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    • The Power Behind the Robe

      Aung Zaw 12 September 2017

      In this cover story first published in the October, 2007 print issue of The Irrawaddy magazine, the editor explained why Burma’s general fear the influence of the Sangha.

      This month marks the 10th anniversary of the Saffron Revolution, a series of mass protests led by Buddhist monks against the military government.

      Many social critics and political monks have long said the generals who kneel down before images of Buddha are the real threat to Buddhism and the Dhamma.

      In this cover story first published in the October, 2007 print issue of The Irrawaddy magazine, founding editor-in-chief Aung Zaw explains why Myanmar’s generals fear the influence of the Sangha.

      The Lord Buddha shunned worldly affairs, but in his teachings he stressed the need for good governance and good rulers in the practice of politics.

      The Buddha said: “When the ruler of a country is just and good, the ministers become just and good; when the ministers are just and good, the higher officials become just and good; when the higher officials are just and good, the rank and file become just and good; when the rank and file become just and good, the people become just and good.”

      If these admonitions are followed by the large community of monks—the Sangha—in predominantly Buddhist Burma, the lingering “love lost” relationship between the country’s military rulers and its monks should be no surprise.

      Over the last two decades, Burma’s Sangha community, officially estimated to number around 400,000, has had an uneasy relationship with the ruling generals, who have imprisoned several prominent, politically active monks or pongyis. It is estimated that since the present military regime came to power in 1988, about 300 monks have been defrocked and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.

      Monks, considered “sons of Buddha,” are the biggest institution in Burma after the armed forces, which number more than 400,000 soldiers and police.

      In their close contacts with the common people and during their morning alms rounds of local households, the monks witness firsthand the suffering and poverty of ordinary Burmese citizens. They have a very clear picture of the deteriorating situation in Burma.

      More importantly, they probably have a better network, connections and influence than politically active students, who are constantly watched, imprisoned or forced into exile.

      Who could imagine that these monks, living quietly in monasteries and studying Dhamma, would ever plan to rebel against the repressive regime? Yet history has shown that monks have long played a pivotal role in politics and that they would indeed dare such a bold and dangerous undertaking.

      The role of political pongyis is controversial and potentially threatening to the ruling elite, although there has been a continuing debate on whether monks really should involve themselves in politics.

      The Early Rebellion

      Monks were involved in early outbreaks of resistance against British colonization, joining lay people in taking up arms against the British after seeing King Thibaw sent into exile.

      Monks have their resistance martyrs—U Ottama, for instance, who led 3,000 rebels in the Salin area a year after the invasion of Mandalay. The rebel monk, also known as Bo Ottama, was captured and hanged by the British in 1889.

      Interestingly, historians noted that monks who took up arms voluntarily defrocked themselves first, following the precept forbidding monks to take lives.

      Another martyr, Saya San, who was an ex-monk, led a peasant uprising in Tharrawaddy opposing the tax system imposed by the British. Burma’s colonial masters sent 10,000 troops to quell the rebellion, capturing Saya San and sending him, too, to the gallows.

      One of the top Burmese lawyers who defended Saya San at his trial was Dr. Ba Maw, who later became head of state in Burma’s Japanese-backed government.

      Not all monks advocated armed struggle. Two who preached nonviolent resistance, U Wisara and another monk named U Ottama, spent many years in prison for their opposition to colonialism and their names have joined the list of independence heroes.

      U Ottama, a globe-trotting, well-respected monk from Arakan State, was a powerful speaker whose calls for independence were featured in the national newspaper Thuriya. He once famously told the British Governor Sir Reginald Craddock to go home to Britain, in a speech that landed him in prison.

      Like U Ottama, U Wisara was imprisoned several times for his public speeches and died in jail in 1929 after 166 days of a hunger strike. His prison sentences included terms of hard labor, and he was also defrocked.

      Both monks became an inspiration to activists and students involved in the independence movement.

      Scholar Michael Mendelson wrote in his “Sangha and State in Burma,” that all politically active monks tended to be labeled by the colonial authorities as “political agitators in the yellow robes.” Interestingly, a similar term is used by Burma’s current leaders to describe protesting monks.

      Historians wrote that the British authorities were surprised to learn the influential role of the Sangha community, and soon after the invasion of 1885 they abolished the position of “Supreme Patriarch,” or Thathana-baing.

      In former times, Burmese kings appointed Thathana-baing to govern the Sangha community and made them responsible for doctrinal instruction and discipline of all monks. But the position wasn’t accepted by the entire Sangha. The progressive Shwegin sect was one group that rejected it. Sectarianism created controversy and bitter rivalry among monks.

      During the Kon-Baung period in the 18th century, conflicts arose within the Sangha over how the monastic robes were supposed to be worn, and two conflicting sects arose—the so-called Ton Gaing and Yon Gaing.

      The Burmese scholar Tin Maung Maung Than records that the Toun-goo and early Kon-Baung dynasties were drawn into the rivalry by their royal patronage of one party or the other. In 1782, King Bodawphaya intervened in the controversy by siding with Ton Gaing.

      One experienced colonial political officer, Col Edward Sladen, conversant with the power of the Sangha, advised British authorities to maintain the Thathana-baingsystem in order to head off conflicts in governing the predominately Buddhist country.

      The role of Thathana-baing was undoubtedly a complicated one, involving a direct link between the monarchy and the Sangha. The Thathana-baing wielded influence and could even intervene in state affairs. One respected abbot even persuaded King Mindon to abandon corvée labor for his irrigation projects. It’s ironic that the current regime argues that forced labor is a feature of Burmese tradition and a means of making merit.

      After independence, however, the influence of Buddhism and the Sangha went into decline, except for a period under the late prime minister U Nu, a devout Buddhist.

      U Nu himself was ordained as a monk several times and rarely exploited Buddhism for his own political ends. Under his government, the Sixth Great Buddhist World Council was held in 1954, and he also created the Buddha Sasana Council.

      Tin Maung Maung Than noted in his book, “Sangha Reforms and Renewal of Sasana in Myanmar: Historical trends and Contemporary Practice”: “Because of various Gaing and sectarianism U Nu failed to take effective reforms in spite of institutionalization of Buddhism within the state superstructure and notwithstanding the holding of the Sixth Buddhist Synod in 1954.”

      U Nu also attempted to legalize Buddhism as the state religion in 1961. The attempt was considered to be a misguided policy, and it anyway failed to materialize as U Nu was ousted by Gen Ne Win one year later.

      Ne Win regarded monks as a potential opposition and he developed a different strategy to control them. In the mid-1960s, his regime called a Sangha conference to issue monks with identification cards. Young monks and abbots stayed away from the gathering.

      It wasn’t until 1980 that Ne Win succeeded in containing the monks by establishing a “State Sangha Nayaka Committee,” after a carefully orchestrated campaign to discredit the Sangha. Part of the campaign was to discredit a famous monk, Thein Phyu Sayadaw, who was accused of romantic involvement with a woman. He was defrocked.

      Before the campaign, intelligence officers and informants of the government infiltrated the temples as monks and gathered information about monks and abbots.

      Some well-known abbots, including Mahasi Sayadaw, an internationally respected monk who was invited by U Nu in 1947 to teach Vipassana meditation, were also targeted in the campaign.

      Anthropologist Gustaaf Houtmann wrote in his paper “Mental Culture in Burmese Crisis Politics” that the regime had “distributed leaflets accusing Mahasi of talking with the nat spirits, and it was claimed that the Tipitaka Mingun Sayadaw, Burma’s top Buddhist scholar, had been involved in some unsavory incident two years after entering the monkhood.” Both monks were victims of their refusal to cooperate with the regime.

      A number of scholars and historians noted, however, that some abbots accused and charged by the government were indeed involved in scandals and had romantic relationship with women or nuns.

      The regime’s campaign sometimes took bizarre forms. Rumors were circulated, for instance, suggesting that one Rangoon monk, U Laba, was a cannibal. Several famous abbots were implicated in scandals and were either defrocked or fled to neighboring Thailand. Ne Win successfully launched a “Sangha reform”—also known as “Cleaning Up the Sangha.”

      The government managed to get some recognition from elderly Buddhists by forming the Sangha Committee. But Ne Win did not pretend to be a devout Buddhist. He rarely participated in Sangha meetings and held few religious ceremonies during the 26 years of his rule. Unlike current leaders, he was rarely seen with monks.

      During the 1988 uprising, however, his government asked the Sangha Committee to help restore order, and senior monks appeared in live television broadcasts appealing to the public for calm.

      In August, 1988, days after the massacre in Rangoon, monks expressed sorrow for the loss of life, but—to the surprise of many—they also appealed to the regime to govern in accordance with the 10 duties prescribed for rulers of the people. The appeal failed to calm the public mood, but the message did remind many Burmese of the “10 duties of rulers”—the monks were telling Ne Win to be a good ruler.

      On August 30, the Working People’s Daily reported: “1,500 members of the Sangha marched in procession through the Rangoon streets and gathered in front of the Rangoon General Hospital emergency ward, where they recited “Metta Sutta” in memory of rahans [monks], workers and students who fell in the struggle for democracy.” Many young monks were among the demonstrators.

      For many Burmese, the struggle for democracy is not yet over and the discord between the Sangha and the ruling generals remains strong.

      Unlike Ne Win and U Nu, the generals who came to power in 1988 openly and audaciously schemed to buy off the Sangha community. They have also claimed to be protectors of the Sangha, although their motive is to gain political legitimacy.

      Aside from holding numerous merit-making ceremonies, offering hsoon and valuable gifts to monks, the military leaders are launching well-publicized pagoda restoration projects throughout Burma. Nevertheless, confrontations between rebellious monks and the authorities continue.

      In Mandalay in 1990, troops fired on the crowds, killing several people, including monks. Angered by the military’s brutality, Mandalay monks began a patta ni kozana kan, refusing to accept alms from members of the armed forces and their families.

      The same action has now been taken by monks in several provinces after authorities beat protesting monks in Pakokka, central Burma.

      “Patta ni kozana kan” can be called in response to any one of eight offences, including vilifying or making insidious comparisons between monks, inciting dissension among monks or defaming Buddha, the Dhamma or the Sangha.

      A “patta ni kozana kan” campaign can be called off if the offended monks receive what they accept as a proper apology from the individuals or authorities involved. This procedure involves a ceremony held by at least four monks inside the Buddhist ordination hall, at which the boycott would be canceled.

      Some monks in Burma may believe that the “patta ni kozana kan” of 1990 is still in effect, since they haven’t yet received any proper apology—only a harsh crackdown. At that time, monks refused to attend religious ceremonies held by military officials and family members.

      In one incident, the Mandalay Division commander at the time, Maj-Gen Tun Kyi, who later became trade minister, invited senior monks and abbots to attend a religious ceremony but no one showed up. Military leaders realized the seriousness of the boycott and decided to launch a crackdown.

      In Mandalay alone, more than 130 monasteries were raided and monks were defrocked and imprisoned. As many as 300 monks nationwide were defrocked and arrested.

      Former political prisoners recalled that monks who shared prison quarters with them continued to practice their faith despite being forced to wear prison uniforms and being officially stripped of their membership of the Sangha.

      Several monks, including the highly respected Thu Mingala, a Buddhist literature laureate, and at least eight other respected senior abbots, were arrested. Thu Mingala was sentenced to eight years imprisonment.

      Apart from being stripped of their robes, imprisoned monks in Mandalay were forced to wear white prison uniforms and were taunted with nicknames instead of being addressed with their true titles, according to former political prisoners.

      One year later, in 1991, the then head of the military junta, Snr-Gen Saw Maung, suffered a nervous breakdown and retired for health reasons. Buddhist Burmese still say this was punishment for his maltreatment of the monks.

      The 1990 crackdown divided the Sangha community. The late Mingun Sayadaw, who was secretary of the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, was ridiculed by young monks for not supporting the boycott campaign. He was at one time called “senior general Mingun Sayadaw,” and when he visited one temple in Mandalay young monks reportedly saluted him.

      Today, while rebellious monks are prepared to go to prison, many senior monks and abbots are allowing themselves to become government tools by accepting gifts and large donations from the generals. By cuddling up to the ruling generals, these elderly abbots can no longer speak for the Sangha community at large, let alone comment on the suffering of the Burmese people. The divisions between abbots and young monks have inevitably widened.

      The generals, on the other hand, won’t give up easily. In one spectacular bid to win the hearts and minds of the people, they borrowed a Buddha tooth relic from China and toured the country with it and also held a World Buddhist Summit.

      In 1999, military leaders renovated Shwedagon Pagoda, after the Htidaw, the sacred umbrella, had been removed amid reports of minor local earthquakes. Local people said the spirits of Shwedagon had been upset with the removal of the Htidaw. Restoration of the pagoda complex did nothing to help the generals’ image, though.

      The generals have also applied “divide and rule” strategies in dealing with the Sangha community and the opposition.

      In 1996, the regime accused the National League for Democracy of infiltrating the Sangha with the aim of committing subversive acts against the authorities. The generals obviously did not want to see opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi developing too close a relationship with the monks.

      In an attempt to neutralize the political role of Suu Kyi, the government sent a famous, London-based monk, Dr. Rewatta Dhamma, to visit the detained opposition leader in 1995. Claiming to be a peace-broker between Suu Kyi and the generals, the monk shuttled between her and top leaders. But his mission failed and he returned to London. Skeptics believe the generals had merely used U Rewatta in a bid to persuade Suu Kyi to relinquish politics.

      Ironically, the regime leaders publicly accused Suu Kyi of being a communist and of sacrilege because she had said in a campaign speech that “any human being can become a Buddha in this life.”

      Soon after her release from her first term of house arrest in 1995, Suu Kyi immediately traveled to Karen State, followed by infuriated intelligence officers. She went there to make an offering to “Thamanya Sayadaw.”

      Traditionally, temples have provided hiding places for activists, and in 1988 monks offered shelter to fugitives from the intelligence authorities.

      At one time, the regime even placed restrictions on opposition members, preventing them from ordaining as monks. Like universities and schools, politically active monasteries are under heavy surveillance.

      The widely respected abbot Bhaddanta Vinaya, known as Thamanya Sayadaw because he lived on Thamanya Hill, was involved in projects to help villagers in the area, work that was shunned by the generals.

      He was revered not only for the mystical powers he was said to possess, but also because of his refusal to kowtow to the regime leaders. He once famously refused to accept the gift of a luxury vehicle from the then powerful intelligence chief Gen Khin Nyunt.

      Khin Nyunt could not buy Thamanya.

      It may indeed be wrong to assume that Burma’s regime leaders are devout Buddhists. The generals and their families seem to place more trust in astrology and numerology than in Buddhist ritual. They treasure white elephants and lucky charms and are constantly seeking advice from astrologers.

      Birds of a feather, such as the generals and their chief astrologers, not only flock together but fall together, too. Ne Win’s family astrologer, Aung Pwint Khaung, was arrested in 2002 when the former dictator and his family were charged with high treason.

      Khin Nyunt’s chief astrologer, Bodaw Than Hla, was imprisoned after the former Prime Minister and Military Intelligence chief was toppled in 2004.

      Many Burmese may find it hard to believe that their military leaders are actually preserving Buddhism. Even when they are building pagodas and erecting Buddha images, the projects are based on astrological predictions and readings.

      Who, for instance, advised Ne Win to ride a wooden horse on his aircraft and to ask the pilot to circle his birthplace nine times? Who advised him to issue banknotes in denominations of 45 and 90 kyat?

      Who advised Khin Nyunt to dress up in women’s clothing, complete with the signature flower that Suu Kyi wears, in order to steal power from “the Lady”? Who told Than Shwe to move his capital to central Burma?

