Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Paul Carus, a pioneer of Buddhism in the West wrote this in 1894. It imitates the style of the King James Version but there is nothing wrong with that and its sentiments are genuine and reverential. I have modified it just a bit.

Rejoice! Rejoice at the glad tidings! The Buddha our Lord has found the root of all evil; he has shown us the way to salvation. The Buddha dispels the illusions of our mind and frees us from the terror of death. The Buddha our Lord, brings comfort to the weary and sorrow-laden; he restores peace to those who are broken down under the burden of life. He gives courage to the weak when they would give up self-reliance and hope. You who suffer from the tribulations of life, you who have to struggle and endure, you who yearn for the life of truth, rejoice at the glad tidings! There is balm for the wounded, and there is food for the hungry. There is water for the thirsty, and there is hope for the despairing. There is light for those in darkness, and there is inexhaustible blessing for the upright. Heal your wounds, you wounded, and eat your fill, you hungry. Rest, you weary, and you who are thirsty quench your thirst. Look up to the light, you who sit in darkness, be of good cheer, you who are forlorn. Trust in truth, you who love the truth, for the kingdom of righteousness is founded upon earth. The darkness of error is dispelled by the light of truth. We can see our way and take firm and certain steps. The Buddha, our Lord, has revealed the truth. The truth cures our diseases and frees us from suffering, the truth strengthens us in life and in death; the truth alone can conquer the evils of error. Therefore rejoice! Rejoice at the glad tidings!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Turning Up The Heat

Tummo Yoga is a Tibetan term meaning ‘heat practice’ and refers to a type of meditation cultivated by some Tibetan monks. All the behaviours we are capable of are classified as either sympathetic or autonomic. The first are the voluntary actions like blinking, moving our limbs and swallowing. The second are those actions which we have no control over, e.g. the beating of our heart, the process of digestion and the rate our hair grows. One thing which we normally have no control over is our temperature. However, in the practice of Tummo Yoga monks learn to increase their temperature by as much as 12%, an ability unknown to science until just recently. In the 1980’s a team of doctors led by Dr. Herbert Benson of the Harvard Medical School studied monks doing this meditation and were astonished to find that they were able to increase their body temperatures enough to be able to dry wet cloths draped over them. One monk they studied was able to slow his metabolism by 64 %, the lowest level ever documented in a human being. While fascinating in itself and having some practical application, the main value of Tummo Yoga is that it shows the depth of understanding Tibetan monks have of the mind and their ability to control it. It is also a confirmation of the Buddha’s words: ‘The mind precedes all things, they are led by the mind, they are made by the mind’ (Dhp.1). From the Buddhist perspective, it is not a mythological being called God that we should seek to know and understand, but our own minds. The Harvard University Gazette has a very interesting article on heat you Tummo Yoga. Have a look at it at

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The One Person

There is one person whose birth into the world is for the welfare of the many, for the happiness of the many, for the good, the welfare and the happiness of gods and humans, out of compassion for the world. And who is that person? It is the Tathagata, the Arahat, the fully Enlightened Buddha.
There is one person whose presence is hard to encounter in the world, whose teachings is seldom heard, whose face is rarely gazed upon and whose compassion is infrequently felt. And who is that person? It is the Tathagata, the Arahat, the fully Enlightened Buddha.

There is one person whose appearance in the world is unique, unequal, incomparable, unparalleled, without counterpart, matchless, unrivaled, and who lifts up the hearts of gods and humans. And who is that person? It is the Tathagata, the Arahat, the fully Enlightened Buddha.
The passing of one person from the world is regretted by the many, even though he admonished, ‘After I has passed away, let the Dhamma be your teacher’. Who is that person? It is the Tathagata, the Arahat, the fully Enlightened Buddha. (adapted from A.I,20).

