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Archive for the ‘Buddhist Concepts’ Category

The robot does the hard work. Can you still attain enlightenment? – MIT Technology Review

Posted: February 21, 2020 at 12:45 pm

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For six hours, a circular robot flits up and down a wall, sketching out a lotus with myriad intricate designs embedded in each petal. Four marker pens color in the designs. It looks beautiful. But as soon as its complete, the robot reverses course, erasing the image and leaving the wall as if it had never been there.


This is a mandala, reimagined. These complex patterns are meant to reflect the visions that monks see while meditating about virtues such as compassion, wisdom, and more, says Tenzin Priyadarshi, a Buddhist monk and the CEO of the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT. To automate the elaborate process of creating and destroying them, an important tradition in Buddhism, Priyadarshi teamed up with Carlo Ratti, an MIT architect and designer of Scribit, a $500 write and erase robot that uses special markers to draw and erase art on a wall.

Traditional mandalas are sketched out by hand and then painstakingly filled with colored sand. Once the mandala is complete, it is destroyed, symbolizing the transience of beauty and existence. Scribit, however, isnt so delicate, and relies on pre-programmed images. There is no sand, no meticulous sketching, no fear that the mandala could be destroyed any second. Theres also the physical relief. It was easier on my back than creating these intricate mandalas, Priyadarshi says of the traditional 50-hour process.

But getting a robot to sketch a design on the wall seems counterproductive. Isnt it cheating?

Not at all, says Priyadarshi. He insists that a robot isnt a way to bypass the hard work of meditation via mandala; rather, its mesmerizing movements help one enter a relaxed state.

The robot mandalas also point to an increasingly intertwined future for religion and technology. Religiosity might be on the wane for younger generations, but smartphones are ubiquitous: Muslim Pro and Siddur are smartphone apps that notify devout users of prayer time for Muslims and Jews respectively, and mindfulness apps have found a role in Buddhist practices. Priyadarshi, who calls technology a blessing and a curse, thinks the future of religion involves adapting technology to worship in this way.

When asked if a robotic mandala achieves the same results as a hand-drawn one, Ganden Thurman, the executive director of Tibet House, a center of study for Tibetan Buddhism, says yes and no. He points to flags planted in mountain passes where winds are thought to carry prayers, or prayer wheels and drums stamped with wishes for the suffering. Those are vehicles by which a person is engaging with Buddhism, Thurman says, and the robot can likewise be compared to the intermediary of a canvas, brush, or pencil, all used with the intent to do good and be good.

But the robot cant benefit from the doing of the mandala, he explains. The robot is not a sentient being. Buddhism is concerned with the uplift and well-being of sentient beings, the ability to move and facilitate from pain to pleasure, which happens through self-awareness.

Still, a robot mandala can be as valuable as a human-made one in planting a future karmic seed, Thurman says.

To Priyadarshi, one major benefit is that a robotic mandala allows the average person to connect to religion at home, free from distraction. It also means that the person is spending less time worrying about the mandalas intricacy and more time in contemplationthe ultimate purpose of the mandala.

Its also an antidote to what Priyadarshi sees as an ever shrinking attention span in a busy world. Technology can cause positive nudges in individuals so that they can learn about focus, empathy, compassion, he says. Were trying to use technology as a tool to facilitate certain behavioral shifts.

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The robot does the hard work. Can you still attain enlightenment? - MIT Technology Review

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February 21st, 2020 at 12:45 pm

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Open hearts: The Buddhist approach to love and loving – Irish Examiner

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For relationships to endure, we need to be loving not just on Valentines Day but all year round, a Buddhist teacher tells Marjorie Brennan

WHILE Valentines Day is a celebration of romantic love, amid the avalanche of red roses, cheesy cards and bottles of bubbly, the many other types of love we experience in our lives can be forgotten.

The consumerist nature of the day may be at odds with reflection and contemplation, but it does provide an opportunity to consider how we can nurture different kinds of love in our life, which can also help enhance our relationship with a spouse or partner.

On this theme, the Buddhist approach has much to offer in terms of teaching us how to love ourselves and in turn open our hearts to others.

Andrew Warr (pictured right), who is based in the English city of Brighton, has been studying and practising Buddhism for 36 years and regularly conducts meditation workshops at Dzogchen Beara Tibetan Buddhist retreat centre in West Cork.

Valentines Day is sort of acknowledged but I wouldnt say it is incorporated [in Buddhism], he says. From a Buddhist point of view, in a romantic relationship, you may think the other person is fantastic and everything about them seems wonderful but what everybody is hoping for is something that is enduring. So when things are difficult, when you lose the romance, you lose everything.

Buddhism is more about a good-hearted connection with the person that can endure beyond that romantic realm. If you are focused on one loving relationship, even just thinking in that way inhibits the capacity for that relationship to be at its best. If it is just weighted on one person, that is quite narrow. If we want to have a genuine, loving relationship with somebody, our heart has to be much bigger.

Warr refers to this as widening the circle of love which he says will enhance our relationship with our spouse or partner.

Buddhist meditations for cultivating love and compassion are really about starting with one person we feel affection towards already, then we use that as almost like an example of how we can extend love to others, to incorporate everybody, including ourselves. The idea is that as our heart becomes more attuned to feeling goodwill towards a wider range of people, that impacts on all our relationships, including those with our partners or spouses.


Among the workshops which Warr teaches are ones centred on the Loving Kindness meditation, which has been practised in Buddhism for more than 2,500 years.

The meditation helps people develop a deep, pervasive and unconditional love that transcends our normal limitations. This process starts with developing a more healthy and loving relationship with ourselves.

There is an increasing realisation that a lot of unhappiness is due to the relationship we have with ourselves not being very healthy. Sometimes when things are difficult, we might be giving ourselves a hard time about it or we blame someone else, getting caught up with that before acknowledging were suffering in some way, says Warr.

This recognition that we are in pain and the showing of self-compassion are often the first steps towards forging a healthier relationship with ourselves, and then others, says Warr.

We need to be kind to ourselves and to speak to ourselves with some tenderness, as we would to someone who is suffering to say to ourselves Im suffering, this is difficult; to be a good friend to ourselves. The reality is we all experience suffering in our life that its something that happens, theres nothing wrong with us. The best way is to be with ourselves in that, not to immediately distract ourselves and not to do something which wont help alleviate it.


Warr says that the now-popular concept of mindfulness can also be brought to bear in how we love, and relate to, others.

One of the gifts of mindfulness is to be more aware of other people. We can develop ways to actually notice people how they are oh, theyre enjoying themselves, how wonderful and actually relate to them in our hearts more as another human being with feelings, rather than as just an object we might regard favourably or unfavourably.

For people interested in learning about how meditation can improve their relationships, Warr says there are various avenues to pursue, including online research, apps, and courses and retreats.

There are meditations which are specifically designed to cultivate goodheartedness, often in the Buddhist tradition of Metta, often translated as loving kindness. There are different mediations on compassion which help to reveal the natural good-heartedness we all have so its not simply about being aware or mindful, its acknowledging that within us all we had a natural capacity for love and warmth.

The anger, the jealousy, the distress, those are all passing experiences fundamentally we all have good hearts, which is the Buddhist view of things. Meditations for love and kindness and compassion are, for many people, effective ways to get in touch with that good-heartedness and help us to release resentments and to feel and express warmth towards others.

Andrew Warrs upcoming retreats at Dzogchen Beara are Calm and Clear, May 29-June 1 and Peaceful Mind, Loving Heart, July 11-18; See

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Open hearts: The Buddhist approach to love and loving - Irish Examiner

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February 21st, 2020 at 12:45 pm

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Simon Walker invests the grand resign of living in the now – Newcastle Herald

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I read a book recently about big ideas, and Buddhism got a mention. The ultimate goal in Buddhism, according to this book, is to eliminate craving and live in the now. When we crave, we suffer. Indeed, to crave is to suffer. A perfectly normal human condition which Buddha urges we avoid at all costs due to the philosophical price tag. I mention this because the other day I was in a doctor's waiting room, and I was suffering because I faced the prospect of paying the gap, something I normally crave to never pay. Thinking back in Buddhist terms I must have been suffering even before I arrived because of that craving. I was suffering even more when I realised the gap was looming. In an effort to live in the now, I sat down and started thumbing through the mags, which was probably a mistake. Interesting the magazines you get in waiting rooms. They kind of tell you about the place you're waiting at and what it thinks you might be capable of. Like paying the gap. Clearly I was not at the barbers because there was not one mag about dirt bike racing, fishing of golf. More from Simon Walker: The complete That's Life archive The mags in this waiting room were exclusively about high-end architecture, renovations and cutting edge interior design, and rightly or wrongly, I started to make a connection between these things and paying the gap. I'd been to a bulk-billing general practice a couple of weeks before and there'd been no magazines at all, just incessant morning TV blaring on a flat screen. Talk about suffering. But I wasn't paying any gap, so I craved only one thing, they turn off the TV. Back at this other waiting room, the glossy mags only served to highlight a second gap - between the houses in the mags, and my humble pile. I think they call it a Grand Design moment, characterised by craving things you'll never be able to afford. Coincidentally, Kevin McLeod is touring Australia at the moment fielding many questions about his fabulous TV show, the central one being, where do the people get the resources to fund these dream homes? Inheritance seemed a bit vulgar, so Kevin suggested many got lucky playing the real estate game - back in the 1600s I think. Like Grand Designs, the mags in this waiting room waxed lyrical a lot about architects who'd returned from exotic places, charged up spiritually to collaborate with clients who didn't seem to have jobs, but many of whom had just returned from New York having slummed it in a loft apartment on Central Park, which they'd renovated too. Both the loft and Central Park. Everyone seemed intent on "embracing the lived experience". It got me contemplating the lived experience of my carpets back at my house and how long they'd been under foot, or vice versa, and from two gaps, I nearly started contemplating jumping off a third. Just in time my name was called out and I was back in the now of the waiting room, craving nothing more than a clean bill of health, grandly resigned to suffering no more about hard to achieve big ideas.


