Tricycle - Awake in the World The Online Tricycle Magazine Blog http://www.tricycle.com/ en Thu, 23 Jul 2015 10:30:00 -0400 Mon, 27 Jul 2015 14:15:14 -0400 The Long, Strange Trip http://www.tricycle.com/blog/long-strange-trip <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Lattin_psychedelics_0.jpg" width="200" height="257" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p class="Body" align="center"><b>Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics (2nd edition)<br> </b>Edited by Allan Badiner<br> Synergetic Press; May 2015<br> 304 pp.; $38.95 (Cloth)</p><p class="Body">It was something I noticed back in the early 1980s, when I was working as a newspaper reporter and interviewing longtime members of San Francisco Zen Center. I’d ask them how they got interested in Buddhism, and I’d keep hearing about “the long, strange trip.”</p><p class="Body">“Well,” the answer would go, “I guess you could say it started with that first acid trip back in 1965.”</p><p class="Body">This fall marks the 50th anniversary of the first San Francisco “Acid Test,” when a promising young writer named Ken Kesey gathered the infamous band of Merry Pranksters and spiked the Kool-Aid. It was 1965, the same year that another early psychedelic explorer, ousted Harvard psychology professor Richard Alpert, headed out to San Francisco, the first stop on his pilgrimage to India, where he’d be reincarnated as <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/feature/americas-guru">Baba Ram Dass</a>.</p><p class="Body">Today, psychedelics (and Kesey’s house band, the <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/feature/jerry-garcia">Grateful Dead</a>) are very much back in the news, and so is the debate about how and whether getting high on psychoactive substances should be part of the Buddhist path.</p><p class="Body">First, the news: The final stage of government-approved clinical trials into the medical use of MDMA, also known as “ecstasy,” and psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms,” is expected to begin next year. Promising early results show that MDMA-fueled psychotherapy sessions can help people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, including thousands of troubled American soldiers returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Other research indicates that supervised sessions with psilocybin can greatly help cancer patients deal with the “psycho-spiritual distress” that often accompanies a life-threatening diagnosis. As early as 2020, researchers now predict, MDMA and psilocybin could be reclassified by the US Food and Drug Administration and routinely used under the watchful eye of trained therapists.</p><p class="Body">Meanwhile, legal restrictions are also loosening for some religious groups that use psychedelic plants in their rites and ceremonies. Following earlier court rulings allowing Native Americans to legally use peyote in their spiritual practices, a 2006 Supreme Court decision granted similar protections to North American congregations affiliated with two Brazilian churches that use ayahuasca, a psychedelic tea, in their ceremonial life.</p><p class="Body">Ayahuasca devotees outside those Brazilian sects are also starting to come out of the shamanic closet. All-night sessions are not hard to find among Brooklyn hipsters and Hollywood trendsetters. Mainstream media coverage of the new wave of psychedelic research and rituals has been overwhelmingly positive and restrained—unlike a wave of sensationalist coverage in the late 1960s that conspired to allow Congress to pass the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which helped shut down 20 years of early research into the beneficial use of psychedelics.</p><p class="Body">This shifting psychedelic landscape makes the new edition of <i>Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics</i>, edited by Allan Badiner and published by Synergetic Press, all the more timely. Like the first edition, published in 2002 by Chronicle Books, this hardcover volume is vividly illustrated with visionary art, including a new foldout centerpiece featuring the work of Android Jones.</p><p class="Body">Most of the essays are reprints from the first edition, but two of the new offerings point to some of the changes over the past 20 years. The first is an interview with Rick Doblin, the founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or <a href="http://www.maps.org">MAPS</a>. He has raised close to $20 million to support drug researchers and persuade federal regulators that MDMA can be safely and effectively used to ease the psychic pain of war veterans and sexual abuse victims. Doblin, who had his first LSD trip as a college freshman in 1972, talks in the interview about the <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/feature/dharma-playa">Zendo Project, which offers psychedelic harm reduction services at the annual Burning Man festival in the Nevada dessert.</a></p><p class="Body">The psychotherapist Ralph Metzner pens another one of this edition’s original essays: “A New Look at the Psychedelic <i>Tibetan Book of the Dead</i>.” He is the author (along with Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert) of the influential 1964 book <i>The Psychedelic Experience</i>, a manual on how to take an LSD trip. Metzner, Leary, and Alpert based their tripping manual on the <i>Tibetan Book of the Dead</i>, a self-styled English translation of texts popularized by the American Theosophist W.Y. Evans-Wentz, first published in 1927. Whether or not <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/reviews/real-dead-definitive-translation"><i>The Tibetan Book of the Dead</i> reflects ideas that are authentically Tibetan or Buddhist</a>, Metzner and his coauthors helped establish the idea that a psychedelic drug trip was another route to the mystical insights one could achieve—with much more work—through the discipline of Buddhist meditation.</p><p class="Body">“Psychedelic travelers could be guided, or guide themselves, to release their ego-attachments and illusory self-images, the way a Tibetan Buddhist lama would guide a person who was actually dying to relinquish their attachments,” writes Metzner.</p><p class="Body">Fifty years later, the psychotherapist is more convinced than ever that “the two most beneficent potential areas of application of psychedelic technologies are in the treatment of addictions and in the psycho-spiritual preparation for the final transition.”</p><p class="Body">Buddhists teachers who were interviewed or wrote their own essays in <i>Zig Zag Zen</i> disagree as to what extent psychoactive drugs can <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/special-section/roundtable-help-or-hindrance">help or hinder</a> those on the Buddhist path. Some say they offer a glimpse of another way of being and can open a door. Others, such as meditation teacher <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/special-section/on-front-lines">Michele McDonald</a>, just say “no” to psychedelics. “Drugs promote attachment to experience,” she writes. “What you actually get from drug experience is the desire to take the drugs again.”</p><p class="Body">Psychedelic drugs can produce feelings similar to those reported by religious mystics—a sense of oneness with the universe, transcendence of time and space, an intuitive knowing, a deeply felt positive mood, and a sense of ineffability and paradox.</p><p class="Body"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/preeminent-world-religions-professor-huston-smith-turns-94">Huston Smith</a>, the noted religion scholar who writes the preface, once told me that it doesn’t matter much if a religious experience is “real” or drug induced. It doesn’t matter if your mind is altered by 250 micrograms of LSD or years of long meditation retreats. What matters is what you do with the experience. Do altered states lead to altered traits?</p><p class="Body">This all sounds a lot like the debate that the editors at <i>Tricycle</i> inspired nearly 20 years ago when the magazine devoted an issue to the subject of <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/fall-1996">Buddhism and psychedelics</a>.</p><p class="Body">Their conclusion then seems like good advice today: “<a href="http://www.tricycle.com/node/32160">Just Say Maybe.</a>”<br><br><b>Don Lattin</b> is the author of five books, including <i>The Harvard Psychedelic Club</i>. He is currently working on a book about the new wave of research into psychedelics.</p> 46705 Thu, 23 Jul 2015 10:30:00 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Meditating at the Edge of Nowhere http://www.tricycle.com/blog/meditating-edge-nowhere <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Byrd_grassshutter.jpg" width="570" height="379" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">Like my neighbor Berta Alemán has taught me,<br>one way to meditate<br>is to hold a water hose in your hand.<br>Paradise is right around the corner.<br>But you should not expect too much progress at first.<br>There is plenty to do, standing there,<br>watering the lawn.<br>It could be a Wednesday night,<br>maybe right before September, right before<br>the kids go back to school.<br>Some times you hate them.<br>They don’t listen.<br>That’s okay.<br>You might even be out of milk.<br>There’s plenty of time for milk and kids.<br>You are outside now.<br>That’s what counts.<br>Like it’s a real hot night, hotter than usual,<br>a good night to water the backyard,<br>it’s been so scraggly lately,<br>especially in spots.<br>You maybe think that you have forgotten so much<br>this last month, this stretch<br>of the summer which seems so much like waiting.<br>This is okay too.<br>This is the physiology of the summer,<br>the way it insists that all is not done,<br>will never be,<br>the autumn and the winter comes,<br>over and over,<br>a snake with its goddamn tail stuck in its mouth.<br>&nbsp;<br><i>So forgive yourself.</i><br>&nbsp;<br>This is essential to the act of meditation.<br>&nbsp;<br>You must remember you are watering the yard.<br>That is all you are doing.<br>Stand out there,<br>your left hand on your hip<br>in perfect repose, your right hand<br>carefully, gently,<br>grasping the water hose.<br>Be careful to watch the spray of the water<br>shine in the light of the full moon.<br>The water is perfect.<br>The moon is also perfect.<br>As is the grass, even if it is dying.<br>&nbsp;<br>Your back should be straight,<br>but at ease<br>so that you can drink in the darkness of the night<br>without worrying about tomorrow.<br>If you are a man, you might want to<br>scratch your nuts, cradling them,<br>or if you are a woman,<br>shake your hips back and forth<br>slowly.<br>Whatever, the purpose is<br>to feel the sex of who you are.<br>You might hum a tune,<br>some sort of nursery rhyme<br>like you heard growing up<br>wherever that was.<br>It was a long time ago.<br>Your mother was so beautiful.<br>You can finally understand that now.<br>Stretch your legs.<br>Rock your body back and forth.<br>But concentrate on the water.<br>Be grateful.<br>Life is not what you imagined.<br>You have friends that have better,<br>others that have worse,<br>still others who are dead.<br>Breathe in and breathe out.<br>&nbsp;<br>Maybe your lover is inside.<br>It will be a good night for love-making,<br>so warm and fine,<br>the drone of the swamp cooler<br>so the kids won’t hear.<br>The bright moon.<br>You can tell your lover<br>about standing here in the moonlight<br>watering the yard.<br>But there is time before that.<br>You should think about your children again,<br>their bodies,<br>how they have changed<br>since they first squirmed through the door of flesh,<br>and your parents too<br>who are close to their death,<br>waiting to take the other journey.<br>So this is what life has been about.<br>It may seem so right now,<br>so clear,<br>to come to this point<br>exactly<br>and to think that a certain spot in the grass<br>has been dry for too long.<br>You have forgotten some things.<br>You have remembered others.<br>You have come this far.<br>Before you go back inside<br>be certain that the grass is watered completely.</p><p><br><b>Bobby Byrd</b> is a poet who practices at the Both Sides/No Sides Zen Community in El Paso, Texas. He is copublisher, with his wife, of Cinco Puntos Press. This poem originally appeared in his book&nbsp;<em>Get Some Fuses for the House</em> (North Atlantic Books).</p><p><em>Image: Shutterstock</em></p> 46672 Wed, 22 Jul 2015 10:30:00 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World The Zen of Not Knowing http://www.tricycle.com/blog/zen-not-knowing <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Hartman_spoon.jpg" width="570" height="726"></p><p>Beginner’s mind is Zen practice in action. It is the mind that is innocent of preconceptions and expectations, judgments and prejudices. Beginner’s mind is just present to explore and observe and see “things as they are.” I think of beginner’s mind as the mind that faces life like a small child, full of curiosity and wonder and amazement. “I wonder what this is? I wonder what that is? I wonder what this means?” Without approaching things with a fixed point of view or a prior judgment, just asking “What is it?”</p><p>I was having lunch with Indigo, a small child, at City Center [a Soto Zen practice center in San Francisco]. He saw an object on the table and got very interested in it. He picked it up and started fooling with it: looking at it, putting it in his mouth, and banging on the table with it—just engaging with it without any previous idea of what it was. For Indigo, it was just an interesting thing, and it was a delight to him to see what he could do with this thing. You and I would see it and say, “It’s a spoon. It sits there and you use it for soup.” It doesn’t have all the possibilities that he finds in it.</p><p>Watching Indigo, you can see the innocence of “What is it?”</p><p>Can we look at our lives in such a way? Can we look at all of the aspects of our lives with this mind, just open to seeing what there is to see? I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time doing that. I have a lot of habits of mind—I think most of us do. Children begin to lose that innocent quality after a while, and soon they want to be “the one who knows.”</p><p>We all want to be the one who knows. But if we decide we “know” something, we are not open to other possibilities anymore. And that’s a shame. We lose something very vital in our life when it’s more important to us to be one who knows than it is to be awake to what’s happening. We get disappointed because we expect one thing, and it doesn’t happen quite like that. Or we think something ought to be like this, and it turns out different. Instead of saying, “Oh, isn’t that interesting,” we say, “Yuck, not what I thought it would be.” Pity. The very nature of beginner’s mind is not knowing in a certain way, not being an expert.</p><p>As Suzuki Roshi said in the prologue to <i>Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind</i>, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.” As an expert, you’ve already got it figured out, so you don’t need to pay attention to what’s happening. Pity.</p><p>How can we cultivate this mind that is free to just be awake? In zazen<i>, </i>in just sitting, in sitting and noticing the busyness of our mind and all of the fixed views that we carry. Once we notice the fixed views that we are carrying around with us, the preconceptions that we are carrying around with us, then it is possible for us to let them go and say, “Well, maybe so, maybe not.” Suzuki Roshi once said, “The essence of Zen is ‘Not always so.’” Not always so. It’s a good little phrase to carry around when you’re sure. It gives you an opportunity to look again more carefully and see what other possibilities there might be in the situation.</p><p>I don’t know about you, but when I started to sit, I really began to see how many fixed ideas and fixed views I had. How much judgment was ready right on the tip of my tongue. How much expectation, how much preconception I was carrying around with me all the time, and how much it got in the way of actually noticing what was happening. I don’t want to tell you that after years I’m free of all that, but at least I notice it sooner, and I sometimes don’t get caught in believing it.</p><p>First, before you can let go of preconceptions and expectations and prejudices, you have to notice them; otherwise, they’re just carrying on unconsciously and affecting everything you do. But as you sit, you begin to recognize the really persistent ones: “Oh my gosh . . . you again! Didn’t I just deal with you yesterday?” And again. And again. Pretty soon, you can’t take them seriously. They just keep popping up and popping up and popping up, and after a while you become really familiar with them. And you can’t get so buried under something once you realize that it’s just a habitual state of mind and doesn’t have much to do with what’s right in front of you. It’s just something that you haul around with you all the time and bring out for every occasion. It hasn’t much to do with the present situation. Sometimes you can actually say, “Oh, I think I’m just hauling that around with me. I don’t think it has anything to do with this.”</p><p>In her poem “When Death Comes,” Mary Oliver has a few lines that say, “When it’s over, I want to say: all my life / I was a bride married to amazement. / I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.”</p><p>This is beginner’s mind: “I’ve been a bride married to amazement.” Just how amazing the world is, how amazing our life is. How amazing that the sun comes up in the morning or that the wisteria blooms in the spring. “A bride married to amazement, . . . the bridegroom taking the world into my arms.” Can you live your life with that kind of wholeheartedness, with that kind of thoroughness? This is the beginner’s mind that Suzuki Roshi is pointing to, is encouraging us to cultivate. He is encouraging us to see where we are stuck with fixed views and see if we can, as Kosho Uchiyama Roshi says, “open the hand of thought” and let the fixed view go. This is our effort. This is our work. Just to be here, ready to meet whatever is next without expectation or prejudice or preconceptions. Just “What is it? What is this, I wonder?”</p><p>So please, cultivate your beginner’s mind. Be willing not to be an expert. Be willing not to know. Not knowing is nearest. Not knowing is most intimate.<br><br><b>Zenkei Blanche Hartman</b> is a senior dharma teacher at San Francisco Zen Center, where she has served two terms as abbot.</p><p>From <i>Seeds of a Boundless Life</i> by Zenkei Blanche Hartman, © 2015 by Zenkei Blanche Hartman. Reprinted by arrangement with <a href="http://www.shambhala.com">Shambhala Publications</a>, Inc. Boston, MA.</p><p><em>Gallery Stock.</em></p> 46671 Tue, 21 Jul 2015 13:54:24 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Across the Expanse http://www.tricycle.com/blog/across-expanse <p><i>This interview with the scholar-practitioner <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/online-retreats/embodied-love-core-tibetan-trainings-unbounded-heart">Anne Carolyn Klein</a> was originally published in the July–December issue of </i>Mandala<i>, a magazine run by the nonprofit organization <a href="http://fpmt.org/fpmt/">Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition</a>. We are republishing it here because of its excellent discussion of transmission, the secularization of Tibetan Buddhism as it has come West, and other ideas that speak practically and directly to the experiences of Western dharma practitioners. —Eds.</i></p><p><span style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/AnneKlein_TRICYCLE.jpg" width="570" height="504" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></span></p><p><span style="text-align: center;">Respected as both a scholar and practitioner, Anne Carolyn Klein (Lama Rigzin Drolma) has a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of Virginia and is a professor of religion at Rice University in Houston, Texas. She has studied and practiced dharma since 1970, mainly in the Gelug and Nyingma traditions, and has published&nbsp;</span><span style="text-align: center;">six books</span><span style="text-align: center;">,&nbsp;including </span><i style="text-align: center;">Unbounded Wholeness: Dzogchen,&nbsp;Bon and the Logic of the Nonconceptual</i><span style="text-align: center;">, </span><i style="text-align: center;">Meeting the Great Bliss Queen</i><span style="text-align: center;">,&nbsp;and </span><i style="text-align: center;">Knowledge and Liberation</i><span style="text-align: center;">. Her most recent work is&nbsp;</span><i style="text-align: center;">Heart Essence of the Vast Expanse: A Story of Transmission</i><span style="text-align: center;">. Anne teaches and leads retreats internationally, and she and her husband, Harvey Aronson (Lama Namgyal Dorje), are the founding spiritual directors of </span><a href="http://www.dawnmountain.org" style="text-align: center;">Dawn Mountain Tibetan Buddhist Center</a><span style="text-align: center;">.</span></p><p>In May 2015, Donna Lynn Brown talked to Anne Klein about the meaning of transmission and the state of the transmission of Tibetan Buddhism to the West.<br><br><b>What is transmission?</b> Transmission takes place in every communication. What is transmitted? Words, of course, but also modulations of sound, as well as body language, energy and feeling-tone. Transmission is everything that passes between people. There’s no need to fetishize this: it is not something strange, it is the richness of communication that happens all the time. “I always feel good after talking to her,” we say. It’s not just words—it’s everything that is received in relating with that person.