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Archive for July, 2008

The story of declining adherence to Buddhism in Japan is certainly old news. I was used to hearing about “funeral Buddhism” in Japan, where families only go to temple for funerals. But apparently even that’s on the decline, according to this article in the New York Times.

The lack of successors to chief priests is jeopardizing family-run temples nationwide.

While interest in Buddhism is declining in urban areas, the religion’s rural strongholds are being depopulated, with older adherents dying and birthrates remaining low.

Perhaps most significantly, Buddhism is losing its grip on the funeral industry, as more and more Japanese are turning to funeral homes or choosing not to hold funerals at all.

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Courtesy of Buddhist Channel and Youtube, we have an insightful lecture by Prof. Lancaster on the historical spread of Buddhism, it’s basic teachings personally reworked and interpreted, and the importance of digital technology in it’s preservation and continued growth. Enjoy!

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So I work at a place where I get to write about religion, and guess what I got yesterday in the mail, totally unsolicited:

That’s right, it is the Annual Religion Newswriters Conference! Apparently! I guess?

I had no idea such a thing existed, and I have a few things to say about it at a latter date but, for now, read more to see some of the convention’s program.

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*Disclaimer* I am not a linguist by any means. My lack of understanding of Pali, Greek, and possibly English validates any grain of salt thrown at this post. Put your Skeptics hat on, my friends.

Around 250 BCE, the Third Buddhist Council convened under the patronage of Asoka, emperor of the pan-Indian Mauryan empire. The council’s purpose was to expunge the heretical and false, including both the views of dhamma and monastics. The council compiled the teachings and rules that would be considered the “teachings of the Elders”, Theravada.¹

After the council had concluded, Asoka sent out missionaries on the behalf of the Theravadins to all parts of the known world, including the Hellenic world.

These missionairies would have been called the Sons of the Elders, Theraputta. Although there is little record, Asoka claims to have reached Egypt and Greece with the dhamma.

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I played the wooden fish for the first and currently only time on May 17th, 2008. I had received a call that same morning half-asking but mostly telling me to do it at a Vesak celebration later that day.

I had never abused fish, gong, nor bell before, and hurried to try and be hastily taught by a friend of mine before show time. Education be damned, I ended up flustering about and striking the thing about twice as much as I should have. Rolling Stone praised my “rock steady baselines and infectious hooks,” but Buddhist chanting it was not. It was one of the most horrifyingly embarrassing experiences I have ever weathered and I regret not skipping town and hopping a freight train the morning of.

And nobody who wasn’t wearing robes knew the difference.
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Or an analysis of Lay Responsibility

Earlier today I picked up my copy of Bhikkhu Bodhi’s Majjhima Nikaya and saw an index card jutting out from within the pages. I flipped to the proper place and found MN 67, the Catuma Sutta, and remembered I had set it aside because I wanted to talk about it here.

There isn’t a satisfactory translation available online, so let me summarize: The Buddha is residing near the city of Catuma when he overhears a group of monks being particularly noisy. He calls the monks before him and dismisses them, telling them to leave because they are too loud.

As the group of monks is leaving, the local villagers see them walking away with their heads hung low. Some of these villagers then go before the Buddha and implore him to allow the monks to return, so that they can live near the Buddha and be trained properly. The Brahma Sahampati shows up and makes a similar plea to add a divine component – the Buddha relents, lets the monks return, and then gives a more formal teaching on some of the dangers of the monastic life.

What I love about this sutta is the way it depicts the relationship between the lay and monastic communities, and how it speaks to certain responsibilities that modern communities somewhat neglect.

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During my short retreat at Thich Ca Thien Vien, I learned something new about my meditation experience. I’ve only been on one other retreat, and it lasted just as long, however I did not run into quite the same roadblock. The meditation itself was as to be expected, periods of calm and quiet interspersed with thoughts, planning, fidgeting, and impatience.

The roadblock only emerged after some friends had left early in the morning. Prior to that, meditation had actually proceeded quite well, if we were to define “well” as silent, peaceful, and restful. The breathe would go in and out, and focus naturally built up without much effort. My chirpy little cricket friends sang their night song while I sat with my friends in the meditation hall. Thoughts would of course appear, but they subsided soon after, again drowned out by the silence and the chirping.

After my friends left to attend some business, I immediately felt a drop in encouragement. I had planned to stay the weekend with or without them, but after they left, my enthusiasm went as well. I tended to sitting and walking again, but without the same “success” as the previous sessions. Even after my fellow Dharmafolks came for visit later in the day, that same ease of meditation did not return. Instead, many thoughts had come, mostly about when the hour would pass.

While not a success in the previously mentioned sense, this period of sitting and walking did show me one thing. I know I’m lacking the energy and enthusiasm to continue finding stillness. My effort was not right because I did not want to stay in one position for such a long time. I would rather be there, not here! What was I thinking, going to meditation at the temple with that attitude? Of course I’m going to be impatient. My views and intentions were not in harmony with being still. It wanted to get up, move to ease the stiffness, think about what time it was, if the hour had passed….Sit? Fie!

Silly rabbit.

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