Tricycle - Awake in the World The Online Tricycle Magazine Blog http://www.tricycle.com/ en Mon, 20 Apr 2015 14:46:46 -0400 Mon, 20 Apr 2015 17:10:21 -0400 A Raucous Silence http://www.tricycle.com/blog/raucous-silence <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/MouthSounds_1.jpg" width="570" height="333" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>There’s one on every mediation retreat: the roommate who crinkles potato chip wrappers all night, keeping you awake; the meditator on the next cushion who squirms nonstop; the know-it-all who flaunts his “enlightenment.” If this sounds familiar, be prepared to laugh uproariously in recognition. If it doesn’t—well, watch and learn.</p><p>Playwright Bess Wohl chose the unlikely setting of a silent retreat as the backdrop for her new play, <i>Small Mouth Sounds.</i> The title refers to the grunts and squeaks that pass for communication when talking is forbidden. In the theater, of course, dialogue is king and silence dead air. So what astonishes about this production is how eloquent Wohl’s characters are. Reaching far beyond the vocabulary of mime, they distill their aspirations, fears, failings, and backstories into a breathtaking range of gestures, facial expressions, movements—and the occasional outburst—that tell all.</p><p>The action takes place over five days at a retreat center loosely based on Omega Institute in upstate New York. That’s where some years ago Wohl sat her first retreat, led by Pema Chödrön. Since then, she’s done more retreats, and has the retreat format and foibles of retreat-goers (and their teachers) down pat.</p><p>The theater itself is the set. A rectangular room with whitewashed walls and wooden beams, it resembles many a meditation hall. The audience of 80 or so is packed into two tiers along either wall. I half expected we’d be seated on zafus, but the only cushions were thin pads to ease the discomfort of sitting for 100 minutes straight—there’s no intermission—on folding chairs. The action alternates between a small stage at one end, furnished with a row of six chairs, and the theater floor, which serves alternately as a lakeside beach and the participants’ sleeping quarters. Views of the outdoors—trees, sky, the lake—are projected onto clerestory windows high on the walls.</p><p>The play opens in total darkness. Gentle rain sounds that have been playing softly in the background are suddenly jacked up to full volume, with a crashing storm so violent you expect it to break through the roof. As the sound fades, the lights come up on stage, and the first retreatant, Jan (Erik Lochtefeld), enters. Shaking off the rain, he neatly stows his gear and takes a seat. Tall, slender, 40-ish, he has the look of a retreat veteran, decked out in the L.L.Bean/REI mufti of a city dweller weekending in the wild. As he riffles through papers in a folder, a younger man enters. Ned (Brad Heberlee) is a coiled spring, his face pinched in tension as he wrings out the bottoms of his rain-soaked jeans. Ned’s multicolored knit cap is permanently affixed to his head, even in bed; later, in one of the play’s big reveals, we learn why. Next, Rodney (Babak Tafti) sweeps in and deftly folds himself into full lotus. Beaded and bearded, toned and tanned, he’s the model adept. Ned—or “Hat Guy,” as one character calls him—takes one look at Rodney and is appalled. (Predictably, they’re assigned to share a room.) A kerfuffle in the hallway heralds the arrival of a lesbian couple, arguing over misdirection on the drive up. Joan (Sakina Jaffrey) is slight and quiet; Judy (Marcia DeBonis) is loud, 30 pounds overweight, and clearly in charge. Recognizing the yogi, Judy halts her harangue to gush, “We <i>love </i>your ideas, your videos!” As the five settle into their seats, the teacher (JoJo Gonzalez) speaks. He remains a disembodied voice offstage throughout the play, but we imagine him seated facing his students.</p><p>After reciting a dizzying array of rules, only one of which mentions silence, the teacher, in a vaguely Indian accent, launches into the old chestnut about the frog who lives his entire life in a well and then on seeing the ocean for the first time is overcome by the vastness and promptly dies. “I’m not suggesting you’re going to die in these five days, though we all have to go,” the guru says. “But you may not be able to return to the well.” Everyone looks stunned.</p><p>As the teacher wearily instructs the group, “Ask questions simply: refrain from telling me your full life story,” the sixth retreatant barges in, overstuffed duffels and a Whole Foods shopping bag spilling from her arms. Alicia (Jessica Almasy) is clearly a hot mess. As she flops on her chair, faint strains of rock music emanate from her purse. “Think of this retreat as a vacation from your habits,” the teacher intones. “After this, you don’t ever have to go back to who you are.”</p><p>But we know that they—and we—<i>will</i> go back to who we are. The retreatants waste no time revealing themselves and their habits: desperately seeking a cellular hot spot; dissolving in giggles or sobs; cruising for sex; wrestling with illness and loss; confronting betrayal. Hat Guy breaks silence with the only long speech of the play, spilling out his story in excruciating detail. As for the teacher? Guess.</p><p>Practitioners will have a field day at <i>Small Mouth Sounds.</i> If you can’t see yourself in the characters, you’ll certainly recognize people you’ve encountered on retreat. And surely you can admit to at least <i>some</i> identification—if only with the woman who, in the throes of a meltdown, drops her tote and watches an entire bag of candies roll across the floor.</p><p>Wohl, a seasoned film and sitcom writer with degrees from Harvard and Yale Drama School, is also a sincere practitioner of yoga and meditation. All the drama—even the pain—in <i>Small Mouth Sounds</i> is rendered with as much warmth and humanity as satire, allowing us to laugh guilt free. There are no dramatic awakenings onstage. But in the end everyone—audience included—comes to see that not everything worth knowing about one another is discoverable in silence.</p><p><i>Small Mouth Noises</i> has played to rave reviews and a sold-out house since previews began March 10 (it opened on March 23); the run has been extended through Saturday, April 25. So beg, borrow, or call in favors to get a ticket, but don’t let this delicious play pass you by—even if it means joining the standby line.</p><p>Just ask the aspiring actor who waited three hours last Friday night to snag one of two seats released at curtain time. He wiled away the hours telling fellow standbys about Buddhist teachers and the retreat on Maui he is attending later this month, led by Ram Dass, Krishna Das, and Roshi Joan Halifax. It’s his first retreat, the young man said. S<i>mall Mouth Sounds</i>, with its antic but oh-so-telling view, was the perfect sendoff.<i>&nbsp;</i></p><p><b>Small Mouth Sounds</b><i>, by Bess Wohl, directed by Rachel Chavkin. Through Saturday, April 25, 2015, at ARS NOVA, 511 West 54th<span style="font-size: 8px;">&nbsp;</span>Street, New York, NY. <a href="http://www.arsnovanyc.com">http://www.arsnovanyc.com</a>.</i><br><br>Journalist and author <strong>Joan Duncan Oliver</strong> is a <em>Tricycle</em> contributing editor.&nbsp;</p><p><i><br></i><em>Photograph courtesy Ben Arons and Ars Nova</em></p> Mon, 20 Apr 2015 14:46:46 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World How Meditation Offers a Planetary Perspective http://www.tricycle.com/blog/how-meditation-offers-planetary-perspective <p></p><center><iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/124515317?r=tricyclemag" width="576" height="400" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></center><p><em><br></em></p><p><em>Planetary</em> is a cross-continental cinematic journey that explores our future as a species with interviews from astronauts, environmentalists, anthropologists, and leading Buddhist thinkers.</p><p>Get the full film (10% discount for Tricycle subscribers with promo code <em>TRICYCLE10</em>) <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/planetary" target="_self">here.</a></p> Mon, 20 Apr 2015 09:59:00 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World The Jig Is Up http://www.tricycle.com/blog/jig <p class="p1"></p><p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/SirisenaImageTwo.png" width="570" height="426" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p1" style="text-align: center;"><em>Sri Lanka's newly elected president, Maithripala Sirisena</em></p><p class="p1">While the international Buddhist community has spoken out against the recent anti-Muslim violence of Buddhist ultranationalists in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, it remains largely powerless to stanch the growth of hardliners in either country. Last November, 381 American Buddhist teachers—including notables like Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, and Joseph Goldstein—sent <a href="http://www.maungzarni.net/2014/11/an-open-letter-to-president-obama-from.html" target="_blank">a letter to President Obama</a>, urging him to raise the issue of Buddhist-inflicted violence in Myanmar on an impending diplomatic visit. The letter followed a few months after <a href="http://www.presstv.com/detail/2014/07/06/370149/end-violence-against-muslims-dalai-lama/" target="_blank">a public statement from the Dalai Lama</a> in which he unequivocally condemned extremists in both Myanmar and Sri Lanka, saying they should "imagine an image of Buddha before they commit such crime[s]."&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Although the monk-led violence in both countries depends on a perversion of theology, it is primarily a political matter. Non-governmental organizations, like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have called for the brutality to end. But it is unlikely the violent monks in either country will stand down unless their governments take action on their own accord.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Community violence against Myanmar's Muslim population broke out in the Rakhine region in 2012, after the country ended almost five decades of military rule in its shift toward liberalization. Rather than stop the ongoing brutality, however, police have abetted it. A prospective crackdown thus remains unthinkable under the current government.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Until recently, the chances appeared similarly slim for punitive measures to be taken against Sri Lanka's Buddhist extremist group, Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), translated as "Buddha Power Force." Since its founding in 2012, BBS has had to weather only the most milquetoast public criticism, and enjoyed private acquiescence from former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. Rajapaksa would lightly reprimand the organization in public statements, while his police force stood to the side as they carried out attacks.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">For instance, a February 4, 2013 speech delivered by Rajapaksa on the occasion of Sri Lankan Independence Day cautioned against religiously motivated violence, perhaps obliquely warning BBS. "If anyone is trying to build religious rivalry in Sri Lanka . . . they do not serve their religion," said Rajapaksa, "but serve the interests of separatism." Undeterred, BBS held a rally a month and a half later in the central town of Kandy, where the group's General Secretary Gnanasara Thera falsely alleged that two Muslim-owned clothing companies—Fashion Bug and No Limit—were forcing female employees to convert to Islam. “We have all the proof and information about the Fashion Bug and No Limit outlets and what they are doing to your female [Buddhist] children," he exclaimed. "What harm have we done to the Muslims?” &nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Two weeks later in Colombo, the country's nearby commercial capital, Buddhist monks led approximately 500 people in an attack on a warehouse belonging to Fashion Bug. The police stood by as the crowd vandalized the building, broke down the door, and harassed some Muslim workers inside. After over an hour, the police finally broke up the riot. Law enforcement officials detained 17 suspects, including three monks,&nbsp;but they all gained prompt release when the victims agreed to drop charges.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">That same month, President Rajapaksa's brother and the nation's Secretary of Defense, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, had attended the opening of a BBS training center<b> </b>where he&nbsp;spoke in glowing terms of the group's mission, proclaiming, "It is the monks who protect our country, religion and race. No one should doubt these clergy. We're here to give [them] encouragement." Suffice it to say, the group did not fear meaningful redress from the Rajapaksa administration.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">But on January 8, the two-term incumbent president Rajapaksa met a shocking yet decisive defeat in his reelection bid. Sri Lanka had a new president: former Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena, who swept into power with a huge share of the vote from Tamil and Muslim minorities.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Sirisena has promised democratic reforms that will empower and protect those long-oppressed groups. And if he means what he says, these reforms will likely include a crackdown on BBS.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The fact that Sirisena even had a fighting chance in January's election is testament to the preceding months-long decline of Pesident Rajapaksa's popularity. This trend was certainly due in part to his impotent response to BBS violence, exposed most acutely last June when an attack on Muslims in the Southwestern city of Aluthgama—which left three dead and 80 injured—resulted in little more immediate response than the imposition of a temporary curfew. Eventually 41 people were arrested in the aftermath of the assault—some for taking part in the violence and others for violating the curfew.&nbsp; But no BBS leadership faced prosecution, despite a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOxPJzlXDJs" target="_blank">viral video</a> of a vitriolic BBS rally in the vicinity of Aluthgama directly before the attack.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Rajapaksa's repeated miscarriages of justice with regard to Sinhala Buddhist-inflicted violence served as symbols of his cronyism, and the violence itself rendered the president hugely unpopular among Muslims, who make up a sizable ten percent of Sri Lanka's population.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The primary source of Rajapaksa's lack of popularity was not his position regarding BBS, but the broader issue of his increasingly authoritarian imposition of a narrowly consolidated power center. Coupled with the economic stagnation that left many Sri Lankans struggling to afford basic goods, Rajapaksa's antidemocratic measures became more and more frustrating to the many outside his inner circle of family, friends, and interest groups.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">These measures—alongside a slew of nepotistic appointments—alienated members of Rajapaksa's own political party and, maybe more importantly, members of his base: the Sinhala Buddhists that make up 70 percent of Sri Lankans. A majoritarian nationalist politician like Rajapaksa, after all, depends on a unifying brand of ethnic populism. Cracks in that formerly reliable voting bloc left the strongman vulnerable to a diverse opposition coalition.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The greatest triumph of Rajapaksa's political career—the resolution of the nation's 25-year civil war between its Sinhala Buddhist majority and its Tamil, mostly Hindu minority—happened five and a half years before election day—far enough in the near-distant past, perhaps, for Sri Lankans to find themselves deserving of more than merely the absence of war.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The last, maybe most high-profile reason for Rajapaksa's decline in popularity was his refusal to investigate potential war crimes committed during the civil war. One can imagine why Rajapaksa would rather not revisit those specifics, which could very well implicate him and his brother, the nation's Secretary of Defense at the time. But the decision raised ire, especially among the family and friends of the estimated 40,000 Tamil civilians killed in the war's final months.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Their advocacy helped initiate a United Nations Human Rights Council investigation into crimes committed by both sides. But as journalist Joshua Hammer described in the <a href="http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/mar/05/terrible-war-sri-lanka/" target="_blank"><i>New York Review of Books</i></a>, Rajapaksa's administration "refused to give visas to investigators and . . . was said to have intimidated witnesses who testified via Skype and gave depositions at the Human Rights Council's headquarters in Geneva."&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Such intransigence hurt Sri Lanka's international reputation and forestalled important steps toward reconciliation with the country's northern Tamil region: the return of government seized lands, the allowance of press freedoms, and the eventual affordance of some level of autonomy.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">All of these factors led President Rajapaksa's longtime political ally, Maithripala Sirisena, to decide to run against him, and with only three months left before a snap election called by Rajapaksa. In doing so, Sirisena was gambling on enough support among Tamils and Muslims to overcome the losses he would surely incur among Rajapaksa's loyal Sinhala base.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">But something remarkable happened: Tamils and Muslims, despite their justifiable distrust of Sinhala politicians, rallied behind Sirisena's candidacy. Citing Rajapaksa's self-serving elimination of term limits, Rauf Hakeem, the head of Sri Lanka's largest Muslim party, resigned as Justice Minister and jumped to Sirisena’s side. Shortly thereafter, the main Tamil political party aligned with him as well.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Sirisena had himself a coalition.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">While significant, Sirisena’s newfound Muslim and Tamil support was not altogether surprising. As the saying goes, the enemy of one’s enemy is one’s friend. In truly astonishing fashion, however, the nation's relatively moderate Buddhist party, National Heritage Party (JHU), also endorsed Sirisena. While it holds only three seats in Sri Lanka's 225-member parliament, the party wields moral authority as the electoral political voice of the country's monastic community.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The JHU leader Omalpe Sobitha framed the party’s withdrawal of support for Rajapaksa as made out of compassion for him. "This [quitting] is not a challenge from an enemy force," he told <a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia/2014/11/buddhist-party-quits-sri-lanka-government-2014111894525420326.html" target="_blank"><i>Al Jazeera</i></a>. "This is a birthday gift to the president to correct his ways. This is the advice of a friend given according to the teachings of the Buddha."</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">But Rajapaksa did retain the support of a very different Buddhist political group: Bodu Bala Sena. When BBS announced its decision to back Rajapaksa, Dr. Dilanthe Withananage, the group's Chief Executive Officer, criticized the opposition's platform: "So called good governance, democracy and the rule of law, all slogans of non-governmental organizations, the World Bank, and the United Nations are presently being bandied about by common candidate Maithripala Sirisena," he told <a href="http://www.ceylontoday.lk/51-80654-news-detail-bbs-pledges-support-to-mr.html" target="_blank"><i>Ceylon Today</i></a>. BBS’s strategy was to characterize Sirisena as an internationalist outsider who invoked reforms but secretly intended to tear at the core identity of Sri Lankan society: its Sinhala Buddhist roots.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">It is hard to imagine that Rajapaska welcomed such rhetoric even if, to some extent, he sympathized with it. After all, his hardline supporters accentuated the distinction between his dependence on a monolithic, albeit large majority, and Sirisena's backing from a range of smaller ethno-religious groups. The election was becoming a choice between government controlled by a homogeneous few and a heterogeneous many. This didn't play well for Rajapaksa, who tried to combat the perception in a tweet three days before the election, saying, "I will protect everyone in this country, be it Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim." But this plea would prove too little, too late.