Land of No Buddha
Reflections of a Sceptical Buddhist

by Richard P. Hayes (Dh. Dayamati)
Birmingham, England: Windhorse Publications, 1998

About the author


In January 1967, at the age of 21, Richard Hayes attended four talks on Buddhism and a month-long seminar on the trial and death of Socrates, both at the family Unitarian Church. Afterwards, he felt quite comfortable telling his friends that he was a Buddhist, albeit a rather Socratic one. After migrating to Canada a month later, his personal alternative to answering the call to appear for induction into the US military, Hayes found himself in the company of Quakers, whom he joined regularly for silent worship. As his Quaker friends bore silent witness to their Christian faith, he practised Buddhist meditation exercises he had read about in a book. Until he met other Buddhists, Hayes studied on his own and eventually took academic courses in Buddhism, which led him to study Sanskrit, Pali and Tibetan.

During his years in Toronto, Hayes practised in a Korean Zen context. He discovered the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO) in 1987 and, despite the distance between Montreal and the nearest FWBO centre (about eight hours by bus), he became increasingly involved with the movement. He was ordained into the Western Buddhist Order on January 26, 2000 in Bor Dharan, India and is now called Dayamati. He still thinks of himself as a Socratic Buddhist.

To find out how to contact the author, click here.

About the book

Land of No Buddha is a collection of essays, all but one of which were written in the 1980s. Some of them were published, in different form, in the now defunct quarterly Spring Wind: Buddhist Cultural Forum , of which the author, then known as Mubul (which means No Buddha), was a contributing editor. Others were written for Spring Wind but never appeared there, because the magazine stopped being published owing to a lack of funding and adequate staff.

By the time the decision was made to publish these essays in a single collection, the author was no longer a practitioner of Zen and had changed his views on a number of issues. Rather than rewriting the essays to reflect his latter thinking, the author decided to add one final essay in which some of his more recent thinking was recorded. The entire collection of twelve essays, then, can be seen as part of a work in progress, namely, the work of one Western Buddhist trying to come to terms with both being Western and being Buddhist. As it says in the Forward: “If nothing else, the collection might be a record of how at least some North American Buddhists were thinking towards the end of the twentieth century.”

The first essay begins with a discussion of dreams. The final essay ends with a discussion of fantasy and imagination. The material in between is sometimes philosophical, sometimes historical, sometimes satirical, sometimes homiletic. Whatever the style, the author's aim has been to produce essays that provoke reflection and ultimately deepen understanding of Dharma.

1. On Being Dharma-centric
2. Bodhisattvas in Blue Jeans
3. A Dialogue on Rebirth
4. Teachers
5. Dr Ambedkar's Social Reform Through Buddhism
6. Christianity and Buddhism
7. Some Reflections on Words
8. Buddhism in the new Dark Ages
9. Does a Logician have Buddha Nature?
10.What is a Friend?
11. Farewell to the Raft
12. Perils of a Raft-dodger

1  On Being Dharma-centric

In 1986 Venerable Sunthorn, a Theravadin monk from Thailand, who is now working in the USA, asked several American and Canadian Buddhists for their autobiographies so that he and other Asian monks might gain some insight into how North American Buddhists view the world. This essay was written in response to that request.

The account chronicles the author's early fascinations with classical Greek schools of thought such as Stoicism, Skepticism, and Cynicism, his later interest in and eventual disillusionment with Marxism and Maoism, his experiences with Quakers and his eventual discovery of Buddhist meditation. Through the practice of meditation he learned that

