Monday, August 31, 2009
Sunday, August 30, 2009
This ‘closed style’ shows no join in the robe which hangs loose at the front, drapes over the upper-half of the body and a corner of the robe is clearly seen in the Buddha’s left hand. How is this done? Well, like this. Take the top corners of the robe and hold them out in front of you (picture 1). (Several hours of trying to upload this and the next picture have failed so you will just have to imagine what I am describing). Put the left corner of the robe down behind the right sholder (2). Put the right corner of the robe under the edge of the robe and down behind the left shoulder (picture 3). As you do this, take the edge of the robe at the right elbow, bring it across and ‘hook’ it over the left shoulder (4). As you do this it is essential to keep hold of the left corner of the robe. (If you don’t do this the whole thing will come undone). You will then find that part of the robe is hanging down your right side. Pull it over to the left and tuck its edge into your belt and Walla! You have your robe in the same ‘closed style’ as it was worn by Indian monks at least at the turn of the first millennium and quite possibly as it was done at the time of the Buddha. And the whole procedure takes less than a minute.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Friday, August 28, 2009
Thursday, August 27, 2009
There are a few interesting points here, the main one is that love would make no sense if it does not last forever. But Vasile, your love for your wife is not going to last forever. It has probably already changed – perhaps from desperate hungering passion, to less passionate and more appreciative affectionate love. In years from now when you have grown old together, your love may have no passion in it all. The love you have for each other then might be almost like a brother/sister love or best friends-type love. As you change so does how you love; as your wife changes so does your love for her. And of course, sometimes love changes, not by becoming deeper and more mature, but by souring into indifference or even dislike.
When I was in Milan I went to see Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper and was deeply moved by it. Does it mean that because that feeling has now faded leaving behind a treasured memory and a deeper understanding of Leonardo’s creativity, that the experience I had while gazing at his painting was worthless? I don’t think so. And when Leonardo painted his picture he must have known that it would not last forever (and it is indeed badly decayed). Does that mean that when he put his heart and soul into his painting that he was wasting his time? I don’t think so. All things are changing and impermanent, love included, but they are no less important because of that.
Vasile, you ask, ‘How do I care for my beloved if she's not gonna be herself into eternity and if my goal is to never be reborn again?’ But surely you did not love her when she was a 2 month old fetus, when she was a one year old baby or when she was a willful spotty-faced gap-toothed 13 year older, indeed you probably didn’t even know she existed. You only had the joy of loving her after she had changed enough to be a fully matured woman and when you had changed enough to feel sexual and emotional attraction. And before that she was cared for quite okay without you and you got along quite okay without knowing her. Believe me, it will be like that in the distant future.
Your love for your wife is, and hopefully it will remain for a long time, part of your life. The Buddha said that if a couple love each other deeply enough and they have similar kamma, they may even meet again in the next life. But just as your love had a beginning, it will, according to the Buddha, eventually have an end. Rejoice in it while it is here while developing an understanding of the truth of impermanence.
Now Vasile, the fact that the Buddha’s teaching of impermanence (anicca) and no-self (anatta) has come as such a shock, this suggests that you have assumed that Buddhism teaches something like a eternal life in an eternal heaven after death. If so, Vasile, you have either not studied Buddhism very deeply or have been badly misinformed. I would encourage you to do some reading on the Dhamma.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
The game is greatl for Dhamma classes, English-as-a-second-language classes, Sunday schools, families, and any group interested in learning about Buddhism while having a bit of fun at the same time. Not only in answering their own questions, but also in hearing the questions and answers of others, players can learn a great deal about Buddhism and deepen knowledge already acquired.