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/RajapaksaImage.png" width="570" height="469" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p2" style="text-align: center;"><em>Incumbent presidential candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa speaks at a campaign rally</em></p><p class="p1">A whopping 81.5 percent of eligible voters turned out on January 8, making it the highest voter turnout in Sri Lankan history. By comparison, the turnout in the last two United States presidential elections of 2008 and 2012 were 57 and 54 percent, respectively. Sirisena won with just over 51 percent of the vote, losing slightly among Sinhala Buddhists but making up for it with a 70-percent share of Muslims and Tamil votes.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">But big tent politics often better serves an inspiring campaign than it does unified governance. The election raised an important question: How would Sirisena's varying constituencies rally behind a broad set of policies? And how would this interplay ultimately affect the government's policy toward BBS?&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">In less than two months since the election, Sirisena has implemented some significant reforms that hint at a willingness to take action against BBS. But it's worth tempering expectations with the acknowledgment that Sirisena was a member of Rajapaksa's political party for much of his career and, up until three months before the election, was Rajapaksa's acting health minister.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Amid the post-election euphoria, Brian Keenan, member of the International Crisis Group, reminded enthusiasts that Sirisena was a "very different kind of person" than Rajapaksa but neveretheless fell merely "on the softer side of the Sinhala nationalist spectrum." Echoing this take on the election as more incremental shift than radical change, the <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/11/guardian-view-on-end-of-rajapaksa-era-sri-lanka-sirisena" target="_blank"><i>Guardian </i></a>editorial board argued that "[w]hat has happened in Sri Lanka was not a revolution nor, at least not yet, a restoration of the democratic checks and balances of the past. It was instead an uprising within the dominant party in government against the high-handed style of the Rajapaksas." After all, at least according to BBS leadership, Sirisena tried to gain backing from the group.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">In his first few months in office, Sirisena has done just about all he can to dispel skepticism. On the matter of democratization, he has kept his campaign promise to uphold parliamentary elections scheduled for June, which will expose his nascent coalition to an opposition challenge.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">With respect to good governance, he announced a probe into the corruption of the Rajapaksa regime. Sirisena has also sought to pass a 19th amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution which, if instituted, would strengthen the judiciary and allow greater latitude for independent commisions. The single reform that has had the most impact on the day-to-day lives of Sri Lankans, however, was the government's 22-percent cut of fuel taxes, which led to an eight- to ten- percent&nbsp;reduction in public transportation fares. This measure has eased the economic burden felt by middle- and low-income Sri Lankans.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">And on the fraught issue of Tamil reconciliation, Sirisena&nbsp;agreed to release remaining political prisoners and return lands seized by the military during the civil war.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The only cause for concern has been Sirisena's carefully brokered six-month delay of the release of the United Nation's report on human rights violations committed during the war. But according to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al-Hussein, the president made "clear commitments" to investigate and prosecute war crimes over that intervening period.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">These reforms and proposals point to a good-faith effort on Sirisena's part, but they do not guarantee concerted action against BBS. The biggest step Sirisena has taken so far in this regard has been a symbolic one: visiting a mosque and vowing that it is "the responsibility of the new government to create a country where people can live in peace, harmony and brotherhood without fear and suspicion." Likely referencing BBS-instigated violence, he promised that the "dark shadows of the past would not be allowed to darken the future of the children." These words represent a sharp departure from Rajapaksa's neglect of Sri Lankan Muslims, but they remain just that.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Following through on these assurances would entail authorizing an investigation of possible crimes committed during recent incidents of Buddhist-inflicted violence, most notably the horrific massacre that took place in Aluthgama last June. Such actions would undoubtedly rankle some rightwing members of Sirisena's young, fragile coalition. Yet Sirisena's victory represents a clear mandate for democratization that includes the protection of Sri Lanka's minorities. These two go hand in hand: as Sri Lanka implements democratic reforms, minority groups will gain greater representation. And as those groups gain power, they will be more able to push for protective measures, such as an investigation of BBS.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">But Sri Lanka’s Muslims can demand an <i>immediate</i> crackdown on BBS. They made up a vital portion of the coalition that elected Sirisena. He, quite simply, owes them one.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">His victory also signals a new strategy for international Buddhists in their efforts to combat BBS. Rather than merely petitioning American elected officials or the United Nations, the latter of which is among the targets of an <a href="https://www.change.org/p/stop-the-extreme-bodu-bala-sena" target="_blank">online petition drive</a>, Buddhists can help empower the Muslim parties within his coalition. An example of this type of advocacy happened a few weeks ago, when Muslim and Buddhist leaders from 15 South and Southeast Asian countries issued a joint statement condemning violence and demanding government action to ensure the safety of minority religious groups.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Buddhists around the world have Sri Lankans to thank for decisively rejecting the hardline Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism of Rajapaksa—and, by extension, that of BBS. The opportunity to undermine Buddhist extremism in Sri Lanka is upon us. It's not a question of whether Sirisena has the power, but whether anti-BBS allies in Sri Lanka and abroad will make him use it.<br><br><b>Max Zahn </b>is <i>Tricycle</i>'s editorial assistant.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"><em>Images:&nbsp;Sudath Silva/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/legalcode" target="_blank">Flickr</a><a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/legalcode" target="_blank"></a></em></p> Tue, 14 Apr 2015 13:30:24 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Felt in Its Fullness http://www.tricycle.com/blog/felt-its-fullness <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/JaneHirshfield.png" width="425" height="640" style="vertical-align: middle; margin: 7px auto; display: block;"></p><p>Jane Hirshfield is a rare phenomenon: a world-class writer devoted to spiritual awakening, a person of letters as conversant in mindfulness practice as she is dedicated to finding <em>l</em><i>e mot juste</i>. For 25 years, Hirshfield has applied this unique, two-fisted brilliance to her many award-winning books—<i>Given Sugar, Given Salt</i> (2001) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Award in poetry—and most recently to <i>The Beauty</i>, a collection of poems, and <i>Ten Windows: How Great Poems Change the World</i>. Beloved for her tenderhearted writing and fierce intelligence, Hirshfield is also an ordained practitioner of Soto Zen Buddhism and a teacher of writing and literature at educational institutions around the world. I spoke to her recently about Buddhist practice and the artist’s life and the balance she manages to strike between her twin passions.</p><p align="right">—<i>Mark Matousek</i>&nbsp;</p><p><b>“It is by suffering’s presence that we know there is something we need to address,” you write in </b><b><i>Ten Windows</i></b><b>. Can you say more about the relationship among suffering, creativity, and art? </b>We make art, I believe, partly because our lives are ungraspable, uncarryable, impossible to navigate without it. Even our joys are vanishing things, subject to transience. How, then, could there be any beauty without some awareness of loss, of suffering? The surprising thing is that the opposite is also true, that suffering leads us to beauty the way thirst leads us to water.</p><p>In the midst of suffering, we almost have no choice. We have to feel and acknowledge it. It demands response. Art offers a way not only to face grief, face pain, but also to soften grief's and pain's faces, which turn back toward us, listening in turn, when we speak to them in the language of story and music and image.</p><p>Art isn't a superficial addition to our lives; it's as necessary as oxygen. Amid the cliffs and abysses every life brings, art allows us to find a way to agree to suffering, to include it and not be broken, to say <i>yes</i> to what actually is, and then to say something further, something that changes and opens the heart, the ears, the eyes, the mind.</p><p>There’s another thing we may try to do when we find ourselves in danger or pain: try to run, to hide. At any moment in a life, a person has this choice: presented with suffering, do we try to escape or to enter it further? Art’s gate is deciding to move toward entrance and not absence, and that choice has been a fundamental and shaping force in my life. We can’t sleepwalk through suffering: by its own definition, suffering is insufferable, unbearable, and so must be worked with. Since childhood, the way I’ve worked with it is by turning toward the gate of entrance: by writing poems.<br><br><b>That’s a good description of why we meditate as well.</b><b> </b>Art is one way a person can choose to enter, choose to fully know the range of human existence and experience. There are other ways. Zen meditation practice is one. Both are paths of awareness that allow us to move inside our own feelings, to recognize that the first gift of emotion is motion.</p><p>There’s a reason why the first noble truth of Buddhism is “Life is suffering” (or, perhaps more accurately, “Life is dissatisfaction”)<i>.</i> If you didn’t feel any need for something to change, if there weren’t a sense of insufficiency, of something missing or some discomfort, why would you pay close attention at all? The longing to enter a more-opened being is no small part of what brought me to art-making, as well as to practicing Zen. Awareness, whether in practice or art, asks a question: “What is worth paying attention to right now?” That could be my personal life. It could also be some larger question, shared by all. The questions of political intransigence, partisanship, and violence; the questions of the unfolding environmental catastrophe we are living within are things that my poems turn toward, as much as any more individual sorrow or question. Awareness is always the starting place. Awareness shows us the questions, the problems we might be able to solve and the questions that can’t be answered at all, and awareness makes the hand-holds and toe-holds appear, as we traverse the cliff of our lives. It also makes the cliff appear, and the lives, and the hands.<br><br><b>You write that a work of art is a “ripening collaboration of artist, receiver, and world.” Can you elaborate on what you mean?</b><b> </b>We are permeable, vulnerable, and collaborative in everything we do. Art’s experience makes this especially visible. I don’t write a poem in order to record some realization that has dropped into my hand; I write to discover. For that discovery to happen, though, I need not only what’s already present inside my own life and memory and skin but also other things that are near, but outside and beyond me. I need, for instance, language itself. I need the world and its stories, images, musics, colors, fragrances. And if the poem is then going to speak to anyone beyond its author, it needs to find its way to a reader, who in turn brings his or her entire self and history into the words.</p><p>Art-making continually raises in me a sense of gratitude, because you realize how little of it is your own doing. Some part of a poem is what you bring to it, but much is what it brings to you. That process is what I mean by “ripening.” Think of how many things join in making a pear or apple—the tree, yes, but also the sun, rain, winter chill, the hours of darkness as much as the hours of light. And then, there is the reader. Poems live only inside a human life and a human response. The writer is the first reader, but after that, another person must bring his or her own breath, tongue, listening, memories, and hopes, or the poem is only dust, meaningless molecules of black ink on a white page. Most of the work of poems is done in the way we receive them. A work of art is always a conversation, not a monologue. A painting alone in a room needs no light.</p><p></p><hr><p style="padding-left: 30px;"><strong>My Skeleton</strong></p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">My skeleton,<br>who once ached<br>with your own growing larger</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">are now,<br>each year<br>imperceptibly smaller,<br>lighter,<br>absorbed by your own <br>concentration.</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">When I danced,<br>you danced.<br>When you broke,<br>I.</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">And so it was lying down,<br>walking,<br>climbing the tiring stairs.<br>Your jaws. My bread.</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">Someday you,<br>what is left of you,<br>will be flensed of this marriage.</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">Angular wristbone's arthritis,<br>cracked harp of ribcage,<br>blunt of heel,<br>opened bowl of the skull,<br>twin platters of pelvis—<br>each of you will leave me behind,<br>at last serene.</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">What did I know of your days,<br>your nights,<br>I who held you all my life<br>inside my hands<br>and thought they were empty?</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">You who held me all your life<br>in your hands<br>as a new mother holds<br>her own unblanketed child,<br>not thinking at all.<span style="text-align: right;">&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; </span></p><p style="padding-left: 30px; text-align: right;"><span style="text-align: right;">&nbsp;—</span><em style="text-align: right;">Jane Hirshfield</em></p><p></p><hr><p><br><b>Are you transformed in the writing of a poem?</b><b> </b>If it’s a good poem, yes. If I’m not in some way transformed, the poem is dead, inert—a word that means, quite literally, “not art.” In some ways, for me, the entrance into transformation comes first, before writing even starts. I know this isn’t always the case. Some poets, like Frank O’Hara, whose work I love dearly, speak in the guise of a person just walking along amid their day, having some thoughts and writing them down or saying them. And it might actually be so, for them. Allen Ginsberg claimed as one motto “First thought, best thought,” and O’Hara titled his second book <i>Lunch Poems </i>in part because he wrote the poems so quickly, often during his lunch breaks. For me, turning ordinary mind into poems is not so seamless. I need first to enter a different condition, one of concentration and vulnerability. I need to become permeable to thoughts and feelings and understanding I didn’t know were there, until their saying emerges, an image emerges, a question, a leap.<br><br><b>There’s a lot of science in your new book of poems.&nbsp; We read about skeletons, arthritis, proteins, cells, bacteria, yeast, krill, and "delirium as delphinium." And that's just in the first five pages. </b>I draw on many reservoirs as a poet, and always have. Science has increasingly been among them.&nbsp; One of my earliest poems speaks of the strong forces and weak forces of physics. &nbsp;Still, starting around the time the Human Genome Project became visible in the morning paper, I began to pay a more deliberate attention to science. Somehow, now, many of my closest friends are scientists—molecular biologists, geologists, ecologists, physicists, psychologists of early childhood and of olfaction. And in 2013 I was the artist in residence for a year with a neuroscience research department at The University of California, San Francisco, and organized an evening symposium on “Poetry and Science.”</p><p>It may be that whatever a poet pays close attention to will become a field rich with possible metaphor and image. That must be part of the reason science has stepped forward in my poems. But I think there is also something more. Science has become the central vocabulary and explanation system of our age. A writer is a chameleon, responding to the language of his or her time, and also a recalcitrance, resisting it. Purely material explanation is not enough for a human life. And so I, and other poets, turn science to the purposes of poems, which do understand the world in entirely different dimensions.</p><p>There’s also the way poetry is voracious, hungry for new descriptions, which will always carry both new and renewing forms of knowledge. The poem called “My Proteins” begins with the proteins of itch and ends with the protein in a cheese sandwich, but is equally about what’s now called the microbiome, whose study is clearly going to be a new phase of medicine, revolutionary in ways we can’t yet entirely grasp. This relatively new set of facts about our multiply shared bodies suddenly offered itself to me to probe a question I’ve looked at in other ways throughout my life: What is a self? Where does it begin and end?</p><p>All the “my” poems in this new book are in some way involved with that question. “I” am a very permeable construct, and to say “my” is an act of comic hubris. The question of what we mean by “I” has haunted my work for decades. “I” must surely mean “I,” yet it must just as surely also mean “we,” or the self becomes barrens-land, pillaged of meaning.<br><br><b>How does your spiritual practice affect your life as an artist and the making of art? </b>They are the left foot and the right foot of my walking. Some desire for contemplative practice was already there, long before I entered formal Zen practice, and I’ve written poems from early childhood. The same impulse surely brought me to both—the hunger to know the world differently and to know my own life differently than I otherwise could. I was seven or eight years old when I started writing. The first book I chose for myself, at around the same age, was a collection of Japanese haiku. Japanese poetry and, later on, Chinese literature, were my introduction to Buddhism and to Zen. I didn’t come to Zen as so many in my generation did, by listening to Alan Watts on the radio; I didn’t know Alan Watts was<i> on</i> the radio. I came to it by reading Japanese poetry and Noh plays [traditional Japanese theater], which are filled with the worldview of Buddhism, sometimes named, sometimes not.&nbsp;</p><p>In the practice of Soto Zen, <i>shikantaza</i> meditation (“just sitting”) is wordless. Poetry is its own form of meditation, done through words. Both can be felt as a kind of searchlight-consciousness. You stay rooted in one place, while listening and looking both inward and outward.<br><br><b>And both require a proportionate measure of concentration.</b><b> </b>Yes. More concentration than you thought you had to give. Both writing and any spiritual practice are technologies to exceed your own capacity for presence. Both are learned by entering them over and over, and both are without any arrivable-at destination. You don’t write a poem and say, “Good, I’ve done that now.” It’s more like breathing: you finish one poem and begin another. The same is true of meditation. One breath leads to another. Some breaths are transparent, some are filled with silent weeping. Some tremble on the cusp of disappearance, others become the sound of cars or birds. Closely attended, any moment is boundless and always changing. You emerge from these kinds of undoing awareness and you know it is not you yourself who are all-important. You know something of the notes of your own scale.</p><p>Good poems do that as well. They elude boundary and bring compassion. They make you, quite simply, both smarter and kinder than you would be without them. This doesn’t always happen, in poetry or in meditation—far from it. But once you’ve begun to see that it can, things change.