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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Revealing James Ure. Plus, "Buddha's Warriors."

For those wondering what I look like I've decided to reveal myself a bit more than I have before:

(Profile shot wearing my favorite hat, it's called a newsboy or cabby hat):(Relaxing in my Rockies baseball jersey):
(Here I am trying to look cool in a pair of sunglasses):(Here I am in front of our camping/backpacking tent):(These next two pictures are of me before I gained weight from my medications):
American cable news network is going to air a documentary titled, "Buddha's Warriors:"The program will be on t.v. this Saturday and Sunday 8 and 11pm eastern standard time here in the U.S. It will cover the following issues amongst others:

-Dalai Lama challenged by new generation of of Buddhist activists.

-Amanpour investigates split between Dalai Lama and his unruly flock.

-Buddhist monks risk arrest to march from India to Tibet.

-Inside the secretive world of Burma.

~Peace to all beings~

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Intolerant Christians.

I recently read another article (see the previous one here) on The Buddhist Channel about predatory practices and bullying by Christians in predominately Buddhist countries.

I don't have the slightest intention to put one religion above another, to praise one and to blame another. I'm here writing about the attitude I'm expecting from somebody claiming to be a religious person, especially if he has much power in voicing his ideas. Then I came across Mr. Lothe's article in the UB POST and I did some small research about what the head of Eagle TV is writing about religions, and how much he cares about truth and mutual understanding – and I felt disturbed to see how he is trying to boast about his religion as being superior. Is this a way to solve the problems humanity is facing?

Mr. Terry is living in a country with a long Buddhist history (Mongolia) and where a majority of the people consider themselves Buddhists. He wrote on March 10, 2008: "Certainly I'm no fan of Buddhism. The teachings of Buddhism cannot hold a candle to the life of Jesus Christ. As I've written previously, Christianity is superior to Buddhism ethically, historically, and factually."
Where is the respect?

In a previous article about corruption he wrote:
"Mongolian society has primarily been informed by the world views of Atheism and Buddhism; but they don't seem to be able to affect the kind of character in society that makes corruption a source of personal shame. If these world views actually had that ability, then one would expect with such a long history here that corruption's acceptability would not be on the rise. The same is true in other nations primarily informed by these world views." Mr. Terry, December 15 2006 Then he wrote: "…they (Atheism and Buddhism) don't seem to be able to affect the kind of character in society that makes corruption a source of personal shame."

Only one remark:
It's true that no religion and philosophical system can prevent people from unethical behavior. Just think about all the Christian priests abusing young boys (this kind of behavior can be found in any religion, unfortunately). And think about all the corrupt and cruel dictators, presidents and prime ministers, claiming to be a follower of their religion – for example Mugabe, being a Catholic.

The attitude of Mr. Terry is getting again very clear when he writes: "If a Mongolian wants to be a Buddhist and openly express his Buddhism, let him." What does this mean if he also wrote: "Christianity is superior to Buddhism ethically, historically, and factually." and "As one former Mongolian Buddhist said to me about why he finally rejected Buddhism in favor of Christ, 'In Buddhism there is no love.' Comparatively speaking, he is correct."

James: To say that there is no love nor ethics in Buddhism is to betray either 1). An extreme ignorance and misunderstanding of Buddhism or 2). A blatant disregard for the truth to disparage a beautiful belief system to manipulate people into following your own twisted version of another belief system. Sure you might get some people to follow Jesus but at what cost? Your zealotry has blinded you to the point of losing your spiritual integrity just to add a few numbers to the ranks for your religion. You are so blinded by your lust to prove everyone else's religion wrong and "save" them that you're willing to go against nearly every major tenet of that very religion you claim is so wonderful. Is it really that worth it?

