makes me feel a bit desperate.

    I’m also up against Bill’s position that no images help in the least, so as a poet as well as a man I feel threatened. If I take a position I’m damned, if I don’t and just want to get together with others to dissect and debate I’m damned too.

    Which I feel I am, but nevertheless. As well as being a man, which I have always felt was a disadvantage.

    To Bill I want to say that his anti-image position seems a bit extreme to me, in some ways ‘anti-nominian’ even – which is always dangerous because an aversion to rule, law, and practice in general tends to lead to a dismissal of all religion as idolatry, and of all believers as idolators. And that means most people.

    You don’t have to talk about religion, of course, if you don’t want to, but what if you do want to? What if you feel you need some help?

    Dawn? Could we be tolerant of that?

    And Bill, The Diamond Sutra takes a position against what you say too, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it take a position against taking a position on anything?

    And one final thought, because I really feel this may be the end.

    As human beings our eyes are always either open or shut, that’s obvious. There is simply no consciousness that exists for us except somewhere between waking and sleeping, birth and death, being and non-being. We are only equipped to contemplate the world between blinks, so to speak, which is our inescapable condition, and why even if we know the limitations of our gender, age, geographical isolation and absurd division of everything we experience into this or that, i.e. our foolish, untenable duality, we still have to live with it.

    Don’t we?


  35. wfkammann said,

    May 27, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    Dawn and Christopher,

    Stereotyping your gender and then making a virtue of it may be a step forward, but the Diamond Sutra implies that the duality we have to live with is really a unity, i.e. it has one nature. It’s all the same. That’s why you can’t talk about it, you see.

    Duality is “the fundamental ignorance” and perhaps women are less ignorant than men since they generally have sense enough not to go on and on…..

  36. Dawn Potter said,

    May 27, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    Bill: I actually said that I WASN’T inclined to stereotype by gender, though circumstantial evidence from my own life might press an observer to do so.

    Christopher: I have no objection to your talking the way you need to talk, and neither, I daresay, does Homprang.

    • May 28, 2011 at 9:07 am

      You’re right, Dawn. Homprang is very secure in her own identity and not the least intimidated by me. Indeed, I wish she were, or just occasionally a little bit impressed by something about me beside the hair on my arms, the fact that I don’t eat all the time, that I like time alone, that I like taking walks alone even, even at night, and that I’m not afraid of dogs or ghosts in the process. Homprang’s a genius, of course, which makes a difference, arguing with me brilliantly in English about everything even when she can hardly read and write the language (she learned her ABCs at 37!). And of course she always wins.

      But then, in my experience (rich!) women always do — which may be one of the reasons why I write here instead.

      Desperate to be heard, in other words, if only by myself.


      I had a bad night last night thinking about what you said, and have a feeling I won’t be doing this for long. I have only ever written for one site at a time on-line, and only for 3 years in all, so if I stop now I will really be withdrawing from the community of writers — because nobody in my community reads and writes, as I was saying.


      I think Bill and my idea here on Cowpattyhammer (good name if you’re right about men!) was just to show and tell in a communal space, and even if it was just by and for each other, that would be fine.

      But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I work very hard on everything I write, even my e-mails, and that I would be very pleased if something I wrote on Cowpattyhammer gave somebody pleasure and perhaps even some insight. Because I do this not to dissect or debate but to offer what I can of myself, as a service, as a gift (Bill will hate that idea!).

      You yourself are a wonderful writer, Dawn Potter, and I can say that you have given me great pleasure and insight in your writing many times. I’d love to be able to write like you do, but I’m very old and got started very late. But I do love it all the same, and haven’t anywhere near finished I feel sure.


  37. wfkammann said,

    May 27, 2011 at 9:40 pm


    If the people who love such conversation are ALWAYS MEN, you have stereotyped.

    Ironically, men are traditionally know to be “the strong silent type” and women to talk on and on. It’s a sign of the times that this is reversed in your experience.

    Cosmo, though, knows the truth of the matter:

    Sometimes the reason for a guy’s silence is obvious: He’s engrossed in work; he’s concentrating on a video game; he’s crammed so much hot dog into his mouth that he’s incapable of making a sound. But there are also times when his tight-lipped state is a total mystery…and that’s when it can have a negative effect on your relationship. “A woman will often take a man’s silence to be a bad thing because she assumes it means that he doesn’t want to communicate with her or he just doesn’t care,” says William July, PhD, author of Understanding the Tin Man. “But that’s almost never the case.” Your guy does care—he just can’t always get the words out.