Saturday, June 27, 2009

From Killing Fields To Heaven

Guek Eav Kiang, alias Comrade Duch, is a nasty piece of works by any standards. He is charged with 'personally overseeing the systematic torture and killing of 15,000 people' at the notious Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh during the Khmer Rouge period and we await the court's verdict. When I visited Tuol Sleng a few years back I noticed a slight but distinct smell emanating from the wooden partitions that divided one prisoner's space from another. It smelt like a combination of sweat, cold vomit and marigolds. 'Where have I smelt that before?' I asked myself. Then suddenly it came to me. It is the same odor I had smelt in the barracks at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp outside Berlin - and it is the smell of terror. Whatever Comrade Duch's future here on earth, paradise awaits him in the next life. You see, Duch is saved; he has become a 'born again' Christian. In fact, he was working with the Christian aid organization World Vision when he was identified and arrested. During his trial, he tearfully said he was sorry for what he had done, an admission that was, like his conversion, apparently genuine. It must be very comforting for him to know that despite his monstrous crimes, he, unlike his Buddhist and communist victims, is destined for eternity in heaven. No doubt he will enjoy it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Pinginanin's Praise

Just as a man, well satisfied with some choice flavor, long not for other flavors that are coarse; even so, whenever one hears the good Gotoma’s Dhamma one longs not for the talk of others, crowds, other samanas nor brahmans.
Just as a man, overcome by hunger and weakness, may come upon a honey cake and, whenever he tastes it he enjoys a sweet, delicious flavor; even so, whenever one hears the good Gotoma’s Dhamma one experience joy and serenity of heart.
Just as a skillful physician might in a moment take away the illness of one sick and ailing; even so, whenever one hears the good Gotoma’s Dhamma one, all grief, sorrow, suffering, lamentation and despair just vanish away.
Just as a man, tortured by heat, by heat overcome, wearied, craving and thirsty, might come to a pool, clear sweet, cool and limpid, a lovely resting place, and might plunge therein, bathe, drink and allay woe, fatigue and fret; even so, whenever one hears the good Gotama’s, all woe, fatigue and fret just vanish away. (A.III,239)
If you have the time have a look at the beautiful pictures of India at

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Lama No More

I didn’t hear about it when it happened because I have been out of the loop for a month or so. Now I have just finished reading the Time magazine article about it as well as several other accounts, and I am making a heroic effort not to say 'I've told you so!' The much promoted and a lauded Lama Tenzin Osel Rimpoche has renounced his role as the reincarnation of the much loved Lama Yeshe. So it seems that all the prophetic dreams foretelling where he would be reborn were wrong, all the oracular signs were misread and all the wonders pointing to him being the lama reborn were just imagination. And how now are we to explain all the claims that when he was young Osel could clearly 'remember' incidents in his earlier life? Imagination again or did truth fall foul to over-enthusiasm? When they bought him to Singapore when he was four or five years old, someone who had been a disciple of Lama Yeshe told me that he had clearly recognized all his old teacher's mannerisms in the young child. Imagination again, apparently. Two former Western dropout from Tibetan Buddhism then studying at Sera Monastery told me the FPMT had to make a huge 'donation' to the monastery before the monks there would 'recognize' Osel as the genuine reincarnation. If true, this too raises a few serious questions about the whole tulku thing.
The Time article says. 'The abdication of the anointed tulku is a significant embarrassment to the group he was supposed to head, the powerhouse Foundation for the Preservation of the Monastic Tradition (FPMT), the foremost Tibetan teaching organization in the West. It also challenges Westerners who have adopted Buddhism to find more sophisticated ways of understanding its magical side'. No Time, I must correct you there. It challenges those Westerners who have adopted Tibetan Buddhism. It neither challenges or threatens me or any Westerner who has adopted the Buddha's Dhamma, as opposed to its various cultural expressions in Asia.
The former Lama Osel apparently does not even consider himself a Buddhist anymore. He was quoted in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo as saying, 'I was taken away from my family and put in a medieval situation in which I suffered a lot. It was like living a lie'. A medieval situation! What a perfect description of the atmosphere that has surrounded the poor kid for the last 20 years. It will be interesting to see if Osel returns to being a 'reincarnated' teacher and if he does what his motives for doing so might be.
Don’t get me wrong. I'm not glad this has happened. My heart goes out to the really nice and dedicated people at the FPMT who must be feeling rather confused and let-down right now. But this is what happens when you confuse Dhamma with its various traditional and cultural expressions. If my understanding is correct, the whole tulku concept is a fairly recent one in Tibetan Buddhism (15th century ?) and it had no antecedence in Indian Vajrayana or in other countries where Vajrayana was practiced, like Japan. And I seem to remember that the Buddha said, 'No one is born a brahmin' (Sn.136), which in effect is what the tulku concept says, that a lama is worth listening to because he is supposedly the reincarnation of an earlier lama, whether he has anything profound to say or not.
Don’t practice Tibetan Buddhism, or Thai Buddhism, or Japanese Buddhism. Practice the Buddhism that is not culturally specific, the Dhamma that is timeless, that transcends culture and that is applicable everywhere and always.