In the end, who are you really at war with, the Buddhists or your own fears Mr. Terry? Somehow he's threatened by Buddhism and I'm not sure why. Maybe you're threatened that Buddhism doesn't believe in a "God" and that Buddhists seem very happy despite that belief. So maybe that shakes your foundation and forces you to face a profoundly deep fear that maybe there really isn't a "God" and that if such is the case that you wouldn't be able to control your unbridled desires/thoughts? But I'm not a psychologist and I don't really want to rip you away from your beliefs. All I'm asking is to be respectful and let people decide what to believe for themselves. If they want to know more about Christianity then let the come to you, they will if they want to know but please don't tear their families and society apart just to mark another "believer" onto your list. These people aren't numbers, they're people that want and deserve the same kind of respect that you want and deserve yourself Mr. Terry.

When Mr. Terry writes "let him be a Buddhist" it means 'let him be a Buddhist, but let him know that he is not that good as a Christian, and that he's completely mistaken.' This attitude is dividing human beings into higher ones and lower ones, into good ones and wrong ones. I think Jesus would be sad to see what kind of game Mr. Terry is playing – playing the 'competition game' with religion.

James: So what is that makes often makes Christians bullies? I know that every religion has them but there seems to be so many amongst the monotheistic faiths. It seems that the majority of religious strife in the history of the world has been caused by the three main monotheistic religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam). Again, Buddhism has had its problems with bullying too but for the purposes of this post I just want to understand why the monotheistic ones are so often the most militant. I have my own views besides the ones I mentioned in the post but I'd like to read your views. Any insights?

~Peace to all beings~

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Buddhism and Evolution.

While Buddha didn't have much to say about the origins of life and the universe I find the Dharma to be very open to evolution. Evolution says that we evolved from other life forms and are therefore just new models of previous models of life which means that we must have genes and DNA that are similar and we do.

We humans share some 96 percent of genetic material with chimpanzees which affirms my Buddhist belief that we are irrecoverably interconnected and dependent upon other life forms. We are merely different branches on a larger tree. The tree of evolved sentient life on Earth.

As Buddhists we believe in rebirth which in my mind is a form of evolution which are both based upon cause and effect. In Buddhism we know that the consequences of our actions and certain events will stay within our "spiritual DNA" and determine what form "we" will evolve into after this current stage that we find ourselves within. And in corroboration, physics tells us that "matter is neither destroyed or created. it can only be transformed from one form to another". Which backs up the Buddhist, evolutionary teaching of rebirth.

And as a Buddhist I believe that when we die our bodies will blend back into the larger plane of existence and live on in other forms of life such as food for flowers and trees via our ashes or nutrient rich bodies decomposing in the fertile Earth. This enables other forms of life to have the best chance at thriving and continuing the evolution of life on Earth. We come from stardust and will return to stardust as the universe expands outward, reaches a stabilising point, and then reverts its motion back toward a central point resulting in its destruction, (James: the big crunch) this process again to be repeated infinitely. All forms of life depend upon each other for success and evolution. I liken it to a track and field relay event. One runner starts the race and hands a baton off to another runner once he runs his distance and then that runner goes until he goes the distance and passes the baton on to another runner, etc.

Then there is the Buddhist concept of impermanence where nothing lasts forever. We know that 90-99% percent of all life on Earth that ever lived has gone extinct which upholds my relay race example. A certain species of life might exist for awhile (dinosaurs) and then as other beings and events evolve they are eclipsed and a new life form emerges to take their place. So while in Buddhism we believe that humans have the best chance at liberation from suffering we are still nothing more than a link in the long chain of evolving species and forms of life and I take comfort in being nothing greater and nothing less than any other other sentient being.

