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    • China gets its own Nalanda, shames India

      Yatish Yadav 04th June 2017 The New Indian Express

      NEW DELHI: China has scored a major victory in soft power diplomacy by quietly launching its own Nalanda University while the original Nalanda campus in Bihar, planned almost a decade ago, is still stuck with 455-acre dead space.

      China’s education ministry had managed to keep the plan a secret till a few weeks ago when it formally announced the enrolment for Nanhai Buddhist College in Hainan province in May. The first batch is set to take off from September with a strength of 220 students to occupy the vacant Buddhist diplomacy space. Nalanda in 2014 had started with just 14 students and 11 teachers. Sources said the secrecy is baffling since China was part of the global team, which first promoted the idea of reconstructing Nalanda University in the ancient Indian city in 2006.

      Nalanda was hit by the careless approach of its mentors, including Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and his team, since the beginning of 2007 when the Manmohan Singh government appointed them to work out the plan for the institution.

      “In 2011, China had given a million-dollar cheque as donation for reconstruction of Nalanda. It appears now that Chinese were working in parallel to create the Buddhist university. Such sprawling campus cannot be built in one or two years. They must have started construction in 2012,” sources said.

      The Chinese Nalanda version is a sea-facing structure located on scenic Nanshan Mountains spread across 618.8 acres. Chinese have rechristened the university’s coastline as “Brahma Pure Land”, a concept borrowed from ‘Yoga Vashistha’ and Mahayana Buddhism. The Chinese Nalanda will offer courses in three languages—Pali, Tibetan and Chinese in six departments—Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, and the Buddhist Architectural Design and Research Institute.

      The Chinese Buddhist university is closely linked to the Buddhist centres in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Cambodia, which is seen as an attempt to completely sideline the Indian side in soft power diplomacy. The China has appointed monk Yin Shun as the dean of the university, who is interestingly abbot of Lumbini-based Zhong Hua Buddhist temple. Lumbini is the birthplace of Buddha, and China has been aggressively pushing to promote Nepalese pilgrimage site to counter India’s Sarnath and Bodhgaya, where Gautama Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment. Since early 2010, Yin Shun has been advocating “the South China Sea Strategy” and had closely worked with Thailand and Nepal to create Buddhist ‘One Belt and One Road’ (OBOR).

      It is a known fact that India recently boycotted China’s high-profile economic design flagging sovereignty concerns over China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). The plan, according to sources, is to link Lumbini, Wuxi and Hainan through Buddhist OBOR, usurping Buddhist legacy of India. Wuxi, near Shanghai, has been turned into permanent venue of world Buddhist forum by the Chinese government. According to sources, students as far as South American countries are applying to the Chinese university, which, along with knowledge, promises to provide best air and seawater quality in entire South Asia.

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    • Millions at stake as Chinese villagers take collector to court over "man in the Buddha"

      John Hooper and Ted Plafker Jun 2 2017 AFRWEEKEND

      Around the time that William of Normandy was conquering England, the Buddhist master Zhang Qisan decided it was time to die. Or rather, he felt it was time to begin the next stage of his existence by transforming himself into a living mummy.

      Qisan was born in the tiny hill village of Xukeng where even today most of the inhabitants have the surname Zhang. His family had the unusual tradition of giving their children numbers as forenames. "Qisan" means 73 – his grand­father's age when he was born.

      When he was a boy, he wandered far and wide before deciding to enter a monastery. The profound knowledge of herbal remedies he acquired there won him fame and affection. He was so pious that he earned the honorific title of "Gong" (Lord) and became known as Zhang Gong. He was – and is – considered a bodhisattva: one capable of attaining nirvana, but who chooses to remain in the physical world out of compassion for humanity.

      From around the late third century ad, some masters, including Zhang Gong, succeeded in controlling the manner and timing of their deaths by means of self-mummification. They ordered their disciples to store their bodies after their deaths and told them that when they recovered the body after a year or so, they would find it intact.

      These masters then ingested herbs that had poisonous properties to speed their demise; and preservative ones to begin the process of mummification from the inside out. Zhang Gong, with his botanical education, would have been particularly expert at this. The final stage was to adopt the lotus position and enter a deep meditative trance. The faithful believe these masters did not truly die, but entered a state of enlightenment in which they became living Buddhas.

      For his final meditation, Zhang Gong chose a particularly auspicious spot near the village of Yangchun in Fujian province, in the uplands of south-eastern China. There, he moved into his final stage of existence, and was worshipped by villagers – until, 1000 years later, he disappeared.

      In 1997, Carel Kools, a restorer of Asian art and antiquities in Amsterdam, was sent a shabby, life-sized statue of a Buddha in the lotus position. "The statue came to me in a really bad state," he says. "There was lots of damage from insects." Attached to the base of the statue were two planks that were also in poor condition. "So we removed the planks he was sitting on and discovered these linen rolls."

      Kools took out the rolls – one of which is more of a cushion – peered inside the statue and found himself staring at the remains of a human being: "I was looking straight at the underside of his legs."

      He rang the collector who had commissioned him, an architect by the name of Oscar van Overeem. "I was abroad," Van Overeem recalls. "[Kools] said: 'Oscar, believe it or not, the statue is no statue. It's a mummy.' I said: 'Carel. You should drink better wine. Don't tease me.' I couldn't believe it."

      On July 14, a judge in Amsterdam will embark on the unenviable task of deciding whether these two mummies are one and the same. Lawyers representing the inhabitants of Yangchun contend that the mummy that ended up in Kools's workshop is the one stolen from their village temple two decades earlier and that it contains the remains of Zhang Gong. They are also expected to argue that Van Overeem cannot legally own a corpse.

      Counsel for the Dutch collector will counter that numerous museums and private collectors own mummies and Van Overeem's is in any case not the one stolen from Yangchun; that this is a case of mistaken identity, one that has become a nightmare for their client.

      At stake in this bizarre affair is possession of an object said to be worth tens of millions of dollars. The dispute over its ownership has already had an impact on relations between China and the Netherlands at the highest level, and has also highlighted an important change in Beijing's official policy towards the recovery of millions of cultural artefacts that have been removed from China, by sale or by theft, down the centuries.

      Hoping and praying

      As sunset drew near on a cool March evening, the scent of burning firewood hung in the air over Yangchun, mingling with that of family suppers being cooked. Traffic along the village's main road consisted mostly of waddling ducks, scurrying chickens and small children with backpacks making their way home from school in a township several kilometres away.

      The village is set amid high, thickly forested hills. Ever since a motorway reached the area in around 2010, the village has been a two-hour drive from the prosperous coastal city of Quanzhou. Yangchun is only four kilometres from the motorway exit. According to the local Communist Party secretary, Lin Kaiwang, about 1800 people live in the village and most, like him, are called Lin.

      Yangchun has the mish-mash of architectural styles that China's precipitous economic development has produced. Some of the villagers live in grand, well-kept courtyard houses built of grey brick with elegant roofs of high-quality slate tiles. But there are also more modest houses of red brick or wood, and crude three- and five-storey blocks made of bare cement. Some of the houses are clad in garish yellow or pink tiles. One is adorned with Corinthian columns.

      Fir trees, which supply highly prized timber for construction, are the commonest vegetation in the area. But the key to Yangchun's recent – and still relative – prosperity is tea. The bushes in the terraced fields around the village yield three crops a year of a variety known as Tieguanyin, a renowned Oolong tea midway between black and green that is ubiquitous in village homes.

      The standard tea-making kit includes a kettle, a pot for brewing tea and a bowl into which the cups are dipped in and out of water using purpose-made tongs to rinse and warm them. The tea is served in small cups which are constantly refilled.

      The centre of village life – both physical and spiritual – is the Puzhao Temple. During the day, people gather in the square in front of the temple, or on its steps, sitting and chatting. At night, loudspeakers often blare out music for the group dancing that is popular in villages and cities all over China.

      The fir-wood pillars and walls of the temple are hung with vertical red scrolls bearing ink-brush calligraphy on Buddhist themes. Strung across the front of the building is the kind of horizontal red banner with yellow characters on which political slogans often appear. On this one, however, the message reads: "Hoping and praying that the Zhang Gong bodhisattva mummy returns soon to its native home!"

      Theft of a relic

      The mummy's survival through centuries of Chinese political turmoil is testament to the villagers' love for it. It survived even Mao Zedong's exhortation during the Cultural Revolution to "Smash the Four Olds" – customs, culture, habits and ideas. Mao's young cadres destroyed artworks all around the country, but Yangchun's inhabitants took great risks to protect the mummy, moving it from house to house.

      A night-watchman at the temple was supposed to keep it safe, but on the crucial night in December 1995 he seems, to no one's great surprise, to have been asleep. According to Lin Wenyu, a local, the only people who noticed anything odd were some workers at a brick factory near the entrance to the village. They saw a van make its way very slowly over the bumpy road that ran through the village. Since motor vehicles of any kind were still a rarity in rural China, the workers were curious enough to peer into the back of the van as it crawled along.

      "In the rear seat, they saw a seated figure covered with a blanket," says Lin. "They assumed it was someone who was seriously ill and who was being taken away for medical treatment."

      The theft was a terrible blow to the community. According to Lin Lemiao, a retired teacher who has lived all of his 72 years in Yangchun, "You can't imagine how distraught we all were. People were crying bitterly. Everyone was just miserable."

      Two decades later, the loss was still sharp enough that, when the villagers heard tell of a statue in an exhibition in Budapest that seemed to resemble their relic, they swung into action. They enlisted the help of the diaspora: one of the villagers, working as a cook in Hungary, was sent to see if the mummy was that of Zhang Gong.

      When he reported back that it was, the villagers contacted Liu Yang, a lawyer in Beijing known for his work in recovering Chinese cultural property from abroad. He got hold of HIL, a firm of Dutch lawyers, which is bringing the case against Oscar van Overeem to court.

      'Hi. I'm Oscar'

      An ebullient, remarkably youthful-looking 54-year-old, Van Overeem – "Hi. I'm Oscar" – arrived for what he said was his first in-depth interview since the start of the dispute wearing jeans, trainers and a sweatshirt. Round, wire-frame spectacles were perched at the end of his nose and his hair looked as if it had not enjoyed the attentions of a comb in weeks.

      The world in which Van Overeem moves is a long way from that of the villagers of Yangchun. An architect-cum-interior designer, he works at the top end of the market. He says he often takes on commissions from other collectors to create private galleries. A specialist in Japanese architecture, he has developed a style he describes as "very detailed, minimalist – and extremely luxurious".

      Warming to his subject, he produces a few of his designs: cool grey interiors intended to encourage visitors to focus on his clients' possessions. Sculptures and other pricey artefacts are displayed to maximum advantage in softly – yet intensely – lit niches. Later, Van Overeem pulls out the plans of what he says is a penthouse he designed for a Gulf potentate. It looks about the size of a soccer pitch.

      "… And this is his bedroom … and this is his bathroom … and, right next to it, the pool because he likes to swim just after he gets up. That bit's for the sharks. So you see, he can …"


      "Yes. The sheikh likes to swim alongside sharks. There's a transparent barrier between the two halves of the pool, of course."

      Architecture is Van Overeem's second career. He originally worked in graphic design and claims to have been among the first in the field to employ digital technology. By his mid-20s, he had earned enough to start collecting. His Chinese collection focuses on works produced before the end of the Tang dynasty at the start of the tenth century.

      Van Overeem's principal agent was a dealer and collector he names as Benny Rustenburg, now retired and living in the Philippines: "a hippy type", but "a very good businessman". Rustenburg had a storage facility in Amsterdam, and it was there, in late 1995, Van Overeem says, that he first saw the seated Buddha that was going to change his life.

      He says that Rustenburg had bought it in Hong Kong at the end of 1994 or the beginning of 1995, and that it had been shipped to Amsterdam in mid-1995 – several months before Zhang Gong's mummy disappeared from Yangchun.

      Van Overeem was initially not interested in buying the statue. It was gold. "And I don't like golden statues," he says in a voice infused with distaste. It was damaged and adorned with dragon motifs that seemed to date it to the Ming dynasty, which was founded almost five centuries after the latest period in which Van Overeem had until then shown an interest. "I said, 'It's not my cup of tea.'"

      To keep stock moving, retailers will sometimes bundle objects they know their customers want with others they want less – or not at all. According to Van Overeem, that is what Rustenburg – "the smartass", as he ruefully calls the dealer – did with the sitting Buddha. He added it to "a few beautiful terracotta objects" that he knew his young client would love to own.

      Van Overeem says he sent the statue, as he believed it to be, to his restorer, Carel Kools, who did not get around to tackling it until early 1997. After discovering that it was in fact a mummy, Kools suggested it be X-rayed. He had a second job at the time working in a hospital and could arrange for access to the radiography department out of normal hours.

      'We felt like Indiana Jones'

      "So what I did was, during the night – this is a movie, eh? – I put the mummy in my car, in the front seat, put a cloth over him and put a seat belt on him," says Van Overeem. "We drove to the hospital. There, he was put in a wheelchair and we pushed him, covered up, to the X-ray department. We felt like Indiana Jones."

      The X-rays showed there was a more or less complete skeleton inside (it was later discovered that the internal organs had all been removed, along with some finger bones which Van Overeem thinks were taken as relics). Kools then took a sample from the linen cushion and had it carbon-tested. The results dated the cushion to the 13th century – 300 years before the decorations on the casing of the mummy.

      "Then we tested the mummy itself – and then we were really confused," says Van Overeem. The body was at least 100 years older than the cushion. It was from the Song dynasty. But, as an expert at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York subsequently explained, it was not uncommon for mummies to have things added to them in later centuries. In this case, a cushion had been thoughtfully placed under the master's behind and the casing had been gilded and redecorated. But the casing itself and the body inside were about 1000 years old. It was the stuff of collectors' dreams.

      "A Ming statue can [fetch] nowadays, let's say, between €20,000 ($30,400) and €100,000," says Van Overeem. "But a Song-dynasty statue? Even in those days, millions." The least appreciated item in a job lot had turned out to be worth a fortune: his gaudy Ming statue was actually "the rarest of the rarest".

      For 18 years, the dream remained intact. Van Overeem says he turned away an offer of $US20 million. But, after he lent the mummy to the exhibition in Budapest, his association with it became increasingly problematic.

      International claims

      Faced with the villagers' claim that the mummy had been stolen, the exhibition organisers asked him to withdraw it. Overnight, Van Overeem went from being a respected collector to an alleged recipient of stolen goods (though, as he points out, if he had suspected the mummy was stolen, he would hardly have allowed it to be exhibited for all the world to see). Suddenly, he was "that rich bastard in Holland" who was depriving the poor inhabitants of Yangchun of their beloved holy man and, he says, his architectural practice suffered as a result.

      Dutch police came to interview him, apparently at the request of their Chinese counterparts. And while abroad on business, he received a call from the Dutch foreign ministry asking him to come to The Hague the moment he landed back in Holland.

      "I thought I might be arrested at the airport," says Van Overeem.

      He wasn't, but was asked to explain the affair to an annoyed Dutch government. The prime minister, it turned out, had been on a visit to Beijing and had been embarrassingly wrong-footed when his opposite number started quizzing him about the return of a mummy of which he knew nothing. The mummy had become a smaller, slightly gruesome, Chinese version of the Elgin marbles: an emblem of the despoliation of Chinese culture by rapacious foreigners.

      According to the Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage, there are around 10 million Chinese objects in foreign museums and collections. Some were produced specifically for export; some were valuable cultural objects that were sold; some were looted.

      The most notorious episode was the sacking by the British and French in 1860 of Beijing's magnificent Old Summer Palace. According to the Chinese, 23,000 items plundered during that orgy of destruction and pillage at the end of the second opium war are in the British Museum.

      Not that the Chinese themselves are free of responsibility. After the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911, officials helped themselves to treasures from the Imperial Palace that were then sold abroad.

      The Cultural Revolution was a disaster – even more for Tibet's heritage than for China's. "The Red Guards were heavily involved in programmatic looting and export," says Sam Hardy, an expert on the illegal trade in art and antiquities at Univer­sity College London. "China trafficked so much cultural property from Tibet that it flooded the markets of Hong Kong and Tokyo."

      The clearance of areas for major infrastructure projects like the Three Gorges Dam also saw the wholesale looting of cultural artefacts.

      But China's opening to the world has gone hand-in-hand with what Hardy calls "huge interest in the recovery of looted antiquities, which is tied up with identity, pride and power".

      'State operation'

      For several years, it was fashionable for rich individuals to acquire Chinese objects from abroad so that they could enhance their standing by donating them to museums. One of the most intriguing questions concerns responsibility for a string of apparent "thefts to order" of items seized from the Old Summer Palace. Beginning in 2010, museums in Sweden, Norway, Britain and France were targeted. Hardy says that the robberies may have been commissioned by private collectors who either intended to keep the artefacts for themselves or to donate them to the state at some point in the future – but he does not rule out the possibility that they are part of a "state operation".

      The Chinese government has certainly expressed a growing interest in the country's cultural heritage. In 2014, President Xi Jinping signalled a radical change in the Communist Party's view of China's past when he welcomed traditional culture as a "foundation for China to compete in the world". Since then, the authorities, in particular the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, have become increasingly involved in the recovery of historical artefacts.

      That the government raised the case of the mummy during a state visit shows how concerned it is about this case. Who is financing it is not clear. Liu Yang says he is working pro bono: "I haven't taken any money from the people in Yangchun …They are peasants of very modest means – mountain villagers. Maybe, if we succeed in getting [the mummy] back, they'll think about giving me something. But it's not important." Jan Holthuis of HIL, the Dutch lawyers' firm, will not say who is paying them.

      The government has also changed its line on accepting cultural objects as gifts. According to Liu, the authorities "no longer encourage rich Chinese to buy things back and donate them, because they're afraid it creates a market, and as the prices go up it will be harder and harder to find buyers like that. It's not seen as a good way to handle things" – as Van Overeem was to discover.

      The villagers are unanimous in their certainty that the mummy is theirs.

      "When I was small and went to worship Zhang Gong, that base was at eye-level for me and the photos look exactly the same," says Lin Wenyu.

      "Just from the pictures we saw from the exhibition in Hungary, we knew instantly," says Lin Lemiao, the retired teacher. "There can be no doubt that [the mummy] is ours."

      Lin Qizhou, a local official, says: "It is simply laughable to think that this is not our mummy. All the people here have been visiting the temple for their entire lives, and we all just know. It is not even open to debate." It will, however, be open to debate in the Dutch court, which will be looking for hard evidence.

