Tricycle - Awake in the World The Online Tricycle Magazine Blog http://www.tricycle.com/ en Sat, 30 May 2015 12:00:00 -0400 Sat, 30 May 2015 12:00:02 -0400 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 The Not-so-big "E" http://www.tricycle.com/blog/not-so-big-e <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/CoyoteImage4.jpg" width="570" height="762" style="margin: 7px auto; display: block;"></p><p class="p1">In the first week of December 2009, I was 68 years old. Infirmity and dying were in the forefront of my mind. 45 years earlier I had contracted hepatitis C from shooting drugs. It had remained undiagnosed until the late 1990s, by which time the disease had been conscripting and destroying my liver cells for all those years.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">My youth had left, snatching as it exited, the firm outlines of my body and my once distinct jaw-line and un-creased neck. The backs of my hands were dotted with liver spots, and shadows pooled below my eyes. My stamina had diminished and like most people who have aged beyond the notice of today's diversions for the young, my acting career had settled into a stasis with no promise of any breakthroughs. Sickness, old age, and death had become tangible to me in ways that had been only romantic posturing in my twenties.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">It was now incontrovertible that in a conceivable future, everything I held dear, every memory and achievement, every treasure, includ­ing my own body, would be stripped from me. That is the central, unavoidable fact of human existence (and a fundamental tenet of Buddhism) and when it changed from a notion into a certainty, my perspective changed with it, particularly my ideas about time. Looking backwards, the lengthening succession of dead friends and family dis­appeared into emptiness like a black thread being unspooled into a tub of ink. The only uncertainty in my future now was speculation about how savagely sickness, old age, and death would claim their due. With these thoughts as unpleasant companions, I decided to sit another seven-day <i>sesshin </i>[intensive retreat]. It was December again, time for <i>Rohatsu</i>, the Great Cold <i>sesshin</i>.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1"><em>Sesshins</em> are always rough, and this time the first three days were particularly difficult. Though my shaking and convulsions had sub­sided many years before and I could now sit as solidly as those senior monks I'd once envied, my body was 40 years older. The pain in my knees was intense, debilitating, and distracting to the degree that dur­ing a private audience with my teacher on the third day, I confessed to him that I would have to quit the <i>sesshin</i> because I could not bear the pain any longer.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">He was mildly critical of me for not paying closer attention to my body and for trying to bull my way through. "You're nearly seventy," he said. "It's hard to admit that all your cards are on the table now and that you have none left to draw. You'll have to play the ones you have as best you can. <i>That is the central fact of your existence.</i> That is reality and you'll have to adjust to that. You are living what we mean when we say, 'seeing without delusion.' You only have one set of knees and you need to take care of them. If you have to sit in a chair, sit in a chair. Don't cripple yourself trying to be tough or refusing to recognize the reality of your body or your age."</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">He was correct of course and had pinpointed the underlying depres­sion amplifying my physical pain. After our conversation, I began alternating meditation periods between my cushion and a chair, calculating backwards from mealtimes so that the meditation period before a meal (which I preferred to take on my cushion) was done in a chair. This relieved the stress on my knees and the consequent reduction of pain allowed me to refocus and dedicate my efforts wholeheartedly. I aligned myself to the schedule without further resistance, and was able to focus my concentration on a question that had arisen for me on the <i>sesshin</i>'s first day.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">It was a simple question I had condensed into a short mnemonic phrase—"What is it?"—mental shorthand for the larger question­ "What is it I'm missing or still searching for?" By the end of day four I was completely absorbed by it. It accompanied each inhale and exhale, and resided within me, simmering on a back burner, whether meditat­ing, walking, or eating. It floated through my dreams.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">On the sixth day, in the late afternoon, the light outside was thinning and we began a period of rapid <i>kinhin</i> (walking meditation). Our route began by exiting a side door, circumambulating the rough porch girding the building, reentering through the door at the opposite cor­ner, threading a path through the <i>zendo</i> and out the first door again. The wood underfoot was bracingly cold and its rough texture stimulat­ing; the rapid walking increased my circulation and alertness and was a balm to my sore joints and muscles. The afternoon fog, creeping in from the ocean, was obscuring the edges of the hills, sending tendrils slithering through the grass like a vigorous living entity.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">I had just stepped out the door onto the porch. Perhaps on the sec­ond or third round, but I had just begun my course down the building's long side. I remember that my hands were folded formally against my navel and my gaze was unfocused, and I remember a portion of the swishing black robe and flashing heels of the person in front of me. Several paces after passing through the door, a bird began to shriek from very nearby. It was as loud and startling as if it was sitting on my shoulder, and its plaint was unrelenting. Today, I know it was a Camp Jay, but I wasn't aware of that at the moment because my con­centration was purloined by my question, and the bird's shriek was an irritant.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1"><i>Eeek! Eeek! Eeek! Eeek! Eeek!</i> It cried—strident, insistent, obliter­ating all thought. Suddenly, in that momentary emptiness, its cries were transformed and I heard them as "It!" "It!" "It!" "It!"—the indisputable answer to my question. I took one more step and the world as I had always experienced it ended.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">I cannot describe what happened next because in that instant lan­guage and thought fell entirely away from my existence. The bound­aries between <em>in here</em> and <em>out there</em> disappeared. The world remained recognizable, as it had always been, but completely stripped of descriptive language and concepts. Everything appeared to be a phantom of itself, luminous but without weight or substance. "I" had been replaced. The closest I can come to describing what I felt was as a part of an awareness with no physical location, inseparable from the entire universe. Everything was precisely as it had come to be.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The world was perfect, without time, eternal, and coming and going as it had always been. Every doubt that I had ever harbored about Zen practice fell away. The timid fearful self I had been defending, aggrandizing, comforting, and trying to improve for my entire life had been relieved of duty and everything was fine without him. There was nothing I had to <em>do</em>. I knew irrefutably that this was what I had been searching for since I first picked up a book about Zen when l was sixteen years old.</p><p>In the next instant, I understood that it was not all that important.<br><br><b>Peter Coyote </b>is a Zen priest and actor living in Mill Valley, California.&nbsp;</p><p><em>From&nbsp;</em>The Rainman's Third Cure,&nbsp;<em>by Peter Coyote. Published by Counterpoint Press.&nbsp;</em></p><p><em>Mark Hooper/Gallerystock</em></p> 46536 Fri, 29 May 2015 15:50:20 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Theravada Buddhism’s Muslim Problem http://www.tricycle.com/blog/theravada-buddhism%E2%80%99s-muslim-problem <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Buddhist%20Muslim%20Summit.jpg" width="570" height="428" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"><em>Buddhist and Muslim leaders meet to discuss peace initiatives at the Yogyakarta meeting in Indonesia, March 2015.</em>&nbsp;</p><p>Buddhist radicalism is on the rise in countries like Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Since 2012, both countries have witnessed severe violence against their Muslim minorities. Attacks take place in an atmosphere of strong anti-Muslim rhetoric put forward by certain monk-led nationalist groups, and the (largely unknown) orchestrators and perpetrators of these attacks operate with impunity.</p><p>What we are witnessing now is a new form of Buddhist revivalism similar to those seen in both countries during their colonial and early independence periods. But in the sense that Buddhist radical groups in Myanmar and Sri Lanka see their own challenges not only from a local point of view, but also understand it within regional—even global—frameworks, this new Buddhist radicalism is transnational.</p><p>Sharing with its prior manifestations a concern for state protection of Buddhism, this political Buddhism resists what it understands to be “the Islamic threat,” particularly the global spread, noticeably into Asia, of conservative expressions of Islam and forms of Muslim violent extremism. In the current situation, we have seen stronger attachments to Buddhist identity vis-à-vis other religions, as well as a new regional concern about religious minorities and majorities in Asia.</p><p>There is a broad Buddhist political consciousness at play, and a greater sense of local connection to a wider Buddhist sangha, at least in the Theravada world. The same sense of broader connectivity and transnationalism that characterizes this new Buddhist revivalism (and its attendant anti-Muslim rhetoric) has also fueled many religious peace initiatives across the region, undertaken by both Muslims and Buddhists.</p><p>In March, nearly 30 practitioners and academics working across Theravada contexts met at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand,&nbsp;to discuss various strategies for religious peacebuilding.&nbsp;The increasing frequency of hate speech by religious leaders, violent confrontation between religious communities, and new forms of religious intolerance in social and legal norms have been met with great concern, not only by Western states, the UN, and international nongovernmental organizations like Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, but more importantly, by local and regional civil society organizations and religious leaders. Although international engagement has its place, such discussions on issues like inter-communal violence, the place of religion in the public sphere, and legitimate or illegitimate restrictions on freedom of religion or belief must be addressed <i>within </i>the religious communities themselves<i>.</i></p><p>Through a shared interest for the common good, religious peace initiatives might offer alternative spaces for cooperation between communities. Many of the initiatives discussed at the Bangkok meeting, for example, addressed the best ways for improving health care, education, and access to resources for all.</p><p>In the case of both Myanmar and Sri Lanka, what is at stake according to radical Buddhists is the very survival of Buddhism in the face of the “Islamic threat.” The question, then, is how to protect Buddhism in a way that does not violate the rights of non-Buddhists or foster communal conflict. This requires an intra-Buddhist debate on Buddhist principles, religious pluralism, and human rights.</p><p>So far, the most important top-level initiative in the region has been the <a href="http://www.inebnetwork.org/ineb/home/44-bmf-article/622-yogyakarta-statement-buddhist-muslim-summit-march-4-2015">Yogyakarta meeting</a> in Indonesia. In March 2015, religious officials from across the region met to discuss Buddhist-Muslim relations and to foster mutual peace and understanding. Their declaration states, “Buddhism and Islam have been misused by some for their own political purposes to fuel prejudice and stereotyping and to incite discrimination and violence.” They pledged continued work to promote inter- and intra-religious education, conflict prevention, and positive engagement with the media.</p><p>Statements like this, crafted by local religious leaders and endorsed by authoritative Buddhist and Muslim organizations, carry far more weight than any human rights group’s condemnation of the role of religious leaders in creating intolerance and mistrust.</p><p>Often romanticized and promoted by religious peacebuilders themselves, religious peacebuilding remains a vague notion. There are many pitfalls to be recognized: the limited influence of religious leaders upon their communities, their lack of independence from the state, and the danger of top-level talk with little impact on local social and political realities. However, amid rising levels of religious tension, religious players will need to act, lest exclusivist ideologies, intolerance, and violence are to win.<br><br><b>Iselin Frydenlund</b> is a research fellow at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo, and a senior researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO).</p><p><b>Susan Hayward</b> is Interim Director of the Religion and Peacebuilding program at the United States Institute of Peace.&nbsp;</p><p><i>A version of this essay was originally published on </i><a href="http://blogs.prio.org/2015/05/the-buddhist-face-of-peace-buddhist-peace-initiatives-in-times-of-religious-intolerance/"><i>PRIO’s blog</i></a><i>.</i></p> 46537 Thu, 28 May 2015 10:43:41 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Imperfect Refuge http://www.tricycle.com/blog/imperfect-refuge <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/SuthepPrayer2.jpg" width="570" height="379" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p1" style="text-align: center;"><em>Protest leader turned monk Suthep Thaugsuban prays at Pathum Wanaram temple in Bangkok, March 2014.</em></p><p class="p1">Telegenic tanks rolled into Bangkok. Soldiers evacuated protest encampments. The coup, declared on May 22, 2014, put an end to the demonstrations that had embroiled Thailand for six months. During that period, Suthep Thaugsuban, the protest leader, became the country’s most visible and controversial figure. Then, suddenly and inexplicably, he disappeared.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">In a ceremony devoid of pomp and circumstance, he quietly became a Buddhist monk.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">After so many days in the middle of unrelenting turmoil, Suthep wouldn’t have surprised anyone if he’d chosen from the standard means of high-profile political respite—a beach vacation, perhaps, or a choreographed trip to his hometown. But this choice to become a monk was downright strange. The decision’s seeming incongruity reflects a contradiction at the center of Thai civic life, which sets the recurring instability of its political institutions against a backdrop of perennially steady religious ones.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The protests that precipitated the coup focused primarily on corruption—a very real and significant problem for the Thai political system. Suthep’s participation in the outcry was deeply ironic, however, as he had been dogged by charges of corruption for much of his political career. Most notably, <a href="https://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/12/08BANGKOK3712.html" target="_blank">Wikileaks cables</a> revealed that members of Suthep’s own party complained privately about his “corrupt and unethical behavior,” describing him as a “backroom dealmaker.” &nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Nevertheless, his protests proved masterful stagecraft. They convincingly linked prominent issues in Thai society, like a failed rice subsidy program and the nation’s growing debt, to an imagined national consensus, while concealing the wealthy and powerful interests that supported Suthep and his activities. Ultimately, the protests brought about a transfer of power.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Nominally neutral, the resulting military junta rules to this day and is largely perceived to be following the agenda of Suthep’s protest movement. Suthep, after all, had called directly for the removal of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, by coup if necessary. He also claimed to have had discussions with Chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the leader of the military regime, before the coup took place. But Prayuth reportedly then <a href="http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/416810/suthep-in-talks-with-prayuth-since-2010" target="_blank">told</a> Suthep to quiet down about their relationship. Suthep was ordained a few weeks later, on July 15, vanishing as quietly as a leading Thai politician can.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Granted, Thais—over 90 percent of whom are Buddhist—consider it an obligation for men to seek ordination as novice monks for at least a short period of time. Whether motivated by a desire to make merit for their parents, an interest in Buddhist teachings, or an opportunity to attend school through the monastic education system, Thai men can serve as monks for anywhere between a few weeks to a lifetime. When he was a young man, Suthep <a href="http://www.bangkokpost.com/learning/learning-from-news/420819/lung-kamnan-to-phra-suthep" target="_blank">was himself ordained</a>, and remained a monk for over a month.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Increasingly, though, the monastery has become the province of poor and rural Thais; well-educated professionals are far less likely to seek ordination. This trend makes Suthep’s foray into monastic life all the more surprising.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Did ordination simply provide Suthep an effective means by which to heed general Prayuth’s suggestion? Or was something else afoot?</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Suthep <a href="http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/special-reports/459867/from-marches-to-monkhood-suthep-act-of-faith" target="_blank">said</a> that he sought ordination in order to honor the 24 people killed over the course of last year’s protests. This type of ordination, to make merit for the dead, has long been common in Thailand and other Buddhist societies. He also stated that he wanted to be a monk for 205 days in order to mirror the length of the protests. Suthep has now been a monk for 311 days, though he recently <a href="http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/politics/564939/phra-suthep-preparing-to-leave-monkhood" target="_blank">announced</a> his intention to someday disrobe.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">As for public perception, Thais’ explanations for Suthep’s ordination generally reflect their own political positions. One friend, a tepid supporter of the protests, told me that he thinks Suthep was ordained because he needed a rest after the movement. A monk from Chiang Mai, the birthplace of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, said he thinks that Suthep was ordained to avoid getting killed. Another monk suggested that perhaps Suthep had made a vow to seek ordination if he survived or won the political standoff.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">While entirely possible, these hypotheses omit important legal considerations. Since many Thais believe that Buddhism is beyond reproach, the religion provides ready cover for a monastic’s past trouble with the law.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Suthep <a href="http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/politics/482826/abhisit-suthep-face-malfeasance-charges" target="_blank">faces malfeasance and abuse of authority charges</a> that stem from his role in ordering a government crackdown on protesters in 2010, when he was the Deputy Prime Minister. Although Suthep is currently being prosecuted, no one—police officers included—wants to lay his or her hands on a monk for fear that it could constitute an offense with long-lasting karmic consequences.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Given the criticism from Gen. Prayuth, mid-June was a politically conspicuous time for Suthep to go underground. In this respect, he joins a <a href="http://www.khaosodenglish.com/detail.php?newsid=1405500727&section=11" target="_blank">little-known line of Thai politicians</a> who have quietly sought escape from intrigue by entering the monkhood. In doing so, they take advantage of the prevailing, if problematic, notion that the Sangha is above politics. Most Thais understand that the national sangha has been affected by the nation’s divisive political dynamics. But, even so, many still presume that there are more good monks than bad, and that by entering the sangha even a bad person becomes better.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Thus, regardless of Suthep’s sincerity in taking refuge in the three jewels, he has gained refuge from the three poisons of political life: bad press, legal trouble, and ostracism from power. And while his questionable intentions may not accrue him much merit, they have certainly accrued him time, which he can use to determine his next move. If the past is any indication, that could be just about anything.&nbsp;<br><br><b>Thomas Borchert </b>is an associate professor of the religions of East and Southeast Asia at the University of Vermont.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"><em>Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty&nbsp;</em></p><p></p><hr><p><strong>More at Tricycle:</strong></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/dont-get-stuck-neutral"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/Neutral-read.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> Don't Get Stuck in Neutral </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/dont-get-stuck-neutral" 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/examined-life"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/tree-read.