Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Promoting Buddhism through Culture and the Arts - Why Beauty Matters

From  New Lotus,  hat tip Buddhist Art News

"The experience of art often fulfills yearnings similar to the inspiration offered by religion. One more profound relationship between art and religion has historically been how it acts as a vehicle for expressing religious teachings. The worldly appreciation of cultural beauty is infused with a sincere belief that the aesthetic of religious art is not for its own sake, but to transmit ultimate truths.

After the Second World War, the global diaspora of Buddhist traditions meant that the religion itself became marketable as a new, exotic, and enlightened culture. The diffusion of Tibetan Buddhism and Japanese Zen through the West was as much due to Western interest in Tibetan and Japanese culture as much as Japanese and Tibetan religion. 

The New York-based avant-garde movement was heavily influenced by Japanese Zen ideas, and on January 12, 1951, Saburo Hasegawa wrote to Isamu Noguchi, proclaiming, 'What used to be done by Religion has to be done alone by Art.' Faith in religious institutions was at one of its lowest ever points, and the God is dead paradigm so touted by Nietzsche seemed to open the way for a human flourishing based on making meaning through culture and art - without religion.

Hasegawa's proclamation proved premature, and the world moved on from the post-war consensus to a post-2008 uncertainty about many things we took for granted. However, the mystifying connection between art and religion has not lost its allure. In the 21st century, the Buddhist teachings are now instantly accessible anywhere in the developed world, and this has meant a loss of mystique and remoteness. 

Buddhist studies are available in many universities and colleges, and some teachers have attained the status of minor celebrities in popular culture, such as Thich Nhat Hanh or Matthieu Ricard. We have approached a stage where religious seekers are no longer interested in accepting just one side of the story. We all hunger, justifiably, for a more complete picture about Buddhism.

Hasegawa was incorrect not because art cannot inspire, but because he asserted that it could fulfill the yearnings of humanity without any reference to religion. But Lee Mei Yin, Vice Chairman for Friends of Dunhuang Hong Kong, was correct when she told me in a casual conversation that it is through the arts and culture that Buddhism finds its most effective vehicle of transmission. 

Buddhism has touched and informed so much that would seem unrelated, from the fabrics of Tang-era bridal attire to breathtaking sculptures, architecture, and literary genres. We cannot disseminate Buddhist teachings in isolation from the civilizations in which they were developed.

Mrs. Lee was not simply speaking as a representative of a cultural heritage charity. Human society itself was traditionally always a vehicle for sharing the Dharma. Modern Buddhist leaders and writers are learning to co-opt and assimilate the promotion of cultural awareness into the calling of Buddhist dissemination, and in our 2600-year history, this can only be a thing to be encouraged" 

From Why Beauty Matters - Roger Scruton

"...Scruton believes that all great art has a 'spiritual' dimension, even if it is not overtly religious. It is this transcendence of the mundane that we recognise as 'beauty'.

A path out of the spiritual desert.
In Buddhist terminology we would say that true art, even when it reflects samsara (the realms of chaos, addiction, squalor and suffering), shows that there is a path out, and often acts as signposts along the path. However most of modern art merely reflects, and often wallows in squalor, without acknowledging any possibility that there may be other states of existence. It has turned its back on beauty and wanders aimlessly in a spiritual desert.

Tantra and art
We could go further and say that great art is a 'tantric' practice in its widest sense, where tantra is the mental transformation of the ordinary environment to the environment of a spiritual being. Scruton emphasised this aspect in the transformation of lust (attachment) into Platonic love, where the energy of carnal desire is channelled into spiritual objectives..."

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Why Beauty Matters - Spiritual Art versus the Cult of Ugliness

Alchemical Symbolism, Imagery and Visualizations in Tantric Buddhism

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Monday, 27 May 2013

Nalanda: Can India Revive An Ancient Buddhist University A Thousand Years After Its Destruction?

Nalanda Ruins (Wiki)

From International Business Times                      

By Palash Ghosh

"India’s Nalanda University is accepting students – almost a millennium after it was destroyed by Muslim invaders. Renowned during the first millennium of the Christian period as one of the world’s top centers of learning well before Oxford, Cambridge and Bologna universities were even established, Nalanda, in the northeastern Indian state of Bihar, is seeking a miraculous second life, partially due to the efforts of Nobel Prize-winning Indian economist Amartya Sen, and other educators and statesmen.

The new Nalanda International University wants to attract top students and faculty from around the world in an attempt to restore the glories and grandeur of the “old” Nalanda, a Buddhist institution that drew scholars from across Asia and even as far away as Greece, prior to its destruction by Afghan Muslim invaders in 1193. According to legends, the school’s library was so vast that it took three days to burn [see #20 'Jahiliyya'].