While researching this post, however, I found the following counterpoint:

While Cooper certainly makes a valid point in stating that Buddhism has never had the problems with Darwinism that monotheism has, it does not thereby follow that one can easily harmonize the two. Buddhism certainly does talk about evolution, but never at the level of populations. Buddhist notions of evolution involve the movement of an individual karmic stream through samsara, taking on different bodies in different environments according to regular laws of cause and conditioning. The process carries no certainty of progress from lower to higher or from simple to complex, and the overall context of this is the idea of rebirth, a topic that Cooper leaves out of an otherwise fairly complete account of basic Buddhist theory and practice.
James: While I do recognize that the scientific communities understanding of evolution and the Buddhist understanding are not exactly on the same page, I think in general they are in agreement. It is not entirely accurate in my view to say (as the counterpoint postulates) Buddhist evolution is only about the individual karmic stream as Buddhism teaches that there is no such thing really as an individual. As well as teaching that there is such a concept as collective karma.

Buddhism's teaching of interconnection and interdependence do harmonize with evolution of populations. I would argue that we (as "individuals") are slightly different, (depending on karma) single cell populations of a larger "being" that is evolving both on the micro level (individuals/sentient beings/populations) but also at the macro level (existence itself). It is difficult from my point of view to separate one sentient being from another therefore I believe that it can be argued that in a way, all life evolves together. The counterpoint goes on to say that the Buddhist idea of evolution carries no certainty of progress from simple to complex.

Yet I beg to differ as in Buddhism, beings go through "lower" stages of consciousness in births (animals for example) until we secure a human birth which is the vehicle to evolve into an enlightened being. There is regression yes, as a human might act in a way that would see them reborn as, oh I don't know, a slug or something. So, yes this process may seem haphazard but I think most Buddhists would be in agreement that eventually all beings will realize liberation from suffering and realize enlightenment. Thus, in the end it is basically a process of going from "lower" to "higher" to use such blunt, dualistic terms. Besides, there is no certainty of progress in purely science based evolution either. Suppose a massive comet hits Earth and destroys not only all life but our atmosphere and all water, not much life could progress from that point. The same goes for the day when our galaxy collides with the Andromeda Galaxy, not much will survive that disruption of sentient evolution!!

True there is not a linear advancement so to speak but the science only view of evolution isn't pure linear advancement either. It is more like a tree where a branch will grow out from the trunk of the tree in a spin off of the tree but might die out eventually. The main form of the tree (the trunk), however, keeps growing and evolving. It's not simply a matter of going from point A to point B. It's more like A branches off into A1 and A2 where A1 might die off but A2 survives to reach point B where it branches off again into B1, B2 and maybe a B3. And so forth and so on.

I think I'll stop here. I've probably confused you all but if I have try reading it again, maybe it will make sense the second time. If it never makes sense then no worries, it's just another branch dying out and something else will come along later that does make sense. :)

~Peace to all beings~

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Modern Buddhism.

Phayul, July 18, 2008

New York, USA -- The Dalai Lama said that it is important to preserve one’s own traditions and culture but it is wrong to close door to the outside world. He said that one should strive to become a 21st century Buddhist with both traditional values and modern education.


One of the ways that Buddhism is adapting so well to this new century is the embracing of the internet. It has enabled people living in very isolated communities where they might be the only Buddhist within hundreds of miles to connect with other practitioners. This gives great numbers of Buddhists a chance to participate in a vibrant sangha (community of Buddhists).

It is a fabulously diverse world-wide sangha where Buddhists can meet up, meditate, converse and learn together any day of the week, night or day. I have gotten to know Buddhists from all corners of this amazing world and that would never have been possible without the internet which is perhaps the most profound and influential invention in a century.

The internet also gives anyone with a connection access to teachers and texts that use to require traveling great distances. You can now send an email while in your pajamas to a monk in a monastery living half-way around the world for assistance in your practice. To that end I've been reading the blog of a Zen Master living in Japan and because of having this access my practice has grown in ways otherwise perhaps not possible in this lifetime. Via online shopping we can order Dharma books from areas in the world where Buddhist bookstores don't exist. I can't think of another time when Buddhism was more accessible to so many people. It's perhaps the greatest Buddhist information explosion since probably the Nalanda University days.

