Friday, 28 June 2013

More on "Buddhist" Violence

This excellent piece is by Barbara O'Brien, who we quoted from in a previous post on the subject.

Following up the last post, about Time magazine's "The Face of Buddhist Terror" cover -- terrorism and violence attributed to religious/spiritual traditions is, to me, a fascinating subject that no one seems to be addressing intelligently. (And for purposes of this discussion, I'm calling Buddhism a religion. If you want to argue the point, go somewhere else.)

It seems a lot of people are quite certain there is a direct cause and effect between religion and violence/terrorism/oppression, and that much evil would pass from the world if all religion were eradicated. I don't think it's that simple, especially in modern times. It's more often the case these days that religious institutions become infected with the local social pathologies. And then the infected institutions easily are co-opted into providing a moral "cover" for immoral actions. But take away religion, and the social pathologies would just find another way to express themselves.

People entering religious institutions don't lose a lifetime of cultural conditioning as soon as they put on robes or vestments, you know. For example, in some parts of Asia Buddhist institutions are planted in strongly paternalistic/misogynist cultures, and the men who become monks and abbots there are products of that culture. And the institutions reflect that. However, this is much less true in other parts of Asia where women enjoy a higher status and more autonomy. And western sanghas often are brimming with strong feminist sensibilities.

I believe this pattern of infection and co-option is what is happening in Burma. I believe it isn't so much "Buddhist terrorism" as it is "racist and jingoistic terrorism that has co-opted part of the sangha." I suspect something similar happened in Japanese Zen institutions in the 1930s, causing them to support whatever the Japanese military was doing, however ugly. This is pretty much the pattern of so-called religious violence around the world in at least the past century or so, seems to me.

The degree to which any violence might accurately be labelled "Buddhist" or "Christian" or "Muslim" depends on a number of factors. Would the violence have happened anyway, without the support of religious leaders? That may be hard to determine. It may be that some would have been violent anyway, but others would not have turned to violence without the "permission" of clergy.

If a religious "container" were not present, would another container have served as well? We saw in the 20th century that patriotic/political movements can do just as good a job at directing fanatical bigotry and rage toward violent ends.

And then there is the phenomenon of the charismatic sociopath who becomes a cult leader -- e.g., Jim Jones, Asahara Shoko. Is the violence they perpetrate caused by religion or sociopathy?

Because religion so often deals with mysteries and things unseen, it can easily become a canvas upon which people project all kinds of craziness. Religions also easily become objects of fanaticism. Religious institutions can work to discourage fanatical attachment, or they can encourage it, in which case they must bear some responsibility for whatever ugliness grows out of the fanaticism.

I suspect that if religion were to disappear tomorrow, the same people perpetrating "religious" violence today would just re-organize under some other banner. But it's a complicated matter.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

New Talks by Vishvapani

Over the last five weeks the BBC’s Today program has featured a series of Thought for the Day talks by the Buddhist author, Vishvapani, who is a member of the Triratna western Buddhist group. The talks are all available to listen to and download in our Audio Section.

Wesak, Saturday, May 25th
The May full moon, the festival of Wesak. Vishvapani spoke of the recent violence in Woolwich and around the World and the relevance of the Buddha's enlightenment.

Following the News, or Not. Saturday, June 1st
In this talk Vishvapani discusses how we can become obsessed with following "the news" and what our reactions can be.

The Divine Messages of Old Age, Disease and Death. Saturday, June 8th
The Divine Messengers lead us to trust in those things that bring lasting fulfilment.

"Buddhist" Nationalist Violence. Saturday, June 22nd
Vishvapani discusses the phenomenon of "Buddhist" nationalist violence.

You can also see the video 'Seeking The Buddha Through History' by Vishvapani in our Video Section.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

FULL MOON - Sunday 23rd June 2013

Inherently Secure

When those who are wise dwell in contemplation
on the transient nature of the body-mind,
and of all conditioned existence,
they experience joy and delight
seeing through to the inherently secure.