      It certainly wasn’t a belief in Buddhist tenets. Nor does Buddhism permit the military to beat, defrock, imprison and kill monks.


      The decline of Buddhism and the rise of militarism in Burma are a source of concern for the people of Burma. Thus, it is no surprise to hear social critics and political pongyismaintain that the generals who kneel down before images of Buddha are the real threat to Buddhism and Dhamma.

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    • Drowning on My Cushion

      Kim Larrabee tricycle FALL 2017

      One practitioner’s journey to learn how to resettle her body and mind after a near-death experience

      I grew up in Northport, New York, on the edge of the Long Island Sound. As my family tells it, I learned to swim before I could walk. By the time I was 5, I was on a swimming team, and pretty shortly I was learning to sail, too. When my brothers and I went to the south shore of the island, where enormous waves pounded into shore, we were fearless. We couldn’t get enough. As a teenager, I worked as a lifeguard, and by the time I was married, my affinity for the ocean was so deeply rooted that when my husband and I bought a house in northeastern Connecticut to be near his job, I couldn’t stand it: two years and one day later, we moved back to be near the water again.

      Many years ago, on a Labor Day weekend, when most of the lifeguards had left for school, a friend and I went to the beach and swam out to a sandbar about 500 yards from shore. On the way back in, we were caught in a fierce riptide. As we swam parallel to the shore, waiting to be released by the rip, my friend began to tire. I knew what to do: I told her to lie on her back and rest for a few moments, and then we swam in. Once onshore, we saw another woman caught in the rip, in real trouble. I dove back in the water, warning her not to grab on to me, or we’d both go down. I circled around behind her, placed her in a loose cross-chest carry, and helped lead her in.

      So I thought I knew what to expect from that beach when I returned the next day, on my own. I swam out to the sandbar, but by the time I was above it, I wasn’t able to touch bottom—it was a day later, and the tide wasn’t far enough out to expose the sandbar. I was heading back toward land when I was caught in the rip again. Instead of swimming parallel to shore, as I had known to do since I was a child, I was gripped with fear. I pushed straight toward the beach, exhausting myself with the effort and overwhelmed with panic. The people onshore appeared to be three inches tall, as if they were receding further and further away.

      In those instants of panic, my life literally flashed in front of me. I saw myself as a baby getting a bath in the kitchen sink. I could see my brothers playing baseball in the yard, and I could smell the scent of summer. And then, I had a vision: it was the cover of the East Hampton Star, with a headline announcing: “Local Teacher Drowns,” followed by another line: “And she was such a good swimmer.” I thought, “I’m not doing this. This is not happening this way—that’s not going to be the headline.”

      I don’t know what happened next. I don’t know if the rip let up, or if I let go of my panic, but something happened and I was able to make my way in.

      Yet that fear that I felt in my body didn’t completely disappear. That panicked sense of drowning stayed with me and recurred, at surprising and unrelated times, for years. The following winter, I was trekking through hip-deep snow in a nature conservancy near my home, and felt that same drowning sensation. It was remarkable how similar and frightening the sensation was, and I was quickly reminded of my summer experience.

      And then the sensation began to appear in my meditation practice. I had always had difficulty with concentration, but over years of practice, I was beginning to drop down and quiet my mind. Now, just as I would start to get into a state of calm spaciousness, I began to feel the drowning sensation welling up. It came in the form of heat rising up from my abdomen and blooming into my chest to the point where I thought I was suffocating. I would try to stay with it, to stay with the breath and watch the feeling arise and wait for it to pass away, but it would hijack me, and I would become very unsettled.

      This went on for a long time. I went to the Insight Meditation Society for a 17-day lovingkindness retreat, and I continued to manage the sensation. I described it to teachers in interviews, but nothing changed, though I continued to try my best to work with the sensation. Finally, I described the phenomenon to my teacher, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, with whom I sit every year at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. “I think it’s pitti— rapture,” he said. Some people, he explained, are struck by fear or extreme discomfort when they finally begin to settle down into concentration.

      He suggested that I envision my breath moving into my hands and feet—that I try to siphon off some of that energy, away from my core and out to another part of the body. Then I should think about the elements. Since I felt a lot of heat, I was to think of water—and, I immediately had the thought, of lying in water.

      It seemed ironic to picture myself submerged in a body of water when my entire being was fighting a fear that felt like drowning. But little by little, I found a way through concentration to make it work.

      There’s a beautiful peninsula on the Peconic Bay called Jessup Neck. It’s a wild place, jutting into the bay and beckoning to migrating birds, especially terns. I began to visualize myself as that peninsula, surrounded by water. If I focused on the higher ground of the peninsula—the center of my body supported, but lying on the water—and the edges of my body dipping into the clear liquid, the drowning fear, the sense of claustrophobia or suffocation, would release. I placed my focus on the cool water within reach, a spacious sky, and the sound of the terns . . . and it helped. I began to understand how the elements—earth, wind, fire, and water—could be used to balance and quiet my whole system.


      I’m still swimming in the ocean regularly, though over these many years I still contend with my fear of drowning. I’ve come to see that my panic in those moments years ago prevented me from skillfully enlisting the tools I knew would get me safely to shore. Rather than protect me from danger, my fear put me at risk. Ultimately, the same goes for the fear I experienced—and sometimes still do—on the cushion. As I knew when I helped save the woman from drowning, the key is not to grasp, or swim against the tide, but to go along and allow the elements to balance. By skillfully and strategically letting go, I can safely reach the shore.

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    • Stillness and Strength: The Great Buddha of Kamakura

      Meher McArthur Buddhistdoor Global | 2017-10-02 |

      The city of Kamakura in Japan’s Kanazawa Prefecture is home to one of the most poetic and paradoxical works of Buddhist sculpture. The statue is the Great Buddha, or Daibutsu, a giant bronze figure of Amida Buddha measuring 11.3 meters in height at Kotoku-in, a temple of the Jodo-shu branch of Pure Land Buddhism. The elegant Buddha is seated in the lotus position with his hands in the gesture of meditation, his eyes cast downward in peaceful contemplation. What is peculiar about this magnificent Buddha is that he sits in the open air, exposed to the elements, as he has done since 1498, after typhoons, tidal waves, and earthquakes devastated the temple building that once housed him. Since then, no new temple has been built around the image. Instead, the Daibutsu sits calmly on a stone platform emanating total balance and serenity—a monument, simultaneously and paradoxically, to physical permanence and the Buddhist concept of impermanence.

      The beloved statue of Amida (Skt: Amitabha, Amitayus) was built in the mid-13th century, several decades after the nation’s political capital was moved from Kyoto to Kamakura by the new military regime, the Kamakura shogunate. The military rulers of Japan embraced Buddhism and established many temples around their new capital to provide spiritual sustenance for the elite and the samurai warriors who served them. One of the traditions they embraced was Pure Land Buddhism, a sect devoted to the worship of Amida Buddha. Amida is believed to have vowed to liberate all beings from samsara, irrespective of sex, age, social standing, and even behavior and deeds. Simply by following Amida, devotees are guaranteed rebirth in his glorious Western Pure Land, where the Buddha will then assist their souls on their search for enlightenment, or nirvana.

      Pure Land Buddhism was transmitted to Japan from China during the Heian period (794–1185), when it was practiced mainly by members of the imperial court, but under the new military regime the sect gain a broader following among the general populace. Pure Land temples were established throughout the country and images of Amida, his celestial entourage of deities, and his glorious Western Paradise were commissioned for display in the temples and for followers to worship in their homes. In Pure Land Buddhist practice, mindfulness of Amida is supremely important. Devotees repeatedly chant Amida’s name, a practice known in Japanese as nembutsu, and perform meditative contemplation and visualization of Amida, creating a bond with the deity to ensure their soul’s passage to his Pure Land. Many images depict Amida descending with his celestial attendants to collect the soul and transport it to paradise, and, from the early days of Pure Land Buddhism in Japan, devotees on their deathbed held the end of a string attached to such images, known as Amida’s Welcoming Approach (Japanese: Amida Raigo), to ensure that Amida carried their soul to paradise.

      According to chronicles of the Kamakura shogunate, work on building the Great Buddha at Kotokuin began in 1252, and priests from the temple gathered donations from the local population to help pay for construction. The bronze Buddha was originally covered in gold and housed in the Great Buddha Hall, or Daibutsuden, but the structure was damaged by typhoons in 1334 and 1369, and subsequently in a severe earthquake in 1498. Over the years, the statue itself has been damaged by the elements and repaired on several occasions but has remained uncovered for more than half a century, during which time not only Buddhists but also travelers from around the country have paid their respects to the Great Buddha. In the mid-19th century, artist Ando Hiroshige (1797–1858), who produced some of Japan’s most famous woodblock printed landscapes, paid homage to the image with a print, naming it after one of the later temple halls of the Kotoku-in, the Shojosen-ji. Later in the century, British writer Rudyard Kipling visited Japan and was so awed by the sculpture that he penned a poem to the Buddha at Kamakura.


      Today, Buddhists of all traditions and travelers from all over the world come to visit the Great Buddha of Kotoku-in. The figure has become so well known that it now ranks alongside Katsushika Hokusai’s woodblock print The Great Wave off Kanazawa as one of Japan’s most iconic artistic creations. Just as Hokusai’s Great Wave, which depicts small fishing boats being tossed around by a massive tidal wave, reminds us of the truly awesome power of nature, this Great Buddha, sitting in the open air without the protection of a temple building, is also a reminder of the destruction that can be inflicted upon human structures by the forces of nature. However, at a time when so many regions in the world are suffering from the devastation of earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, fires, and other natural disasters, this powerful Buddha image, which has survived wars, fires, earthquakes, and typhoons for 750 years, is also a reminder of the strength of the human spirit and in the belief in something greater than ourselves.

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    • Below is an extract from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hun_and_po

      The number of human "souls" has been a long-standing source of controversy among Chinese religious traditions. Stevan Harrell (1979:521) concludes, "Almost every number from one to a dozen has at one time or another been proposed as the correct one." The most commonly believed numbers of "souls" in a person are one, two, three, and ten.

      One "soul" or linghun 靈魂 is the simplest idea.[2] Harrell gives a fieldwork example.

      When rural Taiwanese perform ancestral sacrifices at home, they naturally think of the ling-hun in the tablet; when they take offerings to the cemetery, they think of it in the grave; and when they go on shamanistic trips, they think of it in the yin world. Because the contexts are separate, there is little conflict and little need for abstract reasoning about a nonexistent problem. (1979:523)

      Two "souls" is a common folk belief, and reinforced by yin-yang theory. These paired souls can be called hun and po, hunpo and shen, or linghun and shen.

      Three "souls" comes from widespread beliefs that the soul of a dead person can exist in the multiple locations. The missionary Justus Doolittle recorded that Chinese people in Fuzhou

      Believe each person has three distinct souls while living. These souls separate at the death of the adult to whom they belong. One resides in the ancestral tablet erected to his memory, if the head of a family; another lurks in the coffin or the grave, and the third departs to the infernal regions to undergo its merited punishment. (1865 II:401–2)


      Ten "souls" of sanhunqipo 三魂七魄 "three hun and seven po" is not only Daoist; "Some authorities would maintain that the three-seven "soul" is basic to all Chinese religion" (Harrell 1979:522). During the Later Han period, Daoists fixed the number of hun souls at three and the number of po souls at seven. A newly deceased person may return (回魂) to his home at some nights, sometimes one week (頭七) after his death and the seven po would disappear one by one every 7 days after death. According to Needham and Lu (1974:88), "It is a little difficult to ascertain the reason for this, since fives and sixes (if they corresponded to the viscera) would have rather been expected." Three hun may stand for the sangang 三綱 "three principles of social order: relationships between ruler-subject, father-child, and husband-wife" (Needham 1974:89). Seven po may stand for the qiqiao 七竅 "seven apertures (in the head, eyes, ears, nostrils, and mouth)" or the qiqing 七情 "seven emotions (joy, anger, sorrow, fear, worry, grief, fright)" in traditional Chinese medicine (Baldrian-Hussein 2008:522). Sanhunqipo also stand for other names.

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    • Breaking Through

      Ezra Bayda SUMMER 2012 tricycle

      How to recognize and overcome three universal obstacles to practice

      Detours and obstacles are a fact of practice life. Some arise out of our own psychology and conditioning: patterns of self-judgment and perfectionism, a tendency to procrastinate or seek diversions, addiction to control, and the like. Other obstacles seem to be more universal, and these are the ones that nearly every practitioner faces at one time or another. These obstacles are at the heart of practice, yet they are seldom given the emphasis they deserve. But until we can see them clearly—see how they manifest in our lives—it will be difficult, if not impossible, for our practice to move forward.

      There are three obstacles in particular that we need to address.

      Misunderstanding the depth of waking sleep

      The first obstacle to practice is not understanding the magnitude and power of waking sleep. “Waking sleep” refers to the state in which we live most of the time—identified with, or lost in, our thoughts, our emotions, and our actions. In the first place, we’re addicted to our thoughts: believing that our thoughts and opinions are the Truth is the veil through which we perceive reality. But we also have difficulty controlling our emotions; in fact, we love to indulge them. Furthermore, we can’t seem to stay in the present moment for more than a few seconds at a time; the present is the last place we want to be. Because we are so frequently lost in the obscuring confusion of our thoughts and emotions, we lack the clarity and presence that come when we are more awake.

      Buddhism teaches that we are all born with buddhanature and that our spiritual aspiration is to allow our true nature to reveal itself, just as an acorn aspires to become an oak tree. Yet emphasizing our basic goodness, as important as it is, is only part of the picture. No matter how strong our aspiration may be, if we don’t develop deep insight into the power and magnitude of waking sleep, we will be blindsided by it again and again. It’s imperative for us to understand that spiritual practice is not just something we do when we’re sitting in meditation or when we’re on retreat. Just as there is no end to the power of life means practicing at all times, with everything we encounter, not just when we’re on the cushion or when something upsets us. Failing to see everything as an opportunity for practice is a setup for frustration and disappointment, keeping us stuck where we are and limiting our possibilities for inner growth. The more we include in our practice, the more satisfying our life can be.

      Underestimating resistance

      The second obstacle we encounter in practice, closely related to the first, is underestimating the degree to which resistance is a predictable and inevitable part of a practice life. Resistance comes in many forms: not wanting to sit in meditation, not wanting to stay with our experience for more than a few seconds, spinning off into thinking about the past or the future, suppressing or avoiding emotional pain, finding fault with ourselves, finding fault with others. We can see resistance in our commitment to believing such thoughts as “This is too hard,” “I can’t do it,” or “I’m unworthy.”

      Yet another, more subtle form of resistance is thinking and talking about practice rather than actually experiencing our life. Thinking and talking about practice are easy substitutes for the real effort that a practice life requires. We resist facing life as it is because that would mean abandoning our views of how we think it should be. The most basic form of resistance is wanting life to be other than it is.

      For the most part, we don’t really want to wake up. We have to be honest about this. We want to hold on to our beliefs and even to our suffering. Afraid of the unknown, we cling to the familiar. We don’t want to give up our illusions even when they make us miserable. Resistance is the ego’s effort to maintain control. Yet no matter what form it takes, it brings us no peace. Pema Chödrön tells a story about a friend who as a child had recurring nightmares in which ferocious monsters were chasing her through a house. Whenever she closed a door behind her, the monsters would burst through the door and frighten her. Pema once asked what the monsters looked like, but her friend couldn’t tell her, because in the dream she had never turned around to see.

