Tricycle - Awake in the World The Online Tricycle Magazine Blog http://www.tricycle.com/ en Thu, 02 Jul 2015 12:13:36 -0400 Thu, 02 Jul 2015 15:55:08 -0400 Lost in Capitulation http://www.tricycle.com/blog/lost-capitulation <p><i><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/LostInCapitulationImage.png" width="570" height="380" style="margin: 7px auto; display: block;"></i></p><p><i>A life-affirming Buddhism that teaches us to find happiness by opening to the richness of our everyday lives.</i></p><p>That's what we want—or so we're told by the people who try to sell us a mainstreamlined Buddhism. But is it what we need? And is it Buddhism?</p><p>Think back for a moment on the story of the young Prince Siddhartha and his first encounters with aging, illness, death, and a wandering contemplative. It's one of the most accessible chapters in the Buddhist tradition, largely because of the direct, true-to-the-heart quality of the young prince's emotions. He saw aging, illness, and death as an absolute terror, and pinned all his hopes on the contemplative forest life as his only escape. As Asvaghosa, the great Buddhist poet, depicts the story, the young prince had no lack of friends and family members who tried to talk him out of those perceptions, and Asvaghosa was wise enough to show their life-affirming advice in a very appealing light. Still, the prince realized that if he were to give in to their advice, he would be betraying his heart. Only by remaining true to his honest emotions was he able to embark on the path that led away from the ordinary values of his society and toward an unsurpassed awakening into the deathless.</p><p>This is hardly a life-affirming story in the ordinary sense of the term, but it does affirm something more important than life: the truth of the heart when it aspires to a happiness absolutely pure. The power of this aspiration depends on two emotions, called in Pali, <i>samvega</i>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<i>pasada.</i>&nbsp;Very few of us have heard of them, but they're the emotions most basic to the Buddhist tradition. Not only did they inspire the young prince in his quest for awakening, but even after he became the Buddha he advised his followers to cultivate them on a daily basis. In fact, the way he handled these emotions is so distinctive that it may be one of the most important contributions his teachings have to offer modern-day culture.</p><p><i>Samvega</i>&nbsp;was what the young Prince Siddhartha felt on his first exposure to aging, illness, and death. It's a hard word to translate because it covers such a complex range—at least three clusters of feelings at once: the oppressive sense of shock, dismay, and alienation that come with realizing the futility and meaninglessness of life as it's normally lived; a chastening sense of our own complacency and foolishness in having let ourselves live so blindly; and an anxious sense of urgency in trying to find a way out of the meaningless cycle. This is a cluster of feelings we've all experienced at one time or another in the process of growing up, but I don't know of a single English term that adequately covers all three. It would be useful to have such a term, and maybe that's reason enough for simply adopting the word&nbsp;<i>samvega</i>&nbsp;into our language.</p><p>But more than providing a useful term, Buddhism also offers an effective strategy for dealing with the feelings behind it—feelings that our own culture finds threatening and handles very poorly. Ours, of course, is not the only culture threatened by feelings of <i>samvega</i>. In the Siddhartha story, the father's reaction to the young prince's discovery stands for the way most cultures try to deal with these feelings: He tried to convince the prince that his standards for happiness were impossibly high, at the same time trying to distract him with relationships and every sensual pleasure imaginable. To put it simply, the strategy was to get the prince to lower his aims and to find satisfaction in a happiness that was less than absolute and not especially pure.</p><p>If the young prince were living in America today, the father would have other tools for dealing with the prince's dissatisfaction, but the basic strategy would be essentially the same. If the father were really up on current trends, he might find a dharma teacher who would counsel the prince to find happiness in life's little miraculous pleasures—a cup of tea, a walk in the woods, social activism, easing another person's pain. Never mind that these forms of happiness would still be cut short by aging, illness, and death, he would be told. The present moment is all we have, so we should try to appreciate the bittersweet opportunity of relishing but not holding on to brief joys as they pass.</p><p>It's unlikely that the lion-hearted prince we know from the story would take to any of this well-meant advice. He'd see it as propaganda for a life of quiet desperation, asking him to be a traitor to his heart. But if he found no solace from these sources, where in our society would he go? Unlike the India of his time, we don't have any well-established, socially accepted alternatives to being economically productive members of society. Even our contemplative religious orders are prized for their ability to provide bread, honey, and wine for the marketplace.</p><p>Fortunately for us, however, the prince was born in a society that&nbsp;<i>did</i>&nbsp;provide support and respect for its dropouts. This was what gave him the opportunity to find a solution to the problem of <i>samvega</i> that did justice to the truths of his heart.</p><p>The first step in that solution is symbolized in the Siddhartha story by the prince's reaction to the fourth person he saw on his travels outside of the palace: the wandering forest contemplative. The emotion he felt at this point is termed&nbsp;<i>pasada,</i>&nbsp;another complex set of feelings usually translated as "clarity and serene confidence." It's what keeps <i>samvega</i> from turning into despair. In the prince's case, he gained a clear sense of his predicament and confidence in the way beyond aging, illness, and death.</p><p>As the early Buddhist teachings freely admit, the predicament is that the cycle of birth, aging, and death&nbsp;<i>is</i>&nbsp;meaningless. They don't try to deny this fact and so don't ask us to be dishonest with ourselves or to close our eyes to reality. As one teacher has put it, the Buddhist recognition of the reality of suffering—so important that suffering is honored as the first noble truth—is a gift, in that it confirms our most sensitive and direct experience of things, an experience that many other traditions try to deny.</p><p>From there, the early teachings ask us to become even more sensitive, to the point where we see that the true cause of suffering is not&nbsp;<i>out there</i>—in society or some outside being—but&nbsp;<i>in here,</i>&nbsp;in the craving present in each individual mind. They then confirm that there is an end to suffering, a release from the cycle. And they show the way to that release, through developing noble qualities already latent in the mind to the point where they cast craving aside and open onto deathlessness. Thus the predicament has a practical solution, a solution within the powers of every human being.</p><p>It's also a solution open to critical scrutiny and testing—an indication of how confident the Buddha was in the solution he found to the problem of <i>samvega</i>. This is one of the aspects of authentic Buddhism that most attracts people who are tired of being told that they should try to deny the insights that inspired their sense of <i>samvega</i> in the first place.</p><p>In fact, early Buddhism is not only confident that it can handle feelings of <i>samvega</i> but it's also one of the few religions that actively cultivates them to a radical extent. Its solution to the problems of life demand so much dedicated effort that only strong <i>samvega</i> will keep the practicing Buddhist from slipping back into his or her old ways. Hence the recommendation that all Buddhists, both men and women, lay or ordained, should reflect daily on the facts of aging, illness, separation, and death—to develop feelings of <i>samvega</i>—and on the power of one's own actions, to take <i>samvega</i> one step further to <i>pasada</i>.</p><p>For people whose sense of <i>samvega</i> is so strong that they want to abandon any social ties that prevent them from following the path to the end of suffering, Buddhism offers both a long-proven body of wisdom for them to draw from, as well as a safety net: the monastic sangha, an institution that enables them to leave lay society without having to waste time worrying about basic survival. For those who can't leave their social ties, Buddhist teaching offers a way to live in the world without being overcome by the world, following a life of generosity, virtue, and meditation to strengthen the noble qualities of mind that lead to the end of suffering.</p><p>So the Buddhist attitude toward life cultivates <i>samvega</i>—a clear acceptance of the meaninglessness of the cycle of birth, aging, and death—and develops it into <i>pasada</i>: a confident path to the deathless. That path includes not only time-proven guidance, but also a social institution that nurtures it and keeps it alive. These are all things that our society desperately needs. It's a shame that, in our current efforts at mainstreaming Buddhism, they are aspects of the Buddhist tradition usually ignored. We keep forgetting that one source of Buddhism's strength is its ability to keep one foot out of the mainstream, and that the traditional metaphor for the practice is that it crosses&nbsp;<i>over</i>&nbsp;the stream to the further shore. My hope is that we will begin calling these things to mind and taking them to heart, so that in our drive to find a Buddhism that sells, we don't end up selling ourselves short.<br><br><strong>Thanissaro Bhikkhu</strong>&nbsp;is the abbot of Metta Forest Monastery. His many Buddhist writings are available for free at&nbsp;<a href="http://accesstoinsight.org/" target="_blank">accesstoinsight.org</a>.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Adapted from&nbsp;</em>Noble Strategy: Essays on the Buddhist Path&nbsp;<em>by Thanissaro Bhikkhu</em>, <em>available free upon request from the Metta Forest Monastery.</em>&nbsp;</p><p><em>Image: Denish C/Flickr&nbsp;</em></p><p></p> 46629 Thu, 02 Jul 2015 12:13:36 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World A Big Gay History of Same-sex Marriage in the Sangha http://www.tricycle.com/blog/big-gay-history-same-sex-marriage-sangha <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/gaybuddhisthistory.gif" width="570" height="352" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>Buddhist same-sex marriage was born in the USA. That’s a little known but significant fact to reflect on now, just after the Supreme Court has declared legal marriage equality throughout the country. Appropriately enough, it all started in San Francisco, and was conceived as an act of love, not activism.</p><p>The first known Buddhist same-sex marriages took place in the early 1970s, at the Buddhist Church of San Francisco. Founded in 1899, it’s the oldest surviving temple in the mainland United States. It’s also part of the oldest Buddhist organization outside Hawaii: the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA), part of the Shin tradition of Pure Land Buddhism.</p><p>During the Nixon years, the LGBTQ rights movement was picking up, and San Francisco was one of the primary centers of both activism and community building. Located not far from the famously gay Castro District, the Buddhist Church of San Francisco (BCSF) was attended by singles and couples, gay and straight. As consciousness rose, people began to seek the same services that heterosexuals already enjoyed in American society.</p><p>A male couple in the congregation eventually asked Rev. Koshin Ogui, then assigned to BCSF, to perform their marriage. He readily agreed, and the ceremony was held in the main hall—identical to other marriages at the temple, except for the dropping of gender-based pronouns in the service. Without fanfare, history was made.</p><p>Soon other BCA temples were also conducting same-sex marriages, and by the time of my research into the subject in the early 2010s, I couldn’t find a single minister in the scores of BCA temples who was unwilling to preside over same-sex weddings. Indeed, BCA ministers had already performed marriages for gay and lesbian couples, bisexuals, transgender people, and polyamorous groups. Many of these were interracial marriages, or carried out for non-Buddhists who had nowhere else to go, though most were for members of local BCA temples.</p><p>The BCA and its sister organization in Hawaii had gone on record years earlier in support of marriage equality, and even lobbied the government to change the law. This support for LGBTQ rights has been recognized by the Smithsonian, which collected a rainbow-patterned robe worn by the BCSF’s current minister for the museum’s permanent collection.</p><p>I’m ordained in the Shin tradition, so I was already aware of Shin inclusivity. (Indeed, though I’m not gay myself, I would not have joined any organization that failed to support LGBTQ rights.) But the historian in me itched to explain this phenomenon more comprehensively. Why was the BCA the first Buddhist organization to move toward marriage equality, and why hadn’t this movement provoked rancor and conservative resistance, as we’ve seen in so many other American religious denominations?