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Friday, April 24, 2009

Born Again Buddhists.

Heard this joke today,

"What did the Buddhist say to the Born-Again Christian missionary?"

"No Thanks. I've been born again many times!!"

O.k. so that's a bad joke but at least I got you to stop thinking about your worries for a moment.

Moving on, I was reading that FOX News here in America (known for its conservative, Christian slant) will be interviewing the Dalai Lama. The news channel is asking their viewers to come up with some of the questions to be asked of the Buddhist monk. So I was scanning some of the questions posted on their website--some are serious, some ridiculous like, "Who will win the American League baseball championship?" I think that person thinks the Dalai Lama is some kind of fortune teller.

Then there was this one, "Can I share with you the Gospel of Jesus Christ?" As if the Dalai Lama hasn't heard it before. I am convinced that this well-read, well-traveled, highly intelligent, Dalai Lama who has been apart of countless inter-faith forums knows well the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And I am sure that he finds much good in it and finds a lot of agreement in the teachings of Jesus. And he would probably listen to someone explain it to him again with a smile and a nod or two. He is very polite and understanding of people much more so than most of us including myself.

That said, I have found that many (not all) Christians think that the only reason that people aren't Christian is because they haven't heard "the gospel." These Christians (not all by any means) can't imagine that a person can have a happy, spiritually fulfilling life without the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Surely once they hear "the gospel" (these Christians think) they will drop Buddhism and become Christian and those who don't are dismissed as "not truly understanding" the gospel of Jesus. That or they say that we "know it to be true" but we reject it to try and thwart the plan of "God."

They can't fathom someone understanding "the gospel" and then saying, "No, I think I'll stick with Buddhism." To them it's like someone being handed a diamond and saying, "No thanks." The problem is that they are blinded by duality and can't see that Buddhism has its own diamond to cherish. They don't realize that for us, Christianity is but one diamond in a fisherman's net (Indra's net) of diamonds sown in at each knot in the net. All the diamonds are beautiful and just because the diamond you know is gorgeous doesn't mean that the diamond I know isn't.

Can't we just enjoy the diamonds instead of arguing over whose diamond is brighter? I'm not saying that all religions are the same but they all (or most at least) have the same roots in believing that we are apart of something bigger than ourselves. I can rejoice for the peace and joy that Christians find in their religion without it taking anything away from my own branch in the universal path of peace and love. May all awake from the great slumber.

Joseph Campbell said, "All religions are true. You just have to understand what they are true of."

~Peace to all beings~

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

How do You Know it's Bad to be Dead?

Flow with whatever may happen
and let your mind be free;
Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing.
This is the ultimate.

-ZhuangZi or Chuang Tsu

Chuang Tsu or Zhuangzi was a Chinese philosopher who is seen by some to be the heir to the founder of Taoism, Laozi (Lao Tsu). However, some argue that Zhuangzi was the first Taoist who simply invented Laozi so that he could write the Tao Te Ching annoymously. He was a contemporary of Plato and though his teachings are less known than those found in the Tao Te Ching he is well known and revered within Asia.

One of the things that Zhuangzi taught was a form of relativism where:

"Our language and cognition in general presuppose a dao [or tao, path] to which each of us is committed by our separate past—our paths. Consequently, we should be aware that our most carefully considered conclusions might seem misguided had we experienced a different past. Natural dispositions to behavior combine with acquired ones—including dispositions to use names of things, to approve/disapprove based on those names and to act in accordance to the embodied standards. Thinking about and choosing our next step down our dao or path is conditioned by this unique set of natural acquisitions."

James: In Buddhism we are conditioned by our karma to see things as realitive to how it effects us personally. This we know of course as duality--us vs. them. We label things as good or bad but doing so doesn't necessarily make those people/objects/events as "good or bad." We often ask each other, "How was your day?" and we usually in one way or another say, good or bad. However, our day isn't a "good" or "bad" one no matter what happens, however, our perception of that day might be seen to our conditioned mind as "good" or "bad" based on how far it went to fulfill our desires. It's not a good or bad day but simply--a day. An example Zhuangzi gives is of death--As the story goes:
In the fourth section of "The Great Happiness" (至樂 zhìlè, chapter 18), Zhuangzi expresses pity to a skull he sees lying at the side of the road. Zhuangzi laments that the skull is now dead, but the skull retorts, "How do you know it's bad to be dead?"
Another example about two famous courtesans points out that there is no universally objective standard for beauty. This is taken from Chapter 2 (齊物論 qí wù lùn) "On Arranging Things", or "Discussion of Setting Things Right" or, in Burton Watson's translation, "Discussion on Making All Things Equal".

Men claim that Mao [Qiang] and Lady Li were beautiful, but if fish saw them they would dive to the bottom of the stream; if birds saw them they would fly away, and if deer saw them they would break into a run. Of these four, who knows how to fix the standard of beauty in the world? (2, tr. Watson 1968:46)

James: I found this last quote while researching this post and thought it was a nice wrap-up to this discussion--especially as it relates to Buddhism:
The Buddhist view of the universe resembles the view developed by 20th-century physics. Except for the mental categories we impose upon experience, we find nothing in experience that is immutable. There is no constant but our own misconceptions. Every "thing" is actually a process--it arises, develops, flourishes, declines, and dissipates. All nouns are still-photos from the movie of life--which is made up of verbs.

All that we see around and inside us is the result of trillions of simultaneous processes, arising and declining in different overlapping stages at once. All that appears solid in this cosmos is in reality a shimmering dance of energy in flux. But where physics leaves us adrift like meaningless specks in an incomprehensible void, Buddhism envisions a reality beyond meaning and meaninglessness, beyond knowing, beyond self, beyond duality, beyond suffering--a dance of all things, in which we can become enlightened, interconnected, and compassionate dancers.
PHOTO CREDIT: Click here.