      No receipt

      Van Overeem's biggest handicap is that he has no receipt from Benny Rustenburg to back his version of how he acquired the mummy. "Everybody says, like, 'Can you give me proof?' From 20 years ago?" he protests. "Come on! I always paid the man cash or I paid him [by bank transfer] to Hong Kong."

      Nor, crucially, can Van Overeem expect corroboration from the dealer. "He's not willing to say anything." A Benny Rustenburg living in the Philippines has a profile on LinkedIn in which he describes himself as retired from "Benny Art"; but neither online inquiries nor shoe-leather in Manila succeeded in raising him.

      The villagers are also short of hard evidence. Local officials say old photos of the mummy from before the theft are "no longer here"; Yangchun's genealogical records, which are said to prove the link with Zhang Gong, are "in storage", though presumably they can be extracted if they are helpful to the case.

      The strongest evidence in the villagers' favour is the round, flat cushion found underneath the mummy, of which they have photographs. On the rim there is writing in ancient Chinese characters. Some are illegible, but the key passages read as follows: "Since patriarch Zhang Gong Liuquan [a term denoting the entire body] from the Puzhao Temple manifested himself, years passed by which were not recorded. Since [missing characters] this hall…hardly any people visited, no incense rose and disasters occurred. The leaders of the village, Lin Zhangxin and Lin Shixing, touched the hearts of the villagers to raise money…to remodel and redecorate the valuable statue of the patriarch."

      Puzhao – "universal illumination" – is a popular name for Buddhist temples in China, so is little help in identifying the statue's origins; but two things link the cushion to Yangchun. First, the village leaders who organised the whip-round to refurbish the mummy were both called Lin; second, and more convincing (since Lin is one of the most common surnames in China), Zhang Gong is referred to by name.

      For James Robson, a Harvard professor and expert on Chinese Buddhism, this represents "a pretty tight connection", though Van Overeem argues that monasteries often "sneakily attributed the identity of a renowned Buddhist master to a different preserved corpse" to enhance their standing and their revenues.

      The sophisticated iconography on the casing, which includes elements from the Tantric tradition of Buddhism and "a secret character rendered in an unusual variant of the sacred Siddham script from India" makes a case, he says, for the mummy being from an important monastery rather than an obscure upland village. This might seem like special pleading but for two pieces of evidence in Van Overeem's favour.

      Distinguishing characteristics

      Back in early 2015, the villagers told reporters, both Chinese and foreign, that Zhang Gong's mummy had two distinguishing characteristics. The first was a hole between the thumb and index finger of the Buddha's left hand, said to have been made in the 1950s by an official who was sceptical of the villagers' claim that the statue contained a mummy and wanted to feel inside. A news agency report quoted and named a man who said he had filled in the hole in the 1980s.

      The mummy's other unique feature was a wobbly neck: the villagers took it out of the temple on special occasions to process around Yangchun and on one occasion it had hit a staircase. Van Overeem says, however, that a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan in January found no evidence of a repaired hole in either hand while the X-rays had already shown that the corpse inside his statue was fitted with a steel rod running from the forehead over the back of the head and down the spine. "If there is one thing stable about this mummy, then it's his neck," he says.

      While holding to his view that "my mummy is not their mummy," Van Overeem says he has always sought a compromise. After he was summoned to the foreign ministry, Dutch officials arranged for him to meet Chinese diplomats in the Netherlands who in turn involved the sach. Van Overeem says he worked for months on a solution, even travelling to China to meet a rich benefactor who was ready to buy the mummy in order to gift it to the state. But a sach official scotched the deal, telling Van Overeem flatly the Chinese authorities did not accept donations. "I was furious," he says.

      In November 2015, Van Overeem announced that talks had broken down and that he would look seriously at offers he had received for the mummy. He then came into contact with a "big collector specialising in Buddhist sculptures: very powerful, very rich", who proposed that, instead of selling the mummy, Van Overeem should swap it for sculptures in his collection.

      "Within one hour, we were done." The new owner of the mummy, he says, intends to remain anonymous and keep the mummy's location secret, so "I cannot deliver that statue, no matter what."


      Quite how the judge – and the Chinese authorities – will react to that remains to be seen. But as James Robson says, the affair "seems to have a life that keeps going … like the mummy itself."

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    • Liberation struggle for Thai Buddhist nuns

      Richard S Ehrlich, June 3, 2017 Asia Times

      An American bhikkuni's campaign to ordain Thai women, forbidden under local Buddhist law, has been met with violence, threats and arson attacks on her temples

      An American Buddhist nun said the US Embassy rescued her from Thai men who threatened to kidnap her and later allegedly burned down her temple dormitory because she intentionally disobeys Thai Buddhist clergy by supporting women to become nuns.

      Leaura Naomi’s confrontation earlier this year is the most vivid example of a wider revolution by women across Southeast Asia demanding equality to allow female ordinations within Theravada Buddhism.

      In Theravada — the oldest and more conservative of Buddhism’s two main branches — a male monk’s ancient Pali-language title is “bhikkhu.” A nun is known as a “bhikkhuni.”

      The vast majority of Thailand’s population are Theravada Buddhists. Theravada also exists in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia.

      In Thailand many, if not most, families arrange for at least one young adult son to live in a temple — perhaps for several days or a season — to be ordained as a novice or monk. Ordination bestows spiritual “merit” on the family, which is a major reason why the ceremony is coveted.

      But a 1928 proclamation by Thailand’s all-male Buddhist Sangha Supreme Council forbids female ordination, frustrating many daughters and their parents because no equivalent merit can be earned by women. Historians say bhikkhunis flourished for 1,000 years in India and Sri Lanka but Islam and war caused them to almost disappear.

      “My name is Bhikkhuni Doctor Lee. We don’t use last names,” Naomi said in an interview. The American ascetic was wrapped in a robe styled differently but the same saffron color as a Thai monk’s robe.

      More than 2,500 years ago, “in the time of the Buddha, we had bhikkhunis and they wore similar attire,” said Naomi, 56, who also has a shaven head in keeping with Buddhist tradition.

      “I built a temple three times in Thailand. We got shut down two times and the third time we were arsoned.” Naomi said a gang of Thai men are still threatening her and her “temple” in Rayong, a tourist-friendly beach town situated 144 kilometers from Bangkok.

      Her earthly woes began in 2016 with “eight men, drunken and shouting, ‘We want the bhikkhuni out of the village. We want the American out of the village. If you don’t get out of the village, we’re going to burn your temple down’,” she said, recounting the violent incident.

      “In Thailand, there have been four kidnapping attempts on my life. But thank goodness for the American Embassy,” she said. An official at the US Embassy in Bangkok “saved my life”, Naomi said, after telephoning him for help during her latest crisis earlier this year when a gang surrounded her temple.

      She said the US official helped to get the local police to intervene. About 10 days after that confrontation, some men set fire to the women’s dormitory where Naomi lived with four Thai women, she said. She continues to run her International Women’s Meditation Center which she describes as a “temple”, despite the threats.

      Thai Buddhist nuns wave their nation’s flag during a demonstration a political demonstation in Bangkok. Photo: Reuters/Jason Reed

      Born into a Christian family in Yonkers, New York, Naomi received a PhD in geography at Colorado University and taught at Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan universities. She ordained as a bhikkhuni in Colorado 25 years ago and came to Thailand in 2000.

      “I read that they have Theravada Buddhism in Thailand, but not the bhikkhuni thing.” She decided to “introduce this new cultural element, then it could perhaps take off.”

      More than 300,000 monks and novices live in Thailand’s 30,000 temples. There are hundreds of unrecognized Thai bhikkhunis, but Ms. Naomi is the only American Buddhist nun residing in Thailand.

      Another American known as Venerable Pannavati, who claims she’s the world’s only black Buddhist nun, often visits Thailand to help Naomi ordain nuns. Pannavati, 68, a thrice-married mother, is co-founder and Buddhist abbot of Heartwood Refuge, an interfaith center in Hendersonville, North Carolina.

      Born a Baptist in Washington DC, she went to First Rising Mount Zion church. Pannavati later became a Pentecostal Holy Roller — speaking in tongues — and then a charismatic Christian before embracing Buddhism. Pannavati first came to Thailand in 2008 on Naomi’s invitation.

      “She was looking for [foreign] nuns who were not afraid to ordain [Thai women],” Pannavati said in an interview while visiting Bangkok. “I helped Dr Lee ordain. And it was good. We did that for several years.” Pannavati says she would “fly in, arrange an ordination, and fly out.”

      Venerable Dhammananda, a Thai national, became a nun after being ordained in 2003 in Sri Lanka where the Theravada tradition was revived. Formerly known as Dr Chatsumarn Kabilsingh when she was a Buddhist philosophy lecturer at Bangkok’s Thammasat University, she divorced her husband, became celibate and explained her religious decisions to her children.

      Dhammananda now heads an unrecognized Theravada temple near Bangkok. Her Thai mother established the temple in 1971 after ordaining in Taiwan which allows, similar to China, Mahayana Buddhist female ordination. Dhammananda’s Thai grandmother also ordained overseas.

      “I have given ordination to 700 women. They are working women, so after nine days [at her temple] they return to their life,” Dhammananda said during a recent news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand.

      She is also active elsewhere in Asia. “In Tibetan tradition, they have only female novices. They don’t have fully ordained [nuns]. They are also struggling. I have been trying to work with His Holiness [the Dalai Lama] since 1980, but it has not been successful,” she said.

      “He said he would wait to see if some senior [Tibetan] monks would consider joining him or not. That will never happen,” Dhammananda predicted. “I just came back from Myanmar. I tried to push for fully ordained female monks in Myanmar. Not possible.”

      She said a Myanmar woman who ordained in 2003 in Sri Lanka returned to her country — also known as Burma — but was jailed for 76 days. Upon release, she settled in America, Dhammananda said. “Laos and Cambodia are following after Thailand because many of the monks come here for education,” and forbid female ordination.

      Dhammananda and others recently established a Network of Asian Theravada Bhikkhunis to push for equality. Male-to-female transgender women, who want to be ordained as nuns, present a special case, she said.

      Recently, a “woman came to me. And if she did not tell me she was a he before, I would not know. He had breasts just like women. And he had his penis removed.”


      “Supposing if this person asked me for ordination as bhikkhuni…should I or should I not give him ordination?” One respected senior Thai monk told Dhammananda, “‘If she has the physical form of a woman,’ I should be able to give her ordination.”

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    • Naikan Therapy-3 questions to put things in perspective

      Gregg Krech WINTER 2015 tricycle

      Naikan is a Japanese word that means “looking inside,” though a more poetic translation might be “seeing oneself with the mind’s eye.” It is a structured method of self-reflection that helps us to understand ourselves, our relationships, and the fundamental nature of human existence. Naikan was developed in Japan in the 1940s by Ishin Yoshimoto, a devout Buddhist of the Pure Land sect (Jodo Shinshu). His strong religious spirit led him to practice mishirabe, an arduous method of meditation and self-reflection. Wishing to make such introspection available to others, he developed Naikan as a method that could be more widely practiced.

      Naikan’s profound impact resulted in its use in other areas of Japanese society. Today, there are about 30 Naikan centers in Japan, and Naikan is used in mental health counseling, addiction treatment, rehabilitation of prisoners, schools, and business. It has also taken root in Europe, with a dozen Naikan centers now established in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. However, Naikan is still relatively unknown in North America. David K. Reynolds, Ph.D., introduced Naikan to North America in the 1970s and later incorporated its framework into Constructive Living, an approach that also includes elements of Morita Therapy. Reynolds was the first to write extensively about Naikan in English. Naikan programs and retreats have been offered regularly in the United States since 1989 by the ToDo Institute in Vermont. But with the exception of a small number of adventurous Westerners who have studied Naikan in Japan, or who have attended programs in North America and Europe, few Westerners have experienced and explored this Japanese practice of self-reflection.

      Naikan broadens our view of reality. It’s as if, standing on top of a mountain, we shift from a zoom lens to a wide-angle lens. Now we can appreciate the broader panorama; our former perspective is still included, but it is now accompanied by much that had been hidden. And what was hidden makes the view extraordinary.


      Naikan reflection is based on three questions:

      What have I received from ____?

      What have I given to ____?

      What troubles and difficulties have I caused ____?

      These questions provide a foundation for reflecting on all relationships, including those with parents, friends, teachers, siblings, work associates, children, and partners. You can reflect on yourself in relation to pets, or even objects such as cars and pianos. You can reflect on a specific period of time, one day or a holiday visit to your family. In each case, you acquire a more realistic view of your conduct and the give-and-take that has occurred in the relationship.

      The questions themselves seem rather simple. They are. The depth of experience, insight, and realization that can come from the practice of self-reflection is not a result of intellectual analysis or complex theories. Our challenge is to just see reality as it is. These questions are simple inquiries for our investigation of life’s mysteries and miracles.

      Let’s begin our inquiry with the first question: What have I received from ____?

      To examine your relationship with another, begin by looking at what you have received from that person. My wife made me fresh-squeezed orange juice this morning. She washed my breakfast dishes. She gave me the watch I’m wearing. These are all simple, clear descriptions of reality. Her attitude or motivation does not change the fact that I benefited from her effort. Often we take such things for granted. We hurry through our day giving little attention to all the “little” things we are receiving. But are these things really little? They only seem so because, while we are being supported, our attention is else- where. But when there is no hot water for a shower or we lose our glasses, these little things grab our attention. Suddenly we are conscious of the true value of hot water and clear vision.

      We often live our life as if the world owes us.

      As you list what you have received from another person, you become grounded in the simple reality of how you have been supported and cared for. In many cases you may be surprised at the length or importance of the items on your list, and a deeper sense of gratitude and appreciation may be naturally stimulated. Your heart and mind begin to open to the grace that underlies all life. Without a conscious shift of attention to the myriad ways in which the world supports us, we risk our attention being trapped by problems and obstacles, leaving us to linger in suffering and self-pity.

      So please take a few minutes now and begin making a list of what you have received during the past 24 hours in detail. This type of daily reflection is called daily Naikan (nichijo naikan). You are not limited to examining your relationship to one person, but can include anyone who supported you during the past day. Be specific and write down as many items as you can remember. What kind of food did you eat? Where did you go this past day? How did others support you? Did someone open a door? Did someone wash your dishes, or was there hot water and soap available to you for washing dishes? What made it possible for you to brush your teeth or drive a car? Take ten minutes and make as thorough a list as possible.

      When you are done, please continue to the second question: What have I given to ____? Ishin Yoshimoto was a businessman. Each month he would send statements to his customers and receive similar statements from suppliers. These statements specified the products that were sent and the amount of money received. We receive a similar statement from the bank regarding our checking account. This tells us to the penny the balance in our account. Yoshimoto believed it was useful for human beings to conduct a similar examination or “life reconciliation.” When you have examined, in detail, what you have given and received, you can determine the balance. You can compare your giving (credits) and taking (debits) in relation to a single person or between you and the rest of the world. You can examine a period of time ranging from a day to a decade.

      This process is both a practical and spiritual reconciliation of our relationships with others. Does the world owe me, or do I owe the world? Am I in debt to my mother, or is she in debt to me? We often live our life as if the world owes us. “Why didn’t I get that raise?” “Why is the pizza so late?” “How come I don’t get more appreciation from my boss?” We resent it when people do not fulfill our expectations, and live as if we deserve whatever we desire. When people do support us, we often take their efforts for granted, living as if we were entitled to their support. As we reflect on our life we begin to see the reality of our life. What is more appropriate: to go through life with the mission of collecting what is owed us, or to go through life trying to repay our debt to others? Suppose I discover that I am the one who is in debt to the world. Such a realization kindles a natural desire to give and serve others and instills in me a greater sense of gratitude and realistic humility.

      So please take another ten minutes and make a list of what you have given to others during the past 24 hours. Perhaps you gave someone a ride or prepared their dinner. Perhaps you sent a birthday card to a friend or picked up some litter on the street. Once again, be concrete and specific. Try to avoid generalizations like “I was helpful” or “I was very supportive.” What did you actually do for others?

      Now you have a preliminary picture of your life for the past 24 hours. You have done some important research. Let’s look at your lists. Have you been consistent? If you indicated that you gave a smile or thank-you to someone, have you also listed all the smiles and thank-yous you received from others? Have you been as accurate as possible? If you cooked someone a meal, have you also noted what you had to receive (for example, groceries, utensils, an oven, a recipe book) in order to do that? Take a few minutes and modify your lists, if necessary, so they more accurately reflect the reality of this past day.

      The third and final question is the most difficult of all: What troubles or difficulties have I caused ___? Mostly we are aware of how other people cause us inconvenience or difficulty. Perhaps somebody cuts us off in traffic, or maybe the person in front of us at the post office has a lot of packages and we are kept waiting. We notice such incidents with great proficiency. But when we are the source of the trouble or inconvenience, we often don’t notice it at all. Or if we do, we think, “it was an accident” or “I didn’t mean it.” Perhaps we simply dismiss it as “not such a big deal.” But this question is truly important. Yoshimoto suggested that when we reflect on our- selves, we should spend at least 60 percent of the time considering how we have caused others trouble. His words are echoed by the lives of Franklin, Schweitzer, and St. Augustine. If we are not willing to see and accept those events in which we have been the source of others’ suffering, then we cannot truly know ourselves or the grace by which we live.

      Now please take another ten minutes and make a list of the troubles and difficulties you have caused others in the past 24 hours. Did you criticize someone? Did you leave dishes in the sink for someone else to wash? Did you keep someone waiting for a response to an email or telephone call? Were you late for an appointment? Once again, please be specific.


      You have now completed your first research project; you have examined a small slice of your life (one day) in an attempt to see reality as clearly as possible. What can you learn from your research? Review your lists carefully. What are you aware of that you weren’t aware of before? What have you taken for granted? What do you need to do and what do you need to do differently? This type of daily reflection, or daily Naikan, can be done before bedtime in 20 to 30 minutes. It is the simplest method of Naikan reflection.

      We think we know our own life, but what we know is only an edited version, colored by our emotions and narrow vision. How close can we come to the original draft? By staring at truth, the soil is warmed, and we begin digging toward the sky.


      If you’d like to experience Naikan therapy firsthand, check out Tricycle’s November retreat: “The Japanese Art of Self-Reflection”

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    • Other-Power: Why self-mastery is self-defeating

      David Brazier SUMMER 2014 tricycle

      The logic of morality is often based on a wish, an assumption, or an aspiration toward self-mastery in service of a spiritual or worldly goal. Buddhists in the West, for instance, often present morality as the necessary basis for meditation, as a means of gaining a personal stability that allows one to practice beneficially. Another kind of moral logic is based on calculation. This might manifest as fear of retribution, whether in terms of karma or as sin against divine law, or, conversely, as hope for a reward. Even secular morality often has this attitude: if I am good to others when they need help, then I’m creating social capital for when I need help. Modern Western Buddhists often include in this kind of logic of morality a calculation about gaining happiness: if I am good to others, I create the conditions for my own mental well-being.

