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Prof. Stephen Long stresses recognition of Buddhist in the US – Asian Tribune

Posted: September 4, 2020 at 7:58 pm

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By Daya Gamage Asian Tribune US National Correspondent

Washington, D.C. 04 September (

An academic and a devout Buddhist closely associated with the head of the United States Buddhist Sangha Council and Chief Abbot of the Los Angeles premiere Buddhist Temple Dharma Vijaya, in a letter to the Chairman of Democratic National Committee Tom Perez, reminded that the just-concluded Democratic Party convention failed to recognize the large percentage of Buddhists residing in the U.S. not observing Buddhist rituals along with rituals of other religious beliefs.

He reminded in the letter that During the Convention, speakers acknowledged various religious groups as valuable contributing members of our American society: Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Muslims. In emphasizing inclusivity, the Buddhist community, which represents a surprisingly large portion of the countrys population, and is extremely supportive of Democratic policies, ideals, and candidates, was overlooked.

Prof. Long reminded that In the early 1970s there were very few Buddhists and Buddhist places of worship in the U.S. With the arrival of immigrants from Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, South Korea, China, and other Asian countries, the Buddhist population has grown dramatically. In 1996, ABC News reported there were six million Buddhists. With the spread of Buddhist philosophy, current estimates exceed fourteen million. As an example of the growth of Buddhism, when Ven. Walpola Piyananda, Abbot of Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara in Los Angeles and current President of the Sri Lankan Sangha Council of the United States and Canada, arrived in 1976, there were only two Sri Lankan Buddhist temples in North America; there are now over 100.

He reminded American Buddhists for Biden/Harris a newly-formed informal group of Buddhists, meditation groups, practitioners, leaders, and organizations. We represent a range of races and nationalities, and as liberal thinkers support peace, inclusion, tolerance, and compassion for all peoples both here and around the world. Being very distressed with the direction the US has taken since 2016, we wish to add our voices and our networks to yours to help turn the ship around. We feel that American Buddhists can be a very effective campaign component in providing volunteers, linkages to Buddhist temples and organizations, and messaging for this niche group of voters.

He reminded the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee that the largely Buddhist population in the U.S. is in favor of the Democratic Party.

Prof. Stephen Long attached a sheet of information about the status of the Buddhist Order in the United States.

According to the statistics given by him, 69% out of the total Buddhists have aligned with the Democratic Party, and 80% belong to the political persuasion of Liberal/Moderate. He says that Buddhists are not monolithic: they are comprised of two separate and distinct groups, each requiring a unique approach in targeting, messaging, and securing support.

The Immigration Act of 1965 brought immigrant waves from China, Vietnam, and the predominantly Theravada Buddhist countries of South and Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Sri Lanka). Between 1965 and 2015 Asians increased from 1.5% to 6% of the US population.

More recent waves of these immigrants differ from previous waves of immigrants. Since 2011 Asia has been the largest source for recently arrived immigrants, many from China and Korea. Asian immigration will continue to increase, and, based on Pew Research assumptions about immigration, fertility, and mortality rates, by 2055 Asians will surpass Hispanics as the largest group among the foreign-born population group.14% of Asian American immigrants are Buddhist the highest percentage of any affiliated Non-Christian religious group. American Buddhists

Made up of new converts within the country, American Buddhists are largely white and represent about 75% of total Buddhists in the US. This should be a major Democratic Party target population.

This group grew from 3.6 million in 2010 to over 4.2 million in 2020 and is projected to continue increasing.

American Buddhists skew young, are highly educated, and are more prosperous than other populations.

They are viewed favorably by all Americans, especially by the 18-29 age group.

In recent years American society has become more accepting of Buddhist beliefs, incorporating them into mainstream thinking and everyday life. Think widespread acceptance of the concepts of mindfulness and compassion, and the spread of meditation and yoga for stress minimization and health.

Prof. Stephen Long in the paper submitted to the hierarchy of the Democratic Party writes:

While Buddhists seem to be an ideal yet untapped source of support for the Democratic slate, their unique characteristics and beliefs require a well-calibrated approach based on how Buddhists as a group view themselves and their place in influencing the world they live in.

In general, Buddhists have separated their spiritual and religious life from issues like politics and policy, even though their beliefs align closely with many liberal social agendas. Historically Buddhists have not been comfortable in the political arena, feeling theres a fine line between practicing Buddhist mindfulness and what they view as politicizing or proselytizing their beliefs. According to Buddhist leaders, although U.S. Buddhists have high rates of political attentiveness and voting, until recent years there hasnt been a concerted and unified effort to define how Buddhism translates into political clout at the voting booth, and in helping to define the message and gain support for newly developing policies under the future Biden administration.

We think this election - mired in the discord, distrust, and total lack of mindfulness and compassion by the Trump administration -- is an ideal time to reach out to Buddhist and Buddhist-oriented populations to optimize voting efforts and to strengthen future involvement and input in the newly elected administration. Understanding how Buddhists view themselves and the communities they live in and working closely with them at this time is key to formulating and implementing a successful strategy for not only increasing the awareness of the need to vote but more importantly to provide a pathway for greater involvement with the Buddhist community in the new Biden administration.

Politics in our country is generally based on identifying leaders or spokesmen for distinct groups. That will not happen with the Buddhist community. Buddhist practitioners believe in turning inward for guidance and their innate goodness, and most Buddhist leaders (both clerical and secular) are reluctant to identify themselves as spokes-persons to advocate for a specific political party/candidate/policy.

Recognized individuals at the forefront of the Buddhist communities adhere to a common philosophy, and while we cannot expect endorsements per se, we can reach out to them to help us sound the alarm and define the message to resonate with the Buddhist community: their way of life is existentially in danger and requires political action (e.g. voting).

We can do this by emphasizing the message not the messenger and by exhorting each individual to be messengers to their families, friends, co-workers, and religious communities.

As individuals deeply involved in the Buddhist community, we can provide assistance in identifying the core of Buddhist students, activists, and leaders to assist in developing a unified approach to:

Reaching out for Buddhist volunteers for the election process through communications, social media, and poll watching.

Identifying political officeholders and candidates who would be the most receptive to incorporating Buddhist ideals and messages into their discourse.

Identifying prominent individuals in the Buddhist community who can work with the Biden administration as liaisons to the various Buddhist communities they represent.

- Asian Tribune -

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Prof. Stephen Long stresses recognition of Buddhist in the US - Asian Tribune

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September 4th, 2020 at 7:58 pm

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Buddhist nun challenges hatred of women – The Star Online

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IN a society where a popular saying urges women to regard her son as her master and her husband as her god, Buddhist nun Ketumala is already an outlier.

The 40-year-old walked away from traditional expectations of marriage and children as a teenager, and has instead spent more than two decades as a fierce advocate for the importance of women in religion.

The deep-red robes and shorn heads of Myanmars monks are internationally recognised, but the plight of the nations vast number of nuns, estimated to be in excess of 60,000, is little documented.

An entrenched patriarchy the belief women are inferior is common and discrimination is routine means that nuns, who also shave their hair but wear pink, can face abuse.