<br><br><b>One last question. What do you hold most sacred in your life? </b>That question is a little perplexing to answer for me, not least because, even though my 1994 anthology, presenting four thousand years of women’s spiritual poetry, is titled <i>Women in Praise of the Sacred,</i> I’m more than a little skeptical of that word. Etymologically, sacredness has to do with setting apart. But my own relationship to what the word <i>sacred</i> signals is the opposite of dividing things up into sacred and profane. It is the perception and recognition and inhabitance of the absolute, radiant sufficiency of anything. A pebble, a screwdriver, an odd little exchange with the person you buy your train ticket from—for me the most sacred thing is the most ordinary one, felt in its fullness.&nbsp;</p><p><i>Image: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group</i></p> Fri, 10 Apr 2015 12:48:59 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World In the Spirit of Service http://www.tricycle.com/blog/spirit-serve <p><b><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/CornImage.jpg" width="570" height="380" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></b></p><p>Over the past few years, as despair across the globe seems to deepen, many have told me that these troubling times have, ironically enough, inspired them to discover newfound reservoirs of goodwill. Moving forward in times of great difficulty, after all, calls for drawing on one’s buried resources. Perhaps adversity reminds us to pay attention to the immediacy of love or the necessity of living a meaningful life. When we meditate or reflect on what in Pali are called the four <i>brahmaviharas</i> (boundless states) of lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity, we can get back in touch with the depths of wisdom and love within each of us. We can choose to pursue these not only for our own sake, but also for the benefit of those in more desperate circumstances than our own.</p><p>These four mental states—lovingkindness, a profound sense of connection to ourselves and others; compassion, the trembling of the heart in response to seeing pain; sympathetic joy, joy in the happiness of others; and equanimity, the balance born of wisdom—can also benefit <i>us</i> in our aspiration to create a better world. Practices that cultivate these states foster a connection to our own inherent capacity for wisdom and love. They put us in contact with a world beyond the moment-to-moment fixations of our mind.</p><p>One of the results of meditation practice is the transformation of self-preoccupation into inclusive, open, connected awareness. We can easily go from morning until night engrossed in worries: “What do they think of me? Does he like me? Am I winning?” This habitual state of disconnection leaves us feeling uncertain, afraid, and often exhausted. Practices of ethics, meditation, generosity, and service shift this anxious tendency toward broader engagement and eventually become, in and of themselves, the manifestations of a liberated mind.</p><p>Service, which fosters concern with others more than with ourselves, is certainly a form of spiritual or contemplative endeavor. In addition to the way it changes a community or society, philanthropic work can be most liberating for the person practicing it. Seeing service in the context of ritual, one wonders how contemplative disciplines such as meditation might enhance the intention behind that work, so the endeavor can continue regardless of personal frustration or disappointment.</p><p style="text-align: left;">The reflections that follow come from four engaged global service leaders focused on manifesting the boundless states in their work. These are their stories and the stories of those that inspired them to make service their life’s vocation. Modeling genuine love, wisdom, and compassion, each one of them inspires me, as I remember that each one of us can collectively, step by step, create a more enlightened, joyful, and openhearted world.<br><span style="text-align: right;"></span></p><p style="text-align: right;"><span style="text-align: right;">—</span><em style="text-align: right;">Sharon Salzberg</em></p><p style="text-align: left;"><strong>Lovingkindness:&nbsp;</strong><b>A Ripple of Benevolence<br></b>By Pierre Ferrari, CEO and President, <a href="http://www.heifer.org/" target="_blank">Heifer International</a></p><p>Working to end poverty is a grindingly hard task. Without a stabilizing practice, it can easily wear down the spirit. Too often, I see our society of “helpers” pervasively afflicted with low self-esteem and self-contempt. In our work all over the world with extremely poor subsistence farmers, we find these same afflictions to a heartbreaking extent, due to poverty and endless, inescapable suffering. Their hopelessness is their greatest barrier to self-love and happiness. &nbsp;</p><p>Fifth-century Buddhist scholar Buddhaghosa's explanation of the practice of lovingkindness entails generating each state of mind one at a&nbsp;time, first directed at oneself, and then extended to family, friends, strangers, enemies, and so forth, until the feeling reaches all beings. In the same way, Heifer’s engagement seeks to expand both the aspiration and action of lovingkindness. Our values-based training, “The 12 Cornerstones,” is one engaged expression of this expansion of lovingkindness: in this months-long process, we work to move communities from hopelessness to hopefulness by shifting their minds to a belief in themselves, before training them in practicalities like animal husbandry and agro-ecology. Two of the twelve cornerstones, "Sharing and Caring” and “Passing On the Gift” (POG), are secular embodiments of lovingkindness and are at the heart of a process of transformation out of suffering and into happiness. Witnessing this transformation is an endless source of energy and inspiration to us at Heifer, our donors, and the communities with which we work. &nbsp;</p><p>A few years ago, I found myself in southern Guatemala, attending a large POG ceremony in which hundreds of female animals were being given from one family to another in order to extend the opportunity of livestock ownership. To my surprise and delight, the community approached me and asked me to accept a goat to pass on to another community in a place totally foreign to them. Intuitively, they understood that this act of lovingkindness was the key to their own happiness. This helped me to see how deeply we all naturally understand&nbsp;the global connectedness of our suffering&nbsp;and search for happiness.</p><p>As the Buddhist teacher B. Alan Wallace states, the practice of lovingkindness is like “a ripple of benevolence, based upon a simple realization that all sentient beings are fundamentally like ourselves, with a wish to be free of suffering.” Now, at every POG ceremony I attend, I offer a goat to the community in the name of another and they respond immediately with their own gift of lovingkindness, passing it on to the next community. This deepens my practice and serves as a remedy to the hopelessness I sometimes feel in the face of so much suffering.<br><br><b>Compassion and Global Health: Leaping Clear of the Many and the One<br></b>By David G. Addiss, MD, MPH, Director, <a href="http://www.childrenwithoutworms.org/" target="_blank">Children Without Worms</a>, and Founder, <a href="http://ccagh.org" target="_blank">Center for Compassion and Global Health</a></p><p>Approaching the main entrance of the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, one immediately notices a<b> </b>granite<b> </b>wall engraved with a radical vision: “The attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.” Within this building—and an affiliated network of medical centers, public health agencies, and clinics—an estimated 59 million global health workers labor to improve the wellbeing of <i>all </i>people, no matter their circumstances. To borrow a phrase from the late street performance artist Steve Ben Israel, global health represents a “mass uprising of compassion.”</p><p>Those who work in global health rarely use such emotional language to describe themselves, but a compassionate impulse often underlies their decision to enter the field.<b> </b>So what is the source of this impulse—one that seeks to improve the health of people far away, often separated by geography, culture, religion, and nationality?&nbsp;</p><p>I have spoken about this question with hundreds of global health workers, students, and leaders. For many of them, a formative experience or a particular human encounter stirred their heart and set the course of their life’s work. For former US Surgeon General David Satcher, it was the compassion he received from a physician who cared for him when, at five years of age, he nearly died from whooping cough. For Brazilian physician Gerusa Dreyer, a pioneer in the treatment of elephantiasis, it was the plea of a mother whose daughter suffered from that stigmatizing and disfiguring condition. For Jacky Louis-Charles, a physical therapist in Haiti, it was the realization that he had the skills to<b> </b>alleviate the suffering of a man with advanced elephantiasis, from whom he had run in fear as a young boy.</p><p>Rather than turn away from suffering, all three of these global health luminaries had the courage to remain in its midst. By doing so, they experienced the depths of human connection and bore witness to the power of compassion.&nbsp;</p><p>A special challenge for global health professionals is to make sure we do not lose sight of the individual human faces behind the health statistics that so inform our work. Attending to both the faces and the numbers—the individual and the collective—is necessary. Without being fully present to the people who suffer, our compassion can wither; without access to accurate data, our global health programs can become ineffective. How do we hold them both?</p><p>Offering a dharmic solution to this challenge, the 13th-century Zen master Dogen<b> </b>says,<b> </b>“the Buddha way, is, basically, leaping clear of the many and the one.” Especially relevant in our age of globalization, his words remind us that the awakened way, the compassionate way, demands that we leap clear of dichotomies and instead see the faces <i>in</i> the numbers.<b> </b>In doing so, we embrace the deep interconnectedness of all beings and remain free to respond to suffering with compassion.<br><br><b>Sympathetic Joy:&nbsp; The Transformational Power of Giving<br></b>By Ellen Agler, CEO, <a href="http://www.end.org/" target="_blank">The END Fund</a></p><p><span style="color: #000000;">Sympathetic joy is a heartfelt gratification that accompanies the awareness of another’s wellbeing. It’s a joy entirely devoid of expectations. Instead, it carries one of life’s greatest pleasures: celebrating the happiness of others.</span></p><p>A common misconception holds that working in humanitarian aid and global health does not involve much joy, as the work puts participants on the front line, face-to-face with extreme suffering, abject poverty, and brutal human rights violations. Where is the joy in that? Over my two decades in the field, however, I have found that happiness for the joy of others is precisely what keeps so many of us inspired by and deeply connected to this work.&nbsp;</p><p>On a recent trip to Mali, I traveled to a dry and dusty village outside the capital city, Bamako. It is a place where blinding trachoma, a neglected tropical disease, is endemic. In its advanced stages<b>,</b> trachoma is a terribly painful disease, causing the eyelashes to turn inward and scratch the cornea. Each blink is said to feel like sand scraping across your eye. The condition, if untreated, leads to irreversible blindness. With over 100 million people across the globe in need of treatment, the worst case scenario is horrifying. Fortunately, the disease can be cured by a simple, inexpensive surgery performed by an ophthalmic nurse. That day, I watched a nurse—sitting on a mat on the floor—operate on Nieba, a woman with advanced trachoma. When I met Nieba before the surgery, she was reserved and nervous. She spoke of her unceasing pain and worried that, if ultimately rendered blind, she would not be able to take care of her grandchildren or tend to her garden.&nbsp;</p><p>The surgery lasted just 15 minutes. When her operation was complete, Nieba stood, felt the patch over her eye, and then did something entirely unexpected: she broke out in dance and song!&nbsp; She twirled and twirled, then gave huge hugs to the nurse and coordinators. She even beckoned her family members to present live chickens as tokens of her appreciation. An incredible, luminous smile splayed across her face. I felt such happiness for her and her family, as well as deep gratitude for the opportunity to share in a moment that would forever transform her life.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>Since the END Fund’s founding in 2012, joy has become a cornerstone of our work. I have seen donors, board members, program partners, and beneficiaries experience the joy of helping to save or improve a life. We formalized “Joy and the Transformational Power of Giving” as a keystone value, thereby intentionally designing the organization to enhance the joy of both givers and recipients alike. The ripple effects of sympathetic joy can start with one person, spread to a family, and eventually influence hundreds of others. In our case, we have seen the actions inspired by this sympathetic joy manifest as treatment for millions of people living with neglected tropical diseases, helping them enjoy happier, healthier, more prosperous lives.&nbsp;&nbsp;<br><br><b>Equanimity:&nbsp; Balanced and Calm While Saving Lives<br></b>By Jeffrey C. Walker, Vice Chairman, <a href="http://malariaenvoy.com/" target="_blank">UN Envoy’s Office for Health Finance and Malaria</a>, and Author, <a href="http://www.thegenerositynetwork.com/" target="_blank"><i>The Generosity Network</i></a></p><p>A few years ago, some friends and I visited Malawai, where a simple mosquito bite can bring severe illness and even death for the many who contract malaria. Walking through a medical tent affiliated with a nonprofit called the World Food Program, we noticed an infected child who had just arrived. Teetering on the edge of starvation and sweating from the disease, the child fell gravely ill and, within a day, was dead. Intense frustration, anger, and melancholy arose in all of us, for we knew how easily this tragedy could have been avoided. A simple bed net would have significantly decreased the child’s chances of getting infected in the first place; and a widely used drug, artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT), could have alleviated the symptoms, even in the disease’s late stages. Unfortunately, neither remedy was available.</p><p>One member of our group, the philanthropist Ray Chambers, refused to indulge this sense of outrage. He didn’t pound the table, blame the local government, or curse the ineffectual global response. Instead he took a breath, determined how best he could help, and quietly began his effort to end unnecessary deaths from this disease.</p><p>Chambers, formerly a financier on Wall Street, united multiple parties—from corporations to nonprofits to individuals—behind his ambitious goal. In doing so, he assembled a diverse set of allies who brought their unique skill sets to bear on this problem. While mindful of their task’s dire urgency, he and his fellow advocates embodied calm persistence as they sought cooperation from various institutions, both large and small. He and his team remained steadfast amidst the strong egos, labyrinthine bureaucracies, and never-ending politics that accompany international public health work. All the while they retained their ability to listen, for instance, when locals suggested they seek support from Nigeria’s faith-based community in order to convince villagers to use the nets, which can be hot and uncomfortable.</p><p>Over a ten-year period, Chambers and his team helped lead an effort that lowered malaria-related deaths in sub-Saharan Africa from 900,000 per year to less than 300,000 per year. And that death rate continues to fall to this day. On an issue like malaria, which causes such an unfathomable degree of unnecessary death, advocates risk falling prey to emotional poles: frustrated finger-pointing on the one hand and self-righteous purity on the other. By eschewing this moralism for an even-handed approach, Chambers and his partners balance their ambitious goal with steadying humility. “It’s more important to love than to be right,” says Chambers. “I do what I can and then step away.” &nbsp; &nbsp;</p><p><em>Image: Scott T. Baxter/Gallerystock</em></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/hung-jury"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/death.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: HUNG JURY</b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/hung-jury" 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/not-playing-nice"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/not-playing.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: NOT PLAYING NICE </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/not-playing-nice" 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> Wed, 08 Apr 2015 17:07:03 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World A 1,500-Year-Old Monastery Teaches Buddhism to Chinese Millennials with Stop-Animation Shorts http://www.tricycle.com/blog/1500-year-old-monastery-teaches-buddhism-chinese-millennials-stop-animation-shorts <p></p><center><iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/123008142?color=ffffff&title=0&byline=0&portrait=0" width="576" height="317" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></center><p></p><p>Founded in 2011, Longquan Comic and Animation Group shoots its Buddhist-themed, stop-motion animation shorts in a mountain cave in Beijing's Fenghuangling Nature Park.&nbsp;</p><p></p><p><a href="http://old.longquanzs.org/eng/index.php" target="_blank">Longquan Monastery</a>'s abbot, Venerated Master Xueching, who is also Vice Chairman and Secretary-General of the Buddhist Association of China, first started using social media several years prior. Now, with a crew composed solely of monks and volunteers, the 1,500-year-old monastery produces enormously popular short films to make Buddhist precepts and teachings understandable and relevant to daily life, which it shares on Weibo, China's equivalent to Twitter.</p><p></p><p>Some of the group's most popular shorts—each a standalone parable—comprise a series featuring the monk Xian'er, a callow novice under the tutelage of a learned master (trailer below).</p><p></p><p>Longquan is one of several institutions exploring new channels to convey Buddhist teachings to a contemporary Chinese audience that has demonstrated a <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/29/asia/china-buddhism-millenials/" target="_blank">resurgent interest in Buddhism</a>. Although monasticism remains in general decline in much of Asia (a theme explored in the animation above), in recent years increasing numbers of Chinese have taken temporary ordination, <i>Nanfang Daily </i>reported in 2012.</p><p></p><p>Pejoratively dubbed "chicken soup for the soul," pithy and often spurious inspirational aphorisms have become commonplace on Chinese Buddhist social media, according to China's <a href="http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/913562.shtml" target="_blank"><i>Global Times</i></a>. But Longquan's films and the seriousness of its engagement with its online followers present a more substantive "new media" Buddhism.&nbsp;</p><p></p><p>"There are advantages and disadvantages to the Internet, and we are trying to use it for good," Xueching&nbsp;told <i>Global Times</i>.</p><p>"Promoting Buddhism is not limited in forms," Liu Fen, one of the creators of Longquan's new viral ad to recruit new media staff, told&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wantchinatimes.com/news-subclass-cnt.aspx?id=20150403000038&cid=1103" target="_blank"><em>Want China Times</em></a>. "We need to use the language and approach that [young people] can accept, otherwise we will lose them."</p><p></p><p>Consulting the abbot of Longquan, which in the past would require a pilgrimage to the temple, is now often done over Weibo, where Xueching happily fields questions from followers every morning.</p><center><iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/123017612?color=ffffff&title=0&byline=0&portrait=0" width="576" height="324" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></center><p><strong><br></strong></p><p><strong>Alex Caring-Lobel</strong> is&nbsp;<em>Tricycle</em>'s associate editor.</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/tibet-20"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/tibet_0.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: TIBET 2.0 </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/tibet-20" 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/dont-just-sit-there"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/dont.