</p><p>In Tibetan Buddhism, transmission connects us to a lineage of spiritual succession, as well as blessings, meditative ritual, artistic forms, and ways of teaching. How? By listening to a text read aloud by someone who earlier received it, in a line back to the text’s originator. What is transmitted includes, but goes beyond, intellect, and is conducive to a profound integration of the text and its practices. There is information coming through, as well as traditional patterns of knowing. There is meaning, sound, and “waves of splendor,” or blessings (<i>‘jin-lab</i>). Equally significant is connection. There is no chasm between the devoted student and the caring teacher, between beginner’s mind and mature wisdom. Their meeting requires that the teacher have something to offer and the student a capacity to receive. This ability to receive—emotionally, somatically, cognitively, and contemplatively—is not a small thing. That’s why many&nbsp;classic&nbsp;texts, such as&nbsp;<i>Words of My Perfect Teacher</i>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<i>Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment</i>, begin with how to listen and how to relate to a teacher. Relationship is crucial to transmission.</p><p>Transmission is best when there is trust and commitment as part of a compassionate holding. Buddha asked the grieving Kisa Gotami, whose child had just died, to request salt from a household that hadn’t known death. She trusted him and followed his counsel. Buddha did not say, “This will help.” It was implicit. Transmission, being profoundly relational, is not just words or technique. It is a student attuning to the pitch of a master singer, not a radio blasting into space. One central Tibetan practice is guru yoga, which cultivates a heightened receptivity, fostered by love and trust, which makes the relationship a portal to an experience beyond the student’s current capacity. The teacher, for a moment, de-occludes you. It may take years or even lifetimes before you can access this experience on your own. It radically alters your relationship to your own potential. You see it and believe in it. That is the power of transmission. When His Holiness the Dalai Lama gives an Avalokiteshvara [bodhisattva of compassion] initiation, maybe your heart softens. That is the core of transmission.<br><br><b>As Tibetan Buddhism gets transmitted to the West, is it being secularized?</b> There is both conscious and unconscious secularization. There are serious exchanges between Buddhism and science, a conversation fraught with challenges but also tremendously promising. And <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/feature/under-one-umbrella">Geshe Thupten Jinpa</a>’s new book,<i>&nbsp;<a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/turning-intention-motivation">A Fearless Heart,</a></i> is a conscious secularization of compassion. Buddhism is having significant cultural impact via mindfulness and compassion training in schools, workplaces, and among the public. The aim is not enlightenment or advancing Buddhism, but relieving stress, fostering positive relationships, and bringing values or skills to a broad cohort of people so they lead better lives. I think that’s what His Holiness, as a bodhisattva, is hoping for. Bodhisattvas, Shantideva writes, though intent on nirvana for all, are pleased to offer whatever happiness they can to others in the meantime.</p><p>Unconscious secularization occurs when we use Buddhism to support, rather than challenge, our neuroses!<br><br><b>What about Tibetan Buddhism in its more traditional forms?</b> The transmission of traditional practices, using the ancient forms of recitation, sadhana [ritual practice], study and retreat, is also occurring in many centers in the West. Does this mean that we are doing the same practices as Tibetans of old? Hardly. We can’t help but practice as Westerners. And our own understandings of body, mind, and the social order impact what we need from practice and how we do it. We will have to use our own cultural intelligence to make traditional practices meaningful and transformative, not mere replicas of how they were done in Tibet.</p><p>David Germano [professor of Tibetan and Buddhist studies at the University of Virginia] said to me recently that Buddhism didn’t really land in Tibet from India until the Tibetans made it their own. Buddhism is not a box you ship from one place to another without the contents shifting. As Indian Buddhism became Tibetan Buddhism, so the Tibetan Buddhism that comes West will become Western Tibetan Buddhism. It is significant that the tragedy of Tibet dovetailed with the digital age. There has never in history been a cultural transfer as rapid as this one: enormous bodies of literature coming into our languages at unprecedented speed. It took the Tibetans 400 years to digest the Indian material. Today,&nbsp;[the translation project] <a href="http://84000.co/">84,000</a> is on track to translate the entire Tibetan canon into a handful of languages in one hundred years. So there’s a rapid cultural transfer, at least of texts. Training people—that takes longer.<br><br><b>What would you say about the quality of practice in the West?</b> Quality is hard to assess. It’s challenging anywhere to really develop as a practitioner. And when you’ve got something that’s culturally different, maybe you just disappear into another cultural form without really dealing with your inner challenges. I think this happens in the West. At the same time, I do know many practitioners who are genuinely developing. You know, we have two faces: our intrinsic nature and our reactive patterns—the bad habits of the psyche. Effective practice mirrors both, gradually revealing our nature, while at the same time, clarifying what obstructs it.&nbsp;</p><p>For Westerners, working with emotions is important. Tibetans don’t seem to build an identity around emotions, or even identify them as a category, as we do. So the transmission of a transformative path to the West has this added challenge. We can memorize the texts, translate them, even do practice every day, but is it really impacting how we feel and live? How can it, unless we are in touch with our emotions? They have to be dealt with, whether on the cushion or in therapy. Sometimes people come to Buddhism for things that therapy could do better.<br><br><b>Are the lineages rooted here yet?</b> If “rooted” means that Western teachers educated by&nbsp;<i>their</i>&nbsp;Western teachers are giving the classic threesome of initiation, transmission, and instruction in deeply affective processes, we are not there yet. My generation studied with teachers who grew up in Tibet. Now there’s a generation who are studying with Western teachers or more westernized Tibetans. Nevertheless, even younger Western teachers continue to be trained by Tibetans. Collaboration between Western and Tibetan teachers will be important in rooting Tibetan practice in the West, so the level and ongoing availability of traditional Tibetan education in Asia matters. As well, there are still countless texts to be translated and oral commentary related to them to be digested. Language skills thus remain important. The more the people who run Western dharma centers think about how this will work in coming decades, the better. It takes a lot to train somebody even to be able to invite Tibetan teachers, create a meaningful sequence of teachings, and sustain the necessary variety of practices in community. Still, many things are going well. Good Western teachers and Western-Tibetan partnerships are appearing. Maybe partnership is what Western Tibetan Buddhism will look like for a while. And at some point, there hopefully will be full lineage transmissions getting passed on by Western teachers to Western students.<br><br><b>We assume Tibetan teachers will be with us for generations, don’t we?</b> Perhaps. But the level of study now is not the same as it was in Tibet or India. Can’t be. Fortunately the institutions are still producing powerful teachers, some of whom now visit or live in the West. And there are a few places in Tibet where people still devote their lives to practice in something like the old way. It is important that we support the growth of places of study in Asia for nuns, monks, and <i>tantrikas </i>[tantra practitioner]. But we can’t assume this resource will always be there.<br><br><b>The West’s Judeo-Christian outlook has given way to what some call a “broken worldview”: secular, materialistic, and lacking in meaning. Can Tibetan Buddhism reenchant the West?</b> We can’t adopt Tibetan worldviews wholesale. But yes, Tibetan Buddhism can play a role. Most of us long for a holistic or sacred outlook: it was part of our culture in medieval times, and it speaks to a genuine human need. The danger is that because we have such longing, we might over-idealize all things Tibetan. Let’s find a middle way by discovering contemporary ways of acknowledging our profound connection to the elements of earth and space and to each other. That’s a very human and humane way to live. Whether or not there are protector beings or protective laws, aren’t the plants in the Amazon and the coral reefs off Australia worthy of protection? Isn’t everything? Materialism is so limited. We humans thrive on feeling part of a sacred whole. And though Tibet may be the inspiration, we need to express the sacred in ways meaningful to us, here and now.<br><br><b>Is it harmful to mix our inherited traditions with Buddhism to create rituals and celebrations? I’m thinking of weddings, Christmas, Passover . . . </b>Rituals, celebrations, even some practices: people are mixing. We can’t stop them. Whether it’s harmful or “creative integration” may be in the eye of the beholder. If I am Buddhist and I like a Christmas tree because that’s how I grew up, does that make me less Buddhist? No. Does practicing mindfulness or <i>tonglen</i> [the meditative practice of “sending and receiving”] make me less Christian? No. In Asia, it’s quite common to belong to multiple traditions. Famously, in Japan, you’re born with Shinto rituals, you marry with Christian ones, and you die with Buddhist ones. In Tibet, Bön formed the bedrock of Buddhist expression and shaped it in important ways. In China, people didn’t give up Confucianism, they honored their ancestors, but they were Buddhist and most of them were Taoist too. In Nepal, I’ve seen people muttering mantras while tossing flower petals at Hindu and Buddhist statues. Here at home, friends at our center have designed beautiful weddings that draw on both Christian and Buddhist expression. Some types of mixing could be a problem but some is useful, even necessary.<br><br><b>Are ethics being transmitted? I’ve heard Buddhists brush off wrong behavior as empty, for example, which seems like a misunderstanding of both ethics and emptiness</b>. That’s just crazy. And crazy-making. It’s bad philosophy too. Yes, everything is empty, but everything also has to be dealt with. If someone is suffering due to abusive or predatory behavior, and someone else says, “well, it’s empty,” that’s ethically irresponsible and emotionally harmful. It’s not particularly Buddhist either. It’s just being blind. My own teachers have been generous and supportive, so I have personally not had negative experiences, but I certainly hear about them. Some Tibetans, like many Western men in authority, may not understand what it means for a woman to be oppressed in one way or another. Since Tibetan monastics are typically raised with a completely male point of view, gender can be a flashpoint for cultural misunderstanding.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; In Buddhism, everything rides on “the legs of ethics.” Guru Rinpoche [the founder of the first order of Tibetan Buddhism] famously said, “My view is as vast as space, but my conduct is as careful and precise as grains of barley.” So view is never an excuse for bad behavior. But dharma centers have to survive, so we give teachings that attract people. That’s a secularizing force in itself! Westerners like using their minds, so wisdom is a popular topic. So is compassion because we’re messed up about relationships. Nobody will come to a lecture on ethics. But ethics include behavior supportive of community in every sense. So if we teach kindness or compassion, we are teaching ethics.</p><p>For my own teachers, who were not marketing to Westerners, ethics were tremendously important, the ground of everything.<br><br><b>Let’s talk about the role of the body in transmission, which is sometimes hard to understand.</b> Transmission depends on receptivity. Once, from my seat at a Kalachakra initiation, I could see His Holiness the Dalai Lama in profile. Before beginning the ceremony, he sat with his back to the audience and prayed. His face and his entire bearing showed how totally, selflessly, he was absorbed in his prayer. I was so moved: it gave me something to aspire to. Or I see the humility of a teacher bowing before a Buddha statue, and I realize I don’t bow like that . . . and maybe, in that moment, I see the dropping of ordinary mind and know that it’s possible. Opening that kind of portal is the whole point. Think of His Holiness giving an Avalokiteshvara empowerment. That transmission occurs in part at a level below consciousness, because of subtle energies held by the body. Who he is, and the attunement, receptivity, and connectedness of the recipients—that’s what makes it happen.<br><br><b>Is there something about the body in practice that we’re not getting?</b> Yes, and this can be an obstacle to transmission in the West. For Tibetans, mind is not as different from body as it is for us; they are fully integrated. Longchenpa [a major figure in the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism] said that wisdom pervades the entire body! This is a big gap between cultures. Years ago, I was not in my body at all; I thought being smart was all that mattered [<i>laughs</i>]. It took me until I went to Tibet for the first time to understand this. But there it was clear, even to me: you have to be in your body. You can’t just space out on a mountain. Tibetans—and traditional peoples everywhere—are more experientially in contact with their bodies than us. When Tibetans teach practices like Vajrasattva, they never tell us that this is an embodied experience. Nobody ever told me that. But you can’t feel impacted unless you are in your body. For them, it’s too obvious to be stated. Tibetans, at least the generation I studied with, don’t take into account how “disembodiedly” intellectual we can be. But mind rides on energy, and energy is in the body. When practice is deep, you feel differently in your body. Even so, if nobody tells you that somatic sensing is important, you can just stay in your head forever. When people practice visualizations for years without much impact, I think it’s often due to their lack of relationship to the body and the emotions we hold there. Being unconnected to the body and emotions—that’s where most hiccups in transmission occur, I think.<br><br><b>You studied with Gelug, Nyingma, and Bön Lamas. How did you negotiate those allegiances?</b> For years I studied in the Gelug tradition, but then Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche came to Virginia and talked about dzogchen, and I was&nbsp;irrevocably&nbsp;inspired. There was no way I wasn’t going to seek that out. Then in India I had an audience with His Holiness, and he said it was OK—after all, he was doing it [<i>laughs</i>]. Later I found out that one of my greatest Gelugpa teachers had secretly studied with Dudjom Rinpoche. So there’s always been crossover. One teacher I was close to made it clear that when I got teachings from a different sect, I should not come back and disrupt his other students’ focus. As long as I didn’t do that, and was open with him in private, then it was OK; in fact he blessed me warmly in a way that totally comforted my heart. So it can be sticky, but Tibetans have always done it.<br><br><b>Any final words on transmission?</b> Transmission requires an open heart, a softening of defenses. This is <i>dad-pa</i> in Tibetan, which I like to translate as “openhearted devotion.” Many people translate it as “faith,” but it does not mean believing something. No teacher has ever asked me what I believed! <i>Dad-pa</i> means being delighted by the dharma to the point of irrevocable openhearted devotion. The late psychologist Emmanuel Ghent talked about a surrender that is not a defeat, but a quality of liberation and expansion of the self based on letting down defensive barriers. That’s it. And that is an embodied state, not a belief system. It is a way of experiencing with our entire being. And it’s what we need to be receptive to the transmission of both compassion and wisdom. That’s not well understood in the West. People say, “I got transmission!” but sometimes that’s just projection. You have to be in your body. You have to be in your heart. You have to be settled and not crazy. Dad-pa is heart-to-heart relationship. It’s love. You love your teacher, the teaching, reality, your true nature, everybody else who has the same true nature. Not love across a chasm, but love that is the field in which everything occurs. The whole path is about love. Transmission is about love. Really.<br><br><b>Donna Lynn Brown</b><i> </i>is a regular&nbsp;<i>Mandala</i>&nbsp;contributor and&nbsp;a student at&nbsp;Maitripa College&nbsp;in Portland, Oregon.</p><p><em>Photograph courtesy Anne C. Klein</em></p> 46657 Wed, 15 Jul 2015 10:35:32 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World The Ground under Our Feet http://www.tricycle.com/blog/the-ground-under-our-feet <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Tonino_earthquake.jpg" width="570" height="445" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"><em>The ruins of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake</em></p><p>When I first moved to California it seemed like no matter where I went or with whom I spoke, the same three-word phrase kept finding its way to my ears.&nbsp;Down on the Santa Cruz coast, beside glinting silver waves: The Big One.&nbsp;Up in Napa Valley, red wine on the tongue: The Big One.&nbsp;Even at the breakfast table in my new home, a friend’s apartment in San Francisco: The Big One.</p><p>“It could happen at any moment.”</p><p>“We’re long overdue.”</p><p>“It’s just a matter of time.”</p><p>This was San Andreas Fault country, the violent, grinding edge of the continent; this was a scrimmage line, the North American Plate on one side, the Continental Plate on the other, neither team wearing helmets or pads.&nbsp;At the library downtown I found books of black-and-white photographs taken after the infamous 1906 San Francisco earthquake—3,000 people dead,&nbsp;80 percent of the city burned,&nbsp;skeletal skyscrapers rising against a backdrop of smoke and ash and mayhem. Having grown up in seismically stable New England, the threat of earthquakes was completely new to me.</p><p>“Any day now.”</p><p>“If the bridges and freeways collapse we’ll all be trapped.”</p><p>“Do you have an earthquake survival kit—bottled water, canned food?”</p><p>Maybe it was just polite banter, local chitchat that only sounded catastrophic to new arrivals such as me.&nbsp;Whatever the case, within weeks of settling in to my friend’s guest bedroom, fantasies of the wintery “natural disasters” of my youth—so snowy, so skiable in retrospect—had disappeared beneath heaps of freshly imagined urban rubble.&nbsp;My daydreams were busy with falling concrete, exploding cars, and a heroic version of myself sprinting through the chaos, pulling kids and helpless grandmas from chasms in the pavement. Which is to say I bought some tins of sardines, filled used milk jugs with tap water, put a jackknife and a headlamp in a small backpack, and stuck the lot beneath my desk.</p><p>But I wasn’t only adjusting to the possibility of earthquakes. I was also discovering, with each wailing ambulance siren and sad-eyed homeless person on the street, that the city was a noisy, erratic, and emotionally intense place, and that a 40-minute meditation was the perfect means to smooth my crinkled thoughts at the end of a long day.</p><p>Swimming in the darkness of my less-than-empty mind, rising to the surface of consciousness, there it was again, the unbridled power and raw, terrible, destructive force of The Biggest One, the one that catches a couple million Bay Area residents off guard, swallowing us in a single, fast gulp, with no hope of regurgitation, no burp, no nothing.</p><p>I didn’t actually worry about the floor crumbling and the ceiling caving and the walls coming down. And yet I had to realize—and realize in my bones, in my marrow, in every wakeful cell of my upright body—that it could happen.&nbsp;That the floor could<i> </i>crumble and the ceiling could<i> </i>cave and those walls could<i> </i>lean in to give me a lethal kiss on the noggin. That it could end just like that, a snap of the fingers, a blink of the eye: 9.9 on the Richter scale.</p><p>As Pema Chödrön tells Bill Moyers in a <a href="http://www.pbs.org/moyers/faithandreason/print/faithandreason107_print.html">2006 television interview</a>: “I see that a lot of us are just running around in circles pretending that there’s ground where there actually isn’t any ground.”</p><p>Bedrock can vanish into empty space.&nbsp;Solid dirt can roll and heave.&nbsp;Your house and job and family?&nbsp;Obliterated.&nbsp;All your accomplishments and ambitions and memories and fantasies and plans?&nbsp;Gone in an instant, sucked back into the earth’s glowing molten core.&nbsp;</p><p>In her gentle, firm way, Chödrön goes on to explain that our problems—violence, addiction, you name it—will persist at both individual and global levels as long as we “keep trying to scramble to get ground under our feet and avoid this uneasy feeling of groundlessness and insecurity and uncertainty and ambiguity and paradox.”&nbsp;But on the other hand, she says, “If we could learn to not be afraid of groundlessness, not be afraid of insecurity and uncertainty, it would be calling on an inner strength that would allow us to be open and free and loving and compassionate in any situation.”</p><p>As my first weeks in San Francisco became months and seasons, I came to accept and even embrace the Golden State’s geophysical character, one breath at a time. Deep down, I knew that all hell would someday break loose.&nbsp;I knew that there would come a point when I’d never again hear a wailing siren or look into a homeless man’s eyes. Most importantly, perhaps, I knew that I didn’t know, and could never know, exactly when this end might arrive—or how.&nbsp;There was just no telling which breath would be my last.</p><p>And so I breathed. And breathed again. And each breath was better than the one before because it was a gift, an unexpected bonus. &nbsp;</p><p>Sitting on the floor of my room, emergency water jugs within reach, I felt some hint of that inner strength, that openness and freedom and compassion of which Pema Chödrön and so many others have spoken. I felt my lungs working inside the wild animal body I call home.