When a man enters into monkhood, people always applaud saying it is good for the religion and will make it better, but when a woman enters into nunhood, people always think it is because of a problem, Ketumala explains.

They think its a place for women who are poor, old, sick, divorced, or need help for their life, she adds.

Outspoken and rebellious, Ketumala is arguably the best known nun in Myanmar, having founded the Dhamma School Foundation, which runs more than 4,800 Buddhist education centres for children throughout the country.

But she warns that many nuns are still treated with contempt the nunneries are run on donations but they do not command the reverence of monasteries and so struggle with funding.

In the worst cases, nuns are abused even for asking for alms that help them survive.

Ketumalas battle for recognition and respect for nuns in Buddhism runs parallel to the broader challenge for womens rights in modern Myanmar.

Aung San Suu Kyi might be the face of the nation, but her role at the apex of the civilian government belies the lack of female representation in positions of power in the country.

Only 10.5% of MPs are women, although there are signs the ratio might improve after the November election.

Laws are often made by men, for men, and rights activists have warned that in wider society violence against women is so pervasive it is regarded as normal. AFP

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Buddhist nun challenges hatred of women - The Star Online

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September 4th, 2020 at 7:58 pm

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Where Buddhist mindfulness and Black activism meet –

Posted: July 6, 2020 at 5:49 pm

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Finding the best ways to do good.

Valerie Brown is positioned at the intersection of two traditions that can be very helpful to us all right now. Shes a Black woman whos involved in racial justice work, and shes a Buddhist teacher who shows people how to use mindfulness to navigate lifes challenges challenges like, say, a pandemic, a huge economic collapse, racial injustice, and social unrest.

For 20 years, Brown had a high-powered career as a lawyer and lobbyist. Then she radically shifted the focus of her attention to Buddhism. She learned at the feet of the Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh and was ordained as a mindfulness teacher.

I recently spoke with Brown for Future Perfects new limited-series podcast, The Way Through, which is all about mining the worlds rich philosophical and spiritual traditions for guidance that can help us through these challenging times.

We talked about the fascinating historical connections between Buddhist practice and Black activism. She explained how we can use mindfulness not just to soothe us as individuals, but also to tackle broader racial inequality today. And she shared some classic Buddhist mindfulness training, which she recently helped rewrite through a racial justice lens.

We know the coronavirus pandemic is disproportionately taking Black lives, and for Brown, thats deeply personal: Her brother died of presumed Covid-19 just a few months ago.

You can hear our entire conversation in the podcast here. A transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity, follows.

Subscribe to Future Perfect: The Way Through on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Valerie, tell me a bit about yourself and how you became interested in Buddhist meditation. You didnt grow up with it, right?

I grew up in the Peoples Republic of Brooklyn. And I grew up with a lot of poverty. My mother was a maid in the Hotel Manhattan and my dad was a tailor in the Bowery. We grew up on public assistance. Early on, there was quite a bit of violence. My dad left. And then when I was 16, my mother passed away. I became an independent student at 18, meaning I had no parental supervision and no parental support.

But I got really lucky. I got a job at Burger King. So I worked, went to City University, and made my way out, running to undergraduate school and graduate school and the big, important job as a lobbyist and lawyer.

In 1995, I attended a public talk given by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. The talk was at the Riverside Church, down the street from my brothers apartment, so I just walked down. And everything that Thich Nhat Hanh was saying was the opposite of how I was living my life. I was this very type A, aggressive, bunker-mentality, hard-as-nails person, just running from tremendous internalized oppression and internalized racism. And I walked out of the talk thinking: That guy! Who is that guy? That day touched something, a spark in me. And I started to practice meditation.

So once you got interested in Buddhism, you began going on retreats and training as a meditator and then as a meditation teacher. What was the experience like for you?

Over time, I gradually began to change. I started practicing this particular meditation called metta, or loving-kindness, where you hold a sense of friendship for yourself and then for the people you like. And then for the people you actually dont know. And then for people maybe youre not so cool with, maybe even people you hate. And then for everybody, all beings everywhere.

So I started practicing this and I decided, Okay, let me actually practice this at work when Im in the halls of Congress. Now, Im a Black woman, with dark skin, with dreadlocks, talking to a very conservative person who may be white from quite a racially segregated area. What I would do when Im in that conversation with such a person who, on one level, my mind perceives to be the opposite of me is, I turn to my breathing. And I would just notice how Im breathing and feel my feet on the floor and Id say these words to myself: Soften. Soften. Soften.

My whole body would start softening. And then what I noticed is that instead of trying to persuade the other person because this is the job of the lobbyist, to be persuasive I would switch that. I would take sincere and genuine interest in understanding that other person first. Even if I believed that that person was way far out on the opposite end of how I feel. I would ask the person: Tell me more. Help me understand. How are you doing, really? I wouldnt open my mouth until it could come out sincere.

And what happened then was that other person softened up. The dynamic between us became relational rather than adversarial. That was a form of mindfulness that was interpersonal. That was being peace, conveying peace.

These days you do a lot of racial justice work. And a lot of people might think Black activism and Buddhist mindfulness are two completely separate traditions that have nothing to do with one another. But actually, there was a very special friendship between two of their leaders: your teacher Thich Nhat Hanh and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. In the 1960s, they had a blossoming friendship that also had political ramifications. Can you tell me a bit about that relationship?

Dr. King and Thich Nhat Hanh shared a real passion for nonviolent, peaceful liberation of all people. One of the most beautiful things Ive been reading about Dr. King and the great civil rights leaders of the 1963 Birmingham movement is that they said they were acting for the benefit of all people even the police who set the dogs on them, who abused them.

Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. King met at a press conference in 1966. They were united by the civil rights movement and their struggles for liberation. In 1967, Dr. King nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize. They met again [that year] at a conference in Geneva.

And then theres a lovely story. Dr. King was at a hotel. They were set to meet, but Thich Nhat Hanh was late for the appointment. Dr. King had a plate of food for him. And he kept it warm.

Thich Nhat Hanh has written about that very tiny moment, which may seem insignificant, but you can just sense the personhood in the connection of the two people, heart to heart. Here you have these great leaders who could not only attend to these massive political movements of their time, but could also focus on the very moment, the very humanness of care for another person.

It does sound like they connected on a really human intimate level. And I know that this originally started because Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a letter to Dr. King in 1965, asking him to please help advocate for ending the Vietnam War.

And Dr. King was getting a lot of pushback from people around him saying not to get involved in this because he was already dealing with a lot and this wasnt his business. And Dr. King said, For those who are telling me to keep my mouth shut, I cant do that. Im against segregation at lunch counters, and Im not going to segregate my moral concerns.

He decided to get involved in advocating against the Vietnam War. And so there was actually this very political dimension to this spiritual friendship between these two leaders. I think thats interesting to note, because people sometimes think about Buddhism as quite disconnected from politics. But Thich Nhat Han was anything but.

Thich Nhat Han coined the term engaged Buddhism. This goes back to the Vietnam War. As a young monastic with other monks and nuns in Vietnam, there were choices. They could have stayed in the monastery and prayed. Or they could have taken themselves out of the monastery and engaged with the suffering of the people in the streets.

