Waiting for the
End of the World

Richard Ross
(Princeton Architectural Press)
Richard Ross has a fascination with what were once called "fall-out shelters," and here he has sought out thirty-two of them, including those from strange far-off worlds like China, Russia, Switzerland, Montana, and, the weirdest of them all, Utah.

Some of them weren't even built in this century, so they weren't necessarily fall-out shelters, unless you call Christian invasion an undesirable fall-out. The Muslims of Acca in what is now Israel built one in 1100 A.D. just to protect themselves from the depredations of those bloody Crusades sent down by the religious fundamentalists of the day. Even further back, in 2,000 B. C. the Hittites of Cappodocia carved a shelter in the hills. The stone was such that it could dissipate the smoke of their cooking fires to help them avoid discovery.

There's a lovely one in St. Petersburg Russia that has been turned into "The Trendy Griboyedov" nightclub. There's a drain-pipe shelter a-building (at $1,000 per linear foot) in Salt Lake City, although the author tells us that since it is not very deep, it will have "limited effectiveness."

Thirty-five years ago, the Chinese built an entire "underground city" in Beijing which, we are told, could accommodate 350,000 people. On the other hand, the subway stations of Moscow, which look considerably more beautiful than the Lexington Avenue Line, were used as shelters during WWII. The author even found in one veterans of the Russian Chechyna War, singing "historical patriotic songs" and asking for donations.

The most lurid of them all is to be found hidden behind the wallpaper of the Greenbriar Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. It was built in the early 1960s and was set aside so the president and his staff and all members of the U. S. Congress could fly in during nuclear attack on the Capitol. It could hold up to 1,800 people. Mr. Ross claims it was a big secret until an exposé that appeared several years ago in the Washington Post, but this is nonsense. Most of us knew about it, knew that in case our government blew it, they --- those who blew it --- would survive, even though the rest of us would be little heaps of dust.

When I heard of this, I wrote a letter to my congressman. I asked if he would let me know when they were going to evacuate for Greenbriar because my girlfriend and I would like to come along. I assured him that we wouldn't take up much space, wouldn't eat too much nor in any way inconvenience our roommates.

I said we would bring our own sleeping bags and sleep on the floor if it were necessary and that if they permitted, I would bring my guitar. I said that it should not be cause for concern, for it was an acoustic guitar. "I never sing or play loudly," I reported. "Perhaps I would be allowed to sing a few patriotic songs from time to time ... to keep everybody's spirits up."

--- L. W. Milam

Quest for
The Secret Nile

Victorian Exploration in
Equatorial Africa
1857 - 1900

Guy Yeoman
(Chaucer Press
20 Bloomsbury
They had some strange obsessions a hundred years ago, the English did. Find the North Pole, cross the Antarctic, seek the Northwest Passage, find a passage through Siberia to Japan, discover the source of the Nile.

The latter might not be all that strange. As Yeoman says, it was, even in ancient times, a "geographic enigma:"

    what was the provenance of so much water, feeding a river that flowed constantly out of the desert.

Herodotus, it was said, followed the river for hundreds of miles upriver and reported on equatorial lakes, the Nili Paludes, "fed by waters from two snow-capped mountains --- the Lunae Montes," the (gasp) Mountains of the Moon. Along with the anomaly of snow-capped peaks on the equator, there were rumors of the inevitable monsters.

But approach to the fabled lakes of the highlands was impossible from the north and difficult enough from the east, west, or south. Desert, tsetse flies and suspicious natives --- mostly Mutesa, Banyoro and Buganda --- made it nearly impossible to reach Lake Victoria, Lake Albert and Lake Kionga and the dozens of other sources of the Nile.

Those who made the journey were a strange bunch. Samuel Baker had his wife make designer exploration outfits looking like oriental pajamas. John Hanning Speke punished those who disagreed with him by what the English eponymously call "speaks" --- ignoring their very presence. James Grant put up with months of traveling with Speke (or no speaks). David Livingstone, was "presumed upon" (in the words of the author) by Henry Morton Stanley. And, finally, there was Richard Burton, famed pornographer and, also, (according to the author) "a sadist ... a drinker and a rake." In other words, just the kind of adventurer that you and I would give an arm or a leg to travel with into deepest Tanganyika.

