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    • Even Buddhists do it

      Larry Yudelson April 20, 2017, The Jewish Standard

      Teaneck professor updates his book on religious violence

      In hindsight, Dr. Charles Selengut’s 2003 book, “Sacred Fury: Understanding Religious Violence,” didn’t talk enough about Buddhism.

      It’s an oversight that became increasingly clear as his book was adopted in classrooms around the world — and when Buddhist monks played a leading role in ethnic violence in Myanmar that killed 200 people in 2012.

      And it’s an oversight that has been fixed in the new third edition of the book, which came out earlier this year.

      Dr. Selengut, who lives in Teaneck, is a professor of sociology at the County College of Morris. “Sacred Fury” tries to understand religious violence through the lenses of sociology, psychology, and theology. His thesis is that violence carried out in the name of religion cannot be separated from the religion itself.

      “Some is pure religion, some is the interplay of religion and politics, but it’s incorrect to say that religion has nothing to do with violence,” he said. “All religions have elements that encourage violence against those who disagree with them or challenge their theology.

      “If someone says Islam has nothing do with religious violence or jihad, they don’t know what they’re talking about,” he continued. “Look at the sermons in mosques, and you can see how they’re encouraged to do violence.”

      Even violence not directly motivated by religion can be legitimized by it, Dr. Selengut said. “Think of Hinduism. Hindu nationalists want to be certain that India remains a Hindu country, so the masses are encouraged to take action against any religions that aren’t Hindu.

      “Ordinarily, Hinduism and Buddhism are viewed as religions of nonviolence. But the reality is there have been major killings in Hinduism and Buddhism.”

      How is that possible?

      “If the religion is threatened and the motivation of the violent religious people is not just out of anger, but is for the religion, that’s not called violence,” Dr. Selengut said. “The violence is reinterpreted as nonviolence.

      “In Hinduism, if someone undertakes violence to protect the Hindu gods or institutions from a pure motivation, not from personal anger or rage, that killing is considered sacred killing. That put it into an entirely other realm.

      “It’s a kind of dichotomy in the religion. People in the West often don’t know about it. You can have people so anti-killing that they’re vegetarians, yet the same adherents of the religion can be very violent against those who challenge their beliefs.”

      And of course, religious violence is not coming just from Hindus and Buddhists.

      One addition to this edition of Dr. Selengut’s book is a discussion of ISIS.

      “There is an international Muslim movement based on their ideology, which argues that Islam needs to be the leading religion all over the world, that Islam has to be the progenitor of morals and government authority.

      “Often, the religion’s scriptures themselves encourage violence,” he continued. You just have to listen to what ISIS says.

      “Or the extremist Christians who kill abortion doctors. In extreme anti-abortion groups this is considered legitimate theology. The Christian advocates against abortion doctors call it the Phineas Option. You’ll know it from Pinchas in the Torah. Just as in the Torah Pinchas killed Zimri” — acting zealously for God’s sake without a specific Divine command — “they use this as the ultimate religious justification.”

      So why is this upsurge in religious violence happening now?

      “I wish I could answer that question,” Dr. Selengut said.

      “One reason is the movement of globalization. As long as religions stayed in their own enclaves, there was no need for any interaction between different religions. Often religion renews itself. It goes in cycles. Religions become more moderate. Over time the essentials reassert themselves. We see that in contemporary Judaism as well. After a modernization of American Judaism, the internal life of Judaism moved back to the fundamentals.”

      And religious fundamentalism leads to religious violence.

      “Because its beliefs are so strong, fundamentalism doesn’t permit pluralism or diversity,” Dr. Selengut said. “There is only one truth, and we must protect that truth. That feeling of us against them, that we are right and everybody else is wrong, permits the elements of a religion that do encourage violence to come forth. There are notions of violence in all religions but often they’re dormant. With fundamentalism these elements are rediscovered. That encourages the violent outbursts.

      “We see that even in Judaism. In Meah Shearim recently, they beat up a soldier with peyos, because he was charedi but joined the army. Fundamentalism gives such power.”

      What can be done to stop religious violence?

      “It has to be two-pronged,” Dr. Selengut said. “A lot of it is up to the religious leaders themselves. The people who know the texts, who are part of the tradition, have to stand up and say that violence is a misreading of the tradition, an exaggeration.

      “All the statements against religious violence in the New York Times don’t mean anything. When an iman who has standing as a very religious and learned and sacred figure takes on religious violence, that would have power.

      “I think it’s the same thing in Judaism and Christianity. Religions can only be transformed internally. It can’t be transformed by outsiders who are not privy to the theological thinking of a religion.

      “The other prong is practical. When people break the law or engage in violence, government authorities have to stop them.”

      Do different religions have different limitations in how violent they can get?

      “There’s enough in each religion so that astute students of the religion can probably legitimate any kind of violence,” Dr. Selengut said. “In Judaism, the terrible, heartbreaking example would be Yigal Amir, who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. There were those who said there was a group of rabbis who legitimated what he did.

      “It’s the same thing in other religions. The vast, vast majority of Christians are against killing abortion doctors, but there is a subset that would define that as legitimate.”

      Dr. Selengut said the roots of religious violence lie in the nature of religion.

      “Religion is different than any other kind of commitment, because religion has to do with what is the ultimate truth,” he said. “I take it on faith. I don’t have to logically or rationally defend what I’m doing. What I do religiously partakes of another calculus, another reality, a truth beyond rational or ordinary life. I don’t have to consider other elements

      “For example, in politics, considering whether to bomb Syria or not — I have to think what are the consequences, politically, economically, internationally. It’s a rational calculation. In religion, I’m not bound by these calculations. I know that it’s true, I do it, and God told me to do it. I don’t have to worry about logical objections and rational considerations.”

      Dr. Selengut isn’t sure what his next writing project will be.

      “I’m thinking about trying to do more storytelling,” he said. “I’m thinking of doing a bit of memoir about my own childhood. What it meant growing up in the ‘50s. How the Jewish world changed.

      “I grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. My parents were second generation Americans. Orthodox Jews were a minority of a minority. When I was a little boy, when they said Yizkor the shul was packed. People left work to say Yizkor. Their grandchildren wouldn’t do that.”

      That’s not the only transformation Dr. Selengut has seen.


      In high school, he studied with Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky, who was one of the leaders of American charedi Orthodox Judaism until his death in 1986, and whose son is a leader in that community today.

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    • ... will go to Everest on the piste [a track of firm snow] and since it is possible that Everest is prepared from the base ... I could not start at midnight because then there was nothing but snow — no trail, nothing. A head lamp does not help because ...

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    • This is how Buddhist monks live without money

      Tree Watson 15 April 2017  Economy Explores

      Laypeople and the monastic community have a relationship of mutual dependence. It's called 'gift economics'

      "Take money, for example. In the past there wasn’t any paper money. Paper was just paper, without any value. Then people decided that silver money was hard to store, so they turned paper into money. And so it serves as money."

      "Maybe someday in the future a new king will arise who doesn’t like paper money. He’ll have us use wax droppings instead—take sealing wax, melt it, stamp it into lumps, and suppose it to be money. We’ll be using wax droppings all over the country, getting into debt all because of wax droppings. Let alone wax droppings, we could take chicken droppings and turn them into money! It could happen. All our chicken droppings would be cash. We’d be fighting and killing one another over chicken droppings."

      Ajahn Chah, monk, founder of two major monasteries in the Thai Forest Tradition, & instrumental  figure in the establishment of Theravada Buddhism in the West

      Why do Buddhist monks reject the idea of money?

      Practicing Buddhists make five promises – not to lie, not to steal, not to engage in sexual misconduct, not to harm any living creature and not to take intoxicating substances which lead to carelessness. These are called the ‘5 precepts’.

      When Buddhist monks and nuns ordain – don the robes, shave their heads, and start their training – they make all of the same promises that lay Buddhists (practicing Buddhists who aren’t monks) do, but also promise to let go of their attachments to all social conventions. It’s what the Buddha did on his path to enlightenment, so the Vinaya – the rules he put together for monks to follow – say they should do the same.

      To Buddhists (and a lot of economists), money counts as a social convention. Coins are only valuable because we’ve decided that they are, and the same goes for paper banknotes. So like other social conventions, Buddhist monks give it up. They can’t buy or sell anything, get cash out of the bank or even give or accept charitable donations.

      Without money, how do monks get by?

      Buddhist monks and nuns are completely reliant on the lay community to provide them with the material things they need to survive. In warmer Buddhist countries, monks will walk around their local village at mealtimes in what’s called an ‘alms round’, holding a bowl for locals to put food into. In the West, food often gets donated to monasteries in bulk, and volunteers then use it to prepare meals for the monks.

      The lay community provides the money and the labor to build shelter for monks, make them clothes and buy them the technology they need to keep up with the world outside the monastery, from computers to iPads. Some monastic communities like the Forest Sangha even have a Twitter account.

      Once a year, during the autumn festival of Kathina, families offer monks and nuns all the cloth they need for robes to get them through the winter months. Lay Buddhists club together to provide them with the basics in what’s known as an annual celebration of giving.

      What do lay Buddhists get in return?

      The lay community provides the monastic community with material support in exchange for the spiritual support they receive from them, in the form of ceremonies, guided meditation, or ad-hoc advice. It’s not a tit-for-tat kind of exchange – you don’t get a passage from the scriptures every time you donate a tin of tomatoes – but more of a relationship of mutual interdependence, or ‘gift economics’.

      Surely people take advantage of the system?

      Things don’t always go smoothly. Like anything, people interpret the rules in different ways, and some bend them a little too far. Monks are obliged to graciously accept anything that’s offered to them, whatever it may be. It’s not uncommon to see monasteries in Thailand overrun with dogs, donated by people who can’t look after them and know the monks can’t turn them away.

      And the monks have been known to bend the rules as well. A small sect of Western Buddhists called the New Kampada Tradition admitted to receiving rental income from people in receipt of housing benefit. Given the British taxpayer, who would be funding those benefits, definitely isn’t spiritually dependent on them, it goes against the ‘gift economics’ principle of the monk-to-layperson relationship, as well as counting as benefit fraud.

      Technically, as long as it’s the lay community and not the monks who collect the funds, then they’re not breaking any Buddhist rules by passing that cash on to the monks if they want to. A number of Buddhist groups use this justification to get other things like meditation classes, books and so on.

      But a lot of Buddhists might take issue with this - whilst the monks aren’t actually handling any money, they are securing their material well-being by profiting from the lay community’s need for shelter and spiritual guidance. We end up with a situation where the Buddha’s teachings become a commodity, being sold to those who can afford it rather than offered to those who need it. That’s not gift economics anymore – it’s just standard market exchange.

      Why stick to 'gift economics' if it's a flawed way of doing things?


      People who break the rules will always exist – but for hundreds of Buddhist communities around the world, the system of mutual dependence is a really important part of Buddhist spirituality. Buddhists often refer to themselves as ‘practicing’ because living morally is a question of practice – something you get better at with time. No economic model is perfect, but this system at least allows both the monastic and the lay community to meet their spiritual and material needs.