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> The Examined Life </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/examined-life" 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> 46528 Fri, 22 May 2015 14:22:54 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Don't Get Stuck in Neutral http://www.tricycle.com/blog/dont-get-stuck-neutral <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/StuckInNeturalDrawing.png" width="570" height="445" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p1">In the West, there are many who approach Buddhism primarily intellectually. In the East, many approach it primarily as a tradition—part of their cultural heritage. Yes, Buddhism contains immensely profound and complex intellectual information. Yes, it is an important cultural tradition in many Eastern civilizations. However, Buddhism’s true gift is that it teaches us to learn and experience the true characteristics and the nature of our mind and the world, as they are. Through meditations like those on lovingkindness, compassion, devotion, and wisdom, Buddhism trains us to improve our mind in how we think, communicate, and act with others and the external world. If our mind becomes wholesome, then our vocal and physical activities will become sources of peace and benefit for ourselves and others. This life will be happier, as will the next. Ultimately, through proper meditation, we will be liberated from the suffering of samsara.</p><p class="p1">No matter how much we study the texts, we need to be mindful of our karma in order to progress. We must stay away from unvirtuous acts and thoughts. But we shouldn’t fritter away our lives by engaging only in neutral karmas. Instead, we should exert ourselves in virtuous karmas such as prayer and service.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">Some meditators choose to remain in the absence of awareness. In my experience, these are usually well-educated, high-status achievers. They are often so busy burning both ends of the candle in order to advance their worldly position that they even dream about earning at night. So, understandably, they feel a tremendous sense of relief when someone instructs them, “Just rest in the absence of thoughts.” At last, they can quiet down and let go of their busyness! And since the instruction to do so is given to them by someone whom they consider to be an authority on meditation, they don’t have to feel guilty about slowing down. They are told that doing this is good for their health and mental state. So for these fatigued individuals, having permission to rest without thoughts is new and exciting, something they have rarely tasted.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">In reality, however, this meditation experience is a neutral state. Most of these people are simply taking a break while still in the middle of mundane traffic, still in the hub of ordinary karmic and mental habitual settings—without having purified, refined, or transcended their mental and emotional afflictions. So when they come out of that break, that trance, they find themselves back at square one, with the same old mundane dilemmas and habits awaiting them. It is like waking up from a wonderful dream only to find oneself back in reality.</p><p class="p1">Nevertheless, remaining in neutral thoughts and activities is better than spending one’s life in evil thoughts and deeds, which will cause grave pain. However, spending one’s life in a neutral state is a big waste of the great potential of our most precious human life.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">According to Buddhist teachings, the karmic result of remaining in a neutral state, the mere absence of thoughts, is rebirth in the animal, form, or formless realms. We go to the animal realm if our mental habit was ignorance and stupidity. This realm is marked by violence and fear.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">We take rebirth in the formless realms if our habitual thought patterns were marked by ideas like “Space is infinite,” “Consciousness is infinite,” “There is nothing,” or “There is no perception and no absence of perception.” Each of these four thought patterns leads to rebirth in a different subdivision of the formless realms, depending on which subdivision best reflects our habits. For instance, having a habit of thinking “Space is infinite” lands us in the subdivision called “infinite space.” In the formless realm, we don’t have gross bodies or forms. We don’t have gross thoughts or emotions. This is due to the past experience of remaining in the absence of thoughts and absence of awareness.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">Absorption in the formless realm can last for eons. Eventually, however, it ends. And when it does, we continue from where we left off—returning to our old thoughts and emotions, and experiencing the results of our other positive or negative past karmas. So taking rebirth in the formless realms is a break, a limbo, but with no merits. It is a diversion from the path of liberation, as there is no awakening of the wisdom of intrinsic awareness or discriminative wisdom. That is why Longchen Rabjam laments for those meditators who value remaining in the absence of thoughts:</p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 30px;">Alas! These animal-like meditators,<br>By stopping the perceptions, they remain without <br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;any thought.<br>Calling this the absolute nature, they become <br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;proud.<br>If they gain experience in such a state, they will take <br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;rebirth in the animal realm.<br>Even if they don’t gain much experience in it, they <br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;will take rebirth in the form or formless realms.<br>They will have no opportunity to get liberation from <br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;samsara.</p><p class="p1">As long as we make no effort to transform the mind, we cannot escape the ordinary state of grasping tightly at mental objects—dualistically, emotionally, and sensorily. A merely neutral state in which concepts are temporarily suspended won’t help us progress. As soon as we go back to having concepts again, we will return to the ordinary state of grasping we had before. It is like waking up from the escapism of deep sleep, only to find that the same mundane problems await us.<br><br><strong>Tulku Thondup&nbsp;</strong>was born in Golok, East Tibet, where he&nbsp;was recognized as the reincarnation of Khenpo Konchog Dronme, a renowned scholar at the Dodrupchen Monastery, an educational institution of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. He currently lives and writes in Cambridge, Massachusetts.</p><p class="p1">From&nbsp;<i>The Heart of Unconditional Love</i>&nbsp;by Tulku Thondup Rinpoche, ©2015 by Tulku Thondup Rinpoche. Reprinted by arrangement with <a href="http://www.shambhala.com" target="_blank">Shambhala Publications, Inc.</a> Boston, MA.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"><em>Illustration by James Thacher</em></p><p></p><hr><p><strong>More at Tricycle:</strong></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/slow-burn"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/smoke-blog.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> The Slow Burn</b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/slow-burn" 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/examined-life"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/tree-read.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> The Examined Life </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/examined-life" 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> 46509 Tue, 19 May 2015 16:50:32 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World The Buddhists Go to Washington http://www.tricycle.com/blog/buddhists-go-washington <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/WHImage.jpg" width="570" height="379" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p1" style="text-align: center;"><em>Buddhist leaders gather in the White House on May 14 for a meeting with government officials.</em></p><p class="p1">Last Thursday 125 prominent Buddhist figures from a range of traditions gathered in Washington, DC, for the first meeting between White House and State Department officials and Buddhist faith groups. Teachers from the Sinhalese, Cambodian, Burmese, Bangladeshi, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Tibetan, Vietnamese, and Thai Buddhist lineages attended, as well as scholars, activists, and leaders of convert groups who do not affiliate with any one particular Asian school.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">It was an impressive display of American Buddhist diversity. It was also a reminder that this diversity has perhaps been a barrier to unified American Buddhist social action.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">"Are we about to enter the era of the political Buddhist?" <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/05/12/125-u-s-buddhist-leaders-to-meet-at-the-white-house/" target="_blank">Michelle Boorstein asks</a> in the <i>Washington Post</i>. She goes on to note that&nbsp; "…until recent years [US Buddhists] haven't considered or focused specifically on how their Buddhism translates into public action."</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">This isn't strictly true. The Bay area–based <a href="http://www.buddhistpeacefellowship.org/" target="_blank">Buddhist Peace Fellowship</a> has been engaging in nonviolent peace and justice efforts since 1978; the US branch of the Taiwanese <a href="http://www.tzuchi.us/" target="_blank">Tzu Chi Foundation</a>, which focuses on global medicine and educational issues, was established in 1984. And these are just two examples. Even in the early 1900s, Japanese-American Buddhists were petitioning the US government for equal rights as well as striking for fair pay and better working conditions.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">This is not to say, however, that Boorstein doesn't have a point, although perhaps one that is slightly different from the one<b> </b>she intended. The American Buddhist landscape is full of people who use their Buddhist values and understanding as both a grounding foundation and an inspiring springboard for public action. (Consider our work in chaplaincy, hospice care, the prison industrial complex, minority rights, labor organizing, and many other fields.) But rarely does American Buddhism present a unified front on a particular issue. And I cannot think of a time when we have galvanized our full strength in numbers to effect change under a shared vision. &nbsp;</p><p class="p1">Why is this the case? It's certainly not for a lack of agreement among us on what pressing issues deserve our time and attention. If Thursday's conference was any evidence, American Buddhists are responding most urgently to climate change and racial justice (although other matters, including the Buddhist-led persecution of Rohingya Muslims, were addressed both by the Buddhist attendees and White House representatives).</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">I've read and heard many say that it's simply a maturation process American Buddhism must undergo before it reaches the stage where its adherents can organize as effectively as other faith traditions in the US have. I don't think this is unfair to say, although Buddhism<i> has</i> been flourishing in the US since the late 1800s.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The biggest reason I think we're so behind is rooted in a complex history, but<b> </b>it is simple in principle: we've done a poor job of reaching out across our communities, especially across the immigrant/convert community divide that only recently has begun to dissolve. We’ve also failed to reach out <i>beyond</i> our communities to join in common cause with other faith traditions, in order to accomplish change that might be beyond our own means as an American minority faith. Pointing this out, I should say, is not to lay blame upon anyone. Rather, it is an invitation for&nbsp;American Buddhists to work together on the issues that our society faces, and in doing so, create our own unapologetically powerful and persuasive voice.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Thursday's meeting was billed as "historic"—and it was. But it would have been even if the White House hadn’t been involved. It was the best attempt I've seen to bring together the full range of the Buddhist groups in the US, and to accurately represent American Buddhism as a whole.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Jack Kornfield spoke in his closing address about the idea, perhaps internalized by some of us, that Buddhists are passive. But he also reminded us that social action has been the work of Buddhism since the time of the Buddha, who in his life counseled kings on matters of the day. (That would be like Obama inviting the Buddha to the Oval Office, he said, and actually drafting policy based on their discussion.) These days we do see religion affecting policy decisions, often in damaging ways. But that’s not an argument <i>not </i>to be involved; it’s an argument for it. Otherwise we are merely pawns directed by the influence of others.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">So, we’ve had one conference. The question now is: where do we go from here?&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">And most importantly, can we do it together?<br><br><strong>Emma Varvaloucas</strong> is&nbsp;<em>Tricycle</em>'s managing editor.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"><em>Photograph by Philip Rosenberg</em></p><p></p><hr><p><strong>More at Tricycle:</strong></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/imperfect-refuge"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/imperfect-read.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> Imperfect Refuge </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/imperfect-refuge" 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/examined-life"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/tree-read.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> The Examined Life </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/examined-life" 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> 46519 Mon, 18 May 2015 13:43:42 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World The Examined Life http://www.tricycle.com/blog/examined-life <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/GS3379649.jpg" width="570" height="417" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>I address you now not as your professor, but as Seido, Rinzai Zen monk, caretaker of Hokoku-An Zendo.</p><p class="MsoNormal">The semester has come to an end. When I look out at you I see 30 people. When you look at me you see one. But for each one of you I am a different professor. There are 30 different versions of me standing before you in this classroom. It is my job to create a relationship of sorts with each and every one of you. I do that by reading your journals and your papers, by observing how you are in class, whether or not you come prepared, whether or not you take notes, how often you text, and how often you nod off. I’m like Santa Claus. I see you when you’re sleeping and I know when you’re awake; I know when you’re taking notes and when you’re checking your Facebook page.</p><p class="MsoNormal">When I have conferences at the end of the semester it all comes together for me. In that brief one-on-one meeting when we look at the work you did for the semester—when we are face-to-face and not communicating by email or text—I get to see in the flesh the person who wrote the work I’ve been reading all semester. In many cases, the conference is the first time I actually hear your voice. You see me and hear me all semester. For the most part I just see you and read your work. To sit with you and visit with you even for a brief period is illuminating.</p><p class="MsoNormal">My job as a professor puts me in contact with you because it’s my job to educate you. The professor in me has infinite patience and will bend over backwards and try whatever it takes to educate his students. But the monk in me is never separate from me. Zen monks and all monks of the Mahayana tradition take four vows:</p><p class="MsoNormal" style="text-align: center;" align="center"><i style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Infinite are all beings; I vow to save them.</i><i style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"><br>Infinite are all attachments; I vow to be free of them.<br></i><i style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Infinite are all Dharmas; I vow to master them.<br>Infinite is the Buddha way; I vow to attain it.</i></p><p class="MsoNormal">The monk in me is the one you visit when you come for the conference. It may seem like the professor, but it’s the monk, I assure you.</p><p class="MsoNormal">Let me say a few words about monastic training. Discipline. Effort. Perseverance. Focus. Concentration. The rules of the monastery are strict. Wake up at 3:00 a.m. and in the meditation hall by 3:10. From there the day includes meditation, chanting, work, more sitting, more chanting, more work, and then more sitting before we sleep for five hours only to get up at three and do it all over again. Day after day—sit, chant, work. When practicing this for months at a time one learns the true meaning of discipline, effort, perseverance, focus, and concentration.</p><p class="MsoNormal">Every semester in every class I have outstanding students. They may not say much in class but their journals are good from the start, they show up on time and prepared, they follow along with the reading, they take notes, and sometimes they even ask questions. More amazingly is when they show up at my office because they want to get help on a paper. When they do ask for help, they get the help they need. And when they write a paper they follow directions and take the sum of their notes and their knowledge and put it into their essays. Every semester and in every class I have such students. They are among the best of my students in a 30-year career. I applaud them and during conference I get to tell them so. I am honored by their presence in my classes and they inspire me to do my job and do it as well as I can.</p><p class="MsoNormal">The monk in me is more concerned about the people who are struggling. Always during conferences I come to know the backstory of some of my students’ lives.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes;">&nbsp; </span>Every semester I see certain people’s pain and come to realize how difficult their lives are and how sometimes it’s a miracle they can even make it to class. In the course of this semester alone, among my 90 students many deaths have occurred. Many serious illnesses have arisen. Many of you sitting right next to each other have no idea what the person beside you is going through. I see this semester after semester—young people with their whole lives ahead of them in deep pain and confusion. The monk in me is most concerned about these people.</p><p class="MsoNormal">One of the reasons why I require weekly journals is so that I can see from week to week what you’re absorbing in class. When the journals are scattered, sloppy, irrelevant, off-topic, confused, I have to wonder. When the formal papers are a disaster I also have to wonder. Just by virtue of the fact that you are students at the University of Missouri means that you possess a level of education that qualifies you to be here. This seems to be a reasonable assumption. So when capable students don’t perform to the best of their ability I have to ask why.</p><p class="MsoNormal">The monk, for those of you who are athletes, is like the coach. The monk has been trained in discipline. The monk knows what it means to apply effort, to focus, to concentrate, to persevere. When I see students whose minds are scattered for whatever reason, it’s my job as a monk to bring them back to the present, to the moment, to right now: what is your job? What is your responsibility? What does this moment require of you? When I see students who lack discipline and focus, who are careless and distracted, who are so self-absorbed that they don’t see the larger picture of humanity and their role in it, I have no choice but to wake them up, not by coddling them and saying kind things, but by putting them on the spot.</p><p class="MsoNormal">A friend, also a professor, sent me an article from the <i style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">New York Times</i> recently. It was an interview with Arthur Levine, author of three books exploring the psyche of college students. He had this to say about today’s students:</p><blockquote><p class="MsoNormal">This was a generation that was not allowed to skin their knees. They got awards and applause for everything they did even if it was being the most improved, or the best trombone player born on April 5<sup>th</sup>. So it makes sense that they think very highly of their abilities and expect to go on getting awards and applause. The grade inflation on college campuses plays into that.</p></blockquote><p class="MsoNormal">He’s right about that. Grades have become meaningless because they are so inflated. I’d rather not have to think about grades and just focus on teaching you, and I think if you didn’t have to think about grades you could just focus on learning. I went to Emerson College in Boston as an undergraduate. I took many pass/fail classes. No grades other than P or F. It took the pressure off. You could learn for the sake of learning. The goal was education and not the grade. I was a student. I was there to learn. So I made the most of the opportunity and made it a point to learn in every class I took whether I liked that class or not. But that was 40 years ago. It was a different world.</p><p class="MsoNormal">Socrates said that the unexamined life isn’t worth living. It was true then and it’s true now. Ideally, an education is to help you live a fully examined life. You learn the important questions to ask. You learn how to seek for the answers to those important questions. And when you find the answers, you learn how to make sense of them. But you never can stop asking questions. There is one question of many parts that is the most important question of all: who am I; who was I before I was born; what happens when I die? This is the ultimate question that all human beings are confronted with, and that wise human beings have always aspired to answer. Until you understand that—what most people never do—there are many, many questions to ask. Education teaches you not just how to ask questions but also what questions to ask. The more you learn, of anything, the more questions you will have. In short, a good education teaches you how to learn for the rest of your life.</p><p class="MsoNormal">This very institution represents the highest ideals of our common humanity—a place to learn, a place to ask questions and discover answers and make your self into the best human being possible. No matter what your job is, there is nothing more important than your own humanity. What kind of a human being will you be? Will you live an examined life? Will you step back, ask questions, and become wise with old age? Or will you just watch, join in, go mindlessly with the flow of the popular culture that tells you what to wear, what to eat, what to watch, what to listen to, what to think, and what to feel?