</p><p>In searching for answers, I came to several interrelated conclusions. First, the history of racial and religious discrimination that the originally Japanese-American BCA faced (everything from mob violence to WWII internment camps) instilled revulsion for discrimination in Shin circles. Second, since Shin ministers are not celibate (the tradition was founded by a married monk in 13th-century Japan), they share lifestyles similar to their parishioners, and thus readily empathize with them on matters of sexuality and social relationships, which may be more abstract to celibate monks and nuns.</p><p>But most importantly, what minister after minister told me was that the fundamental point of Shin Buddhism is that Amida Buddha embraces all beings without any exceptions, without any judgments, without any discrimination. Amida opens the way to the Pure Land (and thus liberation) to the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the good and the bad, the black and the white. Therefore, Amida Buddha also embraces the gay and the straight, the gender-conforming and everyone else, without any hesitation. It is this spirit that led Shin ministers to open their doors to same-sex couples, led Shin temples to march in Pride parades across the country, to pass proclamations affirming same-sex rights and marriage in particular, and to carry out education programs in their own communities.</p><p>The Shin community hasn’t been alone in supporting LGBTQ communities in American Buddhist circles. Though not as quickly or comprehensively, many other Buddhist groups have also moved toward performing same-sex marriages and affirming the value of their LGBTQ members. In the 1980s, a handful of same-sex marriages were performed by non-BCA teachers, including Sarika Dharma of the International Buddhist Meditation Center in Los Angeles. By the end of the 1990s, American Tibetan, Theravada, and Zen teachers had all performed the first same-sex marriages in those respective traditions as well, and Soka Gakkai had gone from seeing homosexuality as a condition to be cured through Buddhist practice to performing large numbers of same-sex marriages for its members.</p><p>All of this was taking place in a country without legal recognition for married same-sex couples. They performed those ceremonies even though they knew the state would not recognize them, because it was the right thing to do.</p><p>Today those marriages are equal to everyone else’s, and there are signs that marriage equality is gaining acceptance in parts of Buddhist Asia. Taiwan held its first Buddhist same-sex marriage in 2012, with two brides in white dresses and veils presided over by a traditional shaven-headed nun. In Kyoto, Japan, Rev. Kawakami Taka of Shunkoin temple not only performs same-sex marriages at his historic Rinzai Zen temple, but has also partnered with local hotel, flower, and similar vendors to provide wedding packages for same-sex couples arriving from around the world. Step by step, the movement continues.</p><p>On Saturday morning, June 27, I gave keynote address for a seminar at the New York Buddhist Church, “Embraced by the Heart of Amida Buddha: The LGBTQ Community and Shin Buddhism.” It’s part of an educational campaign that the BCA’s Center for Buddhist Education carries out every year in late June. Speakers talked about their experiences as gay, lesbian, and transgender Buddhists, and on Sunday we’ll walk in the New York Pride parade with members of the temple. We had no idea that our event would occur at such a historic moment, but now we know that we’ll be marching as an act of pure celebration, rather than hope and defiance.</p><p>Despite the positive record of many sanghas and individuals, discrimination and ignorance remain widespread in American Buddhism. That isn’t something that will change overnight with a single Supreme Court decision, no matter how momentous. But we can genuinely take heart that American Buddhists have been working for marriage equality for more than 40 years, and that Buddhists of many traditions spoke out for equality and contributed to the movement that led to today’s ruling.<br><br><strong>Jeff Wilson</strong>, a&nbsp;<i>Tricycle&nbsp;</i>contributing editor, is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and East Asian Studies at Renison University College, University of Waterloo. His most recent book is&nbsp;<i>Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture</i> (Oxford University Press).</p><p></p> 46620 Sat, 27 Jun 2015 14:09:15 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Legislating Love http://www.tricycle.com/blog/legislating-love <p><em>In celebration of the historic Supreme Court decision ruling that the Constitution gaurantees a right to same-sex marriage, we present this article, originally published as a Web Exclusive in 2008,&nbsp;</em><em>about the passing of Proposition 8 in California. We've come a long way in a few short years. —Eds.</em></p><p><em></em><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/8447145542_abf4447623_z.jpg" width="570" height="382" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;">I got the first call on Thursday, October 16, two weeks prior to the 2008 general election in California. The call came from Sue Hildebrand, director of the Chico Peace and Justice Center. Sue wanted to know if I would marry two lesbian couples the very next day. “The two couples know each other,” she explained. “They could marry at the same time, with one ceremony at 6 p.m. and the other at 6:30. I know it’s short notice, but my phone is ringing off the hook with marriage requests. Do you think you could manage this?” “What are the two couples’ names?” I asked. “Chellie and Lori,” she said, “and Becky and Kay.” And with that I took their phone numbers and began the process that would end up with my marrying four gay and lesbian couples in the space of a week and a half.</p><p>What brought about all this urgency to marry was the upcoming November 4th vote on California’s Proposition 8, which aimed to amend the California Constitution by placing a ban on same-sex marriage. The wording of the proposition was simple and direct in its intent: a yes vote would overturn an earlier ruling by the California Supreme Court that a prior California legislative ban on same-sex marriage violated civil rights and was unconstitutional.</p><p>Chellie, Lori, Becky, and Kay wanted to marry before their right to do so was voted away. They wanted, like every other creature on this earth, human or otherwise, to live their lives without the criticism, complaint, and interference of others. Do the proponents of Proposition 8 really believe they can constrain the affections of lesbians and gay men simply by amending the California Constitution?</p><p>The most common justification for Proposition 8 and similar legislative initiatives is that same-sex marriage threatens the sanctity of “regular” marriage. What can marriage mean, the argument goes, if “anyone at all” is allowed to marry? But if marriage is indeed sanctified, a union worthy of care and respect, surely that sanctity rests on the strength of the bond it creates and is not subject to what someone else might be doing. If the quality of one marriage is determined by the quality of others, what can be said about the sanctity of marriage in a nation where fifty percent of marriages end in divorce?</p><p>I’m married to Karen Laslo. She’s my best friend and loving wife. I like being married, and I don’t know how my marriage is threatened by anyone else’s. The tragic irony is that the sanctity of any couple’s marriage is forfeited in the instant of their intent to withhold it from others. I cannot keep love alive in my own heart if I would deny the same to someone else. Love is not selective in that way but is rather an affectionate generosity that wishes the same for all. Withheld, love isolates itself and won’t long survive. A lifetime relationship of enduring love, kindness, and understanding is rare enough in human affairs without anyone trying to legislate who gets a shot at it and who doesn’t.<br><br>The day after Sue’s call, I meet the wedding party at the Peace Center.</p><p><em>We have come together for the marriage of Chellie and Lori. May they continue to deepen their love towards each other and towards all living creatures that ambulate, crawl, swim, slither, and fly, above, below, and over the earth.</em></p><p>The five of us—Chellie, Lori, Becky, Kay, and I—stand in a graveled clearing among the trees and shrubs behind the Peace Center building. It seems to me that we are here not merely for our own sakes but in actual fact for the sake of “all living creatures,” as the wedding scripture states. The very trees that shade this little fall garden, the scrub-jays and gold-crowned sparrows darting among the leaves, invite us into the all-inclusive body of life.</p><p><em>I Chellie, take you Lori to be my wife in unconditional and boundless love, as a mirror for my true self, as a partner on the path, to honor and to cherish, in sorrow and in joy, till death do us part.</em></p><p><em>I Lori, take you Chellie to be my wife…</em></p><p>Becky and Kay, waiting their turn, watch while their friends marry. I wish everyone were here to watch as these loving couples dedicate themselves to each other in marriage.</p><p><em>Chellie and Lori, you have chosen each other from all the other women on this earth, have declared your love for each other before this gathering, and have made your pledge to each other symbolized by the giving and receiving of rings. Therefore, I declare that you are wives together. </em></p><p>None of us has dry eyes, not Chellie, Lori, Becky, Kay, or me.These women are veterans of years spent together, and yet this evening on the gravel behind the Peace Center they face each other for the first time as legally recognized wives. They cry and wipe their eyes, glad at last for this acknowledgment of the lives they share.</p><p>And then in turn:</p><p><em>I Becky, take you Kay… <br>I Kay, take you Becky…</em></p><p>And in the next few days:<br><br><em>I Tricia, take you Kari… <br>I James, take you David…</em><br><br>Imagine what it would be like if all the people of the world and all creatures and beings of any sort were wedded to one another in mutual caring and respect:</p><p><em>I straight, take you gay and lesbian… <br>I Christian, take you Muslim… <br>I Buddhist, take you Jew… <br>I robin, take you sparrow… <br>I rabbit, take you fox… <br>I frog, take you salmon… <br>I stone, take you leaf…</em></p><p><em>I hereby declare that we are one family living under one roof ‘till death do us part.</em></p><p>Seng-ts’an, the third Chinese Ancestor of Zen, taught that “the ultimate way is not difficult; just avoid picking and choosing.” The ultimate way is the way of the interface of all beings—human, animal, mineral. Legislating the exclusion of lesbians and gay men from society denies the reality of our shared humanity, much like laws that override the needs of birds or trees or the fish that swim the rivers and oceans.</p><p>From the viewpoint of the contemporary deep ecologist or likewise one who has entered the Buddhist path, this sort of selective exclusion simply doesn’t make sense. To the Buddhist it is like rejecting the shape of one’s own face; to the ecologist it is a pointless argument with reality. If Seng-ts’an’s ultimate way is one of compassionate inclusion and love, then I don’t get to pick and choose who gets to love and who doesn’t. Love is not something I get to keep for myself. To hoard love is to already have lost it.</p><p>If we humans treat each other badly, so will we treat the earth. We have sought to shape conditions to our own liking by exhausting the earth’s mineral resources, driving other species to extinction, massing armies against each other. All this ignorance and greed rests on the same fatal flaw: the belief that we can possess the world on our own terms. If I walk the path of preference, I will be constantly at pains to rid the world of whatever offends me. If instead I come to realize that our lives and histories are shared, the whole world is kin and I take my place at the table where the entire earthly family is invited to dine. Who then will be told to go hungry? Who will be left outside?</p><p>On November 4, 2008, Californians passed Proposition 8, amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriages. This legislation works to the exclusion of our friends and families, just as we have adopted a century of laws and regulations that effectively legislate against the survival and inclusion of countless other species and that destroy the very earth upon which a viable ecosystem depends. Now we have turned our laws against our own kind. With this act, the legacy we leave to future Californians is a diminished culture in a rapidly diminishing world. When diversity is experienced as a threat, we all suffer separately. When the wide and various world is embraced we all thrive together.<br><strong><br>Lin Jensen</strong> is the author of <em>Pavement</em><em>, Bad Dog!, </em>and<em> Together Under One Roof.</em> He is the founding teacher and senior teacher of the Chico Zen Sangha in Chico, California.</p><p><i>ejbSF/Flickr</i></p> 46615 Fri, 26 Jun 2015 12:49:14 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Incense Thrown on the Buddha http://www.tricycle.com/blog/incense-thrown-buddha <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/FinalIkkyuArt.png" width="570" height="426" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p1">The influence of Zen Master Ikkyu (1394–1481) permeates the full field of medieval Japanese aesthetics. Though best known as a poet, he was central to the shaping and reshaping of practices in calligraphy, Noh theater, tea ceremony, and rock gardening, all of which now define Japan's sense of its cultural tradition.