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June 23, 2015

The Dalai Lama’s Big Brother

Gyalo Thondup’s memoir recounts the founding of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile and the CIA’s part in the Tibetan resistance. Liesl Schwabe
 The Noodle Maker of KalimpongBy Gyalo Thondup and Anne ThurstonPublicAffairs; April 2015301 pp.; $27.99 (Cloth) In the winter of 2001, I lived in the foothills of the Himalayas in the Darjeeling District of India, while studying under the Kagyu lama Bokar Rinpoche. Every night I looked out across the valley, with my one-year-old son and his father, to the town of Kalimpong as its electricity cut out. With so little to measure or mark our days, this became a kind of event, something we anticipated. The only thing I knew then about Kalimpong was that its egg noodles were fresh, delicious, and famous. But just how famous, I had no idea. More »
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June 19, 2015

5 Things That Might Surprise You about Meditation Retreats

It’s not all calm and cosmic-flavored bubble gum. Brent R. Oliver
The glory. The soothing waves of warm peach syrup flooding the folds of your brain. The sheer bliss of sitting still and letting ultimate peace Jägerbomb your delusions and peel away the spiky freakishness of daily existence. Breathe in, relax. Breathe out, super-mega relax, but still keep control of your sphincter. Calmness like honey on your nerve endings. A sniff of liberation somewhere down a candy corridor. Stop reading now if this has been your only experience on meditation retreat. The rest of this article is not for you. Matter of fact, what are you even doing here? You should be in the backyard levitating. More »
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June 18, 2015

Climate Change Is a Moral Issue

A Buddhist response to Pope Francis’s climate change encyclical Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
On June 18, Pope Francis issued a papal encyclical pointing to climate change as the overriding moral issue of our time. The encyclical boldly proclaims that humanity’s capacity to alter the climate charges us with the gravest moral responsibility we have ever had to bear. Climate change affects everyone. The disruptions to the biosphere occurring today bind all peoples everywhere into a single human family, our fates inseparably intertwined. No one can escape the impact, no matter how remotely they may live from the bustling centers of industry and commerce. The responsibility for preserving the planet falls on everyone. More »
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June 12, 2015

Talking about Mindfulness

Amid puff pieces and "the backlash," a new dialogue around mindfulness emerges. Alex Caring-Lobel
While media coverage of the mindfulness phenomenon has been frequent, plentiful, and occasionally lively, it has also fallen along a narrow spectrum. After a prolonged glut of self-congratulatory puff pieces, we’ve finally witnessed what some have called a backlash. We might now arrive at what could be a more nuanced take, with a number of writers, scientists, and thinkers complicating the received narratives about mindfulness. More »
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June 08, 2015

Accepting the Unacceptable

Death awaits all of us. But if we learn to acknowledge and embrace impermanence, we'll be much better off when the time comes. Traleg Kyabgon
Over the last century or so, death has been becoming increasingly institutionalized and removed from immediate experience. It is no longer a common experience in concrete terms. Where people used to die at home in the past, this is no longer the case, and the usual gathering of relatives and family no longer takes place spontaneously. It is no longer a communal affair, but on the contrary, it is hidden from public view, resulting in less actual contact with death and dying. Perversely, the literature on death and dying has been growing considerably, and people are actually talking about it more and more, while handling the practical fact less and less. The irony of this situation is described by Ray Anderson, a Christian theologian, in his book Theology, Death, and Dying: More »
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June 04, 2015

No Teachers Come Here

A Palestinian tells us what it's like to be a Buddhist in the birthplace of Christ. 
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May 30, 2015

It Needs Saying

Buddhism is not a philosophy, science, psychotherapy, or culture. It is a religion. David Brazier
It should not need saying. After all, it's obvious. Nonetheless it does need saying. It needs saying because it has been denied by so many people including many who are eminent and even some whose own roles, behavior, and faith contradict what they are saying. It needs saying clearly, that Buddhism is a religion. More »
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May 28, 2015

Theravada Buddhism’s Muslim Problem

Although international engagement has its place, only discussion and peacebuilding among local communities can help stem the wave of anti-Muslim violence. Iselin Frydenlund and Susan Hayward
Buddhist and Muslim leaders meet to discuss peace initiatives at the Yogyakarta meeting in Indonesia, March 2015.  Buddhist radicalism is on the rise in countries like Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Since 2012, both countries have witnessed severe violence against their Muslim minorities. Attacks take place in an atmosphere of strong anti-Muslim rhetoric put forward by certain monk-led nationalist groups, and the (largely unknown) orchestrators and perpetrators of these attacks operate with impunity. More »
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May 22, 2015

Imperfect Refuge

Why one of Thailand’s most controversial politicians became a Buddhist monk  Thomas Borchert
Protest leader turned monk Suthep Thaugsuban prays at Pathum Wanaram temple in Bangkok, March 2014. Telegenic tanks rolled into Bangkok. Soldiers evacuated protest encampments. The coup, declared on May 22, 2014, put an end to the demonstrations that had embroiled Thailand for six months. During that period, Suthep Thaugsuban, the protest leader, became the country’s most visible and controversial figure. Then, suddenly and inexplicably, he disappeared.  In a ceremony devoid of pomp and circumstance, he quietly became a Buddhist monk.  More »
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May 19, 2015