</p><p class="MsoNormal">Life is profound if you’re awake to see it. It’s one thing to draw from culture, it’s another thing to be drawn so deeply into the culture that your true nature disappears. Wisdom is not merely something to be gained with old age. One can be wise in every stage of one’s life. To manifest wisdom means simply to step back and see—to reflect, inquire, be aware, be disciplined, and be focused not once in a while, but all of the time, moment to moment. This life is precious and fleeting. Pay attention.</p><p class="MsoNormal">I remind you that I’m speaking as a monk now. Lately I see my life as one sweeping, continuous moment that is always taking place in the present. The whole sum of my life is with me at all times. It is all one instant, always one moment in time, as though my entire life took no time at all. But I’m not the boy I was, or the young man I was—58 years in one single moment. A lot has happened and before you know it, a lot will have happened to you too. You are the sum of your actions at any point in your life. Everything you do right now will be part of your future for better and worse. From moment to moment, one decision to the next, you are shaping your life whether you’re aware of it or not. The kind of life you live depends on what you choose to do each moment. How can you pay attention to your life if you are constantly distracted? How can you step back and see unless you literally shut off and shut up?</p><p class="MsoNormal">Ignorant people fear silence and solitude. They are afraid of themselves. They don’t want to step back and see. See what? What’s to see? Educated people know what questions to ask. They know what it means to step back, if only to ask a question. These are the people who live an examined life. It takes discipline, effort, perseverance, and concentration to live an examined life in this mass media culture. So when I see students who are floundering, listless, distracted, miserable-looking, genuinely, in some cases, suffering, I care. Your professor may come off as a curmudgeonly old bastard, or as I’ve been described in the past, “abrasive and intimidating.” But it’s not his fault. It’s mine, Seido, caretaker of Hokoku-An.</p><p class="MsoNormal">Monks of the Mahayana tradition have jobs to do. It doesn’t matter what the job is. Our vow is to do it to the best of our ability. My job as a professor is to educate my students. I do the best I can to do my job, but when my students don’t do their job as students, I can’t do my job as effectively. That’s when the monk kicks in and I get on your case for being sloppy, or lazy, or lacking discipline. It’s not the professor. He’s a nice guy. It’s the monk. It’s his job to point out that though you may not think you’re suffering now, if you continue being sloppy, lazy, and lacking discipline you will suffer soon. It’s his job as a monk to make cause and effect clear to you. When you don’t follow directions, when you miss class repeatedly, when you come unprepared and hand papers in late or don’t hand them in at all, you will not get a trophy, applause, or even a pat on the back from me. You’ve been deluded enough already.</p><p class="MsoNormal">To those of you who are suffering immediate and omnipresent hardships, my heart goes out to you. At my age, I’m well acquainted with pain. But the monk wants you to know that pain is a gateway to understanding. When it’s time to suffer, you should suffer; when it’s time to cry, you should cry. Cry completely. Cry until there are no more tears and then recognize in your exhaustion that you’re alive. The sun still rises and sets. The seasons come and go. Absolutely nothing remains the same and that includes suffering. When the suffering ends, wisdom begins to raise the right questions.</p><p class="MsoNormal">Every semester for over three decades, young lives have appeared and disappeared right before my eyes. Thus come, thus go. I now have former students who are in their fifties. I wish for you what I wished for them years ago: that you will never stop learning; that you will be vigilant, attentive, disciplined, and focused; that you will raise the right questions and aspire to answer them. Why? The greatest thing we can do in life is to serve others. Humility, empathy, and compassion are the pathways to understanding your place in this world. Just raising a question means you don’t know, and not knowing is humility. Searching for the answer to question teaches you empathy, and when the knowledge you’ve gained is put to good use that is compassion. This is what makes us human. This is what it means to be responsible for your own humanity. This is why, despite all the wars and plagues and natural disasters in recorded history, we human beings have not only survived, but thrived. You choose. Will you be a person who does his or her part to make a contribution to all humanity? Will you be out for your own self-interests? Or will you not care one way or the other?</p><p class="MsoNormal">The choices you make on a day-to-day basis, a moment-to-moment basis, determine the kind of person you will be. Look hard enough at the present and you will see your future. Make the best of your college education. Make the best of your life. Sooner than you know you’ll be old and you’ll realize that it’s all been one continuous moment. Choose wisely.</p><p class="MsoNormal">Good luck to you all. Take care of yourselves.<br><br><b>Seido Ray Ronci</b> is a poet and an English professor at the University of Missouri, where he is also Faculty Advisor for the MU Buddhist Association.</p><p class="MsoNormal"><i>This article was originally published as a web exclusive in spring 2013.&nbsp;</i><i>Read&nbsp;</i>Tricycle<i>'s interview with Seido and a sampling of his poetry from the Winter 2009 issue&nbsp;<a target="_blank" href="http://www.tricycle.com/interview/no-words">here.</a></i></p><p class="MsoNormal"><i><br></i><em>Andre Wagner/GalleryStock</em></p><p></p><hr><p><strong>More at Tricycle:</strong></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/dont-get-stuck-neutral"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/Neutral-read.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> Don't Get Stuck in Neutral </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/dont-get-stuck-neutral" 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/imperfect-refuge"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/imperfect-read.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> Imperfect Refuge </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/imperfect-refuge" 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> 46510 Fri, 15 May 2015 13:53:32 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World What's Ethics Got to Do with It? http://www.tricycle.com/blog/whats-ethics-got-do-it <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/paper-doll-buddha-2.jpg" width="570" height="356" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>As mindfuness has made greater inroads into public life—from hospitals, to schools, to the workplace—its growing distance from Buddhist thought and practice has become a hotly contested issue. Is mindfulness somehow deficient because it lacks Buddhist ethics, and should Buddhist ethics be replicated in mindfulness programs and workshops?</p><p>Psychologist Lynette Monteiro, founder of the Ottawa Mindfulness Clinic, points out that the “seeming absence of the explicit teaching of ethics in the MBI [Mindfulness-based Intervention] curriculum” is the “thorniest” basis for criticism. Underlying the discussion of ethics in mindfulness, however, is the presumption that there exists an inherent relation between religion and morality. Yet this focus on morality—thought to define the practice as religious rather than secular, Buddhist rather than non-Buddhist—is based on Western presumptions about religion inherited from Christianity, not Buddhism.</p><p>Views on morality and mindfulness tend to fall into three categories: inherent, integral, and modular.</p><p>The argument for an inherent relation claims that mindfulness training by itself, without any instruction in morality, leads people to higher moral standing. This is the claim made, for example, by <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/07/opinion/sunday/the-morality-of-meditation.html" target="_blank">David DeSteno</a>, who says that an eight-week instructional program in meditation—without any accompanying instruction in morality—increased compassionate responses to the suffering of others threefold.</p><p>An integral relation, on the other hand, is one in which mindfulness and morality are understood to be inseparable, and the specific morality of the Buddhist tradition is thought to already form a part of mindfulness training. In this view, the success of mindfulness tradition requires practitioners to change their moral orientation to the world in specific—that is, Buddhist—ways.</p><p>Finally, a modular relation views mindfulness training and morality as distinct and separate, existing independently of one another. Separate modules like mindfulness training and training in morality can be linked together like Legos to create different structures. Under this conception, the kind of morality attached could just as well be Christian or humanist as Buddhist.</p><p>Mindfulness researchers and proponents alike have become entrenched in well-defined and increasingly institutionalized positions regarding ethics. But the fundamental ground of each of these positions—the way in which Western culture conceives of religion—has been ignored. That conception is built on a basic narrative trajectory that leads from primal, blissful harmony in Paradise, through sinful disobedience and ejection from Paradise, to a final atonement and reconciliation. This biblical narrative is fundamentally ethical in nature, hinging as it does on sinful action as the cause for the fall from grace. Many in the Western Buddhist communities have absorbed this cultural identification of religion with morality uncritically and perhaps unconsciously. It is, after all, an assumption so well established as to be invisible to us.</p><p>Yet if we look at the Buddhist narrative structure, we find it follows quite a different trajectory. Humanity’s original condition is not one of blissful harmony but rather of ignorance repeatedly leading to suffering. Recognizing this sets one on the path to awakening.</p><p>This fundamental difference between the two traditions suggests that the emphasis on morality in present discussions of mindfulness is rooted not in the Buddhist tradition itself but in the cultural preconceptions of Euro-American society.</p><p>This is not, of course, to say that the Buddhist tradition does not value morality, only that morality does not play the salvifically central role that it does in Christianity. Rather than being the key to attaining redemption for one’s original sinful failing, morality constitutes a condition for effective practice in Buddhism. After all, in the Buddhist tradition, while morality is conducive to awakening, it is not considered sufficient. Instead, it is a necessary preliminary.</p><p>One traditional characterization divides Buddhist practice into trainings in morality, meditation, and wisdom (<i>sila</i>, <i>samadhi</i>, <i>prajna</i>). The order is not incidental, as the practitioner moves from morality, through meditation, to wisdom—each supporting the next to constitute an integrated whole.</p><p>The cultural presumption that religion is primarily a matter of morality and that instilling moral behavior is its purpose has the effect of promoting a negative conception of human behavior. Consider, for example, the widespread assumption in the United States that moral behavior follows from being religious, and that anyone who is not religious—having not learned the importance of controlling his or her base and animal desires and motivations—is likely to be immoral.</p><p>These values and presumptions also inform the self-improvement culture of our society within which mindfulness training—in both secular and Buddhist forms—exists. The strong moral imperative to improve oneself has its origins in Protestant religious culture, which promoted the exercise of self-control to overcome one’s inherently sinful nature.</p><p>The moral imperative toward self-improvement is evident in the negative views held toward people who are not running, dieting, learning a foreign language, meditating, doing yoga, or any of the several dozen other ways society offers for you to improve yourself. Certainly, anyone not involved in such activities is thought to be lazy, stupid, indolent, and—studies surely suggest—will die younger and suffer more than all of those pursuing self-improvement.</p><p>One of the strongest motivators for individuals to pursue mindfulness is this imperative toward self-betterment. But such a moral imperative is not wholly consistent with Buddhist thought. Unlike Protestantism, the Buddhist path does not involve a moral control being exerted over the self and its natural animalistic tendencies, but rather the development of greater insight into the conditioned nature of existence. Indeed, the dualism of a self controlling the self feeds the illusion of a separate, independently existing self.</p><p>It is this modern moral imperative toward self-improvement that has transformed Buddhist practices from the activities of a relatively small number of monastic specialists into mass-marketed lay workshops, trainings, books, online courses, and so on. Just as the monastic values of late medieval Christian Europe became generalized as appropriate for everyone, so now the monastic values of Buddhism are being propagated and marketed as part of how one can improve oneself.</p><p>Arguing over whether introducing clients to the four noble truths is necessary for mindfulness training, and whether it then makes that training Buddhist rather than secular, neglects the roots of mindfulness in the particulars of Buddhist thought, especially those concerning ethics.</p><p>This does not resolve any questions about whether mindfulness training programs should teach morality or what kind of morality they should teach, or even the relation of morality to mindfulness training. Instead, highlighting the contradictions between the cultural presumptions that regard morality as the key to salvation and morality’s role within the Buddhist framework might challenge participants in the debate to question why it has become such a hot-button issue. After all, unless the debate changes the ground of shared presumptions, the existing impasse will only become more deeply entrenched.<br><br><b>Richard K. Payne</b> is Yehan Numata Professor of Japanese Buddhist Studies at the Institute of Buddhist Studies, Berkeley, and a member of the core doctoral faculty of the Graduate Theological Union. He trained in Japan and received ordination as a priest in the Shingon tradition, which continues to be the main focus of his research and practice.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Illustration by James Thacher</em></p> 46505 Thu, 14 May 2015 17:37:03 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World How to Fail http://www.tricycle.com/blog/how-fail <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Chodron_Fail.jpg" width="570" height="380" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>If there is one skill that is not stressed very much, but is really needed, it is knowing how to fail. There is a Samuel Beckett quote that goes “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” That quote is what will help you more than anything else in the next year, the next ten years, the next twenty years, for as long as you live, until you drop dead.</p><p>There is a lot of emphasis on succeeding. We all want to succeed, especially if we consider success to be things working out the way we want them to. Failing is what we don't usually get a lot of preparation for.</p><p>So how to fail?</p><p>We usually think of failure as something that happens to us from the outside: We can’t get in a good relationship or we are in a relationship that ends painfully; we can’t get a job or we are fired from the job we have; or any number of ways in which things are not how we want them to be.</p><p>There are usually two ways that we deal with that. The first is that we blame it on some other—our boss, our partner, whoever. The second is that we feel really bad about ourselves and label ourselves a failure.</p><p>This is what we need a lot of help with: this feeling that there is something fundamentally wrong with us, that <i>we</i> are the failure because of the relationship or the job or whatever it is that didn’t work out—botched opportunities, doing something that flops, heartbreak of all kinds.</p><p>One of the ways to help yourself is to begin to question what is really happening when there is a failure.</p><p>Someone gave me a quote from <i>Ulysses</i> where James Joyce writes about how failure can lead to discovery. He actually doesn’t use the word <i>failure</i>; he uses <i>errors</i>, which he says can be “the portals of discovery.”</p><p>It can be hard to tell what’s a failure and what’s just something that is shifting your life in a different direction. In other words, failure can be the portal to creativity, to learning something new, to having a fresh perspective.</p><p>I will use me as an example. The worst time in my life was when I felt like the greatest failure, and this had to do with a second failed marriage. I had never experienced such vulnerability and pain than during that particular groundless, rug-pulled-out experience. And I really felt bad about myself.</p><p>It took me three years to make the transition from wanting to go back to the solid ground of what I had known before to having the willingness to go forward into a brand-new life. But when I did, it resulted in a profound sense of well-being. It resulted in me becoming a best-selling author!</p><p>Sometimes you experience failed expectations as heartbreak and disappointment, and sometimes you feel rage. But at that time, instead of doing the habitual thing of labeling yourself a “failure” or a “loser” or thinking there is something wrong with you, you could get curious about what is going on. Just remember that you never know where something will lead.</p><p>Getting curious about outer circumstances and how they are impacting you, noticing what words come out and what your internal discussion is—this is the key.</p><p>If there is a lot of “I am bad. I am terrible,” simply notice that and soften up a bit. Instead say, “What am I feeling here? Maybe what is happening is not that I am failure—maybe I am just hurting.”</p><p>This is what human beings have felt since the beginning of time. If you want to be a complete human being, if you want to be genuine and hold the fullness of life in your heart, then failure is an opportunity to get curious about what is going on and listen to the storylines. Don't buy the ones that blame it on everybody else, and don’t buy the storylines that blame it on yourself, either.</p><p>This is the thing: I have been in this space of feeling like a failure a lot of times, and I used to be like anybody else when I was in it. I’d just close down, and there was no awareness or curiosity or anything.</p><p>Out of that space of failure can come addictions of all kinds—addictions because we do not want to feel it, because we want to escape, because we want to numb ourselves. Out of that space can come aggression, striking out, violence. Out of that space can come a lot of ugly things.</p><p>I carried a lot of habitual reactivity of trying to get out of that space. Then as years went by (and meditation had a big part to play in this), I began to get to the place where I really did become curious in that space you can call failing—the kind of raw, visceral feeling of having blown it or failed or gotten something wrong or hurt someone's feelings.</p><p>And so I can tell you that it is out of this same space that come our best human qualities of bravery, kindness, and the ability to really reach out to and care about each other. It’s where real communication with other people starts to happen, because it's a very unguarded, wide-open space in which you can go beyond the blame and just feel the bleedingness of it, the raw-meat quality of it.</p><p>It’s from that space that our best part of ourselves comes out. It’s in that space—when we aren’t masking ourselves or trying to make circumstances go away—that our best qualities begin to shine.<br><br><b>Pema Chödrön</b> is an ordained nun, author, and teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage. She is resident and teacher at Gampo Abbey, a monastery on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Canada.</p><p><i>Adapted from Pema Chödrön’s commencement address to the 2014 graduating class of Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. The full speech will be published by Sounds True in “Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better” in September.</i></p><p><em>Dawid/GalleryStock</em></p><p></p><hr><p><strong>More at Tricycle:</strong></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/no-need-words"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/mothers-day-15.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: NO NEED FOR WORDS </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/no-need-words" 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/slow-burn"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/smoke-blog.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: THE SLOW BURN </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/slow-burn" 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> 46492 Mon, 11 May 2015 09:30:00 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World No Need for Words http://www.tricycle.com/blog/no-need-words <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/NoNeedForWords.jpg" width="570" height="428" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p>Several weeks ago, in the middle of having his diaper changed, my son peered<b> </b>up at me and spoke his first two-syllable word: <em>b</em><i>utter</i>. My husband Kort still asleep in bed, I wondered whether the boy had uttered the brief sound or my imagination had merely conjured it. Standard early-morning mental fuzz could not account for this self-doubt; it sprang from a deep longing, ever since the day of my son’s birth, for him to speak in familiar<b> </b>language.</p><p>At 20-months-old, Tomo is considered speech delayed by some medical professionals and parents. My friend Odette’s son, who is just a few months older, wheels off everything from dump truck to meltdown. Meanwhile Tomo’s firm grasp begins and ends with “dad,” which both<b> </b>substitutes for my own nickname and applies to an unending string of objects in his immediate world—milk, tiger, toy, ski sweater.