In the case of Thich Nhat Hanh and many of the people at that time, they made a conscious decision which cost them dearly their lives, their own affiliation with the political people in Vietnam. Thich Nhat Hanh was isolated [and exiled]. He was not able to return to Vietnam for decades because of his outspoken activism. So we have in this extraordinary human being the footprint of how to engage in nonviolent, peaceful action for the benefit of all beings.

Lets fast forward to today. Were now facing a global pandemic, and we know its disproportionately taking Black lives. At the same time, were seeing this massive upswell of support for Black lives. Given what youve said about engaged Buddhism, how do you think Buddhist teachings and racial justice work can support each other right now?

What I would say is Black justice is justice for all people. Thich Nhat Hanh has coined the term interbeing. Interbeing, meaning that we are interconnected. When a Black person is able to obtain justice and peace, all people are going to benefit. And so its an illusion to think that somehow the white suburban person in the Midwest is separate from that Black transgender woman in Brooklyn, New York. That would be a mistake. We are connected. What happens in Wuhan, China, affects people in San Francisco.

Yes, I think the pandemic has really proven this interbeing concept to be true. I dont just mean in some abstract spiritual sense, but in a very scientific, epidemiological sense.

Interbeing comes up in a new version of the Five Mindfulness Trainings that you recently co-authored. These are words that are often recited in Buddhist circles, and theyre designed to make us more mindful of things like our consumption. But your version reframes all those trainings through the lens of racial justice. Can you give me a little snippet of the trainings that feels meaningful to you?

Heres a little part. This is the third contemplation.

I am committed to looking tenderly at my suffering, knowing that I am not separate from others, and that the seeds of suffering contain the seeds of joy. I am not afraid of bold love that fosters justice and belonging. And tender love that seeks peace and connection. I cherish myself and my suffering without discrimination. I cherish this body and mind as an act of healing for myself and for others. I cherish this breath. I cherish this moment. I cherish the liberation of all beings.

Beautiful. Thank you. You mentioned this idea that without suffering you cant have joy, that suffering contains the seeds of joy. And I know that is something Thich Nhat Hanh says often. He says the phrase, No mud, no lotus. If you dont have the mud, you cant have the beautiful flower that grows out of it.

But I want to talk about this in the context of the pandemic and the protests. On both the Covid-19 front and the racism front, which are interconnected, there is so much suffering. Honestly, how do you find seeds of joy in that?

The best way I can explain this is through my brother Trevor. Trevor died on February 21 in New York City. He was on the ventilator and probably on the beginning wave of Covid-19. I had a lot of suffering to see him die. It was very difficult for me. But one of the things that I realized in his online memorial is that the reason that I was grieving so much and felt so sad was because the love was so deep.

If he wasnt meaningful for me, if I didnt have that love, if it wasnt valuable, I probably wouldnt be suffering. But it was. I lost something valuable, something meaningful.

And so were fighting, peacefully, nonviolently, for something that is very important. And that is freedom and liberation and justice for a world that everyone can belong to. Thats a good thing.

First of all, Im really sorry to hear about your brother. And its amazing to me that you are able to, just a few months later, realize that the seed of beauty in this is that if there wasnt such preciousness here, you wouldnt have felt such grief.

You also just mentioned that youre fighting nonviolently for this cause that is really important and hopeful. I want to pick up on that thread of nonviolence.

Dr. King said, Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter. As you press for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the instruments of love.

I dont know about you, but as a queer woman of color, I find it hard to do that sometimes. Can you talk a bit more about how we can keep feelings of bitterness and anger from overwhelming us when we see injustice? And Im also wondering, maybe sometimes anger isnt a bad thing? Maybe it can sometimes be a useful, galvanizing force to push us to fight for justice?

Its an important question. Anger can feel quite impulsive and fiery and seductive. It can feed the energy of violence.

And so the first thing Id say is that in the sutras, the Buddha refers to the mind as like a storehouse of seeds. So theres a seed of anger. A seed of fear. A seed of hope. And depending upon our thoughts or words or actions, these seeds get activated. You get cut off in traffic? Boom. The seed of anger gets watered or activated. You have a lovely conversation with a dear friend? The seed of gratitude gets nourished.

Part of taking good care of emotion, of hate in particular, is, number one, to recognize when its activated. Cant do much if youre unaware.

After that recognition is to calm ourselves through what we have thats a constant. Thats our own breathing. With time and with practice, we can use the breath to calm ourselves down. Not suppressing, not denying, not calling it disappointment when its actually rage. To be very clear, this is rage. And then breathing with that. Taking very good care of that energy.

What Ive come to understand is that that bitterness is a constriction in the heart. It actually makes me smaller. And so the invitation is to play in a bigger space. And the bigger space is love, is compassion. We are called into that bigger space. And were up for it.

Ive got to be honest. For me, to move from rage to love, thats a tall order. But what youre saying reminds me of this old Buddhist sutra, the Discourse on the Five Ways of Putting an End to Anger. One thing it says in that sutra is if someone is being unkind theyre probably suffering a lot. Maybe if I can remember that, it could help spark a bit of compassion in me for that person and maybe help me move the needle a bit from rage to love.

Another thing that sutra says is that the way we choose to direct our attention is crucial. If someone is acting with unkind words or unkind behaviors, we can choose to focus our attention on what theyre doing thats unkind. But the sutra says to try to actually redirect your attention to what in this person is kind, is good.

It reminds me of a calligraphy that Thich Nhat Hanh has that says, Are you sure? I can walk around with very fixed ideas, very attached to my own views. And so one of my deepest spiritual practices is to ask myself, Am I sure? What are my perceptions, assumptions, beliefs, and what is the lineage of all that? Where did that come from? How am I attached to it?

That kind of loosens things up. That mindset Ive got this idea, maybe Im right, maybe Im not right that allows for whatever the suffering is, whatever the aversion is, to have some flexibility.

In addition to this phrase, Are you sure?, one of the phrases I hear most often in the Buddhist context is this concept of taking refuge. I want to talk about refuge in the current moment, where were all dealing with a lot of stress and suffering.

If all one is after is a temporary refuge from suffering, there is a term for that trap: spiritual materialism, where youre just getting into meditation because you want some temporary material benefit or attainment. I wonder if you could tell us what you think is a better way to understand taking refuge. How can we use these practices in a way thats not selfish but is engaged with the broader ethical and political issues were all seeing right now?

Taking refuge is really important, especially at this time when theres so much upheaval. And that may feel like a really grand thing to say, to take refuge. But that can be as simple as taking refuge in this moment. Recognizing that I can breathe, I am alive, I can make a difference, I can contribute. Thats taking refuge. Thats not a small thing. Theres countless people who cannot do that.

The other thing I would say to the spiritual materialism point is that one of the foundations of mindfulness is ethics. There is an ethical component of it.

Often, in the United States, you see mindfulness sold in these packages that are all about focus, attention. Its so that I can do more, so I can get the promotion, so I can buy the car or whatever. Right? I even hear, as I say this, a kind of cynicism in myself. And I want to even question that, my own belief around that. But I would say that Ive seen a lot of that materialism myself. Its sad because there is such a critical component of mindfulness that is about the prosocial good. Were not only generating happiness within ourselves. We want to share that with other people.