the ability to live in peace among the war-makers is not a consequence of divine grace, nor is it the outcome solely of one's genetic makeup or social upbringing, but rather it is an acquired skill. Developing the skill begins with the determination to forget about the shortcomings of others and simply to focus on one's own. As this skill is developed, one learns to be responsive to the basic humanity of all peoples and to be unmindful of the ideological, cultural and national differences that separate people into artificial categories.
Buddhist philosophy, combined with appropriate meditation exercises helps the individual to realize that
we have absolutely no one anywhere to help us, and so we can only help ourselves, even if only in small ways. There will be no justice at all unless we make it. There will be no comfort unless we provide it. There will be no freedom unless we bestow it. Developing the habit of thinking something like this is the only good means we human beings have of collectively beginning to pull out of the horrible downward spirals of retributive warfare and the technological rape of the planet.
Reversing this downward spiral can be achieved by becoming what the author calls “Dharma-centric” which he defines as “making wisdom itself the very centre of one's life. It means being philosophical in the root sense of that word: in love with wisdom.”
Human history, insofar as it is a history of human institutions, whether religious or political in nature, is a tragic testimony to the simple fact that wisdom defies formalization and formalization makes a mockery of wisdom. Wisdom is an outlook, an attitude characterized by open-mindedness and impartiality and freedom from prejudice and dogma; wisdom is not doctrines or slogans or adherence to any sort of orthodoxy. Because wisdom can never successfully be codified or formalized, and because it is by its very nature expressed in openness, it follows that wisdom can never be the exclusive property of any one religious or philosophical system.
The author's interest in the wisdom traditions of both the East and the West led eventually to his rediscovery of Thomas Jefferson, “a most Dharma-centric man.” The discovery of Jefferson and the realization that the United States was founded on Jeffersonian principles led to the author's eventual emotional reconciliation with the country of his birth after many years of alienation from the country owing to its role as an international superpower.

[Click here to hear author reading the opening paragraph]

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2  Bodhisattvas in Blue Jeans: the Dharma in North America

This is a revised version of two public talks given in July 1987 at the Zen Buddhist Temple, Ann Arbor, Michigan. The argument is made that those who have turned to Buddhism in North America

form part of a larger movement on this continent, a movement of people who have grown tired of the shambles that our culture has become and are seeking an intelligent alternative to the unparalleled materialism of our society on the one hand and to the many mindless alternatives to materialism that have arisen to provide people escape from what really is an untenable way of life.
Those who turn to Zen and other Eastern religions and philosophies, it is argued, are seeking to live by the traditional philosophical virtues of the ancient Greeks (wisdom, justice, patience and moderation); these virtues were devalued by the early Christian fathers, who placed greater emphasis on the theological virtues (faith, hope and love). The claim is made that the emphasis on faith and revelation led to a loss of critical thinking as a primary cultural value and that the results have devastated the West:
Symbolically the fate of Western civilization was presaged by the death of Socrates, a thinker of unparalleled excellence put to death by stupid and narrow-minded fellow citizens for the crime of examining, with a truly open mind, the most cherished beliefs of the day. Since his time it has always been the same in Western civilization: those who do not run with the crowd die by the crowd.
Buddhism offers a promise to Westerners to rediscover the spirit of critical thinking, but only, it is argued, if the form of Buddhism that evolves in the West is freed of certain folk beliefs, such as the myths of karma and rebirth. The last part of the essay therefore consists of a critical examination of the traditional Buddhist doctrines of karma and rebirth.

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3  A Dialogue on Rebirth

Lati Rinbochay is a high-ranking master within the Tibetan Gelug order. During his visit to Toronto in September 1986, he granted an interview with Spring Wind. The interview was never published. Part of that interview, which contained a lengthy discussion of the Buddhist doctrines of karma and rebirth, has been included in this collection. In some of the other essays in this collection questions have been raised concerning the traditional Buddhist teaching of rebirth. In “Bodhisattvas in Blue Jeans” the author outlined misgivings about the teaching of rebirth. It seemed only fair, therefore, to present the case for rebirth as advanced by a highly trained spokesman of a traditional point of view.

