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    • ... beings called devas populating the early scriptures of Buddhism. Vajrayana Buddhism still makes use of tantric deities in its ...than supernatural creatures. Here's an important point: Buddhist Vajrayana is based on Mahayana Buddhist teaching. And in ...

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    • Why so many Americans think Buddhism is just a philosophy

      January 22, 2018 Pamela Winfield The Conversation US

      In East Asia, Buddhists celebrate the Buddha’s death and entrance into final enlightenment in February. But at my local Zen temple in North Carolina, the Buddha’s enlightenment is commemorated during the holiday season of December, with a short talk for the children, a candlelight service and a potluck supper following the celebration.

      Welcome to Buddhism, American-style.

      Early influences

      Buddhism entered into the American cultural consciousness in the late 19th century. It was a time when romantic notions of exotic Oriental mysticism fueled the imaginations of American philosopher-poets, art connoisseurs, and early scholars of world religions.

      Transcendental poets like Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson read Hindu and Buddhist philosophy deeply, as did Henry Steel Olcott, who traveled to Sri Lanka in 1880, converted to Buddhism and founded the popular strain of mystical philosophy called Theosophy.

      Meanwhile, connoisseurs of Buddhist art introduced America to the beauty of the tradition. The art historian and professor of philosophy Ernest Fenellosa, as well as his fellow Bostonian William Sturgis Bigelow, were among the first Americans to travel to Japan, convert to Buddhism and avidly collect Buddhist art. When they returned home, their collections formed the core of the premiere Arts of Asia collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

      At the same time, early scholars of world religions such as Paul Carus made Buddhist teachings readily accessible to Americans. He published “The Gospel of Buddha,” a best-selling collection of Buddhist parables, a year after attending the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. This was the first time in modern history that representatives from the world’s major religions came together to learn about one another’s spiritual traditions.

      The Buddhist delegation in Chicago included the Japanese Zen master Shaku Sōen and the Sri Lankan Buddhist reformer Anagārika Dharmapāla, who himself had studied western science and philosophy to modernize his own tradition. These Western-influenced Buddhists presented their tradition to their modern Western audience as a “non-theistic” and “rational” tradition that had no competing gods, irrational beliefs or supposedly meaningless rituals to speak of.

      Continuity and change

      Traditional Buddhism does in fact have many deities, doctrines and rituals, as well as sacred texts, ordained priests, ethics, sectarian developments and other elements that one would typically associate with any organized religion. But at the 1893 World Parliament, the Buddhist masters favorably presented their meditative tradition to modern America only as a practical philosophy, not a religion. This perception of Buddhism persists in America to this day.

      The Buddhists did not deliberately misrepresent their tradition or just tell the Americans what they wanted to hear. They were genuine in their attempt to make a 2500-year old tradition relevant to the late 19th century.

      But in the end they only transplanted but a few branches of Buddhism’s much larger tree into American soil. Only a few cuttings of Buddhist philosophy, art and meditation came into America, while many other traditional elements of the Buddhist religion remained behind in Asia.

      Buddhism in America

      Once it was planted here though, Americans became particularly fascinated with the mystical appeal of Buddhist meditation.

      The lay Zen teacher Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki, who was Japanese Zen Master Shaku Sōen’s student and translator at the World’s Parliament, influenced many leading artists and intellectuals in the postwar period. Thanks to his popular writings and to subsequent waves of Asian and American Buddhist teachers, Buddhism has impacted almost every aspect of American culture.

      Environmental and social justice initiatives have embraced a movement known as “Engaged Buddhism” ever since Martin Luther King Jr. nominated its founder, the Vietnamese monk and anti-war activist Thich Nhat Hanh, for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. His Buddhist Order of Interbeing continues to propose mindful, nonviolent solutions to the world’s most pressing moral concerns.

      America’s educational system has also been enriched by its first Buddhist-affiliated university at Naropa in Colorado, which paved the way for other Buddhist institutions of higher learning such as Soka University and University of the West in California, as well as Maitripa College in Oregon.

      The medical establishment too has integrated mindfulness-based stress reduction into mainstream therapies, and many prison anger management programs are based on Buddhist contemplative techniques such as Vipassana insight meditation.

      The same is true of the entertainment industry that has incorporated Buddhist themes into Hollywood blockbusters, such as “The Matrix”. Even professional athletics have used Zen coaching strategies and furthered America’s understanding of Buddhism not as a “religion” but as a secular philosophy with broad applications.

      The exotic appeal

      But American secular Buddhism has also produced some unintended consequences. Suzuki’s writings greatly influenced Jack Kerouac, the popular Beat Generation author of “On the Road” and “The Dharma Bums.” But Suzuki regarded Kerouac as a “monstrous imposter” because he sought only the freedom of Buddhist awakening without the discipline of practice.

      Other Beat poets, hippies and, later, New Age DIY self-helpers have also paradoxically mistaken Buddhism for a kind of self-indulgent narcissism, despite its teachings of selflessness and compassion. Still others have commercially exploited its exotic appeal to sell everything from “Zen tea” to “Lucky Buddha Beer,” which is particularly ironic given Buddhism’s traditional proscription against alcohol and other intoxicants.

      As a result, the popular construction of nonreligious Buddhism has contributed much to the contemporary “spiritual but not religious” phenomenon, as well as to the secularized and commodified mindfulness movement in America.

       

      We may have only transplanted a fraction of the larger bodhi tree of religious Buddhism in America, but our cutting has adapted and taken root in our secular, scientific and highly commercialized age. For better and for worse, it’s Buddhism, American-style.

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    • Three times as many Buddhists as Communists in China: Dalai Lama’s Tibet wish may require rapprochement with former adversaries

      01/16/2018 Martin Desai Huffpost

      Whilst China technically remains a communist country, it has over the last two or three decades relaxed draconian Mao-era rules, for example by opening the door to private sector capitalism and by allowing individuals to practice a religion of their choice, so long as it is not to be perceived as a potential threat to the stability of the state or of the Communist Party.

      There are now almost three times as many Buddhists in China as there are Party members. An official communiqué released in July this year estimated the membership of the Communist Party of China at just under 90 million. Meanwhile, the State Bureau of Religious Affairs estimates there are some 250 million Buddhists in China, more or less evenly split between Tibetan Buddhism and Han Buddhism, and 200,000 registered Buddhist monks.

      Chinese authorities monitor religious adherence closely, and are extremely sensitive to any challenge, real or imagined, that certain religions may represent. While the Chinese regime’s approach to Buddhism has been liberal – for example, no bans have been issued and open religious expression is permitted – it clearly takes the religion’s influence seriously, given its importance in Chinese society.

      Above all the regime fears religious divisions or unrest, as evidenced by the swift outlawing of the Falun Gong movement and imprisonment of its leaders after a series of demonstrations by Falun Gong members prompted fears that the group’s swelling support could one day rival the Party. The regime is also acutely sensitive to the possibility of what it sees as external interference – especially on the delicate subject of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism.

      A particularly divisive issue for the Buddhist community, both within Tibet and abroad is the devotion to the Dorje Shugden deity, a 400-year old practice that began in the 17th century and has become a major practice in Tibetan Buddhism. Critics of Shugden devotion say worship of the deity promotes divisions among the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism, all of which share the same fundamental philosophy, and whose differences lie in their interpretation of the extensive collection of Buddhist scriptures and the emphasis they place on various aspects of Buddhist philosophy.

      At the origin of the controversy lie a number of ambiguous declarations from the current (14th) Dalai Lama. On the one hand, he has appealed for non-sectarian cooperation among all branches of Tibet’s religions. However, he has also effectively excluded Shugden practitioners from such cooperation despite once regarding Dorje Shugden as an enlightened being and authoring one of the most popular liturgies to this deity. Some Shugden devotees have claimed that these ambiguous declarations amount to a de facto ban on their practice and this exclusion is tantamount to being exiled in their own communities. The Shugden de facto exclusion has already existed for two decades since it was initiated by the current Dalai Lama and has slowly stirred disunity in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of China and among the exiled Tibetan communities.

      In 2014 the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet, which is chaired by the actor Richard Gere, said it had obtained a ‘directive’ from the Communist Party Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) in China in February 2014 whose title translates as, “Some opinions on dealing correctly with the ‘Gyalchen Shugden’ issue”.

      The International Campaign for Tibet’s evaluation of the directive accuses China of seeking to gain a political advantage from the controversy. Entitled “China’s new directive on (the) controversial Shugden spirit in Tibet in (a) further bid to discredit Dalai Lama”[2], even the title of the critique dispels any expectation of objectivity.

      While the Chinese position is that the authorities are aiming to guarantee the right of all Tibetans to choose who and how they worship, the directive issued by the Communist Party Committee of TAR is couched in rather divisive language. It calls the Shugden controversy “an important front in our struggle with the Dalai clique” and “a deceitful ploy by the 14th Dalai’s clique to split the country…”

      The Chinese directive was made in response to the de facto religious ban implemented by the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Government in Exile, and to their suspected destabilizing activities inside the TAR. The directive proposes educational and law enforcement measures to be implemented inside the TAR to mitigate the risk of division and unrest that the controversy may cause. Tashi Tadchen, a representative of the European Dorje Shugden Society which was set up to create awareness of the supposed ban, says that following the exiled Tibetan leadership’s edict against the Shugden practice, there have been frequent clashes which at times have led to loss of lives between those who feel obliged to follow the Dalai Lama’s decree and adherents of the Shugden practice.

      The directive mirrors Chinese fear of discord within Tibetan Buddhism and Buddhism in general. What it does not do, despite the International Campaign for Tibet’s claims, is take a specific position on Shugden devotion outside the TAR. In spite of the content of the directive, the Exiled Tibetan Government and related NGOs around the World have repeatedly used it as evidence to attest that Shugden practitioners are “spies of the Chinese Communist Party.”

      A late 2015 report from the news agency Reuters looking into the Shugden controversy relied heavily on the Communist Party Committee of TAR directive, and especially the International Campaign for Tibet’s interpretation of it, as solid evidence that China is financing various Shugden groups in the West, in particular the The International Shugden Community (ISC) which has seen strong support from individual members of the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) and Tibetans living in the West. The NKT has meditation centres around the world and has been vocal in its public opposition to the Dalai Lama’s position.

      Even so, no concrete evidence has ever been supplied. However, whilst the intended objective is unclear, the Dalai Lama’s Shugden exclusion has created unrest amongst Tibetans inside the TAR. This is precisely what China fears. China sustains a “One China” policy to maintain stability and prosperity of the state. Any divisive conflict in the TAR such as the Shugden split, does not augur well for it’s objectives. This is not an objective the exile Tibetan Government necessarily shares and its ability to influence affairs in the TAR is one of its key bargaining chips.

      What we have, in effect, is both sides calling for unity while at the same time continuing to bicker. The Communist Party of TAR has certainly sought to politicise the rift, as the Dalai Lama and his supporters also appear to have done. The Dalai Lama’s comments have served to alienate Shugden devotees from other Tibetan Buddhists, and are somewhat jarring when considered alongside his calls for unity in the Tibetan diaspora. Shugden adherents have insisted that if indeed the exiled Tibetan leadership believes that the Communist Party of China is leveraging this issue, then a simple pronouncement by the Dalai Lama declaring an end to the de facto ban would have the effect of rendering it harmless.

      Could the time now be ripe to call for closure of hostilities? The Dalai Lama has recently expressed a desire to return to his Tibetan homeland, a wish that would have no chance of fulfilment without a significant thawing of China’s attitude towards Tibet’s spiritual leader.

      Harmony among Tibetan Buddhists is in the interests of both sides. Moreover, having said in November 2017 that “Tibetans want to stay with China” and that he would return to Tibet at once, if China agrees, the Dalai Lama has flagged a willingness to try and overcome the longstanding political impasse. In addition, a high ranking emissary of the Dalai Lama, Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche - former Prime Minister of the Tibetan exile Government - was nominated in the autumn as the Dalai Lama’s envoy for talks with the Chinese authorities and is believed to have held secret meetings with senior Communist party leaders.

      Given that one of His Holiness’ early reasons for his criticism of Shugden worship – that it “harms the life of the Dalai Lama” – no longer seems justified given his longevity and continuing fair health, a rapprochement with Shugden acolytes may be a good starting point if his desired return to Tibet is to be anything more than a pipe dream.

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    • Iconic Jokhang temple safe, adjacent shrine gutted by fire

      February 17, 2018 Tenzin Dharpo Phayul.com

      DHARAMSHALA, Feb. 17: Amid widespread speculations of the iconic Jhokang temple in Lhasa city in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR)being destroyed by fire, Phayul’s sources in Lhasa have confirmed that a nearby shrine has been destroyed by a fire earlier today and not the 7th Century shrine.

