Search This Blog


Buddhism in the News


Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Art of James R. Ure

I finally have my new art website up and running so you can check it out if you haven't seen my work yet. I have reduced prices on the prints and the originals. I have done two paintings available for purchase that are Buddhistm related. Just click on the titles below:

The Awakening

The painting below is not specifically Buddhist but does touch on Buddhist themes:

The Veil of God

PHOTO: James working on a new painting that will depict the element Earth including bamboo stalks. I am painting a series of these based on the Taoist emphasis on nature, which will include all four elements.
~Peace to all beings~

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Big Sit Day 3.

Well today is day three of the meditation challenge and I'm going strong. I have been meditating before the start of the challenge but it's great to have this chance to do this with people from all over the world, which feels like a virtual 90 day retreat. I thought of all of humanity as if meditating in one beautiful mass whether morning, noon or night I figured someone was most likely meditating while I was and that was a beautiful thought.

Oneness rose softly yet steadily and firmly into the present moment yesterday while meditating as concentration focused on the cycle of breathes. Soon I was just aware of the breathing and felt as though I was riding in a vast ocean of oneness from wave to wave as my identity slipped from my minds grip with ease. In that moment I was the ocean and the wave but neither at the same time. It made me feel small but not in an insignificant way but rather in a liberating way.

I'm contemplating the genjokoan and hope to have some insights in the days to come.

~Peace to all beings~

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Big Sit of 2009.

"The Big Sit" challenge from the Buddhist magazine Tricycle will start tomorrow, which I'll be doing. In fact, I've been sitting regularly the last two weeks whereas before my practice had been all too spotty for the last year. Here are some of the specifics:

1). Sit in formal meditation for 20 minutes each day: (I'm sure sitting even for only 5 minutes is in keeping with this challenge because I have found that any amount of meditation is beneficial).

2). Listen to one Dharma talk a week on (or elsewhere I would add if you don't have access to Tricycle. I would also think reading a Dharma talk once a week or a few chapters of a Buddhist book would work as well).

3)-Study Dogen’s Genjokoan, the text selected for the period: The Genjokoan is posted here--let me know if the link doesn't work and I'll post the text in its entirity in a post. Plus, if you want to keep in touch with just readers of this blog in the sangha/community that we developed during this sit then just sign up an account on The Tribe that my friend Paul has setup is called, "Commit to Sit." It's not hard to find via the search bar. Tricycle also has a group setup for, "The Big Sit" which will be beneficial because it will host Dharma talks and advice/guidance from teachers. If you're interested in it then all you have to do is sign up with them (it's free).

4). Commit to the sixteen bodhisattva precepts:
The sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts consist of the taking refuge in the three treasures (Buddha-Nature, Dharma, and Sangha), and:

The Three Pure Precepts

Not to do evil.
To cultivate good.
To help others.

The Ten Grave Precepts

Not to intentionally or maliciously kill, but to cherish all life.
Not to steal, but to respect the possessions and lifetime of others.
Not to misuse sexual energy, but to be honest and respectful in mind and action.
Not to intentionally deceive, but to speak the truth.
Not to misuse drugs or alcohol, but to keep the mind clear.
Not to speak of others’ faults, but to be understanding and sympathetic.
Not to praise oneself by criticizing others, but to overcome one’s own shortcomings.
Not to withhold spiritual or material aid, but to give it freely when needed.
Not to give vent to anger, but to seek its source.
Not to speak ill of the Three Treasures, but to cherish and uphold them.

5). Practice with others at or at a local meditation center (Or with us on Tribe!!).

6). Begin when you like. Tricycle’s staff will begin February 23.

~Peace to all beings~

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Obama and the Lama.

This picture has been around for awhile now and while I have seen it on other sites I have never shown it here. It is one of my favorite pictures because it shows two of the world's most influential people who both happen to be heroes of mine together in one picture. It is a powerful image showing how spirituality and politics don't have to be enemies but can actually help improve each other.