&nbsp;I felt an easy peace, the rise and fall of gentle waves, the heartbreaking and heart-renewing love for the world that I was soon to leave, that was not mine to keep, that had been my privilege to experience for a while.</p><p>I saw the eyes. I heard the sirens. Long day after long day, evening after evening, I focused on this practice, this breathing at the edge of disaster, this breathing into and through the perfect calm center of The Big One.</p><p>“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us,” writes Chödrön in <i>When Things Fall Apart</i>.</p><p>It could happen any day now.<br><br><b>Leath Tonino</b>’s essays and interviews have appeared in <i>Orion</i>, <i>Sierra</i>, and <i>The Sun</i>. A native of Vermont, he resides in California.</p><p><em>Photograph courtesy US National Archives and Records Administration</em></p> 46656 Tue, 14 Jul 2015 10:27:36 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World The Whole of the Spiritual Life http://www.tricycle.com/blog/whole-spiritual-life <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/NunsPic.jpg" width="570" height="632" style="vertical-align: middle; margin: 7px auto; display: block;"></p><p class="p1" style="text-align: center;"><em>Venerable Thubten Chodron (left) and Ayya Tathaaloka (right) speak at Sravasti Abbey in Newport, Washington.</em></p><p class="p1">In the popular imagination the Buddhist monastic is solitary. Hours spent studying, chanting, and meditating leave scant time for that most trying yet rewarding of human pursuits: friendship. Or so the notion goes.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"><span class="Apple-tab-span"> </span>In our far-ranging conversation, the nuns Venerable Thubten Chodron and Ayya Tathaaloka roundly dispel this prevailing conception. Restoring spiritual friendship (in Pali, <i>kalyanamittata</i>)<i> </i>to its rightful place as a central feature of both lay and monastic practice, they encourage aspirants to seek out deep relationships as a crucial site of transformation.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"><span class="Apple-tab-span"> </span>Ven. Thubten Chodron is an American-born Tibetan Buddhist nun who was fully ordained as a bhikshuni (in Pali, bhikkhuni) in 1986. She has since written numerous books and founded <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/tibetan-buddhist-nun-blazes-trail-other-women-follow" target="_blank"><span class="s1">Sravasti Abbey</span></a>, a monastic community in Washington State. Ayya Tathaaloka, also American-born, received full ordination as a Theravada bhikkhuni in 1997. She too founded a monastic community, <a href="http://www.dhammadharini.net/" target="_blank"><span class="s1">Dhammadharini</span></a>, which has an affiliated hermitage in Northern California called Aranya Bodhi. Both women have played instrumental roles in the revival of full ordination for women in their respective traditions.&nbsp;</p><p class="p3"></p><p class="p4" style="text-align: right;">—<i>Sarah Conover</i></p><p class="p3"></p><p class="p3"></p><p class="p2"><b>What did the Buddha say about spiritual friendship?<br><br><b>Ven. Thubten Chodron</b>: </b>Knowing that we need support for our practice, the Buddha organized the sangha as a group of spiritual friends. It’s very difficult to sustain the discipline necessary for both keeping up the precepts and regular meditation. In ordinary life we usually think of friends as people with whom we have fun, but friendship in Buddhism, especially in monastic life, is different because it is free of attachment. Its aim is to foster an attitude of long-term well-being between those involved.&nbsp;</p><p class="p3"></p><p class="p2">People often quote the Buddha as saying, “Friendship is not half of the holy life, but all of it” (<i>Samyutta Nikaya</i>, 45.2). When looked at in context, however, the Buddha’s statement refers to him, the Enlightened One, as the true spiritual friend because he guides us on the path to liberation.<b><br><br><b>Ayya Tathaaloka</b>: </b>This is the way the Buddha conceives of himself in relation to everyone else: that is, as <i>the</i> <i>kalyanamitta</i>, as <i>the</i> spiritual friend most excellent. In the early Pali texts, the Buddha repeatedly addresses each person he speaks to as a “friend.” There are a few exceptions, but really, he addresses everyone in a very honorable way, from the highest station in life to the lowest, whether monastic or lay, as a friend.<b>&nbsp;</b></p><p class="p3"></p><p class="p2">The Buddha had a tremendous spiritual friendship with the being who became his wife in his final life, and who later became one of the bhikkhuni arhats, Yasodhara Rahulamata. There is also a recurring thread of the Seven Sisters—seven of the Buddha’s foremost women disciples whose life stories of spiritual companionship span eons.<b><br><br><b>How did you two meet and become spiritual friends? When did you recognize the other person as someone who’d be important to you?<br><br><b>AT:</b> </b></b>It was at Shasta Abbey in 1996. That is my first memory. Ven. Chodron <i>so</i> encouraged me at that time! I was straight out of South Korea and had just lost my community and my venerable bhikkhuni mentor. I had been on track for full ordination in South Korea, but got expatriated for accidentally breaking visa law, and so returned to the United States. I didn’t know if I could survive this upheaval until I came to the Western Buddhist Monastic Conference and found spiritual friends who were<i> </i>making their way.&nbsp;</p><p class="p3"></p><p class="p2">I remember meeting Ven. Chodron in the entrance to the hall where the Abbey’s monastic community gathered for their chanting. The great snow mountain, Mt. Shasta, stood just outside the window. I remember bowing with her and knocking heads! She told me that knocking heads when bowing was part of the Tibetan tradition. Yes, I was bumped right on the head with spiritual friendship.</p><p class="p3"></p><p class="p2">I had been in one of the great Buddhist monastic seminaries in South Korea, and Ven. Chodron told me there should be things like that in the United States. She asked if I intended to be part of developing such seminaries. There I was, a novice who had just been thrown out of her country of training—who knew if I’d even get to ordain? All of a sudden she’s asking if I plan to start a seminary!<br><b><b><br><b>TC:</b> </b></b>By then, I had been living on my own in the West for sometime, so I completely understood what Ayya was going through. It’s not only the experience of being in the West while your community and teacher are in Asia, but of adjusting to the way people in the West view Buddhist monastics. I knew that monastics needed to support each other and be there for each other.<b><b><br><br><b>How do you foster spiritual friendship in the monastic sangha?<br><br><b>TC:</b> </b></b></b>Community life does not just entail living with other people, but <i>being </i>a community. Living in the same place is very different from being a community. When you are in a community, your awareness goes out to the other people you live with—you see who needs encouragement, who needs guidance, and who needs a laugh.&nbsp;</p><p class="p3"></p><p class="p2">When you’re just living among other people, your experience is much more about <i>me </i>and <i>my</i> practice, and so a certain kind of self-centeredness is present. I’m here because it’s good for <i>my</i> practice. And as soon as it’s not good for <i>my</i> practice, I leave. Why do we think a situation isn’t good for our practice? Often it’s because our buttons are getting pushed. Our ego can’t get its way, so we’re unhappy.&nbsp;</p><p class="p3"></p><p class="p2">When you live in a community, you get to know people very<i> </i>well. You get to know each other’s moods and habitual behaviors. This requires you to open your heart and expand<i> </i>your understanding and acceptance. You need to become much more open-minded, more caring.<br><br><b>And how do you facilitate this?</b><br><br><b>TC:&nbsp;</b>You have to model it.<br><br><b>AT:&nbsp;</b>You have to live it.<br><br><b>TC:&nbsp;</b>In Asia, communities are already established, so when a few new people join they pick up on what to do. They feel it. It transforms them. Everyone has the same precepts, cultivates the same views, and pursues the same goals. We’re not just doing our own trip. In some ways I think this is hard for Westerners, because we’re so individualistic.<br><br><b>AT:&nbsp;</b>We may actually think we <i>are </i>doing our own trip!<br><br><b>How do you facilitate <i>kalyanamittata</i> in lay practitioners?</b><br><br><b>TC:&nbsp;</b>Discussion groups in which people openly share their reflections on a particular dharma topic are very good for creating community. For example, we’ll select a certain idea, like: “What is the meaning of prayer in Buddhism?” We’ll meditate together on three or four questions related to that topic, so that people can reflect on them in private. Then we’ll share our reflections on these questions. Each person has to speak, and there’s no dialogue until everybody has shared his or her reflections.</p><p>This is a good way to teach people how to talk about dharma in a personal way. Otherwise people go to a dharma center, meditate or listen to a dharma talk together, maybe have some refreshments afterwards, and then go home. When they chat, it’s about the movies they saw; it’s not about dharma topics or how their practice is going. These discussion groups create wonderful spiritual friendships because they enable people to talk about what the dharma means in their lives.<br><br><b>How do you prevent lay folks from co-opting the dharma, turning it into something that’s about I, me, and mine?</b><br><br><b>AT:&nbsp;</b>When you have a deep, deep friendship with someone, you don’t only care, “Is this good for me?” You care for them naturally. I believe it’s completely natural to have such love, compassion, and kindness. It’s right there from the get-go in our relationship, for instance, with our parents. It’s almost always there. And if it’s not there, we feel like there is something wrong.</p><p>This feeling transcends lay and monastic communities. It is vital to developing the deep heart of lovingkindness in the context of dedication to dharma. So I am trying to tap into what we have naturally in us that can emerge and guide us.<br><br><b>Non-spiritual friendships can often be on tenuous footing. It seems like everyone is testing: “Can I trust you?” Well, what are we trusting? What is the deep foundation for friendship?<br><br><b>AT:&nbsp;</b></b>It’s such an important insight that you are mentioning: that is, this seeing and knowing of the tenuous conditions that we so often try to secure. This is the source of stress, of <em>dukkha</em>.</p><p>When you see that and then ask, “What else? What else?” that’s where the big opening can come. You start to see what remains when this vast spaciousness opens up. It doesn’t have any flying knives in it; it doesn’t have any poisons in it. Such fears spring from shifting conditions, those fabrications that you’ve been trying to grasp and hold together. The remaining emptiness—so replete and lovely—is safe. It is the ground of spiritual friendship.<b><br><br><b>What about vulnerability—that feeling of stress that comes from the duality of Me vs. Other?<br><br><b>TC:&nbsp;</b></b></b>That’s ego stuff. In the description you gave of testing the waters, asking, “Who can I trust, how far can I trust?” there is definitely a sense of “I” that needs to be protected. We have a notion of who we are and how we should be treated, so we wonder, “Are they going to treat me the way I think I should be treated?”<b><b><br><br><b>And will I be seen the way I want to be seen?</b><br><br><b>TC:</b> </b></b>Yes! It doesn’t have so much to do with them but with ourselves, because we feel so strongly that there’s a <i>me </i>that has to be defended. As soon as we feel that, vulnerability comes. We seek praise and approval and avoid blame and criticism. Those are two of Buddhism’s eight worldly concerns. But I can’t control what people think of me!<b><b><br><br><b>AT:</b> </b></b>For most people, the avoidance of vulnerability is an attempt to ensure safety, yet it ends up putting them at greater risk. Even if they think they’re entirely secure, something happens to remind them that they’re living in danger no matter what.</p><p>Monastic life is based on vulnerability. Our food—and every other material necessity—depends upon the kindness of others. Facing vulnerability in such a direct way, we begin to enter it and know it. The dynamics around it start to transform. It begins to feel safe.<b><b><br><br><b>How would you tie that back into friendship? That you’re all looking in the same direction?</b><br><br><b>TC:</b> </b></b>Yes. We’re practicing the dharma together, supporting each other in the process, and rejoicing in each other’s successes. In dharma friendship, we leave behind competition and jealousy.<b><b><br><br><b>You’re not curating your best self for someone else.</b><br><br><b>TC:</b> </b></b>Exactly. We all want to cultivate the same internal qualities. We don’t need to compete, because that competition brings qualities that are the exact opposite of those we want to develop. It takes a lot of courage because although we want to cultivate those wholesome qualities, there is a lot of resistance in us. We have to confront that part of ourselves that wants security, wants to look good in front of other people, and wants to be the best.<b><b><br><br><b>Do you consciously avoid idle social chatter? Do you always try to keep your talk to the dharma?</b><br><br><b>TC:</b> </b></b>I try not to engage in chitchat, but I also realize that there are certain situations that require it. It is the way that we first connect with people. But my time is my most precious possession, so I am very careful how I use it.<b><b><br><br><b>AT:</b> </b></b>Health has been a great teacher in this regard, because my energy is limited. I can hear the clock ticking. I’ve stopped wanting to talk about unimportant things because it just fritters away my precious life energy, and I know what I’d like to use that for.</p><p>On the other hand, we’re human beings. And there’s a level where this dharma is just human dharma—it doesn’t have any special language. It’s just about our hearts—whether they’re suffering or not, and how they can bind or how they can open. There’s this very basic, fundamental level of human dharma that doesn’t need any official language. If we can connect there, then good. If not, then I trust we will in time.<br><br><strong><i>For more on the concept of spiritual friendship, watch Kate Johnson’s Tricycle Retreat “</i><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/online-retreats/admirable-friendship" target="_blank"><span class="s1"><i>Admirable Friendship</i></span></a><i>,” with new installments added every Monday this month, available to watch&nbsp;at any time.&nbsp;</i></strong></p><p><em>Photograph courtesy Ven. Thubten Chodron</em></p><p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination: none; tab-stops: center 3.0in; mso-layout-grid-align: none; text-autospace: none;"><b><b><b><span style="font-family: 'Times New Roman';"><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></span></b></b></b></p> 46648 Mon, 13 Jul 2015 13:07:57 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World On the Voices in Your Head http://www.tricycle.com/blog/voices-your-head <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/InsideOutImage1.png" width="570" height="570" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p>The ads for Disney-Pixar’s new animated film,<i> Inside Out</i>, invite you to “meet the little voices inside your head.” You meet them, as it turns out, as color-coded little avatars of Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger, and Fear, jostling one another to work the buttons and levers of the personality’s control panel in<b>—</b>ahem<b>—</b>Headquarters. The film is visually stunning, consistently hilarious, and often moving. But does it jibe with the experience of those of us who sit down on cushions and meet the little voices in our heads every day? How consistent is the film with the insights of Buddhadharma? <b></b></p><p>In many ways, very consistent. The scenes set in the world outside the protagonist’s cranium are pretty darn true-to-life, especially for a Disney movie—no Enchanted Kingdom or Cave of Wonders here. The 11-year-old protagonist is not an eyelash-fluttering princess but Riley, a scrappy junior hockey player. As the teachings of the Wheel of Life (<i>bhavachakra</i>) make clear, a down-to-earth perspective is a prerequisite for the enlightenment journey: only the ordinary human realm, not the fantastic realms of celestial beings or hungry ghosts, offers a path to liberation. <b></b></p><p>Riley’s journey begins when her family leaves their idyllic Minnesota home for gritty, urban San Francisco, where her father is a partner in a shaky tech startup. She faces the trials of a dilapidated house, a new school, and unfamiliar new impulses of prepubescent sarcasm and rebellion. “The fear of the Lord,” saith the prophet, “is the beginning of wisdom,”<b> </b>and the loss of security is typically the beginning of one’s dharma quest. Riley has lost her friends, her parents’ undivided attention, and her<b> </b>assumption that Dad will always make enough money. The Buddha’s own quest began when his peek outside his childhood palace walls revealed that <i>his</i> father could not insulate him<b> </b>forever from suffering and death. <b></b></p><p>In sharp contrast to this slog of an outer world is the inner world<b>,</b> where most of the action and all the visual magic take place. Veteran Pixar writer-directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen, aided by the usual army of graphics wizards as well as a panel of psychology professors, create an ingenious neurological Candy Land. Freshly minted memories are glowing translucent balls that roll in from the world of outer perceptions. Short-term memories, in keeping with the findings of neuroscience, are shuffled to long-term storage during sleep, and crucial core memories are fed into a kind of nuclear reactor that powers the theme park islands of Riley’s personality, such as “family,” “goofball,” and “hockey.” Each memory ball is shaded with the hue of its attendant emotion. But if, say, Sadness gets her hands on a joyful memory, its emotional color changes from gold to melancholy blue.</p><p>In fact, there’s an ongoing tug of war between the frenemies Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler doing her best shrewd pixie) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith, the dumpy, bespectacled saleswoman of <i>The Office</i>). One by one, Riley’s memories of her joyous, edenic childhood take on the blue hue of nostalgia and loss as Sadness leaves her fingerprints on them. <b></b></p><p>Still, Joy is clearly the de facto chairwoman of the board. The others defer to her, except when they get carried away, most dramatically in the case of Anger (the deliciously volcanic Lewis Black). This accords nicely with the dharma. We’re not always driven by emotions, but, when we are, it’s best to give Joy the wheel. True joy—the joy that comes from deep in our being—is intelligent, skillful, and<b> </b>compassionate. If you’re not convinced, five minutes with the Dalai Lama will likely change your mind.</p><p>But Joy can’t drive solo, as both our heroine and her parents must learn. Every time Riley’s father calls her “my happy girl,” it becomes more evident that he’s attached to the one-dimensional sweetness that she now has to shed. All the emotions, including the so-called negative ones, must be respected and included as components of a mature, integrated person.</p><p>The film contains both clever bits and beautiful bits, many of them encountered when Joy and Sadness—in a sly echo of <i>48 Hours</i>, <i>Lethal Weapon</i>, and every other mismatched-buddy action film—form an uneasy alliance to undertake a mission outside Headquarters. They meet a mischievous crew who drop a maddeningly catchy commercial<b> </b>jingle into Riley’s mental processes at arbitrary moments; everyone, especially meditators, knows that torture. There’s also a long interlude with Riley’s half-forgotten imaginary childhood friend. If you get through his departure with a dry eye, you’re stronger than I am.</p><p>But perhaps the film’s best dharma lesson is its simplest: that the voices inside your head are <i>just</i> voices inside your head. When Riley is on her way to her first day of school, and Fear starts listing all the disasters that can befall her, it’s not reality talking and it’s not Riley talking—it’s just Fear. That knowledge is liberating: having labeled the feeling, we’re no longer completely in its grip. When Disgust or Anger or any other emotion starts pulling the levers and twisting the knobs of behavior, it’s not you; it’s just a feeling that has hijacked your speech and action. The whole film, then, can be seen as an exercise in Vipassana <i>labeling</i>: When anger arises, we clinically note, “Ah, anger,” and thus are not caught in it. <b></b></p><p>Still, from a dharmic point of view, something is missing. It’s the crucial thing: Nothing. There’s no recognition of <i>shunyata</i>, liberative empty space—the vast<b> </b>no-thing within which consciousness manifests. Without that, all of existence is just gears within gears, the mechanistic view to which dharma is the antidote. The film draws an astute picture of the components of conditioned personality with which we mistakenly identify. But it omits what’s behind the personality, which is unconditioned, inexpressible, inconceivable, boundless, birthless, and deathless, but 100 percent experienceable. This is the good news of dharma. Ironically, back in 1937 the Disney folks got it right when they named the little voices Happy, Grumpy, Dopey, and so forth, then showed how the dwarfs bring their lives to fulfillment. Rather than just dig in the diamond mines of material accumulation, they have to welcome into their cottage the unconditioned, pure nature of awareness, personified as Snow White.