      The Jokhang temple, considered sacred by Tibetans and built by Tibetan emperor Songtsen Gampo has suffered no damage.

      A fire broke out on Saturday evening around 6:30 p.m. local time, the source said. The fire has since been put out by the authorities. No damage to sacred relics have been reported. The cause of the fire is not yet ascertained, a Tibetan living in Lhasa told Phayul.

      No casualty has also been reported, considering the locality being in close proximity to the Jokhang temple which is usually packed with pilgrims and devotees. Today being the second day of the Tibetan new year is especially inclined to increased number of pilgrims in the area.

      The Jokhang temple which was accorded the UNESCO World Heritage site along with the Potala Palace in the year 2000, houses the “Jhowo Rinpoche”, a holy statue of the Buddha.

      The temple that houses the iconic Jhowo Shakyamuni suffered damage during the cultural revolution, after Chinese communist forces occupied Tibet in 1959, and later restored in the 1970’s.

      However, Beijing based Chinese media house CGTN (China Global Television Network) reported that fire did break out at Jhokhang temple. "Local authorities said there are no casualties and no cultural relics were damaged," it said without citing any official or authorities' name.

       

      At the time of this report going online, social networking sites and microblogging sites are flooded with videos of massive fire raging some building in what looks like residential dwellings in the Tibetan capital. However, the videos are taken from a distance from where it is difficult to ascertain the exact spot of the fire. A Facebook post by a user called Bah Meson (འབའ་མེ་སོན།) claims it was not the Jhokhang temple that caught fire but a nearby temple. The user claims he was actually outside the Jhokhang temple's circumambulation path when he was posting his comment. "About half an hour ago, there has been a rumor that the Jhokhang temple caught fire. However, it is not true but a temple nearby caught fire. I am actually circumambulating the Jhokhang right now. Please do not worry and stay relieved", he wrote in Tibetan. (translated) However, the authenticity of the user could not be verified.

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    • The Seed of True Kindness - Unlimited Friendliness

      Pema Chödrön WINTER 2009 tricycle

      Three steps to genuine compassion

      I’ve often heard the Dalai Lama say that having compassion for oneself is the basis for developing compassion for others. Chögyam Trungpa also taught this when he spoke about how to genuinely help others—how to work for the benefit of others without the interference of our own agendas. He presented this as a three-step process. Step one is maitri, a Sanskrit word meaning lovingkindness toward all beings. Here, however, as Chögyam Trungpa used the term, it means unlimited friendliness toward ourselves, with the clear implication that this leads naturally to unlimited friendliness toward others. Maitri also has the meaning of trusting oneself—trusting that we have what it takes to know ourselves thoroughly and completely without feeling hopeless, without turning against ourselves because of what we see.

      Step two in the journey toward genuinely helping others is communication from the heart. To the degree that we trust ourselves, we have no need to close down on others. They can evoke strong emotions in us, but still we don’t withdraw. Based on this ability to stay open, we arrive at step three, the difficult-to-come-by fruition: the ability to put others before ourselves and help them without expecting anything in return.

      When we build a house, we start by creating a stable foundation. Just so, when we wish to benefit others, we start by developing warmth or friendship for ourselves. It’s common, however, for people to have a distorted view of this friendliness and warmth. We’ll say, for instance, that we need to take care of ourselves, but how many of us really know how to do this? When clinging to security and comfort, and warding off pain, become the focus of our lives, we don’t end up feeling cared for and we certainly don’t feel motivated to extend ourselves to others. We end up feeling more threatened or irritable, more unable to relax.

      I’ve known many people who have spent years exercising daily, getting massages, doing yoga, faithfully following one food or vitamin regimen after another, pursuing spiritual teachers and different styles of meditation, all in the name of taking care of themselves. Then something bad happens to them, and all those years don’t seem to have added up to the inner strength and kindness for themselves that they need in order to relate with what’s happening. And they don’t add up to being able to help other people or the environment. When taking care of ourselves is all about me, it never gets at the unshakable tenderness and confidence that we’ll need when everything falls apart. When we start to develop maitri for ourselves— unconditional acceptance of ourselves—then we’re really taking care of ourselves in a way that pays off. We feel more at home with our own bodies and minds and more at home in the world. As our kindness for ourselves grows, so does our kindness for other people.

      The peace that we are looking for is not peace that crumbles as soon as there is difficulty or chaos. Whether we’re seeking inner peace or global peace or a combination of the two, the way to experience it is to build on the foundation of unconditional openness to all that arises. Peace isn’t an experience free of challenges, free of rough and smooth—it’s an experience that’s expansive enough to include all that arises without feeling threatened.

      I sometimes wonder how I would respond in an emergency. I hear stories about people’s bravery emerging in crises, but I’ve also heard some painful stories from people who weren’t able to reach out to others in need because they were so afraid for themselves. We never really know which way it will go. So I ponder what would happen, for instance, if I were in a situation where there was no food but I had a bit of bread. Would I share it with the others who were starving? Would I keep it for myself? If I contemplate this question when I’m feeling the discomfort of even mild hunger, it makes the process more honest. The reality gets through to me that if I give away all my food, then the hunger I’m feeling won’t be going away. Maybe another person will feel better, but for sure physically I will feel worse.

      Sometimes the Dalai Lama suggests not eating one day a week, or skipping a meal, to briefly put ourselves in the shoes of those who are starving all over the world. In practicing this kind of solidarity myself, I have found that it can bring up panic and self-protectiveness. So the question is, what do we do with our distress? Does it open our heart or close it? When we’re hungry, does our discomfort increase our empathy for hungry people and animals, or does it increase our fear of hunger and intensify our selfishness?

      With contemplations like this, we can be completely truthful about where we are but also aware of where we’d like to be next year or in five years, or where we’d like to be by the time we die. Maybe today I panic and can’t give away even a crumb of my bread, but I don’t have to sink into despair. We have the opportunity to lead our lives in such a way that year by year we’ll be less afraid, less threatened, and more able to spontaneously help others without asking ourselves, “What’s in this for me?”

      A fifty-year-old woman told me her story. She had been in an airplane crash at the age of twenty-five. She was in such a panic rushing to get out of the plane before it exploded that she didn’t stop to help anyone else, including, most painfully, a little boy who was tangled in his seat belt and couldn’t move. She had been a practicing Buddhist for about five years when the accident happened; it was shattering to her to see how she had reacted. She was deeply ashamed of herself, and after the crash she sank into three hard years of depression. But ultimately, instead of her remorse and regret causing her to self-destruct, these very feelings opened her heart to other people. Not only did she become committed to her spiritual path in order to grow in her ability to help others, but she also became engaged in working with people in crisis. Her seeming failure is making her a far more courageous and compassionate woman.

      Right before the Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, he was tempted in every conceivable way. He was assaulted by objects of lust, objects of craving, objects of aggression, of fear, of all the variety of things that usually hook us and cause us to lose our balance. Part of his extraordinary accomplishment was that he stayed present, on the dot, without being seduced by anything that appeared. In traditional versions of the story, it’s said that no matter what appeared, whether it was demons or soldiers with weapons or alluring women, he had no reaction to it at all. I’ve always thought, however, that perhaps the Buddha did experience emotions during that long night, but recognized them as simply dynamic energy moving through. The feelings and sensations came up and passed away, came up and passed away. They didn’t set off a chain reaction. This process is often depicted in paintings as weapons transforming into flowers—warriors shooting thousands of flaming arrows at the Buddha as he sits under the Bodhi tree but the arrows becoming blossoms. That which can cause our destruction becomes a blessing in disguise when we let the energies arise and pass through us over and over again, without acting out.

      A question that has intrigued me for years is this: How can we start exactly where we are, with all our entanglements, and still develop unconditional acceptance of ourselves instead of guilt and depression? One of the most helpful methods I’ve found is the practice of compassionate abiding. This is a way of bringing warmth to unwanted feelings. It is a direct method for embracing our experience rather than rejecting it. So the next time you realize that you’re hooked—that you’re stuck, finding yourself tightening, spiraling into blaming, acting out, obsessing—you could experiment with this approach.

      Contacting the experience of being hooked, you breathe in, allowing the feeling completely and opening to it. The in-breath can be deep and relaxed—anything that helps you to let the feeling be there, anything that helps you not push it away. Then, still abiding with the urge and edginess of feelings such as craving or aggression, as you breathe out you relax and give the feeling space. The outbreath is not a way of sending the discomfort away but a way of ventilating it, of loosening the tension around it, of becoming aware of the space in which the discomfort is occurring.

      This practice helps us to develop maitri because we willingly touch parts of ourselves that we’re not proud of. We touch feelings that we think we shouldn’t be having—feelings of failure, of shame, of murderous rage; all those politically incorrect feelings like racial prejudice, disdain for people we consider ugly or inferior, sexual addiction, and phobias. We contact whatever we’re experiencing and go beyond liking or disliking by breathing in and opening. Then we breathe out and relax. We continue that for a few moments or for as long as we wish, synchronizing it with the breath. This process has a leaning-in quality. Breathing in and leaning in are very much the same. We touch the experience, feeling it in the body if that helps, and we breathe it in.

      In the process of doing this, we are transmuting hard, reactive, rejecting energy into basic warmth and openness. It sounds dramatic, but really it’s very simple and direct. All we are doing is breathing in and experiencing what’s happening, then breathing out as we continue to experience what’s happening. It’s a way of working with our negativity that appreciates that the negative energy per se is not the problem. Confusion only begins when we can’t abide with the intensity of the energy and therefore spin off. Staying present with our own energy allows it to keep flowing and move on. Abiding with our own energy is the ultimate nonaggression, the ultimate maitri.

      Compassionate abiding is a stand-alone practice, but it can also serve as a preliminary for doing the practice of tonglen, the practice of taking in and sending out. Tonglen is an ancient practice designed to short-circuit “all about me.” Just as with compassionate abiding, the logic of the practice is that we start by breathing in and opening to feelings that threaten the survival of our self-importance. We breathe in feelings that generally we want to get rid of. On the out-breath of tonglen, we send out all that we find pleasurable and comfortable, meaningful and desirable. We send out all the feelings we usually grasp after and cling to for dear life.

      Tonglen can begin very much like compassionate abiding. We breathe in anything we find painful and we send out relief, synchronizing this with the breath. Yet the emphasis with tonglen is always on relieving the suffering of others. As we breathe in discomfort, we might think, “May I feel this completely so that I and all other beings may be free of pain.” As we breathe out relief, we might think, “May I send out this contentment completely so that all beings may feel relaxed and at home with themselves and with the world.” In other words, tonglen goes beyond compassionate abiding because it is a practice that includes the suffering of other beings and the longing that this suffering could be removed.

      Tonglen develops further as your courage to experience your own unwanted feelings grows. For instance, when you realize you’re hooked, you breathe in with the understanding, even if it’s only conceptual at first, that this experience is shared by every being and that you aspire to alleviate their suffering. As you breathe out, you send relief to everyone. Still, your direct experience—the experience you’re tasting right now—is the basis for having any idea at all about what other beings go through. In this way tonglen is a heart practice, a gut-level practice, not a head practice or intellectual exercise.

      It’s common for parents of young children to spontaneously put their children first. When little ones are ill, mothers and fathers often have no problem at all wishing they could take away the child’s suffering; they would gladly breathe it in and take it away if they could, and they would gladly breathe out relief.

      It’s suggested to start tonglen with situations like that, where it’s fairly easy. The practice becomes more challenging when you start to do it for people you don’t know, and almost impossible when you try to do it for people you don’t like. You breathe in the suffering of a panhandler on the street and aren’t sure you want to. And how willing are you to do more advanced tonglen, where you breathe in the pain of someone you despise and send them relief? From our current vantage point, this can seem too much to ask, too overwhelming or too absurd.

      The reason why tonglen practice can be so difficult is that we can’t bear to feel the feelings that the street person or our nemesis bring up in us. This, of course, brings us back to compassionate abiding and making friends with ourselves. It has been precisely this process of doing tonglen, trying to stretch further and open my mind to a wider and wider range of people, that has helped me to see that without maitri I will always close down on other people when certain feelings are provoked.

      The next time you have a chance, go outside and try to do tonglen for the first person you meet, breathing in their discomfort and sending out well-being and caring. If you’re in a city, just stand still for a while and pay attention to anyone who catches your eye and do tonglen for them. You can begin by contacting any aversion or attraction or even a neutral, uninterested feeling that they bring up in you, and breathe in, contacting that feeling much as you do with compassionate abiding but with the thought, “May both of us be able to feel feelings like this without it causing us to shut down to others.” As you breathe out, send happiness and contentment to them. If you encounter an animal or person who is clearly in distress, pause and breathe in with the wish that they be free of their distress and send out relief to them. With the most advanced tonglen, you breathe in with the wish that you could actually take on their distress so they could be free of it, and you breathe out with the wish that you could give them all your comfort and ease. In other words, you would literally be willing to stand in their shoes and have them stand in yours if it would help.