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4  Teachers

This essay is an excerpt of a longer essay entitled “Gleanings in the aftermath” on the Conference on Zen in North America, written originally for Spring Wind. The issue for which the essay was originally written never appeared. The point of departure of this essay is the observation that at the 1986 Conference on Zen in North America

One issue that repeatedly came up for discussion...was that of the role of teachers, an issue that was especially poignant for those who had witnessed situations in which Zen teachers had failed to set an example of humanity at its best. Particularly painful emotions arise when teachers let their students down. And in such situations, pain itself becomes the teacher.
It is observed in this essay that the original form of Buddhism, unlike modern North American Zen Buddhism, was a way of life exclusively for those who renounced the life-style and the preoccupations of ordinary people. The first monks were described as men and women who set aside their interests in personal wealth, fame, power and comfort in favour of acquiring and transmitting wisdom. But monastic Buddhism has never been very attractive to North American Buddhists on the whole:
The claim that there is no real Buddhism without monks would strike many North Americans as simply false. What I wish to do here is to explore why these attitudes prevail.
This leads to a discussion of the suspicion of clerical authority that characterized the early Protestant reformers such as Luther and Calvin. This mistrust of clergy runs so deep in North American culture that there is little likelihood that the monastic forms of Buddhism will ever take root on this continent. But ironically, the forms of Buddhism that have become popular in the West, specifically Zen and Tibetan tantra, may entail a greater risk of degenerating into abusive forms of authoritarianism than does the more democratic monastic structure of early Buddhism.
The Zen master is surrounded with a certain mystique due to the claim of enlightenment. By the very fact that he or she is supposed to be an enlightened being, the Zen master can claim a degree of immunity from the criticisms of disciples, who by the very fact of being disciples acknowledge their spiritual inferiority. The mythology of enlightenment is one that invites abuse for the simple reason that it is much easier to claim to be enlightened than it is actually to be enlightened. It is even easier to be perceived by disciples as an enlightened teacher than it is actually to be an enlightened teacher. Events in Zen and other guru-oriented traditions in North America have made this painfully clear.
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5  Dr Ambedkar's Social Reform through Buddhism

B.R. Ambedkar

Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was a contemporary of Mahatma Gandhi. Like Gandhi, Ambedkar had received a British education, and in addition he continued his studies at Columbia University in New York City.

But unlike Gandhi, Ambedkar was concerned not only with the campaign to gain self-rule for India, but also with a campaign to free his own people, the so-called Untouchable classes of India, from the invidious yoke of the Hindu caste system. At first working with Gandhi, Nehru and the Congress Party, Ambedkar grew increasingly disillusioned at the reluctance of caste Hindus to consider making any fundamental reforms in the Hindu religious law according to which a person's place in society is determined by the person's birth.
Eventually, when India won her independence from Great Britain in 1947, Ambedkar was chosen by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to serve in his cabinet as the first Minister of Law, and not long afterwards he was elected chairman of the committee that drafted India's constitution.
In the Indian Constitution the institution of Untouchability was officially outlawed, but no one was so naive as to believe that some two thousand years of Hindu custom would come to an abrupt end by the passage of a new law. Ambedkar therefore fought to improve the standard of education for his people and to win for them greater political power, for he knew that without educational reforms his people could never rise from the bottom of Indian society. But Ambedkar's experiences with Gandhi and with the Congress Party also convinced him that the fate of the former untouchables would therefore never be improved unless they took up a new religion in which there was no systematic inequality. He began an intensive study of the major religious traditions of the world, and after some two decades of research made the decision to become a Buddhist.
When Dr Ambedkar took the simple vows of becoming a Buddhist layperson in October 1956, he was joined in his conversion by some 500,000 of his fellow ex-untouchables.
Even in his conversion to Buddhism, Ambedkar was a reformer at heart. Not entirely content with any tradition of Buddhism as it now exists in Asia, Ambedkar had dreams of founding for his people a pure Buddhism, free of the influences of Hinduism and other Asian folk religions that it has acquired during the past 2500 years.
In this respect, Ambedkar serves as a model that many Western Buddhists find worthy of emulating. The essay examines three aspects of Ambedkar's thought: 1) The religious politics of eating meat, 2) the Buddha's teachings on birth and social position, and 3) the classical background to Dr Ambedkar's philosophy. The first of these sections puts forth evidence, which can be found in Mahayana Buddhist texts, that corroborates Ambedkar's claim that an obsessive concern with purity, combined with the custom of viewing restrictions in diet as a criterion of purity, has resulted in an onerous stigma on those members of Indian society who have traditionally eaten meat. This section of the essay invites the reader to reflect on the hidden dangers of using ideologies and dogmas as the basis of social reform:
There is something chilling in the very possibility that an attempt to protect animals by introducing a dietary reform could have the inadvertent consequence of turning an entire class of people into despised untouchables. Let us, in our eagerness to achieve justice through social reforms, be most cautious, lest the dictates of our own conscience result in condemning others to such a level of degradation that our attempts to establish justice end up making a mockery of justice.
The essay as a whole concludes with some reflections on Ambedkar as a model to be followed by North American Buddhist social reformers, for Ambedkar both taught and showed through the example of his conduct that injustice and hatred always have two victims.
The more obvious victim is the person who is hated or treated badly. And the less obvious victim is the person who hates or treats others badly. Both victims deserve our love. Both victims deserve our compassion. Our wisdom must help us find the way to free both the person who hates and the person who is hated from the shackles of hatred itself.
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6  Christianity and Buddhism: Dialogue or Debate?