We are quite good, particularly as Americans, at pursuing materialism, pursuing happiness. Not so good at generating it within ourselves and sharing that with other people. And so the basis for the whole practice is about creating a more peaceful society, a more compassionate society. This is something that we really cannot lose sight of.

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July 6th, 2020 at 5:49 pm

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Buddhist Temple Archway Preserved in High Detail with Artec 3D Scanning –

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Several times over the years, weve seen 3D technologies applied to help preserve Chinas cultural heritage, from dragons and Buddhist statues to caves and columns. Now, Artec 3D has used its software and two of its handheld 3D scanners to create an extremely detailed 3D model of an architectural landmark at a sacred Buddhist site, documenting the process in a case study.

The front view of the 3D model of the archway

Mount Wutai, also called the Five Terrace Mountain, is one of Chinas Four Sacred Mountains of Buddhism. Home to over 40 temples, the Chinese National Tourism Administration named it a top-tier tourist attraction, UNESCO has acknowledged it as a World Heritage site, and millions of people have visited it every year since the 1st century CE to pay homage. Of all Mount Wutais amazing sites, Longquan Temple stands out due to what the case study refers to as a unique architectural style, largely thanks to famous Chinese artist and stonemason Hu Mingzhu. He proved himself in his mid-20s by designing a sanctuary at Longquan Temple, impressing visitors and fellow artisans with his beautiful stonework, and the next year, he won the bid to build an archway in front of the temple.

Playing with pearls, two dragons will be soaring high in the sky, Hu Mingzhou described the scene that would top his masterpiece.

The artist shaped his initial design for the archway out of yellow wax, and then made a prototype that combined stone carving with traditional Chinese woodwork patterns. It took 50 craftsmen six years but the ornate archway was finally finished in 1930. The pillars all feature artistic dragons, and the arch is on top of a 108-step staircase, this being a sacred Buddhist number. The centerpiece depicts scenes from the life of Buddha.

Ornate carving above the main gate of the archway

Its three gates are formed by four square-shaped piers supported by four columns on the front and four on the back, Artec states in its case study. The vaults of the gates are remarkable for their meticulously carved blossoming peonies, ripe persimmons, traditional Chinese writing brushes, paper fans, treasured books, etc. As well, more than 20 stone-carved lions in different postures are to be found in the middle of the archway.

Thats a lot of detail to scan in a pretty tight space to preserve a cultural work of art, but 3D scanning technology was up to the task. The two main requirements were that each element had to be rendered with absolute accuracy, with no gaps in the 3D model, and that the master has to be able to break down into separate structural parts, so the entirely of the archway can be closely examined.

A figure of a lion poised for attack

This is exactly the kind of project that handheld 3D scanning is meant for, as you can move it around the object to capture every last surface from any angle. Artec 3Ds Gold Partner Beijing Onrol Technology Co., Ltd. was contracted for the archway scanning, and chose to use both the Artec Eva and the Artec Space Spider for the project, as each has different qualities that made them ideal for the job. For instance, the Eva has a higher scanning speed and larger field of view, so it was used to complete the overall scan, while the Space Spider can achieve a higher 3D resolution of up to 0.1 mm, and a higher 3D point accuracy, up to 0.05 mm, and so digitized the archways complex details.

Close-up views of the front part of the 3D model

The team used a secure set of ladders to get to the higher areas of the archway, such as the eves, because the space was too confined for typical scaffolding equipment to be used. Additionally, sunlight seemed like it would be an issue, as it seems brighter, and reflects with a higher intensity, when scanning smooth surfaces at an altitude of 3,000 meters. Some of the scanning planned for cloudless days did have to be completed after sunset, but Artecs Studio software can analyze minor distortions in the scanners rays of structured light once they reach the surface of the object and bounce back. This made it possible to precisely reconstruct the scanned shapes.

Capturing parts of the archway with Artec Eva 3D scanners at night.

It took the team two weeks to collect all 500 GB of raw data, equivalent to 100,000 smartphone images. Because the scans from the Eva and the Space Spider are compatible, they were fused together in the Studio Software, and, when the customer saw the final 3D model a month later, they were purportedly impressed with the high quality.

Thanks to the 3D scanning technology, the entire archway, including the uppermost parts not often seen, has been preserved in a detailed 3D model, and can now be viewed in high resolution by artists, architects, sinology (Chinese studies) experts, and even students.

The first ever 3D model of the Longquan Temple archway in geometry-only model.

(Images provided by Artec 3D unless otherwise noted)

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Buddhist Temple Archway Preserved in High Detail with Artec 3D Scanning -

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July 6th, 2020 at 5:49 pm

Posted in Buddhist Concepts

THE FIFTH OF JULY: A Buddhist Analysis of What’s Wrong, and What Might be Right. – Patheos

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THE FIFTH OF JULY A Buddhist Analysis of Whats Wrong, and What Might be Right.

James Ishmael Ford

The life of a nation. Is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous. Frederick Douglass

To be totally honest, Ive had a lot of trouble focusing on todays reflection. There are all sorts of memes on social media about the shape of this year. One shows two images. The first is labeled, My plans. It shows a kid standing in a playground. The second, labeled, 2020 shows a murder hornet. Another has a dialogue. The first speaker is labeled time traveler who asks, What year is this? The second is labeled Me, who responds, 2020. Time traveler says, Oh, dear! I cannot count how many memes I saw that simply show the date 2020 at the top or the bottom of a picture of a large dumpster consumed in fire.

And then there is politics. How we deal with each other in this time of Covid19, in this time of political crisis, in this time where we are about as close to polarized as can be without actually shooting each other.

And then the 4th of July rolls around.

Personally, I find it easy to despair.

And that poem from William Butler Yates whispers in my ear. Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand. The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand; A shape with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

So, yes, I find it easy to romance despair. Fortunately, thats not the end all of it all. There is that rough beast, and that slouching towards Bethlehem. For ill? Maybe. The image is of an anti-Christ. But ends always are dreamed as desperate things. And so. Maybe, that rough beast is simply what comes next. So. For good? Possibly. I dream the hard and imagine what can be. And. And.

Again, the 4th of July. And with that, to who we are, for ill and for good. Who we are now in this tumble of hurt and longing. And, with that, what we might yet be.

Once human beings began to gather in groups larger than a family, our story has been a story of how small groups of people control others for their own benefit. Exceptions here and there. Not many. And none particularly long lasting.

And then on the Eastern shore of the North American continent, a vision was proclaimed. Kings and aristocracies were being challenged in favor of the people writ large. Of course, it was only partially successful. In our republic for example, we were from the get-go an oligarchy with democratic inclinations. Those small groups of people. And I hope we all understand the shadows of that small group, of the founding sins of conquest and chattel slavery and the relentless subjugation of women.

But at the same time, this dream republic also established the idea of basic human rights, where laws rather than people were at the heart of it all. And heres a truth that is sometimes forgotten in various quests for some pure place. Reality for us as human beings is within a world of tensions. Always. And the founding republic was a mixed bag. No doubt.