Dhammapada v. 374

All the Buddha's teachings are pointing to that which is unchanging, undying, inherently satisfactory. We dwell in contemplation on the changing, dying, unsatisfactory nature of conditioned existence to wake us up from the dream we live in. In our dream world we believe that attaching to things as if they were ultimate will make us happy. The Buddha with his ready access to the unconditioned reality knew that clinging to any aspect of conditioned reality was a direct route to disappointment. And he didn't teach this so we would create a philosophy about how unreliable and regrettable everything is. He lived in this world as we do but didn't suffer and go on about how sad it all is. Life can seem sad and regrettable so long as we are identified as the body-mind. The Buddha's identity was undefinable because he didn't cling to anything and his happiness was unshakeable because it didn't depend on anything.

With Metta,

Bhikkhu Munindo

Friday, 21 June 2013

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Nuns Studying for Geshe Exams

This from the Washington Post.....

Buddhist women are celebrating a landmark victory: For the first time in the history of Tibetan Buddhism, 27 nuns have gathered in North India at Jamyang Choling Nunnery near Dharamsala and have begun their exams for the Tibetan equivalent of a Ph.D., the so-called Geshe-title.

To understand the impact and range of this decision, take a moment to imagine what it would be like if until now only men had been allowed to pass their doctorate exams. As many American students are preparing for their final exams and graduation celebration during these weeks, picture what this would look like if girls were excluded. This was the situation for women in the Himalayas—and it is about to change!

So, why is this such a big deal and why did it take so long? After all, in the Western world the first professor degree was awarded to a woman at a European university almost 300 years ago, in 1732. (Scientist Laura Bassi taught physics at the University of Bologna.) And more than 2,500 years ago the Buddha himself allowed women into his order and ordained his own foster mother, Mahaprajapati.

She and 500 like-minded women had to shave their heads and walk 350 miles barefoot to show their unwavering determination, before Buddha Shakyamuni finally granted their request - a revolutionary decision in India at the time. The Buddha’s order was the first in Asia along with the Jains to formally allow women in its ranks.

Yet it may come as a surprise to many that despite its progressive image in the West, the Tibetan Buddhist tradition does not know full ordination for women, and thus women cannot study the entire curriculum.

For complex historical and patriarchal reasons, the ordination lineage did not migrate when Buddhism spread from India to Tibet, thus outclassing the Tibetan Buddhist nuns as inferior. Tibetan Buddhist nuns have to travel to countries where the Chinese ordination lineage is alive to receive full ordination in a Buddhist lineage that they are not entirely familiar with.

“Most Tibetan nuns don’t have the means to travel to Hong Kong or Korea,” says Jetsun Tenzin Palmo, the most senior Western born Tibetan Buddhist nun alive today, in the new book Dakini Power, “and even if they did, they want to be ordained in their own tradition, by their own lamas, in their own robes.” A side-effect of this issue is that the nuns don’t have equal access to the full curriculum – only fully ordained monastics can study ethics in their entirety.

The spiritual leader of the Tibetans, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, has long been an advocate for the empowerment of women and recently reaffirmed enthusiastically that his successor could be a woman. He also insisted that there should be a doctorate degree for Tibetan Buddhist nuns. “I`m a feminist”, he said at the Vancouver Peace Summit, “Isn`t that what you call someone who fights for women`s rights?”

In April 2011, he advised the renowned Institute for Buddhist Dialectical Studies (IBD) in Dharamsala, India, to confer the degree of “Geshe” to Venerable Kelsang Wangmo, a German nun (formerly Kerstin Brunnenbaum). This was a historic milestone: Traditionally, Geshe degrees are conferred on monks after 12 or more years of rigorous study in Buddhist philosophy.

For the first time in history, a nun received this degree, and even more surprising, a Western woman. In spring 2012, the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration convened a special meeting of abbots and scholars who decided unanimously that more nuns be allowed to be acknowledged for their academic achievements - a promise that is now becoming reality.

The 27 nuns who are currently taking the exams will finally be rewarded for mastering more than 20 years of studying advanced Buddhist philosophy and they will be the first generation of female professors in the Tibetan tradition.

