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    • What is Consciousness? A Mystic’s Perspective

      Oct 6, 2015 isha Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev

      Sadhguru answers a question on what raising human consciousness means, and speaks about the fundamental intelligence that makes life happen.

      Q: Namaskaram, Sadhguru. What is the relationship between the work we are doing in Isha, including our sadhana, and raising human consciousness?

      Sadhguru: “Consciousness” is a highly abused word, used in many different ways. First of all, let me define what we refer to as consciousness. You are a combination of many things. As a piece of life, as a body, you are a certain amount of earth, water, air, fire, and akash or ether. And there is a fundamental intelligence that puts all these things together in a particular way to make life out of it. The same ingredients that are lying there as mud sit here as life – what an incredible transformation! There is a profound and unimaginable level of intelligence that can make simple things like air into life. If the air stops, life goes.

      Whether it is a tree, a bird, an insect, a worm, an elephant, or a human being – just about anything is made up of the same simple material. We call this intelligence that makes life happen “consciousness.” The only reason why you experience life and aliveness is because you are conscious. If you are unconscious, you do not know whether you are alive or dead. If you are in deep sleep, you are alive but you do not know it.

      You actually can neither raise consciousness, nor can you bring it down. We only use the expression of “raising consciousness” against the following background: if you are strongly identified with your physical body, the boundaries of what is you and what is not you are distinctly clear. In this state, you experience yourself as a separate existence. This means you are in survival mode, which is what every other creature is in too. When you identify yourself as the body, the boundaries of who you are, are 100% fixed.

      Even in the physical realm, the more subtle something is, the more the boundaries disappear. We are breathing the same air, which also includes some moisture. As we breathe, we constantly exchange air and water. We have no problems with this exchange between us because we are not identified with the air and the water. But we are identified with our body and consider it as ourselves, so we do not want anyone to transgress the boundaries of our body.

      What we refer to as consciousness is a much subtler dimension of who you are, and it is commonly shared by everyone. It is the same intelligence that is turning food into flesh in me, in you, in everyone. If we move people from being identified with the boundaries of their physical body to a deeper dimension within themselves, their sense of “me” and “you” decreases – “you” and “I” seem to be the same. This means consciousness has risen on a social level.

      Essentially, we do not raise consciousness. We raise your experience so that you become more conscious. All of us are conscious to some extent. The question is to what degree you are conscious. You do not have to raise your consciousness – you have to raise yourself to find access to it and experience it. Consciousness is there all the time. If it was not, you would not be able to convert your breath and your food into life. You are alive – that means you are conscious. But so far, you only have minimal access. As your access improves, your sense of boundary expands. If you become identified with consciousness, you will experience everyone as yourself. This is what yoga means.

      The word “yoga” means union. Human beings are trying to experience this sense of union in so many ways. If it finds a very basic expression, we call it sexuality. If it finds an emotional expression, we call it love. If it finds a mental expression, it gets labeled as greed, ambition, conquest, or simply shopping. If it finds a conscious expression, we call it yoga. But the fundamental process and longing are the same. That is, you want to include something that is not you as a part of yourself. You want to obliterate the distance or the boundaries between you and the other.

      Whether it is sexuality or a love affair, ambition or conquest – all you are trying to do is make what is not you a part of yourself. And so with yoga. Yoga means becoming one with everything, or in other words, obliterating the boundaries of who you are. Instead of talking about it, instead of intellectualizing it, we are looking at how to raise your experience from the physical aspect of who you are to a dimension beyond the physical.

      This is what Shambhavi does – taking you to a twilight zone. You are still rooted in the body but you are beginning to touch a dimension beyond, so that your experience of life is not limited to your body – you experience it as a larger phenomenon. This is raising consciousness. It means you experience all the people around you as a part of yourself.

      The material that makes the five fingers on your hand was in the earth some time ago – now it is your five fingers. What was on your plate yesterday as food was not “you.” But you ate it, and today you experience it as a part of yourself. You are capable of experiencing anything as a part of yourself if only you include it into your boundaries. You cannot eat the entire universe. You have to expand your boundaries in different ways.

       

      Expanding the sensory boundaries in such a way that if you sit here, the entire universe is a part of yourself – this is yoga; this is raising consciousness. We are not doing it philosophically or ideologically but experientially, using a technological process that everyone can make use of. Why a technology is – the nature of a technology is such that it will work for whoever is willing to learn to use it. You do not have to believe it; you do not have to worship it; you do not have to carry it on your head. You just have to learn to use it.

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    • Li Gotami: The Woman Who Dedicated Her Life to the Arts

      NOV 6, 2017 Biography

      Born into a wealthy Parsi family on 22 April 1906 in Mumbai, Ratti Petit, more commonly known as Li Gotami, was a talented painter, photographer and writer. Her family owned the Bomanjee Dinshaw Petit Parsee General Hospital located in Cumbala Hill, Mumbai. She attended a school in Harrow on the Hill (an area northwest of London) in England and later studied at the Slade School of Fine Art in 1924.

      Li Gotami was a passionate traveller and journeyed all over Europe before returning to India in the 1930s. She was regarded as someone very unusual during her time and was one of the very few women from traditional Indian society who took the extraordinary step of breaking away from the norms of how Indian women, or women in general, should live their lives. According to her niece, Dr. Sylla Malvi, Li Gotami “was her own person.” She also spoke of Li Gotami’s resolve,

      “Unlike my obedient mother, my aunt was head-strong, and nobody could tell her what to do.

      “Also, Li Gotami was part of a larger cultural movement of seekers discovering Eastern spirituality, long before the Beatles in the 1950s and the hippies in the 1960s.”

      Later in India, she worked with artist Manishi Dey who introduced her to the Bengal School of Art, an influential art movement and a style of Indian painting that originated in Bengal, Shantiniketan and Kolkata. This genre would eventually have a significant influence on her life and works.

      In the 1930s, Li Gotami married art collector Karl Khandalavala but their marriage was brief. In 1934, she travelled to Rabindranath Tagore’s ashram in Shantiniketan to study under the artist Nandalal Bose and to learn the art of Manipuri dance. According to Dr Malvi,

      “Her parents were not happy about her going away. In fact, my grandfather even sent her brother [Maneckji Petit] to check on her.”

      Dr Malvi also fondly recollected a time when all the children in the neighbourhood in Juhu were playing.

      “She was like a magician. And she told us to bring her any object — twigs, stones, paper — and she would make something out of it. To challenge her, I took a raw coconut that had fallen down. I knew she wouldn’t be able to make anything out of it. But she turned it around, drew two eyes and made a little mouse. She was like that; so imaginative. She could see things in the ordinary.”

      Li Gotami spent a total of 12 years at Shantiniketan, where she excelled in her studies and received a number of diplomas from the various Arts and Music Schools there. Later she met Abanindranath Tagore, the nephew of Rabindranath Tagore, a significant painter of that time who also taught at the arts school. Abanindranath Tagore was very impressed by Li Gotami’s work and would later become her mentor. According to Malvi,

      “She absolutely worshipped Abanindranath Tagore. It was he who told her that she would excel in religious and children’s paintings.”

      During her time at Shantiniketan, Li Gotami also met Lama Anagarika Govinda for the first time. The encounter took place when she was making her way to the hostel where Lama Govinda was staying at the time. The encounter is described as follows:

      “A door opened and out strolled this handsome, smiling foreigner dressed in the burgundy robes of a monk. She recalled asking herself who this “bright merry person” might be, and in retrospect (at least on her part) remembered the incident as very romantic.”

      Source: Kovács, Iván. Lama Govinda’s Quest for the Truth: A Summary of His Life – Part I; The Esoteric Quarterly. 2015

      She proceeded to study under Lama Govinda, a Bolivian-German Professor of Vishwa Bharati University and a prominent teacher to notable students such as Indira Nehru, who would later become the first female Prime Minister of India. Under his guidance, Li Gotami’s interest in Buddhism grew very quickly.

      He also brought her to meet his teacher, Domo Geshe Rinpoche. Lama Govinda’s book, “The Way of the White Clouds”, records how Domo Geshe Rinpoche had predicted that Li Gotami would become Lama Govinda’s wife. However, Domo Geshe Rinpoche had kept that information secret until the day of their marriage.

      Li Gotami married Lama Govinda in four separate ceremonies in 1947. Lama Govinda performed one of the ceremonies himself, in the role of a lama. Two other ceremonies were held in Darjeeling and Mumbai, and the fourth was held in Tse-Choling Monastery in the Chumbi Valley, presided over Tibet by Ajorepa Rinpoche.

      Prior to meeting Ajorepa Rinpoche, Lama Govinda had been working very hard to obtain permits to enter Tsaparang, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Guge in the Garuda Valley, and the newly married couple were full of anticipation at the prospect of visiting the beautiful city. When they arrived at Tse-Choling Monastery, then under the leadership of Ajorepa Rinpoche, the incarnation of the 8th century Mahasiddha Dombi-Heruka, Ajorepa Rinpoche inducted both Lama Govinda and Li Gotami into the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

      After spending some time in Tse-Choling Monastery, they continued their journey to the city of Gyantse. During their four-month stay in Gyantse, they explored various monasteries and retreat places, attended festivals and religious ceremonies, and Li Gotami took many pictures of everything that grabbed her fancy. Finally, they received the necessary permits in January 1948 and Li Gotami and Lama Govinda returned to India to prepare for their expedition to Tsaparang.

      A Long Awaited Journey

      From Kasar Devi, the couple embarked on a number of expeditions to central and western Tibet between 1947 and 1949. The two-year expedition was fully sponsored by the “Illustrated Weekly of India” in exchange for a written account of the trip. The pictures taken during this particular expedition would later be featured in their books, “The Way of the White Clouds”, “Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism” and “Tibet in Pictures”.

      During the expedition, Li Gotami and Lama Govinda often had to endure harsh and dangerous living conditions in the arid landscape. They also had to put up with extreme cold weather, and their diet mostly consisted of porridge and chapatis, cooked slowly over a brushwood and yak dung fire. Temperatures were so low that they literally had to drink their tea immediately after boiling, otherwise it would freeze inside their cups! Li Gotami recalled,

      “A storm then broke. The rain nearly froze us while the wind howled like hungry wolves around us. Oh, those winds! They are Tibet’s worst enemy, and if I were ever asked to picture them, I would draw a hundred thousand ice-bound daggers with the head of a howling wolf for every hilt.”

      Kovács, Iván. Lama Govinda’s Quest for the Truth: A Summary of His Life – Part II; The Esoteric Quarterly. 2015

      As part of the expedition, Li Gotami and Lama Govinda also visited the beautiful Mount Kailash and spent a few days circumambulating the sacred mountain.

      When they finally arrived in Tsaparang, Li Gotami and Lama Govinda lived in a hut in front of a cave, where a shepherd named Wangdu lived with his family. Wangdu would bring them the basic necessities – brushwood, water and milk – as there were no other families living in the area.

      The couple always began their day with prayers and pujas, and then would work from morning to evening, tracing, sketching and photographing the remains of frescoes, statues, temples and other surviving artworks in the area.

      Their stay in Tsaparang was marked by many challenges, including difficulties caused by the local Tibetans and authorities who were suspicious of their work. Although conditions were difficult, they did not give up and remained buoyant in the face of these obstacles.

      After completing their work, the couple planned to return to India but found that the Himalayan passes were closed for three months until spring time. While waiting for the passes to reopen, they lived in a rest-house run by a kind Nyingma Lama named Namgyal. Around this period, they also met the Nyingma Abbot of Phiyang Monastery, an extremely learned master who taught them the method of yoga practices and Tantric sadhana.

      When the passes were finally accessible, Li Gotami and Lama Govinda returned to northern India where they stayed in a house rented from the famed writer Walter Evans-Wentz at Kasar Devi. Otherwise known as “Crank’s Ridge”, Kasar Devi was a bohemian home to various artists, writers and spiritual seekers such as John Blofeld, Earl Brewster, Alfred Sorensen and many others. Li Gotami busied herself with the practical matters of running the household and sketching, while Lama Govinda occupied himself by writing.

      Dr Malvi, whose home is dotted with several of Li Gotami’s paintings, says,

      “My aunt travelled extensively with him, but never really earned a reputation as an artist.”

      In 1955, Li Gotami and Lama Govinda moved to a 40-acre estate in Almora, located in north-west India. They maintained an ashram there and studied painting, Buddhist philosophy and meditation. Although their living conditions were ‘difficult’ – the area was completely barren and they had no access to running water and electricity – they enjoyed themselves very much as it was exactly the kind of life they were looking for – one that was simple, peaceful and quiet.

      Li Gotami’s niece Roshan Cooper says,

      “It was absolutely in the wilderness. There was no electricity, no running water. And our mother would take us two youngsters to spend time with them. She would always say her happiest years were in Almora. Her happiness was in the soul.”

      Dr Malvi adds,

      “She would also play the piano wonderfully and we would all sing.”

      Death

      Towards the end of her life, Li Gotami and Lama Govinda were invited to live in the United States. Initially, they lived in California and later settled down in the San Francisco Bay Area due to health issues they were both facing at that time. She had Parkinson’s disease while Lama Govinda had suffered from several strokes.

      A Zen centre that belonged to Alan Watts and Suzuki Roshi provided them with comfortable lodging in Mill Valley, California. In return for their assistance and care, Lama Govinda gave lectures in the centre. They later became permanent residents of the United States and were eligible for government health benefits.

      Lama Govinda suffered a sudden heart attack and passed away peacefully on 14 January 1985 while having a conversation with Li Gotami. His ashes were interred in the Nirvana Stupa in Samten Choeling Monastery in Darjeeling, India. A few months after her husband’s death, Li Gotami returned to India and lived with her family. She passed away on 18 August 1988 in Pune, Maharashtra.

       

      Numerous pieces of Li Gotami’s art and fresco tracings from Tibet are still kept in the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya in Mumbai, which hosted an exhibition showcasing her work on 2 February 2008 titled “Tibet through the eyes of Li Gotami”. Her books including “Tibet in Pictures” and “Tibetan Fantasies: Paintings, Poems, and Music” have become some of the most sought-after today and her life-long contribution to the arts has left a strong imprint in the modern world. Her incredible life and works will not be forgotten any time soon.

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    • Happiness lies, Buddhism says, within you

      Devika Punjabi Nov 6, 2017, The Asian Age

      The fundamental point of the practice of Buddhism lies in our behaviour as human beings.

      What is happiness? When will I achieve it? Who is the person who will “make me happy”? When will things be “good” so I can be happy?

      These questions are a constant reality of our lives. In the words of Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda, president of Soka Gakkai International, “We each move forward secure on our own earth, not the earth of others. Happiness is something we must create for ourselves. No one else can give it to us.”

      Happiness is truly an inside job. But what is true happiness? When I first started practising Nichiren Buddhism in the Soka Gakkai, I didn’t know what it meant to be truly happy. I thought it existed only in favourable circumstances, good relationships, more fulfilling work, and financial security etc. But the 13th   Century Buddhist revolutionary priest Nichiren Daishonin presented the people with the idea that the source of empowerment and joy lay deep within their own lives. ‘Happiness’, as understood by the Soka Gakkai, is all inclusive. So while striving for our own happiness we can actually open our hearts to the happiness of others. And while caring for the happiness of others, we enhance our own joy in a mutually inclusive way.