</p><p>Thankfully<b>,</b> Kort and I have learned to anticipate Tomo’s needs by reading his chirps and vocalizations. But I harbor fears that his inability to speak may render him unable to connect meaningfully with others and,<b> </b>worse yet, may engender lifelong social anxiety. Before Tomo was even<b> </b>born, I braced myself for the possibility that he might be treated like an outsider. As a mixed-race child, he would be marked by physical differences. Speech, I hoped, would empower him to connect in spite of these visible markers.</p><p>For me, such anxieties are not the stuff of neurotic fantasy; they stem from a disquiet that loomed over my early years. As the child of immigrants, I had no common language with my Taiwanese mother. Struggling to bridge the silences and misunderstandings that passed between us, we could only share big emotions. Subtlety of expression, for all intents and purposes, did not exist.</p><p>As an adult, I turned to poetry and Buddhist texts to lend nuance to life’s innumerable shades of sorrow and joy, finding comfort in words that could capture and perhaps<b> </b>transform even the most mundane experiences. The<i> Songs of Milarepa</i> gave me hope that the most transgressive acts could become deep spiritual teachings. I turned to Sogyal Rinpoche’s <i>The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying</i> to guide me through the end of a first love relationship. The precision of Ono no Komachi’s and Izumi Shikibu’s verses—not to mention the tenderness in the Zen poetry of Ryokan—suggested to me that the lyricism of everyday language could be its own <i>upaya</i> or “expedient means to liberation.”</p><p>This love for poetry and story serves me well as a writer, but can nevertheless foster an unhealthy attachment to words. When putting together a poem, I agonize over how to say things just right. So when Tomo resorts to using body language instead<b> </b>of<b> </b>speaking, the part of me that privileges words has to take a deep breath.</p><p>For a while, I overcompensated for Tomo’s silence by filling the space between us with language of my own. I named the objects he touched and wrote words in crayon on his sketchpad, trying to cultivate his ear and eye for language. I talked to Tomo in English, Taiwanese, and Spanish, likely cluttering his developing brain with more information than<b> </b>it could sort.<b></b></p><p>When Kort went back to work fulltime after being home with Tomo for nearly a year, Tomo was inconsolable. He wailed into my ears, stood on my lap, and pushed away my embrace. I made promises, assuring him that his dad would come home. He resisted every aspect of our usual routine: fighting diaper changes, refusing<b> </b>to bathe, and all the while crying for his other parent.</p><p>After several days of struggling, I gave in. I wept while holding my son and chanting to him softly, “I’m here with you. I’m here with you.” His tiny body relaxed as he put his head on my shoulder and settled into sleep. In that moment, I understood that my incessant chatter—a deliberate effort to avoid the long, sad periods of disengaged silence that I had experienced with my own mother—didn’t serve any purpose for Tomo.</p><p>My son felt far from me, until I showed up for him without words.</p><p>Though he rarely speaks, my son<b> </b>listens and responds. When Kort sneezes, Tomo runs across the room to hand him a tissue. When I complain of hunger, my little boy extends the hunk of cheese he’s been gnawing on and offers it to me. He communicates compassion in his own way—through actions and gestures. He has taught me that the fixed nature of words cannot capture the minute, complex, and transitory events that unfold around us. The pointing finger, no matter how elegant in its gesture, is not the moon. &nbsp;</p><p>Rather, nuance can be found and communicated in complete silence.</p><p>It was a relief when a friend of mine—herself a parent with grown children—assured me that all my son’s needs were met. If there were an urgent need to speak, she said, he would let me know. Tomo will ultimately develop at his own pace. No amount of coaxing will accelerate that process.<b></b></p><p>Now and again, my son utters a random word, just as he did that morning on the changing table. Two weeks ago it was <i>raisin</i>. I jot the word down every time, letting go of any narrative that might connect one to the next. But the writer in me remains curious to see if he and I will someday make a recipe with these words, or better yet, a poem.</p><p>More likely, teenage or grown-up Tomo<b> </b>won’t take much interest in that compilation of words<b>.</b> Instead, the fragments of language will primarily serve as benchmarks for my development as a mother. They’ll remind me of how I tried, at first against my own instincts, to listen deeply with all my heart.<br><br><strong>Shin Yu Pai&nbsp;</strong>is a poet, editor, and photographer. She has written seven books of poetry, including&nbsp;<em>Aux Arcs</em>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<em>Adamantine</em>.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Image: texasgurl/Flickr</em></p><p></p><hr><p><strong>More at Tricycle:</strong></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/turning-intention-motivation"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/intention-news.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: TURNING INTENTION INTO MOTIVATION </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/turning-intention-motivation" 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/slow-burn"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/smoke-blog.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: THE SLOW BURN </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/slow-burn" 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> 46497 Sun, 10 May 2015 16:46:58 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Yuthok Lane http://www.tricycle.com/blog/yuthok-lane <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/GS135853.jpg" width="570" height="380" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p class="p1" style="padding-left: 30px;">This is how it will be:<br>we will take a walk on concrete, not blue tiles, <br>and you will pretend to be disappointed.<br>This will have the quality of a ritual.</p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 30px;"></p><p class="p1" style="padding-left: 30px;">In the morning, the sun will fall from the sky;<br>we will protect ourselves against its fire.<br>It is not so unbearable, but we have learnt <br>to be wary of arrivals from the east.</p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 30px;"></p><p class="p1" style="padding-left: 30px;">We are unbeautiful here;<br>our stay in the plains has rendered us so.<br>But whispers now carry endearments,<br>and we will not have it any other way.</p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 30px;"></p><p class="p1" style="padding-left: 30px;">Outside the chapel, we will collect ourselves,<br>then enter the bowels of this benign shell.<br>Nothing in here threatens us.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 30px;"></p><p class="p1" style="padding-left: 30px;">We will pull out our offerings, crisp and new.<br>This time they will go where they are intended. <br>The pilgrims are less urgent now. And slowly<br>the shadow of the deity gains its substance.</p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 30px;"></p><p class="p1" style="padding-left: 30px;">In the temple's deep, I will<br>speak my name for you.</p><p class="p1"><br><br><strong>Tenzin Dickie&nbsp;</strong>is a Tibetan poet, essayist, and literary translator. She currently works as an editor at <a href="http://treasuryoflives.org/" target="_blank">Treasury of Lives</a>, an online bibliographical encyclopedia of Tibet, Inner Asia, and the Himalaya.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"><em>Originally published in&nbsp;</em>Indian Literature <em>September/October 2011</em></p><p class="p1"><em>Dan Eckstein/Gallerystock</em></p><p class="p1"><em><br></em></p><p></p><hr><p><strong>More at Tricycle:</strong></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/nepal-disaster-relief"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/EQ-news.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: NEPAL DISASTER RELIEF</b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/nepal-disaster-relief" 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/slow-burn"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/smoke-blog.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: THE SLOW BURN </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/slow-burn" 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> 46484 Wed, 06 May 2015 14:11:31 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Turning Intention into Motivation http://www.tricycle.com/blog/turning-intention-motivation <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/BuddhaComputer.jpg" width="570" height="570" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p>Framing our days between intention setting and joyful dedication, even once a week, can change how we live. It's a purposeful approach of self-awareness, conscious intention, and focused effort—three precious gifts of contemplative practice—by which we take responsibility for our thoughts and actions and take charge of our selves and our lives. As the Buddha put it, "You are your own enemy / and you are your own savior. "</p><p>The Buddha saw: our thoughts, emotions, and actions are the primary sources of our suffering. Equally, our thoughts, emotions, and actions can be the source of our joy and freedom. Living, as much as possible, with conscious intention is the first step of this transformation. So, the following two exercises in intention and dedication are the first step to greater clarity and cohesion in our life, our work, and our relationship with others.</p><p>Not only that, when our aspirations include the welfare and happiness of others, our deeds and our life as a whole acquire a purpose that is greater than our individual existence.<br><br>In everyday English, we often use the words <i>intention</i> and <i>motivation</i> interchangeably as if they mean the same thing, but there's an important difference: deliberateness. Our motivation to do something is the reason or reasons behind that behavior, the source of our desire and the drive to do it. We may be more or less aware of our motivations. Psychologists define motivation as the process that "arouses, sustains, and regulates human and animal behavior." Simply put, motivation is what turns us on. For some it might be fame; for others, it might be money, excitement or thrill, sex, recognition, loyalty, service, a sense of belonging, safety, justice, and so on. The force of motivation develops through a mutually reinforcing cycle of desire and reward—when something we do is rewarding, we want to do it again; if we do it again, we are rewarded again, and want to do it more…</p><p>Intention, on the other hand, is always deliberate, an articulation of a conscious goal. Intention is necessarily conscious; motivation, as Freud pointed out, need not be conscious even to the person himself. We need intentions for the long view. We set and reaffirm our best intentions to keep us inclining in the directions we truly mean to go. But, we need motivations to keep us going over the long haul. If our intention is to run a marathon, there will be times, when the alarm clock goes off for a ten-mile run before work, or in the middle of running, when we'll ask ourselves, quite reasonably, "<i>Why</i> am I doing this?" We need good, inspired answers to get us over such humps. Conscious or unconscious, motivation is the why, and the spark, behind intention.</p><p>You could do this intention-setting exercise at home, first thing in the morning if that is convenient. You could also do it on a bus or a subway on your commute. If you work in an office, you could do it sitting at your desk before you get into the day. You only need two to five uninterrupted minutes. The Tibetan tradition recommends setting our intention and checking with our motivations, in this manner, at the beginning of the day, at the start of a meditation sitting, and before any important activity. Our intention sets the tone of whatever we are about to do. Like music, intention can influence our mood, thoughts, and feelings—setting an intention in the morning we set the tone for the day.</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;"></p><div style="background-color: #e1e1e1; padding: 20px 20px 20px 20px;"><p><b>Exercise: Setting an Intention</b></p><p>First, find a comfortable sitting posture. If you can, sit on a cushion on the floor or on a chair with the soles of your feet touching the ground, which gives you a feeling of being grounded. If you prefer, you could also lie down on your back, ideally on a surface that is not too soft like a sinking mattress. Once you have found your posture, relax your body as much as you can, if necessary with some stretches, especially your shoulders and your back. Then, with your eyes closed if it helps you to focus, take three to five deep, diaphragmatic or abdominal breaths, each time drawing the inhalation down into the belly and filling up the torso with the in-breath from the bottom to the top, like filling a jar with water. Then with a long, slow exhalation, expel all the air from the torso, all the way. If it helps, you can exhale from your mouth. Inhale… and exhale…</p><p>Once you feel settled, contemplate the following questions: "What is it that I value deeply? What, in the depth of my heart, do I wish for myself, for my loved ones, and for the world?"</p><p>Stay on these questions a little and see if any answers come up. If no specific answers surface, don't worry, simply stay with the open questions. This may take some getting used to, since when we ask questions we usually expect to answer them. Trust that the questions themselves are working even—or especially—when we don't have ready answers. If and when answers do come up, acknowledge them as they arise and stay with whatever thoughts and feelings they may bring.</p><p>Finally, develop a specific set of thoughts as your conscious intention, for this day, for instance. You could think, "Today, may I be more mindful of my body, mind, and speech in my interaction with others. May I, as far as I can, avoid deliberately hurting others. May I relate to myself, to others, and to the events around me with kindness, understanding, and less judgment. May I use my day in a way that is in tune with my deeper values."</p><p>In this way, set the tone for the day.</p></div><p style="padding-left: 30px;"></p><p><br>Once we become more familiar with intention setting, we can do this practice in a minute or less. That means we can find opportunities during the day to check in with our intentions. Doctors who have taken the compassion training, for example, have used the time it takes to wash their hands between patients to return to their intentions, and report how this makes them feel more centered and present for the next patient. We can even skip the three-phased formal practice and do a quick reset by reading or chanting a few meaningful lines. You could use the Four Immeasurables prayer:</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;"><i>May all beings attain happiness and its causes.<br></i><i>May all beings be free from suffering and its causes.<br></i><i>May all beings never be separated from joy that is free of misery.<br></i><i>May all beings abide in equanimity, free from bias, attachment, and aversion.</i></p><p>The intention-setting practice is paired, in Tibetan tradition, with another contemplative exercise called <i>dedication</i>. The role of this exercise is to complete the circle, as it were. At the end of a day, or a meditation, or any other effort we have made, we reconnect with the intentions we set at the beginning, reflecting on our experience in light of our intentions and rejoicing in what we have achieved. This is like taking stock at the end of the day. It gives us another opportunity to connect with our deeper aspirations.<br><br style="padding-left: 30px;"><b></b></p><div style="background-color: #e1e1e1; padding: 20px 20px 20px 20px;"><p><b>Exercise: Making a Dedication </b></p><p>At the end of day, for instance, before you go to bed or as you lie in bed before sleeping, reflect on your day.</p><p>Briefly review the events of the day (including significant conversations, moods and other mental activity) and touch back on the spirit of the morning intention setting. See how much alignment there is between the two. It's important not to get caught up in the details of what you did and did not do. The idea is not to keep exhaustive scores, but to broadly survey to see the synergy between your intentions and your life that day.</p><p>Whatever thoughts and feelings this reviewing might bring, just stay with it. There's no need to push them away if they have a negative quality; or grasp at them if they seem positive. Simply stay with it for a while in silence.</p><p>Finally, think of something from the day that you feel good about—a helping hand you gave your neighbor, an empathetic ear you lent a colleague in distress, not losing your cool in the drugstore when someone cut the line. Then take joy in the thought of this deed. If nothing else, take joy in the fact that you began your day by setting a conscious intention.</p><p></p></div><p></p><p><br>Keep this exercise short; three to five minutes is a good length. If you normally do some reading before bed, you could set aside three to five minutes at the end for dedication time. If your habit is to watch TV, could you watch three to five minutes less? Or go somewhere quiet during commercials? Taking joy in the day, at the end of the day, even in the simple fact of the effort we have made, is important. It gives us something positive to carry into the next day and helps us harness motivation in the service of our intentions.</p><p>Sometimes, however, it's helpful to do a more focused review. We set intentions around being kinder to ourselves. In turn, at the end of a day, our dedication might pay special attention to kindnesses we may have shown ourselves that day.</p><p>Now, when we undertake such a targeted assessment, most of us will find that we fall short. We will see the gaps between our intentions and our behavior, between our aspirations and our actual life. When this happens, it's important not to beat ourselves with negative judgment and self-criticism. We simply acknowledge the difference and resolve to try again the next day. This awareness itself will help us be more attentive the next day, opening opportunities to bring our everyday thoughts and actions into closer alignment with our goals.<br><br><b>How Intention Becomes Motivation </b></p><p>It matters that we set an intention, and it matters what intention we set. However, as anyone who has ever tried to keep a New Year's resolution knows, setting an intention, even a really sincere, good intention, is by no means a <i>fait accompli</i>. We may wish to be compassionate and caring toward others, and say this to ourselves in the morning, yet find ourselves that very afternoon—or much sooner—in a rather more self-interested, judgmental place. The relationship between our conscious intentions, on one hand, and the often not-so-conscious motivations that drive our thoughts and actions, on the other, is complex. But with persistent awareness and reflection, we can, over time, bring our motivations more into line with our intentions.</p><p>The Dalai Lama once suggested a simple way of checking our motivations, by posing these questions to ourselves:</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;"><i>Is it just for me or for others?<br></i><i>For the benefit of the few or for the many?<br></i><i>For now or for the future?</i></p><p>These questions help clarify our motivations by bringing critical self-awareness (critical in the sense of objective and discerning, not judgmental) to our relationship with what we do. They also help remind us to bring compassion to bear upon our thoughts and actions. We can ask these questions before we do something, while we're doing it, or after we have done it—there will always be another opportunity to (re)set our intention and another chance to act in accordance with that intention.</p><p>The question of how we motivate ourselves to pursue our deeper aspirations has been a major interest in the long history of Buddhist psychology. In Buddhist thinking, motivation is a matter of desire, more specifically <i>the desire to act</i> accompanied with a sense of <i>purpose</i>. Say, in the case of being more compassionate, it's by making emotional connection with compassion and its objectives that we arouse in ourselves the desire to act. And it's through seeing the benefits that we acquire a sense of purpose in being more compassionate.</p><p>Contemporary psychology has only relatively recently come to appreciate the role of emotions in motivating our behavior. For a long time, the Western theory of action was dominated by rational choice theory, and emotions were accused of clouding the process rather than being an integral part of the system. To articulate the dual dimension of our motivation—cognitive awareness of <i>and</i> emotional connection with our goals—Buddhist psychology uses a term that is almost impossible to capture in any single word in English. The Sanskrit term <i>shraddha</i> (<i>depa</i> in Tibetan) has a broad range of meaning, the important ones being "faith," "trust," "belief," or "confidence," connoting "appreciation" and "admiration" as well. Shraddha is a felt sense like trust, rather than a cognitive state like belief or knowledge. Experientially, shraddha feels something like attachment or attraction to our goal, like being inspired to play guitar when you see a rock star do it. It's this quality, shraddha, that primes our heart and mind to roll up our sleeves and play.</p><p>How do we tap our emotional reservoir? Cognitions play a critical role, which the early Buddhist texts characterize as <i>seeing</i> the value of doing something. Through cognitive engagement, such as seeing the benefits, we connect intention with motivation. So, within this causal nexus, the crucial link to watch for is the one between our awareness of the goal and why we would go for it, our feelings about the goal, and our desire or will to pursue it.</p><p>Then, again, it's the joy we take in our efforts—the courage to try, the dedication to stick with it—and their results that helps sustain our motivations over the long run. Or, in other words, makes us want to keep trying and keep doing it. Parents who have struggled with their child taking up a new instrument will recognize how everything changed the moment the child began enjoying it. This is called <i>intrinsic</i> motivation, as opposed to the <i>extrinsic</i> motivation of, for example, the parent rewarding the child with more screen time for practicing her instrument. From decades of motivation research, we know that intrinsic motivation is far more stable and enduring. The process of setting intentions and joyfully reflecting on them in dedication is how, over time, we transform extrinsic into intrinsic motivations, and thereby sustain the energy and purpose to live true to our best aspirations.