February 22 2020 - 12:30AM

I read a book recently about big ideas, and Buddhism got a mention.

The ultimate goal in Buddhism, according to this book, is to eliminate craving and live in the now. When we crave, we suffer. Indeed, to crave is to suffer. A perfectly normal human condition which Buddha urges we avoid at all costs due to the philosophical price tag.

I mention this because the other day I was in a doctor's waiting room, and I was suffering because I faced the prospect of paying the gap, something I normally crave to never pay.

Thinking back in Buddhist terms I must have been suffering even before I arrived because of that craving.

I was suffering even more when I realised the gap was looming.

In an effort to live in the now, I sat down and started thumbing through the mags, which was probably a mistake.

Interesting the magazines you get in waiting rooms. They kind of tell you about the place you're waiting at and what it thinks you might be capable of. Like paying the gap.

Clearly I was not at the barbers because there was not one mag about dirt bike racing, fishing of golf.

The mags in this waiting room were exclusively about high-end architecture, renovations and cutting edge interior design, and rightly or wrongly, I started to make a connection between these things and paying the gap.

I'd been to a bulk-billing general practice a couple of weeks before and there'd been no magazines at all, just incessant morning TV blaring on a flat screen. Talk about suffering. But I wasn't paying any gap, so I craved only one thing, they turn off the TV.

Back at this other waiting room, the glossy mags only served to highlight a second gap - between the houses in the mags, and my humble pile. I think they call it a Grand Design moment, characterised by craving things you'll never be able to afford.

Coincidentally, Kevin McLeod is touring Australia at the moment fielding many questions about his fabulous TV show, the central one being, where do the people get the resources to fund these dream homes?

Inheritance seemed a bit vulgar, so Kevin suggested many got lucky playing the real estate game - back in the 1600s I think.

Like Grand Designs, the mags in this waiting room waxed lyrical a lot about architects who'd returned from exotic places, charged up spiritually to collaborate with clients who didn't seem to have jobs, but many of whom had just returned from New York having slummed it in a loft apartment on Central Park, which they'd renovated too. Both the loft and Central Park. Everyone seemed intent on "embracing the lived experience".

It got me contemplating the lived experience of my carpets back at my house and how long they'd been under foot, or vice versa, and from two gaps, I nearly started contemplating jumping off a third.

Just in time my name was called out and I was back in the now of the waiting room, craving nothing more than a clean bill of health, grandly resigned to suffering no more about hard to achieve big ideas.

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Simon Walker invests the grand resign of living in the now - Newcastle Herald

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February 21st, 2020 at 12:45 pm

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Buddhist conference to be attended by 21 countries – Himalayan Times

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Kathmandu, February 17

The main organising committee of the International Buddhist Conference has started preparations for the event that is going to be held from May 5 to 7 on the occasion of Buddha Jayanti.

The three-day event will take place in Lumbini, in which participants from 21 countries will come to attend the conference.

A meeting of main organising committee held today at the Ministry of Culture Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) informed that participants from Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, India, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Japan, South Korea, Bhutan, Mongolia, Malaysia, Singapore, Bangladesh, America, United Kingdom, Russia, Costa Rica, France and Germany have confirmed their participation.

Likewise, several researchers and students of Buddhism will also take part in the event.

However, due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Chinese participants may decide to cancel their registration.

Addressing the meeting today, Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai said, This conference will help to promote Nepal as a religious destination.

As the country is celebrating the Visit Nepal 2020 campaign, this conference could help us to bring in a large number of tourists into the country.

As a conference hall that can accommodate 5,000 people has been built in Lumbini, the conference this year will not face the problems faced in the previous two conferences, he said, adding, Moreover, we are trying to bring the Gautam Buddha International Airport into operation in time for the conference.

The meeting has decided to observe Buddha Jayanti this year with a week-long celebration. On the first day of Buddha Jayanti week on May 1, a cleaning campaign will be organised in Lumbini, Bhairahawa, Kapilvastu and Ramgram areas. It will be followed by a blood donation programme on May 2 and tree plantation on May 3 in Rupandehi and Kapilvastu.

On May 4, a peace marathon and cultural events will be organised in Lumbini. Meanwhile, during the three days of the conference, peace rallies and chanting of Paritran Paath will be organised.

A version of this article appears in print on February 18, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.

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Buddhist conference to be attended by 21 countries - Himalayan Times

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February 21st, 2020 at 12:45 pm

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Solitude in Buddhism | The Art of Solitude – Tricycle

Posted: February 1, 2020 at 8:45 am

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I was introduced to the practice of mindfulness by S. N. Goenka in 1974, a few weeks after being ordained as a novice monk. Together with a group of young Tibetan monks and Western students of Buddhism, I attended a silent ten-day Vipassana retreat in Dharamsala, India.

During the first three days we cultivated mindfulness of breathing by focusing on the sensation of the breath as it passes over the upper lip. After a while the fugitive passage of inhalations and exhalations consolidated into a stable point of sensation at the center of the lip. This point then became the exclusive focus of the meditation.

In becoming more concentrated, I started seeing flashes of colored lights and patterns in my mind. They did not last long, and we were advised to pay them no attention. By the end of the three days, I had settled into an unprecedented state of focused attention, which I could sustain for several minutes at a time without distraction.

On day four, we moved our focus from the upper lip to a point at the top of the head. From there we carefully expanded our attention to the rest of the scalp, the face, the ears, the neck, until we reached the torso. Then we slowly continued through the rest of the body, along each arm and leg in turn, until we reached the tips of our toes. Once this downward scan was complete, we repeated the procedure in reverse until we returned to the top of the head. We spent each meditation session sweeping the body from head to foot and back again.

At first, my experience was patchy. Some parts of the body buzzed, tingled, vibrated, and pulsed, while other parts felt almost completely insensate. As I persisted with the exerciseit was all we did for several hours each daythe dead zones began to come alive until I felt my entire body as one single mass of quivering sensations.

In a deep, reassuring voice, Mr. Goenka instructed us to pay attention to the range of pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral feelings associated with these sensations. A pain in the knee breaks down into physical reactions triggered by the stress on the joint due to sitting cross-legged for long periods and a subjective feeling of that condition as unpleasant. In refining mindfulness, one learns to differentiate between physical sensations or sounds and how one feels about them, thereby enabling one to dwell in a keenly responsive but less reactive state of mind.

Mr. Goenka told us to notice how even the most stubborn sensations and feelings came and went. I found that if I probed deeply into a piercing pain in the knee, at a certain point it would switch from being something solid and unpleasant into a rapidly vibrating pattern of sensations that no longer hurt as much. I realized that what I experienced at any given moment was co-created by the physical processes of my body and the way I was conditioned to interpret and react to them. I remember a time when I was seated cross-legged outside on the grass between meditation sessions in an ecstatic, silent, openhearted awareness while the gusts of wind rising from the plains of the Punjab below Dharamsala seemed to blow through me. The sense of a separate world out there being observed by a detached subject in here began to break down.

All this took place more than forty years ago, but its impact remains with me today. It was my initiation into mindfulness, which has been the basis of my contemplative life ever since. Far more than just a technique, mindfulness offered me a new sensibility on life as a whole, an entirely other perspective on how to be a practicing human in the world.

My Tibetan Buddhist education and training during the two years before the retreat had been an ideal preparation for this practice. I was used to spending much of each day cross-legged on the floor, so long hours of sitting meditation did not trouble me. My daily reflections and studieson the preciousness of human life, the imminence of death, renunciation, existential commitment, an altruistic resolve, and emptinessprovided a fertile soil of value and meaning for mindful awareness to take root in. I had thought deeply about impermanence and selflessness. Now I was experiencing them viscerally. I found myself part of the living fabric of human experience into which I was inseparably woven yet was at the same time free to examine and explore. Mindfulness, I discovered, was not an aloof, detached regard. Its practice served to sculpt and shape the inner contours of my solitude.

Nor was the idea of mindfulness new to me. For many months I had been studying Shantidevas Guide to the Bodhisattvas Way of Life. The entire fifth chapter of this 8th-century Indian Buddhist text is devoted to the practice of mindful awareness.