      The fundamental point of the practice of Buddhism lies in our behaviour as human beings, in the sense of pride from embracing and respecting the dignity of each person’s life, each one “secure on their own earth”. Each individual life has the power to create value for themselves and others. And therefore this “value creation” itself becomes joy.

      Ultimately, the philosophy of Buddhism was to conquer suffering, not avoid it.

       

      This is the “practice” of honing our inner lives to shift from a self-centred way of living to one that expands the unlimited capacity of our own lives. Happiness is a world where no one is left behind. This is true happiness.

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    • The Zen of Not Knowing

      Zenkei Blanche Hartman JUL 21, 2015 tricycle

      “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.”

      Beginner’s mind is Zen practice in action. It is the mind that is innocent of preconceptions and expectations, judgments and prejudices. Beginner’s mind is just present to explore and observe and see “things as they are.” I think of beginner’s mind as the mind that faces life like a small child, full of curiosity and wonder and amazement. “I wonder what this is? I wonder what that is? I wonder what this means?” Without approaching things with a fixed point of view or a prior judgment, just asking “What is it?”

      I was having lunch with Indigo, a small child, at City Center [a Soto Zen practice center in San Francisco]. He saw an object on the table and got very interested in it. He picked it up and started fooling with it: looking at it, putting it in his mouth, and banging on the table with it—just engaging with it without any previous idea of what it was. For Indigo, it was just an interesting thing, and it was a delight to him to see what he could do with this thing. You and I would see it and say, “It’s a spoon. It sits there and you use it for soup.” It doesn’t have all the possibilities that he finds in it.

      Watching Indigo, you can see the innocence of “What is it?”

      Can we look at our lives in such a way? Can we look at all of the aspects of our lives with this mind, just open to seeing what there is to see? I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time doing that. I have a lot of habits of mind—I think most of us do. Children begin to lose that innocent quality after a while, and soon they want to be “the one who knows.”

      We all want to be the one who knows. But if we decide we “know” something, we are not open to other possibilities anymore. And that’s a shame. We lose something very vital in our life when it’s more important to us to be one who knows than it is to be awake to what’s happening. We get disappointed because we expect one thing, and it doesn’t happen quite like that. Or we think something ought to be like this, and it turns out different. Instead of saying, “Oh, isn’t that interesting,” we say, “Yuck, not what I thought it would be.” Pity. The very nature of beginner’s mind is not knowing in a certain way, not being an expert.

      As Suzuki Roshi said in the prologue to Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.” As an expert, you’ve already got it figured out, so you don’t need to pay attention to what’s happening. Pity.

      How can we cultivate this mind that is free to just be awake? In zazen, in just sitting, in sitting and noticing the busyness of our mind and all of the fixed views that we carry. Once we notice the fixed views that we are carrying around with us, the preconceptions that we are carrying around with us, then it is possible for us to let them go and say, “Well, maybe so, maybe not.” Suzuki Roshi once said, “The essence of Zen is ‘Not always so.’” Not always so. It’s a good little phrase to carry around when you’re sure. It gives you an opportunity to look again more carefully and see what other possibilities there might be in the situation.

      I don’t know about you, but when I started to sit, I really began to see how many fixed ideas and fixed views I had. How much judgment was ready right on the tip of my tongue. How much expectation, how much preconception I was carrying around with me all the time, and how much it got in the way of actually noticing what was happening. I don’t want to tell you that after years I’m free of all that, but at least I notice it sooner, and I sometimes don’t get caught in believing it.

      First, before you can let go of preconceptions and expectations and prejudices, you have to notice them; otherwise, they’re just carrying on unconsciously and affecting everything you do. But as you sit, you begin to recognize the really persistent ones: “Oh my gosh . . . you again! Didn’t I just deal with you yesterday?” And again. And again. Pretty soon, you can’t take them seriously. They just keep popping up and popping up and popping up, and after a while you become really familiar with them. And you can’t get so buried under something once you realize that it’s just a habitual state of mind and doesn’t have much to do with what’s right in front of you. It’s just something that you haul around with you all the time and bring out for every occasion. It hasn’t much to do with the present situation. Sometimes you can actually say, “Oh, I think I’m just hauling that around with me. I don’t think it has anything to do with this.”

      In her poem “When Death Comes,” Mary Oliver has a few lines that say, “When it’s over, I want to say: all my life / I was a bride married to amazement. / I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.”

      This is beginner’s mind: “I’ve been a bride married to amazement.” Just how amazing the world is, how amazing our life is. How amazing that the sun comes up in the morning or that the wisteria blooms in the spring. “A bride married to amazement, . . the bridegroom taking the world into my arms.” Can you live your life with that kind of wholeheartedness, with that kind of thoroughness? This is the beginner’s mind that Suzuki Roshi is pointing to, is encouraging us to cultivate. He is encouraging us to see where we are stuck with fixed views and see if we can, as Kosho Uchiyama Roshi says, “open the hand of thought” and let the fixed view go. This is our effort. This is our work. Just to be here, ready to meet whatever is next without expectation or prejudice or preconceptions. Just “What is it? What is this, I wonder?”

       

      So please, cultivate your beginner’s mind. Be willing not to be an expert. Be willing not to know. Not knowing is nearest. Not knowing is most intimate.

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    • Trekkers, seekers and entrepreneurs

      Shradha Ghale Nov 4, 2017 The Kathmandu Post

      A fascinating new book explores how Nepal was rebranded as a destination for trekking and dharma tourism

      Generations of tourists have been drawn to Nepal since it opened its doors in the 1950s. Those from Europe and America came seeking what they imagined had been lost in the West.

      From maharajas and palaces, to countercultural utopia, to Himalayan adventure and spiritual enlightenment, Nepalis quickly learned to sell them the version of Nepal they yearned for.

      “What tourists think of as a quest is for Nepalis an industry,” Mark Liechty writes in the preface of his recent book Far Out: Countercultural Seekers and the Tourist Encounter in Nepal.

      The book traces how different generations of Western tourists have projected their fantasies onto Nepal and how Nepalis turned those fantasies into business ventures. Nepali tourism represents a “fortuitous convergence” between disparate longings. 

      Among the various phenomena Liechty analyses, one that struck me most was the rebranding of Nepal as a destination for Western trekkers and seekers. Here I focus on this theme.

      Tourists arriving in Nepal in the 1960s differed from the current breed. They were mostly middle-class American and European youth in search of a land uncontaminated by modernity.

      They had left home to escape the materialism and war mongering that afflicted their societies, and found what they sought in the “exotic, cannabis-friendly, cheap, and welcoming streets of Kathmandu.”

      These hippies and backpackers had little money and plenty of time. They travelled by road all the way from Europe, stayed at cheap lodges on Freak Street, smoked hashish, read, dreamed and hung out with the locals.

      As public transportation barely existed at the time, most of them just walked all over the city soaking up the local atmosphere. “Even the most dazed potheads managed to meander over to the Central Post Office…or down New Road to check out the propaganda at the Chinese bookstore or American library.”

      By the early 1970s the ethos of the global youth culture had begun to change. The sixties’ anti-establishment spirit gradually gave way to conservative and consumerist values. In the new social and economic climate, “‘experience’ was not something to be sought existentially, but to be bought in packaged form.”

      The face of Nepali tourism changed accordingly. Realising tourism’s meaning lay in money making, Nepalis sought to replace the scruffy and unprofitable hippies with clean-cut and free-spending foreigners.

      To that end, Nepali entrepreneurs and authorities harnessed an available resource: Westerners’ historical infatuation with the Himalayas.

      Once abhorred as desolate and dangerous terrain, mountains had undergone a radical reassessment during the nineteenth-century Romantic era. Now they symbolised not just physical courage but also moral and spiritual purity. For those looking for a cure for the malaise of modern civilisation, there could be no grander destination than the remote Himalayas.

      Nepal geared up for the task of fulfilling such Himalayan fantasies. Its already world-renowned mountain and jungle landscapes were now rebranded as “trekking” areas for adventure-loving foreigners. Fittingly, the government lost no time in declaring these areas “national parks” for “wildlife conservation.”

      As environmentalism gained momentum across the globe, conservation became a reliable means of promoting tourism interests in Nepal. It is no coincidence that all the commercial trekking routes in Nepal lie in protected areas. 

      By the 1970s Freak Street’s appeal had worn off and Thamel emerged as the hub of Nepal’s adventure tourism market. A full-scale service economy featuring trekking companies, gear shops, restaurants and mountain flight operators took shape.

      Guidebooks arrived to help trekkers carry out their adventure. These guidebooks “made possible the thrill of getting into beautiful and remote parts of Nepal without the uneasy sense of unpredictability.” The number of trekkers multiplied each year.

      Coverage of Himalayan adventures in the western media further boosted the industry. In the late 1990s, amid the success of Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air and the IMAX movie Everest, the Everest region witnessed a “virtual stampede” of trekkers.

      “A trek is something one not only does but, crucially, buys,” Liechty writes. “Unlike the hippies, trekkers came to Nepal in search of a commercial service—an adventure.” These adventure consumers were “more cautious, less open to conversation, more afraid of being cheated, and seemingly less curious.” There was another difference: hippie travellers had little money but lots of time; adventure tourists were cash rich and time poor, and wanted to squeeze out maximum experience within the shortest possible time.

      The hippies had romanticised Nepal as a timeless land that offered a refuge from the hectic and cutthroat world back home. In contrast, the new tourists saw the country’s “backwardness” as a condition that tested their endurance. Here intrepid souls could “time-travel, experience the thrill of alterity, and then return to the comforting if monotonous routines of their modern lives.” 

      Liechty sees “dharma tourism” as just another variety of adventure tourism. “Like other adventure tourists, dharma types come to Nepal seeking expert (spiritual) guidance in an exotic landscape and pay for the privilege. In lieu of trekking guides and mountain experiences, they seek Lamas and meditation retreats.” Seen in this way, the craze for Tibetan Buddhism and the desire for a packaged Himalayan trek are essentially the same phenomenon.

      For Liechty it is not surprising that the dharma tourists have reduced Buddhism to a tool of self-therapy. Underlying their reductive understanding of Buddhism is the modern Western fixation on “self.” In this view, the self is an autonomous agent entirely responsible for its “own success, happiness, improvement and—if you’re Buddhist—liberation.” The answers lie within the individual.

      One achieves transformation not through engagement and action, but through a solitary inner quest. 

      This “profoundly heavy cultural baggage” stands between Western seekers and the basic tenets of Buddhism. Madhyamaka Buddhist philosophy holds that all things and phenomena are interdependent; nothing exists as an isolated, fixed entity, and the “self” is ultimately an illusion.

      Yet many people from the West are drawn to Buddhism precisely because they see it as a path to “self-healing” and “self-discovery,” to be achieved through the practice of “meditation.”  “In this light,” Liechty writes, “‘meditation’ appears much less an ancient spiritual practice and much more an artifact of late modernity as the modern ‘self’ seeks solace and healing in a tradition that fundamentally denies its very existence.” Within Tibetan Buddhism, meditation is chiefly associated with incarnate lamas or serious renunciants who have achieved advanced states of consciousness.

      The emphasis is on living a life of non-attachment and compassion rather than on sitting cross-legged and gazing inward. “Ironically,” writes Liechty, “Western Buddhists have elevated ‘meditation’ to a place it never had within Tibetan Buddhism.”

      Like Nepalis who cashed in on the mountain obsession of foreigners, Tibetan Buddhists reimagined their religion to satisfy the demand of Western consumers.

      To illustrate this point, Liechty traces the origin and evolution of Kopan Monastery on the outskirts of Kathmandu. The monastery was established in 1969 by a group of Tibetan refugee monks and the disillusioned granddaughter of a New York City billionaire. From the start, Kopan’s aim was to bring Buddhism to the West.

      The monastery “explicitly welcomed” students from the West, offered Buddhist studies accessible to them, and rigorously adapted Buddhist teachings to their requirements. Over time Kopan became an international hub of “Tibetan Buddhist outreach to foreign seekers.” As more and more seekers flocked to Kathmandu, various other Buddhist enterprises cropped up in Thamel. “Not to be outdone, in 1982 Kopan Monastery established a branch in Thamel.”

      The “seeker scene” in Kathmandu witnessed a gradual “hippie” to “yuppie” shift. Early students at Kopan mostly included young “hippies, freaks and travelers.” By the 1980s Kathmandu had started receiving clean-cut and well-heeled dharma tourists. Hotels sprung up in the Bodhanath area, including ones run by local monasteries. Increasingly Buddhism was marketed as a cure for the suffering self. Lamas turned into therapists. Monks took part in experiments that measured the health benefits of meditation. 

      Liechty’s critique of dharma tourism has special relevance at a time when yoga, meditation and “mindfulness” have become a multibillion-dollar industry. Today there are companies that offer a dizzying range of Buddhist experience, from “spiritual adventure tours” and “yoga treks” to “enlightened travel” in Nepal.

      Affluent seekers can spend the day meditating and listening to lectures by Tibetan lamas, dine at a fancy restaurant in town and then retire to a luxurious suite at the Hyatt Regency, a short distance from Bodhanath Stupa.

      Just as Nepali business people have tapped into tourists’ fascination for the Himalayan wilderness, enterprising Tibetans have “transformed Tibetan Buddhism into a branded product and peddled it worldwide.”

      Liechty shows how the longings of tourists who come to Nepal are historically constituted. Still, while he offers a critical yet sympathetic portrait of the earlier hippies and budget travellers, his assessment of trekkers and seekers might seem a little uncharitable at times.

      One might also ask whether the tourists who visit Nepal can be divided into such neat categories. That said Far Out is an academic work of the rare kind —clear, riveting, theoretically grounded yet free of unwieldy jargon. Liechty treats his subject matter with a touch of irony.

       

      Most importantly, his analysis of tourism trends in Nepal sheds light on one of the defining phenomena of our age, namely the commodification of experience. As someone attracted to both trekking and meditation, I found the book fascinating and thought-provoking for the most part. 

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    • Wisdom Over Justice

      Thanissaro Bhikkhu| November 3, 2017 Lion’s Roar

      Justice is of course a noble goal. But, says monk-scholar Thanissaro Bhikkhu, the Buddha emphasized a different approach to the achievement of harmony in the world.

      A few years ago, The Onion “reported” on a video released by a Buddhist fundamentalist sect that threatened to unleash waves of peace and harmony across the world, waves that no one could stop or resist. As with all good satire, the report makes you stop and think. Why are peace and harmony the worst “threats” that would come from the fundamentals of the Buddha’s teachings?

      The answer, I think, lies in the fact that the Buddha never tried to impose his ideas of justice on the world at large. This was very wise and perceptive on his part. It’s easy enough to see how imposed standards of justice can be a menace to well-being when those standards are somebody else’s. It’s much harder to see the menace when the standards are your own.

      The Buddha did have clear standards for right and wrong, of skillful and unskillful ways of engaging in the world, but he hardly ever spoke of justice at all. Instead, he spoke of actions that would lead to harmony and true happiness in the world. And instead of explaining his ideas for harmony in the context of pursuing a just world, he presented them in the context of merit: actions that pursue a happiness blameless both in itself and in the way it’s pursued.

      To be genuine, goodwill has to come voluntarily from the heart.

