Tricycle - Awake in the World The Online Tricycle Magazine Blog http://www.tricycle.com/ en Mon, 02 Mar 2015 14:57:49 -0500 Tue, 03 Mar 2015 11:00:38 -0500 A Head in Front of a Body http://www.tricycle.com/blog/head-front-body <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/SatterfieldSecondImage.jpg" 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/blog/Sym-red.png" width="148" height="157" style="float: right; margin: 7px;"></a></p><p>Everyone experiences occasional anxiety and some of us might be fraught with it. <i>Tricycle</i> readers especially are most likely no strangers to hearing or reading about mindfulness-based meditation practices that can soothe the feelings of anxiety. But as anyone who has experienced an anxiety attack will know, what’s almost as unpleasant as having one is hearing someone say “just breathe, relax” in the midst of it.</p><p>Although awareness <i>can</i> lessen the experience of anxiety while it is happening, learning to identify and focusing your attention on physical sensations that are involved in the slide toward the end of our mental or emotional rope is critical to avoid suddenly ending up there.</p><p>The body always gives warnings as to what is about to happen mentally and emotionally, and as you get to know your body’s sensations, you’ll begin to recognize which are signals of upcoming distress. These sensations can be anywhere and range in severity—you might feel, for instance, your shoulder lift, your gut tightening, your jaw tensing, or the holding of your breath. By getting to know how your body exhibits signs of tension, you can be pre-emptive by moving your awareness into the area of sensation and relaxing it before it has to make much more noise, becoming a raging thought or emotion that’s impossible to ignore.</p><p>To that end, here is a mindfulness of body practice for noticing previously unfelt physical warnings that can lead to a state of anxiety. If you do it on a regular basis, it can also help to soothe your nervous system in general.<br><br><strong>The</strong><b> Direct Experience Practice:</b></p><p>Take your meditation cushion or a folded stiff blanket(s) and lie down with it directly under your hips. If this causes any discomfort in your lower back, don’t lift the hips so high; use one less blanket or a thinner cushion. Your shoulders and head will be on the floor. Bring your arms down by your sides, palms facing the sky.</p><p>Allow yourself to melt into the blanket or cushion, bending your knees and letting your legs relax and knees drop towards each other. Draw your attention kindly to sensations in your body. Watch them as if they were curiosities that you’d like to become more familiar with. If you&nbsp; notice an unwinding of tension, pay attention to any places that started out as tight; most likely these are the areas of your body that will tense before the onset of anxiety and give you warnings about what is to come. Stay with your mind awake and body relaxed for 10 minutes or more. When you’re ready to come off the support, lift your hips, push the cushion to the side and roll down to your back. As you lie flat for a moment, notice changes in how your body and your breath feels—discern as much as you can about how the posture altered your body, breath, and mood so that you know the benefits it might hold for <i>you </i>and why you might wish to repeat it.</p><p>When you stand up, continue noticing whatever you can that has changed from when you began the practice: do your feet feel like they have more weight or do you feel them on the ground more? Is your breath more relaxed? How is your mood now?</p><p>You can go through this mindfulness of body practice daily, for longer than 10 minutes if you’d like, and even before bed. Like any conditioning, eventually it will alter your system, changing what has become a normal state of high alert to one of being more at ease, as well as allow you to become much more familiar with the territory of your body. Knowing the body can be key to working with the mind, and with intention and kind attention, the body can become one of our greatest allies in alleviating our own suffering.<br><br><b>Jill Satterfield&nbsp;</b>is the founder of <a href="http://www.vajrayoga.com" target="_blank">Vajra Yoga + Meditation</a>, which integrates Buddhist meditation and philosophy into the practice of (hatha) yoga.</p><p><em>Image: Gallerystock</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p> Mon, 02 Mar 2015 14:57:49 -0500 Tricycle - Awake in the World Guided Meditation—Week 1 http://www.tricycle.com/blog/guided-meditation%E2%80%94week-1 <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/PannavatiWeek1PDF.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="http://www.tricycle.com//player.vimeo.com/video/120391712?color=ffffff&title=0&byline=0&portrait=0" width="500" height="281" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></center><center></center><p></p><p><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;"></p> Mon, 02 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0500 Tricycle - Awake in the World March is Meditation Month! http://www.tricycle.com/blog/march-meditation-month <p class="p1">If you think the impending all-at-once release of <i>House of Cards</i> Season Three might be a Netflix conspiracy to scuttle your daily meditation practice, or if the promise of expert feedback will allow you to try sitting for the first time, or if you could just use a little extra help from your spiritual friends, then Tricycle has the thing for you:</p><p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/MM-image-banner.png" width="570" height="170" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p class="p2">That's right—all of March we'll be raising a ruckus about that quietest of human endeavors. Commit to sit with us for the entire month! We'll help you make the most of it with guided meditations, instructive articles, meditation-themed e-books, and much more. &nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">You won't regret it. Or, maybe you will. But you'll do so mindfully. In all seriousness, we consider our readership to be a community and this is the month when that community comes together, takes a few minutes out of each day, and meditates.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">All month we'll be sharing articles and videos, including:</p><p class="p2"></p><ul><li><strong>Guided</strong><b> Meditations </b>Every Monday we'll post a new meditation led by Buddhist teacher Venerable Pannavati on <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog" target="_blank">the blog</a>. These videos are perfect for beginners trying to ease themselves into meditation or experienced practitioners curious about a new approach. Also, Ven. Pannavati will be answering any questions you have about your practice. So ask away!</li><ul><li><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/guided-meditation—week-1" target="_blank">Guided Meditation—Week 1</a> [3/2/15]</li></ul></ul><p class="p2"></p><ul><li><strong>E-books</strong>&nbsp;Check out <i>Tricycle Teachings: Meditation</i>, Vols. <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/wisdom-collection/teachings/tricycle-teachings-meditation" target="_blank">1</a> and <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/wisdom-collection/teachings/tricycle-teachings-meditation-vol-2" target="_blank">2</a>.&nbsp;They include articles from some of your favorite Buddhist teachers, like Sharon Salzberg, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Jack Kornfield, and Judith Simmer-Brown. If you're looking for some more structure, download&nbsp;<em><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/wisdom-collection/teachings/commit-sit" target="_blank">Commit to Sit</a></em> for a month-long program.</li></ul><p class="p2"></p><ul><li><b>Blog Posts</b> Throughout the month, the <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog">Tricycle blog</a> will feature new and old Buddhist voices offering instruction and commentary on the ancient art of sitting still.</li><ul><li>&nbsp;<a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/head-front-body" target="_blank">A Head in Front of a Body</a>&nbsp;[3/2/15]&nbsp;</li></ul><li><b>Daily Dharma</b> Tricycle will be picking out a different meditation-oriented nugget of wisdom every day. Your inbox might end up full. Yes, full of serenity.</li></ul><p class="p2"></p><ul><li><b>Online Retreats</b> We'll be highlighting the best meditation teachings from our online retreats.&nbsp;</li></ul><div></div><ul><li><strong>Tricycle Course&nbsp;</strong>Ready to commit to a full <em>two</em> months of meditation bliss? Vipassana teacher Sharon Salzberg's eight-week online course "<a href="http://www.tricycle.com/store/boundless-heart-eight-week-course-sharon-salzberg" target="_blank">The Boundless Heart</a>" begins Monday, March 2, with special rates for&nbsp;subscribers.</li></ul><p>We're excited and know you are too. But if you need one last boost of meditative wonder, check out this preview of the first installment of Ven. Pannavati's guided meditations. Her calming presence says what words cannot. Anyway, the only words left to say are these: See you in March.</p><p><iframe src="http://www.tricycle.com//player.vimeo.com/video/120846411?color=ffffff&title=0&byline=0&portrait=0" width="576" height="324" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p> Fri, 27 Feb 2015 16:42:54 -0500 Tricycle - Awake in the World Ruth Denison, Western Dharma Pioneer and Vipassana Innovator, Dies at 92 http://www.tricycle.com/blog/ruth-denison-western-dharma-pioneer-and-vipassana-innovator-dies-92 <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Denison_obit.jpg" width="300" height="332" style="float: right; margin: 7px;">Ruth Denison was one of the first female dharma teachers in the West, renowned for pioneering an unconventional, body-centered approach to Buddhist practice and for launching hundreds of students on the Buddhist path. Earlier this month, she suffered a massive stroke and, according to her wishes, received no life-prolonging intervention. Denison spent her last days surrounded by students and friends at home at Dhamma Dena, the rambling, desert retreat center she founded in the late 1970s near Joshua Tree, California. She died on the morning of February 26, at the age of 92.</p><p>In the early 1970s, when Denison was in her fifties, she received authorization to teach from the Burmese Vipassana master U Ba Khin. She was one of only four Westerners he chose, and the sole woman. Ba Khin had instructed Denison for just a few months before declaring her “a natural.” “I was so in space without any support,” Denison once said of her transmission. “I had no one to consult. . . . [T]he teaching when I began, it was just falling like the water out of the spring back into the pool.”&nbsp;</p><p>Over the next 40 years, Denison independently forged a style of dharma training that was at once eccentric and accessible. She conceived and led the first women-only meditation retreats, supported teachers of various traditions in founding their own centers, and became famous for her incredible life story, expansive generosity, and quirky creativity.</p><p>Before becoming the doyenne of Dhamma Dena, a sought-after meditation instructor, and revered elder at practice hubs like Spirit Rock and Insight Meditation Society, Denison had lived other lifetimes. She was witness to and player in some of the most harrowing political events and formative cultural movements of the mid-20th century.</p><p>Denison (nee Shaffer) was born into a German farming family in 1922, in a small town no longer on any map, near what is now the border with Poland. As a young girl, she was sure that angels and saints spoke to her—the early inklings, she later determined, of religious sensitivity. In her teens, she began work as a schoolteacher and, with the same spontaneous enthusiasm that would mark her actions for the rest of her life, joined the Nazi Youth. She often described what happened next as a kind of karmic comeuppance: she endured the evacuation of her village, the Allied bombing of Berlin, capture and imprisonment in a Stalinist work camp, serial rape by Polish and Soviet soldiers, and near starvation. “I had a tacit sense that I was one individual recipient of a collective karma brought on by my entire country,” she once told <i>Insight</i> magazine. “Although I did not personally contribute to its causation, I realized that as a member of that society I must share in experiencing the consequences.”</p><p>That perspective, and an extraordinary grit and resourcefulness, helped Denision survive the trauma and piece her life back together. After the war, she left Germany for California, where she met and married a wealthy intellectual and lapsed Vedanta monk named Henry Denison. He was charismatic, domineering, and, at times, abusive, but they shared a similar urge for awakening, and remained married until Henry’s death from Alzheimer’s in 2000. Through the late 1950s and ‘60s, their house in the Hollywood Hills was a regular salon devoted to the pursuit of mind-expansion. Denison wined, dined, and entertained a steady parade of celebrities of the spiritual counterculture—Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, Lama Govinda, Fritz Perls—and received, in exchange, an education in philosophy, psychology, and psychedelia. Alan Watts, a close friend, was Denison’s partner in postprandial interpretive dances and in his autobiography, recalled her as “a very blonde <i>fraulein </i>. . .&nbsp; audaciously adventurous, sexy, practical, and religious.”&nbsp;</p><p>It was at one of these bohemian gatherings that Denison encountered her first teacher, the music educator Charlotte Selver, who had developed a practice in mindfulness of the body she called Sensory Awareness. This movement-based approach became the core of Denison’s own spirituality and teaching, a porous amalgam inflected with Zen (she and Henry lived in Japan for a time, studying with Yasutani Roshi, Soen Roshi, and Yamada Roshi) and the Vipassana techniques she absorbed from U Ba Khin and others.</p><p>According to students and friends, Denison could be a study in mind-boggling contradictions: she was a Buddhist beacon for female practitioners, but couldn’t stand being called a “feminist.” She was famous for helping guide her students into states of deep concentration, only to shatter the stillness with a barrage of instruction. According to Sandy Boucher, her longtime student and biographer, Denison could be “the high-handed Prussian general at one moment—ordering you around, snapping at you if you’re slow or inattentive—and at the next melt your heart with her tender empathy for pain.”</p><p>When she smiled, which was often, there was an <i>actual </i>twinkle in her eye. She called everyone “dahling” and insisted on feeding all and sundry visitors, especially the California roadrunners who skittered into her house in search of the little balls of ground beef she kept just for them.</p><p>Indeed, Denison had an abiding interest in people and animals at risk. From spiritual seekers with mental illness or addictions to wild animals injured by passing cars, all sorts of distressed beings found a home with her, and many flourished in her care. Her ministrations were emphatic, and playful. She once wore a convalescing possum around her neck, stole-like, on a trip to the post office and relished the memory of how it woke from its diurnal sleep as she stood in line, scaring the hell out of the other customers. &nbsp;</p><p>Denison’s retreats were legendary. Set among the funky collage of outbuildings, trailers, creosote and bunchgrass that make up the landscape of Dhamma Dena, she led practitioners through dance-like movements that could involve yoga, vocalizations, or “crawling like a worm” on the desert floor. People would come and go. Sporting one of her many, many little hats, she might load retreatants into her station wagon and sail through stop signs and red lights en route to a dilapidated hot springs resort where she’d lead the group through mindfulness exercises in a steaming hot tub. Work projects were always part of the experience and, as at a monastery, visitors were expected to help maintain the center, often in lieu of paying for room and board. Dennison was adamant about the principle of <i>dana</i> and never turned a student away for lack of funds.</p><p>However idiosyncratic, Denison’s methods could be uncannily effective. A friend and former retreat manager remembers how new meditators, many of them men, metamorphosed under her guidance. “They would arrive, like most of us, with no way of connecting to their bodies, completely in their heads,” she recalls. “Ruth would get them doing these little dances, or rolling on the ground, and by the time they left, they were visibly changed. You could see it in their faces, and in their bodies.”</p><p>Denison grasped, early on in her explorations, that mindfulness has to be rooted, and cultivated, in the body. “Using such variety of sensations for developing awareness students learn how to apply their practice in situations other than simply sitting on a pillow,” she said in the <i>Insight</i> interview. “Often [they] do not know how to carry practice home with them after a retreat. But awareness developed in such a wide scope of meditation pattern, as I teach it, becomes gradually a natural state.” For Ruth Denison, grounding the mind in the body was the way into the heart of dharma. It was the portal to a versatile clarity and lasting happiness that stand the test of everyday life—and the end of life. That teaching may prove to be her most enduring legacy.<br><br><b>Mary Talbot</b> is <i>Tricycle’s</i> editor-at-large. She lives in New York City.</p><p><em>Photographs courtesy <a href="http://www.dhammadena.com/" target="_blank">Dhamma Dena</a></em></p> Thu, 26 Feb 2015 09:02:29 -0500 Tricycle - Awake in the World Mummified Monk Found Inside Ancient Statue http://www.tricycle.com/blog/mummified-monk-found-inside-ancient-statue <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/CTScanBuddha.png" width="570" height="374" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p1">After a <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/02/08/can-monks-really-go-into-200-year-trances.html" target="_blank">mini-controversy</a>&nbsp;only a few weeks ago regarding a 200-year-old corpse found in full lotus in Mongolia, the internet sensation over mummified Buddhists is back from the dead with new&nbsp;<a href="http://news.discovery.com/history/archaeology/mummified-monk-sits-inside-ancient-buddha-statue-150223.htm" target="_blank">reports</a> of a human skeleton discovered inside a Chinese Buddhist statue from the 12th century. Researchers at the Drents Museum in the Netherlands had long suspected the artwork to contain remains, but weren't certain until a <a href="http://www.thehistoryblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/CT-scan-at-Meander-Medical-Center-Jan-van-Esch.jpg" target="_blank">CT scan</a> confirmed their presence within the gold-painted, papier-mâché encasing.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">According to head researcher Erik Bruijn, writings found with the skeleton reveal that it belonged to an ancient master named Liuquan. Instead of undergoing a natural death, Liquan likely participated in a predominantly Japanese Buddhist ritual of self-mummification, oulined in an article in <a href="http://www.ancient-origins.net/news-general/scientists-shocked-find-mummified-monk-inside-buddha-statue-002704" target="_blank"><i>Ancient Origins</i></a>:</p><p class="p2"></p><blockquote><p class="p1">For the first 1,000 days, the monks ceased all food except nuts, seeds, fruits and berries and they engaged in extensive physical activity to strip themselves of all body fat. For the next one thousand days, their diet was restricted to just bark and roots. Near the end of this period, they would drink poisonous tea made from the sap of the Urushi tree, which caused vomiting and a rapid loss of body fluids. It also acted as a preservative and killed off maggots and bacteria that would cause the body to decay after death.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">In the final stage, after more than six years of torturous preparation, the monk would lock himself in a stone tomb barely larger than his body, where he would go into a state of meditation. He was seated in the lotus position, a position he would not move from until he died. A small air tube provided oxygen to the tomb. Each day, the monk rang a bell to let the outside world know he was still alive. When the bell stopped ringing, the tube was removed and the tomb sealed for the final thousand day period of the ritual.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">At the end of this period, the tomb would be opened to see if the monk was successful in mummifying himself. If the body was found in a preserved state, the monk was raised to the status of Buddha, his body was removed from the tomb and he was placed in a temple where he was worshiped and revered. If the body had decomposed, the monk was resealed in his tomb and respected for his endurance, but not worshiped.</p></blockquote><p class="p2">"The report was not all that surprising to me when I saw it," James Robson, Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University, told Tricycle. "I suspect if more images were scanned, that we would find that those images have either relics, texts, or other objects inside of them, or that in other cases there are full body relics—mummies—inside."&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">"A successful mummification was supposed to represent the exalted nature of the Buddhist master," Robson explained. "Therefore it was in the disciple’s interest to ensure their master’s mummification was a success; or it might call into question his status and by association their own legitimacy." Fellow monks would help increase the odds of success by "lacquering the corpse or encasing it in ash." The stakes were high—and not only for the guy trying to become a mummy.