In a message on the new school’s website, Sen noted that when the oldest university in Europe, the University of Bologna in Italy, was established in 1088, Nalanda had already been in existence for six centuries. At its peak, Nalanda had some 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers. It may have been the first educational institution to have its own residential dormitories.

Xuanzang, a seventh century Chinese monk, wrote extensively about Nalanda, including a description of its nine-story library. "Xuanzang was looking to study with the people who knew the [Buddhist] texts best. Nalanda was already reaching the heights of its power and prestige. It was known in Korea and Japan - its reputation had spread through the Asian trade routes," said Mishi Saran, an Indian author now based in Shanghai.

"When Xuanzang was at Nalanda, it was a vibrant place, packed with scholars, with seminars, teaching and debate. It was a kind of Buddhist ‘Ivy League’ institution -- all the deepest ideas about Buddhism were explored and dissected at Nalanda...”   Read the rest here

I just hope they've got good security. Having destroyed it once, the terrorists aren't going to be happy to see it rebuilt, and it's likely to be an iconic target.   Terrorists are already expected to attack Buddhism's holiest site at Bodh Gaya.   Maybe the university ought to hire those martial arts monks from Bodu Bala Sena and the 969 Movement as security guards.

See   No future for Buddhism in an Islamized World

"Change and decay in all around I see..."

From Lankaweb  

Ill-digested science and garbled Buddhist metaphysics
- R Chandrasoma

"In the world of physical knowledge an overarching law is that called the Second Law of Thermodynamics (The Law of Increasing Entropy) which says that in a closed physical system, disorder or chaoticity alone can increase with the passage of time. Any overall initial organization can only weaken as the system ages. Note the important caveat – given by the words ‘overall’ and ‘closed’. Within a closed system there can be subsystems that are anti-entropic – in which order increases at the expense of the general trend of disorder in the system as a whole. Life – and living systems – are oases of ant-entropic complexity in a physical universe that is running down. Indeed, this is the striking fact – that life (and complexity in general) has prevailed in a universe governed by physical laws that do not give any hint of this potential. The rise of complexity and organization in a universe governed by physical laws that predict the very opposite is the central mystery of the universe as we know it. To suggest (as does Prof. Suwanda H J Sugunasiri in a recent contribution to LankaWeb) that perishibility and decay constitute the essence that unites science and religion is a misdirection in both areas of knowledge. Let us note, first, that religion and science are ‘non-overlapping magisteria’ and the concepts of the one are not readily transferable to the other. Thus, the three cardinal attributes of all that exists are anicca, anatta and dukkha according to the grounding metaphysics of Buddhism. Of these, the first (anicca – the process or fluxional nature of all aspects of nature) and the second (anatta – the denial of enduring essences) can link with basic notions of science such as system dynamicity and integration – but dukkha is a purely religious term and hinges upon the metaphysical reaction of a conscious agent to the inexorably fluxional nature of things and events. When the Buddha reflected sadly on the fact that ‘all component things are subject to decay’ he did not have in mind the Law of Increasing Entropy – he alluded to the fact that the Eternal must be Unchanging and final ‘release’ of a karmic being comes with the total cessation of the Birth-Death cycle that enslaves us. (Nirvana). This vision goes well beyond science and its understanding of the dynamics of change. The numinous is categorically different from the mundane.

Let me conclude with a few words about the metaphysics of decay that is hugely over-emphasized in ‘popular’ versions of Buddhism. It is true that we are finite beings living briefly and, perhaps, dying ingloriously. Yet there is burgeoning and beauty in nature that briefly defies the universal law of decay. A beautiful flower, a young prancing animal or a haunting melody bespeak of an aspect of nature that rises above the ugly reality of time and decay. Its brevity and transience does not diminish its importance as a glorious aspect of the puzzling reality in which we are trapped as mortal beings. This must be celebrated even when the metaphysics of sorrow seem to overwhelm us."

From The Zennist 

Buddhism distilled

"I hate to be the bearer of bad news but Gautama the Buddha put forth a substance theory or if you prefer a less challenging term, he puts forth an essence theory.  Incidentally, for me, this puts Buddhism into the realm of science insofar as the Buddha directly cognized a unique substance.  Let’s not forget what the broad definition of science is.  It is “knowledge or cognizance of something specified or implied” (O.E.D.). 

More specifically, such an awakening by Gautama whereby he became the Buddha was the cognizance of an all pervading substance which was not composed or asankhata/asamskrita, in contrast to the composed.  It also implies that the universe exists within a spiritual medium which is mind-like.  Even our most subtle thoughts occur within this enveloping medium, the substance or essence of which is only Mind (cittamatra).