      The concept of merit is widely misunderstood in the West. It’s often seen as the selfish quest for your own well-being. Actually, though, the actions that qualify as meritorious are the Buddha’s preliminary answer to the set of questions that he says lie at the basis of wisdom: “What is skillful? What is blameless? What, when I do it, will lead to long-term welfare and happiness?” If you search for happiness by means of the three types of meritorious action—generosity, virtue, and the development of universal goodwill—it’s hard to see how that happiness could be branded as selfish. These are the actions that, through their inherent goodness, make human society livable.

      And the Buddha never imposed even these actions on anyone as commands or obligations. When asked where a gift should be given, instead of saying, “To Buddhists,” he said, “Wherever the mind feels confidence” (SN 3:24). Similarly with virtue: Dhamma teachers have frequently noted that the Buddha’s precepts are not commandments, but training rules that people can undertake voluntarily. As for the practice of universal goodwill, that’s private matter that can’t be forced on anyone at all. To be genuine, it has to come voluntarily from the heart. The only “should” lying behind the Buddha’s teachings on merit is a conditional one: If you want true happiness, this is what you should do. Not because the Buddha said so, but because this is how cause and effect work in the world.

      After all, the Buddha didn’t claim to speak for a creator god or a protective deity. He wasn’t a universal lawgiver. The only laws and standards for fairness he formulated were the rules of conduct for those who chose to be ordained in the bhikkhu and bhikkhini sanghas, where those who carry out communal duties are enjoined to avoid any form of bias coming from desire, aversion, delusion, or fear. Apart from that, the Buddha spoke simply as an expert in how to put an end to suffering. His authority came not from a claim to power but from the honesty and efficacy of his own search for a deathless happiness.

      This meant that he was in no position to impose his ideas on anyone who didn’t voluntarily accept them. And he didn’t seek to put himself in such a position. As the Pali Canon notes, the request for the Buddha to assume a position of sovereignty so that he could rule justly over others came, not from any of his followers, but from Māra (SN 4:20). There are several reasons for why he refused Māra’s request—and why he advised others to refuse such requests as well.

      The Dangers of Power

      Even if you tried to rule justly, there would always be people dissatisfied with your rule. As the Buddha commented to Māra, even two mountains of solid gold bullion wouldn’t be enough to satisfy the wants of any one person. No matter how well wealth and opportunities were distributed under your rule, there would always be those dissatisfied with their portions. As a result, there would always be those you’d have to fight in order to maintain your power. And, in trying to maintain power, you inevitably develop an attitude where the ends justify the means. Those means can involve violence and punishments, driving you further and further away from being able to admit the truth, or even wanting to know it (AN 3:70). Even the mere fact of being in a position of power means that you’re surrounded by sycophants and schemers, people determined to prevent you from knowing the truth about them (MN 90). As far as the Buddha was concerned, political power was so dangerous that he advised his monks to avoid, if possible, associating with a ruler, one of the dangers being that if the ruler formulated a disastrous policy, the policy would be blamed on the monk (Pc 83).

      Another reason for the Buddha’s reluctance to try to impose his ideas of justice on others was his perception that the effort to seek justice as an absolute end would run counter to the main goal of his teachings: the ending of suffering and the attainment of a true and blameless happiness. He never tried to prevent rulers from imposing justice in their kingdoms, but he also never used the Dhamma to justify a theory of justice. And he never used the teaching on past kamma to justify the mistreatment of the weak or disadvantaged: Regardless of whatever their past kamma may have been, if you mistreat them, the kamma of mistreatment becomes yours. The fact that people are currently weak and poor doesn’t mean that their kamma requires them to stay weak and poor. There’s no way of knowing, from the outside, what other kammic potentials are waiting to sprout from their past.

      At the same time, though, the Buddha never encouraged his followers to seek retribution, i.e., punishment for old wrongs. The conflict between retributive justice and true happiness is well illustrated by the famous story of Aṅgulimāla (MN 86). Aṅgulimāla was a bandit who had killed many people—the Canon counts at least 100; the Commentary, 999—and wore a garland (māla) made of their fingers (aṅguli). Yet after an encounter with the Buddha, he had such an extreme change of heart that he abandoned his violent ways, awakened a sense of compassion, and eventually became an arahant.

      Most of us like to identify with Aṅgulimāla: If a person with his history could gain awakening, there’s hope for us all. But in identifying with him, we forget the feelings of those he had terrorized and the relatives of those he had killed. After all, he had literally gotten away with murder. It’s easy to understand, then, as the story tells us, that when Aṅgulimāla was going for alms after his awakening, people would throw stones at him, and he’d return from his almsround, “his head broken open and dripping with blood, his bowl broken, and his outer robe ripped to shreds.” As the Buddha reassured him, his wounds were nothing compared to the sufferings he would have undergone if he hadn’t reached awakening. And if the outraged people had fully satisfied their thirst for justice, meting out the suffering they thought he deserved, he wouldn’t have had the chance to reach awakening at all. So his was a case in which the end of suffering took precedence over justice in any strict sense of the word.

      An untrained mind is like a small cup of water; a well-trained mind, like the water in a large, clear river.

      Aṅgulimāla’s case illustrates a general principle stated in AN 3:101: If the workings of kamma required strict, tit-for-tat justice—with your having to experience the consequences of each act just as you inflicted it on others—there’s no way that anyone could reach the end of suffering. The reason we can reach awakening is because even though actions of a certain type give a corresponding type of result, the intensity of how that result is felt is determined, not only by the original action, but also—and more importantly—by our state of mind when the results ripen. If you’ve developed unlimited goodwill and equanimity, and have trained well in virtue, discernment, and the ability to be overcome neither by pleasure nor pain, then when the results of past bad actions ripen, you’ll hardly experience them at all. If you haven’t trained yourself in these ways, then even the results of a trifling bad act can consign you to hell.

      The Buddha illustrates this principle with three similes. The first is the easiest to digest: The results of past bad actions are like a large salt crystal. An untrained mind is like a small cup of water; a well-trained mind, like the water in a large, clear river. If you put the salt into the water of the cup, you can’t drink it because it’s too salty. But if you put the salt into the river, you can still drink the water because there’s so much more of it and it’s so clean. All in all, an attractive image.

      The other two similes, though, underscore the point that the principle they’re illustrating goes against some very basic ideas of fairness. In both of these similes, the untrained mind is like a poor person; the well-trained mind, like a rich person, a king, or a king’s minister. In one simile, the bad action is like the theft of money; in the other, like the theft of a goat. In both similes, the untrained mind is like a poor person who gets heavily punished for either of these two crimes, whereas the well-trained mind is like the rich person who doesn’t get punished for either theft at all. In these cases, the images are much less attractive, but they drive home the point that, for kamma to work in a way that rewards the training of the mind to put an end to suffering, it can’t work in such a way as to guarantee justice. If we insisted on a system of kamma that did guarantee justice, the path to freedom from suffering would be closed.

      “But isn’t justice a nobler goal than happiness?”

      This set of values, which gives preference to happiness over justice when there’s a conflict between the two, doesn’t sit very well with many Western Buddhists. “Isn’t justice a larger and nobler goal than happiness?” we think. The short answer to this question relates to the Buddha’s compassion: Seeing that we’ve all done wrong in the past, his compassion extended to wrong-doers as well as to those who’ve been wronged. For this reason, he taught the way to the end of suffering regardless of whether that suffering was “deserved” or not.

      For the long answer, though, we have to turn and look at ourselves.

      Many of us born and educated in the West, even if we’ve rejected the monotheism that underlies our civilization, tend to hold to the idea that there are objective standards of justice to which everyone should conform. When distressed over the unfair state of society, we often express our views for righting wrongs, not as suggestions of wise courses of action, but as objective standards as to how everyone is duty-bound to act. We tend to forget, though, that the very idea that those standards could be objective and universally binding makes sense only in the context of a monotheistic worldview: one in which the universe was created at a specific point in time—say, by the Hebrew God or by Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover—with a specific purpose.

      For example, retributive justice—the justice that seeks to right old wrongs by punishing the first wrongdoer and/or those who responded excessively to the first wrong—demands a specific beginning point in time so that we can determine who threw the first stone and tally up the score of who did what after that first provocation.

      Restorative justice—the justice that seeks to return situations to their proper state before the first stone was thrown—requires not only a specific beginning point in time, but also that that beginning point be a good place to which to return.

      Distributive justice—the justice that seeks to determine who should have what, and how things and opportunities should be redistributed from those who have them to those who should have them—requires a common source, above and beyond individuals, from which all things flow and that sets the purposes that those things should serve.

      Only when these conditions are met can these forms of justice be objective and binding on all. In the Buddha’s worldview, though, none of these conditions hold. People have tried to import Western ideas of objective justice into the Buddha’s teachings—some have even suggested that this will be one of the great Western contributions to Buddhism, filling in a serious lack—but there is no way that those ideas can be forced on the Dhamma without doing serious damage to the Buddhist worldview. This fact, in and of itself, has prompted many people to advocate jettisoning the Buddhist worldview and replacing it with something closer to one of our own. But a careful look at that worldview, and the consequences that the Buddha drew from it, shows that the Buddha’s teachings on how to find social harmony without recourse to objective standards of justice has much to recommend it.

      The Buddha’s Three Knowledges

      The Buddha developed his worldview from the three knowledges he gained on the night of his awakening.

      In the first knowledge, he saw his own past lives, back for thousands and thousands of eons, repeatedly rising and falling through many levels of being and through the evolution and collapse of many universes. As he later said, the beginning point of the process—called saṁsāra, the “wandering-on”—was inconceivable. Not just unknowable, inconceivable.

      In the second knowledge, he saw that the process of death and rebirth applied to all beings in the universe, and that—because it had gone on so long—it would be hard to find a person who had never been your mother, father, brother, sister, son, or daughter in the course of that long, long time. He also saw that the process was powered by all the many actions of all the many beings, and that it serves the designs of no one being in particular. As one Dhamma summary has it, “There is no one in charge” (MN 82). This means that the universe serves no clear or singular purpose. What’s more, it has the potential to continue without end. Unlike a monotheistic universe, with its creator passing final judgment, saṁsāra offers no prospect of a fair of just closure—or even, apart from nibbāna, any closure at all.

      In the context of these knowledges, it’s hard to regard the pursuit of justice as an absolute good, for three main reasons.

      To begin with, given the lesson of the salt crystal—that people suffer more from their mind-state in the present than they do from the results of past bad actions as they work out in the external world—no matter how much justice you try to bring into the world, people are still going to suffer and be dissatisfied as long as their minds are untrained in the qualities that make them impervious to suffering. This was why the Buddha, in rejecting Māra’s request, made the comment about the two mountains of solid gold. Not only do people suffer when their minds are untrained, the qualities of an untrained mind also lead them to destroy any system of justice that might be established in the world. As long as people’s minds are untrained, justice would not solve the problem of their suffering, nor would it be able to last. This fact holds regardless of whether you adopt the Buddha’s view of the world or a more modern view of a cosmos with vast dimensions of time and no end in sight.

      Second, as noted above, the idea of a just resolution of a conflict requires a story with a clear beginning point—and a clear end point. But in the long time frame of the Buddha’s universe, the stories have no clear beginning and—potentially—no end. There’s no way to determine who did what first, through all our many lifetimes, and there’s no way that a final tally would ever stay final. Everything is swept away, only to regroup, again and again. This means that justice cannot be viewed as an end, for in this universe there are no ends, aside from nibbāna. You can’t use justice as an end to justify means, for it—like everything else in the universe—is nothing but means. Harmony can be found only by making sure that the means are clearly good.

      Third, for people to agree on a standard of justice, they have to agree on the stories that justify the use of force to right wrongs. But in a universe where the boundaries of stories are impossible to establish, there’s no story that everyone will agree on. This means that the stories have to be imposed—a fact that holds even if you don’t accept the premises of kamma and rebirth. The result is that the stories, instead of uniting us, tend to divide us: Think of all the religious and political wars that have started over conflicting stories of who did what to whom and why. The arguments over whose stories to believe can lead to passions and conflict that, from the perspective of the Buddha’s awakening, keep us bound to the suffering in saṁsāra long into the future.

      These are some of the reasons why, after gaining his first two knowledges on the night of awakening, the Buddha decided that the best use of what he had learned was to turn inward to find the causes of saṁsāra in his own heart and mind, and to escape from kamma entirely by training his mind. These are also the reasons why, when he taught others how to solve the problem of suffering, he focused primarily on the internal causes of suffering, and only secondarily on the external ones.

      What would a Buddhist program of social change look like?

      All this doesn’t mean, though, that there’s no room in the Buddha’s teachings for efforts to address issues of social injustice. After all, the Buddha himself would, on occasion, describe the conditions for social peace and harmony, along with the rewards that come from helping the disadvantaged. However, he always subsumed his social teachings under the larger framework of his teachings on the wise pursuit of happiness. When noting that a wise king shares his wealth to ensure that all his people all have enough to make a living, he presented it not as an issue of justice, but as a wise form of generosity that promotes a stable society.

      So if you want to promote a program of social change that would be true to Buddhist principles, it would be wise to heed the Buddha’s framework for understanding social well-being, beginning with his teachings on merit. In other words, the pursuit of justice, to be in line with the Dhamma, has to be regarded as part of a practice of generosity, virtue, and the development of universal goodwill.

      What would this entail? To begin with, it would require focusing primarily on the means by which change would be pursued. The choice of a goal, as long as you found it inspiring, would be entirely free, but it would have to be approached through meritorious means.

      This would entail placing the same conditions on the pursuit of justice that the Buddha placed on the practice of merit:

      People should be encouraged to join in the effort only of their own free will. No demands, no attempts to impose social change as a duty, and no attempts to make them feel guilty for not joining your cause. Instead, social change should be presented as a joyous opportunity for expressing good qualities of the heart. To borrow an expression from the Canon, those qualities are best promoted by embodying them yourself, and by speaking in praise of how those practices will work for the long-term benefit for anyone else who adopts them, too.

      Efforts for change should not involve harming yourself or harming others. “Not harming yourself,” in the context of generosity, means not over-extending yourself, and a similar principle would apply to not harming others: Don’t ask them to make sacrifices that would lead to their harm. “Not harming yourself” in the context of virtue would mean not breaking the precepts—e.g., no killing or lying under any circumstances—whereas not harming others would mean not getting them to break the precepts (AN 4:99). After all, an underlying principle of kamma is that people are agents who will receive results in line with the type of actions they perform. If you try to persuade them to break the precepts, you’re trying to increase their suffering down the line.

      The goodwill motivating these efforts would have to be universal, with no exceptions. In the Buddha’s expression, you would have to protect your goodwill at all times, willing to risk your life for it, the same way a mother would risk her life for her only child (Sn 1:8). This means maintaining goodwill for everyone, regardless of whether they “deserve” it: goodwill for those who you see as guilty as much as for those you see as innocent, and for those who disapprove of your program and stand in your way, no matter how violent or unfair their resistance becomes. For your program to embody universal goodwill, you have to make sure that it works for the long-term benefit even of those who initially oppose it.

      There are two main advantages to viewing the effort to bring about social justice under the framework of merit. The first is that, by encouraging generosity, virtue, and the development of universal goodwill, you’re addressing the internal states of mind that would lead to injustice no matter how well a society might be structured. Generosity helps to overcome the greed that leads people to take unfair advantage of one another. Virtue helps to prevent the lies, thefts, and other callous actions that drive people apart. And universal goodwill helps to overcome the various forms of tribalism that encourage favoritism and other forms of unfairness.