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">When asked why these stories get so much attention, Robson figured, "people have always been fascinated by death and the afterlife; and perhaps equally—or even more—fascinated by the possibility of prolonging life or circumventing death."&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">There is maybe nothing more perennially human than the yearning to reckon with and even overcome our mortality. But it took two very contemporary technologies—the CT scanner and Twitter—to bring that yearning to light in the form of mummified monks gone viral. We only have, it seems, ourselves to thank.<br><br><strong>Max Zahn</strong> is&nbsp;<em>Tricycle</em>'s editorial assistant.</p> Wed, 25 Feb 2015 16:28:40 -0500 Tricycle - Awake in the World Trying Not to Itch http://www.tricycle.com/blog/trying-not-itch <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/BackScratcher.png" width="570" height="856" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p>Three days into a weeklong Vipassana retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, just north of San Francisco, California, I notice myself itching, unbearably. I’m not the only person distracted by the desire to scratch. Someone else leaves a handwritten note on the staff bulletin board confessing discomfort. The senior teacher responds by devoting an entire dharma session to “the itch,” the gist of which amounts to the following: observe the body’s suffering and let it go. The aching knee, the tickle in the back of the throat—just sensory experiences. Name, but refrain from scratching at all costs.</p><p>It’s my first extended retreat, and I’m determined to adhere to at least some guidelines. To establish distance from our didactic minds, the resident “yogis” have been instructed to avoid reading or writing. Neither activity is considered to be a direct or embodied experience. I stage a quiet resistance in my dorm room, meandering back to my sleeping quarters during walking meditations to scribble down questions, realizations, and disagreements in my bedside journal. Lax in following some directives, I decide that the imposition of a few rules may be of benefit.</p><p>When red, itchy patches bloom across my torso, I think it’s a food allergy. The retreat center’s daily menu of nuts, grains, and vegetarian fare is largely foreign to my meat-based diet. I grow vigilant of ticks, noticing the warnings posted around the compound that feature magnified photos of the bloodsuckers and enlarged images of bite sites. I visit the medical dispensary and try to communicate the nature of my physical distress to a staff member, without breaking silence. “It’s okay to talk,” she says. Resolved to start tucking my pant legs into my socks, I borrow a tube of skin cream and some tabs of Benadryl to help alleviate the itching.</p><p>These over-the-counter remedies fail to improve my condition, leaving scalding hot showers several times a day as my only source of relief. I am methodical each time I squeegee the stall’s wet walls, dislodge loose hair from the drain, and hang up the floor mat over the glass door to dry, thinking of the woman tasked with bathroom cleaning. I hear her crying late at night to her cellmate about her misery and aversion to cleaning toilets and mopping floors. The women on our floor lack mindfulness in their hygiene habits, ignoring posted protocols. I begin to appreciate having signed up for dish duty.</p><p>In a moment of extreme self-loathing and guilt inspired by snapping up one of the few single rooms in the dormitory, I had put my name on the dishwashing list. I envisioned a leisurely washing of dishes, realizing too late that I’d be cleaning up after an entire community of more than 50 people. Dishwashing proves to be a huge challenge. I lack the physical strength to carry plastic tubs weighed down with scalding hot water and dishes, or to shuttle racks loaded with heavy glassware between kitchen and dining room. I will be lucky to make it through the week without shattering a dish.</p><p>My mind struggles with restlessness on the cushion, and I begin to consider my relationship to language and how it impacts my experience. Is there a difference between saying “I itch,” or “I <i>am</i> itchy”? If itchiness is not a permanent state of being, what language best describes the transient nature of experience? And yet, I itch all the time.</p><p>By the fourth day, I finger a possible culprit—an old item of clothing that I picked up at a thrift store before the retreat. The cotton dress emits a strong soapy fragrance capable of causing an allergic reaction. I launder the dress in my sink and stop wearing the garment.</p><p>Sitting helps me manage the discomfort, until visceral memories of previous itching outbreaks flood my consciousness. I remember when my body erupted in hives every time one particularly toxic sexual partner approached me. I re-experience the allergic rash that I developed as a result of taking penicillin as a kid. Along with these impressions arise feelings of shame around itching: my mother’s reproaches that scratching causes permanent scarring, ugliness; and my father’s admonishments that my mother gave me the gift of a perfect body at birth. Don’t ruin it.</p><p>Reliving childhood trauma seems like a legitimate explanation for my acute symptoms, but my mind continues to attach to other explanations: infested bedding at the retreat center, or perhaps a brush with poison oak. As the itching spreads to my hands, arms, and groin area, I pinpoint a memory of a similar pattern.</p><p>During my freshman year in college, I traveled during spring break to rural Florida to plant trees with a nonprofit group called the Nature Conservancy. When I returned to school after a week in the outback, my body broke out in an overpowering rash. A coworker diagnosed the issue. As a former Peace Corps worker in Haiti, she had experienced comparable misery when she contracted parasitic mites. Their patterns—of burrowing beneath the skin to lay their eggs—mimicked my affliction. Her treatment advice involved hot baths and cauterizing each bite site with a lighter. I regarded the dark round scars covering her arms before promptly making an appointment to see a doctor at the school clinic. As the familiar itch of scabies came back to me, I grew sure of the source of my discomfort.</p><p>After seven days on silent retreat, I return to civilization and immediately see a specialist. The healthcare worker takes one look at the marks dotting large surfaces of my backside and confirms scabies. The diagnosis comes as great relief and validation that my mind had not run amok during the week of solitude. Too often, I’ve focused on the truth of suffering, instead of the possibility that the cessation of suffering is possible. The most worthwhile lesson from the retreat was not the directive to refrain from scratching, but rather the commitment to embody compassion toward my own self. Rereading my journal entries from the retreat, my mind catches on this footnote: “Don’t ever let the mind abandon the body.”<br><br><strong>Shin Yu Pai&nbsp;</strong>is a poet, editor, and photographer. She has written seven books of poetry, including&nbsp;<em>Aux Arcs</em>&nbsp;and <em>Adamantine</em>.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Image: Zach Johnson/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/legalcode" target="_blank">Flickr</a></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/dalai-lama-what-people-get-wrong-about-present-moment"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/newsletters/lama.png" width="261" height="137" border="0"></a></p><span class="headertitles"> <b> BLOG: THE DALAI LAMA ON WHAT PEOPLE GET WRONG ABOUT THE PRESENT MOMENT </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/dalai-lama-what-people-get-wrong-about-present-moment"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/0313readthepost3.png" width="142" height="19"></a></p></td><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/real-enemy-religious-extremism"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/newsletters/extream.png" width="261" height="137" border="0"></a></p><span class="headertitles"> <b> BLOG: THE REAL ENEMY IS RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/real-enemy-religious-extremism"> <img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/0313readthepost3.png" width="142" height="19"><br> </a></p></td></tr></tbody></table> Fri, 20 Feb 2015 16:15:05 -0500 Tricycle - Awake in the World Thich Nhat Hanh Making Steady Recovery http://www.tricycle.com/blog/thich-nhat-hanh-making-steady-recovery <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/thich_nhat_hanh.jpg" width="200" height="265" style="margin: 7px; float: right;">More good news to report about the health of renowned Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, who emerged from a coma last November and appears to be making a steady, albeit slow, recovery. The website affiliated with his international network of youth sanghas, "Wake Up," <a href="http://www.wkup.org/update-thich-nhat-hanh-health-3-february-2015/?fb_action_ids=10203499584189518&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_ref=below-post" target="_blank">published</a> an update on his status, penned by longtime collaborator Sister Chan Khong. &nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">It announces:</p><blockquote><p class="p1">Since coming out of the coma, Thay has been able to keep his eyes open, is increasingly alert and able to engage throughout the day with the medical staff and attendants. Having settled in at the rehab center, we are maintaining the 24/7 rotation of attendants to give Thay constant support. Over the past few months Thay has developed clear means of communicating with the attendants as well as physicians. Before aiding Thay in any tasks, the attendants always give thorough explanation and only proceed when Thay gives consent by nodding his head. At other times when Thay did not wish to do whatever has been requested of him, he would shake his head or he’d signaled with his left arm, of which he has regained much control. Overall, Thay has been quite cooperative even though sometimes the task to be done was uncomfortable for him.&nbsp;</p></blockquote><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The update also describes his physical therapy:</p><p class="p2"></p><blockquote><p class="p1">The physical therapists have begun working with Thay to strengthen his muscles after weeks of immobility. One set of therapy includes exercises to strengthen his back so that Thay can sit upright on his own, keeping his neck and head aligned properly. With continued therapy, we are hopeful that Thay will be able to maintain a sitting position without any support.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Thay is also undergoing therapy to strengthen his legs so that he can stand on his own two feet. The 15-minutes sessions are physically challenging, but Thay is highly motivated to regain his capacities and has often continued with these exercises outside of schedule sessions. Thay is very determined to be able to stand again soon!</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The physicians in Bordeaux are hopeful that as Thay is able to eat more and gain more weight, he will have the strength needed for the physical therapy. We are happy to share that last week, in addition to the profound care of the hospital’s doctors, Thay was also treated by a dear student of 20 years, who is a physician specializing in oriental acupressure and acupuncture. The treatments, focused on re-establishing Thay’s yin-yang balance and increasing the energy of his liver, pancreas, and kidneys, had enabled Thay to sleep better and have more energy.&nbsp;</p></blockquote><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">And ends with an encouraging anecdote:</p><p class="p2"></p><blockquote><p class="p1">One of the recent happiest moments for Thay was when he was with the speech therapist and enjoyed a quarter cup of tea! When Thay was finally able to hold his cup of tea upright, we declared, “Now we shall have a tea meditation!” Thay agreed and raised his hand as if about to speak and motioned for one of the attendants to give the therapist a short orientation on how to drink tea mindfully. Then Thay and his speech therapist had a sip of tea. While the therapist observed that Thay was swallowing properly, Thay also looked into his tea and smiled to her. Then he put his hand on his heart and the attendant explained that Thay was encouraging us to bring our mind back to our body and to look more deeply into and really enjoy the taste of tea and people around us.&nbsp;</p></blockquote> Thu, 19 Feb 2015 12:48:17 -0500 Tricycle - Awake in the World Tripping with the Buddha http://www.tricycle.com/blog/tripping-buddha <p class="p1"><b><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/ZigZagZenImage.png" width="570" height="379" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></b></p><p class="p1"><b>Kokyo Henkel: </b>My name is Kokyo. I've been a Zen Buddhist priest for 18 years in the tradition of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi and San Francisco Zen Center, mostly living in monasteries or similar environments over the course of that time. Around the same time as I was beginning Zen practice, some psychedelic experiences were really formative for me. I think it was a significant condition for giving my whole life over to Buddhist practice.<br><br><b>James (Jim) Fadiman: </b>I'm Jim and in 1961, I started working with psychedelics with Richard Alpert, now Ram Dass, and then with the International Foundation for Advanced Study in Menlo Park while I was earning a PhD in Psychology from Stanford. Until I first experienced the effects of psychedelics, I had no interest in Buddhist practice. However, explorers in the psychedelic realm, doing formal or informal research, became aware early on that there were experiences that apparently overlapped the core mystical experiences of many spiritual traditions. That is more true today. I recognized that my central concern is helping establish the proper place of altered states of consciousness in contemporary society.<br><br><b>Kokyo: </b>Let me set the stage for the Buddhist perspective with one of the major issues that people have in Buddhism around this topic, which is what we call the ethical precepts that go all the way back to early Buddhism. They include not killing living beings, not taking what's not given, not misusing sexuality, and not lying or speaking falsely. The fifth one, as originally worded in the Pali and the Sanskrit, is "not to consume alcoholic beverages that lead to heedlessness or carelessness." I think it is interesting that the first four precepts are not explained. It's obvious why these actions are harmful to others, so in the original language they are very short. But the fifth precept is longer since it includes the reason for it. We often interpret the fifth precept as not intoxicating body and mind, or not taking intoxicants, which at the time meant alcohol. The main issue here is: Does psychedelic use lead to harming others? Does it lead to carelessness and heedlessness? Do we start disrespecting others through having altered our mind in this way? So if we do use psychedelics, this would be the bottom line: Is it harmful to others or harmful to ourselves?</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">I think that's a good context to look at the use of different substances. Do we think that it would be beneficial to our self and—from a bodhisattva perspective, being beneficial to our self is not the foremost thing—is it beneficial to our deeper unfolding of realization so that we can help others more fully?<br><br><b>Jim: </b>The serious question seems to be: Does having psychedelic experiences improve or degrade my practice? This isn't yet looking at the inner framework, or the life situation of the person. This question, "What does it do to my practice?" is still internal. I'd like to share some stories that have helped my understanding.</p><p>Near the end of his life Alan Watts was asked by a young man, "Is it worthwhile to take LSD?" After pondering a bit, Alan replied, "That's like asking me if life is worthwhile."</p><p>Next is a quote from the website DMT-Nexus: "I can says this after a lifetime of meditating and only two trips on psychedelics, that they are not just a trip. The lasting effects are huge. The changes in me have been profound and seem substantially permanent. I agree; it is best to work on yourself using all available methods." And finally this from a professor, speaking of a high dose experience: "After the collective purification ended, I was spun into the radiance of what, using Buddhist vocabulary, I perceived to be the domain of diamond luminosity. I've known light many times before, but this was an exceptionally pure light. Its clarity was so overwhelming, its energy so pure, that returning to it quickly became my deepest agenda for future sessions. After my first initiation into this reality, it took five sessions of intense purification and surrender before the doors were opened again and I was returned to the diamond light, now experience at a slightly deeper and even purer form."</p><p>For me, these reports bring up very practical questions: Are psychedelics beneficial in the sense of moving you towards living a life more life a bodhisattva? Are they good for you right now?<br><br><b>Kokyo: </b>One place we can go is to talk about what qualities of psychedelic experience could be in accord with Buddhism—because there are lots of things that happen in a psychedelic experience that have nothing to do with Buddhism.</p><p>A basic Buddhist teaching is that the root of all our problems is the belief that things are separate, outside us, and things substantially exist in and of themselves. So the profound insight that those are actually illusions can release one from all kinds of suffering, if it's deeply realized and integrated into one's life. But going beyond this, in Mahayana Buddhism the purpose of that very insight is not even for our own liberation from suffering; it's so that we can really help others, and really meet others with complete openness and a sense of non-separation. That's the bodhisattva path. So, there can be realization of nonduality, of non-separation, that people aren't who we think they are. And to realize that people aren't who we think they are is very beneficial to those people who we meet.</p><p>There may be—lastly, and maybe most importantly—persisting positive changes in attitude and behavior after a psychedelic experience is over: Changes in attitude towards oneself, toward others, towards life and towards spiritual experiences. Deep meditation practice and psychedelics can both bring up unconscious problems or issues, karmic patterns, and enable us to really look at them in a caring and therapeutic way. More sensitivity, tolerance, openness, and love of others, with lasting change, can occur through a psychedelic experience. Vocational commitment and appreciation of all life can be strengthened.<br><br><b>Audience: </b>Either with psychedelics or practice, how do we get past the problem that, once we've seen something, we want to get back there, and we're grasping, and we're looking for it, and it's hard to get there because it's a state of innocence?<br><br><b>Kokyo: </b>That's a great question. We have a wonderful experience that we feel is really beneficial, and then we wonder how do we get back there? It's a state of innocence, so any movement or wish to get back to that state of innocence is already not innocent. This is a major issue in Buddhist practice, maybe not talked about so much in psychedelic practice but I think should be. That's what we call grasping or attachment, saying, "I gotta get that again." That is the definition of discontent in Buddhism.<br><br><b>Jim: </b>It's not talked about in psychedelics enough. It is that wonderful paradox of, "I just did this and then this incredible wonderful thing happened. And, I want it again." The question all too often is: "What drug should I take, and do you have any?" instead of the questions we are asking.</p><p>In an early chapter of my book, <i>The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide</i>, I say that after you have a major experience, if within the first six weeks after it you feel you have the need to get back there, what you are doing is avoiding working with something in yourself that has come up. [sigh from the audience] The advice is wait another six weeks.</p><p>We know from the meditative traditions, if you get out of the way, the universe brightens. Here is what interests me: if "I," Jim Fadiman, want that experience, and the "I" that wants it is going to be diminished, then if I get it, "I" can't get it. The me that needs to get out of the way can never get it. But maybe, of course, if I had the right psychedelic [laughter] or the new ones maybe [laughter], it would be different. You see the problem.<br><br><b>Kokyo: </b>A quote comes to mind from Dogen Zenji, "Buddha-Dharma cannot be realized by a person . . . Only a Buddha can realize Buddha-Dharma."<br><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/ZigZagZenImage2.png" width="570" height="570" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"><br><strong>Jim:</strong> Let me ask a question: Whatever that highest and most amazing experience is, let's call it unity, where there is no division between you and the universe, and that you understand that there's no distinctions of time and space, and that while your personality and body are mortal, you're not. How many people have actually experienced that? [looking around, many raised hands] So, here we are, everybody came back. Many of the people I have guided have this question when they come back. "Why did I come back into this body, with all of its neurotic problems? When I was out there, it was clear that I was not necessarily attached to it."