Mr. Goenka provided the tools to turn Shantidevas teachings on mindfulness into a felt reality, while Shantidevas reflections provided an ethical dimension for Mr. Goenkas contemplative practice. If the elephant of my mind, wrote Shantideva, is firmly bound on all sides by the rope of mindfulness, all fears will cease to exist and all virtues will come into my hand. The purpose of mindfulness is not just to be more aware of the breath, bodily sensations, and feelings. For Shantideva it means to be constantly mindful of ones ethical aspirations. Mindfulness is compared to the gatekeeper at the doorway of the mind and senses, alert to any impulse that threatens to divert you from your goals and undermine you.

The thieves of unawareness, he remarks, follow upon the decline of mindfulness and rob you of your goodness. They circle around waiting for an opportunity to break in and take possession of you. Mindfulness is a heightened attention that notices the very first stirring of reactive impulses and neurotic habits before they have a chance to take hold. When, on the verge of acting, I see my mind is tainted, Shantideva tells himself, I should remain immobile, like a piece of wood.

The piece of wood is a metaphor for equanimity, not indifference. Mindfulness is a balanced, reflective stance in which one notices the meanness or sarcasm that rises up in the mind while neither identifying with it nor rejecting it. One observes with interest what is happening without succumbing to either the urge to act on it or the guilty desire to ignore or suppress it. This entails a radical acceptance of who and what you are, where nothing is unworthy of being the object of such attention. You say yes to your life as it manifests, warts and all, with an ironic, compassionate regard. Through sustaining this nonreactive stance over time, mindful awareness becomes the basis for ones ethical life.

This perspective is spelled out in the 14th-century Tibetan lama Thogme Zangpos commentary to Shantidevas text. For Thogme Zangpo, mindfulness is the recollection of all one aspires to let go of and realize, while awareness is knowing how to do that letting go and realizing. Mindful awareness thus encompasses the entire project of human flourishing. To be mindful means to remember to let go of compulsive reactivity and realize a nonreactive way of life, while to be aware means to know how to refine the psychological, contemplative, philosophical, and ethical skills needed to achieve these goals.

Ever since the Vipassana retreat with Mr. Goenka and the study of Shantidevas Guide to the Bodhisattvas Way of Life, the contemplative and ethical dimensions of mindfulness have been inseparable for me. Mindful awareness both embeds my attention in the raw immediacy of experience and serves as the moral compass that guides my response to that experience. What is the power of mindfulness? asked Gotama more than a thousand years before Shantideva. The noble practitioner is mindful: she is equipped with the keenest mindfulness and awareness; she remembers well and keeps in mind what has been said and done long ago.


Wrong-minded people voice opinions, as do truth-minded people too. When an opinion is offered, the sage is not drawn in theres nothing arid about the sage. Sutta Nipata 4.3

I feel death, says Michel de Montaigne, continuously nipping at my throat and kidneys. Montaigne knows that each stumble of a horse, each falling of a tile, each slight pinprick could be the harbinger of his end. To be able to die at peace, a philosopher needs to die to his attachments to the world. This, for Montaigne, is true solitude, where ones thoughts and emotions are reined in and brought under control. To prepare oneself for death is to prepare oneself for freedom. The one who has learned to die has unlearned to be a slave.

To die to the world is far from straightforward. People do not recognize the natural sickness of their mind, says Montaigne, which does nothing but ferret about in search of something, ceaselessly twisting, elaborating, and entangling itself in its own activity like a silkworm, until it suffocates there like a mouse in pitch. We rush around in a compulsive flight from death. Every moment, he remarks, it seems I am fleeing from myself. No matter how many laws or precepts we use to fence the mind in, we still find it garrulous and dissolute, escaping all constraints. This flight is chaotic and aimless. There is no madness or lunacy that cannot be produced in this turmoil. When the soul has no definite goal, it gets lost.

Chronic dissatisfaction further drives this restlessness. Nothing that we know and enjoy feels satisfying, remarks Montaigne.

Since what is present fails to gratify us, we hanker after future things of which we know nothing. It is not that what is present is unable to gratify us, but we grasp it in a sick and uncontrolled way.

This strategy increases the dissatisfaction it seeks to dispel. For what we cling to turns out to be hollow and empty. We clutch at everything, he says, but clasp nothing but wind.

Montaigne suggests that nature distracts us from ourselves so as not to discourage us. To divert our attention, it has very cleverly projected the activity of our gaze outward so that we are swept forward on its current. This is why to turn the course of our life back toward us is a painful move. It is hard work to swim against the stream. It creates turbulence, like when the sea, pushed back onto itself, churns in confusion.

Montaigne compares himself to a vessel that disintegrates, splits apart, leaks, and shirks its duty to itself. It needs to be knocked together and tightened up with some good strokes of a mallet. Such reform cannot be done piecemeal. It requires a continual training of the soul. Recover your mind and your will, which are busying themselves elsewhere, he urges. You are draining away and scattering yourself. Concentrate yourself; hold yourself back. You are being betrayed, dissipated, robbed.

It is a tricky business, he acknowledges, to follow so meandering a course as that of our mind, to penetrate its opaque depths and hidden recesses, to discern and stop so many subtle shifts in its movements. This is impossible without rigorous self-governance. To rein in its compulsive wandering, no beast more justly needs to be given blinkers to keep its gaze focused on what lies before its feet. It requires that you learn how to keep yourself settled, straight, inflexible, without movement or agitation. Others, he comments, study themselves in order to advance and elevate their mind: I seek to humble it and lay it down to rest.

The procedure that works well for me, says Montaigne, is this: With very little effort I stop the first movement of my emotions, and let go of whatever has started to weigh me down before it carries me off. By spying closely on the effects and circumstances of the passions that govern me, he has learned to detect the tiny breezes that brush against me and murmur inside me, as forerunners of the storm. Seeing them approach lets him slow down a little the frenzy of their charge. Experience has taught him that without knowing how to close the door against your emotions, you will never chase them out once they have gained entry.

To succeed in examining and managing ones life is, for Montaigne, to have accomplished the greatest task of all. It is not easy, but with practice you can tame the mind. Rarely does anyone attempt, let alone succeed in, this endeavor. Montaigne considers himself unusual in this regard: Never has someone prepared himself to leave the world more simply and totally, or detached himself from it more completely than I strive to do.

Montaigne follows Platos middle road between hatred of pain and love of pleasure, and instructs himself to contemplate both pain and pleasure with an equally calm gaze. To live this way, you need to jettison even the guidelines and pointers that have brought you to this point. Most people get it wrong, he explains:

Of course one can proceed more easily by sticking to the side of the road, whose curb serves as a limit and a guide, than by following the wide and open middle way. Yes, it is far easier to proceed by artificial than by natural means, but it is far less noble too and held in less esteem. The souls greatness lies not so much in reaching lofty heights and making progress as in knowing and respecting its range.

One needs to cultivate an intuitive sense of balance and orientation that is responsive to the demands of each moment. I want death to find me planting my cabbages, he says, worrying about neither it nor my imperfect garden.



I am in a large public art gallery. People are milling around and talking in hushed voices. Behind me is a life-size standing figure that looks like a man encased in lead. On entering the room, I recognized it as a work of the British artist Antony Gormley. The figure leans slightly backward, its arms and legs splayed, its barely discernible features gazing skyward. Called Untitled (for Francis), it evokes the moment St. Francis of Assisi received the stigmata, as portrayed in a late-15th- century painting by Giovanni Bellini.

With my back to the ecstatic saint, I gaze at the only other work in the room. It is a five-foot-square abstract painting called Faraway Love by the American artist Agnes Martin. It consists of horizontal lines: five thin bands of white and four wider bands of pale blue. The bands are rectangles of different widths, their borders marked by hand-drawn pencil lines.

The paint is applied as a wash. The artists fingerprints are visible in places. The bottom blue band bears the seemingly accidental mark of a thin streak of blue pigment.

Agnes Martin maintained that her paintings were complete only when they evoked in the viewer the same quality that inspired her to paint them. As I peer at this work, I do not experience love, either close or far away. I am restless and uncertain as I try to make sense of what I am seeing. Nothing on the canvas holds my attention. I find myself distracted and bored. Perhaps my guilty obligation to appreciate Faraway Love undermines the innocent openness of heart required to experience love.

For twenty years Agnes Martin worked in New York and New Mexico as an obscure artist of figurative, landscape, and semiabstract painting. During this period, she routinely burned most of her work. One day in her early fifties she found herself thinking of the innocence of trees, and a grid of fine vertical lines and pale horizontal bands appeared in her mind. She painted what she saw and titled it The Tree.

For the remaining forty years of her life, nearly all her paintings would be squares divided by abstract bands of color wash and penciled lines. Her method was simple and inflexible. She would wait for moments of inspiration in which a tiny square image appeared in her mind. She would scale this up mathematically to the size of the canvas and then reproduce it exactly. She insisted that these paintings transcended the concrete world of sense experience. They were expressions of pure abstract emotion, such as innocence, perfection, benevolence, happiness, and love.