      Pureland Buddhism has a different starting point. Pureland moral logic starts with the recognition that self-mastery sets the self against the self and thereby undermines the very thing it is attempting to do. Pureland instead aims to undermine the calculation involved in trying to master oneself. It does this by directing us to be grateful for the support of others for whatever good we are able to do. Our meritorious actions are only possible because of countless others who conspire unknowingly to guide us, help us, and create the conditions in which our typically confused and ambiguous efforts to do good don’t backfire on us. Pureland’s faith in other-power and nembutsu (keeping Buddha in mind) lays a basis for a radically different approach to spiritual practice than what many meditators bring to it. Let us, therefore, consider the possibility, whether or not one is a Pureland Buddhist, that Pureland ideas can reorient and enrich how we understand morality, resting it on a foundation that does not set the self against itself and that starts not from how we imagine we’d like to be but from how we actually are.

      At the core of morality is morale; a person in good morale is less likely to act in an unprincipled manner. Morale is essentially a matter of faith, which is the mainspring of motivation. People do things that contribute to what they have faith in, be it a goal, an ideal, certain values, an institution, or some other base. Obviously, faith is not always positive. No doubt the Gestapo had faith in the supremacy of the Aryan race, for instance. Or as Dale Carnegie points out in the original self-help book How to Make Friends and Influence People, even Al Capone regarded himself as a good man who was simply implementing the values he believed in. This is all in line with basic Buddhist thinking that wickedness is mainly a matter of error. Acts that are akushala (mentally unskillful or unwholesome) rather than kushala (wholesome or skillful), to use the Indian terminology, are basically mistakes flowing from wrong belief rather than sins or disobedience to an overruling deity.

      The Pali Buddhist texts contain repeated descriptions of sila, samadhi, and prajna. The moral guidelines (shila) precede descriptions of meditation (samadhi) that in turn precede descriptions of wisdom (prajna). It is common, therefore, to understand that morality is a foundation for meditation and that meditation is a foundation for wisdom. It is, however, also possible to read the causal relationship in the reverse direction, seeing morality as the surface level, dependent upon a rightly ordered mind, which in turn depends upon wisdom.

      Morality, then, is an outcome or consequence of a well-ordered mind, and such a mind is well-ordered because there is correct understanding of the true situation. It is not so much that morality leads to meditation and meditation to wisdom as that wisdom naturally leads to right-mindedness and that this, in turn, leads to the kind of behavior that even the uninitiated recognize as moral.

      If wisdom is at the core of the Buddhist understanding of morality, what can we say about wisdom itself? In Buddhism, wisdom is closely related, on the one hand, to foresight and, on the other, to faith. (Foresight is, in fact, one implication of the word prajna.) Buddhas see the long term, which obviously has a good deal to do with morality. Immoral acts arise from unskillful intentions based on the kleshas (mental hindrances) of greed, hatred, and ignorance. Often, the harm brought by immoral acts comes only in the long run; many immoral acts have a short-term payoff. If they didn’t, no one would bother with them. Understanding the long-term consequences of our acts is a case of right orientation of mind leading naturally to rightly ordered behavior. As it says in the Dhammapada regarding our actions, “Mind is first. Mind made are they. If a person acts with a right mind, happiness clings to them like a shadow.” Faith and foresight go together, because to act on foresight is to act in faith. The Buddha prescribes a life of good faith.

      Conceit says, “I can do this; I am a special case; I will not reap the consequences that others reap.” Wisdom says, “I cannot do this by my own power.”

      The Buddhist notion of foresight is closely tied to the teaching of dependent origination, that everything arises in dependence on multiple causes and conditions. Things become possible only when the necessary conditions are in place, and right-mindedness and wisdom are necessary conditions for right behavior. The question is, therefore, how to understand this wisdom and right-mindedness. In East Asia, dependent origination underwent two distinctive and contrasting developments. One, deriving from the idealism of Yogacara philosophy, was the downplaying of the element of temporality. This ultimately led to the ideas about nonduality, interbeing, and non-arising that modern Western students of Mahayana are generally familiar with.

      For East Asian Buddhist practitioners, however, it was the second development that had more impact. This was the transformation of dependent origination into other-power, a natural development from the Buddha’s first two teachings. The Buddha’s first teaching was on the eightfold path and the four noble truths, which can be described as essentially a distillation of dependent origination. His second teaching was on non-self, within which we find the repeating refrain “this is not me, this is not mine, this is not myself.” If forces are at work in our lives that are not oneself, then they are other.

      Over time, this led to a Buddhist approach that was based on a principle quite different from the idea of deliberately pursuing spiritual achievement. In this approach, the major forces at work were taken to be non-self, or what we moderns might call unconscious. This is completely in accord with the actual experience of anyone who tries to keep a New Year’s resolution. One makes a conscious resolve . . . and then something else happens. Positive psychology adherents would say that one did not try hard enough. Followers of Pureland Buddhism would say, however, that one is not capable of achieving one’s salvation by one’s own conscious effort. In fact, it is the very realization that one is so incapable that leads to the transformation that constitutes real Buddhist wisdom: namely, the awakening to non-self.

      Let us consider another example. It is notoriously difficult to give up smoking. Doing so requires persistence and, from a self-power perspective, one can say that what is needed is strong willpower. What actually motivates a person, however, is foresight. It is generally only when a person becomes strongly aware of the future consequences that he does something about the habit. Often this happens too late. If a person does not stop smoking until he has had one lung surgically removed, then we can readily say that he should have stopped earlier. Why didn’t he, and why can he do so now? One might say that it is because his fear is now strengthening his willpower. But what usually happens is actually the reverse: the evidence of surgery has brought home to the person the fact that he is mortal and that he cannot, by the power of self alone, defy natural processes. It is the realization that natural processes are stronger that paradoxically permits the person to do what he could not do before when his self felt more powerful. This is not a case of self-assertion but of self-diminishment; not one of achievement, but of submission.

      Moral resolve is like this. A noble person does not do good because of willpower. She does it through a combination of, on the one hand, modesty about self, and, on the other hand, faith in a higher purpose, a higher meaning, in powers more potent than self-will. Such a person is not moral through gritted teeth. She is at ease in goodness.

      Buddhism revolves around the idea of refuge. One takes refuge not from a position of strength but from a position that acknowledges weakness. Right-mindedness is self-diminishment plus gratitude for higher guidance and assistance. For a Buddhist, the source of guidance and assistance is the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha. Since the dharma is the teaching of Buddha and the sangha is the community of Buddha, the core of refuge is the Buddha himself.


      Other-power thus came to mean allowing Buddha to work in, on, and for us by reducing our self-estimation, willfulness, ambition, and conceit. The core attitudes here are gratitude and assurance: gratitude for the awakened one who “has-come-to-us” (Japanese, Nyorai; Sanskrit, Tathagata), and assurance that comes from confidence in the power and process that result from our taking refuge therein. From such gratitude the traditional virtues such as generosity, energy, patience, balance, foresight, and morality flow naturally without special effort. From such assurance flows a confidence that takes away the need to grasp at short-term personal gain or be ever vigilant in self-defense. In this way, right-mindedness naturally gives rise to right behavior. It is not a case of achieving morality by will-power as a necessary basis for mental cultivation—such a method is self-defeating and ignores the inherent weakness of the individual. In sutra after sutra, the Buddha tries to combat the folly of conceit. Conceit says, “I can do this; I am a special case; I will not reap the consequences that others reap.” Wisdom says, “I cannot do this by my own power; I am not a special case; I, like all others, am subject to suffering and impermanence; all dharma is non-self.” For one who has such faith, morality is not rule-keeping, it is naturalness.

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    • Will China’s spiritual revival benefit the environment?

      Ma Tianjie 01.06.2017 chinadialogue

      Pulitzer Prize winner Ian Johnson discusses his new book and whether faith can reshape the relationship between man and nature

       Ian Johnson’s latest book The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao has rekindled a national conversation that started almost a century ago: what’s the spiritual status of the Chinese people?

      A hundred years ago, China’s humiliating defeat on the world stage kicked off a painful round of soul-searching within the country’s intellectual elites, many of whom blamed it on the nation’s backward state of mind. Since then, campaigns, movements and revolutions have been waged to reform and reshape the soul of the Chinese people; some have advocated the complete abolishment of traditional Chinese beliefs while others have insisted on their reinforcement.

      Johnson’s book documents a new phase in this history of self-examination. By following various Chinese groups, including pilgrims in Beijing, Daoists in Shanxi and Christians in Chengdu, he depicts “a great awakening of faith that is shaping the soul of the world's newest superpower”, which many outside China are either unaware of or can’t fully understand.

      On a sunny afternoon in downtown Beijing, we talked to Johnson about his book, and particularly about how this new awakening in Chinese society could form a foundation of environmental awareness in China.

      chinadialogue (CD): You’ve followed these faith communities in China for years. What’s different about them compared to other Chinese groups you interact with?

      Ian Johnson (IJ): These are people who are looking for community and some kind of togetherness in society. And people of course find answers in different ways but there is a significant number of them who find answers in faith groups such as pilgrimage associations (香会).

      The pilgrimage groups are like mildly dysfunctional families [laughs]. There is a lot of shouting and yelling, but there is always mutual respect, and, at the end of the day, a lot of comradery. Members of pilgrimage groups are often working class native residents. The churches are a bit more formal. As people who go to church are from a higher socio-economic class, they tend to be a bit more uptight.

      CD: Through this "spiritual revival", what are some of the values being emphasised?

      IJ: Again, community is the key point. People feel that they've lost this sense of community. When they live in villages, everybody is related to each other. There are clear ways of dealing with others. Through urbanisation people come to big cities, or even much smaller cities and county seats, where they don't know anybody including their neighbours.

      Even people who always live in the cities see their communities essentially blown up through urban redevelopment. People who once lived in one alleyway are now living all around the city. So this is part of the reason that faith has some attraction. It reminds me of the great awakening in the United States in the 19th century which was also a period of urbanisation and economic change. People looked for answers in faith.

      Of course, not everyone finds an answer in religion. For issues like tainted milk powder or pollution, people may attribute them to the lack of laws, rules or a free press. But a strong moral component is also present in such discussions. There is a belief that if people do not have a sense of right and wrong then all these things are useless. So lots of people start to think of it as spiritual, as a lack of minimum moral standards (线), which I think is often mistranslated in English as "bottom line". These are things you won't do to get ahead. And it is what a lot of people feel is missing in China.

      CD: In your book you feature places like Miaofengshan, where pilgrims visit every year to pay tribute to the Buddhist deity Our Lady of the Azure Clouds. When Western readers think of a centre of worship they think of places like Mecca or Jerusalem. What’s unique about Chinese pilgrimage sites?

      IJ: What's special about Chinese centres of worship is their linkage with mountains and the idea that mountains and holy places are almost synonymous. Going back in the history you have the idea of yue (), now called a peak. You have Buddhist holy mountains and specifically Daoist holy mountains like Wudangshan. People believe mountains bring them physically closer to the heaven.

      In Daoism, a temple is called a guan () which essentially means observatory, where you look at the stars and observe heaven. There is no division between the physical and the spiritual world. That’s probably why Chinese religions place a big emphasis on physical cultivation. It’s somewhat similar with Indian traditions such as Yoga, which started also as a purely spiritual practice. You have the same thing in China with different traditions often known as Qigong which is now making a comeback.

      CD: Does this say anything about the relationship between man and nature in Chinese culture?

      IJ: On the more abstract level there is this idea that the body is a microcosm of the universe. You can recreate the universe in your body through different cultivation techniques. When Daoists meditate in a cave they talk about going back to the womb of the earth, trying to resync with the earth on some symbolic level. On the other hand I think it's a mistake to translate the traditional Daoist concept of ziran (自然, nature) in a modern ecological way. It's more of an idea that you should be part of the cosmos (顺其自然).

      Concretely there are moves by Daosim to position itself as a green religion. But in my view it seems to be an effort to rebrand itself because people have a hard time understanding what Daosim is. The so-called ‘world religions’ like Islam, Christianity and Buddhism, all have clear stories. Shakyamuni was a prince. He went outside and saw the world suffering. Then he discovered the solution to suffering was to end desire.

      Daoism is more of a folk religion which doesn't really have a clear story, even though it is inside so much of Chinese culture, from Tai Chi to Fengshui. Marketing Daoism proves to be difficult. For historical reasons, it was also socially marginalised by the Manchurian rulers of the Qing Dynasty who were Buddhists.

      The result is that even today the educational level of Daoist priests tends to be low. Almost nobody has a university degree. Buddhist temples would have monks with doctoral degrees who are much more able to tell stories and convert people. So Daoism is faced with a crisis and turns to ecology as a re-marketing opportunity. I don't mean it's disingenuous or that it's fake. But whether it will succeed or not is debatable.

      CD: Do you think Chinese religions have the potential of forming the foundation of a new environmental awareness and to contribute to the global conversation about conservation?

      IJ: There is potential in the sense that most of the temples are in the countryside and in mountainous areas. They used to have large land holdings. And some of them present themselves as stewards of these areas. I know some Daoist temples around Maoshan outside of Nanjing have organic tea and organic herbal products. The challenge for them is again the educational level of the priests who have difficulty marketing themselves successfully to the better educated urban elites. They even have trouble writing the promotional materials. Nowadays there are local governments that assist Daoist temples in marketing and attempts to elevate the level of sophistication of Daoism in general.

      I think overall, Chinese are thinking about the same issues as other people around the world. These ideas that societies are not organised fairly, that there is a lack of justice and transparency which led to great political upheavals in the West concern Chinese society as well. If there is one idea that unites all the faith groups I’ve followed, it is the idea of justice, and of "tian" or heaven. I think that's a very strongly Chinese idea that society should be just. And justice is not something given by a party or a political campaign but it is divinely given. In Miaofengshan, these pilgrimage groups all perform stories of righteousness as part of their rituals.


      The spiritual revival shows that Chinese people are participating in this global conversation. And it would be interesting to see if China through Daosim or other religions could contribute something unique.

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    • The Buddhist World lacks an effective mechanism to help save a Buddhist Nation in Danger

      Lankaweb June 1st, 2017

       Colombo, Sri Lanka — The crisis facing the Buddhist world is neither a decline in religious conviction nor an apprehension that truth underpinned by rational argument and new scientific discoveries will one day overtake and outstrip the core teachings of its founder which is a perennial fear bordering on despondency that characterizes several other competing religions, but the lack of an effective institutional mechanism that can lend support when a Buddhist institution, Buddhist community or even a pre-dominant Buddhist nation is in danger.

      We see the lack of substantial networks of support driving threatened Buddhist nations or Buddhist communities into a sense of despair and hopelessness at times of an emergency. Traditional Buddhist countries such as Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Laos are now under severe pressure to distance themselves from extending state patronage to Buddhism and erase their Buddhist country identity and embrace a secular identity with no such pressure being applied to countries in other parts of the world such as the Middle East or the Catholic belt of Europe.

      Despite a 2500 year old history that makes Buddhism one of the oldest religions in the world, a worldwide presence that makes it a global religion, and a way of life grounded in wisdom and compassion that attracts the envy of other civilizations, Buddhism still retains its biggest constraint i.e. lack of effective protections. It is a historical fact that Buddhism has lost more territory and space in Asia, its traditional homeland, in the last one thousand years than any other religion. It is also a hard fact that this process is on going with no sign of abatement and no effective measures developed to counter it.

      Buddhism’s biggest appeal of being an eternally passive, non – confrontational, peace loving religion that lacks a central place to direct its affairs in the international arena unlike in the case of say the Vatican (sovereign state enjoying both temporal and spiritual power) or the World Council of Churches ( powerful and well – funded with influence reaching to four corners of the world) or the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (promoting Muslim solidarity in economic, social, and political affairs), has become Buddhism’s Achilles’ heel. Its organizational bases are relatively powerless when compared to the aforesaid entities. For example, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is the second largest inter-governmental organization after the United Nations which has a membership of 57 states spread over four continents. The Organization is the collective voice of the Muslim world and committed to safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world. It has its headquarters in Saudi Arabia.

      Rising Challenges to Buddhism

      The issue of rising challenges to Buddhism to the extent of undermining its very existence as the pre-dominant religion of a nation, hardly merits much attention in discussions of International Buddhist Organisations, International Buddhist Conferences, or among National Governments in countries with predominant Buddhist populations and corresponding state and constitutional obligations to protect and foster Buddhism.

      Traditional Buddhist countries now find themselves force fed with ideas that are foreign to Asia, that had been given birth primarily in a Western setting and related to the interplay of dynamics of European societies but are nevertheless required to be uncritically accepted and transplanted in Asian societies without due consideration being given to the social tensions that would be generated in transplanting such ideas. To de-link state patronage to Buddhism is one such pressure brought on by various religious interests that during the heyday of colonialism enjoyed exclusive patronage from colonial rulers.

      The solidarity that countries in Buddhist Asia showed towards each other in the distant past i.e. pre – colonial era, has greatly evaporated or become non – existent. The sense of kinship of being fellow travelers in a spiritual journey overarched by Buddhist precepts and bonded by common religious beliefs and foundations no longer act as a reference point to summon or render assistance even between Buddhist peoples based in neighbouring countries at times of need.

      Recent events, for example, attacks on Buddhist Temples in Bangladesh or the crisis in Myanmar hardly drew concerted attention or action in other Buddhist countries in the form of assisting our co – religionists facing an existential plight.

      Areas of growing concern

      1) Religious conversions

      Countries preserving Indian Civilizational religions e.g. Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism etc. are seen as soft and easy targets for manipulation and religious conversion of their people, and in turn replacement of centuries old traditional culture with new cultures subservient to foreign interests. The resulting change in religious demography brings pressure on the State to disassociate itself with Buddhist values that underpin the stability of the society, legal framework and moral direction of the country.

      2) Mass Media

      The mainstream Mass Media in the English language in pre-dominant Buddhist countries which act as the window to the world hardly makes any contribution towards creating any Buddhist public opinion or provide a voice reflecting Buddhist concerns. Instead it acts as a group largely hostile to the creation of any such Buddhist opinion and thereby sacrificing the interests of the wider majority of the country’s people. One hardly reads newspaper editorials in support of a Buddhist cause. Instead Buddhists find themselves repeatedly fed with a regular and steady diet of lectures on ‘human rights’, ‘rule of law’ ‘democracy’ non – violence’ ‘peace and reconciliation’ despite no such intransigence on their part at a major level.