<br><br><b>Kokyo: </b>In ultimate truth there is no division, just complete unity; there's no self and no other. Emptiness. The conventional truth is where there is the appearance of self and other; those two truths are not separate: the conventional and the ultimate truth. Of course, most of us live in the conventional truth, the conventional world, almost all the time. We need to realize the ultimate truth, but as Nagarjuna, one of the great Indian ancestors, says, "in order to realize the ultimate truth you must be completely grounded in the conventional truth," which means the precepts of ethical conduct, and so on. If we neglect how we are taking care of ourselves and other people, then it is actually impossible to realize the ultimate truth, at least in the Buddhist view. Now, in the psychedelic world, some of us might say, "Let's bypass the conventional and go straight to the ultimate." This can be a problem.<br><br><b>Audience: </b>I wanted to ask about the practice. In your experience and the experience of people in the room, how can psychedelics be used as a practice, as an ongoing process of spiritual maturation?<br><br><b>Kokyo: </b>Maybe part of that question is implying that there are two different types of psychedelic use, especially in relation to Buddhism. I think we could look at a psychedelic experience as an initial opening, like you have an insight into non-separation for example, and then you pick up a meditation practice or some other method to sustain and develop that insight. Another use would be to use psychedelics as an ongoing path of practice. One problem with an initial experience is that you "see" a certain realm of reality—you "see" it; just that very language implies there may be a subtle duality there, that you're seeing "something." It might be very, very subtle, but the emphasis is on seeing a realm. In my tradition of Soto Zen, Dogen Zenji criticized the term <i>kensho</i>, which means seeing the nature of reality, seeing nature, seeing buddhanature. This is usually said to be the goal in Rinzai Zen, seeing your nature. Dogen, with his emphasis on nonduality, was critical of that term because it's putting something out there. Dogen is always talking about manifestation or becoming. So you might say that it is not a matter of seeing your true nature. It's about becoming that, manifesting your true nature, which you might not even realize is happening as some objective thing. It's easy to make the enlightenment into something and try to get it.<br><br><b>Jim: </b>You mean it's not a thing? It's not a destination? It's not a realization that colors the rest of your life? It's not a sense of awareness that pervades more and more of your life? We're asking what's the purpose of psychedelic experience? When is it appropriate? When is the correct time in one's life to do such and such? Those questions must occur in Buddhism. There is something about timing, what the Sufis call, "a sense of occasion" and what therapists call, "a teachable moment." Kokyo, you have devoted your life not to just work on yourself, but to working on yourself in the service of others. Most people who talk psychedelics don't say that. They do say that they are working on themselves, and want to make the world a better place. But there is still a lot of self that is primary, and that may be a difference.<br><br><b>Kokyo: </b>Myron Stolaroff in his essay, "Are Psychedelics Useful in Buddhism?" said that another thing they both do is dissolve mindsets. Any kind of fixed mind set, cultural and societal assumptions—a lot of things we just take for granted—one can see through, with both of these technologies. And that's part of the reason, some people have theorized, why most of these substances are illegal, because they threaten the very fabric of society as we know it.<br><br><b>Jim: </b>Kathy Speeth, a gifted teacher, had a wonderful saying: "Enlightenment is always a crime." What she was saying is that every culture wants to remain stable and wants its institutions to be supported and believed in. Enlightenment, from any tradition, cuts through that. What she was pointing out was that it is culturally correct to define enlightenment as a crime.<br><br><b>Kokyo: </b>To add to the discussion about ritual settings for psychedelics, and to bring Buddhism and psychedelics together, you might be surprised that there's an experiment scheduled to begin this year by a friend of mine. Vanja Palmers is the senior dharma heir of Kobun Chino Otagawa Roshi, who taught at Santa Cruz Zen Center many years ago. Vanja is a longtime, very serious Zen practitioner and priest. He lives in Switzerland most of the time, and he got permission from the Swiss government to do an experiment during a <i>sesshin</i>. <i>Sesshin</i> means to collect the mind, to gather the mind. It's the Zen name for an intensive meditation retreat. In a five-day <i>sesshin</i>, you're meditating basically all day, completely in silence; from 4 or 5 a.m. until 9 p.m. there is sitting meditation, interspersed with walking meditation. The experiment will be that on the fourth day of <i>sesshin</i>, twenty people will take a medium does of psilocybin, and twenty won't, in a double-blind experiment, and basically see what happens—particularly around mystical experience. Vanja is hand selecting the people, inviting particular longtime experienced meditators, who ideally also have some experience with psychedelics. He's doing interviews with them beforehand and following up afterwards for at least six months, and maybe longer. In the "Good Friday Experiment" in the Christian tradition that I mentioned earlier, they followed up with the subjects six months later, to see how many of the changes had lasted. And they admitted that six months is not very long. So in this case they may check after six months, maybe longer, to interview people regarding the lasting effects of the experience.</p><p>This may be the furthest that this kind of experiment has gone, integrating serious intensive Buddhist meditation with psychedelics. Part of this particular experiment is a medium dose. People often have mystical nondual experiences with a high dose but without meditation. So part of the proposal of the experiment is to see if after four days of all-day meditation, can a similar thing happen with a smaller dose?<br><br><b>Audience: </b>I have a question about Buddhism. Could you compare something like the <i>jhana </i>states with the psychedelic experience?<br><br><b>Kokyo: </b>The <i>jhanas </i>are different levels of concentration, or states of absorption, particularly emphasized in Theravada Buddhism. They are deepening levels of withdrawal from the external world, or more simply, becoming more and more absorbed in nondual concentration. These <i>jhanic</i> states were taught by the Buddha, not as enlightenment itself, not as insight, but actually as concentration practices to develop a stable body and mind in order for insight to arrive. The <i>jhanas </i>are not the main point. They are part of the path, and many traditions don't practice them methodically. The practice of withdrawal from the external sensory world is one way to develop these <i>jhanas</i>.</p><p>That's often the case with psychedelics as well. Part of the setting, with psychedelics, is whether the eyes are opened or closed. With eyes closed, there can be an internal unity experience, a whole internal world going on, where one is not really relating to objects. With eyes open, one is still visually relating to the apparently external world. Then there's the unity of self and sensory objects, an experience that happens in a so-called mystical experience. <i>Jhana </i>is maybe more related to the inner unity as opposed to the external unity.<br><br><b>Audience: </b>Can you talk about the role of <i>satsang </i>[spiritual community] in Buddhism and how community can be used in the integration process in the psychedelic experience?<br><br><b>Kokyo: </b>In Buddhism, sangha is the spiritual community and it's very important, one of the refuges to rely on. We rely on the spiritual community to help sustain our practice and encourage us. So practice is not just an individual thing; we do it together. Especially in the Zen tradition, meditation practice and retreats are very much a group thing. We're in silence, but in very close quarters, sitting right together, and it's very interactive, with lots of rituals. We serve food to each other in very particular ways in the silence.</p><p>The spiritual community in Buddhism is very important, because part of what we're realizing through practice is non-separation and intimacy. The realization is that we're all completely intimate beyond our imagination. Psychedelic work tends to be more individual, even if people are tripping together. On the other hand, I have had experiences with psychedelics that were excruciatingly intimate; for example, at a Grateful Dead Concert. [laughter] We are one being! [laughter] That is one example of a communal ritual that has been commonly used in the tradition.<br><br><b>Jim: </b>There are communities that help their members with integration. The one that is most developed is the Burner community. Burning Man is one of the closest replacements we have to Grateful Dead concerts, and it lasts for a week, not an evening. If you look at this stage of development, and compare it to Buddhism in the first 50 years after Buddha's death, which is where we are with psychedelics in this country, we may be doing all right. Buddhists have had a lot more time to work out some of the problems.<br><br><b>Kokyo: </b>May we all stay connected and realize our intimacy. As we often do at the end of dharma events, let's dedicate the merit, any positive energy that was generated by this discussion, to the benefit of all beings, to the awakening and freedom of all beings.</p><p>I'd like to finish with a classic quote from Dogen Zenji, the Japanese founder of Soto Zen:&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1"><i>To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind, as well as the body and minds of others, drop away. No trace of realization remains, and this no trace continues endlessly.</i></p><p class="p1" style="text-align: center;"><i><br></i><strong>To read more on this topic, check out the&nbsp;1996 "<a href="http://www.tricycle.com/fall-1996" target="_blank">Buddhism and Psychedelics</a>" special issue.</strong></p><p class="p1"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/fall-1996" target="_blank"><strong><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/BuddhismAndPsychedelicsCover.png" width="150" height="196" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></strong></a></p><p class="p1"><i><br></i>Reprinted with permission from Synergetic Press from&nbsp;<em>Zig&nbsp;Zag&nbsp;Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics (New Edition)</em>&nbsp;edited by Allan Badiner with Art Editor Alex Grey (2015). For more information, visit&nbsp;<a href="http://www.synergeticpress.com/product/zig-zag-zen-buddhism-psychedelics/" target="_blank">Synergetic Press</a>.</p><p class="p1"><em>Images: Michael Werner/Gallerystock</em></p> Wed, 18 Feb 2015 11:09:14 -0500 Tricycle - Awake in the World Myanmar's Cosmic Theater http://www.tricycle.com/blog/myanmars-cosmic-theater <p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Buddhist Art of Myanmar<br></strong>February 10–May 10, 2015<br>Asia Society, New York</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/MyanmarArt_1.jpg" width="570" height="786"><em>A Pyu period copper statue of a seated Buddha from the 8th or 9th century.</em></p><p>Four years ago, Burma, now known as Myanmar, ended its decades-long isolation from much of the world. Now the Asia Society has mounted the first-ever museum show of Burmese Buddhist art in the US.</p><p>The works included are fantastically varied in appearance, and for good reason. Until British rule in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the region comprising present-day Myanmar was a collection of separate kingdoms whose names, borders, and populations changed over the centuries. Providing a common thread among these disparate cultures was Buddhism, still practiced by 90 percent of the population of Myanmar.</p><p>Buddhism arrived in Myanmar around 500 CE with Indian monks and traders. At the time Lower Myanmar was occupied by the Mon peoples and Upper Myanmar by the Pyu. But by the beginning of the second millennium, for reasons that are not well known, the Pyu had vanished. They were replaced by Bamar-speaking peoples, who migrated into Upper Myanmar from southern China; two-thirds of the country’s current population is descended from them. The Bamar had their capital city at Pagan, on the Irrawaddy River, and later at Ava.&nbsp;</p><p>Western Myanmar was controlled by the Rakhine, and by the 14th century, the Shan had arrived in northeastern Myanmar from southern China and formed over 20 independent kingdoms. Myanmar only began to be united as a nation with the Konbaung Dynasty (1752–1885), whose rulers also expanded their territory into Laos and Thailand.</p><p>Rather than trace stylistic evolution on multiple fronts, the curators have organized the show into non-chronological groupings reflecting the main precepts of Theravada Buddhism, the primary form of Buddhism practiced in Myanmar since at least the Pagan era. Within these groupings are pieces that appear to have no connection to each other save for their Buddhist iconography. Yet, by the end of the show, a distinctly regional form of Theravada has emerged, one expressed through a multiplicity of styles, but with similar drama, opulence, and connectedness to ordinary life, regional politics, and local folklore.&nbsp;</p><p>The exhibition opens with a section devoted to images of the Buddha in metal, clay, stone, and wood, made between the 5th and the 19th centuries. They include a corroded Pyu period copper statue of a seated Buddha with his hands raised and his forefingers touching his thumbs from the 8th or 9th century CE. Showing traces of Indian Gupta influence, this modestly scaled sculpture is one of the most beautiful objects in the exhibition: the Buddha’s slim body, his arms and hands positioned just so, and his rounded face with its full lips all radiate meditative concentration.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/MyanmarArt_2.jpg" width="570" height="855" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"><i>The Buddha severs his hair with a sword in a scene of renunciation unique to Myanmar art.</i></p><p>By contrast, another seated Buddha, this one from Ava between 1600 and 1700 CE, shows the full force of Bamar style. Highly stylized, with flat, paddlelike hands and feet, heavy lidded, exothalmic eyes, a short neck, and a snub nose, this Buddha wears a crown decorated with an abstract, elongated chignon and two openwork side panels that are exaggerations of the headdress ribbons worn by Indian Pala period deities. Even more richly clad is a gilded Shan Buddha from the late 1800s with a naturalistic, rather modern-looking face. He wears a crown and jeweled clothing inlaid with real glass chips—a style indebted to Thai royal costumes of the time.</p><p>A second section of the exhibition is devoted to images of the historical Buddha’s life, an important subject of study for Theravada Buddhists, who aspire to individual liberation through practicing, as the Buddha did, monasticism, the accumulation of merit, and meditation. Here, a wonderfully composed Pagan period stone sculpture from the 11th–12th century depicts a scene unique to Burmese art: the Buddha, having renounced a life of privilege, cutting his hair with a sword.</p><p>In this same section is a bronze narrative work from the 1800s showing the Buddha-to-be, Prince Siddhatta, making his final departure from his father’s palace. In this delightful piece, the Buddha’s horse is raised above the ground by helpful devas so that its hoofbeats will not be heard by the palace guards. Two other devas light the way, but ahead of them is the demon Mara, representing obstacles on the spiritual journey. He floats in front of Siddhatta’s horse, his dancer’s body supported by an upright metal rod. (Mara’s assistant demons and his slinky temptress daughters haunt other works in the show, notably a 15th-century terracotta tile featuring two green ogres, weapons drawn, from a Mon temple in Pegu.)</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/MyanmarArt_3.jpg" width="570" height="675" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"><em>"Mara's Demons" on a&nbsp;5th-century terracotta tile</em></p><p>A grouping of artworks in the next gallery depicts scenes from <i>Jatakas</i>—Buddhist morality stories. Over the centuries, these stories became entwined with Myanmar folk tales, just as prophecies of the Buddha were incorporated into foundational myths legitimizing dynastic lines. An illustrated book from the late 19th century tells a <i>Jataka</i>-inspired story of a prince and a peasant girl which, despite its use of Pali names, is set in Myanmar and espouses traditional Myanmar family values.</p><p>The exhibition’s final section consists of a selection of ritual objects. In it, pieces such as a Pagan statuette of Vishnu from the 11th–12th century and a Pegu terracotta roundel featuring a lively mob of dancers and water buffaloes, from the 5th–6th century, illustrate the easy incorporation of non-Buddhist deities and images of ordinary life into Buddhist sacred spaces. Elsewhere, a terracotta votive tablet and a manuscript binding ribbon with the donor’s name woven into it testify to the importance of making offerings in Theravada practice.</p><p>Despite their differences, two pieces suggest a through line in Myanmar Buddhist culture. Borrowed from the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco is an enormous, tiered, 19th-century wooden shrine. Out of its gilded, foliate carvings peers a small golden Buddha as if out of an elaborate stage set. And from the early 20th century is a seated figure of the Buddha’s disciple Sariputta, every line of his twisted body telegraphing his focus on his teacher’s words. Despite the dizzying range of works on view, the final impression is of the world as a cosmic theater, with the actors—gods, humans, demons, and animals—each with a part to play in the endless cycle of samsara and nirvana.<br><br><b>Anne Doran</b> is a writer and editor for the visual arts. She lives in New York City.</p><p><em>Photographs by Sean Dungan, courtesy Asia Society</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/trying-not-itch"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/itch.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span class="headertitles"> <b> BLOG: TRYING NOT TO ITCH </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/trying-not-itch"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/0313readthepost3.png" width="142" height="19"></a></p></td><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/tripping-buddha"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/trippin.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span class="headertitles"> <b> BLOG: TRIPPING WITH THE BUDDHA </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/tripping-buddha"> <img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/0313readthepost3.png" width="142" height="19"><br> </a></p></td></tr></tbody></table> Tue, 17 Feb 2015 14:33:21 -0500 Tricycle - Awake in the World The Path of Writing http://www.tricycle.com/blog/path-writing <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/CrazyThing570.png" width="570" height="774" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p1">I was nearly sixty when I decided to write this. In February 1998, we flew to Los Angeles to visit C's son for a few days. We slept on a mattress on the floor of his study and that first morning, still on East Coast time, I woke early to the sound of birdsong coming through the open window. The scent of lemon blossoms filled the air. It was as though we had flown from winter into spring. I was reading a book I'd begun on the plane when all at once, in the midst of reading, I suddenly decided to become a writer. It wasn't a whim. I decided, irrevocably, to write a book. The decision was absurd since I'd never written anything. I'd spent most of my life as a visual artist; even writing letters was difficult for me.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The book I'd been reading was Kierkegaard's <i>Purity of Heart</i> and it troubled me. It seemed to me that Kierkegaard was offering more than an idea to his reader. He seemed to be saying that if I'd read him in the right way, it would change the way I live.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">I took him at his word. I decided to engage with him, read as he asked, and see if I could learn what he meant by "willing one thing." (That is the full title: <i>Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing.</i>) Could reading Kierkegaard cure me of what he calls "double-mindedness"? I decided to read his book as if it were an instruction manual, follow his promptings, and write a book about my experience. I would call it <i>A Conversation with Kierkegaard</i>. I thought I could complete it in about a year.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Back home in New York, it was winter. The streets were frozen, and my project seemed far more difficult than I had anticipated. Months passed before I managed to write my first valid sentences.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1"><i>Now more than anything I want to tell you something. Now before it ends I urgently wish to speak. And I hope for words that are not empty, words whose fullness will be confirmed in the echo, in the answering conversation they evoke about each one's fundamental enterprise—to beat the devil, to establish oneself in the service of true speech, to answer, "I am here," when called.&nbsp;</i></p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">I typed out these words in a passion. For weeks I had been destroying everything I wrote. Now, in frustration, I spelled out my dilemma, and tasted, for the first time, the urgency with which I wished to write. The idea of writing what I already knew made me heartsick. Rather than report what I had discovered, I wanted, as I wrote, to discover what I was reporting. The simultaneity of knowing and speaking has everything to do with what Kierkegaard means by "willing one thing." A kind of violence is called for, one that can shatter the complacency of indifferent knowing and break through to the burning urgency of what needs to be said in the very instant of its saying. Years would go by before I began to understand what I'd discovered in that moment.