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Friday, February 18, 2011

Arizona Bans Karma--Seriously.

Since the dark days of the attacks on America by radical, Islamic terrorists on September 11th 2001, there has been a growing intolerance here for non-Judeo-Christian religions. This has, unfortunately, been mostly aimed at the American-Muslim community in a misguided attempt to combat radical Islam.

Unfortunately, there are numerous people in America who can't seem to make a distinction between an Islamic terrorist and an Islamic moderate practicing their religion freely as allowed under the American Constitution. But I digress. One of the targets of the this fear of anything Islamic has come in the form of a wide-spread paranoia of Sharia law.

In brief, Sharia law is law based on the Islamic holy book, the Qur'an (koran). The Islamophobia is so rampant in America these days that states have taken to banning Sharia law in a preemptive move to prevent such law from taking root. This is occurring despite no movement to impose or establish Sharia law in America. The silliness of it all is that such moves by these states are a waste of time since the American Constitution supersedes any other form of law within America!!

But the politicians of Arizona didn't stop there. They wanted to make sure ALL non-Christian religious beliefs would have no influence in Arizona state law. This included banning karma, which I didn't even know was possible considering karma is basically the idea of, "cause and effect" or causality. So, in one sense, by banning karma, these politicians are essentially trying to ban the scientific law of cause and effect. They seriously banned karma within the state of Arizona, which for a Buddhist is all rather odd considering karma isn't really a form of law to base a government around, but rather a natural consequence of our actions. I'm not angry or offended by their attempt to ban karma but I am certainly amused by it all!! It makes me laugh because banning karma is like banning gravity.

However, what I do take seriously is the generalized intolerance of anything that's not Christian or of Anglo-Saxon cultural origin. The last thing we need in this already complicated world of suffering is additional reasons to divide ourselves and fuel hatred. It truly makes my heart ache to see such narrow-minded thinking in my country, which has often been the example of tolerance in the world.

~Peace to all beings~

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Buddhism and Valentines Day.

This year the average American will spend $116 on Valentine's Day, which is a holiday in honor of love. In years past, I have boycotted Valentine's Day because of it's commercialism but this year I have decided to focus on the love aspect while discarding the consumerism that clouds this day dedicated to love. In honor of the true meaning of love, I would like to share several quotes from Buddhist thinkers on the subject. First, it is important to understand what true love is about.

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that true love, is love that is given freely and unconditionally without expecting reward in return. Love that hinges upon the other person doing everything we like or want of them is not true love, but rather based on attachment, conditions and control.

But, one can not discuss love and Buddhism without mentioning the Metta Sutta or Sutra, which is claimed to have been spoken by Buddha, himself. I am not going to quote the full sutra here, but if you want to read it in its entirely, then click here:

Let none deceive another, Or despise any being in any state. Let none through anger or ill-will wish harm upon another. Even as a mother protects with her life, her child, her only child, so with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings: radiating kindness over the entire world spreading upwards to the skies, and downwards to the depths; outwards and unbounded, freed from hatred and ill-will. Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down, free from drowsiness, one should sustain this recollection. This is said to be the sublime abiding. By not holding to fixed views, the pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision, being freed from all sense desires, is not born again into this world.
Many people today look to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for inspiration and wisdom. So, I added a quote from him on the matter of love, it's importance and power:
If there is love, there is hope that one may have real families, real brotherhood, real equanimity, real peace. If the love within your mind is lost and you see other beings as enemies, then no matter how much knowledge or education or material comfort you have, only suffering and confusion will ensue" -His Holiness the Dalai Lama from 'The little book of Buddhism'
It is my hope that you find love today and always. If you do not feel love from others then perhaps it's first important to focus upon loving yourself. It's hard to accept or believe true love when it presents itself to us if we don't accept that we deserve to be loved. And, I want all who read this to know that I deeply love you and care about you all; and hope that this day and many others will find you filled with that love as well.

You are not alone--imagine the world-wide sangha all coming together to acknowledge your worth and importance with a collective hug; feel the compassion and acceptance coursing from our hearts and veins into yours. But, don't forget to pass that love on to someone else!! May you we all soon be free from selfishness, hatred and self-loathing. These are all delusions that keep us from feeling the ever present love that is essential to a life without suffering in this universe.

~Peace to all beings~

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Interview with an American Buddhist Soldier Serving in Afghanistan. Part II.

And, now, the second half of my inteview with American Buddhist Lieutenant Hunnewell who is currently serving in the U.S. military in the war in Afghanistan (to read the first half of the interview, click on this sentence):

4). How do your other soldiers feel about your Buddhist practice?


On occasion I will receive questions about what the Buddhist practice entails and am increasingly receiving questions pertaining to the subjects of meditation and mindfulness. The Army is educating Soldiers more and more about the practice of meditation in order to assist Soldiers with the stressors of combat.

5). What tradition of Buddhism do you practice. Or, do you practice your own version?
I practice in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition and am looking to join a sangha upon return home that follow the practices of Plum Village and Thich Nhat Han.

And, lastly...