According to the theory of the two wheels, the state leadership (worldly wheel) and spiritual leadership (religious wheel) exist along side. The state gives support and protection to the religion. The religion gives guidance to the leaders to make righteous policy and decision.

~Peace to all beings~

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dalai Lama Book Drawing Completed. Another One Begins.

I'm sorry that I didn't do the drawing for the Dalai Lama's new book, "Becoming Enlightened" until now but we did it today. My wife picked the name from my hat (the one I'm wearing in the profile picture. I'm pretty much never without that hat) and the book goes to a person who wishes to remain anonymous.

Thank-you all for reading the blog and for your interest in the book but the giving isn't done yet as I have a Zen t-shirt to give away. It is ash gray in color, has the Zen enso emblazoned upon it with the word, "enso" printed just below the enso circle itself. It is a men's U.S. size large t-shirt and it has never been worn.

~Peace to all beings~

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Practicing Impermance Through the Destruction of Buddhist Heritage.

The Sunday Times, Feb 8, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The 200-year old Buddhist heritage in South Western city of Pakistan - Swat, is now in danger with local Taliban militants threatening to destroy the regions one of the precious museums, media reports here said. The besieged Swat museum which is now under the threat of Pakistani Taliban. It houses pre-Islamic heritage, mainly Buddhists artifacts and Buddha statue of Gandhara era.

"The museum will be reopened only after peace returns to the valley," says its Curator Aqleem. But it must be protected from Taliban, too, to be reopened. The Taliban has threatened to wipe out the symbols of pre-Islamic cultures in Swat and the museum has become a prime target of the militants - a repository of relics dating as far back as to the 3rd century BC, the Dawn reported this week (Wednesday). Swat museum is rich with many pre-historic artifacts and statues mainly belonging to the Buddhist civilization of the South Asian region. Its Buddhist statues are supposed to be the few remaining representations of the Gandhara art.

In November 2007, the militants blew up a historic Buddha statute in the Jihanabad area of Swat causing irreparable damage to the seven-meter tall historic statue. After the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statue of Afghanistan in March 2001, the meditating statue in Swat was the most precious one, according to the Curator.

James: As an historian and an art lover I am dismayed by this tragic destruction of these Buddhist relics and the region's ancient heritage. When I first read this story I could feel anger rise inside of my mind as well as frustration wondering why someone would do such a thing? Then I realized that a part of me sees a threat to Buddhism as a threat to myself or more accurately the ego-self.

I think this stems from the part of me who enjoys Buddhism for its "trappings," which means the statues, architecture of temples, the history of Buddhism, incense, the bells, the monk robes and on and on. These things are wonderful to be sure, they have their place and I don't see anything wrong in enjoying them in so far as I realize that they are not permanent nor can they bring me lasting peace, happiness and freedom from afflictive emotions such as desire.

It doesn't do me any good to be attached to a statue of Buddha who was a man who taught against attachment!! How silly of me. If Buddha were around to see my thought process and how attached I was toward a bunch of old, empty statues then he would probably smash them himself!! This fear is for the destruction of Buddhism, which has become a very important part of my life and unfortunately seeped into my self-identity/ego.

So If I dig deep enough I can see that what I'm truly afraid of is losing that "self" even despite all the meditating and working on letting go of the self. It's a bit like a virus that keeps mutating to stay alive looking for nooks and crannies to embed itself into thinking the last place I'll look is in structure of Buddhism itself. In other words, in the relics, traditions and history of the religion.

I shouldn't see this destruction as a loss but a chance to practice one of the most important and liberating teachings within Buddhism-impermanance. Traditions are wonderful, so are statues and architecture but in the end I must remember that they are merely fingers pointing to the moon and not the moon itself. This all said I don't think that we should just let all our museums be destroyed and looted (if we can prevent it) because even though they are just objects they do offer some benefits to society. It's just that I need not become agitated when objects/relics do disappear or are destroyed. Everything must go in the end and no amount of Buddha statues and relics is going to deliver me from samsara.

~Peace to all beings~

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, February 06, 2009

Zen Meditation Alleviates Pain.