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Buddhist Community Outraged Over Demon Beating Incident.

Both parents of a 3-year-old southwest Harris County boy beat him with bamboo sticks and poked his feet with chopsticks in a violent attempt to remove demons from his body, a prosecutor said Tuesday in a court hearing. Assistant Harris County District Attorney Darin Darby, citing a witness statement from the boy’s 6-year-old sister, on Tuesday presented new details of the attack on Saturday to state District Judge Debbie Mantooth Stricklin in the case against Phung Tran, 36.

She and her husband, Jacky Tran, 35, are charged with injury to a child with serious bodily injury, a first-degree felony. He was arrested on Saturday. His wife was charged on Monday. Both face up to life in prison if convicted. Prosecutors say the parents, Buddhists and vegetarians, believed demons entered the boy through meat he ate.

HOUSTON – Houston’s Vietnamese and Buddhist communities are outraged over what they claim is a distortion of their religious beliefs. "We don't want to be looked upon as sharing the same kind of beliefs and actions as that man. Everybody condemns that action," Vu Thanh Thuy of Radio Saigon Houston said.

The Vietnam Buddhist Center in Sugar Land also condemns Tran’s actions. They wanted to make it clear that Buddhism does not teach anything about removing demons, especially at the painful expense of another human’s life. "I think he has a problem with his mind. I don't think it has got anything to do with religion," Lien Tu of the Vietnam Buddhist Center said. In fact, the major landmark at the Vietnam Buddhist Center is a 720-foot tall statue of the Bodhi Safa. In Buddhism, this is the goddess of peace and mercy, which is the opposite of the religious claims being made in the case of Jacky Tran.

The communities want to send the message that Buddhism is about alleviating suffering, not causing it, especially when it comes to a helpless 3-year-old boy.

James: It is my view that demons aren't real and that they are better understood as parts of our illusory self. In other words we all have Buddha nature but demon nature as well. Buddha taught us that we must take ownership of our ill fortunes and realize we are our own saviors and demons. We must take responsibility for our actions and problems--not conveniently shift the blame onto some invented bogeyman.

"By oneself, indeed, is evil done; by oneself is one defiled. By oneself is evil left undone; by oneself, indeed, is one purified. Purity and impurity depend on oneself. No one purifies another." (Dhammapada, chapter 12, verse 165).

I've said this before but personally I find belief in demons to be dangerous as people can justify just about anything in the name of fighting an amorphous, unverifiable "demon." Such beliefs can too easily lead to placing our focus and attention outside of ourselves and allow us to blame our weaknesses, mistakes and problems on this idea of demons, which in many ways has become a scapegoat for a rampant ego. Now, I'm not saying that believing in demons always leads to this kind of behavior and if you believe demons are real and beneficial to your practice and are otherwise a very peaceful, non-violent, reasonable being than I have no quarrel with you.

As for this particular case we can clearly see that they are not practicing Buddhism but rather a very perverted, twisted and deranged immitation. In the first place vegetarianism isn't mandatory in Buddhism but second I want to know where the 3 year old got meat from if the parents were vegetarian? The main thing that I wanted to underline with this post is that Buddhism does NOT teach violence and is often seen as the most peaceful religion on Earth today. Of course there will be wackos who do this kind of stuff and try to call themselves Buddhists but that does not take away from the underlying message of Buddhism, which is peace, non-violence, love, respect and kindness.

---End of Transmission---

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Importance of Buddhist Relics

For better or for worse I am not one for superstitions and since becoming a Buddhist 7 years ago I have often been baffled by the Buddhist relics, which every temple from Nepal to Japan seem to have enshrined. There is much superstition associated with these relics. The ones that grab the attention of this skeptic the most are the ones claiming to be remnants from the body of Buddha. First of all how does anyone know that a tiny piece of bone or tooth is that of Shakyamuni Buddha Siddharta Gautama? I guess people just want to believe that they are from his body and that seeing them gives them some kind of blessing.

However, It seems strange to me that some followers of Buddhism would place such attachment to pieces of bone or tooth that may or may not be from Buddha when Buddha taught not to attach to material things. Some believe that being near one of these relics is like being with Buddha as if he were still with us. Yet is that not attaching to Buddha the man, Buddha as seen through the idea that he had a self--a separate identity from us and everything else?

Would it not be just as effective to look at our own teeth as all is Buddha--as we are all one? Is not the essence of Buddha always with us--in fact, within us regardless of whether or not his tooth is resting in some far off temple? Do we really need a material object to convince us of the importance of Buddha and his message? Buddha taught of the impermanence of all things and yet despite this teaching some Buddhists don't seem to want to let go of the Buddha's "body."

I can understand their benefit from a philosophical and cultural point of view. As well as if they inspire a person to live up to the example of Buddha and his disciples and the example of deceased teachers. However, I don't believe the idea that many (not all) Buddhists adhere to that these relics have special powers or can reduce less skillful karma simply by looking upon them. In one exhibit people could receive "blessings" when the relics where placed upon their heads.

This idea that relics can transfer blessings to keep someone from dying or to help a business succeed seems a bit theistic. In that I mean it places Buddha (and notable teachers) in the position of a Savior as in the monotheistic religions. Yet we know that Buddha was not a Savior like Jesus but a man--True, an enlightened man but not a being who can save us from our own karma. Buddha did not even want images of him made let alone want people to basically worship his tooth!!

~Peace to all beings~

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