About his ministry, to make a long story short, the Buddha tried to show composed things have no actual substance or essence.  They are empty and illusory.  More importantly, he taught that our psychophysical body is not the first-person or our authentic self, the self being the immediacy of substance which, in our unawakened human condition, we are unable to recognize.  Because of this, we are unable to distinguish our real self from our composed psychophysical condition which is the false self or anâtman.  This further leads to our rebirth into composed states where again we are unable to recognize our self in this encompassing deception.

In this context, the importance of meditation cannot be overstressed.  To put it simply, meditation, when accomplished, is the awakening to the universal substance that Gautama cognized.  The adept has passed through all fluctuations of mind to arrive at pure Mind itself which is irreducible.  At this arrival, one sees that Mind is free of suffering which has always been oneself.  One no longer blindly journeys (samsara), incomplete and ignorant (avidya) clinging to a false self which is composite."

Friday, 24 May 2013

Buddhist Nativity Ritual - Bathing the Infant Buddha

Bathing the Infant Buddha
 Karen Tang, 6, participates in the bathing of the Buddha ceremony, during the 2013 Guam Buddha Birthday Community Festival at the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple in Barrigada Heights.

From Guam Pacific Daily News

....For Buddhists, it's a time to remember the story of how Buddha gained enlightenment, and to reflect on what it might mean for individual Buddhists to move toward enlightenment.

The event began at the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple in Barrigada with offerings of gifts of incense, flowers, light and food to the Buddha.

The gift of incense, offered by the men, is a means to ask the Buddha to help achieve the clear mind and good karma needed to better be able to learn and understand the profound Dharma, according to chapter member Billy Wong.

The Dharma refers to the system of analysis taught by the Buddha regarding the causes of suffering and the necessary course of action needed to be taken to undo these causes...   Full Article

From New Lotus
"...I found myself wondering why the glorious Bodhisattva even needed us, mortal deluded beings that we are, to bathe his image. I’ve come to believe our bathing the Prince is a gesture of welcome, to invite the baby Bodhisattva into this suffering world and give thanks to him for coming. But it’s something more. In the Chinese tradition, laypeople are invited to communally participate in the Dharma Assembly of Bathing the Buddha. But in the Mahāyāna tradition, Śākyamuni is the unique Buddha of this world, with many more simultaneously in others. So Buddhists and people involved with Dharma communities are invited to make offerings to establish fruitful karmic conditions with infinite bodhisattvas. Worship, prayer, and devotion will empower us to beseech all Buddhas to aid them in the project of building peaceful communities of faith.

The meaning of bathing the image of the Buddha is multifaceted. We guarantee to cultivate our spiritual maturity. We vow to attain purity of body, speech, and mind in the three times of past, present, and future. In the Chinese tradition the vow is very ambitious: to be reborn life after life to help suffering beings until one becomes a bodhisattva and then a Buddha. This year in 2012, we welcome little Siddhartha Gautama into our world again. It might have been his last rebirth 2600 years ago, but I share the confidence of all Buddhists that he’ll always be with us, until all beings are freed from suffering. Is there a better friend, a more compassionate companion, than someone who made a vow eons ago to become one Buddha among many?

The least we could do is give him a refreshing welcome – just don’t presume to give the World-Honored One a bubble bath this May..."

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Buddhism won't be harmed by ex-drag queen ordaining as a monk

Ladyboys' convention

From The Nation May 18  

"Critics say that, by ordaining as a monk, a celebrity transvestite is using the religion for selfish reasons, but, like everyone else, he has the right to seek solace in the temple.

One key argument against the decision by a former Miss Tiffany to become a monk is that he may be doing so to escape personal problems or send someone a statement. In other words, he may not be seeking the kind of spiritual peace that those seeking ordination are supposed to. Religion, critics of Sorrawee "Jazz" Nattee say, is neither a hiding place nor a means of revenge.

Sorrawee, who never underwent gender reassignment, was quietly ordained recently after having his silicone breast implants removed, only for the fact to emerge as headline news in the Thai-language media.

The criticism levelled at him might have greater weight in a society where monks are not caught drunk or sleeping with women on a regular basis. The truth is that the Thai monkhood is far from being a pure sanctuary, and there are monks whose conduct deserves more scrutiny than Sorrawee's.

More truth is that Sorrawee is simply exercising his religious freedom. It is irrelevant that he was crowned Miss Tiffany in 2009, dressed in women's clothes. Buddhist history has examples of monks with more controversial backgrounds. Among them was one well-known Angulimala, a killer who was redeemed by his conversion to Buddhism.

Sorrawee had been frequenting temples before his decision. He also consulted many people before deciding to be ordained. It was clearly not a knee-jerk decision made in the heat of the moment. And even if it had been, why should we blame him? One way or another, people turn to religion because they believe they are facing problems that cannot be resolved in the lay world.

