Monday, January 10, 2011

Visa 0.9

visa Look up visa at Dictionary.com
1831, "official signature or endorsement on a passport," from Fr. visa, from Mod.L. charta visa "verified paper," lit. "paper that has been seen," from fem. pp. of L. videre "to see" (see vision). Earlier visé (1810), from Fr. pp. of viser "to examine, view."


A monk here asked me whether "visa" was an English word, so I thought I'd look it up. I told him at the time it was a Pali word meaning "twenty".

I spoke a little too soon about the support thing, as usual, and spent the past week trying my best to jump through all the right hoops for a Sri Lankan visa. Now, not only do I not have a visa, I've had my passport taken away as well. All I have now is a receipt that says my passport was taken away, which is proper, because it was.

Rather than embark on yet another diatribe on the evils of "papers that have been seen" in general, I thought it might be useful to compare getting a monk visa in Sri Lanka with getting a monk visa in Thailand, since this question comes up often.

The biggest difference between getting a visa here and getting one in Thailand for me is, as I said, the support given by my host monastery. When the so-and-so-secretary man's connection fell though, I told Ven. Kusaladhamma that I thought maybe to return to Canada. He didn't think that was a good idea, so he did what was proper and got me all the documents and transportation to and from the places I needed to go. If you have this sort of support, much of the difficulty of getting a visa in either country is removed. Note that it seems the best way of getting support, as with all things in life, is to live your life in such a way that you don't desire it. As soon as I made up my mind to go back to Canada, everything fell into place to not have to go back to Canada. That's how craving works, really... when you want something, you are at a disadvantage against those people who would wish something from you in return; when you give up desire, you have the advantage, and bargaining prices are lowered accordingly.

All that being equal, though, there is still some edge to be had here in SL, I think. The bureaucracy here is about the same, as follows:

SL:

1) Fill out a form from the Religious Affairs Dept.
2) Have your head monk sign the form and write two letters of support.
3) Bring one letter to some official monk, have him sign your form too.
4) Bring the second letter to a regional gov't official, have them sign your form.
5) Bring the form and your passport to the Religious Affairs Dept. Get a letter from them.
6) Bring that letter, your passport and two photos to the immigration dept., fill out a form, give all to them, get a receipt, wait three days.
7) Get a one year visa (he said, predicting the ever uncertain near future).

Thailand:

1) Fill out a form from the Religious Affairs Dept.
2) Have your head monk sign the form and write a letter of support. If he is your preceptor, have him write a letter to that effect as well, otherwise, get this from your preceptor.
3) Visit the district chief monk, have him sign your form too.
4) Visit the province head monk, have him sign your form.
5) Bring the form, the two letters and your copies of your passport and monastic passport to the Religious Affairs Dept. Get a letter from them (this used to take a week in Chiang Mai, not sure now).
6) Bring that letter, your passport, copies of your passport, two photos to the immigration dept., fill out a form, give all to them along with 1900 baht, get a visa the same day.

The advantage of Thailand is the same day service for the visa. This does save you one trip, so theoretically, Thailand has the advantage, though the wait on the religious affairs letter means the wait time is about the same. The difference is that Sri Lankan bureaucracy seems to flow a lot smoother than Thai bureaucracy, though I admit, Chiang Mai is far worse than Bangkok. At any rate, Colombo was very straightforward, and only having to visit one monk meant being assured of getting the third signature (from the district official). Also, there was no sign of corruption or even the hint that there might be a way of greasing the wheel or that, not having greased it, the wheel was set to run at a sub-optimal speed. The only frownable moment in SL was at the religious affairs department which seems to be the least respectful office towards monks in either country, oddly enough.

The real sting in Thailand, though, is the 1900 baht charge for ordained clergy to get a visa to stay in the country and study Buddhism. That and the 10 year limit after which a visa is to be denied.

So, looks like I'm staying put, more or less. As I said, I like SL, the culture makes sense in ways that Thai culture does not, and the people are straightforward, laid back, non-judgemental, etc. Alms round is even more convenient than Thailand, and I often am taken up in dialogue by the donors on topics of meditation or Buddhism, something I would never encounter on almsround in Thailand. One couple actually invited me into their house and had me show them how to meditate, which was quite nice.

Overall, I can feel the stress level decrease here, for all the stress there is in Colombo; so many of the problems of not fitting in have been removed. I feel like I've found a country full of Western Buddhists. They may not really be practicing, for the most part, but they do believe in the teaching, and support the practitioners. And they are very Western, to my feeling, which is comforting, though that fact does surprise me a bit.

Another Dhammapada quote, just at random:



seyyo ayoguḷo bhutto, tatto aggisikhūpamo.
yañce bhuñjeyya dussīlo, raṭṭhapiṇḍamasaññato.

It would be better to swallow a red-hot iron ball, blazing like fire, than as an immoral and uncontrolled monk to eat the alms of the people.

v. 308