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Ikkyu is unique in Zen for letting his love of all appearance occupy him until it destroys any possibility for safety or seclusion. In his poetry, he turns the eye of enlightenment to all phenomena: politics, pine trees, hard meditation practice, sex, wine. The poems express the unborn bliss of his realization and equally his devastation at the horrors of this world. From this union of bliss and heartbreak he rails without hatred against hypocrisy, corruption, and bad religion, he consorts free of lust with prostitutes and musicians. His awakening outshines the small idols of reason, emotion, self, desire, doctrine, even of Buddhism itself.&nbsp;</p><p class="p3" style="text-align: right;">—<em>Sarah Messer and Kidder Smith, translators</em></p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1"><br><i>Enlightenment</i></p><p class="p2">Ten years ago I couldn't stop thinking, feeling, <br>Just anger, just rage, until this moment.<br>A crow laughs, the dust clears, I hold the arhat's fruit.<br>Spotted sunlight in Zhaoyang Palace, a pale face chanting.</p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 210px;"><br><br><i>Poem #144: Ode to the Brothel</i></p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 210px;">Beautiful woman, cloud and rain, love's deep river. <br>Old Zen Pavilion Monk, up in the pavilion singing.<br>I have such refined passion for hugging and kissing.<br>My mind doesn't say: the world is a fire, give up your body.</p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 30px;"><i><br></i></p><p><i>I Hate Incense</i></p><p class="p2">Who can even discuss a master's methods?<br>Speaking of Dao, talking of Zen, your tongues grow long.<br>Old Ikkyu abhors your scrambling after marvels.<br>I make a pinched, sour face, all this incense thrown on the<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; Buddha.</p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 210px;"><br><br><i>Poem #104&nbsp;</i></p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 210px;">True transmission side-steps delusive combat.<br>Vast kalpas of unenlightenment are made of the feelings <br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; "self" and "other."<br>Carrying self and other makes the balance pole heavy.<br>When emptiness looks at a butterfly, the whole body becomes<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; light.</p><p class="p2"><i><br></i></p><p class="p2"><i>Poem #108</i></p><p class="p2">Downwind, pine and cedar recklessly enter the clouds.<br>Everywhere stir the multitude and alarm the crowd.<br>I can't do the tricks of "person" and "environment."<br>One cup of murky dregs gets me drunk drunk.</p><p class="p2"><i><br></i></p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 210px;"><i>Poem #543: Written Out of Desire to Thank Lady Mori for Her Profound Blessing</i></p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 210px;">The tree withers, leaves fall. Spring returns again.<br>The long green stems give birth to flowers, old vows are <br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; renewed.<br>Ah Mori, your profound blessings. If I forget and turn away,<br>For a million measureless kalpas I'll be born again and again<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; as an animal.</p><p class="p2"><br><br><br><em>From</em>&nbsp;Having Once Paused,&nbsp;<em>by Zen Master Ikkyū, translated by Sarah Messer and Kidder Smith. University of Michigan Press. Copyright&nbsp;©&nbsp;by Sarah Messer and Kidder Smith, 2015.&nbsp;</em></p><p class="p2"><em>Image: Raul Belinchon/Gallerystock</em></p> 46613 Fri, 26 Jun 2015 11:39:00 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Living by Meditation Alone http://www.tricycle.com/blog/living-meditation-alone <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/meditationbubble_thacher.jpg" width="570" height="452" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>One of the most insistent trends on offer in the spiritual marketplace has been the cult of meditation, which has had important implications for Buddhism. Secular mindfulness has found a place in society, but occupying a somewhat different cultural and spiritual space, a new Buddhism has emerged alongside it. Its adherents claim that the fruits of the Buddhist tradition can be acquired though sitting meditation alone. Contemporary practitioners, in other words, need not bother with study, ethical precepts, ritual practice (other than meditation), or merit making. The proponents of the “just sitting” trend often claim the mantle of traditional systems, whether Theravada Vipassana, Japanese Zen, or Tibetan Dzogchen. All share the assumption that meditation must be as non-conceptual in content as possible, and that all other forms of activity can be largely, if not entirely, ignored.</p><p>While these new meditation programs are called Buddhist, their presentations of meditation run counter to those of the dharma from all periods of Buddhist history. Indeed, the most clearly defined and often cited status of meditation within Buddhist doctrine and practice positions it as one of the three trainings, the other two being ethics and wisdom. As the great ancient Indian Buddhist thinker Nagarjuna declared in his <i>Letter to a Friend</i>,</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">In superior moral discipline, superior wisdom<br>And superior contemplation, one must constantly train.<br>More than one hundred and fifty trainings<br>Are truly included in these three.</p><p>Without the ethical development brought about by training in ethics—“the foundation of all qualities,” according to Nagarjuna—meditation is a spiritual dead end.</p><p>When one examines the place of meditation in the Vajrayana in particular, one finds again that it is not considered a self-sufficient means of spiritual accomplishment. It comes second in the triad of view, meditation, and action. <i>View</i> signifies the correct vision of reality that the Vajrayana master imparts to the student, and <i>meditation</i> signifies the subsequent development and stabilization of the glimpse afforded by this introduction. Thus, it is only through both view and meditation, together with their enactment and testing in <i>action</i>, that one could even approach spiritual accomplishment.</p><p>As expressed by the 14th-century lama Karmapa Rangjung Dorje:</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">Certainty in the view arises from severing doubts about the basis.<br> The essential point of meditation is to maintain this without distraction.<br> The supreme activity is mastery of this meditation.</p><p>Reacting to the demand for an entirely non-conceptual form of meditation, Buddhist reformers have clamored to reimagine bare sitting as the core or entirety of Buddhism, a drive that animates a considerable part of the modern refashioning of dharma. While mere sitting may produce certain mental effects, one must nonetheless ask, <i>To what end?</i> Unallied with any ethical imperative and directed by unexamined assumptions, meditation becomes a purely internal mental technology. In other words, such allegedly non-conceptual meditation will, at best, be a neutral activity. Unmoored from the Buddha’s teachings, it cannot lead to the particular compassion and wisdom that he taught.</p><p>As the Nyingma master Mipham Rinpoche explains:</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">Most settling meditations without analysis<br> Can produce a mere calm-abiding<br> But from this meditation certainty will not arise.<br> If certainty, the one eye of the path of liberation <br> Is abandoned, the obscurations cannot be dispelled.</p><p>It is ignorance of this vital point that frequently leads neophytes to overrate their meditation experiences, occasionally with catastrophic outcomes. Experiences of non-conceptuality, bliss, or clarity, all of which are common but fleeting, leave some individuals imagining they are enlightened.</p><p>The more fortunate subsequently discover that they have fooled themselves. The less fortunate, though perhaps more ambitious, simply proceed to redefine the actual nature of enlightenment so as to preserve their status. <i>Enlightenment</i> becomes merely a term for a transient meditation experience. This gets around the awkwardness of the fact that such “enlightened” meditators are still, after all, beings subject to disturbing emotions and ignorance.</p><p>More seriously, such free-floating meditation is ripe for subversion to whatever political or economic ends its proponents prefer. It easily absorbs the values of the most unsavory elements of our culture. Worse, many meditators, thinking they are practicing the essence of the dharma, remain completely ignorant of the ideological commitments that might come to underpin the meditation they practice. In our society, this is likely to be a ruthless individualism congenial to both the market and state.</p><p>To compensate for this, meditation in the West grounds itself in a mélange of self-indulgence and gesture politics masquerading as compassion—a “compassion,” it must be said, that cannot see beyond self-regard. The result is the same vapid posturing that dominates so much of contemporary culture.</p><p>If current trends continue, meditation will become a mere app for stress-free living. In other words, it will simply come to accommodate the harmful consumption-driven lifestyles that still characterize much of life in wealthy Western countries. In such a scenario meditation would serve as a reinforcing agent to stabilize delusion.</p><p>Sadly, we’ve been down this road before. Those learned in Japanese Buddhist history could perhaps cite as an example the subversion of Zen meditation by the samurai and its horrific reemergence in the Japanese militarism and imperialism of the first half of the 20th century.</p><p>In any event, it seems foolish to deny that the severing of meditation from ethics and wisdom could produce undesirable consequences. Given that many of us have little education in the dharma, the potential for misappropriation and derailing of Buddhism is huge.</p><p>One of our major problems is the difficulty of convincing people to take training in Buddhist ethics seriously. Knowing so little about the dharma, many don't have a worldview that supports such training.</p><p>One possible solution for this dilemma is to initially teach meditation alone in order to meet what seems to be a popular demand, and only later introduce the ethical and philosophical dimensions of the dharma. But unless links are made quickly and authoritatively to the other two trainings, a negative outcome is more likely to develop from this strategy than genuine spiritual progress.</p><p>Perhaps the best answer for our dilemma is to teach all three trainings more or less simultaneously, while being mindful of the logic to their sequential development. A student’s progress in one training will enable progress in the others. As the reordering of our life, brought about by moral training, creates the environment for meditation, the stillness of mind created by meditation will make possible the examination of reality that is the hallmark of wisdom.<br><br><b>Lama Jampa Thaye</b> is a scholar, author, and meditation teacher from the UK.</p><p><em>Illustration by James Thacher</em></p> 46606 Wed, 24 Jun 2015 10:00:00 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World The Dalai Lama’s Big Brother http://www.tricycle.com/blog/dalai-lamas-big-brother <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/thondup_1.jpg" width="570" height="506" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;">&nbsp;<b>The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong<br></b>By Gyalo Thondup and Anne Thurston<br>PublicAffairs; April 2015<br>301 pp.; $27.99 (Cloth)</p><p>In the winter of 2001, I lived in the foothills of the Himalayas in the Darjeeling District of India, while studying under the Kagyu lama Bokar Rinpoche. Every night I looked out across the valley, with my one-year-old son and his father, to the town of Kalimpong as its electricity cut out. With so little to measure or mark our days, this became a kind of event, something we anticipated. The only thing I knew then about Kalimpong was that its egg noodles were fresh, delicious, and famous. But just <i>how</i> famous, I had no idea.</p><p>As it turns out, most residents of Kalimpong were also unaware of their noodles’ origins. Only when Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama’s older brother, took up a more permanent residence there in 1999, did his identity as the noodle maker become known. And yet even with the publication of his memoirs, <i>The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong</i>, Thondup remains a fiercely private man. Given his position as a political attaché, it’s evident that his skillful tact has been exactly what’s allowed him to serve the people of Tibet for so many decades.</p><p>It is a sense of duty and honor that has inspired Thondup to put his experience in pursuing Tibetan visibility and diplomacy to the page. He does so despite his anticipation of controversy and criticism from all sides—“Tibetans, Chinese, Indians, Americans, the CIA.” But, as he claims throughout the book, in the face of impossible decisions, he has always made those he thinks best for Tibet.