Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Vishvapani on Cloning, the Skhandas and Ethics

Hear the latest "Thought for the Day" from Vishvapani Here in our Audio Section. He talks of the latest advances in cloning, how they relate to the five skhandas and what they mean from a Buddhist ethical perspective.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Wikileaks, Truth & Right Speech

It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself. ~Thomas Jefferson

So Wikileaks have done it again and are putting America's dirty laundry out for all to see. Wikileaks bases it's raison d'etre on Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states, "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers".

But, in Buddhist terms, are these revelations "Right Speech"? Right, or skillful speech is the third of the eight path factors in the Noble Eightfold Path, it is speech that does not harm another being. "And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, and from idle chatter: This is called right speech."

The key point here is that of divisive speech and does the "fault" lie with those who "spoke" it and/or with those who repeat it? From a Buddhist perspective, intention is all important. Is there an intention to harm in either the original comments or in the reporting of them?

"One should speak only that word by which one would not torment oneself nor harm others. That word is indeed well spoken.

"One should speak only pleasant words, words which are acceptable (to others). What one speaks without bringing evils to others is pleasant."

"Truth is indeed the undying word; this is an ancient verity. Upon truth, the good say, the goal and the teaching are founded."


Saturday, 27 November 2010

A Challenge to Buddhists

I've just come across this piece by Bhikkhu Bodhi from Buddhadharma magazine. It directly addresses the question of how engaged with the problems of the world should we, as western Buddhists, be?

A Challenge to Buddhists
By Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Each morning, I check out a number of Internet news reports and commentaries on websites ranging from the BBC to Truthout. Reading about current events strongly reinforces for me the acuity of the Buddha’s words: “The world is grounded upon suffering.” Almost daily I am awed by the enormity of the suffering that assails human beings on every continent, and even more by the hard truth that so much of this suffering springs not from the vicissitudes of impersonal nature but from the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion raging in the human heart.

Seeing the immensity of the world’s anguish has raised in my mind questions about the future prospects for Buddhism in the West. I’ve been struck by how seldom the theme of global suffering—the palpable suffering of real human beings—is thematically explored in the Buddhist journals and teachings with which I am acquainted. It seems to me that we Western Buddhists tend to dwell in a cognitive space that defines the first noble truth largely against the background of our middle-class lifestyles:

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Yet another Buddhist "Thought for the Day"

Vishvapani was featured again on the Today program's "Thought for the Day" this Saturday (20th November). This time he was reflecting on the tribulations effecting the Irish economy and went on to say......

I am very interested in the Buddha's reflections on how a crisis can be an opportunity for understanding.

Firstly, as our illusions deflate, we are brought back to a sobering sense of reality in which we see that we've put our faith in things that are fundamentally insecure. Then he suggested we look at the traits that led us to be taken in..................................

Listen to the whole broadcast (2:55 minutes) in our Audio Section.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

The 2011 Census - Say if You're Buddhist!

Having recently received a rather strange email from Census Recruitment Networking saying...

"One of the largest current campaigns in the UK has begun as recruitment gets underway to fill over 29,000 temporary part time and full time vacancies to make the 2011 Census a success – and we need your help!

We would really appreciate the help of Buddhism: West Wight Sangha, Buddhist Group in recruiting local people by spreading the word about the vacancies and directing people to our dedicated recruitment site:"

I thought it appropriate to quote this from the Buddhist Society,


The next UK Census takes place on 27th March 2011.

The previous Census, in 2001, was the first to ask people to identify their religious affiliations, if indeed they had any.

Buddhism was included as one of the 6 major religions represented in the UK.

This was the first opportunity to measure the number of Buddhists in Britain and resulted in 152,000 people ticking the Buddhist box—roughly 0.25% of the total population.

As before, the religion question is once again a voluntary one.

The Buddhist Society encourages all members and friends—whether they formally follow a particular Buddhist School, occasionally practice Buddhist meditation, or just feel a great affinity with the Buddha’s teaching—to take this opportunity to identify themselves as Buddhist.

This will help to give a balanced view of the numbers of people living in the UK who are inspired by the Buddha’s Path of wisdom and compassion, and ensure that the Buddhist community is properly represented in our national life.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Vishvapani on Aung San Suu Kyi

Listen to Vishvapani on Aung San Suu Kyi on our Audio page.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Britain’s first Buddhist College to open at Glasgow University

An inaugural one-year diploma course will be open to students from the start of the next academic year in September 2011.

One of the driving forces behind the College is Glasgow’s “Maryhill monk”, the Venerable K. Sri Rewatha Thero.

The Buddhist College UK will be modelled on the Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka, the Venerable Rewatha’s home country. The Venerable Rewatha is also Buddhist Chaplain to Glasgow University.