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">I stopped painting and began to write every day. I worked in the early morning dark before leaving the house and in planes and trains, hotel rooms, and vacation houses. I wrote one version of an opening chapter after another. Several months of hopeful work would result in a possible beginning, but when I sat down to read it later, my heart would sink. I knew it was bad. Nonetheless the following day would find me ready to start again.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Years went by in this way. I scribbled away furiously, filling notebooks while I searched in different ways for what it was I so urgently wished to say. I hadn't realized how much I would need to develop before I could give voice to the inchoate experience I wanted to write about—the mysterious other side of consciousness that only appears in fissures and in flashes. I hadn't yet seen that I didn't know how to think or write about it. I hadn't yet realized how shallow my understanding was. All I knew was that I had a blind need to give voice to something and that it wouldn't leave me in peace. The pages piled up and, with rare exceptions, were never quite to the point.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Then cancer intervened. I took it as a warning, a gun pointed at my temple, as if throat cancer were a cancer of the voice and my instructions were precise: Speak, write, say what you have to say or lose voice and life both. The question about dying marked the opening of the late, second stage of my life: I began to live experimentally.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">I continued to give myself assignments. I would learn to walk or listen more consciously. I practiced daily, kept notes, and then wrote up an account of my experiences. In this way my book became more like an account ledger or a kind of balance sheet that told me where I stood, how much I'd paid, and what I still owned. Unwittingly, I had given it the authority to teach, make demands, and point out where I fell short. It directed me back to the problem that Kierkegaard was speaking about in <i>Purity of Heart</i>. Purged of double-mindedness, what would it mean to will one thing?&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">It should be clear that Kierkegaard means something more radical than doing one thing at a time. For the pure at heart, consciousness, will, and action comprise a seamless whole. In willing one thing there can be no gap between myself and what I will—no ulterior motive, no fingers crossed behind my back, and nothing left over. It scarcely matters what I might do, because subject and object, the will and the deed, should now be one. If I were making a drawing, every touch of the pencil to the page would complete something; both the drawing and myself would be whole in every instant. Cézanne, for whom beginning and end were indistinguishable, worked that way. There are watercolors consisting of only a few strokes that are completely satisfying, while even his most finished works are still "in progress."&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Near the end of <i>Purity of Heart</i>, Kierkegaard questions his reader: "Do you now live so that you are conscious of yourself as an individual; that in each of your relations in which you come in touch with the outside world, you are conscious of yourself, and that at the same time you are related to yourself as an individual?"</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">No, the answer was certainly no. When I came in touch with the outside world I was not conscious of myself. I knew from many years of practice what it meant to be aware of myself, but that only came in flashes and was commonly lost when I entered into everyday relations with the world. I wanted to learn what it was that made me forget what I valued most.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Kierkegaard didn't say, "You must become aware of yourself." He questioned without commanding. His question invited me to question myself. When I asked myself if I was aware of myself, I became conscious of a hollow feeling, the absence in myself of something that should be there—the "I" was missing. I was a verb without a subject.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">But the philosopher was subtle. His question made me aware that I was not aware—in other words, his question made me aware of myself. It was this initial exchange that put me on the path of writing. I wanted to write a book that would play Kierkegaard's part, take the role of midwife by posing subtle questions. It was the only way I could think of to learn what I couldn't or wouldn't teach myself.</p><p class="p1"><em>Meditative thinking is an oxymoron: I am supposed to keep still and keep moving at the same time; pay unbroken attention to my thoughts as they break up and reform; and wait without changing anything by so much as a hair's breadth for a change that will alter my nature absolutely.</em></p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1"><em>This morning everything is the same as yesterday—an airplane drones by overhead, the shrimp flash in the glassy surface of the creek, and the children sleep late. But today an inner world is opening in which these events find an echo of unfathomable depth.</em></p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1"><em>Another mind is moving in me, a second nature that is as inseparable from me as my shadow, except that in relation to it I am the shadow and it the light. The dilemma I find myself in (if I find myself at all) is that this other is hidden from me in the same way that seeing is hidden from things that are seen. The work of meditative thinking is a collaboration between these two natures—the seer that remembers and the seen that always forgets. As in rowing, if you pull more on one oar than the other, you go round in circles, and, as in rowing, all I can see is what I have passed as I press forward toward a point that is hidden behind me.</em><br><br><strong>Carl Lehmann-Haupt</strong>&nbsp;is a writer, artist, and designer. He lives in New York.</p><p class="p1"><em>Reprinted with the kind permission of Codhill Press</em></p><p class="p1"><em>Painting by the author</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/dalai-lama-what-people-get-wrong-about-present-moment"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/newsletters/lama.png" width="261" height="137" border="0"></a></p><span class="headertitles"> <b> BLOG: THE DALAI LAMA ON WHAT PEOPLE GET WRONG ABOUT THE PRESENT MOMENT </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/dalai-lama-what-people-get-wrong-about-present-moment"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/0313readthepost3.png" width="142" height="19"></a></p></td><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/real-enemy-religious-extremism"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/newsletters/extream.png" width="261" height="137" border="0"></a></p><span class="headertitles"> <b> BLOG: THE REAL ENEMY IS RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/real-enemy-religious-extremism"> <img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/0313readthepost3.png" width="142" height="19"><br> </a></p></td></tr></tbody></table> Fri, 13 Feb 2015 12:40:35 -0500 Tricycle - Awake in the World Bible Belt Buddhism http://www.tricycle.com/blog/bible-belt-buddhism <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/BibleBeltBuddhismImage.png" width="570" height="335" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p>I live in the heart of the Bible Belt<i>. </i>When this article is published, many of my family and friends will fear I am destined for hell. Some Christians, like many others, misjudge what they do not understand. Some simply scratch their heads<b> </b>when they hear of a Christian examining Buddhism, meditation, or even just alternative experiences and faiths. Other Christians will have much stronger objections than that.</p><p>I know this well, for there was a time when I was one of them.</p><p>My journey into examining Buddhism and developing a practice of meditation began when a marriage counselor, a Christian, suggested I read the writings of Richard Rohr. His works <i>Everything Belongs</i> and <i>Falling Upward</i> make reference to the renowned Trappist monk Thomas Merton, whose engagement with Buddhism led me to read books by the likes of Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama. The more I read, the more I found I had little grasp of Buddhism and its many schools. But I noticed how the teachings of the four noble truths and eightfold path were in many ways—though not all—consistent with the teachings of Jesus and Christian doctrine.</p><p>For instance, the Buddha’s teaching on right view affords a deeper understanding of Jesus’s warning not to be “conformed to this world but be transformed” (Romans 12:2) and to “let my mind dwell on whatever is good, right, and pure” (Phillippians 4:8). My thinking has transformed in such a way that I perceive my peers’ negative reactions as arising from their own attachments rather than as deliberate efforts to hurt me. By stewarding my mind skillfully, I am better equipped to avoid misjudgments or dwell on difficult circumstances that might otherwise result in unskillful means of dealing with pain.</p><p>In my pursuit of mindfulness I have found myself giving thanks for all things at a far deeper level. I’m more thankful for simple things as I eat a piece of fruit, walk in the woods, and endure the trials of life. Yes, as I become more mindful I am even grateful for difficulties and pain, as they allow me to access greater compassion for those going through their own hardships.</p><p>Releasing attachments, meanwhile, has bolstered my belief that I should “not store up for [myself] treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). The biblical observation of how “the earth should change and . . . the mountains slip into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46:2) has been illuminated by my understanding of impermanence, as has the admonishment to forget “what lies behind and reach forward to what lies ahead . . . press on” (Philippians 3:13). Striving to maintain a beginner’s mind opens me to a faith in Jesus beyond the preconceptions that I’ve carried since I was a young man. Finally, after so many years, I see genuine Christianity anew.</p><p>These teachings have made their way into my thinking, and my library, during a family and marital crisis that has led me to fundamentally question whether my experience is, in fact, consistent with the belief system to which I’ve adhered for so long. Lately, the tumult in my life has seemed immune to my usual remedies: the Bible, prayer, and the fellowship of other Christians. In my study and meditation I began to see how much of my life was the result of living up to others’ expectations, how little I forgave myself, and how much, even as a Christian, I was prone to harsh, if unspoken judgment of myself and others.</p><p>But as I’ve noticed this tendency in myself, my questioning has grown to include not just my habits but my faith. I recently confessed to my wife, son, and daughter that I had begun to wonder whether God even existed. To be sure, these concerns were, and remain, disconcerting to those who have known me as an elder in the church, a Sunday school teacher, and an apologist for the Bible and Christianity. They were and still are dismayed. I can see their pain, their concern, and their suffering, just as I’ve become acutely aware of my own.</p><p>As I write these words, I sit in a one-bedroom apartment, having separated, about eight weeks ago, from my wife of 31 years. In Christian circles, at least those in which I have fellowshipped, worshipped, and in whose tradition I have raised my children, such a decision is considered cowardly, selfish, and sinful.</p><p>I have, in short, failed at what is for many the litmus test of Christian manhood.</p><p>But amid this chaos, I have nevertheless returned to my faith, albeit in altered form. While Buddhism does not acknowledge a creator God, I am comforted by the Dalai Lama’s words of encouragement to Christians to allow Buddhism to make them better practitioners of their faith. For many Christians, that call would mean I return to my wife. But in the reflective wisdom of Buddhism, I have seen more clearly the message of Christ’s forgiveness.</p><p>Though my grappling with divorce is hardly complete, I find myself clearly seeing the pain and suffering of others when they react to me in anger, while recognizing that I am not bound to judge them as they might judge me. I recall the words of the Apostle Paul: “I do not even judge myself.” These are healing words from a man who considered himself “chief among sinners,” and who, according to the Bible, presided over the stoning of Stephen, a disciple of Christ, before Paul’s own conversion from his Jewish faith.</p><p>Rest assured, my words are not an attempt to reconcile Buddhism with Christianity. In my own experience I find it difficult to reconcile some of my choices with my beliefs about either path. I am imperfect. And yet in the silence of meditation, I encounter what Buddhists would call the compassion of Avalokiteshvara and Christians call “the peace of Christ.” I have seen the struggle of others in a new light as I realize how my own grasping for permanence in religious vocation and in my marriage has caused both myself and others so much pain. Similarly, I see how my lack of compassion has stranded me on the throne of judgment. As I seek the grace of family and friends, I long to reciprocally grant them grace in their pain, failings, and fear.</p><p>I no longer find it necessary to believe the Bible is literally true. Its truth is sufficient, though I often struggle to understand it. I see the message of Jesus—to love my neighbor as myself—more clearly, and pray that I become more like him each and every day. But I see the contradictions in my behavior and my belief, just as Paul did in his writing in Romans 7:15 when he admitted, “what I am doing I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do.” And as I sit in meditation, to quiet the storms of my mind, I find his presence there to comfort me as I endure the tough love of some of my Christian friends.</p><p>Upon reading this, many Christians will suggest I have taken words of the Bible out of context, that I have distorted the words of Jesus, Paul, and other writers. Perhaps they are correct. I pray not. But I am reminded of the words of the disciple Peter, one of Jesus’s inner circle, the cornerstone of Jesus’s church, in his description of Christ: “And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, he uttered no threats” (1 Peter 2:23). I pray I will respond the same way to those who might revile me.</p><p>While I have yet to entirely reconcile my faith with my newfound Buddhist outlook and meditation practice, I long to live as Jesus did in understanding and compassion, comforting those who suffer. I will do it in prayer, in study, and in sitting.<br><br><strong>Jim Owens&nbsp;</strong>is a banker living in Madison, Alabama.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Image: 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/trying-not-itch"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/itch.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span class="headertitles"> <b> BLOG: TRYING NOT TO ITCH </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/trying-not-itch"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/0313readthepost3.png" width="142" height="19"></a></p></td><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/tripping-buddha"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/trippin.png" alt="" width="270" height="150" border="0" style="display: block; border: none; outline: none; text-decoration: none;" class="colimg2"></a></p><span class="headertitles"> <b> BLOG: TRIPPING WITH THE BUDDHA </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/tripping-buddha"> <img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/0313readthepost3.png" width="142" height="19"><br> </a></p></td></tr></tbody></table> Wed, 11 Feb 2015 11:40:52 -0500 Tricycle - Awake in the World Against “Common Sense” Buddhism http://www.tricycle.com/blog/against-common-sense-buddhism <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/LamaJampa_frog_1.jpg" width="570" height="357" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>There’s an old story about a frog. He’s lived all his life in a well, and one day another frog appears at its rim. They get to talking, and the strange frog tells the older one that he’s come from somewhere called the ocean.</p><p>“I never heard of that. I guess it’s about a quarter the size of my well?”</p><p>“No. More than that,” answers the other.</p><p>“OK—a half?”</p><p>“Much bigger,” the strange frog laughs.</p><p>“The same size, then?”</p><p>“No, even bigger,” says the foreign frog.</p><p>“Alright. This, I got to see,” says the oldster as he clambers out the well and sets out for the ocean.</p><p>It’s a hard road, but at last he arrives.</p><p>Unfortunately, when he sees the ocean, the shock is so great that it blows his mind and his head explodes.</p><p>Lately it has occurred to me that this beloved story told by the 19th-century master Patrul Rinpoche could apply to many of us in our encounter with Buddhism. Just like that frog, we have a bad case of the disease of conceit. We are so confident in the opinions that we bring with us to our encounter with the dharma that we neglect how it radically differs from our preconceptions. We are the frog before it leaves the well.</p><p>Sadly, many of us believe that we are already in possession of all there is worth knowing about Buddhism. Such a conceit has a number of causes, but chief among them is the conviction that Buddhism and our own pre-existing assumptions are identical. This belief is particularly pernicious because it blocks any genuine encounter with the dharma. We can represent this belief in the form of a syllogism: <i>My opinions are compassionate. Buddhism is compassionate. Therefore Buddhism must be identical with my opinions.</i></p><p>We exhibit a similar lack of self-awareness when we assert that our version of Buddhism is free of dogma. What do we really mean when we say this? It might be rephrased: <i>Buddhism should be free of dogma (that I don’t like). However, Buddhism must conform to contemporary opinions and the received wisdom of Enlightenment thought and </i><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/we-are-not-kind-machines-radical-rejection-scientific-buddhism"><i>scientificity</i></a><b><i> </i></b><i>(because they are not dogmas, and I like them).</i></p><p>A common example of unconcern with examining our prior assumptions is evident when we declare that “Buddhism is just common sense,” when that’s precisely what it’s not. Dharma is nothing if not counterintuitive. After all, our perception and “intuition” indicate that we possess a permanent, singular, and autonomous identity, ensuring our entanglement in the cycle of birth and death.</p><p>It’s such assumptions—whether religious, political, or cultural—that have to be temporarily suspended if we’re to uncover the nature of reality.</p><p>The pride behind holding beliefs unquestioningly is one of the six stains to be avoided when receiving the teachings. As Patrul Rinpoche himself pointed out, it is very difficult to recognize the stains for what they are. Yet, unless we can dissolve them, our receipt of spiritual teachings will at best be profitless, and at worst, poisonous.</p><p>What’s required is a sense of humility, which will render us open to the teaching. The traditional analogy that illustrates this positive approach to the dharma is that of a vessel placed right side up so that it can be filled with water. This receptivity is not to be confused with credulity, nor a hurried reach for certainty when the teachings get difficult. It is rather a readiness to attend to the words and meaning of the teaching, and to persist in critical reflection until it is digested and becomes a part of our thinking.</p><p>Regrettably, there are many examples of our casual habit of assuming, without evidence, that two-and-a-half millennia of Buddhist teachings are identical with modern opinions. You see its effect in the dismay expressed by some when they discover, for instance, traditional Asian Buddhist views on ethical issues regarding matters of life and death. What often results is a determined effort to excise the offending teaching, sometimes in the name of a “higher compassion,” or to rejig it to complement notions that are currently fashionable.</p><p>One could well guess that our disregard for the actual teaching is one reason why many Asian Buddhists have come to regard Western Buddhists as ultimately unserious. In fact, this might sometimes lead the more cynical Asian teachers to steer clear of anything that might challenge their putative disciples or provoke their displeasure. Some might even be tempted to alter the teachings themselves.</p><p>Naturally, such evasiveness accomplishes little for the survival of the dharma. What is the use of a dharma, after all, that doesn’t challenge our assumptions?</p><p>We might yet espouse a view of the dharma that is capable of undermining our pride. Patrul Rinpoche offers the Four Metaphors given in sutra:</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">Noble one, think of yourself as someone who is sick,<br>Of the dharma as the remedy,<br>Of your spiritual teacher as a skillful doctor,<br>And of diligent practice as the way to recovery.&nbsp;</p><p>As for the teacher, there are enough genuine ones. And if we go and find one, things could start to get interesting for us frogs right about now.