      At some point, however, she decided not to turn away from what she feared. The next time she had the nightmare, just as she was about to open a door to avoid being caught by the monsters, she stopped running, turned around, and looked the monsters in the eye. They were huge, with horrible features, but they didn’t attack her; they just jumped up and down. As she looked closer, the three-dimensional multicolored monsters began to shrink into two-dimensional black-and-white shapes. At that moment, the girl awoke, and she never had that nightmare again.

      It is in running away from our “monsters” that we make them seem so solid. Whatever we resist exerts a strong hold on us: in solidifying it, we empower it to stay in our mind and our life. But when we cultivate the willingness to be with life just as it is, our relationship to what we’ve avoided starts to change. Once we see through the solidity of our resistance, our lives become more fluid and workable. We’re able to move beyond where we were once stuck. Even if we don’t like our life as it is, we don’t need to wage war against it. We can start meeting our resistance squarely by noticing all of the ways in which we avoid the present moment, the ways in which we avoid practice, the ways in which we resist what is. Understanding the depth of our resistance is of major importance in furthering our practice.

      Another form of resistance arises when we hit the “dry spot.” The dry spot is the moment when we lose our connection with the aspiration that originally brought us to practice. Often we hit the dry spot when our expectations of practice are unfulfilled—when it isn’t bringing us the immediate peace, calm, or freedom from fear that we had hoped for. Disappointment leads to anger, and anger to resistance.

      It’s important to understand, however, that vacillating between aspiration and resistance is the natural rhythm of practice and that the dry spot is a natural manifestation of this cycle. But the first few times we hit the dry spot, it doesn’t seem natural at all. We may even feel as if we’re failing at practice, since the thoughts that arise in these moments seem like fixed truths. It’s hard to see them for what they are—simply automatic reactions to the inevitable ups and downs of practice life.

      Hitting the dry spot is the point at which students often leave practice. But if we can wait it out, we begin to understand the natural cycle of resistance. We even come to expect the doubting mind to arise. Doubt in itself is not the problem. The problem comes from identifying with the doubting “me” and believing that this is who we really are. But if seen for what it is, doubt can even be a positive force in practice. Provided we don’t get lost in the negative beliefs that arise with it, it can lead to a deepening of our quest. As practice takes hold, we can learn to use doubt as an opportunity to experience the grief of our unfulfilled expectations about practice. We can learn to surrender to, and reside in, the physical experience of what doubt feels like in the body, instead of following the story line of negative thoughts. Not following the story line can be difficult, because the thoughts seem so true, so solid, so compelling. But if we can stay with the visceral experience of doubt, even as the anguish of not knowing remains, the dryness is transfused with a deeper sense of aspiration.

      Thomas Merton expressed this clearly: “True love and prayer are learned in the moment when prayer has become impossible and the heart has turned to stone.” When we understand the cycles of resistance and can wait out a dry period by resting in the direct physical experience of doubt, we will gradually come to feel a renewed sense of direction and hope.

      Wanting to feel a particular way

      The third major obstacle we encounter in practice is a deep-seated desire to feel a particular way, whether calm or clear or spacious or simply free of anxiety. Probably all of us share the illusion that if we practice long enough and hard enough, we’ll get what we want: enlightenment, good health, a satisfying relationship, or whatever else we’re seeking. We can tell that we’re still harboring this illusion if we believe that experiencing difficulties or distress means that something is wrong—specifically, that something is wrong with us. This persistent belief drives us to do whatever we can to alleviate our discomfort. We believe deeply that if we just practice harder, we’re sure to feel better.

      We should never underestimate the extent to which we equate feeling better with being awake. But a key point about spiritual practice is that we don’t have to feel any particular way. Nor do we have to be any particular way. All we can do is experience, and work with, whatever is arising in our life right now. No matter what is going on or how we feel about it, the essence of practice is to honestly acknowledge whatever is happening in the moment and stay present with our experience of it. In this way we can come to feel a true appreciation for life just as it is.

      There’s a famous Buddhist story about a man who was shot in the chest with an arrow. The pain was great, but the Buddha pointed out to the man how much greater the pain would be if he had been shot with a second arrow in the exact same spot. What this teaching suggests is that however painful or disappointing our experience may be, adding the second arrow of our judgmental thoughts about it will only deepen the pain and lead to greater suffering.

      If, for example, I wake up not feeling well, adding the judgment “This shouldn’t be happening to me” will only make me feel much worse. The countermeasure to judging is to move out of the mental world and our thoughts about what’s happening, and into the physical realm and what we’re actually feeling in the moment. Judgments are based on ideals or expectations, and these thought-based pictures are at least one step removed from what is real. Coming back to what is, minus our thought-based pictures, is a step toward freedom.

      When we can see through our deep-seated desire to feel a particular way and realize that we don’t have to feel different in order to be free, we can experience the equanimity that comes with staying truly present with what is.


      Fully grasping the three obstacles that we’re sure to encounter on the spiritual path—misunderstanding the depth of waking sleep, underestimating resistance, and wanting to feel a particular way—is the essential foundation for learning how to work with them effectively. And working with them, in turn, will take us to the heart of what it means to be free.

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    • Looking for the Pure Land: A Visit to Xuanzhong Monastery

      Guoying Stacy Zhang Buddhistdoor Global | 2017-09-22 |

      According to the major sutras of Pure Land Buddhism, the Larger Sukhavativyuha and the Smaller Sukhavativyuha, Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land (Skt. Sukhavati) lies beyond 10 billion Buddha-lands west of our World of Endurance. Having been fully developed from the mid-6th to the early 9th centuries, the belief in rebirth in such a place and the recitation of Amitabha’s name to achieve this goal became central to Pure Land Buddhism, serving as an expedient for the meditative path to enlightenment or even as a method of equal importance since the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). To better understand the nature of the Pure Land and how it is related to the world in which we sentient beings live, I visited one of the birthplaces of Pure Land Buddhism—Xuanzhong Monastery (玄中寺) in Jiaocheng County, Shanxi Province, China.

      Since its establishment in 472, Xuanzhong Monastery has stood on the same site in the Shibi Mountains, remote and secluded. Three patriarchs of the Pure Land school, Tan Luan (曇鸞, 476–542), Dao Chuo (道綽, 562–645), and Shan Dao (善導, 613–81), resided and spread the teachings there. For this reason, Xuanzhong Monastery received continuous imperial patronage during the Tang dynasty (618–907). When Kublai Khan ruled China, he also granted the monastery imperial protection. Khan’s edict, inscribed in stone in both Chinese and the ‘Phags-pa script,* has been well preserved in the monastery’s stele collection. Today, Xuanzhong Monastery is lauded as an ancestral court by Pure Land Buddhists in China, as well as by followers of Jodo Shu and Jodo Shinshu—two Pure Land sects in Japan.

      During my stay at Xuanzhong Monastery, I was warmly received by Venerable Wufeng (悟峰). He has been the acting abbot since the passing of the former abbot Venerable Master Gentong (根通, 1928–2015), who was born in Guandong Province, and later became an influential Buddhist leader in Shanxi Province and the seventh vice director of the Chinese Buddhist Association. Venerable Wufeng is from Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. In his teens, his interest in Buddhism was ignited by the 1982 film The Shaolin Temple, and he was determined to become a kung fu master to benefit the world. However, during his initial monastic life at the Shaolin Temple, Venerable Wufeng realized that his desire to learn kung fu was driven by fame and self-interest, and he became convinced that true happiness and perfection cannot be achieved by combat, but rather, by wisdom.

      Nowadays, success is usually measured by action and tangible outcome. For those unfamiliar with Buddhism, it may be difficult to comprehend how the monastic sangha can contribute to the world while choosing to withdraw from it. “It is true that at the turn of the 20th century—a time of turmoil in China—many sangha members either focused on self-cultivation or on performing rituals for the dead,” Venerable Wufeng explained. “As a response, Venerable Master Taixu (1890–1947) pioneered the idea of Humanistic Buddhism, calling on sangha members to construct a Pure Land on Earth by engaging with society, integrating Buddhist teachings into everyday life, and guiding people in good conduct, mind purification, and spiritual cultivation.”

      This effort to build a Pure Land on Earth is in every way compatible with faith in Amitabha’s Pure Land. While clearing defilements from their minds and from this world, Pure Land Buddhists long for an even better place—a perfect and magnificent realm free of suffering. On the surface, Amitabha’s Pure Land in Mahayana Buddhism and Heaven in Christianity may sound similar: both are of a metaphorical nature, describing a state of consciousness or condition of existence. Nevertheless, they reflect two fundamentally different tenets of cosmology and soteriology. “For instance,” Venerable Wufeng clarified, “in Buddhism, heaven is yet found in the six realms of samsara, but Pure Land is beyond that, transcending the cycle of rebirth. Moreover, in the Christian Heaven, each being is a subject of God, while in the Buddhist Pure Land, each being becomes a Buddha themselves, possessing the same virtue and capacity as the Buddha.”

      On one hand, the path to Amitabha’s Pure Land lies in the merit gained from this life and our past lives. On the other, as Venerable Wufeng elucidates, the vision of Amitabha’s Pure Land makes us less attached to this world. In the Buddhist view, all wars and killing originate from nothing but human selfishness. Venerable Wufeng commented, “Kings and warriors are heroes because they conquer others. The members of the Buddhist sangha are sages because they conquer themselves. They are masters of their own minds, so they are able to spread wisdom and compassion, benefiting others in a selfless way.” Indeed, since the beginning of the 20th century, Xuanzhong Monastery has played an instrumental role in Sino-Japan relations. During the Second World War, Venerable Ekei Sugawara (菅原恵慶), a Pure Land master from Japan, traveled to Xuanzhong Monastery to pay homage. Having devoted the rest of his life to the research and promotion of Pure Land Buddhism, his ashes were buried at Xuanzhong Monastery at his request. This gesture was not just a religious statement, but also one for world peace.

      Chinese Buddhism developed the concept of various Pure Lands, such as Maitreya’s Tusita, Bhaisajyaguru’s Vaiduryanirbhasa, and Vairocana’s Padmagarbha, all expressing a general goal of rebirth in an ideal place. However, Amitabha’s Pure Land became the most popular, thanks to the nianfo (念佛), the method of reciting Amitabha’s name devised by the Pure Land school patriarchs. It is so approachable that even the least enlightened person can recite “Namo Amituofo” for salvation anytime and anywhere. Today, “Amituofo” has become a greeting among Buddhists in China, regardless of the Buddhist tradition one is affiliated with. You could be facing a layman, a Chan master, or even a Tibetan lama, and as soon as you start a conversation with “Amituofo” and joined palms, you already have their goodwill and trust.

      Reciting the name of Amitabha can be compared to using a point-and-shoot camera. It looks simple, but it has all the necessary functions. This method is like a small spring, and ultimately it flows into the ocean of Buddhist teachings”, Venerable Wufeng explained to me. Apart from merely reciting Amitabha’s name, there are another three nianfo methods for people of different meditative and spiritual capacities, namely reciting the name of Amitabha in front of his image, reciting the name of Amitabha while visualizing his image, and reciting the ultimate essence of Amitabha.** According to Venerable Wufeng, in the practice of the last nianfo method, one experiences the merging of Amitabha’s name being recited and the mind that recites Amitabha’s name. He elaborated: “If Amitabha’s name is snow, the ultimate essence of Amitabha is water, as snow melts into water; if Amitabha’s name is floating clouds, the ultimate essence of Amitabha is void, as clouds disappear into the void. Through this method, one sees Buddha nature (Skt. tathagatagarbha) and the Buddha’s true body (Skt. dharmakaya). The method itself is Chan, is esoteric knowledge.”


      ** See Wufeng, “Xuanzhong Monastery and Pure Land Buddhism,”

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      Tell a Theravadin that when you die your consciousness can get fragmented into many parts and be reborn into many animals or insects, I believe they are likely to give you a big silly smile. Tell them they can be reborn as a plant or some kind of vegetables? I am not sure what kind of reaction you are going to get from them. Never mind a secular Buddhist who doesn’t even believe in rebirth.

      Looks like the Venerable Master’s borrows a lot of his ideas from Taoist beliefs. If what he said is from a Sutra, I would certainly like to know which Sutra states that a person’s consciousness can be fragmented upon death.

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    • No more Chinese govt. funded scholars to US University that hosted Dalai Lama

      September 20, 2017 Phayul.com Tenzin Dharpo

      DHARAMSHALA, Sept. 20: Chinese government funded scholars are not permitted to join an American university that hosted the Beijing-labeled “splitist” exiled Tibetan leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama a few months ago, sources say.

      China Scholarship Council, a branch of China’s Ministry of Education has reportedly barred Chinese scholars from receiving state funding to study at the University of California, San Diego. Faculty member Professor Victor Shih tweeted that his fellow faculty member received notice that the China Scholarship Council would no longer process applications to study at UCSD hence forth. He wrote that the developments may be due to the visit by the Dalai Lama.

      In June, despite protest from the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), the Tibetan leader spoke at the graduation ceremony for the 2016-2017 academic year to a rousing welcome by an audience of 25,000 including around 6,000 graduating students at the university’s RIMAC Field. The Chinese student body argued that hosting the 82 year old Tibetan leader goes against political correctness and sentiments of Chinese students studying at the university that account for more than half of the international student count.

      UCSD told Quartz, “UC San Diego has learned, unofficially, that the China Scholarship Council under the PRC Ministry of Education has apparently issued instructions that CSC-funded visiting scholars who do not yet have visas will not be allowed to study at UC San Diego. UC San Diego was not notified of this directly by the China Scholarship Council, and we are presently making inquiries to determine if this is the case.”

      Last week, Tibetan Member of Parliament and Campaigns Manager at Australia Tibet Council, Kyinzom Dhongdue, in her report said that Chinese government funded Confucius Institutes which are in many universities around the globe, are a classic example of China’s soft power offensive and that Chinese student bodies in those universities are creating an “environment for self censorship” and exerting pressure in silencing anti-China narratives within her constituency Australia and around the world.


      According to Hanban, an agency of China’s Ministry of Education which operates the Confucius Institutes, there are 500 of these institutes at universities around the world. Hanban also operates 568 Confucius Classrooms in schools worldwide. Li Changchun, China’s top official in charge of propaganda from 2002 to 2012, called the Confucius Institutes “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up,” the report by Tibetan MP highlighted.

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    • Freedom and Choice

      Ken McLeod WINTER 2012 tricycle

      Breaking free from the tyranny of reaction

      A few years ago, I was teaching a workshop on the Heart Sutra. We had just finished that long list of negations and everyone was a bit off balance, having had the rug pulled out from under them four or five different ways. The next lines were “Because for bodhisattvas there is no attainment, they rest, trusting the perfection of wisdom.”

      “When he reaches the perfection of wisdom, can a bodhisattva choose to do whatever he wants?” a young man asked.

      “The illusion of choice is an indication of a lack of freedom,” I replied. He looked at me, stunned, then turned around and gently banged his head against the wall as he said, “Now my head really hurts.”

      Most people equate choice and freedom. It seems so reasonable. Freedom means you are free to choose, right? It means you are free from restrictions. If you can’t choose, then you are not free. And it would seem to follow that the more choice you have, the more freedom you have.

      But it doesn’t work out that way.

      The more options you have, the more energy you have to invest in making decisions. Which shampoo? Which car? Which dress? Which restaurant? Which movie? Your energy and attention are consumed by these decisions, and you have less left with which to live your life. I recently met a young entrepreneur who had reduced the number of items he owned to 15 (including clothes, just one pair of jeans). His aim was to reduce choice in his daily routine so that he could focus his attention on his business. It reminded me that during my three-year retreat, I had only two sets of clothes. The aim was the same: to reduce choice so that I could focus attention on meditation practice.

