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    • The Buddhist Stance on Theravada Women’s Issues: A Conversation on Gender Equality and Ethics with Ajahn Brahmali

      Raymond Lam Buddhistdoor Global | 2017-01-20 |

      Like his teacher Ajahm Brahm, Norwegian-born Ajahn Brahmali is unafraid to speak his mind, not only with students and fellow Buddhists, but also at the broader level of Buddhism and morality. This honesty famously cost Ajahn Brahm his institutional connections in Thailand when he came out in support of bhikkhuni ordination in 2009. I think it is safe to say that none in Ajahn Brahm’s circle, including Ajahn Brahmali, have much in common with their former community at Wat Pah Pong anymore. Though the events are now relatively distant memories, the ramifications can still be felt today, not least in the conversations that circulate within Theravada circles about the future relationship between the male sangha and women.

      Ajahn Brahmali has a fascinating take on his preceptor’s excommunication in Thailand. “Getting thrown out of Wat Pah Pong, of course that came as a shock. It doesn’t feel good when you’re thrown out of a system,” he said. He had just finished a Day of Kindfulness* at The University of Hong Kong in November last year, and his sojourn with me in a hotel lobby had turned into a long reflection about his moral convictions. “You lose your mates, your friends, you feel abandoned. But the system itself wasn’t really that appropriate! If you look at the monastic Vinaya, the early sangha, as the Buddha laid it down, was almost completely flat. There was no hierarchy at all. Even the position of abbot didn’t exist,” he said.

      “Yet Buddhism in Thailand is hierarchical—you have a sangharaja at the top, you have a council, you have someone controlling you. Hierarchies are always very corrupting, and power, position, and money become very important. After a while, I realized that there was something very positive: we were independent; we could react to local demands. We were no longer controlled by an umbrella organization. The overall outcome, to be honest with you, was probably positive. We got bhikkhuni ordination, and we got the bonus of institutional independence!” he said with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

      Born in 1964, Ajahn Brahmali had no Buddhist friends or contacts while growing up in Norway, although when he was 12 he did fantasize about living in a hut in the forest. His first exposure to Buddhism came during a university trip to Japan, where he came across Buddhist temples and statues in Kyoto and Nara. Later, a friend loaned him a book on the mindfulness of breathing and breath meditation, and he was very happy with the results of practicing the exercises prescribed—“Wow, this is really cool,” he recalls thinking.

      After completing a degree in finance, which he did not find very meaningful, he contacted the Buddhist Society in London and went to practice as an anagarika at Amaravati Monastery in Britain. Further exploration led him to Bodhinyana Monastery in Western Australia in 1993, and by 1996 he had ordained as a monk with Ajahn Brahm as his preceptor. Two years later, in 1998, the Buddhist world was shaken when several Sri Lankan women were ordained as Theravada bhikkhunis by Chinese nuns.** Ajahn Brahmali maintains that he was an early supporter of the movement, indeed urging Ajahn Brahm to speak out long before the latter took the plunge. “I said to him that we wouldn’t be on the right side of history if we didn’t do so,” he recounted. “He agreed.” As a Theravada monk living in Australian society, he felt it was particularly crucial that Ajahn Brahm’s community deal with matters pertinent to the progress of that society, despite them having ordained in Thai trappings.

      “True, we have our roots in Thailand, but once you move outside of Thailand you have to adapt to local circumstances and not be stuck in the past. I think this was how Buddhism functioned originally. Every sangha has the autonomy to look after its own affairs. It was never hierarchical, so each sangha could react as it saw fit to local affairs.” As far as he is concerned, the long-term survival of the sangha in Australia requires the sangha to have a sense of equality rather than hierarchy. The “weirdness” about Buddhism, as Ajahn Brahmali puts it, is that it is one of the few religions in which women (through the Buddha’s aunt Mahaprajapati) are present from the beginning, historically, with men. “And yet now we’re lagging behind! The Church of Norway, for example, has a woman as its head!” he observed, taking care to emphasize that this was not a token gesture of simply ordaining female priests or even bishops, but the church’s leader.

      I asked Ajahn Brahmali why resistance seemed to be growing in reactionary echelons to the seemingly inevitable tide of female monasticism, but he disagreed with this framing. “I don’t think it’s becoming stronger. As monasticism for women becomes a reality, the voices against it naturally start to become more prominent. There’s nothing to talk about when there are no female ordinations, but once people start saying, ‘Hey, this is really going on,’ then people who don’t like them start to speak out.” He thinks there is a groundswell of support for bhikkhuni ordination everywhere and that the average Thai monk is actually quite supportive. He also noted that one senior Thai monk had divulged that 80 per cent of male monastics in Thailand were quite happy about the growth of the bhikkhuni order.

      “So you will hear these very conservative voices who might be senior or high up in the hierarchy. But it’s like a lid that suppresses all other opinions—take that lid off and you have no idea what’s going to happen,” said Ajahn Brahmali, who feels quite optimistic that Theravada Buddhists will keep on the right side of history. “I know for certain that the Ajahn Chah tradition strongly objected to what Ajahn Brahm did, but the vast majority of monks even within that school are probably supportive. But the voices you hear are at the top, and for that reason it seems as if there is this united front against bhikkhunis, while in reality the situation is completely different.”

      Is Ajahn Brahmali playing politics? Perhaps. He admits that there will always exist a political undertone when discussing big ideas. “But you don’t talk about politics as such, you talk about moral issues,” he said, emphasizing that if other people choose to mischaracterize his speaking out on moral issues such as feminism and climate change as playing politics, it is their problem. Remembering this distinction has, over the years, helped him to maintain a calm, clear, and consistent voice about the moral matters at the heart of Buddhism. Perhaps this is a distinction that more Buddhists should keep in mind as our Vehicles focus on issues of great moral urgency—not only that of female monasticism, but humanity’s very future on this planet.

      * Kindfulness is a five-stage meditative technique coined by Ajahn Brahm that focuses on awareness of the present moment and awareness of the breath.

      ** Four conditions need to be present for the legitimate ordination of nuns: all monastics within a given monastic boundary are present, none of the candidates may be disqualified (such as being underage, in debt, or disabled), the procedure needs to be chanted correctly, and there must be an adequate quorum. The final rule hearkens back to the Buddha’s ancient ruling that a nun must be ordained by a sangha of bhikkhunis and then a council of bhikkhus. Not only were all four rules fulfilled in 1998, but also the quorum of dual ordination has been repeatedly demonstrated to be valid by some of the finest minds in Buddhist scholarship. The Chinese bhikkhunis carrying out the ordination followed the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya and were therefore legitimate nuns, and there is no legal impediment preventing a monk or nun of a Vehicle or even school (as opposed to Vinaya) from performing their Vinaya’s act of governance with a monk of another “sect.” The Theravada and Dharmaguptaka rules were therefore upheld, both councils of monks and nuns oversaw the ordination as the Buddha laid out, and Theravada/Mahayana doctrinal distinction did not invalidate the ordination. See Ven. Analayo’s seminal essay, “The Revival of the Bhikkhuni Order and the Decline of the Sasana.”

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    • I am a son of India, says His Holiness The Dalai Lama of Tibet

      19 March 2017 Jane Cook, Tibet Post International

      Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India – The spiritual leader of Tibet, His Holiness the Dalai Lama described himself as a "son of India" and hailed the secularism prevailing in the country. "I am living in India for the past 58 years and hence, I am a 'son of India'. In the field of secularism there is no other country like India," the Noble Peace Prize laureate said in his speech after inaugurating an international seminar on Buddhism in Bihar's Nalanda district, on Saturday, 2017.

      “India is the only country where all the world’s major religious traditions live together. Now Indians need to be more active in promoting religious harmony, especially in those places where conflict is going on in the name of religion. The time has come to share your longstanding traditional values of religious harmony and secularism.

      His Holiness observed that a special feature of Buddhism is that it takes a scientific approach. “No other religious tradition states so clearly that simple faith is not enough. The Buddha encouraged his followers to examine and investigate what they are told. This is why Einstein suggested that Buddhism can augment modern science," he said.

      "Indeed, many scientists today are showing genuine interest in Buddhism in general, and particularly in what Madhyamaka philosophy and the Buddhist science of mind have to say. “Over the last 1000 years we Tibetans have kept the Nalanda tradition alive. Now the time has come for us to share this knowledge with our Buddhist brothers and sisters, with non-Buddhists and even those who have no particular religious faith. “

      Sunday morning His Holiness the Dalai Lama drove to the nearby Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, which was established as a university in 1951. He was welcomed by the Vice Chancellor, Shri M.L. Srivastava. Before addressing more than100 students and faculty in the University's conference hall, His Holiness planted a Bodhi Tree Sapling and unveiled a commemorative plaque on a new administrative building.

      "When I was in Tibet my thoughts were narrow. But when I moved out of my homeland and came to India, I developed a broader thought about Tibet as well as about the entire world. The Nalanda school of thought was an important aspect of Buddhism. "Whatever I am today is due to the Nalanda thoughts", he said. The spiritual leader of Tibet stressed that good education would help develop tolerance among mankind and inculcate the habit of forgiveness. "Today's system of education is making us a consumer. The traditional mode of education was good," His Holiness added at Rajgir that is known globally for the Nalanda University, a historic seat of learning. The new Nalanda University, which has come up near the historic site, is also drawing international attention.

      His Holiness recalled visiting the University in 1956, when he was in India participating in the 2500th Buddha Jayanti Celebrations organized by the Mahabodhi Society of India. "Chinese Premier Chou En-Lai was supposed to visit Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, but for some reason he was not able to do so. I was asked to go in his stead. At that time I was a Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People Congress of the People's Republic of China. Today, I visit you as a refugee."

      Stressing the importance of applying themselves in their studies, His Holiness advised the students: "Merely wearing the robes of a monk or nun is not sufficient. You must also study seriously. Today, Tibetan nuns, having spent 18 to 20 years in rigorous study, have achieved the highest degree of Geshe-ma. They have become equal in scholarship to their monk counterparts who are Geshes. On the one hand Buddhism focuses on our inner world through the practice of meditation, but we also make extensive use of logic and reasoning. As a result, Buddhists in India, and here at Nalanda in particular, were able to rise to challenges from non-Buddhist traditions, taking them as an opportunity to develop and deepen their understanding.

      "You should deepen your knowledge through listening to your teachers and reading a broad range of books. It is by comparing one point of view with another that you come to understand the subject matter more extensively."

      Before returning to Rajgir, His Holiness presented the University with a statue of Buddha Shakyamuni and a Tibetan Thangka (scroll painting) that he commissioned featuring the Buddha in the centre surrounded by 17 great masters of Nalanda.

      Back in Rajgir, His Holiness participated in the morning session of the second day of the International Conference on The Relevance of Buddhism in the 21st Century. He and nine senior monks from Sri Lanka, Thailand and Malaysia, and one senior nun from Thailand, took turns addressing the audience.

      "I have really enjoyed this meeting," His Holiness told the conference. "I'm especially pleased to see how many people have come from different Buddhist countries. It's not an easy journey, yet the fact that so many of you have come shows your concern for the Buddhadharma.

      "In this 21st century we are facing many problems of our own making. Humanity as a whole has a responsibility to find solutions to, for example, the violence and killing that is going on in many places and the unnecessary starvation stalking parts of Africa. Similarly, we have to learn to do more to take care of our environment," he said.

      He added: "If the Buddha were able to transfer us to another planet once this planet becomes uninhabitable we could relax. But that isn't possible. This planet is our only home, so we have to take care of it. As Buddhists I believe we also have a responsibility to promote religious harmony. We should create opportunities to meet more regularly to exchange ideas. We can learn from each other."

      His Holiness pointed out that observance of the Vinaya or monastic disciple and teachings like the Four Noble Truths are fundamental to all Buddhist traditions. He suggested that some followers of the Pali tradition might also find it helpful to pay attention to Sutras from the Sanskrit tradition, such as the Heart Sutra.

      In conclusion, His Holiness thanked the Government of India, and the Ministry of Culture in particular, for organizing this important conference. As the session came to an end he presented each of his fellow speakers with a statue of the Buddha and a white silk scarf.

      Buddhist monks and scholars from various countries are participating in the seminar 'Buddhism in 21st Century' being held at International Convention Centre, about 100 km from the capital Patna.

      After a quick lunch, His Holiness left for Gaya. From there he flew to Bhopal where he was received on arrival by the Honourable Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shri Chouhan Singh, who welcomed him on behalf of the people of the state.

      Monday morning, His Holiness has visited Turnal to participate in the Narmada Sewa Yatra, an initiative of the Madhya Pradesh State Government dedicated to the saving of water and the conservation of the Narmada River. In the afternoon, the spiritual leader has delivered a talk on the 'Art of Happiness' in the auditorium of the Vidhan Sabha---the State Assembly.

       

      Last Updated ( Monday, 20 March 2017 17:36 )

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    • How Your Mind Works

      Gaylon Ferguson| March 9, 2017| Lion’s Roar

       

      What is this thing we call “self”? We assemble it ourselves, according to Buddhist psychology. Gaylon Ferguson breaks down the five-step process of ego development.

      William James, one of the founders of modern psychology, wrote in 1890 that our earliest experience of the world is of “a great blooming, buzzing confusion.” While modern research shows that newborns have more ability to make sense of their experience than James believed, even as adults we remain confused about how our minds work. Yes, we all know that we have minds and psychological experiences, but who are we really? How does mind work to shape our experience of our world, our felt experience of being alive? How might we slow down for a moment to see clearly the dazzlingly rapid unfolding of mind and world?

      Buddhist psychology begins by examining our everyday experience of clarity and confusion about our minds and self. The earliest Buddhist maps of our sense of self show five key steps in the process of ego development. The Sanskrit word for these five, the skandhas, literally means “aggregates” or “heaps.”

      The skandhas are not so much collections of elementary particles of existence as momentary gatherings of mental and physical events. In fact, mind and body—the mental and the physical—are the two main kinds of events. We experience ourselves as embodied beings in a world of other physical forms like trees and cars. We also move in a world of other living beings with their own mental experiences of suffering and ease.

      The five skandhas, the “heaps” of our basic being, are (1) form, (2) feeling, (3) perception, (4) concept, and (5) consciousness. Let’s walk together now through these five and examine how step-by-step they build our sense of self.

      Form

      The first skandha is called “form,” meaning both our physical body and the body of the world. How is this part of our experience of mind?

      Form is the ground of our being, the fundamental sense that we are this body, somewhat separate from this mind. This separation is the primary distinction in our ordinary experience. My body has weight that appears on the bathroom scale in the morning, while my thoughts are of uncertain substance. They matter, particularly to me, but they are not material. My body and my mind arise together, but in uneasy tension. I cannot simply think my weight up or down.

      The body and mind are like two quarreling but conjoined siblings.

      As in any dualistic relationship, body and mind may go along harmoniously for a time together, enjoying each other’s company and friendship. But body and mind can also fall into deep division, quarrels, and entrenched separations. When all is going well, my body cooperates with what my mind seems to want from it: “Let’s have breakfast now, shall we?” But sometimes my body rebels, developing a knee ache just when I wanted to go for a run or falling asleep during an important meeting.

      The body and mind are like two quarreling but conjoined siblings. If we are physically tired or hungry, our experience and judgment of others may be correspondingly flavored by fatigue or low blood sugar. A recent study showed that Israeli judges granted parole in sixty-five percent of cases heard immediately after they had eaten and in nearly zero cases heard just before a break period or at the end of the day. So the first insight into the working of our minds is that understanding mental experience requires close attention to the skandha of form as well.

      Feeling

      The next phase in the emergence of self is called “feeling.” This means our basic sense of liking, disliking, or being indifferent to whatever we perceive.

      How do we feel about the forms and beings we are encountering? Do they feel attractive or threatening? Do we feel like moving toward or away from them? These intuitive feelings—not quite full-fledged emotions—are the basis for our subsequent impulses toward or away from whatever we are experiencing. “A warm sweater in winter? Hmm, good, I like this very much.” “Too many layers in the heat of the midday sun? Hmm, bad, I’d like to take some of these off.” Like, dislike, neutral, attraction, repulsion, neutrality—around and around we go all day and all night. Daydreams and nightmares are all flavored by feeling.

      Feeling is the general background to all our experience, a changing texture of encounter and exchange with our world. This is not denying that there are benevolent and malevolent beings in the world, those who wish us well and those who would cause us harm. As they say, “Even paranoids have real enemies.”

      Note that these feelings are our mental experience. It’s partly the delight of our own minds we are tasting when we enjoy a delicious apple. The skandha of feeling points to this primarily mental aspect of all our experience. Our own minds accompany our experience of anything and everything. This sounds obvious at first, barely worth mentioning, but it’s one of the key insights of the contemplative traditions. Our pleasant or unpleasant experiences of whomever or whatever always have an inner aspect. We call this inner aspect “mind.”

      Perception

      The next stage in the development of the self is called “perception.” These are more specific discernments than the simple, broad-brush evaluations of feeling—thumbs up, thumbs down, or neutral. Here it’s “I like, very much, not only the warmth provided by my new wool sweater but also its light-blue color and smooth texture.” These perceptions of the desirable, handsome qualities of the new sweater are all tinged by biases from the past. We’ve prejudged it as having good qualities based on our prior feelings.

      Note that these perceptual judgments are all from my point of view, from the perspective of a gradually solidifying “me.” (A moth’s experience of the sweater would be very different.) We perceive this as “a really good light-blue wool sweater” because, for the moment at least, it seems to be “on my side,” on the side of a central “me.” There is a dawning sense that this sweater fulfills and completes me, so I grasp to hold on to it. It’s as though by holding on tightly to the sweater (substitute whatever fits for you), I am also holding on to a self.

      The self-centeredness of this “perceiving” comes home to roost in the psychological payoff: that this sweater makes me good, “good to go,” slightly better than I was without it—and a lot more solid in a fast-changing world.

      Our experience of the world arrives conveniently packaged into things we perceive are good for us and things that aren’t.

      It’s as though the skandha of perception were an old-fashioned central switchboard operator fearfully screening our telephone calls according to one simple criterion: for me or against me? As a result, our experience of the world arrives conveniently packaged into things we perceive are good for us and things that aren’t. What’s wrong with that?

      The problem is that the switchboard operator acts in anxious haste, barely pausing to ask the name of the caller or the nature of the call. The operator quickly—too quickly—decides to let some calls through as “friends” and to deny access to others as “enemies.” This would be tremendously helpful and efficient if it were accurate.

      Unfortunately, it’s all too frequently a comic series of painful errors, just a prejudiced guess based on habitual patterns: “Oh, I remember you from the pleasing sound of your voice yesterday, Mr. Smith, you’re a very good friend, let me put you through immediately.” Or “No, I don’t remember you, Mr. Jones, never heard of you, but your ugly voice reminds me of a crank caller yesterday, so please go away, good-bye!” As we see from this analogy, perception adds names and labels of “recognition” based on past experience. We also see corresponding impulses developing to actively grasp or push away our experience.

      Our hyper-busy perceptual switchboard operator also fails to take into account the crucial fact of change. We have all had the experience of discovering that the person we were uncertain about yesterday turns out to be a close ally and friend tomorrow—and vice versa. This enlivening discovery of the new is what the “downloading” of past perceptions blocks.

      Concept

      The developmental process of ego hardens further with the fourth skandha: “concept” or “mental formation.”

      With concept, we now have a name for the kind of person Mr. Smith is—“good, pleasing”—and a series of names—“bad, unpleasant”—for the kind of person Mr. Jones represents to us. This is the realm of story lines and ideologies. This is the dualistic aspect of mind that we call “false intellect”—using fixed conceptual categories to identify ourselves and others.

      In this realm of distorted insight, we begin cleverly deceiving ourselves based on snap judgments, clouded intuitions, yesterday’s news: “Oh, I see now: I’m this kind of person and you’re that kind of person. So we couldn’t possibly be friends. Good-bye!”

      We leave the spacious, open humility of not-knowing far behind and take shelter in a thicket of concepts.

      At this stage, we have developed sophisticated interpretations of ourselves and our experience, far beyond the basic “yea” and “nay” of feeling. This is the dimension of psychological explanations: “I am this kind of person, because that happened before.”

      Again, this is not to deny the power of previous causes and conditions in shaping the beings we have become. But the temptation is to solidify the flowing water of fresh insight into the frozen ice of fixed mental ideas. I repeat to myself over and over again—and to whoever is willing to listen—old stories of who I am, who I was, and who I am becoming (as well as who you are and why you’re that way). We leave the spacious, open humility of not-knowing far behind and take shelter in a thicket of concepts. Ouch!