These days we are getting our noses rubbed in the reality of the deferred promises, and lots of bills are coming due. Leading the way is the affront of the way things are for African Americans, and right up with that for native Americans. From there a cascade demonstrating our historic sins, women and womens rights, LGBTQ folk, immigrants. Immigrants, a flood of immigrants. And, well, everyone who can be considered an other. People always want some other to blame for the ills that always rise in human events. Here, we can notice all our minorities stacked up in line over the generations.

Immigrants. Even with that harsh truth they continue to come. Those tired, those poor, those huddled masses. The homeless. The tempest tossed. They come. A dream has been proclaimed. And while betrayed over and over, still, it lives. And to this day people come.

And so, for us, the lucky ones, the ones who are here now, and who have inherited something; what do we do? The call from the streets, the call from our hearts is first, to notice. And, well, from there, I hope, to action. The 4th has passed. We are now at the 5th of July. What now?

Here today I want to offer some insights from Buddhism. Or, more specifically from my Buddhism, my Zen Buddhism. It is placed firmly in our time and place. The Zen Buddhism that I practice manifests within the modern, leaning into post-modern, and probably beginning to shape up in whatever follows post-modern it exists in the world observed through reason and is equally heir to the Western Enlightenment as to the Eastern one.

The Buddhism I follow is very much rooted in the original insight of Gautama Siddhartha. Its informed by that ancient realization that our sense of a separate self, useful, no doubt, even necessary, is in the last analysis a convenience, not an objective reality. As an organizing principle for a human being, its really, really important. But it is as passing as the morning dew, and when we pretend otherwise the human ego becomes monstrous. Instead Buddhism locates the individual, that is you and me, within a much larger play of causality. We are all of us part of that great play of relationships.

Now, as humans our vision is always clouded, we are only a part, always only a part. But there is truer seeing. And seeing how we belong to each other and the world can be the compass and the north star. This ancient wisdom says we are connected more deeply than our lungs and breathing.

We humans intuit this profound play of connections. And this sense rises in us as a sense of fairness, of balance, of harmony. The catch is that we also have an inbuilt sense for survival, that sense of a separate self includes a powerful sense of self-protection, and it manifests as often as not as an inclination to cheat. So, there we are. One image that can work if you dont hold it too tightly is half angel, half demon. Another way is how we, each of us, and in our collective are a bundle of potentiality.

Something is always waiting to birth. That rough beast, perhaps?

And. We are conscious. Im sure all animals are. But we humans can communicate from that consciousness with each other at a level beyond calls and warnings. We can tell stories, we can relate dreams, and we can imagine. And, I believe to the soles of my feet that with this consciousness, the kind we humans share, comes responsibility. We are responsible for ourselves. We are responsible for each other. Both. The image I find hard to ignore is that we are in fact all of us family. And, we are responsible for the family. In varying ways, in varying degree. But. All of us. And each of us.

And then there is this country.

What our contemporary political philosophies lack, in my view, is a realistic anthropology, and, with that, a moral perspective that gives us a genuinely healthful direction. This may prove to be of critical importance as we go forward, a corrective to Adam Smith and Karl Marx. One abandons all in favor of the individual. The other abandons all in favor of the group.

What Buddhism hints at is a path that clings to neither view. It is a way of possibility. I find this path demands both reflection and engagement. I cannot do in alone. Nor, can anyone else. We are all in this mess together. But, I must do. And so here, in this place. My America is about the dream of possibility for everyone, and where when one fails, they are not left behind. Not a melting pot, but a mosaic. In my America our differences are celebrated, and our similarities are cherished. Not exactly out of many one, but something close.

One and many.

Here I am myself. I am a part of a family. I am part of Long Beach and Orange County. I am a Californian. I am an American. I am a human being, and a part of the collective that is life on this little planet in a distant corner of a galaxy spinning through the great night. Each part precious and fragile and temporary. With that theres Mr Yeats song. After the observation about the good equivocating whilst the bad, well, theyve got their certainties. And a lot of power comes with that. But. And. Also. This.

The darkness drops again but now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Yeats sang out of a somewhat different story than this naturalistic Buddhism that is my song. But, maybe in fact its not all that different. Truth be told the great intuition doesnt beong to any religion. I think maybe its a bit clearer within Zen. But that we are one and many and our freedom is found when we cling to neither, but live responsibly, is as natural as natural can be.

So any story about a baby has truth to it. Its all about the possible. And the story of a baby, of the most ordinary of all things, becoming through attention and love, something quite special. Or, through neglect or abuse, well And the question remains. What rough beast slouches toward Bethlehem at this hour?

What will birth this year? You know the one that is commonly likened to a dumpster fire. Rough beast can go in several directions. But the one I hope we find is how it can be a noticing of what Thich Nhat Hanh calls Interbeing, our wild dream of the boundless, of the one and the many, the one of respect and responsibility.

And from that, from embracing those others, the ones who have been neglected and despised, and yet, as the song goes, the ones who get the job done. Embracing all of them. Welcoming them in. Acting in confidence that we are all of us a family. And we need each other. And we need each other.

This is what I find. Distracted or not. There is a call. And this is my response. This is my resolution on this 5th of July.

I commit to continue to cultivate my own heart and mind. And, at the very same time I cannot ignore my sisters and brothers, indeed, this whole blessed, broken planet. So, it is one thing. My calling out of this insight into who and what we all are, is to engage as best I can. To speak the truth as accurately as I can, while constantly striving to be more accurate, ever clearer.

It may be a rough beast that births. No doubt it will be. All births are such, the great invitation into the mystery of relationship. It turns out to have a certain ungainly charm. And, maybe it even contains our saving.

Whats that old line? Think globally, act locally. Never a truer thing.

In each action. With every word. Presence, and striving to see the family, and to act like everyone and everything is a relative.As best I can. As hard as it can be. As easy as it can be.I hope you will make a similar promise. A lot appears to be hanging on it on these days following the 4th.

My patriot dream.

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THE FIFTH OF JULY: A Buddhist Analysis of What's Wrong, and What Might be Right. - Patheos

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VICE – This Beatboxing Buddhist Monk Is Out to Change Perceptions of Spiritual Music – VICE

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Photo: Courtesy ofYogetsu Akasaka

This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.

Yogetsu Akasaka is a Japanese Zen Buddhist monk who creates music for meditations. But not the kind most people are familiar with. In videos uploaded on YouTube, he stands in the middle of a white background, grabs a mic, and beatboxes to a loop machine.

The 37-year-old went viral in May, after posting his Heart Sutra Live Looping Remix, a video thats relaxing like ASMR, and engrossing like a DJ set. With the loop machine, he layers sounds and chants all coming from one instrument his voice. The video now has over 100,000 views, with comments from people around the world.

Image: Yogetsu Akasaka YouTube channel

Image: Yogetsu Akasaka YouTube channel

Image: Yogetsu Akasaka YouTube channel

Akasaka realises the irony of seeing a monk, robe and all, beatboxing, but told VICE that he didnt do it for the shock factor.

Its not that I wanted to gain attention for my uniqueness, I just wanted to continue my passion for music, he said. In the same way someone plays the guitar or the drums, I myself am just a normal performer.

Akasaka was beatboxing even before becoming a monk.

