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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Article for Which I was Interviewed for Published. Plus, All Beings are Buddha


All beings are by nature Buddha,
as ice by nature is water.

Apart from water there is no ice;
apart from beings, no Buddha

-Hakuin Zenji, "Song of Zazen"

James: On another note the article that I was interviewed for was published in the Hartford Courant newspaper in Hartford, Connecticut, USA. Here is the full text:

Worship on the Web
By Phil Hall
April 5, 2007

The late Quaker theologian D. Elton Trueblood said evangelism "is not a professional job for a few trained men but is instead the unrelenting responsibility of every person."

Many people, particularly those with webpage-building skills, have taken Trueblood's words to mind and modem, creating a new online era of conversation and commentary in all matters theological.

In some cases, the Internet has provided a new extension of an existing theological experience. In 2005, for example, the Unitarian Church in Westport expanded its audience for Sunday services by having sermons digitized for podcasting or real-time broadcast from its website (www.uuwestport.org).

"In the past 12 months, there have been 1,837 requests for podcasts, and 519 sermons have been listened to online," says webmaster Charles Klein, who adds that the church's Net audience stretches far beyond its Connecticut congregation. "The website gets approximately 4,700 visitors monthly. The site is visited from all over the United States, much of Europe and even the Middle East."

Still, Klein is aware of the local value of this Net outreach.

"Those who are elderly have indicated a strong desire to visit the site specifically for the podcasts," he says. "Some listeners have moved away, and it is a way to stay connected. Others have either vision or hearing issues, and this really goes far in making sermons accessible to them. Others might be ill at home and do not wish to miss a service or have become shut-ins due to ill health. Others simply enjoy having the services available at their leisure while driving, walking, exercising, or at work."

For those who'd rather be in the pulpit than the pews, the Net allows personal views on matters of a divine nature. Blogging provides a more intimate discussion of faith, as James Ure discovered when he launched The Buddhist Blog (www.thebuddhistblog.blogspot.com) in 2005.

"An important aspect to Buddhism is the `Sangha,' or community of followers," says Ure, an artist in Loveland, Colo. "Being disabled with mental health issues, I have a difficult time staying connected to my physical Sangha, so I started this blog to stay connected with followers online. This blog has helped me see and connect with that worldwide community of followers that I call `The Greater Sangha.' Further, it has helped me realize that we are interconnected with the entire planet [Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike] and therefore one giant community."

Ure says he appreciates the depth of the connection (he averages 100 hits per day) and the diversity of experiences that lace these interactions. "I receive comments and stay in contact with bloggers of the Sufi Islam faith, mystics, agnostics, Christians, Taoists and Hindus," he says.

Cutting across religious traditions has benefited the Dalit Freedom Network, a nonprofit advocacy group devoted to bringing civil rights to the Untouchable caste within India's Hindu faith. Benjamin Marsh, social justice coordinator, notes the group's website (www.dalitnetwork.org) has attracted a strong level of global non-Hindu attention.

"A good deal of our traffic comes from the U.S., U.K., Canada and a surprising amount from China," he says, adding the one group that has tapped into the site is the community in its focus. "Most Dalit have no access to electricity, let alone the Internet."

Distinctive approaches to faith can also be addressed online. Michael Elliott discovered this when he launched The Christian Critic's Movie Parables (www.christiancritic.com) in October 1998.

"My interest is in trying to show how Scripture could be applied to life -- using the lives of the characters we see in the movies as examples," says Elliott, who runs his site from Orlando, Fla. "So, for me, R-rated films are every bit as valid as G-rated films."

Elliott says his initial efforts were not well received.

"Believers were concerned for my soul, thinking that I was naively subjecting myself to the negative influences of a devilish temptation," he says. "Unbelievers were offended that I was bringing religion to their secular entertainment. Over time, the negative feedback has all but disappeared. Most of my e-mail now is simply filled with suggestions of films people want me to review or, better yet, biblical examples that people have seen in films that I haven't yet had an opportunity to review."

Of course, some degree of negativity aimed at faith-based Net entities exists -- yet the digital environment allows intolerance to be erased with little more than a Delete Button click. Leslie Bunder, editor and publisher of the website Something Jewish (www.somethingjewish.co.uk), can afford to be blase when anti- Semitic e-mail is sent.

"We get a few e-mails of that nature, but generally we ignore it," says Bunder.

For Ure, the main problem facing Net-based faith is not the lack of tolerance, but the lack of face-to-face interaction.