The main question considered in this essay is that of how important the differences are between Christianity and Buddhism. The most obvious difference between the two traditions is that Christianity is monotheistic and Buddhism is rigorously atheistic. The author claims that

there is not a single argument for the existence of God that has not been carefully considered and ultimately rejected by philosophers of the Buddhist tradition. Buddhism has been, therefore, invariably atheistic and will probably always remain so, at least so long as Buddhists continue to think and to reject doctrines for which there is inadequate support.
The traditional Buddhist arguments against the existence of God are reviewed, with the warning that
it is important to realize that Buddhists are atheists only insofar as they reject the hypothesis that the world had a single benevolent intelligent creator, and the hypothesis that any transcendent source communicates directly to human beings individually or collectively. In rejecting these hypotheses, however, the Buddhist does not reject the virtues that are usually attributed to God. The Buddhist believes, for example, in the power of love and in trust and forgiveness and patience and compassion. But rather than saying that God is love, we prefer to say that love is love; in this way, even if it should be proven that God does not exist, the ideal of love would remain unimpaired. Similarly...we Buddhists prefer to say that good is simply good and beauty is simply beauty and justice is simply justice, and there is no need to confuse these principles with the bewildering and controversial concept of divinity.
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7  Some Reflections on Words

From the very beginning of the Buddhist movement some 2500 years ago, Buddhist wisdom has been transmitted through a great variety of languages. Translation from one language to another has always been a routine practice of Buddhist teachers. As Buddhist thought finds its way to the West, countless human-hours are spent translating Buddhist literature from classical Asian into modern European languages. Given all this transmission from one language to another, one cannot help wondering how much is being lost in the translation.

This is not by any means a uniquely modern concern. On the contrary, the Buddhists of the past had a regard for linguistic precision that might seem almost obsessive to our present age, in which mass communications and the uncontrollable explosion of technical jargons have all but obliterated our sensitivities to nuance. An illustration of the careful reflection on language that many Buddhists went through is found in the story of how Buddhist literature was translated into Chinese. At the peak of activity of translation, which lasted for several hundred years, committees of scholars compiled large lexicons and used them to determine the most suitable expressions that would convey the message of Buddhism with a minimum of confusion to the readers of Chinese.
In this essay the author draws on his experience as a translator of Sanskrit, Pali and Tibetan texts to reflect on the
problems we face today as translators struggle to find ways of expressing the essential wisdom of Buddhism into languages that are replete with the technical vocabularies of Greek philosophy, Christian and Jewish spirituality, and the post-Enlightenment scientific traditions.
To illustrate what some of these problems are, the author considers such English words as “religion,” “philosophy,” “piety,” ”soteriology,” “salvation,” “sacred,” “sin,” “heresy,” “church,” ”temple,” “priest,” “monk,” and “abbot,” which are often used to express key Buddhist ideas, practices and institutions. The etymologies and histories of these English words are explored as the author considers some of the advantages and disadvantages of using these words with reference to Buddhism.

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8  Buddhism in the New Dark Ages

When eighteenth century authors such as Voltaire and Diderot popularized the ideas of their seventeenth century predecessors such as Descartes and Locke, much of the European populace acquired a new suspicion of anything that did not appear to be rational or empirically verifiable.