My friend had given me a CD of a Japanese beatboxer named Afra and said that he was performing using his mouth. I was absolutely shocked that people could do such things, and so I was interested in trying it. And then I realised, I was pretty good at it, he said.

This happened 15 years ago, when Akasaka was in his early 20s. He became a monk in 2015 because he wanted to follow in his fathers footsteps.

Usually in Japan, people become monks because their family lives in a temple. But for my father, he was just a normal person who decided to become a monk, he said. I was inspired, and decided I wanted to succeed in my fathers current role as an abbot in a temple in the Iwate Prefecture.

Before that, beatboxing was his life, busking in Japan, Australia, and the United States. He was also a theatre actor.

I always had a love for music and wanted to continue my passion even after becoming a monk. Which is why I had decided to take on beatboxing again.

He figured out a way to merge his old life with his new one: to chant in my music. Not only to rediscover his passion but also to shatter misconceptions about Buddhism. Apart from posting videos, he also livestreams performances daily on YouTube.

I think in Japan, people often associate Buddhism with funerals, and the sutra has a little bit of a negative and sad image, Akasaka said.

To him, Buddhism is actually a religion about living peacefully and without pain and sutra, or canonical scriptures, can help heal peoples hearts.

I have had fans tell me that they were able to sleep well and relax due to my beatboxing videos, which is absolutely amazing, he said.

I am honoured to be able to combine my passion with my religious beliefs, and that this has impacted people around the world."

Find Miran on Instagram__.

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VICE - This Beatboxing Buddhist Monk Is Out to Change Perceptions of Spiritual Music - VICE

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Gautam Buddha gave his first sermon on Guru Purnima: A look at some of his teachings and quotes – Times Now

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Gautam Buddha gave his first sermon on Guru Purnima: A look at some of his teachings and quotes

Guru Purnima, a day meant for paying an ode to teachers and mentors in India, is observed on the Purnima Tithi (full Moon night) in the month of Ashadha as per the Purnimant calendar. This year, Guru Purnima, which also marks the birth anniversary of sage Veda Vyasa, will be celebrated on July 5. Interestingly, Guru Purnima is also a significant day for followers of Buddhism. Read on to know why the festival is of great relevance to the Buddhists.

Gautama Buddha is believed to have given his first sermon at Sarnath after attaining enlightenment in Bodh Gaya. It is said that Lord Buddha travelled from Bodh Gaya to Sarnath five weeks after getting enlightened.

Buddha's five ascetic disciples, known asPanchavargika, had moved to ipatana (Rishipatana) in Sarnath even when Gautama Buddha was in Uruvilva (Bodh Gaya). After attaining enlightenment, Buddha marched towards Sarnath to give his first sermon to thePanchavargika. And since he delivered his first sermon,Dharmachakrapravartana Sutta, on the day of Ashadha Purnima, it is significant for the Buddhists.

Dharmachakrapravartana Suttaalso referred to as the wheel ofDharmaconsists of the following:

Four Noble truths- Dukkha (sufferings), Tanha (desire), Nirodha (renouncement) and Magga (the path to enlightenment)

Ariya Ahagika Magga- right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right samadhi.

On Guru Purnima day, Buddhists perform the Uposatha, a spiritual ritual that results in the cleansing of the impure mind. They also pay ode to their Gurus on this auspicious day.

Lord Buddha, the founder of the Buddhist religion, was formerly known as Siddhartha Gautama. He was born to King Suddhodana of the aristocratic Shakya clan and his Queen Mayadevi in Lumbini on the Purnima Tithi (full Moon night) in the month of Vaishakh. Incidentally, it is also on the same day, many years later, that Siddhartha attained enlightenment while meditating under a Peepal (Banyan) tree to become Buddha.


Guru Purnima 2020: Sanskrit Shlokas and meaning; share these and pay a perfect tribute to your teacher

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Interestingly, despite being born into a royal family with all the comforts and luxuries, Siddhartha chose to abandon mundane life. He stepped out of his palace in search of truth, and after performing penance for years, he attained knowledge that transcended the material world.

Here's wishing one and all a very happy Guru Purnima.

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Gautam Buddha gave his first sermon on Guru Purnima: A look at some of his teachings and quotes - Times Now

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Review: The Buddha and the Borders by Nirmalaya Banerjee – Hindustan Times

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Prayer flags and stupas in the eastern Himalayas. (Shutterstock)

pp 183, Rs 500; Palimpsest Publishers

The recent border standoff between India and China along what is the Indo-Tibetan border has captured international news headlines. In this standoff, China enjoys several advantages in terms of military strength, infrastructure, road and an expanding rail network which will link Nepal with Tibet, although India is fast catching up. China also has the advantage of sitting atop the worlds highest and largest plateau, the source of Asias six major rivers which China plans to dam and divert, regardless of downstream concerns. But these advantages are offset by Indias staying power and its ancient and deep-rooted cultural and spiritual bonds with the Buddhist Himalayan belt, which irreversibly identifies with India. The only exception to this is Nepal, which is willingly falling on the lap of the Chinese motherland.

In a visit to Northeast India in 2012, the Dalai Lama once referred to the Buddhist Himalayan belt as Indias frontline, totally oriented towards Indias open, plural society and the freedoms that go with it.

A part of the belt, Indias northeast, is explored by Nirmalya Banerjee in his leisurely and rich travelogue, The Buddha and the Borders. He has covered for himself and for India the whole of the eastern Himalayas, Kalimpong, Sikkim, the kingdom of Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. In all of them, Banerjee found a common cultural thread, the lama dances performed by monks whose lives revolve around the monasteries dotting the entire stretch of the eastern Himalayas from Bhutan, Sikkim, Kalimpong up to Tawang.

One place Banerjee explores in fascinating detail is Kalimpong, which the writer considers a jewel in the Himalayan crown. Kalimpong once served as an entree-port for Tibet, Sikkim and Bhutan. Those were the days when the mule train operating between Tibet and the Indian hill station ferried wool from Tibet on its onward journey to Calcutta and shipped to Britain and America.

Banerjee writes, Prior to the 1962 border war between India and China, Kalimpong was a major urban centre close to the meeting point of India, Tibet, Bhutan and Sikkim Because of its locational advantage, Kalimpong had emerged as a convergence centre of trade and commerce, governance and regional politics, a playground of international intrigues evocative of Kiplings Great Game. What was once a silk route to Tibet is now a blind alley running into a Chinese wall.

Since the fall of Tibet in 1950 to 1959 when Tibetans rose up against Chinese rule, Kalimpong because of its close proximity to Tibet served as a listening post to interested parties eager to know what communist China was up to on the Roof of the World. Indias first Prime Minsiter Pandit Jawarhalal Nehru in his non-aligned exasperation called Kalimpong a nest of spies.

A view of Kalimpong today. ( Shutterstock )

In his exploration of the cultures and sentiments of the people of the Northeastern Himalayas, Banerjee makes it abundantly clear that in the new Great Game played out between Asias two dominant powers, the Buddhist Himalayan Belt stands resolutely with India. The regions cultural cohesion and the spiritual depth and links with India are something China can only envy. It seems for the author, a dedicated and equally fascinated explorer of the eastern Himalayas, the Buddha guards the border for India. In fact, Banerjee is one of a few scholars to make a convincing case for the link between the immense stability of the Himalayan Belt and Buddhism. He credits the quiet region of eastern Himalayas hallowed by the benign presence of Buddhism in the footsteps of lamas down the centuries.