He said: “The course will provide an academic approach to Buddhism and open up inter-faith dialogue in Scotland. Setting up the college is a great achievement and I am delighted to be part of it.”

Tutors will include the Venerable Rewatha and Doctor Kenneth Hutton of the University’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies.

Successful students can go on to take a degree course.

The Vice Chancellor of Sri Lanka’s Buddhist and Pali University, Professor Ittademaliye Indasara Nayaka Thero is in Glasgow for the launch. He said: “Buddhism is not confined to one generation, one country or even one race.”

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

“Grain of Emptiness: Buddhism-Inspired Contemporary Art”

17th century Central Tibeten thanka of Guhyasa...
The following is an art review, by Karen Rosenberg, taken from the 4th of November edition of the New York Times. It refers to a Buddhist inspired exhibition at the Rubin Museum of Art, the premier museum of Himalayan art in the Western world.

Also have a look at our previous post "Buddhist Exhibition at the British Museum".

The Buddhist influence on art of the past 50 years is, like much else in the Buddhist worldview, immeasurable. “Grain of Emptiness: Buddhism-Inspired Contemporary Art,” at the Rubin Museum of Art, wisely doesn’t attempt such a survey. Instead it offers up an eclectic, not-the-usual-suspects group of five artists: Sanford Biggers, Theaster Gates, Atta Kim, Wolfgang Laib and Charmion von Wiegand.

It may be a stretch to call Ms. von Wiegand (1896-1983) a “contemporary” artist, but never mind; her colorful abstract paintings from the 1950s and ’60s are revelatory and relevant. And in any case this show takes the long view, interspersing the recent art with Himalayan works that date from the 12th through 19th centuries.

None of the five artists consider themselves Buddhists, but they all lean heavily on the religion’s symbols, tenets and rituals. As implied by the show’s puzzler of a title, the concept of emptiness, or “shunyata” in Sanskrit, is particularly important to them.

That word requires some clarification, because non-Buddhists will be tempted to interpret it as “nothingness.” In Buddhism “emptiness” refers to the interdependence of all phenomena. To put it simply, reality as we know it is an illusion because nothing can exist on its own.

It’s also important, for this show’s purposes, to distance emptiness and the void from some of their formalist associations. With few exceptions, pared-down imagery has little place in the works at the Rubin. The museum’s chief curator, Martin Brauen, who organized the show, writes in his catalog essay that “fullness of form, as manifested for example in a mandala, is emptiness, and emptiness is this fullness of form.”

Ms. von Wiegand’s paintings, for instance, are extravagantly full: of colors, symbols and spiritual directives. This artist, a friend of Piet Mondrian’s who shared his interests in theosophy and neoplasticism, came to know Tibetan Buddhism relatively late in life. In the 1960s, while studying with the Tibetan guru Khyongla Rato, she started to incorporate mandalas, chakras and other Buddhist symbols into her abstract compositions.

At the Rubin you can compare the triangular designs in Ms. von Wiegand’s “Chakras” (1958-68) with those in a 17th-century bronze Nepalese yantra, a decorative object used to bring focus to the mind. The painting’s frenetic channels of multicolored squares, meanwhile, will have you meditating on Mondrian’s “Boogie Woogies.”

Mr. Biggers also appropriates Buddhist symbolism in “Lotus” (2007), an enormous glass flower that hangs over the museum’s spiral staircase. On its petals he has hand-etched rows of paper-doll-like figures, based on diagrams of slave-ship holds. In another place “Lotus” might evoke suffering and transcendence, but the Rubin’s plush, decorous setting makes it look benignly ornamental.

In contrast, Mr. Kim’s photographs articulate Buddhist thoughts without doing much in the way of art. His long-exposure photographs of hectic urban streets blur foot and car traffic while retaining architecture, an idea that’s as old as Daguerre. And his digitally layered “portraits,” which collapse hundreds of facial images into archetypal Tibetan men and women, make the idea of selflessness almost too accessible.

The singers shown in close-up in Mr. Gates’s video “Breathing” (2010) flow from Japanese mantras into African-American spirituals. All are members of Mr. Gates’s Buddhist/gospel chorus, the Black Monks of Mississippi, which he has been directing since 2008. Their cross-cultural chants fill the galleries, adding to, rather than distracting from, the other works. Performance also figures in the sculptures of Mr. Laib, which combine Minimalist forms with Buddhist rituals. “Rice Meals,” for instance, involves a row of brass plates holding small mountains of uncooked rice and hazelnut pollen.

During the show’s installation Mr. Laib was a monkish presence, sitting shoeless on the gallery floor as he spooned the pollen from a jar. “If you’re not careful, the pollen is sliding down like lava from a volcano, and you have to start all over again,” he told the museum crew.