That being said, In some regards the internet creates a false world where we can easily fall out of balance between thinking and actually sitting our butts down on the cushion. However, we can still gain much from the internet as long as we remain mindful and present when we are online and remember that the internet is just another finger pointing to the moon.

In this modern age meditation is gaining a lot of popularity amongst people of all beliefs and those of no beliefs at all. You can find basic meditation classes being taught in hospitals to help people deal with their emotions while sick and/or dying. It gives them a tool to deal with the suffering in their minds and center their breathing to bring down anxiety of having to deal with terminal illnesses, etc.

I firmly believe that Buddha would be very happy to see his teachings benefit as many people as possible whether they call themselves "Buddhists" or not. His main motivation was simply to help people reduce their suffering. I don't think that he'd feel offended that non-Buddhists are adopting some aspects of the Dharma. He is Buddha after all, I am pretty sure that he can't be offended anyway.

Then there is the advent of the ipod which gives people even more accessibility to Dharma talks and teachers. It gives the practitioner the ability to listen to teachings and motivational speeches anywhere at anytime. We can literally listen to these things on the way to work on the train, while cleaning the house or while jogging/exercising.

It's an exciting time to be a Buddhist!!

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Friday, July 11, 2008

"Small Stones: A Year of Moments." A Book Review.

Author Fiona Robyn was kind enough to send me an advanced copy of her book, Small Stones: A Year of Moments. It's is a nice collection of thought provoking, simple yet profound observations about life, nature and spirituality.

They have a wonderful streak of Buddhism within many of these nuggets of thoughts because many of them stem from pure mindfulness. Fiona makes lovely observations of things in life that we might often over-look.

First, I'd like to highlight a few of my favorite mindfulness statements about nature from Robyn's book:

the moon is so transparent you could slip a thumb-nail under the edge and peel it from the sky

This next one is quite mindful and a nice example of nature meditation:

The buds on the magnolia trees are pink-tinted and fat. Pull up a chair; wait for them to go bang.

Here are a few wonderful views about life in general. This first one will give you an entirely new look at diggers:

a digger tips it's scoop: the sand slides out as if from a cupped palm.

the street light tastes the dark -pring! - time to brighten the street

Now a spiritual entry. This first one has a Buddhist under-tone in expressing the reality of suffering and death. It also speaks of acceptance in order to realize peace:

Another cat dead on the road. Outside the garage on the gravel, a cat-caught bird's underside teems with hungry life. Business as usual.

And finally, I'd like to highlight the humor that pepper Robyn's observations throughout the book:

The graveyard is scattered with crushed beer cans, silver streamers, empty bottles - the dead have been partying all night.

All in all I really enjoyed this book and I recommend it to anyone looking for simple yet profound words of wisdom. It will give you a whole new outlook on the life around you and is a great book to just flip to a page and find a nice nugget of mindfulness to start and/or finish your day with.

Thank-you Fiona for the copy of your excellent book. :)

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

No Thanks I'll Stick with Buddhism.

Interesting article on proselytizing Buddhists in Asia titled, "No Thanks I'll Stick with Buddhism." I don't have much comment about this article except that it raises some good points but it also is something that we shouldn't get too worked up over. I'm more concerned about my own weaknesses right now. However, that being said I do think that some missionaries of other faiths are very disrespectful and not helping ease tensions between different religions.

By Zyrius, The Buddhist Channel, July 3, 2008

Singapore -- I read with interest the article "Planning the Demise of Buddhism" (http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=10,6724,0,0,1,0), which mentioned the book below.


Here is a critical analysis (written in 2007) of a highly erroneous excerpt from "Peoples of the Buddhist World: A Christian Prayer Diary" by Paul Hattaway, the international director of Asia Harvest. In case you think this is about harvesting crops or sheep, we are talking about people here - Buddhists in this case. Here is the passage:

"... let us commit ourselves to pray: to pray for the Dalai Lama himself, that he would meet the risen Lord Jesus and be confronted with ultimate truth, and for those who have embraced his erroneous 'gospel'... To the present generation of Westerners, who reject moral absolutes and despise any claim to spiritual exclusivity, it is no wonder the Dalai Lama is so popular. I've heard the Dalai Lama say, with a casual wave of his hand, 'If you think my message is nonsense, then forget it.' Thanks, I think I might, and I'll stick with Jesus, the true incarnation of God."