Some have predicted that Sorrawee's time in the monkhood will be short-lived - a quick in-and-out way of seeking religious solace. They say Sorrawee will be out of the monkhood in no time if the worldly situation that drove him there in the first place suddenly improves. Again, even if that turns out to be the case, religious freedom tells us that he has every right to try the spiritual peace of Buddhism. This religion is supposed to offer comfort during hard times and does not hold anyone in a firm grip. It's fine if you want to spend the rest of your life in a Buddhist sanctuary, but it's also fine if you just want to give it a try.

That women can only become "nuns", not monks, has been a focus of criticism where Buddhism is concerned. This must continue to be an issue that invokes constant debate and open-minded analyses. But by and large, Buddhism is generous, compassionate and encourages questioning.

Buddhism has not been free from exploitation. There have been sects or cults that preach that, the greater your religious donations - meaning money - the greater your chance of going to "Heaven". True students of Buddhism know within their hearts, however, that such teaching is not the religion's true essence.

If there are threats that might undermine Buddhism as Thailand's main religion, then they are represented by this kind of wayward teaching, not people like Sorrawee becoming monks. He, in the saffron robe, only represents the religion's openness and ability to offer peace and comfort. Whether he will "succeed" or "fail" will be of his own accord. No misguided "principles" will emerge to influence him while he is in the monkhood.

Despite the undeniable flaws of the Thai monkhood in general, Buddhism's real essence has been unwavering since the day the Lord Buddha proclaimed the religion. If Sorrawee really devotes himself to Buddhist study as a monk, he will find that many things that he takes as his are not really his. He will be able to look back at his time as Miss Tiffany with a new perspective. He will learn that the memory of it is part of his journey and is nothing to be ashamed of.

That is the charm of Buddhism. No matter who you are, where you come from or what you have done in the past, the door to the "try-out" room is always open, and you can check out any time if you don't like it. All you need is the sincere will to look inside."

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Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Swastika Festival Torchlight Parade Shock Horror!

Hitler Youth?

No, it's  Buddha's Birthday Celebration...

South Koreans celebrate Buddha's Birthday with a Lantern Procession

More Pix and article at the Vancouver Sun

Transcultural shock 

Isn't it strange how a particular symbol can produce an immediate gut reaction of horror and menace in Westerners (at least those of a certain age), and yet seem completely innocent to people of another culture?

The swastika has been an auspicious symbol in Buddhism for 2500 years, long before the Nazis appropriated it for their own evil purposes. But this hasn't stopped the European Union proposing to ban it, in a somewhat belated attempt to address the continent's problems of the 1930's, coupled with an arrogant display of EUrocentric cultural ignorance and control freakery.

Maybe it's time to rehabilitate the swastika, and reclaim it for its rightful owners, though I don't expect to see it displayed prominently on Western dharma centers anytime soon.  

This might raise some eyebrows in Tunbridge Wells

From the viewpoint of Buddhist philosophy, the Eurocrats' knee-jerk  swastikaphobia clearly shows how the mind projects attachment or aversion onto objects, which in themselves are neither intrinsically good nor bad.

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Clean your mind while cleaning your room: meditate while vacuuming!

From Electrolux, hat tip The Worst Horse


"Our quietest vacuum cleaner ever makes it possible to turn a routine household chore into a moment of calm. Train your brain while you are vacuuming with the first meditation program developed for vacuum cleaning."

Q:  Why can't a Bodhisattva vacuum under the sofa?
A:   Because she has no attachments.

Seriously though, this kind of housework meditation does have a long history in Buddhism...

Kelsang Gamo, aka Lam Chung, prepares the temple for the Vajrasattva empowerment

In Joyful Path of Good Fortune, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso tells the story of how Lam Chung, a novice monk, gained enlightenment by meditating while sweeping the temple.

Meditation Links

The webcrawler in your mind.

Daily Lamrim

How is your meditation going?

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Buddhism and Terrorism - Meditation on Memes

The Saints of Otranto

Yesterday Pope Francis canonized 800 victims of a religiously-motivated terrorist attack on Otranto, Italy.

This got me thinking about memes again.  Will the most aggressively violent memes inevitably destroy the gentler and more mystical ones by a process of ruthless natural selection, or can peaceful memes somehow inactivate their virulent competitors?

Meme expert Susan Blackmore has suggested that Zen meditation may be able to 'weed-out' these pathological memes.  

Here are some excerpts from her article  Meditation as Meme Weeding 

"...American philosopher Daniel Dennett has described the process as the ‘evolutionary algorithm’ – a simple mindless process that once the requisites are in place must happen. If you have heredity, variation and selection then you must get evolution or “Design out of Chaos without the aid of Mind” . It’s as simple as that.