<br><br><strong>Thupten Jinpa </strong>is a Buddhist scholar and the Dalai Lama’s principal English interpreter.</p><p>From <a href="http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/315667/a-fearless-heart-by-thupten-jinpa/" target="_blank"><i>A Fearless Heart: How The Courage To Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives</i></a>&nbsp;by Thupten Jinpa. Published by arrangement with Hudson Street Press, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2015 by Thupten Jinpa Langri.</p><p><em>Image: Brian Finke/Gallerystock</em></p><p></p><hr><p><strong>More at Tricycle:</strong></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/unholy-alliance"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/unholy-a.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: AN UNHOLY ALLIANCE</b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/unholy-alliance" 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/slow-burn"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/smoke-blog.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: THE SLOW BURN </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/slow-burn" 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> 46483 Tue, 05 May 2015 11:30:42 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World An Unholy Alliance http://www.tricycle.com/blog/unholy-alliance <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/soldierscoupthai.jpg" width="570" height="385" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>Thailand’s military government, which seized control of the country in a coup last May, has taken a special interest in Thai Buddhism and the moral authority its institutions command. After settling into power and naming itself the National Council for Peace and Order, the junta immediately set off on a paternalistic mission to rid Thailand of corruption, immorality, and anything deemed “un-Thai” (like&nbsp;<a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/16/us-thailand-selfies-idUSKBN0MC17B20150316">underboobs</a>, for example). Since Buddhism makes up such an integral part of the agreed upon definition of “Thai-ness,” junta leaders quickly set their sights on religious reform, installing a special panel to focus on the “protection of Buddhism” within their National Reform Council (NRC).</p><p>“We are under a military autocracy (again), which attempts to utilize and enforce ‘Thai’ values in order to bolster its moral superiority and compensate for its lack of legitimacy,” said Saksith Saiyasombut, a Thai political blogger and journalist. “And one core feature of these ‘true Thai values’ to many conservatives and nationalists is Theravada Buddhism—despite it not being an official national religion.”</p><p>At the end of last year, the junta sponsored the Bill to Patronize and Protect Buddhism, a reflection of its desire to return to a very traditional form of Thai society—one in which free speech is limited, sexuality is quelled, and Theravada Buddhism in its most traditional form (and only that form) is protected by law. The bill would appoint a committee to monitor temple spending and dole out legal punishments, including jail time, for monks caught breaking the rules of the monastery. Jointly written by the Sangha Supreme Council (SSC), a small gerontocracy of high-ranking monks with deep ties to the government, and the National Office of Buddhism (NOB), the bill is currently under consideration by the Thai Council of State, the government’s legal advisory board.</p><p>“Religion and politics have never been properly separated in Thailand, because Buddhism still plays a big role in the lives of most Thai people and that’s what they base their moral compass on,” noted Saiyasombut, who added that handing over moral authority to big stakeholders like Thai politicians and military leaders could be “disastrous.”</p><p>Venerable Shine Waradhammo, a Thai Buddhist monk, scholar, and writer, agreed. “It’s dangerous,” he told me. “This bill gives laymen the power to control everything about Buddhism.”</p><p><a href="http://www.prachatai.com/english/node/4843" target="_blank">One article</a> of the current draft of the bill proposes jail terms for “sexually deviant” monks, as well as those who ordain them, if they cause “harm and disgrace” to Buddhism. Ostensibly an attempt to weed out sexual abusers and pedophiles from the monasteries, the article tacitly authorizes discrimination against Thailand’s many gay and transgender monks. Its vague terms blur the line between crimes against Buddhism and crimes against humanity, leaving nonconforming monks vulnerable to punishment simply for acting feminine or seeming homosexual.</p><p>Until now, Thai Buddhism has generally mirrored Thai culture in its relatively tolerant “live and let live” mindset regarding LGBT individuals. Many high-level monks within the sangha system are said to be gay, and a popular Thai talk show that last year <a href="http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/thai-tv-discusses-cross-dressing-gay-buddhist-monks-first-time280414" target="_blank">interviewed two homosexual monks</a> who formerly identified as “ladyboys” espoused a mostly positive message of acceptance. Though there are certainly exceptions, the general consensus has been that as long as monks operate within the rules of the monastery and uphold the precepts, including celibacy, it shouldn’t matter what their sexual proclivities were prior to ordination.</p><p>“Thailand is one of the only places on earth where homosexuals are actually left alone to live their lives,” said Justin McDaniel, a scholar of Southeast Asian Buddhism at University of Pennsylvania and a former monk in Thailand. “But now, of course, it has to be an issue, dealt with through official rules and legislation. It’s like, ‘We gotta fix the problem.’ No, you invented a problem in order to be the hero who fixes it.”</p><p>Feminist activist Ouyporn Khunkaew suspects that the junta and SSC are spotlighting “sexual deviance” in order to distract the public from their ineptitude in dealing with more pressing issues, such as the Dhammakaya embezzlement scandal, currently one of the most talked-about controversies in Thailand.</p><p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Dhammakaya_stupa_0.jpg" width="570" height="170" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>The contentious and somewhat cult-like Dhammakaya tradition, said to be modern Thailand’s fastest-growing Buddhist movement, was founded in Thailand in the 1970s and is known today for its influential leaders, massive ordination ceremonies, and spaceship-like golden temple just outside Bangkok. The SSC’s recent <a href="http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/general/480100/dhammakaya-abbot-cleared-for-now" target="_blank">decision to clear allegations</a> against Dhammakaya’s leaders for distorting Buddhist teachings and embezzling hundreds of millions of baht enraged laypeople and clergy alike.</p><p>Sulak Sivaraksa, a Thai historian and founding member of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists, echoed the thoughts of many Thais when he wrote on Facebook that the “money and power of Wat Phra Dhammakaya monks . . . can buy almost all of the Sangha members.”&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>Many take the Dhammakaya movement as a sign of a growing crisis within Thai Buddhism.</p><p>“The cooptation of Buddhism by consumerism and nationalism takes the practice of Buddhists, especially monks and Buddhist teachings, away from the real essence of the Buddhist morality,” said Ven. Phra Paisal Visalo, a respected monk, Buddhist scholar, and activist. As a result, “Buddhism in Thailand is weaker and it cannot creatively respond to the changes of the time.”</p><p>McDaniel, however, believes that positing a narrative of Buddhist decline only provides fodder for religious conservatives.</p><p>“It sets up an idea that there was a pure Buddhism at one point that wasn’t involved in politics or with culture. There’s never been a time in Thai Buddhism where that was the case,” he said. “I think this rhetoric of decline actually fits into what the government wants us to think.”</p><p>It’s no secret that many Thai people are fed up with the current state of Thai Buddhism. News of misbehaving monks appears near daily. They’ve been caught leading <a href="http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/weird-news/jet-setting-buddhist-monks-lifestyle-probe-1958259" target="_blank">lavish lifestyles</a>, <a href="http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/general/449741/english-teacher-assaulted-by-buddhist-monk-on-bangkok-phitsanulok-train" target="_blank">punching English teachers</a> on trains, perpetrating <a href="http://www.nationmultimedia.com/breakingnews/Five-Thai-monks-charged-over-child-sex-abuse-ring--30234812.html" target="_blank">pedophilia</a> and <a href="http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/crime/489630/two-monks-arrested-for-child-sexual-abuse" target="_blank">sexual abuse</a>, and making amulets out of <a href="http://www.chiangmaicitylife.com/news/black-magic-abbot-arrested-after-purchasing-four-dead-babies/" target="_blank">dead babies</a>, to name but a few of the latest transgressions. But given that monks are human and not inherently good by virtue of being monks (particularly in Thailand, where the majority of Thai males are pressured by their families to enter the monkhood at least once), this is not exactly surprising, or new. The unprecedented amount of media coverage of errant monks, however, is of great benefit to conservative reformers in government and the Sangha.</p><p>In March, not long after the not-guilty verdict against Dhammakaya was upheld by the SSC, the junta’s reform council rather suddenly dissolved its panel on Buddhism. “Our work has raised public awareness and the mission is complete,” said NRC member and panel leader Paiboon Nititawan, rather unconvincingly. Of course, should the Bill to Patronize and Protect Buddhism be passed into law, secular oversight would quickly return to the Thai monkhood.</p><p>Khuankaew makes little distinction between the tone-deaf leadership of the junta and that of the SSC. She believes that reform is essential, but not the kind that is coming from those in power. As she told me in an interview last year for another <a href="http://www.chiangmaicitylife.com/citylife-articles/breaking-through-buddhism/" target="_blank">story</a>, “The Sangha is failing. There’s no one progressive at the top, no grassroots movements within. Just a lot of old men set in their ways.”</p><p>And therein lies the problem: instead of focusing on the real issues of both Buddhism and Thai society, the powers that be are trying to enforce an antiquated and highly patriarchal social order, and doing so under the pretext of preserving a vision of Thai-ness that they themselves have constructed.<br><br><b>Hilary Cadigan</b>, a former managing editor of <i>Chiang Mai Citylife</i>, has written extensively about social issues in Thailand.</p><p><em>Image 1: Thai soldiers (Pittaya Sroilong/Flickr)<br>Image 2: Wat Phra Dhammakaya, near Bangkok, Thailand (Wikimedia Commons)</em></p><p></p><hr><p><strong>More at Tricycle:</strong></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/nepal-disaster-relief"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/EQ-news.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: NEPAL DISASTER RELIEF</b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/nepal-disaster-relief" 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/you-yourself-are-oatmeal"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/newsletters/oatmeal.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: YOU YOURSELF ARE OATMEAL </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/you-yourself-are-oatmeal" 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> 46470 Thu, 30 Apr 2015 16:29:28 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World The Slow Burn http://www.tricycle.com/blog/slow-burn <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/smoking.jpg" width="570" height="855" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>Bernie Flynn, a longtime student of Chögyam Trungpa, recently told me about the time he and the Rinpoche tried to quit smoking cigarettes. A few days in, he was driving the Rinpoche to a meeting. Antsy and in withdrawal, Bernie couldn’t help but notice his teacher sitting calmly in the passenger seat. Finally, his nerves on edge, Bernie turned to Trungpa and asked how the whole quitting thing was going. “It’s easy,” said Trungpa. “Either you smoke, or you don’t smoke.”</p><p>Ah, so simple.</p><p>Later that evening, Bernie entered a room to find the Rinpoche gleefully chain smoking.</p><p>Oh, not so simple.</p><p>The psychoactive effects of drugs, alcohol included, don’t exactly jibe with the goals of Buddhist practice. Sure, some people stumble into the dharma after stumbling through an acid trip, but the fact that LSD can be a gateway to practice doesn’t mean it’s allowed beyond the gate of any respectable dharma institution. And though many Buddhists drink, it’s generally understood that this should occur in moderation and off the zafu. Hence, refraining from intoxicants is one of the five basic Buddhist precepts.</p><p>Cigarettes, however, seem to exist in a hazy gray area, both literally and figuratively. Caffeine, a substance that might otherwise find itself in similar ambiguous territory, has a sexy origin story: the Ch’an patriarch Bodhidharma, angry at himself for dozing off during zazen, rips off his eyelids and flings them to the ground, from which sprout the first tea leaves. Thus caffeine has long been accepted by Buddhists the world over as a mild performance enhancing drug, endorsed by legend. Tobacco, lacking such an auspicious beginning, has long been tolerated in Buddhist communities anyway, though the Buddhist stance on smoking is vague at best.&nbsp;</p><p>Thus, the question remains. Either you smoke, or you don’t smoke, yes, but <i>should</i> you smoke? I found the answer, like a good koan, to be both elusive and entirely dependent upon who is answering.</p><p style="text-align: center;">_____<br><br style="text-align: left;"></p><p style="text-align: left;">Smoking is not technically prohibited in Buddhism, but then again, neither is juggling chainsaws or playing Russian roulette. It would be tedious if all prohibited actions had to be spelled out (which doesn’t mean people haven't tried. See: the Vinaya<span style="text-align: left;">). I pointed this out to Dr. Joel Smith, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Skidmore College. “Of course [smoking is not prohibited],” said Smith, “but if you look at the eightfold path and you have any kind of subtle interpretation about right action and right effort, it doesn’t take much to argue that [right action and right effort] should be applied in that kind of way.”</span></p><p>Smith traveled in Japan with John Daido Loori Roshi, longtime abbot of the Zen Mountain Monastery in upstate New York, when Daido was receiving his confirmation rituals at Eihei-ji many years ago. He remembered Daido stepping outside the Eihei-ji buildings to smoke in between ceremonies.</p><p>“I asked him about it once,” Smith said, “and he responded, ‘Zen is not a health trip.’”</p><p>While this may be true, it glosses over the fact that smoking is, at its most basic, a harmful action. Dr. Smith has been teaching Buddhism and Eastern philosophy for decades, and over the years he has brought many students to dharma institutions to hear teachings. A number of them, he said, are turned off by the fact that they see monks smoking. “This is really where the rubber hits the road,” said Smith. “You can talk generally about compassion, but if you can’t apply it to something so basic in one’s personal life, then what the heck is going on?”</p><p>Aside from the issue of alienating the dharma-curious, the fact that Buddhists smoke raises a deeper issue for Smith. “If you love life and affirm it and want to do good in the world and be compassionate to other people, then you want to make your body and your mind as much of a vehicle for that as possible for as long as possible.” Smoking cigarettes would seem to undercut that possibility, limiting the amount of time one has to be a vehicle for the dharma. So why do Buddhist teachers continue to allow their addiction to impinge on their responsibilities? Shouldn’t overcoming their addiction be of the utmost importance, both as exemplars of the teachings and as vehicles for them?</p><p>I put this question to Dr. Judson Brewer, the director of research at the Center for Mindfulness. Brewer and his team at Yale University have developed the Craving to Quit app, which uses mindfulness to help people kick their addiction. “It’s a great question and I would want to talk to these folks and get their story,” said Brewer. “Is it just a habit that’s so much in the background that you’re not paying attention or is the level of suffering that it causes so minimal that there’s no drive to change the behavior?”</p><p>I asked Brewer if Buddhist teachers have a moral imperative not to smoke.</p><p>“If I had a gun and I killed myself, that wouldn’t be that helpful if I were a good teacher. And smoking has obviously been linked to increased mortality and morbidity, as well as a number of illnesses, including cancer.”</p><p>Indeed, John Daido Loori Roshi died of lung cancer in 2009 (though he did give up smoking later in life). Like shooting yourself with a gun, smoking will ultimately aid in your demise. “It’s not exactly suicide,” said Brewer. “It’s just a slower burn.”</p><p style="text-align: center;">_____<br><br></p><p style="text-align: left;">In 2005 I was one of 33 college students who lived in a Burmese monastery in Bodhgaya, India, where we studied Buddhism and lived according to the five basic precepts. Though it may have gone against our youthful inclinations, we refrained from taking intoxicants, sex, stealing, lying, and killing.</p><p>Cigarettes, however, were not prohibited, and like many of my fellow students, I took up smoking. We spent countless afternoons on the roof of our dorm, watching our cigarette smoke drift away while ruminating over deep questions like, is killing a malaria-ridden mosquito bad karma or good karma? Since we were suddenly living a life of previously unimaginable austerity, smoking didn’t seem like such a big deal. It gave us something to do, and though we were learning about the emptiness of self, smoking seemed like the last way we could fill ourselves up, albeit with smoke. It gave us something to cling to, the last iceberg in a sea of melting vices.</p><p>Maybe the fact that Buddhists smoke is as simple as that. Maybe Buddhists the world over puff because it is one of the few remaining ways they can puff themselves up. For a spiritual tradition so devoted to compassion and helping others, cigarettes may be the final frontier of autonomy. In a spiritual tradition so devoted to the eradication of self, cigarettes might be the last shred of selfishness. <i>Fumo ergo sum</i>.</p><p>I smoke, therefore I am.</p><p style="text-align: center;">_____<br><br></p><p style="text-align: left;">Google Buddhism and smoking and the resulting hits are not what I would describe as particularly helpful (unless you want lurid details about the monks recently arrested for smoking Crystal Meth in Phnom Penh, Cambodia). However, I did come across an amusing anecdote from the blog of the Scottish-born Buddhist teacher Bodhipaksa:</p><p><i>A young monk strolled into the office of the head monk.</i></p><p><i>“Say, man. Would it like be okay if I smoke when I meditate?”</i></p><p><i>The head monk turned pale and began quivering. When he recovered, he gave the young man a stern lecture about the sanctity of meditation. The novice listened thoughtfully and went away.</i></p><p><i>A few weeks later, he returned with another question.</i></p><p><i>“I’m concerned about my spiritual development. I notice that I spend a lot of time smoking. I was wondering, do you think it would be okay if when I am smoking, I practice my meditation?”</i></p><p><i>The older man was overjoyed and of course said yes.</i></p><p>I’m not so sure about the credentials of this pale, quivering head monk (or, for that matter, the novice), but I found the anecdote surprisingly informative. Perhaps the point isn’t what we do, but how we do it. Perhaps, in taking a “thou shalt not” approach, we miss the moment for the creed.</p><p>When I emailed the Bodhgaya alumni to ask for help researching this topic, one person responded, “Wouldn’t a Buddhist smoking cigarettes be kind of hypocritical, irresponsible, and ironic?” It is attitudes like this that reveal the gap between what people believe about Buddhists and how Buddhists actually behave. And maybe this is the crux of this issue. Maybe this isn’t about smoking at all but about the ideals we place on our teachers.</p><p>In his book <i>Sex, Sin, and Zen,</i> author and Zen teacher Brad Warner writes, “When we project our expectations about what a divine being ought to be onto real people, what else can we hope for besides disappointment?” After all, addiction does not discriminate between enlightened and unenlightened, and perhaps, in smoking, teachers unwillingly demonstrate that addiction is not a roadblock to realization. This notion—that an enlightened person can be an addicted person—might shatter our preconceptions about realization, but to practice Buddhism and believe one’s preconceptions will remain neatly intact seems about as naïve as believing a teacher is a divine being.</p><p>Warner’s own teacher, Gudo Nishijima, was himself a heavy smoker. But, said Warner, it wasn’t a problem. “He told me once that he just happened to notice one day that smoking was a bad habit, so he stopped doing it.”</p><p>“I tend to think Buddhist teachers are like artisans who take on apprentices,” said Warner. “If we take that viewpoint, it’s not such a big deal whether the teacher smokes or not. But a teacher who smokes should know that their behavior is going to be imitated. If the teacher cares about that, then maybe they should not smoke.”</p><p>So should Buddhists be required to refrain from smoking?</p><p>“I don’t think Buddhism should be in the business of requiring people to do or not do things. That seems to go against everything Buddhism is about. If you demand people follow the Buddhist rules, that demanding itself is counter to the Buddhist philosophical approach. The precepts are not requirements.”</p><p>Randall Ryotan Eiger, sensei at the Village Zendo in Manhattan, who studied with Daido for eight years, was himself a smoker for 20 years, and as a freelance speechwriter in the 80s and 90s worked for a major tobacco company. His Buddhist smoking credentials run deep, so I asked him the same question. Should Buddhists refrain from smoking?</p><p>“To be a Buddhist means to take refuge in the three treasures of Buddha, dharma, and sangha,” said Ryotan. “I don’t believe one needs to be a non-smoker, or any particular kind of person, in order to take refuge.”