      Many people deliberately eliminate choice and the need for decisions by adopting set schedules. They conserve energy for important rather than routine decisions. Research into consumer behavior shows that people are more likely to buy devices with more options, but they are less likely to use them because it takes too long to figure out how to do even the simplest task.

      What does choice give you? One answer is that choice makes it possible for you to shape your world according to your preferences. All this does is to enable you to fashion a world that is an extension of your own patterns. With modern technology, you can weave a cocoon of your preferences and rarely run into anything that contradicts them. Google now keys its searches to fit your online behavior, further cocooning you in your own world. In other words, too much choice is a trap. You end up isolated from the richness and complexity of life.

      Choice is a dubious blessing when it comes to spiritual practice—in fact, when it comes to any creative endeavor. Great art is often the result of restriction in form, in materials, in themes. The restrictions concentrate attention and spur creativity. It is the same in practice. How do you increase your capacity in paying attention? By eliminating all choice. One posture. One object. Rest right there. No choice. And, as all of us know, it’s not easy.

      The lack of choice brings you directly into contact with the way you habitually ignore, shut down, manipulate, or control your experience. When you have no choice, you have to learn how to relate to what life brings you. You can’t weave a comfortable cocoon. On the other hand, by restricting your choice of actions, you can develop an internal discipline of not reacting. This is why moral discipline was traditionally seen as the basis for meditation practice.

      When I look at my own path, once I started to study with Kalu Rinpoche, I didn’t have much choice. Tradition and instruction took over. Learn Tibetan, do these practices, then this practice, and so on. The three-year retreat was the same, one practice after another. No choice. Because of those restrictions, I couldn’t avoid my own emotional material. It came out in quite brutal ways.

      By the time I left retreat, all doors to practice were closed for me in the tradition in which I had originally trained. Yet something else had formed—a firm, way-seeking mind, to use Suzuki Roshi’s phrase. In the years since, I have come to appreciate that a firm, way-seeking mind is the most important quality to cultivate. With it, you are able to work through any obstacle. I simply don’t see how you can develop that if you can choose just what fits with you.

      One of the functions of monasteries, retreats, ethical codes, and other structures associated with spiritual practice is to eliminate choice. When people attend the relatively strict discipline at Tassajara Zen Center, for instance, they come away feeling rejuvenated and refreshed, precisely because they have had no choice for a few days. They feel free, alive, awake in a way that they don’t in their regular lives. Prisoners who take up a meditation practice have reported that by restricting their range of actions even beyond the limitations of prison and just sitting in meditation, they find a freedom they never suspected was possible.


      What is freedom? It is the moment-by-moment experience of not being run by one’s own reactive mechanisms. Does that give you more choice? Usually not. When you aren’t run by reactions, you see things more clearly, and there is usually only one, possibly two courses of action that are actually viable. Freedom from the tyranny of reaction leads to a way of experiencing life that leaves you with little else to do but take the direction that life offers you in each moment. Hence, the illusion of choice is an indication of a lack of freedom.

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    • China’s influence grows in the land down-under, says Australia Tibetan MP

      Phayul September 15, 2017 Tenzin Dharpo

      DHARAMSHALA, Sept. 15: China’s sway in the Australian political and educational institution is at an “alarming level”, writes Tibetan parliamentarian and Campaigns Manager Kyinzom Dhongdue of Australia Tibet Council. A report titled ‘Australia’s Silence on Tibet: How China is shaping our agenda’ was released by the ATC in Canberra on Wednesday.

      The report sheds new light on the seemingly subtle yet far-reaching grasp of China in various mainstream Australian channels. The insightful report probes into how businessmen that are heavily linked with Chinese government have been the major foreign donors to political parties while Chinese government funded institutions are widespread in universities across the country.

      Chinese Businessmen Chau Chak Wing donated over $4 million to Labor party and the Coalition from 2006 to 2016 and Huang Xiangmo donated over $2.6 million to Australias major political parties since 2012, the ATC report said.

      Chinese government funded Confucius Institutes, which are a classic example of China’s soft power offensive, have 14 such branches across Australia peddling CCP agendas, the paper read. Chinese student numbers hit a record boom last year with 46,370 students accounting to almost 30% of the total student figure in the country, and further contribute to creating what the author said was an “environment for self censorship” within the Australian universities besides actual pressure in silencing anti-China narratives.

      Also prominent Australian media outlets have agreement with Chinese state medias to propel its messages down under, stated the report highlighting a dangerous precedent.

      “As Chinese influence increases in Australia, explicit support from the Australian Government for Tibet has diminished. The Government’s silence on the human rights crisis in Tibet is notable, with not a single public statement on Tibet being issued for nearly a decade.


      “Furthermore, no Australian Prime Minister has met the Dalai Lama since 2009, although he has made five subsequent visits to Australia,” the 28 page report surmised.

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    • The Rise of Militant Monks

      MICHAEL JERRYSON| AUGUST 23, 2015 Lion’s Roar

      Michael Jerryson reports on the growing tension between Buddhists and Muslims in South and Southeast Asia, where senior Buddhist monks are actively inciting violence and intolerance despite outcries from the international community.

      Recent developments in Burma have brought the world’s attention to the ongoing conflicts between Buddhists and Muslims in South and Southeast Asia. But while the media may present the Buddhist–Muslim conflicts in Sri Lanka, southern Thailand, and Burma as fundamentally the same at their core, they are not. Far from this, these three conflicts stem from specific regional issues and politics. Furthermore, each conflict emerges out of an important historical context. However, through globalization, these conflicts are beginning to overlap.

      Sri Lanka: Emerging from Civil War

      Sri Lanka is currently recovering from a twenty-six-year civil war (1983–2009) between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). While the civil war was principally over the LTTE’s desire for independence, it came to be infused with religious symbolism and importance since the vast majority of LTTE members were Tamil Hindus, and the Sri Lankan government and its military were—and still are—predominantly composed of Buddhists.

      Throughout the civil war, Buddhists and Buddhist monks pressed the state to take a stronger and more aggressive stance. One of the earliest examples of this came from the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front), which in the 1980s counted Buddhist monks among its ranks. In addition to applying political pressure, their members were known to threaten political figures and engage in assassination attempts.

      Buddhist militant views on the civil war were quite pervasive. The well-known Sri Lankan monk–scholar Walpola Rahula, who taught for many years at Northwestern University, exemplified the Buddhist nationalist perspective on the war when he declared, “the sangha is ready to lay down their lives” to prevent the government from negotiating with the Tamil insurgents. For these Sri Lankans, their country supports the oldest surviving Theravada Buddhist tradition. A division of its land is a division of its Buddhist foundation.

      In 1997, Venerable Piyadassi Maha Thera explained to the Buddhist scholar Tessa Bartholomeusz, “You have to defend yourself. These are difficult questions. If someone goes to kill my mother, I’m going to stop him. So this could be a condition in which I am forced to kill.” For Piyadassi, “mother” clearly points to the motherland of Theravada Buddhism: Sri Lanka. His choice of hypothetical was designed to persuade people to side with his Buddhist nationalist vision.

      During the civil war, another Buddhist nationalist group developed that was even more conservative than the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna. In 2004, Buddhist monks formed the Jathika Hela Urumaya (National Heritage Party) and called on the government to eliminate the LTTE. Whether the government listened to the Jathika Hela Urumaya or not is unclear, but their brutal military actions indicate that they were not adverse to this suggestion.

      Shortly after the civil war, two Buddhist monks broke off from the Jathika Hela Urumaya and formed a new organization called the Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force). Within a year, the Bodu Bala Sena had focused on a new nationalist threat: Muslims. When I interviewed the founders of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) in the summer of 2014, it had been only two weeks since cofounder Gnanasara Thero had delivered an emotional speech that triggered Buddhist riots and attacks on Muslims in the coastal town of Aluthgama. Gnanasara Thero’s colleague, Dilanthe Withanage, explained the BBS’s view of the Buddhist–Muslim tensions:

      We [Sinhala Buddhists] have two major political parties and [thus the] Sinhalese are divided. As a result, Muslims always join with one party and then [get to] join in governing the country. Muslims always do that—they get the advantage of being a minority…. We want the Sinhalese united and a Sinhalese government. We want protection; we [have protected] Theravada Buddhism for the last 2,300 years. Today, Theravada Buddhism is in the West and in Sri Lanka. But this will not last.

      For Withanage and other members of the BBS, although the Sinhala Buddhists may enjoy a 69 percent majority compared to the 8 percent Muslim minority, Sri Lankan Buddhism is a global minority. They see Islamic countries as helping out Muslims worldwide, and Western countries as coming to the aid of Christians. Who, they ask, is helping Sri Lankan Buddhists? For this reason, the BBS considers its efforts to defend the buddhadharma necessary to its very survival.

      Thailand: The Legacy of Warring Kingdoms

      While Sri Lanka’s Buddhist–Muslim tensions emerged out of an extended nationalist agenda and a civil war, Buddhist–Muslim relations in Thailand have a much longer and more focused history. The region of the three southernmost provinces was once part of a Buddhist kingdom called Langkasuka, during an historical period many southern Buddhists reflect on with pride. However, it later became the Islamic kingdom of Patani. Southern Thailand’s current demographic reflects this diverse past; while the country is over 90 percent Thai Buddhist, the three southernmost provinces are more than 85 percent Malay Muslim. Over the centuries, Malay Muslims have struggled to regain their political autonomy from Thailand. Whenever the central government was weak, southern Thai resistance flared. Since January 2004, the region has been under martial law. Violence is pervasive in the region; people live in constant fear.

      The Thai government has militarized Buddhist temples, authorized clandestine military monks, and enforced brutal counterinsurgent directives and interrogation techniques, oftentimes on Buddhist temple grounds.

      It is within this context that the current conflict resides. Over the last eleven years, the central Thai government has undergone several military coups. Concurrent with this weakened central government, Thai Malay Muslims have waged a grassroots resistance. As early as the 1960s, groups such as the Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO) and Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) engaged in armed resistance and then attempted to negotiate with the Thai government. These organizations opposed the policy of requiring Muslims to bow to Buddhist statues, take Thai surnames, and abandon their Malay heritage and language of Bahasa Melayu. The Malay Muslim organizations called for changes to these regional policies and for limited autonomy. While the Thai government capitulated with some of their requests, the changes did not last long. Malay Muslim ambassadors who sought to negotiate with the Thai government, such as the religious leader and scholar Hajji Sulong, went missing and later were found dead. It is through these experiences that the Malay Muslim community developed a deep distrust of the Thai government and its promise of negotiations, a perspective shared by Thailand’s southern neighboring country Malaysia, which had tried to broker peace negotiations.

      When violence broke out in 2004, no attempts were made to negotiate with the Thai government. Thousands have died in sporadic bombings, random shootings, and public beheadings by insurgents, yet during the last eleven years, no group has claimed responsibility for the violence or issued political requests. In response, the Thai government has militarized Buddhist temples, authorized clandestine military monks, and enforced brutal counterinsurgent directives and interrogation techniques (oftentimes on Buddhist temple grounds). These actions have only worsened Buddhist–Muslim relations.

      Buddhist military monks (tahanphra) are soldiers who are selected during training to covertly operate as both monks and soldiers. After they undergo a full ordination ceremony, military monks perform the typical duties of a monk but are armed and receive a monthly salary from the military. Military monks see their work as imperative to the survival of Buddhism in southern Thailand and the legacy of the Buddhist kingdom of Langkasuka.

      At one Buddhist temple in the conflict zone, I met a military monk who pulled back his saffron robes to show me his Smith & Wesson. When I asked him why military monks exist, he replied:

      Military monks in the three southern provinces of Thailand are like guardians that protect Buddhism from deterioration. If there are no soldiers to help take care of the wat [temple], the wat will become deserted and untended. We are here to protect the religion, encourage the people, and raise the morale of local Thais. This nation can survive because there is religion… If there is no Buddhism to teach and guide the people, we will become a nation of chaos filled with selfish people.

      He and many other Buddhists in the region believe that military monks are essential to protecting Buddhism in southern Thailand, and that if Muslims drive the Buddhists out of southern Thailand, order and morality will be pushed out as well.

      Burma: Pushing the Rohingya Muslims Out

      The recent violence in Burma began in 2012, when the western Burmese state called Rakhine saw widespread Buddhist riots and violence against the Rohingya Muslims. Tensions in the state had risen prior to this, largely due to the rising population of the Rohingya and the decline in the Rakhine Buddhists, the majority population.

      The violence rippled across the country and brought global exposure to the Burmese Buddhist nationalist organization called the 969 Movement. The name of the organization is numerical shorthand for the nine supreme qualities of the Buddha, six traits of the dharma, and nine traits of the sangha. Buddhist traditions are inundated with numbers and categories that stretch back for hundreds of years; however, the significance of 969 in Burma is quite recent. In the 1990s, the Burmese monk U Kyaw Lwin used 969 as a numerological counter to the South Asian Muslim use of 786. While not a global phenomenon, South and Southeast Asian Muslim business owners have displayed 786 to indicate that their establishments are owned by Muslims. The term acts as a surrogate for writing out sacred words such as Basmala (“In the name of Allah”) or bismillah-ir-rahman-ir-rahim (In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate and Merciful), which is a phrase that begins most surahs in the Qur’an.

      In Burma, Buddhists from the 969 Movement and the Association of Protection of Race and Religion (MaBaTha) argue that Muslims pose a danger to their country. To protect the nation, these Buddhists have lobbied for four laws on race and religion to control and limit the Muslim population and, in their view, protect the buddhadharma. The first of these is a birth control law, which passed in late May. The Burmese Parliament continues to await the President’s enactment of the three remaining bills, which pertain to monogamy, conversion, and interfaith marriage.

      Update – Friday, August 28: In early July, Burma passed the law restricting the Buddhist women and non-Buddhist men from marrying, and earlier this month, the government passed the final two laws, criminalizing extra-marital affairs, and making it more difficult for people to change religions.

      While these Buddhist nationalists see Muslims as a threat, human rights groups consider the actions of Buddhist nationalists and the Burmese government harmful to the Muslim population. Since 2011, Muslims of Bengali descent (who call themselves Rohingya) have been forced to live in concentration camps where they are deprived of jobs, school, and access to medical attention; their food supply is also limited. Since the 1980s, they have been without citizenship, and in the last few years many have fled the country in refugee boats, some dying in the attempt. Responding to these human rights attacks, the Burmese Buddhist monk Pamaukkha explained to a member of the Agence France-Presse (AFP), “We do not want anyone here posing as refugees or Bengalis, trying to swallow the nation or its people. They need to be sent back now.” The nation is Burmese and Buddhist, he and others argue. It does not have room for Rohingya.

      For conservative Burmese Buddhist monks and nuns (who are often more conservative than their monastic brothers), Muslims pose a threat to the Buddhist majority, financially and demographically. In a dharma talk from February 2013, the Burmese 969 Movement’s prominent monk U Wirathu explained, “[The money that you spend at a Muslim-owned shop] will be used to get a Buddhist–Burmese woman and she will very soon be coerced or even forced to convert to Islam. And the children born of her will become Bengali Muslims and the ultimate danger to our Buddhist nation, as they will eventually destroy our race and our religion. Once they become overly populous, they will overwhelm us and take over our country and make it an evil Islamic nation.”

      U Wirathu does not quote scriptures to support his views; it is unnecessary. Burmese Buddhists see him as a religious authority independent of scriptures. For U Wirathu, there is no anti-Muslim violence in Burma; rather, there is a growing effort to combat a Muslim invasion. The Burmese sangha, the sole authority on who is or is not a monk in their tradition, has not defrocked U Wirathu nor others in the 969 Movement and MaBaTha organization.