</p><p>Thondup, who was born in in Amdo in 1929, has led a rich and intriguing life. The resulting memoir is part cosmopolitan spy novel and part heartbreaking tale of an uprooted, often-betrayed refugee.</p><p><b>“</b>Of the five male siblings who lived to adulthood, Gyalo Thondup alone did not become a monk,” writes coauthor Anne F. Thurston in the introduction. “Instead . . . he was groomed to serve his brother on matters of the state.” This education began in earnest in 1945, when Thondup was sent to China to study, but not before making his way to India first. At the twilight of British rule, Calcutta was a thriving, modern city, in which the teenage Thondup, coming from rural, religious, and insulated Tibet, was exposed to not only Charlie Chaplin movies and five-star hotels but also paved streets, telephones, and steam engines. Thondup’s travels convinced him that secular education was essential for Tibet’s survival.</p><p>He went on to live in China for the next several years, where he learned the language, befriended then-president Chiang Kai-shek, and immersed himself in 5,000 years of Chinese history, which verified that Tibet had never been considered part of the “motherland,” as the communists would soon claim. From there, Thondup and his Chinese wife, Zhu Dan, would live, among other places, in Taiwan, San Francisco, Hong Kong, and Darjeeling, where his wife eventually established the still-operating Tibetan Refugee Self Help Center. In 1952, they bought a small plot of land in Kalimpong, just outside of Darjeeling and not far from the Tibetan border, and in 1980, the couple opened the noodle factory that’s been running ever since, throughout Thondup’s extensive work abroad and even after Zhu Dan’s death in 1986.</p><p>After the Dalai Lama’s escape to India in 1959, the two brothers collaborated on what became their first press conference, one that Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru never wanted to happen. Their goal had been to publicly refute Chinese propaganda and to declare Tibet a sovereign nation. It was then that the Dalai Lama stated, “wherever I am, accompanied by my government, the Tibetan people recognize us as the government of Tibet.” With this establishment of the Government-in-Exile, Thondup was formally appointed foreign minister, and he began seeking international support.</p><p>Behind the scenes and unbeknownst to his younger brother, Thondup coordinated with the CIA, doing so well into the 1960s. The clandestine organization trained a small but steady stream of Tibetans—volunteer resistance fighters—in Colorado, the Western Pacific, and eventually in Mustang, Nepal. At the time, Thondup believed that the US wanted to help the Tibetan people. It was this work, however, that would become one of Thondup’s biggest regrets. In later years, he came to realize the US was more concerned with “stirring up trouble” between India and China. Thondup now thinks that the uprisings, given “paltry support” by the CIA, only caused more deaths.</p><p>A diplomat to the end, Thondup recalls his life as a series of political events—an understandable impulse, but one that often results in less of a story than a history lesson. More often than not, Thondup’s determination to “set the record straight” insulates his account from more heartfelt, subjective truths—the complicated kind wrought with emotion and tricks of memory, but blessed with the details and insights that resonate with meaning.</p><p>Recognizing that “setting the record straight” is not so simple, Thurston, who coauthored the best-selling <i>The Private Life of Chairman Mao</i>, notes how her point of view occasionally differs from Thondup’s. For instance, Thondup maintains that his father was poisoned in 1947, in a power struggle among Lhasa aristocracy. In her afterword, Thurston casts some doubt on this version of the story, noting that the Dalai Lama himself remains unconvinced of any foul play. Yet precisely because Thurston expresses her skepticism only in the afterword, the logic and lucidity of Thondup’s voice are preserved. The combination of their perspectives makes for a compelling metanarrative on the inherent paradoxes of autobiography, one that ultimately enhances Thondup’s exploration of Tibet’s history.</p><p>In the final paragraph of this autobiography, one of the most poignant moments of the book, Gyalo Thondup recounts a recent meeting with the Dalai Lama, who implores him to stay healthy—and alive. “We have to return home together,” the spiritual leader, soon to turn 80, tells his big brother. The implication is that if they keep holding out, they will accomplish what everyone knows is unlikely, at least in their lifetime: a return to Tibet, together.<br><br><b>Liesl Schwabe</b> is a Lecturer in Writing at Yeshiva University in New York City.</p> 46608 Tue, 23 Jun 2015 11:56:37 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World 5 Things That Might Surprise You about Meditation Retreats http://www.tricycle.com/blog/5-things-about-meditation-retreats-might-surprise-you <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/meditatoroliver.jpg" width="570" height="380" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>The glory. The soothing waves of warm peach syrup flooding the folds of your brain. The sheer bliss of sitting still and letting ultimate peace Jägerbomb your delusions and peel away the spiky freakishness of daily existence. Breathe in, relax. Breathe out, super-mega relax, but still keep control of your sphincter. Calmness like honey on your nerve endings. A sniff of liberation somewhere down a candy corridor.</p><p>Stop reading now if this has been your only experience on meditation retreat. The rest of this article is not for you. Matter of fact, what are you even doing here? You should be in the backyard levitating.</p><p>Some of us—I’d guess most of us—have dealt with speed bumps on retreat that have left the suspension shot on our greater or lesser vehicles. Despite the pervasive image of the serene white meditator perched comfortably on her cushion, that’s not what the majority of us go through. Popular culture—that massive slack-jawed glam juggernaut—has done everything in its power to portray meditation as the height of harmony and tranquility.</p><p>But a meditation retreat isn’t all fuzzy kittens and cosmic-flavored bubble gum. And it’s definitely not an enlightenment factory where people smile beatifically from the lotus position while their minds self-sanitize.</p><p>Here are five things you realize at a meditation retreat that are the opposite of peace and calm.<br><br><b>1. You’re all alone here.</b></p><p>This one’s counterintuitive because you’re surrounded by people. You’re sitting with a whole bunch of them, all day long, in the same space. You can see them <i>right there</i>. You’re probably sleeping in a room with at least one other person, maybe several, which gives you nighttime access to all of their various sounds and aromas.</p><p>But you’ll soon realize that you’re essentially doing this solo. Most meditation retreats are completely silent. You won’t be talking to the other meditators or really interacting with them at all. Eye contact is usually upside-down smiled upon, since our natural tendency upon meeting someone’s gaze is to smile, nod, or say “Whassup?”</p><p>You’ll be told to turn off your smartphone, tablet, laptop, heliograph, and whatever other equipment you brought that can reach the outside world. It’s more or less up to you whether to use them when you’re out of everyone else’s sight and the temptation for an electronic fix is high. The retreat officials aren’t going to kick in your door in the middle of the night to see if you’re sexting your wife under the covers.</p><p>Pretty much the only voice you’ll hear will be the teacher’s. And that’s limited to nightly talks about the dharma or meditation practice, not descriptions of the last <i>Walking Dead</i> episode or offers to update your Facebook status to “I miss <i>The Walking Dead</i>.”</p><p>The teacher will also be the only person you speak to and it’ll be for short scheduled interviews about your meditation practice. Again, you won’t be discussing things that make you feel like a normal human, like food, sports, beer, and Twitter. The conversation will revolve entirely around getting better at sitting quietly.</p><p>All this can leave you feeling isolated, lonely, and twitchy. Which leads directly to…<br><br><b>2. You’re completely crazy.</b></p><p>A meditation retreat is basically an opportunity to observe your mind non-stop. While popular portrayals suggest this leads quickly to less stress and better focus, what it actually leads to is the conclusion that you’re totally insane. The only real question is whether you’ve always<i> </i>been <i>loco</i> or you went batshit because of the retreat.</p><p>If you’ve never spent much time just sitting and watching your mind, you’re in for a real treat. And by “treat” I mean shocking nightmare. Sorry.</p><p>Your mind is essentially a demented rubber ball soaked in schizo juice and trapped in your skull. It’s constantly bouncing off the walls and careening around everywhere, knocking over all your mental toys and denting your hopes and dreams. It leaps from one random subject to the next, never satisfied, never settling, never tiring, and really never making a bit of sense.</p><p>We often don’t notice this in our daily lives because we’re busy. Our lives are filled with work and jackass bosses and screaming children and irritated bank tellers and arguments on the Internet. We have things like hobbies, relationships, vacations, and car payments distracting us all the time. The minutiae of life effectively mask the constant yammering of our minds.</p><p>On a meditation retreat, you’re forced to confront this head on. First time meditators are often blown away by the sheer speed and volume of their thoughts. The mind is like a lunatic tornado in there, and you’re just one more trailer in the park it’s tearing through.</p><p>Even experienced meditators who practice daily can be easily overcome by the ferocity of their minds. No one stops being surprised, amazed, weirded out, frustrated, scared, and disgusted by what’s going on up there.</p><p>The retreat is all about letting go of all that and sitting in the eye of the tornado. But with whirling insanity around you at all times, it’s hard not to get caught up in it. Especially when…<br><br><b>3. Sitting still is tough.</b></p><p>The more relaxed your body becomes, the more relaxed your mind becomes, too. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it’s a tenet of Zen meditation. The last time I asked a Zen teacher for clarification on this, he said, “Gravel is a soft pillow for the awakened head.” Dammit.</p><p>Regardless, it’s ridiculously hard to sit in one position all day. So in addition to realizing you have the brain of a serial-killer clown on PCP, you find your body isn’t suited for motionlessness.</p><p>Most retreat days begin between 5 and 7 a.m. and run till around 9 p.m. There are usually periods of sitting meditation that last 30 to 45 minutes, followed by walking meditations of equal duration.</p><p>Walking gives you a chance to unfold your body, stretch, and limber up your muscles, which will return to a state of advanced rebellion faster than you thought possible. The first meditation session on the first day isn’t so bad. You’ll probably hop right up when it’s time to walk. After the second session, you may notice some stiffness, but walking will get everything back in order.</p><p>After lunch, however, it starts to get intense. Parts of you will become uncomfortable almost the moment you sit down. Having lost circulation, other parts—important parts—will feel like they’re about to fall off.</p><p>By the middle of the second day, sitting can become agony. Just the sight of your meditation cushion can become hateful and nauseating. It will feel like most of your joints have been filled with powdered glass and your muscles are just sacs of fire and ice hanging from your cracking skeleton. Walking meditation becomes hobbling meditation, stretching meditation, or slowly-keeling-over-into-fetal-position meditation. It sucks, is what I’m saying.</p><p>It’s even worse if you’re older, less flexible, or have a chronic injury. A lot of retreatants can’t sit on cushions on the floor and instead opt for chairs. Some people optimistically start out on the floor while silently judging those who don’t. It’s easy for a vague sense of superiority to set in. “I’m closer to the earth so my meditation will be better.” “I’d never sit in a chair, it just doesn’t feel right.” “That guy only has three toes. What kind of place are they running here?”</p><p>Just wait. All too often those people who begin on the floor have to haul themselves into a chair the third day like a sloth climbing a tree. Or they build a bizarre meditation throne that’s comprised of four cushions, three yoga blocks, two folded blankets, and a rolled-up sleeping bag, but is still technically on the floor.</p><p>Nothing stays comfortable for long. Even a chair is rotten after awhile. There’s no position or piece of furniture that brings total physical relief. After a couple days, you’ll be in some amount of pain no matter what you’re sitting on or how often you fidget and adjust.</p><p>Of course there are a couple of people at every retreat who sit perfectly still the whole time. They plop down on just a single cushion, close their eyes, and turn into statues. Everyone hates those people, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.