The Dalai Lama has also publicly supported full ordination for nuns and equal access to education. “I think it’s very important for women to try to appropriate all their rights. Among the Tibetan refugee community in India, I have for many years been advocating for the female side, the nuns’ side,” the Dalai Lama said.

The Dalai Lama stresses that he cannot simply dictate change - the whole community of senior Tibetan masters needs to agree to change the traditional rules. Therefore a full-fledged discussion is in place about the position of Tibetan Buddhist nuns.

To this day the female nuns have to observe 98 more precepts than the monks, including the rules that they have to obey the monks, can’t give them advice, and even the most senior nun still has to take a lower seat than the greenest rookie monk.

Tenzin Palmo seriously doubts that these extra precepts were really taught by the Buddha and has
researched reasons to believe that they were added by later patriarchs to reflect the dominant views about females at that time.

Tenzin Palmo was born as Diane Perry in London and shares her own insight into the hardships of following the Buddhist path as a Western woman. What started out as the most revolutionary welcome to women at the Buddha’s time, has turned into a misogynistic adventure. “It’s just time they get their act together!” Tenzin Palmo said pointedly, “and give the nuns their full ordination!”

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The Fiftieth Anniversary of Thich Quang Duc's Self-Immolation

Today marks the 50th Anniversary of Thich Quang Duc burning himself to death on a Saigon street to protest the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government.

Photographs of his self-immolation were circulated widely across the world and brought attention to the policies of the Diệm government. As President Kennedy said in reference to a photograph of Duc on fire, “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one." Malcolm Browne won a Pulitzer Prize for his renowned photograph of the monk's death. After his death, his body was re-cremated, but his heart remained intact.

Quang Duc's act increased international pressure on Diệm and led him to announce reforms with the intention of mollifying the Buddhists. However, the promised reforms were not implemented, leading to a deterioration in the dispute. With protests continuing, the ARVN Special Forces loyal to Diệm's brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, launched nationwide raids on Buddhist pagodas, seizing Quang Duc's heart and causing deaths and widespread damage. Several Buddhist monks and nuns followed Quang Duc's example, also immolating themselves. Eventually, an Army coup toppled Diệm, who was assassinated on 2 November 1963.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

NEW MOON - Saturday 8th June 2013

Call to Attention

The Awakened Ones can but point the way;
we must make the effort ourselves.
Those who reflect wisely and enter the path
are freed from the fetters of Mara.

Dhammapada v.276

Force of habit defines our actions when we are not firmly established in mindfulness. These habit patterns are the fetters of mara. To enter the path leading to freedom from such disappointing limitations requires wise reflection. We are already free to chose to turn the light of attention inwards and enquire about Truth if we wish. We could also allow our attention to wander without direction. The discipline and skill required for insight and letting go to happen is not easy to cultivate. But this is not an imposition put upon us; it is a choice we willingly make when we see the consequences of heedlessness. What good fortune to have a chance to work on wisdom.

With Metta,
Bhikkhu Munindo

Friday, 7 June 2013

Review of Our Sixth Year

Yes, that's right, the West Wight Sangha website has now been running for six years. As has become "traditional" we now take a look back over the proceeding twelve months to remind ourselves of just some of the stories that made the Buddhist news last year.

Just click on the links to follow the full Stories....

On the 16th of June Aung San Suu Kyi's was at last able to deliver her Noble prize acceptance speech.

On the 9th of July my "Daily Dhammapada" program displayed a random quote from the Dhammapada on my desktop which was very relevant to the, then current, debate on reforming the House of Lords. (Nothing changes, the Lords are still controversial as can be seen in our latest story "Dodgy Lords and the Dhammapada".)

The big event in the U.K. last year was the Olympic games and in the lead up to the incredible opening ceremony on the 27th of July the Olympic flame was relayed around the Country. On the 14th the flame came to the West Wight and was carried through Totland, home of the West Wight Sangha!

Also there was a Giant Prayer Flag Installation in the West Wight symbolising the Olympic flame.

In August came the sad news of the death of Gore Vidal, author of "Creation" which describes an encounter with the Buddha and his disciples. The month also brought the surprising news that ex President Bill Clinton was learning Buddhist meditation........ it's never too late.............