      New Regional Alliances to “Protect Global Buddhism”

      In this globalized world, conservative Sri Lankans, Thais, and Burmese Buddhists have come together under the banner of protecting Buddhism. Buddhists in these three countries face changing demographics and declines in their majority populations. Conservative Buddhists argue that this is because Muslims have larger families than their Buddhist counterparts. They also point to interfaith marriages: when a Muslim and Buddhist marry in South and Southeast Asia, more often than not the Buddhist converts to Islam. This is largely due to religious and social pressures. There are no ramifications for leaving the Buddhist faith, but Muslims consider apostasy a blasphemous act that leads to hell. Such distinctions do not go unnoticed by members of the 969 Movement and BBS, which seek to create laws to curb such tendencies. A change in demographics does not justify the violence or Buddhist fears, but it adds an important context to the perspectives of Conservative Buddhists.

      This is not a multireligious country. This is a Sinhalese country.

      — Kirama Wimalajothi Thera, Bodu Bala Sena cofounder

      U Wirathu and other Burmese monks believe Muslims are part of a global financial network stretching from Saudi Arabia to Indonesia that seeks to overthrow Buddhist control in their country and others. This view is shared by members of the Sri Lankan BBS, who now collaborate with the 969 movement. After a visit to the 969 headquarters in early 2014, they invited U Wirathu to the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo. In September 2014, he addressed thousands of Sinhalese Buddhists and formally met with the Bodu Bala Sena. There was international outcry over this invitation and U Wirtahu’s anti-Muslim rhetoric. In their defense, one of the cofounders of the Bodu Bala Sena, the Buddhist monk Kirama Wimalajothi Thera, exclaimed, “This is not a multireligious country. This is a Sinhalese country.” Six months later, U Wirathu returned again to Sri Lanka, this time to help foster an international Buddhist alliance to protect global Buddhism from Islam and other threats.

      Thai Buddhists also have shown support for the 969 Movement and the MaBaTha. Thai Buddhists monks have attended MaBaTha meetings in Burma and donated funds to help the organization broadcast its messages. Many Thais have argued that their country should not take in Rohingya boat refugees; instead, they believe the Thai government should push them back out to sea. When pressed on the ethics of this position, they explained to Bangkok Post journalist Sanitsuda Ekachai: “We are kind, but Muslims are aggressive and have too many kids. They are national security threats who will aggravate problems in the deep South.”

      Many Asian Buddhist may hold views that clash with Western visions of religious pluralism. For many Buddhists in Asia, the buddhadharma is not a “religion.” This distinction is exemplified in the reflections of Taiwanese immigrants to the United States, who have noted how they “became” Buddhist once they arrived. There was no identification for this in Taiwan. What is at stake from the perspective of many Asian Buddhists is not their religion but their basic identity and way of life. This difference between Western Buddhists’ and Asian Buddhists’ perspectives of the buddhadharma has become prominent in the current Burmese crisis.

      On November 4, 2014, the U.S. Buddhist Teachers Network issued an open letter to President Barack Obama more than a week before his participation at the ASEAN Summit in Burma. Their letter called upon Obama to speak out against the growing anti-Muslim violence in Burma and across Asia and urged him to “express concern for Burma’s Muslims and Rohingyas in [his] public speeches.” It was signed by 381 Buddhist teachers in the United States.

      This approach is strikingly dissonant from the sentiments expressed by many Burmese Buddhist monks and, collectively, the Burmese sangha. While there are notable Burmese Buddhist monks who work in concert with Western Buddhist visions of a pluralistic society, their efforts do not hold sway over the popular Buddhist culture or the current Burmese legal reforms.


      As in any society, a perceived loss or anticipated loss in majority status is often alarming to those in the majority. Such changes can trigger conservative reactions and desires to protect the majority’s privileges. For groups such as the 969 Movement and the Bodu Bala Sena, the failure of the international community to acknowledge their concerns alarms them, only escalating the problem. Whether one agrees with the Buddhists involved in these conflicts or not—and Western onlookers, especially Western Buddhists, have made their disapproval clear—it is important to hear and understand the concerns of all involved. The less people feel heard, the more they will act to become heard. In this era of increased globalization, the world is only going to get smaller—and the need to listen all the greater.

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    • Expansion Project Complete at the Tibet Buddhist Theological Institute in Lhasa

      Craig Lewis Buddhistdoor Global | 2017-09-13 |

      The Tibet Buddhist Theological Institute near the city of Lhasa, capital of Tibet Autonomous Region, is now able to accommodate more than 1,000 students following the formal completion of construction work on Tuesday, media reports revealed. The educational academy, which aims to promote the study of Tibetan Buddhism, first opened in 2011 with 150 students.

      The expansion project represents the third phase of construction at the institute and covers some 43,550 square meters, adding facilities that include an auditorium, a library, and additional classrooms and dormitory accommodation.

      Located in Nyetang Township, Quxu County, southwest of the city of Lhasa, construction of the Tibet Buddhist Theological Institute began in October 2008 and it commenced accepting students in 2011. The first class of monastic students graduated from the institute in 2013. Featuring Tibetan-style architecture, the institute was built with a total investment of 103 million yuan (US$15.8 million).

      The academy’s president, Zhukang Tubdankezhub, described the Tibet Buddhist Theological Institute as the region's first high-level comprehensive Buddhist academy, adding that it aimed to instill a love for both for China and Buddhism among the monks and nuns who study there.

      Quxu County is also home to the renowned Nyethang Drolma Lhakhang, a buddhist monastery connected with the Kadam school of Tibetan Buddhism and the Buddhist master Atisa (982–1054). It is also one of the few major monasteries in Tibet to have survived China’s Cultural Revolution with little damage.

      The Tibet Buddhist Theological Institute offers three main programs of study running in length from 2–4 years. Two of the courses focus on exoteric and esoteric Buddhism, respectively, while the third is specifically designed for students recognized as “living buddhas” or tulkus. All students are required to attend classes on Buddhist, cultural, and legal studies.

       “The environment and conditions here are good. Besides Buddhist scriptures, we also study all kinds of courses including Tibetan language, Mandarin, history, computers, and English," said Dainba Yarphel, a 45-year-old monk who has been studying at the institute for one year, and hope to graduate in another three years.


      In 1987, the government-run China Advanced Institute of Tibetan Buddhism was established in Beijing, becoming the first government-sanctioned academy for the study of Tibetan Buddhism. Among other courses and qualifications, the institute allows monastic students to earn Geshe Thorampa degrees—one of the highest academic qualifications in Tibetan Buddhism. As of May this year, the institute has awarded the Thorampa title to a total of 148 monks.

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    • Dressing down for launderette

      27 Sep 2017 wong chun wai Star Online

      JOHOR BARU: The Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, has ordered the controversial Muslim-only launderette in Muar to immediately stop its discriminatory practice or risk being shut down by him.

      “I cannot accept this nonsense. This is Johor, which belongs to Bangsa Johor and it belongs to all races and faiths. This is a progressive, modern and moderate state.

      “This is not a Taliban state and as the Head of Islam in Johor, I find this action to be totally unacceptable as this is extremist in nature,” he said.

      His Majesty said he also ordered the state Islamic religious affairs committee chairman Abdul Mutalip Abd Rahim, the religious council and the district council to investigate the matter.

      The Sultan added that he had also spoken to Mufti Johor Datuk Mohd Tahrir Samsudin as well as state exco for religion Abd Mutalip Abd Rahim over the matter.

      “I want the owner to apologise to me and the people of Johor. He has made Johoreans very angry and embarrassed because this is not the Johor we want.

      “The owner has gone against the vision of a united, harmonious, moderate and tolerant Johor. If he still insists on carrying on the Muslim-only practice, he can leave Johor. I suggest he set up shop in Afghanistan. His thinking is sick and goes against everything that Johor stands for.”

      His Majesty, who was visibly upset, said he and his family members were “deeply appalled” by the action of the launderette owner, saying if this was not stopped, it would lead to more narrow-minded actions in the name of Islam.

      Pictures of the launderette went viral last week when it was reported that it had a sign saying that only Muslims were allowed to use its machines.

      He said the owner had first put up his Muslim-only notices and after the issue became controversial, the owner put up a new sign to say it was “Muslim-friendly.”

      “Don’t try to be clever. It’s still the same. The owner needs to have his brains cleaned up.

      “I want to put a stop to such extremism. Extremism has no place in my state. We take pride in being Bangsa Johor and I want to know where the owner of this launderette learn his Islam? Islam teaches the faithful to be tolerant and respect other people and faiths,” he said at Istana Bukit Serene here yesterday,

      On Monday, Johor Prince Tunku Idris Sultan Ibrahim expressed dismay over the launderette’s move, asked: “Is this for real? I’m appalled” in his Instagram.

      The Sultan said the mosques in Johor were open to non-Muslims, for example, as long as they were properly dressed and he could not imagine non-Muslims being banned from entering the mosques, saying he was concerned over rising religious extremism.

      “I wonder where this launderette owner washes his clothes when he is overseas? Is he saying only the clothes of Muslims are clean and those of non-Muslims are unclean? That’s what he means, I believe.

      “From now on, I am directing the state executive council and all the councils to insist that any business owners who carry out such blatant discriminatory practices should have their licences revoked. Don’t mess around with your narrow-minded religious prejudices.”

      His Majesty added that he could not keep quiet on the issue, as if this was allowed to go unnoticed, “then next we will have taxis for only Muslims or non-Muslims.”

      He said he also did not want other races to carry out similar actions.



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    • Tibet shut for travellers for 10-days in October

      September 25, 2017 Tenzin Monlam Phayul.com

      DHARAMSHALA, September 25: The so-called Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) will be closed for foreign travellers and Tibetans living outside TAR for ten days next month from October 18-28, media reports say.

      Considered as a politically sensitive region, the travel ban has been placed due to the upcoming 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China later next month in Beijing.

      There has been no official announcement made, however, there are reports of numerous local travel agencies in the region receiving such notification earlier in the month.

      A Tibetan working at an agency in Xining, provincial capital of Qinghai Province, told Radio Free Asia that the announcement of the ban was made through phone call around 10 days ago.

      “During this period, it is not just foreigners but also Tibetans living in the Amdo region of Qinghai who are not allowed to travel in the region,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

      The employee at the travel agency expect the tourism market of TAR to take a huge hit due to the ban, which coincidently fall during the peak season.


      The travel ban has been placed to avoid any protests during the all-important National Congress, where Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to consolidate his power, analysts say. However, according to another source high-level official meetings have been scheduled in Lhasa during the time of the ban.

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    • My Buddhist friends and I

      Ro Mayyu Ali September 20, 2017 Dhaka Tribune

      Children don't see religious differences. A Rohingya activist wonders where it all went wrong

      Since I was in kindergarten, Rakhine students and Rohingya students have been sitting together in the same seats in the classroom. We have been playing together in the same playground in our school. We have been drinking water from the same metal pot with a small thick plastic cup. Our school is situated in Maungdaw, Northern Rakhine State.

      The desks and chairs in our school are not for individual students, but rather, long worn out wooden benches and desks. We used to sit, three to five students per desk. Boys and girls sat separately in the classroom during the lesson, but there was no separation by ethnicity. Perhaps this is where we were first taught the values of friendship and togetherness.

      When I was in grade two, I can vaguely recall that I had a Buddhist boy who sat at the same desk as me in the classroom. I have trouble recalling his name now, but I vividly recall his face, always red-nosed. He was the beloved son of a military Investigation Officer. His parents relocated to our village and he joined our school. I remember he was the best dressed and most stylish boy in our classroom.

      Neither of us could understand each other’s language. He didn’t know my language, and I couldn’t understand his Burmese accent at that age. But we found other ways to understand each other. I could help him when I understood his needs. It was simple when we were that young, even without words. We were too young to fear each other, and the idea that we were a threat to each other had never occurred to us.

      Since secondary classes, I have had some close Rakhine classmates. They were Aung Naing, Soe Min, Zaw win and Ma Ninn Wai. All of them are from my village. When there were sports matches in our school we took the lead roles together. We enjoyed our time together during festivals and wedding ceremonies of our siblings. We freely visited each other’s homes.

      We never argued over anything greater than our sitting arrangements for first-row seats in our classroom. Perhaps we used to tease each other, but harmlessly, never bullying. We all had our own dreams. Aung Naing and I wanted to be schoolteachers. Soe Min and Zaw Win wanted to be in the armed forces. Ma Ninn Wai never told us what she wanted to be.

      The more we grew, the stronger our friendships became. We grew close enough to share more with each other. We felt secure in front of each other. We used our exchanges and knowledge to help each other. During our exams we helped each other study. Our friendships were pure, even when we were not.

      With a vigorous might and bonding we stayed friends all the way to our matriculation exams. We studied the same subjects and attended the same tuition classes. We never had to feel different while we were together in school.

      When the results came in, Aung Naing and I passed the exam. Soe Min, Zaw Win and Ma Ninn Wai were studying again for the next academic year. We were preparing for our higher education. Yet, nothing pushed us apart at all.

      A time to dream

      Aung Naing and I were on the same path. We shared the same dreams or our lives, and he came from a less privileged family, like mine. We were not able to join Day University. He worked at a goldsmith shop in the market and I ran a tuition class on my town. We both were bookworms and loved learning and reading new books. We shared a passion for writing down quotes, poems and essays. We both were soft spoken, gentle. We were similar in many ways, but that Aung Naing was fatter than me.

      In 2011 I joined Distance University of Education in Sittwe for my first year hoping to obtain a B.A. in English. During this time, my friend Aung Naing was studying his final year in Physics. Our friends who failed the matriculation still took their exams in the next academic level. Luck, however, did not favour them. When we were in our village we often met each other. We’d sit in the teashop together watching movies. Everything was simple and fair in our relationship.

      When our results were announced I passed my first year. Aung Naing became a graduate in B. SC, Physics. It was time for him to chase his dream, as it was for me and my dream to finish my studies. He had already applied to be a school teacher. I enrolled for a second year. Time moved quickly.

      One wave, two shores

      In June 2012, sectarian violence broke out. There were deep tensions between the Rakhine people and my Rohingya people. We believe now it was manipulated by the government, to pit our peoples against each other. The violence pitted the Buddhists against the Muslims in our state. With the destruction and loss of property and life came the destruction of the relationship between our communities. Love and kindness between our peoples were replaced by distrust and tension.

      Time separates us. Circumstances marginalise us. We have lost the bonds that kept us together as we once were, and our loyalty and closeness is not what it once was. Our coexistence is incomplete. Now, we are not who we were.

      Since then no Muslim student has been allowed to attend Sittwe University. At the same time, no restrictions have been placed on the Buddhists. My Buddhist classmates can all still pursue their dreams. When I see them now, they all look quite different. Aung Naing became a school teacher. Soe Min became a Border Guard Police. Zaw Win is a policeman now. I, however have had to remain incomplete. How can a wave crash in two directions on the same shore? I wondered often.

      Five years later I’m waiting to rejoin my university. I had hoped to be teaching a classroom in school by now. Even though I am qualified, I have applied but have been rejected for not being Buddhist. My dreams and hope have been lost to this conflict, and I find myself also lost in it.

      Even though my dream is the same as Aung Naing’s, we are different in faith. Aung Naing is Buddhist and I am Muslim. In my country this distinction matters, and it has crushed the dreams of my younger self.

      Now, we are not who we were

      Today, my heart breaks when I see the Rakhine I was friends with in childhood – Aung Naing in his school teacher’s uniform and Soe Min and Zaw Win in their armed forces uniforms. I feel lost and worthless. In my young age I faced the many ways a human can suffer on this planet. I had all the potential to achieve my dreams, but lost them as soon as they should have become reality. It is a suffering I think few can understand in this world.