      There appears to be a calculated move to place Buddhists, metaphorically speaking, in the ‘dock’, make Buddhists feel guilty of alleged crimes or misconduct and then extract more and more concessions totally out of proportion to what Buddhists enjoy as a religious minority in non – Buddhist countries.

      3) Status of Buddhism as an official religion

      Reciprocity is the norm that governs diplomacy or grant of religious concessions. Buddhism hardly enjoys official status as a religion in Europe or in the Middle East. Freedom of religion is honoured in the breach when it comes to acceptance of Buddhism as an official religion in these parts of the world. In Europe only Russia and Austria recognize Buddhism as an official religion.

      4) Hidden Agenda of ‘Secularism’

      The proponents of secularism in Sri Lanka like in India are those clearly bent on repudiating the civilisational ethos of this country. Their main objective is to marginalize Buddhism from the public – political and social – life. In the West we find that secularism had stood for rationalism, universalism and humanism. In Asia, secularism is being used as a smokescreen and a shield to push Indian civilizational religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism away from the centre stage and replace them with religions and ideologies that were introduced much later in time to these lands.

      In pre-colonial Sri Lanka there was never any conflict between the State and organized religion. It is essentially a European phenomenon. What we are now faced with is an increasing challenge to an ancient, indigenous Buddhist civilisation which is gentle, accommodative and pacifist by later introduced religious cultures that have a track record of intolerance and violence and close association with colonialism and a self-declared objective of world conquest. They use the language of human rights and freedom of religion but their goals are very much political and predatory. They support the country’s adversaries in the international arena to engage in the game of finger – pointing, naming and shaming our leaders and people. It is also a battle for the moral conscience of Sri Lanka which our people and rulers have worked so hard relentlessly to keep over many centuries as an expression of our indigenous religious beliefs and outlook.

      League of Buddhist Nations

      During the last five hundred years or so, since the beginning of the western colonial era, the governance and steering of the world was very much in the hands of powerful western nations using their mono religio- cultural framework as terms of reference in policy making and implementation of policy. That era is now drawing to a close. Sino – Indic civilizations will take over from euro-centric civilizations. The question is not whether but when. The old world will give rise to a new world and revert to Asia its traditional leadership role of the world.

      Buddhism is well – integrated and deep seated in both the Chinese and Indian cultures. To the Buddhists in Asia the challenge is to develop new structures and institutions that reflect current realities. It would be feasible for countries with pre-dominant Buddhist populations to consider developing closer ties with each other in the spheres of economic, cultural, and trade and investment. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) provides a role model for the Buddhist world to adopt and establish at summit level an equivalent body to give voice and make representations on behalf of the Buddhists.

      Buddhist heritage countries such as China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Taiwan, Cambodia, Laos, Bhutan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka among others should engage in increasing close cooperation in international affairs and regularly meet like the European Union or the OIC in the form of a League of Buddhist Nations. Sri Lanka as a traditional Buddhist country with the longest continuing Buddhist history in the world is eminently well qualified to take an initiative in this direction.

      Buddhist Television Channel on par with BBC, CNN and Al – Jazeera


      The Buddhist voice is relatively speaking largely unheard in the international arena. Buddhist nations which are embattled or threatened by more powerful vested interests have to rely on International news agencies or foreign Television Channels such as BBC, CNN or Al – Jazeera which have different policy objectives and are largely unsympathetic or sometimes even prejudiced towards the Buddhist cause, to air their position. This is an unsatisfactory situation. The time has come for the Buddhist world to seriously consider the inauguration of a Buddhist Television Channel on par with the aforesaid major TV Channels.

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    • Buddhism Versus Islam: Clash of Civilisations in South and South-East Asia? 

      Ananth Krishna Jun 01, 2017 Swarajya

      From Myanmar to Thailand and all the way to Sri Lanka, one of the oldest conflicts of Asia seems to be turning more violent by the day.

      The Buddhist and the Islamic worlds seem to be increasingly in conflict in south and south-east Asia. In Myanmar and Sri Lanka, Buddhist nationalist organisations are in open conflict with Muslims; in Thailand, Islamist insurgency has resurrected itself in the Patani region; In Indonesia, tensions between the Muslim majority and Buddhist minority have surged.

      The conflicts between the Muslims and Buddhists in the region represent a clear faultline between two cultures, as theorised in Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations. As Islamic invasions made their way towards the east, the repression and persecution that came in their wake ransacked Buddhist temples, destroyed the famous Nalanda University, as well as the Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, Bihar. Other regions in this part of Asia like Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand were spared from this brute force of the Islamist invasions.

      In Indonesia, Islam made its entry only in the 13th century through traders. The province of Aceh served as an entry point for Muslim traders, and through them, their religion slowly spread to the rest of the archipelago. By the beginning of the 19th century, there were only a few pockets of Buddhist or Hindu influence left in Indonesia.

      From a historical standpoint, the clash between Buddhists and Muslims seems to be a continuing conflict. What is new, however, is the militant response that Theravada Buddhism has had against Islamism.


      In Myanmar, for example, a self-styled militant monk, Ashin Wirathu, has given shape to a “969 Movement” to “Safeguard the country from Islam”. The figure 969 is meant to be numerological opposite to the Islamic 786 by local Buddhist beliefs . In that country, Buddhist nationalists voice their concerns regarding the fast-changing demography of the Rakhine state, which is also at the centre of the Rohingya refugee crisis. The Buddhist nationalists believe that if not checked, the Rakhine Buddhists of the state would be overrun by Rohingyas.

      The current conflict can be traced back to the late 1940s, when Muhammad Ali Jinnah refused to include the Rohingya-dominated Buthidaung and Maungdaw regions in east Pakistan, even when encouraged by Rohingyas themselves. In response, a Mujahideen movement was born against the Burmese government. The insurgency, which faded out by the late 1970s, was replaced by less violent but a more political Rohingya movement starting in the 1990s which was encouraged by the overseas Rohingya community. This aimed at creating a separate Rohang state.

      This series of events, combined with the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhist statues, the anti-Islamist opinions post 9/11, and the 969 Movement have all led up to the conflict reaching a crescendo.

      The Buddhist response, however, was repressed in the early 2000s, with Ashin Wirathu being jailed in 2003, only to be released nine years later in 2012, with a host of other political prisoners. Since his release, Wirathu has been able to capture the national and international imagination (TIME magazine featured him on their cover, as the “Militant Monk”).


      Thailand, much like Myanmar, has a long history in dealing with Islamist violence. In South Thailand region, the Malaya inhabitants used to pay tribute to the Siamese kings despite being ethnic Malay Muslims themselves. The region was incorporated into the Thai Siamese Kingdom through the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909. Originally, Patani enjoyed autonomy for itself but this changed after the constitutional reforms of 1932. This was followed by a process of ‘Thaification’ which resulted in repression of the local Jawi language and culture. After the Second World War, influenced by Nasserism, a Patani nationalist movement grew, which recast itself into a militant separatist movement by the beginning of the 21st century.

      The insurgents targeted and continue to target local Buddhist businessmen, monks and pork vendors, but avoid a direct conflict with the some 60,000 Thai troops in the region. Buddhist monks are specially on their radar as they are seen as the symbols of the Thai government.

      Unlike Myanmar, where Buddhist nationalists are at the forefront of an anti-Islamist campaign, in Thailand the mantle is taken up by the state, with Buddhist monks becoming increasingly reticent.

      Mirroring the tension between Buddhists and Muslims in other south-east Asian nations, Islamists in Indonesia too have targeted Buddhist temples, allegedly in retaliation to the treatment of Rohingyas in Myanmar. The values of religious harmony in Indonesia are now increasingly under threat.

      In Malaysia, (where Islam is the state religion), the pan-Malaysian Islamic Party has been promoting Islamism. Islamic law is already in force in some conservative parts of the country, and Buddhist religious activities are already restricted.

      Sri Lanka

      The history of conflict between Buddhism and Islam in Sri Lanka is however unlike that of the countries mentioned above. Having been under the strife of Tamil separatism till recently, Buddhist nationalists in that island nation have entered into a conflict with Muslims only recently. The Sinhalese-Buddhist nationalist Bodu Bela Sena (BBS) has similar aims to that of the 969 Movement in Myanmar, and is led by (the now absconding) Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara. Sectarian strife has increased in Sri Lanka over the course of the last few years, with riots in 2014, and recent incidents of violence against mosques and Muslim-owned businesses. During this period, the BBS was successful in getting the halal certification system abolished in the country.

      Gnanasara alleges that Buddhist heritage sites are being destroyed by Muslim settlers, and declares his fight to be against Islamic radicalisation, much like Wirathu in Myanmar.

      Thus in a Buddhist and transnational anti-Islamist effort, the 969 and the BBS movements struck up a pact in 2014 during a meeting in Colombo.


      While the immediate sources of conflict in south and south-east Asia between Buddhists and Muslims are local and have their own histories, some Buddhists are now adopting a coordinated counter-approach to what they perceive as growing Islamic fundamentalism in their countries.

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    • Confronting the Heart of Darkness

      Reverend Patti Nakai SUMMER 2017 tricycle

      It is only when we confront and accept the heart of darkness within ourselves that we can shatter the walls of ego that divides us from others.

      In the mid-1980s my Otani University adviser, Professor Shunsho Terakawa, gave a public lecture after an old friend and schoolmate of his died of cancer. The two had attended a school together outside the city of Hiroshima, and on a rare day off from classes, August 6, 1945, they decided to take a bus into the city to hang out there. The 8 o’clock bus was packed, so they waited for the next bus. Then, at about the time the first bus would have arrived in the city, they heard and felt the impact of the atomic bomb and saw its mushroom cloud. Wanting to know what had happened, they started walking toward the city. What they found was utter destruction: overwhelming numbers of people for blocks and blocks lay dead and dying. Professor Terakawa described the people walking out of the city as frightening sights: some had swatches of burned skin hanging off their bodies and eyeballs falling out of their sockets. He and his friend were totally helpless, knowing there was nothing they could do for any of the people crying out in pain and fear. It was too much for him to process as a teenager, but the memories of that day later shaped the direction and depth of his religious studies.

      I remember that the title of his public lecture was Ningen no mumyo, which translates as “The Darkness (mumyo) of (no) Humanity (ningen).” He spoke of the atomic bombings not as the doing of one particular country against another but as the vicious actions of human beings upon our fellow human beings. In this way, Professor Terakawa had entered the mind of Prince Siddhartha sitting under the Bodhi tree. In the prince’s self-examination, he was forced to confront himself as the cruel warrior, no different from his father and all the kings before and after him, kings who commanded their armies to rain destruction on any clan, village, or kingdom that posed a threat to their prosperity. According to the Japanese Shin Buddhist teacher Haya Akegarasu’s retelling of the Agamas (early Buddhist scriptures), when the prince recognized this bloodthirsty horror in the depth of his being, he shouted, “Avidya!” Though what Buddhists call “the awakening” arose with that shout, there are different interpretations of what the word meant.

      If we accept the usual English translation of the Sanskrit word avidya as “ignorance,” it follows that Siddhartha awoke to the fact he was not-knowing (a-vidya) reality correctly. Vidya can indicate the concept of “knowing” but that meaning comes out of “seeing, understanding” (i.e., making sense of what you see). When avidya was translated into Chinese, it became two characters: wu (not) and ming (seen clearly, brightness). This is mu-myo in Japanese pronunciation. This understanding of avidya as not-bright, or not-seen-clearly, has a different connotation from the typical English translation of “ignorance.” It became a tradition in East Asian Buddhism to define Siddhartha’s awakening not by the dispelling of his previous ignorance but by the direct confrontation with what was “not-bright” (mumyo) deep within himself—the visceral realization of his ability to inflict pain on others. Prince Siddhartha became the awakened Buddha when he saw his own avidya, his own dark heart and mind (mumyo), rather than merely his “ignorance.”

      In Jodo Shinshu (“Pure Land True Essence”), or Shin Buddhism, this radical stance is emphasized. Whereas other paths say that you can practice your way out of the heart of darkness, Shin Buddhists aspire to come to grips with our own warrior nature. We aspire to keep investigating all the ways we use to separate ourselves from others and dismiss the worth of their lives. We aspire to “own” all evils, so that we cannot use morality as a yardstick to justify our condemnation of other living beings. In the Tannisho, Shinran (1172–1263), our tradition’s founder, is recorded as saying, “Given karmic conditions, I could do anything.” In 20th-century terms, what he meant was, “I could be Adolf Hitler.” In study sessions with my students, I used to ask, “Can you see Hitler being born in the Pure Land?” Now I realize the real issue is this: only when I can see myself as Hitler will I truly be born in the Pure Land. “Namu Amida Butsu” [a chant also known as the nembutsu, Shin Buddhism’s central practice] is a call for me to come just as I am, with my heart of mumyo, darkness.


      It is only when one identifies totally with mumyo, the heart of darkness, that the walls of the proud ego-self are shattered and the true light of wisdom can shine through in one’s actions. In the Pure Land tradition we find inspiration and guidance in the lives of those, known and unknown, who have treated all people—including the common folk as well as criminals and outcasts—with respect.

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    • Chop off the head or change the heart? Buddhism and Capital Punishment

      May 30, 2017 Bhante Dhammika The Island

      If prostitution is the oldest profession then that of the executioner is the second oldest. Some of the most ancient written documents, and certainly the oldest legal documents mention death as a punishment for various crimes, often very minor ones. The Code of Hammurabi (1754 BC) applies the death penalty for about 50 offences. The book of Deuteronomy in the Bible (circa 7th century BC) requires death for merely working on Sunday, for a woman falsely claiming to be a virgin before her marriage, and for children who disobey their parents. Today, we think of the death penalty as a quick drop, an electric shock, or a sharp chop ending an offender’s life, but that was not so in the past. Death often came at the end of a prolonged and agonising ordeal. In ancient Indian law, two forms of capital punishment were recognised; quick (suddhavadha), which usually meant beheading; and painful (klesadaṇḍa), which included torture before death. In the Majjhima Nikaya, the Buddha mentions some 13 hideous tortures, inflicted on prisoners, as a means of killing them. One of the most ghastly punishments ever contrived, being hanged, drawn and quartered, was only finally abolished in the UK in 1870, although it had not been used for some time before that.

      A list of great men and women lost to civilization due to executions would be a long one - Socrates, Sir Walter Raleigh, Jesus of Nazareth, Antione Lavoisier, Joan of Arc, Jan Hus, Sir Thomas More, St. Peter, Giordano Bruno, William Tyndale and Federico Garcia Lorca to name but a few.

      It seems that the rational for the death penalty was originally vengeance, the removal of offenders from society and the discouragement of crime. The first move, in modern times to abolish capital punishment came in 1764 with Cesare Beccaria’s ‘On Crime and Punishment’ in which he argued that it was both cruel and ineffective in discouraging crime. Influenced by this, Peter Leopold II of Tuscany in Italy abolished capital punishment in 1786, the first modern European state to do so. The Church and other bodies were appalled, claiming that Tuscany would descend into complete lawlessness. It didn’t happen.

      But interestingly, capital punishment had been abolished many times before, often by rulers attempting of apply Buddhist principles to the social domain. King Asoka abolished it in 243 BC as did several Indian Buddhist monarchs subsequently. The Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang who travelled through India during the 7th century wrote: "The kings of India believe deeply in the Buddha’s teachings and do not use the death penalty in governing the people. Even persons guilty of serious offences are not executed." The Japanese Emperor Shomu, another devout Buddhist, abolished capital punishment during his reign (724-49) and it was again banned in 810, and not used for most of the next 350 years. Various Buddhist thinkers through the centuries argued for the abolition of the death penalty. In a letter to King Gautamiputra, (1st/2nd century CE) Nagarjuna wrote: "Just as a son is punished out of the desire to make him worthy, so punishment should be inflicted with compassion and not through hatred or greed. Once you have judged murderers, you should banish them without killing them." We do not know whether Nagarjuna’s words had their desired effect.

      So should a state that claims to ‘protect’ Buddhism, or which sees itself as ‘a Buddhist country,’ have capital punishment? Although we think of the Five Precepts as mainly being about personal morality, they do, or should, be applied in the social and political domain as well. Logically, if it is wrong for an individual to kill it must be wrong for an entity such as a state to kill also. When I read of countries such as Myanmar or Thailand punishing thoughtless foreign tourists for standing on Buddha statues in order to take photos, or offending traditional Buddhist etiquette in other ways, I always think how imbalanced this is, given that both countries regularly execute criminals. Surely killing a human being is, or should be, more offensive to Buddhist values than insensitive although harmless misbehaviour.

      It seems unarguable that a Buddhist state should not engage in judicial killing. The Buddha objected to capital punishment mainly because it involves cruelty and killing, thus contravening the First Precept. He said judges who hand down cruel punishments, as well as tormentors and executioners, all practise wrong, literally "a cruel" livelihood (kurura kammanta) and create much negative kamma for themselves (Samyutta Nikaya II,257-60). He was well aware of the severity of the legal system of his time and in one sutra quoted a judge at the conclusion of a trial speaking the dreaded words; "Tie his hands behind his back with strong rope, shave his head, parade him through the streets to the sound of a harsh drum, take him out by the south gate of the city and chop his head off!" The horrible and heart-rending scenes that could be witnessed at the places of execution must have been familiar to the Buddha, too, as it was to his monks and nuns. The Vinaya tells of a monk pleading with an executioner to dispatch a criminal quickly so as "to put him out of his misery". The Janasandha Jataka tells of a righteous king (actually the Bodisattva) who instituted many reforms, including "opening the prisons and breaking the executioner’s block". In the Sumangala Jataka, another king (again the Bodhisattva) says "I punish people according to justice but also with compassion." Given the Buddha’s opposition to all forms of cruelty and killing, including the death penalty, it is something of an anomaly that all Buddhist countries except Cambodia and Mongolia have capital punishment today and there is almost no pressure from the Sangha, the judicial profession, or the public to have it repealed. Elaborate pujas and glittering viharas attract a great deal of interest, social issues in conformity with the Dhamma are far less so. In much of the rest of the world, particularly in the developed countries, judicial killing has been abolished in the last 70 years, the US being the one big glaring exception to this. Even the undeveloped and, some might say, backward Nepal, has abolished it. But sadly, despite these advances there are also examples of retrograde steps. Tibet’s 13th Dalai Lama abolished the death penalty in 1913 but the Chinese re-introduced after taking over the country in 1959, mainly for political offences, and have uses it very liberally since then. Sri Lanka abolished the death penalty in 1956 as part of a program to have more Buddhist principles in public policy. But, after S.W.R.D Bandaranaike’s assassination it was re-introduced in 1959, then used sparingly after 1976, re-introduced again in 2004 and there has been a moratorium since then. As of today there have been no judicial executions since 1976 but the death penalty is still on the books. Is it not time that a country with such a deep and enduring Buddhist tradition finally abolish once and for all state sponsored killing?