<br><br><b>Lama Jampa Thaye</b> is a scholar, author, and meditation teacher from the UK.</p><p><em>Illustration by James Thacher</em></p> Mon, 09 Feb 2015 11:29:03 -0500 Tricycle - Awake in the World Angry White Buddhists Protest the Dalai Lama http://www.tricycle.com/blog/angry-white-buddhists-protest-dalai-lama <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Joffe_NKT_Image1.jpg" width="570" height="428" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>You know that guy. He talks about “tantric yoga” in casual conversation. Maybe he has dreadlocks. Maybe he’s shaved his head. He’s definitely not had a beverage with regular milk in it for years. He’s probably white and affluent. He’s probably been to India. And he probably wears Buddhist prayer beads as jewelry.</p><p>It’s easy enough to compare this stereotype to the “serious” convert to Buddhism, who, though they too may talk about tantra, sport distinctive hairstyles, or be white and affluent, seem at least to wear their prayer beads as more than just a fashion statement. Yet how easy is it to identify where religious conversion begins and cultural appropriation ends?</p><p>For world religions like Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam the distinction is perhaps obvious. These religions operate according to an evangelical logic: everyone can (and often must) enjoy access to the means of salvation. Accusations of cultural appropriation, suggesting group-specific rights and restricted entry, might seem incompatible with an ethos of universalistic salvation. Tibetan Buddhism, like Islam and Christianity, is an enthusiastically evangelical religion. Buddhist theology widens the possibilities of evangelizing enormously: beyond spreading the dharma to their fellow human beings, Tibetan Buddhists say prayers for everything from ants to vampiric spirits so that these beings might be swiftly reborn in human form and achieve salvation through Buddhist practice. Like Islam and Christianity, Tibetan Buddhism is today an increasingly global religion. Unlike Christian and Muslim missionaries, however, today’s cosmopolitan Tibetan lamas have been motivated by both a universalist theology and a sense of urgency to preserve their religion in the face of persecution by Chinese authorities in Tibet. As such, Tibetan Buddhism’s significant spread westward in recent decades cannot be separated from Tibet’s colonial history: its occupation by the People’s Republic of China in 1950 and the exodus of thousands of Tibetans from their homeland following a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. The political context of Tibetan Buddhism’s globalization has made the Western convert an ambiguous figure.</p><p>A newcomer to Buddhism, the convert is on the one hand culturally and spiritually impoverished: dependent on Tibetan experts, she is a beneficiary of Tibetan lamas’ spiritual charity. Compared to most Tibetans, who are stateless refugees or occupied people, however, she is distinctly advantaged. Her material and political privilege means she is often positioned by Tibetans in the traditional role of patron (<i>jindak</i>), yet while Tibetans may expect or hope that converts will serve as allies and advocates for Tibetans’ interests, commitment to Buddhism doesn’t guarantee any particular political subjectivity. These dynamics can make the lines between conversion and cultural appropriation blurry in the Tibetan Buddhist context.</p><p>In November of last year, the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso completed an extensive lecture tour of the United States. Of the thousands who showed up for the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s talks, one group arrived without fail to each of his events: crowds of mostly white protestors in Tibetan robes who came to boycott the religious <a href="http://www.al.com/news/birmingham/index.ssf/2014/10/protests_continue_today_as_dal.html" target="_blank">leader</a>. Brandishing placards and shouting slogans, they accused the Dalai Lama of being a hypocrite, a liar and a denier of religious freedom. Calling him “the worst dictator in this modern day” and a “false Dalai Lama,” the demonstrators seemed to be channeling the most zealous of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ideologues. Yet these were no party cadres. Rather, they were converts to the Dalai Lama’s own school of Tibetan Buddhism. As representatives of the International Shugden Community (ISC), the protesters came to highlight their grievances over the Dalai Lama’s opposition to a Tibetan deity known as Dorje Shugden and the discrimination and human rights violations they claim the religious leader’s rejection of this being and its followers has engendered.</p><p>The ISC is a major mouthpiece for the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), a sect of almost exclusively non-Tibetan converts to Tibetan Buddhism that currently spearheads the global pro-Shugden, anti-Dalai Lama agenda. On the surface, the NKT’s almost two decades–long global campaign against the Dalai Lama and his supporters—that is, the overwhelming majority of the ethnic Tibetan and Tibetan Buddhist global population—appears to be primarily about a dispute hinging on opposing theological positions within a single tradition. The Dalai Lama believes that Dorje Shugden is a dangerous demon masquerading as a benign deity; the NKT believes that the being is a bona fide buddha. What I want to argue here is that the controversy, and specifically NKT’s involvement, points to the politics of race, appropriation, and privilege involved in conversion and new religious movements and highlights ongoing tensions between ethnonationalist and universalist impulses in the globalization of Tibetan Buddhism and culture.</p><p>The Dalai Lama and NKT converts are all members of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, in which, at least since the 19th century, Dorje Shugden has been seen by some practitioners as a particularly potent worldly “protector” (in Tibetan Buddhism such protectors are ferocious egotistical spirits that have been ritually converted into defenders Buddhism). Although the Dalai Lama is technically not the highest spiritual authority in the Gelug school (this is the Ganden Tripa), his line’s historical political leadership of Tibet has made him one of the school’s most prominent figures. His dual role as a national leader and sectarian authority, however, has generated some tension, and historically the Dalai Lamas’ more inclusive, nationally oriented policies have clashed with the narrower sectarian priorities of some Gelugpa elites.</p><p>Himself once a Shugden propitiator in accordance with his Gelug education in Tibet, the current Dalai Lama began to voice reservations about the spirit in the 1970s. Shugden’s reputation for ruthlessly punishing (and assassinating) prominent Gelugpa practitioners who engaged with teachings from other schools has made the spirit iconic of a certain brand of Gelug supremacism. Such bias is in fundamental conflict with the Dalai Lama’s particularly nonsectarian vision of Tibetan Buddhism and a Tibetan nation in exile. Thus, to protect himself and the Tibetan people from what he sees as a dangerous demon, the Dalai Lama has prohibited those with ritual commitments to the spirit from attending any of his teachings, and some officials have set about purging exile monastic and government posts of anyone associated with the being.</p><p>Different actors and institutions in exile have interpreted and responded to the Dalai Lama’s statements about the spirit in their own diverse, haphazard, and inconsistent ways, with different community prohibitions being independently implemented on the ground. Ultimately, though, given Shugden’s current status, ties with the spirit automatically preclude involvement with any exile administrative institutions. While some pro-Shugden lamas continue to hold posts in exile monasteries, their continuing relationship with the spirit ensures their isolation from mainstream religious life.</p><p>Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, who studied with one of the Dalai Lama’s teachers&nbsp;in Tibet, refused to accept the spirit’s demotion. In 1977, under the auspices of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT)—a Gelug organization in exile that has over time come to cater increasingly to non-Tibetan converts—Kelsang Gyatso relocated to England and quickly amassed a number of <i>inji</i> (non-Tibetan, typically white) students. By the time the FPMT formally went along with the Dalai Lama’s rejection of the spirit, Kelsang Gyatso had already moved away from the organization and its leadership. In 1991, he founded the NKT, and set himself up as its sole spiritual director. From this moment, Shugden reliance, opposition to the Dalai Lama, and a strict focus on Gelug exclusivism became pivotal parts of Gyatso’s disciples’ identity. Unyielding in his conviction that Shugden was an enlightened protector and increasingly disturbed by what he saw as the laissez-faire, ecumenical approach of his Gelugpa peers in exile, Kelsang Gyatso came to believe that he alone could preserve the authentic and unadulterated Gelug tradition for posterity.&nbsp;Importantly, despite becoming one of the largest, fastest-growing Buddhist group in Britain, when Gyatso cut ties with the FPMT and the Dalai Lama, the NKT became effectively isolated from the wider Tibetan world.</p><p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Joffe_NKT_image2.jpg" width="570" height="382" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>Cut off from other Tibetan Buddhists, NKT members have made their quarantine into something of a virtue.&nbsp;NKT converts claim Tibetans have become too worldly and politically focused to be worthy of functioning as custodians of pure Buddhist teachings. Though <i>inji </i>monks and nuns entering the NKT rely on a Tibetan guru, adopt Tibetan names, wear traditional robes, and preserve lineage practices hailing from Tibet, any direct engagement with Tibetan politics or culture is denounced as retrogressive and unnecessary. The NKT’s philosophy is one of “one lama, one yidam [meditational deity], one protector” in reference to their sole reliance on Kelsang Gyatso and his particular teachings, a stance distinctly at odds with how Tibetan Buddhism has historically been practiced. Today, the NKT curriculum is based exclusively on Kelsang Gyatso’s texts, and ritual activity and teaching in <a href="http://kadampa.org/en/map/" target="_blank">NKT centers worldwide</a> happen pretty much entirely in languages other than Tibetan.</p><p>How legitimate are NKT members’ claims of human rights violations? The Shugden controversy has had serious consequences in Tibetan communities. Tibetans thought to be associated with Shugden have suffered discrimination. Evidence remains patchy, but it appears that individuals and families have been denied services, harassed, and attacked. A mood of paranoia prevails, with Shugden “scares” and witch-hunts periodically erupting in Tibetan communities. Monastic communities have been split. In 1997, Lobsang Gyatso, a Gelugpa geshe and close friend of the Dalai Lama was murdered in Dharamsala, India, along with two of his students in a “revenge killing” by assailants who were identified through&nbsp;a letter at the scene as Shugden advocates (the NKT denied any involvement and the perpetrators were never apprehended). The Tibetan administration in exile continues to publish lists of Tibetans who have taken part in Shugden protests around the world, replete with specific, personal information.</p><p>As the Shugden controversy has evolved, a policy change internal to the Tibetan societies has come to implicate not only Tibetans but non-Tibetan converts across the world. On one level, <i>inji</i> NKT converts want to expunge themselves of Tibetanness. On another, to make themselves heard and intelligible, they have appropriated the suffering of Tibetans affected by the Shugden controversy as their own. While NKT members claim to speak for Tibetan Shugden practitioners and amass cases of Tibetan-on-Tibetan discrimination in exile to bolster their cause, they fail to explain how their subjectivities and politics diverge from those of Tibetans so affected. For most Tibetans raised in Shugden propitiation, especially newcomers arriving from Tibet, family or monastic histories of Shugden practice do not equal a wholesale rejection of the Dalai Lama or of Tibetans and their politics. This inconsistent solidarity from typically anti-Tibetan<i> injis</i> is both curious and perversely ironic. The ISC/NKT’s tireless, well-coordinated and well-funded attacks on the Dalai Lama—which ultimately have very little to do with the merits or demerits of Shugden reliance—have helped cement for Tibetans an image of Shugden practitioners as a unified and organized group, unambiguously and unanimously opposed to the Dalai Lama—not to mention fueling popular theories that the NKT are Chinese agents on CCP payroll. An insidious circularity is at work here: protestors’ agitating against the Dalai Lama helps persuade exile Tibetans of the real threat of Shugden supporters in their midst, a witch hunt mentality ensues, and then the NKT uses this as legitimation for its claims and efforts. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tenzin-dorjee/6-things-to-know-about-th_b_6104716.html" target="_blank">Tibetan activist Tenzin Dorjee has underscored NKT converts’ privilege in no uncertain terms</a>. As he wrote in a Facebook post,</p><blockquote><p>The Ultimate Insult: After 300 years of colonizing, plundering and devastating the East, the White man in the West now claims they’re the victims of a homeless refugee monk who has no army nor police nor an inch of territory on which to set up a tent? If these people feel oppressed by the Dalai Lama, all they have to do is take off their robes and walk away, back to their edifice of European privilege built largely from the bricks of former colonies.</p></blockquote><p>Ultimately, the Shugden controversy underscores the challenges involved for Tibetans and Tibetan Buddhist converts in negotiating the links between religion and politics and in deciding how ethnic identity is mobilized in response to these. To what extent and in what ways does conversion oblige political commitment? Where does religion end and culture begin?</p><p>The Dalai Lama has often stated that Tibetan Buddhism in the West need not import Tibetan culture wholesale nor follow any particular politics. He has admonished Tibetans and non-Tibetans alike to disaggregate core Buddhist teachings from “folk” (Tibetan) practice. By engineering a (Tibetan) Buddhism where Tibetans are expendable, the NKT might seem to exemplify just this kind of independent Western Buddhism. Yet the NKT presents a more complex picture. In his zeal to perfectly preserve the teachings of his own lineage, Geshe Kelsang has prioritized non-Tibetan disciples and interests over Tibetan ones. His is an extreme and peculiar case, one he has rationalized in terms of a plan by Shugden himself to relocate the teachings to the West for posterity. Here Buddhist evangelical and sectarian imperatives overpower any loyalty to ethnicity and nation. Yet considering that one of Tibetans’ key strategies in appealing to the world for political support against China over the last half century has been to emphasize the distinctiveness of Tibetan culture and civilization as enshrined in Buddhism in particular, this is troubling. By arguing that the flame of pure dharma has passed to the West and to the NKT specifically, NKT members reprise a stubborn Orientalist trope. Namely, that the erasure of Tibet as a distinct nation is what will allow for the universal teachings of the Buddha, once sequestered and “frozen” in timeless Tibet, to at last become “open access,” to be enjoyed by their truest, most deserving heirs: modern (typically white) Westerners.<br><br><b>Ben Joffe</b> is a PhD candidate at the University of Colorado.</p><p><em>An earlier version of this essay appeared on the Savage Minds blog.</em></p><p><i>Image 1: Anti–Dalai Lama protests in Nottingham, England. Western Shugden Society/Flickr (Creative Commons)<br> Image 2: Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (Kadampa Meditation Center New Mexico)</i></p><p><strong><em>For a comprehensive, balanced treatment of the Dorje Shugden controversy, check out&nbsp;</em>Tricycle<em>'s 1998 special section</em><em>&nbsp;"<a href="http://www.tricycle.com/special-section/deity-or-demon" target="_self">Deity or Demon?: The controversy over Tibet's Dorje Shugden</a>," which includes essays from scholars Stephen Batchelor and Donald S. Lopez Jr. and interviews with NKT founder Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and&nbsp;</em><em>the Dalai Lama's brother,&nbsp;</em><em>Thubten Jigme Norbu.</em></strong></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/dalai-lama-what-people-get-wrong-about-present-moment"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/newsletters/lama.png" width="261" height="137" border="0"></a></p><span class="headertitles"> <b> BLOG: THE DALAI LAMA ON WHAT PEOPLE GET WRONG ABOUT THE PRESENT MOMENT </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/dalai-lama-what-people-get-wrong-about-present-moment"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/0313readthepost3.png" width="142" height="19"></a></p></td><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/real-enemy-religious-extremism"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/newsletters/extream.png" width="261" height="137" border="0"></a></p><span class="headertitles"> <b> BLOG: THE REAL ENEMY IS RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/real-enemy-religious-extremism"> <img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/0313readthepost3.png" width="142" height="19"><br> </a></p></td></tr></tbody></table> Fri, 06 Feb 2015 13:55:22 -0500 Tricycle - Awake in the World Personal Heaven, Personal Hell http://www.tricycle.com/blog/personal-heaven-personal-hell <p style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Hannah_Image_replacementRobertoLaForgia.jpg" width="570" height="570"></p><p>A Sri Lankan monk once told me, “There is no doubt: if you follow the five precepts, you will be happy. You will live a good life.” We were standing outside the Mahabodhi Temple, in Bodh Gaya, India, discussing the Buddhist path for lay followers. At that point in my life, the monk’s words struck me as uncomplicatedly true. I was living in a Buddhist monastery as part of the Antioch Buddhist Studies program and observing the five precepts with such fervency that I wouldn’t borrow my roommate’s flashlight for even a minute without asking first. “What if she comes back to her room and needs her flashlight while you have it?” my teacher asked sensibly. “It’s a way of avoiding unnecessary complications.” The four months I spent in India were undoubtedly the happiest, simplest days of my life.</p><p>So I have complete faith that Shakyamuni Buddha knew what he was talking about when he offered a group of five hundred lay followers a prescription for leading a virtuous life, as told in the <em>Dhammika Sutta:</em> do not injure others, lie, steal, consume intoxicants, or “go with another man’s wife” (nowadays understood to mean “engage in sexual misconduct”). But these guidelines are much stickier to apply in the “real world” than in an Indian monastery filled with devout meditators and robed men and women. Back in the States and back into the swing of college life, I once again began to lie for the sake of convenience, get drunk a couple of nights a week, sleep with people I didn’t love, and subject the ants in my kitchen to death by tile cleaner.</p><p>Apparently I am not the only American who considers myself a Buddhist even as I routinely break the precepts. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the founder of the Shambhala lineage, famously showed up drunk to dharma talks and was known to have had sexual relationships with students. And Richard Baker Roshi, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi’s successor as abbot of San Francisco Zen Center, was pushed out of the organization following an affair with a married student, which catalyzed long-simmering resentments about his leadership style. In a 1985 <em>Yoga Journal</em> article, Jack Kornfield wrote that of 54 teachers and gurus he interviewed, 34 said they had been sexually involved with their students.</p><p>It’s no coincidence that the most controversial transgressions against the precepts in fledgling American dharma centers have been related to the open-ended admonition against sexual misconduct. The difference between a white lie and a manipulative untruth is relatively clear; sorting out the wholesome signals one’s body gives from the unwholesome ones presents a much more complicated challenge. It actually took me several years to realize that simply feeling attracted to someone is not a good enough reason to sleep with him.</p><p>I’m not sure where I got the idea, which I carried with me throughout college, that pleasurable sex was a virtuous, guilt-free activity. This outlook was at least partly societal: the general consensus among my peers was that orgasms made you happy, pure and simple. And they <em>did</em> make me happy, but they also irrevocably tied my life, however trivially, to the person who gave them to me. Sexual contact is always a commitment, if not to a relationship, then to future dealings—a talk, awkwardness, avoidance, an unrequited crush—stuff my Bodh Gaya teacher would call “unnecessary complications.” As an undergrad, I failed to accept this. I noticed the anxiety caused by sexual encounters, but I never considered changing my behavior. I suppose I had an idea that being open with my sexuality indicated that I was liberated, a freethinker who acted as she chose—and the baggage that came with that freedom? It was just something I had to learn to deal with.