      Consciousness

      Finally, we discover the mental experience of the fifth skandha, “consciousness.” The accumulated momentum of the initial mind–body split, the positive or negative felt sense of others, and the labels of ourselves and our world culminates in a vivid display of emotions and thoughts.

      This skandha is the familiar stream of consciousness that we experience in everyday life, our mind-stream. Buddhist psychology breaks it down into eight separate consciousnesses. In addition to the familiar sense consciousnesses of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching, Buddhist psychology adds a sixth sense consciousness of “minding.” Just as visual consciousness notices sights and auditory consciousness attends to sounds, this sixth consciousness of mind attends to thoughts and emotions. It also synthesizes and integrates the experience of the other consciousnesses into a coherent whole, like a skillful film editor coordinating image, sound, and discursive commentary.

      Underlying these six sense consciousnesses, we may sometimes glimpse two more consciousnesses: a winding, subconscious stream of conflicting emotions and anxiety (the klesha, or “nuisance consciousness”) and even a hazy background awareness (the alaya, or “storehouse consciousness”) that we sometimes look back toward and call “I.” These underground currents are great instigators, bubbling up occasionally with old resentments and jealousies, fixated passions, and strongly motivated denials.

      The skandha of consciousness completes the development of a deluded ego-sense. We now feel separate, independent, and unitary—even though there is ample evidence to the contrary.

      Far from being single, unitary beings, we arise as a dynamic collection of physical and mental happenings.

      We are not separate from our environments. If we were, how could we breathe, eat, drink, sustain ourselves? Where did the language we speak and write and read come from? None of us is self-produced and independent, as our mothers and fathers remind us. And far from being single, unitary beings, we arise as a dynamic collection of physical and mental happenings, including breathing, sleeping, dreaming, and waking. We have emotional and physiological, skeletal and psychological aspects to our being, and although these occasionally conflict with each other, they also cooperate and harmonize.

      What You Can Learn from the Skandhas

      Insight into your own psychological processes—into how your mind works—is not an end in itself. The tradition doesn’t offer this teaching as mere intellectual knowledge or information. You are encouraged to use this map to become more and more familiar, through direct experience, with the processes you call “me” and “my mind.”

      Developing a harmonious friendship with yourself is a central part of the Buddhist path of awakening. These teachings on the five skandhas invite you into a deeper, more intimate experience of yourself. What do you find when you look into your own experience of body and mind? This isn’t about dogma—the point isn’t to confirm that the map is accurate or “correct.” Part of the point is to notice that the map is not the territory and never could be. (Imagine a map of Canada that was the size of Canada: how useless would that be?) You are invited to set forth as explorers of your own inner and outer terrains. Bon voyage.

      When you engage in this psychological exploration, one of your best companions will be a sense of friendliness toward yourself and others. Friendliness means taking these five mental processes not as signs of an inherent weakness or fundamental inadequacy but as aspects of your basic humanity. Through cultivating friendliness, you can experience the skandhas (as well as whatever else arises along the way) with a real sense of gratefulness and appreciation. Let me be more specific here.

      If you can simply feel your feelings as they arise, without rejecting them or telling yourself stale stories of why you are “right” to feel this way, then feelings emerge as highlights of being human, vivid signs of being alive.

      The skandhas point, first, to healing the body–mind split. If you pay caring attention to body and mind as an actual experience, not just a distant “good idea,” then you’ve made a good start. This is traditionally called “mindfulness of body.” It’s a simple sense of welcoming and including your present physical experience—not exaggerating your body or denigrating it, neither praising nor condemning it. This is mind–body friendliness.

      The same goes for the other skandhas as well. If you can simply feel your feelings as they arise, without rejecting them or telling yourself stale stories of why you are “right” to feel this way, then feelings emerge as highlights of being human, vivid signs of being alive. You don’t need to act them out or repress them. This is spacious freedom. Beyond grasping and fixation, you allow your feelings to arise, be present, and go. You appreciate that life bubbles up as colorful emotions, as heartfelt experience. You appreciate being human.

      Similarly, your thoughts and ideas can be seen as the liberating play of wisdom. If you notice your thoughts as thoughts, rather than confusing them with reality, then they become friends and allies, companions along the path. Instead of confining your consciousness of sense perceptions in narrow, tight boxes of “for me” or “against me,” you can open into a larger appreciation of seeing and hearing. You can taste the vastness of your world.

      On this journey, you see that both clarity and confusion are woven into your everyday experience of mind. The skandhas illuminate a fivefold process of mind grasping and fixating, engaging in a losing battle of ego against the world. Yet the same mental events can be the basis for a cease-fire, an entrance into non-struggle and luminous peace.

       

      Each moment in the unfolding of your experience is an opportunity to welcome yourself, your feelings, your mind, and others in your world. The key to working with mind, to understanding its processes, is found in the innate warmth and friendliness of the mind itself. You don’t need a newer, better, super-improved body–mind. The real challenge is making friends with the mind and body you already are.

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    • Crouching Junta, Hidden Abbot

      PAVIN CHACHAVALPONGPUNMARCH 17, 2017 The New York Times

      The siege of the temple near Bangkok was lifted last Friday, and the abbot remains at large. Some say he is abroad; others say he is dead. But the military government of Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha is still on a manhunt for Phra Dhammachayo, the controversial spiritual leader of the Dhammakaya movement, a powerful Buddhist sect.

      For 23 days, the Thai police blocked access to the sprawling Dhammakaya compound outside Bangkok and raided it in search of its former abbot. Phra Dhammachayo is wanted for embezzlement and money laundering, among other things. The temple’s spokesman has denied the accusations; the abbot’s supporters claim the charges are politically motivated.

      But the curious saga of this possibly wayward cleric is also, or mostly, about the ruling junta’s growing insecurity. To stamp out dissent, the military government is now willing to openly trespass into the religious sphere and clamp down on a very popular Buddhist leader. And this story may soon become a cautionary tale.

      Dhammakaya is the biggest and most influential temple in Thailand. It has gained traction, especially among lower-middle classes, thanks to a kind of Buddhist prosperity gospel that advocates meditation, volunteering and donations. It repackages traditional Buddhist concepts in accessible form, including carnival-like pilgrimages and

      Members of the royal family appear to have sponsored the sect, and are thought to have helped pay for buildings at its main compound. But the movement is better known for its suspected ties to the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown in a military coup in 2006, and to his sister Yingluck, who was ousted by the current junta, in 2014, after she, too, became prime minister.

      Phra Dhammachayo was charged with embezzlement in the late 1990s and removed from his position. But he was cleared of the charges and reinstated as abbot after Mr. Thaksin became prime minister. Many Shinawatra supporters, better known as the red shirts, are hardcore loyalists of Phra Dhammachayo.

      Much like Mr. Thaksin challenged the political domination of the traditional Thai elites — namely royalists, the military and big business — Dhammakaya’s brash form of Buddhism threatens the belief system of Thai conservatives. Together the Shinawatras and this sect seem to erode traditional forms of authority, and so in the junta’s view, must be quieted.

      Buddhism is one prong of the holy trinity that makes Thai identity, alongside the nation and the monarchy. It is the state religion, and a compulsory subject of study in public schools. The king is considered to be Buddhism’s ultimate patron and the gatekeeper of the Sangha, the Buddhist monastic order.

      Tensions between Dhammakaya and the Prayuth government were bound to come to a head after the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in October. Bhumibol had ruled for seven decades, partly by forging strong ties with the military and Bangkok-based elites. But in recent years the Shinawatras defied those traditional networks, tacitly challenging the king’s moral authority, by appealing to rural voters with populist projects. The military arguably staged the 2014 coup in the hope of steering the impending royal succession in ways that would safeguard the interests of the establishment. Now it is trying to control the Buddhist establishment as well.

      It so happened that as Bhumibol’s health was faltering last year and the question of his succession became a pressing concern, the conservative elites had to worry about another passing of the guard: The Supreme Patriarch, the head of the monks’ order, died in 2013 and had yet to be replaced.

      Traditionally, the country’s top religious position goes to the most senior monk designated by the Sangha Supreme Council, the Buddhist order’s governing body. In this instance, the presumptive heir was Somdet Phra Maha Ratchamangalacharn, better known as Somdet Chuang. But the Prayuth government blocked his nomination by invoking a tax evasion scandal involving vintage cars. More to the point perhaps, Somdet Chuang was a mentor to Phra Dhammachayo and he enjoys massive support among Thaksin supporters.

      In January, the government amended the Sangha succession law to give the king sole power to appoint the Supreme Patriarch. In February, Maha Vajiralongkorn, the new king, chose Somdet Phra Maha Muniwong, the abbot of a competing sect, circumventing the Sangha Council.

      Then on March 5, the government issued a royal command, signed by the king, stripping Phra Dhammachayo of his religious titles.

      Are the new king and the military working in tandem? Who knows. Almost three years after the coup, Thai politics remains precarious and very opaque. Vajiralongkorn has asked for revisions to a junta-drafted constitution that was approved by referendum last year; a form of horse-trading may be underway. The controversial constitution has yet to come into force, and pending that, the date of the next election, already many times delayed, remains uncertain.

      One major question is how long the Thai people will stand for this, especially if the Prayuth government starts cracking down on religious leaders. At the height of the recent siege at the Dhammakaya complex, several thousand monks and supporters stayed in the compound to protest the raid. The standoff was the most high-profile mass demonstration against the junta since the 2014 coup.

       

      The generals’ tough stance hardly is surprising given their insistence on quashing critics in the past. But their failure to eradicate Mr. Thaksin’s influence has probably made him stronger, and if their attack on Dhammakaya, and meddling in religious affairs, was an attempt to tighten their grip on power, they may well come out the weaker for it.

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    • Five Ideas From Buddhism That Everyone Should Know About

      09/03/2017 Joanna Cates Huffpost 

       

      Buddhism is variously described as a spiritual tradition, a religion and a philosophy.

      Now I can’t possibly do justice to the ancient wisdom of Buddhism in a short post like this. And I in no way want to distort or dilute these ideas. But as a psychologist I have been astounded at the psychological insight that is to be found in Buddhist teachings.

      Though I don’t doubt that you would benefit more from them if you were, I believe that you do not have to be a practicing Buddhist to benefit from Buddhist ideas. Many of these teachings are relevant to any human being, especially in this materialistic and often troubled world that we find ourselves in.

      1. The importance of gratitude

      As human beings we are designed to be constantly moving forwards in our lives, goal-directed and grasping for more..... and more..... and yet more. This plays well to the business model of our western capitalist society because it means we can be sold more...and more......and yet more. There is no end to this wanting.

      But Buddhism emphasizes the need to pay attention to what we already have. It’s easy to take for granted many things in our lives - the health of our children, that we will have a meal today, that we have a roof over our heads. When we look at our lives relative to many others in the world, there are often many things we notice that we might be grateful for.

      Another thing that Buddhism reminds us to be grateful for is that we are alive at all. Think about all the events that had to take place since the beginning of time in order for you to be born. For instance every single one of your ancestors, going right back to the very first inklings of life in the primordial soup, had to meet and procreate at the exact moment that they did. And that’s mindboggling enough without thinking about the statistics involved once you factor in eggs and sperm and the biology of it all!

      2. The real meaning of karma

      Any time a driver cuts in front of our car to change lane, only to find themselves stuck in a slower lane of traffic, my husband will giggle gleefully. “Well that’s karma for you!” he’ll say. But is it? Like my husband, many people think that karma is the universe’s way of teaching you a lesson. Of getting you back.

      But there is nothing supernatural or mysterious about karma. A Buddhist understanding of karma is simply the idea that our thoughts and our actions have consequences. So good thoughts and kind actions contribute to good karma and future happiness. However, bad intent and unkind actions lead to bad karma and future suffering.

      Another way of understanding how karma works is similar to the concept of conditioning. It is well known by psychologists that if you behave in a certain way, through the psychological phenomenon of conditioning you increase the chances that you will behave in that way again.

      So if I shout at my children today, I am more likely to shout at them again tomorrow. If I can resist the urge to shout and can find another way to deal with a situation in which I might have shouted, I will be less likely to shout tomorrow.

      3. What does this moment require?

      There are frequently moments in life when we feel overwhelmed, and it can sometimes feel like we are being pulled in a million different directions.

      In these sorts of situations our minds may be filled with unhelpful thoughts. But rather than asking of ourselves, “What is bothering me?” we should ask of ourselves “What does this moment require of me?” Once we have established the answer, we should do it.

      Next time you are feeling overwhelmed (and consequently frustrated, resentful or irritated) stop ruminating about things that have happened in the past or that you are worried may happen in the future and focus on the exact moment and what needs to be done. Go on - try it!

      4. Mindfulness

      Very often we are so caught up in the endless stream of thoughts going through our minds that we don’t notice much of what is going on around us.

      And yet at every single moment of our lives there is a virtually infinite amount of stimuli that we could choose to pay attention to instead of these thoughts. So you could choose to pay attention to what you can hear. However faint, even if it is just the sound of your own breathing, there will always be some sound you can hear. Or you could choose to pay attention to the way your feet feel inside your shoes or the way your back feels where it touches the chair.

      When we can do this, even for just a few moments, we notice a calm feeling which is a reflection that our mind has stop flitting about from one thought to another and is momentarily focused on something other than our thoughts. This is what we mean by mindfulness. Very simply, it is about non-judgmental awareness of what is happening at any single moment.

      5. The Middle Way

      The Buddhist path is often called the “Middle Way” and can be thought of as one that runs between extremes. The Buddha believed that the wisest path in life was one of moderation. So whether it is striking a balance between being isolated and alone or being excessively dependent on others for company; over-exercising or not exercising at all; living a life of obscene over-indulgence or punitive austerity - life is about balance and Buddhism recognizes this.

      Buddhism can provide answers to those who are seeking to answer questions about meaninglessness and purpose in life. It teaches a way of life that Buddhists argue is the only way to attain true happiness.

       

      Though I am keenly aware that this post hardly scratches the surface of Buddhist teachings, should you find any of these ideas helpful, perhaps these seeds will inspire you to find out more.

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    • Thabarwa Centre — A Refuge for the Homeless in Myanmar

      Shuyin Buddhistdoor Global | 2017-02-24 |

      Located about two hours outside of Yangon, the Thanlyin Thabarwa Centre has neither the tranquillity of a meditation retreat nor the ornamentation of many Burmese temples. In fact, it feels more like a busy shantytown. With more than 3,000 permanent residents of all ages from assorted backgrounds—monks, novices, nuns, yogis, the niece of an army major-general, a film star, addicts, prostitutes, the homeless, the abandoned, the chronically ill, the disabled, the elderly, families with children, and volunteers, the centre is usually abuzz with activity, especially over the weekends when hundreds of visitors arrive.

      Aside from the monastic members and foreign volunteers, most of the residents live in overcrowded communal dormitories constructed largely of bamboo. Due to the lack of space, people simply make do with whatever living areas are available, with some sleeping under flimsy, stained tarpaulins that look like they could hardly withstand a heavy rainfall.

      Within the centre is a hospital housing a few hundred patients with diseases ranging from HIV, tuberculosis, cancer, and diabetes to mental illnesses. Managed by a team of volunteer doctors and assistants, medical treatment is completely free. There is even a sparsely equipped “intensive care unit” for about 10 people, including 110-year-old Daw Shwe, who came to Thabarwa with her son some six years ago. Since he passed away from age-related ailments last year, she has been bedridden, lying frail and hopeless in the hospital.

      The busiest places at Thabarwa are probably the two kitchens, where more than 300 kilograms of rice must be cooked daily to feed the thousands of residents and visitors. Fortunately, there is no lack of volunteers for the endless work of washing, cutting, cooking, and distribution. At meal times, there are usually long queues—people waiting to collect their meals, and helpers filling buckets for distribution to those who are bedridden or unable to collect the food themselves.

      About 15 minutes’ walk from the main centre is Saytanar (or Goodwill) Village, also known as “15 feet village,” because the big plot of land is divided into small parcels of 15 by 15 feet (4.6 by 4.6 meters). To qualify for one of these parcels at Saytanar Village, there is no requirement to prove one’s financial status or need. Applicants only have to fulfil one condition—to meditate for seven days at the monastery.

      Most of the 3,000 families in the village (of about 15,000 people) live well below the poverty line and cannot afford to pay rent. For many, a 15-by-15-foot bamboo hut is a welcome alternative to homlessness. With climbing land costs in Myanmar due to rapid development in recent years, many people have been forced out of their homes. In the countryside, large areas of farmland have been acquired on behalf of foreign companies. With no means of survival, many displaced people migrate to Yangon in search of work but end up sleeping on the streets or under bridges. Development-induced displacement, exacerbated by natural disasters, has already rendered millions homeless.

      For Tin Win, 57, and her family of six, Thabarwa was their last resort because they could not afford to pay the advance of six months’ rent required to renew the lease on their property.

      Myint New and her family of nine have been here for two years, and she is grateful for what they receive. “My husband had a stroke and is unable to work,” she says. “With no income, we had nothing to eat. I have no relatives to help me.” With the little she makes from selling fruit, she is able to buy snacks for her children occasionally and medicine for her husband, but Myint New can see no way out of her difficulties. “I want to live in my own house and run my own business,” she said. “But I have no savings.” Unable to afford building materials, the family have been staying in a communal dormitory.

      Thabarwa Centre was founded by Sayadaw U Ottamasara, a pale, lean-looking monk who is much revered by everyone here. Unlike many senior monks in Myanmar who enter the monastery at an early age, Sayadaw Ottamasara was not ordained until the age of 33, after giving up his business and selling all his assets. Despite this, the 48-year-old Sayadaw has managed to garner a following in Myanmar and overseas, where he travels regularly to conduct meditation retreats.

      He established Thabarwa Centre in 2008 to teach meditation, but soon realised that there was a need to provide a permanent home for some elderly yogis who had been abandoned at the centre by their families. As more and more people came, he decided to develop Thabarwa into a home for the needy. With the generous support he received he acquired more land, and within a few short years Sayadaw Ottamasara has expanded his services to include two centres in Pyin Oo Lwin and Thayetpinyeik in Ayeyarwady Region, and nearly a dozen meditation centres around the country. Another 73-hectare Saytanar Village for 500 families has also been set up in Hlegu, outside of Yangon, together with an animal sanctuary.

      Sayadaw Ottamasara’s vision for Thabarwa goes beyond just providing a refuge for the needy. He sees it as a place where everyone can perform good deeds. “I believe that if we want good results, we must do good deeds. This centre was established to teach people about the benefits of doing good deeds,” he said. “In this country, there are many poor people who have no work and cannot find any way to survive. They come to Thabarwa for help. Instead of confronting and solving problems directly by traditional social norms, I encourage, train, and guide the people to solve their problems with the aid of the Dhamma, through meditation practice and right understanding. Everyone here can donate their skills, time, energy, money, and materials to gain merit and practice meditation for a worthy cause. By so doing, they will be able to fulfil their desire. If they want land, they will get land. If they want a home, they will have a home. Gradually, they will realise that their problems were solved due to the merit they gained from their good deeds here.”

      For some, such a vision may seem overly optimistic. Admittedly, in trying to accommodate anyone, regardless of race, status, background, and beliefs, there will be problems. There will be some who come for selfish gain, such as profiting by selling their parcel of land at Saytanar Village, even though it is illegal to do so. There will be some who prey on the kindness and generosity of donors, such as the drunkard who reeked of alcohol and cigarettes, pestering visitors for money. There is also the danger of creating an addiction to assistance that renders people lazy and helpless, rather than taking responsibility for their own lives or striving to improve their conditions. Some of the young people I spoke with at the centre do not attend school, but hang around and occasionally do simple chores.

      In addition, there is a genuine concern about health and hygiene because of the poor living conditions. The communal dormitories are overcrowded, with poor ventilation and exposure to sunlight. A rancid odour pervades and the air is stale and stuffy. The “wards” in the hospitals are dilapidated, with broken doors and windows. And hills of garbage and pools of stagnant water provide a festering ground for all kinds of diseases, much like the slums in other parts of the country. Yet amid the squalor, life goes on.

      Sayadaw Ottamasara remains unwavering in his conviction: “Most of the people here are not healthy, not young, not rich, but their minds are healthy and clean, with fewer attachments than most people in society. This is the place of healthy and wealthy minds.”

