Archive for May, 2008

Inspired by the always delightful DharmaRealm podcast which discussed the oddity of seeing Buddha statues in museums in a recent episode

A year or so ago, when I went to the Norton Simon museum for a completely non-Buddhist reason and found a basement full of Buddhist art, I had three main questions:

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For the community minded Buddhist in Southern California, May is a time of much bustling about. The region is blessed with a vibrant Buddhist community or laypersons and monastics of all different traditions. We also do Vesak up right, again and again and again.

It is not uncommon for each temple or center to offer their own celebration while also participating in one or two larger non-sectarian pan-temple ceremonies. Throwing in things like Tzu Chi, student groups, and other organizations, May can be a time of great celebration, and a time where a great number of brown cardboard boxes need moving.

Still, my favorite Buddha Day of all time, was two years ago when no one came. (more…)

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Statue of Jizo (NYTimes)
A garden statue of Jizo

More confessions: I am one of those liberal junkies who has the New York Times set as my homepage. And this is why I was pleasantly surprised when when I turned on my computer and my browser opened with Dharma in the Dirt as the feature article for the New York Times.

I’m not used to seeing mention of Buddhism in the news media. And when it is, it’s sometimes a little off target. (If you follow the previous link, note the correction at the bottom of the page.) There are many more opinions about advertising and misuse of images on other blogs.

The article is about Wendy Johnson, a former Green Gulch resident, and her organic garden. I enjoyed this article because (aside from my love for gardening) it didn’t put Buddhism front and center, but as a backdrop. Like other gardeners, I was curious as to how a Buddhist practitioner deals with garden pests. How do you deal with snails and slugs? But you’ll have to read that for yourself…

It’s also worth checking out the great slide show!

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I love the Dharma dearly, but sometimes I feel uneasy about the free ride that Buddhism gets from those who are prone to religious criticism. As reasonable and rational as it is, Buddhism has a very aspects which are just as silly as those found in other religions. There are times when I fear that the generally positive perception that so many people have about Buddhism is going to eventually swing the other way, and swing far. In some extreme corners this is already happening.

But I want to do my part; I want to defend against the backlash, and have good fun in doing it. Which is why I present:

Silly Stories from Samsara:
When Buddhism lacks mindfulness


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Happy Asian American Heritage Month!

Bekeley Ohtani boy’s team, 1941

In my Angry Asian post, I slipped in a small bit about basketball. I did it to make a point — but I really don’t know much about the game. For many of my friends, though, basketball was a major component of their Buddhist American experience, played out on the courts at their childhood temples.


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While I was going to community college, I took a class on “World Religions.” The text was Michael Molloy’s Experiencing the World’s Religions, which is a comely tome that has only received a more attractive cover as time and editions have gone by.

Notice the multicolored soothing waterfall.

It was an enjoyable class, and as sometimes happens, the class bonded as we probed the questions that really mattered. When it was time for the class to end, I asked a number of my different classmates about how they enjoyed it. I got the exact same response from every single one of them:

“The class explained the other religions really well, but was TOTALLY OFF about my religion!”


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I don’t want to sound like the Angry Asian Man, but I’ve had a hard time finding articles about Asian American Buddhists.

This is one of the classic issues for Asian Americans. The underrepresented minority caught between two worlds. Asian Americans born and raised in North America must continually confront a mainstream perception that they aren’t American enough. At the same time, Asian Americans face pressures from both within and outside the Asian American community of not being Asian enough.

The real issue for young Buddhists in the Asian American community is that there are very few Buddhist communities that they can go to without having to suppress part of their identity. Culturally Asian temples emphasize language and culture, which can be really intimidating for Asian American youth who feel excessively high cultural expectations placed on them. There is probably no coincidence that the virtually all Asian American Buddhists who are active in their communities are also fluent in their parents’ native language and culture.

But on the other hand, culturally American Buddhist centers often feel impersonal when stripped of culturally Asian (but maybe spiritually-lite) practices. And it’s hard for these American centers to understand the perspective of young Asian Americans, who may be intimately familiar with Buddhist symbolism and ritual, but don’t know what it all stands for. An iconoclastic emphasis on philosophy often smacks of inauthenticity.

Then again, there are organizations like the BCA that have really, in my opinion, managed to forge a unique Asian American identity. But cultural divisions in the Asian American Buddhist community continue. BCA Youth are more likely to play basketball with Japanese Methodists than with GĐPT youth (who also have basketball teams).

So is there a place for Asian American Buddhists in today’s Buddhist community? Maybe this is why the Pew study said that 50% of Buddhists choose not to keep the faith…

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Culver City Bus

Confession: I live in Los Angeles and I ride the bus.

I don’t do it by choice, I don’t have a car. But I’ve used my ride to work as a daily opportunity to meditate. It’s a 27 minute trip. I sit down, close my eyes, place my hands on my knees and focus on my breath. Indeed, it’s bumpy, sometimes smelly, always noisy. Most mornings, I hear people talking on the phone in Spanish, Tamil or Kannada. But in any event, if I can catch my mind wandering, then I can always tug it gently back to the breath. On some days that ‘tug’ is more of a strong ‘yank’.

Over the past month, I’ve changed the focus of my meditation from the breath to loving kindness. I guess I just wanted to be more of a metta-kind-of-guy. I mean, wouldn’t you want to work next to someone who was always radiating metta?

I’ve had friends for whom loving kindness was the best practice ever. For me (and others too), it’s been a practice that takes some time. When I was younger, I didn’t feel much benefit when I tried it. Still, some of my teachers have been real proponents of metta meditation (“Every morning for an hour, starting at 5:30am!”) and that alone convinced me to fold it into my own practice. I memorized two sutras (this one and this one), and incorporated them into my (sometimes) daily routine. I usually do this meditation just before I go to bed. I’ll admit that on many nights, I tuck myself in and then it goes like this: “May I be happy, peaceful and… zzZZzz…”

Now that I do loving kindness on the bus, this meditation has taken a less traditional structure. I start my meditation focusing metta on myself, and then I focus sequentially on each passenger (and the driver too). I’ve found true benefits. On the bus, I’m always making quiet judgments (“Please don’t sit next to me!”). Metta meditation is the exact opposite (“May you have a great life! May you have no troubles! May you overcome all obstacles!”). How pleasant to use positive thinking to confront negativity at the very moment (or even before) it arises! Bus meditation also has its unique challenges. People are getting on and off all the time, and it’s hard to give each of them their fair share of loving kindness. It can feel like doing mental acrobatics as five people all step off the bus at once!

Finally when it’s my turn to hop off, I stand on the corner and wish loving kindness to the whole bus. May you be kind, peaceful and free from suffering.

May all beings be happy, peaceful and free from suffering!

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