&nbsp;<b></b></p><p>The film is premised on the notion<b> </b>that awareness resides inside the head. But a few minutes of close attention to our actual experience effectively dispels that notion. It’s just an illusion of perspective, generated because our major sense organs happen to converge on a point in the middle of the skull. If we’d been built with our ears on our knees and our eyes on our elbows, we might make movies about meeting the little voices inside our limbs. And in fact the head, like all our body parts, is something we’re aware <i>of</i>—it’s an object of awareness.</p><p>Which leaves us with a koan: Is awareness inside your head, or is your head inside awareness?</p><p>Look and see.<br><br><b>Dean Sluyter</b> teaches meditation workshops throughout the US. His books include <i>Natural Meditation</i> and <i>Cinema Nirvana: Enlightenment Lessons from the Movies.</i></p><p><i>Image: Courtesy Disney-Pixar</i></p> 46645 Thu, 09 Jul 2015 15:06:54 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World The Rise of Political Buddhism in Myanmar http://www.tricycle.com/blog/rise-political-buddhism-myanmar <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/politicalbuddhismnilsen.jpg" width="570" height="379"><em>A Buddhist monk adjusts his robe at a monastery affiliated with the Ma Ba Tha (Organization for the Protection of Race and Religion) on the outskirts of Yangon. The Ma Ba Tha organization, mainly active in Yangon and the northern city of Mandalay, promotes hardline Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar.</em></p><p>The Organization for the Protection of Race and Religion, known by the Burmese acronym <i>Ma Ba Tha</i>, is gaining ground in Myanmar. It has also been receiving increased international attention—last month for its proposal to <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/22/buddhist-monks-seek-to-ban-schoolgirls-from-wearing-headscarves">ban Muslim headscarves in public schools</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>The organization was founded in 2014, when central figures from the more widely known 969 movement started <a href="http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/03/12/buddhist-nationalism-threatens-myanmars-democratic-transition/">campaigning for four laws</a> to ban polygamy, restrict interfaith marriages and religious conversions, and enforce birth control measures among groups with high rates of population growth. All four laws, <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/not-playing-nice">which are aimed at Myanmar’s Muslim population</a>, passed parliament earlier this year. The new initiative to legally ban Muslim headscarves in public schools is the group’s latest.</p><p>Buddhism in Myanmar has become increasingly politicized with the rise of the Ma Ba Tha, which has its roots in 2012, when the loosely organized 969 movement of monks and laypeople called for a boycott of Muslim businesses. The numerological symbol <i>969</i>, which represents the triple gems of Buddhism—the noble qualities of the Buddha [9], the dhamma [6], and the sangha [9]—is meant to counter that of Islam, 786 (<i>Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim</i>). 969 campaigns have coincided with a number of serious violent attacks on Muslim neighborhoods by Buddhist nationalist mobs in <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/feature/buddhist-nationalism-burma">Rakhine State</a> and several urban areas across Myanmar.</p><p>Ma Ba Tha seeks to protect the “Burman race” and Buddhism against the perceived threat of Islam, a religion that has deep roots in the histories and cultures of Theravada Buddhist countries across South and Southeast Asia. Muslim populations in these countries remains small—officially 9.7 percent in Sri Lanka, 6 percent in Thailand, 4 percent in Myanmar, and 1.6 percent in Cambodia. Nevertheless, Buddhist monks and laypeople have expressed grave concerns about the future of Buddhism amid fears of Muslim expansion.</p><p>Buddhists in South and Southeast Asia recognize that few Buddhist states remain. Areas once belonging to the ancient Brahman-Buddhist kingdoms exist today as Muslim states—Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pakistan—with marginal, if any, remaining Buddhist populations. Many Buddhists fear that the tendency of Buddhists to convert in interfaith marriages, combined with a generally higher birthrate among Muslims (mainly in impoverished families), presents an imminent threat to the future of Buddhism. Fear and skepticism toward Muslim neighbors make Buddhist populations increasingly receptive to anti-Muslim agitation from Buddhist nationalists.</p><p>In Myanmar, as in other Theravada Buddhist countries, Buddhism and nationalism are inextricably linked. This phenomenon can be traced back to the close, reciprocal relationships between the ancient Buddhist kings and the sangha, modeled on Ashoka’s empire in which the king reigned with a moral legitimacy as a righteous <i>chakravarti</i> or <i>dhammaraja</i>. In the struggle for independence from the colonial powers across South and South East Asia, from the late 19th century through much of the first half of the 20th, a modern Buddhist nationalism that invoked and reinvented this ideal Buddhist kingdom emerged.</p><p>In Myanmar, the British Raj banned political organizing but permitted religious institutions and organizations, which were quickly politicized. Later, in the formative years of post-independence Burmese nation building, Buddhism would play a prominent role, along with the culture of the ethnic Burman majority, in constructing a national identity. The alienation of Myanmar’s many ethnic and religious minorities continues to this day. Today the Myanmar government juggles peace negotiations with some 17 ethnic armed groups, after about 60 years of armed conflicts and civil wars.</p><p>Following 50 years of military dictatorship, Myanmar’s current struggle to develop sustainable political reform remains hampered by narrow Burman-Buddhist nationalist ideology.</p><p>The Ma Ba Tha, a new political expression of this ideology, has been known to threaten and intimidate Burmese who advocate for tolerance of diversity and to <a href="https://www.prio.org/Publications/Publication/?x=7506" target="_blank">use its religious power to exercise political pressure</a>. As November’s general elections quickly approach, existing Buddhist anxieties and skepticism toward Muslims could be exploited by political interests, which could lead to a resurgence of anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar. By framing the widely popular Aung San Suu Kyi, and her National League for Democracy, as “soft on Muslims,” her opponents may succeed in challenging her political and moral authority.</p><p>In the long term, Myanmar will need to reassess its national ideology in order to give space for the emergence of new national identities that respect ethnic and religious minority rights without compromising the country’s Burman and Buddhist heritage.<br><br><b>Marte Nilsen</b> is a senior researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO).</p><p><em><span style="text-align: center;">Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images</span></em></p> 46639 Mon, 06 Jul 2015 12:00:00 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Lost in Capitulation http://www.tricycle.com/blog/lost-capitulation <p><i><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/LostInCapitulationImage.png" width="570" height="380" style="margin: 7px auto; display: block;"></i></p><p><i>A life-affirming Buddhism that teaches us to find happiness by opening to the richness of our everyday lives.</i></p><p>That's what we want—or so we're told by the people who try to sell us a mainstreamlined Buddhism. But is it what we need? And is it Buddhism?</p><p>Think back for a moment on the story of the young Prince Siddhartha and his first encounters with aging, illness, death, and a wandering contemplative. It's one of the most accessible chapters in the Buddhist tradition, largely because of the direct, true-to-the-heart quality of the young prince's emotions. He saw aging, illness, and death as an absolute terror, and pinned all his hopes on the contemplative forest life as his only escape. As Asvaghosa, the great Buddhist poet, depicts the story, the young prince had no lack of friends and family members who tried to talk him out of those perceptions, and Asvaghosa was wise enough to show their life-affirming advice in a very appealing light. Still, the prince realized that if he were to give in to their advice, he would be betraying his heart. Only by remaining true to his honest emotions was he able to embark on the path that led away from the ordinary values of his society and toward an unsurpassed awakening into the deathless.</p><p>This is hardly a life-affirming story in the ordinary sense of the term, but it does affirm something more important than life: the truth of the heart when it aspires to a happiness absolutely pure. The power of this aspiration depends on two emotions, called in Pali, <i>samvega</i>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<i>pasada.</i>&nbsp;Very few of us have heard of them, but they're the emotions most basic to the Buddhist tradition. Not only did they inspire the young prince in his quest for awakening, but even after he became the Buddha he advised his followers to cultivate them on a daily basis. In fact, the way he handled these emotions is so distinctive that it may be one of the most important contributions his teachings have to offer modern-day culture.</p><p><i>Samvega</i>&nbsp;was what the young Prince Siddhartha felt on his first exposure to aging, illness, and death. It's a hard word to translate because it covers such a complex range—at least three clusters of feelings at once: the oppressive sense of shock, dismay, and alienation that come with realizing the futility and meaninglessness of life as it's normally lived; a chastening sense of our own complacency and foolishness in having let ourselves live so blindly; and an anxious sense of urgency in trying to find a way out of the meaningless cycle. This is a cluster of feelings we've all experienced at one time or another in the process of growing up, but I don't know of a single English term that adequately covers all three. It would be useful to have such a term, and maybe that's reason enough for simply adopting the word&nbsp;<i>samvega</i>&nbsp;into our language.</p><p>But more than providing a useful term, Buddhism also offers an effective strategy for dealing with the feelings behind it—feelings that our own culture finds threatening and handles very poorly. Ours, of course, is not the only culture threatened by feelings of <i>samvega</i>. In the Siddhartha story, the father's reaction to the young prince's discovery stands for the way most cultures try to deal with these feelings: He tried to convince the prince that his standards for happiness were impossibly high, at the same time trying to distract him with relationships and every sensual pleasure imaginable. To put it simply, the strategy was to get the prince to lower his aims and to find satisfaction in a happiness that was less than absolute and not especially pure.</p><p>If the young prince were living in America today, the father would have other tools for dealing with the prince's dissatisfaction, but the basic strategy would be essentially the same. If the father were really up on current trends, he might find a dharma teacher who would counsel the prince to find happiness in life's little miraculous pleasures—a cup of tea, a walk in the woods, social activism, easing another person's pain. Never mind that these forms of happiness would still be cut short by aging, illness, and death, he would be told. The present moment is all we have, so we should try to appreciate the bittersweet opportunity of relishing but not holding on to brief joys as they pass.</p><p>It's unlikely that the lion-hearted prince we know from the story would take to any of this well-meant advice. He'd see it as propaganda for a life of quiet desperation, asking him to be a traitor to his heart. But if he found no solace from these sources, where in our society would he go? Unlike the India of his time, we don't have any well-established, socially accepted alternatives to being economically productive members of society. Even our contemplative religious orders are prized for their ability to provide bread, honey, and wine for the marketplace.</p><p>Fortunately for us, however, the prince was born in a society that&nbsp;<i>did</i>&nbsp;provide support and respect for its dropouts. This was what gave him the opportunity to find a solution to the problem of <i>samvega</i> that did justice to the truths of his heart.</p><p>The first step in that solution is symbolized in the Siddhartha story by the prince's reaction to the fourth person he saw on his travels outside of the palace: the wandering forest contemplative. The emotion he felt at this point is termed&nbsp;<i>pasada,</i>&nbsp;another complex set of feelings usually translated as "clarity and serene confidence." It's what keeps <i>samvega</i> from turning into despair. In the prince's case, he gained a clear sense of his predicament and confidence in the way beyond aging, illness, and death.</p><p>As the early Buddhist teachings freely admit, the predicament is that the cycle of birth, aging, and death&nbsp;<i>is</i>&nbsp;meaningless. They don't try to deny this fact and so don't ask us to be dishonest with ourselves or to close our eyes to reality. As one teacher has put it, the Buddhist recognition of the reality of suffering—so important that suffering is honored as the first noble truth—is a gift, in that it confirms our most sensitive and direct experience of things, an experience that many other traditions try to deny.</p><p>From there, the early teachings ask us to become even more sensitive, to the point where we see that the true cause of suffering is not&nbsp;<i>out there</i>—in society or some outside being—but&nbsp;<i>in here,</i>&nbsp;in the craving present in each individual mind. They then confirm that there is an end to suffering, a release from the cycle. And they show the way to that release, through developing noble qualities already latent in the mind to the point where they cast craving aside and open onto deathlessness. Thus the predicament has a practical solution, a solution within the powers of every human being.</p><p>It's also a solution open to critical scrutiny and testing—an indication of how confident the Buddha was in the solution he found to the problem of <i>samvega</i>. This is one of the aspects of authentic Buddhism that most attracts people who are tired of being told that they should try to deny the insights that inspired their sense of <i>samvega</i> in the first place.</p><p>In fact, early Buddhism is not only confident that it can handle feelings of <i>samvega</i> but it's also one of the few religions that actively cultivates them to a radical extent. Its solution to the problems of life demand so much dedicated effort that only strong <i>samvega</i> will keep the practicing Buddhist from slipping back into his or her old ways. Hence the recommendation that all Buddhists, both men and women, lay or ordained, should reflect daily on the facts of aging, illness, separation, and death—to develop feelings of <i>samvega</i>—and on the power of one's own actions, to take <i>samvega</i> one step further to <i>pasada</i>.</p><p>For people whose sense of <i>samvega</i> is so strong that they want to abandon any social ties that prevent them from following the path to the end of suffering, Buddhism offers both a long-proven body of wisdom for them to draw from, as well as a safety net: the monastic sangha, an institution that enables them to leave lay society without having to waste time worrying about basic survival. For those who can't leave their social ties, Buddhist teaching offers a way to live in the world without being overcome by the world, following a life of generosity, virtue, and meditation to strengthen the noble qualities of mind that lead to the end of suffering.</p><p>So the Buddhist attitude toward life cultivates <i>samvega</i>—a clear acceptance of the meaninglessness of the cycle of birth, aging, and death—and develops it into <i>pasada</i>: a confident path to the deathless. That path includes not only time-proven guidance, but also a social institution that nurtures it and keeps it alive. These are all things that our society desperately needs. It's a shame that, in our current efforts at mainstreaming Buddhism, they are aspects of the Buddhist tradition usually ignored. We keep forgetting that one source of Buddhism's strength is its ability to keep one foot out of the mainstream, and that the traditional metaphor for the practice is that it crosses&nbsp;<i>over</i>&nbsp;the stream to the further shore. My hope is that we will begin calling these things to mind and taking them to heart, so that in our drive to find a Buddhism that sells, we don't end up selling ourselves short.<br><br><strong>Thanissaro Bhikkhu</strong>&nbsp;is the abbot of Metta Forest Monastery. His many Buddhist writings are available for free at&nbsp;<a href="http://accesstoinsight.org/" target="_blank">accesstoinsight.org</a>.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Adapted from&nbsp;</em>Noble Strategy: Essays on the Buddhist Path&nbsp;<em>by Thanissaro Bhikkhu</em>, <em>available free upon request from the Metta Forest Monastery.</em>&nbsp;</p><p><em>Image: Denish C/Flickr&nbsp;</em></p><p></p> 46629 Thu, 02 Jul 2015 12:13:36 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World A Big Gay History of Same-sex Marriage in the Sangha http://www.tricycle.com/blog/big-gay-history-same-sex-marriage-sangha <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/gaybuddhisthistory.gif" width="570" height="352" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>Buddhist same-sex marriage was born in the USA. That’s a little known but significant fact to reflect on now, just after the Supreme Court has declared legal marriage equality throughout the country. Appropriately enough, it all started in San Francisco, and was conceived as an act of love, not activism.</p><p>The first known Buddhist same-sex marriages took place in the early 1970s, at the Buddhist Church of San Francisco. Founded in 1899, it’s the oldest surviving temple in the mainland United States. It’s also part of the oldest Buddhist organization outside Hawaii: the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA), part of the Shin tradition of Pure Land Buddhism.</p><p>During the Nixon years, the LGBTQ rights movement was picking up, and San Francisco was one of the primary centers of both activism and community building. Located not far from the famously gay Castro District, the Buddhist Church of San Francisco (BCSF) was attended by singles and couples, gay and straight. As consciousness rose, people began to seek the same services that heterosexuals already enjoyed in American society.</p><p>A male couple in the congregation eventually asked Rev. Koshin Ogui, then assigned to BCSF, to perform their marriage. He readily agreed, and the ceremony was held in the main hall—identical to other marriages at the temple, except for the dropping of gender-based pronouns in the service. Without fanfare, history was made.</p><p>Soon other BCA temples were also conducting same-sex marriages, and by the time of my research into the subject in the early 2010s, I couldn’t find a single minister in the scores of BCA temples who was unwilling to preside over same-sex weddings. Indeed, BCA ministers had already performed marriages for gay and lesbian couples, bisexuals, transgender people, and polyamorous groups. Many of these were interracial marriages, or carried out for non-Buddhists who had nowhere else to go, though most were for members of local BCA temples.</p><p>The BCA and its sister organization in Hawaii had gone on record years earlier in support of marriage equality, and even lobbied the government to change the law. This support for LGBTQ rights has been recognized by the Smithsonian, which collected a rainbow-patterned robe worn by the BCSF’s current minister for the museum’s permanent collection.</p><p>I’m ordained in the Shin tradition, so I was already aware of Shin inclusivity. (Indeed, though I’m not gay myself, I would not have joined any organization that failed to support LGBTQ rights.) But the historian in me itched to explain this phenomenon more comprehensively. Why was the BCA the first Buddhist organization to move toward marriage equality, and why hadn’t this movement provoked rancor and conservative resistance, as we’ve seen in so many other American religious denominations?</p><p>In searching for answers, I came to several interrelated conclusions. First, the history of racial and religious discrimination that the originally Japanese-American BCA faced (everything from mob violence to WWII internment camps) instilled revulsion for discrimination in Shin circles. Second, since Shin ministers are not celibate (the tradition was founded by a married monk in 13th-century Japan), they share lifestyles similar to their parishioners, and thus readily empathize with them on matters of sexuality and social relationships, which may be more abstract to celibate monks and nuns.</p><p>But most importantly, what minister after minister told me was that the fundamental point of Shin Buddhism is that Amida Buddha embraces all beings without any exceptions, without any judgments, without any discrimination. Amida opens the way to the Pure Land (and thus liberation) to the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the good and the bad, the black and the white. Therefore, Amida Buddha also embraces the gay and the straight, the gender-conforming and everyone else, without any hesitation. It is this spirit that led Shin ministers to open their doors to same-sex couples, led Shin temples to march in Pride parades across the country, to pass proclamations affirming same-sex rights and marriage in particular, and to carry out education programs in their own communities.