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: DON'T JUST SIT THERE </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/dont-just-sit-there" 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> Fri, 03 Apr 2015 12:22:25 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Tibet 2.0 http://www.tricycle.com/blog/tibet-20 <p align="center"><b>Transcending Tibet<br></b>Through April 12, 2015<br>Rogue Space, New York</p><p align="center"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/dhundrup.jpg" width="570" height="432" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"><em>Tserang Dhundrup's </em><span style="text-align: start;">Gold iPhone</span><span style="text-align: start;"></span><em><span style="text-align: start;">&nbsp;sums up the contradictions of modern urban life in Lhasa.</span></em></p><p>Organizing an art show around a geographic region or ethnic group is treacherous: it can easily result in a grouping of works that otherwise have nothing in common or, worse, reinforce unwanted stereotypes. <i>Transcending Tibet</i>—presented by the Trace Foundation in partnership with Arthub Asia—is alert to these dangers and does a good job of avoiding most of them.</p><p>Curators David Quadrio and Paola Vanzo accomplished this by commissioning all new pieces for the show. They asked 26 Tibetan artists—living both in and outside Tibet—and four non-Tibetan artists influenced by Tibetan culture to respond to the question “What does it mean to be Tibetan today?” On view at Rogue Space in Chelsea are 30 different answers.</p><p>For both the curators and the artists, “Transcending Tibet” means transcending the image of Tibet as both a mysterious Shangri-La (an image embedded in the Western imagination since the time of Marco Polo and energetically promoted by Chinese tourist boards) and as a political cause (for groups promoting human rights and democratic freedoms in the Tibetan region, since 1951 a part of the People’s Republic of China [PRC]).</p><p>Transcending Tibet also means, in many cases, transcending tradition. Most of the artists included in the exhibition struggle to find a balance between preserving Tibetan culture (which is also primarily a Buddhist culture) and addressing the contemporary realities—such as modernization, urbanization, and the secularization of Tibetan culture—of those living in Tibet and its diaspora.</p><p>Many of these artists, including Rabkar Wangchuk and Tulku Jamyang, update the forms of traditional Tibetan Buddhist thangka paintings, prayer scrolls, and folio scriptures. Others adopt the tropes of Western Pop Art, as in the case of TseKal, or Communist Socialist Realism, as does Pempa (who<b>,</b> like many Tibetans, uses only one name). Although some Tibetan contemporary artists produce abstract paintings, and while much Tibetan traditional art, from sand mandalas to textiles, features reductive images or geometric designs, the show does not include any nonobjective art. Even Pema Rinzin, an artist known for abstraction, is represented here by a painting of stylized, but recognizable antelopes. The omission constitutes one of the show’s few missteps—some examples of non-illustrational art would have helped balance its occasionally didactic tone.</p><p>Of the artists employing traditional Buddhist imagery, some retain its original meaning in works meant to express their faith, while others repurpose it to convey a social or political message. In the former category is Livia Liverani, an Italian who has studied classic Tibetan sacred art. Isolating visual elements from traditional thangka paintings, she presents them as delicate appliqued and painted images. Her work for this exhibition depicts the blue, three-faced, six-armed Vajrayana deity Guyasmaja engaging in sexual intercourse with his consort. Representing the union of wisdom and compassion necessary for full enlightenment, the couple—flanked by flowering plants cut from Japanese textiles—floats on a pure orange ground.</p><p>Other devotional artworks include Puntsok Tsering’s calligraphy spelling out the words for “butter lamp”—a ritual object used to make the traditional offering of light—and Chinese artist Lu Yang’s digital animation <i>Wrathful King Kong Core, </i>which advances the practice of analytical meditation by explaining scientifically how the brain can become wired for anger (and rewired through mindfulness). More ambiguous is Jhamsang’s depiction of the Buddha of long life, Ushnishavijaya. Trained as a thangka painter, Jhamsang here employs a traditional technique of fine black lines on a gold ground but presents the deity as a robot, invoking the language of anime to indicate the goddess’s superhuman powers—or perhaps comment on contemporary society’s devotion to technology.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/TashiNorbu.jpg" width="570" height="563" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"><em>Tashi Norbu's </em>Circle of Khataks<em> suggests the performance of “Tibetanness.”</em></p><p>Buddhist imagery is also used to address political, environmental, and social issues. Nyima Dhondup’s <i>Tibetan Map</i> includes a calligraphic passage extolling the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way political philosophy. Part of the text reads, “The Middle Way policy is a mutually beneficial policy based on the principles of justice, compassion, nonviolence, friendship, and in the spirit of reconciliation for the well-being of entire humanity. It does not envisage victory for one self and defeat for others.” The Middle Way policy is itself an example of how Buddhism permeates every aspect of Tibetan life, including politics.<b></b></p><p>Individual and collective trauma haunt Sonam Dolma Brauen’s mandala made from a stack of folded Tibetan monks’ robes, which shelters in its center nine <i>tsa tsa</i>—offerings made from clay and the ashes of the dead—in the shape of stupas. The tsa tsa mold used to make them was carried out of Tibet by Brauen’s family in a journey that took the life of her sister. Trauma is also addressed in Nortse’s <i>Fragments</i>, which combines an ink-jet print of a damaged antique bronze Buddha with real broken glass, and in Rigdol’s <i>Wrathful Dance</i>, a brocade and paper collage of a Buddha in flames that brings to mind the Tibetans who have self-immolated in protest of Chinese Communist Party rule.</p><p>Other works address the complexities of daily life for Tibetans both in the PRC and in diaspora. Tashi Phuntsok’s quiltlike painting of rows of houses surrounded by protective prayer flags suggests the simultaneous claustrophobia and reassurance of community. Tserang Dhundrup’s photoreal painting of a Khampa wearing traditional hair ornaments but also a Nike puffer and holding an iPhone sums up the contradictions of modern urban existence in Lhasa. That this life is attended by rigid controls on religious and political activities on the one hand and the promotion of Tibetan culture as tourist attraction on the other is suggested by Tashi Norbu’s wonderful composition in which Matisse-like acrobats perform a complicated gymnastic routine. Each wears a traditional mask, suggesting that the performance of “Tibetanness” comes at the expense of individual expression.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Sodhon.jpg" width="570" height="761" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"><em>Sodhon captures the immigrant experience in&nbsp;</em>New Life<em>.</em></p><p>Censorship and self-censorship also lie at the heart of <i>Meditator Beware</i>, a self-portrait by Benchung, a Lhasa native. The painting depicts the artist as a yogi who dons a meditation belt and mala, but also, oddly, a camouflage pattern t-shirt and a diaper. A swarm of words—including the name of Chinese dissident Ai Wei Wei and of websites like Google and Facebook, which are blocked in the PRC—forms a golden halo around his head. According to a statement by the artist, the Band-Aid on the figure’s arm symbolizes the covering up of injury, and the diaper the loss of autonomy under a parental Communist state.</p><p>Sodhon captures the immigrant experience in <i>New Life</i>, a wonderful, comic strip–like painting reminiscent of the work of Chris Ware and Adrian Tomine. Shown drawing on an iPad, the artist occupies the center of the canvas and is surrounded by beautifully observed vignettes of New York City life. In each vignette, the word bubbles are left blank, perhaps because the work’s protagonist still finds English a confusing babble.</p><p>Not to be missed are two extraordinary paintings by Tseren Dolma.<b> </b>The first, titled <i>Desire,</i> depicts a tiny woman with a big head engaged in eating a globe while holding on to the three poisons—ignorance, attachment, and hatred embodied as a pig, a rooster, and a snake. In the second painting, <i>Underworld</i>, a dark opening in a green landscape reveals a pair of cheerful dancing skeletons and a flock of vultures feasting on bones. Rendered in an exuberant, naïve style, Dolma’s canvases are powerful, original, and, while nodding to traditional iconography, deeply personal. They exemplify the individualism that marks all of the works here, and they walk away with the show.<br><br><b>Anne Doran</b> is a writer and editor for the visual arts. She lives in New York City.</p><p><i>Images courtesy Trace Foundation</i></p> Wed, 01 Apr 2015 15:18:50 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Don't Just Sit There http://www.tricycle.com/blog/dont-just-sit-there <p class="p1"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_blank"><br></a></p><p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/Don%27tJustSitThereImage.png" width="570" height="380" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/Sym-red-1_1.png" width="148" height="157" style="margin: 7px; float: right;"></a></p><p class="p1">We all seek out meditation in order to relieve pain of one kind or another. If we weren’t at least vaguely dissatisfied, we wouldn’t try it.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">Many of us sense that by working from the inside, meditation addresses the root of our problems. But that introspective effort remains handicapped if we give way to pain-producing actions and words off the cushion.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">To end suffering, the Buddha prescribed a compound of three essentials: morality, meditation, and wisdom. Meditation practice without morality and wisdom is like a stool with only one leg—it is bound to fall over.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">The Sanskrit term for morality—the first of the three trainings—is <i>sila, </i>which also translates as “discipline.” Both English equivalents creak under the weight of dualistic judgments about right and wrong, good and bad. But in actuality, when upheld in daily life,&nbsp;sila brings lightness and ease to meditation.</p><p class="p1">The last things we need in meditation are sticky burrs like regret and guilt, yet we invite them into the mind through misconduct. Those without a contemplative practice might be able to hasten through their days and nights without regard for consequences, skating over ethical lapses without a second thought. But once we start sitting on a regular basis, we open ourselves up to sobering reflections from the past.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">Consider the fourth precept of sila: refraining from lying. Common as it might be, lying can take a toll on us. A coworker of mine expressed an understanding of this simple truth when he mused, “I like to tell the truth ‘cause I like travelin’ light.”</p><p class="p1">Worries also arise following instances of wrong speech like angry words, snarky comments, and arrogant boasts. Hardly crimes, these petty transgressions nevertheless return to awareness during meditation to disturb the mind and disrupt concentration.</p><p class="p1">Our haphazard bumper-car collisions with the precepts can impede practice not only by haunting our sits, but also by weakening our faith in what in Zen we call our intrinsically enlightened nature. Until we have awakened to the perfection of our fundamental nature, we harbor traces of doubt—about our teacher, our practice, and ultimately ourselves. Any such doubt is bound to show itself sooner or later, usually at pivotal points in our practice, as it did for the Buddha himself in the form of the demon Mara, who visited him as he neared enlightenment. The more effectively we live up to the precepts, the more likely we are to trust and realize our true self.</p><p class="p2">Wisdom (<i>prajna</i>), the third leg of the stool, is often understood as our original nature, unborn and undying. Until enlightenment, our practice is vulnerable, our meditation and conduct both prone to wobble.<b> </b>Nonetheless, until we do confirm our innate wisdom, we need to work at it as best we can. As the saying goes, we “fake it” with the faith that, realized or not, innate wisdom is still ours to use “until we make it.”&nbsp;</p><p class="p3"></p><p class="p2">This we do through mindfulness and concentration, the twin functions of awareness. Put simply, concentration arises from a state of stabilized awareness. But to help us uncover our innate wisdom, concentration requires mindfulness—the noticing of what arises in one’s mind, body, and surroundings.&nbsp;</p><p class="p3"></p><p class="p2">Off the cushion, hours can pass as we sit rapt by movies, cat videos, Angry Birds, and the Kardashians. Every once in a while, these lazy afternoons happen to the best of us. But by bringing together concentration and mindfulness, we’re less likely to indulge in such passive activities and more likely to remain alert when taking part in active ones. This will make all the difference when we sit down to meditate.</p><p class="p3"></p><p class="p2">By cultivating wisdom in this way, we free ourselves from delusive attachment.&nbsp;</p><p class="p3"></p><p class="p2">Finally, the three legs of our practice—morality, meditation, and wisdom—work together as a complete unity, and our practice becomes a stool that all the angry birds in the ten directions couldn’t topple.<br><br><b>Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede&nbsp;</b>is abbot of Rochester Zen Center.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"><em>Image: Xavier Portela/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/tibet-20"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/tibet_0.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: TIBET 2.0 </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/tibet-20" 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/progress-question"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/progress.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 PROGRESS QUESTION </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/progress-question" 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> Tue, 31 Mar 2015 14:33:09 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World The Progress Question http://www.tricycle.com/blog/progress-question <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/McLeod_flute2.jpg" width="570" height="380" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/Sym-red-1.png" width="148" height="157" style="margin: 7px; float: right;"></a></p><p>“I’ve been meditating for some time, but my mind seems just as chaotic and confused as when I started. Am I doing something wrong?”</p><p>Almost everyone who practices meditation has similar concerns, no matter how long they’ve been doing it—whether three weeks, three years, or three decades. When students confront me with the progress question, I just try to redirect their attention. I’ve found that the best thing is for them to just keep practicing.</p><p>We call meditation “practice” for a reason. Any form of practice consists of doing something over and over again and failing at it over and over again. Through this process, we gradually build the capacities that make it possible to do what we are practicing. There is nothing special about meditation: like anything else, it’s a collection of skills.</p><p>Much of the confusion about meditation results from the fact that the different processes involved tend to get lumped together without clear differentiation. It's as if in learning how to play the flute, we didn’t distinguish between blowing a long, sustained tone and a full round one, or between the skills of tonguing and fingering.</p><p>When it comes to meditation, some people are able to sit still without tension in their bodies; others are able to track the coming and going of the breath; yet others are able to open to everything they experience; and still others excel in clear and sharp focus, in visualization, and so on. There are many ways to practice meditation, but all of them involve a number of separate skills.</p><p>As with athletic or artistic endeavors, if we are serious about meditation, we spend a lot of time training in these basic skills. We don't train in all the necessary skills at the same time; we train one, then another. It's repetitious and not particularly exciting. But as we acquire competency and proficiency in each, we become capable of combining them in increasingly complex ways. Then things start to get interesting.</p><p>But even then, we can’t expect success in every attempt. We are training, and because we know we are training, we need to be willing to learn from our failures. Every failure reveals what we lack in precision, strength, flexibility, resiliency, stamina, or dexterity.</p><p>We learn where our weaknesses are and how to compensate for or remedy them. And we also come to appreciate where our strengths are and how to build on them.</p><p>If we’re learning to play a piece of music, we practice and practice and gradually it comes together. We become capable of holding sustained notes with good tone so that we can play the slower passages. Our fingers develop the flexibility and dexterity to handle the faster, more complex sections.</p><p>I may play lyrical pieces beautifully, but I may never be good at the kind of pyrotechnics needed for solo performances. And you may be able to bring out the passion and power in Beethoven, but miss the nuance in Satie’s subtle duets with silence. And that’s just how it is.</p><p>The apps, neuro-feedback devices, and other instruments to track various bodily and neurological states that have entered the spiritual marketplace may be helpful in developing and refining certain abilities. But it makes about as much sense to reduce meditation progress to such measurements as it does to reduce music to how long we can hold a sustained note or how quickly we can play a certain scale.</p><p>When it comes to meditation, we have to look at the different skills involved and figure out how to train in each of them.</p><p>Take mindfulness, for instance. It has attracted a lot of attention recently, but in terms of meditation skills, it's just one of many. If we regard the mind as a musical instrument, then mindfulness involves simply learning how to play in tune. That’s very important—if we can't play in tune, nothing we play sounds good and other people probably won't want to play music with us—but even after mastering playing in tune, we still have to learn how to play actual melodies, to make real music. Mindfulness may be great for baroque, but when we discover the blues we find a whole new set of skills to learn. The same holds for meditation.</p><p>Then comes the question of commitment. Again, the similarities with music are striking. If we practice half an hour a day on a musical instrument, we will slowly learn how to play it. If we practice an hour or several hours a day, our skills will develop more quickly. On the other hand, if we practice too much, we may burn out and be unable to learn at all. Thus, as with many other aspects of life, balance is important.</p><p>But why practice at all?</p><p>While there are well-documented benefits to meditation, approaching meditation for its particular benefits is very much like exercising to stay fit. It becomes a task, another thing to do. This is not the best approach. Frequently, it results in a not-so-subtle form of resentment that undermines the equanimity and ease necessary for effective practice.</p><p>Although meditation is now most frequently presented as something “good for us,” it is closer to an art form. Difficult and challenging, it requires a complex set of skills. And it takes time and effort to learn, let alone master.</p><p>Again, the parallels with music are interesting: we may sometimes resent the many hours we’ve had to put into practice, but the enjoyment we experience in playing music brings pleasure to us and to others throughout our lives.</p><p>If we take up meditation as we would any other artistic pursuit, it is unlikely we will have any regrets. Quite the contrary, the practice’s significance<b> </b>will grow and unfold throughout our lives.<br><br><b>Ken McLeod</b> is the teacher and director of Unfettered Mind, which he established in Los Angeles in 1991. His last article for <i>Tricycle</i>, “<a href="http://www.tricycle.com/practice/forget-happiness" target="_blank">Forget Happiness</a>,” appeared in the Spring 2014 issue.</p><p><em>David Wright/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/tibet-20"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/tibet_0.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: TIBET 2.0 </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/tibet-20" 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/dont-just-sit-there"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/dont.