</p><p>Try not to sit next to them (or anyone, for that matter) at dinner because…<br><br><b>4. Meals are awkward affairs.</b></p><p>Considering everything you’re going through—the isolation, the mental and physical hardships—you might expect meals to be something of a respite. And they are, to a degree. When your day is prepackaged into walking and sitting and pretty much nothing else, even minor variances can be amazing. In fact, you can sometimes defeat the entire purpose of the retreat by just spending the time from breakfast on fantasizing about lunch, and then burn the whole afternoon thinking about dinner.</p><p>But that whole being silent thing really cranks up the discomfort at meals. You’re sitting at a table with a bunch of other people, doing something you do several times each day, but you’ve never done it like this. No conversation. No comments on the food. No “Please pass the organic vegan hot sauce.” Only the sound of everyone chewing, slurping, coughing, belching, sucking their teeth, grunting, and smacking their lips.</p><p>Now you’re avoiding eye contact not out of respect for the rules, but because everyone has become a hideous beast, including you. You’re supposed to be paying strict attention to eating, watching the whole experience of the meal with the same attention you’ve been watching your mind. But it’s tough to get through a meal when no one is allowed to say a word. It messes with the unwritten social contract. Sometimes even a week of meals in the retreat vacuum isn’t enough to adjust to the change.</p><p>And speaking of change, you’re about to experience a jarring one because…<br><br><b>5. Returning to the outside world can be overwhelming.</b></p><p>There are inspiring moments during any retreat. Whether they’re fleeting or sustained, there are times when the pain and awkwardness and strangeness fall away and you’re left with something sublime. Stillness. Joy. Clarity. Insight. Peace. Those moments make it easier to believe that this practice is positively affecting your life. Sometimes they even reinforce the idea that enlightenment is real and attainable and that you’re on the right path. Your resolve is bolstered. Your commitment to meditation, to kindness, to compassion and liberation become powerful and radiant. You sit like a buddha.</p><p>Then you’re shoved back into the world outside the retreat center and your face melts off. You turn your phone on and it almost explodes from everything you’ve missed. Calls, texts, and emails come pouring in. You realize that for the past couple of days you haven’t been missing videos of cats walking on their hind legs. You haven’t wondered if Pat Robertson said something stupid (he did). You haven’t worried that you should’ve gotten the new iPhone instead of an Android.</p><p>On the drive home you’re assaulted with more color, noise, and sensations in five minutes than you’ve had over the last week. It’s like getting out of a sensory deprivation tank and falling into a frat party, except you’re not wet and naked. (Hell, maybe you are. I don’t know how you party.)</p><p>You’ve slowed down, quieted down, and now the world is reintroducing you to its humongous hustle and belligerent bustle. Put that serenity to work! You didn’t just spend seven days sitting wordlessly in one damn spot just to fall apart a mile from the center, did you?</p><p>By the time you get home, the first layer of your peace has already been abraded. Your calm is no match for the world. It was fragile during the retreat. Out here, it’s just a shadow.</p><p>Spouses, children, pets, friends: they’re all the same as you left them a week ago. But you’re raw and their impacts drive more deeply than before. That television that’s always on used to be just background noise. Now it’s a violation. The fact that the house is never really quiet used to be comforting. Now it’s nerve-wracking.</p><p>Everything jumps right back at you full-tilt. On Monday you’re back at your job after a bad night’s sleep.</p><p>As you reintegrate with the world, you may start to notice that some things are better. Maybe you don’t get mad as quickly. Maybe you find your normal stress level has dropped a bit. Maybe people like you better because you don’t get drunk every Thursday night at Hooters and throw wings at the hostess anymore.</p><p>But, hey, it’s the little things. Remember that time you thought you were crazy?<br><br><b>Brent R. Oliver</b> is a writer based in Lexington, Kentucky. His last article for <i>Tricycle</i>, “<a href="http://www.tricycle.com/feature/white-trash-buddhist" target="_blank">White Trash Buddhist</a>,” appeared in the Fall 2014 issue.</p><p><em>Photo ©<a id="contributor-name" href="http://www.istockphoto.com/portfolio/laflor" target="_self">laflor</a></em></p> 46595 Fri, 19 Jun 2015 10:00:00 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Climate Change Is a Moral Issue http://www.tricycle.com/blog/climate-change-moral-issue <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/popefrancisencyclical.jpg" width="570" height="368" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>On June 18, Pope Francis issued a papal encyclical pointing to climate change as the overriding moral issue of our time. The encyclical boldly proclaims that humanity’s capacity to alter the climate charges us with the gravest moral responsibility we have ever had to bear. Climate change affects everyone. The disruptions to the biosphere occurring today bind all peoples everywhere into a single human family, our fates inseparably intertwined. No one can escape the impact, no matter how remotely they may live from the bustling centers of industry and commerce. The responsibility for preserving the planet falls on everyone.</p><p>The future of human life on earth hangs in a delicate balance, and the window for effective action is rapidly closing. Tipping points and feedback loops threaten us as ominously as nuclear warheads.</p><p>What heightens the danger is our proclivity to apathy and denial. For this reason, we must begin tackling the crisis with an act of truth, by acknowledging that climate change is real and stems from human activity. On this, the science is clear, the consensus among climate scientists almost universal. The time for denial, skepticism, and delay is over.</p><p>Our carbon-based economies generate not only mountains of commodities but also heat waves and floods, rising seas and creeping deserts. The climate mirrors the state of our minds, reflecting back to us the choices we make at regional, national, and global levels. These choices, both collective and personal, are inescapably ethical. They are strung out between what is convenient and what is right. They determine who will live and who will die, which communities will flourish and which will perish. Ultimately they determine nothing less than whether human civilization itself will survive or collapse.</p><p>Since religions command the loyalty of billions, they must lead the way in the endeavor to combat climate change, using their ethical insights to mobilize their followers. As a nontheistic religion, Buddhism sees our moral commitments as stemming not from the decree of a Creator God but from our obligation to promote the true well-being of ourselves and others.</p><p>The Buddha traces all immoral conduct to three mental factors, which he calls the three unwholesome roots: greed, hatred, and delusion. Greed propels economies to voraciously consume fossil fuels in order to maximize profits, ravaging the finite resources of the earth and filling its sinks with toxic waste. Hatred underlies not only war and bigotry but also the callous indifference that allows us to consign billions of people to hunger, drought, and devastating floods without batting an eye. Delusion—self-deception and the deliberate deceiving of others—is reinforced by the falsehoods churned out by fossil-fuel interests to block remedial action.</p><p>We thus need to curb the influence of greed, hatred, and delusion on the operation of social systems. Policy formation must be motivated not by narrow self-interest but by a magnanimous spirit of generosity, compassion, and wisdom. An economy premised on infinite expansion, geared toward endless production and consumption, has to be replaced by a steady-state economy governed by the principle of sufficiency, which gives priority to contentment, service to others, and inner fulfillment as the measure of the good life.</p><p>The moral tide of our age pushes us in two directions. One is to uplift the living standards of the billions mired in poverty, struggling each day to survive. The other is to preserve the integrity and sustaining capacity of the planet. A rapid transition to an economy powered by clean and renewable sources of energy, with transfers of the technology to developing countries, would enable us to accomplish both, to combine social justice with ecological sustainability.</p><p>At the very outset, we must start the transition by making highly specific national and global commitments to curb carbon emissions, and we must do so fast. The Conference of the Parties meeting in Paris this December has to show the way. The meeting must culminate in a climate accord that imposes truly <i>rigorous</i>, <i>binding</i>, and <i>enforceable</i> targets for emissions reductions. Pledges and promises alone won’t suffice: enforcement mechanisms are critical. And beyond a strong accord, we’ll need an international endeavor, undertaken with a compelling sense of urgency, to shift the global economy away from fossil fuels to clean sources of energy.</p><p>Pope Francis reminds us that climate change poses not only a policy challenge but also a call to the moral conscience. If we continue to burn fossil fuels to empower unbridled economic growth, the biosphere will be destabilized, resulting in unimaginable devastation, the deaths of many millions, failed states, and social chaos. Shifting to clean and renewable energy can reverse this trend, opening pathways to a steady-state economy that uplifts living standards for all. One way leads deeper into a culture of death; the other leads to a new culture of life. As climate change accelerates, the choice before us is becoming starker, and the need to choose wisely grows ever more urgent.<br><br><b>Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi</b> is an American Buddhist monk, translator of Pali Buddhist texts, and the founder of Buddhist Global Relief. He is also a spiritual ambassador for OurVoices, an organization dedicated to bringing faith traditions to climate advocacy. This essay was originally written for OurVoices in connection with the release of Pope Francis’s climate change encyclical.</p><p><em>Image:</em>&nbsp;<em><a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/catholicism/8722736835" target="_blank">Flickr</a>/©</em><em><a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/catholicism/8722736835" target="_blank">Mazur</a>/</em>catholicnews.org.uk</p> 46594 Thu, 18 Jun 2015 10:36:16 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Talking about Mindfulness http://www.tricycle.com/blog/talking-about-mindfulness <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/conference_purser_0.jpg" width="570" height="333" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p dir="ltr">While media coverage of the mindfulness phenomenon has been frequent, plentiful, and occasionally lively, it has also fallen along a narrow spectrum. After a prolonged glut of self-congratulatory puff pieces, we’ve finally witnessed what some have called a backlash. We might now arrive at what could be a more nuanced take, with a number of writers, scientists, and thinkers complicating the received narratives about mindfulness.</p><p dir="ltr">Last week’s Mindfulness and Compassion conference at San Francisco State University, and the Buddhism and Modernity seminar at Mangalam Research Center that followed, may have marked a milestone in this conversation. Mindfulness, as it’s popularly understood, has become an increasingly important example of the dialogue between Buddhist thinking and Western disciplines, which has developed at a pace that far exceeds the thinking behind it.</p><p dir="ltr">In the old discursive space of mindfulness, which was so carefully circumscribed, facile thinking flourished. You were either with mindfulness or against it. This not only makes little sense—after all, who could possibly be against sitting still and calming the mind or counting the breath?—but also represents the most simplistic kind of thinking. Now, thanks to the work of pioneers such as <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/meditation-nation" target="_blank">Willoughby Britton</a>, <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/interview/context-matters" target="_blank">David McMahan</a>, and numerous others, it’s become quite common to interrogate the potentials of mindfulness and its status in relation to Buddhism or other traditions. We can problematize certain applications of mindfulness or criticize instrumental rationality without being spurned as detractors undermining a prophetic movement. In the end, we’ve come to appreciate context. And our dialogues have become more honest.