      Second, generosity, virtue, and universal goodwill are, in and of themselves, good activities. Even though you may be inspired by the story of the Buddha’s awakening to engage in them, they’re so clearly good that they need no story to justify them—and so they wouldn’t require the sort of stories that would serve simply to divide us.

      Regarding attempts at social change under the principle of kamma would also entail having to accept the principle that any forms of injustice that do not respond to the activities of merit have to be treated with equanimity. After all, the results of some past bad actions are so strong that nothing can be done to stop them. And if they could be alleviated now only by unskillful actions—such as lies, killing, theft, or violence—the trade-off in terms of long-term consequences wouldn’t be worth it. Any such attempts would not, in the Buddha’s analysis, be wise.

      In areas like this, we have to return to the Buddha’s main focus: the causes of suffering inside. And the good news here is that we don’t have to wait for a perfect society to find true happiness. It’s possible to put an end to our own sufferings—to stop “saṁsāra-ing”—no matter how bad the world is outside. And this should not be seen a selfish pursuit. It would actually be more selfish to make people ashamed of their desire to be free so that they will come back to help you and your friends establish your ideas of justice, but with no true end in sight. A final, established state of justice is an impossibility. An unconditioned happiness, available to all regardless of their karmic background, is not.

       

      And the road to that happiness is far from selfish. It requires the activities of merit—generosity, virtue, and universal goodwill—which always spread long-term happiness in the world: a happiness that heals old divisions and creates no new ones in their place. In this way, those who attain this happiness are like the stars that are sucked out of space and time to enter black holes that are actually dense with brightness: As they leave, they unleash waves of dazzling light.

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    • Originally posted by 2009novice:

      tldr all.... but where does the idea of Icchantika come from?

      It really contradicts the practise of loving-kindness

      One can find the term ‘Icchantika’ in the Mahayana Sutras only - in such sutras as the Tathagatagarbha, Mahaparinirvana and the Lankavatara Sutras. The earliest of these Sutras is the Mahaparinirvana Sutra which dates back to the first century CE. There is a lot of controversy on this subject but since all beings have Buddha nature, they too will eventually be saved - if not in this life, in other rebirth.

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    • ... plans to open more in the region. The ACCs include dormitories for children and youths, a kindergarten, preparatory school, library, medical center, vocational training center, religious center, kung fu training center, and more. Not all the centers ...

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    • A Slow, True Path

      Pamela Gayle White WINTER 2008 tricycle

      Pamela White affirms the beliefs of a Buddhist.

      THIS I BELIEVE: That phenomena do not have any kind of demonstrable, intrinsic existence. That anything that is the composite sum of other parts is, logically, impermanent. That suffering is a given in any form of existence where confusion and ignorance are present. That when confusion and ignorance have been definitively eliminated, and goodness, caring, and wisdom have entirely taken their place, that is true happiness.

      These four beliefs define me as a Buddhist and are the ground on which other beliefs are based. For example, I believe the teachings when they point to ego, to self-cherishing, to always being on the lookout for recognition, approval, comfort, and pleasure, as being so many hammers that fatally pound in the barbed nails of suffering. And I believed my teacher, the late great Tibetan master Gendun Rinpoche, when he answered my mother’s question saying, “Yes, if you attain enlightenment you’ll know it. How? Because suffering will have come to an end.”

      The Buddhist teachers and teachings I’ve been taken with have encouraged me to honestly investigate, question, and delve. And time after time, I’ve had to concur: Trying to build happiness on a foundation of ego is like trying to build a tower on quicksand. But letting go—oh, letting go—is the simplest, most direct path to what I’m always scrambling to achieve with the most ineffectual, hackneyed methods—like crowing about being right, or trying to get something for nothing, or choosing the shortest line, or getting the biggest peanut butter cookie. . .

      What do I train in letting go of? Not enthusiasm, or humor, or creativity, or curiosity. I train in letting go of self-importance and its infinite ramifications. Not that it’s easy. I am the most important thing in my universe—take me out of it, what’s left?

      How do I train?

      I try to remember that every living being is also the center of its personal universe—from mite to mackerel to monkey. You are also the epicenter of your universe.

      I try to take myself less seriously. I try to remember that every seed that is sown will sprout and ripen one day.

      I try to imagine myself in the skin of others. And to love them for their qualities, and for the enlightened spark that underlies confusion. It’s hard going, appreciating instead of judging, but every now and then it simply happens, and when it does, I’m happy.

      Sometimes I train through meditation, learning over and over again that the fullness and goodness of the present can only be recognized when I’m ready to will my mind to let go of the past and the future.

      And sometimes I train by remembering and accepting the inevitability of impermanence and death, making the wonder of the present moment even more luminous.

       

      I try to remember how lucky I am, and to be helpful, and to expect less. I try to understand the teachings of the Buddha, of enlightenment, and to put my understanding into practice. It’s a slow path, rarely an easy path, but it is a true path.

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    •  

      Nice to hear your comments on the article. I presume what you disapproved of are the passages from the Mahaparinivarna Sutra. The passages are controversial and some experts even considered them as later additions to the Sutra. This sutra originated in the first century CE which means it is already in existence for more than 2000 years. It is a very influential Sutra. What I have quoted are from, what I believe translation of the shorter version of this Sutra.

      The quotes are not done with any ill intentions to cause trouble or mislead anyone. Try reading it in the context of the situation presently developing in Myanmar.

      Truth can sometime be rather unpleasant to the ears or to know. But I do not believe it is right to sweep what is unpleasant underneath the carpet and hope it will go away. I think it is rather dishonest to do so.

      To me the 1st Buddhist precept of ‘Do Not Kill’ speaks for itself, and I think any reasonable sane person, whether you belief in a religion or not, knows by simple common sense that it is what you should do - Not to take lives, ideally in all situation and circumtances.

      And by the way, this write-up was also published in ‘The Buddhist Channel’.

      Edited by Aik TC 23 Nov `17, 9:51PM
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    • Chinese Communist Party Vows to 'Sinicize Religions’ in China

      Charlotte Gao October 24, 2017 The Diplomat

      Remarks at the Congress continue last year’s campaign to force religions to adapt to “socialist society.”

      Chinese President Xi Jinping has launched a campaign to tighten China’s grip on the religious community since 2016. Against that backdrop, the United Front Work Department (UFWD) — the agency within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that oversees China’s religious affairs, among others — vowed to  “sinicize religions” in China.

      On the sidelines of the CCP’s 19th National Party Congress on October 20, Zhang Yijiong, the executive deputy head of the UFWD, elaborated on the CCP’s policy on religious affairs since the 18th Party Congress in 2012.

      Zhang said that the CCP has adhered to the goal of “sinicizing religions” in China and has made “socialist core values” play a leading role in the religious community. In the next step, Zhang added, China will keep cracking down on acts such as “taking advantage of religion to harm national security,” “promoting extremism for terrorist activities,” and “endangering national unity.”

      Academia, in the past, tended to use the term “sinicization” to describe local adoption of religions imported from foreign regions. Buddhism in particular gradually integrated into the Chinese culture through a long history and finally been accepted as a Chinese religion.

      Yet the term gained a new political meaning in 2016. In late April, 2016, Xi presided over a working conference on national religious affairs, making him the first Chinese president to do so in over ten years. The last time a president personally attended such a conference was in 2001, when then-President Jiang Zemin decided to crack down on “cults” after the Tiananmen Square self-immolation incident related to Fanlun Gong. Xi’s attendance at the conference significantly raised the importance of religious affairs on the CCP’s agenda. During the conference, Xi demanded that China should “actively guide religions to adapt to the socialist society.”

      Xi said that the key to the CCP’s policy on religious affairs is “the way of guidance,” which should be “effective, powerful, and proactive.” Chinese youth in particular, Xi said, must be guided to “believe in science, study science, spread science, and to have a correct worldview.” As for CCP members, they “should be firm Marxist atheists and must never find their values and beliefs in any religion,” Xi added.  

      At the same conference, one of the top CCP leaders, Yu Zhengsheng, who directly oversees the UFWD, indicated that all local officials on religious affairs should “profoundly comprehend and adhere to” the goal of “sinicizing religions” in China, in order to make religions adaptive to socialist society.

      The 2016 working conference has been widely regarded as the starting point for a new CCP campaign to tighten its grip on the religious community. The policy has brought about a wave of criticism abroad. A think tank affiliated with the Tibetan government-in-exile in particular reprimanded the Chinese government for “carrying out systematic annihilation of the cultural heritage of Tibet with the destruction of Tibetan Buddhism and religious traditions.”

      In response, Zhang this time specifically explained the CCP’s measures on “sinocizing Tibetan Buddhism.” He said:

      Tibetan Buddhism, born in our ancient China, is a religion with Chinese characteristics. It is true that Tibetan Buddhism in formation had received influence from other neighboring Buddhist countries, but it adapted to the local reality and formed its own unique doctrine and rituals, which is a model of sinicization itself… That we are actively guiding Tibetan Buddhism in the direction of sinicization is in the hope that Tibetan Buddhism will further absorb the nutrition of the Chinese excellent culture.

      In addition, Zhang didn’t forget to emphasize again China’s strong stance against the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile. He further warned governments around the world to “speak and act with caution and give full consideration their friendship with China and their respect for China’s sovereignty” when they consider meeting with the Dalai Lama.  

       

      It’s worth noting that Zhang himself worked as a high official in Tibet Autonomous Region for four years from 2006 to 2010.

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    • Is Violation of the First Precept with Minimal Karmic Retribution Possible?

      Myanmar’s most revered Buddhist leader gave a speech, which appeared to suggest that the killing of those who are not Buddhist could be justified on the grounds that they were not complete humans, or indeed humans at all.

      Sitagu Sayadaw used the 5th Century CE Sri Lankan chronicle, the Mahavamsa and quote from a notorious passage from the 25th chapter of the Mahavamsa, “The Victory of Dutthagamani” which speaks of an ancient Sri Lankan king who was assured by Buddhist clerics that the countless Hindus he had killed only added up to one and a half lives.

      The monk distanced himself from the characters in the story, saying: “I’m not saying that, monks from Sri Lanka said that.” But he then added: “Our soldiers should bear [this story] in mind.”

      Fortunately, the majority of the Buddhist in Myanmar are followers of the Theravada tradition and not of the Mahayana tradition. Otherwise, they would have more excuses, ammunitions and justification on the pretext that it is in Buddhist teachings that one can use violence against the minority Rohingya and any others that are deem to be a threat to their survival. Imagine the consequences and the results that would come with it if the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra is one of the major widely read Sutra used in the country and the below quotes are used in isolation on its own to suit the purposes of the moment.

      Here are the quotes from the Sutra on the subject of the Icchantika.

      Violating the First Precept without Karmic Retribution

      Chapter 22 of the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra states: "O good man! The Buddha and Bodhisattva see three categories of killing, which are those of the grades 1) low, 2) medium, and 3) high. Low applies to the class of insects and all kinds of animals, except for the transformation body of the Bodhisattva who may present himself as such.

      O good man! The Bodhisattva-mahasattva, through his vows and in certain circumstances, gets born as an animal. This is killing beings of the lowest class. By reason of harming life of the lowest grade, one gains life in the realms of hell, animals or hungry ghosts and suffers from the down most “duhkha” [pain, mental or physical]. Why so? Because these animals have done somewhat of good. Hence, one who harms them receives full karmic returns for his actions. This is killing of the lowest grade. The medium grade of killing concerns killing [beings] from the category of humans up to the class of anagamins. This is middle-grade killing. As a result, one gets born in the realms of hell, animals or hungry ghosts and fully receives the karmic consequences befitting the middle grade of suffering. This is medium-grade killing. Top-rank killing relates to killing one’s father or mother, an arhat, pratyekabudda, or a Bodhisattva of the last established state. This is top-rank killing. In consequence of this, one falls into the greatest Avichi Hell [the most terrible of all the hells] and endures the karmic consequences befitting the highest level of suffering. This is top-grade killing.

      O good man! A person who kills an Icchantika does not suffer from the karmic returns due to the killings of the three kinds named above. O good man! All those Brahmins are of the class of the Icchantika. For example, such actions as digging the ground, mowing the grass, felling trees, cutting up corpses, ill-speaking, and lashing do not call forth karmic returns. Killing an icchantika comes within the same category. No karmic results ensue. Why not? Because no Brahmins and no five laws to begin with faith, etc. are involved here [Maybe: no Brahmins are concerned with the "five roots" of faith, vigour, mindfulness, concentration, and Wisdom]. For this reason, killing [of this kind] does not carry one off to hell.

      Again in Chapter 40 of the same Sutra it is stated; "O good man! Because the Icchantikas are cut off from the root of good. All beings possess such five roots as faith, etc. But the people of the Icchantika class are eternally cut off from such. Because of this, one may well kill an ant and gain the sin of harming, but the killing of an Icchantika does not [constitute a sin]."

      "O World-Honoured One! The icchantika possesses nothing that is good. Is it for this reason that such a person is called an "Icchantika"?

      The Buddha said: "It is so, it is so!"

      Who are these Icchantikas where taking their lives does not even incur any karmic returns?

      [The Buddha] said: A monk, nun, male or female lay disciple may be one. One who having rejected the scriptures with unpleasant speech does not, subsequently, even ask for forgiveness has entered into the path of the Icchantika. Those who have committed the four parajikas and those who have committed the ?ve sins of immediate retribution, who even if they are aware that they have entered into a fearful place do not perceive it as fearful, who do not attach themselves to the side of the true teachings and without making any efforts at all think ‘‘let’s get rid of the true teachings,’’ who proclaim even that very [teaching] is blame-worthy - they too have entered into the path of the Icchantika. Those who claim ‘‘There is no Buddha, there is no teaching, there is no monastic community’’ are also said to have entered the path of the Icchantika.

      Chapter 39 of the Mahayan Mahaparinirvana Sutra also describes the Icchantika as follows: "O good man! The Icchantika has six causal relations. He falls into the three unfortunate realms and cannot get out of them. What are the six? They are:

      1) His evil mind burns,

      2) He does not see the after-life,

      3) He takes pleasure in seeking defilement,

      4) He walks away from good,

      5) Evil actions hinder his way, and

      6) He associates with an evil teacher of the Way.

      This again possesses five things, by which the person falls into the three unfortunate realms. What are the five? They are:

      1) He always says that there can be no karmic results to come about in regard to good or bad actions,

      2) He kills a person who has aspired to Bodhi,

      3) He takes pleasure in speaking about the evils committed by priests,

      4) He says that what is right is not right and what transgresses Dharma is lawful, and

      5) He gives ear to Dharma just to pick up what goes against [i.e. to find fault].

      Also, there are three things by which the person falls into the three unfortunate realms. What are the three? These are saying that:

      1) The Tathagata is non-eternal, and goes away eternally,

      2) Wonderful Dharma is non-eternal and changes, and

      3) The Sangha Jewel gets destroyed. For this reason, he always sinks into the three unfortunate realms.