"Perhaps the only negative that I can see between religion and the Internet would be that perhaps it might keep some people from interacting with others in person regarding religion," he says. "However, in today's busy world many people are finding it easier [and just as rewarding] to commune online vs. visiting a physical temple or church. In fact, my teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, says it is not enough to be mindful at temple or while meditating -- that one should stay mindful and present throughout the day while engaging in various tasks."

PHOTO: One of my favorite representations of the Buddha called, "Resting Buddha." I first saw it as a large sculpture available in the "Dharma Crafts" magazine but for hundreds of dollars. I can't seem to find a smaller version. I guess I'll have to paint one!!

~Peace to all beings~

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Tibetan Monks not Bothered by Mandala Destruction


May 25, 2007

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The little boy spotted the pile of colored sand and couldn't resist. Slipping under a protective rope, he danced all over the sand, ruining the carefully crafted picture.

Never mind that it was the creation of Tibetan monks who had spent two days on the floor of Union Station, meticulously pouring the sand into an intricate design as an expression of their Buddhist faith.

They were more than halfway done with the design -- called a mandala -- on Tuesday when they ended their work for the day and left. The little boy showed up later with his mother, who was taking a package to a post office in the hall.

''He did a little tap dance on it, completely destroying it,'' said Lama Chuck Stanford.

The monks saw the destruction Wednesday.

''No problem,'' said Geshe Lobsang Sumdup, leader of the group. ''We have three days more.''
AP

James: I heard about this story on several non-Buddhist news feeds and have to giggle a bit at the surprise from people that the monks are not bothered by the child's "dance." For many of us know the mandalas are always wiped away and the sand released into a near by river. Therefore symbolizing impermanence through the sweeping away and inter-being through the merging of the sand with the water. Hence the destruction of sand mandalas is just as sacred a process as the construction of them.

So in reality this child was actually a benefit to the monks by helping perform a sacred task. Thus in that context I find the whole thing quite cute and a good lesson in not taking ourselves too seriously and becoming attached to even the most beautiful, seemingly precious things.

Sometimes children are our best teachers.

~Peace to all beings~

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Metamorphasis of Buddhism Strengthens the Global Sangha

Whenever Buddhism has taken root in a new land there has always been a certain variation in the style in which it is observed. The Buddha himself taught differently according to the place, the occasion, the situation of those who were listening to him. So, all of us have the responsibility to take the essence of Buddhism and put it into practice in our own lives.

~ His Holiness the Dalai Lama

James: There is so much discussion over Buddhism in the west. There are many from the East who feel that they have a corner or the "true" Dharma/Buddhism and that "Western Buddhism" is diluting the "True Buddhism." Yet as HDL states above, the Buddha taught differently according to the place (which I'm 99% sure meant the culture as well).

The fact is that there many different styles of Buddhism in Asia which has been the cradle of Buddhism. Under the greater umbrella we have the main traditions: Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana--all slightly different but sharing the core keystones of the Dharma taught by the Buddha. Then breaking it down further there are differences between Theravada (for example) in Thailand and in Burma (Malaysia).

I think of what Jack Kornfield said in the recent issue of the Buddhadharma magazine.

He spoke of studying Theravada under the Venerable Ajahn Chah and learning so much from him and that "forest style" of Theravada found in Thailand . Then he speaks of studying Theravada in Burma (Malaysia) under the Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw and studying the Dharma from a totally different point of view but still as valuable as the teachings of Ajahn Chah. Both teachers neither changing the core teachings of the Buddha beyond recognition but providing a different angle of the great, multi-faceted diamond that is the Dharma.

It's ironic that (according to Kornfield) monks in Burma will say, "In Burma we have always been the carriers of the true way" even though the ascendancy of Theravada Buddhism began only a few hundred years ago.

James: I have to giggle when I hear such dualistic thinking when Burmese Theravada Buddhism is a realtive child compared to some other traditions!! I guess it's kind of the like the egotisitcal thinking that the immigrants who have been here for a couple generations are more American then those who've only been here for a few dozen decades.

Kornfield goes on:

So, infact, the history of the Theravada, and the history of Buddhism in generally, is actually a weaving of a number of different strands.

James: And that I believe is what is happening within the growing "Western Buddhism."

Sadly not all great teachers feel this way. Eido Roshi states in that same Buddhadharma issue that, I am well aware that a few people reject the traditional ways, but still some people love them, and these people are the ones who have real devotion toward Buddhadharma. That is all I have to say.

James: I hope that Roshi is refering to the main tenets of Buddhism such as the four noble truths and the eightfold path, etc. rather then the cultural attachments of a particular tradition or school from a certain country.