      There are some who might say that abolishing capital punishment in order to be in conformity with Buddhism would be hypocritical. They might point out that the state promotes the fishing industry, it reaps a handsome revenue from alcohol sales and from gambling, and more than that, it maintains an army specifically trained to use violence when necessary. "If you are going to be consistent", critics might say, "the state should divest itself from all these things. Why make a big fuss over a few murderers and not focus on these much bigger infractions of Buddhist morality?" A response to such objections would be that killing fish is in a different category from killing humans, and that while many benefits for society are derived from the fishing industry none at all is derived from killing humans. Even the Buddha saw a fundamental difference between killing animals and humans. A monk, or nun, who commits murder is expelled from the Sangha and can never be re-admitted; killing an animal is a serious but far less serious offence which requires confession before the Sangha. As for alcohol and gambling, to ban them would only give rise to corruption and black marketeering – it has been tried before in many countries and it does not work. The realistic thing is to accept that some people will always drink and gamble, and do nothing to promote either beyond their natural level. And an army? All that could be said here is that a state can do much to be in accordance with the Dhamma, but not in every matter. Having said this it is worth pointing out that there are 22 countries in the world that have abolished their armed forces, including Costa Rica, Mauritius, Dominica, Grenada, Iceland and Panama, most of them small islands, like Sri Lanka.


      Abolishing capital punishment would let citizens know that their government is doing what can be done to create a more humane and kindly society. It would demonstrate that the country is, at least in this respects, joining the nations that are moving with the times, and it would free all those who would otherwise be involved in death-dealing - the judges who pass down capital sentences, the executioner and his assistants who actually do the killing, the merchants who provide the ropes and other equipment, the doctors who attend executions, etc. - from their grisly duties, and it would give criminals the opportunity to be reformed and hopefully return to society. And of course, it would be more in keeping with the values we claim to live by.

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    • Why Christians Turn to Buddhism: Six Examples

      May 23, 2017 Daniel P. (Danny) Coleman Patheos

      A small but growing number Christians in the West are turning to Buddhism for spiritual guidance.  Many are reading books about Buddhism, and some are also meditating, participating in Buddhist retreats, and studying under Buddhist teachers.  They are drawn to Buddhism’s emphasis on “being present” in the present moment; to its recognition of the interconnectedness of all things; to its emphasis on non-violence; to its appreciation of a world beyond words, and to its provision of practical means — namely meditation — for growing in one’s capacities for wise and compassionate living in daily life.   As they learn from Buddhism, they do not abandon Christianity.  Their hope is that Buddhism can help them become better Christians.  They are Christians influenced by Buddhism.

      1.  Julia is typical of one kind of Christian influenced by Buddhism.  She is a hospice worker in New York who, as a Benedictine sister, turns to Buddhism “to become a better listener and to become more patient.”   As a student of Zen she has been practicing zazen for twenty years under the inspiration of the Vietnamese Zen teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, whose book Living Buddha/Living Christ gave her new eyes for Christ, proposing that Jesus himself was “mindful in the present moment.”   She practices meditation in order to deepen her own capacities for mindfulness, particularly as it might help her be more effective in her life’s calling.  As a hospice worker she feels called to listen to dying people, quietly and without judgment, as a way of extending the healing ministry of Christ.  Like many people in consumer society, she sometimes finds herself too hurried and distracted, too caught up in her own concerns, to be present to others in patient and healing ways.  She turns to Zen practice because it has helped her become more patient and attentive in her capacities to be available to people in a spirit of compassion.

      From Julia’s perspective, “being present” to people in a compassionate way is a spiritual practice in its own right.  She calls this attention “practicing the presence of God,” and she believes that this listening participates in a deeper Listening – an all-inclusive Love — whom she calls God, and whom she believes is everywhere at once.  She turns to Zen meditation, then, not to escape the world, but to help her drawn closer to the very God whose face she sees in people in need, and to help her become gentler and more attentive in her own capacities for listening.  In her words: “I hope that my Zen practice has helped me become a better Christian.”

      2.  John, too, is a Christian who practices meditation, but for different reasons.  He suffers from chronic back pain from a car accident several years ago.  He has turned to meditation as a way of coping more creatively with his pain.  “The pain doesn’t go away,” he says, but it’s so much worse when I fight it.  Meditation has helped me live with the pain, instead of fighting it all the time.”  When people see John, they note that he seems a little more at peace, and a little more joyful, than he used to seem.   Not that everything is perfect.  He has his bad days and his good days.   Still, he finds solace in the fact that, even on the bad days, he can “take a deep breath” and feel a little more control in his life.

      When John is asked to reflect on the relation between his meditation practice and Christianity, he reminds his questioner that that the very word Spirit is connected to the Hebrew word ruach, which means breathing.  John sees physical breathing—the kind that we do each moment of our lives–as a portable icon for a deeper Breathing, divine in nature, which supports us in all circumstances, painful and pleasant, and which allows us to face suffering, our own and that of others, with courage.  “Buddhism has helped me find strength in times of pain; it has helped me find God’s Breathing.”

      3.  Sheila is an advertising agent in Detroit who turns to Buddhism for a different reason.  She does not practice meditation and is temperamentally very active and busy. But over the years her busyness has become a compulsion and she now risks losing her husband and children, because she never has time for her family.  As she explains: “Almost all of my daily life has been absorbed with selling products, making money, and manipulating other people’s desires.  Somewhere in the process I have forgotten what was most important to me: helping others, being with friends and family, and appreciating the simple beauties of life.  Buddhism speaks to my deeper side.”

      When Sheila reflects on the relationship between Buddhism and Christianity, she thinks about the lifestyle and values of Jesus.  She recognizes that Jesus himself had little interest in appearance, affluence, and marketable achievement, and that he was deeply critical of the very idea that “amassing wealth” should be a central organizing principle of life.   She doubts that Jesus would approve of the business culture in which she is immersed, in which the accumulation of wealth seems to be the inordinate concern.  For her, then, Buddhism invites her to rethink the values by which she lives and to turn to values that are closer to the true teachings of Christ.   “I find this simpler way challenging,” she says, “but also hopeful. I hope that Buddhism can help me have the courage to follow Christ more truly.

      4.  Robert is an unemployed social worker in Texas, who feels unworthy of respect because he does not have a salaried job like so many of his friends.   He, too, has been reading books on Buddhism, “Most people identify with their jobs,” he says, “but I don’t have one.   Sometimes I feel like a nothing, a nobody.  Sometimes I feel like it is only at church, and sometimes not even there, that I count for anything.”

      Robert turns to Buddhism as a complement to the kind of support he seeks to find, but sometimes doesn’t find, in Christianity.  Buddhism tells him that his real identity—his true self, as Buddhists put it—lies more in the kindness he extends to others, and to himself, than in the making money and amassing wealth.   Like Sheila, he sees this as connected with the teachings of Jesus.  “Jesus tells me that I am made in the image of God; Buddhism tells me that I possess the Buddha-Nature.   I don’t care what name you use, but somehow you need to know that you are more than money and wealth.”

      5.  Jane is a practicing physicist who works at a laboratory in Maryland who goes to a local Methodist church regularly.   For her, a religious orientation must “make sense” intellectually, even as it also appeals to a more affective side of life, as discovered in personal relations, music, and the natural world.   But she also finds God in science and in scientific ways of understanding the world.   She is troubled that, too often, the atmosphere of church seems to discourage, rather than encourage, the spirit of enquiry and questioning that are so important in the scientific life.  Jane appreciates the fact that, in Buddhism as she understands it, this spirit is encouraged.

      This non-dogmatic approach, in which even religious convictions can be subject to revision, inspires her.  In her words: “I plan to remain a Christian and stay with my Methodist church, but I want to learn more about Buddhism.  I sense that its approach to life can help me see the spiritual dimensions of doubt and inquiry and help me integrate religion and science.

      6.  Sandra is a Roman Catholic nun in Missouri who leads a retreat center.  Twelve months a year she leads retreats for Christians, Catholic and non-Catholic, who wish to recover the more contemplative traditions of their prayer life and enter more deeply into their interior journey with God.   At her workshops she offers spiritual guidance and introduces participants to many of the mystics of the Christian tradition: John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Meister Eckhart, Hildegard of Bingen.  Even as she does this, she herself is on the very journey to God, and she makes this clear to people who come her way.

      Sandra turns to Buddhism because she believes that its teaching of no-ego or no-self, when understood experientially and not just intellectually, is itself an essential dimension of the journey to God.    She sees this teaching as complementary to, and yet enriching, the teaching of “death and resurrection” that is at the heart of Christian faith.   In her words: “Christianity and Buddhism agree that the spiritual pilgrimage involves an absolute letting go, or dropping away, of all that a person knows of self and God.  Indeed, this is what happened in Jesus as he lay dying on the cross, and perhaps at many moments leading up to the cross.  Only after the dying can new life emerge, in which there is in some sense ‘only God’ and no more ‘me.’  I see the cross as symbolizing this dying of self and resurrecting of new life that must occur within each of us.   Buddhism helps me enter into that dying of self.”


      As you listen to their stories, perhaps you hear your own desires in some of them.  If so, you have undertaken an empathy experiment.  You need not be “Christian” or “Buddhist” to do this.  There is something to learn from them even if you are not religious at all.  Don’t we all need to live by dying?  Don’t we all need to listen better?  Don’t we all need to inquire and seek truth?  There is something deeply human in their searching, and deeply human in our willingness to learn from them, even if we don’t share their faith.  And even if we do.

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    • Conceptions of Happiness

      Daniel Goleman FALL 2005 tricycle

      Happiness is awakening to the question “Who is happy, who is unhappy, who lives, and who dies?” True happiness is uncaused, arising from the very nature of being itself. We seek happiness only when we are asleep to our true nature—dreaming that enlightenment is over there, somewhere else. But we are all, already, what we are seeking. Buddhas seeking to be Buddhas. Ha! How ridiculous.

      —Adyashanti, San Francisco Bay area teacher who draws upon Zen and Advaita Vedanta

      We’re always trying to free ourselves from misery but we go about it the wrong way. There are a lot of small sweetnesses in life that we ignore because they’re so fleeting. It’s very important to look at what lifts our spirits and brings us happiness—to cherish those moments and cultivate appreciation. Happiness comes from being receptive to whatever arises rather than frantically trying to escape what’s unpleasant.

      —Pema Chödron, from True Happiness, a Sounds True CD set

      Society teaches us that suffering is an enemy. We are constantly encouraged to reject what is unpleasant, disappointing or difficult. “What’s all this suffering? Let’s be happy! Have fun!” But our suffering is not our enemy. It is only through a relationship with my pain, my sadness, that I can truly know and touch the opposite—my pleasure, my joy, and my happiness.

      —Claude AnShin Thomas, Zen monk, teacher, and author, At Hell’s Gate: A soldier’s Journey from War to Peace

      Happiness is primarily a matter of work that is fulfilling. There are many other factors, of course—a nice marriage or relationship, economic security, intellectual and artistic stimulation, and so on—but if the job is unsatisfactory, nothing else can really compensate.

      —Robert Aitken, retired master, Palolo Zen Center, Honolulu, Hawaii

      Isn’t is funny?—I have been studying happiness for at least forty years, but I still don’t have a definition of it. The closest one would be that happiness is the state of mind in which one does not desire to be in any other state. Being deeply involved in the moment, we do not have the opportunity to think about anything but the task at hand—hence, by default we are happy.

      —Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, director, Quality of Life Research Center, Claremont Graduate University, and author, Flow: The Psychology of Optimum Experience

      Studies my colleagues and I have conducted consistently show that when people focus on money, image, and status, they experience less happiness, vitality, and life satisfaction, and more depression and anxiety. Whereas materialistic pursuits tend to alienate people from their true selves, from others, and from the world at large, “intrinsic” pursuits encourage people to become who they really are and to deeply connect with other people and the broader world.

      —Tim Kasser, Associate Producer of Psychology, Knox College, and author, The High Price of Materialism

      Usually, when we use the word “happiness,” it refers to how we feel when things appear to be going our way. This kind of happiness is superficial and ultimately unsatisfying. During the fourteen years I served in a maximum security federal prison, it was clear that things did not appear to be going my way. Practicing the Buddhist path, grounded in meditation, study, precepts practice, and service, I discovered an abiding cheerfulness and even joy. This kind of happiness is worth pursuing.

      —Fleet Maull, founder and president, Prison Dharma Network

      I think the best way to think about happiness is that it comes not from the inside or outside but from between. We can best find happiness by getting the conditions of our lives right, conditions that allow us to connect with others, with projects, and with something larger than the self, be it God, a social movement, or a profession with an ennobling tradition, such as teaching, art, medicine, or science.

      —Jonathan Haidt, associate professor of psychology, University of Virginia, and author, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom [Basic Books, January 2006]

      My teacher, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, uses an image I like: “happiness for no reason.” When I think of that I think of being at home in one’s body and mind, in life as it is. That feeling of belonging is quieter than a lot of the flash we try to experience, but it is ours, not someone else’s to give us or to take away. It is steadfast and supportive, unbroken when conditions change. It can flourish in the face of obstacles, it can be there for us when everything else seems to fail, and it reminds us that each moment of life, delightful or painful, is precious.

      —Sharon Salzberg, co-founder, Insight Meditation Society, and author, “The Force of Kindness” [Sounds True, September 2005]


      Ultimately, happiness is equanimity. While we all seek to be happy, we need to reduce suffering to get there. Neuroscience offers a biological metaphor: the brain areas most active during happiness, in the left prefrontal cortex, contain the neurons that silence disturbing feelings, allowing us to recover from states of emotional suffering more quickly or be less thrown off balance.

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    • Breathing New Life into Myanmar’s Monastic Schools

      Shuyin Buddhistdoor Global | 2017-05-19 |

      There is no gate or decorated signboard at Phaung Daw Oo Integrated Monastic Education School (PDO) in Mandalay, and its entrance obscured by advertising billboards, tuk-tuks, and motorcycles. A pedlar stands guard at the corner, enticing passing students to try their luck at a game of spin-the-wheel, while vendors line the alley leading up to the school, selling Burmese noodles, snacks, and other daily items and oddities. For the moment, the area is relatively clear, but when the bell rings to mark the end of the school day, everything becomes a blur as a sea of bicycles and students in white and green sweeps across the compound.

      This is Myanmar’s largest monastic school, with close to 10,000 students and 500 teachers and staff. It is one of the few monastic schools accredited to offer education from kindergarten to high school, and is perhaps also the most progressive in the country.

      PDO was founded in 1993 by its principal, Sayadaw U Nayaka, and his brother Sayadaw U Jotika, who were both inspired by Christian missionary schools and their idea of free education, a legacy of Myanmar’s colonial past. From its humble beginnings, PDO has had only one mission: to provide free tuition to students from impoverished backgrounds, orphans, neglected and abandoned children, and those otherwise unable to attend government schools.

      Children are admitted regardless of religion, race, or gender. Free room and board is provided for about 1,000 students and staff. Many of the resident students come from remote areas where there is no school, or where civil war or natural disasters have made access to education difficult. In addition to the majority Bamar people, there are several ethnic minorities attending the school, including the Akhar, Kayin, Larhu, Pa-oh, Palaung Kachin, Shan, and Wa. There are also 400 orphans housed in one dormitory, and a full-time health clinic providing free medical treatment for the students and staff alike, treating an average of 150 students a day.

      PDO is also home to some 700 young Buddhist novice monks and nuns. While only a few of these will enter religious life full-time, for now their day begins with the ritual collection of alms from the neighborhood. After breakfast, they attend classes together with the other students. Pali language and Buddhist studies lessons are conducted after regular school hours.

      What distinguishes PDO from traditional monastic schools in Myanmar is its rejection of the traditional emphasis on rote learning and memorization that has retarded Myanmar’s education system for decades. Instead, PDO stresses a holistic and child-centred approach (CCA) to education.

       “I first heard about CCA when I started this school,” U Nayaka explains. “I found that this teaching method involves continuous assessment, active learning, and critical thinking. This is what is needed if we are to develop the strong leaders that will lead Myanmar into a new era.”

      With the help of donors, U Nayaka sought foreign teachers to conduct training at PDO, and many of the school’s young teachers have themselves gone through the CCA system as pupils. As such, they are better able to grasp its pedagogy during the intensive training and have little difficulty applying the methodology in the classroom.

      CCA is used in kindergarten and primary classes, while the middle and high school levels use the Reading, Writing, and Critical Thinking (RWCT) method. Classes are taught mainly in Burmese, although many students speak other languages at home. There are special programs, such as Fast Track, Bridging, Pre-College, and New Teacher Training, which are taught in English, and students are also encouraged to attend classes in life skills, leadership training, health, hygiene, gender, and citizenship. Sunday Dhamma school, which teaches basic Buddhism and ethics, is optional and open to all children in the neighborhood.

      Although CCA is highly valued, its emphasis on creative and critical thinking is ill-matched for Myanmar’s existing examination system, which is still based on textbook memorization and regurgitation. As a result, students trained through CCA do not always stack up against students from government schools in examinations. Only 30 per cent of PDO’s students passed the matriculation exams in the 2014–15 academic year, and only 185 obtained distinctions. Those who do pass the final examinations face an uphill battle to gain entry into university, with places usually awarded according to examination marks. Once admitted, many cannot find places in preferred subjects such as medicine, engineering, or information technology, which require very high total examination scores.

      One of U Nayaka’s main concerns is what will happen to the children after they leave PDO. “Most of them come here because they can’t afford tuition fees. Some of them can’t go to those universities because of their marks, but they are smart enough to become professionals,” he said.

      To provide opportunities for these students to further their education, PDO is experimenting with pre-college classes aimed at preparing students and teachers who will go overseas to study. On a more practical level, students can opt for vocational training, which includes carpentry, tailoring, computer studies, horticulture, and catering. Many of these classes also help to lower the school’s expenditure and even generate income. For example, school uniforms are made in the sewing classes, while the carpentry class builds furniture and undertakes much of the construction work at the school that would otherwise have to be outsourced. Produce from the horticulture program, meanwhile, is used to feed the multitude of students through the school’s dining program.