</p><p>The Shin community hasn’t been alone in supporting LGBTQ communities in American Buddhist circles. Though not as quickly or comprehensively, many other Buddhist groups have also moved toward performing same-sex marriages and affirming the value of their LGBTQ members. In the 1980s, a handful of same-sex marriages were performed by non-BCA teachers, including Sarika Dharma of the International Buddhist Meditation Center in Los Angeles. By the end of the 1990s, American Tibetan, Theravada, and Zen teachers had all performed the first same-sex marriages in those respective traditions as well, and Soka Gakkai had gone from seeing homosexuality as a condition to be cured through Buddhist practice to performing large numbers of same-sex marriages for its members.</p><p>All of this was taking place in a country without legal recognition for married same-sex couples. They performed those ceremonies even though they knew the state would not recognize them, because it was the right thing to do.</p><p>Today those marriages are equal to everyone else’s, and there are signs that marriage equality is gaining acceptance in parts of Buddhist Asia. Taiwan held its first Buddhist same-sex marriage in 2012, with two brides in white dresses and veils presided over by a traditional shaven-headed nun. In Kyoto, Japan, Rev. Kawakami Taka of Shunkoin temple not only performs same-sex marriages at his historic Rinzai Zen temple, but has also partnered with local hotel, flower, and similar vendors to provide wedding packages for same-sex couples arriving from around the world. Step by step, the movement continues.</p><p>On Saturday morning, June 27, I gave keynote address for a seminar at the New York Buddhist Church, “Embraced by the Heart of Amida Buddha: The LGBTQ Community and Shin Buddhism.” It’s part of an educational campaign that the BCA’s Center for Buddhist Education carries out every year in late June. Speakers talked about their experiences as gay, lesbian, and transgender Buddhists, and on Sunday we’ll walk in the New York Pride parade with members of the temple. We had no idea that our event would occur at such a historic moment, but now we know that we’ll be marching as an act of pure celebration, rather than hope and defiance.</p><p>Despite the positive record of many sanghas and individuals, discrimination and ignorance remain widespread in American Buddhism. That isn’t something that will change overnight with a single Supreme Court decision, no matter how momentous. But we can genuinely take heart that American Buddhists have been working for marriage equality for more than 40 years, and that Buddhists of many traditions spoke out for equality and contributed to the movement that led to today’s ruling.<br><br><strong>Jeff Wilson</strong>, a&nbsp;<i>Tricycle&nbsp;</i>contributing editor, is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and East Asian Studies at Renison University College, University of Waterloo. His most recent book is&nbsp;<i>Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture</i> (Oxford University Press).</p><p></p> 46620 Sat, 27 Jun 2015 14:09:15 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Legislating Love http://www.tricycle.com/blog/legislating-love <p><em>In celebration of the historic Supreme Court decision ruling that the Constitution gaurantees a right to same-sex marriage, we present this article, originally published as a Web Exclusive in 2008,&nbsp;</em><em>about the passing of Proposition 8 in California. We've come a long way in a few short years. —Eds.</em></p><p><em></em><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/8447145542_abf4447623_z.jpg" width="570" height="382" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;">I got the first call on Thursday, October 16, two weeks prior to the 2008 general election in California. The call came from Sue Hildebrand, director of the Chico Peace and Justice Center. Sue wanted to know if I would marry two lesbian couples the very next day. “The two couples know each other,” she explained. “They could marry at the same time, with one ceremony at 6 p.m. and the other at 6:30. I know it’s short notice, but my phone is ringing off the hook with marriage requests. Do you think you could manage this?” “What are the two couples’ names?” I asked. “Chellie and Lori,” she said, “and Becky and Kay.” And with that I took their phone numbers and began the process that would end up with my marrying four gay and lesbian couples in the space of a week and a half.</p><p>What brought about all this urgency to marry was the upcoming November 4th vote on California’s Proposition 8, which aimed to amend the California Constitution by placing a ban on same-sex marriage. The wording of the proposition was simple and direct in its intent: a yes vote would overturn an earlier ruling by the California Supreme Court that a prior California legislative ban on same-sex marriage violated civil rights and was unconstitutional.</p><p>Chellie, Lori, Becky, and Kay wanted to marry before their right to do so was voted away. They wanted, like every other creature on this earth, human or otherwise, to live their lives without the criticism, complaint, and interference of others. Do the proponents of Proposition 8 really believe they can constrain the affections of lesbians and gay men simply by amending the California Constitution?</p><p>The most common justification for Proposition 8 and similar legislative initiatives is that same-sex marriage threatens the sanctity of “regular” marriage. What can marriage mean, the argument goes, if “anyone at all” is allowed to marry? But if marriage is indeed sanctified, a union worthy of care and respect, surely that sanctity rests on the strength of the bond it creates and is not subject to what someone else might be doing. If the quality of one marriage is determined by the quality of others, what can be said about the sanctity of marriage in a nation where fifty percent of marriages end in divorce?</p><p>I’m married to Karen Laslo. She’s my best friend and loving wife. I like being married, and I don’t know how my marriage is threatened by anyone else’s. The tragic irony is that the sanctity of any couple’s marriage is forfeited in the instant of their intent to withhold it from others. I cannot keep love alive in my own heart if I would deny the same to someone else. Love is not selective in that way but is rather an affectionate generosity that wishes the same for all. Withheld, love isolates itself and won’t long survive. A lifetime relationship of enduring love, kindness, and understanding is rare enough in human affairs without anyone trying to legislate who gets a shot at it and who doesn’t.<br><br>The day after Sue’s call, I meet the wedding party at the Peace Center.</p><p><em>We have come together for the marriage of Chellie and Lori. May they continue to deepen their love towards each other and towards all living creatures that ambulate, crawl, swim, slither, and fly, above, below, and over the earth.</em></p><p>The five of us—Chellie, Lori, Becky, Kay, and I—stand in a graveled clearing among the trees and shrubs behind the Peace Center building. It seems to me that we are here not merely for our own sakes but in actual fact for the sake of “all living creatures,” as the wedding scripture states. The very trees that shade this little fall garden, the scrub-jays and gold-crowned sparrows darting among the leaves, invite us into the all-inclusive body of life.</p><p><em>I Chellie, take you Lori to be my wife in unconditional and boundless love, as a mirror for my true self, as a partner on the path, to honor and to cherish, in sorrow and in joy, till death do us part.</em></p><p><em>I Lori, take you Chellie to be my wife…</em></p><p>Becky and Kay, waiting their turn, watch while their friends marry. I wish everyone were here to watch as these loving couples dedicate themselves to each other in marriage.</p><p><em>Chellie and Lori, you have chosen each other from all the other women on this earth, have declared your love for each other before this gathering, and have made your pledge to each other symbolized by the giving and receiving of rings. Therefore, I declare that you are wives together. </em></p><p>None of us has dry eyes, not Chellie, Lori, Becky, Kay, or me.These women are veterans of years spent together, and yet this evening on the gravel behind the Peace Center they face each other for the first time as legally recognized wives. They cry and wipe their eyes, glad at last for this acknowledgment of the lives they share.</p><p>And then in turn:</p><p><em>I Becky, take you Kay… <br>I Kay, take you Becky…</em></p><p>And in the next few days:<br><br><em>I Tricia, take you Kari… <br>I James, take you David…</em><br><br>Imagine what it would be like if all the people of the world and all creatures and beings of any sort were wedded to one another in mutual caring and respect:</p><p><em>I straight, take you gay and lesbian… <br>I Christian, take you Muslim… <br>I Buddhist, take you Jew… <br>I robin, take you sparrow… <br>I rabbit, take you fox… <br>I frog, take you salmon… <br>I stone, take you leaf…</em></p><p><em>I hereby declare that we are one family living under one roof ‘till death do us part.</em></p><p>Seng-ts’an, the third Chinese Ancestor of Zen, taught that “the ultimate way is not difficult; just avoid picking and choosing.” The ultimate way is the way of the interface of all beings—human, animal, mineral. Legislating the exclusion of lesbians and gay men from society denies the reality of our shared humanity, much like laws that override the needs of birds or trees or the fish that swim the rivers and oceans.</p><p>From the viewpoint of the contemporary deep ecologist or likewise one who has entered the Buddhist path, this sort of selective exclusion simply doesn’t make sense. To the Buddhist it is like rejecting the shape of one’s own face; to the ecologist it is a pointless argument with reality. If Seng-ts’an’s ultimate way is one of compassionate inclusion and love, then I don’t get to pick and choose who gets to love and who doesn’t. Love is not something I get to keep for myself. To hoard love is to already have lost it.</p><p>If we humans treat each other badly, so will we treat the earth. We have sought to shape conditions to our own liking by exhausting the earth’s mineral resources, driving other species to extinction, massing armies against each other. All this ignorance and greed rests on the same fatal flaw: the belief that we can possess the world on our own terms. If I walk the path of preference, I will be constantly at pains to rid the world of whatever offends me. If instead I come to realize that our lives and histories are shared, the whole world is kin and I take my place at the table where the entire earthly family is invited to dine. Who then will be told to go hungry? Who will be left outside?</p><p>On November 4, 2008, Californians passed Proposition 8, amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriages. This legislation works to the exclusion of our friends and families, just as we have adopted a century of laws and regulations that effectively legislate against the survival and inclusion of countless other species and that destroy the very earth upon which a viable ecosystem depends. Now we have turned our laws against our own kind. With this act, the legacy we leave to future Californians is a diminished culture in a rapidly diminishing world. When diversity is experienced as a threat, we all suffer separately. When the wide and various world is embraced we all thrive together.<br><strong><br>Lin Jensen</strong> is the author of <em>Pavement</em><em>, Bad Dog!, </em>and<em> Together Under One Roof.</em> He is the founding teacher and senior teacher of the Chico Zen Sangha in Chico, California.</p><p><i>ejbSF/Flickr</i></p> 46615 Fri, 26 Jun 2015 12:49:14 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Incense Thrown on the Buddha http://www.tricycle.com/blog/incense-thrown-buddha <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/FinalIkkyuArt.png" width="570" height="426" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p1">The influence of Zen Master Ikkyu (1394–1481) permeates the full field of medieval Japanese aesthetics. Though best known as a poet, he was central to the shaping and reshaping of practices in calligraphy, Noh theater, tea ceremony, and rock gardening, all of which now define Japan's sense of its cultural tradition.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Ikkyu is unique in Zen for letting his love of all appearance occupy him until it destroys any possibility for safety or seclusion. In his poetry, he turns the eye of enlightenment to all phenomena: politics, pine trees, hard meditation practice, sex, wine. The poems express the unborn bliss of his realization and equally his devastation at the horrors of this world. From this union of bliss and heartbreak he rails without hatred against hypocrisy, corruption, and bad religion, he consorts free of lust with prostitutes and musicians. His awakening outshines the small idols of reason, emotion, self, desire, doctrine, even of Buddhism itself.&nbsp;</p><p class="p3" style="text-align: right;">—<em>Sarah Messer and Kidder Smith, translators</em></p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1"><br><i>Enlightenment</i></p><p class="p2">Ten years ago I couldn't stop thinking, feeling, <br>Just anger, just rage, until this moment.<br>A crow laughs, the dust clears, I hold the arhat's fruit.<br>Spotted sunlight in Zhaoyang Palace, a pale face chanting.</p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 210px;"><br><br><i>Poem #144: Ode to the Brothel</i></p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 210px;">Beautiful woman, cloud and rain, love's deep river. <br>Old Zen Pavilion Monk, up in the pavilion singing.<br>I have such refined passion for hugging and kissing.<br>My mind doesn't say: the world is a fire, give up your body.</p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 30px;"><i><br></i></p><p><i>I Hate Incense</i></p><p class="p2">Who can even discuss a master's methods?<br>Speaking of Dao, talking of Zen, your tongues grow long.<br>Old Ikkyu abhors your scrambling after marvels.<br>I make a pinched, sour face, all this incense thrown on the<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; Buddha.</p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 210px;"><br><br><i>Poem #104&nbsp;</i></p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 210px;">True transmission side-steps delusive combat.<br>Vast kalpas of unenlightenment are made of the feelings <br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; "self" and "other."<br>Carrying self and other makes the balance pole heavy.<br>When emptiness looks at a butterfly, the whole body becomes<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; light.</p><p class="p2"><i><br></i></p><p class="p2"><i>Poem #108</i></p><p class="p2">Downwind, pine and cedar recklessly enter the clouds.<br>Everywhere stir the multitude and alarm the crowd.<br>I can't do the tricks of "person" and "environment."<br>One cup of murky dregs gets me drunk drunk.</p><p class="p2"><i><br></i></p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 210px;"><i>Poem #543: Written Out of Desire to Thank Lady Mori for Her Profound Blessing</i></p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 210px;">The tree withers, leaves fall. Spring returns again.<br>The long green stems give birth to flowers, old vows are <br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; renewed.<br>Ah Mori, your profound blessings. If I forget and turn away,<br>For a million measureless kalpas I'll be born again and again<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; as an animal.</p><p class="p2"><br><br><br><em>From</em>&nbsp;Having Once Paused,&nbsp;<em>by Zen Master Ikkyū, translated by Sarah Messer and Kidder Smith. University of Michigan Press. Copyright&nbsp;©&nbsp;by Sarah Messer and Kidder Smith, 2015.&nbsp;</em></p><p class="p2"><em>Image: Raul Belinchon/Gallerystock</em></p> 46613 Fri, 26 Jun 2015 11:39:00 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Living by Meditation Alone http://www.tricycle.com/blog/living-meditation-alone <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/meditationbubble_thacher.jpg" width="570" height="452" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>One of the most insistent trends on offer in the spiritual marketplace has been the cult of meditation, which has had important implications for Buddhism. Secular mindfulness has found a place in society, but occupying a somewhat different cultural and spiritual space, a new Buddhism has emerged alongside it. Its adherents claim that the fruits of the Buddhist tradition can be acquired though sitting meditation alone. Contemporary practitioners, in other words, need not bother with study, ethical precepts, ritual practice (other than meditation), or merit making. The proponents of the “just sitting” trend often claim the mantle of traditional systems, whether Theravada Vipassana, Japanese Zen, or Tibetan Dzogchen. All share the assumption that meditation must be as non-conceptual in content as possible, and that all other forms of activity can be largely, if not entirely, ignored.</p><p>While these new meditation programs are called Buddhist, their presentations of meditation run counter to those of the dharma from all periods of Buddhist history. Indeed, the most clearly defined and often cited status of meditation within Buddhist doctrine and practice positions it as one of the three trainings, the other two being ethics and wisdom. As the great ancient Indian Buddhist thinker Nagarjuna declared in his <i>Letter to a Friend</i>,</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">In superior moral discipline, superior wisdom<br>And superior contemplation, one must constantly train.<br>More than one hundred and fifty trainings<br>Are truly included in these three.</p><p>Without the ethical development brought about by training in ethics—“the foundation of all qualities,” according to Nagarjuna—meditation is a spiritual dead end.</p><p>When one examines the place of meditation in the Vajrayana in particular, one finds again that it is not considered a self-sufficient means of spiritual accomplishment. It comes second in the triad of view, meditation, and action. <i>View</i> signifies the correct vision of reality that the Vajrayana master imparts to the student, and <i>meditation</i> signifies the subsequent development and stabilization of the glimpse afforded by this introduction. Thus, it is only through both view and meditation, together with their enactment and testing in <i>action</i>, that one could even approach spiritual accomplishment.</p><p>As expressed by the 14th-century lama Karmapa Rangjung Dorje:</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">Certainty in the view arises from severing doubts about the basis.<br> The essential point of meditation is to maintain this without distraction.<br> The supreme activity is mastery of this meditation.</p><p>Reacting to the demand for an entirely non-conceptual form of meditation, Buddhist reformers have clamored to reimagine bare sitting as the core or entirety of Buddhism, a drive that animates a considerable part of the modern refashioning of dharma. While mere sitting may produce certain mental effects, one must nonetheless ask, <i>To what end?</i> Unallied with any ethical imperative and directed by unexamined assumptions, meditation becomes a purely internal mental technology. In other words, such allegedly non-conceptual meditation will, at best, be a neutral activity. Unmoored from the Buddha’s teachings, it cannot lead to the particular compassion and wisdom that he taught.</p><p>As the Nyingma master Mipham Rinpoche explains:</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">Most settling meditations without analysis<br> Can produce a mere calm-abiding<br> But from this meditation certainty will not arise.<br> If certainty, the one eye of the path of liberation <br> Is abandoned, the obscurations cannot be dispelled.</p><p>It is ignorance of this vital point that frequently leads neophytes to overrate their meditation experiences, occasionally with catastrophic outcomes. Experiences of non-conceptuality, bliss, or clarity, all of which are common but fleeting, leave some individuals imagining they are enlightened.</p><p>The more fortunate subsequently discover that they have fooled themselves. The less fortunate, though perhaps more ambitious, simply proceed to redefine the actual nature of enlightenment so as to preserve their status. <i>Enlightenment</i> becomes merely a term for a transient meditation experience. This gets around the awkwardness of the fact that such “enlightened” meditators are still, after all, beings subject to disturbing emotions and ignorance.</p><p>More seriously, such free-floating meditation is ripe for subversion to whatever political or economic ends its proponents prefer. It easily absorbs the values of the most unsavory elements of our culture. Worse, many meditators, thinking they are practicing the essence of the dharma, remain completely ignorant of the ideological commitments that might come to underpin the meditation they practice. In our society, this is likely to be a ruthless individualism congenial to both the market and state.</p><p>To compensate for this, meditation in the West grounds itself in a mélange of self-indulgence and gesture politics masquerading as compassion—a “compassion,” it must be said, that cannot see beyond self-regard. The result is the same vapid posturing that dominates so much of contemporary culture.</p><p>If current trends continue, meditation will become a mere app for stress-free living. In other words, it will simply come to accommodate the harmful consumption-driven lifestyles that still characterize much of life in wealthy Western countries. In such a scenario meditation would serve as a reinforcing agent to stabilize delusion.</p><p>Sadly, we’ve been down this road before. Those learned in Japanese Buddhist history could perhaps cite as an example the subversion of Zen meditation by the samurai and its horrific reemergence in the Japanese militarism and imperialism of the first half of the 20th century.</p><p>In any event, it seems foolish to deny that the severing of meditation from ethics and wisdom could produce undesirable consequences. Given that many of us have little education in the dharma, the potential for misappropriation and derailing of Buddhism is huge.