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: DON'T JUST SIT THERE </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/dont-just-sit-there" 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> Mon, 30 Mar 2015 16:43:16 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Tibetan Buddhist Leader Blazes an Innovative Trail http://www.tricycle.com/blog/tibetan-buddhist-leader-blazes-innovative-trail <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/KarmapaHD.png" width="570" height="380" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p1">CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (RNS) Wrapped in the maroon and gold robes of a Tibetan monk, Ogyen Trinley Dorje isn’t what most people picture when they think of innovation.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">To his followers, Dorje is the 17th Karmapa—the leader of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism and the latest in a line of reincarnated Tibetan teachers, or lamas, stretching back to the 12th century. He’s been training for that role since the age of 7, when other important lamas recognized him as the reincarnation of the 16th Karmapa, who died in Illinois in 1981.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">But Dorje is blazing new paths for his tradition, and for the broader Buddhist world. In a public lecture and a series of meetings at Harvard Divinity School Thursday and Friday (March 26 and 27), he spoke out on issues ranging from LGBT rights and improving the status of women within Buddhism to race relations and the importance of protecting the environment.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Like many religions, Tibetan Buddhism has often pushed to the side broader societal issues in favor of personal piety. Not only is the Karmapa talking about them publicly, but he is also taking action. He started an initiative to turn monasteries into centers for environmental sustainability, and he recently announced an effort to establish full monastic ordination of women for the first time within the Tibetan tradition.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">“His Holiness is an inspiring embodiment of a new generation of Buddhist teachers who care deeply about pressing contemporary issues and how religious voices can contribute to global conversations,” said Willa Miller, an instructor in Harvard’s Buddhist Ministry Initiative who is also a teacher within the Karmapa’s lineage.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The Dalai Lama has been a teacher and mentor to Dorje ever since the young Karmapa made a dramatic escape from Tibet at the age of 14 to settle in India. There is a rival claimant to his title, but Dorje has the support of the Dalai Lama and the majority of Tibetans, many of whom believe he will take over the Dalai Lama’s leadership role when the 79-year-old Nobel laureate dies.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The Karmapa’s main event in the Boston area was a public talk, titled “Caring for Life on Earth in the 21st Century,” that filled Harvard University’s Memorial Church to capacity. In it, the Karmapa exhorted his audience to care for all life and spoke about the importance of cultivating compassion and concern for the environment.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">“The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the air we breathe have all arisen interdependently,” he said, speaking through a translator. “We cannot survive alone. We cannot eat, wear clothes, or breathe alone. The more keenly we are aware of this, the more we will begin to take responsibility for the welfare of other beings.”</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The lecture drew together a broad swath of Boston residents, from Harvard faculty and administrators to college students to local Buddhist practitioners and members of the Boston area’s large Tibetan community.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">According to Tenzin Wangchuk, 41, who runs his own construction business in Boston, visits by Tibetan leaders like the Karmapa and the Dalai Lama raise the Tibetan community’s profile and build awareness for its cause.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">“With the Karmapa, obviously, it is awareness,” said Wangchuk. “People start reading about him, knowing about him, and then they want to know who he is and what’s the history. It’s all linked. It does kind of make a difference.”</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">That kind of community involvement is part of why the divinity school felt it was important to host the Karmapa in a venue like Memorial Church, where members of the public would have a chance to hear him speak.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">In addition to his public talk, the Karmapa held a series of meetings with students in Harvard Divinity School’s Buddhist Studies and Buddhist Ministry programs. According to students who attended, those talks touched on issues like race, feminism, and sexuality that many Tibetan teachers have traditionally shied away from.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Rod Owens came to the divinity school to study ministry after completing a traditional three-year meditation retreat in the Karmapa’s lineage. As one of the few African-American teachers in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, he has been working with other teachers to address issues of race and racism within Buddhist communities.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">“What he’s saying, essentially, is that we have to take our practice off of the (meditation) cushion into the world and become conscious of how we’re living together and impacting our environment—the physical environment and the environment of communities, relationships, and so forth,” said Owens. “I think it’s part of his effort to make Buddhism relevant.”<br><br><b>Joshua Eaton</b>&nbsp;is an independent journalist who covers religion and society, human rights, and national security.</p><p class="p1"><em>Image: Kris Snibbe/Harvard staff photographer</em></p><p class="p1"><i>© 2015 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.</i></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/hung-jury"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/death.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: HUNG JURY</b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/hung-jury" 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/not-playing-nice"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/not-playing.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: NOT PLAYING NICE </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/not-playing-nice" 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> Mon, 30 Mar 2015 10:37:45 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World China Asserts Control over Dalai Lama Lineage http://www.tricycle.com/blog/china-asserts-control-over-dalai-lama-lineage <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Eaton_HHDL.png" width="570" height="380" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>According to the Dalai Lama’s autobiography, Mao Zedong, the founder of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), once characterized religion as “poison.” The modern CCP maintains <a href="http://www.cfr.org/china/religion-china/p16272#p2" target="_blank">official atheism</a> to this day, but that hasn’t stopped officials from claiming control over the intricacies of Tibetan Buddhist reincarnation.</p><p>Angered by <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-30510018" target="_blank">recent comments</a> by the 14th Dalai Lama, 79, that he might not have a successor, Chinese officials have lashed out at the exiled spiritual leader and reasserted long-standing policies that grant them control over the recognition of reincarnate lamas.</p><p>“It's none of their business,” Tenzin Dolkar, executive director of the New York–based Students for a Free Tibet, said in a statement to Tricycle. “The Chinese government needs first and foremost to prioritize addressing the grievances of the Tibetan people which have led to at least 137 self-immolations in Tibet, end its repressive policies, respect the rights of the Tibetan people, and end its illegal colonial occupation of Tibet.”</p><p>The overwhelming majority of last words or written statements by Tibetans who have self-immolated since 2009 have called for the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet or included wishes for his long life. But the current Dalai Lama’s popularity inside Tibet has not kept CCP officials from taking a hardline position on the man they consider to be a dangerous separatist.</p><p>That hard line extends into the afterlife.</p><p>“Whether we're talking about the Dalai Lama's reincarnation or the continuation of his lineage, accepting or rejecting it is in the hands of the Chinese government—not other people, and certainly not the Dalai Lama himself,” Zhu Weiqun, who heads the Chinese government committee that handles ethnic and political affairs, <a href="http://live.people.com.cn/note.php?id=1077150302125559_ctdzb_034" target="_blank">told reporters</a> earlier this month.</p><p>Zhu went on to accuse the Dalai Lama of adjusting his public statements about his future reincarnation based on donations and of using his religious title as “a lever, a tool of separatist doctrine.” Padma Choling, the appointed governor of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, made <a href="http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/03/10/uk-china-tibet-india-idUKKBN0M61BC20150310" target="_blank">similar comments</a> a day earlier.</p><p>Those comments came on the heels of separate interviews by the <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-30510018" target="_blank">BBC</a> and <a href="http://www.welt.de/politik/ausland/article132019000/In-meinen-Traeumen-werde-ich-113-Jahre-alt.html" target="_blank"><i>Die Welt</i></a> late last year in which <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/end-dalai-lama" target="_blank">the Dalai Lama commented that it might be best to end the institution</a>, which began with Gedun Drup in the 15th century, while it is still in good repute.</p><p>“This man-made institution will cease. There’s no guarantee that some stupid Dalai Lama [won’t] come along that disgraces himself or herself. That’s very sad. So [it’s] much better that the centuries-old tradition cease at the time of a quite popular Dalai Lama,” he told the BBC, before breaking into laughter.</p><p>The aging leader also made some serious points, telling <i>Die Welt</i> that since he devolved his political authority to an elected government in 2011, the institution of the Dalai Lama may have “had its day.” In the end, he told the BBC, the institution’s future will be up to the Tibetan people.</p><p>Yet China has long claimed authority over the reincarnation process. In the 18th century, the Qing Emperor imposed a system for confirming Tibetan reincarnations by lottery, which was then only used a handful of times. In 1995, however, Chinese officials revived the system to install their own candidate as the <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/reviews/search-panchen-lama" target="_blank">11th Panchen Lama</a>, detaining a young boy whom the Dalai Lama had recognized. His whereabouts remain unknown.</p><p>Reincarnation has reemerged as a political issue with the approach of the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday next July and his recent comments about his successor.</p><p>“Zhu Weiqun's comments represent the strong opinions of the majority of upper-level Party officials,” Tsering Woeser, a Tibetan writer and journalist who lives in Beijing, told <i>Tricycle</i> in an online message. “They have the brutality of the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guard, and the Kuomintang behind them—domineering, dumb attitudes. So, it's futile to consider the issue of Tibet or whether His Holiness the Dalai Lama will or will not return to Tibet under such power grabbers. . . . This proves once again that the CCP lacks sincerity and has no plans whatsoever to work with the Tibetan people to address what they're hoping for with regard to the Tibet issue.”</p><p>The matter of whether or not it is possible to negotiate with the Chinese government in good faith is controversial within the Tibetan community, with some arguing for the necessity of nonviolent protests to pressure the Chinese government into negotiations and others arguing for an exclusively diplomatic approach.</p><p>Recent comments by Zhu, Padma Choling, and other Chinese officials are likely to aggravate that disagreement, which is tied up in larger questions of whether Tibetans should seek full independence or simply greater autonomy within China. The Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration adopted a policy of seeking autonomy rather than independence around 1974.</p><p>“The Chinese leadership are pragmatic,” said Kaydor Aukatsang, the Dalai Lama’s representative to the Americas. “They know they will never find someone more moderate or easier to deal with than the current Dalai Lama. . . . So while His Holiness is still healthy and active, the Chinese government should seriously reevaluate their positions and seriously consider reaching out to His Holiness.”<br><br><b>Joshua Eaton</b> is an independent journalist who covers religion and society, human rights, and national security. <b>Shan Wang</b> contributed translations from Chinese.</p><p><em>Kris Krüg/Flickr</em></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/end-dalai-lama"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/moreattrikeeaton1.jpg" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: THE END OF THE DALAI LAMA?</b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/end-dalai-lama" 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/stephen-colbert-15th-dalai-lama"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/moreattrikeeaton2.jpg" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: STEPHEN COLBERT: THE 15TH DALAI LAMA?</b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/stephen-colbert-15th-dalai-lama" 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> Wed, 25 Mar 2015 12:08:22 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Breathe Easy http://www.tricycle.com/blog/breathe-easy <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/BreathPic.png" width="570" height="380" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/Sym-red-1.png" width="148" height="157" style="margin: 7px; float: right;"></a>When I first started practicing meditation, my teacher taught me that the breath—ever-present and unconditional—is the link between body and mind. When we place our full attention on the breath, we pull ourselves out of the past, away from the future, and directly into the present moment. Or at least that’s how the common instruction goes. But using the breath to enter the proverbial here-and-now is easier said than done.</p><p>The first few times I sat to meditate, I tried to focus on the steady rise and fall of the chest and the sensation of the air passing in and out through the nostrils. When my mind wandered away, I noted the distraction and returned my attention back to the breath. It didn’t take long for me to notice that my inhalations felt short and shallow, like I wasn’t taking in very much air. I also experienced tightness and congestion in my chest and throat. These sensations weren’t surprising—my breathing had been fraught since I was a kid. Growing up, I often experienced scary bouts of shortness of breath and wheezing. I managed these breathing issues by distracting myself and avoiding the activities that aggravated them. As I got older, I hoped they would go away on their own.</p><p>Alas, as I progressed with my meditation practice, the distressed breathing remained right there to greet me. Coming face-to-face with my breathing did not bring me into the coveted present moment; it dredged up memories of coughing during soccer practice and waking up in the middle of the night gasping for air. I began to lose faith in my ability to meditate. With my breath causing so much anxiety, how could I ever use it to deepen my practice?</p><p>Around this time I began to study <i>pranayama</i>, a yogic discipline that offers many different techniques for steadying and controlling the breath. I discovered two very useful practices to prepare for meditation. These techniques are especially helpful for those who feel anxious or feel tightness in their chests and air passages. Both practices can bring equanimity to the breath and a sensation of expansiveness to the chest, preparing one to sit in a steady and composed manner.<br><br><strong>Stabilize the Breath with Equal-Part Breathing</strong></p><p>Prolonged anxiety and stress can cause irregular breathing patterns like sighing, yawning, and huffing. As these disruptive habits find their way into our meditation practice, we may discover it very difficult to steady the mind. To reestablish balanced breathing prior to meditation, try the following modified practice of <i>sama vrtti</i>, or equal-part breathing.</p><p>In <i>sama vrtti,</i> we produce inhalations that last the same duration as exhalations. To begin, sit up very tall in order to lengthen your torso as much as possible. Take a deep breath in through the nose and exhale, also entirely through the nose. Then start to inhale through the nose as you count up to four, stretching your inhalation all the way to the end of the count at a pace that feels comfortable to you. As you exhale through the nose, count to four again at the same pace, stretching your exhalation all the way to the end. Repeat this cycle several times or for as long as you need until you begin to feel the breath evening out.<br><br><strong>Create Space with a Three-Part Breath</strong></p><p>I’ve found that the practice of <i>viloma</i>, sometimes described as a three-part breath, can alleviate sensations of restriction in the chest and torso. In <i>viloma</i>, a practitioner alternately deepens and pauses her inhalation for short periods of time, which encourages the chest and rib cage to gradually expand.</p><p>To begin, either sit very upright or recline on your back. Take a few deep, even, and steady breaths. Then slowly inhale over a count of three, drawing in your breath so much that the lower abdomen expands. After the third count, hold the breath for two counts. Then, inhale into the lungs and lower chest for another three counts, feeling the rib cage expand outward. Hold the breath for another two counts. Now, inhale for another three counts, filling the very upper region of the chest just below the collarbone. Hold the breath for five counts. Then, over a ten-count exhalation, slowly and evenly release the breath through the nose. Repeat this cycle several more times, continuing at a pace that feels comfortable to you.</p><p>After many cycles of this practice, the breath gets deeper and the chest feels more open. That sensation of spaciousness in the body produces a similar effect on the mind: thoughts will seem less congested and tangled than they did prior to the exercise.<br><br>When we’re trying to meditate, the breath—especially if it’s labored or irregular—can feel like yet another hurdle to clear. After much practice, I’ve learned that difficulty in breathing isn’t reason to move away from the practice or to give up. It is, rather, the best opportunity to become more intimate with the breath. It’s also a reminder for us to take the time we need to prepare the body for meditation. By doing so, we invite the breath to become our closest ally—one we can rely on to inform us about and eventually lead us back to the spaciousness right here and now.<br><br><strong>Lauren Krauze&nbsp;</strong>is a yoga teacher living in New York City.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Image: Gallerystock</em></p><p></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/hung-jury"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/death.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: HUNG JURY</b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/hung-jury" 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/not-playing-nice"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/not-playing.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: NOT PLAYING NICE </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/not-playing-nice" 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> Mon, 23 Mar 2015 15:07:47 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Guided Meditation—Week 4 http://www.tricycle.com/blog/guided-meditation%E2%80%94week-4 <p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Sym-red.png" width="148" height="157" style="float: right; margin: 7px;"></a></p><p><br>Ven. Pannavati has led weekly guided meditations each Monday in March for <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_blank">Meditation Month</a>. Check the <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog" target="_blank">blog</a> for the previous installments in this series.