      The definition of an Icchantika is diverse. It consisted of those who are considered to be spiritual dead such as the skeptics, materialists and the communists. Others who blaspheme the religion and those who do not believe in the Doctrines of the Buddha are also Icchantikas. Basically, this would include all non-Buddhists since the Buddhist teachings of no-self, impermanence, Emptiness, stress and suffering are unique to the religion itself and not found in other Faiths.

      The first precept of the Buddhist Faith is - “Do not kill”, with the assumption that Buddhist teaching fundamentally condemns killing. The Parikuppa Sutta listed five acts of deadly sins that will ruin the spiritual cultivation of a person’s present life. They are: One who has killed his/her mother, one who has killed his/her father, one who has killed an arahant, one who with a corrupted mind has caused the blood of a Tathagata to flow, and one who has caused a split in the Sangha. The five grave deeds are also listed in the Mahayana Buddhist literatures as the ‘sins of immediate retribution’; the anantarya karma. These crimes are so heinous that the karmic result will take place immediately with descend into hell after physical death, rather than at some unspecified point in the future as is usual for generic karmic results. One would have notice that four of the five sins involve the taking of lives and acts of violence.

      Here we should also note that being put under arrest, being sentence to life imprisonment or even punish with a death sentence that accompany the act of killing are auxiliaries of murder in secular life. The effect of the karmic action of killing will still work itself out eventually.

      In Nagarjuna Treatise on the Great Virtue of Wisdom, ten punishments on the act of killing are listed as follows:

      1) The mind is always infected by poison from lifetime to lifetime without interruption.

      2) Beings abhor [the murderer] and feel no joy in seeing him.

      3) [The murderer], always full of evil intentions, contemplates evil things.

      4) Beings fear him, as though they saw a snake or a tiger.

      5) During sleep his mind is disturbed; when awake, he is not at peace.

      6) He always has bad dreams.

      7) At the end of his life, he dreads a bad death.

      8) He plants the causes and conditions leading to a short life.

      9) After the destruction of the body at the end of life, he falls into hell.

      10) If he reappears among men, he always has a short life.

      Why then are there acts of killing that can be considered so ‘light’ that no karmic retribution would befall a person who committed them?How much of this doctrine which states that the taking of another life without any karmic retribution has in history lend legitimacy to the justification for going to war when the dharma is perceived to be threatened, and it is necessary to fight against such forces of evil threatening the religion? Or as a justification for killing when it comes to the defense of a Buddhist community against enemies from a different faith? Or among Buddhists, disguise as the protector of the true dharma to wage wars against other traditions over issues of ideological supremacy? Or being exploited by monastic leaders who lent their legitimacy to wars that are nothing more than wars of defense or simply for conquest is however, anyone guess.

      Although the notion of taking life without the fear of karmic retribution does sound very un-Buddhist in nature, there indeed exists a potential for Buddhist militants to justify the use of force from the quotes in the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana texts. To try and minimize the negative effect of this teaching, the Nichiren Daishonin Buddhists has gone as far as to re-interpret the ‘killing of an Icchantika’ to mean not killing the individual himself but stopping the act of slander and destroying the mind of slender which products it, so that the person can incline toward the good.

      As Buddhists, we should guard against any particular bad attempts going too far beyond the underlying Buddhist teaching that non-violence is nearly always preferred to violence, even though the act could be as much a reaction to some outside conditions and circumstances as it is a development of Buddhist doctrine. Violence and acts of killings should always be regarded as an action of last resort.

      Acts done out of hatred or anger is morally unacceptable to an act done out of compassion, loving kindness and equanimity. If killing of an Icchantika is meant as an act to accomplish the lesser of two evils, and undertaken with minimal karmic harm and maximizes karmic benefit to sentient beings, and the intent is carried out in a selfless manner that prevent greater harm happening, than the act of taking the life of an Icchantika might be considered as ‘just’ in the Mahayana tradition. But then again, it might not be so for the Theravada, where the doctrine of the Icchantika does not even existed and where the precept - ‘Do not kill’ does not allow for any exceptions whatsoever.

      The taking of lives that does not caused karmic retribution may run counter to the concept of Ahimsa that the Buddhist Faith is usually associated with. If one looked at chapter 3 of the Lotus Sutra, it gives a rather detail description of the grave consequences that can befall one who believes in the view of a self; do not have faith and blaspheme its teaching; despise, hate, envy or bear grudges against one who recite, copy, or uphold the sutra.

      Maybe the Mahayana Tradition takes a more pragmatic approach when it comes to the protection and preservation of the Buddhist teaching and beliefs. And when the religion is under threat, the preservation of it should takes precedent over many other things.

       

      Is such a situation developing and happening in Myanmar now?

      Edited by Aik TC 22 Nov `17, 9:20AM
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    • The Matter of Truth

      Rita M. Gross SPRING 2013 tricycle

      The heavy cost of literalism

      Years ago, at the Brooklyn Museum, I was looking at a Tibetan statue of a multi-armed figure when a middle-aged white couple stopped to view the statue, and as they did, one said to the other, “What is that about? Do you suppose they were trying to portray a freak who was born that way?” Then, before I could say anything, they moved on. As I, or anyone else familiar with the Indian cultural milieu, might have told them, the multiple arms were not intended to be a photograph-like portrait. Their intent is symbolic not literal. They symbolize the deity’s multiple abilities and capabilities. Only if one were completely blind to symbolism could one so completely misread the meaning of the statue’s multiple arms, imagining that they were intended to be an accurate physical representation of an actual person born with many arms.

      While the speculations of that couple in Brooklyn might sound, to a Buddhist audience, terribly naive, their error is really not that uncommon. Many modern Buddhists understand traditional narratives and practices in much the same way. What I mean is that for many modern Buddhists, the symbolic meanings contained in traditional forms are approached with an outlook steeped in the worldview of the European Enlightenment, in which truth and value lie mainly with empirical facts. Truth, in this case, is found as a result of impersonal, objective observation, and it can be duplicated by anyone with proper training under the same circumstances. There is little room in this view of things for affirming meaning as it is communicated through symbolic forms or for the understanding that, for some purposes, the value of symbolic meaning can override empirical facts or even that sometimes factual information is irrelevant to symbolic meaning. By the literalist standard, the only reason to sculpt a figure with multiple arms is to portray someone born with a tragic abnormality.

      One finds in Buddhist tradition a distinction between “words” and “meaning,” which are often very different from one another, and we would do well to consider the traditional advice—whether we are looking at statues or interpreting teachings—to pay attention to symbolic meaning and not be limited to literal meaning. Traditional people recognize that what is known through imagination, whether or not it can observed empirically, is worthy of portrayal. We moderns, however, though we think ourselves incomparably more sophisticated than traditional people, have little understanding or appreciation of symbolic experience and, having committed ourselves to an empirical worldview, we live within its narrow confines. For us—or at least for many of us—a multi-armed deity is just a portrayal of a “freak.”

      The same insights pertain to narratives. One can find in traditional narratives virtually any event one might imagine: virgin births, resurrections from the dead, interplanetary travel, simultaneous appearance of historical and nonhistorical characters, and so forth. But what did the original authors of these stories intend? Did they think they were recording factual history? I suggest that just as the sculptor of the multi-armed statue knew what he was doing, so these traditional authors knew what they were doing. These stories are primarily about communicating meaning, not recording facts. Virgin births, for example, are quite common in the stories of heroes. A virgin birth signifies an extraordinary person, someone who will accomplish great things with her or his life. That, and not the claim that the normal processes of human conception and birth have been contravened, is the main message of the story.

      The modern person of a literalist mind-set will, however, focus on the unusual conception or birth and thus miss the story’s meaning. Not only that, but such a person, if religiously inclined, would likely insist that it is only by interpreting the events literally that one can be a faithful and true practitioner of that particular tradition. Often, they will even claim to be better practitioners than those who focus on the meaning of the story and who discount the likelihood that the story’s more improbable events occurred empirically. On the other hand, another kind of literalist will reject the whole story outright as worthless because it is pure fantasy. In both cases, the modern literal interpreter may well be much more naive about the main messages of such stories than are those who hear them in a traditional manner.

      Religions, Buddhism included, are almost entirely about symbolic meaning rather than facts. Indeed, to have religious meaning, even a fact must become a symbol. Religious people have always known this intuitively. But in the modern context, we face a new and particular challenge, a different twist on the matter of truth. We modern people must differentiate clearly and carefully between facts and symbols, between history, which is an empirical discipline, and the traditional stories whose purpose is primarily symbolic.

      Many religious people resist giving up literal interpretations of their most valued stories, because they think, erroneously, that they must either accept such stories as factual accounts or reject them entirely. But this dualistic assumption is the most dangerous conclusion people could draw regarding the relationship between fact and symbol, between narrative and history. A narrative can be both true and false at the same time—factually false yet symbolically true. It is not at all necessary either to edit traditional narratives to make them conform to modern sensibilities or to insist, against all common sense, that unless they happened literally as presented they have no truth value. We can learn to interpret traditional stories symbolically while simultaneously holding a modern attitude of discernment toward the events they recount.

      It can be upsetting to hear that a treasured religious story simply is not historically accurate, but it need not be so. In our everyday lives, we routinely approach the world with a flexible attitude, knowing that the metaphors we use to communicate, while perhaps not literally true, serve well to describe things. We still say, for example, “the sun rose,” even though it has long been common knowledge that it is not the sun that rises but the earth that turns. We know what we say is not accurate, yet we also know what we mean when we say it. This same flexibility toward our descriptions of the world, which is so common a feature of everyday life that we seldom even notice it, can be easily applied to those descriptions of the world that we label “religious.” What is so difficult about that? Why doesn’t such flexibility come naturally to speech about traditional Buddhist narratives and claims?

      We modern people must differentiate clearly and carefully between facts and symbols, between history, which is an empirical discipline, and the traditional stories whose purpose is primarily symbolic.

      One example of how such flexibility can be applied to traditional claims concerns traditional Buddhist “flat-earth” cosmology, which is still used in ritual, and empirical geography. The traditional Buddhist map of the world describes a flat earth at the center of which is Mount Meru. Surrounding Mount Meru are four continents, each of which is flanked by two islands, and these lands are surrounded by the great oceans. All of this is encircled by a ring of iron mountains. In the absence of physical exploration of the globe, such a world-picture is not nonsense. Until it was proved that one does not fall over the edge of the world if one continues traveling the same direction but rather eventually comes back to one’s starting point, most people simply assumed that the earth is flat. After all, it looks flat, just as it looks from our vantage point as if the sun rises above the earth’s horizon. Given that high mountains are found to India’s north, it is also easy to see why India was imagined to be the southern continent among the four, with a giant mountain to its north. All these, and many others, were at one time sensible conclusions. But once they have been proven false empirically, it is senseless to try to hold onto such assumptions.

      The geographical exploration of the physical world that revealed a very different map caused consternation to Buddhists. Many Buddhists continued to hold to the traditional view, which cost some of them their trust in Buddhist teachings altogether. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Christian missionaries—who no longer believed in a flat earth even though they continued to reject more recent discoveries about the age of that earth—in Asian Buddhist countries routinely peppered their anti-Buddhist polemics with references to the fact that no explorer had ever found Mount Meru anywhere on the globe. Even while they continued to reject new European knowledge about the earth, Christian missionaries argued that if Buddhist texts were so wrong about the physical description of the earth, they must be untrustworthy in other ways as well. On such bases, Buddhists were encouraged to convert to Christianity, and some certainly did. In this case, actually both the Christian missionaries and the Buddhists continued to insist on a literal reading of their texts. But for Buddhists, that literal reading destroyed their confidence in Buddhism as a whole. Thus, we see how dangerous it can be to cling to either-or dualism regarding traditional texts, claiming that if they are not literally accurate in every way, then they are false and useless.

      Tibetan Buddhists continued to accept the traditional flat-earth geography until well into the 20th century. The Buddhist teacher Ken McLeod, one of Kalu Rinpoche’s translators, tells an instructive story of accompanying a traditionally trained Tibetan lama to northern Canada during the summer. They arrived in the afternoon and settled in for the night. The next morning, the lama was troubled that during the night it had not become dark. McLeod used apples and oranges to show him how the sun does not set in the summer in northern regions because of the earth’s roundness, the way it tilts on its axis, and the way it rotates around the sun. The lama replied that he had heard the claim that the earth is round when he came out of Tibet, but he had dismissed it as another crazy Western idea, contrary to both common sense and his traditional training. McLeod recounts that though the lama was dispirited for some days, he came to accept this new information and returned to his usual cheerful demeanor. In the end, the lama’s experience of nights without darkness was more powerful than his inherited beliefs about the flatness of the earth.

      Going a little further, in his book The Universe in a Single Atom, the Dalai Lama recounts his excitement and joy at first seeing a photograph of the earth taken from space:

      One of the most powerful visions I have experienced was the first photograph of the earth from outer space. The image of a blue planet floating in deep space, glowing like the full moon on a clear night, brought home powerfully to me the recognition that we are indeed all members of a single family sharing one little house.

      Here there are no worries that a traditional Buddhist claim has been disproved, that the earth is not flat, and that Mount Meru is nowhere to be found. Instead, easily adjusting to a more complete, and, in this case, more accurate geography, the Dalai Lama draws out ethical implications from his new knowledge.

      Flat-earth cosmology continues even in the present day to figure into Vajrayana Buddhist ritual. The traditional map of the world continues to have spiritual meaning when we understand its symbolic significance to be psychological rather than geographical. The ritual mandala offering, done daily, utilizes the traditional map of the cosmos. The short form of the liturgy reads:

      The earth is anointed with perfumed water and strewn with flowers.

      It is adorned with Mount Meru, the four continents, the sun and the moon.

      By offering this visualized as a Buddhafield,

      May all beings enjoy that pure realm.

      Earlier generations of Vajrayana Buddhists would have assumed that this liturgy involves an accurate picture of the physical world. But contemporary Buddhists who do not believe the liturgy literally continue to recite it because of its spiritual meaning, which concerns primary Buddhist virtues such as generosity and the wish that all beings might prosper and be happy.

      While contemporary Buddhists seem to have little trouble distinguishing between literal and symbolic meaning in some situations, in others this flexibility is less often found. People seem to really hold tight to their traditional stories, for instance, when it comes to the various accounts of how their particular school developed. These stories are often highly sectarian and historically inaccurate, yet because they speak to issues of authenticity, they retain a great deal of dogmatic power.

      For example, according to Mahayana legend, the Buddha secretly preached the Mahayana teachings to only a select group of disciples who were ready to hear what is said to be a higher teaching than what had come before. As a matter of history, we know that this is simply not accurate, yet it can be very difficult for contemporary Mahayana Buddhists to accept this. This difficulty stems from the traditional but no longer plausible idea that authentic Buddhist teachings must be the direct teachings of the Buddha. If the Mahayana teachings, or any other teachings, are not those of the historical Buddha, it is feared that they are inauthentic.

      From a historical perspective, Mahayana Buddhism displays many of the features of a new religious movement. There are, for example, very few references to the Mahayana in the texts of older Buddhist schools. That these Buddhists rarely bothered to refute Mahayana teachings indicates that the older schools did not perceive them to be much of a threat. Mahayana texts, however, constantly justify themselves by contrasting themselves, in a very positive light, with the older, more established schools, which they label as “Hinayana”—the inferior, cast-off yana, or vehicle. Both tendencies occur commonly when a new religious movement is emerging. Jews, for example, did not spend a lot of time or energy denouncing the new Jesus movement, but the Christian New Testament is full of claims about the inadequacy of Judaism.

