November 8, 2016

Beautiful squalor — in the name of a religion seen from a distance.

Is there something morally wrong with the NYT's photographic presentation of the nuns of Yarchen Gar? The America eye luxuriates in the exotic, subtle color...
The homes are patchworks of boards and thin metal sheets, with the occasional piece of plastic tarp covering a part of the roof or walls. Narrow lanes wind among them. Depending on the wind, the air can be thick with the smell of undrained sewage....
This "gar" — a Buddhist monastic encampment  — has grown up since 1985 from nothing. 10,000 human beings live like this. We're told Chinese officials are dismantling another gar, an even larger one. The text doesn't tell us to love the gars and hate the Chinese officials, but I feel that's what I'm being told, and I don't like this manipulation or the tendency of Americans to romanticize things like this, seen from afar.

A gar from afar.

60 comments:

Bad Lieutenant said...

A gar from afar.


Yeah, that'll keep 'em coming back after the election.

rhhardin said...

I think yurt is a funnier word.

rhhardin said...

Religions are like children, no matter how ridiculous.

buwaya said...

It doesn't take much to romanticize it.

I come from a culture with much the same ideals- I have relatives in the Catholic Religious - Priests and Nuns.

They vow poverty and many have lived in similar austerity.

I understand and respect those women, and sympathize. Their religion is different but it is the same impulse behind it, and a remarkably similar expression.

rhhardin said...

Top ten decorating ideas from Aztec religious ceremonies.

YoungHegelian said...

To the north, eight white stupas and a wall marked a distant sky burial site, where human corpses are cut up in a funeral ritual and vultures feast on the remains.

I love how the NYT just drops that in at the end, with absolutely no explanation of a practice that most Americans would find revolting. As usual, Wikipedia to the rescue.

rhhardin said...

Kids say the funniest things.

rhhardin said...

I pass vultures. They're waiting for a bicycle accident.

rhhardin said...

Penetrala, the innermost sacred place in a temple.

Two Althouse interests in one.

Achilles said...

The people who write and read the NYT like to look down on people living in squalor and poverty. It makes them happy. It is why they push policies that cause more people to live in squalor and poverty while they remain safely ensconced in wealth. It is what big government is for.

It is also why they hate free market capitalism because free markets allowed so many people to escape poverty. They prefer cronyism that keeps the little people where they belong. You can call it a Gar, or a ghetto, or an inner city neighborhood. The results are the same.

They are not good people.

buwaya said...

I don't think the MSM would be as willing to consider a similarly romantic view of very much the same inside their own culture, but in some way inconvenient.

http://littlesistersofthepoor.org/

bagoh20 said...

What are they really missing that we have of such value?

It sure ain't democracy, culture, or law.

Impoverished is such a guilt laden word, but it is the natural human condition. It's how you arrive and it's how you leave. The rest is just the creamy center: sweet, fattening, addictive.

Ann Althouse said...

It's one thing to live in small rooms with extreme simplicity, but it's something else to live in dangerous, unsanitary conditions. And I would like to know the details of the choice that these women had.

buwaya said...

" a wall marked a distant sky burial site"

This is the kind of thing where travel and experience and an open mind are necessary.
This is NORMAL in certain places, especially India, where this is the customary practice of the Parsis. The very wealthy and cultured and influential Parsis.

Look up the Towers of Silence.

Literary reference of course - Paul Scott "The Towers of Silence" (Raj Quartet)

Ann Althouse said...

"What are they really missing that we have of such value?"

Sanitation.

Adequate food and warmth.

Family love.

bagoh20 said...

Under a President Trump it would be safe for me to say may first thought upon looking at the nuns: a career they clearly were born for.

buwaya said...

" but it's something else to live in dangerous, unsanitary conditions."

My aunt spent years in a village in Burundi, doing emergency surgery, treating malaria and tuberculosis and delivering babies and etc. With no medical training, few supplies, no sanitation other than what you could achieve with a shovel, and etc.

And this was a beautiful woman who had dozens of suitors, and if she had wanted to, had the connections and talent for any gilded career she chose.

They live as they feel they need to, and die if that is Gods will.

buwaya said...