James: I have selected a few of the counter-points from the editorial to post but I urge you to read the rest of them from the full article.

4. The phrase "his erroneous 'gospel'" is itself erroneous in multiple ways. Firstly, out of respect for Buddhists, it should be written as "his 'erroneous' gospel" - since Buddhists do not believe the Buddhist teachings to be erroneous, even if Hattaway does. Ultimately, Buddhists too would see Christianity as "erroneous" in certain ways. (Note the respectful use of quotation marks in the previous sentence.) Secondly, the Dalai Lama teaches no "gospel", unless it is meant as "teaching" in general, instead of specifically Christian gospel. Thirdly, the teachings of the Dalai Lama are largely not his, but as passed down from the enlightened Buddha.

5. To insinuate that the Dalai Lama attracts those who are alluded to be immoral ("who reject moral absolutes") is itself immoral - because the Dalai Lama does not advocate the unimportance of morals. Well known for his great compassion, he is perhaps one of the most moral humans alive. He even wrote the best-selling book "Ethics for the New Millennium". How ethically unsound can he be? Buddhism also teaches very high moral standards - which even encompasses how animals and the environment should be treated.

6. Buddhism also does not "despise any claim to spiritual exclusivity". The excerpt hints that Christianity claims spiritual exclusivity. While it is alright to do so as a declaration of one's faith, it is not right to disrespect Buddhism just because it does not advocate spiritual exclusivity. Then again, does Buddhism really not advocate spiritual exclusivity? Buddhism respects other religions and philosophies in the sense that they might be part of the long journey to enlightenment. However, the Buddha did teach that any teaching that contains the Noble Eightfold Path can be considered the right path to liberation. It is interesting to note that no other religion meets this criteria fully yet. In this sense, Buddhism is spiritually exclusive too - though with great respect for all worthy faiths, including Christianity.

10. In summary, to openly ask Christians to pray for the Dalai Lama to see the error of his ways is loosely equivalent to asking Buddhists to pray for the best known living Christian leader to see the error of his ways. Imagine the outrage this would spark off on both sides. Of course, Buddhists are not openly claiming any religious leader to be erroneous. As analysed, this book should be banned - for it is an appalling insult to the ideal of different religions co-existing in harmony in today's religiously sensitive global village that is the world. The passage is an insult to the Dalai Lama, millions of non-Buddhists and Buddhists who follow his teachings, and the Buddhist community on the whole.

I shudder to imagine what other rude shocks fellow Buddhists might discover when they see the rest of the book. It was mentioned in Hattaway's preface - “Does it break God's heart today that hundreds of millions of Buddhists are marching to hell with little or no gospel witness? Does it break the Savior's heart that millions worship lifeless idols instead of the true, glorious Heavenly Father?” For Hattaway and company, who try so hard to impress their missionary efforts on Buddhists and those who are uninterested in converting to their faith, I have this quote to share from Annie Dillard -

Somewhere, and I can't find where,
I read about an Eskimo hunter who asked the local missionary priest,
“If I didn't know about God and sin, would I go to hell?”
“No,” said the priest, “not if you did not know.”
“Then why,” asked the Eskimo earnestly, “did you tell me?”

If her logic is watertight, perhaps the original sin is to preach about God to non-believers?

~Peace to all beings~

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Monday, July 07, 2008

We are All Crazy.

Somewhere in this process, you will come face to face with the sudden and shocking realization that you are completely crazy. Your mind is a shrieking, gibbering madhouse on wheels barreling pell-mell down the hill, utterly out of control and hopeless. No problem. You are not crazier than you were yesterday.