      With Myanmar’s rapid economic development, the need for educational reform has come into sharp focus. In Yangon, the number of international schools, seen by the elite as a pathway to prestigious foreign universities, rose from 25 in 2012 to 43 by November 2016. Despite soaring tuition fees, enrollment increased by more than 75 per cent in the same period, from 6,700 to 11,800, with locals making up 80 per cent of the intake.

      But the privileges of this elite education are reserved for only a tiny fraction of Myanmar’s 54 million people. The tuition fees of US$5,000–10,000 per semester forked out by the rich are well beyond the reach of the 70 percent of the population who live in rural areas and the 25.6 per cent subsisting below the national poverty line.

      Education can be a great equalizer in lifting poor and disadvantaged communities out of poverty. For most, their options lie in the government or monastic systems. The latter, in particular, plays an important role in providing education for many unable to access government schools.

      Yet it is not only access, but the quality of education that matters. To achieve a more egalitarian society, no single factor is more important than investing in quality education. Sadly, too many government and monastic schools remain stuck in a bygone era, providing a low quality of education and working with inadequate resources. Very few abbots and teachers have experience in school management, and hold only a basic understanding of education principles and the developmental needs of children.

      There are an estimated 1,579 monastic schools with 7,500 teachers nationwide to meet the needs of some 275,000 students. To improve monastic education throughout Myanmar, the Monastic Education Development Group (MEDG), led by U Nayaka under the umbrella of the PDO, was established in 2012. With his influence, U Nayaka successfully lobbied for recognition of monastic schools at the policy level, such as the inclusion of monastic schools in the Ministry of Education’s school grant policy.

      Since 2015, PDO has embarked on various IT initiatives with foreign partnerships to develop and position itself as the Centre of Information Technology for Monastic Education. The aim is that through the e-learning solution program, more children in remote regions will be able to access high-quality education through distance learning.

      “Our education system has been spoiled for many years so that our children can’t catch up to international levels,” U Nakaya noted. “My belief is that with better education, with smart and well-educated people, we can create a better community, a better country.”


      U Nakaya’s broad vision and dedication has placed him in the top 50 finalists for the 2016 Global Teacher Prize,**** the only Burmese to make the list and an endorsement of PDO’s success. At 73, U Nayaka is still not quite ready to slow down. His latest project is building a new campus in the foothills of Taung Kyun Forest, and a monastic school convention to be held in May 2018 for more than 2,000 delegates from across the country at this new campus is already on his calendar. At the moment, with only a single bamboo hut, no electricity, and no proper road access to the site, this is, as one volunteer puts it, “an ambitious plan by any stretch of the imagination.” Given U Nayaka’s optimism and his unwavering resolution, almost nothing seems impossible!   

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    • This rare flower symbolizes reincarnation of Buddha

      TNN | Apr 21, 2017

      Youtan poluo, mostly mistaken as lacewings eggs, is one of the rarest flowers in the world and has an interesting myth around its growth. This delicate flower is believed to bloom once in 3000 years and is said to mark the arrival of a royal king. According to Buddhist scriptures, these flowers are a symbol of immortality and reincarnation of Buddha.

      The local name for this rare flower, in China, is Udumbara. Udumbara, in Sanskrit, means an auspicious flower descending from the heaven and these mysterious flowers omit a distinct fragrance of sandalwood.

      Among other interesting facts about these white delicate flowers, one of the facts is that they were seen on the head of Buddha statue at Chonggye-Sa temple in Seoul. A recent sighting of this flower in 2010 was reported by a Chinese nun, who could distinguish them from assuming it to be lacewing eggs because they omitted fragrance of sandalwood.


      The mysterious belongings of nature never fail to surprise us and Youtan poluo is a perfect example of this. We do not know if this flower is really an indication of Buddha's reincarnation but it definitely remains special for its rare qualities. 

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    • The Death Penalty in South Asia

      Jivesh Jha May 18, 2017 The Diplomat

      Nepal, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka have effectively abolished capital punishment. The rest of South Asia hasn’t. 

      “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment.” So wrote English author JRR Tolkein in his popular Lord of the Rings series. India’s Mahatma Gandhi put it this way: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

      Although much of the world has come around to a similar view — that one killing cannot be avenged with another — most South Asian states maintain a fondness for capital punishment, with Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka as the exceptions.

      The constitutions of Nepal (Article 16), and Bhutan (Article 7-18) both prohibit the death penalty. Interestingly, though the death penalty has a legal foundation in Sri Lanka there have been no executions in the Buddhist state since 1976. Legal practice shows that the state has moved a step toward abolition, following the global trend.

      Conversely, the South Asian states of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, and Pakistan all firmly believe that the death penalty can deter people with evil intent. In this context, the Indian legal system fails to buy into the words of Gandhi, who is considered to be Bapu (founding father) of the world’s largest democracy.

      The Indian Penal Code (IPC)-1860 (amended in 2013) prescribes the death penalty for as many as 11 offenses, including waging war against the government, abetting mutiny by a member of the armed forces, acid attack, murder, rape, and criminal conspiracy. Similar legal frameworks for the death penalty (save for acid attack) have been provisioned under the Bangladesh Penal Code.

      In Pakistan, capital punishment is provisioned for no less than 27 different offenses, to include blasphemy, sexual intercourse outside of marriage, outraging the modesty of a woman, and smuggling drugs.

      In Afghanistan, various crimes — murder, apostasy, homosexuality, rape, terrorism, drug trafficking, adultery, treason, or desertion — are punishable by death based on Islamic jurisprudence. The Maldivian legal position on the death penalty is similar to Afghanistan’s.

      Generally, an accused merits the fate of legal death in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Maldives, and Afghanistan when the crimes committed meet the threshold of “most serious crimes.” Blasphemy, adultery, or drug trafficking do not necessarily meet the threshold of “most serious crimes” but are still punishable by death in Pakistan and many other Islamic countries, including Maldives and Afghanistan.

      India’s Supreme Court, in the landmark case of Bachan Singh vs.State of Punjab (1980), forwarded the doctrine of “rarest of rare,” arguing that life imprisonment is the rule while a death sentence is the exception. The top court held that the death penalty could be imposed “when [society’s] collective conscience is so shocked that it will expect the holders of the judicial power center to inflict death penalty irrespective of their personal opinion as regards desirability or otherwise of retaining death penalty.”

      Even though there is no statutory definition of “rarest of the rare” cases, its widely believed that the pre-planned, brutal, cold-blooded, and sordid nature of a crime, without giving any chance to the victim, is taken into consideration to decide whether a particular case falls within the purview of “rarest of the rare.” India’s Supreme Court recently used this metric to award the death penalty to the accused in a high-profile 2012 gang-rape case.

      The “collective conscience” metric for awarding the death penalty is problematic. If a judge feels that the collective conscience is so shocked that it’s desirable to inflict the death penalty on the accused, then can he or she hear the case entirely on merit? Will the judge ensure a fair trial and presume the accused innocent until proven guilty?

      Additionally, in the 21st century world we live in — fully equipped with 24-hour TV and social media on tap — outrage can be manufactured and reality can be distorted.

      “The collective conscience doctrine is not a very clear-cut concept and its in want of a healthy debate in India,” opines Dr. Nidhi Saxena, a faculty member in international law at Sikkim Central University, India. She adds that the judicial pronouncements may not address the collective conscience, as public participation was not ensured in the entire decision making process.

      Beyond the specific issues with the “collective conscience” rule, many believe that the taking of a life by the judiciary is simply unjust and inhuman and its continued practice is a stain on a society standing on humanitarian values. Beyond this, the death penalty regime is a clear violation Article 6 (right to life) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And, interestingly, India, Pakistan, Maldives, and Afghanistan are signatories to these conventions.

      Although the task remains unfulfilled, the second optional protocol to ICCPR was introduced in 1991 with the aim of abolishing of the death penalty globally. However, the instrument only succeeded in imposing an obligation on the international community to disallow capital punishment in the case of minors and pregnant women.

      Despite this, the Maldivian parliament recently enacted a law that confirms death penalty can be applied to a minor who commits an intentional murder or any serious crime.

      A UN resolution that called for a global moratorium on the death penalty was passed by the General Assembly on December 19, 2016. It was supported by 117 states; 40 voted against it and 31 abstained.

      Moreover, the International Criminal Court, which is situated in The Hague, also slams the death penalty and favors life imprisonment even for crimes against humanity, such as genocide.

      Even as the global trend roots for abolition, the states imposing the death penalty justify their slated position. They appeal to each state’s sovereign rights to determine its own law (as enshrined under Article 2 Paragraph 7 of the UN Charter, i.e., the principle of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of a state). They also argue that the death penalty is exercised in rare cases and insist their legal systems guarantee rule of law and ample procedural safeguards for a fair and speedy trial.

      However, “abolition is now entrenched in human rights discourse and it cannot be limited to national criminal jurisprudence. If one makes the ‘sovereignty defense’ then its simply a frivolous justification,” says Saxena.

      Ultimately, the “death penalty is not a strong enough deterrent; rather effective laws and order are,” Saxena argues. Though a section of the population in India favors the death penalty for crimes involving women and children or terrorism,  she believes“the move towards a more enlightened approach (i.e., abolition) could be initiated in Parliament.”

      The criminal jurisprudence of most of South Asia on death penalty falls short of international obligations and its high time to rethink their stand on the death penalty.


      As per the reports of Amnesty International, around 140 countries — more than two-third of the world — have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. The South Asian states, except Nepal, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka, are out of step with this global trend.

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    • Hit by terror, Bodh Gaya temple in Bihar to get armed security cover

      PTI 17th May 2017  

      NEW DELHI: Four years after a terror strike at the Mahabodhi temple, the Centre is planning to provide an armed security cover of trained paramilitary commandos to the UNESCO World Heritage site in Bodh Gaya in Bihar, known as the cradle of Buddhism.

      A series of blasts in and around the temple on July 7, 2013 had injured two monks, following which Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had sought an armed security cover for the temple complex and its adjoining temples, 115-km south of the state capital Patna.

      Officials said after several rounds of high-level talks, the Union home ministry has decided to sanction a CISF security cover to the temple complex and a few more meetings would be held to finalise the plan.

      They said the grounds for providing the armed cover have been analysed and the security establishment believes that the world famous temple site needs to be provided with a protection cover owing to its status of being a World Heritage site, thronged by lakh of domestic and international tourists and followers every year.

      "The first demand for an armed security cover to the temple complex was made by the Bihar government in 2013, right after the blasts. However, various issues like the pattern of deployment and CISF being provided only to high threat perception utilities kept the decision hanging for the last four years," a senior officer said.

      They said that the Central Industrial Security Force CISF), a force which has expertise in securing vital installations and buildings, had carried out a survey of the facility immediately after the blasts.

      That CISF report will now be used and discussed before the security cover is accorded to the temple complex, they said.

      "The final sanction for granting the security cover to the temple complex could come by this month-end from the home ministry. An estimated 150-200 commandos and personnel of the CISF have been projected in the security audit that will be required to guard the 4.8600-hectare complex," the senior officer said.

      The officials said central security agencies, in their regular intelligence dossiers to the home ministry, have underlined that the temple complex is vulnerable from the point of view of possible sabotage and terror attacks and hence should have a good protection paraphernalia for the building and the visiting devotees.

      While the temple trust will not be able to bear the estimated cost of Rs 20 crore per annum in lieu of the CISF deployment, the Bihar government may provide these funds in consultation with the Centre, they said.

      Frequented by Buddhist pilgrims from Sri Lanka, China, Japan and the whole of southeast Asian, the temple and the Bodhi Tree, under which Lord Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment, did not suffer any damage in the blasts that shook the holy town of Gaya in 2013.

      As per the UNESCO, "the Mahabodhi temple complex is the first temple built by Emperor Asoka in the third century BC and the present temple dates from the 5th–6th centuries.


      "It is one of the earliest Buddhist temples built entirely in brick, still standing, from the late Gupta period and it is considered to have had significant influence in the development of brick architecture over the centuries."

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    • Islam must face demons

      Herald Sun May 24, 2017

      ISLAM must face a deadly reality from within — its religion is providing the framework for mass-casualty terrorist attacks against innocent civilians.

      The world’s suspicions the depraved mass murder of children and adults in Manchester was the work of an Islamic extremist were confirmed yesterday and claimed by Islamic State.

      Labelling such attacks “Islamic terrorism” immediately draws politically correct accusations of Islamophobia, a strident defence that Islam is a religion of peace and that this is yet another example of a heinous act committed by a criminal who has hijacked religion.

      Indeed, Islamic community leaders, including the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, has previously described Islamic State as “anti-Muslim” and prominent Muslims issue public condemnations when terror attacks occur.

      But, while such statements are welcome, they do not address a fundamental problem: there are large numbers of radicalised Islamic extremists in Western nations willing to kill innocent people.

      Nor do hashtags, candlelit vigils or social media campaigns combat the root cause of terrorism. Australia and other Western nations must have an open, mature conversation about Islam as both part of the problem and an essential part of the answer to it.

      As we’ve seen too often in Europe it takes only a handful of extremists, or a lone wolf, to wreak horrendous carnage. Picture: Getty Images

      As the horrible impact of the Manchester atrocity comes to light, we reflect on the faces of Saffie Rose Roussos, 8, Georgina Callander, 18, and others among at least 22 dead and 59 injured.

      In Australia, more than 300 individuals are monitored as potential terrorism threats and 12 domestic plots have been foiled in the past two years. Another 100 Australians are fighting alongside IS in Iraq and Syria or supporting their efforts, and at least 70 have been killed in the conflict zone.

      With approximately 500,000 Muslims in Australia, in context, the number of suspected terrorism sympathisers is low. But as we’ve seen too often in Europe — from Nice, Paris and Brussels to London and now Manchester, or even in Melbourne with the Anzac, Christmas or Mother’s Day plots — it takes only a handful of extremists, or a lone wolf, to wreak horrendous carnage. Our national terrorism threat alert currently sits at “probable”. If another terrorist strike occurs — after the Numan Haider, Man Haron Monis and Farhad Khalil Mohammad Jabar events — it is more than probable, in fact highly likely, it will be Islamic-extremist inspired.

      Apologists argue a tormented and selective interpretation of the Koran and not Islam itself is to blame for terrorist acts. Yet there is no escaping the fact that since the world-changing September 11 attacks in the US in 2001, terrorism is a cancer that has spread from Islam’s extremist infection. In 2014, when Islamic State first emerged in some force, there were 18 civilian deaths in Western attacks inspired or directed by the group. That rose to claim 313 deaths in 2015 from 67 attacks and IS is now responsible for well over half the terrorist killings carried out in the West, including 6141 deaths in attacks on recent statistics.

      It is now the world’s most deadly terrorist group, followed by al-Qaeda, Nigeria’s Islamist Boko Haram and Afghanistan’s Taliban — which account for more than 75 per cent of terrorism fatalities.

      President Donald Trump’s words this week denouncing terrorism must be adopted loudly by Australian imams, Islamic families and the entire Muslim community.

      IS, al-Qaeda and Boko Haram have one deadly common denominator — they follow a violent Salafi form of armed jihad under the Wahhabi doctrine of Sunni Islam.

      Certainly, there are religious, political or cultural atrocities (terrorism) committed by a range of other groups, sects and criminals across the globe in recent and current times. They include the recent ethnic war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which claimed an estimated 5.4 million lives; “ethnic cleansing”, which has killed thousands of Rohingya Muslims in Buddhist-majority Myanmar; mass shootings in the US by crazed gunmen with anti-government agendas or, until mid-last year, the Marxist-Leninist FARC group that saw hundreds of thousands killed in Colombia. Even intra-Islamic conflict in the Middle East, pitting Shia against Sunni sects, results in huge numbers of casualties.

      It goes without saying that Australia’s Islamic community, here since Afghan cameleers arrived in 1860, forms an important part of our cohesive, multicultural tapestry. But to ignore the threat from a minority section of the community who swallow poisonous digital-age propaganda will guarantee an era of perpetual terrorism remains.

      Young, disaffected males, susceptible migrants or converts, some with criminal backgrounds or returning to a family faith with vengeance, self-appointed “imams” who spew anti-West rhetoric — they are the dangers that Islam itself must tackle if it is to secure the wider confidence of all Australians.

      Such is the example of Manchester suicide bomber Salman Abedi.

      English-born to refugee migrants, he turned on the homeland that gave him safe harbour and education.

      While US President Donald Trump is a divisive figure, this week he said: “Terrorists do not worship God. They worship death. Religious leaders must make this absolutely clear ... if you choose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief and your soul will be fully condemned.”


      They are words that must be adopted loudly by Australian imams, Islamic families and the entire Muslim community.

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    • A Perfect Cup of Tea

      Noa Jones FALL 2012 tricycle

      How to Avoid the Many Pitfalls of Tea Brewing

      I am real, and the tea is real. I am in the present. I don’t think of the past. I don’t think of the future. There is a real encounter between me and the tea, and peace, happiness, and joy are possible during the time I drink.

      —Thich Nhat Hanh

      It could be a poem or a novel or lyrics to a blues ballad, I’m not sure, but I’ve been keeping a list of all the terrible, no good, very bad cups of tea I make. There are just so many ways it can go wrong.

      Like the time I was trying to be considerate by preheating a special guest’s tea cup with hot water and then forgot and poured the tea into the full cup (the light was dim). Like all the times I’ve tried to be thrifty and reuse old leaves or old bags well past their point of releasing any worthy flavor.

      Then there was the time the lama casually mentioned that when he was growing up in Sikkim they used to toast the Darjeeling tea leaves before brewing. How many times I burned the leaves that summer. Such bitter cups I served, with shaking hands and rattling spoons.

      And the oolong, oh, the oolong with its testy time limits and tiny cups. The bitter chai with ginger stewed too long or overly biting cloves. The tasteless maté in that complicated calabash gourd with the metal straw. Lady Grey served in a chipped cup. Curdled black currant, coffee poured in tea, tea poured in coffee. Tea made in anger, tea made in haste, tea made with tears. Tea on the counter. Tea on the floor. Tea on my knees. Tea on the doorstep as I try to turn the knob while holding a carafe in one hand and the saucer set in the other.

      Burning the milk is one of the gravest tea misdeeds in the eyes of some Tibetans. But it’s so hard to keep an eye on hot milk. So innocent as it trembles in the saucepan, but blink and it’s racing to the lip of the pot. The foam mushrooms out and over the edge onto the stovetop, where it blackens the burner. Once, after I produced such a mess in the presence of a lama, the monks were quickly summoned to do protector pujas. It turns out there are a few female deities who are offended by the smell of burned milk, and they are not to be messed with.