"Sanitation.
Adequate food and warmth.
Family love"

A sacrifice, all of these, and more too.

Achilles said...

Ann Althouse said...
"What are they really missing that we have of such value?"

Sanitation.

Adequate food and warmth.

Family love.


Don't forget liberty and safety. The only defense they have from criminals is they have nothing to steal and they are too dirty/smelly/unattractive to rape.

But progressives think that is admirable.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Agar?

A gar?

Achilles said...

buwaya said...

My aunt spent years in a village in Burundi, doing emergency surgery, treating malaria and tuberculosis and delivering babies and etc. With no medical training, few supplies, no sanitation other than what you could achieve with a shovel, and etc.

And this was a beautiful woman who had dozens of suitors, and if she had wanted to, had the connections and talent for any gilded career she chose.

They live as they feel they need to, and die if that is Gods will.


There is a strong majority of human beings who will live however life comes at them. They do not wish to make choices or strive. There is merit to this.

The question is whether it is better for them to have safety and freedom. The reason they have nothing and their domiciles are so crappy is people take anything of value from them because the strong in that particular society are predatory.

Society is much better off when the strong enforce the 10 commandments rather than break them.

Darcy said...

I clicked with an initial bias towards "Yes, it is morally wrong!" based on the setup from Althouse.

After viewing and considering, I think it is not. It is very hard for people without faith to understand peace in harsh living conditions. They look like they are living their faith, in peace, to me.

Beautiful.

buwaya said...

"There is a strong majority of human beings who will live however life comes at them."

No, she chose to join a religious order, became a nun, took vows, and volunteered for dangerous mission work in Africa. She did all this with a purpose and an iron will.

YoungHegelian said...

A question --- of course, unanswered by the article, is why are these nuns living in such makeshift communities like this? Needless to say, Tibet has quite a few very large monasteries, & I don't think it's general practice to kick the nuns out into the cold.

My guess is that there are doctrinal reasons that this sort of study is undertaken in such ramshackle conditions. Perhaps because it is thought that the only way the texts can be properly understood is when read through a life of abnegation of bodily desire. But that's just a guess. Unlike Uma Thurman's dad, I'm certainly not a Buddhist scholar.

But, man, I'd hate to go through a Tibetan winter in one of those shacks!

buwaya said...

"abnegation of bodily desire"

Correct. Thats why the early Christian monks went into the desert to live in simplicity.
And much else too. You will find echos and variations of this in the practices of the various Catholic religious orders.

There is a reason, for instance, why one has the "Discalced" Carmelites (and others too). Their rule requires they go unshod under any conditions. This apparent eccentricity too is a sacrifice.

The Protestant world has abandoned the entire concept of the religious life, as an all-in personal undertaking, as it was known since the earliest days of Christianity. So this can be hard to explain. But it is as natural as breathing to Catholics and Orthodox.

Achilles said...

buwaya said...
"There is a strong majority of human beings who will live however life comes at them."

No, she chose to join a religious order, became a nun, took vows, and volunteered for dangerous mission work in Africa. She did all this with a purpose and an iron will.

I love these people.

But.

I believe in results. If the world is going to become a better place the people who uphold the 10 commandments need to defeat the people who break the 10 commandments.

I don't want to impugn motivation. She did good work. But if you want to make the world better you need to make it better. After she leaves those people are right back where they were without her. Give a fish feed for a day. Teach to fish feed for a lifetime and all that.

Volunteering in Africa leaves Africa a shit-hole. Invading, conquering, and occupying Japan and South Korea and enforcing peace and liberty with big guns and teaching them how to live in a modern free society made them prosperous and healthy nations.

buwaya said...

And, I add, this understanding and acceptance of the truly different is a unique feature of the conservative mind.

The liberal brain has to force oddities into the locally acceptable. If something bizarre has to be accepted it has to become fashionable and even mandatory.

The conservative can accept the bizarre AS the bizarre.

This is Russell Kirk's Fifth principle.

"Fifth, conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety. They feel affection for the proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems."

Achilles said...

buwaya said...

The Protestant world has abandoned the entire concept of the religious life, as an all-in personal undertaking, as it was known since the earliest days of Christianity. So this can be hard to explain. But it is as natural as breathing to Catholics and Orthodox.

