Buddhism

  • The Dalai Lama and Open Space Paid Member

    As you’re probably all well aware by now, the Dalai Lama was in NYC last week speaking to a packed house at Radio City Music Hall. Since I was fortunate enough to attend on Thursday and Friday, I thought I might share some of my thoughts and impressions from those talks. I should preface this post by admitting that I’ve always had a hard time with authority figures, especially religious authority figures. So, for me, the Dalai Lama’s entrance was distracting. Dramatic music started playing overhead. A woman behind me started loudly weeping. I was prepared to sit through this, uncomfortably. Of course, then the Dalai Lama didn’t do what he doesn’t do best: he didn’t take himself too seriously. He lightened the mood. He put on a red visor, smiled at everybody and began to speak. “There are six billion people in this world with great intelligence. We should use our intelligence to bring more joy and happiness, not suffering and sadness.” Oh that Dalai Lama, always transcending cultural bounds with ease. It’s these moments when you can understand why so many humans are attracted to this man. He seems boundless. Which brings me to my favorite topic that he discussed (after ditching the English language to speak about finer philosophical points in Tibetan)—the concept of emptiness as open space. [Side thought: Can things get lost in translation when they come from an enlightened mind?] While exploring Nagarjuna’s Commentary on Bodhicitta, the Dalai Lama said that we should think about emptiness as open space. When we try to find the essence of anything and instead find it to be empty, we should regard that discovery as having no bounds. Insight into emptiness will open space in our minds, allowing us to move about and act freely. More »
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    Russian Buddhists Paid Member

    Whenever I see an article or blogpost called "The Zen of..." or "The Buddhist Take On..." I quickly look for something else to read. (James Ure's Buddhist Blog is a rare exception to this rule.) Lost, Twin Peaks, Star Wars—they've all been scoured for possible dharma references, but it's hard to say why. Do we think there are hidden messages or codes here? Do we think nuggets of dharma have been dropped in by accident? Are we simply projecting Buddhist notions onto things that we like and care about? I think the answer is more likely that Buddhism and whatever piece of art we're looking at are both fingers pointing at the same moon, and so there's not much reason to lay Buddhism side by side with anything and try to say what they have in common. It's just this life, and our understanding of it, that they share, and that we all share. Nevertheless!—I finished reading Anna Karenina this weekend (actually re-reading, but I didn't remember much) and was struck by the character Konstantin Levin's enlightenment experience at the end of the book. Anna Karenina is, or was, Oprah's Book Club pick, which means good things for the translators, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. They have a great thing going, and deservedly so, dusting off Russian classics in translations that those who know say are highly accurate. Levin is a thoughtful, philosophical man (Tolstoy without the talent, Tolstoy's wife is quoted as saying in the introduction) who is nonbeliever throughout most of the book. Near the book's end (page 794 of 817 in my version) he has an encounter with a peasant who explains that while most men live for themselves, to fill their own bellies, a certain neighbor of Levin's "lives for the soul" and "remembers God." This sends Levin spinning: We're all agreed on this one thing: what we should live for and what is good. I and all people have only one firm, unquestionable clear knowledge, and this knowledge cannot be explained by reason—it is outside it, and has no causes, and can have no consequences. If the good has a cause, it is no longer the good; if it has a consequence—a reward—it is also not the good. Therefore the good is outside the chain of cause and effect. He then asks, "Is it possible I've found the solution to everything, and that my sufferings are now over?" He heads off alone into the woods to think it over: 'I haven't discovered anything. I've only found out what I know. I've understood that power which not only gave me life in the past but is giving me life now. I am freed from deception, I have found the master.' ... Understanding clearly then for the first time that for every man and for himself nothing lay ahead but suffering, death, and eternal oblivion, he decided that it was impossible to live that way, that he had either to explain his life so that it did not look like the wicked mockery of some devil, or shoot himself. ... 'I sought an answer to my question. But the answer to my question could not come from thought, which is incommensurable to the question. The answer was given by life itself, in my knowledge of what is good and what is bad. And I did not acquire that knowledge through anything, it was given to me as it is given to everyone, given because I could not take it from anywhere. It goes on, very beautifully. Levin's revelation or epiphany is specifically Christian, but he considers the other religions and wonders why Christianity alone would have been given the truth. When he decides why that is the case (because it is his context, essentially) It's a very moving passage. More »
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    Nice digs Paid Member