      By trying this, we learn exactly where we are open and where we are closed. We learn quickly where we would do well to just practice abiding compassionately with our own confused feelings, before we try to work with other people, because right now our efforts would probably make a bigger mess. I know many people who want to be teachers, or feed the homeless, or start clinics, or try in some way to truly help others. Despite their generous intentions, they don’t always realize that if they plan to work closely with people they may be in for a lot of difficulty—a lot of feeling hooked. The people they hope to help will not always see them as saviors. In fact, they will probably criticize them and give them a hard time. Teachers and helpers of all kinds will be of limited use if they are doing their work to build up their own egos. Setting out to help others is a very quick way to pop the bubble of ego.

       

      So we start by making friends with our experience and developing warmth for our good old selves. Slowly, very slowly, gently, very gently, we let the stakes get higher as we touch in on more troubling feelings. This leads to trusting that we have the strength and good-heartedness to live in this precious world, despite its land mines, with dignity and kindness. With this kind of confidence, connecting with others comes more easily, because what is there to fear when we have stayed with ourselves through thick and thin? Other people can provoke anything in us, and we don’t need to defend ourselves by striking out or shutting down. Selfless help—helping others without an agenda— is the result of having helped ourselves. We feel loving toward ourselves and therefore we feel loving toward others. Over time, all those we used to feel separate from become more and more melted into our heart.

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    • China's "Buddha-like" youth quietly accept life for what it is

      Xinhua|2017-12-28|Editor: Liangyu

      HEFEI, Dec. 28 (Xinhua) -- Life's tough for China's younger generation. Finding jobs or spouses, and settling down in a sometimes tough and cruel world often lend itself to either giving up outright, or detached ironic posturing. Many of China's youth of today have opted for the latter and refer to themselves as the "Buddha-like" generation.

      Zhang Min, 23, is one of this generation. He is just about to graduate and has been informed that he has failed yet another job interview -- he has already sent out over 60 applications and attended 20 job fairs, but they all came to nothing, and he has no choice but to be philosophical.

      "[Failure] does not bother me as much as before," Zhang says. "Whatever will be, will be."

      The phrase "Buddha-like youth" recently went viral after a popular WeChat article used the term to describe China's post-1990s generation.

      "Having seen everything and keeping a casual and calm mindset toward life and career under mounting social pressure," the article wrote, "it's fine to have something or not. There is no need to pursue or win anything."

      Young Chinese, perhaps ironically, have been quick to label themselves as Buddha-like youth. A Buddha-like relationship is, apparently, one of forgiveness, never forcing your better half to make changes, and accepting things as they are.

      A Buddha-like career means employees no longer concerning themselves with promotion or office politics, but simply getting on with the job in hand instead.

      But there has been a backlash against the Buddha-like mindset, particularly among the older generation. They argue that such an approach is one defined by pessimism, indolence and sloth, leading to a reduced work ethic, lack of self-motivation and apathetic demeanor.

      "A rapidly developing China brings about many reforms and changes, which inevitably create challenges and great pressure to its younger generations, notably in career and life," says Tian Feng, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "It's understandable that such a self-mocking subculture is buzzing on China's internet and prevalent among youngsters."

      Far awway from her hometown in east China's Anhui Province, Li Xiao, 22, works in an architectural design company in Guangzhou, south China's Guangdong Province. Last year, she failed the graduate-study admission exam.

      Li had intended to prepare for the exam in her spare time after work, but a lot of overtime caught her unguarded. She often gets off work at 11 p.m. and is invariably burnt-out.

      After taking this year's exam, Li says she has little expectation about the result.

      "I've tried and participated, that is what counts," she says, sounding every inch a Buddha-like youth.

      The difficulties faced by the post-1990s generation lead them to describe themselves in mocking tones as, "prematurely balding," "monks or nuns," "divorcees," or the "middle-aged obese." Though they are nowhere near these things, they certainly feel like they are. Life has simply ground them down.

      "Saying 'It's OK,' or 'All right it doesn't matter' is just a disguise we put on in the face of the rigors of life," says Zhang Li, who works as a product manager in a Beijing-based internet company.

      A new product is about to be launched in Zhang's office, and she will have to stay in the office until 4 or even 5 a.m.

      She says the Buddha-like generation appear casual about minor matters but spare no efforts on things that really matter.

      For Zhang Min, Buddha-like job seeking is "preparing for the worst outcome but still doing whatever one can to best present oneself in front of an employer."

      "Life itself is hard enough, and we just can't afford to make it harder on our own," he says.

      Several days later, he is invited for an interview to teach in a high school in east China's Ningbo city, six hours away by train. Without hesitation, he books a ticket and starts packing. He does not know if he will get the job, but instead resolves to "be Buddhist about it."

       

      "The Buddha-like' mindset helps keep today's young people calm and flexible, which better prepares them to take more responsibilities in the future," says Xu Hua, professor of the School of Sociology and Political Science of Anhui University. "An ambitious, competent and responsible young generation is vital to a nation's development. We should pay more attention to their needs and create a suitable environment for them to prosper."

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    • Honesty’s Advantage-On Beginning at the Beginning

      Judy Lief SUMMER 2001 tricycle

      In working with someone who is dying, there is a tremendous temptation to ignore our own relationship to death and immediately assume the role of the helper. But when we do so, we are losing our common ground with that person. Entering a dying person’s world takes courage and empathy. Only by accepting our own vulnerability to death do we overcome the divided perspective of “I (over here) am helping you (over there).” Only then are we in the same boat. So in a sense, we need to be willing to die with that person. Usually we do not want to be in the same boat at all. Although it is embarrassing to admit, we are secretly glad that it is someone else who has cancer and we are the one looking after him rather than the other way around. We find security in the fact that we are not the one who is sick right now. It is hard not to feel that way, even when we are sincerely and earnestly trying to help.

      There is no point in hiding that tendency and pretending to have empathy. Instead of feigning benevolence, we could acknowledge that we are afraid of sickness, afraid that the same thing might happen to us, and we are desperate to distance ourselves from that possibility. We could look into that fear and see how it operates. Beginning at the beginning, we could notice how we enter a sick person’s room. What concerns come up in our mind? How do we view that person? How much can we identify with her situation? When do we shut down? Where are we holding back? What are our limits? Being honest about our limitations protects us from becoming patronizing and self-satisfied. When we are more honest, we don’t have as much to prove. We accept who we are and go from there. So our whole approach lightens. At the same time, we also relieve the people with whom we are dealing from having to prove themselves to us. So there are fewer barriers; we are less separate. When we approach a sick or dying person, we are simply relating to her as an ordinary human being, in the same category as ourselves.

       

      Working with others gives us constant feedback as to our own state of mind. Spending time with dying people is revealing. It reflects back to us with great honesty and vividness our own current relationship with uncertainty, death, and impermanence. It exposes our shortcomings and cuts through our pretenses. If we are open to this feedback, we can sharpen our understanding of who we are and reawaken our humor. We are reminded over and over again not to take ourselves too seriously. Although we may dream that we are going to be the one who steps in and, just in the nick of time, helps some dying person realize his or her human potential, I doubt whether any of us is going to accomplish that very often. If we have some humor about ourselves, we realize that we, too, are involved in a slow process of growth. We are working with our own states of mind, just as other people are working with theirs. We are also dying, just as they are. We are all in this together.

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    • Science & philosophy in Indian Buddhist classics

      January 6, 2018, Arvind Sharma Times of India

      To make classical Buddhist scientific and philosophical thought on the nature of reality accessible to modern readers, the XIV Dalai Lama – who considers the dialogue of religion and science a crucial component of humanity’s future – conceptualised a five-part book on the subject. The Physical World is the first volume, edited by Thupten Jinpa and brought out by Wisdom publications. The volume consolidates understanding of the physical world as found in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition under such headings as knowable objects, subtle particles, time, the cosmos and its inhabitants, and fetal development. It is a pioneering work, brilliantly adapted for promoting the dialogue between religion and science.

      According to the Dalai Lama, classical Buddhist treatises refer to three domains: a scientific one, which would cover the empirical descriptions of the outer world of matter and the inner world of the mind; a philosophical one, which would cover the efforts to ascertain the nature of ultimate reality; and a religious one, which would refer to the practices of the Buddhist tradition. The present volume, covers the scientific dimension; so, too, the second. The third and fourth volumes will focus on the philosophical dimension while the fifth will cover the religious dimension. The material of the first two volumes is taken from the Tengyur, which consists of Buddhist treatises translated into Tibetan.

      The interaction between science and religion in the Christian West has often been characterised by a measure of hostility, because there, religion is based on revealed dogmatic truth and science on reason and experimentation. This, however, need not necessarily apply in the case of science and Buddhism, as in this case, one witnesses a broad methodological convergence. The reason is that while the ultimate goal of religious life in Christianity can only be achieved after death, the fruit of religious life in Buddhism can be experienced in this very life. Thus the conclusions of Buddhism become as falsifiable and verifiable as those of science. This endows the encounter between science and Buddhism with unforeseen possibilities of maturity.

      The Enlightenment view of reason, treated the rational as representing the antithesis of the irrational so that this binary grid of the rational and the irrational has become the dominant trope of modernity. Life, however, may be said to consist not just of the rational and the irrational, but also of the non-rational. This category would cover such aspects of life as relate to our emotional attachment to our near and dear ones, to the appreciation of the world of art, music and literature and humanity’s urge for transcendence.

      There is also a subtler issue involved. Science per se is not interested in human well-being but rather in the search for truth. Any benefit accrued is a foreseeable effect of science but not its intended one, whereas the intended goal of Buddhism is to save humanity from suffering. Hence science, in view of its neutrality in terms of value, may be harnessed for either good or evil. By contrast, the sole goal of Buddhism is the alleviation of human suffering which means that even its “truths” are meant to ensure human well-being and therefore are a means to an end and not an end in themselves.

       

      In science, in the strict sense, truth alone is the end. Axiologically speaking, there is a fundamental gulf fixed between science and Buddhism.  Science can explain the how of things but not their why, whereas the raison d’etre of Buddhism is the why of suffering.

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    • Jealousy Is a Warning - Middle Way Manager

      Shozan Jack Haubner FALL 2015 tricycle

      Think your teacher is not competitive? Think again.

      At night I lie in bed, unable to sleep. Worst-case scenarios run through my head—and then I remember that they’re not worst-case scenarios at all. I’m living them. My teacher died, our community has torn itself apart in his absence, and I’m 42, single, and still not totally sure what I want to do with my life.

      Plus I have the prostate of a 70-year-old man, which is not as fun as it sounds. At night I pee in an old plastic mozzarella cheese bucket I keep by the side of the bed, because I pee a lot and the bathroom is too far down the hall. I mean, it’s not in another zip code or something, but the stone hallway tile is really hard and cold, and anyway, don’t judge me. One man’s sad little habit is another man’s life hack.

      I live at and manage a city temple founded by my teacher 50 years ago. The halls are haunted by his absence. The place is full of ghosts. At night they all seem to take up residence in my room—in my head. I can’t stop worrying. Mostly I worry about how the temple will survive on my limited charisma and Cracker Jack insights. Who will want to come study with me? Is it my job to be spiritually impressive, to draw in new students, or is this just ego?

      I never wanted to make a career out of Zen. I simply wanted to find a way to live. Making a living at being wise seems to come so naturally to some people. They write a few books, smile from a few lifestyle magazine covers, and suddenly they’re filling auditoriums. Bastards. I belong to a different class. Not a spiritual superstar, but not a freshman practitioner either. Not enlightened, but I can help a rookie upgrade her practice. I deal in small volumes of local dharma.

      I’m a middle way manager.

      After my suiji-shiki, or priest/teacher ordination ceremony, they put me in the temple tearoom as a kind of dharma show pony. There I stood, in 30 pounds of hand-sewn garments, trying to make sense of my new red and gold fan, when a Japanese woman, about 50 years of age, approached me, went down on her knees before me, and began bowing and saying “Shozan-san! Thank you! Thank you!” “Okay,” I said, bowing my head, “Yes, thank you.” “Thank you! Thank you Shozan-san!” She stayed down there an awfully long time and I began to go red in the face. “Okay, yes, thank you too. Okay . . . ” “Thank you Shozan-san! ”

      There were tears in people’s eyes. Everyone looked so in love with their idea of me just then. And who was I to argue? Much of your job as a new Zen priest involves pretending that you actually are the kind of person that people keep mistaking you for. You are constantly walking the thin line between growing into your new role and faking the part.