      All these terrible cups of tea were the result of mindlessness, not paying attention, losing track, multitasking. But there have been other times when it’s gone all pear-shaped even when I’m really, really trying. There’s that one pretty pot I love to use but whose spout is angled in such a way that the tea insists on alternately shooting out over the cup and dribbling down the side. No one can predict the sweet spot, and there’s always a spill.

      In a way, a perfect cup of tea is a miracle of causes and conditions, and when one meets our lips, we should give praise.

      When you hold your cup, you may like to breathe in, to bring your mind back to your body, and you become fully present. And when you are truly there, something else is also there—life, represented by the cup of tea. In that moment you are real, and the cup of tea is real. You are not lost in the past, in the future, in your projects, in your worries. You are free from all of these afflictions. And in that state of being free, you enjoy your tea. That is the moment of happiness, and of peace.

      —Thich Nhat Hanh

      Good Old-Fashioned Sun Tea

      My friend Wyatt lives in a house with solar-heated water and swears that he can feel the sunshine on his skin when he bathes. If you believe that, you might also taste the sun in sun tea, and you’ll definitely save a few shekels on fuel costs. Find a big empty jar like the kind restaurants buy for industrial-sized quantities of maraschino cherries or pickles. Make sure it doesn’t smell like pickles or maraschino cherries (apple vinegar cleans well). Fill it with water, praise Mamaki the water dakini. Put some tea into the jar, about 3 bags or a sachet of loose tea (strawberry, peach, rose hip, spearmint, lemon, or black tea all work well, but not together, obviously) and stick it in a sunny spot. Revisit after about six hours and you will meet your tea. You can add honey or juice to sweeten (a cup of cherry, apple, or grape will work well). Then you can get creative with garnishes and flavors. Fresh mint and strawberry go well together. Boil up some ginger and add to the lemon tea. Women might try 4 bags of Yogi Woman’s Moon Cycle Tea, then adding half a cup of unsweetened cranberry juice and a bit of chasteberry tincture for a soothing tonic. Don’t brew the black tea too long, or the tannins will become bitter. Serve in jars on a checkered tablecloth.

      Perfect Cold Brew Coffee


      This is the best way to make iced coffee. Place one cup of ground coffee in the jug (my favorite brand right now is Boxcar Coffee from Boulder) with 4 cups of cold water. Let it soak overnight. Sleep well. Strain out the coffee grains using a drip coffee filter, then pour the thick black liquid back into your jug. This part can be messy unless you find proper implements. It will last for weeks if you keep it refrigerated. This jug of condensed coffee is your base for either cold or hot drinks. It’s less acidic, smooth, and strong. For hot coffee, pour an ounce of the jug coffee in an un-cracked mug and dilute with hot water to taste. For iced coffee, find a tall glass and fill it with ice cubes, pour the jug coffee over it, and imagine the cracking sound is the ice laughing. Dedicate the merit. If you take sweetener, simple syrup (a mixture of 1 part water to 1 part sugar, boiled together) dissolves better. Wish sweetness in a sour person’s life. Add a shot of cream, condensed milk, or full-fat milk on top and watch the paisley patterns curl into the blackness. Remember to enjoy it.

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    • As China Pushes for a ‘Buddhist’ Globalisation’ India Isn’t Making the Most of Its Legacy

      Y P. STOBDAN May 15, 2017 Kashmir Monitor

      Simply playing the ‘Dalai Lama card’, as many are prone to do, will not only restrict India’s ability to manoeuvre in the outside world, but also risks undermining its own Buddhist legacy.

      India’s worst fears are becoming a reality as China rapidly develops a plan for a ‘Buddhist globalisation’ with its financial, political and marketing clout.

      Unsurprisingly, President Xi Jinping is not just asserting territorial claims in the South China Sea and expanding China’s connectivity project through the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, he is also working to make China the world leader in Buddhism. Xi has had this idea for some time now – he started building a partnership between China’s communist party and the religion when he was only 29 years old, serving as a bureaucrat in provinces. The story began when he encountered Shi Youming, a Buddhist monk who was restoring ruined temples of Zhengding County in Hebei Province.

      Xi was probably also influenced by his father, Xi Zhongxun, who in 1980 had warned the party in his 11,000-word report ‘Document 19’ against banning religious activity, suggesting that this would alienate too many people. In fact, one of Xi’s father’s signature lines is said to have been, “If the people have faith, the nation has hope and the country has strength.”

      The Chinese president has a strange history when it comes to religious freedom – he helped rebuild several famous temples, but ordered that 1, 500 crosses be pulled off the steeples of churches while he was chief of Zhejiang province between 2002 and 2007. It seems like Xi is biased against religions deemed ‘foreign’, like Christianity and Islam.

      Using faith to legitimise political rule is not new. Many see Xi’s policy akin to Vladimir Putin’s spiritual feat of adopting orthodox Christianity, which is seen as giving him the moral legitimacy to be leader of the Slavic world. This is despite Article 14 of Russia’s constitution declaring the country “a secular state”.

      Nobody knows whether Xi is a practitioner himself, but he has firmly been putting Chinese Buddhism on the global stage since 2005. At the domestic level, it looks as though Xi is turning to religion not just to bolster his rule, but also to save the party from falling. He certainly sees Buddhism as useful for arresting the flagging moral values in China’s social fabric, and to prevent the angry middle class from crumbling under the weight of a deepening social crisis and economic downturn. Having felt the pains of an ageing society, the country had to abandon the Mao’s one-child policy. More importantly, Xi intends to imbibe moral ethics among party officials – deemed necessary to bring about further economic reforms.

      Under Xi, Buddhism is already making a strong comeback. The spectre of economic progress and affluence seems to be steering people’s quest for spirituality. Millions of Chinese seeking their yin guo (karmic) connections with Buddha Amitabha is becoming the new trend. The yin guo seems to have found strong secular resonance; from students to businessmen, ordinary Chinese are beginning to link their existential happiness to the inter-dependent nature of karmic cycles.

      According to a Chinese Master Jingzong, China’s intent to realise its economic and political destiny would pale compared to the urge amongst millions to accomplish their spiritual fortunes. He cannot visualise the future of China without Buddhism.

      It looks as though China is reimagining the nation along the lines of the imperial Chinese state. With humanist Buddhist values diffusing into society, China is likely to see in the future what we witness in Thailand and other countries today. To be sure, this is having consequences for rest of Asia, where 97% of world’s Buddhist population live and where Buddhism is their core values.

      The fear is that China will translate its economic weight into spiritual might. Chinese organisations are already on a Buddhist globalisation spree – building spiritual links with the people of other nations and regularly hosting the World Buddhist Forum, which that draws thousands of monks and scholars from across the world, and planning to build Lingshan City as the Vatican for Buddhism.

      China controls the World Buddhist Sangha Council founded in Sri Lanka in 1966. In 2014, it hosted the World Fellowship of Buddhists meet. Across Theravada and Mahayana countries, the Chinese are helping repair, renovate and resurrect Buddhist institutions. Beijing lobbies for countries to hold major international events such as the UN Vesak Day – to be held in Sri Lanka this year.

      Taking a cue from the imperial-era practice, China could be even using the powerful Tibetan cultural connectivity for expanding its influence across the Indian Himalayan belt, Mongolia and Russia. Chinese media recently revealed that China’s communist party officials have been funding the Dalai Lama and his activities.

      Becoming a guardian of Buddhism is helping Xi successfully promote China as an acceptable world power with a soft image. Buddhist globalisation helps Beijing push its economic projects – religious diplomacy makes it easier for China to win economic and infrastructural projects in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal and elsewhere.

      China’s latest initiative, the OBOR, is also nothing but the ‘political geography of Buddhism’. Nepal is proposing to link the OBOR with Buddha’s birthplace, Lumbini. Pakistan is reviving the ‘Gandhara trail’ to link the Lahore, Taxila and Peshawar networks. Taxila relics are being sent to Sri Lanka for a public exposition during the Vesak month. If Sri Lankan monks visit Taxila to celebrate purnima, top Bhutanese monks visit the Saidu Sharif monastery in Swat Valley (the birthplace of Guru Padmasambava).

      Surely, China edging in on its cultural space worries India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was quick to gauge the importance of Buddhism after coming to power, and even put it at the centre of his diplomacy initiatives with key Asian countries. But two years down the line, his brilliant idea has seemingly been hijacked by those who are seeking to use Buddhism as a tool to counter China. Worse still, they likened Buddhism with Lamaism – perhaps due to a deficit in understanding – thus reducing the idea to playing the so-called ‘Tibet card’, ostensibly to offset China’s influence. The approach is doomed to end in failure, because Lamaism is a tool traditionally used only by rulers in the Chinese imperial court.

      The ‘Lama card’ could not only restrict India’s ability to manoeuvre in the outside world, but also risks undermining its own Buddhist legacy, which rests on the eords Buddha, dharma and sangha, also known as tri-ranta (three jewels) that once spread to set the moral foundations of various Asian societies. In fact, these values still intersect with the social, political and economic contexts of many nations, as they spur the Asian quest for modernity, spirituality, democratic values and economic prosperity.

      Though India wants to use its Buddhist’s legacy, it is ironic that India no longer has the fuel to spinning its own dharma wheel, let alone replenishing that of others. Here, it miserably lacks credible institutions; not a single Indian is rated amongst the world’s top Buddhist masters.

      Seeking rivalry with China over Buddhism seems unnecessary. Instead, the efforts should be to reach out to the swelling number of dharma followers in China, as Modi did by reaching out to people using the Weibo microblogging site on Buddha Jayanti in 2015. We should be rejoicing at the cultural transformation in China and the positive impact this may have on India’s future ties with the country and with Asia at large.

      Most immediately, India needs to take immediate steps to restore millennia-old tourist Buddhist heritage sites lying in ruins. They are directly linked to spiritual destinies of millions. By improving infrastructure and connectivity, India could tap into potential Asian pilgrims. This could provide lucrative employment to millions of our youth.


      The idea of seeking counter-offensive measures to play the ‘Buddhist game’ vis-à-vis China seems misplaced. For India to seriously reaffirm its central role, it needs to embrace its own tradition of Buddha, dharma, sangha. It would be even worthwhile to envisage a pan-Indian Buddhist sangha with government patronage, if New Delhi is serious about anchoring global Buddhist affairs.

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    • Buddhism, Science And The Western World

      May 11, 2017 Adam Frank NPR

      When discussions about science and religion turn into debates about science versus religion, Buddhism mostly gets a pass.

      Thanks to the work of the Dalai Lama and others, Buddhism can seem far friendlier to modern, scientifically minded sensibilities than the Abrahamic religions. This alignment with science is strengthened by the widespread adoption of mindfulness techniques — often derived from Buddhist and other contemplative practices — in domains like medicine and psychology.

      So with its supposed empirical emphasis on internal investigation, one might wonder if Buddhism is really a religion at all or, at least, in same the sense as Western monotheistic traditions. Maybe it's better described as a kind of "science of happiness?"

      Robert Sharf is a scholar of Buddhist studies at UC Berkeley and he has, apparently, heard this kind of question before. I was recently introduced to Sharf's insightful writings via discussions about Buddhism and cognitive science with philosopher Evan Thompson, who has been doing his own work in these domains. For Sharf, the easy identification of Buddhism as a kind of inward-directed science of the mind represents a particular reading of its long and diverse traditions. Most importantly, what we get in the West is, for Sharf, a kind of "Buddhist Modernism." In particular, the affinity Buddhism is supposed to have with science is, for Sharf, a very specific consequence of Buddhism's historical encounter with the West — and to miss that history would be to miss the richer veins of meaning in Buddhism as a religion.

      In a 2007 interview with Tricycle magazine, Sharf pointed to the response of Buddhists in countries like Japan and Sri Lanka during their encounters with Western culture in late 1800s. These nations were already being rocked by modernization and/or colonization. At the same time, the West was undergoing its own religious transformations. According Sharf, Protestants during this period were confronting a "crisis of faith" due to the rise of science. This led to new ways of thinking that tried to mesh Christianity more smoothly with science and its rational worldview. In this way, a confluence of Asian and Western interests began that would help shape a new vision of Buddhism. As Sharf puts it:

      "...the critiques of religion that originated in the West resonated with [Buddhist's] own needs as they struggled with cultural upheavals in their homelands. [While] for Westerners, Buddhism seemed to provide an attractive spiritual alternative to their own seemingly moribund religious traditions. The irony, of course, is that the Buddhism to which these Westerners were drawn was one already transformed by its contact with the West."

      It is this transformed tradition with its affinity with science that modern Americans are encountering.

      Sharf is not the only one to make this point. In his book The Scientific Buddha Donald S. Lopez, Jr., a professor in the department of Asian languages at the University of Michigan, also sees a lot of selection in what comprises Western Buddhism. In his words:

      "For the Buddha to be identified as an ancient sage fully attuned to the findings of modern science, it was necessary that he first be transformed into a figure who differed in many ways from the Buddha who has been revered by Buddhists across Asia over the course of many centuries."

      Of course, by its very nature religion, all religions, are changed by their encounters with new cultures. This is particularly true of Buddhism and its steady march eastward from its birth in India 2,500 years ago. Religions always have a way of outgrowing their own scriptural and ritual basis, while simultaneously holding on to them. As author Karen Armstrong has shown, practitioners in any age are always selecting out those parts of their religions that are meaningful to them while ignoring the parts that seem dated. She called the process "creative misreading."

      Sharf has no problem with the creative misreading that allows Buddhist Modernism to share space with scientific worldviews. "My concern," he told Tricycle, "is not with the selectivity of those who read Buddhism as a rationalist and scientific religion — it is perfectly understandable given the world in which we live. It is really not a question of misreading. It is a question of what gets lost in the process."

      Part of the problem for Sharf and others is that by focusing only on the domains of inner experience (i.e. mindfulness via contemplative practice), Buddhist Modernism loses aspects of its function that were central to its history. "Look at how suspicious many Western Buddhists are of religious ritual," he says in the Tricycle interview, "... when we downplay ritual, we risk weakening our bonds to community and tradition. That's a pretty major loss."

      But just as important for both Sharf and Lopez are the tensions that they think should exist between the Buddhist and Western worldviews. As Lopez puts it:

      "If an ancient religion like Buddhism has anything to offer science, it is not in the facile confirmation of [science's] findings ... the Buddha, the old Buddha, not the Scientific Buddha, presented a radical challenge to the way we see the world, both the world that was seen two millennia ago, and the world that is seen today."

      Sharf is specific in terms of the challenge he thinks Buddhism presents the sciences' presumed philosophical basis. "In order to make Buddhism compatible with science," Sharf says, "Buddhist Modernism ... accepts a Cartesian dualistic understanding of the world." This Cartesian separation would, he claims, be pretty weird to most Buddhist teachers throughout its history. As he puts it:

      "Traditional Buddhist epistemology, for example, simply does not accept the Cartesian notion of an insurmountable gap between mind and matter. Most Buddhist philosophies hold that mind and object arise interdependently, so there is no easy way to separate one's understanding of the world from the world itself."

      Keeping these differences at the forefront is important for Sharf because, he claims, they offer possibilities of generating something more truly original. "In discarding everything that doesn't fit with our modern view," he says, "we compromise the tradition's capacity to critique this modern view."

      I'm someone interested in how philosophical traditions from India and Asia might add new dimensions to some key debates in science. In that sense, I have always been sympathetic to Buddhist Modernism and am interested in the Scientific Buddha.

      But I also believe scholars like Sharf, Lopez and Thompson all have a lot to teach us with their close reading of Buddhism's philosophy and history. As Sharf himself points out, we don't have to "argue for a naive acceptance of Buddhist epistemology and cosmology" to be informed about the best ways to realistically engage with its philosophical insights. "But," as Sharf says, "we won't see what Buddhism has to offer if, at the outset, we twist it out of shape to make it conform to contemporary norms."

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    • ... "I never felt Catholicism was for me. The whole judgment and blind faith element just didn't tally. I went into the library in Maynooth and found a section on Buddhism and before long, with the help of videos on YouTube, I was meditating. ...

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    • Go Bang Your Head Against the Wall

      And other strategies for self-help

      Noelle Oxenhandler WINTER 2015 tricycle

      Some years ago when a friend of mine was going through a very painful divorce, a neighbor dropped off a basket of items with a gift tag marked “For Self-Care.” I happened to be visiting when my friend discovered the basket on her doorstep, and I watched as she opened the accompanying handmade card: “Take a bubble bath,” she read aloud. “Sip a glass of wine while watching the sunset. Curl up with a good book. Meditate—”

      Somehow I knew the next word was going to be “Masturbate,” and when I spoke it before she did, we both burst out laughing.

      Though I myself have found both comfort and counsel in the realm of self-help, there’s often something in the language that makes me cringe—and it was present in the gift basket. As my friend read the list of tips, I recognized that utterly bland yet emphatic voice of authority, dispensing its one-size-fits-all advice without any regard to a hierarchy of value, as if getting a brow wax or a pedicure really was equivalent to forgiving your enemy or volunteering to work at a homeless shelter. Feeling blue? Pamper yourself. Get a facial. Treat yourself to a new set of towels. Organize your closet. Join a walkathon to help combat a disease of your choice.

      It’s no coincidence that lists have a special place in the literature of self-help. After all, the very ground of self-help is a Can-Do approach to life, and if you’re a Can-Do kind of a guy or gal, then you’ve got to go around and collect your strategies. Once you’ve collected them, it’s like being a child with a bag of Halloween candy: you’ve got to sort through your stash, counting out the Tootsie Rolls, the gummy worms and licorice coils. Even the titles of a lot of self-help books entice us with their magical numbers: the Seven Habits, the Four

      Agreements, the Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. Once my sister and I discovered a book that had been left behind in a rented cabin in the redwoods, and we read it avidly from cover to cover. The book was about finding your soul mate, and it included a list of some 100 ways to conduct your search. Of all the tips (“Take your laptop to the local coffee shop,” “Strike up a conversation at the laundromat”), our favorite was “Organize a parade.” Now, whenever one of us is feeling stuck, she is apt to tell the other, “Why don’t you just go out and organize a parade?”

      Stuckness, in its myriad forms, is the raison d’être of self-help. Whether you’re stuck in the muck of low self-esteem, addiction, dysfunctional relationships, financial insecurity, or a chronically cluttered house, you can reach for the ladder of a list and pull yourself up, rung by rung. Meditate, masturbate, organize a parade. . . . There’s something in the very nature of a list, with its simple trust in the power of addition, its optimistic belief in mobile, open-ended experimentation (“Try this! Now this!”) that offers itself as antidote to the fixed, consistent nature of stuckness.