ScienceDaily (Feb. 6, 2009) — Zen meditation – a centuries-old practice that can provide mental, physical and emotional balance – may reduce pain according to Université de Montréal researchers. A new study in the January edition of Psychosomatic Medicine reports that Zen meditators have lower pain sensitivity both in and out of a meditative state compared to non-meditators.

Joshua A. Grant, a doctoral student in the Department of Physiology, co-authored the paper with Pierre Rainville, a professor and researcher at the Université de Montréal and it's affiliated Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal. The main goal of their study was to examine whether trained meditators perceived pain differently than non-meditators.

"While previous studies have shown that teaching chronic pain patients to meditate is beneficial, very few studies have looked at pain processing in healthy, highly trained meditators. This study was a first step in determining how or why meditation might influence pain perception." says Grant.

For this study, the scientists recruited 13 Zen meditators with a minimum of 1,000 hours of practice to undergo a pain test and contrasted their reaction with 13 non-meditators. Subjects included 10 women and 16 men between the ages of 22 to 56.

The administered pain test was simple: A thermal heat source, a computer controlled heating plate, was pressed against the calves of subjects intermittently at varying temperatures. Heat levels began at 43 degrees Celsius and went to a maximum of 53 degrees Celsius depending on each participant's sensitivity. While quite a few of the meditators tolerated the maximum temperature, all control subjects were well below 53 degrees Celsius.

Grant and Rainville noticed a marked difference in how their two test groups reacted to pain testing – Zen meditators had much lower pain sensitivity (even without meditating) compared to non-meditators. During the meditation-like conditions it appeared meditators further reduced their pain partly through slower breathing: 12 breaths per minute versus an average of 15 breaths for non-meditators.

"Slower breathing certainly coincided with reduced pain and may influence pain by keeping the body in a relaxed state." says Grant. "While previous studies have found that the emotional aspects of pain are influenced by meditation, we found that the sensation itself, as well as the emotional response, is different in meditators."

The ultimate result? Zen meditators experienced an 18 percent reduction in pain intensity. "If meditation can change the way someone feels pain, thereby reducing the amount of pain medication required for an ailment, that would be clearly beneficial," says Grant.

James: I'm not too surprised. It's always cool to see science agree with Buddhism because I believe that science and religion have more in common and complement each other more than people might realize. I'm sure that the results would be the same or similar with other forms of meditation--not just Zen meditation. Maybe this is why I have a high pain threshold? When I get tattoos I am able to deal with the pain quite well through the breathing techniques that I have learned via Buddhism.

This reminds of what "Anonymous" said in the last post about one of his teachers going without anesthetic for a minor surgery using the breathing techniques of meditation instead, which is a great example of how to use breathing techniques to alleviate pain. However, not everyone can do this even if they are an experienced meditator so I don't think someone is less of a Buddhist if they choose a general anesthetic. Of course there is a limit to that ability such as if someone needs open heart surgery but if it can help reduce aches and pains as well as even some minor outpatient surgeries then all the better.

That said, sometimes pain medication is necessary and I don't see it as violating the precepts when it is needed as prescribed by a doctor. Of course taking pain medication when not needed becomes the source of pain rather than alleviating it because it creates addiction and eventually can lead to loss of hearing (amongst other suffering) as seen in the American conservative radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh.

Science and Buddhism can complement each other in many areas if we are willing to look for them and embrace the idea that both play integral roles in our lives. I personally would feel completely lost without Buddhism and meditation. In addition, without science I probably wouldn't be alive today to be able to learn what I have through Buddhism and thus make more progress along the middle-path in this precious human life. Buddhism is teaching science that many spiritual techniques and activities are beneficial and not just some made up nonsense.

Of course there are going to be differences to both schools of thought but if we can focus on what we have in common then I think both sides can reduce the ill-will toward the other, which is a good thing in my view. The less ill-will in this world the better.

PHOTO: Zazen hands. Elheiji (Eiheiji) Zen Monastery, Japan.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Mental Illness: Meditation or Medication? Often, Both.