I paint with my back to the world, she told an interviewer in 1997. She had no interest in what others might think of what she was doing. She denied that these almost featureless works had anything to do with the prairies of Canada, where she was born, or the deserts of New Mexico, where she lived. Nor was she trying to represent the feelings that inspired her. By becoming a selfless channel for inspiration, she sought to reveal them. Since her paintings originated in inspiration, she refused to take any credit for the finished works. She accepted only the blame for their failure.

Agnes Martin pursued her art with the single-minded dedication of an ascetic. She believed that you have to get rid of everything in life that interferes with your primary inspiration and vision. If this alienates your family and friends, then so be it. For her, ideas, calculations, and ambitions obscure the sublime, absolute perfection of life that is present each moment. And the very worst thing you can think of when you are working is yourself. For as soon as the dragon of pride rears its fiery head, she observed, you start making mistakes.

The best things in life, said Agnes, happen to you when youre alone. She never married, lived with a partner, or had children. Solitude was the site of her inspiration. She spent months by herself driving around North America in a camper van. For nearly a decade, she settled on the Portales mesa above the New Mexico town of Cuba, without electricity or telephone. The nearest neighbor was six miles away. A mystic and a solitary person, she wrote, are the same. Her religion was just solitude and independence for a free mind.

For years Agnes practiced meditation twenty minutes twice a day in order to still her mind for inspiration. At the age of 85, she declared in a video interview that she no longer meditated, because she had learned to stop thinking. Now, she said,

I dont think of anything. Nothing goes through my mind. I dont have any ideas myself and I dont believe anybody elses, so that leaves me a clear mind. Gosh, yes, an empty mind, so that when something comes into it you can see it.

The video shows her at work: an old woman with close-cropped hair, a paint-brush in one hand, waddling patiently between the table with her dish of paint and the canvas mounted against a studio wall. She addresses the interviewer with emphatic, chuckling enthusiasm. Her eyes sparkle from a kind, wrinkled face. Now and again they seem to flash with a glint of almost feral wariness. Agnes Martin fought to realize her artistic vision in a male-dominated art world, in a society prejudiced against and frightened of her homosexuality and schizophrenia.

Martins work has been said to have the quality of a religious utterance, almost a form of prayer. Agnes inhabited that indefinable space between artistic practice and ascetic practice. Her paintings are infused with the quiet, spacious spirituality of Taoism, Zen, and the Native American culture of New Mexico. To fully appreciate Faraway Love, I suspect, you would need to contemplate it over time, ideally alone and in silence.

Antony Gormley, whose figure Untitled (for Francis) stood behind me as I reflected on Faraway Love, was raised a Catholic and grew up in England. In his early twenties he traveled to India, where he spent three years studying Buddhism. He regards the first ten-day Vipassana retreat he attended with S. N. Goenka in Dalhousie in 1972 as the single most important experience of my life. In conversation with the art historian Ernst Gombrich in 1995, he described how meditating on the sensation of being in a body became a tool he then transferred to making sculpture. He insists that his sculptures do not represent the body but reveal the space the body inhabits. Meditation would also have helped him remain still and calm enough while he had his own body cast for works such as Untitled (for Francis). Imagine the solitude of the naked artist wrapped in cling film and two layers of plaster and jute cloth, breathing through straws.

From The Art of Solitude, by Stephen Batchelor 2020. Reprinted with permission of Yale University Press.

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Race and Class in Buddhism: A Vision of What Could Be – Tricycle

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An African American professor of Buddhism looks at race, class, and American dharma.

I have often been asked over the yearsby friends as well as colleagueswhether or not I feel a gap, a kind of disjuncture, between what I do and who I am. By this, I take it that they mean a disjuncture between the facts of my being an African American and my being someone who has studied and taught Tibetan Buddhism for many years. I admit that I may be somewhat of an anomaly. But it hasnt seemed anomalous to me; it is, after all, my life. It is me and it is what I do.

Only recently have I begun contemplating what particular benefit might come from my making a point of this unusual or anomalous combination of circumstances. But a benefit for whom? One obvious answer, I have come to believe, is that my doing so might be of some benefit for other African Americans and other people of color generally. Moreover, in adding my voice to such discussions, it might well be the case that there is some benefit for American Buddhists and for Western Buddhists more broadly.

Over the years, it has certainly been the case that other persons of color have come up to me in various Buddhist gatherings and told me, I was so glad to look around and see you here! It is a way of validating their own choice to be there, a way of not being pulled under or dismissed by being the other, a way of finding sanity in the scene. White Americans dont yet seem to get the point that, given the history of societally marginalized people in this country, whenever we find ourselves in spaces where we are clearly in the minority, we have a natural tendency to be fearful, guarded, and mistrusting.

That Buddhist centers in this country have not exactly had an open-door policy toward people of color is a fact so well known that it is almost taken for granted. Some people have been noting the absence of people of color for some years now. In 1988, Sandy Boucher put the matter quite bluntly when, in Turning the Wheel, she characterized the number of North American-born people committed to Buddhism as being overwhelmingly white and middle or upper middle class. Yet there seems to be little open discussion of why this is so or of how the situation might be changed.

Again, after noting that the only school of Buddhism in America able to boast comparatively large numbers of people of color is Nichiren Shoshu of America (NSA), Boucher stated:

Many people in the world of American Buddhists are leery of Nichiren Shoshu, seeing it as a pseudoreligion in which people chant to get a Cadillac, and they are repelled by Nichirens aggressive recruiting tactics. It is also said that Nichiren is political in some ill-defined but presumably sinister way People in Nichiren do chant to get a car, a house, a job, a better life. It is also true that the majority of people in this country practicing the other forms of Buddhism already have access to those things and so can comfortably choose to renounce them.

I am neither a member of nor an advocate for NSA Buddhism. I do, however, think that their success in attracting people of color into their groups makes them worthy of study, and in some respects, perhaps even worthy models. NSA organizations have done two things in particular that impact on their having a more diverse community of members: (1) NSA centers are located in large urban areas, and they draw a more diverse following; and (2) the ritual practices that are enjoined on members are simple. Apart from the mandatory recitation of the Nam-myoho-renge-kyo mantra, the scriptures and prayers are recited in English.

More recently, the Korean Zen master Samu Sunim remarked in an interview:

We Buddhist teachersthose of us who came from Asiaare like transplanted lotuses. Many of us are refugees. Here we find ourselves in the marketplaceas dharma peddlers, you might say. I am concerned with the Zen movement becoming more accessible to ordinary common people.

It is worth noting that, as far as I know, it has always been either women or ethnic, that is, Asian, Buddhists who have noted the non-inclusiveness of the various Buddhisms in Western societies. Western men havent seemed to notice. That, in itself, may say something. Whenever Ive brought up the subject, Ive been told: But Buddhists dont proselytize! They never have. Historically, though, this isnt exactly true. Except for during the three-month rainy season, the earliest Buddhist mendicants were told to travel continuously and spread the faith.

When certain people ask me whether I feel a gap between who I am and what I do, it seems to me that they are really asking, What does Buddhism offer to any African American? That is a legitimate question, and one that I feel is worthy of real consideration. To answer most simply, I believe that Buddhism offers us a methodology for enhancing our confidence. This is especially true of the various forms of tantric Buddhism, since tantric Buddhism aims at nothing less than the complete transformation of our ordinary and limited perception of who we are as human beings.

I was very fortunate to have been a close student of Lama Thubten Yeshe. We met in Nepal in fall 1969. Lama Yeshe kindly accepted me as his student, and I was honored that he chose to call me his daughter. When I look back on the fifteen years that Lama Yeshe was my teacher, I see confidence as his main teachingnot only to me but to countless others who over the years came to him for guidance. Indeed, when Lama Yeshe discussed the essential teachings of tantric Buddhismas he did so simply, so eloquently, and so profoundly in his Introduction to Tantrahe stated this idea quite explicitly. Here I provide only a few examples:

According to Buddhist tantra, we remain trapped within a circle of dissatisfaction because our view of reality is narrow and suffocating. We hold onto a very limited and limiting view of who we are and what we can become, with the result that our self-image remains oppressively low and negative, and we feel quite inadequate and hopeless. As long as our opinion of ourselves is so miserable, our life will remain meaningless.

One of the essential practices at all levels of tantra is to dissolve our ordinary conceptions of ourselves and then, from the empty space into which these concepts have disappeared, arise in the glorious light body of a deity: a manifestation of the essential clarity of our deepest being. The more we train to see ourselves as such a meditational deity, the less bound we feel by lifes ordinary disappointments and frustrations. This divine self-visualization empowers us to take control of our life and create for ourselves a pure environment in which our deepest nature can be expressed. . . . It is a simple truth that if we identify ourselves as being fundamentally pure, strong, and capable we will actually develop these qualities, but if we continue to think of ourselves as dull and foolish, that is what we will become.

The health of body and mind is primarily a question of our self-image. Those people who think badly of themselves, for whatever reasons, become and then remain miserable, while those who can recognize and draw on their inner resources can overcome even the most difficult situations. Deity-yoga is one of the most profound ways of lifting our self-image, and that is why tantra is such a quick and powerful method for achieving the fulfillment of our tremendous potential.