Looming large behind Banerjees narrative of the eastern Himalayas is the question of Tibet. Independent Tibet shared the longest unguarded border in the world with India. Freely crossing the border down the centuries were pilgrims, traders, scholars and students from both sides. They were not hassled by checkpoints, border patrol or any visa requirements. It was one of the most open borders in the world between two countries with a shared culture and based on trust and mutual respect.

In considering the situation in Tibet and this side of the Himalayas, a reader of The Buddha and the Border is left with a question. Why is Tibet racked by constant turmoil and the Buddhist Himalayan Belt not? Perhaps the answer lies in the nature of governance in Tibet and the Buddhist Himalayan Belt. In Tibet Beijings rule is enforced by brute force and down south by the rule of law.

Thubten Samphel is an independent researcher and a former director of the Tibet Policy Institute.

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Review: The Buddha and the Borders by Nirmalaya Banerjee - Hindustan Times

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How Many Dragon Balls Are There in The Original Manga? – Screen Rant

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The mystical Dragon Balls created one of the biggest anime franchises around - but how many actual Balls were there? And why does the number matter?

Since Akira Toriyamas Dragon Ballmade its debut in themanga anthology magazine Weekly Shnen Jump in 1984, thesprawling tale of Son Goku, and his quest to collect the seven -- yes, seven --Dragon Balls in order to summon a wish-fulfilling dragonhas continued in sequel manga,Dragon Ball Z, and nowDragon Ball Super. And while many new Dragon Balls and dragons have appeared, they always seem to come in sets of seven. And for good reason.

Toriyama initially conceived Dragon Ball as a contemporary spin on the classic 16th Century Chinese novel Journey To The West attributed to Wu Cheng'en, based on the 7th Century travels of Buddhist monk Xuanxing. The story famously centers on the mythical Monkey King, Sun Wukong, whose name in Japanese is translated to Son Goku, the same as the Saiyan protagonist of Dragon Ball. Many other references of Chinese and Japanese literature and folklore appear in the long-running manga, and it is here we might find the origins of the number seven.

Related: Shonen Jump Manga Explained: Cost, Titles, And More Questions Answered

In a 1987 interview with the magazine Weekly Shnen Jump itself in service of a special promotional issue entitled Dragon Ball: Bouken Special, Toriyama revealed that the number '7' was chosen due to the inspiration of the 19th Century Japanese fantasy epic, or gesaku (meaning light entertainment or satire) Nans Satomi Hakkenden, or The Chronicles of the Eight Dog [Samurai] of the Satomi Clan by Kyokutei (or Takizawa) Bakin. This fanciful, and also incredibly violent story involves eight prayer beads which magically disperse throughout the province in order to mark the future eight heroes who will save the Satomi clan. According to Toriyama, he liked the image, and changed it to seven so as not to be the exact same.

These origins become slightly more disturbing upon perusing the literary incident: the suicide of the mother of the eight dog men. Bakin liked incorporating traditional Shinto myth into his historical settings, and the result is often somewhat grotesque by modern standards. The lord of the Satomi clan, Yoshizane Satomi, is under siege from a neighboring clan, and so jokingly offers his dog the hand of his daughter, Princess Fuse, in marriage if he can bring him the head of his enemy. The dog then does this and reveals himself to be a god, Yatsufusa, claims his bride and whisks Princess Fuse away. Presented as a pinnacle of morality, the princess reads to him from the sutras, and the two never consummate their marriage. However, she later finds herself pregnant, and commits suicide in ritual seppuku-style to prove her honor and chastity.

Upon her act, eight mystical crystal balls of energy emerge from her womb, and disperse across the province. Later, 8 boys are born, each with a prayer bead inscribed with a kanji or word, alluding to a Buddhist principle. The 8 brothers then band together in an incredibly violent tale of war, betrayal and murder, ultimately winning out and bringing peace to the land. Maybe these brutal origins involving death and suicide is why Toriyama mostly uses them to wish people back to life in his brighter, more cheery tale. Interestingly, though the characters in the story are not literal dog-men, there is at the very least a similarity in the subject matter of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to this as well.

That isnt to say that the number 7 might not also have significance to Toriyama. The number 7 is very important in Buddhism (a major religion in Japan) often associated with the ascent to nirvana such as the Seven Factors of Awakening which bring about enlightenment (awareness, inquisitiveness, vigor, ecstasy, tranquility, focus and temperance). Gokus quest to defeat ever greater threats to mankind and life in the universe through becoming the greatest warrior of all time might in some ways be seen as akin to seeking enlightenment.

The Dragon Balls themselves have been used for less enlightening purposes. The first goal Toriyama had his protagonists set out to find them for was deuteragonist Bulma searching for a perfect boyfriend, which was later changed by other members of the party to a pair of girls underwear during the actual wishing. (Dont worry, it was to stop the end of the world). Throughout the many sagas of Dragon Ball, one thing Toriyama has always carried is a jocular tone in his stories, perhaps a spark of the irreverence of the traditional myths and stories he draws from.

Next:Dragon Ball Creator Doesn't Understand Why It's So Popular

Source: Weekly Shnen Jump via

Aquaman's Revenge on Swamp Thing is Seriously Disturbing

Andrew Firestone is a writer of sentences, paragraphs, chapters and words, cultural enthusiast and a hard news junkie from Allston, Massachusetts. An editor, audio engineer and evangelist of all things awesome, he's saddled with an all-consuming awe/fear of Alan Moore, so please be kind. Formerly a writer for the public interest in local government, Andy is a graduate of Lesley University and holds a bachelor's degree in English Literature. He enjoys loud music and soft music and sometimes in-between.

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How Many Dragon Balls Are There in The Original Manga? - Screen Rant

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Young Japan priests try to breathe life into fading Buddhism – Religion News Service

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TOKYO (AP) Buddhism suffers from a gloomy image in Japan. It is so closely linked to death funerals, graves and memorial rituals in which priests chant sutras based on Chinese rendering of Sanskrit texts that no one else understands that people refer to it as funeral Buddhism.

The powerful forces of secularization and population decline have caused the religion to steadily wane in Japanese society, with disinterest in Buddhism and faith in general particularly pronounced among the young.

Buddhist leaders say a third of the countrys 75,000 temples are barely functioning, with rural flight hurting the traditional danka system of financial support by parish households, to the extent that some country temples have closed and priests are taking second jobs.

Meanwhile, intensifying competition from discount funeral businesses and nonreligious cemeteries has cut into income from the death rituals and grave plots.

But a younger generation of priests is working to reverse the faiths downward spiral, innovating to try to make Buddhism more appealing and relevant to daily life and the modern world.

We need more priests to be aware of the needs of people around them and how to maintain the temple not as a business but based on Buddhist teachings, said Yoshiharu Tomatsu, secretary-general of the Japan Buddhist Federation, an umbrella group overseeing the countrys 58 sects. Otherwise, we have no reason to exist in this society.