This is a long post but an important one because it touches on an issue--mental illnes, which some in spiritual circles choose to ignore. As many of you know I have been living with schizoaffective disorder for most of my life and have found great refuge, relief of symptoms and calm from Buddhism and meditation in particular. Of course, we all are "mentally ill" or else we wouldn't be here in samsara but some have severe, biological mental illnesses and require a hybrid approach of therapies and practices.

I notice that the more I meditate the easier it is to deal with my condition. Yet meditation alone isn't enough in my situation because despite meditating I still am debilitated by disabling symptoms such as paranoia, hallucinations, delusions (psychiatric delusions such as being convinced that you are the most horrible person on Earth), mood swings and chronic depression.

Thus I have found medications help fill the void and basically keep me alive because my depressive episodes easily lead to suicidal thoughts. I have found an excellent psychiatrist who has found a great balance of medications to keep myself as stable as can be expected outside finding a cure to the disease. In addition I talk regularly with a psychotherapist to help me keep track of my mood swings and give me tips on how to better manage my illness through establishing routines and developing other techniques. So I was excited when I read an excellent article in the current Buddhadharma magazine that arrived in my mailbox today about this very subject:

When Buddhism first came to the West, many teachers and practitioners initially dismissed psychotherapy as superficial, unnecessary and possibly counterproductive. As time went on...psychotherapy's relationship to spiritual practice started to undergo a reevaluation, and the two disciplines began to intermingle a bit more. In fact, many therapists and meditation teachers now agree that meditation and psychotherapy can be mutually facilitating. Meditators seem to progress more quickly in theraphy, while psychotherapy can improve the effectiveness of their meditation.
James: I am one of those meditators who have progressed more quickly in therapy thanks in part to my meditation practice. In fact, when I come into therapy and am having a difficult time with my mental illness she always asks if I'm meditating and the answer is often, "no." So in a lot of ways my meditation practice is a type of medication though I still do have episodes despite meditating. When I meditate on a regular basis it takes some of the severity out of my symptoms. That said, while meditation is very effective it isn't the entire solution and I think we Buddhists must admit that meditation isn't the solution to everthing--especially when medical issues are involved. It is true that meditation has been shown to reduce blood pressure, induce relaxation and other health benefits but it can not solve severe, biological mental illness symptoms in total.
Combining meditation and psychotherapy makes sense if we appreciate how they work in complementary ways. For the most part, meditation focuses primarily on developing capacities such as concentration and awareness, whereas psyschotherpay focuses primarily on changing the objects of awareness, such as emotions and beliefs. Of course there are significant overlaps, but this complimentarity suggests why combining both approaches can be very helpful. Meditative qualities can facilitate psychotherapeutic healing of painful patterns, while the psychotherapeutic healing of these painful patterns can reduce the disruption of spiritual practice.
James: Medication has toned down the volume of distracting stimuli in my head such as the hallucinations and calmed my nerves to enable me the opportunity to actually be able to practice. Before medications I wouldn't have had the patience to meditate due to manic episodes that kept my thoughts racing too fast to have the concentration needed to sit even for a few minutes. It's like trying to do meditation effectively after drinking four pots of coffee in an hour. Either that or I'd be so depressed that I couldn't get out of bed let alone have the motivation and intention to meditate.

So the medication has lowered the volume and reduced the static in my brain to put me in a position where meditation is actually even an option and be able to not just do it but find great benefit from it. I was drowning without medication and the water was up to my mouth and nose so the medications have drained the water down to my chest level. So while it's difficult to walk through chest deep water at least I can now (for the most part) breath comfortably, which gives me the freedom to meditate and have the ability to make progress upon the path that otherwise would be basically impossible. When it comes to using medication in combination with a Buddhist practice there are basically too camps according to the author of this article. First, the purists and second the pragmatists (I fall into pragmatist category):
Spiritual purists argue that if mental suffering is fundamentally spiritual and karmic, spiritual practice alone is appropriate to treat it. Moreover they are concerned that medication may dull or derail spiritual practice. They also worry that medications may reduce or distort awareness, and thereby make practice more difficult. In this view, medications can be novel forms of the "mind clouding intoxicants" prohibited by the lay precepts to which many Buddhists practitioners adhere. Therefore, taking these modern pharmacological agents is tantamount to violating this precept.
James: Let me say that I have found personally (and I've read that this is the case for many others) that my medications do the opposite of "dull or derail spiritual practice," "reduce or distort awarness." Without them I was so depressed, mislead by hallucinations (voices) and detached by dissociation that I was a nihilist believing in nothing and wanting the world to explode to end everyone's misery. At least that's what I thought at the time in my deluded mind.