This is not just my interpretation of Lama Yeshes view. Once, when Lama Yeshe was visiting California, I took him to hear a lecture given by Angela Davis. She spoke one afternoon in the quarry on the University of California, Santa Cruz, campus. Lama Yeshe was visibly excited to see and to listen to Davis speak. Several times during her talk, with clenched fist, he said aloud, This is how one ought to be: strong and confident like this lady!

Still, none of the great benefits that tantric meditative practice offers can be experienced and realized by ordinary, common people if those people dont hear about it and dont have a chance to try it for themselvesin short, if the teachings are not accessible. And as long as Buddhist practice is viewed and packaged as a commoditylike so many other commodities in the Westit will remain inaccessible to a great many people. And here, it seems clear that the question of accessibility is one of class, notat least not necessarilyone of race. In order to study and to practice Buddhism in America, two requisites are absolutely essential: money and leisure time.

I met Tibetan lamas because I was able to travel to India (on a fully paid scholarship) for my junior year of college. I was part of that late 1960s phenomenon of Western students traveling to the mysterious East; part of the infamous 60s counterculture. I would not have met the Tibetans had I not been able to travel East. Neither would I now be able to attend or to afford Buddhist meditation retreats were it not that I have the kind of job I do, in terms of both the financial security and the ample vacation time and break periods it affords.

The Tibetans took me in instantly, and I saw in them a welcoming family of compassionate and skilled people who, as I viewed myself, were refugees. I soon learned that the Tibetans possessed the type of knowledge and wisdom I longed forknowledge of methods for dealing with frustrations, disappointments, and anger, and of developing genuine compassion. Indeed, their very beings reflected this. They had suffered untold hardships, had even been forced to flee their country. We shared, it seemed to me, the experience of a profound historical trauma. Yet they coped quite well, seeming to possess a sort of spiritual armor that I felt lacking in myself. Lama Yeshes personal example inspired me, and his compassion led him to entrust some of the tantric teachings to me. Having come personally to see the benefits of such teachings, I would like to see them disseminated much more widely than they are at present.

Once Lama Yeshe looked at me piercingly and then remarked, Living with pride and humility in equal proportion is very difficult! In that moment, it seemed to me, he had put his finger on one of the deepest issues confronting all African Americans: the great difficulty of having gone through the experience of 250 years of slavery, during which ones very humanness was challenged and degraded at every turn, and yet through it all, to have maintained a strong sense of humanness and the desire to stand tall, with dignity and love of self, to count oneself a human being equal with all others.

It is the trauma of slavery that haunts African Americans in the deepest recesses of their souls. This is the chief issue for us. It needs to be dealt with, head-onnot denied, not forgotten, not suppressed. Indeed, its suppression and denial only hurts us more deeply, causing us to accept a limited, disparaging, and even repugnant view of ourselves. We cannot move forward until we have grappled in a serious way with all the negative effects of this trauma. Tantric Buddhism offers us some tools to help accomplish this task, since it shows us both how to get at those deep inner wounds and how to heal them.

But again, none of Buddhist tantras benefits can be recognized if more African Americans and more people of color generally dont have access to it. So the question remains: How do we remedy this situation? As international Buddhist leaders and their American counterparts continue to mount extensive dialogues and conferences that focus on Buddhism and Science, Buddhism and Psychology, Buddhism and Christianity, and so on, they would do well, it seems to me, to devote efforts toward trying to make Buddhism in all its forms more readily available and accessible to a wider cross section of the American population. Indeed, such efforts would go a long way toward helping a truly American Buddhism to emerge.

In the end, the question of what Buddhism has to offer African Americans and other people of color may not be as important as what such people have to offer Buddhism in America. For even when African Americans deny, out of shame and embarrassment, the horrors of slavery, they carry the deep knowledge of that experience in their very bones. Amiri Baraka, in his classic text on African American blues and jazz, Blues People, expressed this well, I think, when he wrote:

The poor Negro always remembered himself as an ex-slave and used this as the basis of any dealings with the mainstream of American society. The middle-class black man bases his whole existence on the hopeless hypothesis that no one is supposed to remember that for almost three hundred years there was slavery in America, that the white man was a master, the black man a slave. This knowledge, however, is at the root of the legitimate black culture of this country. It is this knowledge, with its attendant muses of self-division, self-hatred, stoicism, and finally quixotic optimism, that informs the most meaningful of Afro-American music.

This deep knowledge of trying to hold on to humanness in a world firmly committed to destroying it adds a kind of spiritual reservoir of strength at the same time that it is so burdensome. The spiritual resilience of black folk has something to offer us all.

The first noble truth of Buddhism asks us to understand the noble truth of suffering. Apart from the newness, exoticism, and aesthetic attractiveness of the various traditions of Buddhism now existent on American soil, in the end, it is the sobering and realistic recognition of our individual and collective suffering that marks the true beginning of the Buddhist path. The physical presence of more dark faces in Buddhist centers will serve to both focus the issue of what makes us all Americans and, hopefully, allow a freer American expression of Buddhism to emerge.

The atmosphere of a lot of Buddhist centers may be peaceful to most of their regular followers, but it is off-putting to some outsiders who find the sweetness and tender voices of the pujas and other ceremonies disingenuous. Its as though certain center members have just exchanged one pretense for another. I remember well the admonition from the great Kalu Rinpoche never to engage in such pretense. And I will never forget hearing Alice Turiya Coltrane at a birthday celebration for her teacher, the venerable Hindu guru Satchidananda. She began a hymn to Krishna by striking up her harmonium and singing, I said, ah, Om Bhagawata . . . with all the strength and power of an African American Baptist choir! My own heart rejoiced as I thought, Now, this is truly the dharma coming West! There is clearly a sense in which more diverse membership in centers will stir changes in ritual and, perhaps, more straightforward and honest behavior.

I do not intend any of what Ive discussed here either to glorify victimization or to vilify current Buddhist practitioners in America. My intention was to make needed suggestions about how changes might be begun. There is the perception that there is a disjuncture between what Buddhists in America preach and what they practice. One of these perceived disjunctures revolves around the issue of the non-inclusion of persons of color in the events and memberships of Buddhist organizations in this country. Clearly, if centers act as though people of color are anomalies within their precincts, then people of color will certainly become so. It would seem to me that changing such perceptions (and the actions that foster them) ought to lie at the heart of what genuine Buddhists are all about: in a word, openness. In other words, equanimity and compassion toward all.

Just as Buddhism in America has begun to undergo transformations to find its American identitywhich is really a way of saying find itself in this social and geographic spaceto the extent that it has seen the disproportionately greater number of women teachers of the dharma emerge here, so it will change for the better and become more itself when its overall audience is more representative of all Americans. That is, when the various forms of Buddhism are offered freely to Americans of all racial and economic backgrounds.

From Dharma Matters: Women, Race, and Tantra, collected essays by Jan Willis 2020. Reprinted with permission of Wisdom Publications.

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Buddhism and Relationships: Love at First Sit – Tricycle

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To celebrate Valentines Day, three Buddhist couples share their love stories and talk about how the teachings apply to romance.

JoAnna is cofounder of Meditation Coalition and sits on the teachers council at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. Andre is the sports editor for TribeLA Magazine and a novelist. Years together: 4 | Tradition: Theravada

Where did you meet?

Andre Hardy (AH): On Tinder.

JoAnna Hardy (JH): We got some crap for it, but Im a dharma teacher, and its really hard to reach out of the community to find people to date. So I threw the net out wide.

Why did you swipe right?

AH: It had to do with her approach to life and the connection to meditation and Buddhism.

When we met, I said to JoAnna, Have you heard of this guy named Jack Kornfield? Because Ive been listening to his book. She said, Thats my mentor. I was like, yeah, this is the woman I need to be with right here.

Do you think the Buddhist teachings have a role to play in romantic love?

JH: I definitely do. The first thing that comes to me is the beauty of renunciation in relationshipthe renunciation of self-involvement, the renunciation of doing whatever I want whenever I want. And also the commitment of practice, whether it be seated meditation or our relationship, both take the same kind of intention, energy, and effort.

Which teachings do you draw on when approaching your partner?

JH: The precepts, especially wise speech.

AH: Its a rule of mine that when I am triggered, I wait. It might take a day or a week to dig through and get to what exactly is bothering me, and often it turns out to be old stuff that has nothing to do with our relationship.

How about Buddhist teachings that are not helpful when it comes to love?

JH: Who knows who actually wrote them and in what era, but I dont appreciate certain suttas that speak about women

AH: Like about the man being in charge? See, those are the ones that I like. Those are the ones that work really well for me. [Laughs.]

JH: They dont work for me! [Laughs.] Also, many times theres a misunderstanding or some kind of spiritual bypass of thinking were not meant to get angry or be sensual or sexual or have too much pleasure. Ive watched so many people get thrown out of whack around that.

Whats your relationship advice for others in one sentence or less?

JH: This is really clich, but to just be kind. Theres no reason to fight. This is your home; take care of it. Theres plenty of shit on the streets.