&nbsp;<br><br><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/PDFFinalPannavatiWeek4Tran.pdf" target="_blank">Download the transcript of this retreat</a>. It has been edited for clarity.&nbsp;</p><p><span style="font-style: italic; text-align: center;">Ven. Pannavati will respond to reader questions posted below.</span></p><p style="text-align: center;"></p><p style="text-align: center;"><br><br><br></p><center><iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/122571518?color=ffffff&title=0&byline=0&portrait=0" width="576" height="324" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" allowfullscreen=""></iframe><p></p><p></p><p style="text-align: left;"><strong>Venerable Pannavati</strong>, a former Christian pastor, is cofounder and co-abbot of Embracing-Simplicity Hermitage in Hendersonville, North Carolina.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/GIVINGBACK-panawati%20portrait%202%20Alpha.jpg" width="1" height="1"></p></center><p></p><p></p><p></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/march-meditation-month"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/med-month.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: MARCH IS MEDITATION MONTH! </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" 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/may-all-beings-be-happy"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/leaf_0.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: MAY ALL BEINGS BE HAPPY </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/may-all-beings-be-happy" 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> Mon, 23 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Hung Jury http://www.tricycle.com/blog/hung-jury <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/ExecutionImage.png" width="570" height="858" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p1">The Dalai Lama had just finished speaking at an event on the Capitoline Hill in Rome when I sought him out and asked him to be one of the first signatories of the Community of Sant'Egidio's Appeal for a Moratorium on the Death Penalty. He accepted immediately and signed in earth-green ink, which came as no surprise. Who more than the Dalai Lama is identified around the world with the need to respect life?&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Indeed, all schools of Buddhism emphasize respect for life in all its forms. Though the Buddha did not specifically address capital punishment in his teachings, he encouraged his adherents not to do anything that could harm others, saying, "An action, even if it brings benefit to oneself, cannot be considered a good action if it causes physical and mental pain to another being."&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The respect for life that permeates Buddhism is inextricably connected to the principle of samsara, the infinitely repeating cycle of birth, suffering, death, and rebirth. Buddhists believe that samsara is the world's nervous system, and when the death penalty is applied, both the person whose life is taken and the person who takes that life are negatively affected. It follows that trying to gain recompense for evil and even for violent death by inflicting more death simply causes a greater imbalance; only rehabilitation can restore balance and harmony in this world and the world of the spirit.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">But, of course, the devil is in the details: in many countries where Buddhism is influential, such as Thailand and Japan, the death penalty is still thriving in spirit and in practice.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">What accounts for this contradiction? One explanation may be that there is a wide disparity between the practices of Buddhist monastic orders and lay Buddhist followers, as in any religion. In their article "Mercy and Punishment: Buddhism and the Death Penalty," crimonlogy professors Leanne Fiftal Alarid and Hsiao-Ming Wang argue that while "the death penalty is inconsistent with Buddhist teachings," historical reality is more complicated:</p><p class="p2"></p><blockquote><p class="p1">Buddhist doctrines hold nonviolence and compassion for all life in high regard. The first precept of Buddhism requires individuals to abstain from injuring or killing all living creatures and Buddha's teaching restricts Buddhist monks from any political involvement. Using historical documents and interviews with contemporary authorities on Buddhist doctrine, our research uncovered a long history of political involvement by Buddhist monks and Buddhist support of violence.&nbsp;</p></blockquote><p class="p2">The website <a href="http://www.procon.org/" target="_blank">ProCon.org</a> gathers opinions from different cultures and religions on capital punishment. In the case of Buddhism, one voice on the "pro" side is that of Tomoko Sasaki, a former member of the Japanese Diet. Writing in a <i>Washington Post </i>article titled "Why Japan Still Has the Death Penalty," he evokes "retribution" to justify his opinion: "A basic teaching [in Japanese Buddhism] is retribution. If someone evil does something bad, he has to atone with his own life."&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Sasaki assumes that capital punishment restores balance in karmic terms. But in reality, the death penalty creates a double negative: one life is lost, and then another follows. Capital punishment, seen in this way, is a violent disruption to the possibility of balancing different karmas and improving the world by favoring mercy and life. The flow and intercommunication of the reproductive karma, the supportive karma, the obstructive karma, and the destructive karma are dealt great blows by every death sentence.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">When the Dalai Lama subscribed to the appeal I submitted on behalf of the community of Sant'Egidio, he also submitted this message, read at an event organized by the Peace Center on April 9, 1999:</p><p class="p2"></p><blockquote><p class="p1">The death penalty fulfills a preventive function, but it is also very clearly a form of revenge. It is an especially severe form of punishment because it is so final. The human life is ended and the executed person is deprived of the opportunity to change, to restore the harm done or compensate for it. Before advocating execution we should consider whether criminals are intrinsically negative and harmful people . . . The answer, I believe, is definitely not. However horrible the act they have committed, I believe that everyone has the potential to improve and correct themselves. Therefore, I am optimistic that it remains possible to deter criminal activity, and prevent such harmful consequences of such acts in society, without having to resort to the death penalty.&nbsp;</p></blockquote><p><br><strong>Mario Marazziti&nbsp;</strong>is the cofounder of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. He lives in Rome, Italy.&nbsp;</p><p></p><p class="p1">Excerpted from <em>13 Ways of Looking at the&nbsp;Death&nbsp;Penalty</em>&nbsp;(Seven Stories Press, 2015)</p><p class="p1"><em>Image: 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/mummified-monk-found-inside-ancient-statue"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/mummy.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: MUMMIFIED MONK FOUND INSIDE ANCIENT STATUE </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/mummified-monk-found-inside-ancient-statue" 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/may-all-beings-be-happy"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/leaf_0.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: MAY ALL BEINGS BE HAPPY </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/may-all-beings-be-happy" 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> Sat, 21 Mar 2015 10:00:00 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World May All Beings Be Happy http://www.tricycle.com/blog/may-all-beings-be-happy <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/rippleswater.png" width="570" height="570" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p2"><i><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_self"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/Sym-red.png" width="148" height="157" style="margin: 7px; float: right;"></a>Metta</i> (lovingkindness) is that sense of openness when we feel connected to everyone and everything in the world. In some ways, it's a natural outgrowth of mindfulness practice and just the general cultivation of happiness in our lives. When the Buddha talks about lovingkindness, he's clearly pointing to something different from what we usually call "love." In fact, his teachings point to the problems with selective love, and how that leads to clinging and ultimately suffering as things change. The <i>Metta Sutta</i> tells us to spread love over the entire world to everyone, no matter what we think or feel about them. This is unconditional love, love that doesn't expect or need a return, love that sees past the petty differences and disputes in life to the universal longings for happiness that we all share. In practicing lovingkindness, we are faced with our clinging, our judgments, and our selective caring. We see that what we usually call love may have a lot of conditions tied up with it: "I'll love you as long as you love me" or " as long as you give me what I want." And, further, we see that the love we have for our dear ones makes us vulnerable to grief and loss.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">Traditionally, metta practice focuses on three categories: those we love, those we are neutral or have no strong feelings about, and those we have difficulties with. Before we work with these categories, the practice suggests we first focus on a benefactor or beloved person (or even a pet). When we spend time sending lovingkindness to this beloved, we accomplish a couple of things: first, we soften ourselves up a bit, so that we are ready to send love to others; and second, we get a clear sense of what love feels like so that we establish that kind of baseline.</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">After connecting with the beloved, we then try to send love to ourselves. Many people find this to be one of the most difficult aspects of the metta practice. At least in our culture, many of us have complicated, and often negative, feelings about ourselves. To see ourselves as just another person deserving love is a valuable exercise. Here we start to disidentify with ourselves, see ourselves in more objective terms. When we can see ourselves as just another imperfect human, equally deserving of love as anyone else, it becomes easier to offer love to ourselves.</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">Moving from focus on ourselves to focus on all the rest of the people we care about—family, friends, intimates, and partner—the heart tends to open more easily. Now we might feel ourselves getting into the flow of lovingkindness. Without obstruction, and using the phrases, feelings, and visualizations of the practice, the mind can become quite focused and concentrated, so that, not only do we enjoy the pleasant feeling of love, but also the powerful feeling of concentration, called <i>samadhi</i>, that comes with deeper meditation practices.</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">We then try to carry these two qualities, the openheartedness and the focus, into giving metta to a neutral person or persons. For many people, this seems to be an awkward practice at first, but I think it has great potential in terms of growing a broad sense of lovingkindness for all beings.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">A neutral person is someone we don't have strong feelings about, either positive or negative. I've used people like the clerk in the video store and the security guard at the bank. These are people I can visualize pretty easily because I've seen them many times, but I certainly don't like or dislike them in any meaningful way.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">At first, and naturally enough, it might be hard to feel much about these people, but the practice gives us a form we can simply follow without worrying about the results. You see the person in your mind, you say the lovingkindness phrases to yourself, and you try to connect in your heart. What helps me in doing this practice is contemplating the universal desire for happiness and freedom from suffering. Even though I don't really know this neutral person, I know that, just like me, they want happiness. So, in a sense, I'm connecting with my own wish for happiness and just projecting it onto them.</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">As we work with the neutral person, we have the opportunity to see what the Buddha was getting at. It might be easy to wish happiness for your loved ones, but as you wish that, it's still very personal for you. You have some investment in their happiness, so it's difficult to disidentify with their happiness. However, with the neutral person, you have no investment, so you have to connect with something else, this universal longing that is impersonal. That moves you away from your self-identification into a more authentic metta. As long as there is identification or longing or investment in someone else's happiness, we aren't experiencing unconditional love.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">I think that many people can get caught up in the idea that metta is about feeling good and praying for people you care about. This is something of a distortion of the teachings. Yes, being immersed in metta is a pleasant experience, but that experience isn't the goal of the practice.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">Working with the difficult person makes this fact clear. If we were just trying to feel good, we certainly wouldn't spend time thinking about someone we don't like. The difficult person can be someone you've had conflict with or toward whom you have a resentment. Sometimes when no one in my life comes up, I just use a political figure that I disagree with. In any case, this is a place where we have to apply a strong mindfulness to our practice so that we don't lapse into aversion, anger, judgment, or resentment. As we follow through on the practice, visualizing the person and saying the phrases, it's very likely that we will not feel much that's positive, at least in our initial efforts. We need to be careful that the mind doesn't wander into negative thoughts and that we just keep with the simple task of the practice, staying with the words and the breath in the heart. Here, you may be able to get some insight into the limits of your own capacity for love. That's a valuable thing to see. It can give us some goals as well as show us where some of our own suffering comes from.</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">Clearly, the great spiritual masters believe that the capacity to love our enemies is one of the vital tasks of human evolution. Jesus spoke of this and exemplified it when he forgave those who crucified him; the Buddha explains this in the "Simile of the Saw," in which he says that even if someone were sawing off our limbs one by one, no thought of hatred should arise. If we want to be truly loving people, unconditionally and for all beings, we have to work with some form of this practice. It's certainly not something that I've come anywhere close to mastering, but I have found that with compassion practice, I can get some sense of this.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">After working with the difficult person, we can move to the expansive part of metta practice. This is actually a complete shift because no longer are we thinking about any individuals, but working instead with a sense of space. This space is what the Buddha is talking about in the <i>Metta Sutta</i> when he says that we are "radiating kindness over the entire world, spreading [it] upwards to the skies and downwards to the depths, outwards and unbounded, free from hatred and ill will."&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">This is a somewhat more difficult area of practice to describe because it doesn't have the same cognitive elements of the earlier pieces. Instead, we are working more with a feeling, a feeling of expansiveness and connection. Hopefully when we arrive at this part of the practice, we've developed something of an internal sense of lovingkindness. While focusing on that feeling, that authentic wish for all beings to be free from <i>dukkha</i>, or suffering, we being a process of imaginative expansion. We can use a visualization if that works, while we stay connected to the feeling in the heart and imagine that the love is growing.</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">First we see/feel that love filling and enveloping the room we are in. Then we let that feeling expand out through the whole building, the neighborhood, outward in all directions until it touches everything on earth. This can be done slowly or quickly, depending upon how much time you have and how into it you are. You can think of specific groups of people you want to send love to: the sick and dying, the oppressed, or whatever comes up for you. You can also send love to animals, plants, and the earth itself.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">At this point, you may lose the sense of boundaries with your body, and experience a sort of floating or fluid sensation. I'm not trying to tell you how you should feel—just know that anything in this realm is normal and helps to support this part of the practice. When we've spread lovingkindness over the entire planet, we then expand into space, vast and limitless. We try to permeate the universe with lovingkindness.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">Once we've sat in this place of boundless love for a little while, we can bring ourselves gradually back into the body and heart, and close the period of meditation.<br><br><b>Practice—Metta Phrases</b></p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">I've more or less outlined the practice above. Always start by connecting with the breath, so you have some attention in your body, preferably at the heart. As I've said, we first send metta to a beloved person or benefactor, then ourselves, our dear ones, a netural person, a difficult person, then radiating to all beings. A big part of this, then, is the felt sense of lovingkindness; however, this feeling may be stronger, weaker, or even absent at times. Nonetheless, we continue the practice by visualizing the people we are sending metta to, maybe naming them, and repeating phrases. You should use phrases that resonate for you and are simple and direct. Not more than four phrases. Here are some typical ones:</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 30px;">May you be happy</p><p class="p1" style="padding-left: 30px;"></p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 30px;">May you be peaceful</p><p class="p1" style="padding-left: 30px;"></p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 30px;">May you live with ease.</p><p class="p1" style="padding-left: 30px;"></p><p class="p2" style="padding-left: 30px;">Some people like to add something like, "May you be safe."&nbsp;</p><p class="p1" style="padding-left: 30px;"></p><p class="p2">Stay in touch with your breath; notice feelings of happiness or resistance that come up at various stages; let the phrases flow with the breath and stay connected to the heart.<br><br><strong>Kevin Griffin</strong> is the cofounder of the <a href="http://www.buddhistrecovery.org/">Buddhist Recovery Network</a>. He lives in Berkeley, California.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"></p><p class="p2">Adapted from <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Recovering-Joy-Mindful-After-Addiction/dp/1622034295/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1426882503&sr=8-1&keywords=recovering+joy+kevin+griffin" target="_blank"><i>Recovering Joy: A Mindful Life After Addiction</i></a> by Kevin Griffin. Copyright © 2015 by Kevin Griffin. To be published by Sounds True in June, 2015.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"><em>Image: Minette Layne/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/legalcode">Flickr</a></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/hung-jury"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/death.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: HUNG JURY</b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/hung-jury" 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/not-playing-nice"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/not-playing.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: NOT PLAYING NICE </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/not-playing-nice" 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> Fri, 20 Mar 2015 17:45:43 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Not Playing Nice http://www.tricycle.com/blog/not-playing-nice <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/MyanmarParliament.png" width="570" height="380" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p1" style="text-align: center;"><i>Myanmar's parliament building</i></p><p class="p1">It’s election year in Myanmar, the big test for the country’s aspiring democratic transition. Among the spirited national debates there are four controversial pieces of legislation currently under consideration in Myanmar’s Assembly of the Union parliament (the <i>Pyidaungsu hluttaw</i>). These reportedly aim to protect race and religion. But in truth, the bills represent a setback for religious freedom and women’s rights and—if adopted—are likely to deepen existing religious divides, threaten the reform agenda, and stir violence prior to the elections.