      That being said, whatever you do, don’t try to hide your weaknesses. This is the spiritual equivalent of the guy who combs the hair down by his ears up over the shiny bald spot on the top of his head. No one’s fooled. The only thing worse than trying to look younger than you are is trying to look wiser than you are.

      Of course you can’t win, because once you’re open about your flaws, students judge you every bit as harshly as you used to judge the teachers in your own life. They even compare you to your own spiritual heroes, often with a look on their face as though they’ve eaten a bad piece of fish, and suddenly you realize that those deep souls who inspired you are somehow now your competitors—and you go from admiring to envying them.

      I started thinking about how many truly extraordinary Buddhist teachers there are in this world, and how lucky I am that they all live so far away.

      Envy is born from insecurity. We often think that insecurity comes from a weak ego, but in my experience it is the result of an inflexible ego that has mistaken itself as the center of the universe, which keeps contradicting it on this key point. Whatever its origin, envy is not the proper response to spiritual decency in others. Yet there it was, rising up in me just the other night after I had peed in my cheese bucket. I lay back down and started thinking about how many truly extraordinary Buddhist teachers there are in this world, and how lucky I am that they all live so far away. I mean, how could I compete for students with the Dalai Lama?

      I tried to puff myself up by thinking about the book I wrote and its dozens of fans. Then I remembered who is shelved next to me at Barnes & Noble. Thich Nhat something or other. There are about 500 titles in the Eastern religions section, and at least one thousand of them are written by him. Who writes this many books? How does he do it?

      I went on in this vein until the sun started to rise and I had to pee again. I stumbled out of bed and stepped right into my bucket of urine—at which point I utterly freaked out. I thought I’d fallen into a frigid pool of death or something. I screamed and kicked my foot, and the pee bucket shot right through my paper shoji screen and across the room, where it hit the wall and landed with a thud.

      I cleaned up my mess, cursed a great deal, crawled back in bed, and lay there like the middle-aged ersatz Eckhart Tolle I am. No way I was falling asleep now. I replayed the pee bucket incident again and again in my head, audibly groaning each time. The worst person to be embarrassed in front of is yourself, because out of everyone you know you’re probably the least willing to forget any of the stupid things that you do.

      Humility, however, brings clarity. Sometimes you’re just too busy thinking about yourself to really see yourself clearly. That’s when life puts a banana peel—or a pee bucket—in your path. That morning I clearly saw just how heavy I had grown with the burden of trying to be someone who I am not. I needed to go back to the core of Zen practice: doing simple things completely, not trying to do big things for a large audience. I’m a monk, not Tony Robbins. If people get something out of practicing with me, great. But I can’t carry anyone into the zendo with me, either through charisma, insight, or marketing. That’s just not what this path is about. People have to bring themselves to the practice. And when they do, I’m there to practice with them.

      My job as a middle-aged middle manager of the middle way is the same as that of any lay practitioner, right on up to the most enlightened being on the planet: we all must commit wholeheartedly, moment after moment, to the life we have, instead of fantasizing about a different life while putting down or envying those who are supposedly living it. When I start feeling jealous of others, it’s a warning sign that I’ve become a little bit too entranced by some idea of myself and have lost touch with the reality of my life. Someone else seems to better represent this idea of myself than I do, and suddenly I want his life instead of my own.

      Zen practice, however, teaches you to completely be yourself—if you don’t, who will? Someone’s got to hold down your corner of the universe, and no one else is qualified. If you are not fully present in your life, there will be an absence in the world where you should be. That absence won’t be big or small, it will be the exact same size as your presence: perfectly you-sized.

      After the Japanese woman finally got up from her knees that day in the tearoom, a tall, funny-looking monk friend of mine took her place before me. He saw my expression and growled. “Don’t forget the most important thing about being a Zen priest—wear your responsibilities lightly!”

       

      It was one of those rare moments where someone says something that you didn’t know you needed to hear, and it makes all the difference. A well-put spiritual phrase usually happens like this, by accident or chance, in response to some particular need. Genuine teaching arises in small moments, person to person. At least that’s always how it’s been for me. When you’re fully present in your life, the teachings have a way of finding you—and when you’re not, a bucket of piss becomes the Buddha and wakes you up.

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    • Gaya blast handiwork of Bangladeshi terror outfit: Indian intelligence

      January 29, 2018 Tenzin Dharpo Phayul.com

      DHARAMSHALA, Jan. 29: Indian intelligence authorities have suggested that a banned Bangladeshi terror outfit is behind the recent bomb threat in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, where a low intensity blast took place, while two live bombs were recovered near the Mahabodhi temple vicinity on Jan. 19.

      Intelligence sources cited by Indian daily Times of India suggested the involvement of Bangladesh-based terror outfit Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). The act of terror, Indian intelligence agency said, indicated the aim to kill Buddhist monks and foreigners present in Bodh Gaya to listen to the sermons of Tibetan leader and Buddhist spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

      TOI’s source said that "a series of calls were made to some locations in West Bengal from Bodh Gaya just before and after planting the three IEDs. Calls were made to locations known to Indian security agencies as covert bases of JMB operating in WB for the past several years."

      JMB is said to have backing of Pakistan's ISI and has active cadres in West Bengal (WB) and Assam. The same terror outfit was responsible for the Holey Artisan Bakery attack in Dhaka in July 2016, where 24 people died.

      Indian media has also reported that five suspects who appeared to be of Nepalese origin were arrested and their photographs which were obtained from CCTV footage were provided to the state and the central agencies.

      On Jan. 19, two 7kg ammonium nitrate crude bomb were found near the gate no. 4 of the main temple and the adjacent road leading to a Tibetan monastery by the local police after a low intensity blast took place around the same area.

      Indian intelligence agencies such as the national investigating agency (NIA) and the state police's anti-terrorism squad are probing the case further.

       

      The Tibetan leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama has completed his stay in Bodh Gaya and is currently in Delhi where he will undergo routine medical check up.

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    • Ghosts Are Universal, But What You See is Influenced By What You Already Believe

      December 4, 2017 Derek Beres Big Think

      The mythologist Joseph Campbell once wrote that Buddhists don’t dream of Christ. His point is simple: if your identity is bound up in a certain set of beliefs, you’re likely not going to be unconsciously invaded by a different figure from another set, especially if you’ve never had contact with that system.

      Campbell jotted down this idea this well before the Internet, when people of various religions had much less access to different religious systems. Buddhists were much more likely to envision a Bo tree over a crucifix any night. 

      But do Buddhists see Christian ghosts? The concept of ghosts is universal. In Buddhism, there are even categories of ghosts. Hungry ghosts are beings driven by intense emotional desires, while ghosts as we generally know them in America—apparitions of the deceased—also exist. Taoist hungry ghosts emerge from the ether if their meat casing of a human body died violently or unhappily. In Christianity, the holy spirit is a ghost, but ancestors are ghostly too. 

      Though ghosts are a global phenomenon—there is evidence humans are hardwired to “see” them—Knox College psychology professor Frank T. McAndrew writes that whatever god you worship influences the type of ghost you see. Like Campbell, he recognizes prior belief influences what your eyes behold. 

      First McAndrew surveys basic assumptions about the spirit world. Protestants, Catholics, and Muslims, he writes, share a belief in resurrection and judgment, which eventually ends up in a heavenly realm or a hellish domain; Catholics throw in purgatory for good measure. Buddhist and Hindus, while varying slightly depending on region, put stock in reincarnation, which requires a certain waiting period in which the soul might just happen to haunt the living—their own private purgatory.

      This, McAndrew speculates, allows each believer to think they’re asserting control over the destiny of their individual ether in the context of the belief system they’ve been raised in. But it turns out that this anxiety-reducing mechanism of an ever-after might actually induce a different kind of paranoia: 

      Religion’s talent for easing our anxiety about death may have had the perverse effect of increasing the likelihood that we’ll be on edge about ghosts, spirits and other supernatural beings.

      Religious believers are twice as likely to believe in ghosts than nonbelievers—and 18 percent of Americans have claimed to have seen one surfing the air. If the believer is Muslim, he’ll likely think he’d spied a Jinn, since the concept of souls becoming ghosts isn’t prominent in Islam, whereas Protestants give credence to the paranormal. Catholics also champion these type of spirits, even as they condemn followers from contacting them through the Ouija board they purchased on Amazon. 

      One of the most complex assertions on the waiting period between death and rebirth is expressed in the Bardo Thodol, a Tibetan text popularly known as the “book of the dead.” While the validity of this “transitional state” is questionable, the rites associated with it are fascinating—so much so Carl Jung added commentary to W.Y. Evans-Wentz’s translation.

      Jung is skeptical regarding the text’s more grandiose claims, comparing them to “the half-baked literature of European and American spiritualism.” As an interior map of archetypes and psychology, however, he is enthralled. He writes,

      It is a primordial, universal idea that the dead simply continue their earthly existence and do not know that they are disembodied spirits—an archetypal idea which enters into immediate, visible manifestation whenever anyone sees a ghost. It is significant, too, that ghosts all over the world have certain features in common. 

      The features, which include a sort of hallucinogenic vision of a hazy figure and often relies on a “feeling” of presence rather than visual proof, are indeed experienced around the planet. As McAndrew points out, prior beliefs influence how you see ghosts and what to make of them. Their function, history, and friendliness (or foreboding nature) are all dependent upon what you previously thought about ghosts. 

       

      Which is why the concept continues to fascinate as a psychological construct. The human brain is capable of creating things that do not exist and actually seeing them in front of their own eyes. There’s a saying that life is what you make it. Turns out that death might just be as well. 

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    • Chinese Buddhist Communities Celebrate Laba Festival

      BD Dipananda Buddhistdoor Global | 2018-01-26 |

      Chinese people across the world gathered at their local Buddhist temples on Wednesday to celebrate the Laba festival by eating specially prepared congee. The festival falls on the eighth day of the 12th month of the lunar calendar—24 January this year—which, according to the Mahayana tradition, is the day the Buddha attained enlightenment.

      The word Laba comes from the Chinese name for the 12th lunar month “La” () and “ba” (), the Chinese word for “eight.” On this day, Chinese people traditionally worship their ancestors, and pray for a bountiful harvest, good health, and fortune, although it was only later in its history that the festival was attributed Buddhist significance.

      The festival is also known as Laba Zhu, where zhu has a similar pronunciation to zhou, which means rice porridge. However, this is not the reason why the festival is celebrated by eating congee; just before attaining enlightenment, the Buddha, who was on his last legs in terms of health, was given some curd by a shepherd girl. As Buddhism spread from India to China, the curd was replaced with rice porridge (congee) common in China.

      Eight-treasure congee usually consists of at least eight different types of rice, beans, fruits, and nuts. Some of these ingredients have to soak for a day before they can be cooked. From sbs.com.au

      Eight-treasure congee usually consists of at least eight different types of rice, beans, fruits, and nuts. Some of these ingredients have to soak for a day before they can be cooked. From sbs.com.au

      The special rice porridge eaten on this day is known as eight-treasure congee, and usually consists of at least eight different vegetarian ingredients, including rice, beans, fruits, and nuts. The exact ingredients depend on what is grown locally or what is locally available, and therefore ties in closely with the old tradition of praying for a good harvest during the festival. Along with the glutinous rice that makes up the staple ingredient of the congee, a local community might add lotus seeds, black-eyed beans, chickpeas, Chinese mushrooms, carrots, red dates, peanuts, and yams.

      The Laba festival is celebrated across China, and everyone eats Laba congee. Buddhist temples cook the congee in bulk and many make the journey to temples to collect their bowl of rice porridge. The temples also distribute free congee at construction sites, communities, hospitals, nursing homes, and welfare houses.

      The festival grew in popularity during the Qing dynasty (1636–1912), when the emperor, empress, and princes would offer Laba congee to ministers, or imperial maids. As for the common people, families would get together and cook Laba congee to worship their ancestors.

      The Laba festival is also considered to be part of the preparation for Chinese New Year, which follows soon afterwards. Laba therefore serves as a reminder to begin preparations for the lunar new year celebrations and for travelers to return home to reunite with their families.

       

      The festival is also popular with overseas Chinese communities. At Nan Tien Temple in Wollongong, Australia—the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere—Venerable Miaoyou observes that the festival is celebrated by the entire Chinese community and has, to some extent, surpassed its religious intent. Such is its popularity that those who are not religious also join in the festival, in the much the same way that many non-Christians like to celebrate Christmas. This year, devotees at Nan Tien Temple cooked more than 1,000 bowls of porridge, which were offered to the public for free.

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    • Chinese officials engaged in 'takeover' of Tibetan Buddhist monastery - Human Rights Watch

      25 Jan 2018 Reuters Christian Shepherd

      Chinese officials are engaging in a "takeover" of one of the world's largest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries with a plan to put Communist Party officials in charge of its administration, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.