      My visit to Thabarwa conjured up a storm of emotion and mixed reactions within me. The raw, stark reality of Thabarwa challenges us to reflect upon our attitudes and prejudices. How do we balance compassion and wisdom in performing charity? Are we discomfited by that which is repulsive and squalid because it threatens our own self-cherishing thoughts and sense of self-righteousnesss? But was it not the sight of humanity in all its wretchedness that drove Prince Siddharta to leave behind the comfort and security of his royal existance to search for an answer to life’s suffering? It takes much courage to be fully immersed in the sea of human suffering, to transcend and embrace all—the good, the bad and the ugly! As Joseph Campbell says in The Power of Myth: “When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness.”

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    • The legends and spirit of Buddhism thrive on high

      Zhang Qian | February 8, 2017,| ShanghaiDaily.com

       

      PUTUO Mountain, a small island southeast of Shanghai, is a Buddhist pilgrimage site that has been attracting worshippers for thousands of years.

      It is known as the “Buddhist kingdom on the sea.”

      The legend behind the site dates back to the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), when a Japanese monk, Hui’e, studying Buddhism in China was attracted to a statute of the bodhisattva Guanyin (Avalokitesvara), the goddess of mercy, compassion, kindness and love, at the Fahua Temple on Wutai Mountain in inland Shanxi Province. He finally secured the abbot’s permission to transport the statue back to Japan to help popularize the religion there.

      On the trip, his boat was wracked by storms, fog and countless iron lotus flowers on the surface of the sea near the Zhoushan Islands in Zhejiang Province. The stunned monk took it as a sign from Guanyin that she didn’t want to go to Japan. According to the legend, a giant iron bull appeared and carved a path through the sea by swallowing the lotus. The path led to a cave near an estuary on Putuo Mountain.

      The monk managed to get the statue on shore, where a fisherman was so awed by her presence that he gave his house over to her. The house became a temple known as Bukenqu Guanyin Yuan, which literally translates as “Refusing to Go Guanyin Temple.”

      Putuo Mountain is one of the “Four Great Buddhist Mountains of China.” Today, on this 13-square-kilometer island, more than 200 temples and nunneries exist. Buddhist believers travel from afar to seek the mercy of Guanyin, even dating back to olden times when the sea voyage could be treacherous.

      The original Bukenqu Temple, rebuilt in 1980, retains its former look. It has three simple halls surrounded by a yellow wall. It stands as a monument to the idea that faith doesn’t need luxuriously decorated temples to honor the deities.

      A written notice is found on nearly every temple on the island, suggesting that burning three plain incense sticks is sufficient to show respect or deliver a message. A pack of three sticks sells for 1 yuan (14.7 US cents).

      Generally, it is all right for visitors to burn incense at every temple they visit, but they are advised to make a wish with only one Buddha.

      Not far from the Refusing to Go Guanyin Temple is a partially submerged cave called Chaoyin, or “sound of the waves.” It is believed to be the site where the monk Hui’e landed and transported the statue ashore.

      The cave is also the site where Guanyin is said to have appeared to a devout Indian monk who burnt his fingers to honor her. An advisory carved there in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) warns visitors against repeating his ritual.

      Other legendary sites include Duangu Shengji, where Guanyin is supposed to have disguised herself to provide food to a hungry girl on a boat, and Er Gui Ting Fa Shi, a stone where two turtles are said to have listened to Guanyin’s explanation of Buddhism.

      There are four big Buddhist temples on the island — Puji, Huiji, Fayu and Baotuo. The first three are open to public, but Baotuo Temple is reserved for private religious rituals.

      Though most big Buddhist temples may look similar to those not familiar with the religion, Puji Temple is somewhat different. It has rarely opened its front gate since the reign of Emperor Qianlong in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

      The story goes that the emperor, traveling incognito in plain clothes, was enchanted with the beautiful scenery of Putuo Mountain. Arriving at Puji Temple late in the evening, he knocked and asked the monk who came to the door to inform the abbot that a distinguished guest had arrived and the main gate should be opened for him to enter and stay overnight.

      The abbot told the monk he was happy to provide accommodation but insisted that the visitor enter by the side gate because temple rules required the main entrance to be closed after dark. The young monk got the message mixed up and told the emperor that he should not stay the night.

      The angry emperor, who had to journey to Hangzhou for a bed, ordered the main entrance of Puji Temple closed forever. The abbot later tried to rectify the misunderstanding, and the emperor finally relented and agreed that the main entrance could be opened, but only every 60 years or for auspicious occasions such as an emperor’s visit or the death of an abbot.

      The trip to Putuo Mountain is no longer a life-threatening journey. Many of the Zhoushan Islands are now linked by bridges, which means the area can be reached by bus from Shanghai and Ningbo. The bus terminates at the Shenjiamen Bus Station, and from the Banshengdong Wharf on the Shenjiamen waterfront, it’s a 10-minute fast-ferry trip to Putuo Mountain, costing about 22 yuan.

      To protect the environment of the island, no private vehicles are allowed on shore. Shuttle buses carry visitors from one site to another. A cable car trip to the top of mountain costs 35 yuan.

      How to get there: Direct ferry services to the island are available from Shanghai and Ningbo. There are two boats departing from Shanghai. One leaves in the evening for an overnight trip while the other leaves early in the morning. The ferries that run from Wusong Dock in Shanghai to the island cost 109-499 yuan a trip.

      Tips: Once on the island, package tickets to sites on Putuo Mountain cost 160 yuan from February to November, and 140 yuan for December and January. The price may rise to 200 yuan during special times such as national holidays.

      Some temples charge an extra 5-6 yuan for a ticket to burn incense.

      The island hosts a number of high-end hotels, averaging 1,000 yuan per night. There are also cozy inns run by local residents out of their homes, usually costing no more than 200 yuan a night. Innkeepers sometimes invite guests to a courtyard dinner against the backdrop of the setting sun.

      Puji, Fayu and Huiji Temples provide vegetarian meals for devout Buddhist followers, while numerous street restaurants featuring fresh seafood are often crowded with visitors at dinnertime.

      THE grandiose quartet of sacred Buddhist mounts

      IN addition to Putuo Mountain southeast of Shanghai, there are three other spiritual sites in China that comprise what is known as the “Four Great Buddhist Mountains.”

      Wutai Mountain

      The mountain in Shanxi Province perhaps tops the list of the “great four” because of its long history of religious development. It is believed to be the place of enlightenment for Manjusri, the bodhisattva of wisdom.

      Wutai translates as “five plateaus,” and the mountain is duly comprised of five peaks, all of them broad and flat. The mountain covers about 3,000 square kilometers, with the highest summit at 3,061 meters.

      Though Wutai Mountain was originally a Taoist site, Buddhism came to the area in the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-220). Conflicts rose between Taoists and Buddhists. A truce of sorts was reached by an ancient ritual of burning religious texts to see which survived the flames. All the Taoist classics were destroyed in the fire, it is said, while those of Buddhism remained intact.

      At its height, Wutai Mountain was home to more than 300 Buddhist temples, which were gradually merged into 39 temples on the mountain and eight in outlying areas. The most well-known are Xiantong Temple, Tayuan Temple, Wenshu Temple, Shuxiang Temple and Longhu Temple.

      Wutai Mountain was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009.

      Emei Mountain

      The mountain in Sichuan Province is believed to be the place of enlightenment for Samantabhadram, the bodhisattva of meditation.

      Emei, with its top peak rising 3,079 meters, is a popular tourist destination and pilgrimage site. The first temple there was completed in the first century as Buddhism entered China along the Old Silk Road. The religion thrived from the 6th century, and Sichuan Province was once the center of the Zen school of Chinese Buddhism.

      An 8-meter-high statue of Samantabhadra was built in the famous beamless Wannian Temple in the 9th century and is still worshipped today.

      There were once more than 1,000 Buddhist temples on Emei Mountain, leaving a rich legacy of relics and architecture. Today, some 30 temples remain, including Baoguo Temple, Fuhu Temple and Huazang Temple.

      Emei Mountain was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

      Jiuhua Mountain

      The mountain in Anhui Province honors Ksitigarbha, the bodhisattva who is considered a protector of children and a guardian of souls in hell.

      The mountain covers some 120 square kilometers and includes nine scenic peaks. The setting is lush, with waterfalls, pine and bamboo forests, deep caves and picturesque rocks. It is said that Ksitigarbha once lived in a cave there.

      Legend has it that the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) poet Li Bai traveled to Jiuhua and wrote: “Sailing down the Jiujiang River, I saw the Jiuhua peaks in the distance, looking like a heavenly river hanging in heaven. The sacred mountain generates nine glories.”

       

      During the golden periods of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, there were as many as 360 temples and up to 5,000 monks and nuns living there. Today, about 80 temples remain, including Huacheng, Guoqing and Dabeilou temples.

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    • China's Panchen Lama accuses monks of turning Buddhist temples into money-making machines

      11 Mar 2017 PTI

       

      China-backed Panchen Lama today lashed out at the "commercialisation" of Buddhism in the country and said "phony monks" were turning Buddhist temples into money-making machines.

      The image of Buddhism was tainted, the otherwise pure and divine religious sanctuaries blasphemed, said the 11th Panchen Lama Bainqen Erdini Qoigyijabu, who is also the vice president of the Buddhist Association of China.

      "Some temples are treated as money-making machines, or shopping malls; some phony monks or fake 'living Buddhas' tout ambiguous 'Buddhist preaching' to cheat money from believers," he said while speaking at the plenary meeting of the CPPCC.

      The 27-year-old Panchen Lama, regarded in Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy as the second most important after the Dalai Lama, has been making efforts to establish his control over the deeply religious Tibetan population which reveres the Dalai Lama.

      Groomed by China to be the top monk of Tibet, he is a member of the Standing Committee of the advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee.

      With the commercialisation, some monks went after money and power instead of guarding Buddhist ethics or concentrating on Buddhist pursuits, he was quoted as saying by state-run Xinhua news agency in his biggest speech so far after he was nominated to the body in 2010.

      Though such incidents and people were not the mainstream, they had left an "extremely bad" influence, he said.

      China, before the advent of Communist rule in 1949, was predominantly influenced by Buddhism which was brought to the country from India by eminent Chinese monks like Xuan Zang during the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

      In recent years, Buddhism witnessed a big revival in China with the encouragement of the government.

      The Panchen Lama said he was also concerned about insufficient efforts in nurturing talent as some temples had monks but no instructors, Buddhist scripts but no teaching.

      "Some temples are busy erecting Buddha statutes, building splendid temple halls but they forget about nurturing 'real Buddhas'," he said, adding that preaching is impossible without a good team of Buddhist instructors.

       

      The Panchen Lama said the interpretation of Buddhist doctrines struggles to keep pace with the need of the hour.

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    • Which part of the Chinese Hardliners’ brains are missing?

      Reuters reports recently that the Dalai Lama when speaking to U.S. comedian John Oliver in Dharamsala, commented that Chinese hardliners have parts of their brains missing. He is also quoted to cast doubt on his reincarnation by saying he might be the last in line.

      In reply, the Chinese spokesman Mr Geng noted that as the conversation appeared in an entertainment programme, the Dalai Lama’s comments in the interview perhaps appeared humorous and funny. Certainly very accommodating and friendly of him indeed!

      But the catch here is that, Name calling has become the usual norm with the Chinese government when any talks and reference is made of the Dalai Lama.  They seem to have a total dislike of him. One would not miss such term as liar, separatist and now, ‘political exile in religious clothing’ labelled on him. I am waiting for the Chinese to call him ‘a wolf in sheep skin’ soon. And oh, no forgetting such term as splitist which at time would make me spit out my saliva unconsciously when pronouncing the word. Luckily for the Dalai Lama, the Chinese have no wish to negotiated with him, otherwise he might just have to physically keep an arm length from them.

      Sure as expected, Mr Geng hit back and take a swipe at the Dalai Lama by adding that, quote, ‘these words are all lies that do not accord with the facts’. (What a spoilsport after calling him funny!) By the way, what facts is he referring to? The Dalai Lama in jest, could be just referring to the missing folds on the Grey matter of these Hardliners’ brains.

      Well, the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government have been bickering for decades on the fate of Tibet with the unfortunate Tibetans people sandwiched between both parties’ squabbles and disagreements on the issues of autonomy, language, culture, traditions. Unfortunately, as the Tibetan way of life is so intertwined with the Buddhist faith, the religion too has been drag in and become such an important and necessary tool for the control of Tibet and its inhabitants for the Chinese government.

      Since both sides are unable to come to any agreement, it has now boil down to the Chinese government trying to isolate the Dalai Lama presents in the international arena by using retaliatory measures against countries that dares to invite him to their countries. Also, it is making use of student bodies in Universities and the Shugden Society to disrupt the Dalai Lama wherever he appears.

      As the Dalai Lama is now in his 80’s, it is just a matter of time before he passed away even though he has said that he intent to live to be a centenarian. It certainly did give the Chinese some anxious moment with that statement though. When he passed on, it is going to a sad day for many, but it is certainly going to be a red-letter day for the Chinese government. (Time to break out the champagne bottle or rather the Mao Tai baijiu to celebrate, I presume!) It would also not be too long after that before the search and confirmation of the next reincarnation Dalai Lama would take place.

      Beside the facts that the Dalai Lama had said he might not reincarnate again, he has also pointed out earlier that he might come back as a female or that he might reincarnate outside of Tibet itself. I suggest he might like to add another option and tell the Chinese he is going to be reincarnated into three separate physical bodies representing his body, speech and mind. One of this body to be born in Tibet, one outside Tibet and one other for all Vajrayana followers to decide. Let’s add a little bit of ‘spices and pepper’ and some confusion to the whole issue of reincarnation and raise the blood pressure of these hardliners a few millimetres in the process. It would be interesting to see how they will react.

      Afterall, it is a foregone conclusion that after his demise, that there will certainly be two Dalai Lama for the believers to choose from. One appointed by the Chinese authority using the Golden Urn method and the other by the Tibetans living in exile presently. Which Dalai Lama is going to be the more popular one will eventually depend on who have more charisma and intelligence. Of course, if one turns out to be mentally handicap or becomes a womaniser, drunkard or refused to be ordained as a monk like the sixth Dalai Lama, the advantage will certainly go to the other party. In any case, there are now two competing Kamapas and Panchen Lamas to choose from. It has certainly not done much damage to the religion as a whole.

      Seriously, I believe the Chinese government is pragmatic enough to realised that their future selected Dalai Lama will not be accepted by the majority of the Tibetan people and will not be able to galvanise them to their side and be assimilate into the Chinese society. As it is now, and if time is not a problem for the present Chinese government, it will still require a few more generations down the road before the Tibetans can accept and be proud to be identified as Chinese.

      But in order to hasten this process of assimilation, it would certainly be an advantage to take control of the religion itself since Buddhism is a way of life that is intertwined into every facet of the Tibetan way of living. The religion to the Communist government, is a ‘pain in the neck’ if it cannot serve their objectives. The government will try to weakened Buddhism as it has a strong hold on the Tibetans. It will try to cause chaos, confusion, disputes within the religion and undermining it until the people lost faith in it and look elsewhere to satisfied their needs and aspiration.

      For the Chinese, it is then hope, from this chaos of the weakened state of the religion, to push through its own reforms to meet with their own objectives. But ironically, as a government with a communist ideology, it chooses materialism and consumerism as a substitute for the religion to uplift and improve the Tibetans standard of living. Most commendable indeed. They hope, when lives are improved, the Tibetans would show their appreciation and thus win over their heart and minds. But what the communists does not seems to believe or forget is that, there is also a spiritual dimension in an individual’s life that needs to be satisfied in most of us.

      That in most case, can only be fulfilled by the believes in a religion. Until and unless there is Freedom and Rights not just in allowing people the right to believe in a religion but also allowing them the right to practice it without control and interference. Without that happening, there will always be struggles from the Tibetans people and certainly no peace of mind for the Chinese government.

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    • Indonesian Buddhists caned under syariah for first time

      11 March 2017 AFP

      JANTHO, INDONESIA: Indonesia's only province to impose syariah law caned Buddhists for the first time Friday, after two men accused of cockfighting opted for punishment under the strict Islamic regulations.

      Alem bin Suhadi, 57, and Amel bin Akim, 60, both ethnic Chinese and members of the Buddhist minority, were whipped in front of dozens of local officials and residents in the city of Jantho, Aceh province.

      The two men grimaced as they received nine and seven lashes respectively on their backs, a sentence that was mitigated because they had spent over a month in detention since police nabbed them for cockfighting in Aceh Besar in January.

      "When they were arrested, two chickens and 400 thousand rupiah of betting money were confiscated by the police," said prosecutor Rivandi Aziz.

      Caning is common in Aceh for breaking the province’s strict Islamic laws, for offences ranging from drinking alcohol, to gambling to gay sex.

      In the past only Muslim residents could be caned but that changed in 2015, when Aceh’s regulations were overhauled.

      Non-Muslims who violate Islamic law can either choose to be tried under the national legal system or syariah.

      The two Buddhists would likely have faced jail under Indonesian nation law.

      "We live in Aceh, so we have to obey the regulation in our region," Alem told AFP shortly after being caned.

      A Muslim was also lashed seven times for betting on cockfights Friday, while another man accused of abusing three teenagers was lashed 112 times.

      Aceh, on Sumatra island, began implementing syariah law after being granted special autonomy in 2001, an attempt by the central government in Jakarta to quell a long-running separatist insurgency.

      Islamic laws have been strengthened since the province struck a peace deal with Jakarta in 2005. 

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    • Why Bhutan's 'hardline vegetarian right' wants everyone in the country to stop eating meat

      Sarah Reid The Independent Travel

       

      Choosing what to eat while on holiday in the Himalayan Kingdom can feel intensely political

      Bhutan takes Buddhism so seriously that no animals are allowed to be slaughtered for consumption within the country Getty

      It is purported to be the happiest country in the world, but if there is one subject guaranteed to flare tensions in the Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan, it’s meat. 

      “It is okay because the animal was not killed in Bhutan,” explains my guide Kinley, when I question whether it is socially acceptable for us to be sitting down to a chicken curry in a country where butchering animals for consumption is outright banned. This reasoning might seem bizarre, but it goes a long way to explain the complex issues surrounding the consumption of meat in Bhutan. 

      Buddhism teaches that it is wrong to kill animals, which are seen to be part of the divine creation. But while this teaching is not taken particularly seriously in other Buddhist majority countries outside monastic circles, it is law in Bhutan, where Buddhist leaders enjoy an influential voice in public policy.

      Problem is, most Bhutanese – even many monks – enjoy eating meat. So much, in fact, that Bhutan is the highest consumer of meat per capita in South Asia. As it is not illegal to consume meat in Bhutan, it’s all imported. Yet Bhutan’s meat-eating community is increasingly under threat from the wrath of the nation’s “vegetarian right” – a growing movement led by religious figures that are calling for sanctions on the importation, sale and consumption of meat on religious grounds, despite Buddha himself well documented to have eaten meat.

      This hardline approach jars a little in the context of a country that measures its success not by economics, but by a Gross National Happiness Index. And it’s true that during my 10-day visit, I found Bhutanese people to be among the world’s most welcoming. It’s easy to see why Bhutan has become such a bucket list destination: the famous Tiger’s Nest monastery perched on a misty mountaintop near Paro looks just as magical in the flesh as it does in the pictures, and the phallus-emblazoned houses of the Punakha district – an ode to a monk known as the Divine Madman for his, er, unconventional methods of “enlightening” women – have to be seen to be believed.

      But if you like your meat, eating it does feel a little more political here. I felt a bit put off consuming anything non-veggie – despite my guide having no issue with it. 

      To illustrate just how seriously the vegetarian right takes the issue, in 2015, the announcement of government plans to build a series of plants to process imported meat (in an effort to control quality and hygiene) outraged them enough that the Zhung Dratshang – Bhutan’s central monastic body – ultimately called for the projects to be halted. 

      Last year, Bhutan’s Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority moved to appease religious leaders by proposing a ban on the sale of meat during the holy first and fourth Bhutanese months, with heavy penalties for commercial vendors caught storing or selling meat during these sacred periods.

      Some towns, including all hotels in the northern district of Bumthang, have since signed agreements among themselves to stop storing or selling meat during the auspicious months, while also agreeing to submit to surprise inspections from vegetarian committees.