</p><p class="p1"><a href="http://www.eastwestcenter.org/sites/default/files/private/ps071.pdf" target="_blank">A rising Buddhist nationalist movement</a> has lobbied for the bills, in particular the Organization for the Protection of Race and Religion (known in Myanmar under the Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha), a group related but not identical to the infamous 969 movement. The organization has collected more than a million signatures in support of the laws meant to protect Buddhism against a perceived threat from Islam.</p><p class="p1">Since 2012, Myanmar has been marred by <a href="http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/asia/south-east-asia/burma-myanmar/251-the-dark-side-of-transition-violence-against-muslims-in-myanmar.pdf" target="_blank">ethno-religious violence</a>, particularly against the Muslim Rohingya population in Rakhine state but also against Muslim communities in other parts of Myanmar. More than a hundred thousand people have fled their homes, hundreds have been killed, and thousands of Muslim owned houses and businesses have been torched and destroyed. The proposed Ma Ba Tha laws must be viewed in light of this violence.</p><p class="p1">Anti-Muslim sentiments are not new to Myanmar. Since colonial times, when Myanmar saw massive immigration from India, there have been numerous attacks on Hindu and Muslim communities, and Buddhist nationalism has been able to equate itself with national identity.</p><p class="p1">The danger today is that Buddhist nationalist agitation appears at a time when political interests wish to exploit anti-Muslim sentiments for political gain. Emphasis on religious cleavages during the election year may take the focus away from the democratic deficit within Myanmar’s constitution and the armed forces (the <i>Tatmadaw</i>), and instead <a href="http://file.prio.no/Publication_files/Prio/NilsenandTonnesson(2014)High-Risk-of-Electoral-Violence-in-Myanmar-PRIO-Policy-Brief-6-2014.pdf" target="_blank">serve the interests of undemocratic forces</a>.</p><p class="p1">The proposed legislative package <a href="http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs21/Horsey-2015-02-New_Religious_Legislation_in_Myanmar-en.pdf" target="_blank">consists of four bills</a>: a Buddhist women’s marriage bill; a religious conversion bill; a population control bill; and a monogamy bill. These Ma Ba Tha laws have received much criticism from rights groups and women’s organizations in Myanmar and abroad. 180 Myanmar <a href="https://www.dvb.no/news/womens-groups-slam-race-protection-human-rights-burma-myanmar/47847" target="_blank">civil society groups have voiced their opposition</a> to the bills in a signed statement to the parliament.</p><p class="p1">The marriage bill is particularly criticized for its disempowerment of Buddhist women. While it purports to protect them, it stands out as a paternalistic attempt to control them. It states that a Buddhist woman must seek the permission of her parents or a legal guardian to marry a man of a different faith. The township authorities must also approve the marriage after it has been publically announced for two weeks, allowing for objections to the interfaith marriage.</p><p class="p1">Also problematic from a human rights point of view is the conversion bill, which forbids conversion to another religion for people under the age of 18. Even an adult convert must apply for permission from the authorities, who will then interview the convert several times over a few months to check if the person in question is familiar with and genuinely believes in the religion being converted to, before any conversion can take place.</p><p class="p1">The <a href="https://www.dvb.no/news/upper-house-approves-population-control-bill-burma-myanmar/48491" target="_blank">population control bill</a>, already passed by the parliament’s upper house, will allow the implementation of strict population control measures among certain groups if they have considerably higher population growth than others. It is likely to be enforced largely among the already vulnerable Muslim Rohingya population in Rakhine State.</p><p class="p1">The monogamy bill is less controversial because the ban of formal polygamy, a practice accepted by Islamic jurisprudence, occurs widely elsewhere. But if implemented and actually applied to the entire population, the bill would potentially have a significant impact on Myanmar’s society, as it criminalizes living with a person other than one’s spouse.</p><p class="p1">The current Union parliament session in Myanmar is a busy one, and it is not certain that all four bills will manage to make their way through both houses in time for the end of the session in mid-March. The bills are nonetheless causing a deepening of Myanmar’s damaging religious conflicts at a fragile time of democratic transition. At worst, they will result in more anti-Muslim violence prior to the elections.</p><p class="p1">With these bills, Buddhist nationalist movements have managed to inject religious cleavages into Union-level politics and shift the focus away from issues like employment, education, health care, land rights, democratization, power-sharing and constitutional amendments. This will benefit the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party as well as the Tatmadaw, both of which lack credibility on these issues, while the National League of Democracy (NLD), which enjoys high credibility on the same issues, will suffer. In light of the widespread anti-Muslim sentiments among Bamar Buddhists in Myanmar, the NLD risks losing votes if its opponents are able to project the party as being ‘soft on Muslims.'</p><p class="p1">In the run up to the elections there is therefore a risk that powerful political actors will exploit this undercurrent of Buddhist nationalism and the distrust between religious and ethnic groups. At worst, they may seek to stir up violence for the purpose of winning swing votes. With this dangerous confluence of interests, the 2015 elections may well see renewed religious violence in Myanmar.<br><br><b>Marte Nilsen</b> is a senior researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO).</p><p class="p1"><em>A version of this essay has appeared on </em><a href="http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/03/12/buddhist-nationalism-threatens-myanmars-democratic-transition/" target="_blank">East Asia Forum</a><em>.&nbsp;</em></p><p class="p1"><em>Image: United Nations/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode" target="_blank">Flickr</a></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/hung-jury"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/death.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: HUNG JURY</b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/hung-jury" 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/may-all-beings-be-happy"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/leaf_0.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: MAY ALL BEINGS BE HAPPY </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/may-all-beings-be-happy" 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> Mon, 16 Mar 2015 11:16:36 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Guided Meditation—Week 3 http://www.tricycle.com/blog/guided-meditation%E2%80%94week-3 <p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Sym-red.png" width="148" height="157" style="float: right; margin: 7px;"></a></p><p><br>Ven. Pannavati is leading weekly guided meditations for <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_blank">Meditation Month</a>. Check back every Monday in March for a new video teaching on the blog.<br><br><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/Week3PannavatiTranscriptPDF.pdf" target="_blank">Download the transcript of this retreat</a>. It has been edited for clarity.&nbsp;</p><p><span style="font-style: italic; text-align: center;">Ven. Pannavati will respond to reader questions posted below.</span></p><p style="text-align: center;"></p><p style="text-align: center;"><br><br><br></p><center><iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/122023638?color=ffffff&title=0&byline=0&portrait=0" width="576" height="324" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" allowfullscreen=""></iframe><p></p><p style="text-align: left;"><strong>Venerable Pannavati</strong>, a former Christian pastor, is cofounder and co-abbot of Embracing-Simplicity Hermitage in Hendersonville, North Carolina.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/GIVINGBACK-panawati%20portrait%202%20Alpha.jpg" width="1" height="1"></p></center><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/march-meditation-month"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/med-month.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: MARCH IS MEDITATION MONTH! </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" 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/may-all-beings-be-happy"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/leaf_0.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;"></a></p><span> <b> BLOG: MAY ALL BEINGS BE HAPPY </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/may-all-beings-be-happy" 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> Mon, 16 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Calming the Not Now Mind http://www.tricycle.com/blog/calming-not-now-mind <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/trafficlights.jpg" width="570" height="285" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Sym-red.png" width="148" height="157" style="float: right; margin: 7px;"></a></p><p><i>I'll just get a cup of tea first. Maybe sip it slowly, look out the window. Oh, better check my email too. . .</i></p><p></p><p>Some mornings, the part of my mind that would rather meditate <i>any time but now</i> seems to wake up five minutes before the rest of me does. By the time my alarm rings and my eyes crack open, it is as if Not Now Mind were already sitting on the edge of the bed, drumming its fingertips, tapping its foot, and batting its eyelashes at me. <i></i></p><p>Not Now Mind typically takes the approach of inciting anxiety—bringing to mind the to do list of items left unfinished, the stack of emails left unanswered, and the calendar that looks like a losing game of Tetris. It makes the argument that I simply don’t have time to meditate, that I must launch immediately into my day in order not to waste a potentially productive second just sitting there.</p><p>Every now and again, maybe for variety, Not Now Mind simply coos me back to sleep, pointing out how tired I am, how hard I work, and how much more valuable an extra half hour of sleep would be than a half hour of meditation.</p><p>Whatever its tactic, if I take Not Now Mind’s bait—whipping the covers off and heading to the computer without so much as a glance at my cushion, dozing off till the last minute, or meandering through my morning, dancing around the meditation seat but somehow never getting on it—I miss my practice.</p><p>When we’re having trouble cultivating or sustaining a meditation practice, we often cite busyness or laziness as the main obstacles to our goal of regular sessions. So we make new rules, give ourselves ultimatums, and promise to keep our nose to the grindstone and really make it happen this time. We bribe ourselves by buying a new meditation bench, a new timer, a new book to inspire us and make the practice more attractive. But too often, it’s only a few days or weeks before we’re back to meditating. . . <i>later</i>. Tonight. Tomorrow. (We swear.)</p><p>The problem is that for many of us, Not Now Mind is not primarily an issue of logistics or time management. It’s an issue of <i>attitude</i>. And while it can masquerade as sloth or restlessness, my experience working with my own mind as well as others’ reveals perfectionism, driven by fear and doubt, to play a much larger role in resistance to sitting.</p><p>The world of Western Buddhism is rife with perfectionists. Who else would be drawn to a practice with a stated aim of complete emancipation from suffering? At work or at school, our perfectionism may have received a lifetime of validation. But when we come home to our practice, we often find that the qualities of impatience, overexerting, and dissatisfaction, which seem to give us superpowers in daily life, become major hindrances in meditation. Not being able to meditate perfectly, or unable to discern any immediate tangible gain, we’d rather not do it at all. Or put it off for. . . <i>later.</i></p><p>Below are some reflections for calming the Not Now Mind, and the cycle of perfectionism and procrastination that feeds it. Rather than trying to whip our minds into shape, which only seems to make the stakes higher and the practice less approachable, cultivate attitudes that pacify. These are not exactly tips—more like reminders of what we already know deep down to be true.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><strong>1) Show up.&nbsp;</strong></p><p>We all know about setting manageable goals to set ourselves up for success. But when it comes to spiritual practice, we may be setting standards that no human could possibly maintain, then pointing to our failure to maintain them as evidence of our own inadequacy. This is just mean. Please don’t do it to yourself.</p><p>Create a routine that supports your life and which your life has a little space for right now, just as it is. Perhaps you can get up a little earlier for a morning practice to set your day off right or suspend cocktail hour to make room for an after work session, a speed bump to shift gears for the evening. Or maybe it’s before bedtime that you are able to carve out a few moments to pause and sit before easing into sleep. Decide how much time you’re able to set aside and put it in your calendar. Treat it as an appointment with a cherished friend: your own heart and mind.</p><p>Not Now Mind will likely tell you that your plan isn’t good enough, and suggest that you wait until you can meditate for a full hour, in full lotus, in complete silence, after an hour long yoga practice. Just remind it that the best time to meditate, the best place, the best length of practice is the one that you actually do. Showing up for the practice today, however long or short, is enough.<span style="text-decoration: underline;"></span></p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><strong>2) Relax.&nbsp;</strong></p><p>Meditation teachers often use the analogy of meditation as making friends with your mind, and for good reason. If our practice feels like hanging out with a hopeless case we are charged with fixing but fear we cannot, sitting is no fun at all. We will miss our appointment again and again.</p><p>From the perspective of Not Now Mind, meditation practice takes a huge amount of energy and skill, and it only “counts” if we do it perfectly. If we can’t do it right, why waste our time? Better to wait till we find a new teacher, learn a new meditation technique, or go on a ten-day silent retreat. Having perfected the practice or gained clandestine knowledge, we’ll finally be able to meditate the right way.</p><p>As it turns out, Not Now Mind has a bit of a point here. We can’t really do meditation totally “right”—there isn’t, after all, any outside authority that can go into our minds and assure us that we are on track. The good news, however, is that we can’t really do meditation <i>wrong</i> either. As long as we show up with the genuine intention to work compassionately with our minds and hearts, we can relax and know that in some sense we are already golden.</p><p>Sit in a way that is easy to maintain. Take the attitude that there is nothing in your experience that you need to control or fix, and you’ll be available to experience the perfection that is always there, the truth that everything you need to awaken is with you right now.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><strong>3) It’s not about you.</strong></p><p>Very few of us start meditating because we want to become championship mindfulness professionals. We start meditating because we want to show up for our lives in a more meaningful way, with less stress and more ease. We understand that in doing so, we are generating a great deal of courage, vulnerability, patience, determination, and love, and we have confidence that we are of benefit to this world when we help bring more of these qualities into it.</p><p>When Not Now Mind shows up, it’s easy to forget that our meditation practice was never intended to be a tool for judging our individual worth or for comparing ourselves to the person we think we should be. Meditation practice seems to work best when we make it less about evaluating our personal progress and more about revealing our inherent human capacity to connect with others in a meaningful way.</p><p>When we find that we are resisting sitting in meditation, it can be motivating to set an intention for practice that includes our desire to show up with care for ourselves and also our friends, family, and loved ones—even people we don’t know. We may choose to dedicate the fruits of our practice to a person or group of people in need of comfort and peace. If we work well with accountability, arranging to text with a friend before sitting or signing up for an online meditation community can help remind us that when we support others we often feel supported right back.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>Even for experienced practitioners, Not Now Mind still comes up from time to time. When it does, if we have been mindful of the sensations or thoughts that signal its presence, then we can see it clearly for what it really is: a set of strategies our minds have devised to protect us from suffering, but that actually cause us to suffer more. As we gain confidence in our practice by sitting the best we can, one day at a time, the arguments of Not Now Mind will be less and less compelling. They may come and go, but they won’t keep us from sitting.</p><p>If you’ve found difficulty beginning your meditation routine, or difficulty beginning again, don’t worry. Getting distant from the practice is in some ways a part of it. Don’t let perfectionism drive you to procrastination. The best time to get close again is right now.<br><br><b>Kate Johnson</b> is happiest when working at the intersections of spirituality, social justice, and creative practice.&nbsp;She lives in Brooklyn, NY.</p><p><i>Flickr/Frédéric Poirot</i></p> Thu, 12 Mar 2015 16:00:54 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World The Myth of Religious Violence http://www.tricycle.com/blog/myth-religious-violence <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Armstrong_goat.jpg" width="570" height="378" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>Every year in ancient Israel the high priest brought two goats into the Jerusalem temple on the Day of Atonement. He sacrificed one to expiate the sins of the community and then laid his hands on the other, transferring all the people's misdeeds onto its head, and sent the sin-laden animal out of the city, literally placing the blame elsewhere. In this way, Moses explained, “the goat will bear all their faults away with it into a desert place.” In his classic study of religion and violence, René Girard argued that the scapegoat ritual defused rivalries among groups within the community. In a similar way, I believe, modern society has made a scapegoat of faith.</p><p>In the West the idea that religion is inherently violent is now taken for granted and seems self-evident. As one who speaks on religion, I constantly hear how cruel and aggressive it has been, a view that, eerily, is expressed in the same way almost every time: “Religion has been the cause of all the major wars in history.” I have heard this sentence recited like a mantra by American commentators and psychiatrists, London taxi drivers and Oxford academics. It is an odd remark. Obviously the two world wars were not fought on account of religion. When they discuss the reasons people go to war, military historians acknowledge that many interrelated social, material, and ideological factors are involved, one of the chief being competition for scarce resources. Experts on political violence or terrorism also insist that people commit atrocities for a complex range of reasons. Yet so indelible is the aggressive image of religious faith in our secular consciousness that we routinely load the violent sins of the 20th century onto the back of religion and drive it out into the political wilderness.