</p><p dir="ltr">Whatever the cause of the once-stymied discourse (and perhaps it was only the case that it was in its infancy, and hadn’t yet encountered itself in the mirror), we were faced with an understanding of mindfulness not just as a technique but also as a <em>movement</em> wherein all applications would produce the same result, regardless of context. Any questioning of the ends to which mindfulness would be deployed—say, in the military or among Wall Street’s permanent “uncriminal” class—could thus be summarily dismissed as an attack on the movement. This was a way to limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion: If you interrogated specific implementations, you were only getting in the way of individuals’ well being.</p><p dir="ltr">The way in which we still, for the most part, speak about mindfulness is no help, though this is quickly changing. We generally limit ourselves to two different but parallel languages, both of which lack any real sense of collectivity, any metaphysic of society, of people acting as more than individuals chasing their own well being: the rationalist objectivity of science and the radical subjectivity of Buddhist contemplative tradition. Faced with a kind of mechanical view of the mind put forward by the sciences and reinforced by the psychosomatic surveillance technologies it employs, there has naturally been a temptation to retreat to a radical, irreducible interiority or mysticism. The tendency is to view the mindfulness phenomenon or so-called Buddhism and science dialogue as the meeting of these two streams. The thing is, these two philosophies—harsh objectivity and radical subjectivity—are actually <em>entirely</em> compatible in that neither is able to challenge the other in any meaningful way. Until we cultivate the necessary <em>social</em> imagination missing from both of these models we can expect the public discourse around mindfulness to keep puttering along.</p><p dir="ltr">But I don’t think this will be the case. That was made clear during last week’s conference, in which scholars from the humanities and social sciences entered the conversation. It was especially encouraging to hear scientists tackle some of the most difficult questions about being human, about ethics—questions that fall outside of science’s ambit, but that we all have the equal responsibility to think through—and to hear Buddhist thinkers and meditation teachers do the same.</p><p dir="ltr">We now have the unique opportunity to pause, reflect, and really think through what it is we are doing and why. To think what we do, because no one will do it for us.</p><p dir="ltr">We look forward to it.<br><br><strong>Alex Caring-Lobel</strong> is <em>Tricycle</em>’s associate editor.</p><p dir="ltr"><i>Image (L–R): Kin Cheung, Clifford Saron, David McMahan, Geoffrey Samuel, and Linda Heuman (not pictured). Photograph courtesy Ron Purser.</i></p><p><em>Tricycle was an official partner of the Mindfulness and Compassion Conference. This text has been adapted from remarks given there.</em></p><p></p><table width="550" border="0" cellspacing="10" cellpadding="8"><tbody><tr></tr><tr><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/meditation-nation"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/meditationnation_MORE.jpg" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> Meditation Nation</b><br>How convincing is the science driving the popularity of mindfulness meditation? A Brown University researcher has some surprising answers.</span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/meditation-nation" style="font-size: 12px; font: normal 11px/12px arial,tahoma,sans-serif; color: #ffffff; text-decoration: none; border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; background-color: #d7272e; border-top: 6px solid #d7272e; border-bottom: 6px solid #d7272e; border-right: 14px solid #d7272e; font-weight: bold; border-left: 14px solid #d7272e; display: inline-block;">READ THE POST →</a></p></td><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/meditation-nation"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/whatwasmindfulnessMORE.jpg" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> What Was Mindfulness? </b><br>Mindfulness seemed like the answer to our prayers. Instead, it came to justify some of our worst cultural excesses.</span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/what-was-mindfulness" style="font-size: 12px; font: normal 11px/12px arial,tahoma,sans-serif; color: #ffffff; text-decoration: none; border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; background-color: #d7272e; border-top: 6px solid #d7272e; border-bottom: 6px solid #d7272e; border-right: 14px solid #d7272e; font-weight: bold; border-left: 14px solid #d7272e; display: inline-block;">READ THE POST →</a></p></td></tr></tbody></table> 46571 Fri, 12 Jun 2015 11:34:43 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Accepting the Unacceptable http://www.tricycle.com/blog/accepting-unacceptable <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/KarmaExcerptImage.jpg" width="570" height="381" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p1">Over the last century or so, death has been becoming increasingly institutionalized and removed from immediate experience. It is no longer a common experience in concrete terms. Where people used to die at home in the past, this is no longer the case, and the usual gathering of relatives and family no longer takes place spontaneously. It is no longer a communal affair, but on the contrary, it is hidden from public view, resulting in less actual contact with death and dying. Perversely, the literature on death and dying has been growing considerably, and people are actually talking about it more and more, while handling the practical fact less and less. The irony of this situation is described by Ray Anderson, a Christian theologian, in his book <i>Theology, Death, and Dying</i>:</p><p class="p2"></p><blockquote><p class="p1">There is then a fundamental ambivalence about death for the contemporary person. Death has been pushed out of sight and out of the context of daily life. No longer is death itself a meaningful ritual of family or social life. Yet, there is the emergence of a quite specific awareness of death as an existential concern quite apart from the event of death itself.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Strangely enough, awareness of death in the form of the psychological effects of death as a condition of life has grown in inverse proportion to the silence concerning death itself. Where death was once the unspoken word that accompanied communion with and commitment to the dead as a ritual of public and community life, there was virtually no literature on death and dying.&nbsp;</p></blockquote><p class="p1">In contemporary Western society, it is quite the opposite now, with one author stating that he has reviewed over 800 books on death and dying and has more than 2,000 articles on the subject in his files. Overall, there is much more talk about death and dying and far less immediate experience of it, in terms of actually handling those who are dying, or having to witness death. We see a lot of simulated death on television and so on, but as a rule, we have very little immediate contact with it compared with people living in developing countries, or in the past.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">For all these reasons—the ever-present fear of death and our lack of contact with it—it is all the more important to have a proper encounter with the facts of death and to deal with the fear of death, because, from the Buddhist point of view, coming to terms with death is part of making our life worthwhile and meaningful. Death and life are not seen as completely separate and opposed, but as giving rise to each other. They coexist in a complementary fashion. For Buddhists, the aim is not to conquer death but to come to accept it and familiarize ourselves with our own sense of mortality and impermanence.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">According to Buddhism, we die because we are a product of causes and conditions (<i>pratityasamutpada </i>in Sanksrit). Whatever is caused is impermanent, is subject to decay, to death. Human beings are not exempt, as it is a natural process. Life without death is impossible, and vice versa, and therefore the ultimate aim of Buddhist practice incorporates an acceptance of death and a cultivation of an attitude that does not reject it as something ugly and menacing that steals our life away, and thus something to be pushed aside and ignored. Nor does a Buddhist think of living forever. The Buddhist view is that everything is transient and impermanent, and so death and life are inseparably bound up with each other, at all times in fact, even while we live, as the aging process itself is viewed as a part of the dying process.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">There is the famous story of the Buddha's being approached by a mother carrying her dead baby in her arms. She pleads with the Buddha: "You are an enlightened being; you must have all these extraordinary powers, so I want you to bring my child back to life." The Buddha says, "All right, I'll do this for you if you'll do one thing for me first." "I'll do anything," she replied. He responds, "I want you to go around and knock on all the doors of this town and ask each person who comes to the door whether he or she had anyone die in his or her family, and if he or she says no, then ask him or her to give you a sesame seed." The woman knocks on every door she can, and returns empty-handed, saying to the Buddha, "I don't want you to bring back my child now. I understand what you are trying to teach me." The lesson here is that death is all-pervasive and not something that happens, sometimes, to particular people, but it happens to every one of us. Knowing this can lessen the sting of the fear of death. It is analogous to people sharing some kind of psychological or personal problem. Eventually everyone starts to open up and talk to others with similar problems, realizing essentially that we are all experiencing the same thing. In this way, the problem becomes diffused. The Buddha's point to the grieving mother, that everybody dies, is compassionate because to think "my child, my child, he has died, I want him back" is to narrow our focus in such a way as to generate an enormous personal problem. It is better to think of all the mothers that have lost children and experienced the same grief, whereby it becomes more encompassing. The problem moves beyond the personal into something much wider.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">In terms of karma, it is an interesting question from a Buddhist point of view to ask if our death is in a way predetermined. In some ways, it is feasible to say that there is a preordained time to die, as our karma determines it. When the time to die arrives, we then die. This would be a result of our karma. On the other hand, our death is also dependent on a lot of causes and conditions, so it is not preordained in that sense. So it is predetermined in one sense and not so in another. Following form this, it is quite expected that Buddhists, if unwell, would seek medical attention and remedies, or go to the hospital if necessary. They would not simply acquiesce and say, "Well it must be my karma to die now," and do nothing about the situation, for the time may very well not have come yet, so to speak: and if they are not careful, because of the causes and conditions set in motion, they might die before they need to. Even so, at times, no matter what we do in order to live, it will become impossible to do so.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">People do not fear just eternal pain and suffering in hell, but extinction, not being around, not existing. This thought is very much disturbing in itself for many people, and so the removal of the idea of hell will not alleviate the fear of death itself. We have a fear of death, as do other creatures, but from a Buddhist view, ours is intimately linked to our notion of a self. While meditation or contemplation on death can be very confronting initially, we will be far better off for doing it than not, precisely because the fear of death is always there, underlying everything. The fundamental sense of anxiety is always there, so it is better to bring it to the fore and deal with it than suspend consideration, because it will continue to influence our life, often in a negative way, if ignored. We must remember, too, that this type of practice is done in the context of other Buddhist practices, which are all designed to incorporate and process the full range of negativities in the mind.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">It is sometimes thought Tibetans have a different approach to death, having been raised among it perhaps, but the very fact of there being specific spiritual instructions especially designed for the matter indicates that Tibetans are no different. They fear, as we do in the West, not just for themselves, but they also fear leaving their children and loved ones behind, and they too wish not to grow old and die, or to die young, for that matter. Fear of death is all-pervasive and acultural. Everybody experiences it, but an important difference in the Buddhist tradition is the emphasis on working with that fear. Therefore Tibetans, if they choose to, have access to traditions and practices of this nature. Monks for instance, would go to charnel grounds, or graveyards, to practice and contemplate impermanence, which might seem a bit excessive to us. In Tibet the charnel grounds use to be in the wilderness, so they were a very eerie place to practice, especially on one's own, and it was guaranteed to throw up all kinds of fears. Thighbone trumpets and other implements used on these occasions have horrified some Westerners, who have described these rituals as shamanistic, incorporating elements of black magic and so on. However, for Tibetans, living in primitive physical conditions, these bones had no magical qualities, but were merely reminders of impermanence, of transience. It would help them deal with their fear of death, and the fear of the dead as well.