AH: Specifically for men, if you can find a way to be vulnerable, you have an opportunity to have a very loving relationship, with kindness you can usually only dream of.

Koshin and Chodo are cofounders of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care. Years together: 18 | Tradition: Zen

How did you meet?

Koshin Paley Ellison (KPE): We saw each other 24 years ago doing kinhin [walking meditation]. I remember when he walked into the meditation center, I knew that my whole life was going to change. But we didnt speak that night.

Robert Chodo Campbell (RCC): Fast forward six years later: I had married another man, and six months after we had had a big wedding in Australia, I saw Koshin again. The arrow of Eros was shot through my heart. All my friends were saying, youre crazy, this is an infatuation. So I said to Koshin, Can we just have an affair?

Koshin said, Absolutely not. If you want a relationship with me, then you have to make your decision.

Aside from your professional life running a center together, in what ways do you see your romantic relationship intersecting with the dharma?

KPE: The practice allows us to honor space for the other person. Even with disagreementswhether it has to do with laundry or the kitty litter

RCC: The kitty litter. Thats a big area. [Laughs.]

KPE: Its a big, big area. [Laughs.] Even with those disagreements, its our willingness to stay in relationship and not hold on to our rightness. Or even if we do, we can hang out together and know that that will eventually soften.

Or another dharma thing at home is that I wake up very early, and Chodo is usually still sleeping. I have this awareness of never wanting to leave without it being total and complete. So I whisper in his ear as hes sleeping. Sometimes he wakes up, sometimes he doesnt. Part of my practice is to make sure each day that I appreciate him and my love for him.

RCC: And what do you say? Tell her what you say. Oh, now hes crying. Every morning he says, I love you. Youre my treasure.

Ruben and Maria are Zen teachers at the Maria Kannon Zen Center in Dallas, Texas.Years together: 29 | Tradition: Zen and Catholicism

When did you get married?

Maria Reis Habito (MRH): That is a complicated story, because Ruben was a Jesuit priest when we met at a conference in 1987. He decided to leave the priesthood in 1989, and then he got an offer to teach theology here in Dallas at Southern Methodist University. We decided to stay one year apart to find out if this was really a good idea to spend the rest of our life together. It needed some deeper reflection.

Ruben Habito (RH): Maria decided to take the big leap and came to Dallas in March of 1990. We got married in April.

Since youre grounded in two traditions, what are the teachings from either Buddhism or Christianity that you find most relevant to sustaining a romantic partnership?

MRH: I think the ritual foundation is very important. The Catholic teaching is that you want to stay together, you want to make this work, you want to take care of your family.

RH: I would say that its not so much the teaching but the practice, and the practice that we share is sitting in meditation. In those moments when one is truly absorbed and taken up in the stillness, you can see clearly what is important in life.

Do you find points of tension between the Buddhist teachings and romantic love?

MRH: Im the translator for the main teacher at a monastery in Taiwan. The monks there were utterly shocked when they heard that I was going to get married, because they had thought I would take the path of enlightenment and become a nun. Meeting Ruben assured them, but they really thought I had been lost.

RH: From a theoretical perspective, there are all of these injunctions in Buddhism about romantic love as an attachment, as something that will take you off the path. That is something that needs to be clarified.

The foundation stone of the Christian faith, of saying that God is love, is also the source for saying that romantic love is also from God, and its not to be disdained but to be seen in the larger context of your entire life and all the other kinds of love in it. As long as it does not contradict any of the other types of love, then it is something that is to be cultivated in a wholesome way, and celebrated.

Any last thoughts?

MRH: Just that I travel often, and every time I come back, the house is full of fresh flowers and a bottle of champagne and chocolates. So after 29 years, there is still this romantic aspect, which I am grateful for.

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How to Read the Lotus Sutra: A Guide for the Uninitiated – Tricycle

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So theres a polemical strategy here, right?

JS: Definitely. This is Mahayana Buddhism, which was positioning itself against the Buddhist mainstream. And so we have here a tremendous re-visioning of the entire received tradition.

What do you mean when you use the term mainstream Buddhism?

DL: What we are trying to name is the tradition of Buddhism before the Mahayana began, which was probably several centuries after the Buddhas death. We now know with some certainty that the Mahayana, despite its great fame in East Asia, remained a minority tradition throughout its long history in India. Everything else we just call the mainstream. These mainstream schools, of which there were many, tended to reject the Mahayana sutras, saying that they were not the word of the Buddha. They maintained the nirvana of the arhat as the ideal. This is not to say that they did not speak of the bodhisattva. Rather, they saw the bodhisattva as the rare figure who foregoes the path of the arhat to follow the longer bodhisattva path. The Lotus says that the nirvana of the arhat does not ultimately exist and that all beings can become bodhisattvas and thus buddhas.

JS: The Lotus Sutra extols the bodhisattva path as a path that everyone should follow in order to become a buddha. The compilersMahayana practitionersfaced the very difficult task of explaining why the Buddha himself didnt teach that, then, instead of offering the path of the arhat that leads to personal nirvana, the extinction of desire, and the stopping of the wheel of rebirth.

The Lotus Sutras answer, again, is that the Buddha preached to different people according to their capacity, but underlying those diverse teachings was his final intention: to lead everyone to the single goal of buddhahood.

Why dont we take that a little bit further: What does the Lotus Sutra do to legitimize itself or to give itself authority?

JS: The Lotus positions itself as the Buddhas supreme teaching. And it does that in many ways. First of all, its presented as the Buddhas final teaching. Hes about to enter nirvana, and so he preaches the sutra.

In the opening chapter, theres a scene where the Buddha emerges from meditation and flowers fall from the sky and the earth shakes. The bodhisattva Maitreya, who is supposed to be the next buddha and therefore should be extremely wise, doesnt know whats going on, so he asks the more experienced bodhisattva Manjushri whats happening. Manjushri recalls a scene from unfathomable kalpas [eons] ago, in the age of another buddha. Shortly before that buddha entered nirvana, the same signs appeared, and immediately afterward he preached the Sutra of the Lotus Blossom of the Wonderful Dharma.Thats what Shakyamuni is now going to do.

So the Lotus positions itself as both the final teaching and one thats older than anything recorded in the Buddhist tradition. And most interestingly, it repeatedly refers to itself in the course of the text. Its an actor in its own script, if you will.

So how was this ideathat the Lotus was his final teachingreceived?

DL: There were many in India who rejected the claim that the Mahayana sutras were the word of the Buddha. Great scholars like Nagarjuna, Bhaviveka, and Shantideva wrote defenses of the Mahayana over the course of centuries, so we know that the criticism never went away.

But the Lotus Sutra also legitimizes itself in other ways. Of course, the mainstream criticism would be: If the Buddha taught this, why do we have no record of it being taught? If the Buddha taught this, why is it not in the Tripitika, the previously accepted canon?

There are ways of legitimizing that dont rest on the historical question of was this or was this not preached by the Buddha.

As the Buddha is about to preach the Lotus Sutra, he says, Im now going to begin teaching. Im going to teach you something Ive never taught before. Im going to reveal the true teaching. Five thousand monks and nuns get up and walk out. The Buddha doesnt stop them.

The sutra is therefore saying that five thousand monks and nuns didnt hear him preach it and therefore they dont know about it. For the sutras champions, this passage provided a reason why so many claimed that the Lotus was not taught by the Buddha; they were among those who walked out when he began to teach it.

Thats pretty clever. In your new book, Two Buddhas Seated Side by Side, were looking at two different things: the sutra as it has come down to us from the time of its composition, some three or four hundred years after the Buddha, and then the centuries of interpretation that followed. So if I read the Lotus Sutra, Im not going to pick up what Nichiren [12221282 CE] extrapolated from it hundreds of years after its composition.

JS: Right. That was precisely one of the reasons for doing the book. On the one hand, it is a chapter-by- chapter guide to the Lotus Sutraa text that speaks in mythic imagery rather than discursively, so its very hard to read cold, without background explanation. At the same time, we conceived of this as a study in religious interpretationhow people reimagine or refigure their traditions in response to changing circumstances. Part of the book, then, looks at the way that Nichiren, roughly a thousand years later at the extreme opposite end of Asia, took the Lotus Sutra and the long tradition of its interpretation and reworked them to fit the needs of his time. We conceived of the book as an introduction to this problem of how religions stay alive and readjust to changing circumstances.

In the modern era, we face exposure to all sorts of different beliefs, and there is no really good reason for deciding that ones own is superior to anyone elses. But we still have to find value in the foundational texts. As you discussed, in Pali Buddhism, or Theravada, that meaning seems to rest on the claim that the teachings were the words of the Buddha. Yet like Nichiren, we have to come back to some texts and interpret them in ways that are relevant to our time. Is that right?

And further, all religious texts try to make a claim to authenticity, and they have various ways of doing it. But if we acknowledge the role that interpretation has played historically in the teaching of not only the Lotus but really all Buddhists texts, and that were not looking at them as the actual words of the Buddha, how do we then read them in a fruitful way? How do I understand its historical context and at the same time find great spiritual value in it?