      BEIJING: Chinese officials are engaging in a "takeover" of one of the world's largest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries with a plan to put Communist Party officials in charge of its administration, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.

      Larung Gar, a sprawling Buddhist centre of learning and prayer in the mountains of southwestern Sichuan province, has already been reduced in size through an eight-month programme of demolition and expulsion that ended in April 2017, HRW said.

      The government is now splitting the centre into two sections, an academy and a monastery, divided by a wall, according to an English-language translation of a document shared by HRW, which they said was received in August 2017.

      The measures include quotas for recruitment, a management system of "real-name registration" and tags for monks and nuns, as well as placing 97 Communist Party cadres, who are required to be atheist, in top finance, security and admission roles.

      Monastic sources told HRW that a similar system would be set up in the monastery and that a large building had been constructed to house the cadres.

      Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the document or the claims from HRW sources.

      "The administrative takeover of Larung Gar by party officials shows that the government's aim was not merely to reduce numbers at the settlement," said Sophie Richardson, U.S.-based China director for HRW.

      "Chinese authorities are also imposing pervasive control and surveillance over every level of activity within religious communities," she said.

      China's religious affairs bureau did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

      China has denied carrying out demolitions at Larung Gar, saying the work is to tackle fire and safety hazards, as well as to "reconstruct" old buildings.

      Tibetan-populated areas of western China, including in Sichuan, had been at the epicentre of protests against Chinese rule, which included acts of self-immolation, although reported cases have declined in the past two years.

      HRW's Richardson said the micromanagement of Larung Gar encroaches on religious freedom and is likely to fuel resentment against Beijing.

      Chinese law promises freedom of religion but authorities keep a close eye on religious believers and institutions, especially in areas such as Tibet where faith is considered a potential challenge to Communist Party rule.

       

      New regulations due to take effect at the end of this month are set to expand state oversight of religious institutions. In particular, schools will train future generations of China's religious leaders.

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    • UA Researches How Distinct Form of Buddhism Originated

      Eric Swedlund Nov. 27, 2017 UA News

      New grants have launched an in-depth study of East Asian Buddhism as one of the signature projects of the UA's Center for Buddhist Studies.

      Aiming to chart the spread of Buddhism in China and across East Asia, University of Arizona researchers are examining distinct traditions that developed in the Hangzhou region.

      Although Buddhism originated in ancient India, the tradition of Chan (Japanese, Zen) Buddhism that developed in Hangzhou from the 10th century became the basis for East Asian Buddhist practices that spread to and flourished in Japan and Korea.

      Albert Welter, head of the Department of East Asian Studies, has long specialized in Buddhist figures and texts related to the Hangzhou region, but only in the last two years did he begin developing a research project that seeks to understand Hangzhou in a holistic sense as the foundation of East Asian Buddhism. 

      "My research has been related to Hangzhou for decades, but I never thought of myself focusing on the Hangzhou region," Welter says. "This project looks at the Hangzhou region as a second homeland for Buddhism subsequent to India. Usually the history of Buddhism is told from an Indian perspective with little emphasis on East Asian, but that was just the first phase. From an East Asian perspective, phase two begins when Buddhism recedes in India and is no longer active. At that point, Hangzhou comes into its own."

      A signature research effort of the UA's new Center for Buddhist Studies, the Hangzhou Project aims to develop a new paradigm for the study of East Asian Buddhism, replacing an outdated focus presuming India as the center of the Buddhist world, with a regional focus on the expansion that started in China. Traditional historical and textual study will be augmented with digital humanities methodology, including GIS mapping and the creation of a "virtual Hangzhou" in collaboration with the UA's new Center for Digital Humanities.

      Earlier, 19th-century European pioneers of Buddhist studies, following the model of Protestant Christianity, were mostly preoccupied with the founder of Buddhism and his original teachings and regarded later forms as corruptions of the original message.

      Spread of Chinese Teachings

      However, Welter argues, by the 10th century Chinese Buddhists became boldly innovative, creating new forms of Buddhism unique to the East Asian context and the spread of those new forms became foundational for an East Asian Buddhism that was largely independent and only tangentially related to its Indian forebears. As the Hangzhou region, located on China's east coast at the southern terminus of the ancient Grand Canal, gained prominence among both religious pilgrims and trade merchants from Japan and Korea, Chinese teachings spread from the hub of the Hangzhou region.

      "The current project aims to systematically reorient the study of East Asian Buddhism as an indigenous form, and not as part of an Indian trajectory," Welter says. "The Hangzhou region became a kind of 'homeland' for many Buddhists throughout the East Asian region who traced their lineages, doctrines and teachings directly to Hangzhou regional Buddhist institutions."

      Zen, or Chan Buddhism as it is known in China, is the most prominent form of East Asian Buddhism and the most common form depicted in Western media. In the West, as well as in China, Zen Buddhism is attracting increasing attention, which creates an opportune time for a more in-depth study of Zen in both the historical and modern contexts.

      "The proposal looks at the vertical aspect, the development of Buddhism historically, as well as the horizontal aspect, the regional spread," Welter says. "The Hangzhou region is traditionally the strongest region of Buddhism in China and it's returning to that place today."

      Hangzhou, today the capital and most populous city of Zhejiang Province, is known for its West Lake, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A prosperous city for the last millennium, Hangzhou first gained notoriety in the Western world through Marco Polo, who visited in the late 13th century and called it "without a doubt the finest and most splendid city in the world." It also hosted a G20 summit in 2016.

      During the Mao era, from 1949 through 1976, traditional Buddhist culture in China was cast aside as socialism and secularism replaced religion in the culture, Welter says. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution that occurred from 1966 to 1976 was particularly brutal toward expressions of traditional Chinese culture, including Buddhism.

      "Buddhism was virtually destroyed in China, both the physical monuments and the culture. Temples went defunct or were repurposed as factories or military installations, and for all intents and purposes Buddhism no longer existed in China in any real capacity," Welter says. "But in the last couple decades, there's been a tremendous revival of Buddhism and Buddhist culture, as China rediscovers and reinvents its past."

      Last summer, Welter received a $28,500 International Research and Program Development, or IRPD, seed grant, co-funded by the UA's offices of Research, Discovery & Innovation and Global Initiatives, to launch the project.

      Partnerships Seen as Model

      In May, Welter and six graduate students in East Asian studies conducted a research trip to Hangzhou to enlist local support for the project and visit many of the region's important sites for initial observations and investigations. The idea of the project was "extremely well received," says Welter, who formed partnerships among the UA, Zhejiang and Jiliang universities in Hangzhou, and the Hangzhou Buddhist Academy. The triangulation is a model for how the IRPD grant can work.

      Building on the IRPD grant, Welter received a grant from the Khyentse Foundation, with $173,292 going to fund three years of the Hangzhou project starting in 2018. Additionally, Welter has received a fellowship grant from the American Council of Learned Societies, supported by the Taiwan-based Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation. With in-kind contributions from the partner institutions in Hangzhou, $550,000 has been committed to the project. The Khyentse Foundation grant also will support the continuation of the UA's Buddhist Studies Lecture Series and initiate a Khyentse Foundation Outstanding Student Award.

      The grants will fund three-week field research trips for six graduate students annually, each working on individual research projects that will be presented together at three planned conferences — two that will be held in Hangzhou and one at the UA. While in Hangzhou, students will participate in workshops/seminars featuring experts in Hangzhou Buddhist culture, many of whom will be drawn from universities and academies in the Hangzhou region. Graduate students in China also will participate in the project.

      "This will create a new and enhanced model for graduate training. Our students and the Chinese partners' students will be working together, each doing individualized projects in the context of a greater whole," Welter says. "These thematic volumes of research that connect with everyone will demonstrate to people how they can develop projects in their own areas of expertise, and the synergy of the combined research will show a comprehensive picture. It's a transition to a team approach.

       

      "The combined effort of many people can produce something I could never dream of. That's the model that this project and future Center for Buddhist Studies projects can offer down the road." 

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    • SN 22.95 Phena Sutta: Foam

      Thanissaro Bhikkhu

      On one occasion the Blessed One was staying among the Ayojjhans on the banks of the Ganges River. There he addressed the monks: "Monks, suppose that a large glob of foam were floating down this Ganges River, and a man with good eyesight were to see it, observe it, & appropriately examine it. To him — seeing it, observing it, & appropriately examining it — it would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in a glob of foam? In the same way, a monk sees, observes, & appropriately examines any form that is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near. To him — seeing it, observing it, & appropriately examining it — it would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in form?

      "Now suppose that in the autumn — when it's raining in fat, heavy drops — a water bubble were to appear & disappear on the water, and a man with good eyesight were to see it, observe it, & appropriately examine it. To him — seeing it, observing it, & appropriately examining it — it would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in a water bubble? In the same way, a monk sees, observes, & appropriately examines any feeling that is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near. To him — seeing it, observing it, & appropriately examining it — it would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in feeling?

      "Now suppose that in the last month of the hot season a mirage were shimmering, and a man with good eyesight were to see it, observe it, & appropriately examine it. To him — seeing it, observing it, & appropriately examining it — it would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in a mirage? In the same way, a monk sees, observes, & appropriately examines any perception that is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near. To him — seeing it, observing it, & appropriately examining it — it would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in perception?

      "Now suppose that a man desiring heartwood, in quest of heartwood, seeking heartwood, were to go into a forest carrying a sharp ax. There he would see a large banana tree: straight, young, of enormous height. He would cut it at the root and, having cut it at the root, would chop off the top. Having chopped off the top, he would peel away the outer skin. Peeling away the outer skin, he wouldn't even find sapwood, to say nothing of heartwood. Then a man with good eyesight would see it, observe it, & appropriately examine it. To him — seeing it, observing it, & appropriately examining it — it would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in a banana tree? In the same way, a monk sees, observes, & appropriately examines any fabrications that are past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near. To him — seeing them, observing them, & appropriately examining them — they would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in fabrications?

      "Now suppose that a magician or magician's apprentice were to display a magic trick at a major intersection, and a man with good eyesight were to see it, observe it, & appropriately examine it. To him — seeing it, observing it, & appropriately examining it — it would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in a magic trick? In the same way, a monk sees, observes, & appropriately examines any consciousness that is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near. To him — seeing it, observing it, & appropriately examining it — it would appear empty, void, without substance: for what substance would there be in consciousness?

      "Seeing thus, the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones grows disenchanted with form, disenchanted with feeling, disenchanted with perception, disenchanted with fabrications, disenchanted with consciousness. Disenchanted, he grows dispassionate. Through dispassion, he's released. With release there's the knowledge, 'Released.' He discerns that 'Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.'"

      That is what the Blessed One said. Having said that, the One Well-Gone, the Teacher, said further:

      Form is like a glob of foam; feeling, a bubble; perception, a mirage; fabrications, a banana tree; consciousness, a magic trick — this has been taught by the Kinsman of the Sun. However you observe them, appropriately examine them, they're empty, void to whoever sees them appropriately.

      Beginning with the body as taught by the One with profound discernment: when abandoned by three things — life, warmth, & consciousness — form is rejected, cast aside. When bereft of these it lies thrown away, senseless, a meal for others. That's the way it goes: it's a magic trick, an idiot's babbling. It's said to be a murderer.  No substance here is found.

      Thus a monk, persistence aroused, should view the aggregates by day & by night, mindful, alert; should discard all fetters; should make himself his own refuge; should live as if his head were on fire — in hopes of the state with no falling away.

       

      Bodhi, in his own translation of this sutta, makes this insightful observation:

       

      This sutta is one of the most radical discourses on the empty nature of conditioned phenomena; its imagery (especially the similes of the mirage and the magical illusion) has been taken up by later Buddhist thinkers, most persistently by the Mdhyamikas. Some of the images are found elsewhere in the Pali Canon, eg at Dh 46, 170. In the context of early Buddhist thought these similes have to be handled with care. They are not intended to suggest an illusionist view of the world but to show that our conceptions of the world, and of our own existence, are largely distorted by the processes of cognition. Just as the mirage and magical illusion are based on real existents—the sand of the desert, the magician’s appurtenances—so these false conceptions arise from a base that objectively exists, namely, the five aggregates; but when seen through a mind subject to conceptual distortion, the aggregates appear in a way that deviates from their actual nature. Instead of being seen as transient and selfless, they appear as substantial and as a self. (Bodhi S:B 1085 n188)

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    • Dead Buddhist monk ‘smiles’ after his body was removed from his coffin two months after he died

      Sam Webb 22nd January 2018, The Sun

      Revered monk Luang Phor Pian died aged 92 on November 16 after succumbing to illness in a hospital in Thailand’s capital of Bangkok

      Originally from Cambodia, Pian spent the majority of his life serving as a well-known spiritual and Buddhist guru in the central Thai province of Lopburi, where his body was returned to following his passing.

