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We’ve moved!

As of September 2013, we’ve moved this site to dharmafolk.org. This new site gives us a little more flexibility of design and many fewer ads to contend with. We’re also hoping to write a little bit more, and we look forward to seeing you there!

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ImageThe fires of suffering and strife rage around the world,” and continue to rage in the Rakhine state of Burma. Recent sectarian strife between Arakanese Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslim community have claimed the lives of at least 78 people, and displaced over 80,000 fleeing from the violence. With the situation degenerating into a vicious cycle of hate begetting hate, it has come to light that some Buddhist monastics are actively engaged in fanning the flames by calling on lay people to disassociate with the Rohingya and actively blocking humanitarian aid to the refugee camps.

Shame on any monastics who would use their moral authority to suade others in enhancing suffering. While their Arakanese identity may compel them to act in ways that hurt others, they also wear the ochre robe and carry with it the freedoms and responsibilities of their monastic precepts. Their renunciation embodied by the first precept has now been made useless. By their own actions, these monastics demonstrate that they do not deserve to wear the ochre robe.

I realize that the situation is not so black and white. However, the Arakanese and Rohingya alike are sharing in pain. The face of suffering is the same among all people and the cycle of violence rings throughout history. In the late 1960’s, my parents, their families, and many of their Toisan community were driven away by the Burmese and fled into Maoist China. Though the conditions were not great, at least they had a state which would accept them as Han Chinese and would provide a home.

The Rohingya have no state advocates and have shuttled back and forth between Bangladesh and Burma for many decades. Burma’s Presidential Office has stated that “It is impossible for Burma to accept people who are not ethnic to the country and who have entered illegally.” Their situation grows more desperate as the violence continues, as more people are displaced, and as more languish in camps without the infrastructure or supplies to support them. Organizations that have stood up for the Rohingya include the UN and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation. Unfortunately, as the violence continues, the Rohingya’s list of advocates now include the Pakistani Taliban, who have said, “We will avenge your blood.”

Aung San Suu Kyi, in your Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, you acknowledged the ongoing strife in your native Burma. We all celebrate your release and your continued work for democracy in your country. This means that you are again a politician for your constituents: speaking on their behalf, and sharing their concerns. Your freedom to speak as you choose is also delicately tied to the whims of a state still emerging and fragile in its transition towards democracy. Nevertheless, the moral authority you possess reaches across national boundaries as we lend you our ears. Please speak out. Your voice as a mediator are needed in this conflict. Lend your compassion with the humanitarian aid organizations  and help to relieve the suffering in Burma.

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I went through my first breakup last November, around the time of Thanksgiving, and anyone who has been through a breakup knows what that feels like. For those that don’t, I felt like my mind split into two halves: one side able to understand the situation and why it was the best for both of us to end the relationship mutually while the other side cringed in misery over missing him and wondering if things could have turned out differently “if only I had ____”. I couldn’t sort out the thoughts driven by emotional angst from those formed from reason and logic. I felt like I had no control over my thoughts or emotions, which as a practicing Buddhist can be a frightening experience. As with many problems and frustrations that arise in my life, I sought to try and find an approach to deal with this through Buddhism.

And yet, the mere thought of turning to Buddhism for relationship advice seemed laughable. Getting caught up in a relationship seemed to break the golden rule in Buddhism: that attachment leads to suffering. And I knew what Buddhism would say: (1) true happiness starts with non-attachment , (2) attachment causes suffering, (3) I became attached to him, therefore, (4) I would suffer. Everything seemed to play out just like the concepts in Buddhism claimed they would. Without really even trying, I turned away from Buddhism as a source of advice, expecting the dreaded feeling  of “I told you so”.

Just a few weeks ago at the library, I came upon a new book from Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh called Fidelity. The brief synopsis on the back cover of the book asks questions like “How can we get a new relationship off to a strong and stable start?” and “How do we take care of our jealousy, restlessness, and loneliness?”. For many Buddhist-themed self-help books, I find the information esoteric and difficult to actually apply to my own personal life. Buddhism itself is very complicated and can even upon understanding the teachings, application can require whole other stage of fluency. What I found pleasant about this book is that for a subject that seems so distant from what Buddhists “should” be thinking about, there is actually a lot Buddhists have to say about how not to think about it.

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“Vietnamese immigrants in California have hired a white American man to teach Buddhism to their kids because they think they will relate to the teacher and to his English. Lisa Napoli reports from Long Beach.”

Audio with transcript: http://www.theworld.org/2010/08/09/buddhist-teacher-for-vietnamese-immigrants/

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My friends recently made a trip to Las Vegas and came back telling me that I should go to “TAO”. For those that aren’t familiar (like me), TAO is popular Asian-themed restaurant and nightclub in Las Vegas. Though I’ve never been, browsing through their website will give you a good sense of what it’s like.

From my friends’ clubbing experience, they described seeing many statues of the Buddha as part of the themed-decoration and scantily-clad woman dancing (probably in the way that young people do nowadays) against the statues. After hearing this, I really wish I could go, take a photo, and post it here. But I can’t so I’m just working off my friends’ description and my imagination.

I think this could possibly be the worse case of using Buddhism out of it’s religious context. And usually, if the Buddha or different aspects of Buddhism are used out of context, I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt that it may be harmless. But this is different. TAO is using representations of the Buddha to make money from encouraging sex appeal and alcohol without taking into consideration what the Buddha actually symbolizes for the Buddhist community. To me, that is highly offensive.th

What’s even more interesting (and telling) is that this is the first time I’ve heard anyone I know who’s gone to TAO mention the strange paradox of using the Buddha to decorate a nightclub.  I don’t expect people to be hypersensitive and constantly on the lookout for “out of context Buddhism” like me, but doesn’t anyone feel awkward dancing next to the Buddha with Usher’s new song playing in the background? Apparently not.

But if that mouthful doesn’t make any sense, don’t take my word for it. Head on over to Vegas with your makeup and clubbing outfit, bring your ID, buy a few drinks to get tipsy, and party the night away with the Buddha at TAO.

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The Last Airbender is a live action movie coming out on the weekend of July 4th based on a Nickelodean cartoons series, Avatar: The Last Airbender. It is being directed by M. Night Shyamalan and there is great controversy over various aspects of the film. I will be referring to the cartoon series as “Avatar”, not to be confused with James Cameron’s Avatar film.

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Going along with arun’s last post on branding, Western culture has definitely used the Buddha as a brand, a way to market products of all kinds, most of the time not related to Buddhism in any way. It’s the commercialization of Buddhism and if we take a closer look around us and increase our sensitivity to it, we can see that it’s everywhere. In a way, it’s interesting because in a dominantly Christian society, Buddhism makes appearances quite often – just not necessarily in a Buddhist context. Here are some examples I’ve noticed:

Buddha Balm

more Buddha Balm

Buddha Spa

True Religion Jeans

What is your first reaction when you see these? Is this acceptable, using the Buddha for purely commercial and marketing reasons? Feel free to share what you think about it – I’m curious to know.

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