Each set of Buddhist Knowledge Quest contains a beautiful game board, eight colored markers, a dice, 144 color-coded question-and-answer cards, and complete instructions for playing the game. For advanced learners, many of the cards include references to the Buddha's teaching in the Pali Tipitaka where more information about the answer can be found. To order log on to http://www.brelief.org/bkq/announce.html
A lot of thought and effort has gone into creating and producing this game, so you might like to put a notice about it on your blog.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Anyway, if the Buddha is ‘all-knowing’ (sabbannu) how come he believed spontaneous generation? Well, there are two ways of understanding sabbannu - the Flat-Earth Buddhism way and the other way. According to FEB (see my blog for 27,1,2009), the Buddha knew absolutely everything - how many bricks there are in the Great Wall of China, the number of grains of sand on Bondi Beach, that I was going to fail my maths exam in 1967, etc. The Tipitaka says ‘all-knowing’ and ‘all’ means ‘all’, everything, every thing, event and occurrence that ever has and ever will happen. Concerning spontaneous generation and other evidence that the Buddha didn’t know everything, Flat Earth Buddhists will cast aspersions on science. They can and do say, ‘Well, science might be wrong. Perhaps one day we will find out that some life is spontaneously generated. After all, science doesn't know everything’.
The other way of looking at it is within the context of the Dhamma. In the very interesting Sabba Sutta (the Discourse on the All, S.IV,15) the Buddha says that for him ‘the all’ means the senses and their objects, i.e. the eye and visual objects, the ear and sounds, etc. in other words, the process of cognition and the desire, craving and conceptualizing that it triggers, was fully understood by the Buddha. In another place the Buddha denied that he was omniscient but affirmed that he had the Three Knowledges (tevijja, M.I,482). So the Buddha was not a Mister Know-it all, although he did know everything necessary to attain enlightenment.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Friday, August 21, 2009
To make the so-called Golden Rule central to one’s thought and behavior, several prerequisites are necessary. One must be clear about one’s own true welfare; one must be aware of the reactions of others; and one must be detached enough to get out of one’s own feelings and enter into the feelings of others. So paradoxically, true empathy and compassion are preceded by mindfulness and detachment.
Do not to your neighbor what you would take ill from him. Pittacus, Greece (640-568 BCE), Fragment 10.3.
Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing. Thales, Asia Minor (624-546 BCE).
Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself. Confucius, China (5th century BCE), Analects XV.24, also at V.12 and VI.30.
The sage has no interest of his own, but takes the interests of the people as his own. He is kind to the kind; he is also kind to the unkind: for Virtue is kind. He is faithful to the faithful; he is also faithful to the unfaithful: for Virtue is faithful. Lao Tzu, China (5th century BCE. Tao Te Ching, chap. 49.
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. Jewish, Palestine (500-500 BCE), Leviticus, 19:18.
What you wish your neighbors to be to you, such be also to them. Sextus the Pythagorean, Greece (4th century BCE).
Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others. Isocrates, Greece (436-338), Nicocles 6.
I will ask you a question. ‘Is sorrow or pain desirable to you ? If you say “yes it is”, it would be a lie. If you say, “No, it is not” you will be expressing the truth. Just as sorrow or pain is not desirable to you, so it is to all which breathe, exist, live or have any essence of life. To you and all, it is undesirable, and painful, and repugnant. The Jain Acaranga Sutra, India (3rd-6th cent CE?).
What thou avoidest suffering thyself seek not to impose on others. Epictetus, Greece (1st cent CE), Encheiridion.
Do to no one what you yourself dislike. Jewish, Palestine, (2nd century BCE), The Book of Tobit 4,15.
Just as pain is not agreeable to you, it is so with others. Knowing this principle of sameness treat other with respect and compassion. The Jain Canon, India (2nd century BCE), Suman Suttam v.150.
One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma. (2nd century BCE - 3rd century CE). Mahabharata Anusasana Parva, cxiii, v.8
A man should wander about treating all creatures as he would like himself to be treated. Jainism, India (1st cent BCE) Sutrakritanga 1.11,33.