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    • Richard Gere on How Buddhism Changed His Career

      21 Apr 2017 Corey Barnett World Religion News

      Ever since his speech against the occupation of Tibet during the ’93 Oscars, the actor has seen a downward spiral in his popularity.

      Once one of the most sought after and loved actors in Hollywood, Richard Gere’s open opposition to the Chinese occupation of Tibet has created a rift between him and Hollywood directors, due to China’s financing of Hollywood films. Chinese authorities have imposed a life-long ban on him from entering the nation. Now that the superpower has become a huge market for Hollywood, it is only natural that for Hollywood to shy away from him.

      Gere’s interest in Buddhism, however, is neither new nor young. He was interested in Tibetan Buddhism since his early 20s, and has been devoted to the Dalai Lama ever since and considers the Dalai Lama to be his teacher and guru. His devotion to Buddhism followed him into his life as a celebrity, and today, he is a full-fledged practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism.

      His downward spiral began after a speech he made in 1993 during the Oscars. Instead of sticking to what he was supposed to have said, Gere launched a full-fledged verbal attack on the Chinese government, decrying the country’s lack of human rights, and its inhuman and unfair occupation of Tibet. Ever since then, he steadily became an enemy of China, and eventually, lost popularity with Hollywood as well. In fact, Gere reveals that directors have been very open about the reason they either rejected him for their movies or canceled their contract with him – disfavor with China. This fear of China is so high, he adds, that even directors are afraid to cast him. “If I had worked with this director, he, his family would never have been allowed to leave the country ever again, and he would never work,” he told Vanity Fair.

      Gere has not backed down from his open attacks on China, despite how it has affected his career. In 2008, for example, he spoke in favor of boycotting the Beijing Olympics in a show of solidarity with Tibet. He is not afraid of the consequences because according to experts, he has enough power, money, and freedom to be unaffected by the lack of movie offers from Hollywood.


      Gere firmly believes that the reason for his drop in popularity in Hollywood is solely because of his outspokenness about Tibet and friendship with his teacher, the Dalai Lama. Gere even visited the Dalai Lama recently for a religious Buddhist ceremony that the Tibetan Buddhist leader was conducting in India, giving fresh impetus to speculations that he is greatly devoted to the leader.

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    • Early Buddhism speak of both a literal and psychological interpretation of Mara. I prefer to interpreted the literal form as those environmental conditions such as gambling houses, prostitution dens, that are created by us, to cause such psychological state of mind as greed, desire to arise in us.

      There are different conceptions to the nature of a bodhisattva in the Mahayana traditions. Some speak of the bodhisattva as someone on the path to full Buddhahood. Others speak of bodhisattvas renouncing Buddhahood. Bodhisattvas who aspires to delay Buddhahood until all other sentient beings achieve Buddhahood is the usual category we heard of most often.

      If one looks at the ten stages of the Mahayana bodhisattva's path of awakening, by the 2nd Bhumi, the Stainless stage, the bodhisattva is free from the stains of immorality, therefore, he would have perfected his moral discipline (śīla). He would not be affect by Mara.

      By the 8th Bhumi, the Immovable stage, he would be able to choose his place of rebirth. Again here, Mara is a non-issue on whether he wants to attained to Buddhahood or not.


      Of course in the Theravada tradition when we talk about the Bodhisattva, it is usually in reference to the historical Buddha’s past lives as recorded in Jataka tales whilst on his way to Buddhahood. 

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      There is no one normal practice for getting rid of blessed objects. You are likely to get just as many different answers from just as many peoples. Some may advise that you put it away in a high place or place them inside a statue with other items, especially those that are hollow in the centre. This statue is then send to a temple to be blessed.  


      It is a religious item, so disposed of it with some care and respect like not mixing it up with all your other trash before getting rid of it. There is nothing to feel guilty about removing the bracelet if there is no any bad intent for not wanting to wear it and if there is no advice as to how long you have to put it on. This is just my take.


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      Instead of cutting it up and throwing it away, it may be better to burned it and just said a short Om Ah Hum while doing so.

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    • Buddha's birthplace becoming hub of Indian beggars

      Rupandehi (Lumbini) kathmandupost

      Apr 16, 2017- A historic place Lumbini, better known as the birthplace of Gautam Buddha, is becoming the hub of Indian beggars these days.

      Beggars sitting on the streets outside the Mayadevi Temple and other stupas here and some of them carrying unclothed small children has become a common sight in this Buddhist pilgrimage site that lies in Lumbini of the Rupandehi district.

      They approach the visitors, desperately ask them for money and even do not hesitate to halt their movement by grabbing their legs if visitors seem reluctant towards their calls. Such tendency really makes visitors uncomfortable and sometimes leaves them irritated.

      According to the available data, a large score of domestic and foreign tourists visit this Buddhist shrine every year.

      It is a daily routine of some beggars to spend the money they collected through beggary to consume alcohol and sit on the street again in the hope of getting more money, said security personnel deployed here. The site remaining in the list of the UNESCO world heritage sites is witnessing an increasing number of beggars mostly from India day by day.

      However, security personnel deployed for the security of this famous Buddhist temple are aware of the situation, they prefer to remain silent on the matter. There complain is that the Lumbini Development Trust doesn’t feel it necessary to respond to their frequent calls to address the problem facing tourists here due to beggars. "The Trust does not want to discuss this issue," said one of the security personnel.


      When approached, the Trust employees did not want to comment on the issue. 

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    • To You

      Kodo Sawaki Roshi WINTER 2015 tricycle

      17 frank pieces of life advice from a Zen master

      Kodo Sawaki Roshi [1880–1965], or “Homeless Kodo,” as he came to be known, was one of the most influential Soto Zen teachers of the 20th century. Born in 1880 and orphaned in early childhood, Sawaki ran away from his caretaker at the age of 16 to become a monk. Not long after he was ordained, he was drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army and served during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05. When the war concluded, he returned to his study of Zen, eventually taking responsibility of Antaiji Shichikurin Sanzen Dojo in 1949. Sawaki was by no means a conventional abbot, however, and instead of attending to administrative duties at the temple, he roamed around the country of Japan in order to teach zazen [meditation] to laypeople, an endeavor he dubbed the “Moving Monastery.” His efforts both earned him the appellation “Homeless” and established him as a pioneer of the repopularization of sitting practice within Japan.

      What follows is an abridged version of a collection of his sayings, called “To You,” which were compiled by Sawaki’s successor, Uchiyama Roshi. Unpublished in full, a selection can be found on Antaiji’s website, from which this text was taken. It has been translated from the Japanese original by Muho Noelke, the current abbot of Antaiji, and Reiho Haasch, a teacher in the lineage.

      Sawaki is especially known for his nomadic lifestyle and for emphasizing the importance of meditation over the study of texts or working with koans. If his words here are any indication, however, he must also be remembered for his charismatic and direct style of communication, which can sometimes border on the irreverent. Are you worried about your career? Fighting with your spouse?

      Complaining about how busy you are? Homeless Kodo has a piece of advice for you. We just can’t guarantee it’s the advice you’ll want to hear.

      1. To you who have just begun brooding over life

      In a part of Manchuria, the carts are pulled by huge dogs. The driver hangs a piece of meat in front of the dog’s nose, and the dog runs like crazy to try to get at it. But of course he can’t. He’s only thrown his meat after the cart has finally reached its destination. Then in a single gulp, he swallows it down.

      It’s exactly the same with people and their paychecks. Until the end of the month they run after the salary hanging in front of their noses. Once the salary is paid, they gulp it down, and they’re already off: running after the next payday. Nobody can see farther than the end of their nose.

      The question is: why are you straining your forehead so much?

      If you aren’t careful, you’ll spend your whole life doing nothing besides waiting for your ordinary-person hopes to someday be fulfilled.

      2. To you who can’t stop worrying about how others see you

      You can’t trade even a single fart with the next guy. Each and every one of us has to live out his own life. Don’t waste time thinking about who’s most talented.

      The eyes don’t say, “Sure we’re lower, but we see more.” The eyebrows don’t reply, “Sure we don’t see anything, but we are higher up.”

      The nose can’t replace the eyes, and the mouth can’t replace the ears.

      Everything has its own identity, which is unsurpassable in the whole universe.

      3. To you who are totally exhausted from fighting with your spouse

      The question isn’t who’s right. You’re simply seeing things from different points of view.

      It all begins when we say “I.” Everything that follows is illusion.

      Stop trying to be something special—just be what you are. Hold fire. Just sit!

      4. To you who think there’s something to being “in”

      You’re always hanging on to others. If somebody’s eating French fries, you want French fries too. If somebody’s sucking on a candy, you want a candy too. If somebody’s blowing on a pennywhistle, you scream, “Mommy, buy me a pennywhistle too!” And that doesn’t just go for children.

      When spring comes, you let spring turn your head. When autumn comes, you let autumn turn your head. Everyone is just waiting for something to turn their head. Some even make a living turning heads—they produce advertising.

      One at a time people are still bearable, but when they form cliques, they start to get stupid. They fall into group stupidity.

      We live in group stupidity and confuse this insanity with true experience. It is essential that you become transparent to yourself and wake up from this madness. Zazen means taking leave of the group and walking on your own two feet.

      5. To you whose life is about money, money, and more money

      Human happiness and unhappiness doesn’t only depend on money. If the balance in your savings account were a measure of your happiness, it would be a simple matter. Yet it really isn’t so.

      Don’t be so helpless that you start saying you need money to live. In this world you can lead a fine life without savings.

      Some think they’re important because they have money. Others think they’re important because they have “satori” [enlightenment]. But no matter how much you puff up your personal sack of flesh, you won’t make yourself into any- thing besides a devil.

      That which doesn’t belong to you fills the entire universe. Where personal thoughts come to an end is where the buddhadharma begins.

      6. To you who would like more money, love, status, and fame

      Stupidity means being preoccupied with your own body. Wisdom says, “I am what I am, no matter how things end up.”

      Once during the war [the Russo-Japanese War, 1904–05] I visited a coal mine. With the same outfit and headlamp as the miners, I got into the lift and down we went. At one point when we were going down it seemed to me as if suddenly we were going up again. But when I looked with the lamp at the wall of the shaft, I saw that we were still going down. In the beginning when we were accelerating downward, we could really feel that we were going downward. It was only when the velocity changed that it seemed to us as if we were going up again. In exactly the same way, when we think about our lives, we always go wrong when we mistake the fluctuating amounts for the sum.

      Losing is satori. Winning is illusion.

      Not coveting a single thing is the greatest gift you can give to the universe.

      7. To you who would like to leave your rivals in the dust

      We often wonder who here is really better. But aren’t we all made out of the same lump of clay?

      Everyone should sit firmly anchored in the place where there is no better and worse.