JS: This is not a new issue. I think, for example, about Japan in the early 20th century when Buddhist leaders there had their first encounters with European Buddhist Studies. At the time, the Pali canon was thought by Western researchers to be closest to the direct preaching of the historical Buddha. We now know that the matter is much more complex, but at that time, the Mahayana was often considered a later, degenerate form. Japanese Buddhist scholars, many of whom were also Buddhist priests, had to find a way to reclaim the Mahayana, their own tradition, and they did this by saying, OK, maybe the Mahayana teachings werent the direct words of the historical person, Shakyamuni. But if we take seriously the idea that all people have buddhanature and access to buddha wisdom, there is no reason why new forms of that message cant appear in order to inspire people and answer the needs of the present. Its an argument based on whats deep and compelling philosophically rather than on historical origins. There are ways of legitimizing that dont rest on the historical question of was this or was this not preached by the Buddha.

What I tell my students is that any practitioner-believer, someone involved in a traditionwhether consciously or notis involved in a process of hermeneutical triangulation, as we might call it. They are continually having to negotiate between the received tradition and the social, political, and historical circumstances in which they live. At any moment, some parts of the received tradition are going to speak more powerfully, more cogently, than others. Other elements that perhaps were important in the past may now become marginalized; still others may be interpreted in novel ways. Practitioners are continually involved in this process. The more conscious one is of engaging in it, the more effective new adaptations of tradition are likely to be.

DL: Before we began the book and perhaps even more strongly after we finished it, Jackie and I both felt that ones appreciation of the Lotus Sutra is enhanced by understanding the circumstances of its composition. Rather than thinking of it as a transcendent truth that an unknown buddha taught billions of years ago and that all the buddhas teach over and over again through time, we might think of it instead as the product of a creative yet beleaguered community of Buddhist monks and nuns in India who knew doctrine very well, monks and nuns who were visionaries able to compose a text that from every perspective is a religious and literary masterpiece. We see the Lotus as a text that is able to take the tradition and reinterpret it for its devotees own time in a way that welcomes all sentient beings onto the great vehicle to buddhahood, a text that has passages whose beauty will make you weep. Speaking for myself, that in many ways is more inspiring than to think of it simply as the words of a distant transcendent being.

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Investigating the Mind: What Buddhism Says About Our Likes and Dislikes – Tricycle

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I once was sitting in meditation while listening to my teacher, Shwe Oo Min Sayadaw, giving a dhamma talk. My mind was very calm, but suddenly I saw it become highly agitated. How did this happen? How did anger arise in the mind so quickly when it was peaceful only moments before?

In that moment, I noticed something very interesting: my mind became curious about what had happened. It wanted to know about itself. It wanted to know why it had lost its peacefulness and had become angry. So it had backed up a bit, and it began to ask questions. Its interest in knowing itself then changed the minds quality away from anger. It wanted to learn and know the truth, and, because of that, it began to gently watch the anger run its course.

As I continued to sit, I was able to watch aversion operating in the mind. On the one hand, the mind was straining to hear what my teacher was saying. On the other hand, a group of children were making noise just outside the meditation hall. I wanted them to stop, and I saw the mind complaining about the noise and complaining that I couldnt hear my teachers talk. Some strong feelings came up. The observing mind saw everything that was going on in the mind.

Can you see how expansive the minds field of view was at this point? After it saw itself going back and forth between these two sides for a while, it saw the dissatisfaction, the aversion. The mind realized that it had taken one kind of sound, which was the sound of my teachers voice, and labeled it good and favorable, whereas the sounds of other people talking were bad, unwanted sounds.

In this moment of realization, the mind didnt favor one object or another. It was able to hear sounds as just sounds, without buying into the story the mind was telling about good sounds and bad sounds. At that point the mind stopped both its craving to hear my teachers voice and its aversion to the voices of the people who were talking. Instead, the mind just remained in the middle and continued watching with interest. The mind saw the suffering and just died down.

This is how to meditatewith interest and inquiry every time one or more of the three unwholesome root qualities [craving, anger, and confusion] arise.

The Buddha called this vital quality of inquiry in the mind dhamma vicaya, which means a mind that naturally investigates reality. It is a mind that studies itself by asking questions to discover what is happening and why it is happening. The mind wants to know the nature of the three unwholesome root qualities.

Often practitioners pay attention to mindfulness and right effort, but they forget to practice dhamma vicaya. They forget to investigate and to ask questions about experience in order to learn. But mindfulness is about understanding. You have to use wise thinking to decide how to handle things; you cannot limit your practice to continuously being aware. Thats not good enough.

The unwholesome roots are very dominant in the mind. They are very experienced, very skillful, and they will always get their way if we are not aware. If you dont fully recognize them and bring in wisdom, they will take over the mind.

The equanimity that came when I was listening to my teacher and the visitors talk was the result of true understanding of the nature of liking and disliking in the mind. This arose through observation and investigation of the discomfort that I was feeling.

In this same way, as soon as you recognize any mental discomfort, turn your attention toward it to learn all that you can about it. If you can see subtle mental discomfort, watch it change: Does it increase or decrease? As the mind becomes more equanimous and sensitive, it will recognize subtle reactions more easily.

Always take the arising of an unskillful root quality as an opportunity to investigate its nature. Ask yourself questions! How do the unwholesome roots make you feel? What thoughts arise in the mind? How does what you think affect the way you feel? How does what you feel affect the way you think? What is the attitude behind the thoughts? How does any of this change the way you perceive pain?

The mind needs to be directed, and dhamma vicaya does that. Once you have set a direction for the mind, it will continue in that direction. This is a natural quality of the mind. If you leave the mind undirected, there will be chaos.

Take fear as another example. If there is fear and you decide to investigate this emotion, you are setting the mind in the right direction. If, however, you try to get rid of this fear, you are directing the mind wrongly.

Give yourself time. Go slowly, feel your way through whatever is happening. Try to gather as much information as you can. Thats the function of awarenessto gather information. Whenever you feel there is an issue that needs to be looked into, investigate it. What is going on in the mind will seem rather chaotic at first.

You need to look at the same issues repeatedly and from different angles. As your awareness becomes more continuous, your fear will settle down, and you will be able to understand which issues are important and which are not.

You will see the benefit of the practice more clearly and understand what you have learned at deeper levels. All this will further increase your confidence.

Never get discouraged when you lose awareness. Every time you recognize that you have lost awareness, be happy. The fact that you have recognized that you lost awareness means that you are now aware. Just keep looking at this process of losing and regaining awareness and learn from it.

Life is a reflection of the quality of the mind. If you really understand the mind, you understand the world. You gain this understanding by observing and learning. You dont need to believe anything you dont intellectually understand. Just keep investigating. Just keep learning from your personal experience.

Excerpted from Relax and Be Aware: Mindfulness Meditations for Clarity, Confidence, and Wisdom, by Sayadaw U Tejaniya, edited by Doug McGill 2019. Reprinted with permission of Shambhala Publications (

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Investigating the Mind: What Buddhism Says About Our Likes and Dislikes - Tricycle

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February 1st, 2020 at 8:45 am

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Cycles of Motherhood by Barbara Gates – Tricycle

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A practitioner reflects on her mothers uniquely challenging qualities following a trip to the emergency room.

We have been wandering since beginningless time in these samsaric worlds in which every being, without exception, has had relations of affection, enmity and indifference with every other being. Everyone has been everyone elses father and mother. Patrul Rinpoche (18081887)

In the ambulance, lurching bumper to bumper down York Avenue toward the emergency room, my 94-year-old mother changed her mind.

I wanted to die. Ive been telling everyone. From the gurney, she craned her neck to look up at me, jouncing beside her in the back of the van. But here I am strapped to this contraption Between blasts of the siren, she wheezed. All I can think is: I want to live!

The ER reeked of urine, vomit, and antiseptic. Gurneys lined the corridors, one jammed up against the next; officers from the NYPD lounged by the entrance, chatting up the techs. Call bells and IVs beeped. Doctors and nurses hunched over computers at their stations or rushed back and forth past patients calling from their cubicles. Deluged by addicts whod overdosed, by car crash and stabbing victims, none of the staff paid attention to my mother, despite her age and her pneumonia.

My mother arrived sporting a T-shirt proclaiming in bold aqua: Nancy at Ninety. Wed all worn them at her birthday celebration four years earlier. That was her unique hospital attire. Her style had always been her own creation. As a child, shed insisted on wearing white gloves when she went with her nanny to play in Central Park. Long after shed stopped riding horses, she wore her old jodhpurs when she chaired meetings at the League of Women Voters or painted in a studio in SoHo. Even in her eighties, she complemented a silk chemise with pants tailored to look exactly like those jodhpurs. In chemise and jodhpurs, she orchestrated her signature dinner partiessmall gatherings of eight or nine friendswhich she called my theater.

My mother wore her T-shirt instead of her green hospital gown throughout her two-day stay in the ER. No matter how I wrangled on her behalf, no beds were available, and neither were any nurses. She voiced her outrage: Why isnt anyone attending to me? She spoke with the entitlement of someone who had been born to wealth and had long since mostly lost it. Her demand for immediate service touched a raw nerve, especially since I was trying very hard to help out. I thought, but didnt say: No, Mum, youre not the center of the universe. Just an ordinary human, suffering like the rest of us.