It has always been this way, and you just never noticed. You also are no crazier than anybody else around you. The real difference is that you have confronted the situation; they have not. So they still feel relatively comfortable. That does not mean that they are better off. Ignorance may be bliss, but it does not lead to Liberation. So don’t let this realization unsettle you. It is a milestone actually, a sign of real progress. The very fact that you have looked at the problem straight in the eye means that you are on your way up and out of it.

-Henepola Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English

James: Mindfulness in Plain English is a valuable, influential treasure of a book and guide to not just mediation but the nature of being. Henepola Gunaratana is one of those teachers who has a way of speaking bluntly, firmly correcting you in your practice if need be and get you to smile about it.

He knows how to speak to a Western audience partly due to speaking and spending quite a lot of time in the United States.

Speaking to the quote I am reminded of the period in my life when I came to the sobering realization that I had a mental illness. I felt panic at first that I would totally go insane but not too long after I felt relief that finally I had a definition to my struggles. I was forced to come to terms that I had a disease and just knowing that information helped me adjust my focus and stop trying to fight it and embrace it.

And so it is with a mental condition that you have to remain ever mindful of your mental formations/suffering so that you know when to make a course correction in either medication, behavior and/or a general lifestyle change. I think that is part of what led me to Buddhism as in many ways Buddhism is very much a psychological path with it's emphasis on the mind and being mindful so that we are aware of delusions and suffering that appear in our lives. And in that regard meditation is quite like a medication because it often brings the similar relief to our minds that prescription drugs do.

That's not to say that people with a severe, chronic mental condition shouldn't take medicine if prescribed by a psychiatrist but simply a comparison to show how similar Buddhism and the general field of psychology are. Meditation is a very powerful and effective tool to add to my medications to maintain a grounded, sense of stability.

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Gay Men and Straight Women Share Brain Detail.

LONDON, June 17, 2008 (Reuters) — Gay men and straight women share some characteristics in the area of the brain responsible for emotion, mood and anxiety, researchers said on Monday in a study highlighting the potential biological underpinning of sexuality. Brain scans also showed the same symmetry among lesbians and straight men, the researchers wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Brain scans of 90 volunteers showed that the brains of heterosexual men and homosexual women were slightly asymmetric with the right hemisphere slightly larger than the left,
Ivanka Savic and Pers Lindstrom wrote. The brains of gay men and heterosexual women were not.

James: This comes as no surprise to me but it is very interesting none the less. Buddhism has been more progressive than many other religions in regards to sexual orientation for the most part. There isn't usually condemning of homosexuals by Buddhists but instead treating them as equals to heterosexuals, as it should be. This view is still radical today as most religions still see homosexuality as very taboo and "evil."

The precept about avoiding sexual misconduct focuses on avoiding causing harm and suffering but does not single out homosexuality, bisexuality or other sexual orientations for being "bad" or deviant. Everyone is advised how to handle sexuality in a compassionate and loving way regardless of sexual orientation.

In fact one of the most revered figures in Buddhism, Avalokiteshvara is often seen as androgynous. In the form of Avalokiteshvara this Bodhisattva is seen as a man but when referred to as Guan Yin (Kuan Yin/Kannon) he/she is seen as a woman. This makes total sense to me as Avalokiteshvara/Guan Yin is seen as the Bodhisattva of compassion and thus seems perfectly natural as that compassion is spread to all beings equally regardless of gender and sexual orientation.

Avalokiteshvara/Kuan Yin is literally the embodiment of non-duality in regards to sexuality.

This is not to say though that homosexuality/bisexuality/intersexuality is automatically seen as acceptable in predominately Buddhist countries. Social and cultural discrimination of homosexuals is found in these countries as they are in most places.

I'd be really interested in reading more about this and about more studies of this nature. The more science learns the more I find it has in common with Buddhism.

~Peace to all beings~

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