      Even though we are still friends since we have known each other since childhood – since our births really, some external factors divide us. Time separates us. Circumstances marginalise us. We have lost the bonds that kept us together as we once were, and our loyalty and closeness is not what it once was. Our coexistence is incomplete. Now, we are not who we were. We are not children who were peaceful and happy together.

      What then should we do now? Should we look at our childhood to learn? How we once were the same and supported and understood each other? Should we see we were born on the same soil and grew together? Should we remember we were taught in the same school, and to this day survive in the same place?

      Then why now can we not sit together again at the tea shop? Why can’t we watch movies together as we once did? No longer can we enjoy each other’s’ festivals and ceremonies. We could have this time again. We could revive this once more. My friend and childhood friends! We could once again live peacefully together.

      If we only allow ourselves to! So drop down the rope of this distrust and tension. A new peaceful future which looks like our past is waiting for us. We have nothing to pain more but much to gain.


       ***The names of the characters in the post are changed for the sake of safety and for privacy desire. However, the sequences of the story articulated in this post represent my real childhood, once all Rakhine and Rohingya class-friends were the same and altogether. ***

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    • “Buddhist” Violence

      Eunsahn Citta 24 September 2017 progressive buddhism

      I don't pretend to understand all the nuances of whatever the circumstances regarding Myanmar, Rakhine state, or the Rohingya. My bet is that among the many people who have an opinion about this don't know anything more than what they've read on the internet. I'm curious about how many could find Myanmar on a map or could give its former name. This piece in fact, only tangentially involves that situation.

      What this does involve is the drum beating about “Buddhist Violence” and “Buddhist Terrorism,” and the assumptions behind that. Western Buddhists (at least the most visible ones) seem to think that these “other” Buddhists should “know better.” We seem to have an odd attitude about our quaint little fellow Buddhists on the other side of the world, as if we have a better handle on the Buddha’s teachings than they do. To be charitable, let's call it the “zeal of the convert.” To be less charitable, it's another example of Western Superiority, of neo-colonialism.

      I'll make a few broad statements here: countries tend to have armies. Armies tend to be armed with weapons. Weapons used by armies by definition are implements designed to inflict harm upon another person. Even “majority Buddhist” countries have armies, and they're armed with weapons. And their having weapons implies that their intent is that they will be used either defensively or offensively, to inflict harm on other people.

      Without going too deeply into history, Buddhists have used weapons against other Buddhists and non-Buddhists. I tried looking up some facts about South and East Asian wars just since 1900, and the list was lengthy to say the least. Overall, a good number of these countries have at one point or another been ruled by “military dictatorships,” which is a euphemistic way of saying, “Fellow countrymen, agree, submit, or die.” In some cases, this was extended to “Conquered countrymen…” sometimes to “Invader…”

      In no particular order, there were wars between the Japanese and Russians, Chinese against other Chinese, Koreans against Koreans, Koreans against Japanese, Chinese against Japanese, indochinese against Japanese, Vietnamese against Vietnamese, Cambodian against Cambodian, Laotian against Laotian, Burmese against Burmese, Sri Lankan against Sri Lankan, Thai on Thai, Chinese against Tibetan, Nepalese against Nepalese, Bhutanese against Bhutanese, and any number of the above against ethnic minorities and/or separatists within their own borders, and seemingly everyone against the French, British, and/or Americans.

      That long sentence should point out that the “peaceful Buddhist” is an illusion. To return to Myanmar/Burma for a moment, think back to how “brutal” the military dictatorship was, as seen in the film Beyond Rangoon, pretty ruthless. It shouldn't be too much of a stretch to think that they're not “over it,” or more or less Buddhist than they ever were. Admittedly, I'm curious about what Suttas Ashin Wirathu and the 969 Movement read that said that inciting violence was a good idea, but I also look at them as representative of the Monastic Order as the Westboro Baptist Church is of Christian churches.

      “Buddhism” as teaching is Lovingkindness, Joy, Equanimity, and Compassion. “Buddhists” as humans, are as liable to hate, become violent, become enraged, and commit acts of violence as the rest of humanity. That doesn't mean when we see atrocities that we don't protest them or call the perpetrators on their deeds. But let's not do it out of some sense of superiority or stereotype. Let's do it not because we're Buddhists, but because that is a reflection of ALL beings’ True Nature, not just a “Peaceful Buddhist,” as if there was a monolithic, uniform “Peaceful Buddhist.”

      “....Subhuti, when I talk about the practice of transcendent patience, I do not hold onto any arbitrary conceptions about the phenomena of patience, I merely refer to it as the practice of transcendent patience. And why is that? Because when, thousands of lifetimes ago, the Prince of Kalinga severed the flesh from my limbs and my body I had no perception of a self, a being, a soul, or a universal self. If I had cherished any of these arbitrary notions at the time my limbs were being torn away, I would have fallen into anger and hatred.”

      Diamond Sutra, Chapter 14 (excerpt) Diamond Sutra.com


      There was, however, a peaceful Buddha.

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    • Frankly, I am also quite confused as to why washing machines used by a non-Muslims can become ‘unclean’. We are supposed to bring our dirty and unclean clothing to a launderette for washing. At the end of the washing cycle our clothing is supposed to come out clean again. Just wonder, how than can the inside of a washing machine remain contaminated with anything unclean after that?

      Edited by Aik TC 24 Sep `17, 9:14PM
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    • Muar launderette adopts Muslims-only policy

      Star Online 24 Sept. 2017

      PETALING JAYA: A self-service launderette in Muar, Johor is limiting its clientele to Muslim customers only.

      The matter first came to light when a photo, believed to have been taken at the launderette, showing an 'Only For Muslims' sign went viral on social media.

      The sign also asked customers to remove their shoes before entering the premises.

      The 40-year-old operator, who was interviewed by a Chinese daily on Saturday, said he was just carrying out his duty as a Muslim.

      He said he welcomed Chinese and Indian Muslims to his launderette and that non-Muslims could visit other nearby launderettes.

      He, however, declined to comment on whether he had imposed the rules as he worried that there might be "unclean" elements such as dog fur on the clothes non-Muslims brought to his launderette.

      The operator also did not allow the Chinese daily reporter to take his photo.

      Meanwhile, a Malay daily reported Johor mufti Datuk Mohd Tahrir Samsudin as saying that the launderette's move was commendable as cleanliness is a priority for Muslims.

      "This should not be turned into an issue as it only encourages negative perception from non-Muslims towards Muslims.

      "I think it is a good move as Muslims will no longer be doubtful when using the self-service launderette," the daily quoted him as saying. The launderette's move has received mixed reactions from netizens, with some praising the move and others questioning the motive for segregating customers based on their religious backgrounds.


      The owner of the launderette is certainly most considerate to refrain from mentioning such unclean thing like the possibility of the present of lard contaminating his Muslims’ customers dirty clothing sent there for washing.

      And that Johor mufti, what does he means by ‘encourages negative perception from non-Muslims towards Muslims.’ Did not realised that non-Muslims are so unclean in the eye of these Muslims. Thanks for the reminder.


      Just wonder, what next are they going to come up with to make themselves most superior and exclusive in the world.

      Edited by Aik TC 24 Sep `17, 4:24PM
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    • The Gift of Fear

      Dharmavidya David Brazier FALL 2017 tricycle

      Fear is a part of human nature, so there is little point in forcing ourselves to overcome it or pretending to be unaffected by it. In fact, we do so at our peril.

      Fear is a given; it is a fundamental part of life and consciousness. And while it may not feel good, fear is useful and necessary. In spiritual life, the problem with fear lies in whether we have the wisdom to respond well to it.

      In Buddhism, fearlessness, in regard to both internal and external obstacles, is often extolled as a virtue. It takes fearlessness to tackle one’s own neuroses, and it takes fearlessness to not become overwhelmed when facing, say, physical danger. In the Majjhima Nikaya of the Pali canon, a whole sutta, the Bhayabherava, is devoted to how to overcome “unwholesome fear and dread.” But fearlessness is not the whole picture.

      The presentation of the dharma as a whole is couched in terms of taking refuge from samsara, from the round of dukkha, or suffering. But one does not seek refuge unless one is afraid. Which means that fear, and not just fearlessness, has an important role to play. How is this seeming paradox to be reconciled? Different Buddhist traditions have approached it in different ways. One well-known approach is what we might call the heroic path, the path of overcoming perceived shortcomings, including fear. As you progress on the heroic path, so the logic goes, fear will naturally decrease. Reach a level of spiritual perfection and you will feel no fear at all. So get busy perfecting yourself right away!

      By contrast, there is what might be thought of as a pragmatic approach. Here, we start from the way we actually find ourselves to be—fallible, vulnerable, and mortal. The Japanese Pure Land schools call this our bonbu nature. On the pragmatic path, the foundation is not striving to better ourselves; rather, the basis is naturalness and honesty about our very imperfect selves.

      Here’s a little story I heard about fear. There was a monastery in the mountains in China. Wild deer would come onto the monastery’s beautiful grounds. The monks loved the deer and enjoyed feeding them. When the abbot heard about it, he came out shouting and waving his arms and attacking the deer with his staff. The deer became alarmed and ran away. The abbot put up a notice saying there must be no more feeding the deer and any deer seen on the property were to be chased off. The monks protested, saying, “We came here to learn kindness and compassion. What sort of example are you, getting so mad at these gentle animals? This can’t be right.” The abbot addressed the community: “Look, there are hunters in these mountains. The only defense these animals have is their fear. If you take that away from them, they will all be killed very soon.”

      If we did not have fear—if we were truly fearless—we, like the deer, would be in terrible danger without knowing it. We have awareness in order to be wary. The most primitive animal will shrink away from noxious contact. Consciousness itself is closely related to fear, and to grasping as well. If we did not need to get things, or to run away from things that want to get us, then we would probably not have developed consciousness at all. We would not need it. Rocks do not need to be conscious. They are all-accepting. Acceptance is also one kind of Buddhist ideal, but it would be a mistake to take it to an extreme. We are not aiming to be rocks.

      It is sometimes said that faith takes away fear, and there is truth in this. But I think the more important point is that faith redirects us from mundane stress to the great fear and exhilaration that frames our spiritual life. When the practitioner experiences such fear, she knows that she is close to the raw energy of life itself, the élan vital. It is this life energy that gives meaning to the holy life. If we try to hush it up, we might well end up pouring a kind of sanctimonious avidya, or ignorance, on top of the worldly kind.

      As a young enthusiast for the dharma, I began on the heroic path and learned much. But along that way I also encountered, at every step, self-deception and spiritual pride. As I have mellowed with age, I have found greater peace, sanity, and spiritual consolation in the more pragmatic approach of starting with things as we find them. It’s a fact that we get frightened, and simply exerting more and more willpower to overcome our fright, or posing as though we’re unaffected by it, does not send the fear away.

      Pragmatically, it may make more sense to view relating to fear as akin to using fire to combat fire. The pragmatic dharma-farer can use greater fear to drive out lesser fears. When we realize our smallness, seek refuge, and find a place within the great dharma realm, we have nothing to lose. Such a reorientation helps one find peace in the center of life’s whirlwind. But the whirlwind does not stop. From that position, the wise person, cherishing the fear and mindful of the dharma, chooses the most compassionate course, fearing more for others than for self and realizing that we are all in one boat together.

      Fear has its uses, too. For instance, if one wants to cultivate awareness, one can readily see that one is never so acutely aware as when one is frightened. At such times one stays compulsively alert and cannot sleep. The cultivation of awareness, therefore, is a refinement of the energy of fear that is close to the core of our basic makeup.

      Fear is sometimes exciting, as when one is testing a new motorcycle to its limit. Usually, though, it is unpleasant. But either way, it motivates us. It gets us moving. The most basic action that it suggests is to run away—and in many situations this is the best course. It might be brave and magnificent to stand up to an enemy who is much bigger than you are, but it is also a first-class way of getting yourself killed. If a tiger comes, you had better run away, or you will soon be its next dinner.

      Fear galvanizes. We can do feats of strength when we are frightened that we cannot achieve at other times. Fear mobilizes all of our resources. Zen Master Dogen says that we should train in Zen with the same energy we would employ if our hair were to catch fire. If that were the case, one would most certainly be alarmed and take urgent action.

      Clearly, there is a range within which fear puts us on our toes and brings out our best. When there is too little, we become complacent, bored, and lazy. When there is too much, we become paralyzed. When I first began speaking in public, I sometimes would sweat and shake and be unable to even get my words out. I found that the best thing was simply to tell the audience that I felt terribly nervous, which to my surprise allowed me to relax a bit and the audience to become more sympathetic. And the thing went off all right.

      From experiences like this I realized that the venom that paralyzed me was not so much the fear as the pride that made me try to hide the fear, that wanted me to present myself as a master over my human nature. But when I could be natural and share how I was feeling, a bond was established with the audience. Fear can connect people.

      Fear and love are closely related. To cut ourselves off from one is to cut ourselves off from the other. Suppressing awareness of our own vulnerability, we inevitably and correspondingly lose sensitivity for those around us. I find that the most wrenching fear that one experiences is the fear one feels for others. Love is like that. When one loves, one fears for the other. When one fears for them, one watches out for them. I have been much more afraid when my children were in danger than when I myself was in a life-threatening situation. This is true not only for regular people. Just as a mother is fearful for her child, the buddhas, ever watchful, are fearful about what shall become of us.

      It is common to see the dharma in terms of self-development and, ultimately, self-perfection. But any perfection that does arise does so as a by-product. It is all very well to take techniques from Buddhism and use them to enhance our worldly lives, but that is not really what the dharma is about. It is about taking up a more wholesome attitude to reality as it is.

      If we could somehow get rid of the traits about ourselves that we don’t like and by force of will make ourselves perfect, we’d probably be much the worse for it. Achieving success in the heroic endeavor, one would probably just become completely egotistical about one’s superb achievement. Even before arriving at such glory, one would along the way be tempted to pose as having made more progress than one actually had and turn a blind eye to one’s own failings. I’ve certainly done this.

      We are deluded beings, weak and vulnerable. We are especially vulnerable to self-centered impulses that arise from our karmic continuum. It is no good pretending that because one has read a few books on Buddhism or been to a retreat or two, one is now immune to any such failing. Even more sad is the case of the person who, after many years of rigorous Buddhist discipline, realizes, with despair or cynicism, that he is still prey to powerful, unbidden emotions and so concludes either that the dharma does not work or that he himself is a hopeless failure.

      Realizing that we are hopeless cases is, in a sense, essential. We are not going to eradicate features of our basic nature, and real spiritual awakening has more to do with facing this honestly than it does with arriving at a fantasy of some kind of Superman Buddha dwelling within one. To see our real nature, our human nature, is not cynicism—it is awakening.

      Knowing one is imperfect, and deeply so, undermines pride. It puts one on firmer ground—a ground of empirical reality. It is, in fact, a relief. It may be a disappointment, but even there one can observe the ego at work and, hopefully, laugh at oneself. This too is part of one’s all-too-human nature. Disappointment with oneself is not something to get rid of; it is something to share with others.

      In Buddhism, we talk a lot about impermanence. The Buddha talked about impermanence in order to make us frightened. You might think it odd that Buddha wanted to frighten us in this thoroughgoing way, but how else was he to get us to take our spiritual and existential situation seriously? Life is short. There is much to be done. Our very world is in peril because of our spiritual state. I recently came across a listing of countries that are considered dangerous to visit, and the list included more than half of the countries on the planet! There are ecological perils, military perils, health perils, and, above all, spiritual perils, perhaps the greatest of which is losing concern about all the other perils.