      It’s easy to make fun of the fluid, flexible approach that is so apt to yield a willy-nilly list of tips. But it’s sobering to contemplate the other end of the spectrum. Whenever a friend of mine complained of boredom as a child, his mother always gave him the same response: Gey klop kop af vant. Go bang your head against the wall. It was a Yiddish phrase that his mother’s parents had recited to her and that doubtless her grandparents had recited to them, for who knows how many generations back in the old country. Perhaps, in its origins, it was meant to shock an idle child into realizing that in the harsh conditions of the shetl, boredom is a luxury. Whatever the case, in its resignation, its blunt refusal to generate any more than one utterly futile, self-punishing strategy—which is really not a strategy at all but rather a comically absurd gesture of frustration—it represents the very opposite of self-help. Feeling stuck, are you? Then make yourself stuck-er. Feeling bored? Then stand in one place and bore your head into the wall. The wall is hard. Your head is hard. Life is hard. Get over it.

      In the face of such steadfast helplessness, why not reach for a ladder of strategies?

      Then again, before reaching quite so quickly for the nearest rung above, we might choose to pause for a moment. And in that pause we might discover or remember that when we feel stuck in the muck of our lives, there is another approach we could take. It’s the one evoked by William Butler Yeats in his poem “The Circus Animals’ Desertion,” which ends with these lines:

      I must lie down where all the ladders start

      In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

      The lines are so beautiful, with their stately rhythm and perfect rhyme, but their dose of truth, if we really try to absorb it, is actually quite galling. To lie down in the foul shop of the heart is to abandon all strategy, all effort to exert control over the muck of our experience. Could there be anything more terrifying—not only to sink into the muck itself but to refrain from our habitual attempts to rescue ourselves, and instead let ourselves feel its distinct texture, weight, ooze, and odor?

      Yet if only we don’t rush too quickly to pull ourselves up and out, there’s an extraordinary joy that can come to us here, a most rare kind of comfort. It’s the comfort of coming into contact—if only for a moment—with the unconditioned, with life as it is without all our fears and preferences, our compulsions to make it conform to some image that we hold in the mind. Isn’t this what meditation is really about?

      Long ago, at the start of my Zen practice, a young monk told me: It doesn’t really matter how happy we are. It was evening, and we were standing under a circle of pines in a monastery in the mountains of northern California, and I’ve never forgotten the explosion of happiness that I experienced in that moment. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, my mother often asked me: “Why can’t you ever be content?” My whole life I’d been striving to manipulate my experience in order to achieve some set of conditions, some state of mind that nearly always eluded me. Now I felt I could let go of that effort. I still remember looking up at the face of the monk, and seeing through the pines the white gleam of a volcanic peak that suddenly looked as though it too was about to explode with happiness.

      As the poet Antonio Machado tells us, there are four things that are no good at sea: rudder, anchor, oars, and the fear of going down. Upon hearing the monk’s words under the circle of pines, I think that’s what happened: at least for a moment, I stopped groping for any possible list of tools or strategies and simply let myself be at sea. That might be the flaw that afflicts much of the literature of self-help: an inability or refusal to acknowledge the sea, the utterly untameable vastness out of which we emerge and into which we inevitably return, no matter how rich, gorgeous, successful, powerful, and clutter-free we’ve managed to become in our earthly lives. Which is to say: no matter how many oars we’ve managed to carve for ourselves, impelled by our fear of drowning.

      And yet . . .

      I doubt there’s ever been a single sea-, river-, or lake-faring people on earth who didn’t treat the paddle or the oar as an object of grave consequence and great reverence. We do need our tools, our strategies, our tips for successful living. And if we don’t properly collect them and organize them, then we become like Silly Jack in the fairy tale who gets everything wrong, who can’t see that every context requires its own method, and who thus creates waste, chaos, and suffering for himself and others as he melts the butter that he tries to carry on his head in the sun and kills the puppy that he wraps in cool, wet leaves. As Chögyam Trungpa says, “don’t put your shoes on your head as a visor.” To live with skill and grace in the phenomenal world requires exquisite precision. For the great equation has two halves: Form is emptiness. And emptiness is also form.

      Driving to work some time ago, I turned on the radio and my car filled with a male voice, speaking in a language that I couldn’t even begin to recognize, in syllables full of breath and urgency. Somehow I could tell that what he was saying was a matter of life and death for him, and at the end of the program, I learned that it was a recording of Ishi, known as “the last wild Indian,” the man who, in 1911, had stumbled half-naked and starving into the light of day near the town of Oroville, California. In the voice that had suddenly entered my car, he was describing how to carve an arrowhead.

      I don’t know if I can put into words how this moved me. He was imparting the most necessary means of survival for his people, though his people had been wiped from the face of the earth, and though even the language he spoke was on the brink of extinction. He who has ears to hear, let him hear, his voice conveyed, as it uttered the words without waver or wobble. The sound of his voice reminded me that in ancient traditions, there’s no room to be snobby about practical knowledge, and there is awe for the most humble instruments and techniques that sustain life: the digging sticks bequeathed by the god of corn, the recipe for corn cakes passed on by the corn maiden. When scholars deciphered the Dead Sea Scrolls, they found inextricably interwoven in its theology a trove of tips for maintaining personal hygiene in a land with little water. And at a bar mitzvah I once attended, when it came time for the 13-year-old boy to recite his passage of Torah, we listened to the Hebrew words of an ancient building code that gave us precise directions for setting stones and spacing lintels.

      Render unto God what is God’s and to Caesar what is Caesar’s, the New Testament tells us in the parable of the coin. But isn’t it amazing when the two sides of the coin merge, when God turns into Caesar and Caesar into God so quickly that you can’t tell which end is up? I’ve had moments when the most apparently metaphysical, even radically esoteric teachings have become like the most down-to-earth instructions, when the words of the Heart Sutra turn into a GPS saying “Go right. Now go left.”

      Between banging one’s head against the wall and rushing out to organize a parade, there is a middle way. Walking this middle way, I need to remember that for all of us there comes a time when oars fail, when there is nothing left to do but surrender to the great unknown. When this time comes—if we’re lucky enough to find a friend at the threshold with a basket of gifts—who can say what will matter most: a lighted stick of incense, a massage, an ice chip for our lips, or a voice chanting, “No suffering! No death!”

      Someone asked me recently if I had any tips for maintaining calm and adapting to change, “even if I can’t meditate frequently.” This reminded me of one of my big questions in life: “How can I get fit and strong without exercising?”

      The moment was an epiphany. I saw, in a flash, the lure of the self-help culture—the promise that everything can be made easy, a piece of cake. All you need is the right tip.

      But here’s the catch with tips. If you want to improve your golf stroke, or buy a cheaper airline ticket, or find the best tacos in town—go ahead, ask around for a tip. If you’re attempting something more ambitious—say, how to adapt to change—a tip isn’t going to cut it.

      Think about the weight loss wing of the self-help industry. The tips keep coming, the industry flourishes, we lose some pounds, gain back what we lost plus a few more, and go back for the next tip. How we eat, how we react to life’s pinpricks and tectonic shake-ups—these are well-worn grooves in our minds and we can resist them for only so long. We expect the power of will to—poof!—make us perfect, yet willpower is an unreliable and limited source of energy. We return defeated to the old ways, with deeper disappointment in ourselves.

      The truth is that changing a habitual way of being is a huge challenge. Rome wasn’t built in a day; neither is calm. Rome wasn’t built with twigs; calm isn’t built with tips. It’s not that we can’t help ourselves: We can learn to maintain calm, to roll with change when change rolls in. We just have to acknowledge, even honor, the scale of the adventure before us. It requires nothing less than rewiring our own brain. Or rather, allowing the mind to be rewired by mind training—by meditation. It untangles us. Gradually it replaces ancient patterned reactions with fresh and appropriate responses. This is why it’s called practice. It takes time and effort, but to an amazing extent we find ourselves helped.

      Practice changes our relationship to what would otherwise be upsetting. Facing change, we see how futile and painful it is to try to hold on to what is passing—which is everything. Compassion washes in with a kinder, truer understanding of why people do what they do (and that includes you). Things seem simpler, easier.


      The self-help mentality is a matter of shopping, accumulating tips. We don’t have to go shopping. We just need to sit back and let practice work on us. We don’t need tips; we need patience, we need equanimity. How to develop these qualities? I have a great tip for you: Meditate! Start now, continue forever!

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    • THT 10 YEARS AGO: Lumbini still awaits a new master plan

      May 03, 2017 Himalayan News Service


      The commitment to draw up an integrated master plan covering sites associated with Gautam Buddha appears to have gone with the wind. The story dates back to December 2004, when Lumibini witnessed the Second World Buddhist Summit amid much fanfare and excitement among people associated with the promotion of the archaeologically important sites. The summit was known more for what it pledged to do by way of promoting all the sites related to the life of Buddha than anything else. On top was the commitment to have an integrated master plan encompassing over five dozen sites linked to the life and times of Buddha. Top among the sites to be covered were the palace of Suddhodhan in Tilaurakot, Kudan, Sagarhawa, Sisaniya, Arorakot, Pipari. These places are linked to the Lumbini Garden, the most revered of the surrounding sites. The summit, inaugurated by king Gyanendra amid international glitter, had felt the need to draw up the integrated master plan. “The summit had proposed to draw an integrated master plan, but the process of drawing it up has not kicked off,” Nabin Chitrakar, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Lumbini Development Trust, said. At least 19 reports on Lumbini were prepared between 1971 and 2000, but recommendations made in the report have not been implemented. “We need somebody to read old reports. Rather than devising new plans, we should focus on implementing the suggestions made in the old reports,” he said.

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    • Am I a Buddhist?

      April 30, 2017 Daniel P. (Danny) Coleman Patheos

      I’m going to write a few posts to attempt to explain what Buddhist-Christian-Quaker means to me.  In this post I’ll focus primarily on the Buddhist part of that.

      Let me begin by clarifying that I have been a Christian for 30+ years.  I became a follower of Jesus as a young adult in the mid-1980’s (while traveling through Texas as the bassist for a heavy metal band–but that’s a story for another post).  I prayed the “Sinner’s Prayer” to become “born again” in a church parking lot in Beaumont, Texas.  For many years after that I attended fundamentalist non-denominational charismatic evangelical churches.  I met my wife at church.  We raised our son within the evangelical culture.

      After about two decades in the fundamentalist Christian world, my wife and I left to start a house-church and then, over the course of a few years, became Quakers.  Our son, by that time a young adult off at college, had already joined the growing ranks of “the Nones” (people who describe their religious affiliation as “none”).  Being a Quaker Christian enabled me to gain some distance from my fundamentalist past and opened the door to contemplative spirituality.  I began learning about other forms of Christianity and also about other religions (not just for the purpose of winning theological debates, but rather to simply learn and appreciate the wisdom they had to offer).  I had spent most of my Christian years fairly ignorant (and, frankly, somewhat fearful) of other faiths, while simultaneously smug and sure in the correctness of my provincial fundamentalist ghetto.

      Among the many world-religions I studied, one of them unexpectedly “clicked” with me in a big way: Buddhism.  That scared me a bit at first.  I didn’t want to become one of those cautionary tales I had heard so many times at church: “Daniel went to seminary and lost his faith in Jesus and became an apostate and now he is hopelessly lost.”  But then I read (and re-read, and re-read again) Paul Knitter’s book Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian.  Knitter had been a Catholic priest, a student of the eminent theologian Karl Rahner, and then an esteemed professor of theology himself–first at Xavier University in Cincinnati and now as emeritus at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.  “Buddhism has helped me take another and deeper look at what I believe as a Christian,” he wrote. “Many of the words that I had repeated or read throughout my life started to glow with new meaning.”  This was the experience I was having as I was drawn toward the teachings and practices (the Dharma) of the Buddha.  I could not embrace certain ideas such as reincarnation and karmic reward/punishment in future lives, but I discovered that these ideas were not intrinsic to the Buddha’s core teachings.  Stephen Batchelor’s books, especially Buddhism Without Beliefs helped me sort this out.

      So, does that make me a Buddhist?  Let me hedge a little further: Some Buddhists would say that there is really no such thing as Buddhism.  “Buddhism” is a term, an “ism”, invented by Western scholars in the 19th century to categorize the 2,500 year-old movement of people practicing the Dharma.  We Western scholars love to categorize, and so “Buddhism” was placed alongside Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Taoism and other world-religions for the sake of comparison and contrast.  Many highly regarded Buddhist teachers today, such as Thich Nhat Hanh, although they will use the de facto descriptor of “Buddhism,” prefer to speak of “practicing the Dharma.”  That seems to align more closely with the way Buddhists described themselves throughout history.  I like how that descriptor places the emphasis on practice–what one does–rather than on merely subscribing to a set of beliefs or doctrines.

      At this stage in the game the descriptors “Buddhism” and “Buddhist” have become established nomenclature and are unlikely to disappear.

      Bhante Gunaratana, in his book Mindfulness in Plain English, wrote:

      “Buddhism does not advocate faith in the sense of believing something because it is written in a book, attributed to a prophet, or taught to you by some authority figure. The meaning of faith here is closer to confidence. It is knowing that something is true because you have seen it work, because you have observed that very thing within yourself. In the same way, morality is not a ritualistic obedience to a code of behavior imposed by an external authority. It is rather a healthy habit pattern that you have consciously and voluntarily chosen to impose upon yourself because you recognize its superiority to your present behavior.”

      Can being a Buddhist coexist with being something else, such as a Christian?  From the Buddhist perspective it certainly can.  Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki wrote, “If you’re not a Buddhist you think there are Buddhists and non-Buddhists, but if you’re a Buddhist you realize everybody’s a Buddhist–even the bugs.”  In a future post I’ll explore this same question from a Christian perspective.

      The word Buddha is a title which means “awakened one.”  The goal of practicing the Dharma is to become awakened, just like the man Gautama did 2,500 years ago and like many men and women purportedly have since.  Therefore to be a Buddhist means to be an “awake-ist” and Buddhism is literally “awake-ism.”  Through mindful practices–particularly meditation–one becomes awake to aspects of reality such as impermanence, dependent origination, emptiness, non-self, interbeing, etc.  The experiential awareness of these things leads to greater peace and contentment and integrity in this life–here and now.  “The buddha-dharma is about examining our lives, our behavior, our speech, and the means by which we earn our keep on this planet–and how all these activities connect with everything else,” writes Steve Hagen in Buddhism Plain and Simple, “We have only one choice.  Either we awaken, or we do not.”  In other words, reality is what it is.  Buddhism is about becoming experientially aware of reality and living one’s life accordingly.


      So, do I practice the Dharma?  Yes.  Do I love and follow Jesus?  Yes.  Am I a Christian?  I believe so.  Am I a Buddhist?  I believe so.

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    • Foundations of Mindfulness

      Stephen Batchelor tricycle

      Applying mindfulness to the body, feelings, mind and objects of mind

      The origins of [mindful awareness] practice are found in Gautama’s own discourse on the “Foundations of Mindfulness” (Satipatthana Sutta) in the Pali Canon. It has been described as “the most important discourse ever given by the Buddha on mental development,” and as such is highly revered in all Theravada Buddhist countries of Asia. The Buddha opened the discourse by declaring:

      There is, monks, this way that leads only to the purification of beings, to the overcoming of sorrow and distress, to the disappearance of pain and sadness, to the gaining of the right path, to the realization of Nirvana—that is to say the four foundations of mindfulness.

      These four foundations are the four areas of life to which mindful awareness needs to be applied: body, feelings, mind and objects of mind. In other words, the totality of experience.

      The Buddha recommends that a person retire to a forest, the root of a tree or a solitary place, sit cross-legged with body erect and then turn his or her attention to their breath. Then, “mindfully he breathes in, mindfully he breathes out. Breathing in a long breath, he knows that he breathes in a long breath, and breathing out a long breath, he knows that he breathes out a long breath.” There is no attempt to control the breath or in any way interfere with the immediacy of experience as it unfolds. If the breath is long, one recognizes it to be long; if short, one recognizes it to be short.

      Yet for many this seemingly straightforward exercise turns out to be remarkably tricky. One finds that no matter how sincere one’s intention to be attentive and aware, the mind rebels against such instructions and races off to indulge in all manner of distractions, memories and fantasies. One is forced to confront the sobering truth that one is only notionally “in charge” of one’s psychological life. The comforting illusion of personal coherence and continuity is ripped away to expose only fragmentary islands of consciousness separated by yawning gulfs of unawareness. Similarly, the convenient fiction of a well-adjusted, consistent personality turns out to be merely a skillfully edited and censored version of a turbulent psyche. The first step in this practice of mindful awareness is radical self-acceptance.

      Such self-acceptance, however, does not operate in an ethical vacuum, where no moral assessment is made of one’s emotional states. The training in mindful awareness is part of a Buddhist path with values and goals. Emotional states are evaluated according to whether they increase or decrease the potential for suffering. If an emotion, such as hatred or envy, is judged to be destructive, then it is simply recognized as such. It is neither expressed through violent thoughts, words or deeds, nor is it suppressed or denied as incompatible with a “spiritual” life. In seeing it for what it is—a transient emotional state—one mindfully observes it follow its own nature: to arise, abide for a while, and then pass away.

      The Buddha described his teaching as “going against the stream.” The unflinching light of mindful awareness reveals the extent to which we are tossed along in the stream of past conditioning and habit. The moment we decide to stop and look at what is going on (like a swimmer suddenly changing course to swim upstream instead of downstream), we find ourselves battered by powerful currents we had never even suspected—precisely because until that moment we were largely living at their command.

      The practice of mindful awareness is a first step in the direction of inner freedom. Disciplining oneself to focus attention single-mindedly on the breath (for example) enables one to become progressively more quiet and concentrated. Such stillness, though, is not an end in itself. It serves as a platform from which to observe more dearly what is taking place within us. It allows the steady depth of awareness needed to understand the very origins of conditioning: namely, how delusion and craving are at the top of human suffering. Such meditative understanding is experiential rather than intellectual, therapeutic rather than dogmatic, liberating rather than merely convincing.

      The aim of mindful awareness is the understanding that frees one from delusion and craving. In Pali, such understanding is called vipassana (“penetrative seeing”), and it is under this name that the traditional practice of mindful awareness is frequently presented in the West today. Vipassana is often translated as “insight” and courses are offered on “insight meditation.”


      This usage has given rise to some confusion. It has led to the impression that some Buddhists practice vipassana, while others (such as practitioners of Zen or Tibetan Buddhism) do not. In fact, vipassana is central to all forms of Buddhist meditation practice. The distinctive goal of any Buddhist contemplative tradition is a state in which inner calm (samatha) is unified with insight (vipassana). Over the centuries, each tradition has developed its own methods for actualizing this state. And it is in these methods that the traditions differ, not in their end objective of unified calm and insight.