</p><p>Perhaps this is not so different from the thinking that gave rise to infidelity and teacher-student romances in emergent American sanghas of decades past. Just how hard and fast does the precept against sexual indiscretion need to be? Turning to the <em>Dhammapada</em> for guidance, we are presented with a seemingly unequivocal view: “Whoever [breaks the five precepts],” the Buddha is quoted as saying, “digs up the roots of himself even here in this very world.” But Shakyamuni’s overarching message throughout his life was that one must be one’s own wisdom. In the <em>Kalama Sutta</em>, he states, “Do not go upon…what is in a scripture. Kalamas, when you yourselves know: ‘These things are bad’…abandon them.” I read this as: always follow the five precepts. And figure out what that means on your own.</p><p>Indeed, since the publication of Kornfield’s article 20 years ago, dharma centers throughout the US have struggled to settle on appropriate interpretations of the precepts. Some centers have adopted a strict policy of disallowing sexual relationships between students and teachers. The San Francisco Zen Center leaves the option on the table, but only after a period of long and careful consideration. And Shambhala firmly discourages sexual relationships between teachers and students, but stops short of instituting strict rules.</p><p>Just as Buddhism in America underwent, and continues to undergo, a process of evolution, Buddhists are challenged to take a similar journey on a personal level. In a culture where one-night stands and “friends with benefits” are accepted as integral to the young adult experience, it took me years to develop a healthy relationship to sex that was wholly my own. Throughout college—notwithstanding my semester in Bodh Gaya—I created undue strain for myself and others by entering sexual relationships casually, often when my thinking was clouded by drinking. If I was having so much fun, I couldn’t be doing anything wrong, right? Twice, I woke up next to someone I couldn’t even bring myself to kiss in the sober light of morning. And these were guys I really liked—as friends. I had to endure weeks of awkwardness before our friendship returned to normal.</p><p>For a while, I experienced the closest thing to religious guilt that I’d ever known. Why couldn’t I have simply followed the precepts in the first place? I had always had faith in them; I just hadn’t translated that faith into action. Once I started paying attention to the sense of regret I felt after these experiences, though, I began to develop a “real-world” commitment to the commonsense wisdom of the precepts. Thanks in part to the Buddhist conception of regret as an opportunity not for self-flagellation but for change, I soon saw that I simply needed stricter standards for my conduct in order to make sure I handled my romantic life responsibly and with respect.</p><p>In <em>At Home in Muddy Water: The Zen of Living with Everyday Chaos</em>, the Zen teacher Ezra Bayda writes, “The difference between experiencing our sexuality as heaven or hell is rooted in one thing only, and this is the clarity of our awareness.” For me, living up to self-made standards requires not harsh policing, but clarity. (Never drinking hard liquor or removing any of my body hair before I go out helps, too.) If I’m considering getting intimately involved with someone, remembering the regret that I’ve felt in the past is usually enough of a motivation to act mindfully. I ask myself questions like “Would I want to kiss this person if we weren’t drinking Coronas and dancing to the Pet Shop Boys?” or “Do I really think I can look past this guy’s homophobia just because he has his hand on my leg in a parked car?” In the aftermath of my most recent heartbreak, which put an end to a two-year emotional roller coaster, I realized that all of my (extremely flawed) relationships so far had been driven by sex. With this revelation came a sudden sense of calm, the ticker tape of my self-censuring thoughts snipped mid-spin. “Oh, that’s what’s causing this pain,” I thought. “This is behavior I can change.”</p><p>I might have spared myself some heartache if I had taken at face value the Buddha’s warning in the <em>Vipaka Sutta</em> that breaking the precepts “leads to hell.” But I needed to have an experiential understanding of what sexual misconduct—and hell—meant for me. Without this, the precept would be a meaningless command that I would have little incentive to obey.</p><p>This doesn’t mean that my struggles with the precepts are over. Just the other day, I made out with someone I don’t much care for, caught up in the moment. Even though I had no interest in dating this guy, I found myself hoping he’d call me later. Fortunately, he didn’t—so I got to simply notice the unnecessary emotional energy the encounter had used up, and remind myself to continue trying to be more careful.</p><p>At a 1993 symposium with twenty-two Western Buddhist teachers, the Dalai Lama remarked that in a few rare cases it is acceptable for gurus to use sex to help their disciples achieve awakening—but the example he cited was of an ancient lama who was so highly realized he could also fly. Moreover, many people report that Trungpa Rinpoche often delivered crystal-clear dharma talks while intoxicated. Which is not to say that his drinking was unproblematic—just that all of us have different limits, and that we must each grapple with our own. The wonderful challenge of Buddhism is that it does not offer any absolute formulas for virtuousness. In the <em>Silabatta Sutta</em>, the Buddha asks Ananda if every precept and practice taught by the dharma is holy. Ananda replies, “Lord, that is not to be answered with a categorical answer.”<br><br><strong>Hannah Tennant-Moore</strong>'s last article for <em>Tricycle</em>, "<a href="http://www.tricycle.com/editors-pick/my-view-not-our-bodies-not-ourselves">Not Our Bodies, Not Ourselves</a>," appeared in the Spring 2007 issue.</p><p><i>Illustration by Roberto La Forgia</i></p> Wed, 04 Feb 2015 12:12:00 -0500 Tricycle - Awake in the World No More Nukes http://www.tricycle.com/blog/no-more-nukes <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/IkedaKissinger.png" width="328" height="240" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p1" style="text-align: center;"><em>In 1975, Daisaku Ikeda met with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to urge the de-escalation <br>of nuclear tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union.&nbsp;</em></p><p class="p1">On January 26, Daisaku Ikeda—founder and president of Sokka Gakkai International (SGI)—issued his annual peace proposal, this one entitled, "A Shared Pledge for a More Humane Future: To Eliminate Misery from the Earth." According to an <a href="http://www.cnbc.com/id/102366964#">SGI press release</a>, the document calls for the "rehumanization of politics and economics based on a solidarity of ordinary citizens, for empowerment that enables people to overcome suffering." More specifically, the proposal seeks an improved global response to two major, though largely unrelated crises: that of displaced persons and nuclear proliferation. &nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Both issues also figured prominently in Ikeda's 2014 proposal, "<a href="http://www.sgi-uk.org/sites/default/files/peace-proposal/peaceproposal2014.pdf">Value Creation for Global Change: Building Resilient and Sustainable Societies</a>," in which he cited the Syrian civil war and Typhoon Haiyan as the primary causes of large scale displacement which, unless combatted by a dramatic expansion of refugee services, would continue to impose undue suffering upon millions. Such international efforts have not been forthcoming, and so Ikeda has renewed his call.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The threat of nuclear proliferation, meanwhile, has been of concern to Ikeda for many years. 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, the home country of both Ikeda and Sokka Gakkai. The organization's leadership has advocated nonproliferation ever since that attack. In a <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/interview/faith-revolution">2008 interview with <i>Tricycle</i></a>, Ikeda recalled the advocacy of Sokka Gakkai's second president, Josei Toda:</p><p class="p2"></p><blockquote><p class="p2">In September 1957, just six months before his death, he [Toda] issued a historic call for the banning of nuclear weapons, which he denounced as an absolute evil threatening humanity’s right to exist. In this way he sought to communicate the <i>Lotus Sutra</i>’s commitment to the sanctity of life and peace to the entire world.&nbsp;</p></blockquote><p class="p2">Honoring his mentor's wishes, Ikeda has repeatedly called for the elimination of nuclear weapons. This year will prove an especially important one for the realization of that goal, as the United Nations will hold its <a href="http://www.un.org/en/conf/npt/2015/">Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons</a> from April 27 to May 22. Since the treaty went into effect in 1970, the conference has met every five years to expand and strengthen the agreement. In his proposal, Ikeda calls for heads of government, especially those that represent nuclear-armed countries, to attend the Review Conference and make pledges to eliminate the threat of nuclear war.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Even sooner than that, March 1 marks the deadline for a resolution to negotiations between the P5+1 countries—Germany, the United States, Russia, China, France, and Britain—and Iran on the fate of the latter's nuclear program. It goes without saying that the outcome of those negotiations will set a precedent for other countries considering the costs and benefits of developing nuclear weapons.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Founded by Ikeda in 1975, SGI has 12 million members who practice Nichiren Buddhism, a sect based on the teachings of a 13th-century Japanese Buddhist priest by that name. With its emphasis on accessible teachings and the alignment of inner transformation with outward action, SGI has grown considerably over the past four decades. Its membership includes celebrities like Herbie Hancock, Orlando Bloom, and Tina Turner. While the organization has come under some criticism for promising earthly rewards as a result of Buddhist practice, it has distinguished itself in consistently pushing for international public policy to alleviate the misery of those affected by privation and war.</p><p class="p1" style="text-align: right;"><em>—Eds.</em></p><p class="p1" style="text-align: left;"><em>Image: nichirenbuddhist/Flickr</em></p> Tue, 03 Feb 2015 15:55:12 -0500 Tricycle - Awake in the World A Tibetan Buddhist Nun Blazes a Trail for Other Women to Follow http://www.tricycle.com/blog/tibetan-buddhist-nun-blazes-trail-other-women-follow <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/pemachodron.jpg" width="570" height="431" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>NEWPORT, Wash. (RNS) At a conference for Western Buddhist teachers some years ago, the Venerable Thubten Chodron and other monastics complained to the Dalai Lama about the difficulties they faced: lack of finances, education, a place to live.</p><p>At one point the leader of Tibetan Buddhism began to weep. Finally he told the teachers: “Don’t rely on us to do things for you; go out and do things to help yourself. If you run into problems come and tell me.”</p><p>Those words changed the course of Chodron’s&nbsp;life.</p><p>The notion of starting a Tibetan Buddhist monastic community in the West was already in the back of her mind. All she needed was permission.</p><p>Chodron’s quest took her from Seattle to Missouri to Idaho, and ultimately to 240 acres of forested land just outside Newport, Washington, a quiet town of just 2,100 people.</p><p>Here, she formed <a href="http://sravastiabbey.org/about/index.html">Sravasti Abbey</a>, one of the only US monasteries where women—and soon men—can devote themselves to Tibetan Buddhism and become fully ordained. Since its founding in 2003, the abbey has served as a training ground for ten ordained women (known as bhikshunis) and a community for hundreds of visiting lay monastics and practitioners.</p><p>Chodron said she was inspired to start the monastery because in the Tibetan tradition, there wasn’t&nbsp;a&nbsp;place for monastics in the West to prepare for and receive proper monastic training.&nbsp;“There are dharma centers,” she said, “but they are designed for lay practitioners, even though some monastics may live there.”</p><p>In other words, for Buddhism to flourish in the West, there needed to be a stable sangha, or community of monks and nuns.</p><p>Chodron and the Dalai Lama named the abbey Sravasti after a place in India where the Buddha would go on retreats.</p><p>Historically, full ordination has not been available to women in the Tibetan tradition.</p><p>A quorum of senior monastics is required to confer full ordination, said Sallie King, professor of philosophy and religion at James Madison University. Because Buddhism is still relatively new in the West, women wanting full ordination must receive the blessing of monastics from one of the faith’s other traditions or lineages.</p><p>“The Dalai Lama has been personally sympathetic, but formal support of female full ordination does not exist,” King said.</p><p>Sravasti Abbey is hoping to change that and aspires to offer full ordination for men in addition to women.</p><p>Chodron has blazed a trail, said <a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/tricycle-talks-jeff-wilson-mindful-america">Jeff Wilson</a>, associate professor of religious studies and East Asian studies at Renison University College in Waterloo, Ontario.</p><p>Located about 40 miles outside of Spokane, Washington, the abbey rests in lush meadows above rural farmland. The monastics here begin their days with meditation, break away to lead programs or tend to the property and return together for dharma discussions.</p><p>Last year, the abbey consecrated Chenrezig Hall, a $2 million lodge that houses the dining facilities as well as libraries, workrooms, meeting rooms, chapel, and guest quarters.</p><p>Most of the nuns are from the US and converted to Buddhism as adults.</p><p>Venerable Thubten Chonyi is one such nun. She has been a student of Chodron’s for nearly 20 years and received her ordination in 2013.</p><p>“I feel a very strong responsibility for establishing something that will be here, hopefully, for hundreds of years after us,” she said. “We’re creating a space for the people behind us.”</p><p>Born Cherry Green, Chodron was raised a secular Jew and became a Buddhist nun 37 years ago after earning an undergraduate degree at UCLA and working for a while as a public schoolteacher in Los Angeles.</p><p>She attended a meditation course in 1975 and later traveled to the Kopan Monastery in Nepal to continue her studies. She never looked back. She was ordained in Taiwan in 1986.</p><p>A petite woman with maroon robes, a shaved head and a quiet voice, she soft-pedals the role she’s had in establishing the lineage and keeps words to a minimum.</p><p>Being a raging feminist doesn’t work in the Tibetan community, she said. Being respectful and confident does.</p><p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/housefront.jpg" width="314" height="235" style="float: right; margin: 7px;"></p><p>Her students say she is forging a way forward for women.</p><p>“She does it as gently as possible and skillfully as possible, yet still gets its done,” said Tracy Morgan, one of Chodron’s students.</p><p>Before launching the monastery, Chodron made a name for herself by writing books. She has authored ten and edited another ten.</p><p>She is the only female monastic to pen a book with the Dalai Lama—<i><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Buddhism: One Teacher, Many Traditions</span></i> (Wisdom Publications, 2014)—and is admired for writing texts about practical ways people can apply the Buddha’s teachings to their daily lives.</p><p>Her teaching style is similar.</p><p>“She cuts right to the chase and is not afraid to call people out where they’re stuck and call on them to do better,” said Jim Dawson, one of her students.</p><p>At 64, Chodron would like to train more monastics at the abbey, continue writing books—including another with the Dalai Lama—and keep spreading the dharma, or Buddhist teachings and values.</p><p>But the abbey may be her most lasting legacy.</p><p>Wilson, the professor, said the monastery could have a huge impact, not only on the regional community but globally, because people coming for monastic training can learn an Americanized form of Tibetan Buddhism that they can take back to their own countries.</p><p>The Dalai Lama has yet to visit the monastery, though he did offer an endorsement prominently displayed on the abbey’s&nbsp;<a href="http://sravastiabbey.org/about/endorsements.html">website:</a> “I am glad to know that the community seeks to provide both monks and nuns with not only equal opportunity, but also equal responsibility to study, practice, and teach the Dharma.”</p><p>In 2013, during a visit to Australia, he even suggested that the next Dalai Lama could very well be a woman.</p><p>For Chodron, it is a sweet thought and an affirmation of a vision cast long ago.&nbsp;</p><p align="right"><i>—Tracy Simmons</i></p><p><em><br>Image 1: Thubten Chodron; Wikimedia Commons.<br></em><em>Image 2: Sravasti Abbey; c</em><em>ourtesy Sravasti Abbey.</em></p><p><br><i>© 2015 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.</i><b></b></p> Mon, 02 Feb 2015 11:59:11 -0500 Tricycle - Awake in the World Putting an End to Buddhist Patriarchy http://www.tricycle.com/blog/putting-end-buddhist-patriarchy <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Brahm_top_1.jpg" width="570" height="395" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, an African-American woman refused to obey a bus driver’s order to give up her seat to a white passenger. This simple act of defiance became one of the most important symbols of the modern Civil Rights Movement in the United States.</p><p>Before she passed away in 2005, Rosa Parks became a Buddhist—at age 92. One can speculate that this female icon—and fierce opponent of discrimination—chose Buddhism because it lends itself to the advancement of social justice causes.</p><p>She was right.</p><p>Buddhism should advance the particular social justice issues described in United Nations Millenium Development Goal Number Three (MDG 3): Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. For Buddhism to grow in our modern world, we need to do more than teach meditation, preach inspiring sermons, and make the sutras available online. We are good at studying, publishing, and spreading the word of Buddhism. Where we have not been very successful is showcasing the compassion and selflessness of the dharma by our actions. We have written many more words in our books than what few kind words we have spoken to the poor, lonely, and desperate. We have built so many more temples than orphanages.</p><p>Theravada Buddhism’s current male leadership, in particular, needs to clearly demonstrate its commitment to MDG 3 through the acceptance of bhikkhuni [nun] ordination. Only then can the Theravada sangha use its considerable influence to make a fairer world—one where people are judged by their character, not by their gender.</p><p>Theravada Buddhist monks, generally speaking, are very conservative. Claiming to be the guardians of “original Buddhism,” they consider one of their most important duties the preservation of these precious early teachings. However, monks of all traditions in all countries—and Buddhist lay scholars as well—accept that there were fully ordained women, called bhikkhuni, in the lifetime of the Buddha. Moreover, in these early teachings, the Buddha clearly states that he seeks to give full ordination to women:</p><blockquote><p>Ananda, once I was staying at Uruvela on the bank of the river Neranjara [present day Bodh Gaya] under the Goatherd’s Banyan tree, when I had just attained supreme enlightenment. And Mara the Evil One came to me, stood to one side, and said, ‘May the Blessed One now attain final Nibbana; may the Sugata [Buddha] now attain final Nibbana. Now is the time for the Blessed Lord’s final Nibbana.’&nbsp;</p><p>At this, I said to Mara: ‘Evil One, I will not take final Nibbana until I have bhikkhus,&nbsp;bhikkhunis<b>,&nbsp;</b>lay men, and lay women followers who are accomplished, trained, skilled, learned, knowers of the dhamma, trained in conformity with the dhamma, correctly trained and walking in the path of the dhamma, who will pass on what they have gained from their teacher, teach it, declare it, establish it, expound it, analyse it, make it clear, until they shall be able, by means of the dhamma, to refute false teachings that have arisen and teach the dhamma of wondrous effect.</p></blockquote><p>Theravada Buddhists should have an advantage over other major world religions because their tradition explicitly gives equity to women. Christianity has no tradition of gender equality in its priesthood—nor does Islam, Judaism, or the various schools of Hinduism. Buddhism stood ahead of its time in granting such status to women from “when [the Buddha] had just attained supreme enlightenment<i>”&nbsp;</i>at Bodh Gaya.</p><p>Nevertheless, there remain two significant obstacles to the acceptance of bhikkhuni ordination in Theravada Buddhism: (1) Ignorance about who makes the decisions that govern the sangha, and (2) Ignorance of the Vinaya, the rules established by the Buddha that restrict what decisions may be made.&nbsp;</p><p>As to that first point, for instance, many monks in Thailand argue that a 1928 ruling from the Sangharaja [head Buddhist monk] of Thailand, Phra Bancha Somdet Phra Sangharacha Jiao Gromluang Jinawarn Siriwad, banned the ordination of female monks:&nbsp;</p><blockquote><p>It is unallowable for any bhikkhu to give the going-forth [ordination] to women. Any woman who wishes to ordain as a <i>samaneri</i> [novice nun] in accordance with the Buddha’s allowances, has to be ordained by a fully ordained bhikkhuni. The Buddha laid down the rule that only a bhikkhuni over 12 <i>vassas</i> [an annual three-month retreat] is eligible to be a <i>preceptor</i> [ceremonial guide who delivers vows]. Since there are no more fully fledged bhikkhunis to pass on the lineage, there are thus no samaneris who have obtained a proper ordination from a fully fledged bhikkhuni.