The new intellectual climate came to be called the Enlightenment, and nearly two millennia of Western civilization was dismissed as the Dark Ages. Eighteenth century confidence that the ages of darkness had become a thing of the past, however, proved unduly optimistic.
According to Hindu mythology, on the other hand, we are now living in the the age of conflict (kali-yuga), in which people become increasingly incapable of discerning right from wrong and the beautiful from the grotesque. Buddhist mythology also designates the present age as the time of declining wisdom.
Since the early days of Buddhism the prediction has been made that things would grow steadily worse until only a handful of people would even think it desirable to seek wisdom. Whether or not one puts much stock in Hindu and Buddhist mythology, few would dispute the claim that the world in which we live is a sad, confused and dangerous place. Nor is anyone likely to dispute the contention that at least some of those who claim to be part of the solution are in fact part of the problem.
In a whirlwind tour through the wonderful world of numerology, magic wands, healing crystals and gems, acupuncture, past lives, aura reading, astral travel, hot coal walking and native American shamanism, this essay takes a lighthearted look at some of the alternatives to traditional religion and philosophy that have arisen in what the author calls the “New Age Dark Age.” People of our age, contends the author
are among the most intellectually promiscuous in the history of our species, and in general they find little difficulty with the notion of pursuing a great plurality of claims to the truth, even when those claims are radically incompatible with one another. Random eclecticism and pluralism is the form of sad and dangerous confusion that appeals to the tastes of modern humanity. Just as we will eat anything, whether or not it is nutritious, we will believe anything, whether or not it makes sense.
The essay points out ways in which New Age advocates and followers of various Oriental religions and philosophies have become allied in a relationship of mutual exploitation that will bring little benefit to either party and even less benefit to humanity as a whole.

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9  Does a Logician Have Buddha Nature?

A famous koan used in Zen training is based on the question “Does a dog have Buddha Nature?” Such koans are used, it is said, to help the practitioner transcend the limitations of ordinary logical thinking. Indeed, when Zen is presented to Westerners, it is typically portrayed as an anti-intellectual antidote to the scholasticism and rationalism associated with the Indian schools of Buddhism. There are representatives of the Zen tradition, and indeed of the wider Buddhist tradition, who express a degree of suspicion of logic and rational thinking. D.T. Suzuki identified logical thinking with dualistic thinking and warned his readers that dualistic thinking would prevent one from ever understanding the most profound messages of Buddhism. This anti-intellectual and anti-rationalistic tenor of some forms of Zen has naturally attracted some of those who favour the more anti-intellectual and anti-rationalistic schools of Western thought, such as Romanticism and its recent incarnations as the Beat movement, the Flower Children movement, and some (but by no means all) forms of feminism. The stated thesis of this essay is that

it is probably only with the benefit of ignorance that one can maintain the view that Buddhism offers much solace to those of a Romantic nature...[Romantics] are sure to find less spontaneous freedom of the spirit among most Buddhists than they first imagined they might find there; some may even discover that what the neo-Romantic sees as untrammeled spirit running joyously free, the average Buddhist regards with some alarm as self-indulgent ego running riot.
In traditional Indian Buddhism, the study of formal and informal logic was highly prized as an effective method of breaking down unproductive and counterproductive habits of thinking. After outlining the basic methods of Buddhist logicians, the author concludes that
breaking down prejudices, so that we can just a little more clearly see things as they really are, is the business of logic and reason. It is also the business of such Zen practices as working on koan. It would be a sad mistake indeed to develop a prejudice over which of these two methods was more effective. To reject logic and rational thinking as inferior to Zen would be to adopt a most inferior type of Zen.
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10  What Is a Friend?

This essay considers how friendship has been regarded in Greek philosophy, in Buddhist thought, in classical Christianity, and in modern society.

