Leaving No Trace

Food for Thought

For the Hindu immigrants from the Caribbean Islands and Guyana who live in the Richmond Hill area of Queens, Jamaica Bay is like the Ganges river. They leave “offerings” like food, clothing, coconut shells, and ashes. According to the article I read, this is creating a conflict between the park rangers and the Hindu community. It’s hard to decide which side to be on.

Of course, we all want our beaches to be clean, not littered with rotten foods and clothes marinated in slime. But at the same time, I understand the desire to send the deceased off to the ocean or river. My dad, who is not religious at all, has expressed his desire to be scattered in the ocean too. I personally think it’s better than taking up a permanent piece of real estate in a cemetery. If all of us did that, sooner or later, we will run out of space. In a way, that’s more obnoxious to the future generations.

Recently, there have been many controversies over racist statues and monuments. Many have been defaced and/or removed by the moral police. In my view, the problem is not whether they were racist or not but the idea of statues itself.

In 2001, giant statues of Buddha were blown up by the Taliban in Afghanistan. I remember hearing about that and thinking, “Oh well, that’s a good exercise in detachment for Buddhists.” It’s like mandala sand paintings. Just to be clear, I’m no fan of the Taliban, and I’m not suggesting that we should blow up all statutes. In fact, the idea of investing any time in building or destroying statues exhausts me.

Detachment is what I admire about Buddhism. Trying to defy mortality by creating something permanent is the very source of our suffering. Sooner or later, this whole planet will be gone anyway. It’s futile.

The Chinese proverb, “Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are,” underscores this problem too. You create tension by erecting something permanent because nothing in this universe is forever.

There is a big sign at Jamaica Bay that says “LEAVE NO TRACE,” urging the visitors to take back everything they brought. That may be a good policy also when we die.