      Imagine my surprise, then, when I spotted a group of farmers slicing up a cow in broad daylight as my tour bus bumped along a pretty country road en route to a rural homestay. “The cow must have died of old age,” Kinley shrugged when I queried what was going on. “They harvest the meat before it spoils.” Now, I'm not a huge carnivore, but as someone who enjoys a juicy burger now and then, I sympathise with anyone who has to wait for a cow to die to enjoy a bit of steak.

      In Bhutan, however, it is easy – for tourists, at least – to go without meat. Never, except perhaps in southern India, have I found it such a delight to “go vego” than I did here. Tourist meals in Bhutan are typically served banquet-style, and while there’s usually at least one meat dish, the vegetarian options are the highlight. 

      The local red rice is as healthy as it is deliciously nutty, fresh organic vegetables burst with flavour, and the buckwheat momos (dumplings) served in Western Bhutan’s Haa district are next-level good. It is said that a Bhutanese meal isn’t complete without a serving of ema datshi or chilli cheese (literally hot green chillies cooked with local cheese), and I couldn’t resist sampling this eye-wateringly spicy dish at least once a day. The key flavouring agent in Bhutanese cuisine, chilli, poses a greater challenge for many tourists than the availability of meat.

      But that said, it has been a somewhat bland culinary start to 2017 for locals in Bhutan. The government has been forced to rethink a 2016 ban on the import of “toxic” chillies from India that has seen the price of local chillies skyrocket. Poor families without the land to grow their own have thus faced flavourless mealtimes thanks to reduced access to their key source for taste.

      The challenges of maintaining a self-sufficient chilli crop is just one of many hurdles Bhutan has faced while ploughing ahead to become the world’s first wholly organic country by 2020, an ambitious goal in an era when youth in developing nations like Bhutan are more reluctant to follow in the farming footsteps of their parents. 

      Despite its status as a poster child for sustainable development, Bhutan has not been left untouched by the effects of climate change either, with erratic weather over recent years having left some farmers struggling to reap a viable harvest without the use of chemicals. 

       

      While I thoroughly enjoyed being a pseudo-vegetarian during my trip to Bhutan, I’m grateful my choice to sink my chops into a juicy piece of meat sometimes isn’t under threat from a hardline vegetarian sect. If Buddha was okay with eating meat, surely Bhutan’s meat-lovers deserve a bit of slack? 

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    • Everything is Holy

      Katy Butler SUMMER 2005 tricycle

      Every Wednesday morning when I can afford the time, I park at the foot of the valley I live in and climb Mount Tamalpais, my holy mountain. It is more sacred to me than any temple, and as powerful a place of practice.

      My path is as ritualized as the stations of the cross. I take a wooden footbridge over a stream and climb through second-growth redwoods and past blackberry bushes, now sere and brown in the winter cold. My worries come with me: I chew on a conflict with my eighty-year-old mother, a disastrous visit home.

      I climb steep railroad-tie steps to Cowboy Rock. My glutes and lungs burn, driving me into my body. I pant. I sweat. I take off my fisherman’s knit sweater, machine-loomed in England and bought at a local mall. Then up past the county water-tank and the dozen expensive houses built where the Flying Y Ranch used to be.

      At ten o’clock, I breach a ridge and enter a vast bowl of unpopulated hills. Car sounds die away. Finches twitter in the chaparral. I follow the trail beneath a bay laurel, upswept by the winds into a clinging topiary. A madrone shows its red bones. “Mountains,” the Zen master Eihei Dogen told an assembly of Japanese monks in 1240, “are our Buddha ancestors”—our primordial teachers. Inside my brain, an invisible hand turns the volume knob down.

      Now I am moving deep into the sock of the valley—the only visible human. Except for a ribbon of yellow-lined asphalt below me, there is no sign of human making. Beyond the last hills lies the Pacific.

      An hour later I round a ridge and the peak of the mountain reveals herself, rising. I remember Mirabai, the sixteenth-century devotional poet who abandoned her aristocratic family and wandered India, singing, “I worship the mountain energy night and day.” The trail switchbacks take me down deeper. An hour after noon, I stop at a flat, thick wooden bench in a grove of old-growth redwoods that the loggers left behind. Here I sit zazen, robed in silence and filtered brown light. The natural world restores my soul. It soothes me like a mother. I rest my head on it and lay my burdens down before it the way some Christians rest their heads on the cross.

      California is not my native home. I was raised in Oxford when England was recovering from the Second World War. The country had been a coal-burning industrial power for more than a century, but compared to the way Americans live today, we lived almost as frugally as Thoreau at Walden Pond.

      Eggs and butter and meat were rationed. Shoes were polished and repaired. A big black dray horse named Flower clopped down our street twice a week, pulling a cart from which my mother chose vegetables to cook with dinner. Our cramped brick row house had no central heating, and white furry mold grew up the walls of the cellar. People took buses or walked everywhere. Even after our family bought a car, my father was one of thousands who mounted bicycles and flooded the city at rush hour like swarming bees.

      My mother, who had no outside job, knitted sweaters and darned socks in the evenings before the fire. She had a washing machine but no dryer. Before she hung the laundry up to dry, she cranked it through the rollers of a mangle to squeeze the water out. Nobody called her “ecological” or understood that her daily work was an expression of respect for the natural world. But she was as frugal and attentive as the cook in a Zen monastery. One of her favorite phrases was “elbow grease.”

      One day when I was very young, she stopped the car on a road through a great beech woods. It was autumn. All the leaves were golden yellow. The branches of the beeches met high above our heads, making an arched and open cathedral. The very air was yellow with the glory of the trees.

      My mother turned off the ignition and put the keys in her pocket.

      “We are going to build a house for the fairies,” she said, and opened the door. We walked into the glowing woods. At a hollow place at the foot of a tree, my mother knelt down. She brushed away leaves and stuck forked twigs into the ground. She balanced sticks across the clefts, making roof-beams, a ridgepole, then rafters. I propped beech leaves against the sides and set them along the roof— they were broad-bladed, like flattened spears, and their points made a jagged line along the peak. We put moss in the front garden, and round white stones to lead the fairies to the door. My mother was an agnostic, a rebel, and a lover of modern architecture. She had nothing good to say about reverence. But that day she led me to something she could not give me and built something close to an altar.

      My parents were nominally Anglicans, and on Sundays, when I grew older, they sent my brothers and me to the church of St. Michael and All Angels. There, in the basement Sunday school, I glued images of martyred saints onto cardboard. I was told that God was everywhere and saw everything, and I imagined him as a series of transparent shower curtains embedded with multitudinous fish eyes, moving in every wind.

      At night, I’d kneel by my bed and beg for a sign of His reality. But God was silent—at least in the forms that I expected Him to speak – until Saturday, when I would ride my bike to green fields bordering a stream and lie face down in the mossy grass, letting the green energy rise up into me.

      There, I had an inkling of a wholeness beyond the logic of my family. I didn’t have to work for it. All I had to do was put myself in a position to receive. Green things continued to feed what I call my soul long after I abandoned hope of ever seeing the luminous fish eyes of God waving in the transparent wind. I worshiped holy water and holy dirt long before I called it prayer.

      When I was eight, my family moved to America and my parents built a Bauhaus-inspired four-bedroom house overlooking a lake in the suburbs of Boston. America amazed us: the supermarkets, with row on row of perfect, pesticide-kissed fruit; the oil furnaces in the basements of big houses, blasting hot air into every room; the ice cream parlors with their banana splits and three-scoop ice cream sundaes; the giant milk-fed children; the enormous superhighways and big cars—all summing up what my mother called America’s “higher standard of living.”

      In due course my father got a better job and a bigger house and our family acquired many little machines: a television, station wagon, lawnmower, second car, blender, coffee grinder, microwave, rice cooker, toaster oven, hairdryer, air conditioner. Friends of my parents moved into a new development where clotheslines were forbidden.

      We didn’t think we were trying to satisfy endless craving. We didn’t see a connection between what we bought and the destruction of wild places we loved. We just wanted to be warm, safe, fed, and comfortable. We did not know that something in the human brain never hears or whispers “enough.” We were part of a liberal, affluent society that believed that “the greatest good for the greatest number” was mathematically translatable into “the greatest number of goods for the greatest number.”

      We knew nothing of Buddhism. We’d never heard of a then-obscure British economist named Ernest Friedrich Schumacher, who, in a 1966 essay called “Buddhist Economics,” suggested another path, especially for developing nations: the greatest possible human enjoyment from the smallest quantity of goods.

      The Buddhist ethos of right livelihood, E. F. Schumacher argued, could be extended to an ethos of right consumption. He argued against elaborately sewn, soon-to-be-outmoded suits and in favor of the loosely draped medieval robes of the monk—always in fashion! No ascetic, he argued for a middle way in material matters—in favor of enjoyment and against craving. Happiness, his work suggested, was not typified by the ice cream sundae wolfed down alone in front of the television, but by a cookie and a cup of green tea, brewed in awareness and sipped at leisure with friends, while watching the rising moon.

      When I was twenty-eight and working as a newspaper reporter in San Francisco, my roommate and I went on a camping trip in the Ventana wilderness inland from Big Sur. On a whim, we drove down a long dirt road to a hot springs resort deep in a knifelike canyon in the Santa Lucia mountains. The place turned out to be Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, and by chance I ran into an old San Francisco friend who had become a resident there. He arranged a cabin where we could spend the night, and the next morning before dawn he led me to the zendo.

      Two and a half hours later, I came out into an early morning light in a state of clarity I’d never before known. Something I had not known was still alive inside me had been listened to, and I had faith that it would someday find its voice. I spent the whole of the next summer there.

      As we walked up and down the canyon to clean cabins, chop vegetables, light kerosene lamps, and sit in the airy wooden zendo, we were soaked in the natural world. Crickets, streams, silence, and the rising force of the surrounding mountains permeated everything we did. I still wonder if Buddhism would have grabbed me the way it did if I’d first encountered it in a city.

      One morning in the zendo I saw a lizard crawling along the shoulder of a man’s black robe. Another evening in the zendo, we prostrated ourselves over and over in the Full Moon Ceremony, and I climbed a hillside afterward in the astonishingly bright light of the full moon.

      In the library, I came across Dogen, who brought an invigorated form of Ch’an (Zen) from China to Japan in the thirteenth century. His work was dappled with natural images: the moon flooding the water with light; a water bird paddling and leaving no trace; a vegetable leaf transformed into the golden body of a Buddha; mountains flowing, mountains walking, mountains traveling on water. “The color of the mountains is Buddha’s body,” he wrote. “The sound of flowing water is his great speech.”

      The Christian theology I’d been raised in had posited a hierarchical “great chain of being” with God on top, humans in the middle, and all other creatures and plants arrayed systematically below. Dogen suggested a radically democratic “flow of being” in which we humans could be instructed by the ten thousand interpenetrating and flowering things of the natural world. In Dogen’s view, each thing flowed without effort from form to form: from cloud to rain to stream to cloud and back again; from corpse to rot to compost to earth to flower. These were not metaphors for transience, reincarnation, no-self and interdependence, but manifestations of them.

      “Walls and fences cannot instruct the grasses and trees to actualize spring,” Dogen wrote. “Yet they reveal the spiritual without intention, just by being what they are. So too with mountains, rivers, sun, moon, and stars.”

      When the summer was over, I drove back to the city and started meditating each morning in a basement zendo near the freeway. I spent hours each day meeting deadlines on a computer under fluorescent lights downtown. Something wordless that had risen up in me in nature—a yearning for beauty and an ecstatic gratitude for life—had helped pull me back into religious life and into a new religion. Now I lost touch with it again. I saw no connection between the awe I’d felt in the mountains surrounding Tassajara and the chanting and bowing I did in an urban Buddha hall each morning.

      Awe seemed out of place in my city practice and city life. A fellow student told me he saw Buddhism as a philosophy and a practice, not a religion. He couldn’t understand why we bowed at all. Like many of the people I knew who practiced within the Vipassana tradition, he wanted simply to count the breaths, sweep the body, examine the workings of the mind, and practice walking meditation. His strain of American Buddhism, growing within a secular, consumerist urban culture, seemed rationalized, almost denatured, spun clean in a centrifuge. I kept hiking and meditating, but saw only my meditation as a form of practice.

      Like Christianity, Buddhism is one of the great abstract second-generation world religions. Its overarching principles are universal and portable, not bound to culture or place. But in place after place, both Christianity and Buddhism have been enriched by animism’s fertile, complicating stains. In Europe, Christian holy days were pegged to pagan festivals that brought a ragged joy into a religion flavored with self-denial; churches were built at the sites of wells and hills sacred to indigenous religions. Likewise, nature worship permeated Asian cultures before the Buddha was born.

      Natural images abound in the early Buddhist sutras: Shakyamuni was born under a tree; he awakened on a cushion of buffalo grass in the light of the morning star; he touched the earth in response to the temptations of Mara; and he held up an Udambara flower to enlighten his disciple Ananda. He delighted over the beauty of the rice fields. He told his monks to meditate at the foot of trees. A decade ago, I went on a tour of Japanese temples as a travel writer for Vogue. Signs of Shinto nature worship were everywhere. In fields, folded white papers hung on shocks of rice to draw the attention of nature spirits. In the mountains, I walked under torii gates to a clearing in a cedar grove and found a small altar hung with red lanterns and guarded by two stone foxes. The trunks of cedars rose, as smooth as masts, far above my head, and then opened into a canopy of feathery branches. I was standing at the bottom of a hundred-foot-high column of filtered light. The shrine did not create the sacredness of the place, but simply drew attention to it.

      This was my wordless introduction to folk Shinto, Japan’s indigenous, pre-Buddhist religion. It has no founder, no dogma, and no scriptures—just rituals tied to the natural world. It honors a world spontaneously brought into being by the hard-to-translate kami— spirits of nature embodied and embedded in everything beautiful and therefore sacred: a rock, a lightning bolt, a waterfall, a grove.

      “Do not be attracted by the sounds of spring or take pleasure in seeing a spring garden,” Dogen told his disciples in thirteenth-century Japan. “When you see autumn colors, do not be partial to them. You should allow the four seasons to advance in one viewing and see an ounce and a pound with an equal eye.” But outside his monastery gates, rice farmers were welcoming the spring with Shinto festivals and giving thanks for the harvest in autumn, knowing full well that the seasons would turn and come again. I picked up a broom, entered the little enclosure, and swept the shrine free of fallen leaves.

      A few days later, in the mountains near Yoshino, I watched two young monks chant the Heart Sutra in a small temple built over a stream. They were followers of an ascetic and syncretic Shinto-Buddhist mountain tradition called Shugendo, which venerates snakes and waterfalls as well as buddhas and bodhisattvas. Blowing on conch shells, they exited the temple and walked up a series of stone steps, bowing at dozens of small altars. They bowed equally to peaceful stone bodhisattvas lined against a rock face running with water, and to a huge dragon-headed metal snake twined around a Shinto spear. I followed them, bowing, the two halves of my religious life finally coming together.

      It is usually three or four in the afternoon when I retrace my way off the mountain, leaving the redwood grove and moving through bays and grasslands, passing a red-tailed hawk swooping across the bowl of the hills. Car sounds return. I descend past the rich houses of Flying Y Ranch and Cowboy Rock, into the valley of my daily life. I put my sweater back on, and start thinking about dinner. I start the car and drive home, to our dishwasher, coffee grinder, microwave, computers, and panoply of electric lights. The joy of my day on the mountain has fueled my efforts to live a saner life. It somehow helps me meditate for the rest of the week.

      At home, I pick up the phone, call my mother, and reconcile. Then I take Dogen down from my bedroom bookshelf and read “Instructions to the Tenzo,” a practical guide for the head cook at a Zen monastery. Its severe tone seems at first to have little in common with the mysticism of his Mountains and Waters Sutra. Lose not a grain of rice, he says. Take care of the monastery’s rice and vegetables “as though they were your own eyeballs.” And when you boil rice, “know that the water is your own life.”

      I try to obey. At dinner, I put the newspaper aside, light candles, and eat with full attention. “Innumerable labors brought us this food,” goes the meal verse we chanted at Tassajara. “We should know how it comes to us.” I try to remember where everything I use comes from and where it is going. I feel a mixture of guilt and gratitude. I try to regard every thing I handle—my rice, my sweater, my vacuum cleaner—as if they were my own eyeballs.

      I blow out the candles. I clean the table and stove using super-cleaning microfiber cloths that require only hot water rather than chemicals. I apply elbow grease.

      These forms of attention are more mundane and difficult for me to practice than the ecstasy I often feel on the mountain. Yet they too express a reverence for the natural world and an understanding of interdependence, just as my mother did when she squeezed water out of her laundry in England, and as Mirabai did when she worshiped the mountain energy night and day. Ultimately, Dogen says, housewifery and ecstasy are not that different. “Taking up a green vegetable, turn it into a sixteen-foot golden body,” he challenges me.

      My altar holds not only a Buddha, but a seashell, a metal cricket, a snake, and an image of Mary. Likewise, my religious practice now is a hodgepodge of nature worship and Buddhist meditation and twelve-step programs, and I cannot make it all sound logical or consistent. When I’m tired or lonely and want to be numb, you can often find me driving alone up Highway 101, feeding the hunger that isn’t hunger, stopping at Whole Foods and Costco and Trader Joe’s, loading up on Brazilian papayas and toilet paper from the forests of the Northwest and my favorite yogurt from Greece. Sometimes I think I’m in the realm of the gods when in reality I’m acting like a hungry ghost. I forget that there is something in the brain that never hears “enough.”

      Yet I don’t want to become so ascetic, taking no pleasure in a spring garden, but rather to open my heart and my senses to the vivid love I have for the natural world. The paradox is that when I open myself fully to pleasure, I use and waste less.

      The next morning at breakfast, I light the candles, bow over my food and chant. I eat a bowl of oatmeal and half a papaya with a squeeze of lime. I dig the spoon into a bowl of smooth Greek yogurt. I let it roll off my tongue. It is not only asceticism that will save us, but delight. All the universe is one bright pearl, wrote Dogen. Everything is holy.

      Wilderness Journey

      “I found myself in a workshop one day talking about Zen and the environment,” says John Daido Loori, abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Tremper, New York, “and I realized how stupid it was because, you know, Zen is very experiential. You don’t talk about it. You do it. So I decided I should take these people, most of whom had never been in the wilderness, out into the wilderness and let them experience it for themselves.”

      That first canoe trip, a grueling 125-mile cross-country jaunt, was so successful and generated so much excitement that Loori and the monastery developed an array of programs and workshops known collectively as the Born as the Earth program, Each uses the wilderness experience and the natural environment to teach the interdependency of the self and the universe, and outdoors skills and knowledge to overcome feelings of fear or anxiety about being out in the wilds.

      Founded by Loori in 1980 in the tradition of the Mountains and Rivers order of Zen Buddhism, Zen Mountain Monastery sits on a 240-acre parcel of land in the Catskill Forest Preserve. In its first meeting, the monastery board designated 80 percent of its land to be forever wild. “If a tree falls,” says Loori, “it rots where it falls.”

      Established as a contemplative retreat, the monastery was jolted into environmental activism when the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation attempted to appropriate five acres of its land under eminent domain in the early nineties. The monastery decided to resist and found several environmental lawyers, field biologists, and ecologists among the alumni of the Born as the Earth programs willing to take on the DEC. They formed the Green Dragon Society under the auspices of a new nonprofit corporation called the Zen Environmental Studies Institute (ZESI) and won the case. The society is currently involved in a class action suit along with twelve other environmental groups to halt the development of a resort on Bellair Mountain, in the Catskill Forest.

      All of these activities are based on a conviction that love of nature is a far more powerful force in protecting the natural environment than science, legislation, religion, or self-interest.

      As the ZESI brochure points out, ”We take care of the things we love.”

      —James Keough

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    • China says Dalai Lama a 'deceptive actor' after brain comments

      Reuters Ben Blanchard 7/3/17

      China's Foreign Ministry called the Dalai Lama a "deceptive actor" on Tuesday, after the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader said in an interview that Chinese hardliners have parts of their brains missing.

      Speaking to U.S. comedian John Oliver in India's northern town of Dharamsala, where the exiled Tibetan government is based, the Dalai Lama cast doubt on his reincarnation by saying he might be the last in line.

      Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang noted that the interview appeared in an entertainment programme.

      "The Dalai Lama's comments in the interview perhaps appeared humorous and funny, but these words are all lies that do not accord with the facts," Geng said.

      "We often say that the 14th Dalai Lama is a political exile who wears religious clothing to engage in anti-China separatist activities," he added.