      Your whole life you’re completely out of your mind because you think it’s obvious that there is a “you” and “the others.” You put on an act to stand out in a crowd, but in reality there’s neither “you” nor “the others.”

      Buddhadharma means seamlessness. What seam runs between you and me? Sooner or later we all end up acting as if a seam separates friend and foe. When we get too used to this, we believe that this seam really exists.

      Poor and rich, important and unimportant—none of that exists. It’s only glitter on the waves.

      8. To you who are sobbing because somebody’s put one over on you

      All beings are mistaken: we see as happiness that which leads to unhappiness, and weep over an unhappiness which isn’t unhappiness at all. We all know the child whose tears suddenly turn into laughter when you give him a cookie. What we living beings call happiness isn’t much more than that.

      At some point you’ve got to slap yourself in the face and seriously ask yourself: is your personal gain or loss really worth this overwhelming joy and suffering?

      Sooner or later everyone starts thinking of nothing besides themselves. You say, “That was good!” But what was good? It was only good for you personally, that’s all.

      A person with big desires is easily fooled. Even the greatest con man can’t profit from a person with no desires.

      Buddhism means no self, nothing to gain.

      9. To you who are tumbling down the career ladder

      When you’re dead and you look back at your life, you’ll see that none of this mattered in the least.

      Fortune and misfortune, good and bad—not everything is how it looks to your eyes. It’s not how you think it is either. We’ve got to go beyond fortune and misfortune, good and bad.

      Suffering is nothing more than the suffering we create for ourselves.

      10. To you who are complaining all the time that you haven’t got any time

      Everybody complains that they’re so busy they haven’t got any time. But why are they so busy? It’s only their illusions that keep them busy. A person who practices zazen has time. When you practice zazen, you have more time than anyone else in the world.

      If you aren’t careful, you’ll start making a big fuss just to feed yourself. You’re constantly in a hurry, but why? Just to feed yourself. Chickens too are in a hurry when they peck at their food. But why? Only to be eaten by humans.

      How many illusions does a person create in their lifetime? It’s impossible to calculate. Day in, day out, “I want this, I want that . . .” Just a single stroll in the park is accompanied by incalculable illusions. So that’s what it means to be “busy.” “I want to be with you, I want to come home, I want to see you. . . .”

      People are constantly out of breath— from running so quickly after their illusions.

      11. To you who wish you could lead a happier life

      Rest awhile and everything will be fine. We simply need to take a short break. Being buddha means taking a short break from being a human. Being buddha doesn’t mean working your way up as a human.

      “What sort of person stands on the ground where there’s neither coming nor going?” Kyuho answered, “The stone sheep versus the stone tiger: sooner or later they’ll get tired of staring each other in the eyes.” The stone sheep won’t flinch. The stone tiger won’t jump out of hunger. That’s the point—encountering things beyond thinking.

      What do we have when we truly have a grip on things as they are? Beyond-thinking [hishiryo]. Beyond-thinking doesn’t allow itself to be thought. No matter if you think so or not: things are simply as they are.

      “All things are empty” means there’s nothing we can run into, because nothing is really happening. Nothing is ever happening, no matter what seems to be going on—that’s the natural condition. Illusion means losing this natural condition. Normally we don’t recognize this natural condition. Normally we cover it with something else, so it’s not natural anymore.

      The buddhadharma means the natural condition.

      To practice the way of Buddha means to completely live out this present moment—which is our whole life—here and now.

      12. To you who want to study a little Buddhism to improve yourself

      “Empty theories” is what we call it when bystanders play around with terminology. Playing around like that is good for nothing. Dive in with body and soul!

      You’ve got to die completely in order to be able to reflect on the buddhadharma. It isn’t enough to torture yourself and only die halfway.

      13. To you who say that Buddhism doesn’t have anything to do with you

      When you talk about Buddha, you’re thinking of something far away that’s got nothing to do with you, and that’s why you’re only running around in circles.

      Ordinary people and buddhas have the same form. Awakening and illusion have the same form.

      When we practice the buddhadharma, we are buddha. Or better yet, it is precisely because we are buddha already that we can practice the buddhadharma.

      You believe that Buddhism is a little different from everything else. But it’s not like that at all: Buddhism is each and every thing.

      14. To you who are wondering if your zazen has been good for something

      What’s zazen good for? Absolutely nothing! This “good for nothing” has got to sink into your flesh and bones until you’re truly practicing what’s good for nothing. Until then, your zazen really is good for nothing.

      You say you want to become a better person by doing zazen. Zazen isn’t about learning how to be a person. Zazen is to stop being a person.

      You say, “When I do zazen, I get disturbing thoughts!” Foolish! The fact is that it’s only in zazen that you’re aware of your disturbing thoughts at all. When you dance around with your disturbing thoughts, you don’t notice them at all. When a mosquito bites you during zazen, you notice it right away. But when you’re dancing and a flea bites your balls, you don’t notice it at all.

      Don’t whine. Don’t stare into space. Just sit!

      15. To you who are out of your mind trying so hard to attain peace of mind

      You lack peace of mind because you’re running after an idea of total peace of mind. That’s backwards. Be attentive to your mind in each moment, no matter how unpeaceful it might seem to be. Great peace of mind is realized only in the practice within this unpeaceful mind.

      When dissatisfaction is finally accepted as dissatisfaction, peace of mind reigns.

      16. To you who say that you have attained a better state of mind through zazen

      As long as you say zazen is a good thing, something isn’t quite right. Unstained zazen is absolutely nothing special. It isn’t even necessary to be grateful for it. . . . Don’t stain your zazen by saying that you’ve progressed, feel better, or have become more confident through zazen.

      We only say, “Things are going well!” when they’re going our way.

      We should simply leave the water of our original nature as it is. But instead we are constantly mucking about with our hands to find out how cold or warm it is. That’s why it gets cloudy.

      Zazen isn’t like a thermometer where the temperature slowly rises: “Just a little more . . . yeah . . . that’s it! Now I’ve got satori!” Zazen never becomes anything special, no matter how long you practice. If it becomes something special, you must have a screw loose somewhere.

      17. To you who are aiming at the ultimate way of life

      What’s the buddhadharma about? It’s about having every aspect of your daily life pulled by Buddha.

      The basis of all actions is to follow through to the end. If your mind is absent even just for a moment, you’re no different from a corpse.

      Practice means asking with your whole being the question “What can I do right now for the Buddha way?”


      It isn’t enough to hit the bull’s-eye once. Last year’s perfect marks are useless. You’ve got to hit the bull’s-eye right now.

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    • China’s Buddhist body to sue media for ‘tarnishing’ religion

      Apr 10, 2017 hindustantimes

      The Buddhist association said the media and netizens shared a video that incorrectly showed its members partying at a nun’s wedding to garner clicks.

      A Buddhist association in China has vowed to sue media networks and netizens for “tarnishing Buddhism” after they reported and shared a video that incorrectly showed its members partying at a nun’s wedding.

      The Wutaishan Buddhist Association (WBA) of Shanxi Province accused the media of “tarnishing Buddhism” over the video titled “Buddhist nuns participate in a Wutai Mountain nun’s wedding.”

      The tape, which showed shaven-headed women in robes at a hotel, attracted more than a million viewers on Sina Weibo, which is akin to Twitter in China.

      In a WeChat statement on Saturday, WBA claimed the guests were actually members of a pyramid scheme called “Wuxingbi,” whose members shave their heads.

      It said the party had nothing to do with WBA members and the video’s uploaders only used their name to garner clicks.

      The association added that it has already instructed lawyers to demand the platforms take the video down, apologise and compensate them, state-run Global Times reported.

      WBA lawyer Wei Haisheng said in Sunday the association had reported the case to the public security bureau.

      According to a 2013 judicial interpretation that defines what constitutes “fabricating facts to slander others” online, and what could be regarded as “serious” violations, citizens can be charged with defamation if their rumours are viewed by more than 5,000 netizens or re-tweeted more than 500 times.

      Others also expressed outrage over the video, with many calling it an insult to the sanctity of Buddhism and slamming the social platforms for being careless.

      “How can these social platform administrators allow such videos to go online without even scrutinising their reliability?” a Weibo user wrote.

      Wei said Buddhism is a peaceful and tolerant religion, and considers litigation a last resort.

      However, more and more cases have blackened the name of Buddhism in recent years, he said, adding, “It’s time for us to take actions to defend the reputation of Buddhism.”


      In 2016, WBA had slammed rumours claiming that temples on Wutai Mountain were hiring monks with a monthly salary of 8,000 yuan.

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    • China to choose next Dalai Lama by draw of lots

      Apr 11, 2017 Sutirtho Patranobis Hindustan Times, Beijing

      The successor to the Dharamshala-based 14th Dalai Lama will be chosen in the traditional way of drawing lots from a sacred urn at the Jokhang monastery in Lhasa followed by the mandatory approval from the ruling Communist Party of China, Beijing has said.

      When required, the succession rules will follow traditional Buddhist religious rituals to be performed at the Jokhang temple, Tibetan Buddhism’s holiest temple, and regulations set by the CPC, the Chinese foreign ministry told Hindustan Times in a written response.

      “The reincarnation of the Dalai Lama must be conducted according to religious rituals and historical conventions including drawing of lots from the Golden Urn in front of the Shakyamuni (Buddha) statue at the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, which embodies the Buddhist spirit,” the ministry said “(and) not by what the 14th Dalai Lama has said.”

      “Finally the result must be reported to the central government for approval. This rule was established early in 1793,” said the ministry, referring to the 29-Article Ordinance for More Effective Governance of Tibet, passed by the Qing dynasty, which had ruled that future Dalai Lamas would be chosen through a draw of lots of names inside the urn at the temple.

      The primary rules of naming the successor will follow the “Regulation on Religious Affairs and Management Rules of Tibetan Buddhism Reincarnation,” the ministry said.

      The emphatic statement from the Chinese government comes amid the ongoing Sino-India diplomatic spat over the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims is part of southern Tibet with historical and religious links to Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

      On Tuesday, the Dalai Lama, 81, is learnt to have left Arunachal Pradesh and Tawang, leaving in his trail crowds of praying and chanting Buddhists and a seething controversy between India and China.

      Last week, the Dalai Lama had said it was up to the Tibetan people whether the “institution of Dalai Lama should continue or not” and that he wanted to start “some sort of preliminary discussion” on his succession this year.

      It is believed in Tibetan Buddhism that Dalai Lama is reincarnated as a child.

      For China, it is important that the 15th Dalai Lama is chosen from a Tibetan area within the country so as to nip in the bud any future for the movement for greater Tibetan autonomy.

       “The reincarnation of Living Buddha is a unique way of inheritance of Tibetan Buddhism. China has adopted policy of religious freedom, which includes respect and protection of this Tibetan Buddhism tradition,” the Chinese foreign ministry said.

      Calling the Dalai Lama a “political exile” who has had a “disgraceful” influence on the India-China border dispute, the ministry said he is not a “purely religious person” and has been engaged in anti-China separatist activities for years.