While the U.K. government agonises over legalising same sex marriage the Buddhist wedding of two women in Taiwan last August was the latest sign of obstacles to same-sex unions quietly being dismantled in Asia, especially in predominantly Buddhist countries.

In September we were pleased to be able to advertise the 2nd Annual International Bhikkhuni Day. Our first post was an email from Susan Pembroke, President of the Alliance for Bhikkhunis. Our second piece that Month was on the 29th, the actual Annual International Bhikkhuni Day.

October sadly started with a story on the, then, growing tensions and violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar. Our report actually related to the burning of Buddhist temples in the Bangladesh border region with Myanmar.

On the 20th we featured the story of the Dalai Lama "swearing". An audience of students at Brown University in Rhode Island, were surprised when at the end of a speech on world peace, the Dalai Lama appeared to utter the "F" word.

The Buddhist spiritual leader's thick Tibetan accent led to confusion at the end of his talk when he pronounced "forget" in his traditional manner, but the crowd burst into laughter— they thought he swore, saying "f--- it."

Caption screens in the auditorium were showing subtitles of the event, and a stenographer transcribing the speech also appeared to think His Holiness had uttered the words, 'F**k it'.

The exiled Tibetan leader was in fact urging listeners to share his thoughts with others if they found them interesting. If not, he said, they could “forget.”

'If you feel these points are not much relevant - not much interest - then forget.'

I've  repeated the entire post here as the video of the event now only displays, "The YouTube account associated with this video has been terminated due to multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement."

At the beginning of  November we reported on two elections; that of President Obama who supports gay marriage, and that of Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, who doesn't.

Then we reported on two firsts. Starting with the election of Mazie Hirono who became the first Buddhist Senator in America. Hirono, who was born in Japan, practices the Jodo Shinshu tradition of Buddhism.

The other "first" was a tragic one, a British man became the first Western Tibetan Buddhist monk to die from self-immolation. David Alain, 38, had taken the dharma name Lobsang Tonden. His action was, apparently, a gesture of solidarity with Tibetans who have died by self immolation protesting against the
Chinese occupation of their country.

December witnessed a call for the destruction of Egypt's cultural heritage. Murgan Salem al-Gohary, a leader of Egypt’s ultra-conservative Salafist party, recently called on Muslims to destroy the Giza pyramids and the Sphinx as a religiously mandated act of iconoclasm. "The idols and statutes that fill Egypt must be destroyed. Muslims are tasked with applying the teachings of Islam and removing these idols, just like we did in Afghanistan when we smashed the Buddha statues," said Gohary, who claims to have participated in the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan in 2001.

He needn't bother really as the 21st of the Month was the end of the World according to the Mayans, only it wasn't..................................... Watch this short video to find out what they really meant.

We started 2013 with a couple of stories on equality, the first being "Through the Stained Glass Ceiling, or Not?".

Which was followed by the story of Zen priest Enkyo O’Hara Roshi who had recently married her
partner, Barbara, at City Hall in New York.

This last one ticked so many boxes, she's a woman priest, she's married, she's married to her same sex partner and she's a Buddhist!

January ended with the Dalai Lama commenting on the five Indian men on trial for the rape and killing of Jyoti Singh. They could be hanged if they are convicted.

“I do not like the death sentence,” he said, adding that there are other ways to deal with the alleged perpetrators. The Dalai Lama said that, the 21 century belonged to dialogue and not to confrontation or violence."

As a footnote to this story, Ram Singh, the alleged ringleader in the gang-rape and murder of the young woman hanged himself in jail.

In February we featured this Video of a statement by Professor Robert Thurman on the Tibetan self-immolation protests.

Our next story was "Which is the Largest Buddha?", more on that later..............................

Later in the Month we had the story  that authorities were confiscating Buddha statues from shops in the Iranian capital, Tehran, to stop the promotion of Buddhism in the country,

March featured two contributions from Sangha members. The first came about because we'd been discussing the danger of holding "opinions". One of our Sangha members sent me this piece by Adyashanti ..................