The Nile runs for over 4,000 miles, and --- next to the Los Angeles sewage system --- is the longest river in the world. The tale of the ultimate discovery is told here in workaday prose. The final take on the discoverer of the source: no one person was capable of finding it all, there were just too many sources.

The photographs presented here are lucious, the binding and stock are delicious, good enough to eat, although the end result, as is usual in cases like this, is dismal. "The waters have now become dangerously polluted, spreading environmental degradation throughout the catchment... Lake Victoria is dying." Some malign spirits introduced the Nile perch. That has resulted in the "collapse of the lake's almost infinitely varied fish population." Some other fools brought in the common water hyacinth, which "forms massive impenetrable floating mats that suffocate the fish breeding grounds and block the movement of boats and canoes."

Cleopatra was known to Antony as "My serpent of old Nile," and serpents put her finely and finally to sleep at the end of Act 5. And, wrote Edward Lear, "We live on the Nile,"

                         The Nile we love.
    By night we sleep on the cliffs above.
    By day we fish, and at eve we stand
    On long bare islets of yellow sand.

--- Cynthia Weiss, M. A.

According to Tibetan Buddhists, you and I have three living minds, and will encounter several more after we have finally cacked. We may well have some ten or eleven different bardos within the three minds --- bardos being stages which move us, step-like, from life into death, through the various processes of death, and then, finally, back into, o me o my ... life.

Some of these bardos flash by us in a second, others can go on for days. Think of them as subway stops on the wheel of life: when we finally emerge into the light (to be born yet again) we may or may not remember what has passed us by in the process.

The dying stages --- i.e., when we are popping off, but not yet "clinically dead") --- are four in number. They are definite, peculiar and distinct, but depending on our earlier holy work, can last "as long as a meal," or slip by in a wink. As we are relinquishing our life, these stages are:
  • Yellow: earth dissolves, sounds of earthquakes, general weakness, beginning to let go;
  • White: water dissolves, feeling of thirst, bodily fluids drying up, surrounded by smoke;
  • Red: Fire dissolves, feeling of chill, thoughts falling away, a sense of an inferno;
  • Green: air dissolves, fading of body, appearance of death pallor, strong winds, consciousness freed.

Once we are clinically dead, we go into the next stages, which are brilliant light shows:

  • A white drop descends towards the heart, with the universe bathed in a white, "a clear, bright moonlight;" general bliss; loss of all sense of anger;
  • The ascending redness, the universe bathed in intense red sunlight; loss of all desire;
  • Joining of the red and the white; a "bright-dark" light, the final bliss; and finally
  • A deep unconscious stage, described by Buddhists as "a child recognizing the mother and joyfully leaping into her lap."

The key elements of these stages, ones that Naird emphasizes and reemphasizes, is that as we live, so shall we die. Too, as we handle our lives, so shall we transit the period between this life and the next, all the way up through the process of rebirth.

If we have lived gently and wisely and well, we will most probably have an easy transition; if we have trained ourselves on the stages, we can possibly enter into a gentle rebirth.

However, if we have lived this life as a greedy dork, we will pay through the nose for it. Thus, if you are, for example, a president who is fond of the death penalty, given to starting wars and permitting the killing of innocents, all in the name of the Prince of Peace --- then you might well find yourself coming back next as some scrofulous kid in India, in the lowest caste, in the city of Bombay, born in a hovel atop an open sewer. Or you might return as a starving babe in Chad, stricken with Beri-Beri, the Yaws, or Break-bone fever, part of a refugee family living in a dusty, waterless settlement.

Or you may return as a child of a junk-food junkie in the South Bronx, surrounded by the constant noise of televisions, shouts and shots, drive-by shoot outs and back alley murders.

These scenarios demonstrate why Buddhists are in general not all that keen on revenge; they figure that you are right now (as we speak) busy sewing the seeds of your own cosmic rewards, not only for this lifetime, and the next, but for the next 10,000. A fistfight, a curse, blowing someone away can hardly compete for importance with the ghastly truth that you might be forced to relive so many thousands of lifetimes in agony because of your jealousy, anger, greed, or brutality in this one...