It wasn't until I started to lower the static in my head through medications that I saw the benefits of spirituality and sought out Buddhism. Before then my mind was clogged and preoccupied with constant mental torment and anguish. It simply didn't have the stability at the time for a spiritual practice. Thus is was before medications that I had a dulled spiritual practice--not after. The medications increased my awareness of reality rather than dull it as they helped sharpen my concentration, focus and attention (I have Attention Deficit Disorder as well) to enable me to actually have a chance at understanding concepts like mindfulness. I know for certain that I'd be spiritual lost still without the addition of medication to give me a somewhat stable mind to build a spiritual foundation upon.
By contrast, pragmatists hold that spiritual practice alone is simply insufficient, or at least not optimal, for healing all mental suffering. While not denying the validity of some purist concerns, pragmatists argue that certain problems and pathologies respond best to other therapies, and one of those therapies can be medication.
James: Buddhism can indeed be more than enough for the regular depression and anxiety that occur with living in samsara. However, those diagnosed with a severe biological mental illness that involves chemical imbalances within the brain need the additional help that comes with proper medication and therapeutic monitoring. It can be very dangerous and irresponsible to prevent someone with severe deperssion from seeking psychiatric help because suicide is a very real threat and should never, EVER be ignored or blown off.

People with a severe mental illness who do not seek medication are usually playing with a loaded gun that could very easily go off in the form of suicide. Some people can get by with herbal supplements and vitamins but most people with severe mental troubles need stronger medicine. I tried the "natural route" and it didn't even cut the symptoms much at all.

The author who is a professor of psychiatry (and a Buddhist) did a study with Buddhist practitioners with suffer from mental illness: Our team of researchers, all physicians and long-term meditators, investigated a group of nineteen Buddhist practioneers (thirteen women and six men) diagnosed with major depression. These practioneers had all been doing meditation, mainly vipassana, for at least three years, had participated in two or more weeklong retreats, and had used antidepressants in the last two years.
Most of our subjects reported that antidepressants helped them with multiple emotional, motivational, and cognitive functions. Emotional changes were consistent with an antidepressant effect. The painful emotions of anger and sadness decreased significantly, but fear showed a smaller response. The positive emotions of happiness, joy, love, and compassion all increased, as did self-esteem. Subjects also felt calmer and that their awareness was clearer. One would expect this kind of result, given that the subjects were no longer wrestling with intense, painful emotions.

Clearly the large majority of these meditators felt that they, and their spiritual practitice, benefited significantly from taking antidepressants. Several subjects reported that the antidepressants enabled them to recommence or significantly improve their meditation and spiritual practice.
James: So while there still is no cure for schizoaffective disorder and while I still suffer from hallucinations, paranoia, bipolar, etc., the medications have given me my life back to where I can pursue things like spritituality. It has allowed me sharpen my awareness of reality and this life whereas before I was living in a kind of fog and everything was out of focus. So I can attest to the benefits of psychotherapy and medications. Thus, when added with meditation and other Buddhist practices it forms a powerful combination that has helped me greatly.

It's time that we realize that interdepenence includes science helping spirituality and spirituality helping science. The two working together can accomplish great things and don't necessarily have to be at odds. Sure there are some tensions between the two groups but there are areas where they fit perfectly and accent each other to benefit a great many people.

~Peace to all beings~

Stumble Upon Toolbar

ShareThis Option