What Dawkins explained, in The Selfish Gene, was that this process is not confined to our most familiar replicator, the gene, but must apply to any information that is copied with variation and selection. All around us, he said, still drifting clumsily about in its primeval soup of culture, is another replicator. Ideas, habits, skills, stories, technologies, and artistic creations are all copied by a process that may loosely be called imitation. Copying is not perfect, so there is plenty of variation and recombination, and far more copies are made than can possibly survive. So we have a new replicator, a cultural replicator. Taking it from the Greek for ‘that which is imitated’ and abbreviating it to a word that would sound something like ‘gene’ Dawkins called them ‘memes’..."

"...There are many kinds of meme virus. A good example is an email virus. A typical one shouts “Warning, Warning, news just in from IBM (or Bill Gates or …) terrible virus, warn all your friends immediately that if they open a mail called “bla bla” their hard disk will be wiped clean”. This little collection of words can be called a memeplex – shortened from ‘co-adapted meme complex’; in other words, a group of memes that succeeds by hanging out together and getting passed on together. This little memeplex has a very simple structure. I call it C-TaP. It is basically a ‘copy me’ instruction backed up by Threats and Promises. In this case you are told to pass on the message. If you do you will help your friends (the altruism trick), if you don’t they will get their hard disk wiped (using fear to threaten). The memeplex also uses urgency, status (e.g. IBM), and exploits the fact that passing on an email message to lots of people is quick and easy. And so it is that this stupid little bit of text has been copied around and around the world, infecting millions of computers and still going strong after 5 or 6 years. If you doubt the power of memes to change the world then reflect on this silly little memeplex. It has frightened countless people and clogged up whole email systems. A few mindless words have had obvious and serious effects on the physical world. They have even found their way onto this page. This is the power of the memes. Buddhism is a meme.

I began deliberately with a very simple virus but there are far more powerful ones that use exactly the same structure. Dawkins calls them ‘viruses of the mind’; he means religions.

Dawkins used the example of Roman Catholicism; a collection of basic teachings that are passed on in church, by learning the catechism, and through prayer, singing hymns and saying grace. Beautiful cathedrals tempt worshippers inside and lift their hearts, making them want to spread the memes again. Beautiful music and songs carry the words of God and Jesus to more ears and minds. Good Catholics pass on all these ‘truths’ to their children and are encouraged to have lots of children who must, in turn, marry (or convert) a Catholic and bring up their children in the faith. The reward is everlasting life and the punishment – well it’s even worse than having your hard disk wiped..."

"...Being infected with a religion at an early age is no trivial matter. It shapes your mind, affects which memes you will subsequently accept or reject, and affects everyone you come into contact with. Very few people choose their religion, even though most think their religion is the best. Most are infected in childhood and never throw the infection off. We are seeing some of the consequences of these religious memes in the world situation we face today.

"...Our minds, at rest - alert and open - are like a beautifully weeded garden, bare brown earth where anything might grow. And just as the weed seeds are ready to jump into all that bare brown earth, so the memes are ready to jump into our open minds. If weed seeds find a space to grow, off they go, and soon all that open space is a mass of dandelions, speedwells and rosebay willow herb.

It is the same with thoughts. Think about what kinds of thoughts are the most troublesome. I don't believe many people are plagued in meditation by the sounds in the room, or by images of scenery once observed, or images of walking or jumping, or even flying. In other words, it is not our immediate perceptions, nor the things we have learned by ourselves that are troublesome; it is the ones we pick up from other people. It is all words and stories that cause the trouble; all memes.

"...Meditation is the hoe. Meditation is also, of course, a meme. You would never have invented the techniques of Ch’an meditation for yourself. They have been part-invented and part-selected over thousands of years, passing down from person to person in a long evolutionary path. But all of them have this in common - they are ways of defusing the power of other memes."

Read the full article here

Sudden Jihad Syndrome

Sudden jihad syndrome 
If we accept Churchill's virus analogy - 'as dangerous in a man as rabies in a dog'  -  we will recognise that terrorism isn't a mutant form of 'the Religion of Peace' that is produced by radicalisation. On the contrary, thuggery, hatred and murder are written into the basic DNA of the pathogen, and only need the right conditions to be expressed by any carrier of the disease, see 'Sudden  Jihad Syndrome'.

Kalama Sutra
In complete contrast to other religions, Buddhism had elements of meme-weeding from its very beginning.  In the  Kalama Sutra,   Buddha said that all religious teachings, including his own should...

(1) Not be believed on the basis of religious authority, or 'holy' books, or family/tribal tradition, or even coercion and intimidation by the mob.