After a half days wait, she was given a bed in a curtained space all her own instead of a gurney in the corridor. Although she was squeezed into a shared cubicle that was intended for a single patient, my mother was lucky to have even that. But for her, the cubiclewith its sheet separating her bed from that of a groaning stranger from Bangladeshfelt like an indignity and became the stage set for high drama.

The villain, my moms cubicle-mate on the other side of the curtain, was an intense little man sporting a dyed carrot-colored Mohawk. With a stream of Bengali invectives, he screamed for morphine as he passed kidney stones. Each time he thrashed in pain, he flung out an arm or leg, bashing into the curtain that served as a makeshift wall separating his half of the cubicle from my mothers. And with each seeming invasion of her half, she shouted, Get that crazy man away from my bed!

The racket in the ER increased as the night went on. All along the corridor, patients, packed end to end on gurneys, pleaded to be housed in cubicles, and those like my mother, assigned to cubicles, begged to be sent upstairs to rooms in the hospital. In the corridor right outside my mothers cubicle, three hefty NYPD officers closed in on a screaming woman as she jumped off her gurney. Heading toward the street, she pulled on the rubber tube feeding her oxygen and hollered, Lemme outta here!

Despite ongoing pleas from me, no nurse or aide took time to replace my mothers tee with a hospital gown, to wheel her to the bathroom, or at the very least to change her diaper. Im utterly wet, my mom told me. After six hours of asking politely for some help, I wrote a nasty note to the nurse, but then crumpled it up and stomped down the corridor to track down an adult diaper.

Mum, Im doing it, I tried to reassure her. Gingerly, I pulled back the covers and saw her distended belly, long slim legs. I forced myself to look at her frail pelvis swaddled in the drenched diaper. This is my mother. My tears welled up. Biting my lip, I pulled the covers over her again.

My elegant mum. I imagined her in her cozy living room, surrounded by her vibrant oils painted over many years. She is presiding at one of her dinner parties. With impeccable posture, she tilts her head back in a laugh and crosses one leg over the other to show off a shapely calf. I cant stand conversations about ordinary minutiae, shed often told me. At my dinners, I only invite people with something original to say. And I rarely invite people who know each other, shed drive home her point, so there are no boring stories about children and grandchildren. Like me, I supposed, or my daughter, Caitlin.

Returning to my mother here and now, I pulled back the covers once more. As I tried to roll her on her side, my fingers trembled and slipped. Bumbling, I strained to pull off the sopping diaper, balled it up, and hurled it onto the floor. I strove to turn her, to heave her up without hurting her. But her body resisted my pushes and pulls, and she began to whimper. Stumbling in the cramped space, I finally lifted her buttocks and slid the fresh diaper underneath. I stretched the sticky fasteners all crooked, but somehow they held the diaper on. I remembered my first clumsy efforts to fasten Caitlins diapers. To be struggling with my mothers 25 years later felt topsy-turvy.

As the evening went on, it became increasingly clear that a bed would not free up in the hospital until the next day, if then. Youre not at the top of the list, a nurse let us know. Theres another woman even older than you whos been waiting 30 hours here in the ER. She has pneumonia too, and shes a hundred and four.

I dimmed the lights and, scrunched between two open folding chairs, settled in for the night. Now I followed my breath in and outnot an approach I would suggest to my mother. A third-generation German Jew, my mother was adamantly secular. She worried that Buddhism, which I had practiced for 40 years, might be dangerous, maybe even a cult.

Her IV antibiotics on drip, oxygen clipped to her nostrils, my mother clutched her thin blanket, trying to cover her bare arms. I laid her winter coat over the blanket for added warmth, and she slept. I slept too, on and off, on my two chairs with my own coat as my blanket. It felt a bit like camping out, and I appreciated thatmaking do as best I could with whatever was available. Its how I like to live. My mom, absolutely not a camper.

After midnight, the lights suddenly blazed and a handsome young resident strode into our cubicle. Green scrubs, designer haircut, silver cuff on the helix of one ear. He looked like hed been sent from Central Casting. How are you doing? A disarming smile.

I wouldnt say I was comfortable, said my mother, with a raised brow.

The resident dragged a stool right up close to the head of her bed.

Thrilled at the entrance of this new player, my mother struggled to sit up. In her Nancy at Ninety T-shirt, she lengthened her neck and tilted her head back in a characteristic pose, graciously welcoming. Do make yourself comfortable, she gestured, with the IV tube swinging. She leaned confidentially toward the young resident. What is it you would like to discuss?

Then she turned to me. Could you roll up my bed so Im more upright?

Struggling past the blue IV tubes, the clear line for oxygen, I managed to crank up the bed a few inches.

My pillow, said my mother, and the doc reached to adjust that. He stood up, his clipboard in hand, and in a courteous tone rivaling hers began, There are a few questions I need to ask you. He cleared his throat. Its not that were expecting that you wont be coming out of this hospital soon, but just in case . . . we do need to make sure that you have an advance care directive

Of course, she broke in, Ive set everything up, a health care proxy, all of it. . . . Ive been fully ready for a long time; its really what Ive wanted. To die, that is. Just think of all the expense and trouble Im causing everyone.

Oh Mum, stop!

The young doctor continued, So were just going to ask you these questions because its part of the required admission process. In fact, we cant admit you to the hospital proper until . . .

Its well past midnight, I thought, paltry chance well be seeing that admission to the realms upstairs any time soon.

So in the unlikely case that you had a stroke or a heart attack with no hope of recovery . . . The resident looked down at his checklist. . . . leaving you unconscious and unable to breathe without the assistance of a machine

Oh, Ive figured out all that, my mum cut him off again. Then she directed me: Dear, do get out my advance care statement from my wallet, gesturing in the direction of her handbag. Several times over the past few years, my mother had shown me this miniature statement, beautifully calligraphed, then copied and reduced to create a tiny version of itself. A friend wrote it out, she told the doctor. That list had been penned by Genie, my college roommate, who had befriended my mother in our sophomore year, when Id let my mothers many letters to me stack up unread.

My mother continued, My young friend copied it in her exquisite hand, beautiful and perfect, and aside to me, just the way Genie does everything (rekindling my old fear that Genie was a much better daughter to my mother than I).

She sure knew how to needle me. Okay, Mum, I snapped. I reached for her handbag, rummaged inside, yanked out the wallet, and foraged for the damned statement.

Unflappable, the young resident went on with his protocol. Well, its just that we need to know if something happens, if you have a stroke or heart attack and your condition will not improve, would you allow CPR or an artificial respirator or

My mother waved her hand with the IV attached to her wrist. Oh, I made that absolutely clear. If I would never again be able to enjoy friends, appreciate art, music, or conversation, how could I possibly want to be resuscitated?

My mum. I had to hand it to her. What spunk she had, what commanding presence.

Darling, please read the statement to the doctor.

I adjusted myself so I could get more light from the corridor and read aloud the opening: If I become terminally ill; if I am in a coma or have little understanding

Barbara dear, my mother interjected, tell the doctor about the marvelous film Frontline featured about Genie and Jeff. She explained to the doctor, The films about Genies husband, Jeff, who had some incurable blood cancer. Its about his death. . . . As was her way, my mum veered into a new story. And of course, when Jeff was at Yale Law School, during the weekends when we were in the country, they would stay together at our apartment in New York. Thats where Jeff asked Genie to marry him. Shed begun with tragedy and moved on to romance.

Mum! This time, I was the one to interrupt. Not now! Her dramas within dramas drove me mad. I heard my voice trembling. I handed the miniature directive to the doctor.

As he skimmed it, he kept nodding his head. Yes, well, you do cover the essentials. An alarm beeped shrilly from somewhere close. Terrific that you carry it with you, and

Abruptly my mum silenced him again. Tell me, she interrupted, Do you have a girlfriend?

Taken aback at this breach in his doctorly script, the young resident stuttered, Well . . . well, yes. I do. He ran a hand through his blond hair. A nurse on this floor, in fact. Then he cut himself off, as if he had perhaps said too much.

Wonderful! she pronounced. When all this nonsense is over She waved her arm, including in one sweep the corridor of sick and injured, the officers from the NYPD, her nemesis on the other side of the curtain. You must bring her over to my apartment for a festive party and join me for dinner!

Ive heard it said in many dharma talks that every being, in one birth or another, has been ones mother. Yet I am reflecting about my particular, unique, and challenging mother. On my recent visit, five years after that night in the ER, she is frail, mostly dozing as she enters her one-hundredth year. I happen on a copy of the miniature advance care statement. I sweep back to the dashing doctor, to years of tangles, conflicts, sweetness, fun. Unaccountably, my mind opensto the fragility of life, the nearness of death. I find myself warmed by memories of my mothers bold spirit, and the blessing of graciousness, her particular brand.

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Cycles of Motherhood by Barbara Gates - Tricycle

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February 1st, 2020 at 8:44 am

Posted in Buddhist Concepts

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