</p><p>One of our major problems is the difficulty of convincing people to take training in Buddhist ethics seriously. Knowing so little about the dharma, many don't have a worldview that supports such training.</p><p>One possible solution for this dilemma is to initially teach meditation alone in order to meet what seems to be a popular demand, and only later introduce the ethical and philosophical dimensions of the dharma. But unless links are made quickly and authoritatively to the other two trainings, a negative outcome is more likely to develop from this strategy than genuine spiritual progress.</p><p>Perhaps the best answer for our dilemma is to teach all three trainings more or less simultaneously, while being mindful of the logic to their sequential development. A student’s progress in one training will enable progress in the others. As the reordering of our life, brought about by moral training, creates the environment for meditation, the stillness of mind created by meditation will make possible the examination of reality that is the hallmark of wisdom.<br><br><b>Lama Jampa Thaye</b> is a scholar, author, and meditation teacher from the UK.</p><p><em>Illustration by James Thacher</em></p> 46606 Wed, 24 Jun 2015 10:00:00 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World The Dalai Lama’s Big Brother http://www.tricycle.com/blog/dalai-lamas-big-brother <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/thondup_1.jpg" width="570" height="506" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;">&nbsp;<b>The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong<br></b>By Gyalo Thondup and Anne Thurston<br>PublicAffairs; April 2015<br>301 pp.; $27.99 (Cloth)</p><p>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 <i>how</i> famous, I had no idea.</p><p>As it turns out, most residents of Kalimpong were also unaware of their noodles’ origins. Only when Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama’s older brother, took up a more permanent residence there in 1999, did his identity as the noodle maker become known. And yet even with the publication of his memoirs, <i>The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong</i>, Thondup remains a fiercely private man. Given his position as a political attaché, it’s evident that his skillful tact has been exactly what’s allowed him to serve the people of Tibet for so many decades.</p><p>It is a sense of duty and honor that has inspired Thondup to put his experience in pursuing Tibetan visibility and diplomacy to the page. He does so despite his anticipation of controversy and criticism from all sides—“Tibetans, Chinese, Indians, Americans, the CIA.” But, as he claims throughout the book, in the face of impossible decisions, he has always made those he thinks best for Tibet.</p><p>Thondup, who was born in in Amdo in 1929, has led a rich and intriguing life. The resulting memoir is part cosmopolitan spy novel and part heartbreaking tale of an uprooted, often-betrayed refugee.</p><p><b>“</b>Of the five male siblings who lived to adulthood, Gyalo Thondup alone did not become a monk,” writes coauthor Anne F. Thurston in the introduction. “Instead . . . he was groomed to serve his brother on matters of the state.” This education began in earnest in 1945, when Thondup was sent to China to study, but not before making his way to India first. At the twilight of British rule, Calcutta was a thriving, modern city, in which the teenage Thondup, coming from rural, religious, and insulated Tibet, was exposed to not only Charlie Chaplin movies and five-star hotels but also paved streets, telephones, and steam engines. Thondup’s travels convinced him that secular education was essential for Tibet’s survival.</p><p>He went on to live in China for the next several years, where he learned the language, befriended then-president Chiang Kai-shek, and immersed himself in 5,000 years of Chinese history, which verified that Tibet had never been considered part of the “motherland,” as the communists would soon claim. From there, Thondup and his Chinese wife, Zhu Dan, would live, among other places, in Taiwan, San Francisco, Hong Kong, and Darjeeling, where his wife eventually established the still-operating Tibetan Refugee Self Help Center. In 1952, they bought a small plot of land in Kalimpong, just outside of Darjeeling and not far from the Tibetan border, and in 1980, the couple opened the noodle factory that’s been running ever since, throughout Thondup’s extensive work abroad and even after Zhu Dan’s death in 1986.</p><p>After the Dalai Lama’s escape to India in 1959, the two brothers collaborated on what became their first press conference, one that Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru never wanted to happen. Their goal had been to publicly refute Chinese propaganda and to declare Tibet a sovereign nation. It was then that the Dalai Lama stated, “wherever I am, accompanied by my government, the Tibetan people recognize us as the government of Tibet.” With this establishment of the Government-in-Exile, Thondup was formally appointed foreign minister, and he began seeking international support.</p><p>Behind the scenes and unbeknownst to his younger brother, Thondup coordinated with the CIA, doing so well into the 1960s. The clandestine organization trained a small but steady stream of Tibetans—volunteer resistance fighters—in Colorado, the Western Pacific, and eventually in Mustang, Nepal. At the time, Thondup believed that the US wanted to help the Tibetan people. It was this work, however, that would become one of Thondup’s biggest regrets. In later years, he came to realize the US was more concerned with “stirring up trouble” between India and China. Thondup now thinks that the uprisings, given “paltry support” by the CIA, only caused more deaths.</p><p>A diplomat to the end, Thondup recalls his life as a series of political events—an understandable impulse, but one that often results in less of a story than a history lesson. More often than not, Thondup’s determination to “set the record straight” insulates his account from more heartfelt, subjective truths—the complicated kind wrought with emotion and tricks of memory, but blessed with the details and insights that resonate with meaning.</p><p>Recognizing that “setting the record straight” is not so simple, Thurston, who coauthored the best-selling <i>The Private Life of Chairman Mao</i>, notes how her point of view occasionally differs from Thondup’s. For instance, Thondup maintains that his father was poisoned in 1947, in a power struggle among Lhasa aristocracy. In her afterword, Thurston casts some doubt on this version of the story, noting that the Dalai Lama himself remains unconvinced of any foul play. Yet precisely because Thurston expresses her skepticism only in the afterword, the logic and lucidity of Thondup’s voice are preserved. The combination of their perspectives makes for a compelling metanarrative on the inherent paradoxes of autobiography, one that ultimately enhances Thondup’s exploration of Tibet’s history.</p><p>In the final paragraph of this autobiography, one of the most poignant moments of the book, Gyalo Thondup recounts a recent meeting with the Dalai Lama, who implores him to stay healthy—and alive. “We have to return home together,” the spiritual leader, soon to turn 80, tells his big brother. The implication is that if they keep holding out, they will accomplish what everyone knows is unlikely, at least in their lifetime: a return to Tibet, together.<br><br><b>Liesl Schwabe</b> is a Lecturer in Writing at Yeshiva University in New York City.</p> 46608 Tue, 23 Jun 2015 11:56:37 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World 5 Things That Might Surprise You about Meditation Retreats http://www.tricycle.com/blog/5-things-about-meditation-retreats-might-surprise-you <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/meditatoroliver.jpg" width="570" height="380" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>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.</p><p>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.</p><p>Some of us—I’d guess most of us—have dealt with speed bumps on retreat that have left the suspension shot on our greater or lesser vehicles. Despite the pervasive image of the serene white meditator perched comfortably on her cushion, that’s not what the majority of us go through. Popular culture—that massive slack-jawed glam juggernaut—has done everything in its power to portray meditation as the height of harmony and tranquility.</p><p>But a meditation retreat isn’t all fuzzy kittens and cosmic-flavored bubble gum. And it’s definitely not an enlightenment factory where people smile beatifically from the lotus position while their minds self-sanitize.</p><p>Here are five things you realize at a meditation retreat that are the opposite of peace and calm.<br><br><b>1. You’re all alone here.</b></p><p>This one’s counterintuitive because you’re surrounded by people. You’re sitting with a whole bunch of them, all day long, in the same space. You can see them <i>right there</i>. You’re probably sleeping in a room with at least one other person, maybe several, which gives you nighttime access to all of their various sounds and aromas.</p><p>But you’ll soon realize that you’re essentially doing this solo. Most meditation retreats are completely silent. You won’t be talking to the other meditators or really interacting with them at all. Eye contact is usually upside-down smiled upon, since our natural tendency upon meeting someone’s gaze is to smile, nod, or say “Whassup?”</p><p>You’ll be told to turn off your smartphone, tablet, laptop, heliograph, and whatever other equipment you brought that can reach the outside world. It’s more or less up to you whether to use them when you’re out of everyone else’s sight and the temptation for an electronic fix is high. The retreat officials aren’t going to kick in your door in the middle of the night to see if you’re sexting your wife under the covers.</p><p>Pretty much the only voice you’ll hear will be the teacher’s. And that’s limited to nightly talks about the dharma or meditation practice, not descriptions of the last <i>Walking Dead</i> episode or offers to update your Facebook status to “I miss <i>The Walking Dead</i>.”</p><p>The teacher will also be the only person you speak to and it’ll be for short scheduled interviews about your meditation practice. Again, you won’t be discussing things that make you feel like a normal human, like food, sports, beer, and Twitter. The conversation will revolve entirely around getting better at sitting quietly.</p><p>All this can leave you feeling isolated, lonely, and twitchy. Which leads directly to…<br><br><b>2. You’re completely crazy.</b></p><p>A meditation retreat is basically an opportunity to observe your mind non-stop. While popular portrayals suggest this leads quickly to less stress and better focus, what it actually leads to is the conclusion that you’re totally insane. The only real question is whether you’ve always<i> </i>been <i>loco</i> or you went batshit because of the retreat.</p><p>If you’ve never spent much time just sitting and watching your mind, you’re in for a real treat. And by “treat” I mean shocking nightmare. Sorry.</p><p>Your mind is essentially a demented rubber ball soaked in schizo juice and trapped in your skull. It’s constantly bouncing off the walls and careening around everywhere, knocking over all your mental toys and denting your hopes and dreams. It leaps from one random subject to the next, never satisfied, never settling, never tiring, and really never making a bit of sense.</p><p>We often don’t notice this in our daily lives because we’re busy. Our lives are filled with work and jackass bosses and screaming children and irritated bank tellers and arguments on the Internet. We have things like hobbies, relationships, vacations, and car payments distracting us all the time. The minutiae of life effectively mask the constant yammering of our minds.</p><p>On a meditation retreat, you’re forced to confront this head on. First time meditators are often blown away by the sheer speed and volume of their thoughts. The mind is like a lunatic tornado in there, and you’re just one more trailer in the park it’s tearing through.</p><p>Even experienced meditators who practice daily can be easily overcome by the ferocity of their minds. No one stops being surprised, amazed, weirded out, frustrated, scared, and disgusted by what’s going on up there.</p><p>The retreat is all about letting go of all that and sitting in the eye of the tornado. But with whirling insanity around you at all times, it’s hard not to get caught up in it. Especially when…<br><br><b>3. Sitting still is tough.</b></p><p>The more relaxed your body becomes, the more relaxed your mind becomes, too. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it’s a tenet of Zen meditation. The last time I asked a Zen teacher for clarification on this, he said, “Gravel is a soft pillow for the awakened head.” Dammit.</p><p>Regardless, it’s ridiculously hard to sit in one position all day. So in addition to realizing you have the brain of a serial-killer clown on PCP, you find your body isn’t suited for motionlessness.</p><p>Most retreat days begin between 5 and 7 a.m. and run till around 9 p.m. There are usually periods of sitting meditation that last 30 to 45 minutes, followed by walking meditations of equal duration.</p><p>Walking gives you a chance to unfold your body, stretch, and limber up your muscles, which will return to a state of advanced rebellion faster than you thought possible. The first meditation session on the first day isn’t so bad. You’ll probably hop right up when it’s time to walk. After the second session, you may notice some stiffness, but walking will get everything back in order.</p><p>After lunch, however, it starts to get intense. Parts of you will become uncomfortable almost the moment you sit down. Having lost circulation, other parts—important parts—will feel like they’re about to fall off.</p><p>By the middle of the second day, sitting can become agony. Just the sight of your meditation cushion can become hateful and nauseating. It will feel like most of your joints have been filled with powdered glass and your muscles are just sacs of fire and ice hanging from your cracking skeleton. Walking meditation becomes hobbling meditation, stretching meditation, or slowly-keeling-over-into-fetal-position meditation. It sucks, is what I’m saying.</p><p>It’s even worse if you’re older, less flexible, or have a chronic injury. A lot of retreatants can’t sit on cushions on the floor and instead opt for chairs. Some people optimistically start out on the floor while silently judging those who don’t. It’s easy for a vague sense of superiority to set in. “I’m closer to the earth so my meditation will be better.” “I’d never sit in a chair, it just doesn’t feel right.” “That guy only has three toes. What kind of place are they running here?”</p><p>Just wait. All too often those people who begin on the floor have to haul themselves into a chair the third day like a sloth climbing a tree. Or they build a bizarre meditation throne that’s comprised of four cushions, three yoga blocks, two folded blankets, and a rolled-up sleeping bag, but is still technically on the floor.</p><p>Nothing stays comfortable for long. Even a chair is rotten after awhile. There’s no position or piece of furniture that brings total physical relief. After a couple days, you’ll be in some amount of pain no matter what you’re sitting on or how often you fidget and adjust.</p><p>Of course there are a couple of people at every retreat who sit perfectly still the whole time. They plop down on just a single cushion, close their eyes, and turn into statues. Everyone hates those people, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.</p><p>Try not to sit next to them (or anyone, for that matter) at dinner because…<br><br><b>4. Meals are awkward affairs.</b></p><p>Considering everything you’re going through—the isolation, the mental and physical hardships—you might expect meals to be something of a respite. And they are, to a degree. When your day is prepackaged into walking and sitting and pretty much nothing else, even minor variances can be amazing. In fact, you can sometimes defeat the entire purpose of the retreat by just spending the time from breakfast on fantasizing about lunch, and then burn the whole afternoon thinking about dinner.</p><p>But that whole being silent thing really cranks up the discomfort at meals. You’re sitting at a table with a bunch of other people, doing something you do several times each day, but you’ve never done it like this. No conversation. No comments on the food. No “Please pass the organic vegan hot sauce.” Only the sound of everyone chewing, slurping, coughing, belching, sucking their teeth, grunting, and smacking their lips.</p><p>Now you’re avoiding eye contact not out of respect for the rules, but because everyone has become a hideous beast, including you. You’re supposed to be paying strict attention to eating, watching the whole experience of the meal with the same attention you’ve been watching your mind. But it’s tough to get through a meal when no one is allowed to say a word. It messes with the unwritten social contract. Sometimes even a week of meals in the retreat vacuum isn’t enough to adjust to the change.</p><p>And speaking of change, you’re about to experience a jarring one because…<br><br><b>5. Returning to the outside world can be overwhelming.</b></p><p>There are inspiring moments during any retreat. Whether they’re fleeting or sustained, there are times when the pain and awkwardness and strangeness fall away and you’re left with something sublime. Stillness. Joy. Clarity. Insight. Peace. Those moments make it easier to believe that this practice is positively affecting your life. Sometimes they even reinforce the idea that enlightenment is real and attainable and that you’re on the right path. Your resolve is bolstered. Your commitment to meditation, to kindness, to compassion and liberation become powerful and radiant. You sit like a buddha.</p><p>Then you’re shoved back into the world outside the retreat center and your face melts off. You turn your phone on and it almost explodes from everything you’ve missed. Calls, texts, and emails come pouring in. You realize that for the past couple of days you haven’t been missing videos of cats walking on their hind legs. You haven’t wondered if Pat Robertson said something stupid (he did). You haven’t worried that you should’ve gotten the new iPhone instead of an Android.</p><p>On the drive home you’re assaulted with more color, noise, and sensations in five minutes than you’ve had over the last week. It’s like getting out of a sensory deprivation tank and falling into a frat party, except you’re not wet and naked. (Hell, maybe you are. I don’t know how you party.)</p><p>You’ve slowed down, quieted down, and now the world is reintroducing you to its humongous hustle and belligerent bustle. Put that serenity to work! You didn’t just spend seven days sitting wordlessly in one damn spot just to fall apart a mile from the center, did you?</p><p>By the time you get home, the first layer of your peace has already been abraded. Your calm is no match for the world. It was fragile during the retreat. Out here, it’s just a shadow.</p><p>Spouses, children, pets, friends: they’re all the same as you left them a week ago. But you’re raw and their impacts drive more deeply than before. That television that’s always on used to be just background noise. Now it’s a violation. The fact that the house is never really quiet used to be comforting. Now it’s nerve-wracking.</p><p>Everything jumps right back at you full-tilt. On Monday you’re back at your job after a bad night’s sleep.</p><p>As you reintegrate with the world, you may start to notice that some things are better. Maybe you don’t get mad as quickly. Maybe you find your normal stress level has dropped a bit. Maybe people like you better because you don’t get drunk every Thursday night at Hooters and throw wings at the hostess anymore.</p><p>But, hey, it’s the little things. Remember that time you thought you were crazy?<br><br><b>Brent R. Oliver</b> is a writer based in Lexington, Kentucky. His last article for <i>Tricycle</i>, “<a href="http://www.tricycle.com/feature/white-trash-buddhist" target="_blank">White Trash Buddhist</a>,” appeared in the Fall 2014 issue.</p><p><em>Photo ©<a id="contributor-name" href="http://www.istockphoto.com/portfolio/laflor" target="_self">laflor</a></em></p> 46595 Fri, 19 Jun 2015 10:00:00 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Climate Change Is a Moral Issue http://www.tricycle.com/blog/climate-change-moral-issue <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/popefrancisencyclical.jpg" width="570" height="368" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>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.</p><p>The future of human life on earth hangs in a delicate balance, and the window for effective action is rapidly closing. Tipping points and feedback loops threaten us as ominously as nuclear warheads.</p><p>What heightens the danger is our proclivity to apathy and denial. For this reason, we must begin tackling the crisis with an act of truth, by acknowledging that climate change is real and stems from human activity. On this, the science is clear, the consensus among climate scientists almost universal. The time for denial, skepticism, and delay is over.</p><p>Our carbon-based economies generate not only mountains of commodities but also heat waves and floods, rising seas and creeping deserts. The climate mirrors the state of our minds, reflecting back to us the choices we make at regional, national, and global levels. These choices, both collective and personal, are inescapably ethical. They are strung out between what is convenient and what is right. They determine who will live and who will die, which communities will flourish and which will perish. Ultimately they determine nothing less than whether human civilization itself will survive or collapse.</p><p>Since religions command the loyalty of billions, they must lead the way in the endeavor to combat climate change, using their ethical insights to mobilize their followers. As a nontheistic religion, Buddhism sees our moral commitments as stemming not from the decree of a Creator God but from our obligation to promote the true well-being of ourselves and others.