That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole of the Torah; the rest is commentary. Now go and learn. Hillel (1st century BCE) Talmud, Shabbat 31a.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
As a cultural phenomena, the tulku system is a fascinating one. But I’m not at all sure the best way to transmit the insights of the Vajrayana tradition to the West is through the medium of medieval Central Asian power structures. I also have very strong doubts that someone must be a great Dhamma teacher simply because he was born into a particular situation. Did not the Buddha say ‘No one is born a brahman’? When a Westerner becomes a Buddhist should he or she have to buy into all the trappings of traditional Asian culture - be it Tibetan, Thai, Japanese or Sri Lankan? Shouldn’t I be able to practice vipassana without believing in nats as the Burmese do? Why can't I develop Bodhicitta without spinning a prayer wheel like a Tibetan? Can’t I practice the Five Precepts without reciting them in Pali with a Thai accent? During the 19th century Western missionaries in Asia insisted that their converts wear trousers, eat with a knife and fork and swear allegiance to Queen Victoria, in short, become an Englishman. They mistook their culture, which is limited in time and space, with the Gospel, which is universal. They finally realized that this approach did not work. It’s a lesson many Asian Buddhist teachers in the West and their Western disciples still have to learn.
In 2007 when I was in Dharmasala I witnessed something which epitomized to me one of the problems of the transmission of the Dhamma to the West. As I stood on the side of the main road watching the crowds go past, I saw two young Tibetan monks greet each other by giving a ‘high five’. A matter of moments later a Western woman walked passed wearing Tibetan dress, her hair in plats like those worn by Tibetan women, a prayer wheel in her hand and even imitating that Tibetan swaying way of walking. Again I ask – can’t a Westerner practice the Dhamma without becoming a Tibetan, Thai or Burmese clone?
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
God! They look different enough! The Bodhi tree has thin bright-green leaves with the characteristic long pointed tip (right picture) while the Banyan’s leaves are ovate/elliptic-shaped, thick and dark green (left picture). The fruit of the former is small and brown while that of the latter is large and purple. Their botanical names are distinct too; Ficus religiosa for the former and Ficus bengalensis for the latter. But most noticeable of all is that the Banyan puts forth numerous aerial roots which support its spreading branches and form accessory trunks, and the Bodhi does not.
Come on people! It’s not that difficult! If you can tell a reindeer from an aardvark you should be able to tell a Bodhi tree (top) from a Banyan tree (bottom).
Though our bodies will be different our minds will be one. Doing this we will live in concord, with mutual appreciation, free from arguments, like milk and water mixed, looking upon other with the eyes of love.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Saturday, August 15, 2009
My existence is sustained by the dedication of so many people. I am grateful for the care and hard work of my ancestors and parents. They have nurtured me in infinite ways. Without them I would not exist.
Friday, August 14, 2009
After we finish lunch, Boon shows me the upper floors of the temple. The main worship hall has been completed, its lotus dome beautifully lit by thousands of energy efficient LED lights. The passive ventilation design of the dome and open walls channels the air through the space, allowing cooling to take place without the need for air conditioning. With a capacity to hold several hundred people, this is no easy task. On the same level as the worship hall, there's a terrace that is now fully planted with a garden. Butterflies are all over the place. "Let me show you something else," Boon says. He reaches down to pull open an access hatch. "We're also storing some of our own water on site. We still haven't gotten full permission for all the rain tanks we had planned to install, but this one was approved. We now can use the rainwater that falls to water the plants in the terrace garden." As Singapore gets significant year-round rainfall, this will be a worthwhile investment for the future. We go up one more level in the temple to get a better view of the pagoda structure that lets light in to the lower regions of the temple's interior. During phase two of the construction, the pagoda's overhangs will also be covered in PV panels. "Shhh," Boon says, "don't tell the architect!" In addition to the pagoda, there are Solatubes also dotted around several of the terraces on the back of the temple, allowing natural sunlight to penetrate the lower levels. "It cuts down on the amount of lighting we need, and electricity we would need to run them. They work really well," Boon informs me. Unfortunately, one of the most innovative features of the temple has been held up in red tape. "We were going to trial micro-hydro power generation in our rain gutters, since rain from the roof falls nearly 25m to the base of the structures. We don't have approval yet. Something like this has not yet been done in Singapore, so it makes people a bit nervous. We don't fit in the box," Boon says. Something else falling outside the box is pollution monitors. Boon has been concerned for some time about the oil refineries located on an island just off the coast of Singapore. "The temple is only two years old, and yet we already have signs of air pollution in the area. Our building already bears some of the scars," he points to several stained points around the structure where airborne pollution has been brought down by rainfall. "I've already written three letters about the pollution, and if nothing is done by the government, we're going to install monitors here and have the data live on our website. With asthma and COPD diseases on the rise in Singapore, people need to know what they're breathing and how it affects them," he says. I hadn't anticipated the pollution already leaving a mark, but it's good to see that people are starting to take notice. Like any problem, if it is invisible, it's hard to warrant any concern from people, much less push for any changes to fix it. The temple has come along in leaps and bounds, and the congregation is flourishing. We head down one of the handicapped accessible ramps for a final shot of the temple. While many of the congregation is older and the facilities have been built to suit an aging population, Boon is thrilled to have so many young people in the temple on this particular day. "They will be the future, they will be the ones taking all of this forward," he says. Judging by the progress made by Boon and his counterparts, the younger generation will have some very big shoes to fill.