      “He is active in disputed area in Sino-Indian border which itself is a major political event,” the ministry said about the visit.


      It emphasised that “no matter what the Indian government has arranged in disputed areas, and no matter what the Dalai Lama’s speech in “Arunachal Pradesh”, it will never change the fact that there is a great controversy in eastern part of the Sino-Indian border, nor it will change China’s position on this issue.”

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    • Austrian Buddhist Shares Her Experience of 12 Years Spent in Mountain Retreat

      BD Dipananda Buddhistdoor Global | 2017-04-07 |


      Tara Choying Lhamo, an Austrian Buddhist who has been living in retreat for more than 20 years—12 of which were spend in Milarepa’s caves in Lapchi, Nepal—is now sharing her unique experience and insights with audiences in Australia and New Zealand.

      The Otago Daily Times reports that Lhamo is now in New Zealand, following a 10-day tour of Australia. Last year, Lahmo shared her meditation experiences for the first time with an audience in London. Those who heard her story, were deelply moved.

      Lahmo is a student of His Holiness Chetsang Rinpoche and Garchen Rinpoche—both masters of the Drikung Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Having grown up in a Christian family, she abandoned her life, friends, and photography job to devote herself to meditation after hearing a Buddhist master explain: “[F]or the benefit of all beings, we want to attain enlightenment.” (Medianet)

      The first eight years, she spent in a monastic community with her teacher in Nepal, after which she went on retreat in the high mountain caves of Nepal. These caves are so remote that it takes a six-day journey to reach civilization. She mentioned that  retreats are not considered a selfish pursuit in the Buddhist tradition. Instead it is a pursuit of a deeply “spiritual practice to get deeper into your consciousness,” which is “beautiful.” (Otago Daily Times)

      Spending all those years in retreat might seem like a terrifying prospect to some, however Lahmo explained that it was manageable by viewing her negative thoughts as something to contemplate and not as something bad, following the principles of mindfulness. During the retreat she was able to “slowly dismantle feelings of jealousy, ego-clinging, attachment, and pride as the ‘habitual patterns’ and pressure of life disappeared.” (Otago Daily Times) 

      Charles Potter, director of The Contemplary, a non-profit organization that promotes the practice of meditation and will host one of Lahmo’s talks in Australia, described her experience as a remarkable opportunity to understand the operation of the mind and its habitual patterns, in addition to showing us how to cultivate its deepest potential.

      “It is rare to find someone who has left society for such an extended period to really explore contemplative practices that transform the mind,” Potter added. “The return of a contemplative from the wilderness is an important opportunity to refresh our understanding about how to live, what is truly important, and how we might unlock the mind to enhance our society.” (Medianet)

      “Most of the problems faced by modern humanity stem from our drive to pursue happiness purely through material fulfilment, and a failure to cultivate inner qualities that are a source of lasting contentment and well-being. However, we are seeing a new science of virtue arising as researchers in new fields rediscover the links between generosity, patience, gratitude and kindness with happiness and better ways of engaging in the world. . . .  Not all of them involve sitting in a cave for 12 years.” (Medianet)

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    • Chinese authorities using tourism to squash Tibetan Buddhism: ICT

      16 March 2017 13:13 Molly Lortie, Tibet Post International


      Dharamshala — A new report from the International Campaign for Tibet details how “demolitions and expulsions at Larung Gar and Yachen Gar in the past six months are part of an unfolding political strategy involving more aggressive measures in order to curb and manage the growing influence and number of monks and nuns,” while simultaneously “using this very interest in Tibetan Buddhism to attract domestic tourists.”

      The report, titled ‘Shadow of Dust Across the Sun,’ released on March 13th is informed exclusively by first hand sources and eyewitness accounts, and while original reports from the Chinese authorities indicated that destruction of the religious institution was due to overcrowding and space concerns, the new ICT report suggests otherwise.

      Larung Gar and Yachen Gar have achieved widespread popularity among both Tibetans and Chinese as non-political hubs dedicated to monastic education, academic learning and Buddhist ethics since the mid-1980s when they were founded. Video footage of nuns weeping as they are expelled in convoys of buses while their wooden huts are demolished has drawn global attention to the extent of a crackdown at the world-famous Buddhist institute of Larung Gar in eastern Tibet.

      According to the ICT report, “information from the area [suggests] the buildings under construction are likely to be part of a push to develop the area with new guest-houses or facilities for temporary visitors rather than long-staying monastics as part of a broader official plan to re-shape and develop the area. According to various Tibetan sources, tourist attractions are likely to include Tibetan restaurants, souvenir stores, horse-riding centers, trekking, and organized visits to the now world-famous Larung Gar.”

      “Major construction work in the vast valley at the foot of Larung Gar to build a new tourist village and other developments has revealed that tourism is now being used as a tool by the Chinese authorities to confront revivalist trends of Tibetan religious and cultural expression and contain monastic growth.

      “Heightened security and surveillance at both Larung Gar and Yachen Gar and local sxdtowns, including new mobile police stations and intensified militarization in urban areas nearby are consistent with more systematic and intrusive measures across eastern Tibet since the wave of self-immolations began in Ngaba, Sichuan in 2009.

      “Official plans for urbanization and tourism focused on presenting an official version of Tibetan religious culture and a ‘happy Kardze’, involving an emphasis on non-religious elements of Tibetan culture, aligned with longer-term strategies to contain dissent, ‘manage’ religious activities and ensure Party control across the prefecture.”

      An educated Tibetan man in the Serthar area said that tourism is being used in Tibet to assist official efforts to restrict religious freedom: “Tibet is being turned into a huge tourist destination. Religious activities will be increasingly minimized and contained in monasteries. These will be limited in terms of demography and housing. This is the main objective of the Chinese government with regards to Buddhism, and we Tibetans have no power to influence any of these plans.”

      In a rare step, six UN experts said publicly last month that they had made a joint submission to the PRC stating that the developments at the Buddhist institutes violate international human rights laws and “seem to be concerted attacks on tangible and intangible cultural heritage, which constitute serious violations of cultural rights of current and future generations."


      Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “The new evidence presented in this report calls into question the entire basis of the demolition of homes and expulsion of nuns and monks, which have caused such distress. It cannot be possible for the Chinese authorities to claim there is overcrowding and not enough space for genuine religious practitioners given the extent of construction over a vast area in this remote valley. The UN statement reflects global alarm over the counter-productive razing of homes and expulsion of monks and nuns who have peacefully studied at these world famous religious institutes – which are so precious for Chinese as well as Tibetans.”

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    • The Kalachakra Effect — Why is the Kalachakra Initiation So Popular?

      Zuzi Griffiths Cernakova Buddhistdoor Global | 2017-03-24 |

      Once every couple of years, news and social media light up around the world with images of the red-robed Dalai Lama seated upon a high ceremonial throne amid a sea of devoted followers and captivated audience members. This newsworthy and popular Buddhist event is the Kalachakra initiation, which has become something of a hallmark of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama as the religious gathering has enjoyed an undiminished popularity over the last six decades. Arenas filled to bursting with well-wishers and devotees have earned the self-proclaimed “simple Buddhist monk” quite the rock star status. At the start of this year’s event, a multitude of Vajrayana Buddhists and fans of the Dalai Lama from around the world converged on the holy site of Bodh Gaya in India to attend the “34th Kalachakra Initiation and Teachings” that began on 2 January.

      The 10-day event, presided over by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and organized by the Central Tibetan Administration, the Tibetan government in exile, received more than 200,000 attendees from 92 countries (the final tally would have been even higher had the Chinese government allowed people from Tibet to attend). In addition to those present in Bodh Gaya, another 150,000 people joined via live webcast translated into 15 languages, including Tibetans unable to attend due to travel restrictions. Hearing reports of such a massive turnout, an outside observer might naturally wonder: “Why does the Kalachakra draw such enormous crowds? And, more particularly, what makes it so appealing to those in the West?”

      Ever since His Holiness began giving Kalachakra initiations in Tibet in 1954 and 1956, the event has attracted large congregations. When given in India, the numbers are similarly immense, as it is a convenient location for both Tibetans in exile and Asian Buddhists. The very first Kalachakra initiation was given some 2,594 years ago in southern India by Shakyamuni Buddha, who attained enlightenment in Bodh Gaya. Receiving any kind of Dharma blessing or teaching at such a sacred place is thus considered especially auspicious.

      Since the beginning of the tradition, initiations have been passed from teacher to disciple in an unbroken lineage extending to the Dalai Lama in the present day. Receiving an initiation or empowerment, and subsequently accomplishing a practice as given by a realized master of an authentic lineage is a pinnacle of spiritual endeavor for Vajrayana Buddhists. Upon request, His Holiness has given the initiation 34 times in his life, 10 of which were held in the West, starting in 1981, when the Kalachakra took place in Wisconsin.

      The series of empowerments is so sophisticated that only a fraction of the multitudes present can truly receive it. Whether or not one can depends on one’s level of preparation and motivation, though anyone present is certain to receive blessings. During the three principal days of the empowerments to the highest yoga tantra class, His Holiness leads the initiates through complex visualizations that require the ability to grasp emptiness, in addition to a special kind of concentration achieved through prior experience with meditation. Having dissolved ordinary appearances and concepts into emptiness, one’s self, the surroundings, and the master, are experienced in their pure form as the deity within its mandala. Received within this frame, the empowerments act as a catalyst for the transformation of the mind’s energies. Having thus received the initiation and associated vows, the disciple continues to accomplish the practice, with the aim of total transformation of the mind and, ultimately, enlightenment.

      Shakyamuni Buddha’s original exposition was later recorded as a tantric text containing explanations and meditation instructions aimed at leading the practitioner toward the ultimate goal, perfect enlightenment. The Cycles of Time tantra addresses the phenomenon of time, experienced by unenlightened beings as a never-ending stream carrying their lives forward through aging towards death. Time is categorized into three cycles: the alternative cycles deal with ways to defy time as a life-destroying force, otherwise known as impermanence, the very nature of samsara. The outer cycles of time are external cycles the universe goes through and are a basis for ancient cosmology, which inspired Tibetan astrology and calendar making. The inner cycles relate to the physiological and mental cycles of the body, which form a basis for Tibetan medicine. In this way, the Kalachakra has been integral to Tibetan culture and science since it reached Tibet 1,000 years ago. The relevance within the Tibetan context is obvious, but what has the Kalachakra to offer the rest of the world?

      For one, this ancient scripture baffles modern science. It offers a strikingly sophisticated presentation of the universe, with a description of atoms and sub-atomic particles that have a surprising correlation with modern theories of particle physics. His Holiness has discussed these parallels in meetings with scientists, and there are suggestions that the space particle presented in the tantra may be equivalent to the famously elusive Higgs boson.