We should be free to make this choice without fear. Protestant cultures are/were places where the 10 commandments were/are generally followed.

Catholic dominated cultures are socialist/statist by nature and the 10 commandments are regularly broken.

Islamic cultures are just morally degenerate and evil.

buwaya said...

Ah, well, we are not going to resume the Wars of Religion, I will not call out the Tercios on you, so we have to agree to disagree.

BTW,
A rather good reconstruction, for Spanish TV, of a song of the Tercios, the Spanish Infantry of the 16th-17th century, the terror of Europe - based on contemporary verses by a soldier of those days -

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAMkb6QgyMs

Michael K said...

free markets allowed so many people to escape poverty.

Yes, and then they adopted a Bourgeois life style that is "icky" to NY Times readers who like avant garde, or what they think it is.

YoungHegelian said...

@Buwaya,

Be careful about reading Christian monasticism into Buddhist monasticism. Like most analogies, it's a helpful place to start but in the end it obscures more than it enlightens.

So it is with "abnegation of desire". In the Christian tradition, mortification of the flesh is a spiritual discipline so that the mind can be trained to higher ends without the distractions of the body. Mortification is a means to an end.

In Buddhism, "Desire" of any sort is the "original sin" (talk about yer stretched analogies!) that keeps the spirit individuated, & keeps it from Nirvana. Through multiple incarnations, a spirit can work to attain the discipline to renounce its desires, including sometimes, it desire to live. When the spirit attains Nirvana, it becomes "like a drop in the ocean", and all individuation is lost, or surpassed as the case may be.

It's very different than Christianity, that believes not only in an immortal soul, but also the eternal union of the body & soul via the Resurrection of the Body. Individuation in Christianity is not only eternal, it is the foundational principle of the prime Mystery of the Christian faith, i.e. the Trinity.


AprilApple said...

If Hillary, Bill, Soros and Obama have their way - that will be us.

SGT Ted said...

Jet setting progs have always found 3rd world people living in squalor to be picturesque and exotic. They, of course would be horrified if they ever had to face living like that. It's an odd perversion of sorts.

bagoh20 said...

"Sanitation.

Adequate food and warmth.

Family love."


I think we forget what we sacrifice for those things, especially family love. That crap is exhausting, and often infuriating!

buwaya said...

"Be careful about reading Christian monasticism into Buddhist monasticism."

I am not unaware of this YH. My point was not the nature of the faith but the impulse to monasticism and the voluntary pursuit of hardship. Christian and Buddhist both pursue a greater end than the here and now, however their concepts of that end differ.

bagoh20 said...

As for sanitation, that's evolved into an obsession that probably makes more people fearful than the people who are actually in danger.

Adequate food and warmth? I'm fat, and global warming will save us all.

I don't see how they cannot provide adequately for themselves just like monks in monasteries have forever in many religions, often living rewarding long lives of discovery and learning.

But, then again, no porn, screw that!

traditionalguy said...

500 years ago Reform Christianity discovered in the newly translated scriptures secretly printed for distribution among newly literate middle class in their language, the writings of a certain Jewish guy named Paul in which that free man actually issued the Church an order: "It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Therefore do no submit again to a yoke of bondage." And they believed him.

After 100 years of Roman Empire Catholicism wars of extermination of such believers, many left for this New World to live in a wilderness where they were
allowed to live a personal life in Christ like Paul descirbed.

Somebody needs to slip some Bibles into Gar.

buwaya said...

"Jet setting progs have always found 3rd world people living in squalor to be picturesque and exotic"

Here we differ - I don't see this as squalor. These women INTEND to live like this, camped in the open. This is their "rule", as a Catholic religious would put it - the custom of their order.

Real squalor is something poor people do not choose, and I think few Americans have actually seen. I grew up adjacent to it, that is the nature of third world cities. I know squalor when I see it.

This is squalor -
http://getrealphilippines.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/estero_squatters.jpg
https://hechoayer.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/369-tondo.jpg

YoungHegelian said...

@Buwaya,

I am not unaware of this YH.