      "Now it seems he is an actor, who is very good at performing, and very deceptively."

      China brands the Nobel Peace laureate a dangerous separatist. The Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in India after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, denies espousing violence and says he only wants genuine autonomy for Tibet.

      The animosity between the two sides, and their rivalry for control over Tibetan Buddhism, is at the heart of the debate about reincarnation.

      Tibetan Buddhism holds that the soul of a senior lama is reincarnated in the body of a child on his death.

      China says the tradition must continue and its officially atheist Communist leaders have the right to approve the Dalai Lama's successor, as a legacy inherited from China's emperors.

      The Dalai Lama has suggested previously the title could end with him, when he dies. China accuses him of betraying, and being disrespectful of, the Tibetan religion, by saying there might be no future reincarnations.

      Tibet's delegation to the annual meeting of China's parliament, which opened on Sunday, is likely to hold a news conference some time this week. Such meetings tend to be dominated by the issue of the Dalai Lama.

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    • Zen and the art of family maintenance – lessons from the bestselling Buddhist monk

      John-Paul Flintoff 1 March 2017 The Guardian

       

      Haemin Sunim says a happy relationship and contented children are within reach for us all – if we could just slow down and pay attention to each other

      Some people, if you ask them a question, answer quickly. Others take a moment to think first. Haemin Sunim looks up, slightly to the right, and allows 14 seconds to pass before he answers one of my questions. I counted, when I listened to the recording. And here’s something: waiting for his reply, I didn’t feel even remotely uncomfortable. Because taking time is Sunim’s thing. He’s a Buddhist monk who has become internationally famous for it.

      His book Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down was published in South Korea in 2012, quickly rose to No 1 on the bestseller list and stayed there for nearly a year, selling more than 3m copies. Written in response to requests for advice on social media (he has 1.25 million followers on Twitter), it directly addresses problems facing people around the world. Some of this is based on his personal experience. Much is based on what he has learned from people who ask for his help.

      “I come out of a tradition of Zen Buddhism, and I practise meditation. I give lessons. The formal teaching is Buddhist doctrine and teachings. But in the temple, when people come in to pray, you might have coffee or tea, and the conversation is not usually about spiritual matters but about mundane, everyday life. I ask for questions. And often the questions are not about meditation but about daily struggle. What do I do to solve this problem, or that problem? Very specific. I try to offer my own answers.”

      Many of the questions are about family life. “I encourage people to have a very intimate and close relationship with their child, when the child is one, two, three, four and five. You should pour your attention and love into them. But when the child has grown up, it’s different. Often parents are so much in love with their child that they want to do everything – even when the child is in their 20s. I say, ‘Maybe you can let your child know that he is already an adult. Say, “I love you very much but it’s time for you to grow up.” Focusing less on him, and more on yourself, your partner, and the people around you, will bring benefits to your child.’”

      This was Sunim’s experience. “I feel very lucky. My mother cares deeply about me, but is very happy with her own life, and doesn’t have any need to control me. I was in my mid-20s when I realised. I have a cousin, and like me he went abroad to study.” (Sunim moved to the US to study film, then found the religious life.) “My aunt would always pack everything – food, clothes, everything – and follow him to the airport to say goodbye. And I realised that my mum didn’t do that. Sometimes she didn’t even come to the airport! Not that she didn’t love me. She loved me very much.”

      Did you ever tell her?

      “Yes, I told her how grateful I am. She is a very happy person. The best gift you can give to your child is to be happy yourself, rather than trying to make your child happy.”

      Sunim grew up in Seoul, South Korea and has a younger brother. The family was poor, he says. “Especially when I was in elementary school, but I always felt a sense of love.”

      His mother is a housewife. His father sells art. “He has a tiny shop selling paintings. Other people’s paintings.”

      Sunim was always interested in spirituality, he says, and the meaning of life. “What happens after we die – that sort of thing. So when I went to bookstores I would pick up those books. I started in high school, with a book that profoundly influenced me by Krishnamurti. There are so many wonderful books by him. I thought it was very interesting. That genuine freedom is freedom from your own thoughts. That was such a powerful teaching. I always thought of freedom as something to do with politics.”

      What can he tell people who didn’t have a happy childhood?

      “I get a lot of questions like that.I offer different ways to heal yourself. If you have the issue of abandonment, you feel that your parents didn’t care much about you, you were the middle child, or the last child, or your family was very poor and your parents were always very tired when they came back from work … Having your own child can become a way to heal yourself,” he says. “I have heard a number of times that caring for a child, and giving the kind of love you never received, can be transformative and healing for yourself,” he says.

      And people who don’t have a child? He thinks for a while. “You can offer the love you haven’t received by doing volunteer work, perhaps in an orphanage. I heard from somebody who volunteered, and frequently washed the babies and children in an orphanage, and she always felt incredibly happy, and connected. So I think you can heal yourself by giving the love that you haven’t received from your own parent.”

      Do you think families pause enough? Or is it always a fight to be heard?

      It would be great if we could gift to ourselves a moment of calm, to find our own centre, and live more intentionally

      “Usually, it’s a fight to be heard. When we pause, we can connect to our body, and to the person in front of us, instead of being wrapped up in our own thoughts.” One reason we don’t do that, he says, is sheer busyness.

      “People have to work for many hours and they are sacrificing their health to make money. And because of the net and cellphones, people are losing their connections to family members or friends. They’re always online, so on your birthday, you get 50 birthday messages and realise you have nobody to have dinner with. And that’s very common.

      “It would be great if we could gift to ourselves a moment of calm and quietude, to find our own centre, and go out and live more intentionally, rather than being pulled in many different directions and getting sucked in, and losing control,” he says.

      What are the most useful pieces of advice you can offer families?

      “I think that a lot of mothers, with a full-time job, carry a sense of guilt, about not spending enough time with her child. My advice would be to think that quality matters more than quantity. So even if it’s a very short amount of time, shower your child with your full attention and loving care,” he says.

      “That intimacy can have huge benefits for the child, compared with being there but being stressed and annoyed and anxious that you have to get away. A lot of mothers, they get depressed because they don’t feel they have enough time. But maybe because you are working, you feel a little more fulfilled. And with that, you can bring positivity to your child.”

      “I also get a lot of questions about husband-and-wife relationship problems. If your child is emotionally upset, it could be because the husband didn’t pay enough attention to his wife. So being kinder to your wife can help your child to have balance.”

      Does that kind of teaching usually arise in response to husbands?

      “Usually wives.”

      Do men seek your advice as well? “Usually the husband tells me, ‘My wife nags, she tries to control me, she tells me: “Do this, do that, you’re not good enough.”’ So I jokingly tell my female audience, ‘You thought before you got married that you would be able to somehow change him, and you now know how impossible that is. And a part of love is acceptance, rather than trying to change your husband. To a certain degree, we have to reconcile and accept differences.”

      You said something like that earlier, about your mother not trying to control you …

      “That’s one of the lessons that I try to share. When you are trying to control people, you feel that something is missing within you, and you want to find somebody else who can give you the things that you need. And in the process, you want to control that person. But often you can just go out and get that which you have been longing to have, rather than use other people to get it,” he says.

      What did you see, and hear, that made you know that you were loved as a child?

      “Well, my parents would sacrifice financial means to give me the best education. I felt that they were willing to invest their resource into me. And when I was with them, they asked many questions. Questions about how I’m doing, how I’m feeling. And whenever I write something, my mum collects my newspaper columns. She talks about whether this week’s column is good, or not so good. She’s definitely interested in my writing.”

      So it’s something to do with having their attention? Not lots of hugs and kisses? Sunim shakes his head.

      “I say that in my book. If you can pay attention to somebody, without being carried away by your thoughts, that’s an expression of love. Only when you love somebody can you do that. Krishnamurti tells us to go out and get any stone in the world, and put it in your living room, and to pay attention to it every time you pass by. And after two months that will be the most important stone in the world. Because you paid attention to it.”

       

      Do you have a stone in your living room? “Hahaha! No!”

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    • When Am I?

      Loch Kelly SEP 08, 2015 tricycle

      Contrary to popular belief, you can’t be in the present moment.

      However, you are always here now. It is only a matter of whether you know it or not. The Now is often confused with our understanding of the present time or the present moment. In Tibetan Buddhism, the Now is considered the “timeless time” that includes the three relative times of past, present, and future. We know not to get caught in the past or the future, but in order to be in the Now, we also have to let go of the present. The Now is not confined by relative clock time, yet it is also not pure timelessness. The Now is the meeting place of timeless spacious awareness with the relative world and its conventional time. The Now does not come and go, but includes everything all at once. When we’re aware of being in the Now, present moments come and go, like ripples and waves in the ocean of awake awareness.

      When we don’t know the alternative to the three relative times, we create an imitation of the Now and call it “the moment” or “the present.” Here’s how Merriam-Webster defines moment.

      a: a minute portion or point of time: INSTANT

      b: a comparatively brief period of time

      Clearly, we can’t live in the moment, because moments come and go like the tick-tock of a clock. Moment . . . gone . . . new moment . . . gone . . . new moment . . . gone. You can’t stop moments or be quick enough to occupy any particular moment of time. Physicist Max Planck recognized that moments are flashes in relative time. He divided moments into small measures known as Planck units, which are 10⁻⁴³ seconds long. No matter how hard we try, we can never slice time thin enough to enter the moment.

      Our perceived experience is made up of mind moments that appear continuous, like movies. Films project 24 still frames every second in order to make the movement of their images appear lifelike to the brain. A moment is like a single frame that we can look at but cannot remain in. Even if we took one still frame from a movie, we would see a frozen moment, not the dynamic living Now.

      Trying to be in the Now by entering the present moment is also like sitting at the edge of a river, looking at the water flowing over one rock. As soon as you focus on one moment in the flow of water, that portion of water has already moved downstream. We cannot enter present moments because they move too fast and change continuously. Contemporary Tibetan Buddhist teacher Mingyur Rinpoche says, “If you examine even the present moment carefully, you find that it also is made up of earlier and later moments. In the end, if you keep examining the present moment, you find that there is no present moment that exists either.”

      Interestingly, mindfulness meditation begins with the opposite approach to trying to be in the moment; it asks us to actually notice moment-to-moment change. One of the great insights we can get from mindfulness meditation practice is that each moment of experience arises and passes. Having a direct experience of this impermanence, from observing awareness, helps us let go of the attempt to calcify any single moment of time, to try to make something stable that is not. When we really get a feeling for the coming and going of moments, it helps us break the illusion of a solid, separate self, which gives us relief from suffering.

      The present time is not the Now. When Gampopa, an 11th-century Buddhist teacher, said, “Don’t invite the future. Don’t pursue the past. Let go of the present. Relax right now,” he was pointing to the fact that trying to locate yourself in any of the three relative times, including the present, can cause suffering. It’s not always a benefit to strive to be in the present. While working as a psychotherapist, I saw that the distinguishing feature of clinical depression is feeling stuck in the present. As one client said, “It feels like there is only this present, unbearable pain and no hope of it changing.” Being depressed is like being in a prison where you’re cut off from positive memories of the past and from the potential to change in the future. Part of the treatment for depression is to have people remember how they got through sad periods in the past and realize there’s a positive future. In terms of the present, it’s helpful to realize “This too shall pass.”

      It is true that our attention can be negatively obsessed with remembering the past. However, most of us would agree on an everyday level with poet and philosopher George Santayana, who said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Yet we can also be preoccupied with fearing the future. The ability to imagine the future has helped all of us survive and thrive, for instance by being able to prepare for the coming winter or spring. You can plan for the future and recall the past while being in the Now.

      The most important thing to know is that we are always already in the Now—however, we are not always aware of being in the Now. You can only know the Now from awake awareness. Many of us have experienced being in the Now when we were “in the zone” or in a panoramic flow state.

      When we learn to shift into directly being aware of being in the Now, our whole sense of reality changes for the better. We can’t be aware of being in the Now from our everyday, ego-identified state of mind. We can shift through the door of the Now into awake awareness, or when abiding in awake awareness, we can begin to notice the feeling of being in the Now. The purpose of clarifying and distinguishing the Now from the present and present moment is for us to be able to shift into being in the Now and know we are here.

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    • Making Thai Buddhism relevant again

      Sanitsuda Ekachai, Bangkok Post, March 2, 2017

      Bangkok, Thailand -- So the Dhammakaya Temple is a cult. So its leader reportedly claims to be a doomsday saviour who takes rich donors on a tour to heaven to see the Buddha. So it teaches its followers to buy premium spaces in heaven by donating to the temple. So its doctrine on the permanence of self is against Buddhism. So what?

      The problem of Dhammakaya is not so much what it teaches. Very few Buddhist temples in Thailand do not cash in on superstition. But its gigantic size, extensive reach and its grand ambition to take over the whole clergy has engendered widespread public concern. Its biggest problem -- a mistake to be precise -- is taking the wrong side of the political divide.

      The Thaksin card played by Dhammakaya saved its leader from a court case over temple theft in 2006. But this is 2017. The anti-Thaksin regime is determined to weed out any perceived remnants of the Thaksin stronghold. It also probably wants to revive its sagging popularity by showing its middle-class supporters that only the regime can "protect Buddhism" and get rid of the cultish Dhammakaya once and for all.

      But can it?

      After throwing out a pro-Dhammakaya elder from the clergy's top job, and after staging three large-scale crackdowns that ended in embarrassing failure, the government vows to press on unless the Dhammakaya leader, Phra Dhammajayo, gives himself up to face legal charges of fraud and theft. The response? One suicide and signs of increasing defiance. A question arises: Who will blink first?

      Now, let me be clear. I don't like Dhammakaya. I don't like it cashing in on people's superstitions and faith. I don't like how it spins Buddhist teachings, how it quantifies merit in monetary terms, how it caters to the rich, how it buys influence in the clergy and officialdom, how the temple is entangled in a web of corruption such as the Klongchan Credit Union scandal which led to Phra Dhammajayo's legal charges, and how the ex-abbot is using his supporters to protect himself which may cause violence.

      But I don't think military might is the answer when you are dealing with religious beliefs -- unless you want to see blood. I don't think if you don't like anything, you have the right to destroy it either. Doesn't our constitution -- the one already endorsed by the military -- ensure freedom of religious beliefs? The regime is now caught in a dilemma. Backing off is a huge loss of face. But continuing the raids cannot promise the arrest of the fugitive abbot either.

      Meanwhile, the regime's decision to fire the head of the Office of National Buddhism, believed to be a Dhammakaya sympathiser, will do little to ease resistance from the pro-Dhammakaya authorities -- and the clergy. On the contrary, it will intensify the resistance.

      It is no secret that the majority of elders in the Supreme Sangha Council (SSC) are Dhammakaya sympathisers. That is why the previous supreme patriarch's ruling on Phra Dhammajayo on theft and distortion of Buddhism -- which deserved defrockment -- was never implemented. Instead, the SSC ruled to absolve Phra Dhammajayo.

      It is also no secret either that a large number of temples and monks have been benefiting from financial support from Dhammakaya for decades, thanks to the elders' poor job of providing systematic support for temples and the need for better education of young monks.

      But resistance from the mainstream clergy goes beyond short-term financial gifts from Dhammakaya; they fear for their own survival.

      Cleaning up temple corruption is one of the regime's agenda items to win public support when it staged the coup. We may take it as mere empty rhetoric, but for those who prosper from this oppressive and corrupt system, the talk of reform sends chills up their spine.

      We may be unhappy with the obsolete and inefficient clergy, but it is the only system open for poor, rural boys to get an education and an automatically higher social status, thanks to public respect for the saffron robes. The clergy's feudal hierarchy also promises its members near-royalty status if they successfully climb up the ecclesiastical ranks. It's understandable why they want to keep this system.

      The monks' fears of the domino effect are fuelled by the fact that the main drivers of the anti-Dhammakaya campaigns are the same fierce critics of the Sangha Council and ardent pushers for the Sangha's restructuring. It's why they believe that if Dhammakaya falls, they fall too.

      It's also probably why an online message on the alleged attempt to amend the Sangha Act has gone viral.

      The message focuses on alleged plans to restructure the Sangha Council, to dismantle the Office of National Buddhism, to combine two Buddhist universities of the Mahanikaya and Dhammayut sects, to force monks to reveal their bank accounts, to audit temple donations and to prevent monks from taking temple donations as their own. Interestingly, the message also claims alleged proposals to force monks who graduate from the monks' universities from leaving the monkhood.

      Whether true or false, this viral message reflects the clergy's deep concerns. Or could it even be a ploy to instigate monks to protest against the junta? Indeed, can it cope with the 300,000-strong clergy and millions of Dhammakaya supporters combined?

      What lies ahead? Ostracising the controversial temple for distorting Buddhist teachings? This is highly likely. This helps calm public fears of the Dhammakaya taking over the clergy, but the government needs to convince SSC elders to take this step. Even if they agree, we are only fooling ourselves in thinking the move will help "purify" Thai Buddhism -- as claimed by the anti-Dhammakaya camp.

      In fact, the idea of purifying Thai Buddhism itself is questionable. Please tell me who has the moral right to judge what is "true" or "fake" Buddhism? The clergy? The elders who are completely irrelevant to today's world? The monks who are loyal to racist nationalism as opposed to the Buddha's teachings of tolerance and compassion? The male-dominated system which looks down on women? The so-called Buddhists who -- despite their claims to be "true" Buddhists -- mocked with glee when a Dhammakaya supporter hanged himself to protest the raids? Is hate part of their Buddhism?

      What to do to get out of the Dhammakaya debacle? A better question is how to make Thai Buddhism more relevant to society.

      While transparency regarding temple donations is necessary, it's not enough. The same goes for efficient temple management. As long as the top-down feudal structure remains, monks will continue to seek feudal perks and privileges, leaving their spiritual mission and the poor behind.

      As long as the clergy can still depend on state subsidies and political support, they will refuse to fix their flaws. The public will continue to be frustrated with the clergy and -- if Dhammakaya no longer exists, which is not likely in the near future -- people will still seek new religious groups that can satisfy their needs. And as long as the SSC retains authoritarian control over the whole clergy, there will always be attempts to infiltrate the SSC, which is very easy given its weakness.

      The government is partly to blame. In a departure from previous charters, the new one by the military regime promises special support for Theravada Buddhism. It also promises punishment for those who "destroy" Buddhism, an easy tool to punish dissent.

      To prevent the likes of the Dhammakaya, the government should only focus on setting up effective mechanisms to ensure transparency of temple donations and management with community and civil society participation. It should not touch the "faith" dimension. Nor the teachings. Let the people decide. Nor should it lend support to Theravada monks specifically, which perpetuates dependency and incompetence.

      Cut the privileges. Temple donations, if managed efficiently free of embezzlement, are enough to modernise Theravada organisations.

      Monks need to learn how to "swim" in the open sea of highly competitive markets for faith to regain public trust. Buddhism teaches the path toward inner peace. Live that path to prove it's possible. It's the only way to become relevant to society again. It's easy if monks let go of greed.

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    • A More Enlightened Way of Being

      Seth Zuiho Segall WINTER 2016 tricycle

      The entrance of Buddhist ethics into the modern world.

      Buddhism generously provides us with an embarrassment of ethical riches—the precepts, the paramitas and brahmaviharas, the Vinaya and Jatakas, the Abhidharma, and the path elements of right speech, action, and livelihood. These diverse resources offer various forms of ethical guidance, including rules for ethical behavior along with accompanying commentary, a catalog of wholesome and unwholesome states of mind, lists of virtues along with methods for their cultivation, and narrative illustrations of moral conduct. The underlying conceptual scheme tying these resources together is simple and clear: our thoughts and actions can be deemed either “skillful” or “unskillful” depending on whether they assist or hinder better conditions for the future, especially for future rebirth or, ideally, an awakening that brings release from the wheel of rebirth entirely. This conceptual scheme—whether expressed in terms of the arhat ideal of attaining nirvana or the bodhisattva ideal of achieving buddhahood for the benefit of all—functions as an effective motivation for ethical behavior when rebirth is of genuine existential concern. For many contemporary Buddhists, however, rebirth is not a compelling basis for their spiritual and moral lives. In the West, even those who accept the possibility of rebirth rarely feel that the idea of ending future lives holds deep personal meaning for them in the conduct of their daily living.