By Chris Tobias for Reuters
Thursday, August 13, 2009
By the mid-1970s, Reverend Ike was touring the country and preaching on over 1,770 radio stations. Television stations in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other major markets were telecasting his videotaped sermons. A magazine he founded, Action!, reached more than a million readers. Because of his emphasis on material wealth, Reverend Ike alienated many traditional Christian ministers as well as leaders of the civil rights movement, who believed black churches should further social reform rather than get-rich-quick theology. His huge income also provoked suspicion. Detractors accused him of preying on the poor, and the Internal Revenue Service and Postal Service investigated his businesses. Reverend Ike could be an electric preacher, whether at the old theater or on the road, appearing before standing-room-only audiences. And he could make his congregations laugh, drawing on the Bible to drive home his message about the virtues of material rewards. ‘If it’s that difficult for a rich man to get into heaven’, he would often say, citing the Bible, ‘think how terrible it must be for a poor man to get in. He doesn’t even have a bribe for the gatekeeper’. Reverend Ike would be well placed to pay a bribe to get into heaven if it was required. He died a multimillionaire.
Not believing in a deity, I’m just going to rub the Buddha’s belly to get my filthy lucre
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
We should take the three Refuges only when we truly understand what we are doing and what it requires of us. And when we do this and are faithful to our commitment, it imparts to us a tremendous energy and confidence that speeds our journey along the Path. The Buddha said: ‘One should practice the Dhamma faithfully, without wavering. One who practices the Dhamma like this sleeps happily in this life and the next’. (Dhp.169). The Buddha also said that some of the characteristics of a genuine friend are that he or she is true to their word (avisam vadanataya), they will sticks by you in times of trouble (apadasu na vijahati), and that they might even give their life for you (jivitam pi’ssn atthaya pariccattam hoti, (D.III,187-190). In other words, the highest level of friendship does not change through changing circumstances. Such faithfulness tends to engender faithfulness in those it is maintained towards.
Faithfulness as one of the most important ingredients for a successful and marriage. A husband should not, the Buddha said, be unfaithful to his wife or a wife to her husband (D.III,190). A character in the Jataka says: ‘We do not transgress with another’s wife and our wife does not transgress against us. We relate to others’ partners as if we were celibate’ (Mayan ca bhariyam natikkamama amhe ca bhariya natikkamama annatra tahi brahmacariyam carama, Ja.IV,53). A good wife was praised in the Tipitaka as ‘true to one husband’ (ekabhattakini, Ja.III,63). The archetypical devoted and loyal spouse in the Buddhist tradition is Sambulaa, the wife of King Sotthisena. When he was struck by a disfiguring disease and had to renounce the throne and go into the forest, she ignored all his requests to stay behind and happily to accompany him in his exile. With patience and love she nursed him through and eventually cured him of his disease. When he doubted her faithfulness and shunned her, she would still not abandon him. Eventually, he recognized her faithfulness, apologized for not trusting her, and the two were reconciled (Ja.V,88-98).