I know that, BP. You are a cultured & learned man. Remember, however, BP, that what we write here is not just to the individual forum member, but all of us here & thousands of lurkers to boot. It was to them much more than to you that I posted my "clarification".

So, take my comment in that spirit.

Howard said...

The adoption of clean drinking water and sewer sanitation is responsible for the large jump in life expectancy in the West from the 19th to 20th century. You basically pay for that on your water bill... hardly an obsession or sacrifice.

Anyway, people do the weirdest things under the guise of religion and because it's a religion, they are supposed to be above reproach. Religion is the core of political correctness, followed by patriotism, nationalism, capitalism, democracy, veganism, environmentalism, sexism, racism, odd infinitumtum

YoungHegelian said...

@TradGuy,

After 100 years of Roman Empire Catholicism wars of extermination of such believers, many left for this New World to live in a wilderness where they were allowed to live a personal life in Christ like Paul descirbed.

Actually, TradGuy, you might want to read up on Cromwell & the Irish Wars if you'd like to understand how holy & peace-loving your side wasn't.

A good reason why the Anglican Church/British Crown moved away from Puritanism towards the more high church Via Media was because of the development of the view by the populace (a view shared by the Lutherans, Catholics, & later low-church Protestants like the Anabaptists & Methodists) that the Puritans/Calvinists were intransigent, self-righteous motherfuckers whose view of the world was "their way or the highway".

So, console yourself with the thought that you do, indeed, fit in that Puritan tradition.

Gahrie said...

I thought a gar was a fish from Florida.....

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Ann, "sanitation, adequate food and warmth, and family love" are among the things you give up when you become a nun. The Chinese government is endeavoring to make it more difficult for the people who choose them to make such sacrifices.

buwaya: I agree. These women are living as they want to. They aren't forced into squalor, and frankly their encampment shows that; they are living as they conceive their lives to be intended to be lived. I wish I could say the same of mine.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

traditionalguy,

After 100 years of Roman Empire Catholicism wars of extermination of such believers, many left for this New World to live in a wilderness where they were allowed to live a personal life in Christ like Paul described.

The Roman Empire was about a thousand years dead by that time, tradguy. Catholics weren't even the foe by then; it was the Nonconformists vs. the Anglicans, while the actual RC priests either hid in their holes or were caught and slowly disemboweled. Just so we're clear on what we're talking about here.

The Pilgrims of "Mayflower" fame weren't as fine as you imagine them. They may have come here seeking religious freedom, but they certainly denied it to everyone else.

Levi Starks said...

It may seem strange, They see squalor, but I see freedom.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Beautiful squalor — in the name of a religion seen from a distance.

The distance is time.
The religion is Global Warming.
The squalor will be ours.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Levi Starks said...

It may seem strange, They see squalor, but I see freedom.

Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

YoungHegelian said...

@IIB,

Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

Just how many of those Tibetan women do you think Bobby McGee ran off & left?

320Busdriver said...

Funny, you take away the mountains and its the same view from the #7 train in Queens.

PBandJ_Ombudsman said...

Anywho, it's cool that Althouse struggles to understand what life means and is for folks in places not like this place.

She does have a chunk of her mind dedicated to empathizing w/ and excuse making for America's so-called conservatives who are supposedly under the threat of some sort of undeserved something or other. So, obviously we're talking about someone w/, re the globe, a very limited grasp of the forest rather than the trees.

Carry on.

PBandJ_Ombudsman said...

"It may seem strange, They see squalor, but I see freedom."

I have some friends (a married couple) that are doing fine (probably a net $25 mil), who love India. In particular the husband will go on an on about how hanging there (they have a nice place) is really living because nothing can be assumed. In particular, he once said this meant you could be run over by some motorcycle just like anyone else.

I told him that POV seemed insane. And, I mentioned that if he wanted this sort of insecurity, there are probably plenty of hoods where he could experience that danger in American cities. Anywho, I was told that I just don't get it. On that we agreed.

buwaya said...

PB&J,

I am a teacher by necessity, in my line of work. I have the need to put people on the path to correct analysis and proper understanding, so that they may be able to do my work. I have taught a great many people. Like Althouse I am mainly a teacher. So I have this urge to correct you, because your worldview is so, so off. I can't put it another way.