</p><p>The Buddha traces all immoral conduct to three mental factors, which he calls the three unwholesome roots: greed, hatred, and delusion. Greed propels economies to voraciously consume fossil fuels in order to maximize profits, ravaging the finite resources of the earth and filling its sinks with toxic waste. Hatred underlies not only war and bigotry but also the callous indifference that allows us to consign billions of people to hunger, drought, and devastating floods without batting an eye. Delusion—self-deception and the deliberate deceiving of others—is reinforced by the falsehoods churned out by fossil-fuel interests to block remedial action.</p><p>We thus need to curb the influence of greed, hatred, and delusion on the operation of social systems. Policy formation must be motivated not by narrow self-interest but by a magnanimous spirit of generosity, compassion, and wisdom. An economy premised on infinite expansion, geared toward endless production and consumption, has to be replaced by a steady-state economy governed by the principle of sufficiency, which gives priority to contentment, service to others, and inner fulfillment as the measure of the good life.</p><p>The moral tide of our age pushes us in two directions. One is to uplift the living standards of the billions mired in poverty, struggling each day to survive. The other is to preserve the integrity and sustaining capacity of the planet. A rapid transition to an economy powered by clean and renewable sources of energy, with transfers of the technology to developing countries, would enable us to accomplish both, to combine social justice with ecological sustainability.</p><p>At the very outset, we must start the transition by making highly specific national and global commitments to curb carbon emissions, and we must do so fast. The Conference of the Parties meeting in Paris this December has to show the way. The meeting must culminate in a climate accord that imposes truly <i>rigorous</i>, <i>binding</i>, and <i>enforceable</i> targets for emissions reductions. Pledges and promises alone won’t suffice: enforcement mechanisms are critical. And beyond a strong accord, we’ll need an international endeavor, undertaken with a compelling sense of urgency, to shift the global economy away from fossil fuels to clean sources of energy.</p><p>Pope Francis reminds us that climate change poses not only a policy challenge but also a call to the moral conscience. If we continue to burn fossil fuels to empower unbridled economic growth, the biosphere will be destabilized, resulting in unimaginable devastation, the deaths of many millions, failed states, and social chaos. Shifting to clean and renewable energy can reverse this trend, opening pathways to a steady-state economy that uplifts living standards for all. One way leads deeper into a culture of death; the other leads to a new culture of life. As climate change accelerates, the choice before us is becoming starker, and the need to choose wisely grows ever more urgent.<br><br><b>Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi</b> is an American Buddhist monk, translator of Pali Buddhist texts, and the founder of Buddhist Global Relief. He is also a spiritual ambassador for OurVoices, an organization dedicated to bringing faith traditions to climate advocacy. This essay was originally written for OurVoices in connection with the release of Pope Francis’s climate change encyclical.</p><p><em>Image:</em>&nbsp;<em><a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/catholicism/8722736835" target="_blank">Flickr</a>/©</em><em><a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/catholicism/8722736835" target="_blank">Mazur</a>/</em>catholicnews.org.uk</p> 46594 Thu, 18 Jun 2015 10:36:16 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Talking about Mindfulness http://www.tricycle.com/blog/talking-about-mindfulness <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/conference_purser_0.jpg" width="570" height="333" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p dir="ltr">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.</p><p dir="ltr">Last week’s Mindfulness and Compassion conference at San Francisco State University, and the Buddhism and Modernity seminar at Mangalam Research Center that followed, may have marked a milestone in this conversation. Mindfulness, as it’s popularly understood, has become an increasingly important example of the dialogue between Buddhist thinking and Western disciplines, which has developed at a pace that far exceeds the thinking behind it.</p><p dir="ltr">In the old discursive space of mindfulness, which was so carefully circumscribed, facile thinking flourished. You were either with mindfulness or against it. This not only makes little sense—after all, who could possibly be against sitting still and calming the mind or counting the breath?—but also represents the most simplistic kind of thinking. Now, thanks to the work of pioneers such as <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/meditation-nation" target="_blank">Willoughby Britton</a>, <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/interview/context-matters" target="_blank">David McMahan</a>, and numerous others, it’s become quite common to interrogate the potentials of mindfulness and its status in relation to Buddhism or other traditions. We can problematize certain applications of mindfulness or criticize instrumental rationality without being spurned as detractors undermining a prophetic movement. In the end, we’ve come to appreciate context. And our dialogues have become more honest.</p><p dir="ltr">Whatever the cause of the once-stymied discourse (and perhaps it was only the case that it was in its infancy, and hadn’t yet encountered itself in the mirror), we were faced with an understanding of mindfulness not just as a technique but also as a <em>movement</em> wherein all applications would produce the same result, regardless of context. Any questioning of the ends to which mindfulness would be deployed—say, in the military or among Wall Street’s permanent “uncriminal” class—could thus be summarily dismissed as an attack on the movement. This was a way to limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion: If you interrogated specific implementations, you were only getting in the way of individuals’ well being.</p><p dir="ltr">The way in which we still, for the most part, speak about mindfulness is no help, though this is quickly changing. We generally limit ourselves to two different but parallel languages, both of which lack any real sense of collectivity, any metaphysic of society, of people acting as more than individuals chasing their own well being: the rationalist objectivity of science and the radical subjectivity of Buddhist contemplative tradition. Faced with a kind of mechanical view of the mind put forward by the sciences and reinforced by the psychosomatic surveillance technologies it employs, there has naturally been a temptation to retreat to a radical, irreducible interiority or mysticism. The tendency is to view the mindfulness phenomenon or so-called Buddhism and science dialogue as the meeting of these two streams. The thing is, these two philosophies—harsh objectivity and radical subjectivity—are actually <em>entirely</em> compatible in that neither is able to challenge the other in any meaningful way. Until we cultivate the necessary <em>social</em> imagination missing from both of these models we can expect the public discourse around mindfulness to keep puttering along.</p><p dir="ltr">But I don’t think this will be the case. That was made clear during last week’s conference, in which scholars from the humanities and social sciences entered the conversation. It was especially encouraging to hear scientists tackle some of the most difficult questions about being human, about ethics—questions that fall outside of science’s ambit, but that we all have the equal responsibility to think through—and to hear Buddhist thinkers and meditation teachers do the same.</p><p dir="ltr">We now have the unique opportunity to pause, reflect, and really think through what it is we are doing and why. To think what we do, because no one will do it for us.</p><p dir="ltr">We look forward to it.<br><br><strong>Alex Caring-Lobel</strong> is <em>Tricycle</em>’s associate editor.</p><p dir="ltr"><i>Image (L–R): Kin Cheung, Clifford Saron, David McMahan, Geoffrey Samuel, and Linda Heuman (not pictured). Photograph courtesy Ron Purser.</i></p><p><em>Tricycle was an official partner of the Mindfulness and Compassion Conference. This text has been adapted from remarks given there.</em></p><p></p><table width="550" border="0" cellspacing="10" cellpadding="8"><tbody><tr></tr><tr><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/meditation-nation"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/meditationnation_MORE.jpg" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> Meditation Nation</b><br>How convincing is the science driving the popularity of mindfulness meditation? A Brown University researcher has some surprising answers.</span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/meditation-nation" style="font-size: 12px; font: normal 11px/12px arial,tahoma,sans-serif; color: #ffffff; text-decoration: none; border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; background-color: #d7272e; border-top: 6px solid #d7272e; border-bottom: 6px solid #d7272e; border-right: 14px solid #d7272e; font-weight: bold; border-left: 14px solid #d7272e; display: inline-block;">READ THE POST →</a></p></td><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/meditation-nation"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/whatwasmindfulnessMORE.jpg" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> What Was Mindfulness? </b><br>Mindfulness seemed like the answer to our prayers. Instead, it came to justify some of our worst cultural excesses.</span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/what-was-mindfulness" style="font-size: 12px; font: normal 11px/12px arial,tahoma,sans-serif; color: #ffffff; text-decoration: none; border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; background-color: #d7272e; border-top: 6px solid #d7272e; border-bottom: 6px solid #d7272e; border-right: 14px solid #d7272e; font-weight: bold; border-left: 14px solid #d7272e; display: inline-block;">READ THE POST →</a></p></td></tr></tbody></table> 46571 Fri, 12 Jun 2015 11:34:43 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Accepting the Unacceptable http://www.tricycle.com/blog/accepting-unacceptable <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/KarmaExcerptImage.jpg" width="570" height="381" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p1">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 <i>Theology, Death, and Dying</i>:</p><p class="p2"></p><blockquote><p class="p1">There is then a fundamental ambivalence about death for the contemporary person. Death has been pushed out of sight and out of the context of daily life. No longer is death itself a meaningful ritual of family or social life. Yet, there is the emergence of a quite specific awareness of death as an existential concern quite apart from the event of death itself.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Strangely enough, awareness of death in the form of the psychological effects of death as a condition of life has grown in inverse proportion to the silence concerning death itself. Where death was once the unspoken word that accompanied communion with and commitment to the dead as a ritual of public and community life, there was virtually no literature on death and dying.&nbsp;</p></blockquote><p class="p1">In contemporary Western society, it is quite the opposite now, with one author stating that he has reviewed over 800 books on death and dying and has more than 2,000 articles on the subject in his files. Overall, there is much more talk about death and dying and far less immediate experience of it, in terms of actually handling those who are dying, or having to witness death. We see a lot of simulated death on television and so on, but as a rule, we have very little immediate contact with it compared with people living in developing countries, or in the past.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">For all these reasons—the ever-present fear of death and our lack of contact with it—it is all the more important to have a proper encounter with the facts of death and to deal with the fear of death, because, from the Buddhist point of view, coming to terms with death is part of making our life worthwhile and meaningful. Death and life are not seen as completely separate and opposed, but as giving rise to each other. They coexist in a complementary fashion. For Buddhists, the aim is not to conquer death but to come to accept it and familiarize ourselves with our own sense of mortality and impermanence.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">According to Buddhism, we die because we are a product of causes and conditions (<i>pratityasamutpada </i>in Sanksrit). Whatever is caused is impermanent, is subject to decay, to death. Human beings are not exempt, as it is a natural process. Life without death is impossible, and vice versa, and therefore the ultimate aim of Buddhist practice incorporates an acceptance of death and a cultivation of an attitude that does not reject it as something ugly and menacing that steals our life away, and thus something to be pushed aside and ignored. Nor does a Buddhist think of living forever. The Buddhist view is that everything is transient and impermanent, and so death and life are inseparably bound up with each other, at all times in fact, even while we live, as the aging process itself is viewed as a part of the dying process.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">There is the famous story of the Buddha's being approached by a mother carrying her dead baby in her arms. She pleads with the Buddha: "You are an enlightened being; you must have all these extraordinary powers, so I want you to bring my child back to life." The Buddha says, "All right, I'll do this for you if you'll do one thing for me first." "I'll do anything," she replied. He responds, "I want you to go around and knock on all the doors of this town and ask each person who comes to the door whether he or she had anyone die in his or her family, and if he or she says no, then ask him or her to give you a sesame seed." The woman knocks on every door she can, and returns empty-handed, saying to the Buddha, "I don't want you to bring back my child now. I understand what you are trying to teach me." The lesson here is that death is all-pervasive and not something that happens, sometimes, to particular people, but it happens to every one of us. Knowing this can lessen the sting of the fear of death. It is analogous to people sharing some kind of psychological or personal problem. Eventually everyone starts to open up and talk to others with similar problems, realizing essentially that we are all experiencing the same thing. In this way, the problem becomes diffused. The Buddha's point to the grieving mother, that everybody dies, is compassionate because to think "my child, my child, he has died, I want him back" is to narrow our focus in such a way as to generate an enormous personal problem. It is better to think of all the mothers that have lost children and experienced the same grief, whereby it becomes more encompassing. The problem moves beyond the personal into something much wider.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">In terms of karma, it is an interesting question from a Buddhist point of view to ask if our death is in a way predetermined. In some ways, it is feasible to say that there is a preordained time to die, as our karma determines it. When the time to die arrives, we then die. This would be a result of our karma. On the other hand, our death is also dependent on a lot of causes and conditions, so it is not preordained in that sense. So it is predetermined in one sense and not so in another. Following form this, it is quite expected that Buddhists, if unwell, would seek medical attention and remedies, or go to the hospital if necessary. They would not simply acquiesce and say, "Well it must be my karma to die now," and do nothing about the situation, for the time may very well not have come yet, so to speak: and if they are not careful, because of the causes and conditions set in motion, they might die before they need to. Even so, at times, no matter what we do in order to live, it will become impossible to do so.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">People do not fear just eternal pain and suffering in hell, but extinction, not being around, not existing. This thought is very much disturbing in itself for many people, and so the removal of the idea of hell will not alleviate the fear of death itself. We have a fear of death, as do other creatures, but from a Buddhist view, ours is intimately linked to our notion of a self. While meditation or contemplation on death can be very confronting initially, we will be far better off for doing it than not, precisely because the fear of death is always there, underlying everything. The fundamental sense of anxiety is always there, so it is better to bring it to the fore and deal with it than suspend consideration, because it will continue to influence our life, often in a negative way, if ignored. We must remember, too, that this type of practice is done in the context of other Buddhist practices, which are all designed to incorporate and process the full range of negativities in the mind.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">It is sometimes thought Tibetans have a different approach to death, having been raised among it perhaps, but the very fact of there being specific spiritual instructions especially designed for the matter indicates that Tibetans are no different. They fear, as we do in the West, not just for themselves, but they also fear leaving their children and loved ones behind, and they too wish not to grow old and die, or to die young, for that matter. Fear of death is all-pervasive and acultural. Everybody experiences it, but an important difference in the Buddhist tradition is the emphasis on working with that fear. Therefore Tibetans, if they choose to, have access to traditions and practices of this nature. Monks for instance, would go to charnel grounds, or graveyards, to practice and contemplate impermanence, which might seem a bit excessive to us. In Tibet the charnel grounds use to be in the wilderness, so they were a very eerie place to practice, especially on one's own, and it was guaranteed to throw up all kinds of fears. Thighbone trumpets and other implements used on these occasions have horrified some Westerners, who have described these rituals as shamanistic, incorporating elements of black magic and so on. However, for Tibetans, living in primitive physical conditions, these bones had no magical qualities, but were merely reminders of impermanence, of transience. It would help them deal with their fear of death, and the fear of the dead as well.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">There are Buddhist traditions, of course, like Zen, that do not have such elaborate rituals as are found in Tibetan Buddhism that involve mantras, visualizations, and so forth, and focus more on being immediately present with what is happening now, avoiding all mental constructions of what might take place, as the best form of preparation for the future, including the eventuality of death. The end result is the same. Both methods lead to greater acceptance of the event, and the ultimate aim is the same, which is to increase awareness and develop insight. In addition, of course, the Buddhist view is that life and death are inextricably bound to each other, moment to moment. The death of the past is happening right now, and we can never really see what is going to happen in the future. When one moment passes, that is death, and when another arises, that is life, or rebirth, we might say. Therefore, living in the present with awareness, links in a fundamental way with appreciating impermanence.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">It does not matter how elaborate certain teachings or meditation techniques are, the fundamental aim is still to deal with immediate experience, here and now. It has nothing much to do with what might or might not happen in the future, or attaining some wonderful mystical experience in the future, because, as the masters have continuously emphasized, as important as the attainment of enlightenment is, it has to be arrived at through being in the here and now, dealing with present circumstances, not through indulging in speculation about what enlightenment might be. None of this is to say that we have to be practicing Buddhists to die in a peaceful manner. Ultimately one cannot tell, judging by people's personalities, who will die peacefully. Some Christians die very peacefully, whereas others struggle; some Buddhists die peacefully, and some kicking and screaming, as they say, and some atheists die peacefully, and so on. A very mild-mannered person can become quite aggressive and obnoxious at the time of death, refusing to accept it, and others, normally obnoxious characters, turn out to be very accepting and amiable. We can never really say with certainty how anyone will react to death, but we can say that certain meditations, including those on death, will definitely help a person come to accept it more readily, although we can never be absolutely sure, and the moment may produce panic even in a dedicated practitioner. But if we know what's going on, it is likely to be far less confrontational.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">This brings us to the critical factor of seeing meditation, reading, and contemplation as conjoined. We should not be satisfied to just think about impermanence and death; we have to have the real experience, which comes from meditation. To read about Buddhism's approach to death is important, but it needs to become an existential concern and to be translated into something approximating a real intuition or a real encounter with death. Following such a path will prevent our knowledge from evaporating in the actual experience itself. From a Buddhist point of view, so much depends upon our habits, and so thinking about death in a certain way helps us to get used to it, to become habituated to it. Therefore a real transformation has to take place on an emotional and intellectual level. Most of us have a fair degree of intellectual understanding of the facts, but that is really not the main point. A sense of impermanence has to be felt and experienced. If we understand it truly, we will handle all our tribulations far better, such as when our relationships break up, when we get divorced, when we get separated from our loved ones, when relatives die. We will handle all of these situations far differently with a truer appreciation of impermanence than we would otherwise have.