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Archive for September, 2009

Ordinary_bicycle02This weekend I had the pleasure of listening to Dr. Lancaster, the brilliant and pioneering professor of Buddhist Studies, who gave a lecture at Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights. The title of his talk was “How Religions Learn,” though in the same way as many of my favorite speakers he used the talk as an opportunity to weave together his most recent thoughts and questions.

But Dr. Lancaster’s topic is a point of interest for me. It points to an uneasy contradiction in any religion’s self-composed history: religions must learn and change to respond to the spiritual needs of the people, but one of these fundamental needs is to have an absolute and unchanging truth to anchor ourselves to.

I worry that this contradiction is becoming increasingly insurmountable, and that religion is entering a place where it can no longer learn.
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Time for a Tonic

A wonderful post by Karen Maezen Miller has been circulating in my ring of friends, and it still puts a huge smile on my face.

It’s the time to reach for a tonic.

For fatigue: Be tired.
For impatience: Be still
For inflammation: Chill.
For despair: Empty completely.
For fear of getting nothing done: Get nothing done.
For having no time: Take time.
For lack of love: Love.
For disappointment: Dance.
For inadequacy: Give.
For no reason: Be unreasonable.
For others, pray.

For these and all other symptoms, exhale.

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I’ve found that the hardest Buddhist concepts to understand are those which predate Buddhism in one way or another. One of these is the Buddha’s teaching on the four Brahma-viharas: metta, karuna, mudita, and upekkha.

In the Pali suttas they are almost always mentioned as a set without additional descriptions, such that it is hard to know where each begins and ends.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s article Head and Heart Together: Bringing Wisdom to the Brahma-viharas does a really great job of explaining the Brahma-viharas and their interrelationships in a way this hapless practitioner can understand:

Of these four emotions, goodwill (metta) is the most fundamental. It’s the wish for true happiness, a wish you can direct to yourself or to others. […] The next two emotions in the list are essentially applications of goodwill. Compassion (karuna) is what goodwill feels when it encounters suffering: It wants the suffering to stop. Empathetic joy (mudita) is what goodwill feels when it encounters happiness: It wants the happiness to continue. Equanimity (upekkha) is a different emotion, in that it acts as an aid to and a check on the other three. When you encounter suffering that you can’t stop no matter how hard you try, you need equanimity to avoid creating additional suffering and to channel your energies to areas where you can be of help.

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UnityEdictSarnathweb-fullThe problem with free eBooks is that, for all the gains in access they offer by removing the constraints of traditional distribution they remove some of the methods of traditional promotion. For Buddhist monastic authors this is usually not a problem since free access is greatly prefered to fame and fortune, but this means that many great eBooks fall through the cracks, unnoticed.

Thus, attention all Buddhist nerds: read Ajahn Sujato’s Sects and Sectarianism immediately. I cannot think of a more important book written for the cause of Global Buddhism.

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Grief and Healing

Over on Dharma Mirror, Trang Tran writes about the grief surrounding the passing of the family dog Tony.

Paradoxically, his death brought to life the impermanence of our existence and how the greatest and truest love that you could ever give to anybody is in their darkest moment—the moment when they need you the most. Whether it’s your children, parents, or even a dog that you love and cherish with all your heart, you carry that love and compassion with you into your next life.

It’s a touching and topical post for me. When I was younger I remember being told of how we are all just shadows briefly passing over the earth. In that short time, it’s really up to us whether we decide it to be filled with love and happiness, or with anxiety and frustration. It’s why we should never miss the opportunity to share our metta, karuna, mudita and upekkha.

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Winging a Buddhist Memorial

Memorial Offering

Due to a cruelly prolonged illness, my aunt made the decision that upon her death, there would be no viewing, no funeral. Straight to the crematorium she’d go. In illness, there are plenty of things that other people can do to make your life easier. But when you die, you’re dead. Maybe. Buddhist tradition provides a number customs to help the deceased, but I had no idea what they were.

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Death in the Family

I’ve been blogging with the assumption that I could always find time to sit down for thirty minutes and blog, even if it meant copying a paragraph from a news story and adding some inane commentary. Even with the onslaught of budget deadlines that cannot be fudged (without the loss of flesh and blood), I can usually find the time to stack up posts for the week. Add in a death in the family, and my blogging goes on hold.

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