Monday, December 27, 2004
According to today's The New York Times, the death toll in Asia from Sunday's tsunamis now exceeds 19,000, with untold numbers still missing in six countries.
The world's most powerful earthquake in 40 years erupted underwater off the Indonesian island of Sumatra on Sunday and sent walls of water barreling thousands of miles. The earthquake, which measured 9.0 in magnitude, set off tsunamis that built up speeds of as much as 500 miles per hour, then crashed into coastal areas of Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Indonesia, the Maldives and Malaysia as 40-foot-high walls of water, devouring everything and everyone in their paths.
It took several hours in some cases on Sunday for the waves to build and reach their targets after the earthquake struck. But none of the most affected countries had warning systems in place to detect the coming onslaught and alert their citizens to move away from the coastline.
The tsunamis were generated by underwater seismic disturbances, in this case the interface of the India and Burma tectonic plates. Seismologists with the U.S. Geological Survey said the ocean west of Sumatra and the island chains to its north was a hot zone for earthquakes because of a nonstop collision occurring there between the India plate, beneath the Indian Ocean seabed, and the Burma plate under the islands and that part of the continent.
The India plate is moving at about two inches a year to the northeast, creating pressure that releases, sporadically, in seismic activity. But this was an especially devastating earthquake, the fourth most powerful in 100 years.
Television images showed bodies floating in muddied waters. Cars went out to sea; boats came onto land. Snorkelers were dragged onto the beach, and sunbathers out to sea. Aid agencies were rushing staff and equipment to the region, warning that rotting bodies were threatening health and water supplies.
Indonesia reported nearly 4,500 dead, most in the Banda Aceh area of Sumatra, a region that has been the site of a continuing civil war. In Sri Lanka, at least 6,000 were dead. In India, an estimated 2,300 died, with at least 1,700 confirmed dead in Tamil Nadu, the southern state that is home to the coastal city of Madras.
The death toll is expected to climb. Many areas from the atolls of the Maldives to the Nicobar Islands of India were simply out of reach, with communication lines snapped. Thousands more people in those places are feared marooned or dead.
Below is a list of the deadliest quakes of the past 100 years, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. In some cases, death tolls include those killed in ensuing fires and collapses.
1976 China, Tangshan - 255,000 dead (7.5 magnitude)
1927 China, near Xining - 200,000 (magnitude unknown)
1920 China, Gansu - 200,000 (8.6)
1923 Japan, Kwanto - 143,000 (magnitude unknown)
1948 Turkmenistan - 110,000 (7.3)
1908 Italy, Messina - up to 100,000 (7.2)
1932 China, Gansu - 70,000 (7.6)
1970 Peru - 66,000 (7.9)
1935 Pakistan, Quetta - up to 60,000 (7.5)
1990 Iran, Gilan - 35,000 (7.7)
2003 Iran, Bam - 31,000 (6.8)
With all of this suffering, it is hard to blog about my own little pissant problems. It's hard to blog about football. There're two games on today (the football pool continues). The first, Virginia v. Fresno State in the MPC Computers Bowl (2:00 p.m.), is a non-event, since everyone in the pool picked Virginia. We'll all go up or down one game together, but no one will pick up a game on anybody else. The second game, Toledo v. UConn in the Motor City Bowl (5:30 p.m.), should be more interesting. I can pick up a game on the Witch Doctor and the BiL with a Toledo victory (by 3 1/2 points), but I will miss at least the second half of the game as tonight is my Monday night opening at the Zen Center.
But meantime, I have yardwork to do - leaves to be blown, branches to be cut down, and ivy to be trimmed.
AN END TO SUFFERING
The Buddha in the World
By Pankaj Mishra
Illustrated. 422 pages. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $25
Reviewed by William Grimes
The New York Times: December 27, 2004
In an Age of Strife, What Would Buddha Do?
The Indian novelist and journalist Pankaj Mishra had two ideas when he came up with the subtitle "The Buddha in the World." Always, in his rambling meditations on the history and meaning of Buddhism, he struggles to place the Buddha in historical context. He evokes the physical settings, socioeconomic changes and political tensions of Northern India six centuries before Jesus, the world in which Siddhartha Gautama first spread his radical message.
At the same time, his own spiritual quest pulls the story into the present, as he sorts out his conflicted feelings about Buddhism and its relevance to the world of terrorist bombings, multinational corporations and seething third-world discontent.