(2) Test the methodology by personal experience. Does it do what it says on the box?

(3) Is the philosophy rational? Or does it require you to believe six impossible things before breakfast?

(4) Judge the tree by its fruits. Is it beneficial, or does it tell you to act against your conscience and 'The Golden Rule'.


Could meditation on memes prevent terrorism?
If young men from vulnerable cultural and family backgrounds were better informed about memes and memeplexes, perhaps they could resist this jihadist indoctrination and  recognize these malignant memes for the pernicious parasitic processes that they are, before they took over their minds and turned them into robotic killers. 

One interesting question is whether the meme theory is itself a meme ('The Metameme') and whether its spread could block and give immunity to more pernicious memes, much like the harmless cowpox virus can block out the lethal smallpox virus. 

If you are a sexually repressed teenager, who suddenly realises that the promise of 72 virgins for killing kuffars is nothing more than a mechanism for a mind-virus to ensure its dominance over competing memes, by eliminating their carriers, then you may be less enthusiastic about blowing yourself and fellow passengers to pieces in a train or bus.

Related posts

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Sunday, 19 May 2013

Meditation 'opens the mind to possession by demons and evil spirits'

She meditated too much

From the Huffington Post 
Eden Kozlowski teaches a secularized version of Buddhist mindfulness meditation in businesses and educational settings.  However she's meeting resistance from Christians who believe that the 'mind is evil',  and 'clearing the mind opens a gateway to demonic/evil forces, thoughts or actions.'

Apart from the risks of demonic possession by Satan and his minions, they claim that  "As a Christian, mindfulness goes against my theology, as it is a Buddhist practice."

She  counters this by arguing that 'It is true that mindfulness has roots in Buddhism. However, the mindfulness that is typically taught in business and academic settings is completely Westernized. It is purposefully devoid of spiritual or religious connotations and focuses simply on the act of awareness. And if you want to take it to a level that we can all relate to and understand, at its core is stress reduction.'

Attendees at a meditation class

The article raises a number of issues, apart from the obvious superstitious paranoia about the unknown:

(1) Meme-clearance

One of the effects of meditation is to clear memes and memeplexes (parasitic mental processes) out of the meditator's mind.  It may be that the leaders of some of the more control-freaky Christian sects realise this, and don't want their carefully-nurtured memes cleared out of minds of their brainwashed adherents. 'For the good of your religion, think less'.

Original sin

(2) In addition, some of the  more extreme Christians believe that the mind is evil.  

Literalist Christians believe in 'original sin', which was passed down from Adam and Eve to all their descendants as a result of their eating the apple.  Consequently, literalists believe that our minds are fundamentally evil from the time of birth, even if we do nothing wrong.

So from this point of view, any exploration of the mind will inevitably mean exploring corrupt and demonic regions of experience. This evangelical belief in the fundamentally corrupt nature of the human mind
is incompatible with Buddhism, which  sees the mind as ultimately pure, but temporarily clouded by defilements, like a clear blue sky obscured by clouds.

The evangelical view of the mind

(3) Can you really secularize Buddhist methodology by cherry-picking one part of the system and trying to keep it isolated from the rest?


'Here's a bunch of round red sweet things. We're going to examine them, feel them and eat them. But please don't ask where they came from
and what they're actually called, or what the hard thing in the center is for. And if you find any green bits attached to them, take them off immediately '   

Don't mention the B-word!

Isn't it likely that once people have begun to explore their minds, curiosity will lead them to learn more about the philosophy of what they're doing?
So should Buddhist techniques of mind-management be presented without any reference to their origin?  Is this a form of plagiarism? 

It's Buddhism Jim, but not as we know it!

Or is it skillful means to sneak dharma teachings into the secular business establishment under the radar of the religion-detectors?   If people learn a little about meditation techniques, might they want to find out more? 

(4)  Fruits of the tree
Returning to the fruit-picking metaphor, perhaps the Buddhophobic evangelicals should take Jesus' advice and judge the tree by its fruit, which in the case of meditation includes...

Treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Cutting healthcare costs

Alleviating Depression

Reducing adolescent stress

Purification of Guilt and Negative Thinking 

Treatment of Alcoholism 

The webcrawler in your mind.

TIP - If some aspects of Buddhist beliefs seem unfamiliar, obscure, or confusing, then bear in mind that Buddhism is a process philosophy.   Difficult aspects of Buddhism often become much clearer when viewed from a process perspective.






Monday, 13 May 2013

Jay Garfield on Buddhist Philosophy in the West

Dead White Males

take precedence over

Dead Brown Males

A year ago I blogged on whether Buddhist philosophy is neglected and discriminated against in the West.