§     §     §

Living, Dreaming, Dying is good stuff. It may sound a bit kookie to some but try to explain to a Buddhist nun in Laos the concept of a bird flying down to impregnate the Holy Mother, or the high Holy Feast of the Circumcision.

Nairn is a fine stylist, a master of the direct ... and is comfortable with religious literature, Eastern and Western, and some of the visionaries of psychotherapy. His quotes run the gamut from William Shakespeare to The Mahabarata, from Carl Jung to T. S. Eliot and Mitch Albom, from the late Elisabeth Kübler-Ross to the masters such as Sogyal Rinpoche, Ringu Tulku and Ringo Starr (I just threw in that last to see if you were paying attention).

For the first time, Nairn's book has explained to my satisfaction, as no other Buddhism text does, the profound interconnection between how we are living our lives right now, and how our kindnesses, angers, loves, and fears will affect us before, during, and after death. Quite noisy, sometimes arrogant, often preening chickens coming home to roost, as it were, on our coffins.

For instance, all of Chapter 10 is dedicated to the concept and the consequences of merely being afraid. Nairn sagely suggests that fear is so pervasive that to attack it (and try to root it out) is foolish, can be destructive.

"It's tempting," he points out, "There's a line of logic that says, 'If I get to the root of the problem, I will be able to root it out and be rid of it forever.' This is a medical model and a working-on-the-outside world model. It is founded on the assumption that things have single causes that come from outside us, like a virus. Find it, kill it, and you will be cured. This may work in the outside world, but not in our minds.

    Unless you are in the hands of a skilled therapist, delving will not work. In fact, it is certain to make matters worse, because the act of delving into fear to get rid of it (which is why we delve) will make it stronger. Why? Because this type of delving has an aggressive component that will feed the fear. Also, it's a psychological truth that we feed energy into whatever we focus on. Any neurotic will confirm this. In fact, you can confirm it from your own experience. Think back to the last time you had a major problem that became a preoccupation. After a while you found yourself thinking about it most of the time, didn't you? Even when you didn't want to, your mind kept going back to it, sucked in by powerful emotional content. A vicious cycle ensued. This is the basis for obsessive-compulsive thinking and behavior.

Thus, he tells us, if you attack fear head-on, "you get sucked into it, and that intensifies it."

He then offers a series of steps that we can use to, literally, put fear out of our minds. Most involve, simply, side-stepping this force that is more powerful than we are. Use displacement, meditation, exercise, self-hypnosis, he tells us, anything to get the circling mind to move off-track, to evade, to invoke the great and ancient mantra for saving our asses; namely, "I'll get back to you later."

§     §     §

For those of us who have interests in religions out of the east, the insights, the visions, the bardos don't seem all that strange. I recently read one obituary of the great Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, one which told of her final belief that death "does not exist." It was her late insight that the dying often speak of "conversations with dead relatives ... and the sensation of emerging from a dark tunnel into light," many items that Nairn offers up for us in Living, Dreaming, Dying.

Once during her long stay in southern California, probably about twenty years ago, I recall that the San Diego Union interviewed Kubler-Ross and published a bitter, mocking, somewhat cruel article about her beliefs in life after death. Despite her elegant work with the dying, the Union suggesting that she had moved into the lunatic fringe, might even be involved in some elaborate con game.

Kubler-Ross and Helen K. Copley, the owner of the $2.1 billion chain of Copley newspapers (including the San Diego Union,) died within three days of each other. I caught myself thinking of the interesting back-and-forth they might have up there in bardo-land as they were circling around, the green and blue and red lights flashing by, the two of them floating around in the brilliant lighted lightlessness, waiting, as we must all wait, impatiently, for that moment, fast approaching, when they were to devolve into their newest incarnation, fast coming at them from below, back there on the dark earth where they were to be reconstituted, in that village in Africa, that city in India, or perhaps, for one of them (I won't say who), returning to a high, happy place which we might think of as the Land of Light, in the highest of the mountain ranges, a place of wonder and joy and grace.

--- L. W. Milam

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