A little ditty with apologies to Ogden Nash.

A one l lama he's a priest
A two l llama he's a beast
And I will bet a silk pyjama
That you can't really 'recognize' a reborn lama.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Schopenhauer's Grave

When I was staying in Frankfurt I came to know that Arthur Schopenhauer's grave was just a ten minutes walk away in the city's Hauptfriedhof Cemetery. Although I have never read all the way through Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (has anybody?), I have read parts of it and I am familiar with the general principles of Schopenhauer's thinking. As is well-known, when the first books explaining Buddhism came to be published in the West, Schopenhauer was intrigued, not to say, highly pleased, that the Dhamma was so similar in some ways to his own philosophy. He wrote: 'If I wished to take the results of my philosophy as the standard of truth, I should have to concede to Buddhism pre-eminence over the others. In any case, it must be a pleasure to me to see my doctrine in such close agreement with a religion that the majority of men on earth hold as their own, for this numbers far more followers than any other. And this agreement must be yet the more pleasing to me, inasmuch as in my philosophizing I have certainly not been under its influence. For up till 1818, when my work appeared, there was to be found in Europe only a very few accounts of Buddhism.' I have also long admired the grumpy old philosopher because he was an early advocate of animal rights, or at least to the virtue of kindness and respect for animals. I quote him again: 'Since compassion for animals is so intimately associated with goodness of character, it may be confidently asserted that whoever is cruel to animals cannot be a good man.'Anyway, coming to know that he was buried just down the road, Herbert took me to see the grave, buying a carnation on the way. The grave is to the left of the entrance, in a rather beautiful corner and surrounded by a low hedge. I lay the carnation on his grave and radiated metta to the great man. Then we took a walk through the lovely old cemetery. It was a most pleasant afternoon.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Light, Camera, Buddha!

When I first heard the news I was delighted. But after thinking about it for a few moments I started to have a panic attack. Ashutosh Gowariker is going to direct a mega-budget film on the life of the Buddha. His last several films, especially Jodha Akbar, have been hits and there is no denying the finesse and skill of his directing and camera work. And apparently the film will be based on Thich Nhat Hanh's Old Path White Clouds which is a good retelling of the Buddha's life. The Dalai Lama has 'given his blessing' to the film but I really don’t think that counts for much. He 'gives his blessings' to just about anything nowadays. On the downside, I read that the film is going to be shot in the Himalayas which will take the Buddha's story completely out of its historical and geographical setting. And when I think about the other attempts to film a life of the Buddha it has to make you a bit nervous. 'Little Buddha' was, lets face it, a disaster. The lotuses sprouting from the ground as baby Prince Siddhattha took his first steps was as visually impressive as anything Bernardo Bertolucci has ever done and Keanu Reeves did look something like what I imagine Prince Siddhattha looked like. But where did they get the pancavaggiya bhikkhus from? - a home for retired and toothless Indian beggars? And as for the idea of Lama Dorje being reborn into two, three or four different bodies, I have spent much of the last 16 years trying to explain to people that this is an idea unique to Tibetan tradition and not at all in harmony with mainline Dhamma. The Hindi silent movie Buddhadev done in the 1920's was, if I remember correctly, the first attempt to make a film on the life of the Buddha but I know nothing about it. I have seen Teinosuke Kinugasa's 1954 effort and its not bad, except that the actors, the setting and the costumes are all Japanese. Those of you from my generation will have probably seen Conrad Rooks' 1972 Siddhartha in which the Buddha appears without actually being seen. Then there is Sheshagiri Rao's recent Buddha which I am told by Indian friends is long, dull and biographical inauthentic. Then there is the matter of who they are going to have for the leading role. If they asked me (and they haven’t done so yet although I am expecting a call any day now) I would choose the young Telugu star Siddhartha Suryanarayan. He is a relatively good actor, or at least no worse than the others, he has the looks and he even has the right name.
But seriously, a good film on the life of the Buddha is long overdue. Many incidents in the Buddha's life should lend themselves well to skillful cinematography; it’s a wonderful story (no killing, executions, rapes, crucifixions, etc), and it could have an appeal beyond a Buddhist audience. Lets hope Ashutosh Gowariker can do the needful.