      It’s not so much that the idea of rebirth has been disproved; no strong empirical evidence can be mustered either for or against it. It’s that the idea of rebirth is swimming against the tide of contemporary materialism and naturalism—metaphysical propositions that play an important role as core assumptions in science and thus significantly shape our modern cultural worldview. These propositions assert that our best knowledge of the world is achieved by analyzing phenomena as the outcome of processes of physical causation and posit that there’s no world behind or beyond the material world of physics, chemistry, and biology. It follows from this that because consciousness can be fully accounted for by reducing it to material processes, it ceases to exist at death. It’s hard to reconcile rebirth with this outlook, which—regardless of whether one consciously accepts or rejects it—is absorbed by cultural osmosis into one’s modern sense of the world.

      Many spiritual seekers—especially in the West, where rebirth has never been widely believed—don’t become Buddhists because they want to end the cycle of rebirth; they’re motivated by some other inner disquiet. As an experiment, take a moment now to check out your own motivation. When was the last time you caught yourself thinking, “I’d really like to end rebirth?” More likely what you’ve been thinking is “I wish I were happier” or “I wish I were a better person” or “What’s the best and most meaningful use I can make of my life?” In other words, you’ve been motivated by concerns about this life here and now. While “rebirth” can still play a useful role as a metaphor for how one moment conditions the next, for many contemporary Buddhists it has lost whatever motivational potency it might once have possessed.

      As a consequence, many modern Buddhists—especially those shaped by the assumptions of Western culture—find traditional Buddhist ethics in need of some kind of glue to hold it together. Most recent reinterpreters of Buddhism find that glue in some version of the Aristotelian notion of eudaimonia, or human flourishing—an idea so pervasive in Western culture that Westerners are often unaware of its source. Aristotle thought that the telos, or ultimate purpose of human life, was to live well and flourish, and his conception of human flourishing emphasized developing one’s virtues, behaving ethically toward others, and contemplating truth. When transplanted into Buddhism, this Aristotelian ideal shifts the end point of Buddhist practice from ending rebirth to living the best kind of life one possibly can—a best kind of life that combines wisdom, ethics, and contemplation to engender a profound sense of well-being. This is a reinterpretation of the Buddhist enlightenment ideal stripped of any connection to the framework of rebirth. We might label it eudaimonic enlightenment to distinguish it from its more traditional cousins.

      To be clear, it isn’t the whole of Aristotelian eudaimonia that gets imported into Buddhism but just its general outlines. The fit between eudaimonia in all its specificity and Buddhist philosophy isn’t sufficiently harmonious to allow wholesale importation of the former. There are notable differences between Aristotle’s list of virtues (for example, wittiness and magnanimity) and the Buddhist list (compassion and lovingkindness). Aristotle’s wisdom (sophia) is a combination of scientific knowledge and critical reason, while Buddhist wisdom (prajna) is insight into impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and the absence of self-nature. Aristotelian happiness is partly contingent on good fortune, whereas Buddhist well-being is largely construed as nonattachment to life’s vicissitudes.

      Furthermore, Aristotle saw civic engagement as essential to flourishing, while the Buddha, having left his father’s palace never to return, encouraged withdrawal from the agora (the marketplace) and the polis (the “city,” the hub of political life). As a consequence, Buddhism has remarkably little to say about fairness and justice. The Buddha preached a gospel of personal virtue rather than one of collective political participation and social action, and although he treated persons from all castes equably and abjured violence, he never advocated the abolition of the caste system or the disbanding of armies. Early Buddhism took a dim view of quotidian existence, urging us to find surcease in a transcendent nirvana. The world was inevitably a realm of suffering, and our contemporary notion of civic progress, which takes as given that the world is something to be improved upon, is one the Buddha never would have recognized.

      The modern project of constructing a more socially oriented Buddhism requires our importing Western ideas of fairness, liberty, and justice—ideas forged in the American and French revolutions, the Paris Commune, and the abolitionist and suffragette movements—into a religious tradition that, more often than not, historically supported and was supported by the ruling elites of the countries in which it flourished. Our modern idea of justice is part of a lengthy conversation rooted in Greek philosophy and Hebraic law. This conversation is one aspect of the thoroughgoing transformation wrought by modernity, which was initiated in the West but which has profoundly impacted Asia over the past two centuries. It is a conversation that has inspired Gandhi and Nehru, Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh, Cory Aquino and Aung San Suu Kyi, Sulak Sivaraksa, and Thich Nhat Hanh. The idea of justice is now so deeply a part of our consciousnesses, East and West, that we’re hardly aware we’re importing something new into Buddhism and in the process subtly changing what it means to be a bodhisattva—to work toward the liberation of all beings—in the process.

      Despite the specific differences between Aristotelian and Buddhist conceptions of virtue, wisdom, and well-being, the more general Aristotelian notion that a life dedicated to the cultivation of virtue and the contemplation of wisdom is the best and happiest kind of human life is one that has been readily transplanted into Buddhism in a way that resonates deeply with modernity. When I attended a public college in the 1960s, its motto was “Let each become all he is capable of being,” an Aristotelian sentiment if ever there was one. Modified versions of Aristotelian eudaimonia are so deeply embedded in modern humanistic and positive psychology that they’ve become part of what passes broadly for common sense.

      As different as they are, Aristotelian and traditional Buddhist ethics are in agreement on one thing: the unity of the virtues. Both view each virtue as compatible with all the others. For Buddhists, there is no conflict between wisdom and compassion. All the paramitas reinforce one another, and each virtue requires its companions for complete practice. Similarly, each step of the noble eightfold path reinforces every other step, with ethics, wisdom, and meditation integrating seamlessly together. That’s why the Buddhist approach is sometimes described as holographic, with each practice contained in every other. The dharmachakra iconography symbolizes this unity—the eight spokes each representing the eight steps of the path, but joined in the middle and radiating outward to form a wheel, or circle of wholeness.

      The ancient Greek tragedians, however, did not hold to this unitary vision. In Sophocles’s Antigone, the eponymous heroine is torn between conflicting moral obligations to her brother and her king. The king orders her brother’s body to remain unburied, but Antigone defies him, placing duty to family above duty to king. The tragedians understood that moral dilemmas seldom if ever have perfect solutions. Whichever choice Antigone makes is right in one respect and wrong in another. As polytheists, the Greek tragedians knew that pleasing Zeus risked offending Hera; tragedy was intrinsic to human existence. Zeus implies just that in the Iliad when he says, “there is nothing alive more agonized than man of all that breathe and crawl across the earth.” Human nobility lay in choosing between conflicting ethical imperatives and facing one’s fate with courage and equanimity. While sharing a superficial similarity with the Buddha’s first noble truth of suffering, this tragic view differs from it in one fundamental way: Buddhism is, at its core, an optimistic philosophy that posits the fourth noble truth, a path out of suffering. Buddhism claims that it’s possible to achieve a state of ultimate well-being and peace. The Greek tragedians envisioned no such off-ramp; life could be noble, but it was never unreservedly happy.

      There are ways in which our modern outlook is closer to that of the Greek tragedians than to that of either Aristotle or the Buddha. For one thing, we live in an age when the unity of the good and the virtues seems irretrievably shattered. The long-term Western philosophical project of seeking a logical basis for ethics—the one best exemplified by the philosophies of Spinoza, Kant, and Mill—came to an unsuccessful conclusion, unable to withstand the scrutiny and objections of Hume, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard. At the same time, modernity has put us cheek by jowl with the wisdom traditions of countless cultures past and present, so that we’re acutely aware of the historically conditioned nature of our own conception of the good as just one of many possible competing visions. Lastly, since the publication of Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, we’ve become increasingly familiar with the conflicts and disjunctions inherent in our triune nature as mammalian predators, social animals, and rational beings.

      It should come as no surprise, then, that the signature ethical dilemmas of our time reflect a conflict and disjunction between differing moral intuitions, often a conflict between opposing “rights” or “goods”: a woman’s right to control her body versus an embryo’s right to life; a gay person’s right to marry versus a fundamentalist’s right to withhold recognition; a rich person’s right to property versus a poor person’s right to escape the ills of poverty; a pacifist’s conviction that war is never justified versus an interventionist’s fear that pacifism abets the triumph of evil.

      Each party in these intractable disputes believes that his or her own view trumps the other’s; no logical arguments can convince the other that any errors exist. Each party operates from a separate set of fundamental premises and assumptions about the nature of the good and of human flourishing, premises that are nonrational at their core and grounded in some mix of sentiment, preference, tribal belongings, ideology, and religious revelation. We don’t choose our side on strictly logical grounds, just as we don’t fall in love by making lists of pros and cons about potential suitors. We owe our allegiances to one camp or another based on a set of historical contingencies: what part of the country we were born in, what religion we were raised in, which social class we belong to, and our unique personal journeys and encounters. When people “convert” from one side to another, the conversion, gradual or sudden, is never solely logical in nature. Like Paul on the road to Damascus, we have a revelation. Or, often enough, it’s not so much that our former beliefs are proved erroneous as that we simply move on, jettisoning older beliefs for newer, more useful ones. The key point is that ethical disputes—the ones that really trouble us—aren’t usually disputes between good and evil; more commonly they are disjunctions between rival “goods,” and ultimately there’s no logical basis for their resolution. Often enough they reflect cultural dialogues that need to run their historical course.

      How do these two themes just outlined—the modernist substitution of eudaimonia for rebirth, and the acknowledgment of the tension between incompatible and often incommensurable goods—affect Buddhist ethics?

      Let’s consider the first Buddhist precept—the precept against taking life—as a paradigmatic case. You and I, no doubt, agree that we’re against killing, at least for the most part and as a general principle. We may disagree, however, over particulars and specifics. Are we categorically opposed to all killing, or do we admit to certain exceptions? Can we use antibiotics to kill disease-causing bacteria? Can we use pesticides to kill malaria-carrying Anopheles mosquitoes? Can we use lethal force, if necessary, to protect family members from rape or murder? Can we defend our country from invaders? Can we forcefully intervene to prevent genocide in a foreign land? All of these questions pit one good—not acting cruelly—against another—preserving the well-being of ourselves and others.

      But let’s set these potential exceptions aside and focus on why we’re against killing, at least in general and for the most part. Are we genuinely fearful of rebirth in an animal, hungry ghost, or hell realm? For most modern Westerners, the answer is “Probably not,” despite the fact that this has been the traditional Buddhist rationale. Are we afraid of the wrath of a monotheistic God? For those raised in the Abrahamic faiths, perhaps. Is it because we believe in some version of the Golden Rule—Don’t do unto others what you would not have them do unto you? Maybe. It’s one of our culture’s more enduring ideas.

      I suspect, however, that our moral and ethical judgments are actually based on a multiplicity of contingencies. We’re members of the animal kingdom, and as such we have biologically rooted capacities for attachment, befriending, caring, shame, social group formation, protectiveness, revulsion, and disgust that are the raw materials out of which our moral judgments are formed. Our cultures and traditions then mold these proclivities into more or less widely shared notions of compassion, fairness, loyalty, purity, respect, and autonomy. Our final moral judgments reflect the complex interplay of these biological and social factors with our personal faculties of judgment and reason.

      Returning to the first precept, our moral opposition to killing probably reflects a multiplicity of factors: a natural revulsion against the spilling of blood, an empathy for others’ pain, rational calculations about fairness and advantage, hopes that others will not kill us or our loved ones, fears of shame, retribution, and punishment, and decades of familiarity with the teachings of our culture and its ethical traditions. If we also happen to be given to moral reflection, we’ve cobbled these together as best we can into our own personal system, all the while realizing that the result is, at best, a curious mixture of reason, practical judgment, intuition, feeling, and instinct. That’s why we’re against killing, in general and for the most part, and why we give this moral opposition serious weight when considering the circumstances under which we might resort to it.

      Does the Buddhist ethical tradition have something important and unique to add to this mélange? This is an especially meaningful question for convert Buddhists who, having been raised in another tradition, come to Buddhism with their moral intuitions already fully formed. Critics like the writer and blogger David Chapman suggest that most convert Buddhists simply bypass traditional Buddhist ethics altogether, pouring their preexisting liberal secular humanist ethics into newer bottles bearing, somewhat disingenuously, a “Buddhist” label. The question one might ask is, why bother with Buddhist ethics at all?

      The answer to “why bother?” is that Buddhism contains a number of significant ethical ideas that still retain their usefulness even after severance from the framework of rebirth. The first is the idea of karma, or moral cause and effect. According to the rule of karma, we are the authors of our future selves, including our future selves in this lifetime: Our thoughts and actions mold the person we’re about to become. Our repeated actions and thoughts become our habits, and our habits become our character. They shape our perceptions, dispositions, and future possibilities. The effects of our actions extend through space and time like ripples on a pond, influencing not only our future selves but also the others we interact with and our surroundings. If we wish to be a certain kind of person and live in a certain kind of world, we need to be heedful about the seeds we cultivate.

      Karma and dependent origination constitute Buddhism’s earliest formulations of causality. Later Buddhist thinkers elaborated on these concepts to develop the Mahayana idea of the mutual interdependence of all dharmas, or phenomena, and the Huayan idea of their interpenetration. These elaborations enabled East Asian Buddhists to place a more positive spin on interconnectivity. Initially, the idea that dharmas lacked self-nature was offered as one more reason not to cling to them. Later, the idea that things were mutually interdependent gave phenomena a positive value as indispensable jewels in Indra’s web. This positive version of interconnectivity resonates with both 19th-century Western Romanticism and 20th century ecological science, and as a consequence is widely endorsed by Buddhist modernists of all stripes. Its view that “we’re all in the stew together,” partners in the seamless fabric of existence, has profound ethical implications. Many of our most intractable ethical dilemmas are the result of our cultural denial of or obliviousness to the reality of interconnectivity, including the terrible damage we’re inflicting on our biosphere and the schisms that tragically divide ethnicities, social classes, religions, and regions. The Buddhist view of interdependence affects ethical considerations, as we replace considerations of how our actions affect “the other” with a more radical awareness that there is no other. While some moralities distinguish between in-groups to whom we owe duties and out-groups to whom we do not, Buddhist interconnectivity denies the existence of out-groups.

      If the law of karma tells us that we must act a certain way if we wish to become a certain kind of person, the Buddhist enlightenment ideal defines that kind of person we wish to become. As Buddhists, we intend to “develop” or “uncover” a more enlightened way of being. Even though differing strands of traditionalist and modernist Buddhism disagree on enlightenment’s precise characterization, there is an unforced consensus concerning some of its key elements: non-clinging, non-harming, non-hatred, non-greed, compassion, lovingkindness, equanimity, sympathetic joy, insight into impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, the absence of self-nature, and a less self-preoccupied, more fluid and interconnected sense of ourselves.

      If we combine moral cause and effect with the end goal of eudaimonic enlightened being, we have a motivation for ethical behavior that both is compatible with modernity and adds something to ethics above and beyond the Golden Rule. Returning to our discussion of the first precept, killing moves us away from the kind of person we wish to be. Killing reinforces our greed and hatred and diminishes our compassion. Killing feeds the delusion that we are separate from others. It hardens and coarsens us. Killing triggers recursive spirals of retribution and unintended consequences that diminish the odds of experiencing well-being for ourselves and others. The basic Buddhist injunctions against killing, stealing, lying, sexual misbehavior, and heedless intoxication are all aids to move us further along the path toward enlightenment. They’re vehicles for developing character and planting the seeds of future wellbeing. The flip side to this understanding is that breaking the precepts is not so much a matter of breaking deontological “rules” as it is a matter of breaking our deepest commitments to being the kind of person we intend to be.

      As Buddhists, we also bring to the table a traditional distrust of fixed views, along with an attitude of open inquiry that aims at preventing our thoughts from becoming stuck in stale and rigid categories. We’re always attempting to listen freshly to our own experience and to other voices as well, always willing to learn and change, always interested in discovering what being moral means in this particular moment and situation. While we affirm the values of enlightenment, we’ve learned to distrust the conceptions we construct surrounding it. We understand that every specific ethical dilemma, if properly attended to, reveals a greater degree of intricate complexity than any rule can possibly allow for.

      We also realize that in setting up any ideal, we introduce certain dangers: the danger that we’ll delude ourselves, pretending that we’re further along the path than we are; the danger that we’ll deny, repress, minimize, project, or otherwise underestimate our persistent natures as predatory, competitive, territorial, dominance-seeking, and sexual animals; the danger that we’ll develop an aversion to those parts of ourselves that fall short of the ideal or disparage or punish others who seem to us to fall short. Every ideal also creates tensions between being and becoming, between moving toward the ideal and realizing that the ideal has been, in some way, manifest all along. It also creates tensions between aspirations to a kind of purity and aspirations toward wholeness and integration. The dangers are real, but ethics always involves establishing some ideal, whether it’s one of enlightenment, holiness, or simply civility.

      To what degree does this modernist Buddhist ethics with its moral cause and effect, interconnectivity, eudaimonic enlightenment, acknowledgment of rival incommensurate goods, and suspicion of rigid, inflexible rules help us—especially convert Buddhists—in resolving our everyday ethical dilemmas? The answer is that it only helps a little. We still have all the biological, cultural, and rational considerations that shaped our everyday moral intuitions before we became Buddhists. Added to those considerations, however, we now also have an ideal we’ve established with the ultimate goal of helping ourselves and others achieve a Buddhist kind of well-being—a virtuous life consistent with Buddhist principles that speak to our modern lived experience—along with the knowledge that if we are ever to approach that goal, our actions need to be concordant with it. It’s one more consideration, a thumb on the scale that informs our decisions.

      Let’s return once more to our paradigmatic first precept against killing. Despite our moral objection to killing, it’s still an issue that arises for us again and again, requiring us to make real choices. Should we be vegetarians? Should abortion or assisted suicide be legalized? Should we pay taxes that support the military? Should we put ailing, suffering pets to sleep? Should we slap at the fly that’s annoying us as we sit trying to meditate?

      A fixed rule-based approach to the first precept would tell us that killing is categorically wrong in each and every circumstance. On the other hand, a morality based on our desire to move toward a more enlightened way of being would, it seems to me, be more nuanced. An enlightened being’s prime concern would be the reduction of another’s suffering as best as one could determine how to accomplish it, using all of one’s experience, empathy, respect, reason, and judgment, along with an awareness of possible shadow motivations and unintended consequences—in other words, a melding of Aristotelian practical judgment with Buddhist mindfulness and discernment. It requires that when we decide to cause a certain degree of harm in the pursuit of what we discern to be the wisest good, that we do so with full awareness—without minimization or disengagement—of the extent of the suffering we’re about to become the cause of. It requires that we listen fully and openly to each moment as it speaks to us in all of its intricate complexity. Like the famed Zen monk who carries the young woman across the stream in violation of the Vinaya rules, it sometimes involves breaking one precept to honor another. It recognizes precepts as koans rather than inviolate rules, and that we must struggle with them as Jacob wrestled with his angel, discerning what each moment calls for as we continue our endless journey toward an enlightenment we only dimly understand.

      Some traditionalists might contend that this modernist ethics fails the test of being authentically Buddhist. That is an argument that closes the door on those unable to believe in rebirth, leaving them out of the fold. I would argue, instead, that the coexistence of a plurality of Buddhisms—both traditionalist and modern—is evidence of Buddhism’s vibrant health, offering different dharma doors for people with diverse needs. Just as genetic diversity is healthy for breeding populations, ideological diversity helps Buddhism thrive through the cross-fertilization of ideas.

      Let’s not forget that many of today’s traditional Buddhisms are themselves the product of ongoing dialogues with neighboring traditions: East Asian Buddhism with Confucianism and Daoism; Tibetan Buddhism with Bon; Japanese Buddhism with kami worship; and Indian Mahayana with emerging forms of Hindu and Tantric practice. History teaches us that religions are ever-developing traditions rather than the final, complete, unalterable word of their originators—traditions that endure or wither according to their ability to address the vital concerns of particular times and places. As religions adapt to conditions, some practitioners argue for the continued relevance of venerable ideas, while others reformulate them to meet the exigencies of the moment. Religions that endure successfully manage the tension between these extremes. The foremost principle of Buddhism is that everything changes. It is a law that governs Buddhism, too.

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    • U.N. Human Rights Experts Unite to Condemn China Over Expulsions of Tibetans

      EDWARD WONG FEB. 27, 2017 New York Times

       

      A half-dozen United Nations experts who investigate human rights abuses have taken the rare step of banding together to condemn China for expulsions of monks and nuns from major religious enclaves in a Tibetan region.

      In a sharply worded statement, the experts expressed alarm about “severe restrictions of religious freedom” in the area.