6). Is there anything special that we in the Buddhist community can do to help the soldiers, and you in particular? Are they things we could send you to help you practice your faith? Or, any personal items that would improve your time there? Any books?

The Buddhist community could assist with the creation of a Buddhist Field Guide for members of the military which is being created in conjunction with a Buddhist Chaplain from the Navy. The information can be found on www.buddhistmilitarysangha.blogspot.com.

I have an amazing support network with consistent care packages from my wife, who continues to mail me packages even though she is a little over eight months pregnant. We are expecting our first child. I am very much interested in reading the following works from Thich Nhat Han “Savior”, “Chanting From the Heart: Buddhist Ceremonies and Daily Practices”, and “Being Peace”.

PHOTO CREDIT: Ancient Buddha statue in Afghanistan.

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Interview with an American Buddhist Soldier Serving in Afghanistan.

(Above: 1st Lt. Stephen J. Hunnewell)

Recently I was given the opportunity and honor to interview Buddhist Soldier and two-time Bronze Star Medal recipient, 1st Lt. Stephen J. Hunnewell, who is currently serving with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. I just first want to say how wonderful it is to know that there are Buddhists in the military. It is my hope that the calming teachings of Buddhism are helping the soldier deal with the stresses of combat.

I was humbled to be able to interview such a unique and courageous individual. As a Buddhist, I find war a particularly vicious extension of suffering that causes deeps wounds of the spirit and body. Yet, I am also a realist and understand that sometimes such abhorrent measures are unfortunately necessary to protect the innocent and maintain a semblence of humanity. Otherwise, the merchants of endless suffering pour forth rivers of blood that is unabated. That is an ugly picture to paint, to be sure. However, it is necessary that we Buddhist realize that we don't live in a Utopian world. It would be nice to believe that ending war on Earth is possible but, so long as there is attachment to power, greed and hatred, it will exist.

This doesn't mean that we shouldn't do everything in our power to reduce violence, war and bloodshed. We can also pressure our leaders to ensure that we will only go to war when all other methods of settling disputes has been thoroughly exhausted. It also means that we conduct war in a way that lessens innocent casualties and utilizes non-violent methods to bring an end to hostilities. Lieutenant Hunnewell is engaged in such non-violent projects within the Afghanistan war-zone and we are thankful for his sacrifice, work and inspiration.
As a Civil Affairs Team Leader, Hunnewell is responsible for overseeing a three Soldier team whose primary objective is to advise local Afghan officials on the implementation of productive governance processes and assist them in forming meaningful connections with the local population and ensuring they are properly serving the citizens which they represent.
So, now that you know his role better; lets proceed to the interview, shall we?

1). How do you maintain your Buddhist practice while out in the field?

I make a concerted effort each day to take some personal time for reflection and meditation. I am lucky in that where I live now I have my own personal space, wood walls separate myself and other Soldiers, and I am able to meditate whenever I am at the Combat Outpost. I spent the majority of this deployment living amongst the Afghan people and when I was living with them I usually woke-up before dawn, sat outside, and centered myself.

2). There are so many great and historic Buddhist sites in Afghanistan. How do you feel about the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban in Afghanistan?

The destruction the Bamiyan Buddhas is not only a great loss to Buddhists, but to all humanity. The sites were works of art and pieces of history which we have all been robbed of. Currently, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) is assisting the Chinese government in excavating the ancient site of Meys Aynak in Logar province.

3). How has your Buddhist practice helped you reach out to the Afghan people and communicate with them on the same level?

With regards to the reintegration process and conducting negotiations and mediations my practice has helped me tremendously. A short story; I was conducting a civic negotiation with local farmers in the Pech Valley, Kunar province, which is the most violent area in eastern Afghanistan and where the majority of my accumulated 18 months of service in Afghanistan has been spent. I was accompanied by a representative from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). We were assisting GIRoA officials in engaging local farmers in order to educate them on diversifying their crops to produce more nutrient dense feed for themselves and their animals as well as to deny the insurgents fields to hide and stage ambushes in. The farmers were very stubborn and would not listen to the government officials or the USDA representative and I.

I continued to engage in calm negotiations and eventually the farmers were convinced that diversifying the crops was not only good for them and their animals but also in the best interest of the coalition forces (CF) and the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). The representative from the USDA then said to me, “Wow! You have a tremendous amount of patience with these people.”

I feel that my practice helps me to enter a situation with a beginners mind. I try to see the world from their view and not bring in preconceived notions. How would an Idaho potato farmer react to someone trying to tell them to grow blueberries? The people of the valley have grown corn for thousands of years and it had worked for them, why change? The operation, which was dubbed “Operation Crop Diversification”, resulted in over 1000 farmers in the valley diversifying their crops with the help of government subsistence and no attacks from the fields on both CF and ANSF.

Furthermore, I have engaged with insurgent leaders within days of being personally attacked by their troops and possibly themselves. A few of the incidents resulted in serious injuries and the loss of life, which harmed me as well. But I would continue to engage them in civil discourse in order to give hope to the reintegration process. Many times groups and individuals have been fighting due to a feeling of being wronged and many times they only want to have their grievances heard...

(...to be continued tomorrow).

~Peace to all beings~

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