Monday, August 10, 2009
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Someone had pinched the pictures I took in Bhutan several years ago and put them on the internet without either my knowledge or permission. What a nerve! What a cheek! What a….On the other hand, they have presented them very nicely and to the accompaniment to rather beautiful music so I suppose I can forgive them. Have a look at
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Was Sri Gunamuniratana and Dhammaratana conversion genuine? I doubt it. The Sinhalese are a gentle, easy-going people, always ready to please, especially if there is some advantage to be had from it. I suspect they feigned interest in Christianity to please the Clark and because they thought it might be to their advantage when they returned to their homeland. Of course, it is also possible that Reverend Clark pressured them into converting. Whatever the case, we have to wait until the 1900’s before another Buddhist monk would set foot in Europe.
The top picture is of Rev. Clark in his drawing room together with Sri Gunamuniratana and Dhammaratana. There are two copies of this painting, one in Wesley House in London (so I am told) and another in the National Museum in Colombo where I found it stacked in the store room, covered with dust and curling up in the heat in 1978. I am told it has since been restored and is being looked after a little better. It was this painting that initially put me onto the track of the first Buddhist monks we know to go to the West. The second picture is of Alexander after he disrobed.
Friday, August 7, 2009
Thursday, August 6, 2009
And perhaps more importantly, there have been and still are plenty of monks and nuns who abide by the spirit of the Dhamma without being fastidious about the fine points of each and every Vinaya rule. One who immediately comes to mind is Venerable Fatt Kuan, a bodhisattva-like Singaporean nun who founded and ran the Tai Pei Home until her death in 2002. Ven. Fatt Kuan was one of the kindest, most imperturbable and smiling people I have ever known. She solicited and attracted huge donations and every cent of it went where it was supposed to go – to providing decent accommodation and a homely environment for several hundred poor elderly women and compassionate nursing for them when they became incapacitated. She also founded or ran the Tai Pei Buddhist Centre, the Tai Pei Senior Citizens Drop–in Centre, the Thuja Home and the Tai Pei Child Care Centre. She was widely respected for her dedication to the less fortunate and in 1989 was awarded Singapore’s highest civilian award by the President of the Republic. Despite all this very ‘un-Vinaya’ behaviour she remained modest, accessible, kindly and unaffected. Once, when she came to know that we were reprinting our children’s book, ‘Rahula Leads the Way’ she invited me to come and have tea with her one afternoon. We chatted while she served me tea with a biscuit (something that would put her beyond the pale in the eyes of the fundamentalists) and when I left she gave me an extremely generous donation to help reprint the book. I thanked her for her completely unexpected generosity and said I would make sure her name went in the back of the book as the main donor. In her typical self-effacing way she asked me not to do so and not even to tell anyone she had made a donation. I know for a fact that Ven. Fatt Kuan made many other anonymous donations to poor or struggling individuals and to worthy organizations, often without being asked.
Another truly admirable Buddhist cleric who comes to mind is Venerable Yen Pei who founded and managed the Singapore Buddhist Welfare Services. For the noble work done by this organization see http://www.sbws.org.sg/ All his welfare work did not prevent Ven. Yen Pei from also being a master of the Chinese Tipitaka and a popular and respected Dhamma teacher. One could also think of Venerable Bellanwila Dhammaratna, the Sri Lankan monk who long ago saw the crying need for Buddhist educational resources in Singapore and resolved to do something about it. As a result, the Buddhist community in Singapore has a superb library in English and Chinese, a top-class venue for public meetings, a thriving Sunday School and a program of Buddhist higher education (see www.buddhlib.org.sg/ ). Ven. Dhammaratana also runs the Buddhist Research Society which publishes numerous Dhamma books. None of this just appeared, it was the result of hard work, determination, continual fundraising and, I suspect, quite a few sleepless nights, on the part of Ven. Dhammaratana. And it goes without saying that none of it could have been achieved had he refused to travel in a vehicle (it is a Dukkata offence to do so), refused to received, write out or cash checks (offences against Nissaggiya Pacitiya 18) or if he had spent all his time trying to find sandals with one-layered soles (unless of course he was living in the regions bordering Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in India, in which case he could have two or even three layers on his soles, Vin.I,197). Despite not being strictly observant monks or nuns, no aspersions have ever been cast on the integrity of these three clerics, and their services to Buddhism and to the community have been enormous.