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">There are Buddhist traditions, of course, like Zen, that do not have such elaborate rituals as are found in Tibetan Buddhism that involve mantras, visualizations, and so forth, and focus more on being immediately present with what is happening now, avoiding all mental constructions of what might take place, as the best form of preparation for the future, including the eventuality of death. The end result is the same. Both methods lead to greater acceptance of the event, and the ultimate aim is the same, which is to increase awareness and develop insight. In addition, of course, the Buddhist view is that life and death are inextricably bound to each other, moment to moment. The death of the past is happening right now, and we can never really see what is going to happen in the future. When one moment passes, that is death, and when another arises, that is life, or rebirth, we might say. Therefore, living in the present with awareness, links in a fundamental way with appreciating impermanence.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">It does not matter how elaborate certain teachings or meditation techniques are, the fundamental aim is still to deal with immediate experience, here and now. It has nothing much to do with what might or might not happen in the future, or attaining some wonderful mystical experience in the future, because, as the masters have continuously emphasized, as important as the attainment of enlightenment is, it has to be arrived at through being in the here and now, dealing with present circumstances, not through indulging in speculation about what enlightenment might be. None of this is to say that we have to be practicing Buddhists to die in a peaceful manner. Ultimately one cannot tell, judging by people's personalities, who will die peacefully. Some Christians die very peacefully, whereas others struggle; some Buddhists die peacefully, and some kicking and screaming, as they say, and some atheists die peacefully, and so on. A very mild-mannered person can become quite aggressive and obnoxious at the time of death, refusing to accept it, and others, normally obnoxious characters, turn out to be very accepting and amiable. We can never really say with certainty how anyone will react to death, but we can say that certain meditations, including those on death, will definitely help a person come to accept it more readily, although we can never be absolutely sure, and the moment may produce panic even in a dedicated practitioner. But if we know what's going on, it is likely to be far less confrontational.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">This brings us to the critical factor of seeing meditation, reading, and contemplation as conjoined. We should not be satisfied to just think about impermanence and death; we have to have the real experience, which comes from meditation. To read about Buddhism's approach to death is important, but it needs to become an existential concern and to be translated into something approximating a real intuition or a real encounter with death. Following such a path will prevent our knowledge from evaporating in the actual experience itself. From a Buddhist point of view, so much depends upon our habits, and so thinking about death in a certain way helps us to get used to it, to become habituated to it. Therefore a real transformation has to take place on an emotional and intellectual level. Most of us have a fair degree of intellectual understanding of the facts, but that is really not the main point. A sense of impermanence has to be felt and experienced. If we understand it truly, we will handle all our tribulations far better, such as when our relationships break up, when we get divorced, when we get separated from our loved ones, when relatives die. We will handle all of these situations far differently with a truer appreciation of impermanence than we would otherwise have.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Knowing in an abstract sense that everybody dies or that everything is impermanent is different from experiencing impermanence, coming face to face with in everyday life. If we have felt impermanence, then tragedies are easier to deal with because we fully grasp that all is impermanent and transient and nothing lasts forever. As the Buddha said, we come in contact with people and things that we wish not to come in contact with, and we get separated from people and things that we wish to stay among, and that is how things are, in reality.&nbsp; Similarly, when death occurs, it may still be a very fearful experience, but we may be able to maintain that sense of awareness. Fear may still be present, but maintaing a sense of equilibrium is very important. Buddhist meditators may get separated from their partner and experience great stress and grief, but they may not yield to that grief so completely that it overwhelms them, and this applies with respect to their own death as well.<br><br><strong>Traleg Kyabgon&nbsp;</strong>is the founder of the Kagyu E-Vam Buddhist institute, headquartered in Melbourne, Australia. He has authored many books, including&nbsp;<em>The Essence of Buddhism&nbsp;</em>and&nbsp;<em>Mind at Ease</em>.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">From&nbsp;<i>Karma</i>&nbsp;by Traleg Kyabgon, © 2015 by Traleg Kyabgon. Reprinted by arrangement with&nbsp; <a href="https://www.shambhala.com" target="_blank">Shambhala Publications Inc.</a>, Boston, MA.</p><p class="p1"><em>Image:&nbsp;</em><i>José Manuel Ríos Valiente/Flickr</i></p><p class="p1"></p> 46566 Mon, 08 Jun 2015 11:12:18 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World No Teachers Come Here http://www.tricycle.com/blog/no-teachers-come-here <p><i><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/BethlehemPic.jpg" width="570" height="379" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></i></p><p><i>The interviewee has asked us not to use his name or photo in fear of persecution. He is not depicted in the image above. –The Eds.&nbsp;</i><br><br><b>Where are you from?</b> I was born in and raised in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ. I still live here.<br><br><b>How old are you?</b> 30.<br><br><b>What spiritual tradition were you raised in?</b> I grew up as a Christian and received a bachelor's degree in theology and&nbsp;Bible studies from Bethlehem Bible University. I taught Sunday school at the church here for one year and then taught Bible studies there for four years. <br><br><b>What was your path to the dharma? How did you first get interested in it?</b> I came to the dharma through research and studies in religions. Buddha and Jesus Christ have some similar teachings about love, peace, and purity, but when we look at the Old Testament we can see how God asked his people to kill others to obtain land. And we can also see violence in the Quran. So this led me to search for other truths and through that I began to study&nbsp;Buddhism.&nbsp;Then I saw the movie <i>The Life of Buddha</i> and I began to search and study more&nbsp;about the Buddha, Buddhist history, and Buddhist philosophy.<br><br><b>What kind of access to the dharma is there in Bethlehem?</b> All of my studies are from the Internet; the first Buddhist text I ever read online was about karma. I don't have any books.</p><p>Unfortunately, what's available about Buddhism in Bethlehem is unreliable, because there is a lack of teachers and monks here. Some teachers come to Tel Aviv or the Galilee but I am not allowed to go because I am Palestinian. How can we hear the teachings without a teacher? It's not easy for people to find the dharma.<br><br><b>Do you want to stay there?&nbsp;</b><b>Do you have a vision of where your study might lead?</b> I want to be ordained as a monk and stay in Palestine as a Buddhist teacher to spread the teachings of the Buddha. We Buddhists have the responsibility to spread these teachings and allow people a way to get to know the truth, and not just from what they hear from other Muslims and Christians who often tarnish the image of Buddhism.<br><br><b>What's it like there for spiritual seekers?</b> To be a Buddhist in Bethlehem is something very unusual. Because a lot of people here do not have any knowledge of Buddhism, they all look at me in a different way.<br><br><b>Which spiritual guides or teachers inspire you?</b> Do any come to Bethlehem? I don’t think any Buddhist teachers have come here, so there are none to inspire me.<br><br><b>What do your family and friends think about your pursuits?</b> At first I faced problems and some persecution but when I explained and showed what I knew of the teachings they accepted my thoughts. But I lost some friends and my job as well.<br><br><b>What dharma books do you like to read?</b> It is very hard for me to find books. I read mostly e-books online, in English. In particular, I’ve read Geshe Kelsang's <i>How to Solve Our Human Problems </i>and Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche's <i>What Makes You Not a Buddhist</i>. I think we must offer Arabic translations of these books, for people who have newly come to Buddhism. I want to help translate but I can't do it alone—I need to work with a professional translator.<br><br><b>What are your aspirations? Dreams?</b> My dream is to share the teachings of Buddhism: love, tolerance, generosity, and nonattachment to riches and luxury. And ultimately I would like to build a Center for Buddhist Studies and a youth center in Palestine to promote the love of Buddhism to others.</p><p>I hope that this interview can show the importance of working in the Arab countries. In war there is rape and stealing, which some people consider their right, as the so-called "spoils of war." This causes human suffering, as we can see today in Gaza, Syria, and Iraq. But the teachings of the Buddha discourage this type of behavior, so we must work here more. We have encountered problems because the community sees Buddhism as a wrong religion.<br><br><b>Do you think there can be peace in the Middle East?</b> Peace comes from inside. If people change from inside, there can be peace.</p><p style="text-align: right;">&nbsp;—<i>Noa Jones</i></p><p align="right" style="text-align: left;"><i>Image: hjl/flickr. St. Jerome's Cave, Bethlehem. The photograph does not depict the interviewee.&nbsp;</i></p> 46557 Thu, 04 Jun 2015 14:15:28 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World It Needs Saying http://www.tricycle.com/blog/it-needs-saying <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Brazier_religion.jpg" width="570" height="380" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>It should not need saying. After all, it's obvious. Nonetheless it does need saying. It needs saying because it has been denied by so many people including many who are eminent and even some whose own roles, behavior, and faith contradict what they are saying. It needs saying clearly, that Buddhism is a religion.</p><p>Further, this is the right time to say it. The bandwagon of secularization of Buddhism has gradually gathered momentum to the point where it now threatens the whole basis of what the Buddha bequeathed us. Buddhism is becoming popular, but it is doing so in a form that is a new creation. This new creation is not the traditional Buddhism of Asia and it is not the Buddhism of Shakyamuni Buddha, the founder, either. This new creation is an artifact of modernity and postmodernity using elements abstracted from Buddhism, tailored to gain popularity by satisfying contemporary prejudice.</p><p>Having said that, we must add that there is nothing wrong with adaptation and creativity. Many of the new manifestations and applications of ideas and methods derived from Buddhism are intrinsically valuable and can stand on their own feet. Buddhism is like a copious spring, the water from which can be gathered and poured into many different shaped containers. What is problematic, however, is that the reductionist philosophy by which such artifacts are being generated threatens to poison the spring from which the water is flowing. It is a kind of asset stripping, or, we could say, it is like taking the fruit while killing the root.</p><p>The basic reductionist principle that informs this process is itself the opposite of dharma. It is precisely the kind of blindness that dharma teaching exists to awaken us from. This is why a warning bell needs to be sounded.</p><p>I have played a role in the propagation and popularization of Buddhist psychology so I have a personal part in this process. As somebody who could be seen to be one of the culprits I have, perhaps, a double onus to keep the record straight. Buddhism developed a sophisticated psychological approach two thousand years before the modern world discipline of psychology was invented. Psychological investigations have gone on throughout Buddhist history and the result is a gold mine of knowledge, experience, theory, and practice from which we contemporary people can learn a great deal, but although Buddhism has given rise to this treasure, Buddhism is not fundamentally or exclusively a psychology.