      Despite the incredibly sophisticated and multilayered technical content, the Kalachakra has not put people off. Quite the contrary, one of the main reasons for attending is the social aspect of the occasion; Tibetans have traditionally enjoyed religious gatherings as an opportunity to socialize. For foreign participants, it is a venue where they can meet like-minded practitioners and share in the generation of positive collective merit, while bathing in the Dalia Lama’s charismatic presence. Recognizing the social function of the initiation, His Holiness uses any opportunity to preach his universal message of love, compassion, and peace to the world beyond his flock. When the Washington event was titled “2011 Kalachakra for World Peace,” it served as a platform for a discussion on His Holiness’ famous message of peace, inviting the general public to attend this ancient ritual.

      The Kalachakra has also given the West the notion of Shambhala, or Shangri-la. The myth of the Shambhala pure land, an important part of the tantra, was singled out at the start of the 20th century to inspire fanciful theories, which led to a hopeless search for a hidden land that could be exploited. It later went on to fire the imaginations of the followers of the New Age movement of the 1970s, thus making the notion of Shambhala as a perfect spiritual land part of popular Western culture. The actual meaning, according to the teachings, is that Shambhala is a level of spiritual attainment rather than a physical or celestial place.

      Assumptions based on such popularized misconceptions make the Kalachakra a likely subject for misinterpretation. Similarly, the esoteric atmosphere of the distinctly Tibetan Buddhist ritual itself, with its trademark sand mandala construction, chanting, masked dances, deity depiction, and the symbol of the mantra can easily be misinterpreted within the context of an entirely different sociocultural, historical, and religious background. Owing to authentic teachings being notoriously scarce in the past without preliminary study, the ceremony could easily be confused for a great mystical show. But with more reliably sourced information made widely available in modern languages in print and digital media, earnest candidates are well equipped to appreciate the real meaning and potential of the Kalachakra and to make the most of the initiation experience.

      Originally, the Kalachakra Tantra, similar to many other ancient Indian Buddhist texts, found its way to Tibet, where it was saved from extinction and practiced for some 1,000 years. With time, these practices adjusted to and subsequently permeated the unique Tibetan culture, ultimately proving their absolute value through producing living examples of realized Tibetan practitioners. The Buddha’s intention is to benefit all sentient beings beyond the constraints of time, space, and culture.

      Despite its esoteric feel and cultural baggage, the unfading global popularity of events like the Kalachakra prove how relevant these ancient treasures are for today’s spiritually and morally deficient societies, by showing us possibilities beyond shallow materialistic goals and stifling consumerist self-expression. Ultimately, the objective is to emulate the Buddha in following a wholesome path to achieving the perfect freedom of enlightenment for the benefit of fellow shackled beings.

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      Chinese Folk Religion. You should be able to see statues of both Tua Ya Pek and Li Ya Pek in almost all Toaist temples. But you can also find two very nice Tua Ya Pek and Li Ya Pek in the first temple building in Siong Lim Monastery in Toa Payoh. I believe this temple building houses the most Toaist statues of Dieties including some Buddhist ones as well in Singapore.

       Their birthdays are as follows:

      Lunar 7th month 12th - Tua Ya Pek

      Lunar 7th month 22th - Dua Li Ya Pek

      You can also check out birthdays of other dieties here -mastercai.fr.yuku.com/reply/840/Birthdays-of-Taoist-Lofty-Deities

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    • Dalai Lama’s Journey Provokes China, and Hints at His Heir

      ELLEN BARRY APRIL 6, 2017 The New York Times


      NEW DELHI — It has been a hard journey for the 81-year-old Dalai Lama, perhaps his last over the mountain passes at the edge of China, to a town that has played a fateful role in his life, and in the history of Tibetan Buddhism.

      Violent rains buffeted the small plane he flew into the valley. His party was forced to continue overland, traveling seven or eight hours a day over steep serpentine roads, lined with villagers hoping to glimpse him.

      Each day, as he came closer to the holy site of Tawang, China pressed India more forcefully to stop his progress, its warnings growing increasingly ominous.

      By Thursday, a day before the Dalai Lama was expected to reach Tawang, the official China Daily wrote that Beijing “would not hesitate to answer blows with blows” if the Indian authorities allowed the Dalai Lama to continue.

      At stake on this journey, scholars said, is the monumental question of who will emerge as the Dalai Lama’s successor — and whether that successor, typically a baby identified as the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, will live inside or outside China’s zone of influence.

      By visiting Tawang, a Tibetan Buddhist stronghold that was the birthplace of a previous Dalai Lama, he is expertly needling Beijing, which maintains that this area should be part of China. He is also consolidating his sect’s deep roots among the population, potentially laying the groundwork for a reincarnation there.

      He is a wise Lama, and he is thinking far ahead, as he always has,” said Brahma Chellaney, an analyst at New Delhi’s Center for Policy Research. “He is not given to sentimental reasoning. There is nothing about his trip to Arunachal Pradesh that is sentimental in its nature.”

      Tawang is home to the Monpa people, who practice Tibetan Buddhism and once paid tribute to rulers in Lhasa, 316 miles to the north. Though the town’s population is about 11,000, officials said they were expecting as many as 60,000 to gather for the Dalai Lama’s appearances at Tawang’s monastery this weekend.

      We have been preparing for the last two months,” said Lobsang Khum, secretary of the monastery. “Everybody wants to see him, get his blessings, touch his feet. For us, the Dalai Lama is more important than our lives.”

      The most treasured lore among the Monpa surrounds Tsangyang Gyatso, who in 1682 became the sixth Dalai Lama. People here make pilgrimages to his childhood home, where a stone is displayed with a faint footprint said to be his, and speak longingly of the possibility that it could happen again.

      That is the dream of many people here, that the next Dalai Lama should be born in Tawang,” said Sang Phuntsok, Tawang’s deputy commissioner. Tsering Tashi, a local legislator, said that, as a layman, he had no business commenting, but in the end he could not restrain himself. “I wish that the reincarnation of the next Dalai Lama happens in Tawang,” he said. “That’s all I can say.”

      The Dalai Lama has been enigmatic about how his successor will be chosen.

      In the past, monks have turned to visions and oracles to lead them to a child conceived just as the previous Dalai Lama died. Having identified a child, they administer tests seeking to confirm that he is the reincarnated lama, such as asking him to pick out objects belonging to his predecessor.

      But that method would leave Tibetan Buddhism without a leader for at least a year, allowing China to identify and promote its own candidate. The Dalai Lama has hinted that he may instead opt for a nontraditional selection process, selecting a child or an adult to succeed him while he is still alive.

      Aging Tibetan Buddhist lamas have, in some cases, visited places where they would later be reincarnated as babies, and the Dalai Lama’s visits to Tawang and Mongolia seemed to fall into that pattern, said Robert J. Barnett, a historian of modern Tibet at Columbia University.

       This is a way of getting under the skin of the Chinese, of probing them, and reminding them that they have no control over where the next reincarnation occurs,” he said.

      As the Dalai Lama’s arrival in Tawang grew closer this week, Chinese statements grew increasingly bellicose, a tactic that has succeeded in pressuring officials of many countries to snub the Tibetan leader.

      On Wednesday, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said India had “obstinately arranged” the Dalai Lama’s visit, causing “serious damage” to bilateral ties. On Thursday, The Global Times, a state-run tabloid, suggested that China could retaliate by supporting the anti-Indian militancy in Kashmir.

      Can India afford the consequence?” it asked sarcastically. “With a G.D.P. several times higher than that of India, military capabilities that can reach the Indian Ocean and having good relations with India’s peripheral nations, coupled with the fact that India’s turbulent northern state borders China, will Beijing lose to New Delhi?”

      Though India is typically wary of provoking China, several officials have been unusually pugnacious in their responses. Pema Khandu, the chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh, took the unusual step this week of stating that an independent Tibet, not China, is India’s true northern neighbor.

      Let me get this straight,” Mr. Khandu told journalists. “China has no business telling us what to do and what not to do because it is not our next-door neighbor.”

      The Dalai Lama, for his part, has been characteristically jovial to the crowd of journalists trailing after him, expounding cheerily on subjects from quantum physics to global warming. He hardly needs to do more, Mr. Barnett said.

      He doesn’t have to do anything except exist and be his usual beaming self to embarrass the Chinese,” he said. “He will be right on the border, he will be a complete free person, he will be only meters away from Chinese territory, but they cannot do anything about it.”

      The Dalai Lama also revisited his escape from Tibet in 1959, when he fled a Chinese military crackdown in Lhasa. Disguised, and with a small group of aides, he crossed the mountain passes to safety in Tawang.

      He was reunited this week with Naren Chandra Das, 76, an Indian soldier who escorted him on the last three days. The two embraced before the cameras: the former soldier painfully thin, his eyes clouded by cataracts; the monk apple-cheeked and jovial.


      I became old, but he stays the same,” Mr. Das said. “He is a big man, the king of Tibet.”

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    • Bhikkhu Bodhi on Mindfulness in the Buddha’s Words

      March 27, 2017 Justin Whitaker Patheos


      Mindfulness in the Western world is perhaps best known in the terms of the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn as:

      “Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”

      Bodhipaksa of Wildmind presents a helpful breakdown of each part of this sentence after offering his own definition of “the gentle effort to be continuously present with experience.”

      Culadasa (John Yates, PhD), author of The Mind Illuminated, describes mindfulness in terms of “optimizing the interaction between attention and awareness.” He emphasizes awareness here to bring out the global or peripheral aspect of mindfulness; one is not only attending to a specified object such as the breath or a task, but also has an awareness of the world around them.

      The meaning of sati can be also be understood by looking at a description of it found in the Pali Canon. The Buddha there describes the sati of a cowherd, who had to watch closely over his cows to keep them from straying into fields with ripe crops. Once those crops were harvested, the cowherd could relax, just ‘being mindful’ (sati karaṇīyaṃ) of his cows. The crops here represent thoughts of sensuality and the harvest represents the abandonment via renunciation of those thoughts. Mindfulness, in this case, is a kind of gentle presence of being based on prior effort and control. So Bodhipaksa’s definition reflects very closely this image from the early Buddhism while Kabat-Zinn’s might be seen as a more “modernized” definition aimed specifically to the contemporary Westerner. Bhikkhu Analayo suggests that the gentle presence (similar to a wide-angle camera lens) is characteristic to the Buddha’s particular use of the term sati.

      Here, Bhikkhu Bodhi, the pre-eminent contemporary translator of early Buddhist texts, describes mindfulness (sati) specifically in relation to clear comprehension (sampajañña) as understood in early Buddhist teachings. He defines the role of sati as that which “keeps the object present before one’s attention” or “attentiveness” – retaining or preserving the object in mind. Sampajañña, he notes, has the function of assessment and evaluation.


      So, common factors of Buddhist “mindfulness” seem to include attention/attentiveness and awareness, as well as an activity of being present. It is not a passive state. It is a quality based on cultivation, past effort, based in gentleness or – perhaps more geared toward modern readers – non-judgement.

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    • Do you know why the Chinese hang red paper on tombs?

      APRIL 4, 2017 Star2.com MAJORIE CHIEW

      Do you know why there are pieces of red-streaked paper fluttering from tombs and gravestones in Chinese graveyards today?