But I think that for you this may require a long trip to strange places.

Henry said...

From the Sidney Herald:

At Yarchen Gar, founded in 1985 hard against the border of the TAR, living conditions are deplorable. Without even basic sanitation, every corner of the complex is permeated by a breathtakingly toxic smell. About 9000 nuns live in ramshackle huts on an island, while the more solidly built monks' quarters sit favourably on the surrounding hills.

Monsoon rains bring regular flooding; on my visit ankle-deep raw sewage flowed into the streets on more than one occasion. No electricity runs to the island. Cholera and typhoid outbreaks are a daily threat. In winter, temperatures plunge to a life-threatening minus 25 degrees.

Photo gallery
Living in a slum in the pursuit of spiritual perfection
Yet this does not deter the nuns. Winter meditation sessions, referred to as the "direct crossing", can last for days, with nothing more than a blanket to shield worshippers from the cold.

The reward for this remarkable display of self-deprivation is the chance to learn firsthand from some of the most revered figures in Tibetan Buddhism. The current leader in residence is Asong Tulku. Tulku is a title given to a person who has reached the highest level of spiritual enlightenment; Asong is considered a living Buddha by his followers. To assist in his teaching at Yarchen, Asong is aided by senior nuns referred to as khenmos. Many nuns begin their life here at the age of just six.

Not only do the nuns dedicate themselves fully to their studies, they are also responsible for almost all physical labour at Yarchen, constructing houses, unloading trucks or building roads. The monks, who rarely participate in physical labour here, seem to have it easy in comparison.

Despite the living conditions, vast amounts of money are being funnelled into gigantic, ornate temples and monuments, while the slum continues to crumble.

SukieTawdry said...

I'm not sure it's an American tendency, but it certainly is a left-wing tendency. It goes hand-in-hand with multi-culturalism and the idea, as one British anthropologist put it, that putting a bone through your nose is somehow comparable with going to the moon.

I would like to see world-wide prosperity. That requires things like electricity and potable water and sewage systems. Many of the "quaint" traditions that the left so reveres, like hauling water from the river in colorful earthen jugs atop a woman's head, will necessarily go by the wayside. I'm a traveler and there are many things that are "picturesque" about other cultures but squalor is not among them.

SukieTawdry said...

Funny, you take away the mountains and its the same view from the #7 train in Queens.

Is that you, John?

n.n said...

Secular sadism - for the cause of political progress obscured through a veil of privacy. Perspective from an alternate religious/moral philosophy.

BN said...

"Depending on the wind..."

That really resonates with me. I think that is the essence of my life.

I shared a room with my brother growing up. He loved Dylan, but he really loved Donovan. And he was older and had more money and therefore more records, so i had to listen over and over and over to them--do you mind if I lay down on your couch for a minute?

Dylan v. Donovan:

"The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind"

"ah, but I may as well try an' catch the wind."

Over and over and fuckin' over!

Well, I confess I preferred Donovan on this one.

So that explains my problem. Now if you can't figure it out and tell me what sort of surf board to buy, then i want my damn money back.

BN said...

Oh, btw, we grew up on the plains where you could see the horizon as a stark thin line, menacing at you, daring you, laughing at you from all directions.

Oh, and blew ALL THE TIME. We missed it when it didn't. Talked about it. Wondered what it might mean in the big scheme of world events.

And the wind, the wind did not fuck around. It cut you. Just for fun. When it wasn't blowing, we were scared even to whisper. Might stir it up.

I miss it now. It's weird.

M15ery said...

Yup, and make sure to visit Cuba so you can enjoy that authentic socialist poverty before the Americans come in and ruin it with their capitalist modernity! Third world poverty and squalor are simply things you *must* experience as a traveler ("tourist" sounds so yucky); you'll have wonderful photos and tales to tell your Manhattan bruvs, and they'll all wow and omg and think you're such an adventurous and empathetic soul.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

It's one thing to live in small rooms with extreme simplicity, but it's something else to live in dangerous, unsanitary conditions.

So much of trash all over, in the mud, on the ground. I never think of extreme simplicity as involving so much garbage. I think of it as a bare room with a bed, a blanket, a crucifix, and a writing table.