    Read more: Get Him to Open Up – Why Men Are Silent – Cosmopolitan

  38. Dawn Potter said,

    May 28, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    Bill: in fact, I’m married to a man who is extraordinarily quiet. Interesting how these things work out. Christopher: I feel bad that I made you feel bad. That wasn’t my intention at all. More, I was trying to express how mystified I am by the analytical mind. Obviously I possess a certain amount of it myself or I wouldn’t care so much about sentences. But I have always been cowed by scholars and philosophers. “Cowed” doesn’t imply “dislike” or “dismissiveness” or anything of the sort. It is recognition of a hole in my brain that I’ll never be able to patch. Homprang’s comment cheered me because she isn’t worrying about patching that hole. I admire that. I also admire that you and Bill persevere in your conversation, which is also your friendship.

  39. wfkammann said,

    May 29, 2011 at 12:19 pm


    Barbara Bonney began to study at the Mozarteum in Salzburg in the late 70’s just as I was leaving. She has a beautiful voice and made a big career. Her rendition brings back memories of singing with her in the “extra-chor” at the Landestheater.

    Heine’s Buch der Lieder was one of the best selling books of German poetry. Once Schubert, Schumann and Mendelssohn began to set his poems to music, his popularity soared.

    …………………….. Auf Flügeln des Gesanges,
    …………………….. Herzliebchen, trag ich dich fort,
    …………………….. Fort nach den Fluren des Ganges,
    …………………….. Dort weiß ich den schönsten Ort.

    …………………….. Dort liegt ein rotblühender Garten
    …………………….. Im stillen Mondenschein;
    …………………….. Die Lotosblumen erwarten
    …………………….. Ihr trautes Schwesterlein.

    …………………….. Die Veilchen kichern und kosen,
    …………………….. Und schaun nach den Sternen empor;
    …………………….. Heimlich erzählen die Rosen
    …………………….. Sich duftende Märchen ins Ohr.

    …………………….. Es hüpfen herbei und lauschen
    …………………….. Die frommen, klugen Gazelln;
    …………………….. Und in der Ferne rauschen
    …………………….. Des heiligen Stromes Welln.

    …………………….. Dort wollen wir niedersinken
    …………………….. Unter dem Palmenbaum,
    …………………….. Und Liebe und Ruhe trinken,
    …………………….. Und träumen seligen Traum.

    ………………………………………………… Heinrich Heine (1821)


    …………………….. I’ll bear you off, my darling,
    …………………….. Upon the wings of a song,
    …………………….. Off to the banks of the Ganges
    …………………….. Where beauty ripples along.

    …………………….. There nestles a red-blooming garden
    …………………….. Bathed in the moon’s pale rays,
    …………………….. The lotus blossoms awaiting
    …………………….. Their dear little sister’s gaze.

    …………………….. The violets titter caressing,
    …………………….. Enraptured by stars high above,
    …………………….. The roses are secretly whispering
    …………………….. Their fragrant stories of love.

    …………………….. Gambling by yet still listening,
    …………………….. The wise and pious gazelles,
    …………………….. While in the distance resounding
    …………………….. Ganges Sacred River wells

    …………………….. That’s where we’ll tumble, my darling,
    …………………….. Neath palm trees by the stream,
    …………………….. And Love and Peace inspiring
    …………………….. We’ll dream our blissful dream

    …………………….. …………………….. Trans. W.F. Kammann (2011)


    This post follows on from the earlier discussion of Heinrich Heine which included the poem in German as well as two non-vocal settings of Mendelssohn’s score for it. The delay was caused by the translation process, never easy, and this new version is just hot off the press.

    (Be sure to say you saw it first on Cowpattyhammer!)

    For another Heine translation by W.F.Kammann, and a discussion of the translation process as well, you can visit the earlier thread called “Ich weiss nicht, was soll es bedeuten dass ich so traurig bin.”
    …………………………………………………………………. Note added by the Editor

    • wfkammann said,

      June 7, 2011 at 2:45 am

      And don’t forget the poem that is the subject of the previous thread called Lotus Born on this site.

  40. Mark Swann said,

    June 24, 2011 at 4:44 am

    I am delighted that my awe of Kipling is not sick. Everything I have ever seen of his I’ve loved. I too was confused by Orwell’s harsh opinions. Congratulations! A very good read (and listen).

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