      It’s because today is Qing Ming, the day when Chinese people visit the graves of departed loved ones to pay their respects.

      But why the red-streaked paper?

      Traditionally, the red came from chicken blood (a rooster’s, preferably); the Hakkas hang these “chicken blood paper” (“kwa huet zi” in Cantonese) on graves to create a barrier against negative energies or unwanted souls, explains local feng shui master Jessie Lee.

      She adds that, “The paper acts like a talisman, protecting the living and stopping angry spirits from disturbing the ancestral worship”. Now-adays, a printed version of this paper is used instead.

      This is why Qing Ming, or “Sweeping the Tomb” day, is also called “Hanging Paper” day, or “kwa zi” in Cantonese, says Lee.

      Some people, she says, hang five coloured papers to represent the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal and water) in five directions (north, south, east, west, and centre).

      Whatever the details of the rituals, generally, all Chinese take the time to remember the dead by visiting grave sites or columbaria to say prayers and make offerings.

      While Qing Ming generally falls on April 4 or 5, traditionally, a longer time frame is set aside for such worship. It can be between 15 days (a week before and after the actual day) and 21 days (10 days before and after the actual day).

      According to the Chinese solar calendar, the Qing Ming solar season is from April 4 to April 19. This is because each solar season lasts 14 days, inclusive of the first day of the season.

      The prayer ritual, Lee says, usually starts and ends with the throwing of “paper money” all over the grave. This is to symbolise that the tomb has been inspected for damage and that family members have visited to pay their respects.

      Tombs without the hanging papers or paper money are said to be “lonely tombs”.

      Scattering paper

      Legend has it that the ritual of strewing the tomb with paper started during China’s Han Dynasty (roughly 206BCE to 220CE). Liu Bang, the dynasty’s first emperor, returned after a war to find that he can no longer find his parents’ tombs – graveyards are covered in weeds and most tombstones are broken after years of conflict.

      In despair, Lee says, the emperor resorted to throwing bits of paper into the air and imploring the heavens to guide him by letting the paper fall on his parents’ tomb. Sure enough, he found the ancestral resting place. After the story got about, the population began to follow suit by placing paper at their ancestral graves to indicate that they have been visited.

      Married daughters

      Traditionally, a married daughter is not allowed to visit her late parents’ or ancestral tombs. The superstition is that the married daughter will take away the good qi (energy) to benefit her husband’s family.

      In the old days, tradition favoured the sons in the family; they were the ones that drew whatever luck or wealth and good qi was around. This was why families would allow only male descendants to mark Qing Ming.

      But in the much smaller families of today, what if the married daughter is the only child? Lee raises this thought-provoking question and goes on to say that it is good that people are becoming more open-minded nowadays and see these traditions merely as a means of expressing filial piety.

      The newly departed

      Families do not observe Qing Ming if their loved ones die close to the day itself; however, Lee explains that people might not realise that prayers can still be performed at new graves in the first two years, just on different days.

      “A different type of paper money is used – shops selling Chinese prayer paraphernalia can advise families on what to buy,” she says.

      Within the first year of the death, the new grave should be “swept” (that is, Qing Ming should be observed) after Feb 4 – which is lap chun, or the beginning of spring – but before April 4. In the second year after the death, a date after March 20 but before April 4 should be chosen. And from the third year onwards, normal practice resumes.

      Legend of Jie Zhitui

      Feng shui master Yap Boh Chu offers another origin story for Qing Ming, this time involving the legend of Jie Zhitui.

      Jie Zhitui becomes famous for being a particularly loyal defender of the noble family he serves; but he is a modest man and, wanting to shun fame, he retires with his elderly mother to nearby Mianshan Mountain (aka Jie Shan, or Jie Mountain) in Shanxi Province.

      Duke Wen (697BCE–628BCE) becomes impatient with Jie Zhitui hiding in the mountain so he orders it set alight to drive the defender and his mother out into the open – tragically, the loyal man and his mother perish in a cave under a willow tree. After burying the pair, an anguished Wen orders his people to eat cold food on that day and avoid lighting a fire as a way of remembering Jie Zhitui.

      The following year, when Wen hikes up the mountain to commemorate the death, he sees that the burned willow tree has revived and flourished. As he remembers Jie Zhitui’s noble character, Wen is so moved that he sweeps the tomb clear of fallen leaves and declares the festival of Qing Ming.

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    • Enthronement of the 42nd Sakya Trizin, His Holiness Ratna Vajra Rinpoche

      Anne Wisman Buddhistdoor Global | 2017-04-05 |

      On the 9 March, the 42nd Sakya Trizin was enthroned at the Sakya monastery Magon Thubten Namgyal Ling in India. His Holiness Ratna Vajra Rinpoche is the oldest son of the His Holiness the 41st Sakya Trizin, and the first Sakya Trizin to be enthroned under the new succession system announced in May 2014. The enthronement ceremony was streamed live via Facebook.

      The Sakya Trizin is the head of the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism, which was founded in 1073 by Khön Konchok Gyalpo, a member of the Tibetan noble family Khön, who established a monastery in the region of Sakya (present-day Shigatse Prefecture), Tibet. Leadership of the school has always remained in the Khön family, who are said to descend from Gods of the Realm of Clear Light that entered the human realm. Today, the Sakya School is one of four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

      Traditionally, the office of Sakya Trizin or “Sakya Throne-holder” is held for life. Succession usually occurs after the death of the previous Sakya Trizin, and candidates for succession are drawn from the Khön family line. In 2014, however, a new system, proposed by the former Sakya Trizin and agreed upon by both the Phodrangs—the two palaces of the Sakya school; Dolma Phodrang and Phuntsok Phodrang—was adopted, with the agreement of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. In its revised form, the tenure of the Sakya Trizin lasts only three years, with the possibility that an office holder may take office more than once in his lifetime. Qualifications for the position include: “the complete fulfillment of studies of all the basic courses of Rites and Rituals of the Sakya; studies in all the major philosophies; having received empowerments, reading transmissions, and pith instructions; having studies the teachings of the ancestral Dharma teachings of Lamdre Ts’ogshey and Lamdre Lobshey, along with other important teachings and empowerments; and having accomplished the basic recitation retreat on Hevajra and other important tutelary deities.” (Official website of His Holiness the Sakya Trizin)

      Candidates for the position continue to be drawn from Khön family descendants, and future office holders are already in training. “The new system is based on the one used by the abbots of Ngor Monastery, which is a part of the Sakya school. The great master Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö [1893–1959] once suggested that the Sakya Trizins should follow Ngor’s approach, and now they will do that.” said Lama Migmar Tseten, Buddhist chaplain at Harvard University and founder of the Sakya Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a 2015 interview. (Lion’s Roar)

      His Holiness Ratna Vajra Rinpoche is the first to be enthroned under this new system, having met all the aforementioned requirements. Born on 19 November 1974, the 42-year-old Sakya Trizin is the 42nd in an unbroken lineage dating back to 1073. His Holiness has been educated in the Sakya school since birth by his father, the His Holiness the 41st Sakya Trizin, and many other lineage masters. In 1998, he completed a kachupa degree (equivalent to a bachelor's degree in Buddhist philosophy), which he studied under Khenpo Ngawang Lekshey Kunga Rinpoche (also known as Khenpo Migmar Tsering, 1955–99). In addition, he has studied various esoteric and exoteric traditions and is, at present, considered one of most qualified masters in the Sakya school. In 2002, His Holiness Ratna Vajra Rinpoche married Her Eminence Dagmo Kalden Dunkyi, selected via the age-old Sakya tradition of holy divination. They have two daughters and a son.

      His father, the previous Sakya Trizin, Ngawang Kunga Tegchen Palbar Trinley Samphel Wangyi Gyalpo, born in 1945 in Tsedong, near Shigatse Prefecture, will continue to provide guidance to his son in the years to come.

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    • Century-Old Book of Koan Answers Is Still Controversial

      Barbara Hoetsu O'Brien MAR 17, 2017 tricycle

      Why the recently reissued The Sound of the One Hand: 281 Zen Koans With Answers may not give Zen students the answers they’re looking for

      In 1916, a peevish Japanese Zen monk gave himself a pseudonym meaning “The Arch-Destroyer of the Existent Order” and published a book titled A Critique of Japanese Pseudo-Zen. The book consisted mostly of a blistering attack on Japan’s Rinzai Zen schools and the way they were conducting koan study at the time.

      Koans are those odd questions asked by Zen masters that defy rational answers. The Rinzai school of Zen developed a practice of koan study in which a student sits in meditation with the koan and periodically presents his understanding of it to his teacher in a private interview. Although the standard koans have all been published, the way they are presented is supposed to remain private between student and teacher.

      But Arch-Destroyer broke centuries of protocol and described how the 281 koans then in use by Rinzai Zen schools were answered. His aim in doing this was to expose the Rinzai Zen masters of his time as phonies who had forgotten the essence of Buddhism. Armed with this book, he said, any fool could be a Zen master.

      Critique raised a scandal, and it sold well enough to justify a second printing in 1917. When monks began to present the cribbed answers in interviews, at least one teacher made changes to the traditional koans to confound his students.

      The book was not reissued after the second printing. However, much later in the 20th century, there were shopkeepers in Kyoto known to keep photocopies of the “answer” section behind the counter, ready to sell to those who asked for them.

      It’s said that most of those who asked were novice Zen monks.

      In 1975, the New York-based publisher Basic Books released an English translation of the answer section by the distinguished Israeli author and scholar Yoel Hoffman, who added his own extensive notes. Although Hoffman’s translation wasn’t on any Zen teacher’s recommended reading list, copies quietly circulated among Zen students. Whether anyone ever tried the book’s answers on their teachers, I cannot say.

      The Basic Books edition is out of print. However, in December 2016 the New York Review of Books reissued Hoffman’s translation, titled The Sound of the One Hand: 281 Zen Koans With Answers, as part of its classics series. It’s possible the koan answers will soon turn up in a library near you.

      Hoffman studied Zen in Japan in his youth and, in Israel, has published books on Zen that were well received. He wrote in the introduction to The Sound of the One Hand that his purpose in translating and publishing the answer book “was above all my firm conviction that it would introduce to the Western world the clearest, most detailed, and most correct picture of Zen.”

      But does it? And would the answer section be of any benefit to koan students today?

      Most of my experience as a Zen student has been in the Soto school, which as a rule (there are exceptions) does not approach koans the same way Rinzai does. And the answers given in the book simply don’t speak to me. For example:

      Master: The original face―the face before you were brought into this world by your mother and father―What is it?

      Answer: Placing both hands on the chest, the student stands up.

      Hoffman’s note to this koan explains that “the student implies, ‘it’s me,’ thus avoiding the trap of an unanswerable question.” This explanation did not exactly light a candle in the darkness for me.