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Knowing in an abstract sense that everybody dies or that everything is impermanent is different from experiencing impermanence, coming face to face with in everyday life. If we have felt impermanence, then tragedies are easier to deal with because we fully grasp that all is impermanent and transient and nothing lasts forever. As the Buddha said, we come in contact with people and things that we wish not to come in contact with, and we get separated from people and things that we wish to stay among, and that is how things are, in reality.&nbsp; Similarly, when death occurs, it may still be a very fearful experience, but we may be able to maintain that sense of awareness. Fear may still be present, but maintaing a sense of equilibrium is very important. Buddhist meditators may get separated from their partner and experience great stress and grief, but they may not yield to that grief so completely that it overwhelms them, and this applies with respect to their own death as well.<br><br><strong>Traleg Kyabgon&nbsp;</strong>is the founder of the Kagyu E-Vam Buddhist institute, headquartered in Melbourne, Australia. He has authored many books, including&nbsp;<em>The Essence of Buddhism&nbsp;</em>and&nbsp;<em>Mind at Ease</em>.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">From&nbsp;<i>Karma</i>&nbsp;by Traleg Kyabgon, © 2015 by Traleg Kyabgon. Reprinted by arrangement with&nbsp; <a href="https://www.shambhala.com" target="_blank">Shambhala Publications Inc.</a>, Boston, MA.</p><p class="p1"><em>Image:&nbsp;</em><i>José Manuel Ríos Valiente/Flickr</i></p><p class="p1"></p> 46566 Mon, 08 Jun 2015 11:12:18 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World No Teachers Come Here http://www.tricycle.com/blog/no-teachers-come-here <p><i><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/BethlehemPic.jpg" width="570" height="379" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></i></p><p><i>The interviewee has asked us not to use his name or photo in fear of persecution. He is not depicted in the image above. –The Eds.&nbsp;</i><br><br><b>Where are you from?</b> I was born in and raised in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ. I still live here.<br><br><b>How old are you?</b> 30.<br><br><b>What spiritual tradition were you raised in?</b> I grew up as a Christian and received a bachelor's degree in theology and&nbsp;Bible studies from Bethlehem Bible University. I taught Sunday school at the church here for one year and then taught Bible studies there for four years. <br><br><b>What was your path to the dharma? How did you first get interested in it?</b> I came to the dharma through research and studies in religions. Buddha and Jesus Christ have some similar teachings about love, peace, and purity, but when we look at the Old Testament we can see how God asked his people to kill others to obtain land. And we can also see violence in the Quran. So this led me to search for other truths and through that I began to study&nbsp;Buddhism.&nbsp;Then I saw the movie <i>The Life of Buddha</i> and I began to search and study more&nbsp;about the Buddha, Buddhist history, and Buddhist philosophy.<br><br><b>What kind of access to the dharma is there in Bethlehem?</b> All of my studies are from the Internet; the first Buddhist text I ever read online was about karma. I don't have any books.</p><p>Unfortunately, what's available about Buddhism in Bethlehem is unreliable, because there is a lack of teachers and monks here. Some teachers come to Tel Aviv or the Galilee but I am not allowed to go because I am Palestinian. How can we hear the teachings without a teacher? It's not easy for people to find the dharma.<br><br><b>Do you want to stay there?&nbsp;</b><b>Do you have a vision of where your study might lead?</b> I want to be ordained as a monk and stay in Palestine as a Buddhist teacher to spread the teachings of the Buddha. We Buddhists have the responsibility to spread these teachings and allow people a way to get to know the truth, and not just from what they hear from other Muslims and Christians who often tarnish the image of Buddhism.<br><br><b>What's it like there for spiritual seekers?</b> To be a Buddhist in Bethlehem is something very unusual. Because a lot of people here do not have any knowledge of Buddhism, they all look at me in a different way.<br><br><b>Which spiritual guides or teachers inspire you?</b> Do any come to Bethlehem? I don’t think any Buddhist teachers have come here, so there are none to inspire me.<br><br><b>What do your family and friends think about your pursuits?</b> At first I faced problems and some persecution but when I explained and showed what I knew of the teachings they accepted my thoughts. But I lost some friends and my job as well.<br><br><b>What dharma books do you like to read?</b> It is very hard for me to find books. I read mostly e-books online, in English. In particular, I’ve read Geshe Kelsang's <i>How to Solve Our Human Problems </i>and Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche's <i>What Makes You Not a Buddhist</i>. I think we must offer Arabic translations of these books, for people who have newly come to Buddhism. I want to help translate but I can't do it alone—I need to work with a professional translator.<br><br><b>What are your aspirations? Dreams?</b> My dream is to share the teachings of Buddhism: love, tolerance, generosity, and nonattachment to riches and luxury. And ultimately I would like to build a Center for Buddhist Studies and a youth center in Palestine to promote the love of Buddhism to others.</p><p>I hope that this interview can show the importance of working in the Arab countries. In war there is rape and stealing, which some people consider their right, as the so-called "spoils of war." This causes human suffering, as we can see today in Gaza, Syria, and Iraq. But the teachings of the Buddha discourage this type of behavior, so we must work here more. We have encountered problems because the community sees Buddhism as a wrong religion.<br><br><b>Do you think there can be peace in the Middle East?</b> Peace comes from inside. If people change from inside, there can be peace.</p><p style="text-align: right;">&nbsp;—<i>Noa Jones</i></p><p align="right" style="text-align: left;"><i>Image: hjl/flickr. St. Jerome's Cave, Bethlehem. The photograph does not depict the interviewee.&nbsp;</i></p> 46557 Thu, 04 Jun 2015 14:15:28 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World It Needs Saying http://www.tricycle.com/blog/it-needs-saying <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Brazier_religion.jpg" width="570" height="380" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>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.</p><p>Further, this is the right time to say it. The bandwagon of secularization of Buddhism has gradually gathered momentum to the point where it now threatens the whole basis of what the Buddha bequeathed us. Buddhism is becoming popular, but it is doing so in a form that is a new creation. This new creation is not the traditional Buddhism of Asia and it is not the Buddhism of Shakyamuni Buddha, the founder, either. This new creation is an artifact of modernity and postmodernity using elements abstracted from Buddhism, tailored to gain popularity by satisfying contemporary prejudice.</p><p>Having said that, we must add that there is nothing wrong with adaptation and creativity. Many of the new manifestations and applications of ideas and methods derived from Buddhism are intrinsically valuable and can stand on their own feet. Buddhism is like a copious spring, the water from which can be gathered and poured into many different shaped containers. What is problematic, however, is that the reductionist philosophy by which such artifacts are being generated threatens to poison the spring from which the water is flowing. It is a kind of asset stripping, or, we could say, it is like taking the fruit while killing the root.</p><p>The basic reductionist principle that informs this process is itself the opposite of dharma. It is precisely the kind of blindness that dharma teaching exists to awaken us from. This is why a warning bell needs to be sounded.</p><p>I have played a role in the propagation and popularization of Buddhist psychology so I have a personal part in this process. As somebody who could be seen to be one of the culprits I have, perhaps, a double onus to keep the record straight. Buddhism developed a sophisticated psychological approach two thousand years before the modern world discipline of psychology was invented. Psychological investigations have gone on throughout Buddhist history and the result is a gold mine of knowledge, experience, theory, and practice from which we contemporary people can learn a great deal, but although Buddhism has given rise to this treasure, Buddhism is not fundamentally or exclusively a psychology.</p><p>My contention is not that we should return to a past that is now irretrievable. It is that while accepting that Buddhism is changing at a cultural level and finding new forms of expression and organization, we should acknowledge that it is more than merely an expression of modernity using elements of Asian terminology. The most forceful way of doing this is to acknowledge that it is more than a way of life, more than a philosophy, more important and profound than a mere cultural artifact—that it is a religion.</p><p>Buddhism is commonly said to be about relieving or abolishing suffering. This can be taken as a worthy humanitarian goal that could have little to do with religion. A methodology that overcomes suffering by training the mind is a psychotherapy. There is, thus, a case to be made that Buddhism is a psychotherapy, and if one were to take abolishing suffering, or achieving happiness, as the goal of Buddhism, then one could claim that Buddhism is primarily, or even nothing other than, such therapy. Such a line of rhetoric can then be used to integrate Buddhism within the frame of modern, secular hedonistic ideas. Doing so, however, involves discarding most of what Buddhism actually consists of and missing the point of the Founder's original teaching.</p><p>Just as it is possible to present Buddhism as a psychology, we can also look at other things that Buddhism has given rise to. Buddhism has generated great cultures that have played prominent parts in history together with their many constituent ways of life, roles, forms of organization, social structures, politics, economics, and sciences. Modern academic investigation finds in this history fascinating areas for study and research. Some modern people adopt aspects of some of these traditional cultures and find it satisfying to do so. They wear Buddhist style clothes, sit on the floor, and have houses full of Eastern artifacts. They study <i>thangka</i> painting, or create Zen gardens. Many people now have Buddha figures as garden or household ornaments. These things look fine and contribute to a more gentle tenor of life. Buddhism has given rise to treasures such as these. Buddhism, however, is not fundamentally a culture. It has bred many cultures of great diversity. Buddhism is not fundamentally a way of life. There are many ways of life that can be considered to be Buddhist. Buddhism is not, basically, a style. There are many Buddhist styles. Buddhism has its views of economics and society, but Buddhism is not fundamentally a mode of social welfare. These things are all expressions of something more fundamental. Buddhism is a religion. Only a religion could generate such a diversity of riches permeating every aspect of life.</p><p>The Buddha gave remarkable codes of ethics tailored to different groups of people, to monks and nuns, to lay people, and to those who would follow an altruistic <i>bodhisattva</i> path. To this day we can learn a great deal from this ethical science. However, Buddhism is not fundamentally a system of ethics. Buddhism is a religion.</p><p>The Buddha was sometimes referred to as a doctor of the soul, and perhaps also of the body. It is likely his early disciples, wandering from place to place, not only taught the fundamentals of his doctrine, but also functioned in many cases as healers and medical practitioners. Many modern people are particularly concerned about health. They employ techniques drawn from Buddhism for stress relief, for an improved diet, for deep relaxation, for the treatment of depression, for massage, and so on. All this is wonderful. Buddhism has given rise to such treasures, but Buddhism is not fundamentally a health cure. Buddhism is a religion. The purpose of Buddhism is not stress relief. Buddha did not teach a method to help busy executives survive better in the rat race.</p><p>It is because Buddhism is a religion that it has been able to generate such richness. From the perspective of secular, humanistic materialism it is possible to see a value in many of the things to which Buddhism has given rise, but it is not really possible to see how they have come about because such an approach does not value the processes that constitute the substance of religion and does not recognize the religious nature of the human being. In fact, it consciously, deliberately, and systematically excludes them.</p><p>Modernity sees the fruits of Buddhism as its substance and then wonders how it can be so diverse. The substance of Buddhism, however, is what gives rise to all these fruits and this substance is not part of the materialistic scheme of things. In fact, it involves and is crucially dependent upon a renunciation of such materialism. It is this renunciation that modernity cannot admit, yet which is at the core of the Buddha's dispensation.</p><p>In Buddhism, the spiritual is primary and the physical is a domain in which spirit acts. In modernity, the physical is primary and the spiritual, if it is acknowledged at all, is the epiphenomenon. For Buddhism to survive and continue to produce such wonderful fruit we must not cut off its root in this way. Although Buddhism is, in some respects, very different from the religions we were used to in the past, at core it is a spiritual matter.</p><p>Many contemporary thinkers have asserted that Buddhism is not a religion in order to fit it into our culture. They want to create an American Buddhism or a European Buddhism, in which the encompassing frame is American culture or European philosophy. However, if you cut Buddhism down to fit into one of these frames you cut off the essence and root.</p><p>Buddhism is not something with which to decorate our existing materialistic culture. Using Buddhist methods to help one be more efficient at work, or cope with the stress of a go-getting lifestyle, is decoration of this kind.</p><p>Buddhism has entered this materialist world sometimes disguised as a saleable commodity. In a world where money is the measure of all things, this is the disguise you need to gain entry. Another measure is popularity. One wins by getting more votes. Votes and prices, however, have no necessary relationship to quality or depth. Buddhism aims to deepen life, not trivialize it. Measures are abstract, useful for some purposes, but never touch the essence of anything. No measure can tell you how beautiful something is. None can tell you how pure a person's heart or soul may be. The science of measurement is valuable and utilitarian. The soul of religion is something else. It is a different domain of existence. It is the one that makes life worth living.</p><p>Sometimes it is said that <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/feature/scientific-buddha" target="_blank">Buddhism is scientific</a>. This assertion would put Buddhism somehow within the frame of science, but Buddhism has much that would not fit into that frame.</p><p>We should not muddle up science and scientism. Scientism is a modern philosophy. Scientism is not Buddhistic because it is the attempt to make the restrictive rules of science into the dogmas by which the whole of life should be governed. Scientism is a different religion and a rather narrow one and it would be a tragedy if Buddhism in the West were reduced to it. Actually, scientism as one finds it in ordinary members of the public is largely based on a version of science that was superseded in the early decades of the 20th century. I have met people of this persuasion who say that "One should not believe anything that science has not proved." Fortunately or unfortunately, we have discovered that proving is not something that science does. Sometimes science disproves, but science always has an open frontier: it is always open to the new case that overturns what has been thought to be true up to now. Science demonstrates, but such demonstrations are never ultimate or final. We have seen so many revolutions in science in the past century that nobody should be in doubt of this. It does not make science redundant that its findings are so often overturned. It is in the nature of the situation. Science implies that there must be an incalculable amount that we do not know. In this respect science is Buddhistic.</p><p>Scientism, however, seeks to restrict our vision of the universe to things that are physically demonstrable. Most of the things that are important to most people—love, loyalty, faith, goodness, meaning, purpose—do not fall into such a category. As a philosophy, therefore, scientism is limited. It's popularity is based on a misreading of the prestige that currently attaches to technology. The proposition that one should believe nothing that is not empirically demonstrable is itself not empirically demonstrable.</p><p>An extension of the popularity of scientistic ways of thinking has become the way that many people currently approach Buddhism as though it were a collection of techniques. Certainly Buddhism has generated many techniques. This is another of its richnesses, but the tendency to see it as being merely technique, or merely practice, is a function of the modern world's worship of technology, not a true representation of Buddhism. It is just another case of picking the fruit while not seeing the root.</p><p>Buddhism is a religion. The common ground—perhaps the only one—of all schools of Buddhism is a religious act called taking refuge. We take refuge in the three treasures: the buddha, dharma, and sangha. Buddha is the supreme source of teaching, love, compassion, and wisdom. Dharma indicates the fundamentals of life and being. Sangha, in this context, is the assembly of spiritually awakened beings. Taking refuge in these three has salvific power. The popular view is that the aim here is to join the sangha, learn the dharma, and thereby become a buddha. That, however, is not refuge. Refuge is not about taking these jewels in our hands, it is about ourselves being held by them.</p><p>The mystique of this act is not something that can be grounded in materialism or psychology. It has material and psychological consequences, but they are incidental. The whole purpose is to transcend such considerations and open the possibility of being liberated from them.</p><p>Each deepening of refuge is a lessening of ego. More faith, less ego. Thus Buddhism finds salvation beyond self. It is not a collection of methods for greater self-development, self-assertion, self-cherishing, self-­esteem, or anything of the kind. Rather the opposite. Buddhism is not narcissism. The devotee is encouraged to be ever mindful of the objects of refuge, to bow to them, make offerings, revere and worship them. Being mindful of their supreme qualities one becomes more aware of one's own deficiency. Becoming more aware of the deficiency of self, one's need to take refuge increases in intensity. Finally one lets go of self entirely, takes refuge wholeheartedly and enters nirvana.</p><p>Taking refuge is an act of faith. To think that taking refuge is just like joining a worldly organization is to miss the essence and to reduce the supreme mystery to a mundane procedure. Far from reducing mystery to mundanity, Buddhism is about infusing the mundane with the sacred.</p><p>Buddhism's foundation is faith. This faith is based in real, close-to-the-bone, experience. We find that the body is not reliable; the mind is not reliable; thoughts are not reliable, emotions are not reliable, circumstances are not reliable, social status is not reliable; the present moment is not reliable. No technique or methodology will make them so. Direct awareness of the present and of the sequence of things occurring demonstrates to us the unreliability of all that the worldly mind considers as self. Awareness alone would leave us frightened and helpless. Therefore we need mindfulness and the other factors of enlightenment that flow from it. We need mindfulness of the treasure that is available to us. Initially we may think it is our own treasure, but this is just the conceit of the self reasserting itself. The treasure is universal and unconditional, but each of us encounters it in a unique way. Buddha speaks to each of us in our own language. Thus everybody has some spiritual treasure to rely upon if they will just heed it. Buddhism helps us to do so with ever-greater depth and confidence.<br><br><b>David Brazier (Dharmavidya) </b>is president of the International Zen Therapy Institute and head of the Amida Order, a Pure Land sangha. His last article for <i>Tricycle</i>, “<a href="http://www.tricycle.com/feature/inner-logic-other-power" target="_blank">The ‘Inner Logic’ of Other Power</a>,” appeared in the Spring 2015 issue.</p><p><em>Adapted from&nbsp;</em>Buddhism is a Religion<em>, by David Brazier, with the permission of Woodsmoke Press.</em></p><p><em>Jonathan Pozniak/GalleryStock</em></p> 46540 Sat, 30 May 2015 12:00:00 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World