Monday, June 22, 2009

My Trip

My recent trip to Europe was both fruitful and enjoyable, a chance to do a bit more a bit less work, a bit more meditation, to re-connect with old friends and make new ones. I arrived in Frankfurt and then went to Euerdorf near Wurzburg and stayed with my good friend Ingrid Baum. There I did two weekend meditation courses and gave several evening talks, went for walks in the forest and delighted in the blackbirds’ songs at twilight. I also took a few day trips. The highlight was seeing magnificent altarpiece at Munnerstadt and the beautiful baroque cathedral at Fulda. I also visited the lovely medieval Franciscan monastery at (I can’t remember the name of the place) but was unable to meet any of the monks – they were preoccupied with making beer and selling it to the tourists!
Then I spent a week in Frankfurt enjoying the hospitality of Herbert Rusche, an old radical, former green member of the Bundstag and now council member of the German Buddhist Union. I have never met Herbert before but we hit it off well from the beginning. Herbert showed me around the city and arranged a few talks for me as well. While in Frankfurt I also met the nuns at the Fu Kwan Shan centre, the monks at both the Sri Lankan and the Burmese temples and made acquaintance with the Israeli monk Phra Ofer Adi who happened to be on his annual visit to Germany. I also went up to Kevelaer near the Dutch border and spent two most pleasant days with publisher Michel Hellbach and his family at his beautiful farm. Michel publishes those great Buddhist calendars (see www.tishita.com/catalog-us/).

Then it was off to Paris to meet my youngest brother Charles who I have not seen in seven years. We had the use of a flat in the city. We went out early each morning, saw the sights, returned at about four for a rest and a shower, and then went out again until dark, which at this time of the year in Europe comes down at about 9.30. I had missed the Louvre last time I was in the city and was determined to see it this time. Now there is one serious problem confronting anyone visiting the Louvre – that being what to see, given that there is just so much. I had already settled on the Egyptian, Greek and Roman collection topped off with a quick peep at the Mona Lisa. Several hours left me utterly satiated and ready to leave. But as we made our way to the exit we passed by the Mesopotamian galleries. Suddenly my feet were not so tired anymore and we postponed our departure and went there too. In the next few days Charles showed me the other sights (Place de la Concorde, Notre Dame, the Left Bank, the Eiffel Tower, the Hotel des Invalides, Arc de Triomphe, Sacre-Cour) and tried to shield me from rude waiters. I wanted to visit Musee Gilmant and Musee Albert Kahn but time didn’t allow. Next trip. Then we took the train to Renne in Brittany where I spent a most pleasant, peaceful and relaxed eight days being treated to superb French cuisine by Charles’ wife Catharine and getting to know my little niece Sophie. We took several trips out of Renne, the being to Bayeax, because I have always wanted to see the famous tapestry. We avoided Caen because Obama was due the next day and we didn’t want to get delayed by tight security.
Okay! Now its back to the treadmill. Er, sorry! The Dhamma wheel.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Back Again

‘When a man who has been away for a long time and has returned safely from afar, his kinsmen, friends and companion welcome him back’ (Dhp.219). And so it is with me. I have returned from my trip to Europe and will re-commence my blog on the 22nd of this month. I hope you will join me then.