      Even the Mahayana account of its own origins betrays that it is a new religious movement. When it is claimed that the historical Buddha taught the Mahayana, it is also claimed that those disciples who followed the earlier teachings were greatly shocked, and the Buddha realized that his community would not be ready to hear the Mahayana dharma until it had a few hundred years to mature. The Buddha then hid the teachings among the nagas, serpent-like mythical creatures, for some 400 years, at which time they were retrieved by the great master Nagarjuna. As it happens, legend and history correspond on this point. Both agree that the Mahayana teachings appeared on the human plane about 400 years after the life of Shakyamuni Buddha. To me, this indicates that early Mahayanists may well have been fully cognizant that their dharma was something previously unheard. In fact, that is precisely what many Mahayana sutras claim. They claim that the Buddha is now teaching something that he previously had not revealed.

      That the early Mahayanists felt they must attribute their teachings to the historical Buddha is not surprising. When people innovate within an established tradition, they always claim direct inspiration from the teachings of the founder. I and other Buddhist feminists, for example, often claim that if the Buddha were alive today he would surely support gender equity and equality. But it would be untenable to rewrite Buddhist history to support this claim. Similarly, it is untenable, from a historical perspective, to assert that stories told in Mahayana scriptures were actual conversations between the historical Buddha and a special group of disciples. We can though, and we should appreciate them as imagined conversations between a prototypical Buddha and his prototypical disciples on topics of import to practitioners in a new historical situation.

      Even the Dalai Lama concedes that point. As he says:

      When we examine the Mahayana scriptures themselves, we find statements that seem problematic in various ways. For example, the Perfection of Wisdom sutras state that they were taught by the Buddha at Vulture Peak in Rajagriha to a vast congregation of disciples. However, if you have visited the site in present-day Rajgir, it is obvious that it is impossible for more than a few people to fit onto the summit. So we have to understand the truth of these accounts at a different level, a level beyond the ordinary one confined by conventional notions of space and time.

      This is precisely what I advocate. Give up on even trying to read traditional texts as factual history. Then, as separate but intertwined projects, take up discerning an accurate history of Buddhism, as much as you can, but also interpret the symbolism and meaning of traditional narratives on a level beyond ordinary space and time. But don’t conflate and confuse the two!

       

      Seeing the difference between history and the stories of legend need not diminish the latter of their meaning and value. In fact, I believe it can enhance them. My own teacher, Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche, told me as much, when she said that learning that many of her traditional beliefs were not historically accurate only made her think more deeply about their spiritual meaning. This is really the point. When we cease to confuse history and stories, when we look at traditional stories outside the context of literal truth and sectarian debate, we are freer to appreciate the imaginative truths they convey. When we fail to see the issue discerningly, such stories are spoiled in every way. They are not accurate history, but they are no longer good stories either. They become completely wooden as the attempt to take them literally robs them of all their whimsy, humor, and playfulness.

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    • In China, Ghosts Demand the Finer Things in Life

      Vittoria Traverso October 19, 2017 Atlas Obscura

      The Hungry Ghost Festival provides them with paper effigies of money, food—and iPhones.

      There’s a pretty clear, well-defined set of traits that make up a ghost in the Western world—from the mushy green slimers of Ghostbusters to translucent, pudgy Casper to the myriad diaphanous denizens of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts. They’re immaterial, legless floaters that often care little for the material concerns of the living. It’s mostly a reflection of the Western conception of the afterlife, as place above (or below) the living world. But ghosts in other parts of the world can be rather different. In China, for example, ghosts experience the same desires and, quite literally, appetites of the living. And it’s in our best interests to give them what they want.

      “The traditional view of death in China is different from the traditional view of death in the West,” says Nick Tackett, an historian from University of California, Berkeley, who studies traditional Chinese death rituals, especially those from Song and Liao periods. The spirit of the deceased separates into two parts, which one might call two souls. One of which resides—and ideally remains—in the tomb, and one of which resides in the ancestral tablet,” a plaque kept in shrines in homes or temples. After burial, souls need to be fed constantly, Tackett explains. “Regular offerings at the ancestral altar and periodic offerings at the grave helped satiate the souls of the deceased.”

      But if something goes awry—forgetful relatives who neglect their feeding duties, an improper burial, or some unfinished business on Earth—a dead person’s soul can wander out of the tomb, hungry. These ghosts rarely meddle in the affairs of the living, but starting on the 15th day of the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar—roughly sometime in July/August—the gates of the underworld unlock, allowing flocks of hungry ghosts to roam freely for a month, the appropriately titled Ghost Month (鬼月), also known as the Yulan or Zhongyuan Festival.

      The origins of this belief are thought to go back to a third-century tale about a Buddhist monk, Mulian, whose deceased mother came back to haunt him as a thin-throated, huge-stomached, ravenous apparition. Mulian desperately wanted to satisfy her, but he was unable. The more he fed her, the hungrier she became. It turns out she had been too greedy during her lifetime, leaving her insatiable in death. So the monk turned to Buddha for advice and learned that, on a particular auspicious day, he could visit the temple with food, money, and all sort of goodies to fill the ghost’s appetite. It worked, and the “Hungry Ghost” tradition was born.

      Of course, the true origins of the ghost rituals are a little more complex. They developed out of a centuries-long process of mixing and matching of local folk traditions, Taoism, and Buddhism, dating to well before the third century. “Although the Ghost Festival is found only in East Asia in medieval times, many of its rituals and mythological components derive from lands to the West of China, not only India but the many kingdoms and trading centers of central Asia so crucial in the dissemination of Indic and Aryan culture to the east,” writes Stephen S. Teiser, a scholar of Buddhism and religion at Princeton University, in The Ghost Festival in Medieval China.

      But Mulian’s tale is a significant part of the practice today. “Hungry ghosts are the spirits of people who always wanted more than they had, were never grateful for what they were given, and cannot find peace in the afterlife any more than they could when they lived,” according to writer Emily Mark in the Ancient History Encyclopedia. “They are often depicted as people with enormous stomachs but tiny mouths and necks which no amount of food could ever fill.”

      On top of being rather hangry, these ghosts have some particular preferences during their month-long wandering on Earth. There is a long list of things that the living should avoid during Ghost Month. Whistling attracts ghosts. Leaving clothes out to dry tempts ghosts to try them on. Staying up late courts possession. Getting married or starting a relationship is a bad idea, as it is not likely to end well. And whatever you do, don’t buy a home or apartment during Ghost Month. It will be haunted forever. These beliefs actually have real life repercussions, as shown in a 2015 study by Agarwal Sumit and his colleagues at the National University of Singapore. During Ghost Month, they found, demand for housing goes down, which opens up good real estate deals for nonbelievers.

      Now that you know what not to do, here’s what you should do to avoid the ire of hungry ghosts. Just like Buddha’s recommendations to Mulian, most of these rituals revolve around the provision of material goods. “There were numerous ways in which the dead seem to have benefited from a sort of ‘virtual reality,’” says Tackett. “Within the tomb, the soul of the deceased could enjoy an afterlife banquet represented in tomb murals. Similarly, fake paper money was as useful as real money.”

      Archeological evidence suggests that paper offerings, known as zhizha, or “hell money,” date as far back as 1000 B.C. The idea is that through the act of burning, this fake money is transported to the underworld, where ghosts can squander it as they see fit. “It is implicitly agreed that if a person received proper burial and sacrifice, the ghost of this person will not come back to harm people,” writes Mu-chou Poo, a historian at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, in Rethinking Ghosts in World Religions. During the Song Dynasty (960–1279) other goods started to be made into a form of zhizha for ghost rituals. Paper effigies of clothes, houses, horses, and even servants were burned to send these items to the underworld’s lavish economy.

      The desires of hungry ghosts have evolved with the times. “The festival, and the wider act of burning items to send to one’s ancestors in the underworld, reveals the cultural flows of globalization, and the consumption habits of individuals,” says Terence Hang, a sociologist at Singapore Institute of Technology who studies the festival’s visual culture. “Individuals now purchase and burn whatever is fashionable to consume in a contemporary, globalized society. One can get hold of paper iPads, paper credit cards, paper Rolls Royces, and more.”

      The idea is that you try to update their lifestyle to match your modern comfort,” says Xiaoxia Zhou from China Institute in America, a nonprofit organization that promotes Chinese culture. “Your ancestors should have the same things you have, read the same things you read. So people now burn paper TVs, paper fridges, [and] in some cases—taking female objectification to its extreme—even a beautiful mistress or a secretary.”

      There was a moment when this centuries-long tradition seemed to be on its way out. It has long been tied the Chinese concept of filial piety (, xiao), which asserts that sons and daughters should take care of their parents the best they can. The 1911 revolution sought to do away with such ideas and practices. “Ghost Festival rituals or other manifestations of xiao were seens as backward folklore that was preventing China from modernizing,” says Zhou. Decades later, Mao Zedong, then a librarian, integrated this sentiment into his Cultural Revolution.

      But the Ghost Festival was entrenched in Chinese culture. Not only has it survived, but now the Chinese government considers it part of the country’s intangible cultural heritage. Zhou explains that the tradition is strong in rural areas and southern provinces, but less so in China’s burgeoning urban centers. Some urban communities are now trying to make the centuries-old festival more relevant to young, Western-influenced city dwellers. In 2015 a community in Hong Kong launched the first Ghost Festival costume contest. “It can be just like Halloween,” Anven Wu Yim-chung, director at the Federation of Hong Kong Chiu Chow Community Organizations, told the South China Morning Post. The competition welcomed both traditional Chinese ghost options and anime characters. The 2016 edition added a ghost grappling competition and ghost opera.

      And as the Hungry Ghost Festival loses some ground among the young, so does the centuries-long craft of making traditional zhizha paper effigies, which have been replaced by cheap, mass-produced versions available online rather than in traditional shops. But the ancient craft does endure. After graduating from design school in the early 1990s, Au Yeung Ping-chi decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and learn how to twist and turn thin sheets of bamboo paper to make evocative ghost effigies.

      Ping-chi, who runs his workshop in Hong Kong’s Sham Shui Po district, made a name of himself as an “unconventional” effigy maker after he crafted a ghost guitar for the spirit of Koma Wong Ka-kui of renowned Hong-Kong rock band Beyond, who died after falling from a stage in Japan in 1993.

      Since then he’s taken on a variety of commissions for unusual effigies, according to Zolima magazine: an Xbox, a skateboard, a nail clipper, a tamagotchi. Ghost food is another popular option. Ping-chi makes great ghost chicken wings and ghost dumplings. And the largest effigy he ever made was a full-scale fishing pole.

       

      His father Wai-kin worries a bit about the direction the practice has taken. “The appearance of our effigies … have to be equivalent to what the living used, so the underworld can experience progress too,” he told the South China Post. “But some popular products now deviate from that principle.” One has to wonder what a hungry ghost would need an iPhone for anyway.

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    • The Three Things We Fear Most

      Ezra Bayda SPRING 2009 tricycle

      Ezra Bayda teaches that by truly knowing our fears, we can break their spell

      When things upset us, we often think that something is wrong. Perhaps the one time this is truest is when we experience fear. In fact, as human beings, we expend a huge portion of our energy dealing with anxiety and fear. This has certainly been apparent in the present economic upheavals and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We live with an everyday reality that is tinged with personal and cultural anxiety. Our fears are not just the product of global events, however—they go to our very core. On a day-to-day level, fear often motivates how we act and react, and sometimes even how we dress or stand or talk. But fear makes our life narrow and dark. It is at the root of all conflict, underlying much of our sorrow. Fear also blocks intimacy and love and, more than anything, disconnects us from the lovingkindness that is our true nature.

      Even considering how prevalent fear is in our lives, it nonetheless remains one of the murkiest areas to deal with, in daily life as well as in practice. This may sound bleak, but what is really the worst thing about fear? Though it is hard to admit, especially if we see ourselves as deeply spiritual, the main reason we have an aversion to fear is that it is physically and emotionally uncomfortable. Woody Allen put this quite well when he said, “I don’t like to be afraid—it scares me.” We simply don’t want to feel this discomfort and will do almost anything to avoid it. But whenever we give in to fear, we make it more solid, and our life becomes smaller, more limited, more contracted. In a way, every time we give in to fear, we cease to truly live.

      We’re often not aware of the extent to which fear plays a part in our lives, which means that the first stage of practicing with fear requires acknowledging its presence. This can prove to be difficult, because many fears may not be readily apparent, such as the fear driving our ambition, the fear underlying our depression, or, perhaps most of all, the fear beneath our anger. But the fact is, once we look beyond our surface emotional reaction, we will see that almost every negative emotion, every drama, comes down to one or more of the three most basic fears: the fear of losing safety and control, the fear of aloneness and disconnection, and the fear of unworthiness.

      The second basic fear is that of aloneness and disconnection, which we also can feel as the fear of abandonment, loss, or death. Our fundamental aloneness, which is a basic human experience, ultimately must be faced directly, or it will continue to dictate how we feel and live. The first most basic fear is that of losing safety. Because safety is fundamental to our survival, this fear will instinctually be triggered at the first sign of danger or insecurity; the old brain, or limbic system, is inherently wired that way. This particular fear will also be triggered when we experience pain or discomfort. But in most cases, there is no real danger to us; in fact, our fears are largely imaginary— that the plane will crash, that we will be criticized, that we’re doing it wrong. Yet until we see this dimension of fear with clarity, we will continue to live with a sense of constriction that can seem daunting.

      A central component of spiritual life is recognizing that practice is not about ensuring that we feel secure or comfortable. It’s not that we won’t feel these things when we practice; rather, it’s that we are also bound to sometimes feel very uncomfortable and insecure, particularly when exploring and working with our darker emotions and unhealed pain. Still, there is also a deep security developed over the course of a practice life that isn’t likely to resemble the immediate comfort we usually crave. This fundamental security develops instead out of the willingness to stay with and truly experience our fears. Isn’t it ironic that the path to real security comes from residing in the fear of insecurity itself?

      Insecurity can also manifest as the fear of helplessness, often surfacing as the fear of losing control, the fear of being controlled, the fear of chaos, or even the fear of the unfamiliar. For example, nearly all of us have experienced the emotion of rage, which is like being swept into a mushroom cloud explosion. Think of the kind of day when nothing seems to go your way, or even just the last time your TV remote stopped working and no matter what buttons you pushed, you couldn’t get it to do what you wanted. The urge to throw the remote against the wall can feel like angry rage, but as we bring awareness to this experience, we can discover that the feeling of rage is often just an outer explosion covering over the quieter inner implosion of feeling powerless. Rage may give us a feeling of power and control, but how often is it an evasion of the sense of powerlessness that feels so much worse?

      We all dread the helplessness of losing control, and yet real freedom lies in recognizing the futility of demanding that life be within our control. Instead, we must learn the willingness to feel—to say yes to—the experience of helplessness itself. This is one of the hidden gifts of serious illness or loss. It pushes us right to our edge, where we may have the good fortune to realize that our only real option is to surrender to our experience and let it just be.