</p><p>My contention is not that we should return to a past that is now irretrievable. It is that while accepting that Buddhism is changing at a cultural level and finding new forms of expression and organization, we should acknowledge that it is more than merely an expression of modernity using elements of Asian terminology. The most forceful way of doing this is to acknowledge that it is more than a way of life, more than a philosophy, more important and profound than a mere cultural artifact—that it is a religion.</p><p>Buddhism is commonly said to be about relieving or abolishing suffering. This can be taken as a worthy humanitarian goal that could have little to do with religion. A methodology that overcomes suffering by training the mind is a psychotherapy. There is, thus, a case to be made that Buddhism is a psychotherapy, and if one were to take abolishing suffering, or achieving happiness, as the goal of Buddhism, then one could claim that Buddhism is primarily, or even nothing other than, such therapy. Such a line of rhetoric can then be used to integrate Buddhism within the frame of modern, secular hedonistic ideas. Doing so, however, involves discarding most of what Buddhism actually consists of and missing the point of the Founder's original teaching.</p><p>Just as it is possible to present Buddhism as a psychology, we can also look at other things that Buddhism has given rise to. Buddhism has generated great cultures that have played prominent parts in history together with their many constituent ways of life, roles, forms of organization, social structures, politics, economics, and sciences. Modern academic investigation finds in this history fascinating areas for study and research. Some modern people adopt aspects of some of these traditional cultures and find it satisfying to do so. They wear Buddhist style clothes, sit on the floor, and have houses full of Eastern artifacts. They study <i>thangka</i> painting, or create Zen gardens. Many people now have Buddha figures as garden or household ornaments. These things look fine and contribute to a more gentle tenor of life. Buddhism has given rise to treasures such as these. Buddhism, however, is not fundamentally a culture. It has bred many cultures of great diversity. Buddhism is not fundamentally a way of life. There are many ways of life that can be considered to be Buddhist. Buddhism is not, basically, a style. There are many Buddhist styles. Buddhism has its views of economics and society, but Buddhism is not fundamentally a mode of social welfare. These things are all expressions of something more fundamental. Buddhism is a religion. Only a religion could generate such a diversity of riches permeating every aspect of life.</p><p>The Buddha gave remarkable codes of ethics tailored to different groups of people, to monks and nuns, to lay people, and to those who would follow an altruistic <i>bodhisattva</i> path. To this day we can learn a great deal from this ethical science. However, Buddhism is not fundamentally a system of ethics. Buddhism is a religion.</p><p>The Buddha was sometimes referred to as a doctor of the soul, and perhaps also of the body. It is likely his early disciples, wandering from place to place, not only taught the fundamentals of his doctrine, but also functioned in many cases as healers and medical practitioners. Many modern people are particularly concerned about health. They employ techniques drawn from Buddhism for stress relief, for an improved diet, for deep relaxation, for the treatment of depression, for massage, and so on. All this is wonderful. Buddhism has given rise to such treasures, but Buddhism is not fundamentally a health cure. Buddhism is a religion. The purpose of Buddhism is not stress relief. Buddha did not teach a method to help busy executives survive better in the rat race.</p><p>It is because Buddhism is a religion that it has been able to generate such richness. From the perspective of secular, humanistic materialism it is possible to see a value in many of the things to which Buddhism has given rise, but it is not really possible to see how they have come about because such an approach does not value the processes that constitute the substance of religion and does not recognize the religious nature of the human being. In fact, it consciously, deliberately, and systematically excludes them.</p><p>Modernity sees the fruits of Buddhism as its substance and then wonders how it can be so diverse. The substance of Buddhism, however, is what gives rise to all these fruits and this substance is not part of the materialistic scheme of things. In fact, it involves and is crucially dependent upon a renunciation of such materialism. It is this renunciation that modernity cannot admit, yet which is at the core of the Buddha's dispensation.</p><p>In Buddhism, the spiritual is primary and the physical is a domain in which spirit acts. In modernity, the physical is primary and the spiritual, if it is acknowledged at all, is the epiphenomenon. For Buddhism to survive and continue to produce such wonderful fruit we must not cut off its root in this way. Although Buddhism is, in some respects, very different from the religions we were used to in the past, at core it is a spiritual matter.</p><p>Many contemporary thinkers have asserted that Buddhism is not a religion in order to fit it into our culture. They want to create an American Buddhism or a European Buddhism, in which the encompassing frame is American culture or European philosophy. However, if you cut Buddhism down to fit into one of these frames you cut off the essence and root.</p><p>Buddhism is not something with which to decorate our existing materialistic culture. Using Buddhist methods to help one be more efficient at work, or cope with the stress of a go-getting lifestyle, is decoration of this kind.</p><p>Buddhism has entered this materialist world sometimes disguised as a saleable commodity. In a world where money is the measure of all things, this is the disguise you need to gain entry. Another measure is popularity. One wins by getting more votes. Votes and prices, however, have no necessary relationship to quality or depth. Buddhism aims to deepen life, not trivialize it. Measures are abstract, useful for some purposes, but never touch the essence of anything. No measure can tell you how beautiful something is. None can tell you how pure a person's heart or soul may be. The science of measurement is valuable and utilitarian. The soul of religion is something else. It is a different domain of existence. It is the one that makes life worth living.</p><p>Sometimes it is said that <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/feature/scientific-buddha" target="_blank">Buddhism is scientific</a>. This assertion would put Buddhism somehow within the frame of science, but Buddhism has much that would not fit into that frame.</p><p>We should not muddle up science and scientism. Scientism is a modern philosophy. Scientism is not Buddhistic because it is the attempt to make the restrictive rules of science into the dogmas by which the whole of life should be governed. Scientism is a different religion and a rather narrow one and it would be a tragedy if Buddhism in the West were reduced to it. Actually, scientism as one finds it in ordinary members of the public is largely based on a version of science that was superseded in the early decades of the 20th century. I have met people of this persuasion who say that "One should not believe anything that science has not proved." Fortunately or unfortunately, we have discovered that proving is not something that science does. Sometimes science disproves, but science always has an open frontier: it is always open to the new case that overturns what has been thought to be true up to now. Science demonstrates, but such demonstrations are never ultimate or final. We have seen so many revolutions in science in the past century that nobody should be in doubt of this. It does not make science redundant that its findings are so often overturned. It is in the nature of the situation. Science implies that there must be an incalculable amount that we do not know. In this respect science is Buddhistic.</p><p>Scientism, however, seeks to restrict our vision of the universe to things that are physically demonstrable. Most of the things that are important to most people—love, loyalty, faith, goodness, meaning, purpose—do not fall into such a category. As a philosophy, therefore, scientism is limited. It's popularity is based on a misreading of the prestige that currently attaches to technology. The proposition that one should believe nothing that is not empirically demonstrable is itself not empirically demonstrable.</p><p>An extension of the popularity of scientistic ways of thinking has become the way that many people currently approach Buddhism as though it were a collection of techniques. Certainly Buddhism has generated many techniques. This is another of its richnesses, but the tendency to see it as being merely technique, or merely practice, is a function of the modern world's worship of technology, not a true representation of Buddhism. It is just another case of picking the fruit while not seeing the root.</p><p>Buddhism is a religion. The common ground—perhaps the only one—of all schools of Buddhism is a religious act called taking refuge. We take refuge in the three treasures: the buddha, dharma, and sangha. Buddha is the supreme source of teaching, love, compassion, and wisdom. Dharma indicates the fundamentals of life and being. Sangha, in this context, is the assembly of spiritually awakened beings. Taking refuge in these three has salvific power. The popular view is that the aim here is to join the sangha, learn the dharma, and thereby become a buddha. That, however, is not refuge. Refuge is not about taking these jewels in our hands, it is about ourselves being held by them.</p><p>The mystique of this act is not something that can be grounded in materialism or psychology. It has material and psychological consequences, but they are incidental. The whole purpose is to transcend such considerations and open the possibility of being liberated from them.</p><p>Each deepening of refuge is a lessening of ego. More faith, less ego. Thus Buddhism finds salvation beyond self. It is not a collection of methods for greater self-development, self-assertion, self-cherishing, self-­esteem, or anything of the kind. Rather the opposite. Buddhism is not narcissism. The devotee is encouraged to be ever mindful of the objects of refuge, to bow to them, make offerings, revere and worship them. Being mindful of their supreme qualities one becomes more aware of one's own deficiency. Becoming more aware of the deficiency of self, one's need to take refuge increases in intensity. Finally one lets go of self entirely, takes refuge wholeheartedly and enters nirvana.</p><p>Taking refuge is an act of faith. To think that taking refuge is just like joining a worldly organization is to miss the essence and to reduce the supreme mystery to a mundane procedure. Far from reducing mystery to mundanity, Buddhism is about infusing the mundane with the sacred.</p><p>Buddhism's foundation is faith. This faith is based in real, close-to-the-bone, experience. We find that the body is not reliable; the mind is not reliable; thoughts are not reliable, emotions are not reliable, circumstances are not reliable, social status is not reliable; the present moment is not reliable. No technique or methodology will make them so. Direct awareness of the present and of the sequence of things occurring demonstrates to us the unreliability of all that the worldly mind considers as self. Awareness alone would leave us frightened and helpless. Therefore we need mindfulness and the other factors of enlightenment that flow from it. We need mindfulness of the treasure that is available to us. Initially we may think it is our own treasure, but this is just the conceit of the self reasserting itself. The treasure is universal and unconditional, but each of us encounters it in a unique way. Buddha speaks to each of us in our own language. Thus everybody has some spiritual treasure to rely upon if they will just heed it. Buddhism helps us to do so with ever-greater depth and confidence.<br><br><b>David Brazier (Dharmavidya) </b>is president of the International Zen Therapy Institute and head of the Amida Order, a Pure Land sangha. His last article for <i>Tricycle</i>, “<a href="http://www.tricycle.com/feature/inner-logic-other-power" target="_blank">The ‘Inner Logic’ of Other Power</a>,” appeared in the Spring 2015 issue.</p><p><em>Adapted from&nbsp;</em>Buddhism is a Religion<em>, by David Brazier, with the permission of Woodsmoke Press.</em></p><p><em>Jonathan Pozniak/GalleryStock</em></p> 46540 Sat, 30 May 2015 12:00:00 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World 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" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" height="417" width="570"></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 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/dont-get-stuck-neutral"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/Neutral-read.png" alt="" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2" height="150" border="0" width="270"></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 scope="col" valign="top"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/imperfect-refuge"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/imperfect-read.png" alt="" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2" height="150" border="0" width="270"></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