Since most people dont have much opportunity to interact with Buddhist priests, 43-year-old Yoshinobu Fujioka spends evenings in downtown Tokyo at his Vowz Bar, a play on bouzu, Japanese for monk.

The watering hole typically sees 100 customers crammed into two small second-floor rooms on weekend nights or at least it did until the coronavirus pandemic hit. A Buddhist altar sits in the corner while jazz music plays in the background.

Unlike Buddhist priests elsewhere, those in Japan can marry, drink alcohol and eat meat, thanks to an 1872 imperial edict. Sharing cocktails in a cozy atmosphere encourages people to open up about their struggles, Fujioka said.

Twice a night he spends 15 minutes leading customers in chanting sutras, followed by a short talk or story. One evening in March, amid the growing pandemic, he talked about non-financial ways of giving alms, such as looking kindly on people, smiling and paying attention to those in need.

Lots of young people come and listen earnestly, said Fujioka, who also performs with a band in live clubs. Buddhism gives wisdom for living. Everyone is starving for truth. Hearts are dry. ... If we offer that to people, they will soak it up.

Haruka Umeyama, a 30-year-old tour guide, described herself as a typically religiously confused Japanese who didnt know much about Buddhism but felt at home at Vowz.

I came here and its great, she said. They make the words of Buddha easy to understand. And for some reason, even though I wasnt brought up religious at all, some of the things they say here make sense.

Kanho Yakushiji, a 41-year-old Zen Buddhist priest from the southern island of Shikoku, grew up loving music and formed a band in his 20s because he didnt want to inherit his fathers temple, as is typical in Japan. Music was kind of an escape for me, he said.

But he gradually began exploring his Zen roots, which emphasize meditation and discipline, and realized he needed to confront his fears about becoming a priest. At 30 he entered a two-year training regimen at a Kyoto temple that included grueling cross-legged meditation sessions lasting for hours.

Yakushiji emerged convinced he wanted to incorporate music into his ministry. Today hes recorded three solo albums and has toured Japan, China and Taiwan, playing his guitar in his priestly vestments, his head shaved.

His early songs were pop or folk tunes about family, friends and his hometown. Most didnt contain explicit references to faith but were more subtle: Treasuring the important things in life and Buddhist teachings are really one and the same, he said.

Lately Yakushiji has been experimenting with a different and distinctly Buddhist sound: harmonized sutras chanted to dreamy guitar chords. His recent arrangement, Heart Sutra, has garnered 2.8 million views on YouTube.

Buddhism has done little to spread, Yakushiji said. But now young priests are reaching out in a lot of different ways, so I think things are changing.

Like the other priests interviewed for this story, 37-year-old Naoyuki Ogi of southern Yamaguchi prefecture said he spreads Buddhist teachings because they offer practical help in daily life and ultimately a roadmap to nirvana, or enlightenment.

Among such core tenets are the importance of self-reflection and self-improvement, as well as awareness that all living things are connected. Another is the idea that ones ancestors protect and help the living and can be prayed to or even worshipped.

Ogi goes on TV shows to promote those and other teachings, and also works at the Society for the Promotion of Buddhism, which distributes copies of The Teaching of Buddha in hotel rooms.

My primary purpose is not to convert people to Buddhism or expand my temples members, said Ogi, whose temple danka has shrunk to 110 families from 150 about 20 years ago. My main goal is, how do I introduce Buddhist teachings to people? Because they are so useful.

Unlike Christianity and Islam, mainstream Buddhist groups in Japan generally dont seek converts, although some offshoots are zealous about proselytizing.

Religion is a flexible concept anyway for most Japanese, who often mix Buddhism with Shinto, the indigenous worship of spirits in nature, or even Christianity. Many people dedicate their children at the local Shinto shrine, tie the knot in Christian weddings and hold Buddhist funerals, without considering any of that contradictory.

That makes it hard to pin down religious affiliation. Government data based on tallies from temples and shrines shows Japan is roughly split between followers of Buddhism and Shinto, with some people counted in both camps. But when Japanese were asked to pick one religion they believed in, in a 2018 survey by the International Social Survey Program, 31 percent of respondents said Buddhism, 3 percent Shinto, 1 percent Christianity and 62 percent no religion at all.

For Ogi, creed doesnt matter when it comes to his ministry.

Even if you are a Christian, and you like Buddhist teachings, please use them, he said. No problem.

Tsuyuno Maruko, a 33-year-old priest in the Tendai sect, found her niche in the often humorous storytelling tradition called rakugo. In one story she likens various Buddhist hotoke, or godlike figures, to shopkeepers on a street, noting how each has a store serving different needs.

Maruko is among those abandoning the danka system. She's building a new temple in the southwestern Hyogo prefecture modeled on a Christian church and supported by visitors contributions and her own storytelling performances.

I think many Japanese view religion as something suspicious or a bit dangerous, she said. We need to communicate that faith is part of everyday life, just like eating our meals.

Maruko, whose husband is Christian, said many priests are either complacent or too inwardly focused on whether their temples will survive.

That kind of preoccupation with ones own livelihood seems to have lost sight of the essence of religion, she said.

That was going to be the gist of her message to fellow priests at an April seminar on addressing the crisis facing Buddhism, but it was postponed due to the pandemic. She still plans to drive home the point that you should not be working for yourself but for others.

Ittetsu Nemoto, 48, had no interest in religion as a youth. By his own account, he partied hard, danced all night and was kind of a delinquent.

But he practiced Buddhist meditation as part of his karate training, believing it helped him discern opponents moves. After a motorcycle accident sent him to the hospital, Nemoto began questioning his life, felt empty and decided to become a Zen priest.

Around that time, about 15 years ago, Japan saw a surge of suicidal people meeting online and then taking their lives in small groups, often through carbon monoxide poisoning in sealed vehicles. Nemoto, who had lost an uncle and two former classmates to suicide, began seeking them out through the internet and going to talk with them.

After sharing their stories, they would become friends and give up their suicide plans, he said. He created a web-based support group to keep in touch with them.

By the time Nemoto became chief priest of a small temple in central Gifu prefecture, he had a reputation as a suicide counselor. Over the next several years, he counseled thousands of people by phone, in person and in small groups.

He developed a workshop, depicted in the 2017 documentary The Departure, with mock funerals that force participants to confront their own death. In one activity, people are asked to write down things they hold dear, helping them see what they would be giving up.

Nemoto farms to help support his family. And while he doesnt want his 700-year-old temple to close, he is a staunch believer in reorienting ministry, perhaps around technology instead of the temple.

Outside needs are growing and temple needs are declining, Nemoto said. With just your smartphone, you can do almost anything. Buddhism needs to think about how it will function in that world.

In unsettling times of pandemic, loneliness and natural disasters, Nemoto sees growing spiritual hunger and believes Buddhism can help.

Buddhism saved me from a messed-up youth and helped me see things clearly, he said. If it cant be used to save people from death, it has no value.


Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content.


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Young Japan priests try to breathe life into fading Buddhism - Religion News Service

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June 14th, 2020 at 10:48 am

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