Stephen Batchelor had a more inclusive viewpoint on the matter:

But there is an important distinction between being rooted in a tradition and being stuck in a tradition. To be rooted in a tradition like Buddhism is absolutely necessary, but it's also possible to become attached to certain doctrines, to certain ways of doing things, that do not allow you to grow. They become another form of attachment. From rootedness, we need to be able to respond anew to what the world presents us.

James: Editor Jeff Wilson of the magazine Tricyle: The Buddhist Review provides another interesting example of the diversity within Buddhism and in this particular example the place of meditation within the different styles of Zen:

In America, many people are interested in meditation and that is one reason that Zen teachers discuss it. Asian teachers who like to have Western students talk a lot about zazen to them. When they teach in Japanese, most do not emphasize zazen unless it is in a monastic situation.

In Japan, where virtually all Soto Zen practitioners live, Soto Shu emphasizes moral behavior, respect of elders, charity, and chanting in front of the home altar. Meditation is not a central practice and is generally only performed by a minority of the clergy, who are themselves a very small minority of members.

Yes, it doesn't look like the Theravada in Thailand or maybe Burma and yes, the Zen maybe not exactly look like that found in Japan or Korea but that does not mean that the Theravada, Zen or Tibetan Buddhism blended into American culture are not actual "Buddhism."

Insiting on one way of practicing the Dharma is a type of "spiritual materialism" to use a term from the Venerable Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Placing more importance on the form rather then the essence which stunts the growth of the Dharma.

As long as the main tenets stay the same then Buddhism is generally Buddhism. We may look different, meditate a bit different, chant in a different accent, etc. but we are all usually practicing the same Dharma.

I find the different blends and flavors of Buddhism to be beautiful and a testament to the strength of the Dharma. The Buddha had the foresite to see into the future and realize that the religion he had started would need to adapt given the nature of subtle differences between people.

~Peace to all beings~

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

We are Pure Awareness


You are not your body.
Your body is not you.

You are not the doer.
You are not the enjoyer.

You are pure awareness,
The witness of all things.

You are without expectation,
Free.

Wherever you go,
Be happy!

-Ashtavakra Gita 15:4

James: I find so much deep wisdom in the Ashtavakra Gita--it is undoubtedly one of the most inspired teachings I've ever read and meditated upon. It blows me away how much of this wisdom is just as important (if not more so) now as it was way back then.

Being the witness allows objectivity--being apart of the experience without placing labels upon any of it and rejecting or taking anything. Pure Being. It is in this place where clarity ripens and opens us up to the state of deep and everlasting peace that was always there waiting patiently in our hearts. It is like remembering where we put that lost, irreplaceable family erloom that was passed down from generation to generation--just as the Buddha passed the Dharma down to us.

That is one of the great benefits of meditation--the more we do it the longer these moments of clarity and realizing Pure Peace remain in our Consciousness. Watering the seeds of mindfulness we allow the seeds of Buddhanature to dig deep, bloom and mature.

As Thich Nhat Hanh says this allows us to call each other by our True Names.

~Peace to all beings~

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Monday, May 14, 2007

All is Buddha

Each form, each particle, is a Buddha. One form is all Buddhas. All forms, all particles, are all Buddhas. All forms, sounds, scents, feelings, and phenomena are also like this, each filling all fields.

-Pai-chang

James: This quote reminds me of one of my favorite poems by the Venerable Lama Gendun Rinpoche


Happiness cannot be found
through great effort and willpower,
but is already present,
in open relaxation and letting go.

Don't strain yourself,there is nothing to do or undo.
Whatever momentarily arises in the body-mind
has no real importance at all,
has little reality whatsoever.
Why identify with, and become attached to it,
passing judgment upon it and ourselves?

Far better to simply
let the entire game happen on its own,
springing up and falling back like waves --
without changing or manipulating anything --
and notice how everything vanishes and reappears, magically,
again and again,time without end.

Only our searching for happiness
prevents us from seeing it.
It's like a vivid rainbow which we you
pursue without ever catching,
or a dog chasing its own tail.

Although peace and happiness do not exist
as an actual thing or place,
it is always available
and accompanies you every instant.

Don't believe in the reality
of good and bad experiences;
they are like today's ephemeral weather,
like rainbows in the sky.

Wanting to grasp the ungraspable,
you exhaust yourself in vain.
As soon as you open and relax
this tight fist of grasping,
infinite space is there --
open, inviting and comfortable.

Make use of this spaciousness, this
freedom and natural ease.
Don't search any further.
looking for the great awakened elephant,
who is already resting quietly at home
in front of your own hearth.

Nothing to do or undo,
nothing to force,
nothing to want,
and nothing missing --

Emaho! Marvelous!
Everything happens by itself.