      Jaime Heiku McLeod is a teacher in the White Plum lineage founded by Soto Zen teacher Hakuyu Taizen Maezumi of the Los Angeles Zen Center, and I asked him about the book:

      Early on in my koan work, when I was working through the Miscellaneous Koans (or Simple Koans, with simple meaning short, not necessarily easy), I snuck a peek at The Sound of One Hand. I wasn’t necessarily looking for “the answers,” but just some kind of starting point. The whole process felt so incomprehensible to me. Even so, it felt like a very dirty thing to do. Like ogling your dad’s Playboys or something. I would have been mortified if my teachers ever found out.

      I realize now, though, they probably wouldn’t have cared. There was nothing in there that was going to help me. The “answers” just seemed silly. Looking at them now, I can certainly understand what each of the answers are pointing to, but unless a student has experienced the gut-level understanding that led someone 100 years ago to declare that such-and-such a gesture or performance was THE one official answer —and I’m not really convinced that was ever completely the case—then the gestures or phrases or interpretive dances or whatever that the book outlines are meaningless.

      Very simply, koan contemplation is a means to develop insight. The American Rinzai master Robert Aitken wrote in Taking the Path of Zen, “Fundamentally the koan is a particular expression of buddhanature, and your koan work is simply a matter of making that expression clear to yourself and your teacher.” Mimicking words and gestures one doesn’t really understand simply doesn’t function, and teachers claim they can tell when someone is faking it.

      Because what is realized often is ineffable, a student may “answer” the koan by means of gestures as well as words. “We do ask students to respond to a case nonverbally first, just to get them out of the habit of intellectualizing about it,” Heiku McLeod said. However, then the student is asked to talk about it.

      Even though words can never fully express the gut-level understanding that the koans are pointing to, students need to be able to articulate it in some way, anyway. It takes that encounter with the absolute and grounds it back into the relative. Always, the two are dancing with one another.

      Does this mean the koan answers are completely useless? Not necessarily. I asked Barry Magid, a dharma heir of Charlotte Joko Beck, about the book:

      I think it does have some cross-cultural value. So often we were taught that if your eye was truly opened all the koans would become transparent. Some do but as the book shows, what “counted” as an answer varied wildly. I found it interesting to ask myself “how was that an answer?”

      In other words, while The Sound of the One Hand is of little help to a novice koan student, it does give us an intimate window into Rinzai Zen in Japan, at least as it was 100 years ago.

      Buddhism in Japan was already in a period of decline by the beginning of the Meiji Period (1868–1912). Buddhism had been the dominant religion in Japan for a few centuries, and by the early 19th century was widely viewed as arrogant and corrupt. Then the Meiji Emperor chose to elevate Shinto as the favored religion. He also issued a number of imperial decrees―including one that ended monastic celibacy―that further rocked Japanese Buddhist institutions. Many temples closed, and many clergy returned to lay life.

      In 1916 Rinzai Zen as an institution was still stumbling. Certainly, there were several well-respected Rinzai masters teaching in those days, but it was far from a golden age of Rinzai Zen. Arch-Destroyer may have had reason to feel frustrated.

      It’s also the case that an “answer” that resonates in Japan might not work in the West. A senior koan student told me, “Being from Texas at present, here ‘one hand’ sounds like singing to cows . . . ‘I’m an ol’ cowhand, from the Rio Grande . . .’” Make of that what you will.

      Several of the classic koan collections have been translated into English, and some of these have commentaries by distinguished masters such as Robert Aitken and Koun Yamada. Someone new to Zen who wants to read about koans would, I’m sure, find these works more helpful than The Sound of One Hand. And koan students looking for the magic decoder ring to Zen may be disappointed.

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    • Tempest in a teapot: A rebuttal to Reza Aslan’s critics from someone who’s lived with Aghoris

      Vikram Zutshi Scroll.in


      If the remaining episodes of Aslan’s mini-series ‘Believer’ are as provocative as the first one, they should not be missed.

      Several years ago, wandering through Varanasi late at night, I came across a group of ash-smeared sadhus sitting around a bonfire near the banks of the River Ganga which runs through the ancient city. I had gone there after spending several months in a Buddhist monastery in Pokhara, Nepal.

      One of the sadhus beckoned me to join them, patting the spot beside him. They were passing around a chillum, a clay pipe, packed with a potent mixture of charas (hand rubbed hashish) and tobacco. They sang a folk tune, accompanied by percussive tapping on a tabla. The smoking, singing and drumming under the stars made for a heady brew. I pulled out a bottle of whiskey from my backpack and offered it to my companions. Each took a swig and passed it on – it was out after one round of the circle. Soon I was singing and jumping animatedly around the fire along with a couple of clapping sadhus.

      Over the next few weeks I attended a number of similar gatherings at locations around Varanasi. It was a radical and refreshing departure from the austere and sedate environs of the Buddhist monastery and most of the ashrams I had stayed at over the course of my extended pilgrimage.

      One evening, a group of tourists from Delhi passing by, stopped and walked toward us. On seeing the intoxicated revelry, one of them, in a fit of moral outrage, ordered us to put our chillums away or he would call the police. The threat did not go down well with the holy men. Tolaram, a tall sadhu clad in black with red-rimmed eyes and a mop of wild dreadlocks, rose up and let loose a stream of invectives in Hindi which effectively meant this: Get lost or I’ll stuff a chillum up a very painful place. The other sadhus scooped handfuls of red-hot coal and flung them at the tourists. The bunch scurried away – never to be seen again. All of us laughed uproariously at the spectacle.

      My friends were members of Aghor, a sect of renegades who proudly reject the trappings of social propriety, sectarian labels and the world of appearances. Their secretive lifestyle, which includes ritual consecration and consumption of human flesh, and even sexual rites amidst burning pyres, is designed to shock the perceptual framework so as to break the barriers between what is considered sacred and profane, the holy and unholy – all rigid dichotomies that dominate the bourgeois middle class.

      In Tolaram’s view, most Hindus worshipped Shiva and Kali as a cultivated social requirement, but what the deities actually demand from their followers is not acceptable to the vast majority. Aghors are the only ones willing to please Kali, by “ripping the veil off reality and jumping straight into the abyss”, with no thought to self-preservation or the laws that govern polite society.

      The Aghors I fell in with emphatically rejected Vedic notions of ritual purity, scriptural dogma and priestly mediation between the world of the mundane, the so-called impure and the divine. They seek to cultivate a state of consciousness, known as Aghor, in which one transmutes and ultimately transcends base sensations like fear, hatred, disgust or discrimination. On attaining this state one does not view the world in dualistic terms of good and evil, sacred and profane, pure and impure – instead relating to all of manifested reality as attributes of the Great Mother, MA.

      Given all this, I was not surprised at the outrage from sections of the Hindu-American community (and their self-appointed representatives) following the debut of Believer, a CNN mini-series on the fringe and fascinating religious sects around the world. The show’s inaugural episode was filmed in Varanasi, and half of it is devoted to Iranian-American religious scholar Reza Aslan being immersed with a group of Aghors engaging in various shocking acts, including eating cooked human brains and ingesting faeces.

      It is clear quite quickly that the show’s producers are out to find sensational, or at the very least dramatic, footage and the sadhus are only too happy to oblige, prone as they are to playing to the gallery. One of them can be heard yelling at Aslan to “shut the f**k up or he would cut his head off”. During my stay with Aghors, I had heard them say much worse things to middle class Indian and western tourists, often in jest and feigned anger, embellished with flailing arms and a fiery gaze for greater effect.

      Since the first snatches of the episode came out, Aslan has been accused of everything from Hinduphobia and bigotry to being an agent of “Abrahamic crusaders” attempting to undermine Hinduism. His critics feel that by depicting the Aghors, Aslan has somehow emasculated Hinduism.

      The Hindus most offended by the CNN segment are exemplars of the class who like to portray a homogenous, sanitised and sparkly version of their faith. They either forget or paper over the fact that the Aghors, Naths and other heterodox Tantric sects pay scant regard to the institutionalised hierarchies and lifestyles propagated by bourgeois Hindus, the ones most offended by unconventional approaches to the divine.

      When I asked Tolaram about his opinion on Hindu canonical texts, he related the story of a priest from the hallowed Kashi Vishwanath temple who had once gifted him a copy of the Bhagwad Gita. Not knowing Sanskrit, and not being remotely interested, he used the dry pages to kindle his bonfire. When I remarked that he may have been incarcerated as a blasphemer for his actions in some Islamic states (and possibly in the prevailing climate in India), he turned his eyes skywards saying, “1-2-3-All-India-Free” and guffawed loudly, presumably at the rank idiocy of the world of men.

      As Professor Debashish Banerji, a scholar of Religion at the California Institute of Integral Studies, observes, “With the expansion of the middle class in India and its mass mobilization, along with the upper classes by the right-wing ruling party, modern Hinduism has developed into an identity construct, a national orthodoxy of social and religious norms. This threatens to erase the unauthorized culture of spiritual seeking, with innumerable variant and hybrid methods, customs, practices and social attitudes, that forms the millennia old history of religion in India.”

      Aslan is no stranger to controversy. His last book, the bestseller Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus, miffed a whole bunch of conservative Christians who took to attacking him on Fox News.

      The NRI Hindus I spoke to were especially offended by Aslan’s stated revulsion at the thought of taking a ritual dip in the Ganga. “This is one of the most polluted water bodies in the world,” he said. “There are millions of litres of untreated human waste. Yesterday I saw a guy take a shit directly into the water. It’s basically a giant toilet.” This may sound harsh and politically incorrect, but it is also the unvarnished and sad truth. Similar thoughts had crossed my mind during my maiden visit to Varanasi.

      Admittedly, the inaugural episode of Believer is a mediocre example of documentary filmmaking and Aslan makes serious blunders, like calling Varanasi the “City of the Dead” (It is in fact the “City of Light”). Also, a television promo screaming “Cannibalism” was a cringe-worthy editorial decision by CNN.

      Still, to this writer, reactions to the show were far more illuminating than the show itself. The rumpus revealed a lot about the diaspora and nationalist insecurities. Aslan’s observations on the caste system are fairly accurate and clearly too close to the bone for some people. There’s no denying that tasks like cremating the dead and manual scavenging are reserved for members of the Dalit community, those at the very lowest rung of the entrenched hierarchy, and have been so for millennia.

      Indeed, caste is a social construct, but one which cannot be separated from religious or political beliefs of a billion-plus Hindus. In Aslan’s own words, “I define religion as an identity, not a set of beliefs and practices. That’s probably postulate number one for me. People tend to think that, ‘Oh religion is just something you believe in, right?’ Well, not for most people, actually. The vast majority of people who raise their hand and say, ‘I’m Jewish,’ ‘I’m Christian,’ or ‘I’m Muslim’ are making identity statements much more so than belief statements.” He added, “So, if religion is a matter of identity, then it encompasses every aspect of your life. It can’t be divorced from your politics or your social views or your economic views. It’s all wrapped up together as one.”