      During a three-year period in the early 1990s when I was seriously ill with no indication that I would ever get better, I watched my life as I had known it begin to fall apart. I not only lost my ability to work and engage in physical activities, I also experienced a dismantling of my basic identities. At first, it was disorienting and frightening not to have the props of seeing myself as a Zen practitioner, a carpenter and contractor (my livelihood), a husband and a father. But as I stayed with the fears, and particularly as I was able to bring the quality of lovingkindness to the experience, there came a dramatic shift.

      As the illusory self-images were stripped away, I experienced the freedom of not needing to be anyone at all. By truly surrendering to the experience of helplessness, by letting everything I clung to just fall apart, I found that what remained was more than enough. As we learn to breathe fear into the center of the chest, the heart feels more and more spacious. I’m not talking about the heart as a muscle in our chest, but rather the heart that is our true nature. This heart is more spacious than the mind can ever imagine.

      It’s interesting that one of life’s most vital lessons is something we are never taught in school: how to be at home with ourselves. When I first began going to meditation retreats, where there was no talking or social contact for days on end, I would sit facing the wall hour after hour, and invariably an anxious quiver rose up inside me. Sometimes it was so strong that I literally wanted to jump out of my skin. But just sitting there, doing nothing, brought me face to face with myself, with my fear of aloneness.

      Most people will almost instinctively try to avoid this fear. Many enter into relationships or engage in affairs. In fact, the extent to which people have affairs is often proportional to the urgency of needing to avoid feeling alone. However, the only way to transcend loneliness is to stop avoiding it, to be willing to face it—by truly residing in it. Further, if we wish to develop genuine intimacy in our relationships with others, it is crucial that we first face our own neediness and fear of aloneness. How can we expect to truly love or be intimate with another if we’re still relating to them from our fear-based needs?

      Naturally, we still want and expect other people to take away these fears; we think that if we’re with someone who will pay attention to us, our loneliness will disappear. But if this particular deep-seated fear is part of our makeup, the mere act of our partner being engrossed in a book when we’re expecting attention will be enough to make us feel abandoned. We may try to deal with this by demanding or attempting to attract his or her attention, but even if that demand is met, our fear is unlikely to be assuaged for long.

      Furthermore, getting the attention we desire does not necessarily mean we will experience intimacy. True intimacy comes instead when we’re willing to acknowledge the uncomfortable feelings of anxiety and fear that are part of our own conditioning; it comes when we can say yes to them, which means we’re willing to finally feel them. It may be uncomfortable to feel the fear of loneliness, but breathing that aching fear into the center of the chest and surrendering to it allows us to take responsibility for our own feelings. We no longer ask that others protect us from feeling these fears we had previously turned away from. We can discover that the more we face our own fear of aloneness, the more we experience true connection, and the more we can open to love.

      The basic fear of aloneness may also include a related anxiety that is not usually recognized: the fear of disconnection— from others as well as from our own heart. This fear penetrates more deeply than loneliness and often manifests as a knotted quiver in the chest or abdomen. Remember, at bottom, the heart that seeks to awaken, to live genuinely, is more real than anything. It is the nameless drive that calls us to be who we most truly are. When we are not in touch with this, we may feel the existential anxiety of disconnection.

      In a way, much of spiritual practice is geared toward helping us address our feeling of basic separation. How does this occur? First, we acknowledge our fear and see it clearly for what it is. We need to remember that the fear is, in fact, our path itself, our direct route to experiencing the lovingkindness at our core.

      Then we must face the fear directly, saying yes to it. Essentially, this means we are willing to experience it—to sit with anxiety in the center of the chest and truly feel— rather than run away from it. When fear arises, in order to replace our usual dread with a genuine curiosity, we might ask, “Here it is again, how will it be this time?” As we breathe the sensations of anxiety into the heart, our familiar thought-based stories begin to dissolve. As we get out of our heads, we can experience the spaciousness of the nonconceptual: the healing power of the heart. No longer caught in fear or our sense of separateness, we are free to experience connectedness, which is our basic birthright and comes forth naturally on its own.

      The third basic fear is that of unworthiness. This fear takes many forms, such as the fear that I don’t count, the fear of general inadequacy, of being unworthy of love, of being nothing or stupid, and so on. The basic fear that we’ll never measure up dictates much of our behavior; for example, for some, it impels us to continuously and forcefully prove ourselves, while for others, it might prompt us to cease trying. In either case, isn’t our motivation the same: to avoid facing the basic fear of unworthiness? We may fear the feeling of unworthiness more than anything.

      In fact, we are often merciless in these self-judgments of unworthiness—not just when we’re upset at ourselves, but as an ongoing frame of mind. Even if they’re not glaringly obvious, our self-judgments are always lurking under the surface, waiting to arise. For example, those who have stage fright, including the anxiety of public speaking, may feel the constant underground dread of having to deal with it. There’s a joke that people can fear public speaking so intensely that at a funeral they would rather be in the casket than give the eulogy. I can attest to the lurking dread of stage fright, as I had to face this particular fear for years. And yet ultimately giving public talks has been a very fruitful path.

      Fear of public speaking triggers the dread and shame of public failure and humiliation. But what is really being threatened? Isn’t it just our self-image of appearing strong, calm, insightful, or whatever our own particular narrow view is of who we’re supposed to be? We certainly fear appearing weak or not on top of it. Why? Because that would confirm our own negative beliefs of unworthiness. Even though there is no real danger, isn’t it true that the fear of failing often feels fatal? Yet ironically, our very attempt to fight the fear is most often what increases it and may even result in panic.

      There is a better alternative: We must learn to let it in willingly, to breathe the sensations of fear directly into the center of the chest. In other words, to say yes to the fear.

      At one point in my life, when I was struggling with my fear of giving public talks, I joined Toastmasters, a group designed to help develop skills in public speaking. But I didn’t join to learn to give better talks, or even with the goal of overcoming my fear. I joined so that I could have a laboratory, a place to invite the fear in and go to its roots. In a way, I actually began to look forward to the fear arising so I could breathe it right into the heart, entering into it fully. Paradoxically, the willingness to be with the fear completely is what changes the experience of fear altogether. It’s not that fear will no longer arise; it’s that we no longer fear it.

      Eventually, we all need to be willing to face the deepest, darkest beliefs we have about ourselves. Only in this way can we come to know that they are only beliefs, and not the truth about who we are. By entering into this process willingly, by seeing through the fiction of who we believe ourselves to be, we can connect with our true nature. As Nietzsche put it, “One must have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star.” Love is the dancing star, the fruit of saying yes, of consciously and willingly facing our fears.

      When we can feel fear within the spaciousness of the breath and heart, we may even come to see it more as an adventure than a nightmare. To see it as an adventure means being willing to take the ride with curiosity, even with its inevitable ups and downs. Over the years, because I had to speak in public quite frequently, this situation provided an opportunity to tap into what was really important to me—to remember that my aspiration is to learn to live from the awakened heart. Whenever I remembered this right before giving a talk, it was no longer an issue of whether or not I felt the discomfort of fear. This allowed me to say yes to it and to willingly breathe the fear right in. In other words, when we connect with a larger sense of what life is, negative beliefs such as “I’ll never measure up” may still come up, but they no longer dictate who we are. Instead, we begin to use the fear as our actual path to learning to live from lovingkindness.

      Remember, it’s a given that we don’t want to feel the fear of unworthiness, but at some point we have to understand that it’s more painful to try to suppress our fears and self-judgments, thus solidifying them, than it is to actually feel them. This is part of what it means to bring lovingkindness to our practice, because we are no longer viewing our fear as proof that we’re defective. Without cultivating love for ourselves, regardless of how much discipline we have, regardless of how serious we are about practice, we will still stay stuck in the subtle mercilessness of the mind, listening to the voice that tells us we are basically and fundamentally unworthy. We should never underestimate the need for lovingkindness on the long and sometimes daunting path of learning to awaken.

      Please note that these three basic fears—insecurity and helplessness, aloneness and disconnection, and unworthiness— are not just mental. Scientists tell us that fear is written into the cellular memory of the body, particularly into a small part of the brain called the amygdala. That is why simply knowing about our fears intellectually will not free us from their domination. Every time they are triggered, we slide into an established groove in the brain. So until we can see our fears clearly, we will not be able to practice with them directly.

      When I was a child, my father told me repeatedly, “The only thing to fear is fear itself.” Although his intentions were good, what I actually heard was that I should be afraid of fear! Fear thus became the enemy. We have to remember that fear is neither an enemy nor an obstacle; it is not a real monster. When we feel fear, we need to remind ourselves that it is our path; and when we truly understand this, we can welcome it into the spaciousness of the heart.

       

      Interestingly, it is this nonconceptual experiencing of our fears that allows the grooves in the brain, which are preprogrammed to react to fear, to slowly be filled in. How this works is a mystery; it is no mystery, however, that unless we can clearly see our individual fears for what they are, it is unlikely we will overcome our habitual and instinctive aversions to them. The bright side of this is that once we are able to face our fears, once we willingly let them in, they become a portal to reality.

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    • Dalai Lama a politician under the cloak of religion, meeting or hosting him an offence, China's warning to world leaders

      Oct 21, 2017 PTI

      Beijing: China on Saturday warned that it would consider as a "major offence" if any country or foreign leader hosts or meets the Dalai Lama as it deems the Tibetan spiritual leader a "separatist" trying to split Tibet from it.

      China routinely protests world leaders meeting the Dalai Lama. It also makes it mandatory for all the foreign governments to recognise Tibet as part of China to have diplomatic relations with Beijing.

      It also protested that when the Tibetan spiritual leader was permitted by India to visit various areas in the north-east, including Arunachal Pradesh, this year.

      The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against the Chinese rule in his Himalayan homeland. He has been living in India in exile since then.

      "Any country or any organisation of anyone to accept to meet with the Dalai Lama in our view is a major offence to the sentiment of the Chinese people," said Zhang Yijiong, Executive Vice Minister of the United Front Work Department of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC).

      "Also, since they have committed to recognising China as a sole legitimate government representing China it contravenes their attempt because it is a serious commitment," Zhang said on the sidelines of the once-in-a-five-year congress of the CPC.

      Zhang said China would not accept the arguments of foreign countries and leaders to meet the 82-year-old Dalai Lama as a religious leader.

      "I want to make it clear that the 14th Dalai Lama, the living Buddha handed down by history is a political figure under the cloak of religion," he said.

      Without naming India, he said Dalai Lama fled to the "other country" in 1959 "betraying his motherland and setup his so called government in exile".

      That "so called government" has the mission of a separatist agenda to split Tibet from China, he said.

      "For decades, the group with 14th Dalai Lama as the leader never stopped to achieve that political agenda," he said.

      There is no legitimate government that that has recognised the Dalai Lama group, he said, adding that fewer countries and leaders are hosting him.

      Some countries may say the Dalai Lama is not a political figure but a religious figure and their officials meet him not in his political capacity.

      "But that is not true and not right because every official represent their government and they are political figures," Zhang said.

      "So we urge all to exercise caution and prudence to bear in mind the respect for China's sovereignty and for their relations and friendship with China," he said.

      Zhang also claimed that Tibetan Buddhism is originated from China.

      "It is a special form of religion that originated within China. In the process of development of Tibetan Buddhism, it was influenced by other religions and other cultures, that is true but is not acquired religion," he said.

      Zhang said in Tibet, China is encouraging Tibetan Buddhism to reclaim its Chinese orientation.

      "It is mainly about introducing or incorporating fine results of Chinese culture in the teaching of Tibetan religion," he said.

       

      "Chinese culture can nurture teachings and tenants of Tibetan Buddhism, so that its teaching can take in the latest fine results of Chinese culture. It is also needed for the development of Chinese Buddhism itself," he said.

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    • China carrying out cultural genocide of Tibet

      16 October Ramesh Sharma Hindu Business Line

      China is carrying out systematic annihilation of the cultural heritage of Tibet with the destruction of Tibetan Buddhism and religious traditions, education system, social breakdowns, lawlessness, communal disharmony, uncontrolled greed and a high growth in sex trade and alcoholism, according to a report.

      In the report – Cultural Genocide in Tibet – brought out by The Tibet Policy Institute Lobsang Sangay, President, Central Tibetan Administration stated that acts of genocide have been and are still being committed. He said that the Chinese are carrying out destruction of their religion, language, and also doing forceful removal of Tibetan nomads while it is continuing population transfer onto the Tibetan Plateau from mainland China.

      He even highlighted that the as per the 2017 Freedom House report, Tibet is one of the least free countries in the world.

      “Policies relentlessly carried out in these four areas have robbed the Tibetans of their culture and language and have damaged their traditional way of life. The influx of Chinese migrant workers, facilitated by the new railway line and an administration in favour of the migrants, are reducing the Tibetans to an increasingly disenfranchised minority in their own land,” he said.

      China strategy: report

      According to the report, the challenge lies in how China projects itself in front of the world compared to what its internal policies are. It said while China behaves as like a multinational State in global arena, it acts as an empire when it comes to dealing with its own domestic issues.

      “The contradiction between its self-portrayal and its real imperial impulses is at the heart of China’s destruction of Tibet’s Buddhist civilisation,” said the report, which was launched here on Monday.

      The report stated that China is also attempting to flood Tibet with Han Chinese settlers and making them a dominant ethnic population, similar to what it did in Manchuria, Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang.

      The report also added that China is “waiting for the passing away of His Holiness the Dalai Lama” so that it can appoint the next Dalai Lama there.

      “In brushing aside the present Dalai Lama and preparing to appoint the next one all in the hope that Beijing can handle the Tibetan people, the Chinese authorities are travelling on the road to the destabilization of Tibet,” it said.

       

      More than 149 Tibetans have set themselves on fire because of China’s refusal to allow His Holiness the Dalai Lama to visit Tibet. But if China imposes its own Dalai Lama then the movement may not remain non-violent, the report said.

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    • The historical Buddha is not even a Hindu. He was born in Nepal.

       

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HG2SRxKW3ko

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    • Originally posted by Revaan:

      It's simple, Buddhism is Hinduism. Buddism cam from Hinduism. Gautama Buddha was born as Siddhartha Gautam into a Hindu family. Buddha is the incarnation of Supreme God Vishnu/Krishna in Hindusim. Buddhism is an Indian religion. It just got more popular in China than in India.

      Watch this video of Sadhguru explanation of Hinduism.

       

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJVHg28lKZU

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    • Dalai Lama to make 50 day visit to Bodhgaya from December

      November 10, 2017 Tenzin Dharpo Phayul.com

      DHARAMSHALA, Nov. 10: With winter fast approaching the hills of Dharamshala, Tibetan leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama will embark on a 50 day visit to Bodhgaya giving teachings, attending social commitments as well as taking rest, beginning December 26, sources said.

      Local media in Gaya reported that Dalai Lama’s aides approached the Gaya district magistrate (DM) Kumar Ravi requesting authority for necessary arrangements of security at venue, cleanliness, power, water and health services. The DM assured support during the Tibetan leader’s stay there, which is expected to draw some 40,000 devotees.

      During his stay there, the Dalai Lama is scheduled to visit Sarnath on December 29 and Pune on January 9 and will leave on February 12 back to Dharamshala.

      The 82 year old will also give two teachings while in Gaya. Beginning Jan. 5, he will give a three-day teaching on Dharmachakra Parivaretan Sutra on ‘The Four Noble Truths’ (chokyi khorlo korwe do) & ‘Sutra on Dependent Origination’ (tendrel chi do).