PHOTO: The Venerable Lama Gendun Rinpoche.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Lead a Good Life

Whether you believe in God or not does not matter so much, whether you believe in Buddha or not does not matter so much. You must lead a good life.

-His Holiness the Dalai Lama

James: I thought that this was a good quote to wrap up the discussion from the last post on Buddhism and Atheism.

It reminds me of another thing that the Dalai Lama said. He said that one does not have to be a Buddhist to understand and receive benefits from the Dharma. Just as we do not have to be a Christian to benefit from the teachings of Jesus or a Jew, Hindu, Muslim, Atheist, etc.

My parents are devoted Mormons yet find parts of the Dharma that ring true to them and thus adopt them into their path. I do the same with the teachings of Jesus--especially the beattitudes that Tim brought up in a comment on the last post.

There is so much that we can learn from each other.

And yet, at many times I find myself playing that game of us vs. them--especially being apart of a minority faith in a very fundamental and loud Christian country that does not have much respect for other traditions. Such energy makes me want to fight the Christians--defend my faith. The self (lower case "s") feels bruised by not being respected and even feels that its religion might be stamped out--and what if it does? Do not the teachings live on in ourselves? In our actions, words and deeds?? Good always has a way of surviving any attempted eradication.

One does not need the structure of an organized religion to do what is right and be compassionate, loving and tolerant.

Sometimes I see religions to be similar to universities (this is a bit of a complicated comparison but stick with me. It should make sense)--they can bring one an advantage in obtaining a good job (peace and happiness) but that is not always the case. No amount of classes or degrees (prayers, dogma, rituals, titles, mantras) can replace diligence, street smarts and real world experience (living a good life--including tolerance and respect for other people different from ourselves for example).

Many people (Atheists for one) avoid college (religion) altogether and still succeed in finding a good life (finding peace and happiness--knowing right from wrong). We must remind ourselves on a regular basis that we never have a monopoly upon Truth.

~Peace to all beings~

PHOTO: A mystical fog surrounds Po Lin monastery on Lantau island in Hong Kong, China.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Buddhism and Atheism

As a Buddhist (if you are) do you also consider yourself an Atheist as well? I guess it depends on how technical you want to get.

Technically Buddhists are Atheists because we do not believe in a God or Savior--we are our own Saviors. The Buddha was not a God but rather was a highly intelligent man who mapped out a path to great and everlasting peace whether in good times or bad.

Being a Buddhist Atheist, however, does NOT--I repeat--does NOT mean that Buddhists are nihilistic (and I do not meant to imply that non-Buddhist Atheists are all nihilists either). Yes we believe that all things are empty but that simply means empty of any independent existence. It is a concept that propels us to act in a benevolent way toward others, animals and non-living things as our happiness is directly connected to the happiness of others and non-living things.

Some Buddhists believe in Amitabha Buddha who is said to be able to save followers and bring them to a Heaven like existence called, "The Pure Land"--Thus the name "Pure Land Buddhism." Do Pure Land Buddhists believe in a type of "God??" In a way they do as the belief isn't about working out one's own liberation but praying to and relying upon a sort of deity to liberate and "save" them. It is a very "faith based" school relying upon their faith that Amitabha will bring them salvation through his grace. Sounds to me like a similar role to that of Jesus Christ. Of course I certainly am not a scholar in Buddhism so I welcome other views and opinions on this matter. I would love to hear from adherents of the Pure Land school on this matter.

Personally I would call my myself an "Atheist Buddhist" If I have to throw dualistic labels around as I do not believe in a personal God. However, I can not prove or say that a form of "God" absolutely does not exist--no one knows for sure.

This dove-tails into Richard Dawkins De Facto Atheist definition (which is where he says he sits--as do I):

There is a very low probability that a personal "God" exists but short of zero. I can not know for certain but I think "God" is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.

The only way that I believe in a "God" is to say that we are all "God." Because, again, understanding the interdependent, interconnected nature of True Reality I believe that if there is a "God" it seems that it would be a force rather then a person. This is because such a force would be so Enlightened that it would have to be beyond all form and definition.

I also believe in a type of "heaven" but I believe it is a state of being--or enlightenment to use that awkward phrase. In other words, heaven is what we make of the present moment and place--not a place outside ourselves. I believe that together we can create a heaven on Earth.

In the end, however, I just do not concern myself with the question too much as I think practicing the middle-way is the most important use of our energy. Nevertheless, I just felt like discussing it a bit today. I hope my ramblings made some sense.

~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Is There Anything Lacking?

At this moment, is there anything lacking? Nirvana is right here now before our eyes. This place is the lotus land. This body now is the Buddha.

--Hakuin

~Peace to all beings~

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