      Reform and resistance against the rigidities of caste and gender are as old as Hinduism itself. Basava (1106–1167), a progenitor of the Lingayat or Virashaiva sect, was a prominent member of the Bhakti movement along with iconic social and spiritual reformers like Akka Mahadevi and Allama Prabhu. The Bhakti Movement called for a profound shift in the socio-cultural ethos of Karnataka with its vociferous opposition to the caste system, rejection of Brahminical supremacy, abhorrence to ritual sacrifice, and unmediated access to the divine through devotional worship to the One God Shiva. Social reform has continued into the 19th and 20th centuries with giants like Jyotirao Phule and Bhimrao Ambedkar leading the way.

      Aslan seems to acknowledge this: “In almost every interview I did about the show I talked at length about the issue underlying the episode, including the fluidity of the caste system, the problems inherent amongst the untouchable class, and how devout Hindus of all stripes are working tirelessly to overcome both.”

      Discussions on politically explosive issues, be it caste or nationalism, can turn violent quickly. In late February, a seminar on nationalism at Delhi University was set upon by a mob – members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, to which Prime Minister Narendra Modi belongs. Scores of professors and students were trapped as the mob rained bricks and stones and as the police stood by as mute spectators.

      The NRIs with their knickers in a twist about Aslan’s show somehow never speak out as vociferously against the egregious violations of free speech and human rights in their home country.

      The allegation that Aslan’s Varanasi episode perpetuated negative stereotypes, potentially leading to hate crimes in the xenophobic climate in the US, has an ironic twist. The assailant who shot at two Indians recently, killing one, was under the impression that they were Muslims – he was emboldened by the Muslim travel ban enacted by Donald Trump, a ban endorsed by a number of Right-wing Hindus, including Shalabh Kumar and the Republican Hindu Coalition, who berated CNN for airing the show.

      As Sigal Samuel writes in the Atlantic:

      “Reza Aslan’s new show has come at the best possible time and the worst possible time. Some say the show makes various religions seem less foreign, a corrective that Americans desperately need under Donald Trump. Others say the show exoticizes religious minorities, a danger we can ill afford under, well, Donald Trump… Both views are right, to some degree. Oddly, the two contradictory effects spring from Aslan’s single stated goal: to show that all religions are, at their core, expressions of the same faith and the same existential questions. That makes Believer an interesting object lesson in the risks of trying to make religion relatable.”  

      In the second half of the segment, we see followers of Aghoreshwar Bhagwan Ramji tending to the vulnerable and disenfranchised, including lepers and orphans. In the Aghor tradition, a sadhaka who has gone through all the stages of Aghor and then returned to society for the benefit of others is called an Aghoreshwar – a concept similar to that of the Bodhisattva in Buddhism. Even though an Aghoreshwar remains above and beyond all social and material illusions, distinctions and categories, they can still bring social reforms into effect. They work for the benefit of all sentient beings, especially those on the margins like underprivileged women and Dalits.


      The outrage over Aslan’s was basically a tempest in a teapot which shed light on the chasm between the anodyne Hinduism propagated by sections of the Indian diaspora and the infinitely more complex and gritty reality on the ground. It’s time for myopic NRIs and votaries of Hindutva to embrace the teeming cauldron of contradictions that is India and engage with it on a visceral level, or risk being frozen in permanent stasis. I for one look forward to seeing the mini-series in its entirety. If the remaining episodes are as provocative as the first one, they should not be missed.

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    • Senior Tibetan Lama Announces Decision to Disrobe, Marry Childhood Friend

      Craig Lewis Buddhistdoor Global | 2017-03-30 |

      A senior Tibetan Lama, who has been at the center of a controversial dispute over one of the most important monastic offices in Tibetan Buddhism, has officially announced his decision to disrobe. A notice dated 29 March on the website of Trinley Thaye Dorje, 33, one of two claimants to the title of the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, announced that the lama had married a childhood friend in a private ceremony in India.

      The Gyalwang Karmapa is the head of the Karma Kagyu, the largest lineage of the Kagyu, one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism—the others being Gelug, Nyingma, and Sakya. The Karmapa is considered the third most important figure within Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. The majority of Tibetan Buddhists recognize Ogyen Trinley Dorje as the reincarnation of Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the 16th Karmapa, while an influential minority holds that Trinley Thaye Dorje is the 17th Karmapa.

      The official notice included a message from Thaye Dorje explaining his decision:

      My role and activities as Karmapa will continue as before—with the single exception of conducting ordinations. This responsibility will pass on to His Eminence 4th Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Karma Mingyur Dragpa Senge. As Karmapa, I will continue to protect and preserve our beloved lineage, and strengthen the monastic sangha through initiatives such as the new Karmapa Center of Education.

      I have a strong feeling, deep within my heart, that my decision to marry will have a positive impact not only for me, but also for the lineage. Following the wishes of my parents, and having had time to reflect, I deeply feel that I am being true to both myself and the lineage. Something beautiful, something beneficial will emerge, for all of us.

      The Buddhist way is to use karma for benevolence and benefit, regardless of the path we choose. For those who follow the path of an ordained life, we must encourage and respect this. In this 17th incarnation, for both the future of the lineage, and fulfilling the wishes of my parents, I have chosen a different path. At the same time, my commitment to protect and preserve the monastic sangha, and the lineage, remains paramount in my life, and my continued role as Karmapa.

      The statement said Thaye Dorje had married his childhood friend, 36-year-old Rinchen Yangzom, who was born in Bhutan and educated in India and Europe, on 25 March in the presence of close family members. Thaye Dorje was born in Tibet in 1983. His father was a senior lama, while his mother was descended from Tibetan nobility.

      The institution of the Karmapa is the oldest tulku lineage in Tibetan Buddhism, dating back to Düsum Khyenpa (1110–93). Historically, the Karmapas were based at Tsurphu Monastery in Tibet, but the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, rebuilt Rumtek Monastery (Rumtek had already been established as a center of learning in the mid-1700s by the 12th Karmapa, Changchub Dorje, but had since fallen into disrepair) in northern India to be his new seat in 1966 after leaving Tsurphu Monastery and Tibet.

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    • New Study Measure Impact of Chinese Buddhists with Vegetarian Diets on Greenhouse Gas Emissions

      BD Dipananda Buddhistdoor Global | 2017-03-17 |

      According to a recent study published in the Journal of Contemporary Buddhism, Buddhists in China who have adopted vegetarian diets are offsetting almost 40 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emission each year. Professor Ampera A. Tseng, a researcher from Arizona State University (ASU), revealed the findings about the environmental benefits of vegetarian diets after investigating the impact on greenhouse gas emissions (GHGEs) in China.

      “The results indicate that Chinese Buddhists with vegetarian diets account for the equivalent GHGE reduction of 39.68 million metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent, which is a sizable amount and is equal to 7.2 and 9.2 per cent of the GHGEs from [the] United Kingdom and France in 2012, respectively,” Tseng noted in the introduction to his research paper. (Taylor & Francis Online)

      A professor in ASU’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering since 1996, Prof. Tseng was previously a professor of mechanical engineering at Drexel University in Pensylvania for more than 10 years. He has conducted research in various countries, including China, the Czech Republic, Japan, and Taiwan, and has published more than 200 technical papers.

      “In modern times, the vegetarian practice[s] of Chinese Buddhism should attract more Buddhists or lay people to follow, if the additional environmental and health benefits of vegetarianism could be emphasised.” Tseng stated. (Taylor & Francis Online)

      While the broad variety of delicious cuisines originating in China are well known throughout the world, according to a report by Australia’s ABC News, meat consumption has risen rapidly in line with the country’s economic growth. But Buddhist practitioners represent a growing segment of Chinese society that is keen to encourage vegetarianism. As a result there are an increasing number of vegetarian restaurants in many cities—some of which are inspired by the spirit of Buddhism, while others are simply promoting a meat-free lifestyle.

      An estimated 50 million Chinese are believed to be vegetarian—just under 4 per cent of the country’s total population of 1.4 billion. Zhang Xiuyan, 67, who is unable to eat meat for health reasons, is well accustomed to the difficulty of finding restaurants in China that understand the need for meat-free dishes. Public awareness of the requirements of vegetarians is long overdue, she emphasized.

      “With more people becoming vegetarians, restaurants are making changes,” said Zhang. “They have to stay in business by catering to the increasing number of non-meat eaters. So these days when I go out to restaurants, there are still some problems, but it's not anywhere as bad as it used to be.” (ABC News)

      Indeed, vegetarian diets are becoming increasingly popular around the world. The American Dietetic Association holds the position that “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.” (NCBI)

      In Prof. Tseng’s view, by raising awareness of the environmental benefits of vegetarian diet, “the resultant impact for the equivalent reduction of GHGEs could be even larger and the human-induced global warming problem could be further alleviated.”

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    • Larung Gar Removals ‘Almost Complete,’ Senior Abbot Says

      2017-03-23 Richard Finney Radio Free Asia

      The forced removals by Chinese authorities of monks and nuns from Sichuan’s Larung Gar Buddhist Academy are now almost complete, with nearly 5,000 expelled during the last year and almost 250 still waiting to leave, a senior abbot of the institute told residents on Thursday.

      “During 2016 and so far in 2017, a total of 4,828 monks and nuns left Larung Gar, and now about 250 nuns from Qinghai province are left to go,” the abbot said in a March 23 talk to his followers, a recording of which was obtained by RFA’s Tibetan Service.

      “They will leave over three days, from March 25 to March 27, and after they have gone, no one else will have to leave this center,” the abbot said.

      Those who remain will be left to listen to, contemplate, and meditate on the Buddhist teachings, the abbot said, asking those present to be patient and not protest what he called the “implementation of Chinese government policy” at the world-famous academy.

      “Those who have left had never wanted to leave,” he said. “All left against their own wish. And whether or not they had some place to go, they still had to leave.”

      Many thousands of Tibetans and Han Chinese once studied at Serthar (in Chinese, Seda) county’s sprawling Larung Gar complex, which was founded in 1980 by the late religious teacher Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok and is one of the world’s largest and most important centers for the study of Tibetan Buddhism.

      After months of destruction by Chinese work crews of monastic dwellings at Larung Gar, about 2,000 homes remain to be torn down, the abbot said.

      “That work will begin from tomorrow, March 24,” the abbot said.

      Also speaking to RFA, a recent traveler to the area said that monks and nuns at Larung Gar have been seen in some cases helping to demolish each others’ homes ahead of schedule.

      “This is so they can safely collect their belongings and set timber aside for future use,” he said.

      The expulsions and demolitions at Larung Gar, along with restrictions at Yachen Gar, another large Buddhist center in Sichuan, are part of "an unfolding political strategy" aimed at controlling the influence and growth of these important centers for Tibetan Buddhist study and practice, the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) said in a March 13 report, "Shadow of Dust Across the Sun."

      "[Both centers] have drawn thousands of Chinese practitioners to study Buddhist ethics and receive spiritual teaching since their establishment, and have bridged Tibetan and Chinese communities," ICT said in its report.