      Most of the expulsions mentioned by the experts have taken place at Larung Gar, the world’s largest Buddhist institute and one of the most influential centers of learning in the Tibetan world. Officials have been demolishing some of the homes of the 20,000 monks and nuns living around the institute, in a high valley in Sichuan Province.

      The statement also cited accusations of evictions at Yachen Gar, sometimes known as Yarchen Gar, an enclave largely of nuns that is also in Sichuan and has a population of about 10,000.

      “While we do not wish to prejudge the accuracy of these allegations, grave concern is expressed over the serious repression of the Buddhist Tibetans’ cultural and religious practices and learning in Larung Gar and Yachen Gar,” the statement said.

      It was signed by six of the United Nations experts, or special rapporteurs, who come from various countries. They each specialize in a single aspect of human rights, including cultural rights, sustainable environment and peaceful assembly. It is unusual for so many of them to collaborate in this manner.

      The statement was sent to the Chinese government in November, but was made public only in recent days, before the start of this year’s session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. The session began Monday and is scheduled to end on March 24.

      The United Nations experts have asked Beijing to address the reports of evictions and demolitions. The release of the statement before the session in Geneva puts more pressure on China to explain the actions taking place at the two Tibetan Buddhist institutions. China says matters related to Tibet are internal affairs, but Chinese officials in Beijing have privately expressed some concern over outside perceptions of the demolitions and evictions at Larung Gar and related Western news coverage.

      Over the summer, Chinese officials began deporting monks and nuns living at Larung Gar who were not registered residents of Garze, the prefecture where the institution is. Since then, hundreds of clergy members have been forced out, and workers have demolished small homes clustered along the valley walls. One day last fall, I watched workers tearing and cutting apart wooden homes, sometimes using a chain saw.

      Official reports have said the demolition is part of a project to improve safety in the area because people live in such tight quarters there. In 2014, a fire destroyed about 100 homes.

      Residents said the government planned to bring the population down to 5,000 from 20,000 by next year. The government evicted many clergy members once before, in 2001, but people returned. The encampment was founded in 1980 near the town of Sertar by Jigme Phuntsok, a charismatic lama, and is now run by two abbots. Those abbots have not protested the demolitions or evictions.

      The United Nations experts said in the statement that while they awaited China’s response, they “urge that all necessary interim measures be taken to halt the alleged violations and prevent their reoccurrence.”

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    • Myanmar Buddhists protest raid on scandal-hit Thai temple

      February 25, 2017 The News International

      YANGON: Myanmar Buddhist nationalists rallied outside the Thai embassy in Yangon on Friday to condemn the Thai government’s siege of the controversial Dhammakaya temple as officers search for an elderly monk accused of massive embezzlement.

      The sprawling Bangkok temple, which houses the headquarters of the breakaway Dhammakaya sect, has been flooded this week with thousands of police and soldiers hunting for its 72-year-old former abbot Phra Dhammachayo.

      The elderly monk, who is accused of money-laundering and accepting millions of dollars of embezzled funds, is believed to be hiding inside the temple’s labyrinthine complex on the city’s outskirts.

      Scenes of security officers scuffling with monks trying to block their search have ricocheted across the web this week raising alarm in neighbouring Myanmar, another devoutly Buddhist country.

      On Friday more than a hundred people, including dozens of robe-clad monks, gathered waving Buddhist and national flags and chanting: "May the teachings of the Buddha and Dhammakaya temple stay alive forever."

      "If the monastery is destroyed, the Buddhist religion will disappear in Thailand," protesting monk Thu Mingala told AFP.

      Earlier the group handed the embassy a letter addressed to Thai junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha saying they were "worried and deeply saddened" by the raid.

      The show of solidarity came as Thai police on Friday ordered mobile operators to cut off internet signals around the temple compound to prevent monks and disciples from spreading "false information" about the raid.

      While Dhammakaya is Thailand’s largest and richest temple, it is far from mainstream and has drawn ire from conservative Buddhists for years.

      Critics accuse the sect of promoting a pay-your-way to nirvana philosophy and encouraging a cult-like devotion to Phra Dhammachayo, who founded the temple in 1970.

      Temple officials say the sect’s sole focus is teaching meditation and insist the former abbot is innocent.

      They have also denied any links with Myanmar’s hardline Buddhist nationalists, who have stoked their own controversy in recent years with virulently anti-Muslim rhetoric.

      Last year Dhammakaya raised eyebrows after welcoming Myanmar’s firebrand preacher Wirathu, the face of the ultra-nationalist Ma Ba Tha movement, to the temple for a religious ceremony.

      He was reportedly given an World Buddhist Outstanding Leader Award at the event, which a Dhammakaya spokesman says the temple played no part in.

      "There is no link with Ma Ba Tha... the monastic members of Ma Ba Tha expressed their concern as they saw the action of the Thai government on Thai Buddhists and monks," the spokesman told AFP by email.

       

      On Thursday Wirathu led a prayer session and protest at the Mahamuni Pagoda in Mandalay to condemn the Thai government’s raid on the Dhammakhaya temple, which he claimed on Facebook was attended by 200 people.

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    • Thailand’s junta feuds with an influential Buddhist sect

      Feb 23rd 2017 | PATHUM THANI | The Economist

      SOME people think he has fled abroad. Others say he may have died. For more than a year the authorities in Thailand have been trying to get hold of Phra Dhammachayo, the reclusive former leader of a controversial Buddhist sect who is wanted for questioning in a fraud case. On February 16th a group of officers finally gained access to the vast religious complex which his Dhammakaya movement maintains on the outskirts of Bangkok. Instead of locating the septuagenarian monk—often pictured in signature sunglasses—they found an empty bed stuffed with pillows.

      By February 22nd more than 4,000 police and soldiers were lingering outside the Dhammakaya compound—waiting to complete a full sweep of the massive site but apparently hindered by monks and devotees who had blocked its dozen entrances. A spokesman for the sect claimed that 30,000 people were still inside the property, having ignored orders to leave; there have been scuffles at its gates. Apiradee, a retired civil servant helping to feed Dhammakaya followers who had gathered in support outside the police cordon, said she has never seen anything like it.

      Founded in the 1970s, the Dhammakaya movement claims about 3m followers around the world. It is by far the most influential temple in Thailand. It bears a loose resemblance to the evangelical mega-churches that increasingly beguile the world’s Christians. Dhammakaya’s mostly middle-class adherents complain that older Buddhist temples have grown complacent and materialistic. They insist, rather grandly, that the Bangkok compound, with its vast stadium, is meant to become a kind of Buddhist Vatican.

      But Dhammakaya has fierce opponents both within the Buddhist establishment and outside it. Critics denounce it as a cult that peddles wacky theology, and warn that it misleads wealthy urbanites into thinking that they can purchase religious merit. (The most serious of the several allegations against Phra Dhammachayo relates to a case in which an acolyte funded a donation with cash embezzled from a credit union.) Thailand’s ruling junta worries that the movement’s leaders are sympathetic to the cause of Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist former prime minister toppled in 2006 whose lingering influence the generals and their backers are determined to stamp out.

      Last year the junta abandoned several attempts to drag Phra Dhammachayo out for questioning, fearful of the outrage that might follow were soldiers to be pictured manhandling monks. The latest effort looks more concerted. It may not be a coincidence that the operation began shortly after the installation of a new Supreme Patriarch (Thai Buddhism’s most senior monk). That job is usually filled according to a strict hierarchy but had been held open for several years after conservative clergy refused to endorse the expected successor—in part because of worries that he was too close to Dhammakaya. The junta took the unusual step of asking King Vajiralongkorn, who succeeded his father in December, to solve that dispute; he anointed a less controversial alternative, Somdet Phra Maha Muniwong, who hails from the smaller and more orthodox of Thailand’s two main Buddhist orders.

       

      Monks at the Dhammakaya temple say that they have not seen their former abbot for months. They say the real aim of the raid is to shut the entire temple down. The generals may yet decide to back away from the fight, as they have done previously. They could perhaps claim that the searches they have already conducted are enough to declare the operation complete. That might look like a defeat, but it is hard to escape the conclusion that the Dhammakaya movement is running out of powerful friends. With the royal succession—which some had feared would be tumultuous—safely behind it, Thailand’s conservative establishment is reasserting itself, in religion as in politics.

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    • The power struggle behind Thailand's temple row

      MATTHEW TOSTEVIN and COD SATRUSAYANG 24 February 2017

      BANGKOK (Reuters) - A stand-off between security forces and monks at Thailand's biggest temple has exposed a struggle as much about power as religion in the predominantly Buddhist country, where the junta has shut down dissent since a 2014 coup.

      For the past week, some 4,000 police and soldiers have surrounded the Dhammakaya temple, which practices a form of Buddhism at odds with conservatives. It is widely seen as linked to the populist movement of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra - which the temple firmly denies - and its size makes it increasingly influential.

      Dhammakaya has created the most visible challenge to the authorities since the coup by refusing for months to hand over its former abbot - wanted for money laundering - and by frustrating a police search.

      "It is trying to create unrest and subverting state power," said Paiboon Nititawan, a former senator appointed by the military to a council on solving Thailand's problems.

      Thai society traditionally has three pillars: nation, monarchy and religion.

      The establishment controls the first two through the junta and King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who appointed a conservative as Supreme Patriarch for Thailand's 300,000 monks days before the temple confrontation.

      Dhammakaya is of a different scale to over 40,000 other temples. Its headquarters outside Bangkok covers nearly 10 times the area of the Vatican and is completed by a UFO-shaped golden temple dome. Since 1970, it has established over 90 branches in 35 countries.

      The temple runs television stations, slick websites and active social media accounts. It holds choreographed ceremonies of tens of thousands of people.

      Yet Dhammakaya's millions of adherents are still a minority within Thailand's almost entirely Buddhist population.

      MEDITATION AND MONEY

      Its fundraising has made Dhammakaya much richer than other temples - and angered critics who say it has deserted Theravada Buddhist teachings to shun material possessions.

      Parallels are drawn to China's Falun Gong and Turkey's Gulenists. Both were fast growing religious groups using modern methods, which were suppressed when their influence grew too great.

      A spokesman for the Department of Special Investigation said the government's aim was only to bring in the temple's influential former abbot, Phra Dhammachayo, in a way that respects Buddhism.

      The temple says the 72-year-old monk is very ill and has not been seen for months.

      It questions charges against him, some of which relate to money allegedly embezzled from a credit union that lost hundreds of millions of dollars. Monks say they have cooperated fully with the search.

      "We have never been involved in any political affairs," said Phra Pasura Dantamano, a senior monk.

      "Every project we have conducted is transparent. If anyone fears a threat, it’s only those who obtained power improperly," he said. "All we do is teach monks, teach self discipline, meditation. Is that wrong?"

      The temple rejects any link to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra or his 'red-shirt' followers. Weng Tojirakarn, a red shirt leader, also told Reuters there was no link.

      Regardless, both groups represent newcomers whose power threatened - or could threaten - the establishment's hold.

      Dhammakaya is explicit that giving brings merit. When that "bears fruit", it brings more wealth, which means more donations - to support Buddhist activities.

      Such activities have expanded Dhammakaya's influence.

      By helping temples in hard times, it has brought dozens into its orbit. That in turn increased its support on the Sangha religious council, Buddhism's governing body.

      Critics say its influence grew too great.

      "Nirvana is for sale and the more you give, the better you become," said Mano Laohavanich a former Dhammakaya monk but now a strong critic. "It’s like a parasite, which has taken control of Thai Buddhism."

      Three members of the Sangha council declined to comment on Dhammakaya. So did the government's National Office of Buddhism.

      SHOWDOWN

      The showdown for control began last year when the Sangha recommended a candidate for Supreme Patriarch with links to Dhammakaya and was under investigation over taxes on a vintage car.

      The junta rejected that candidate. Then, when the new king took the throne in December, the law was changed to let him choose a patriarch and ignore the Sangha's wishes.

      Four days after a new patriarch, chosen from Thai Buddhism's more austere fraternity, was installed the junta declared emergency powers over Dhammakaya.

      The problem for police is how to pass through chanting, saffron-robed monks when violence against them would be taboo.

      Police have raised the pressure with more forces, rolling out razor wire and threatening more temple leaders with arrest.

      The temple's adversaries believe charges of scandal and the scenes at the compound will at least discourage Thais from joining Dhammakaya. Longer term, other steps are being considered.

      "Assets owned by the Dhammakaya Foundation should be transferred to the temple and the leadership of the temple needs to change," said Paiboon, the former senator. "Someone outside the temple must be appointed to steer the temple back to the right path."

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    • The Buddha Talks to a Brahmin Supremacist

      Krishnan Venkatesh FEB 09, 2017 tricycle

      How a Buddhist teaching on dismantling the superiority of the brahmin class can help us take on racism.

      The belief that a group of people can be born superior to all other groups has been around for a very long time, and even existed during the time of the Buddha. For 3,000 years, society in South Asia has been dominated by the caste system, according to which a person is born into one of four major castes (varna), or social stations: laborers, merchants, warriors, and brahmins. According to the earliest Hindu scriptures, brahmins—scholars and priests—were the highest caste and viewed as morally and spiritually superior to the others; indeed, they are called “brahmins” because according to one of the hymns of the Rg Veda, they were born from the mouth of Brahman [God].

      In the Pali Canon, the Buddha has many conversations with brahmins who, clearly provoked by his ideas of radical equality, routinely approached him to argue and learn. Late in the Middle Length Discourses, we meet a group of 500 brahmins who live in the town of Savatthi, where the Buddha is staying at the time. When they hear that the Buddha has been teaching that all the castes are equally “pure,” they are outraged, and decide to send a smart young brahmin to go and debate him.

      In the following conversation between the Buddha and the proud brahmin Assalayana (after whom the Assalayana Sutta is named), the Buddha offers some ways to address the obdurate belief in superiority of caste, race, or any other birth group.

      Master Gotama, the brahmins say, ‘Brahmins are the superior caste; any other caste is inferior. Only brahmins are the fair caste; any other caste is dark. Only brahmins are pure, not non-brahmins. Only brahmins are the sons and offspring of Brahma: born of his mouth, born of Brahma, created by Brahma, heirs of Brahma.’ What does Master Gotama have to say with regard to that?

      The Buddha begins to dismantle Assalayana’s notions of superiority by noting that we all enter the world the same way:

      But, Assalayana, the brahmins’ brahmin-women are plainly seen having their periods, becoming pregnant, giving birth, and nursing [their children]. And yet the brahmins, being born through the birth canal, say, “Brahmins are the superior caste . . .”

      The Buddha grounds this initial discussion in physical reality, as it is difficult to argue that people who give birth the same way are fundamentally different. Besides, how delightful is it that a creature who emerges from the nether end of its mother can entertain fantasies about its own transcendent superiority! We see from this exchange that the Buddha has a wry sense of humor as well as a comedian’s gift for drawing out the absurd.

      The Buddha then proceeds to ask questions that he already knows Assalayana’s answers to. First, whether a person is a brahmin, a warrior, a merchant, or a laborer, if he does bad things, can he expect to suffer bad consequences? And if he does good things, can he expect to be rewarded with good consequences? Surely, replies Assalayana. Good people are good people, and bad people are bad people, no matter what they come from, and all can be expected to suffer the appropriate consequences. Even a brahmin supremacist has to admit to knowing some brahmins who are terrible people and some farm laborers who are wise and noble.

      Next, the Buddha asks whether brahmins, warriors, merchants, and workers have the same relationship to their bodies and to the physical world. When anybody from any caste goes down to the river to bathe, do they not all scrub their skin and then rinse with water? And when they start a fire using logs, kindling, and a lighter, do they not all produce fire and heat, and smoke that makes everyone cough? Using the same materials and techniques, every human being will produce the same fire; thus notions of caste superiority have no basis whatsoever in the physical nature of the world.

      At this point, in case Assalayana doesn’t believe that the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology have any bearing on the issue of ethical supremacy, the Buddha swerves back to the question of merit within the same caste. Between two brahmin brothers, is it possible for one to be worthier than the other—for example, the hard-working, respectful brother, versus the lazy, slanderous one? That is, when we’re dealing only with brahmins, it is clear that merit has nothing to do with birth; at least, we behave as if the more virtuous brother has deserved more respect.

      To his credit, at this point in the conversation Assalayana has already understood the weakness of his prejudices. The brahmin student Assalayana sat silent, abashed, his shoulders drooping, his head down, brooding, at a loss for words. He is too intelligent not to see that when he thinks about it, the supremacist posture turns out to be an embarrassment to the intelligence. The Buddha then delivers an amusing coup de grâce by retelling the legend of the ancient Hindu sage Devala the Dark’s challenge to seven arrogant brahmins:

      But do you know, masters, if the mother who bore you went only with a brahmin, and not with a non-brahmin?

      No, master.

      And do you know if the mothers of the mother who bore you—back seven generations of mothers—went only with brahmins, and not with non-brahmins?

      No, master.

      And do you know if the father who sired you went only with a brahmin woman, and not with a non-brahmin woman?

      No, master.

      And do you know if the fathers of the father who bore you—back seven generations of fathers—went only with brahmin women, and not with non-brahmin women?

      No, master.

      We know next to nothing about the sexual behavior of our parents, let alone our ancestors; about some things there is just no knowing. If we do not know the circumstances of our conception and the conceptions of those who conceived us, we have no right to claim superiority because of birth.

      That being the case, do you know who you are? the Buddha asks.

      That being the case, master, we don’t know who we are.

      Assalayana has learned something, as have we: how a Buddha dispels an inveterate, vehemently held prejudice by calmly asking what it is based on. Throughout all of this, the Buddha has expressed no irritation, anger, or indignation. He is engaging with Assalayana on Assalayana’s own terms, using images and vocabulary from ordinary life. He treats Assalayana with respect, trusting his intelligence and knowing that the young man is smart enough to put two and two together for himself. If the Buddha had asked leading questions, Assalayana would have been put on the defensive and potentially found ways to argue back. Instead, the Buddha appears to be genuinely interested in what Assalayana will say, but he also knows what a reasonable response to the questions will be because the Buddha himself—having been born in the warrior caste—has thought them through.

      Did the Assalayana Sutta shake the caste system to its foundations and transform Indian society? No. Even today, the matrimonial pages of South Asian newspapers will specify not only castes but sub-castes and sub-sub-castes, and fairness of complexion is still explicitly preferred.

      But still, for today’s practitioners, this Buddhist sutta illustrates a tactic we might use against racist sentiment: it demonstrates a method of unraveling deep-rooted prejudice by asking questions that activate intelligent reflection. In these times in which racism is openly espoused both in-person and online, this persistent form of questioning might serve as one of the more trustworthy tools we can use against it.

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    • Strings of Enlightenment: The Beauty of Buddhist Prayer Beads

      Meher McArthur Buddhistdoor Global | 2017-02-17 |

      Prayer beads are an important part of Buddhist practice and ritual throughout Asia and beyond. Although they are generally regarded primarily as tools to aid practitioners in counting their prayers, mantras, incantations, and repetitions of the names of deities, these strings of beads can be some of the most exquisitely crafted objects in the Buddhist artistic realm. Made of materials as diverse as wood, crystal, and precious gems, and strung together in varying sizes and quantities, Buddhist prayer beads, or rosaries, can be as beautiful as they are powerful. Symbolizing important Buddhist concepts, these beads not only serve a role in rituals, but also feature prominently in paintings and sculptures of Buddhist teachers and deities.

      Prayer beads, or mala in Sanskrit, were likely introduced into Buddhism early in its history from other proto-Hindu religious practices in South Asia. Some Buddhist rosaries are small, made to be worn around the wrist or held in the hand. Others, however, are long enough to be worn as necklaces by priests, typically in the esoteric traditions of Tibet and Japan. For priest and lay Buddhist alike, the beads are symbolic of the teachings of Buddhism in structure, the number of beads, and the material used. Before being knotted, the string is passed through a large central bead and two smaller beads. These three additional beads keep the others in place and indicate the completion of a cycle of telling. They are also said to symbolize the three jewels of Buddhism—the Buddha, the Dharma (his teachings), and the Sangha (the monastic order). The hidden string that passes through the beads symbolizes the penetrating power of all of the Buddhas.

      Traditionally, Buddhist rosaries have 108 beads, representing the number of earthly passions and desires that blind and delude us, entrapping us in the cycle of suffering and reincarnation, or samsara. The number also represents the 108 forms that the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara is able to assume in order to help devotees. It is also said that this number was chosen to enable worshippers to repeat the sacred name of the Buddha 100 times, the extra beads allowing for any omissions made through absent-mindedness in counting or for the loss or breakage of beads.