Jay Garfield has recently given an interview including this topic at 3am Magazine

Here are a few excerpts:
3:AM: What attracted you to Madhyamika philosophy in the first place and what are the distinctive positions of this philosophy?

JLG: Well, just as I fell in love with Hume and Wittgenstein as an undergraduate, I fell in love with Nāgārjuna when I encountered his work. The clarity of philosophical vision, the rigour of analysis and the profound exploration of the most fundamental questions of metaphysics impressed me enormously. The radical attack on essence and on foundations resonated with ideas from Hume, Wittgenstein and Sellars, and the rich commentarial tradition provided a hermeneutical device for explicating those ideas. I also, I must say, found my new Tibetan colleagues to be such wonderful teachers and collaborators that the sheer joy of working in that milieu was attractive.

3:AM: You say that at the time of moving to Buddhist philosophy many of the philosophers and cognitive scientists working in philosophy of mind and so forth were dubious about the merits of your doing this. Has this attitude changed over the years so that it is no longer seen as an aberration, or is it still a problem?

JLG: It has. I have been gratified to see how many Western philosophers now at least take non-Western philosophy, including Buddhist philosophy, seriously. An increasing number are reading and discussing non-Western philosophy; the APA now often includes a few panels on non-Western philosophy – again, including Buddhist philosophy – on its program; an increasing number of departments seek philosophers who can teach non-Western philosophy in their departments, or cross-list courses in Religion departments on Buddhist or other non-Western philosophical traditions. Just a few months ago. Christian Coseru, Evan Thompson and I directed an NEH summer institute on ‘Consciousness in a Cross-Cultural Perspective’ in which we integrated Buddhist and Western perspectives. That institute attracted as participants and as faculty a number of philosophers whose work is almost entirely in the Western tradition who were happy to take seriously Buddhist material.

So there has been a lot of progress. But there is also a long way to go. People in our profession are still happy to treat Western philosophy as the “core” of the discipline, and as the umarked case. So, for instance, a course that addresses only classical Greek philosophy can be comfortably titled “Ancient Philosophy,” not “Ancient Western Philosophy,” and a course in metaphysics can be counted on to ignore all non-Western metaphysics. A course in Indian philosophy is not another course in the history of PHILOSOPHY, but is part of the non-Western curriculum. And many of the major journals in our field will not even seriously consider submissions that address non-Western literature. Until the literature, curriculum, professional meetings and mode of engagement with the literature is as diverse as the world of philosophy itself, there is a lot of work to do. And that work is a matter of both intellectual and moral imperative. It is simply irrational to ignore most of world philosophy in the pursuit of truth, and immoral to relegate any literature not written by Europeans as somehow beneath our dignity to read....

Jay Garfield

 "...I think that comparative philosophy was a very important enterprise. The philosopher who coined that phrase in 1899 was Bajendranath Seal of Calcutta University, who argued that to compare two philosophical systems was to “treat them as of coordinate rank.” That was a major step, inviting Western philosophers to take Indian and other non-Western traditions seriously as philosophy, as opposed to “native religious traditions.” Western philosophers gained access to Asian and African traditions initially by noting similarities and differences. But that, as A.C. Mukerji, of Allahabad, was to note in 1932, is not to do philosophy, but is at best a preparation. To take philosophy seriously is to engage with it philosophically. We take Aristotle seriously not when we write about his ideas, but when we take his ideas as part of our discussions. Similarly, we take Nāgārjuna seriously not when we talk about how similar his ideas are to Hume’s, but when we take him as an interlocutor.

So, to take one of the examples you suggest, Buddhist philosophers in both the Madhyamaka and Yogācāra traditions argue that the nature of reality is in the end inexpressible. The question of whether or not the nature of reality is ineffible is, of course, a matter of debate in Western philosophy. But some of the arguments offered in the Buddhist world are different from those offered in the West, for instance those that rely on the engagement of language and thought with universals, which in turn, are argued to be unreal and deceptive.

3:AM: One of the issues you raise is the ethics of approaches to intellectual and cultural traditions less powerful and less respected than the Western ones. How should we think about this?

JLG: Easy. Suppose that someone argued that the philosophical curriculum in their college could not include any texts by women, because there are just so many important books by men, and not enough time to address all of them, let alone to go on to read stuff by women, or that the faculty is not expert in women’s philosophy. He would be howled down not on the grounds that there are indeed not too many books by guys, but that given a history of sexism, it is immoral as well as irrational to ignore the contributions of women in the curriculum. But people get away with saying that their department can’t offer courses that address non-Western philosophy because they are struggling to cover the “core,” that students have so much Western philosophy to learn that they don’t have time to read the non-Western stuff, and that there are no specialists in non-Western philosophy in the department. In the wake of colonialism and in the context of racism, the only legitimate response is to howl them down...