The setup of his latest “Milkstone” (2010), a slightly hollowed white marble slab covered with a thin film of milk, was just as exacting. After pouring milk from a small ceramic pitcher onto the center of the stone, Mr. Laib used a moistened fingertip to drag the liquid out to the corners.

The whole process, which will be repeated daily by trained installers, was austere yet sensuous; it brought to mind not only the history of white monochrome paintings, from Malevich to Robert Ryman, but also Vermeer’s milkmaid. “If art is really good it can include everything,” Mr. Laib says in one of the catalog’s many koanlike statements.

That’s food for thought. Still, it’s probably best to think of “Grain of Emptiness” as an unorthodox sampling of Buddhism in recent art — one that supplements (but doesn’t replace) well-known works by John Cage, Yves Klein, Agnes Martin, Brice Marden, Bruce Nauman and many, many others.

“Grain of Emptiness: Buddhism-Inspired Contemporary Art” continues through April 11 at the Rubin Museum of Art, 150 West 17th Street, Chelsea; (212) 620-5000, rmanyc.org.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

A Female Lineage in Zen

The following is an article by Norman Fischer, Soto Zen Roshi, poet and author.

About 15 years ago, when I was abbot of the San Francisco Zen Centre, a woman came into my formal interview room early in the morning, sat down and burst into tears. This was surprising, considering she was a pretty rough looking woman, with lots of leather, piercings and tattoos. I asked her why she was crying and she said, "Today in service, like every day, we chanted the Zen lineage and it was all men! I feel such pain for all the women left out over the generations."

For me this was as big an enlightenment experience as I ever had. It changed me immediately and completely. Of course, I had been well aware that the lineage we chanted every day was entirely male. And I realized that this was not right.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Buddhism's alternative path

Talking about great articles on Buddhism in the Guardian, there is also this one by Jaya Graves from Thursday 28th of October........

Buddhism is often defined as a religion. Books on the subject are tumbled into religious sections of libraries and bookshops. Occasionally, they appear on philosophy shelves. But how does it define itself? Buddhists refer to the "dharma" – the way. Buddhism is not a theistic religion. There is no creator god issuing commandments, judging or punishing. Nor is there anyone who promises salvation. Salvation is possible, even inevitable, but we will reach it through our own efforts. Neither is Buddhism a philosophy. It aims to go beyond concepts, the domain of western philosophy. To do this it uses a rigorous investigation of inner and outer phenomena that include ideas, emotions, actions and interactions. Phenomena are unstable and impermanent – a dance of particles – an instability we are unable to control. We cannot create permanence.

Imagining we can control phenomena creates many of our current delusions and anxiety. And from this stems our conflicts with ourselves, with each other, between neighbourhoods and nations. Since the data of our human situation are subject to continual change it follows that our investigation must also be continuous and our conclusions must be adjusted. This personal investigation is central to Buddhist practice. There are no laboratories. No contrived replication. For this reason the process is sometimes dismissed as subjective and unscientific. It is not "evidence-based". I argue that it is in fact tested and evidence-based but not necessarily within the western framework of investigation. It is personal but it is not subjective. We have the support of teachings and commentaries. Investigative practices have been explored and established. Skilled and wise researchers have "peer reviewed" these over millennia and continue to do so. But in the end it is our own inner tenacity, our passionate intention through which we must judge our path and progress.

This core practice is undertaken not only to create a degree of ease in ourselves but through a commitment to everything that lives. The development of compassion for all things is part of being human and cannot be conditional. It must include those with whom we agree, whose belief systems are congruent to our own as well as those we may traditionally see as enemies, whose belief systems challenge our own or whose interpretation of life is alien to ours. We need to be judicious but we cannot judge the person, only the action.

Buddhism is moving from the fringes to centre stage. It offers strategies to deal with fraught lives. Meditative practices can be oases of calm at home or in centres. It is not a continuous assault to make choices, make judgements, accumulate information, juggle loyalties. It turns the attention inward.

The binary frameworks generally used to explain or explore our experience are flawed. Contradiction is is the stuff of our human condition. We are not asked to repress and destroy this. Instead it is suggested that they obscure our true nature. We are urged to investigate these obscurations and are offered methods to transform them. So anger can become energy. Pain can teach us sympathy and concern for all.

Buddhism recognises that suffering is our inheritance and will be our legacy. It makes demands in how we locate ourselves in the world. For me, in this context, it raises questions about the infliction of a model of infinite growth on a finite system; of our assumptions of entitlement to resources; our profligate use and treatment of land and water. It challenges the notion that our main concern is "the family". It isn't. There is a family beyond the family, beyond the neighbourhood, beyond the state, the country. Nuclear families are only a microcosm of this. Our care has to be embedded in the wider context. It is not a competition. It is reconfiguration.

Tried and tested methods of making an inner journey are offered. These enable us to change our own responses to a world in flux. Beyond worldly flux with which we must engage there is a timeless truth.