      In the smaller rosaries, the number of beads is generally divisible by three, for example 21, 42, or 54 beads. Many Chinese rosaries, or shu zhu, have only 18 beads, one for each of the 18 Buddhist holy men, known as arhat in Sanskrit and luohan in Chinese. Sometimes very long rosaries are used in special rituals held in honor of particular deities. For example, every summer in Kyoto (and in some other areas of Japan), children participate in a ceremony to honor the bodhisattva Jizo (Sanskrit: Kshitigarbha), a guardian of children in Japanese Buddhist belief. The children sit in a circle and pass round a long string of prayer beads, known in Japanese as juzu, while priests chant prayers to the deity. By touching and passing along the beads (Japanese: juzu-kuri), the children symbolically receive the blessing and protection of Jizo.

      The beads are often made of wood, such as sandalwood or sacred wood from the Bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa), under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. Precious or semi-precious stones can also be used, including pearls, rubies, amber, coral, or jade, as well as gold and other precious metals. In Tibetan Buddhist practice, although malas made of wood or seeds from the Bodhi tree can be used for any type of mantra, certain mantras require specific beads related to their purpose. For pacifying mantras, clear beads such as shell or crystal are used since they are believed to help purify the mind and clear away obstacles such as illness, bad karma, and mental disturbances. However, very powerful mantras used for taming by forceful means and for subduing harmful energies, require great skill, compassion, and call for a string of 108 beads made from rudraksha seeds from Elaeocarpus trees (mainly Elaeocarpus ganitrus), or even human bones.

      As key implements in Buddhist rituals and practice, beads are often represented in devotional images of deities and priests or Buddhist patriarchs.

      Rosaries are also attributes of certain deities. The compassionate Buddha Amitabha is sometimes depicted holding a rosary, but it is the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara who most often holds prayer beads. In many paintings and sculptures, he is shown holding a lotus, a water sprinkler, and a rosary of 108 beads, representing his vow to help believers conquer the 108 passions and attain enlightenment, and the 108 forms he can assume to this end. In one of his esoteric forms, Cintamanichakra Avalokiteshvara (Avalokiteshvara of the Jewel and the Wheel), the deity has six arms, each representing a vow to save beings in one of the six realms of rebirth and holding a symbolic attribute; the hand holding a string of prayer beads represents the realm of beasts.

       

      As with the prayer beads of many spiritual traditions worldwide, mala are among the most beautifully crafted objects used by Buddhist practitioners. They are also among the most intimate tools used in the spiritual practice of millions of Buddhists. Held in the hand and fondled with love and devotion by priest and lay practitioner alike, these strings of beads assist in one of the most challenging aspects of Buddhist practice—focusing the mind and reining it in during the chanting of prayers, mantras, and names of deities. By grasping the beads and accepting their guidance, the practitioner edges forward during every prayer and every practice on the long journey toward enlightenment.

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    • Focus the ‘Red Lights’; Nagarasobhanis need recognition for legalised sex trade ?

      2017-02-20 Daily Mirror K.K.S Perera

      Gauthama Buddha not only accepted an invitation for alms by  Ambapali, but acknowledged a donation of ashram by the lady sex-worker  of Vaisali. On another occasion the Buddha used a corpse of a prostitute  to convey a message to those who patronised her services by spending  thousands of Kahavanu for a night. He first auctioned the carcass, there  were no bidders—next he offered it free, yet there was no response :  perhaps they gained insight over the repulsive nature of human body. Sex for sale is an ancient profession that needs to be legalised.

      Roughly speaking, there are two types of prostitutes: those enforced into the trade by social deprivation or poverty [harlot, street walker or bandhaka in Buddhist literature] and those who wished to do it as they feel it is a convenient way to earn ‘good money’; this type is called a courtesan [ganika or nagarasobhini]. The intention of the first is survival and is therefore, karmmically far less harmful than the other type whose motive might be lack of self-respect. The first is not gladly involved in wrong occupation while the second obviously is. Buddha or kings never attempted to punish or ban the profession. Buddhist literature is full of stories about ganika or nagarasobhinis. The story of 30 young men and 29 wives plus a harlot hired by the only bachelor in a group of excursionists accidentally meet the Buddha while searching for the missing harlot, who vanished with valuables collected from the affluent party. The term ‘sex worker’ was coined in 1978 by sex worker activist Carol Leigh. Its use became fashionable after publication of the text, ‘Sex Work: Writings By Women In The Sex Industry’ in 1987. The term “sex worker” is widely used, including in academic work by agencies, such as WHO.  

      Hazards of ‘free operation’….  

      We use our laws to prohibit, ban and arrest the ‘wrongdoers’ or sex workers’ like in most other countries, where sex workers are regarded as worthy of disgrace, disapproval and marginalized preventing them from seeking legal redress for discrimination that deem them spreaders of disease. We think they are a public nuisance and offenders against decency. Sex workers never disclose their work to medical authorities due to fear of such disapproval. The criminalization of sex trade leads to reluctance in disclosure as there is very little legal protection for them. In many cases, a victimized sex worker may not be able to take action against her attacker. Many sex workers, as per research do not use condoms due to the fear of confrontation and cruelty from clients. Education about disease prevention through condom use and other health practices needs a legally monitored healthcare system.   

      “All professions are conspiracies against the laity” - said George Bernard Shaw - the oldest profession is not excluded.   

      The society must treat all professions alike without discrimination. It’s worth noting here what “Tina” Fey, the American actress, comedian, writer and producer once said, “Politics and prostitution have to be the only jobs where inexperience is considered a virtue. In what other profession would you brag about not knowing stuff?   

      They rightfully opposed Casinos, the idea was dropped; but hoards of ‘imported’ labour, working at construction sites since then have encouraged the trade. Latest news warns of brothels mushrooming around their lodging places in the city where long queues of mongoloids waiting for their turn are seen.   

      Kalidasa, Kumaradasa and Royal Courtesan   

      Hindu Scriptures always condemned Prostitution. Parashara Smriti says, ‘selling Wine and meat, consuming prohibited foods, patronizing prostitutes a shoodra falls from his caste’. But the greatest Indian poet Kalidasa, a Classical Sanskrit writer and dramatist was murdered by a courtesan in Sri Lanka during the reign of King Kumaradasa 513-522 AD. Kumaradasa, the poet and the son of King Mugalan, who defeated brother Kassapa of Lion Rock Sigiriya, during his eighteen year-stay in India had developed a close friendship with Kalidasa, the poet, dramatist and literati. Having read Janakiharanaya authored by the King, an elated poet visited him in Sri Lanka. During his sojourn Kalidasa patronised a ‘high-end’ courtesan and found two lines of an incomplete poem inscribed on the wall of her luxurious bedroom.  

      ‘The bee settled to draw the nectar  

      From the lotus with tender care’ , - [The forest bee got to the honey without hurting the flower, but got away only in the morning when the lily unfolded its petals.] The king who visited the ‘lady’ on an earlier occasion, and whilst in the passionate company of her, inspired by a bee entangled in the petals of a lotus flower, wrote the two poetic lines, and offered an incentive to anybody who could complete the other two lines. Kalidasa recognized the handwriting of his friend Kumaradasa, and wanted to take the King by surprise, he completed the verse which read,‘Bursting the ensnaring petals it escaped like ensnared here the whole night awake,’ - [The relation of the sun seeking the society of the lotus-eyed enjoyed, indeed, her company , but sleepless was caught in his toils].  

      The courtesan was plagued with greed. The woman seized the opportunity; she murdered Kalidasa, concealed the body in order to claim the reward for herself. The king in turn on his next visit recognised Kalidasa’s handwriting bringing the whole fatal trick to light. As the story goes, at the State funeral accorded to his friend, King Kumaradasa, unable to stand the grief, he king threw himself upon flames of the pyre, followed by his five ‘Queens’. Though the validity or accuracy of the story, given in semi-historical records namely, Pujavaliya and Perakumba Sirita cannot be completely trusted, we could reasonably surmise that the Kings and their ilk [while enjoying the comforts of five queens] also frequented Deluxe abodes of ‘Royal Courtesans’ in the good-old days as well.   

      "Sex workers never disclose their work to medical authorities due to fear of such disapproval. The criminalization of sex trade leads to reluctance in disclosure as there is very little legal protection for them"

      Buddhist views on the practice  

      Buddhism does not support or oppose prostitution. Gauthama Buddha only seized an opportunity to prove a point or to explain that prostitution is an unpleasant act. Buddhists do not look down upon the worker. It provided and encouraged the practitioners an opportunity to practice dharma, that they have an equal opening to become liberated.   

      There’s no concept of sexual offence in Buddhism, that being a sex worker is morally wrong. It may be or it may not be, depending upon the person. Sex work takes a profound toll on a person physically and psychologically. It’s probably not the best occupation to get into if you want a peaceful and steady life. But having said so, there is no crime involved and it surely wouldn’t be unconditionally forbidden.  

      Legality of profession in ancient India  

      The Lords, Senators, Merchants, Generals; everyone had one wish.....get married to beautiful Ammbapali [Amrapali]. The State decided to make her a prostitute, they thought it was dangerous to hand over Amrapali to any one, that others would not accept it simply. It would create violence in Vaishali, the most influential democracy of ancient India. Amrapali was forced to be a ‘Nagar Vadhu’ meaning ‘wife of the city’, a prostitute, by order of Parliament.  

      The Buddha never looked down upon sex workers. On the contrary he provided a chance for them to go into the correct path in the same manner as anybody else. When he accepted the invitation from Ambapali for lunch; the Licchavi princes offered an invitation too. He declined it honouring Ambapali’s. Jivaka, the Buddha’s physician was mothered by a prostitute. He was never grimaced upon for his birth. There are many instances where prostitutes attained enlightenment, after being diligently practised Dhamma. In fact, the experience of a prostitute might help her towards illumination sooner than others. Although cherished as the original expressions of the Buddha, these teachings were preserved vocally for about four centuries before being scripted, providing many openings for some passages to be intentionally or inadvertently ‘corrected’ by people less enlightened than the Buddha.  

      Legal dimensions of sex work  

      Exchange of sexual services for money is legal in England, but a few related activities, like soliciting in a public place and owning or managing a brothel and pimping are crimes. Pornography is legal in the USA, but prostitution is illegal in most States. However, in other nations, both prostitution and pornography are illegal; whereas, in some both are legal. However, those who oppose the legalisation of the sex trade argue that it is naturally unfair and can never be practised in a way that compliments the rights of those who engaged in it. The World Health Organization recommends decriminalization of sex work. A recent WHO report says, “Violence against sex workers is associated with inconsistent condom use or lack of condom use, and with increased risk of STI and HIV infection. Violence also prevents sex workers from accessing HIV information and services.”  

      The Lancet, the top medical journal published that there is “no other option” to decriminalization of sex work in order to protect participants from HIV. Rhode Island legalized prostitution in 1980 by accident. When lawmakers deemed the State statute on prostitution to be overly broad they unintentionally removed the part defining the act itself as an offence while trying to revise it; they didn’t realize the error for two decades. This caused the new cases of gonorrhoea among women statewide to decline by 39%, over the next six years. Interestingly, sexual brutality also declined by 30%.   

       

      As a first step, the health and law enforcement authorities may carry out a research on the local sex trade prior to introduction of guidelines regulating the running of ‘ill-famed’ houses - the legal draughtsman could prepare the basic structure for liberalizing the trade on lines of similar legislation in other nations. The indecencies are not prostitutes; it’s the poverty which is indecent, and the criminal unreliability of the rulers who make this poverty a deadening certainty. 

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    • Walk Like a Buddha

      Carlos Estevez, SUMMER 2011 tricycle

      In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha is described as the most respected and loved creature who walked on two feet. He was so loved because he knew how to enjoy a good walk. Walking is an important form of Buddhist meditation. It can be a very deep spiritual practice. But when the Buddha walked, he walked without effort. He just enjoyed walking. He didn’t have to strain, because when you walk practice ofin mindfulness, you are in touch with the all the wonders of life within you and around you. This is the best way to practice, with the appearance of nonpractice. You don’t make any effort, you don’t struggle, you just enjoy walking, but it’s very deep. “My practice,” the Buddha said, “is the nonpractice, the attainment of nonattainment.”

      For many of us, the idea of practice without effort, of the relaxed pleasure of mindfulness, seems very difficult. That is because we don’t walk with our feet. Of course, physically our feet are doing the walking, but because our minds are elsewhere, we are not walking with our full body and our full consciousness. We see our minds and our bodies as two separate things. While our bodies are walking one way, our consciousness is tugging us in a different direction.

      For the Buddha, mind and the body are two aspects of the same thing. Walking is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. But we often find it difficult or tedious. We drive a few blocks rather than walk in order to “save time.” When we understand the interconnectedness of our bodies and our minds, the simple act of walking like the Buddha can feel supremely easy and pleasurable.

      You can take a step and touch the earth in such a way that you establish yourself in the present moment; you will arrive in the here and the now. You don’t need to make any effort at all. Your foot touches the earth mindfully, and you arrive firmly in the here and the now. And suddenly you are free—free from all projects, all worries, all expectations. You are fully present, fully alive, and you are touching the earth.

      When you practice slow walking meditation alone, try this: Breathe in and take one step, and focus all your attention on the sole of your foot. If you have not arrived fully, one hundred percent in the here and the now, don’t make the next step. You have the luxury of doing this. Then when you’re sure that you’ve arrived one hundred percent in the here and the now, touching reality deeply, then you smile and you make the next step. When you walk like this, you print your stability, your solidity, your freedom, your joy on the ground. Your foot is like a seal. When you put the seal on a piece of paper, the seal makes an impression. Looking in your footstep, you see the mark of freedom, the mark of solidity, the mark of happiness, the mark of life. You can make a step like that because there is a buddha in you—buddhanature, the capacity of being aware of what is going on. There is a buddha in every one of us, and we should allow the buddha to walk.

      Even in the most difficult situation, you can walk like a buddha. Last year I visited Korea, and there was one moment when my group was surrounded by hundreds of people. Each of them had a camera, and they were closing in. There was no path to walk, and everyone was aiming their camera at us. It was a very difficult situation in which to do walking meditation, so I said, “Dear Buddha, I give up, you walk for me.” And right away the Buddha came, and he walked, with complete freedom, and the crowd made room for the Buddha to walk; no effort was made. If you find yourself in some difficulty, step aside, and allow the Buddha to take your place. The Buddha is in you. This works in all situations, I have tried it. It’s like encountering a problem when you’re using the computer. You can’t get out of the situation. But then your big brother who is very skillful with computers comes along and says, “Move over a little, I’ll take over.” And as soon as he sits down, everything is all right. It’s like that. When you find it difficult, withdraw and allow the Buddha to take your place. You have to have faith in the Buddha within, and allow the Buddha to walk, and also allow the people dear to you to walk.

      When you walk, who do you walk for? You can walk to get somewhere but you can also walk as a kind of meditative offering. It’s nice to walk for your parents or for your grandparents who may not have known the practice of walking in mindfulness. You ancestors may have spent their whole life without the chance to make peaceful, happy steps and establish themselves fully in the present moment.

      It is possible for you to walk with the feet of your mother. You can say, “Mother, would you like to walk with me?” And then you walk with her, and your heart will fill with love. You free yourself and you free her at the same time, because your mother is in you, in every cell of your body. Your father is also fully present in every cell of your body. You can say, “Dad, would you like to join me?” Then suddenly you walk with the feet of your father. It’s a joy. It’s very rewarding. You don’t have to fight and struggle in order to do it. Just become aware.

      After you have been able to walk for your dear ones, you can walk for the people who have made your life miserable. You can walk for those who have attacked you, who have destroyed your home, your country, and your people. These people weren’t happy. They didn’t have enough love for themselves and for other people. They have made your life miserable, and the life of your family and your people miserable. And there will be a time when you’ll be able to walk for them too. Walking like that, you become a buddha, you become a bodhisattva filled with love, understanding, and compassion.085

      WALKING MEDITATION PRACTICE

      The mind can go in a thousand directions.

      But on this beautiful path, I walk in peace.

      With each step, a gentle wind blows.

      With each step, a flower blooms.

      During walking meditation we walk slowly, in a relaxed way, keeping a light smile on our lips. When we practice this way, we feel deeply at ease, and our steps are those of the most secure person on Earth. Walking meditation is really to enjoy the walking—walking not in order to arrive, just for walking, to be in the present moment, and to enjoy each step. Therefore you have to shake off all worries and anxieties, not thinking of the future, not thinking of the past, just enjoying the present moment. Anyone can do it. It takes only a little time, a little mindfulness, and the wish to be happy.

      We walk all the time, but usually it is more like running. Our hurried steps print anxiety and sorrow on the Earth. If we can take one step in peace, we can take two, three, four, and then five steps for the peace and happiness of humankind.

      Our mind darts from one thing to another, like a monkey swinging from branch to branch without stopping to rest. Thoughts have millions of pathways, and we are forever pulled along by them into the world of forgetfulness. If we can transform our walking path into a field for meditation, our feet will take every step in full awareness, our breathing will be in harmony with our steps, and our mind will naturally be at ease. Every step we take will reinforce our peace and joy and cause a stream of calm energy to flow through us. Then we can say, “With each step, a gentle wind blows.”

      While walking, practice conscious breathing by counting steps. Notice each breath and the number of steps you take as you breathe in and as you breathe out. If you take three steps during an in-breath, say, silently, “One, two, three,” or “In, in, in,” one word with each step. As you breathe out, if you take three steps, say, “Out, out, out,” with each step. If you take three steps as you breathe in and four steps as you breathe out, you say, “In, in, in. Out, out, out, out,” or “One, two, three. One, two, three, four.”

      Don’t try to control your breathing. Allow your lungs as much time and air as they need, and simply notice how many steps you take as your lungs fill up and how many you take as they empty, mindful of both your breath and your steps. The key is mindfulness.

      When you walk uphill or downhill, the number of steps per breath will change. Always follow the needs of your lungs. Do not try to control your breathing or your walking. Just observe them deeply.

      When you begin to practice, your exhalation may be longer than your inhalation. You might find that you take three steps during your in-breath and four steps on your out-breath. If this is comfortable for you, enjoy practicing this way. After you have been doing walking meditation for some time, your in-breath and out-breath will probably become equal: 3-3, or 2-2, or 4-4.

      If you see something along the way that you want to touch with your mindfulness—the blue sky, the hills, a tree, or a bird—just stop, but while you do, continue breathing mindfully. You can keep the object of your contemplation alive by means of mindful breathing. If you don’t breathe consciously, sooner or later your thinking will settle back in, and the bird or the tree will disappear. Always stay with your breathing.

      After you have been practicing for a few days, try adding one more step to your exhalation. For example, if your normal breathing is 2-2, without walking any faster, lengthen your exhalation and practice 2-3 for four or five times. Then go back to 2-2. In normal breathing, we never expel all the air from our lungs. There is always some left. By adding another step to your exhalation, you will push out more of this stale air. Don’t overdo it. Four or five times are enough. More can make you tired. After breathing this way four or five times, let your breath return to norma1. Then, five or ten minutes later, you can repeat the process. Remember to add a step to the exhalation, not the inhalation.

      After practicing for a few more days, your lungs might say to you, “If we could do 3-3 instead of 2-3, that would be wonderful.” If the message is clear, try it, but even then, only do it four or five times. Then go back to 2-2. In five or ten minutes, begin 2-3, and then do 3-3 again. After several months, your lungs will be healthier and your blood will circulate better. Your way of breathing will have been transformed.

      When we practice walking meditation, we arrive in each moment. When we enter the present moment deeply, our regrets and sorrows disappear, and we discover life with all its wonders. Breathing in, we say to ourselves, “I have arrived.” Breathing out, we say, “I am home.” When we do this, we overcome dispersion and dwell peacefully in the present moment, which is the only moment for us to be alive.

      You can also practice walking meditation using the lines of a poem. In Zen Buddhism, poetry and practice always go together.

      I have arrived.

      I am home

      in the here,

      in the now.

      I am solid.

      I am free.

      In the ultimate

      I dwell.

      As you walk, be fully aware of your foot, the ground, and the connection between them, which is your conscious breathing. People say that walking on water is a miracle, but to me, walking peacefully on the Earth is the real miracle. The Earth is a miracle. Each step is a miracle. Taking steps on our beautiful planet can bring real happiness.