"... I think that parochialism is built into many kinds of nationalism and educational institutions in which children are brought up to treat their own culture as the unmarked case, and to mark the products of other culture. In the USA, we learn “art history” as Western art history, and the history of Asian, or African art is a special case; we learn politics by examining our own government system, and consider other systems special cases, and the same is true of philosophy. And that parochialism is matched by similar parochialisms every place else. It is a bad idea. Each of us ends up thinking that we grow up at the Middle Pole, and that while there is diversity in the world, it is all deviations from normal – our way or doing things. The goal of education should be to dismantle the Middle Pole view, not to reinforce it in the name of the need for a grounding in one’s own civilisation..."

Read the full article here

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Thursday, 9 May 2013

Evangelical Christianity versus Buddhism in Thailand

Will Thai education follow the American example?

From the Huffington Post 

Brian C. Stiller, Global Ambassador for The World Evangelical Alliance, laments the failure of hordes of mega-funded missionaries to convert Buddhists in Thailand to his brand of Christianity...

The Difficulty of Evangelizing in Thailand

"...Speaking with pastors, educators, mission leaders and on-the-ground spiritual inventors, I heard it time after time. I tried to understand the question in context in a land of lush landscape, neighborhoods so remarkably clean and people incredibly respectful and kind. The question is this: After all the people, money and years, why is the Christian mission here so small?"

"...Why is that after over 183 years of evangelical missionary work, an investment of thousands of lives and millions upon millions of dollars, out of a total population of 65 million there are only 370,000 evangelical Christians, one half of one percent?"

"...I heard many reasons. Among them missionaries viewing Thais as unequal to the task of leadership held on to controls within their foreign mission boards.

In this brief dispatch, rather than analyze the past, my interest is in their current vision and plan. I wanted to hear from them their optimism and hope for discipleship and church growth.

The national plan was in part triggered by polling which showed the Thai people didn't find the words "Jesus" and "God" objectionable, an assumption many made on why the slowness of Gospel advance
[sic]. In 2004 the DeMoss Foundation organized the Power for Living campaign which asked the Thais if they found those words offensive. They then invited people to call in to receive a book. Organizers estimated a couple hundred thousand would call. Surprised, some 2.9 million responded."

Why should Buddhists find 'Jesus' objectionable?  Jesus was a Bodhisattva who developed his teachings in Buddhist India.  And why should the word  'God' be objectionable?   According to some views, 'God' is just another word for the Dharmakaya.    

So the slowness of Gospel advance may be due to other factors, for example the need to believe the literal truth of this...

It's likely that in order to make progress, the evangelists will need to launch an attack on the Thai educational system to suppress science, as they have done very successfully in formerly Buddhist South Korea.

Full article here

TIP FOR CHRISTIANS  - If some aspects of Buddhist beliefs seem unfamiliar, obscure, or confusing, then bear in mind that Buddhism is a process philosophy.   Difficult aspects of Buddhism often become much clearer when viewed from a process perspective.

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Interest in Buddhism surges at Top Universities Worldwide

Wisdom and Virtue

Global Boom in University Buddhist Studies
From an article by Professor Lee Chack-fan in the South China Morning Post.

"...It is not difficult to find people with ample knowledge, professional or otherwise, who are often unhappy. This feeling of unhappiness may come from pressure in life, or from the mismatch between expectations and results. Most of us feel happy some of the time, but this is not always sustainable.

Universities are beefing up their humanities programmes, under the name of general or liberal education, in order to broaden the horizons and enhance the emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) of our students. It is hoped that a higher EQ would help them deal with life's pressures, and hence to lead a happier life.

Some people turn to courses on Buddhism to help them to fulfil the same goal. They are generally more interested in the philosophical, rather than the religious, aspects of Buddhism. In other words, they are trying to seek wisdom, rather than just knowledge.

A little over a decade ago, the University of Hong Kong established a Centre of Buddhist Studies and launched a Master of Buddhist Studies programme.

The programme proved popular and has always been oversubscribed. Its alumni include many of the city's high achievers, including senior civil servants, barristers, doctors and business leaders. It also attracted numerous overseas applicants.

The surge in interest in Buddhist studies is, of course, not confined to Hong Kong.

I attended an inaugural reception at Stanford University in the United States last month for the establishment of an endowed chair professorship in Chinese Buddhism.

Paul Harrison, head of the university's Centre of Buddhist Studies, said student interest in Buddhist studies had never been keener. Not that they all want to become monks or nuns, but they are really interested in enhancing their EQ in a highly competitive world.

The same is true at other top international universities such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Oxford and Cambridge..."

Read it all here

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