      Buddhism is a refuge, a space where we are accepted as we are, with our faults and fears, and where we are encouraged to do what we can for the good of all sentient beings. The buddhas are working to help us all the time. They see us as being in peril. We do not see this as clearly as they do. This failure to see clearly the spiritual peril that we are in is ignorance, avidya. Vidya means to see clearly. A-vidya means to be without such clarity. If we saw our plight more clearly we would be more motivated to respond to our peril. Things will not inevitably get better of their own accord. The state of our world depends upon the spirit in which we approach and care for it, and that spirit is much more soundly based when it is grounded in an acknowledgment of our true nature—fears and all—than when we pose as purer than we are.

      There is an apparent paradox here—that holding too tightly to our ideals may well make us worse by making us blind to reality and thus very likely to get ourselves into trouble in both worldly and spiritual ways. Becoming proud of ourselves and our own understanding, we easily get into quarrels and rivalries. Many of us have been members of spiritual communities in which unkind quarrels have broken out or, even worse, have gone on and on in a hidden, underground kind of way, suppressed by the attempt to pose as being more enlightened than we really are.


      This is often the result of an unwillingness to acknowledge fear, a refusal to see its central place in our makeup, its intimate connection to life itself. We are blind to our own blindness and do not see the danger. The blindness is much more dangerous than the fear. We do not see our own role in its creation. If we did, then we would be more afraid, and our practice would be more careful. We would see the spiritual danger that threatens us and threatens others even more. We would value the help of the buddhas and ancestors and be less arrogant. Then our fear would bring us a little bit of enlightenment, and we would realize what a gift it is.

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    • How an American Countess became a Buddhist nun and helped spread feminism in Sri Lanka

      Vinod Moonesinghe 10 September Scroll.in

      Miranda Maria Banta later adopted the Bahaii faith, and died a Hindu.

      In March 1896, in the San Francisco suburb of Oakland, the Sri Lankan Buddhist revivalist and missionary Hewavitarne Dharmapala, on a lecture tour of the United States, met Countess Canavarro. Seeking spiritual sustenance, she struck him as determined and forceful. According to Tessa Bartholomeusz, four months after meeting her, Dharmapala proposed that she travel to Sri Lanka and establish an order of Buddhist “nuns”, and become full-time principal of the island’s first Buddhist girls’ high school, Sanghamitta, named for the first female Buddhist missionary to Sri Lanka.

      On the evening of August 30, 1897, at the New Century Hall on New York’s Fifth Avenue, Dharmapala administered to the Countess Canavarro the five Buddhist precepts (pansil), making her the first female convert to Buddhism on American soil. Thus, she became the first in a new order of “Buddhist nuns” which Dharmapala wanted to create in Sri Lanka, some seven centuries after female ordination died out. She took on the enormously significant religious moniker “Sister Sanghamitta”, recalling the ancient missionary, as well as the school she intended to run.

      According to Thomas A Tweed, the Countess, by the very act of conversion, caused a huge stir. In the rigidly Christian atmosphere of fin de siecle America, adopting another religion simply was not done. Although almost forgotten in the US, in her day, she made a considerable impact on the spread of Buddhism, Bahaism, Hinduism, and esoterica in general.

      Her effect on Sri Lanka, despite her short stay of three years, has been much greater. Her school still exists as Sri Sanghamitta Balika Vidyalaya, Punchi Borella, an offshoot of the co-educational Mahabodhi vernacular school resurrected by Dharmapala at Foster Lane. Her imaginings of what a Buddhist nun should be have had their effect on the order of Dasa Sil Mathas, even their attire being based on her original design.

      Sanghamitta Convent

      Sanghamitta Girls’ School had a short but chequered history. Founded by the Women’s Education Society in 1891, its first principal, an Australian woman called Kate Pickett, drowned. Louisa Roberts, a local teacher, acted as a stop-gap until Marie Musaeus Higgins, a German-American, arrived. In 1893, the latter broke away and started her own school, Musaeus College. Thereafter, Kate Pickett’s mother, Elise, served as school director, returning to Australia just before the Countess arrived.

      Dharmapala and the Countess wanted to establish Sanghamitta on the lines of a Roman Catholic convent school, with Buddhist nuns teaching the girls. Accordingly, the school was relocated from its existing location, Tichbourne Hall, and moved to the same location as the “convent” – the Sanghamitta Upasikaramaya. Dharmapala and the Countess decided on Gunter House, a single-storey building set amidst a hectare of gardens in Darley Lane (now Foster Lane), which the Maha Bodhi Society bought for 25,000 Sri Lankan rupees (30 million in today’s currency).

      The convent, school, and an orphanage were soon up and running, large crowds attending the opening. There was no shortage of pupils for the school. The Countess, who styled herself as Mother Superior, came to be known by the children as Nona Amma (or Madam mother). Sister Dhammadinna (a Burgher woman called Sybil LaBrooy) managed the household, and several Sinhalese “nuns” completed the staff.

      In mid-1898, Catherine Shearer, a nurse from Boston’s Eliot Hospital, joined her, becoming “Head Sister” Padmavatie. However, the two did not get along. The Countess expected Shearer to run things for her, while she busied herself with Mahabodhi Society work.

      This friction between them betokened a deeper difference in attitudes. According to Bartholomeusz, the Countess considered Shearer “a dreamer”, but herself remained ignorant of the discipline expected from a Buddhist nun. Much against his will, she accompanied Dharmapala to Kolkata and appears, at some point, to have tried to seduce him. Finally, she removed herself from Gunther House and set up a convent on her own. This not only proved unsuccessful but also doomed the Sanghamitta Convent.

      Countess Canavarro

      As an infant, Miranda Maria Banta, born in 1849 in East Texas, accompanied her mother to California. At 17, she married post master, insurance agent and scalp-hunter Samuel Cleghorn Bates, having four children by him. Bartholomeusz thinks he may have been an abusive husband, leading her to leave him.

      She probably met Lieutenant António de Souza Canavarro, scion of a noble family, on his way to become the Portuguese consul general in Hawaii – then an independent country – in August 1882. By November the next year, she styled herself “Miranda A de Souza Canavarro”.

      A figure in West Coast high society, her conversion to Buddhism attracted considerable publicity.

      Even the obscure Gazette Appeal of Marion County, Georgia, reported it:

      “This convert, whose purpose is to devote years of labor in the far east to uplift her sex, is the Countess M. De Canavarro, an American, formerly of San Francisco, who, to follow her chosen life surrenders, as the officiating priest announced, family, fortune, and title.”

      Years later, the whiff of scandal remained. The Iowa-based newspaper Adair County Democrat claimed Dharmapala had hypnotised her and prevailed upon her to desert her family.

      Companionate marriage

      In November 1900, after the Sanghamitta Convent debacle, the Countess returned to the US, moving to the East Coast. She lectured on Buddhism and the Orient in general, and several of her lectures were published.

      Soon after, she entered a companionate marriage with a fellow Theosophist, Myron H Phelps, a patent lawyer. The couple travelled to Sri Lanka posing as brother and sister. However, she continued describing herself as a Buddhist “nun”.

      In December 1902, the Countess accompanied Phelps to Akka in Palestine, to meet Abbas Effendi, the Bahai leader. The Countess interviewed Abbas’ sister Behiah Khanum, who provided the biographical material which went into Phelps’ book Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi. In late 1903, still bearing the name “Sister Sanghamitta”, she declared her acceptance of the Bahai faith.

      Two years later, she and Phelps were to play host to the influential Hindu revivalist and moderniser Ponnambalam Ramanathan and his Australian secretary, Lillie Harrison, who would later become Ramanathan’s wife and take on the name Leelawathy. Ramanathan’s intellectual view of Hinduism attracted Phelps: by 1908, he would see himself as a Hindu.

      Phelps left the Countess, journeying to India to join the independence movement. Almost bankrupt, she moved to a farm in Blackstone, Virginia, in a compassionate marriage with Deuel Sperry, the longest-lasting of her relationships. She continued to lecture, but concentrated on writing: she produced several novels and the autobiographical Insight into the Far East.

      In 1922, she moved back to Hawaii, settling later in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale, from where she would travel to the Ananda Ashrama, founded by Swami Paramananda in nearby La Crescenta. For, in the last phase of her life, she adopted Vedanta Hinduism. She passed away in Glendale on July 25, 1933.

      The Countess’ Legacy

      Her legacy affected not only the future of Eastern religion in the United States, but also the development of Buddhism, which had already arrived in the country along with the Chinese who flooded into California with the 1849 Gold Rush. The Countess represented a different type of Buddhist.

      Even more profoundly, her example affected the way in which Sri Lankan society looked at women. Hitherto, crushed by Victorian values, the female gender were considered nothing more than sexual playthings or baby-making machines. According to Bartholomeusz:

      “The Countess and her ‘sisters’, by choosing to become world-renouncers, challenged the stereotype of the pious Buddhist woman as wife and mother; they helped to make renunciation a respectable choice for Buddhist women in Ceylon.”

      Despite the Buddha’s teaching enhancing the position of women, stressing the ability of women to achieve enlightenment and the existence of female arhants, later accretions to the canon made out that the feminine body proved a barrier to understanding the Dhamma. The Sri Lankan Buddhist tradition had, for seven centuries, lacked a female branch of the Sangha. This reinforced the idea of women being mentally inferior to their male counterparts, which became dogma.


      Countess Canavarro, by resurrecting the image of the Buddhist woman seeking enlightenment, demonstrated the intellectual equality of genders and overthrew this perspective. Her action proved vital to the development of feminism on this island.

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    • Don't touch the 9-topics: further threats to information freedom in Tibet

      13 September 2017 Yeshe Choesang, Tibet Post International

      Dharamshala — Chinese authorities have apparently ramped up efforts to even further threaten freedom of information in China and Tibet, as authorities issued new regulations on Instant Social Media Networking on Thursday, September 7, warning group chat owners to take full responsibility for their activities and ordered them to: "Stay away from nine topics in online group chats" on WeChat, QQ or Baidu Tieba.

      "In the past few days, many Tibetans have come into the focus of Chinese police attention, as Chinese authorities have ordered the crackdown of large parts of China made social media users in Tibet and Tibetan areas, where foreign journalists are still banned from visiting the region and where almost all Tibetan websites, blogs and forums run by Tibetans were permanently closed down," says Yeshe Choesang, editor of the Tibet Post International.

      Tibetans who participated in group chats ordered to leave groups and those who having photos/texts related to Tibet or His Holiness the Dalai Lama in their mobile phones were ordered to delete them from their mobiles— an extreme and counter-productive move. Intensifying control over freedom of speech activity presents a further threat to freedom of information in Tibet with the issuance of these new rules for group chats on WeChat, QQ and others forms of social media.

      After mobile tracking by Chinese authorities, Tibetans who had participated in group chats were called in to government offices and police stations and questioned about their involvements, with officials wanting to know which social media sites they had used, what software they had installed with cell phones, and with whom they had spoken. After careful investigation, police warned them, saying: "Stay away from nine topics in online group chats on WeChat, QQ or Baidu Tieba," among the apparently forbidden topics are Tibet and any sort of 'political dissidence.'

      Group chats on WeChat, QQ or Baidu Tieba have become popular in recent years, not only among Chinese, but also among the Tibetan public, serving as online forums. However, Beijing is now taking action to tighten controls over the messaging apps.

      The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) released a statement (in Chinese) on its website saying that the managers and owners of the group chats will have to be responsible for the management of the groups. Also, online chat providers must now verify the identities of the users and keep the blogs and logs of the group chats for at least six months.

      Additionally, the rules also require the service providers to set up credit systems. Users who break the rules will have their credit score lowered, have their management rights suspended, and be reported to relevant government departments to keep them on file, said CAC on its website.

      CAC especially highlighted in its statement that "whoever sets up the group should be responsible," and that "whoever manages the group should be responsible."

      The new regulations will cover platforms provided by the country's internet giants and budding startups, such as Baidu's Tieba, Alibaba's Alipay chat, Tencent's WeChat and QQ, Sina's Weibo, and the group chats in the rising dating app Momo.

      Self-censorship is kicking in fast on WeChat as China's new rules on message groups casts a chill among the 963 million users of Tencent Holdings Ltd.'s social network.

      Regulations released Sept. 7 made creators of online groups responsible for managing information within their forums and the behavior of members. The prospect of punishment for the actions of others has led many administrators to disband groups while others circulate self-imposed rules discouraging the spreading of rumors or unauthorized information about Hong Kong and Taiwan. Some are turning to alternatives, such as encrypted messaging apps, to avoid government scrutiny. The regulations are the latest in a series of moves carried out by authorities, as China ramps up for the politically sensitive period of the 19th Communist Party congress.

      As a follow-up to the new set of regulations (in Chinese) on online groups unveiled by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) last week, the country's Public Security Bureau issued an urgent warning (in Chinese) on September 11, declaring that online discussions on WeChat, the all-encompassing and most popular messaging platform in China, are subject to the new rules, and that a few group chat administrators had been detained as punishment.

      In the statement, the police department reiterated the core message of the regulations that all group chat members, especially organizers and administrators, should be responsible for their comments in cyberspace. In addition, the police listed nine taboo topics that every online chat group user should steer clear of. What the most surprising thing about the new regulation is that Tibet considered as China's so called "most sensitive area", is excluded among the nine topics.

      Following are the banned topics in China, include Tibet, South Mongolia, East Turkestan and Manchuria:

      Politically sensitive topics


      Internal memos

      Content related to porn, drugs, and terrorism

      News regarding (Tibet), Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau that hasn't been published by official sources

      Military data

      Information containing state secrets

      Seemingly fabricated video clips that defame or insult the police and are released by unknown sources

      Any other content that violates related laws and regulations


      The Chinese authorities also warned many across China, including Tibet and Tibetan areas. In one instance, many Tibetans from Qinghai and Sichuan Provinces, claiming discontented with being caught while investigating, spread insulting content against the police and consequently were held in detention for five days for creating a disturbance. In another instance, some local residents in the city of Qianjiang, in Hubei Province, were criticized and educated by the local police after being found circulating petitions in a WeChat group to oppose a local government's project. Although the group's owner wasn't involved in the dissemination of protest posts, he was approached by the police for not promptly stopping the group members' acts of expressing inappropriate content.

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      These training rules are observed by novice monks and nuns. They are derived from the Eight Precepts by splitting the precept concerning entertainments into two parts and by adding one rule prohibiting the handling of money.



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    • The Supreme Contemplation

      Andrew Holecek WINTER 2013 tricycle

      Practicing with the Four Reminders

      One of the best ways to prepare for death is to acknowledge that we really are going to die. We’re falling in the dark and have no idea when we’ll hit the ground. Buddhist scholar Anne Klein says, “Life is a party on death row. Recognizing mortality means we are willing to see what is true. Seeing what is true is grounding. It brings us into the present. . . .” We all know that we’re going to die, but we don’t know it in our guts. If we did, we would practice as if our hair were on fire. One way to swallow the bitter truth of mortality and impermanence—and get it into our guts—is to chew on the four reminders.

      The four reminders, or the four thoughts that turn the mind, are an important preparation for death because they turn the mind from constantly looking outward to finally looking within. These reminders, also called the four reversals, were composed by Padmasambhava, the master who brought Buddhism from India to Tibet. They can be viewed as representing the trips Prince Siddhartha took outside his palace that eventually transformed him into the Buddha. During these trips, Siddhartha encountered old age, sickness, and death, and developed the renunciation that turned his mind away from the distractions and deceptions of the outer world and in toward silence and truth.