</p><p>Even those who admit that religion has not been responsible for all the violence and warfare of the human race still take its essential belligerence for granted. They cite the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Wars of Religion of the 16th and 17th centuries. They also point to the recent spate of terrorism committed in the name of religion to prove that Islam is particularly aggressive. If I mention Buddhist nonviolence, they retort that Buddhism is a secular philosophy, not a religion. Here we come to the heart of the problem. Buddhism is certainly not a <i>religion</i> as this word has been understood in the West since the 17th and 18th centuries. But our modern Western conception of religion is idiosyncratic and eccentric. No other cultural tradition has anything like it, and even premodern European Christians would have found it reductive and alien. In fact, it complicates any attempt to pronounce on religion's propensity to violence.</p><p>In the West we see religion as a coherent system of obligatory beliefs, institutions, and rituals, centering on a supernatural God, whose practice is essentially private and hermetically sealed off from all secular activities. But words in other languages that we translate as "religion" almost invariably refer to something larger, vaguer, and more encompassing. The Arabic <i>din</i> signifies an entire way of life. The Sanskrit <i>dharma</i> is also "a 'total' concept, untranslatable, which covers law, justice, morals, and social life." The Oxford Classical Dictionary firmly states: "No word in either Greek or Latin corresponds to the English 'religion' or 'religious.'” The idea of religion as an essentially personal and systematic pursuit was entirely absent from classical Greece, Japan, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Iran, China, and India. Nor does the Hebrew Bible have any abstract concept of religion; and the Talmudic rabbis would have found it impossible to express what they meant by faith in a single word or even in a formula, since the Talmud was expressly designed to bring the whole of human life into the ambit of the sacred.</p><p>The only faith tradition that does fit the modern Western notion of religion as something codified and private is Protestant Christianity, which, like religion in this sense of the word, is also a product of the early modern period. At this time Europeans and Americans had begun to separate religion and politics, because they assumed, not altogether accurately, that the theological squabbles of the Reformation had been entirely responsible for the Thirty Years' War. The conviction that religion must be rigorously excluded from political life has been called the charter myth of the sovereign nation-state. The philosophers and statesmen who pioneered this dogma believed that they were returning to a more satisfactory state of affairs that had existed before ambitious Catholic clerics had confused two utterly distinct realms. But in fact their secular ideology was as radical an innovation as the modern market economy that the West was concurrently devising. To non-Westerners, who had not been through this particular modernizing process, both these innovations would seem unnatural and even incomprehensible. The habit of separating religion and politics is now so routine in the West that it is difficult for us to appreciate how thoroughly the two co-inhered in the past. It was never simply a question of the state "using" religion; the two were indivisible. Dissociating them would have seemed like trying to extract the gin from a cocktail.</p><p>In the premodern world, religion permeated all aspects of life. A host of activities now considered mundane were experienced as deeply sacred: forest cleaning, hunting, football matches, dice games, astronomy, farming, state building, tugs-of-war, town planning, commerce, imbibing strong drink, and, most particularly, warfare. Ancient peoples would have found it impossible to see where "religion" ended and "politics" began. This was not because they were too stupid to understand the distinction but because they wanted to invest everything they did with ultimate value. We are meaning-seeking creatures and, unlike other animals, fall very easily into despair if we fail to make sense of our lives. We find the prospect of our inevitable extinction hard to bear. We are troubled by natural disasters and human cruelty and are acutely aware of our physical and psychological frailty. We find it astonishing that we are here at all and want to know why. We also have a great capacity for wonder. Ancient philosophies were entranced by the order of the cosmos; they marveled at the mysterious power that kept the heavenly bodies in their orbits and the seas within bounds and that ensured that the earth regularly came to life again after the dearth of winter, and they longed to participate in this richer and more permanent existence.</p><p>They expressed this yearning in terms of what is known as the perennial philosophy, so called because it was present, in some form, in most premodern cultures. Premodern folk felt themselves to be caught up in larger dimensions of being. Feeling ourselves connected in this way satisfies an essential craving. It touches us within, lifts us momentarily beyond ourselves, so that we seem to inhabit our humanity more fully than usual and feel in touch with the deeper currents of life. If we no longer find this experience in a church or temple, we seek it in art, a musical concert, sex, drugs—or warfare.</p><p>Our relationship to warfare is complex, possibly because it is a relatively recent human development. Hunter-gatherers could not afford the organized violence that we call war, because warfare requires large armies, sustained leadership, and economic resources that were far beyond their reach. But human life changed forever in about 9000 BCE, when pioneering farmers in the Levant learned to grow and store wild grain. They produced harvests that were able to support larger populations than ever before and eventually they grew more food than they needed.</p><p>As a result, the human population increased so dramatically that in some regions a return to hunter-gatherer life became impossible. Between about 8500 BCE and the first century of the Common Era—a remarkably short period given the four million years of our history—all around the world, quite independently, the great majority of humans made the transition to agrarian life. And with agriculture came civilization; and with civilization, organized warfare.</p><p>In our industrialized societies, we often look back to the agrarian age with nostalgia, imagining that people lived more wholesomely then, close to the land and in harmony with nature. Initially, however, agriculture was experienced as traumatic. These early settlements were vulnerable to wild swings in productivity that could wipe out the entire population, and their mythology describes the first farmers fighting a desperate battle against sterility, drought, and famine. For the first time, backbreaking drudgery became a fact of human life. These violent myths reflected the political realities of agrarian life.</p><p>By the beginning of the 9th millennium BCE, the settlement in the oasis of Jericho in the Jordan valley had a population of three thousand people, which would have been impossible before the advent of agriculture. Jericho was a fortified stronghold protected by a massive wall that must have consumed tens of thousands of hours of manpower to construct. In</p><p>this arid region, Jericho's ample food stores would have been a magnet for hungry nomads. Intensified agriculture, therefore, created conditions that that could endanger everyone in this wealthy colony and transform its arable land into fields of blood. Jericho was unusual, however—a portent of the future. Warfare would not become endemic in the region for another five thousand years, but it was already a possibility, and from the first, it seems, large-scale organized violence was linked not with religion but with organized theft.</p><p>Agriculture also introduced another type of aggression: an institutional or structural violence in which a society compels people to live in such wretchedness and subjection that they are unable to better their lot. Paleolithic communities had probably been egalitarian because hunter-gatherers could not support a privileged class that did not share the hardship and danger of the hunt. Because these small communities lived at near-subsistence level and produced no economic surplus, inequity of wealth was impossible. The tribe could survive only if everybody shared what food they had. Government by coercion was not feasible because all able-bodied males had exactly the same weapons and fighting skills. Anthropologists have noted that modern hunter-gatherer societies are classless, that their economy is "a sort of communism," and that people are honored for skills and qualities, such as generosity, kindness, and even-temperedness, that benefit the community as a whole. But in societies that produce more than they need, it is possible for a small group to exploit this surplus for its own enrichment, gain a monopoly on violence, and dominate the rest of the population.</p><p>This systemic violence would prevail in all agrarian civilizations. In the empires of the Middle East, China, India, and Europe, which were economically dependent on agriculture, a small elite, comprising not more than two percent of the population, with the help of a small band of retainers, systematically robbed the masses of the produce they had grown in order to support their aristocratic lifestyle. Yet, social historians argue, without this iniquitous arrangement, human beings would probably never have advanced beyond subsistence level, because it created a nobility with the leisure to develop the civilized arts and sciences that made progress possible. All premodern civilizations adopted this oppressive system; there seemed to be no alternative. This inevitably had implications for religion, which permeated all human activities, including state building and government. Indeed, premodern politics was inseparable from religion. And if a ruling elite adopted an ethical tradition, such as Buddhism, Christianity, or Islam, the aristocratic clergy usually adapted their ideology so that it could support the structural violence of the state.<b></b></p><p>Established by force and maintained by military aggression, warfare was essential to the agrarian state. When land and the peasants who farmed it were the chief sources of wealth, territorial conquest was the only way such a kingdom could increase its revenues. Warfare was, therefore, indispensable to any premodern economy. The ruling class had to maintain its control of the peasant villages, defend its arable land against aggressors, conquer more land, and ruthlessly suppress any hint of insubordination. And once states grew and warfare had become a fact of human life, an even greater force—the military might of empire—often seemed the only way to keep the peace.</p><p>Military force was essential to the rise of states and ultimately empires, so much so that&nbsp; &nbsp;historians regard militarism as a mark of civilization. Without disciplined, obedient, and law-abiding armies, human society, it is claimed, would probably have remained at a primitive level or have degenerated into ceaselessly warring hordes. Like our individual inner conflict between violent and compassionate impulses, the incoherence between socially peaceful ends and violent means would remain unresolved. This is the dilemma of civilization itself. And into this tug-of-war religion would enter too. Since all premodern state ideology was inseparable from religion, warfare inevitably acquired a sacral element. Indeed, every major faith tradition has tracked that political entity in which it arose; none has become a "world religion" without the patronage of a militarily powerful empire, and, therefore, each would have to develop an imperial ideology. But to what degree did religion contribute to the violence of the states with which it was inextricably linked? How much blame for the history of human violence can we ascribe to religion itself?</p><p>The answer is not as simple as much of our popular discourse would suggest.</p><p>Until the modern period, every state ideology was religious. The kings of Europe who struggled to liberate themselves from papal control were not "secularists" but were revered as semidivine. Every successful empire has claimed that it had a divine mission; that its enemies were evil, misguided, or tyrannical; and that it would benefit humanity. And because these states and empires were all created and maintained by force, religion has been implicated in their violence. It was not until the 17th and 18th centuries that religion was ejected from political life in the West. When, therefore, people claim that religion has been responsible for more war, oppression, and suffering than any other human institution, one has to ask, "More than what?" Until the American and French Revolutions, there were no secular societies. So ingrained is our impulse to sanctify our political activities that no sooner had the French revolutionaries successfully marginalized the Catholic Church than they created a new national religion. In the United States, the first secular republic, the state has always had a religious aura, a manifest destiny, and a divinely sanctioned mission.</p><p>John Locke believed that the separation of church and state was the key to peace, but the nation-state has been far from war-averse. The problem lies not in the multifaceted activity that we call "religion" but in the violence embedded in our human nature and the nature of the state. As even the great Buddhist emperor Ashoka discovered, even if a ruler shrank from state aggression, it was impossible to disband the army.</p><p>When we fight, we need to distance ourselves from the adversary, and because religion was so central to the state, its rites and myths depicted its enemies as monsters of evil that threatened cosmic and political order. Yet casting off the mantle of religion did not bring an end to prejudice. A “scientific racism” developed in the modern period that drew on the old religious patterns of hatred and inspired the Armenian genocide and Hitler’s death camps. Secular nationalism, imposed so unceremoniously by the colonialists, failed to apply the concept of human rights to the indigenous peoples of the Americas or to African slaves. Secular nationalism would as well regularly merge with local religious traditions, where people had not yet abstracted “religion” from politics; as a result, these religious traditions were often distorted and developed an aggressive strain of religious nationalism.</p><p>Our world is dangerously polarized at a time when humanity is more closely interconnected—politically, economically, and electronically—than ever before. If we are to meet the challenge of our time and create a global society where all people can live together in peace and mutual respect, we need to assess our situation accurately. We cannot afford oversimplified assumptions about the nature of religion or its role in the world. What the American scholar William T. Cavanaugh calls “the myth of religious violence" served Western people well at an early stage of their modernization, but in our global village we need a more nuanced view in order to understand our predicament fully.</p><p>To paraphrase a British commercial: "The weather does lots of different things—and so does religion." In religious history, the struggle for peace has been just as important as the holy war. Religious people have found all kinds of ingenious methods of curbing violence, and building respectful, life-enhancing communities. Because of the inherent violence of the states in which we live, the best that prophets and sages have been able to do is provide an alternative. The Buddhist sangha had no political power, but it became a vibrant presence in ancient India and even influenced emperors. Ashoka published the ideals of <i>ahimsa </i>[nonharming], tolerance, kindness, and respect in the extraordinary inscriptions he published throughout the empire. Confucians kept the ideal of humanity (<i>ren</i>) alive in the government of imperial China until the revolution. For centuries, the egalitarian code of the Shariah was a countercultural challenge to the Abbasid aristocracy; the caliphs acknowledged that it was God's law, even though they could not rule by it.</p><p>Other sages and mystics developed spiritual practices to help people control their aggression and develop a reverence for all human beings. They sought an equanimity that would make it impossible for one to see oneself as superior to anybody else, taught that every single person has sacred potential, and asserted that people should even love their enemies. Prophets and psalmists insisted that a city could not be holy if the ruling class did not care for the poor and dispossessed. Priests urged their compatriots to draw on the memory of their own past suffering to assuage the pain of others, instead of using it to justify harassment and persecution. They all insisted in one way or another that if people did not treat all others as they would wish to be treated themselves and develop concern for all, society was doomed. But as with Ashoka, who came up against the systemic militancy of the state, they could not radically change their societies; the most they could do was propose a different path to demonstrate kinder and more empathetic ways for people to live together.</p><p>In the West secularism is now a part of our identity. It has been beneficial—not least because an intimate association with government can badly compromise a faith tradition. But it has had its own violence. This is because secularism did not so much displace religion as create new religious enthusiasms. So ingrained is our desire for ultimate meaning that our secular institutions, most especially the nation-state, almost immediately acquired a religious aura, though they have been less adept than the ancient mythologies at helping people face up to the grimmer realities of human existence for which there are no easy answers. Yet secularism has by no means been the end of the story. In some societies attempting to find their way to modernity, it has succeeded only in damaging religion and wounding psyches of people unprepared to be wrenched from ways of living and understanding that had always supported them. Licking its wounds in the desert, the scapegoat, with its festering resentment, has rebounded on the city that drove it out.<br><br><b>Karen Armstrong </b>is a British author and scholar of comparative religion.</p><p><em>Excerpted from </em><a href="http://www.randomhouse.com/book/214544/fields-of-blood-by-karen-armstrong" target="_blank">Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence</a><em>, by Karen Armstrong. Copyright © 2014 by Karen Armstrong. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.</em></p><p><em>Image: Gozooma</em></p> Tue, 10 Mar 2015 11:00:00 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World Guided Meditation—Week 2 http://www.tricycle.com/blog/guided-meditation%E2%80%94week-2 <p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Sym-red.png" width="148" height="157" style="float: right; margin: 7px;"></a></p><p><br>Ven. Pannavati is leading weekly guided meditations for <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month" target="_blank">Meditation Month</a>. Check back every Monday in March for a new video teaching on the blog.<br><br><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/Week2PannavatiTranscriptPDF.pdf" target="_blank">Download the transcript of this retreat</a>. It has been edited for clarity.&nbsp;</p><p><span style="font-style: italic; text-align: center;">Ven. Pannavati will respond to reader questions posted below.</span></p><p style="text-align: center;"></p><p style="text-align: center;"><br><br><br></p><center><iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/121480619?color=ffffff&title=0&byline=0&portrait=0" width="576" height="324" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" allowfullscreen=""></iframe><p></p><p style="text-align: left;"><strong>Venerable Pannavati</strong>, a former Christian pastor, is cofounder and co-abbot of Embracing-Simplicity Hermitage in Hendersonville, North Carolina.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/GIVINGBACK-panawati%20portrait%202%20Alpha.jpg" width="1" height="1"></p></center><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/guided-meditation%E2%80%94week-3"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/pav.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> GUIDED MEDITATION—WEEK 3</b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/guided-meditation%E2%80%94week-3" 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;">WATCH NOW →</a></p></td><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/guided-meditation%E2%80%94week-4"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/pav.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span> <b> GUIDED MEDITATION—WEEK 4 </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/guided-meditation%E2%80%94week-4" 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;">WATCH NOW →</a></p></td></tr></tbody></table> Mon, 09 Mar 2015 01:00:00 -0400 Tricycle - Awake in the World