      His Holiness will also give a three-day teaching on Nagarjuna’s Commentary on Bodhicitta (jangchup semdrel) & Gyalsey Thokme Sangpos’s Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva (laklen sodunma) as well as a long life offering ceremony (tenshug) to His Holiness at the request Lamyn Gegeen Tenzin Jamphel Choijisheinen Tulku from Jan. 14-16.

       

      Prior to his visit to Bihar, the Tibetan leader is scheduled to visit Mundgod and Bylakuppe Tibetan settlements where he will inaugurate new structures and give teachings there.

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    • China Official Says Lincoln Would Have Approved of Freeing Tibetan Serfs

      October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Aly Song

      China's Minister of Supervision, and Chief of the National Bureau of Corruption Prevention, Yang Xiaodu attends a news conference during the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Beijing,

      BEIJING (Reuters) - Late U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, who freed the slaves, would have approved of China's policy to end serfdom in Tibet, a senior Chinese official said on Thursday.

      China considers devoutly Buddhist Tibet an inherent part of its territory, and routinely rejects accusations from exiles and rights groups of repression and human rights abuses.

      Chinese forces entered Tibet in 1950 in what the government terms a peaceful liberation, and says its rule has brought prosperity and freedom to what was a backward and feudal society, including freeing a million people from serfdom, an event marked in Tibet as Serfs' Emancipation Day.

      Speaking on the sidelines of China's 19th Communist Party Congress, Supervision Minister Yang Xiaodu, who helps fight corruption, said the United States and Tibet had much in common with their human rights experiences.

      Yang recounted a tale of meeting a person he described as a former assistant U.S. secretary of state during a visit to the United States.

      "I said, 'In Chinese people's minds, Lincoln is a hero, as he freed the slaves, and on this issue Chinese and American people's recognition is the same, it's a human rights issue'," Yang said.

      "In Tibet we freed the serfs, and how are American friends not able to understand this? This is also a human rights issue. If you look at it from Lincoln's point of view, he would have approved of China overturning the serfdom system in Tibet."

       

      Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in the United States in 1863.

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    • Disaster Relief Nurse and Buddhist Practitioner Recounts Serving in the U.S. Virgin Islands

      Wendy Joan Biddlecombe OCT 12, 2017 tricycle

      Lisa Droski, who is a member of the Grand Rapids Buddhist Temple, spent three weeks treating patients on St. Thomas with the Red Cross.

      Disaster Relief Nurse and Buddhist Practitioner Recounts Serving in the U.S. Virgin Islands

      As Texas and Louisiana reeled from Hurricane Harvey, and as Hurricane Irma set her sights on the Caribbean, Lisa Droski packed her bags.

      Droski, a Buddhist practitioner who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is a retired registered nurse and current volunteer with the American Red Cross.

      Shortly after arriving in the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Croix by way of San Juan and Houston, Droski hopped a military transport to St. Thomas, where her medical expertise was desperately needed after Hurricane Irma made landfall in early September. She was on the island when Hurricane Maria came two weeks later.

      Two category five hurricanes hit the U.S. Virgin Islands last month, knocking out the power grid and leaving residents without electricity, water, food, and access to essentials. The chain of islands, situated about 40 miles east of Puerto Rico, are home to about 106,000 people.

      Droski spoke with Tricycle shortly after returning to the continental U.S. about the conditions in the Virgin Islands, the work that still needs to be done, and how her practice helped her endure three weeks of service.

      How did you end up doing volunteer work on St. Thomas?

      I’ve been a nurse with the Red Cross Disaster Health Services for many years. I’m on the national team, so I usually respond to large-scale disasters.

      I had been asked to go to Hurricane Harvey, but I was out of the country at the time. When Irma came, I was home, and my local Red Cross chapter called and asked if I could volunteer. I said “certainly.” They had first planned to send me to Florida, and then they asked me to go to St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. I was on St. Croix for about five minutes before they sent me to St. Thomas on a passenger jet chartered by the military.

      When we landed, I was taken to the Red Cross headquarters in an office building. I was the only Disaster Health Services person across three islands when I got there, so they made me the head of the Disaster Health Services. I was my own boss.

      Within 24 hours a lot of other relief workers came in. I worked with a very talented EMT, as well as people from disaster mental health services, and we started working in the largest local shelter on St. Thomas, which had been run by the local Red Cross and the Department of Human Services on St. Thomas since before Irma. There were close to 200 people in the shelter.

      What were the conditions in St. Thomas like?

      There was a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. every day, and there was no cell phone communication. I had absolutely no Internet, like most people. The stores that were open had really long lines. ATMs and all those kinds of daily things that people have gotten used to weren’t working.

      When it started to seem like conditions were improving a little bit, Hurricane Maria came. About half of the Red Cross folks on St. Thomas went home, because we were told in no uncertain terms that if we stayed, we might not have food and water. Many people elected to go home, or left because their families wanted them home.

      About 30 of us stayed on the island, and I was assigned to an evacuation shelter in a middle school. We took care of about 130 people in two rooms over four days. We had the support of the Puerto Rico National Guard members, who were there even when their own families and homes were taking a direct hit. 

      The logistics of getting aid to people is really daunting. Everything has to come in by barge. There were boats sunk in the harbor, and there were landslides. Even driving a minivan was dangerous, because there was still debris on some of the roads—you could go around a blind curve and find a broken telephone pole with miles of downed wire. We had numerous flat tires. You just can’t get around.

      Why did you decide to stay for the second storm? What did you weigh in your decision?

      I thought, “OK, these folks have been through a category five hurricane already and they survived, and the building I’m going to be in seems pretty sturdy. I came here to help people, and me leaving now is not helping anybody.” I discussed this with my husband, who was a little nervous.  I was a little nervous, too—you’d have to be silly not to be nervous—but I wasn’t frightened. I felt that I needed to fulfill the mission that I went there to do.

      What kind of care did you administer?

      It was mostly mental health needs and helping people who needed medication that they couldn’t get otherwise.

      People had been traumatized. The staff was nervous and the National Guard members were worried about their families, so most of what I did was just listening—mental health first-aid things.

      After Maria, I was assigned to a shelter with about 30 elderly and special needs clients who needed a lot of care and probably should have been in nursing homes. We did basic care for these folks; bathing them, changing diapers, bandaging wounds. That’s not usually what the Red Cross does, but that’s what we did.

      When we hear about hurricanes and other natural disasters, the emphasis is on the number of lives lost and physical damage to property. We don’t often hear about the damage a storm can do in terms of mental health.

      Mental health is really overlooked. Staff members get burned out, stressed, tired; they want to go home. So we did a lot of counseling with the staff and shelter folks.

      And I learned that mental health is still a stigma on the islands. According to family physicians we spoke to, there is only one psychiatrist on St. Thomas, who is in his 80s and has pretty much retired. He doesn’t prescribe medication and did not practice at all when we were there. Most of the primary care physicians are uncomfortable prescribing psychiatric meds. So there are a lot of people with mental illness who are not treated, and everything becomes exacerbated when you add stress on top.

      When did you decide it was time to go home?

      I went home because my three weeks were up. I was ready. It was hot and humid and we were living in very Spartan conditions. We had a couple of friendly tarantulas that kept visiting us. I really wanted a bed, shower, and clean clothes. 

      Can you tell me a little bit about your Buddhist practice and community?

      I am a sangha member of the Grand Rapids Buddhist Temple and have been an on-and-off solo Buddhist practitioner since the late 1970s. When I started practicing, I didn’t know that there was an English-speaking Buddhist temple in Grand Rapids. I started going to that temple a couple of years ago, and found it to be a very warm, welcoming teaching community where I immediately felt accepted. Last June I got the gifts of the precepts, and I really felt the support of the sangha.

      The new abbot of our sangha is Ai Su Kimberly Hillebrand, and she wrote me a metta [lovingkindness] meditation mantra to take with me. I kept it in a locket and recited it every morning and evening. It helped keep me grounded, and reminded me to use mindfulness to focus on what I was doing at the moment without worrying about what was going on around me, even when everyone was calling “Nurse, nurse, nurse.” Practicing equanimity was the hardest thing, because I saw a lot that I wanted to change.

      Are there any lessons from your time in St. Thomas that you’ll carry with you from this experience?

      I think we all found community. The Red Crossers who were there became like family, because we had a common purpose.

      The people of St. Thomas were very appreciative of us being there and let us know that in many ways. There was a Wendy’s and a Kmart on St. Thomas that were open, and they had a special line for first responders and emergency workers so we could get into the store more quickly. If we needed prescriptions filled, they always let us to the front of the line at the drug stores.

      Do you think your Buddhist practice draws you to service?

       

      I felt drawn to help people before, but I think my Buddhist practice made it easier for me to understand the interconnectedness of all people and things. I wasn’t able to do any formal sitting meditation when I was there, but every night right before lights out I would chant the White Tara mantra, which really helped me focus on compassion, and then I would sit or lie on my cot and try to meditate for a little while. I’m calmer and more in tune with other people than when I went to Katrina, particularly, and Sandy, and I have some guiding teachings to keep me focused. And I think it’s really important for us to know as Buddhists that there are practical ways that we can put our Buddhism into action.

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    • Buddhism and Islam in Asia: A Long and Complicated History

      Akhilesh Pillalamarri October 29, 2017 The Diplomat

      Demography and history explain troubled attitudes toward Islam in Buddhist-majority Asian regions today.

      A cursory glance at world news today may suggest that the fault-line where Buddhism and Islam meet in Asia is increasingly characterized by conflict between the two religions. Of course, in broadest sense, this is not true, as religions are made up of numerous individuals and leaders, who are generally of differing opinions. Yet, there is an unusually high level of tension between Buddhists and Muslims in regions where the two groups share space, including Rakhine state in Myanmar, southern Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Ladakh, the eastern part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

      At the root of this tension is the fear among Buddhists — not completely exaggerated — that Muslims will swamp them demographically. Many Buddhists also fear that their countries will lose their culture and become Muslim, as had been the case in many parts of modern day Central Asia, Xinjiang, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, which were majority Buddhist before the arrival of Islam in the 7th-11th centuries. Often, the arrival of Islam went hand-in-hand with the destruction of Buddhism. When the Muslim Turkic Qarakhanids captured the Buddhist city of Khotan in Xinjiang in 1006 CE, one of their poets penned this verse: “We came down on them like a flood/We went out among their cities/We tore down the idol-temples/We shat on the Buddha’s head.” In the Islamic world, a destroyer of idols came to be known as a but-shikan (بت شکن), a destroyer of but, a corruption of the word Buddha, as Buddhism was prevalent in much of what became the eastern part of the Islamic world.

      Unfortunately, this history, and demographics, have lead to great fear of Islam among Buddhists, which in turn has led to genocide in Myanmar, and violence in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Ladakh. If all Rohingya refugees were to be repatriated to Rakhine in Myanmar for example, they would outnumber the local Buddhist Rakhine people. And in Ladakh, the Buddhist proportion of Leh district fell from 81 to 66 percent over the past three decades (relative to Muslims and Hindus). In Ladakh as a whole, which also includes Kargil district, Buddhists are 51 percent of the population, and Muslims 49 percent, a fact of great concern to the region’s Buddhists.

      Attitudes reported from Burmese Buddhists in a recent New York Times piece sum up views commonly held among both hardline monks and the lay-population of Myanmar. One monk said of the Rohingya: “They stole our land, our food and our water. We will never accept them back.” A Rakhine politician said: “All the Bengalis learn in their religious schools is to brutally kill and attack… It is impossible to live together in the future.” A local administrator elsewhere in Myanmar said, “Kalar [a derogatory term for Muslims in Myanmar] are not welcome here because they are violent and they multiply like crazy, with so many wives and children.”

      Meanwhile, extremist elements in Myanmar, such as the 969 Movement, have pledged to work with Buddhist extremists elsewhere, such as in Sri Lanka, home to the Bodu Bala Sena, a Buddhist extremist organization that lead anti-Muslim riots in that country in 2014. Ladakh was recently the scene of communal tensions between Buddhists and Muslims after the marriage of a Muslim man and a Buddhist woman, something seen as threatening to the region’s demographics. A head lama from a local monastery said, “The Muslims are trying to finish us off,” also adding that Buddhist women ought to have many more children.

      Buddhism was arguably the world’s largest religion a century ago, if one counts everyone who also followed Chinese folk religion, Shinto, Muism, and other East Asian religions. In the modern era, Buddhism has been particularly vulnerable, however, to both secularism and evangelism from other religions. According to a Pew survey, alone among the world’s major religions (including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Chinese folk religion), Buddhism and its adherents are projected to decline both in terms of raw numbers, and as a percentage of the world population. The world Buddhist population is projected to fall from 488 million to 486 million people, and from 7 percent to 5 percent of total share. Christianity and Islam are still growing; in particular, the latter will grow from around 23 percent of the global population to 30 percent by 2050. Put another way, there will be six times as many Muslims as Buddhists by then.

      The nature of Buddhism may be related to the issue of the religion’s decline: there is a huge gap between the religion’s lay practitioners, who have adopted a set of customs associated somewhat with Buddhist mythology, and the monastic community, which follows the Buddha’s example. While there is an element of elite-popular division in all religions, in few other religions is the gap so stark. After all, the community, the sangha, founded by the Buddha himself was monastic.

      State patronage was also important to the survival of the sangha, as in many Buddhist countries, monks beg, do not produce food, and do not engage in warfare. When a territory was conquered by non-Buddhist powers, or Buddhism was patronized less by certain rulers, the sangha inevitably declined and the lay people merged their folk customs into whatever other religions were dominant.

      By the Middle Ages, after a thousand years of growth, Buddhism was sidelined as the elite religion throughout much of its former dominion, except in mainland Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka. Neo-Confucianism and Shinto prevailed in East Asia, partially due to state policies. In 845 CE, China’s Tang Dynasty launched the great anti-Buddhist persecution, stimulated in part by the fact that too many people were entering tax-free monasteries. Neo-Confucianism thereafter became the dominant philosophy among the elite in China; a similar process unfolded in Korea with the rise of the Joseon Dynasty in 1392, and in Japan, where the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1868) promoted Neo-Confucianism and Shinto at the expense of Buddhism, mostly for political reasons.

      Buddhism also all but vanished in South Asia, as folk Buddhism was reabsorbed into Hinduism, with the Buddha being acknowledged as an avatar of the god Vishnu. Hinduism was simultaneously less dependent on state promotion for its survival, and more attuned with the ritual and political needs of kingship, as well as being more aligned with folk beliefs. The destruction of the great Buddhist university at Nalanda in 1193 by Muslim Turkic invaders sealed its fate. Throughout South Asia, after the establishment of Muslim dynasties, conversion to Islam occurred fastest in the heavily Buddhist regions of Afghanistan, Swat, Sindh, western Punjab, and eastern Bengal, compared to other areas where Hinduism was more prevalent.

       

      This history informs Buddhist attitudes toward Islam, regardless of the actual doctrines of Buddhism, or Islam for that matter. History and demographics have created a sense of siege that is unlikely to be resolved soon. Unfortunately, ideas such as education, development, spreading awareness of family planning, or autonomous regions for Muslim minorities are taking a back seat to hysteria throughout numerous Buddhist-majority countries with Muslim-minorities.