</p></blockquote><p>Besides the antiquity of the ruling, one could also point out that the Sangharaja of Thailand, together with the Thai Council of Elders [senior monks], is only permitted to rule on matters directly concerning the monks and novices of the two main Thai Buddhist sects, <i>Mahanikaya</i> and <i>Dhammayuttanikaya</i>. They are not legally empowered to rule over the affairs of other monastic groups, such as Mahayana monks or nuns. The wait will never end for those well-meaning monks holding out hope that the Thai Council of Elders will sanction the legitimacy of Theravada bhikkhunis. The Thai Council of Elders, after all, is not legally entitled to rule on matters beyond its remit.</p><p>As for the Vinaya, the second obstacle that I listed, each monastic community is bound to act within its rules.</p><p>Renowned Theravada scholar monk Bhikkhu Analayo argues that the Thai Sangharaja’s 1928 ruling—and thus, the Vinaya in its current form—has no bearing because it directly contradicts the Buddha’s original teachings. In a recent publication, “<a href="https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-365456258/the-revival-of-the-bhikkhuni-order-and-the-decline" target="_blank">The Revival of the Bhikkuni Order and the Decline of the Sasana</a>,” Analayo argues persuasively that the Buddha gave authority for bhikkhunis to receive ordination in a dual ceremony—both in a sangha of bhikkhunis and then in a sangha of bhikkhus.</p><p>By restoring equity to women in the Theravada sangha through reinstating bhikkhuni ordination, we will address the inferior status of women in many Theravada countries, promote gender equity in education, and thereby make a strong statement in support of the third UN Millennium Development Goal: gender equality and the empowerment of women.</p><p>In a <a href="http://sakyadhita.org/docs/resources/newsletters/21-1-2012.pdf" target="_blank">recent paper</a>, scholars Emma Tomalin and Caroline Starkey explore the role that Buddhism in Thailand and Cambodia plays in maintaining gender disparity in education. Ultimately they ask, “What is the relationship between the reassertion of women’s traditional ordination rights and female empowerment through education?” Since, as they note, “several scholars, both Thai and Western, have implicated Buddhism as one explanatory factor for the historical inequality between genders, particularly in the poorest areas,” many advocates of bhikkhuni ordination see “a direct relationship between the low status of women in many Buddhist traditions and the inferior status of women within Buddhist societies.”</p><p>By fixing our own house first, we have the considerable opportunity and moral authority—through our books and sermons—to inspire our Buddhist followers to work toward gender equality in spheres other than religion. Such action would lead to a world with less violence, better health, and more prosperity.<br><br><b>Ajahn Brahm</b> is a British Theravada monk and abbot of Bodhinyana Monastery in Serpentine, Australia.</p><p><em>Flickr/Superkimbo</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/ghosts-gods-and-denizens-hell"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Demons.png" width="261" height="137" border="0"></a></p><span class="headertitles"> <b> BLOG: GHOSTS, GODS, AND THE DENIZENS OF HELL </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/ghosts-gods-and-denizens-hell"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/0313readthepost3.png" width="142" height="19"></a></p></td><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/was-buddha-atheist"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/athe-1.png" width="261" height="137" border="0"></a></p><span class="headertitles"> <b> BLOG: WAS THE BUDDHA AN ATHEIST? </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/was-buddha-atheist"> <img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/0313readthepost3.png" width="142" height="19"><br> </a></p></td></tr></tbody></table> Fri, 30 Jan 2015 15:35:14 -0500 Tricycle - Awake in the World Was the Buddha an Atheist? http://www.tricycle.com/blog/was-buddha-atheist <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/GS3317395.png" width="570" height="428" style="vertical-align: middle; margin: 7px auto; display: block;"></p><p>"The Buddha was an atheist."</p><p></p><p>Writer Allan Badiner made this bald pronouncement in the midst of a conversation that spanned the wee hours of a cloudless&nbsp;<a href="http://www.tricycle.com/feature/dharma-playa" target="_blank">Burning Man</a>&nbsp;night. Sitting in a vast tent where, during the day, scores of partygoers had washed off their dust and grime in a plexiglass<b> </b>chamber, we discussed prevailing notions of a Buddhist godhead and, conversely, our mutual embrace of the religion in its secular form. &nbsp;</p><p></p><p>I was most intrigued, though, by Badiner’s description of the Buddha as an atheist. I asked for sources.&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;Allan’s first response:</p><p></p><blockquote><p>I would need time to do it, but there are passages from the <i>Tripit</i>a<i>ka</i> that strongly indicate that the Buddha denied the existence of a creator god. Rather than classify him as an atheist or an agnostic, it would be more appropriate to use the term <em>nontheis</em>t. An atheist believes only what he can see but,<b> </b>of course<b>,</b> the Buddha suggested that not all that you see is real.</p></blockquote><p>I responded with enthusiasm and persistence: "I like nontheist—thanks—but do send me the citation when you can."</p><p></p><p>He did:</p><p></p><blockquote><p>According to Stephen Batchelor’s <i>Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist</i>, on the few occasions in the [Pali] Canon <b>. . . </b>where the question of God is addressed, Gautama is presented as an ironic atheist. The rejection of God is not a mainstay of his teaching, so he did not get worked up about it. Such passages have the flavor of a diversion, a light entertainment, in which another of humanity’s irrational opinions is gently ridiculed and put aside. This approach stands in contrast to the aggressive atheism that periodically erupts in the modern West. The Buddha regarded questions about the cause of the universe, or other questions related to a creator god as not useful, in light of the more important task of bringing about the cessation of human suffering.&nbsp;</p></blockquote><p>A few weeks later, at a conference on psychedelic research in Marin, California, I asked Insight Meditation Society cofounder Jack Kornfield the same question: "Was the Buddha an atheist?"</p><p>He responded later in an email, in his usual sweet manner:</p><p></p><p>"Yes, the Buddha was a nontheist. But he believed in and talked a lot about Brahma, King of the Gods and about other Gods . . .”&nbsp;</p><p></p><p>He continued, rather cryptically, with a quote from the Buddha himself: <i>A star at dawn, a drop of dew, an echo, a rainbow and a dream.</i></p><p></p><p>Now we were getting somewhere, or perhaps nowhere, or maybe somewhere rather<b> </b>koan-istic.</p><p></p><p>Then Stephen Batchelor himself weighed in on our group email:</p><p></p><blockquote><p>I’m happy you are happy with <i>nontheist</i>. The problems are manifold. &nbsp;The term <i>atheist</i> as we use it today would not have been used in that way at the Buddha’s time. Nor, for that matter, would the concept <i>nontheist</i>. There are no equivalents for either in Pali or Sanskrit, though many Hindus today still regard the Buddha as a <i>nastika</i>, usually translated as <i>nihilist</i> but which means something like one who asserts there is nothing. &nbsp;</p><p></p><p>Again, the Buddha would have rejected this since he warns against the two extremes of <i>atthi</i> [it is] and <i>natthi</i> [it is not] and seeks to establish his dharma in the middle (<i>madhyama</i>), which does not lapse into the extremes of eternalism or annihilationism. The Buddha simply did not define himself or his teaching in such ways. So<b> </b>trying to capture him in these terms is bound to misrepresent him.</p><p></p><p>On the other hand, the only way we can talk about him and his vision is via the concepts of our own time and language, which has been the case throughout Buddhist history in the different countries in which it took root. I take <i>nontheist</i> to mean one who does not employ God as a necessary term in his or her teaching. In this sense, yes, the Buddha was a <i>nontheist</i>.&nbsp;</p><p></p><p>However since he is recorded in the <i>Agganna Sutta </i>as mocking and rejecting the very idea of God, he also comes close to being an atheist in the modern sense. It is probably best to drop trying to categorize the Buddha in any of these ways, to cultivate a healthy skepticism regarding views and opinions, and to<b> </b>concentrate on practicing the dharma instead.<b>&nbsp;</b></p></blockquote><p></p><p>Stephen, as usual, had cut through the Gordian Knot with that “practice the dharma” thing—or get over yourself with the intellectual stuff that leads to more intellectual stuff: the obsessional path. It stung like the smack of the <i>keisaku</i> provoking a <i>kensho</i>.&nbsp;</p><p></p><p>Then, some weeks later when I had almost given up, Bob Thurman, noted Columbia University Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, gave his view:</p><p></p><blockquote><p>From the records we have, I think we can fairly say that Buddha was a non-monotheist—or non-creator-theist— and also a<i> </i>non-atheist, since he was in conversation with various gods quite often, actually one of his names was&nbsp;<i>devamanusyanam shasta</i> (Pali), or teacher of gods and humans. So the<b> </b>Buddha is an example of one who can be a theist while rejecting a creator. As I like to say, no one person is to blame for creating this whole mess—other than each of us, that is!</p></blockquote><p></p><p>So there you have it—as close to the horses’ mouths as I can get. Pick and choose from atheist, nontheist, agnostic, non-creator-theist, and non-atheist; or make up one of your own.&nbsp;</p><p></p><p>Did I learn something from this? Yes. For one, as Stephen said,<b> </b>pinning the Buddha down to a specific category of belief is a difficult thing, because we live in a different time with a different set of values and a whole other language to express them. Therefore, we cannot know the Buddha directly as a historical personage. Moreover, Buddhism has been of such benefit to a variety of practitioners<b>, </b>its modifications and commentaries leaves grown from a single tree. Why hold the Buddha stuck in place? The dharma is a moving thing. And clearly, he, Gautama, touched its essence. For that wisdom we owe<b> </b>great gratitude to the Buddha, atheist or not, and all those who have breathed life into his path.<br><br><strong>Phil Wolfson</strong> is a psychiatrist and secular Buddhist practitioner. He lives in the Bay Area.</p><p><em>Image: Chris Sorensen/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/ghosts-gods-and-denizens-hell"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/Demons.png" width="261" height="137" border="0"></a></p><span class="headertitles"> <b> BLOG: GHOSTS, GODS, AND THE DENIZENS OF HELL </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/ghosts-gods-and-denizens-hell"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/0313readthepost3.png" width="142" height="19"></a></p></td><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/putting-end-buddhist-patriarchy"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/patriarcy.png" width="261" height="137" border="0"></a></p><span class="headertitles"> <b> BLOG: PUTTING AN END TO BUDDHIST PATRIARCHY </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/putting-end-buddhist-patriarchy"> <img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/0313readthepost3.png" width="142" height="19"><br> </a></p></td></tr></tbody></table> Tue, 27 Jan 2015 17:12:57 -0500 Tricycle - Awake in the World Ghosts, Gods, and the Denizens of Hell http://www.tricycle.com/blog/ghosts-gods-and-denizens-hell <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/CosmologyImage.png" width="571" height="381" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p1">For Buddhists, the universe has no beginning. Various world systems come into existence and eventually cease to be, but other worlds precede and follow them. The Buddha is said to have discouraged speculation about the origin of the universe; the question of whether the world has a beginning is one of fourteen questions that the Buddha refused to answer. He also remained silent when asked whether the universe will ever come to an end. Individual worlds are destroyed, incinerated by the fire of seven suns; but, no apocalypse, no final end time, is foretold. Individual beings put an end to their individual existence, one that also has no beginning, by traversing the path to nirvana.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">This does not mean that Buddhists do not have creation myths. One is offered in the <i>Agganna Sutta</i>, which describes how beings first came to populate a newly formed world system and how gender, sexuality, private property, labor, and government came into existence. The place that they inhabit—and which we inhabit, according to the Buddhists—is an island continent called Jambudvipa, "Rose Apple Island," in a great sea. It is the southern continent, one of four continents in a flat world, situated in the four cardinal directions around a central mountain called Mount Meru. The mountain is in the shape of a great cube, each of its four faces composed of a different kind of precious stone. The southern face of the mountain is made of lapis lazuli and so when the light of the sun reflects off Meru's south face, it turns the color of our sky blue. Gods live on the slopes of the mountain and on the summit. It was in the heaven on the summit on Mount Meru that the Buddha taught the Abhidharma to his mother.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The Buddha, like other teachers of his day, believed in rebirth—a process of birth and death called samsara, literally "wandering." According to the Buddha, this process has no beginning and will not end unless one brings it to an end. Until then, each being is born in lifetime after lifetime into one of six, and only six, realms: as a god, demigod, human, animal, ghost, or denizen of hell. This is not a process of evolution but rather very much an aimless wandering from realm to realm, up and down, for aeons, a process that on the surface appears entirely random. The gods live above our world, some on the surface of the central mountain, some in the heavens above it. Their lives there are long but not eternal. For the gods who live on the summit of Mount Meru, the life span is a thousand years, and every day of those years is equal in length to one hundred human years. In the heavens arrayed above the summit of Mount Meru, the life spans are longer. These heavens as well as the realms of demigods, humans, animals, ghosts, and the denizens of hell, together constitute what is called the realm of desire, because the beings there desire the pleasures that derive from the five senses, constantly seeking beautiful things to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. Above the desire realm are the heavens of the realm of form, where the gods have bodies made of a subtle matter invisible to humans; having no need for food or drink, these gods only have the senses of sight, hearing, and touch. The highest Buddhist heavens are located in what is called the formless realm. There the gods have no bodies but exist only as consciousness, and the names of its four heavens are derived from the object in which the minds of the gods of that heaven are absorbed: infinite space, infinite consciousness, nothingness, neither perception nor nonperception. But these heavens remain within the cycle of birth and death, and when the karmic effect has run its course, each inhabitant is reborn elsewhere.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">In general, it is said that one is reborn as a god as a result of acts of generosity and charity in a former life; charity directed toward the community of Buddhist monks and nuns is considered particularly efficacious. However, one is reborn in these heavens of the formless realm by achieving their deep levels of concentration in meditation while a human. Yet even these profound states of bliss, states that last for millennia, are not eternal. Indeed, Buddhist texts sometimes consign the saints of other religions to these heavens, explaining that they have mistaken such states, which lie within samsara, as liberation from it.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Below the gods in the hierarchy of beings are the demigods (excluded in some lists), a kind of catchall category of all manner of spirits and sprites, some malevolent and some benign; one of the words for "plant" or "tree," which Buddhists monks are prohibited from uprooting or cutting down, literally means "abode of being." The demigods are less potent than the gods but have powers that exceed those humans and can cause all manner of mischief if not properly propitiated. In the category of demigod, one finds the <i>gandharvas</i>, a class of celestial musicians who, according to their name, subsist on fragrances; a crude translation of that name would be "odor eaters." One also finds a kind of half-human half-horse creature called the <i>kimnara</i>, literally, "is that a man?"&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The third realm is the world of humans, regarded as the ideal state for the practice of the Buddhist path. The realms of the gods above are too pleasurable; those of the animals, ghosts, and denizens of hell below are too painful. The world of humans is said to have sufficient suffering to cause one to wish to escape from it, but not so much as to cause paralysis and thereby block such an attempt. Among the sufferings of humans, the Buddha enumerated eight: birth, aging, sickness, death, losing friends, gaining enemies, not getting what you wish for, and getting what you do not wish for. As we consider, as we always must, the extent to which the doctrines of a religion reflect, on the one hand, the concerns of a distant time and place and, on the other hand, more general elements of the human condition, this list, set forth in ancient India more than two millennia ago, seems to fall on the universal side of the spectrum.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">It is said that one is reborn as a human as a result of being an ethical person, generally understood as keeping vows. As mentioned above, for the Buddhist laity, there are five traditional vows: to abstain from killing humans, from stealing, from sexual misconduct, from lying, and from intoxicants. Laypeople could take any one, two, three, four, or all five of these vows, whether for life or for a more limited period. The vows kept by monks and nuns number in the hundreds. They govern all elements of monastic life, including possessions (especially robes), hygiene, and general comportment. The vows are categorized by the weight of the infraction they seek to prevent. Four transgressions result in permanent expulsion from the order: murder, sexual intercourse, theft (of anything above a specified value), and lying about spiritual attainments. Lesser infractions may require probation, confession, or simply a verbal acknowledgment.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Vows play a central role in Buddhist practice. They are not commandments from God, nor do they represent a covenant, but instead are a mechanism for making merit, the good karma that leads to happiness in this life and the next. It is sometimes said that one of the Buddhist innovations in Indian karma theory was to introduce the element of intention. A misdeed was no longer a ritual mistake, a sacrifice poorly performed, as it was in Vedic times, but an intentional action—whether physical, verbal, or mental—motivated by desire, hatred, or ignorance. A vow represented not a situational decision for good over evil but a lifetime commitment to refrain from a particular negative act. It was said that one accrued a greater good karma by taking a vow not to kill humans than by simply happening not to commit murder over the course of one's life. Conversely, one accrued greater negative karma if one took and then broke a vow to avoid a particular misdeed than if one simply happened to commit that misdeed. The scholastic tradition would later explain why this was the case. In the act of taking a vow, a kind of "subtle matter" was created in one's body. As long as the vow was kept, this subtle matter caused good karma to accrue in every moment throughout one's life. For this reason, taking a vow was a much more efficient means to generate the seeds of future happiness than simply being occasionally ethical.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The realms of gods and humans are considered the "good" or "fortunate" realms within the cycle of rebirth, because rebirth there is the result of virtuous actions and because the sufferings undergone by the beings in these realms are far less horrific than those of the beings reborn in the three lower realms.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The realm of animals (which includes all birds, mammals, amphibians, fish, and insects, but not plants) is familiar enough, as are the various sufferings. Buddhist texts say that the particular suffering of animals is that they always must go in search of food while avoiding themselves becoming food; unlike humans, animals are killed not because of something that they did or said, but because of the taste of their flesh or the texture of their skin. One is said to be reborn as an animal as a result of past actions that were motivated by ignorance.