So why did Ven. Fatt Kuan, Ven. Yen Pei and Ven. Dhammaratana remain true to the spirit of the Dhamma and Ven. Ming Yi apparently fall by the wayside? It would seem to me that the first three had internalized the Dhamma to the degree that they were/are impervious to greed, fame and worldly success and the fourth had not - not because they followed or didn’t follow a set of arcane rules. As is often the case, the Buddha has something pertinent to say on this matter. ‘Say a bad person is an expert in vinaya and he thinks, “I’m an expert in vinaya but those others aren’t’ and he exalts himself and disparages others. This is the Dhamma of the bad person. But the good person thinks like this, “It is not through being an expert in vinaya that greed, hatred and delusion are destroyed. Even if one is not an expert in vinaya one may still live in full accordance with the Dhamma, may practice correctly, may still live by Dhamma and therefore be one worthy of honour and respect". Thus, having made the Way itself the main thing, he neither exalts himself nor disparages others. This is the Dhamma of the good person’ (M.III,39).
The top picture is of Ven. Fatt Kuan’s Tai Pei Buddhist Centre, the second picture is of Ven.Yen Pei and the bottom one is of Ven. Dhammaratana.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
I have said this before but I will say it again – traditional Buddhism is (unintentionally) constructed to make it much more likely that a monk (nuns aren’t in the running) will be spoilt or corrupted. The adulation monks receive, the ignorance of the Dhamma by the laity, and the understanding of ‘dana’ almost exclusively as generosity to monks, conspire to overwhelm, then tempt and finally to corrupt someone trying to live the holy life. Some resist this, many don’t. This of course does not excuse Ming Yi behaviour, but does go some way to explaining it. So long as Buddhism is ‘monk centred’ rather than ‘Dhamma centred’ these problems will persist.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Monday, August 3, 2009
Last time I was in Nepal, I was the guest of a leading Vajradhara family who treated me with almost embarrassing generosity and kindness. But when I asked to visit their temple I was given a dozen hurriedly invented excuses as to why it would not be convenient right now. Of course I knew that Nepalese Buddhists practiced caste, but until them I had no idea that they would not even allow a monk from outside their own community to enter one of their temples. Caste used to be very strong in Sri Lanka but has lost most of its power nowadays, although more due to education and urbanization than to faithfulness to the Buddha’s high ideals.
Paradoxically, the only Sri Lankan institution where caste is still significant is the Sangha. The country's three monastic sects are still divided sharply along caste lines. A monk of the Siam Nikaya will be delighted to ordain a Westerner but he simply will not ordain a Sri Lankan from a non-goyagama caste. Sri Lanka also has its own outcasts, the rodhiyas, who even in the early 1900’s were not allowed to enter the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. I do not know about their status nowadays, but I suspect that they are still marginalized.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
The Buddha was an outspoken critic of the caste system and at least a dozen of his discourses are devoted to highlighting its contradictions and cruelties. The Buddha's tribe, the Sakyans, were excessively proud of their high caste status. When a group of them requested to become monks, the Buddha ordained Upali, a low caste barber, first thus giving him a precedence that would require the others to bow to him.
The Buddha criticised the caste system on several grounds. The claim that it was ordained by God is no more than a myth (M.II,148). Caste is not practised everywhere and thus must be a regional custom rather than a universal truth (M.II,149). The claim that different castes have different abilities and personalities is not born out by experience and is thus invalid (M.II,150; Sn.116). Low castes and outcastes may be dirty because they are compelled to do dirty jobs, but if they wash themselves they become as clean as everyone else (M.II,151). The caste system engenders cruelty and suffering and is thus evil. From the Buddhist perspective, how people are treated, the respect they receive, the opportunities they have, even where they are reborn, should depend on their behaviour, not what caste they are born into. The Buddha said: `Without righteousness, all castes can go to purgatory. All castes are pure if they act with righteousness.' (Ja.VI,100).
Saturday, August 1, 2009
Anyway, my feathered friends love them and I get to enjoy them announcing their delight all day.