    A Buddhist priest's quarters, situated on the grounds of the 550-year-old Buddhist temple Chushin-ji, by architects Katsuhiro Miyamoto & Associates, as seen at iconeye, where you can read all about it: More »
  • Buddhist chess king hosts extraterrestrials Paid Member

    Chess is compulsory at schools in Kalmykia, the Russian Federation's only Buddhist republic. The republic's millionaire chess fanatic president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov (pictured here in 2006 with World Juniors Champion Zaven Andriasian), is also president of the the World Chess Federation, the most prestigious organization of its kind. But maybe not for much longer: chess great Anatoly Karpov wants Ilyumzhinov's position when the latter's mandate expires in September. According to Stuart Williams writing for AFP, both are now engaged in "a struggle which has become a bitter test of guile and stamina reminiscent of famous battles on the board." But the charismatic Ilyumzhinov may be able to call on extraterrestrial support: More »
  • Thoughts on Days 1 and 2 of the Dalai Lama's teachings (w pix and vids) Paid Member

    In my days as a student at Naropa University I can recall many occasions, both in the classroom and out, where I found myself among a small handful of people discussing the work of Nagarjuna.  These discussions, without fail, would lead to highly complex conversations and/or debates about the nature of emptiness, the ultimate nature of reality, the absolute and the relative, nihilism and eternalism, middle-way philosophy, and so on.  If someone had told me then that I would one day find myself sitting in Radio City Music Hall surrounded by thousands of New Yorkers all receiving the same teachings, I might not have believed it—but that is exactly what took place yesterday. As can be expected with just about any discourse on a Nagarjuna text, even with my relative degree of familiarity I still found much of yesterday’s teachings hard to understand. I can only imagine what it must have been like for the thousands of people there who have never even heard a teaching on emptiness before, much less an advanced esoteric lecture on madhyamaka philosophy!  (*Insert the “over the head” hand gesture here.) [note: Here is a good piece on understanding Nagarjuna by David Loy, "The Dharma of Deconstruction"] In today’s teaching, the Dalai Lama finished his discussion of Nagarjuna’s text and moved on to the Shantideva text, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. This was much more accessible.  The Dalai Lama introduced the concept of exchanging self and other and taught that ignorance is one of the chief causes of suffering. He explained that with a proper understanding of cause and effect, the nature of reality, and interdependent origination, we will be more capable of achieving happiness for ourselves and manifesting compassion for others. By introducing the subjects of personal happiness and compassion towards others, it was as if yesterday’s complex teachings on emptiness and the nature of reality were given some much-needed context, and I could feel the people around me become more engaged. Another very interesting part of today’s teaching was the discussion of Buddhism’s relationship to quantum physics.  His Holiness spoke of his conversations with highly intelligent western quantum physicists in which the striking similarities between Buddhist teachings and this fascinating field of science were touched on. Just like Nagarjuna describes in his text, these quantum physicists attest that when their work takes them very far into observation of matter and existence, they eventually get to a point where they can no longer prove anything exists at all! Obviously, the fact Buddhists are able to cite an ancient Buddhist text that says essentially the exact same thing as this cutting edge field of western scientific inquiry is quite impressive to the physicists. Still, the Dalai Lama pointed one very important difference between Buddhism and quantum physics.  With science, one only looks at the external world and therefore what is gained is a massive amount knowledge. With Dharma practice, one applies the same investigative methods to the internal world of personal experience and what is gained is more than just knowledge; one gains a deeper type of understanding altogether. It is the type of understanding that helps one achieve happiness and act with true compassion. It is the type of understanding that gives one the ability to liberate oneself and others from suffering. This can be deep, heavy stuff, and I hope my attempt to explain some of these complex ideas hasn’t left you scratching your head. Here are some photos and videos from the teaching today at Radio City music hall.  They were shot/recorded from my little handheld Canon Elph so they are definitely not the highest quality, but nevertheless I’m still very happy to share them with you all. (Videos after the jump.) More »
  • Get your Dalai Lama here! Paid Member