</p><p>Indeed, such stringent requirements would create a culture of exclusion, leaving out those with addictions who might otherwise benefit immensely from the dharma. As Dr. Brewer pointed out, his app has exposed many people to the dharma “through their own doorway of suffering, which is smoking.”</p><p>As for Buddhist teachers, Ryotan disagreed with the idea that they have a “moral imperative” not to smoke.</p><p>“One sign of the moral confusion in our market-driven society is that people have the tendency to elevate consumer and lifestyle choices into matters of high moral drama, leading to overblown talk of ‘moral imperatives.’ Tortuous analysis of one’s thoughts and actions produces a facsimile of moral seriousness that is pleasing to the ego, but it is no substitute for the wisdom and compassion that arise from the awakened heart.”</p><p>He continued, “Is smoking inherently unhealthy, unwise, and maybe a little selfish? The answer is ‘yes.’ Are smokers inherently unable to realize their buddhanature and save all beings? The answer is ‘obviously not.’”</p><p style="text-align: center;">_____<br><br></p><p style="text-align: left;">Zen is not a health trip. Depending on your view of smoking, this response is either frustratingly reductive or refreshingly concise. For some, like Dr. Smith, smoking remains one of the largest thorns in Buddhism’s side. “Smoking involves in a personal, immediate way the core Buddhist issues of suffering, craving, death, compassion, and awakening,” said Smith. “What matters is how well one deals with those issues concretely, in smoking and other concrete immediate situations.&nbsp;Smoking isn’t the only place where we can engage these issues—they come up elsewhere, obviously—but it’s one of the ways, and we must engage them there.”</p><p>For others, the fact that some Buddhists smoke is as mundane as the fact that some Buddhists eat meat. But even Brad Warner understands the reservations one might have about teachers who smoke. “As a learner, I would steer clear of teachers who have such obvious bad habits on the grounds that if they can’t even get it together to stop smoking, how can I believe they can guide me to get past my own bad habits?” And yet, Warner’s own teacher smoked, and perhaps that is why he and other teachers are unwilling to take a stance against cigarettes.</p><p><i>Nirvana</i> means “extinguishing the flame.” When faced with the issue of human suffering, the burning ember of a lit cigarette might not seem like the highest priority. There is a more pressing conflagration at hand. Either you smoke, or you don’t smoke, yes, but in the end, we are all part of the slow burn anyhow. And maybe in the end, to borrow a phrase from the smoker Charles Bukowski, what matters most is not whether or not you smoke, but how well you walk through the fire.<br><br><b>Alex Tzelnic </b>is a Zen practitioner and writer living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His essays have appeared in <i>Killing the Buddha</i> and <i>The Rumpus</i>.</p><p><em>Sesse Lind/Gallerystock</em></p><p></p><hr><p><strong>More at Tricycle:</strong></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/you-yourself-are-oatmeal"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/newsletters/oatmeal.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: YOU YOURSELF ARE OATMEAL </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/you-yourself-are-oatmeal" 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/turning-intention-motivation"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/intention-news.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: TURNING INTENTION INTO MOTIVATION </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/turning-intention-motivation" 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> 46462 Tue, 28 Apr 2015 12:46:34 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Nepal Disaster Relief http://www.tricycle.com/blog/nepal-disaster-relief <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/monks-outdoor2-500-new.jpg" width="500" height="333" style="margin: 7px auto; display: block;"></p><p class="p1">Saturday’s 7.9 magnitude earthquake in Nepal has caused widespread death and damage in the country that houses some of the world’s most precious Buddhist sites. News sites are reporting that the death toll has now <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-32475030" target="_blank">risen above 3,000</a>&nbsp;and is expected to <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2015/apr/27/nepal-earthquake-rescue-efforts-thousands-seek-shelter-rolling-report" target="_blank">continue rising sharply</a>.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2">Tricycle has heard directly from people living in Kathmandu that they are spending a third night outdoors in makeshift tents while powerful aftershocks continue to roil the country. There are reports of shortages of tents, food, water, and medical supplies.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"><b>How can you help?</b></p><p class="p2">Relief workers have told Tricycle that unless you live locally and can transport donated goods yourself, please send <i>money, not items. </i>They are also advising not to travel to Nepal right now to volunteer; unless you are a medical professional or engineer with a qualified aid organization, wait to fly over until the initial rescue period is over. Nonprofessional volunteer aid will be greatly needed when the news cycle moves on but Nepal and its people still require help.</p><p class="p2">Here is a list of qualified aid organizations with tried and true histories of disaster relief that are accepting donations for Nepal rescue work:</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p3"><span class="s1">1. <a href="https://secure3.unicef.ca/site/Donation2?df_id=3260&3260.donation=form1&s_locale=en_CA&s_src=15DIEM01NPE" target="_blank">UNICEF Canada</a></span></p><p class="p3"><span class="s1">2. <a href="http://www.unicef.org.au/Donate/One-off-Donation/Nepal-Earthquake-Childrens-Appeal.aspx" target="_blank">UNICEF Australia</a>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="p3"><span class="s1">3. <a href="http://www.redcross.org.au/nepal-earthquake-2015.aspx" target="_blank">Australian Red Cross</a>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="p3"><span class="s1">4. <a href="http://www.unicef.org.uk/landing-p…/Donate-Nepal-Earthquake/" target="_blank">UNICEF UK</a>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="p3"><span class="s1">5. <a href="http://www.redcross.org.uk/en/Donate-Now" target="_blank">British Red Cross</a>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="p3"><span class="s1">6. <a href="https://www.redcross.org.nz/donate/nepal-earthquake-appeal/" target="_blank">New Zealand Red Cross</a></span></p><p class="p3"><span class="s1">7. <a href="https://donate.salvationarmyusa.org/sawso/nepal-earthquake-disaster-relief" target="_blank">The Salvation Army</a></span></p><p class="p3"><span class="s1"> 8. <a href="https://donate.oxfam.org.uk/emergency/nepal" target="_blank">OXFAM GB</a>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="p3"><span class="s1">9. <a href="https://secure2.oxfamamerica.org/…/content/nepal_earthquake/" target="_blank">OXFAM America</a>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="p3"><span class="s1">10. <a href="https://www.redcross.org/donate/neu0215-m?donationProdId=prod10001&retrieveData=1&campaignId=5500004&flow=oc1" target="_blank">American Red Cross</a>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="p3"><span class="s1">11. <a href="http://www.care.org/…/press-rel…/79-earthquake-strikes-nepal" target="_blank">CARE</a>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="p3"><span class="s1">12. <a href="https://www.mercycorps.org/don…/survivors-need-your-help-now" target="_blank">Mercy Corps</a>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="p3"><span class="s1">13. <a href="https://secure.crs.org/site/Donation2?df_id=8400&8400.donation=form1" target="_blank">Catholic Relief Services</a>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="p3"><span class="s1">14. <a href="https://secure3.convio.net/jdc/site/Donation2;jsessionid=BBF919041CB3F60AB680DAE268459307.app325a?df_id=4102&4102.donation=form1" target="_blank">American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee</a></span></p><p class="p3"><span class="s1">15. <a href="https://secure.savethechildren.org/…/N…/apps/ka/sd/donor.asp" target="_blank">Save the Children</a>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="p4">If you are interested in donating money to a Buddhist organization, these Tibetan teachers have posted news and requests for donations:</p><p class="p4"><a href="https://www.facebook.com/anichoying" target="_blank"><span class="s4">Ani Choying Dolma</span>&nbsp;</a></p><p class="p6"><a href="http://www.shedrub.org/news.php?nid=116" target="_blank">Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche</a></p><p class="p6"><a href="http://www.tsoknyirinpoche.org/9689/emergency-message-from-tsoknyi-rinpoche/" target="_blank">Tsoknyi Rinpoche</a></p><p><a href="http://emailmarketing.cglf.org/index.php?action=social&chash=b3e3e393c77e35a4a3f3cbd1e429b5dc.210" target="_blank">Kyabgon Phakchok Rinpoche</a></p><p><br><i>Photo: Monks from Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling, one of the largest monasteries in Nepal, camp out in tents.</i></p> 46459 Mon, 27 Apr 2015 12:31:20 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World You Yourself Are Oatmeal http://www.tricycle.com/blog/you-yourself-are-oatmeal <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/5328820503_07b7448b33_z-300x300_0.jpg" style="margin-left: 7px; margin-right: 7px; float: right;" height="300" width="300">Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara is founder and abbot of the Village Zendo in New York City, and the author of <i>Most Intimate: A Zen Approach to Life’s Challenges</i>. We talked in her office on April 13, 2010.</p><p style="text-align: right;">—<i>Richard P. Boyle</i><i>&nbsp;</i><br><b></b></p><p style="text-align: left;"><b><br></b></p><p style="text-align: left;"><b>Can you talk about how you got started with Buddhism?</b> There was never a question in my mind about what form of Buddhist practice to follow, because I’m of the generation where Zen was the practice of the moment. It was what was available in our culture. I was in high school in the late 1950s and started reading R. H. Blyth’s translations of haiku, the <i>Faith Mind Sutra</i>, things like that. His books on poetry were suffused with the Zen values and Zen tradition and the aesthetic of Zen. It was a time when the culture of Zen was introduced through those early translations of haiku, and the writings of D. T. Suzuki.
I was very attracted to it, and yet I was kind of a beatnik and certainly not a joiner. It was already very clear that I was of a different generation than those who immediately joined Zen communities. I didn’t join any community for 20 years. I visited a few, but I felt like an outsider. I felt like a rebel. What I saw were the snap decisions I made about what I thought I saw: a kind of conformity that I wasn’t attracted to at all. And a kind of holiness that I was not attracted to at all.</p><p>I read; I continued to read deeply in the Zen tradition. It’s kind of ironic, because in Zen we say that words are not the point. And yet, I would read the words “words are not the point,” read that again, and read that again. I would say that my life as it unfolded was suffused with the values that developed from a traditional Zen monastic experience, without ever actually having had that experience. But those values of poverty, of scarcity, of simplicity, of being humble, being ordinary, have been the core values of my life. I have never worked for a profit-making organization in my life. That’s karma, of course. I was always working for educational organizations or organizations that worked with the elderly, with the developmentally disabled, with drug treatment centers. So there was something about the whole culture of Zen that I felt was part of me. But I had missed the experience of working with a teacher, the discipline of zazen. Because when you sit alone, you tend to sit until something comes up, and then you get up and move. That is haphazard sitting, not like focused, prolonged periods of sitting.<br><br><b>You sat entirely alone from the very beginning? </b>Yes. I must have been in my late 30s when my son (I was a single parent) was finally old enough to go off to Spain for a summer intensive during high school. I took that summer off and went to Zen Mountain Monastery, which is nearby, a couple of hours from New York City. I went there and practiced and discovered the other side of Zen practice, sitting as part of a group. That was a very disciplined community, a highly disciplined community. In so many Zen centers, when they first started out there was a lot of yelling and shouting, like in the old days of Zen. I don’t think that is common anymore in the West. It was good for me, because I learned to toe the line. All these values that I had—“not knowing,” “beginner’s mind,” “being open”—were challenged when I encountered the very hierarchical, very disciplined, and really very militaristic structure of Zen Mountain Monastery.</p><p>This was just what I needed at that time in my life, and I was old enough to take it with a grain of salt, to see its value but not feel oppressed anymore. I had finally reached that level of maturity in my life. It was good. It was a great beginning practice for me. I had some experiences during that time because in that particular culture we always sat for two-hour sits, or the samurai students did. We sat through the walking meditation if we were really one of the tough students. And of course I associated myself with that.<br><br><b>Who was running Zen Mountain Monastery? </b>Daido Roshi (John Daido Loori). I fell for that whole thing. I was going to be the toughest, strongest sitter around, you know. I was not a young woman. And yet I did it, so I had some experiences. But I have never felt that to cling to one’s experiences is of any benefit whatsoever.</p><p>One time recently, last year, I told a group of people about an experience I had while I was eating oatmeal, but the reason I was telling them this was to deconstruct and to avoid the reification of experience. The simplicity of having satori<i> </i>when you are eating oatmeal and realizing that the whole world is oatmeal, that you yourself are oatmeal, allows me to pull the curtain back and say, “Listen carefully, this is about you and not about someone else’s description of an enlightenment experience.” In my view, the experiences that people talk about endlessly are not helpful for beginning students. They are actually like a cloud that goes through the sky. Yes, they are wonderful; you feel high. But I have felt high when I wasn’t sitting. So I didn’t cling to any of the “experiences” that I had, but I did change, and that’s what’s interesting for me. <b></b></p><p>The transformation went like this. I had been a professor of media and a person who worked with marginalized populations, so my interest was in how media can help marginalized populations. You could say that I was something of a do-gooder, living a “doing well by doing good” kind of life. And yet there was always that ability to distance myself. That shifted dramatically, through my practice. There is a kind of intimacy, an ability for intimacy and open-heartedness that arises out of the practice, which I think is the point of practicing Buddhism.</p><p>Then, after I had been practicing four or five years, the AIDS epidemic hit. There was a dharma brother, someone in our community, who received a diagnosis of HIV. We were very close, and somehow I fell into the whole world of what was going on at that time. In the mid-1980s it was a plague, a horrible plague. Here in New York, downtown where I live, you could see it. People were dropping like flies. They were creative, wonderful people, and it was a horror show. I became involved first with Robert, my dharma brother, who started a meditation group at Gay Men’s Health Crisis. I supported him with that, and as he grew weaker I took it over, and came to see the incredible power of practice for people who are in a lot of pain, who are very weak, who are very frightened of dying, who are facing their death, and those around them who are grieving. So it was different. Before this, my practice was about learning to free myself and that kind of thing, being more open, being more aware. Everything shifted, and it became not about me, it became about compassion and about doing and seeing the major effectiveness of practice for healing. Up to that point I had been excited about my Zen practice and about my academic work. I loved teaching, mentoring students, establishing projects that showed how media could help marginalized populations. I was passionate about that. Suddenly I saw that Zen could do that without any media at all, that meditation practice in and of itself was this incredibly empowering tool.<br><br><b>What form did your first meditation take? Did Zen Mountain Monastery use koans? </b>This is a good example. I went in with a clear opinion that I did not want to do koans, that I wanted to do <i>shikantaza</i>. I was very clear about it. I had read a lot, I thought I knew a lot—I was the classic new student. Immediately Daido said, “No, no, no, you’re the kind of person that should be doing koan study.” So I was put on the koan Mu very early, just a few months after I started practicing. I continued to be a koan student for the entire time that I studied. I love koans, I think they are wonderful ways of engaging the practice, although they are not for everyone. They are definitely not for everyone. I would say maybe two thirds of the students here at the Village Zendo are koan students and a third are not. We don’t say you must be a koan student or anything like that. But I love koans. Mu is the koan that is talked about the most, the quintessential koan. People have these major breakthroughs with that koan. For me the breakthrough happened when I went on a solitary retreat for a week, after I had been working on Mu for eight or nine months, maybe even a year. Suddenly, like everything else, it was . . . nothing special. <i>Oh! </i>I hate to be so deflating, but that was it. It was like, <i>Oh. Oh, yeah</i>. When I went back, I completed it and went on to other koans. A lot of the work that I particularly had to do involved getting rid of reification, any kind of reification of these koans or mysteries of the mind. For me the work involved bringing things down to the transformative aspect. How does it change your life? How does it change the way you are with others? This is what is important to me.</p><p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/quote-2.png" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" height="152" width="570"><br><br><b>Did you have trouble dealing with concentration at the beginning? </b>When I first started, I was counting the breath. That was difficult; that was a discipline, something that had to be learned. But you know, no more difficult than learning a yoga posture, or learning to do tai chi or something. It was challenging and frustrating, but yet—that’s what the mind does. <br><br><b>Right, but then you settled into it.</b> I did, I settled in.
<br><br><b>Would you say you were sitting peacefully with no thoughts in your mind for parts of the time? Or how would you describe it?</b> Well, what I always tell my own students is that when you are doing it right, you don’t know you are doing it right, and then after you have done it right, you don’t know you did it right. The bell rings, and suddenly the bell rings again. I’ve had that experience, but it is not something to cling to. I would say that in order to do koans one has to have a stability of mind, because you don’t really work with the koan, you drop the koan into this mind and let it sit there. But you don’t do anything to it. You wait until the koan springs forth with its proper response, usually when you are washing dishes or closing the door or something. But that’s because the mind is at ease; it’s not trying to figure the koan out, strategize or anything, it’s just at ease. I found the shift from counting the breath to following Mu to working on other koans and now to shikantaza<i> </i>to be seamless. When you say “mindfulness,” we are probably talking about the same thing. Just sitting, and just sitting. I found that all these forms of meditation are natural, and not fundamentally different from one another. I mean, the only difference is at the very beginning when you are counting your breaths and you can’t get past one or two and you are scared to death, and your mind just won’t stop, and you don’t even know that you have another mind. That is frustrating, and I think students need to have their hands held during that period of time, until they are able to discover themselves and trust themselves and not be afraid of themselves, of their deeper mind. A lot of people are afraid, and that’s why there is such resistance at the beginning. I think a lot of the physical resistance is just the freezing of the body around the fear of opening the mind, the fear of just letting it relax.<br><br><b>That’s what I hear in the interviews. But now we are moving up to the time when the AIDS epidemic began to happen and a new thing came in. Could you describe the point when you realized that the sitting that you had been doing had changed you in some way, had had an effect on you? </b>You know, I would say that the realization is in hindsight, as I look back. One just is living one’s life, and one just does what one does. But the quality of the feelings that I had, the depth of understanding, the sudden commitment to work with people who were very ill and to do it a lot . . . I worked myself very hard during that period of time because the need was so great. I had not been that kind of caregiver before. I had done good things, but I had always held back a little, felt a little resentful when overworked. This was a kind of opening of compassion. What it was was the dropping of the distance between me and the other, which one could say is the experience of awakening, when you realize there is no wall between you and the other. The opening of compassion just dissolved that sense of separation, through learning to meet dying and death and physical pain all the time, all around. <b></b></p><p>So it was a powerful meeting of the circumstances of life and my practice, and it changed me completely. As I said, I loved my academic career and was doing well. But then I was haunted by the need to just do the dharma, to just be teaching this to people who could benefit from it. I was a full-time professor at the time, and I felt pulled between these different demands. My son was receiving free tuition at the university while I was teaching, so I clearly couldn’t leave the university until he had completed his academic career. There were various circumstances that kept me there, but the transformation was clear, and I saw it also in my teaching at the university. There was a softening, in the sense of a greater understanding of what individual students’ needs were. Being able to meet people where they were was a very powerful change, rather than having them come up to meet me. I saw that was really important.