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The next realm is that of the ghosts—often called "hungry ghosts," the translation of the Chinese term for the denizens of this realm. Their primary form of suffering is indeed hunger and thirst, and they are constantly seeking to fill their bellies. As they do so, they encounter all manner of obstacles. In Buddhist iconography, ghosts are depicted as baleful beings with huge distended bellies and emaciated limbs, not unlike the victims of famine. But beyond this affliction so familiar in human history, the other sufferings of ghosts are more fantastic. Some have knots in their throats, making it impossible for food or drink to pass. For others, who are able to swallow, the food they eat is transformed into sharp weapons and molten lead when it reaches their stomach. Still others find that when they finally come upon a stream of flowing water, it turns into blood and pus as they kneel down to drink. Ghosts live in a world located five hundred leagues beneath the surface of the earth, but they sometimes venture into the human world, where they can be seen by monks with supernormal powers. Indeed, the feeding of ghosts is a special responsibility of Buddhist monks. The Sanskrit term translated as "ghost" is <i>preta</i>, which means "departed" or "deceased," suggesting that they are the spirits of the dead who have not received the proper ritual offerings from their families and thus are doomed to starvation. Buddhist monks and nuns, who also have left family life behind, have a special responsibility to feed the hungry ghosts, who appear often in Buddhist stories. It is said that one is reborn as a ghost as a result of actions motivated by greed in a former life.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">In the Buddhist cosmology, the most elaborate of the realms are the most desired—the heavens—and the most feared—the hells. There are eight hot hells and eight cold hells, four neighboring hells, and a number of trifling hells. They are stacked beneath the surface of the earth—the deeper below, the greater the intensity and duration of the suffering. The cold hells are desolate lands of ice where snow is always falling, without a sun or moon, or any source of light and heat. The beings there are naked, and the names of some of the hells describe the shape of the blisters that form on their bodies: for example, "Split Like a Blue Lotus." The hot hells are lands of burning iron where beings undergo various forms of torture during lifetimes that last for millions of years, but not forever. Beings are reborn in hell as a result of actions motivated by hatred. There are said to be five deeds that result in immediate rebirth in the most torturous of the hot hells. The first of the four of these seems particularly heinous, the last less obviously so: killing one's father, killing one's mother, killing an arhat (someone who has achieved liberation and will enter nirvana at death), wounding the Buddha, and causing dissension in the community of monks and nuns.<br><br><b>Donald S. Lopez Jr.</b>, a&nbsp;<i>Tricycle</i>&nbsp;contributing editor, is the Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan.</p><p class="p1">Excerpted from <i><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Norton-Anthology-World-Religions-Christianity/dp/0393062538/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1422044459&sr=8-1&keywords=the+norton+anthology+of+religions" target="_blank">The Norton Anthology of World Religions</a>,</i> edited by Jack Miles. Copyright © 2015 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.</p><p class="p1"><em>Image: Chris Sorenson/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/dalai-lama-what-people-get-wrong-about-present-moment"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/newsletters/lama.png" width="261" height="137" border="0"></a></p><span class="headertitles"> <b> BLOG: THE DALAI LAMA ON WHAT PEOPLE GET WRONG ABOUT THE PRESENT MOMENT </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/dalai-lama-what-people-get-wrong-about-present-moment"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/0313readthepost3.png" width="142" height="19"></a></p></td><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/real-enemy-religious-extremism"><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/newsletters/extream.png" width="261" height="137" border="0"></a></p><span class="headertitles"> <b> BLOG: THE REAL ENEMY IS RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM </b></span><p align="left"><a href="http://www.tricycle.com/blog/real-enemy-religious-extremism"> <img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/0313readthepost3.png" width="142" height="19"><br> </a></p></td></tr></tbody></table> Fri, 23 Jan 2015 14:26:44 -0500 Tricycle - Awake in the World The Economy of Salvation http://www.tricycle.com/blog/economy-salvation <p><img src="http://www.tricycle.com/sites/default/files/images/blog/GS3314843_top.jpg" width="570" height="379" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>The incomparable loftiness of the monk figure—placid and disinterested, having renounced desire—leads many to think of Buddhism as a religion detached from all worldly concerns, especially those of economy. But Buddhism has always addressed a continuum of human flourishing and good, creating what has been referred to as an “economy of salvation.” Metaphors of economy—even of debt—abound in Buddhist texts, and in many ways Buddhism came to be fundamentally shaped by economic conditions and considerations of the era in which it originated.</p><p>Depending on material support from moneylenders, the Buddhist establishment from its outset did not seek to hamper the business that made it possible. Devout merchants (<i>setthi</i>) and householders (<i>gahapatis</i>)—controllers of property, moneylenders, often even usurers—were the primary supporters of the early monastic community. Giving material support (<i>amisa dana</i>) to the monkhood thus ranks in Buddhist doctrine as <i>the </i>most effective way for laypeople to generate positive karma, even above following the five moral precepts that define the Buddhist way of life. Out of a concern for its own survival, Buddhism could not condemn the acquisition of wealth, but it could provide principles for its dispensation—namely, giving and generosity (<i>dana</i>). To these ends, the Buddha celebrated wealth creation alongside a call for its redistribution.<br><br><strong>The New Market Economy</strong></p><p>In order to understand the subtleties of Buddhism’s approach to wealth accumulation, poverty, and debt, we must first have some understanding of the market economy from which it arose. The introduction of the widespread use of coinage to India just a few decades prior to the Buddha’s birth around 500 BCE disrupted existing social orders and also inspired a philosophical renaissance driven by spiritual dropouts like the Buddha, who sought to respond to the new economy.</p><p>One of the Buddha’s most poignant accounts of worldly life speaks to the social alienation inherent to economic competition and the accumulation of private property. It remains pertinent to this day:</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">Seeing people floundering<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;like fish in small puddles,<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;competing with one another — <br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;as I saw this,<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;fear came into me.<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;The world was entirely<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;without substance.<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;All the directions<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; were knocked out of line.<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;Wanting a haven for myself,<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;I saw nothing that wasn’t laid claim to.<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;Seeing nothing in the end<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;but competition,<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;I felt discontent.<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; —<em>Sutta Nipata</em> 4.15, trans. Thanissaro Bhikkhu</p><p>Widespread use of currency led to a flattening of reality that rendered all goods and services commensurable, nourishing a tendency toward abstraction for which we owe much of our philosophical inheritance today—from Pythagoras in Greece, to Confucius in China, to the Buddha in India. The reformulation of economic relations brought about by monetization triggered previously unheard of levels of social mobility, and mobility’s attendant individualism.</p><p>The Buddha skillfully encouraged some of the new social values that emerged from these economic changes. For example, he encouraged the individualism that subverted family structures (monks were “home-leavers”). But he also sought to undermine other emerging values associated with psychological states that fuel the acquisition of capital: desire and greed. The Buddha condemned acquisitiveness at the same time he supported capital accumulation, specifically for its potential to create and multiply merit through generosity. In this way, Buddhism advocated a “Middle Way,” the simultaneous negation of the extremes of asceticism and indulgence. Spiritual health and material well-being were, in the words of economist E. F. Schumacher, natural allies.</p><p>The Buddha diverged from other religious thinkers in his embrace of the new market economy. Confucians in China and Brahmans in India strongly resisted this economy, denouncing the economic activities of businessmen and merchants as threats to the moral order of society.</p><p>Perhaps the Buddha embraced the new market economy in part because it supported his rejection of the Brahmans’ mythical justifications for the stratification of caste. Rather than speaking about caste, the Buddha spoke instead of economic class, the new social order, which was divided into six categories: very wealthy, wealthy, faring well, faring poorly, poor, and destitute. Such disparities are inevitable in a society organized by the market economy. The establishment of the monkhood, which presented a new, radical kind of freedom, enabled its constituents to stand outside caste and, in theory, outside the market economy altogether.<br><br><strong>Can Buddhist Teachings Move Us Toward Jubilee?</strong></p><p>The accumulation of wealth among urban merchants and moneylenders, scorned by the then dominant Brahmans, was a boon to the <i>sangha</i>, the Buddhist monastic community, which relied on the generosity of the laity for material support as well as the spread of Buddhist ideas along trade routes. This upwardly mobile class found in Buddhism a justification for its economic activities and new lifestyle. By giving to the monks, the laity performed acts of <i>dana</i>, or generosity, a fundamental tenet of Buddhism. Serving as “fields of merit,” the monks provided an opportunity for laypeople to practice generosity, the first “perfection,” and the basis of all other perfections, leading to enlightenment. Importantly, the amount of merit generated by such transactions was determined by the recipient’s level of virtue and not the benefactor’s, forming a holy alliance between the monkhood and the laity that, at least within the performance of <i>dana</i>, condoned the benefactor’s methods of accumulation. This alliance was furthered by the Buddha’s injunction forbidding those with debt from joining the monastic order, by which the indebted would effectively default.</p><p>So instead of challenging the accumulation of wealth, Buddhism critiques the social structures that perpetuate poverty and the unwholesome states of mind that contribute to the suffering of self and others. This is admirable enough, but still leaves quite a bit for Buddhist socialists and Buddhists committed to Jubilee to wrestle with.</p><p>Buddhism has historically taken a permissive approach to economic relations. It might be the only world religion that does not formally condemn usury. And being wealthy in and of itself has been taken as a sign of good karma. Yet there remains much in the Buddhist canon that can enrich our thoughts on debt and wealth distribution.</p><p>The <i>Ina ­Sutta</i>, the Buddha’s “Discourse on Debt,” praises <i>ananasukha</i>, the pleasure of being debtless. Conversely, it also links indebtedness directly to bondage and, ultimately, suffering, the first noble truth of Buddhism:</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">Poverty is suffering in the world. . . Getting into debt is suffering in the world. . . Interest payment is suffering in the world. . . Being served notice is suffering in the world. . . Being hounded is suffering in the world. . . Bondage is suffering in the world. . . . When a poor, destitute, penniless person, being hounded, does not pay, he is put into bondage. For one who partakes of sensuality [a layperson], bondage is suffering in the world.</p><p>Buddhist texts make ample use of metaphors of debt and exchange to confer spiritual advice, both a sign of the times and a winning bet made by the Buddha on the future hegemony of the monetary economy. At the end of the <i>Ina Sutta</i>, the Buddha goes as far as to use freedom from debt as a metaphor for nirvana (liberation from samsara, the indefinitely repeated cycles of birth, misery, and death caused by karma):</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">[Knowledge in the total ending of the fetters of becoming] is the highest knowledge<br> that, the happiness unexcelled. <br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;Sorrowless,<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;dustless,<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;at rest, <br>that<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; is release from debt.</p><p>For Jubilee, perhaps the most instructive concept in Buddhist thought is that of karmic debt, for which financial debt is often used as a metaphor, as it is in these final lines. Born as humans, we all have karmic debt, the first one being to our parents, who brought us into this world, raised us, fed us, and guided us. This debt extends to all our benefactors—teachers, friends, and anyone else who has acted with our well-being in mind. But this is not a debt that can be easily repaid. For such an infinite debt, no material compensation is sufficient. In fact, the only way to repay such a debt is to become enlightened ourselves and endow others with the conditions for enlightenment. Thus, according to the <i>Kataññu Sutta</i>, we become debtless:</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">But, O monks, one who . . . encourages his ignorant parents, settles and establishes them in wisdom—such a one, O monks, does enough for his parents: he repays them and more than repays them for what they have done.</p><p>In other words, recognizing our true debts establishes the basis for the discernment of contrived debts, and thus any kind of resistance against them. This old Buddhist idea is freshly relevant in the context of contemporary efforts to build a debt resistance movement. In fact, it sounds surprisingly similar to the<i> Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual</i>. “To the financial establishment of the world,” the manual reads, “we have only one thing to say: We owe you nothing.” It continues:</p><blockquote><p>To our friends, our families, our communities, to humanity and to the natural world that makes our lives possible, we owe you everything. Every dollar we take from a subprime mortgage speculator, every dollar we withhold from the collection agency is a tiny piece of our own lives and freedom that we can give back to our communities, to those we love and we respect.</p></blockquote><p><strong>Repaying Our Karmic Debts</strong></p><p>In the Buddhist approach to debt, wealth can be accumulated, but only so that it can in turn be given away to those to whom we are truly, karmically indebted. Production and multiplication of merit-creating wealth is thus a noble determination. One who acquires lavish wealth, the Buddha said, should provide for the pleasure and satisfaction of himself, his loved ones, and his associates, and also for priests and contemplatives.</p><p>Buddhist monasteries for a long time accomplished a kind of redistribution of wealth, supporting mendicants who owned nothing. They also invested in local economies, providing an alternative to local moneylenders. In later years, however, some monasteries (such as in Medieval China) started making high-interest loans and meddling with debtors’ contracts. A Burmese proverb characterizes Buddhist economic excess succinctly: “The pagoda is finished and the country is ruined.”</p><p>As greed—the motor of capital accumulation and, in Buddhism, one of the three “poisons” that binds beings to the wheel of samsara—became institutionalized in the new social order, the Buddha edged out a place in society where greed’s opposite, generosity, could flourish.</p><p>While the production and multiplication of wealth creates conditions for merit in the form of virtuous giving, greed annihilates merit. The Buddha said that even if one could transform one single mountain into two mountains of solid gold, it would still not provide complete and lasting satisfaction of a single person’s wants. Such is the unlimited nature of desire. From the Buddhist view, then, capital accumulation does not find its end in capital accumulation, but in its transmutation into merit through generosity. “To have much wealth and ample gold and food, but to enjoy one’s luxuries alone is a cause of one’s downfall,” the Buddha says in the <i>Parabhava Sutta</i>. Wealth is not the enemy of spiritual development; it has an enormous potential to create merit—but not principally from lending, but giving.</p><p>For this reason, even to live modestly while retaining great wealth is sinful. In the <i>Aputtaka Sutta</i>, the Buddha speaks of a moneylender who “ate broken rice and pickle brine” and wore only “hempen cloth,” riding around in a “dilapidated little cart.” Many lives ago, the moneylender had given alms to a contemplative, leading the moneylender to be reborn seven times with great fortune. But in his subsequent lives the moneylender failed to create virtue with his fortunes, passing up many opportunities to generate merit through generosity. For this reason, after the merit generated for seven lifetimes ran out, the moneylender found himself in one of the hell realms.<br><br><strong>The Evil of Endless Accumulation</strong></p><p>Today’s ultra-wealthy commit this same evil of endless accumulation without redistribution. Moneylending through the financial establishment, effectively indebting others in order to create profits, does not create merit but destroys it. Such a system of debt has helped concentrate 40 percent of the nation’s wealth in the hands of 1 percent of its population, while the bottom 60 percent owns just 2.3 percent of the nation’s wealth. Debt today encourages the upward distribution of wealth, whereas the Buddha seems to have advocated its downward distribution.</p><p>In the <i>Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta</i>, the Buddha makes clear that charity, and philanthropy especially, is never enough. Giving advice to a king, he says, “Whosoever in your kingdom is poor, to him let wealth be given.” When a king comes to power and neglects this duty, he is faced with social deterioration that can be reversed neither through recourse to charity nor through justice (i.e., brutal punishments): “Thus from goods not being bestowed on the destitute, poverty, stealing, violence, murder, lying, evil-speaking, and immorality grew rife.”</p><p>Considering that Buddhist texts tend to concentrate unrelentingly on defilements of the mind as the roots of suffering, this passage is remarkable in that it focuses instead on social and economic injustice as a foundational cause. Here, the ignorance, desire, and hatred of the people—the three poisons—are traced directly back to the failure of the state rather than to their own individual moral failings. When the king attempts to correct social strife by dispensing charity, this produces only more negative results, clearly demonstrating that charity cannot stand in for economic justice. Perhaps most importantly, the Buddha places the responsibility for the material well-being of the poor on the government. There exists no other power capable of enacting any progressive economic policy, including debt forgiveness.</p><p>This gets to the problem at the heart of the massive proliferation of personal debt in the United States: the country’s long-term disinvestment in public goods such as higher education, health care, and housing. If wealth, of which there is no shortage, is not shared with the poor in such forms, inequality becomes exacerbated in the form of debt, which increases the burden of poverty in the form of interest.</p><p>Vital to Buddhist doctrine is the conviction that all people, regardless of social position, are capable of becoming enlightened, of becoming buddhas. Poverty and the stress it entails, however, can be real barriers to spiritual development. The Buddha recognized that becoming free of worries about our material welfare enables us to develop our potentials. If release from karmic debt is the goal of Buddhist thought and practice, then release from economic debt is its precondition.<br><br><b>Alex Caring-Lobel</b> is <i>Tricycle</i>’s associate editor.</p><p><em>"Buddhism and Debt" in&nbsp;<a href="http://tikkun.dukejournals.org/" target="_blank">Tikkun</a>, Volume 30, no. 1, p. 35. © 2015,&nbsp;Tikkun&nbsp;Magazine. All rights reserved. Republished by permission of the copyrightholder, and the present publisher, <a href="http://www.dukeupress.edu" target="_blank">Duke University Press</a>.</em></p><p><em>Image: GalleryStock.</em></p> Tue, 20 Jan 2015 13:40:56 -0500 Tricycle - Awake in the World