      This week his followers removed his body from his coffin, which had been kept at the temple where he served, and were shocked to find his body had not decayed.

      Amazingly, Pian also appeared to be smiling, with followers snapping pictures of the incredible moment and sharing it to social media.

      Reports said the monks had removed the holy man's body in order to fit him with new, clean robes.

      His body appeared in a state consistent with somebody who had been dead for no more than 36 hours, reports added.

      Pian’s peaceful state has been described as a sign that the monk has truly reached nirvana, the ultimate spiritual goal in Buddhism.

      The monk’s followers will continue to pray for him until a final resting ceremony is held on the 100th day of his death.

      https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/5399543/incredible-pics-show-dead-buddhist-monk-smiling-after-his-body-was-removed-from-his-coffin-by-followers-two-months-after-he-died/

      Edited by Aik TC 23 Jan `18, 4:19PM
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    • Two bombs found near Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya

      January 20, 2018 Tenzin Dharpo Phayul.com

      19, 2018. DHARAMSHALA, Jan. 20: Bodh Gaya police has found two bombs near the the Mahabodhi temple premises on Friday night, sources said. Both the explosives have now been diffused by the bomb squad and situation according to local police, is under control and the main temple as been made open for public.

      One of the two explosives identified as crude bombs or improvised explosive device was found near the gate no. 4 of the Mahabodhi temple while the other was found near the road leading to the Tibetan leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s residence there.

      There are reports about a low intensity blast last night near the main temple that prompted security authorities to comb the vicinity leading to the recovery of the two bombs. The area near the main temple and the Dalai Lama’s residence have been beefed with additional security with vendors and gathering near those areas being banned although the Mahabodhi temple remains open for public.

      While there is no information on who planted the bombs and with what agenda, India media has reported that investigations in the matter would begin with special teams of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) from Delhi or Lucknow are called in.

      The timing of the incident raises serious security lapses at Bodhgaya during the peak pilgrimage season, where thousands of pilgrims flock to receive teachings and visit the temple considered the holiest site by Buddhists. Over forty thousand people have been estimated to be present this past few weeks in Bodhgaya, the Mecca for Buddhists.

      On Thursday, the exiled Tibetan leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama who was to oversee a religious ceremony today at the teaching grounds, cancelled the event citing exhaustion.

      Earlier on Jan. 3, Thirteen policemen were suspended for negligence, while being on security duty for the the Dalai Lama.

       

      In July 2013, a series of low intensity bomb blasts took place near the Bodh Gaya temple in which three Buddhist priests were injured.

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    • On Consciousness

      11/25/2017 Matthieu Ricard Huffpost

      Buddhism speaks of six, seven, or eight aspects of consciousness. It speaks first of the ground or basic consciousness, which has a global, general knowledge that the world is there and that I exist. Then there are five aspects related to the five sensory experiences: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. The seventh aspect is mental consciousness, which associates abstract concepts to the first six aspects. Sometimes there is considered to be an eighth aspect of conscious-ness that is related to afflictive mental states that distort reality (hatred, craving, etc.). But even more fundamental than all these states and aspects is primary consciousness, what is called the continuum of the luminous fundamental consciousness.

      In Buddhism, the matter/consciousness duality, the so-called mind-body problem, is a false problem given that neither of them has an intrinsic, independent existence. According to some Buddhist teachings that analyze phenomena at a more contemplative level, the primordial nature of phenomena transcends notions of subject and object or time and space. But when the world of phenomena emerges from primordial nature, we lose sight of this unity and make a false distinction between consciousness and the world. This separation between the self and the non-self then becomes fixed, and the world of ignorance, samsara, is born. The birth of samsara did not happen at a particular moment in time. It simply reflects at each instant, and for each of our thoughts, how ignorance reifies the world.

      Buddhism’s conception is thus radically different from Cartesian dualism, which postulates on one side a truly existing solid material reality and, on the other side, a completely immaterial consciousness, which cannot have any real connection with matter. The Buddhist analysis of phenomena recognizes the lack of intrinsic reality of all phenomena. Whether animate or inanimate, they are equally devoid of autonomous, ultimate existence. Thus, a merely conventional difference exists between matter and consciousness.

      Because Buddhism refutes the ultimate reality of phenomena, it also refutes the idea that consciousness is independent and exists inherently, just as much as it refutes that matter is independent and exists inherently. This fundamental level of consciousness and the world of apparent phenomena are linked by interdependence, and together they form our world of thought and the exterior physical reality is a mere illusion. There’s only one reality or, rather, only one lack of intrinsic reality! Buddhism does not adopt a purely idealist point of view or argue that the outer world is a fabrication of consciousness. It just points to the fact that without consciousness, one cannot claim that the world exists because that statement already implies the presence of a consciousness.

      This might sound puzzling, but it resembles the answer given by some cosmologists when asked what was there before the Big Bang. They say that this question does not make sense because time and space began with the Big Bang. Likewise, anything we can ever say about the world, the brain, and even consciousness begins with consciousness. Even the question, “But couldn’t a world totally deprived of life and sentience exist on its own?” as well as any answer that you might like to give to this question—all of this presupposes consciousness. Of course, it would be foolish to deny the existence of lifeless worlds because most planets are indeed lifeless, but without consciousness, in a way, there is no question, no answer, no concepts, no “world” as an object of experience.

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    • Tibet seeking inclusion within China for development: Dalai Lama

      November 23, 2017 Tenzin Dharpo Phayul.com

      DHARAMSHALA, Nov. 23: “We are not seeking independence. We want to stay with China. We want more development," Tibetan leader His Holiness the Dalai lama said at an event in Kolkata today, reiterating his stand to achieve “genuine autonomy” within the framework of the People’s Republic of China.

      The octogenarian Tibetan leader was speaking at an interactive session organized by the Indian Chamber of Commerce on the "Revival of Ancient Indian Knowledge".

      "The past is past. We will have to look into the future," indicating that history of Tibet being an independent country prior to Chinese invasion can be put at the backseat moving forward. The Dalai Lama has often said that staying within China can guarantee Tibet progress in economy and development, and therefore give an equal footing in the global arena.

      The Buddhist leader was however assertive in saying that the two cultures are separate and have rich cultures that are different from each other. "Tibet has a different culture and a different script. The Chinese people love their own country. We love our own country," he said.

      While the ‘Middle Way Approach’ as the political stand of the Tibetan exile government has been categorically rejected by Beijing, the Tibetan leader has said that change in Chinese people’s perspective towards Tibetans are changing and may be a crucial factor in altering the status quo.

      "With China joining the world, it has changed 40 per cent to 50 per cent of what it was earlier," he said.

       

      With water sharing disputes and China’s reckless projects on Tibetan rivers an ongoing debate in downstream nations like India, the Dalai Lama said that Tibet’s environmental and ecological concerns are not an isolated cause for concern. "The ecologist call it the Third Pole. From Yangtze to Sindhu rivers, major rivers come from Tibet. Billions of lives are involved. Taking care of the Tibetan Plateau is not only good for Tibet but for billions of people," the 82 year old said.

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    • SN 44.10 Ananda Sutta: To Ananda (On Self, No Self, and Not-self)

      Thanissaro Bhikkhu

      Then the wanderer Vacchagotta went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, exchanged courteous greetings with him. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there he asked the Blessed One: "Now then, Venerable Gotama, is there a self?"

      When this was said, the Blessed One was silent.

      "Then is there no self?"

      A second time, the Blessed One was silent.

      Then Vacchagotta the wanderer got up from his seat and left.

      Then, not long after Vacchagotta the wanderer had left, Ven. Ananda said to the Blessed One, "Why, lord, did the Blessed One not answer when asked a question by Vacchagotta the wanderer?"

      "Ananda, if I — being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is a self — were to answer that there is a self, that would be conforming with those brahmans & contemplatives who are exponents of eternalism [the view that there is an eternal, unchanging soul]. If I — being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is no self — were to answer that there is no self, that would be conforming with those brahmans & contemplatives who are exponents of annihilationism [the view that death is the annihilation of consciousness]. If I — being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is a self — were to answer that there is a self, would that be in keeping with the arising of knowledge that all phenomena are not-self?"

      "No, lord."

      "And if I — being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is no self — were to answer that there is no self, the bewildered Vacchagotta would become even more bewildered: 'Does the self I used to have now not exist?'"

      See also: other suttas in the Avyakata Samyutta (and the translator's Introduction); AN 4.42.

      Whatever one tries to extrapolate from this, the Tathāgata’s silence does not represent a position. However, the exchange between Ānanda and the Tathāgata after Vacchagotta departed does tell us that his silence was provisional to Vacchagotta’s own confusion and misapprehension over a ‘self’ as understood by eternalist (sassatavādā) or annihilationist (ucchedavādā) doctrines that were current at the time. Vacchagotta’s state of mind would also be a factor as he had come to the Tathāgata and his disciples several times on these topics that can be read in the Vacchagottasaṃyutta. And these preoccupations of Vacchagotta would reflect on the ‘improper attention’ (ayoniso manasi karoto) of the untaught commoner (assutavā puthujjano), as mentioned in the Sabbāsava Sutta. The ‘thicket of views’ in the Sabbāsava Sutta (MN.2), are those views on self of the puthujjana, who wrongly considers a personal existence ‘for me’ – ‘Was I in the past? Was I not in the past? (ahosiṃ nu kho ahaṃ atītamaddhānaṃ, na nu kho ahosiṃ atītamaddhānaṃ) … ‘I have a self’ … I do not have a self’ (atthi me attā’ti … natthi me attā’ti).

      However, the noble disciple is not on the same footing. When the Tathāgata did give instruction on views of self as held by the world, it was to a suitable audience informed with a contemplative understanding of dependent origination and of the habits of volitional processes which cause false reification of sentient experience. In other words, they, the noble disciples, understood what props-up the illusion of substantiality. Thus they appreciated entirely the falsity of an enduring attā, both in contexts of doctrinal claim and contemplative knowledge. Otherwise, there would be no utility in simply denying the ‘Self’ to someone who is ignorant of causal processes, devoid of contemplative understanding, and who’s awareness is only informed with either the dogma of a ‘Self’ (Ātman) or at least with an infatuation over sentient experience born of this ignorance – as this would only lead to vexation.

      A helpful reference on this topic is Bhikkhu Bodhi’s footnote to the Ānanda Sutta:

      384 “Probably this means that Vacchagotta would have interpreted the Buddha’s denial as a rejection of his empirical personality, which (on account of his inclination towards views of self) he would have been identifying as a self. We should carefully heed the two reasons the Buddha does not declare, “There is no self”: not because he recognizes a transcendent self of some kind (as some interpreters allege), or because he is concerned only with delineating “a strategy of perception” devoid of ontological implications (as others hold), but (i) because such a mode of expression was used by the annihilationists, and the Buddha wanted to avoid aligning his teaching with theirs; and (ii) because he wished to avoid causing confusion in those already attached to the idea of self. The Buddha declares that “all phenomena are nonself” (sabbe dhammā anattā), which means that if one seeks a self anywhere one will not find one. Since “all phenomena” includes both the conditioned and the unconditioned, this precludes an utterly transcendent, ineffable self.” (B. Bodhi p. 1457)

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    • The fate of the Buddha’s begging bowl

      November 17, 2017, Bhante Dhammika The Island

      One of the most revered relics in the ancient Buddhist world was the Buddha’s begging bowl. A rough outline of its long convoluted history is this – it was supposedly given to the people of Vesali by the Buddha when he passed through the city on his way to Kusinara. In the 1st/2nd century King Kanishka took it to Pushapura, now Peshawar, where a string of Chinese pilgrims reported seeing it between the 3rd and the 9th centuries. The importance of the bowl is attested by numerous depictions of it in Gandhara art, usually shown on the pedestal of Buddha statues. During the Islamic period it was taken from one palace or mosque to another until at a date unknown it ended up in Sultan Way’s Baba’s shrine on the outskirts of Kandahar Afghanistan. Several British officers report seeing it there in the 19th century, one attempting to translate the inscription on it, and another, Alexander Cunningham, trying to trace its history, a fact I mention in my Middle Land Middle Way (1992, p.136). In the late 1980s during Afghanistan’s civil war President Najibullah had the bowl taken to Kabul’s National Museum. When the Taliban came to power, their Minister of Culture ordered all Buddhist artefacts in the museum smashed although the bowl remained undamaged, no doubt because of the Quranic verses inscribed on its outer surface. Today it can still be seen in the museum.