</p><p>Toward the end of that period I ran into some differences of opinion with my teacher, Daido Roshi. I had met Maezumi Roshi, who was his teacher, so I left the Zen Mountain community and began studying with Maezumi. I needed something else, and I could see that that was to move out of the highly disciplined, highly hierarchical system at Zen Mountain Monastery. Daido did a wonderful job; he had many students, and he built an institution that will last for many years. He was wise. So I have nothing ill to say other than it is not my way. I was very fond of him, and I think he of me, and it was difficult leaving. Yet sometimes you just know what you have to do. I began to study with Maezumi Roshi, Daido’s teacher. That was difficult for everybody concerned. Maezumi felt a little awkward, but we had a good connection and I had something to learn from him—the value of imperfection.</p><p>I come from an alcoholic family. I’ve had addiction issues myself. I was drawn to a quality that Maezumi Roshi had. He had an incredible courage to keep on, to continue to practice, to continue to teach, to recognize in everyone this intimate quality of buddhanature no matter what delusions and difficulties these people were facing. And first of all, what <i>he </i>had to face, the issues in his own life. He had his alcohol issues. He had his womanizing issues. I had done a lot of work with young people with drug abuse problems at drug treatment centers. I had an interest in that. So rather than rejecting Maezumi Roshi, I was drawn to him as someone who had something to teach me. He was so humble and so ordinary and able to be intimate with you immediately. But he had his issues. I never witnessed any of that, interestingly enough. His drinking was done at home, not at the center when I was there, and he had no ongoing relationships with anyone that I could see. I wasn’t there spying, I was there practicing. For me, within this quality of, “Yes, it’s broken, I’m broken,” is the heart of humanity. The men I was working with during the AIDS epidemic were not saints. Actually, we have no saints here at the Village Zendo. That comes out of working with Maezumi Roshi. It is something he didn’t talk about but that he embodied. He embodied it in his every gesture, his way of working with you in koans. He was very strict, much stricter that anyone else I ever worked with in terms of koans. Here was a soft man who was so kind and sweet and loving, and boy, like a steel trap with the koans. Amazing.<br><br><b>In 1997 you received dharma transmission. Had you started the Village Zendo then?</b> We started in 1985. It started when I first began to practice formally. I realized that I wasn’t very disciplined at home. I could do fine at the monastery, but not at home. So I had the idea, <i>Oh, I’ll invite some people in to sit with me</i>. That’s what this place is. It grew from there, one person, then two, then three, then five, then ten. We have a pretty large group now. After I received dharma transmission I continued to teach at NYU for maybe a year, and then I took two year-long leaves of absence. It was a real struggle for me to let go of a tenured professorship, but I really felt drawn to this work of teaching the dharma and teaching it in a slightly different way. Although I am conservative in some respects as a Zen teacher, I am not highly hierarchical or a disciplinarian at all. I pay a lot of attention to liturgy. I like liturgy a lot, and although I’ll make innovations, our <i>sesshin</i> and our retreats are pretty much sparkling clean and clear, and follow old traditions.</p><p>I finally had the courage to retire after 20 years. This enabled me to have a studio apartment nearby, which was necessary in order for this organization to survive. People had not even been paying dues, or putting $5 in the pot, and suddenly we were in a high-rent district. The rent on this place is $10,000 a month. So suddenly this hippie professor has to come up with $10,000 a month and a little stipend for myself to keep me going. I didn’t have Social Security at that time, I was too young.</p><p>We have mainly well-educated, high-functioning people in our community. A lot of artists, a lot of therapists, teachers, social workers—those are the kind of people who are in our community. All of them feel they are outsiders and rebels and would never join anything, and I keep telling them, “That’s okay. We can join this group because we are all outsiders, and so that means no one is an insider.” We’ve done very well. I now have five successors. I am very proud of them. There are three therapists, a chiropractor, and a professor of Latin American studies. One of them is a black man and he may be (we’re not sure) <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/contributors/featured-contributors-summer-2012" target="_blank">the first black male sensei.</a><br><br><b>While this was going on, what was happening with you? </b>It’s like the story of the Soto person who walks through the mist at night and doesn’t realize that her robes have gotten wet, rather than the great thunderstorm of Rinzai satori. Very gradually, I have been tamed by this work of teaching. I am very humbled by the task at hand, by the kind of delusions that make it so hard for people to be clear, by the aspects of a person’s being that make it hard for them to accept themselves, to be compassionate. When I began, my approach was at a very high level, tinged with too much intellectualism about the dharma and koans and their saving property. It seems like every year I kind of ratchet down a notch or two and realize it is more about meditation, sitting, good posture, and having supportive people around. So it’s like coming out of the clouds. Each year my teaching gets more ordinary and more simple. Simpler and simpler and simpler. <b></b></p><p>For years we have gone to Sing Sing. A group of us goes to Sing Sing every Sunday and sits with the prisoners there. That’s a great project for the people here. Young people come in, and they’re all concerned about themselves and their issues. So I say, “Oh, why don’t you join the Sing Sing group and go up and sit in a bare and dirty room and see what that’s like?” I like to do that.<br><br><b>So in talking about the last ten years of your transformation, your heart has been opening and your mind has been becoming simpler?</b> Right. <br><br><b>Any other little words you want to throw in to tell people about that? </b>Well, you know, I think I was a moderately depressed person the first 30 or 40 years of my life. Now everything is just actually joyful all the time. Even when I’m with someone who is dying, there is some way to understand that it’s all interconnected and that there is a time when we are alive and there is a time when we die. You can feel that at the bedside of someone who is going, or when you are counseling someone who is quite old about life and death. <br><br><b>Especially at that time. </b>Yes. It’s spring here in New York, and it’s hard to think about the cold winter we just went through because it is just so beautiful now. I feel kind of joyful all the time. I was kind of an angry young woman, and I don’t know where that went. It pops up from time to time, but it’s really not there. <br><br><b>You just notice that it’s been a long time since. . . </b>Exactly, exactly.<br><br><b>But you didn’t do anything specific to work on it? </b>No. <br><br><b>Some of the traditions that people I have interviewed represent have these very specific things to do, maybe a specific kind of meditation. </b>Yes, I admire those forms of working with compassion, <i>metta </i>meditation, those kinds of practices. I think they sound wonderful, but they are not for me. My practice is really koan study, which opens up entire worlds. It’s uncanny. Every single koan you work on is about your life. When it becomes true, you see something: <i>Oh, it’s about this. It’s about my fault-finding or it’s about this or that</i>. But it’s not targeted. You don’t start out saying, “I’m going to work on my anger here.” It’s a different form. <br><br><b>Right, but the koans are saying, “Oh, there is a little insight.”</b> Yes.<br><br><b>Now is that an intellectual insight or a spiritual insight? How would you describe it? </b>I think the insight into the crux of the koan or into the heart of the koan is first like a feeling and then like a thought. It kind of comes out of the body, out of the heart area, and then words come and then it’s mental. That’s how I understand it. But there is another aspect. After you’ve had the insight of experiencing the koan, then you are going to have to go and talk to your teacher about it. After the person has presented the koan, has worked through the koans I have them do, my last question always is, “What does this have to do with your life, what is this koan in your life?” You know, it’s amazing the tears that come, the laughter, the realizations. Also, when I think back to those early days when I first began to practice, I seem to have had a realization a minute about my prejudices, about the way my mind worked. Not while I was meditating, but when I’d get up and walk out the door. I’d see my habits, I’d see these aspects of my being that I had never seen before, and I would laugh. That’s how one lets go of a lot of stuff, a lot of opinion making and so forth. So the Zen style works for me, in the sense that it’s not targeted. You don’t know where it’s going to come from. You are working on a koan, and suddenly you are working with the grief about your father’s death. You didn’t know that you were thinking about your father, and suddenly it’s there. It’s kind of like a Rorschach [test]. Koans are old, old stories, involving archetypal kinds of areas where the mind and heart need to work. The heart needs to soften, the mind needs to understand. <b></b></p><p>I like to be very specific about koans and not misuse them. I encourage people to come in to see me even when they don’t have an answer, because as you stand up from your cushion in the zendo, as you open the door to the sanzen<i> </i>room, as you walk in, as you bow, you don’t know at any of those points whether or not something is going to come. Or maybe the teacher will ask you a question that will elicit something.<b><br><br><b>During these five years when you were studying with Maezumi, is there any particular moment or insight or event that stands out, or comes back to your memory in any way? </b></b>I’ve actually written about this before. It is a short story about when I was in charge of the altars and carrying one of these big ancient wooden cups and dropped it off the side of the banister at Maizumi’s Mountain Center in the San Jacinto Mountains. It cracked terribly, it had a big gash in it. I was upset that I had done that; it was a beautiful cup. The Zen center wasn’t wealthy, so I said, “Roshi, I’m going to replace that cup, I’m going to get a new one for you in Japan. I’ll order one. I am so sorry that I did that.” He took the cup and he said, “Look at the cup, Enkyo, it’s more beautiful now than it was before.” Here’s this man who has been humiliated by many Zen people across the country and abandoned by half his students, and I thought, here he is still teaching, still doing this work, and he is more valuable after all those scandals than he was before. I was this 40-something woman who was changing careers and leaving her academic world in order to follow this crazy man. I just saw the beauty of our humanness through him.<b> <br><br><b>That’s the wonderful part. </b></b>Yes, and there is a koan about that. It’s called the rhinoceros fan, rhinoceros horn fan, and he kept me on that koan for almost an entire summer. Talk about frustrating—I’d go in each time and I was really sure I was right, because it is one of those koans that has seven or eight points. You don’t just give one presentation, you have to give seven or eight, because all the great teachers have made comments on this horn fan koan. It was about that, about how each of our own imperfections is our humanity, not something to be rejected but something to be seen and recognized. It’s about buddhanature. Like the Mu koan—it’s about our buddhanature. Maezumi Roshi was a great teacher for me. He was a heart teacher for me. Of course, I learned so much from all three of my teachers.<b> <br><br><b>But it was in the spirit of gradually getting wet from the soft rain.</b></b> Exactly. The big experiences I had, I tried to let go of immediately. I also grew up in the days of psychedelics, so I don’t take those kinds of experiences very seriously. What I am talking about are the realizations that come all the time. They don’t have to be psychological. They can be moments of inspiration or joy, and then they permeate your behavior. They go into your life. It’s great; it’s really an underappreciated aspect of life. We who practice this are such a tiny percentage of the population. We are so fortunate. And that’s why we are willing to give our lives to sharing it.</p><p><br>&nbsp;</p><p><i>Excerpted from </i>Realizing Awakened Consciousness<i> by Richard P. Boyle. Copyright © 2015 Columbia University Press. Used by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.</i></p><p><em>Image:&nbsp;A. Jesse Jiryu Davis, courtesy Village Zendo</em><b><i><br></i></b></p><p></p><hr><p><strong>More at Tricycle:</strong></p><table border="0" cellpadding="8" cellspacing="10" width="550"><tbody><tr></tr><tr><td scope="col" valign="top"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/arriving-without-sound"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/newsletters/sound.png" alt="" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2" height="150" border="0" width="270"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: ARRIVING WITHOUT A SOUND </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/arriving-without-sound" 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 scope="col" valign="top"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/slow-burn"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/smoke-blog.png" alt="" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2" height="150" border="0" width="270"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: THE SLOW BURN </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/slow-burn" 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> 46450 Fri, 24 Apr 2015 10:00:14 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Arriving Without a Sound http://www.tricycle.com/blog/arriving-without-sound <p><strong><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/issues/OnTime.png" width="570" height="380" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></strong></p><p style="padding-left: 30px;"><br><strong>Myokyo Dream</strong></p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">"Stop fidgeting" she says<br>I'm picking candle wax off my robes<br>We're all sitting in the Zendo<br>People of all ages introducing themselves.</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">"I'm here because I read too much" I say.</p><p style="text-align: right; padding-left: 30px;"><em>August 4, 2007</em></p><p style="text-align: right; padding-left: 30px;"></p><p style="text-align: left; padding-left: 30px;"><br><strong>There Are Those Buddhists</strong></p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; like myself<br>who do not scorn the idea<br>of mere “things” possessing<br>a sanctity<br>of their own</p><p style="text-align: right; padding-left: 30px;"><em>—John Blofeld<br></em><em>March 29, 2010</em></p><p style="padding-left: 30px;"><br><br><strong>Unlimited Growth on a Planet of Finite Size</strong></p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">The brisk spring wind sets in motion the wheel<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;of mind restless as five monkeys<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; running in place</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">At least it’s entertaining<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; when there are dreams of many</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; energetically bringing “Zen”</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;from India to China to Japan<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;to California and New York<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;riding on a wave of understanding</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; and like sunlight<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;arriving without a sound</p><p style="text-align: right; padding-left: 30px;"><em>April 3, 2010</em></p><p style="text-align: right; padding-left: 30px;"><strong style="text-align: left;"><br></strong></p><p><strong style="text-align: left;">Joanne Kyger&nbsp;</strong><span style="text-align: left;">is an American poet associated with the San Francisco Renaissance.</span></p><p style="text-align: left;">From <a href="http://www.citylights.com/book/?GCOI=87286100025950"><em>On Time</em></a>. Copyright ©<span style="font-family: HelveticaNeue; font-size: 1em;"><b>&nbsp;</b></span>2015 by Joanne Kyger. Reprinted by permission of City Lights Books<span style="font-family: HelveticaNeue; font-size: 1em;"></span></p><p style="text-align: left;"><span style="font-family: HelveticaNeue; font-size: 1em;"></span><em>Image: William Moran/Gallerystock</em></p> 46438 Wed, 22 Apr 2015 13:03:38 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World A Raucous Silence http://www.tricycle.com/blog/raucous-silence <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/MouthSounds_1.jpg" width="570" height="333" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>There’s one on every meditation retreat: the roommate who crinkles potato chip wrappers all night, keeping you awake; the meditator on the next cushion who squirms nonstop; the know-it-all who flaunts his “enlightenment.” If this sounds familiar, be prepared to laugh uproariously in recognition. If it doesn’t—well, watch and learn.</p><p>Playwright Bess Wohl chose the unlikely setting of a silent retreat as the backdrop for her new play, <i>Small Mouth Sounds.</i> The title refers to the grunts and squeaks that pass for communication when talking is forbidden. In the theater, of course, dialogue is king and silence dead air. So what astonishes about this production is how eloquent Wohl’s characters are. Reaching far beyond the vocabulary of mime, they distill their aspirations, fears, failings, and backstories into a breathtaking range of gestures, facial expressions, movements—and the occasional outburst—that tell all.</p><p>The action takes place over five days at a retreat center loosely based on Omega Institute in upstate New York. That’s where some years ago Wohl sat her first retreat, led by Pema Chödrön. Since then, she’s done more retreats, and has the retreat format and foibles of retreat-goers (and their teachers) down pat.</p><p>The theater itself is the set. A rectangular room with whitewashed walls and wooden beams, it resembles many a meditation hall. The audience of 80 or so is packed into two tiers along either wall. I half expected we’d be seated on zafus, but the only cushions were thin pads to ease the discomfort of sitting for 100 minutes straight—there’s no intermission—on folding chairs. The action alternates between a small stage at one end, furnished with a row of six chairs, and the theater floor, which serves alternately as a lakeside beach and the participants’ sleeping quarters. Views of the outdoors—trees, sky, the lake—are projected onto clerestory windows high on the walls.</p><p>The play opens in total darkness. Gentle rain sounds that have been playing softly in the background are suddenly jacked up to full volume, with a crashing storm so violent you expect it to break through the roof. As the sound fades, the lights come up on stage, and the first retreatant, Jan (Erik Lochtefeld), enters. Shaking off the rain, he neatly stows his gear and takes a seat. Tall, slender, 40-ish, he has the look of a retreat veteran, decked out in the L.L.Bean/REI mufti of a city dweller weekending in the wild. As he riffles through papers in a folder, a younger man enters. Ned (Brad Heberlee) is a coiled spring, his face pinched in tension as he wrings out the bottoms of his rain-soaked jeans. Ned’s multicolored knit cap is permanently affixed to his head, even in bed; later, in one of the play’s big reveals, we learn why. Next, Rodney (Babak Tafti) sweeps in and deftly folds himself into full lotus. Beaded and bearded, toned and tanned, he’s the model adept. Ned—or “Hat Guy,” as one character calls him—takes one look at Rodney and is appalled. (Predictably, they’re assigned to share a room.) A kerfuffle in the hallway heralds the arrival of a lesbian couple, arguing over misdirection on the drive up. Joan (Sakina Jaffrey) is slight and quiet; Judy (Marcia DeBonis) is loud, 30 pounds overweight, and clearly in charge. Recognizing the yogi, Judy halts her harangue to gush, “We <i>love </i>your ideas, your videos!” As the five settle into their seats, the teacher (JoJo Gonzalez) speaks. He remains a disembodied voice offstage throughout the play, but we imagine him seated facing his students.</p><p>After reciting a dizzying array of rules, only one of which mentions silence, the teacher, in a vaguely Indian accent, launches into the old chestnut about the frog who lives his entire life in a well and then on seeing the ocean for the first time is overcome by the vastness and promptly dies. “I’m not suggesting you’re going to die in these five days, though we all have to go,” the guru says. “But you may not be able to return to the well.” Everyone looks stunned.</p><p>As the teacher wearily instructs the group, “Ask questions simply: refrain from telling me your full life story,” the sixth retreatant barges in, overstuffed duffels and a Whole Foods shopping bag spilling from her arms. Alicia (Jessica Almasy) is clearly a hot mess. As she flops on her chair, faint strains of rock music emanate from her purse. “Think of this retreat as a vacation from your habits,” the teacher intones. “After this, you don’t ever have to go back to who you are.”</p><p>But we know that they—and we—<i>will</i> go back to who we are. The retreatants waste no time revealing themselves and their habits: desperately seeking a cellular hot spot; dissolving in giggles or sobs; cruising for sex; wrestling with illness and loss; confronting betrayal. Hat Guy breaks silence with the only long speech of the play, spilling out his story in excruciating detail. As for the teacher? Guess.</p><p>Practitioners will have a field day at <i>Small Mouth Sounds.