Don't Get Stuck in Neutral

Meditation is more than a respite—it's a chance to overcome our afflictions.  Tulku Thondup
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May 18, 2015

The Buddhists Go to Washington

But where will they go from there? Emma Varvaloucas
Buddhist leaders gather in the White House on May 14 for a meeting with government officials. Last Thursday 125 prominent Buddhist figures from a range of traditions gathered in Washington, DC, for the first meeting between White House and State Department officials and Buddhist faith groups. Teachers from the Sinhalese, Cambodian, Burmese, Bangladeshi, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Tibetan, Vietnamese, and Thai Buddhist lineages attended, as well as scholars, activists, and leaders of convert groups who do not affiliate with any one particular Asian school.  More »
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May 15, 2015

The Examined Life

An English professor and Zen monk addresses his students at the end of the semester. Seido Ray Ronci
I address you now not as your professor, but as Seido, Rinzai Zen monk, caretaker of Hokoku-An Zendo. The semester has come to an end. When I look out at you I see 30 people. When you look at me you see one. But for each one of you I am a different professor. There are 30 different versions of me standing before you in this classroom. It is my job to create a relationship of sorts with each and every one of you. I do that by reading your journals and your papers, by observing how you are in class, whether or not you come prepared, whether or not you take notes, how often you text, and how often you nod off. I’m like Santa Claus. I see you when you’re sleeping and I know when you’re awake; I know when you’re taking notes and when you’re checking your Facebook page. More »
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May 14, 2015

What's Ethics Got to Do with It?

The misguided debate about mindfulness and morality Richard K. Payne
As mindfuness has made greater inroads into public life—from hospitals, to schools, to the workplace—its growing distance from Buddhist thought and practice has become a hotly contested issue. Is mindfulness somehow deficient because it lacks Buddhist ethics, and should Buddhist ethics be replicated in mindfulness programs and workshops? More »
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May 11, 2015

How to Fail

Advice for leaning into the unknown Pema Chödrön
If there is one skill that is not stressed very much, but is really needed, it is knowing how to fail. There is a Samuel Beckett quote that goes “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” That quote is what will help you more than anything else in the next year, the next ten years, the next twenty years, for as long as you live, until you drop dead. There is a lot of emphasis on succeeding. We all want to succeed, especially if we consider success to be things working out the way we want them to. Failing is what we don't usually get a lot of preparation for. So how to fail? More »
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May 10, 2015

No Need for Words

In the absence of language, a poet realizes the fullness of maternal love. Shin Yu Pai
Several weeks ago, in the middle of having his diaper changed, my son peered up at me and spoke his first two-syllable word: butter. My husband Kort still asleep in bed, I wondered whether the boy had uttered the brief sound or my imagination had merely conjured it. Standard early-morning mental fuzz could not account for this self-doubt; it sprang from a deep longing, ever since the day of my son’s birth, for him to speak in familiar language. More »
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May 06, 2015

Yuthok Lane

The poetry of ritual Tenzin Dickie
This is how it will be:we will take a walk on concrete, not blue tiles, and you will pretend to be disappointed.This will have the quality of a ritual. In the morning, the sun will fall from the sky;we will protect ourselves against its fire.It is not so unbearable, but we have learnt to be wary of arrivals from the east. We are unbeautiful here;our stay in the plains has rendered us so.But whispers now carry endearments,and we will not have it any other way. More »
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May 05, 2015

Turning Intention into Motivation

How do we motivate ourselves to live true to our best aspirations?  Thupten Jinpa
Framing our days between intention setting and joyful dedication, even once a week, can change how we live. It's a purposeful approach of self-awareness, conscious intention, and focused effort—three precious gifts of contemplative practice—by which we take responsibility for our thoughts and actions and take charge of our selves and our lives. As the Buddha put it, "You are your own enemy / and you are your own savior. " More »
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April 30, 2015

An Unholy Alliance

Thailand’s military government takes a special interest in Thai Buddhism and the moral authority its institutions command. Hilary Cadigan
Thailand’s military government, which seized control of the country in a coup last May, has taken a special interest in Thai Buddhism and the moral authority its institutions command. After settling into power and naming itself the National Council for Peace and Order, the junta immediately set off on a paternalistic mission to rid Thailand of corruption, immorality, and anything deemed “un-Thai” (like underboobs, for example). Since Buddhism makes up such an integral part of the agreed upon definition of “Thai-ness,” junta leaders quickly set their sights on religious reform, installing a special panel to focus on the “protection of Buddhism” within their National Reform Council (NRC). More »
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April 28, 2015

The Slow Burn

Is smoking cigarettes un-Buddhist? Alex Tzelnic
Bernie Flynn, a longtime student of Chögyam Trungpa, recently told me about the time he and the Rinpoche tried to quit smoking cigarettes. A few days in, he was driving the Rinpoche to a meeting. Antsy and in withdrawal, Bernie couldn’t help but notice his teacher sitting calmly in the passenger seat. Finally, his nerves on edge, Bernie turned to Trungpa and asked how the whole quitting thing was going. “It’s easy,” said Trungpa. “Either you smoke, or you don’t smoke.” Ah, so simple. Later that evening, Bernie entered a room to find the Rinpoche gleefully chain smoking. Oh, not so simple. More »