      The bowl is not small. It is a stone hemispherical vessel of greenish-grey granite with a diameter of about 1.75 meters, a height of about three ¾ of a meter, and a thickness of about 18 cm at its rim, rather thicker elsewhere particularly at its middle and the base. It has no cracks or abrasions, except for a portion about the size of the palm of one’s hand that has flaked away from near the rim. There is a delicate lotus petal design chiselled around its base, attesting to its Buddhist past, and inscribed in beautiful large calligraphic script horizontally along the rim of the bowl, are six rows of verses from the Quran, reflecting its Islamic continuum and its status through the ages as an object of special religious interest. Traces of similar calligraphic script are visible on the surface on the inner side of the bowl. The bowl is about 350 to 400 kg in weigh, far too heavy to lift.

      This bowl was probably an early larger copy of the Buddha’s actual bowl placed in a monastery in Vesali for people to offer their first fruits in, a custom common in ancient India and which survived even in Sri Lanka and elsewhere up to the 19th century. The bowl’s great size may well have encouraged the acceptance of the widespread belief amongst ancient Buddhists that the Buddha was 18 feet tall. Only someone that big could have used or even lifted a bowl this size.

      It is interesting to keep in mind that Sri Lanka claimed to have the Buddha’s begging bowl, although any legend of how it got to the island has not been preserved. This Sri Lankan relic is mentioned several times in the Culavamsa as being as precious and holy as the Tooth Relic. The chronical tells us for instance, that when King Manabharana moved from Rohana to Polonnaruva he brought the Tooth Relic and the Bowl Relic with him. It also gives us a description of an elaborate ceremony during the reign of Parakramabahu I in which the two relics were drawn through the streets of the capital in a wheeled pavilion made of gold. Sometime after the fall of Polonnaruva the Bowl Relic disappeared and was forgotten

      I am writing about the Buddha’s begging bowl because after being in obscurity for so long it recently hit the headlines in India when it was mentioned in the Lok Sabha, India’s parliament. I reproduce below from the Ministry of External Affairs website. "MP Dr. Raghuvansh Prasad Singh asked; ‘Will the Minister of External Affairs be pleased to state: (a) whether the Government has recently got the information that the begging bowl of Buddha, given to the people of Vesali by him, has been found in the Kabul museum; (b) if so, the details thereof; (c) whether the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan has sent a photo of the said bowl to the Government; (d) if so, the details thereof; (e) whether the Government has initiated the process to recover the said bowl; (f) if so, the details thereof; (g) whether the travelogues of the Chinese pilgrim Faxian and the writings of Dr. Cunningham and Shri S.V. Sahni mention the said bowl; and (h) if so, the details thereof?’."

       

      The Minister Prenteet Kaur in reply answered; "The Embassy of India, Kabul has made enquiries in the matter. It is learnt that the item purported to be Lord Buddha’s begging bowl was apparently in Kandahar until the regime of former President Najibullah. It was later brought to Kabul and is currently in the Kabul Museum. It has been pointed out that the begging bowl, a photo of which our Embassy has obtained, is rather large, besides having inscription in Arabic and Persian, thus calling into question its provenance. The Archaeological Survey of India has been requested to convey any information or advice it may have regarding the provenance of the bowl currently in Kabul Museum."

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    • This Ancient Chinese Box Says It Contains the Collected Remains of The Buddha

      MIKE MCRAE 15 NOV 2017 ScienceAlert

      The box's inscription tells quite a story.

      1,000 years ago, a pair of monks from Mañjuśrī Temple of the Longxing Monastery in China's Jingzhou Prefecture reportedly spent two decades collecting bits of cremated bone from far and wide which they believed to be the remains of the man known as the Buddha.

      And now, their collection has been found.

      Whether the materials truly belong to the famous ancient philosopher is a mystery, and will probably stay that way. But in addition to the ossuary, archaeologists also found 260 statues – a discovery that's of cultural and historical significance regardless of the origins of the bones themselves.

      The discovery was made by villagers repairing roads about five years ago, and reported in Chinese journals. The reports were recently translated into English in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics.

      Archaeologists report the inscription on the box says:

      "The monks Yunjiang and Zhiming of the Lotus School, who belonged to the Mañjuśrī Temple of the Longxing Monastery in Jingzhou Prefecture, gathered more than 2,000 pieces of śarīra, as well as the Buddha's teeth and bones, and buried them in the Mañjuśrī Hall of this temple."

      śarīra is a broad term describing any kind of relic claimed to be related to the Buddha – the famous "Enlightened One" who was born in what today is Nepal and travelled through the eastern parts of India sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE.

      The story goes that on his death, the cremated remains of the man called Siddhartha Gautama – aka the Buddha – were divided up among royal families and disciples, and so were distributed far and wide.

      Whoever Yunjiang and Zhiming were, they seemed to have been busy collecting 2,000 bits of burned tooth and bone and putting them into a box over the course of two decades.

      Not unlike saintly fingerbones or true pieces of Christ's cross, Buddha's śarīra can have greater cultural significance than biological, with pearl-like pieces of bone revered in Buddhist shrines and temples across the world.

      The archaeologists don't speculate on the actual origins of the bones, and aren't certain if the 2 metre (6.6 foot) high statues were buried at the same time as the box.

      Crafted between the Wei dynasty (386 to 534 CE) and the Song dynasty (960 to 1279 CE), the stone blocks included a mix of depictions of Buddha himself, seekers of enlightenment, enlightened devotees, gods, and simple inscribed objects called steles.

      Historically the inscriptions and assortment of statues provide insights into the history of the culture surrounding the religion. 

       

      For many Buddhists, whatever the true nature of the bones, the discovery of this incredible collection from a millennium ago could have immense spiritual significance.

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    • ...not address question two – given how central Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism is to Tibetan cultural and political identity? Yes... generally men) be the one teaching the Westerners Vajrayana meditation practices.   By the way, other than...

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    • The Joy of No Sex

      Mary Talbot WINTER 2014 tricycle

      A lay practitioner reveals one of the most liberating decisions of her life: celibacy.

      I won’t mince words. I’m celibate. And it’s because of the dharma.

      I’m not sure why writing that feels so exhibitionistic, so confessional. That the statement is extremely personal goes without saying. I’ve never sought to discuss all the sex I’m not having (as a friend likes to joke) publicly. But in the time I’ve been a student of Buddhism, well over half my life, it’s the one detail of my practice that ever made anyone balk, or that got treated as a problematic behavior. If the subject of my nonexistent love life comes up, I often hear from friends or colleagues, including some Buddhist ones, that I’m probably still shaken by the demise of my marriage (seven years ago), that I’ll change my mind, that I don’t know what irresistible liaison the future could bring, that I’m squelching my real feelings.

      Refraining from all sexual activity is one of the eight precepts taken by lay Buddhists during lunar observance days or by dedicated practitioners, usually affiliated with monasteries, who want to devote all their energy to meditation and study. I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise that taking up this precept strikes people as aberrant. Most of us operate with the deeply ingrained assumption that we should go around in twos, that it’s our best shot at happiness. We share a pervasive psychotherapeutic view that people become effective social beings via healthy romantic relationships. Our word celibacy, in fact, goes back to an Indo-European compound meaning “to be alone.” As a culture, aloneness is not something we go for.

      But for as long as human beings have been organizing themselves into religious communities, there have been celibate contemplatives, in search of seclusion, and the very earliest chronicles of their spiritual activities show them defending their lives of renunciation and simplicity to disapproving parents and community members. The Theragatha and Therigatha, the collections of verses by the Buddha’s elder monks and nuns, and the Vinaya, the monastic code of conduct, are peppered with stories about families who tried to bribe, trick, or cajole their sons and daughters to return to marriage and householder life. There’s the poem of Subha, the goldsmith’s daughter, whose relatives offered her gold coins and bullion to leave the monastic sangha. In fact, the Buddha instituted the celibacy rule for monks and nuns—a fundamental practice for dissolving sensual passion—in direct response to a monk whose family persuaded him to sleep with his former wife.

      Nowhere in the Buddha’s teachings did he forbid laypeople from having sex, or tell them that celibacy was a prerequisite to pursuing the path to awakening. To the contrary, the canon is full of anecdotes about the benefits of practice within the bounds of a stable, respectful relationship. The late Thai master Ajahn Maha Boowa likened conjugal sensuality to a kitchen fire: “Both are necessary to establishing and maintaining a successful family,” he said. “Marriage is necessarily a sexual partnership, while a kitchen fire is indispensable for preparing the family’s food. If both are used carefully, with proper circumspection, they can sufficiently fulfill people’s basic needs in life.” Certainly Buddhists in such a successful union can attest to the power of the bond to keep you on the straight and narrow, in a good way; a safe arena from which to observe the lure of outside influences—lust and other distractions—as they arise and pass away. Families in the 21st century come in infinite variety, and there are all kinds of units in which to be emotionally content and spiritually engaged, including couples that have decided to be celibate for the sake of religious practice.

      While a celibate life may appear drastically reduced from the outside, the renunciate’s inner life blossoms and expands exponentially.

      But while the Buddha left laypeople to make their own choices in the realm of sex and romance, his view on celibacy for monastics was crystal clear. He taught that sexual activity is part and parcel of craving (kama-tanha, the craving for sensuality), described in the second noble truth as the cause of suffering, a source of clinging and attachment (upadana, or attachment to sensual pleasure), a hindrance to meditation and a fetter or obstruction to liberation. More obstructive than the object of desire itself is the mental activity we generate around it—the constant thinking and planning and anticipation about how we get the goods. When sex is involved, kama-tanha is a given. When sex is not involved, it can be easier to see how kama-tanha takes over. The Pali term for “celibacy” (in striking contrast to our own word) is brahmacariya, meaning to behave, or walk, in a divine or sublime way.

      Throughout the discourses, the Buddha hammers home the drawbacks of sensuality. The Potaliya Sutta, for instance, uses a series of analogies to describe the frustration of seeking reliable happiness in sense pleasure. “Suppose a dog, overcome with weakness and hunger, were to come across a slaughterhouse, and there a dexterous butcher or butcher’s apprentice were to fling him a chain of bones—thoroughly scraped, without any flesh, smeared with blood. What do you think: Would the dog, gnawing on that chain of bones—thoroughly scraped, without any flesh, smeared with blood—appease its weakness and hunger?” Because those bones offered nothing of substance, and like all worldly things are impermanent, the dog, we understand, “would get nothing but its share of weariness and vexation.” (All translations by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.)

      I can’t pinpoint when I realized I could stop gnawing on that particular chain of bones, that living singly and without sex was my ticket out of a lot of weariness and vexation, and that it made me happier than any romantic relationship I’d ever had. That I could make a vow to myself to remain in this state. Eliminating sex and romance—and more significantly, the thinking about and pursuit of those things—from my list of concerns opened up tremendous mental space that for most of my life had been given over to strategizing, analyzing, regretting, and agonizing. I was inspired by monks and nuns I know, and by the Buddha’s promise that while a celibate life may appear drastically reduced from the outside, the renunciate’s inner life blossoms and expands exponentially. My existence as an urban working mother precludes most of what monks and nuns do in the course of a day, but this is a piece of monastic life, along with meditation and seclusion, that I can practice in the privacy of my own home.

      Mind you, I have had my cake and eaten it, too. I had relationships, licit and not, bore two children I’m crazy about, and didn’t give celibacy serious thought until I’d consumed a life’s worth of experiences. For most people, foregoing sex in the teens or twenties or thirties, when we marinate in hormones and hear the loud tick of our biological clocks, is a commitment of a different order, one I never considered touching at that age. In the time I’ve considered myself a Buddhist, I’ve done an awful lot of things that Buddhists shouldn’t do.

      When I was younger, getting drunk, killing bugs, taking supplies from the office, telling lies, and sleeping with people I had no business sleeping with were all part of the relatively normal landscape of my days. Even the seemingly neutral activity of partnering up—cohabitating, then getting married—often went hand in hand with secrecy, deceit, resentment, and dissatisfaction. I somehow thought I could embrace the precepts intellectually and follow them when it was convenient. (There’s no shortage of popular Western Buddhist teachings that tout the precepts as suggestions, not absolutes.)

      It took me a long time to see how thoroughly I was making myself suffer—and that I was dragging my loved ones along with me. I was a meditator, but like the worst horse in the parable, I couldn’t take a hint from the flick of a whip. Finally, though, I began to pay attention to the lash ripping my flesh, tearing all the way to the bone. Sticking to the precepts requires constant self-monitoring, discernment, and effort, but there comes a point when the practicality, the boon, of the thing sinks into the organic body and saturates one’s actions. Violating the precepts gets harder to do.