</i> If you can’t see yourself in the characters, you’ll certainly recognize people you’ve encountered on retreat. And surely you can admit to at least <i>some</i> identification—if only with the woman who, in the throes of a meltdown, drops her tote and watches an entire bag of candies roll across the floor.</p><p>Wohl, a seasoned film and sitcom writer with degrees from Harvard and Yale Drama School, is also a sincere practitioner of yoga and meditation. All the drama—even the pain—in <i>Small Mouth Sounds</i> is rendered with as much warmth and humanity as satire, allowing us to laugh guilt free. There are no dramatic awakenings onstage. But in the end everyone—audience included—comes to see that not everything worth knowing about one another is discoverable in silence.</p><p><i>Small Mouth Noises</i> has played to rave reviews and a sold-out house since previews began March 10 (it opened on March 23); the run has been extended through Saturday, April 25. So beg, borrow, or call in favors to get a ticket, but don’t let this delicious play pass you by—even if it means joining the standby line.</p><p>Just ask the aspiring actor who waited three hours last Friday night to snag one of two seats released at curtain time. He wiled away the hours telling fellow standbys about Buddhist teachers and the retreat on Maui he is attending later this month, led by Ram Dass, Krishna Das, and Roshi Joan Halifax. It’s his first retreat, the young man said. S<i>mall Mouth Sounds</i>, with its antic but oh-so-telling view, was the perfect sendoff.<i>&nbsp;</i></p><p><b>Small Mouth Sounds</b><i>, by Bess Wohl, directed by Rachel Chavkin. Through Saturday, April 25, 2015, at ARS NOVA, 511 West 54th<span style="font-size: 8px;">&nbsp;</span>Street, New York, NY. <a href="http://www.arsnovanyc.com">http://www.arsnovanyc.com</a>.</i><br><br>Journalist and author <strong>Joan Duncan Oliver</strong> is a <em>Tricycle</em> contributing editor.&nbsp;</p><p><i><br></i><em>Photograph courtesy Ben Arons and Ars Nova</em></p> 46444 Mon, 20 Apr 2015 14:46:46 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World How Meditation Offers a Planetary Perspective http://www.tricycle.com/blog/how-meditation-offers-planetary-perspective <p></p><center><iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/124515317?r=tricyclemag" width="576" height="400" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></center><p><em><br></em></p><p><em>Planetary</em> is a cross-continental cinematic journey that explores our future as a species with interviews from astronauts, environmentalists, anthropologists, and leading Buddhist thinkers.</p><p>Get the full film (10% discount for Tricycle subscribers with promo code <em>TRICYCLE10</em>) <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/planetary" target="_self">here.</a></p> 46435 Mon, 20 Apr 2015 09:59:00 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World The Jig Is Up http://www.tricycle.com/blog/jig <p class="p1"></p><p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/SirisenaImageTwo.png" width="570" height="426" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p1" style="text-align: center;"><em>Sri Lanka's newly elected president, Maithripala Sirisena</em></p><p class="p1">While the international Buddhist community has spoken out against the recent anti-Muslim violence of Buddhist ultranationalists in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, it remains largely powerless to stanch the growth of hardliners in either country. Last November, 381 American Buddhist teachers—including notables like Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, and Joseph Goldstein—sent <a href="http://www.maungzarni.net/2014/11/an-open-letter-to-president-obama-from.html" target="_blank">a letter to President Obama</a>, urging him to raise the issue of Buddhist-inflicted violence in Myanmar on an impending diplomatic visit. The letter followed a few months after <a href="http://www.presstv.com/detail/2014/07/06/370149/end-violence-against-muslims-dalai-lama/" target="_blank">a public statement from the Dalai Lama</a> in which he unequivocally condemned extremists in both Myanmar and Sri Lanka, saying they should "imagine an image of Buddha before they commit such crime[s]."&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Although the monk-led violence in both countries depends on a perversion of theology, it is primarily a political matter. Non-governmental organizations, like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have called for the brutality to end. But it is unlikely the violent monks in either country will stand down unless their governments take action on their own accord.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Community violence against Myanmar's Muslim population broke out in the Rakhine region in 2012, after the country ended almost five decades of military rule in its shift toward liberalization. Rather than stop the ongoing brutality, however, police have abetted it. A prospective crackdown thus remains unthinkable under the current government.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Until recently, the chances appeared similarly slim for punitive measures to be taken against Sri Lanka's Buddhist extremist group, Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), translated as "Buddha Power Force." Since its founding in 2012, BBS has had to weather only the most milquetoast public criticism, and enjoyed private acquiescence from former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. Rajapaksa would lightly reprimand the organization in public statements, while his police force stood to the side as they carried out attacks.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">For instance, a February 4, 2013 speech delivered by Rajapaksa on the occasion of Sri Lankan Independence Day cautioned against religiously motivated violence, perhaps obliquely warning BBS. "If anyone is trying to build religious rivalry in Sri Lanka . . . they do not serve their religion," said Rajapaksa, "but serve the interests of separatism." Undeterred, BBS held a rally a month and a half later in the central town of Kandy, where the group's General Secretary Gnanasara Thera falsely alleged that two Muslim-owned clothing companies—Fashion Bug and No Limit—were forcing female employees to convert to Islam. “We have all the proof and information about the Fashion Bug and No Limit outlets and what they are doing to your female [Buddhist] children," he exclaimed. "What harm have we done to the Muslims?” &nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Two weeks later in Colombo, the country's nearby commercial capital, Buddhist monks led approximately 500 people in an attack on a warehouse belonging to Fashion Bug. The police stood by as the crowd vandalized the building, broke down the door, and harassed some Muslim workers inside. After over an hour, the police finally broke up the riot. Law enforcement officials detained 17 suspects, including three monks,&nbsp;but they all gained prompt release when the victims agreed to drop charges.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">That same month, President Rajapaksa's brother and the nation's Secretary of Defense, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, had attended the opening of a BBS training center<b> </b>where he&nbsp;spoke in glowing terms of the group's mission, proclaiming, "It is the monks who protect our country, religion and race. No one should doubt these clergy. We're here to give [them] encouragement." Suffice it to say, the group did not fear meaningful redress from the Rajapaksa administration.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">But on January 8, the two-term incumbent president Rajapaksa met a shocking yet decisive defeat in his reelection bid. Sri Lanka had a new president: former Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena, who swept into power with a huge share of the vote from Tamil and Muslim minorities.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Sirisena has promised democratic reforms that will empower and protect those long-oppressed groups. And if he means what he says, these reforms will likely include a crackdown on BBS.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The fact that Sirisena even had a fighting chance in January's election is testament to the preceding months-long decline of Pesident Rajapaksa's popularity. This trend was certainly due in part to his impotent response to BBS violence, exposed most acutely last June when an attack on Muslims in the Southwestern city of Aluthgama—which left three dead and 80 injured—resulted in little more immediate response than the imposition of a temporary curfew. Eventually 41 people were arrested in the aftermath of the assault—some for taking part in the violence and others for violating the curfew.&nbsp; But no BBS leadership faced prosecution, despite a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOxPJzlXDJs" target="_blank">viral video</a> of a vitriolic BBS rally in the vicinity of Aluthgama directly before the attack.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Rajapaksa's repeated miscarriages of justice with regard to Sinhala Buddhist-inflicted violence served as symbols of his cronyism, and the violence itself rendered the president hugely unpopular among Muslims, who make up a sizable ten percent of Sri Lanka's population.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The primary source of Rajapaksa's lack of popularity was not his position regarding BBS, but the broader issue of his increasingly authoritarian imposition of a narrowly consolidated power center. Coupled with the economic stagnation that left many Sri Lankans struggling to afford basic goods, Rajapaksa's antidemocratic measures became more and more frustrating to the many outside his inner circle of family, friends, and interest groups.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">These measures—alongside a slew of nepotistic appointments—alienated members of Rajapaksa's own political party and, maybe more importantly, members of his base: the Sinhala Buddhists that make up 70 percent of Sri Lankans. A majoritarian nationalist politician like Rajapaksa, after all, depends on a unifying brand of ethnic populism. Cracks in that formerly reliable voting bloc left the strongman vulnerable to a diverse opposition coalition.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The greatest triumph of Rajapaksa's political career—the resolution of the nation's 25-year civil war between its Sinhala Buddhist majority and its Tamil, mostly Hindu minority—happened five and a half years before election day—far enough in the near-distant past, perhaps, for Sri Lankans to find themselves deserving of more than merely the absence of war.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The last, maybe most high-profile reason for Rajapaksa's decline in popularity was his refusal to investigate potential war crimes committed during the civil war. One can imagine why Rajapaksa would rather not revisit those specifics, which could very well implicate him and his brother, the nation's Secretary of Defense at the time. But the decision raised ire, especially among the family and friends of the estimated 40,000 Tamil civilians killed in the war's final months.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Their advocacy helped initiate a United Nations Human Rights Council investigation into crimes committed by both sides. But as journalist Joshua Hammer described in the <a href="http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/mar/05/terrible-war-sri-lanka/" target="_blank"><i>New York Review of Books</i></a>, Rajapaksa's administration "refused to give visas to investigators and . . . was said to have intimidated witnesses who testified via Skype and gave depositions at the Human Rights Council's headquarters in Geneva."&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Such intransigence hurt Sri Lanka's international reputation and forestalled important steps toward reconciliation with the country's northern Tamil region: the return of government seized lands, the allowance of press freedoms, and the eventual affordance of some level of autonomy.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">All of these factors led President Rajapaksa's longtime political ally, Maithripala Sirisena, to decide to run against him, and with only three months left before a snap election called by Rajapaksa. In doing so, Sirisena was gambling on enough support among Tamils and Muslims to overcome the losses he would surely incur among Rajapaksa's loyal Sinhala base.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">But something remarkable happened: Tamils and Muslims, despite their justifiable distrust of Sinhala politicians, rallied behind Sirisena's candidacy. Citing Rajapaksa's self-serving elimination of term limits, Rauf Hakeem, the head of Sri Lanka's largest Muslim party, resigned as Justice Minister and jumped to Sirisena’s side. Shortly thereafter, the main Tamil political party aligned with him as well.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Sirisena had himself a coalition.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">While significant, Sirisena’s newfound Muslim and Tamil support was not altogether surprising. As the saying goes, the enemy of one’s enemy is one’s friend. In truly astonishing fashion, however, the nation's relatively moderate Buddhist party, National Heritage Party (JHU), also endorsed Sirisena. While it holds only three seats in Sri Lanka's 225-member parliament, the party wields moral authority as the electoral political voice of the country's monastic community.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The JHU leader Omalpe Sobitha framed the party’s withdrawal of support for Rajapaksa as made out of compassion for him. "This [quitting] is not a challenge from an enemy force," he told <a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia/2014/11/buddhist-party-quits-sri-lanka-government-2014111894525420326.html" target="_blank"><i>Al Jazeera</i></a>. "This is a birthday gift to the president to correct his ways. This is the advice of a friend given according to the teachings of the Buddha."</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">But Rajapaksa did retain the support of a very different Buddhist political group: Bodu Bala Sena. When BBS announced its decision to back Rajapaksa, Dr. Dilanthe Withananage, the group's Chief Executive Officer, criticized the opposition's platform: "So called good governance, democracy and the rule of law, all slogans of non-governmental organizations, the World Bank, and the United Nations are presently being bandied about by common candidate Maithripala Sirisena," he told <a href="http://www.ceylontoday.lk/51-80654-news-detail-bbs-pledges-support-to-mr.html" target="_blank"><i>Ceylon Today</i></a>. BBS’s strategy was to characterize Sirisena as an internationalist outsider who invoked reforms but secretly intended to tear at the core identity of Sri Lankan society: its Sinhala Buddhist roots.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">It is hard to imagine that Rajapaska welcomed such rhetoric even if, to some extent, he sympathized with it. After all, his hardline supporters accentuated the distinction between his dependence on a monolithic, albeit large majority, and Sirisena's backing from a range of smaller ethno-religious groups. The election was becoming a choice between government controlled by a homogeneous few and a heterogeneous many. This didn't play well for Rajapaksa, who tried to combat the perception in a tweet three days before the election, saying, "I will protect everyone in this country, be it Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim." But this plea would prove too little, too late.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/RajapaksaImage.png" width="570" height="469" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p2" style="text-align: center;"><em>Incumbent presidential candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa speaks at a campaign rally</em></p><p class="p1">A whopping 81.5 percent of eligible voters turned out on January 8, making it the highest voter turnout in Sri Lankan history. By comparison, the turnout in the last two United States presidential elections of 2008 and 2012 were 57 and 54 percent, respectively. Sirisena won with just over 51 percent of the vote, losing slightly among Sinhala Buddhists but making up for it with a 70-percent share of Muslims and Tamil votes.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">But big tent politics often better serves an inspiring campaign than it does unified governance. The election raised an important question: How would Sirisena's varying constituencies rally behind a broad set of policies? And how would this interplay ultimately affect the government's policy toward BBS?&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">In less than two months since the election, Sirisena has implemented some significant reforms that hint at a willingness to take action against BBS. But it's worth tempering expectations with the acknowledgment that Sirisena was a member of Rajapaksa's political party for much of his career and, up until three months before the election, was Rajapaksa's acting health minister.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Amid the post-election euphoria, Brian Keenan, member of the International Crisis Group, reminded enthusiasts that Sirisena was a "very different kind of person" than Rajapaksa but neveretheless fell merely "on the softer side of the Sinhala nationalist spectrum." Echoing this take on the election as more incremental shift than radical change, the <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/11/guardian-view-on-end-of-rajapaksa-era-sri-lanka-sirisena" target="_blank"><i>Guardian </i></a>editorial board argued that "[w]hat has happened in Sri Lanka was not a revolution nor, at least not yet, a restoration of the democratic checks and balances of the past. It was instead an uprising within the dominant party in government against the high-handed style of the Rajapaksas." After all, at least according to BBS leadership, Sirisena tried to gain backing from the group.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">In his first few months in office, Sirisena has done just about all he can to dispel skepticism. On the matter of democratization, he has kept his campaign promise to uphold parliamentary elections scheduled for June, which will expose his nascent coalition to an opposition challenge.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">With respect to good governance, he announced a probe into the corruption of the Rajapaksa regime. Sirisena has also sought to pass a 19th amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution which, if instituted, would strengthen the judiciary and allow greater latitude for independent commisions. The single reform that has had the most impact on the day-to-day lives of Sri Lankans, however, was the government's 22-percent cut of fuel taxes, which led to an eight- to ten- percent&nbsp;reduction in public transportation fares. This measure has eased the economic burden felt by middle- and low-income Sri Lankans.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">And on the fraught issue of Tamil reconciliation, Sirisena&nbsp;agreed to release remaining political prisoners and return lands seized by the military during the civil war.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The only cause for concern has been Sirisena's carefully brokered six-month delay of the release of the United Nation's report on human rights violations committed during the war. But according to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al-Hussein, the president made "clear commitments" to investigate and prosecute war crimes over that intervening period.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">These reforms and proposals point to a good-faith effort on Sirisena's part, but they do not guarantee concerted action against BBS. The biggest step Sirisena has taken so far in this regard has been a symbolic one: visiting a mosque and vowing that it is "the responsibility of the new government to create a country where people can live in peace, harmony and brotherhood without fear and suspicion." Likely referencing BBS-instigated violence, he promised that the "dark shadows of the past would not be allowed to darken the future of the children." These words represent a sharp departure from Rajapaksa's neglect of Sri Lankan Muslims, but they remain just that.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Following through on these assurances would entail authorizing an investigation of possible crimes committed during recent incidents of Buddhist-inflicted violence, most notably the horrific massacre that took place in Aluthgama last June. Such actions would undoubtedly rankle some rightwing members of Sirisena's young, fragile coalition. Yet Sirisena's victory represents a clear mandate for democratization that includes the protection of Sri Lanka's minorities. These two go hand in hand: as Sri Lanka implements democratic reforms, minority groups will gain greater representation. And as those groups gain power, they will be more able to push for protective measures, such as an investigation of BBS.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">But Sri Lanka’s Muslims can demand an <i>immediate</i> crackdown on BBS. They made up a vital portion of the coalition that elected Sirisena. He, quite simply, owes them one.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">His victory also signals a new strategy for international Buddhists in their efforts to combat BBS. Rather than merely petitioning American elected officials or the United Nations, the latter of which is among the targets of an <a href="https://www.change.org/p/stop-the-extreme-bodu-bala-sena" target="_blank">online petition drive</a>, Buddhists can help empower the Muslim parties within his coalition. An example of this type of advocacy happened a few weeks ago, when Muslim and Buddhist leaders from 15 South and Southeast Asian countries issued a joint statement condemning violence and demanding government action to ensure the safety of minority religious groups.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Buddhists around the world have Sri Lankans to thank for decisively rejecting the hardline Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism of Rajapaksa—and, by extension, that of BBS. The opportunity to undermine Buddhist extremism in Sri Lanka is upon us. It's not a question of whether Sirisena has the power, but whether anti-BBS allies in Sri Lanka and abroad will make him use it.<br><br><b>Max Zahn </b>is <i>Tricycle</i>'s editorial assistant.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"><em>Images:&nbsp;Sudath Silva/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/legalcode" target="_blank">Flickr</a><a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/legalcode" target="_blank"></a></em></p> 46395 Tue, 14 Apr 2015 13:30:24 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World