The second posting, Buddha in the Snow, was inspired by this photograph taken by one of our Sangha members.

The piece goes on to talk about the Dharma Primary School which is Europe’s only primary school based on Buddhist principles and is located in Patcham in Brighton.

At the school they use a meditation exercise, ‘Buddha in the Snow’ – a simple exercise to help ‘cloudy’ minds find a clear focus.

April started with the good news that no horses were killed in this years Grand National.

Next came the news that Parliament was voting to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of caste. This was followed by the report that the motion had been rejected by 307 votes to 243.

Our regular full moon reflection on the 25th contained this photograph...............

It was on November 25 2011 that an old man was found dead in the waiting hall of a train station in Taiyuan, the capital city of North China’s Shanxi Province. Among his fellow passengers was a Buddhist monk. Photos of the monk holding the dead man’s hand, bowing and praying for his final peace became overnight hits online. It was this image that was voted – by 58% of respondents to the popular Phoenix TV network – the most important Buddhist event of the year.

In May we ran the story, Why are Buddhist Monks Attacking Muslims? It is the best analysis of the sectarian conflict in Burma that I have come across. It is by Alan Strathern who is a fellow in History at Brasenose College, Oxford.

We also returned to the theme of large objects with Our Thing's Bigger Than Your Thing! Click on the link to find out what our thing is!

We also reported on one of our fellow Buddhist groups on the Island holding an event in Newport. The Soka Gakkai Nichiren group held an informal walk-in open day showing how Buddhism can benefit people in their daily lives.

Talking of Island Buddhist groups, the following amazing photo of the Isle of Wight was taken by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield from the International Space Station. (the West Wight Sangha meeting hall is in Totland, the second small bay round from the Neddles at the Western tip of the island).

At the end of the Month we featured the communication from the Vatican wishing us all a happy Wesak.

And so back round to June this year and the story yet again of Dodgy Lords and the Dhammapada, just as back round at the start of this review!

Monday, 3 June 2013

Dodgy Lords and the Dhammapada

Back in July last year I mentioned that I have a program that displays a random quote from the Dhammapada on my desktop every time that I fire up my computer and that occasionally it comes up with one that is pertinent to current events, today's is Verse 306 which reads,

"Lying leads to sorrow.
Concealing wrong actions leads to sorrow.
These two acts of deceit
take beings to the same state of woe."

The previous one related to the debate on the future of the House of Lord's, and this one's also applicable to what's going on in the Lords right now!

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Retreat Day in Newport

Yesterday two of us from the West Wight Sangha travelled to Newport and joined with the Soto Zen group there for a day retreat.

The Zen group is affiliated to the Reading Buddhist Priory. The Priory was founded in 1990 as a temple of the Serene Reflection (Soto Zen) tradition of Buddhism and is part of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives which has temples around the UK and in Germany, the Netherlands, Canada and North America.

At present, Rev. Alina Burgess is Prior. She is a senior monk and disciple of Rev. Master Daishin Morgan, who is the Abbot of Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey and the Priory's patron.

The Order was founded in 1978 by Reverend Master P.T.N.H Jiyu-Kennett (1924-1996). Born Peggy Kennett in England in 1924, she studied music in London and Durham before travelling to the East in 1961 to be ordained by the Venerable Seck Kim Seng as a member of the Chinese Buddhist church in Malaysia. She then continued her training as a disciple of the Very Reverend Keido Chisan Koho Zenji, the Abbot of Dai Hon Zan Sojiji monastery in Yokohama, Japan.

Certified by him as a Master in 1963, Reverend Master Jiyu-Kennett eventually returned to the West in 1969 and founded Shasta Abbey in California and Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey in Northumberland. Both are retreat centres as well as training monasteries of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives.

We were very lucky in that; Rev. Alina was able to travel down and join us for the day. She gave an excellent Dharma talk before lunch and I regret not having had the foresight to have brought any recording equipment so that the talk could have been shared on our Audio section.

As always, a huge  vote of thanks to Dave for arranging the day and giving us the use of his superb Zendo and beautiful garden.