      Copping to the fact that I could drop the project of romance—and that it could enhance my ability to follow the path—was like being unzipped from a straitjacket I didn’t know I was wearing. Or more to the point, it was like discovering I carried around a weapon with which I was constantly shooting myself, and then suddenly seeing I could put it down. I felt a profound sense of safety and assuredness in letting go the idea that I should couple up. Indeed, a sense of security is a major goal of celibacy: The Buddha extols that quality in the Mahamangala Sutta, the sermon on great protection or blessing:

      Austerity, celibacy,

      seeing the Noble Truths,

      realizing Unbinding:

      This is the highest protection.

      Elsewhere, celibacy is described as leading to “freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings.” My teacher often describes how the celibacy of monastics is designed to make everyone feel secure. Like Caesar’s wife, who had to look pure as well as be pure, the chaste comportment of monks and nuns helps assure the laity that they are trustworthy and creates conditions for the laity to be trustworthy, too.

      In my time of being celibate, I’ve experienced a sense of levity and ease I never knew before. Encounters and relationships with other people, however complex, carry so much less of the murky ambivalence they might once have involved—much of the fantasizing and projection, my internal jockeying and feeding, is diminished. I’m reminded of a computer game called Minecraft, a favorite of my son and his cronies, in which you explore, do battle, and build constructions in a 3D world of textured cubes that generates itself incessantly, ad infinitum—like a digital version of the mind’s effluence. Players can use “resource packs,” bundles of files that modify colors, textures, sound, and type in a Minecraft world. Being celibate has been like getting a really good resource pack—the game looks and feels entirely different. My concentration has become more stable, and some of the energy in my body seems to have transformed into a deeper, brighter vitality.

      Our society celebrates the ideal of sexual pleasure above all other forms of gratification—it is the fiery engine of consumer culture and permeates every aspect of cultural production. In that context, celibacy mostly has a bad rap. Certainly delusion and repression like to masquerade as chastity. And in many religious settings, most notably the Catholic Church, but in plenty of Buddhist centers, too, a counterfeit celibacy has coincided with staggering abuse and exploitation. In theory and practice, celibacy can tell us lot about who we are. “It gives us insight into a culture’s worldview, social values, gender relations, ethical implication, religious roles or offices, conception of the physical body, and its connections to its practitioner’s connection to spiritual and religious power,” writes Carl Olson, a professor of religious studies at Allegheny College, in Celibacy and Religious Traditions.

      In her freewheeling survey of the subject, The History of Celibacy, the Canadian historian Elizabeth Abbot describes the special relief from sexism and patriarchy that religious celibacy held for women. In early Christianity, for example, “women seize[d] on this new doctrine as a tool to emancipate themselves from the drudgery of marriage and childbearing. Determinedly celibate, they transformed themselves into independent people who traveled extensively, studied at a time when education was a male preserve, wrote, preached, and directed their own lives, frequently in the company of like-spirited chaste women or men.” Amma Sarah, a 5th-century Desert Mother [nomadic Christian ascetic], described the relentless pressure she felt to marry and live the life of a householder: “If I prayed God that all people should approve of my conduct,” she wrote, “I should find myself a penitent at the door of each one, but I shall rather pray that my heart may be pure toward all.”

      Of course, the Buddha’s female disciples had figured this out half a millennium earlier. Some of the saltiest poetry in the Therigatha is attributed to awakened nuns who formerly were married. This is “Mutta” speaking:

      So freed! So thoroughly freed am I! —

      from three crooked things set free:

      from mortar, pestle,

      and crooked old husband.

      Having uprooted the craving

      that leads to becoming,

      I’m set free from aging and death.

      A nun known as “Sumangala’s Mother,” too, lists the shackles of domesticity—particularly her “moldy old pot with the water snake smell”—high on the list of conditions she gleefully jettisoned on the path.

      For all the variety of sexual experience in our world, and in spite of the fact that lots of us adopt celibacy in middle age, it is a topic surprisingly hard to research, and I have encountered few other lay Buddhists living as I do (though I think they’re out there). Even the Internet, fairly glutted with Christian sites advancing the virtues of celibacy, reveals little reportage on celibacy in Buddhist lay practice, though I did find one thoughtful blog post called “Why Celibacy Is Awesome” and another that listed, among the top reasons to forgo sexual relationships, how the celibate can stop wasting money on “expensive and uncomfortable lingerie.” (We can cultivate well-being and blameless conduct, and save money at the same time? Sign me up.)

      When monks and nuns take the vow of celibacy, they don’t go it alone. They are gathered up into the sangha and inexorably build close relationships with other monastics. There are strategies shared for stanching lust and doubt, and time in meditation to deconstruct the fabrication of desire, and nobody thinks it’s weird. Taking a similar step as a layperson can be lonely and isolating. When a friend who is a dharma teacher fields questions from students about whether or not they should take up celibacy, he cautions them to examine their intention very carefully. “Is this something they’re really ready for? Or are they using it to distance themselves from something painful?” The lexicon of attachment theory would term this an “avoidant.” Indeed, the mettle of the ego needs to be intact before we transform our social lives to serve our spiritual aspirations.

      I do sometimes wonder if this state will feel different when my children have left home and I don’t have the constant warmth of their presence, and my attention is no longer drawn into the spinning orbits of their everyday lives. I also wonder about the pitfalls of what the Buddha called bhava—the formation of identity around a desire—inherent in being celibate. If I was once intoxicated with sex and built an identity around seeking and getting sensual pleasure, do I now risk being intoxicated with my lack of attachment to romance, and fueling my ego with that? Another dimension of my situation that gives me slight pause is that I’m not providing my kids much in the way of a role model for their own future partnering. Children learn to navigate relationships—any kind of relationship—in seeing adults interact skillfully. Mostly, mine see me alone. Still, when I let go of the worry and projection, I know that signing up for eHarmony is no guarantee of a pleasant future for any of us (I’d wager the opposite), and I hope seeing that coupledom is not the only path to fulfillment, and having a mother who is content, may be another kind of benefit to them.

      I succumb, often unconsciously, to all kinds of sensuality—my fondness for pressing the snooze button on the morning alarm comes immediately to mind—but the strength I’ve gotten from other aspects of practice, including my vow of celibacy, is the inspiration to keep battling my kilesas, or defilements. I recall hearing a monk answer a student’s questions about whether there’s a difference between indulging in the sense pleasure of sex, and the sense pleasure of eating sweets. Aren’t they just points on the spectrum of craving, she asked? Yes, he replied, but they involve vastly different degrees of entanglement. “Look at it this way: I’ve known several people who were widely considered to be arahants [enlightened beings],” he said. “None of them had sex, but they all ate dessert.”

       

      Arahantship, I’m quite sure, won’t figure in my near future, perhaps not even in my near future lives. But I will take my cues from the noble ones: I’m going to enjoy my profiteroles, in moderation, and skip the fornication. Celibacy or no, happiness comes and goes. My householder world still beckons. The moldy old pot with the water snake (or, in this case, spaghetti sauce) smell sits waiting in the sink. The kids have their homework and their stresses and demands. My rent is overdue. But the evening ahead, and my mind and my breath, are all mine.

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    • Life in Luang Prabang's slow lane

      November 08, Pattarawadee Saengmanee The Nation

      The ancient royal capital of Laos requires much more than a weekend to explore its charms

      RECOGNISING THE potential for border trade along the Mekong River, sharp-eyed Chinese entrepreneurs have flooded into Laos in recent years pouring billions into mega infrastructure projects as well as luxury hotels and shopping malls. Fortunately, though, they have left the ancient royal capital of Luang Prabang relatively untouched and the town has succeeded in retaining its glorious cultural heritage.

      Sitting at the confluence of the Mekong and Khan rivers, Luang Prabang has long been a popular holiday destination. Tourists from all over the world come here to drink in the French colonial architecture and enjoy a slower pace of life.

      It’s a short hop by air from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang and an hour after taking off, we arrive in the Unesco heritage town just in time to admire the romantic sunset from the top of Mount Phousi.

      Although a mere 100 metres above sea level, climbing the 355 steps along a narrow stairway is hard going, especially as we have local young joggers and foreign tourists snapping at our heels.

      We take the easy way out and stop halfway up at Wat Tham Phousi, a small cave temple housing several Buddha images in different postures, enshrined in both the interior hall and on open patios along the sides. Practicality meets spirituality with a drinks stall providing some much-needed refreshment. 

      On top of the hill is a narrow platform with a small Buddhist pagoda and a seven-tiered parasol called That Chomsi that was constructed in 1804 during the reign of King Anourouth. And when the sky is clear, visitors are rewarded with a beautiful sunset and spectacular panoramic views of Luang Prabang surrounded by lush forests and the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers.

      Going down is a little easier and we are soon in the midst of the much-loved night market at the foot of Phousi Hill, which spreads from Wat Mai all along Sisavangvong Road. 

      Every night from 5 to 10pm, hundreds of hilltribe and lowland vendors set up shop with an eye-catching collection of Hmong-style costumes, handicrafts and souvenirs, ranging from indigo-dyed woven scarves, Laotian-style hand-embroidered skirts, embroidered bags and bedspreads, pop-up postcards, paintings and local herbal spirits. 

      Hungry shoppers can walk to the end of the market, where a cluster of old Colonial-style shophouses have been transformed into restaurants, bars, cafes and boutique hotels, serving a variety of local and international delicacies, sweets and drinks. 

      The next day starts early for us and at 5.30 we join the daily ritual of alms-giving to 100 saffron-clad monks. Local residents wait in front of their houses or the monasteries, the women clad in the local sin (sarong) with a scarf across their left shoulder. 

      Unlike in Thailand, pilgrims are allowed to sit on a mat or stool and use their hands to scoop up balls of sticky rice one by one. Tradition has it that only sticky rice is offered rather than steamed rice along with some ready-to-eat dishes. 

      A short walk from Wat Mai, we reach a narrow alley off Sisavangvong Road that is home to Luang Prabang’s biggest morning market. Here too hundreds of local vendors are selling fresh organic vegetables, herbs and meat. We stop to admire, though not buy, the orange crabs, still-croaking frogs, beehives oozing honey, river weed and insects before stopping for a hearty breakfast of curry infused with pla ra (fermented fish sauce), Lao sausage, spicy fried chicken in red curry, kanom krok (Lao coconut pudding) and grilled sticky rice. 

      Appetites sated, we board a ferry to the famous Pak Ou Caves that sit at the confluence of the Mekong and Ou rivers. Our cruise takes one hour and 45 minutes and offers an amazing view of lush mountains, temples and fishing villages as well as parts of the high-speed railway from China to the Mekong River, which is expected to be complete in 2021.

      The two natural grottoes – Tham Ting (lower cave) and the Tham Theung (upper cave) – have been considered sacred since King Setthathirath, who moved the capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane 450 years ago, enshrined the first carved wood Buddha images there in the 16th century. 

      Believing that 15 Nagas lived in the estuary to protect the kingdom, the king would visit this cave during the Lao New Year to wash the Buddha images. Today, the caves are home to a small gilded pagoda and 2,500 Buddha images, most of them donated by local residents.

      We climb the 250 steps to the upper cave, where we are greeted by a pair of stone lions standing guard over the entrance. Using our phones as torches, we go deep into the dark tunnel and soon discover a host of gold Buddha images in different postures and sizes and walls covered with faded gold murals.

      Back in town later that day, we visit Wat Xieng Thong. Built on the bank of the Mekong River by King Setthathirath in 1560, it is known for its beautiful sim (ubosot), home to a reclining Buddha.

      Inside, the walls are adorned with elaborate gold murals on a background of black and red lacquer depicting the heavens where the Lord Buddha and deities live and hell, where sinners are receiving punishments. There are also some familiar scenes from the Jakata tales and motifs of flowers and animals on view. 

      The temple is also home to a Chariot Hall built in 1962 to contain the funeral carriage of King Sisavang Vong who died in 1959. It features eye-catching carved and gilded teak wood panels capturing scenes from the Phra Lak Phra Lam, the Lao version of the Ramayana epic.

      Another must-visit attraction is the Royal Palace Museum. Built in 1904 after the sacking of the city by the Black Flag Army, the complex served as the residence of King Sisavang Vong and the royal family. In 1975, the Laos monarchy came to an end and one year later the palace was converted into the National Museum.

      Home to a rare collection of artefacts and historical documents, the compound features the King’s reception room decorated with paintings of daily life in Luang Prabang in the 1930s and the main reception hall boasting the throne of King Sisavang Vatthana . The private zone comprises two French-style bedrooms, a living room and dining space decorated with original furniture and precious souvenirs from several countries, including stationery with gold stencils on black lacquer from China and ceramic vases from Japan.

       

      The Palace complex also houses Hor Prabang (Prabang Temple) built in 1969 by King Sisavang Vatthana. It shelters a sacred Prabang Buddha image, cast in Sri Lanka, a gift from King Fa Ngum of the Khmer Kingdom.