Mr. Mishra, the author of a highly praised novel, "The Romantics," has written an odd, uneasy book. It began life as a projected historical novel about the Buddha. Mr. Mishra, who grew up in northern India, traveled from one Buddhist site to another, reading widely and deeply along the way, then returned to Mashobra, a village in the Himalayas, where he sorted out his thoughts and reflected. These journeys, and the fruits of Mr. Mishra's study, have been stored and reworked into a highly personal history, not too remote in spirit from works like "The Education of Henry Adams."
It's easy to see why Mr. Mishra was attracted to Buddhism. Nietzsche, analyzing Buddhism's appeal to its early audience, spoke of "races grown kindly, gentle, overintellectual who feel pain too easily." The description fits Mr. Mishra, and his own self-description rounds out the portrait. Part of a Hindu family clinging tenuously to the middle class, he grew up in an India obsessed with emulating the West and transforming itself into a modern society.
Like so many others, his father abandoned his native his village for the city. But by the late 1970's and 80's, Mr. Mishra writes, "these aspirations had lost some of their force." The British administrative system, in Indian hands, had deteriorated, and Mr. Mishra's university in Allahabad, once known as the Oxford of the east, was now a sorry sight: "It had become a battlefield for rival caste groups, a setting for the primordial struggles for food and shelter, of violence and terror."
Mr. Mishra intended to study commerce, if only to avoid medicine and engineering, the standard avenues to success for Indians of his class. But he was besotted with Nietzsche and the French existentialists. He worshiped the great European novelists like Flaubert, Tolstoy and Proust, writers who dramatized, as he saw it, "the fate of the individual in society." (It's telling that he found his way to "Questions of King Menander," an early Buddhist text, through a short story by Borges.) Diffidently, he declared himself a writer, although he had no idea what, exactly, he would write about. Like one of the "superfluous men" in the novels of Turgenev, another of his models, he had been equipped with a sensitive nature and a passion for social justice, but modern India offered him no place. Looking around him, he saw misery, poverty, failed social institutions and a rising tides of political violence. In short, like the Buddha, he looked out on the world and saw suffering.
Mr. Mishra offers a highly attractive introduction to the basic thinking behind Buddhism. He stresses what he sees as its practicality and workability. The Buddha identified a problem, the restless, ego-driven striving that inevitably leads to frustration and unhappiness. He then developed a set of introspective techniques designed to make the suffering individual more self-aware, and through this self-awareness to move systematically beyond the self and its vain strivings toward a state he called nirvana.
Mr. Mishra's Buddha is a practical philosopher, engaged in the here and now. "It was the Buddha's achievement," he writes, "as it was that of Socrates, to detach wisdom from its basis in fixed and often esoteric forms of knowledge and opinion and offer it as a moral and spiritual project for individuals."
Mr. Mishra presents these concepts simply and clearly. He also lends them dramatic immediacy, tying them closely to specific events and places in the Buddha's life, highlighting the arguments and counterarguments that they provoked at the time. At every turn, he draws parallels between the social problems of the Buddha's era and the myriad social and political torments of our own age. Mr. Mishra paints a vivid, painful picture of the developing world, bewildered by the disruptive forces of modernity.
He remains a skeptical Buddhist, though, if he is a Buddhist at all. He admits to finding the Buddha's dialogues "long-winded and repetitious," with "little of the artistry so evident in Plato." He points out that Buddhist thinkers threw their support behind Japan's militarist government in the 1930's and supported the Sinhalese in violent civil war with the Tamils in Sri Lanka. As a political force, Buddhism comes across as, at best, benevolent but ineffectual.
In the end, it's hard to know exactly where Mr. Mishra stands as he meanders, circles back on himself and, dropping his historical inquiries, heads off to remote locales. Visiting a Zen meditation center in Northern California, where an old American friend has become a monk, he feels awkward. A prayer is recited. He finds the words incomprehensible. The rituals annoy him. "I couldn't but feel their irrelevance to the world I was growing up in," he writes. A monk circulating among the worshipers to check their prayer postures stops and regards him suspiciously, which, in a way, is how he looks at himself.
Mr. Mishra's journey of a thousand miles leads him right back to the beginning. For him, it seems, there is no end to suffering.
Posted by Shokai at 11:27 AM