One of the most keen observers of the nature of human friendship was Aristotle, who argued that human associations can be based on three types of foundation: the pursuit of possessions, the pursuit of pleasure or the pursuit of wisdom. Those alliances founded on the pursuit of pleasure and wealth tend to be unstable, Aristotle observed, because pleasure and wealth are both fleeting things, and one who would use other people to help secure those things is not likely to have much loyalty to any particular means of acquiring them.
The Buddha also placed a high value on friends who helped one to acquire wisdom. The true friend according to the Buddha is the person
who faithfully reminds one of the distinction between right and wrong and urges one to do what is morally right and counsels against what is harmful.
Somewhat similar ideas of friendship evolved within Christian theories of morality, according to which
the principal form of sin was a person's turning away from God in the sense of wanting not to discover and live in accordance with the divine will. An action is sinful if the fundamental motive in performing it is to disobey the spirit of the divine law, which is understood as the law of universal love; love, in turn, is understood as the ability to put oneself in the place of others and to consider the effects of one's actions upon all creatures who might be affected by them.
In modern society, claims the author, there tends to be great confusion over the nature of friendship and the meaning of love.
It is one of the greatest tragedies of Western civilization that we collectively promote the myth that being in love with another person is anything other than a form of acute mental disease brought on by a temporary deflation of confidence in one's own ability to be emotionally self-sufficient and strong enough to face old age and death alone.
The author advocates rejecting the relatively immature fascination with romantic love that characterizes modern popular culture and adopting either the classical Greek or the Buddhist concepts of love and friendship.

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11  Farewell to the raft

This essay was begun in the autumn of 1988 and completed the following spring. In the autumn of 1988, the author had just moved to Montreal and had made the painful decision to cut formal ties with the Zen community of which he had been a part for many years. Finding himself without a community with which to practice, the author took the opportunity to re-examine his connection with Buddhism in particular and with organised religion in general. Driven by environmental and political concerns, and disenchanted with the direction of North American Buddhism as he had experienced it so far, the author bids his farewell to the raft of organized institutional Buddhism and extols the virtues of being an island unto oneself. The result is the longest essay in the book, a searingly critical essay that has the passionate tones of a radical anti-establishment green Buddhist manifesto.

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12  Perils of a Raft-dodger

This essay, written in 1997, chronicles the author's experiment with trying to establish a dharma practice without a sangha. The experiment consisted in founding an egalitarian meditation group that did nothing but meditate together and promote a life of utmost simplicity based on a simple meditation routine in his small apartment that included no dharma study, no rituals, no authority figures, no altars, no images, no statues, no incense, no flowers, and therefore no expenses and no need to work out financing. No-Buddha's No-Sangha was open to everyone who wished to meditate. It attracted Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Buddhists. During this period the author's concern for environmental issues led him to stop using heated water, and he took only ice-cold showers and followed a strict Vegan diet, consisting mostly of uncooked fruits and vegetables.

The experiment was in many important respects a failure. Perhaps the most important lesson that the author learned from it was that his drive for perfection and purity of life-style took on harsh, almost fanatical overtones that did more to smother than to enhance real dharma practice. This final essay reflects on how and why the author feels his experiment failed. It also chronicles the author's rediscovery of the benefits of ritual, fantasy and imagination, and, most importantly, of community.

[Click here to hear author reading the concluding paragraph]

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Ordering Land of No Buddha

At present the easiest way to order a copy of Land of No Buddha is through Windhorse Publications on line. If you prefer to order the old-fashioned way, the postal address of the distributer is:

32 Finlas St
Cowlairs Estate
Glasgow G22 5DU
Booksource can also be contacted by e-mail. Alternatively, you may wish to order through Amazon Books on-line. In case you wish to order through your local book dealer, the ISBN is 1 899579 12 5.

Please note that all royalties from the sale of this book have been (and will continue to be) donated to Aryaloka Buddhist Center in Newmarket, NH.

Contacting the author

I am always pleased to hear from people who like to discuss issues of mutual interest. If you have comments you would like to make about Land of No Buddha, or questions you would like to ask about it, I would enjoy hearing from you. Also, if you have recently read (or written) anything that you think I might enjoy reading, please bring it to my attention. Because my schedule is rather busy, I cannot promise that I will respond immediately, but I will make every effort to get back to you within a reasonable amount of time. Please contact me by e-mail.