      As a meditation instructor, I often prescribe the four reminders as the best remedy to get students who have stalled on the path back on track. As with mindfulness itself, the four reminders provide another way to work with distraction. They bring the key instruction from The Tibetan Book of the Dead—“do not be distracted”—to a more comprehensive level. The four reminders show us that it’s not just momentary distraction that’s problematic but distraction at the level of an entire life. If we’re not reminded, we can waste our whole life.

      The Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche presented them this way:

      FIRST Contemplate the preciousness of being so free and well favored. This is difficult to gain and easy to lose. Now I must do something meaningful.

      SECOND The whole world and its inhabitants are impermanent. In particular, the life of beings is like a bubble. Death comes without warning; this body will be a corpse. At that time the dharma will be my only help. I must practice it with exertion.

      THIRD When death comes, I will be helpless. Because I create karma, I must abandon evil deeds and always devote myself to virtuous actions. Thinking this, every day I will examine myself.

      FOURTH The homes, friends, wealth, and comforts of samsara are the constant torment of the three sufferings, just like a feast before the executioner leads you to your death. I must cut desire and attachment, and attain enlightenment through exertion.

      How long should we contemplate these reminders? Until our mind turns. Until we give up hope for samsara (the worldly cycle of birth and death), and realize the folly of finding happiness outside.

      Most of us spend our lives looking out at the world, chasing after thoughts and things. We’re distracted by all kinds of objects and rarely look into the mind that is the ultimate source of these objects. If we turn our mind and look in the right direction, however, we will find our way to a good life—and a good death. Instead of being carried along with the external constructs of mind, we finally examine the internal blueprints of mind itself.

      It’s often said that the preliminaries are more important than the main practice. The significance of these four reminders, as a preliminary practice, cannot be overstated. Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche said that if we could truly take them to heart, 50 percent of the path to enlightenment would be complete. These contemplations develop revulsion to conditioned appearances, point out their utter futility, and cause awareness to prefer itself rather than outwardly appearing objects. They turn the mind away from substitute gratifications and direct it toward authentic gratification—which can only be found within.

      The four thoughts remind us of the preciousness of this human life; that we are going to die; that karma follows us everywhere; and that samsara is a waste of time that only perpetuates suffering. Memorize them. They will reframe your life, focus your mind, and advise you in everything you do. As Dr. Samuel Johnson, the author of the first English dictionary, said: “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

      What would you do if you had six months to live? What would you cut out of your life? What would you do if you had one month, one week, one day? The Indian master Atisha said, “If you do not contemplate death in the morning, the morning is wasted. If you do not contemplate death in the afternoon, the afternoon is wasted. If you do not contemplate death in the evening, the evening is wasted.” The four reminders remove the waste.

      We see others dying all around us but somehow feel entitled to an exemption. In the Hindu epic Mahabharata, the sage Yudhishthira is asked, “Of all things in life, what is the most amazing?” He answers, “That a man, seeing others die all around him, never thinks he will die.” If we acknowledge death and use it an advisor, however, it will prioritize our life, ignite our renunciation, and spur our meditation. The Buddha said: “Of all footprints, that of the elephant is the deepest and most supreme. Of all contemplations, that of impermanence is the deepest and most supreme.”

      Bring these supreme reminders into your life and realize that life is like a candle flame in the wind. Visualize friends and family and think, “Uncle Joe is going to die, my sister Sarah is going to die, my friend Bill is going to die, I am going to die.” Put pictures of dead loved ones on your desk or shrine; put sticky notes with the word “death” or “I am going to die” inside drawers or cabinets to remind you; read an obituary every day; go to nursing homes, cemeteries, and funerals. The essence of spiritual practice is remembrance, whether it’s remembering to come back to the present moment or recalling the truth of impermanence. Do whatever it takes to realize that time is running out and you really could die today. You are literally one breath away from death. Breathe out, don’t breathe in, and you’re dead.

      One of the marks of an advanced student is that he or she finally realizes that today could be the day. Realizing impermanence is what makes them advance. For most of us, however, as Paul Simon sang, “I’ll continue to continue to pretend / My life will never end. . . .” We essentially spend our lives moving deck chairs around on the Titanic. No matter how we position ourselves—no matter how comfortable we try to get—it’s all going down.

      These teachings exhort us not to spend our lives, which most of us do—literally and figuratively. Reinvest. Take the precious opportunity that has been given to you, and do not waste your life. The four thoughts that turn the mind turn it from reckless spending to wiseinvesting. We spend so much effort investing in our future. We invest in IRAs, 401(k)s, pension plans, and retirement portfolios. Spiritual advisors exhort us to invest in our much more important bardo (post-death) retirement plan. That’s our real future.

      Don’t worry so much about social security. Finance your karmic security instead. Invest in your future lives now. Investing so much in this life is like checking into a hotel for a few days and redecorating the room: what’s the point? B. Alan Wallace says, “In light of death, our mundane desires are seen for what they are. If our desires for wealth, luxury, good food, praise, reputation, affection, and acceptance by other people, and so forth are worth nothing in the face of death, then that is precisely their ultimate value.”

      On a personal note, understanding impermanence has been the greatest gift in my study and practice of the teachings on death. I’m thickheaded, but I finally get it: I am going to die—and it could be today. My life has been completely restructured because I now believe it. The rugged truth of impermanence has simplified my life, shown me what is important, and inspired me to really practice. Sogyal Rinpoche says in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying:

      Ask yourself these two questions: Do I remember at every moment that I am dying, and that everyone and everything else is, and so treat all beings at all times with compassion? Has my understanding of death and impermanence become so keen and so urgent that I am devoting every second to the pursuit of enlightenment? If you can answer “yes” to both of these, then you really understand impermanence.

      These reminders may seem like a morbid preoccupation with death, but that is only because of our extreme aversion to dying. For most of us, death is the final defeat. As Jack LaLanne, the fitness and diet guru, once said, “I can’t afford to die. It would wreck my image.” We live in denial of death, and suffer in direct proportion to this denial when death occurs. The four reminders remind us of the uncompromising truth of reality, and prepare us to face it.

      The four reminders, joined with mindfulness meditation, instill a strength of mind that benefits both self and other. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche says,

      The strength of shamatha [mindfulness meditation] is that our mind is slow enough and stable enough to bring in the reality, to really see it. Then when someone we know is dying, we aren’t so shaken up. We may be sad, in the sense of feeling compassion, but we have thoroughly incorporated the notion of death to the point that it has profoundly affected our life. That is known as strength of mind.

      That stability naturally radiates to stabilize the mind of the dying person, which helps them when everything is being blown away.

      Dying people are sometimes jealous of those still alive. “Why do I have to die when everyone else keeps on living? It’s so unfair. Why me?” At that point they need to remember that those left behind are not returning to a party that lasts till infinity. Those left behind are returning to a challenging life that is filled with endless dissatisfaction and suffering. As you are dying, remember that it’s just a matter of time before everyone else joins you, just as you are about to join the billions of others who have already left this life for another one. Those left behind are a minority. No one is going to get out of this alive.


      And he who dies with the most toys still dies.

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    • Daughters of Buddhism in Thailand Find Growing Acceptance in the Face of Official Disapproval

      Craig Lewis Buddhistdoor Global | 2017-09-04 |

      Despite entrenched opposition from within the conservative ranks of Buddhist officialdom that governs Thailand’s monastic community, the tiny but growing community of fully ordained female monastics in this Southeast Asian kingdom is steadily gaining recognition and respect and is increasingly viewed as occupying the forefront of a positive tide of change in a religious institution riven by reports of excess, corruption, and hypocrisy.

      “Change is taking place in favor of female ordination, not only in Thailand but elsewhere in the world,” said Venerable Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, Thailand’s first fully ordained female monastic and something of a quiet figurehead for the movement. “Whatever the resistance from the establishment, more women will choose to pursue a spiritual path as female monastics. Nothing can stop it.” Predominantly a Buddhist country—93.2 per cent of Thailand’s population of 69 million identify as Theravada Buddhists, according to data for 2010 from the Washington, DC-based Pew Research Center—Thailand is home to approximately 38,000 Buddhist temples and an estimated 300,000 bhikkhus. However, Thailand has never officially recognized the full monastic ordination of women, and bhikkhunis do not generally enjoy the same level of societal acceptance as their male counterparts. By comparison, the Mahayana branch of Buddhist traditions widely practiced in East Asia have historically been much more accepting of female ordination.

      Yet communities of female renunciants do exist and are growing across Thailand. There are currently more than 100 determined bhikkhunis who are committed to overturning the institutionalized chauvinism that stands in the way of female monasticism. Supported by more progressively minded bhikkhus, they seek to re-establish the fourfold sangha* envisioned by Shakyamuni Buddha as the optimal holistic and inclusive structure in which all segments of society can study and share the Dharma.

      Ven. Dhammananda ordained in Sri Lanka in 2013, becoming Thailand’s first bhikkhuni in the face of considerable public opposition. Formerly known as Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, an author and professor of religious studies and philosophy at a prominent Thai university, she states her case simply and with a gentle logic, noting that the Buddha himself founded the bhikkhuni order, which included his own adoptive mother.

      “When the Buddha was enlightened and he established the Buddhist religion, he described the four pillars of the faith: bhikkhu, bhikkhuni, laymen, and laywomen,” she explains. “This was very clear in his mind and it is written in the historical texts, so it is not about equality as such, it is about what’s right. We are shareholders of the faith and simply upholding Buddha’s original vision.” (Huffington Post)

      According to historians, bhikkhunis flourished for 1,000 years in India and Sri Lanka, but the spread of Islam and the impact of various regional conflicts caused them to almost disappear. In Thailand, a proclamation by the kingdom’s Buddhist Sangha Supreme Council in 1928 expressly forbade female ordination. Instead, women in the country may only become white-robed nuns, known in Thai as maechi, who receive a much lower level of respect and recognition from society at large, and hold a rank comparable to that of a novice monk.

      Yet amid a stream of media reports of scandalous exploits by misbehaving monks, there is a growing public voice warning that patience is beginning to wear thin and calling for reform. “There are many questions posed by the public that the Sangha has to answer,” notes Phramaha Boonchuay Doojai, a leading activist monk at Chiang Mai Buddhist College: “They cannot just sit quietly and hope issues like female ordination will fade away. It is not possible.” He warns that if the sangha’s bureaucracy continues to oppose bhikkhuni ordination, it could find itself at the wrong end of popular opinion after already drawing criticism for failing to curtail inappropriate behavior among the male monastic majority.

      International attention and support has also lent impetus to the movement in recent years, with organizations such as the Network of Asian Theravada Bhikkhunis and the Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women adding weight to the growing consensus. In Thailand, Songdhammakalyani Monastery in the central town of Nakhon Pathom, of which Ven. Dhammananda is the abbot, has become an international center for the training of female Buddhist clergy.


      “Change is taking place in favor of female ordination, not only in Thailand but elsewhere in the world,” said Ven. Dhammananda with optimism. “Whatever the resistance from the establishment, more women will choose to pursue a spiritual path as female monastics. Nothing can stop it.”

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    • A Tough But Not Impossible Act to Follow

      Andrew Olendzki WINTER 2014 tricycle

      Can we awaken in this very life?

      I believe that awakening is possible in this very lifetime. I know this is one of the ideas we, as modern secular Buddhists, are invited to discard, along with belief in rebirth, heavenly beings, and miraculous powers. I prefer to suspend judgment and remain agnostic regarding the latter three, saying neither “If the Buddha said so, it must be so” nor “It can’t be, therefore it isn’t.” But awakening is another story. I think it can be possible for a person, even a rather ordinary person, to awaken. Furthermore, I think it is a goal to which we can all aspire.

      Awakening (aka enlightenment, but this latter term is not a good translation of bodhi) is understood in the early discourses as a process of gradual mental purification culminating in a profound psychological transformation. This happened to the Buddha while he was seated under the Bodhi tree in Uruvela (now Bodhgaya), and it is important to distinguish this event from what happened to him 45 years later as he lay on his right side between two sal trees in Kusinara.

      I have no idea how to understand the Buddha’s parinirvana, his final passing away after 80 years as a human being. Lots of people asked him beforehand what happens to a Tathagata (Buddha) beyond death, and he refused to answer. When pressed to say why he would not answer, he gave explanations ranging from “You wouldn’t understand” to “There is no way of expressing it” to “You don’t need to know” to (loosely paraphrased) “You have your hands full understanding what is happening in your own experience here and now—so get back to work meditating and stop asking irrelevant questions.”

      I am actually fine with his silent response and am happy to leave the matter of “what happened to him” to the Buddhist theologians who tackled it in the centuries after his last days. But getting some handle on what happened to the Buddha under the Bodhi tree is more accessible, particularly since he talked about it quite a lot in language both empirical and psychological. In the earliest strata of Buddhist discourse, awakening is not about transcending this life as much as it is about accessing the deepest levels of inherent well-being, here and now.

      Simply put, there are emotional and behavioral habits within us, many deeply embedded, which are toxic and cause suffering. Greed, hatred, and delusion, along with the emotions they engender, may sometimes be gratifying and even useful in the short term, but they invariably cause harm to oneself or others (or both). Think of common chemical toxins such as caffeine, sugar, nicotine, or alcohol, which can have pleasurable immediate effects but cause damage to our biological health over time. Psychological health is not unlike physical health, which can be diminished or augmented by behaviorally adjusting the levels of pollutants and nutriments in the system.

      The Buddha showed us through his example that it is possible to become radically healthy and then live out one’s life in this world. His awakening consisted of so transforming his mind that toxic states rooted in greed, hatred, and delusion no longer occurred, while a full range of healthy emotions and other cognitive capabilities remained active and were even enhanced. Is this such an impossible act to follow? Many of his followers apparently succeeded in freeing their minds by following his instructions, leaving us in their own words compelling images of a person deeply at peace. Why should we not aspire to the same thing?

      We know we are all capable of generous actions, compassionate words, and insightful thoughts. We also know that when we commit a selfish act, speak a hurtful word, or indulge the wishful thinking of a deluded thought, we are not entirely compelled to do so. We have some influence on what we choose to experience from moment to moment, and can, through conscious intervention, make a healthier choice even in the presence of a toxic tendency. Is it such a stretch to think that this modest fulcrum point might be made to move the world, given a lever of sufficient length? If we can somehow manage to be kind instead of cruel in this moment, why not the next?

      There are many good-hearted people in this world. There are many who are truthful and trustworthy, who do what is right more often than not, who sacrifice for the sake of others, who spontaneously feel kindness and compassion. There are some who understand that everything is moving and flowing around them, and that one thrives by letting go rather than holding on. There are those at peace, who are deeply well, even in challenging circumstances. We may not be able to point to any one person and say they are perfectly awakened, their minds free forever from the three poisons, but surely we can recognize moments of awakened behavior when we see them.

      Though the Buddha woke up suddenly and unshakably, I don’t think we need to regard awakening in such an all-or-nothing way. Life is a series of mind moments, each one a new creation. Every moment we inherit something from our past, transform it in our present experience, and thereby seed the consequences of our future. At each moment the toxins we encounter may be either compounded or abandoned. A moment without greed, hatred, or delusion is an awakened moment. A person may not be considered awakened unless the toxins are thoroughly eliminated, but even an unawakened person can have an awakened moment. As the Buddha says,

      If one shows kindness with a clear mind—

      Even once!—for living creatures

      By that one becomes wholesome. (Itivuttaka 1.27)


      My suggestion is simply this: As we walk the path, let us not look up so much at the destination, high above in the mist, but carefully place one foot in front of the other. A path keeps us centered, guiding us from veering right or left into dangerous territory. It may also deliver us to the summit, but only if each step is well taken. Every mindful moment in which generosity displaces greed, compassion takes the place of hatred, and insight dislodges delusion, is a moment in which we are awake. If we can manage one moment of wisdom, why not another?