Thursday, 31 October 2013

You Want a Physicist to Speak at Your Funeral

At our weekly sangha meetings and meditation members often bring along readings to share. This one is by Aaron Freeman and came via Dr Kate Granger's blog on 'Why you'd want a physicist at your funeral'. Although not directly Buddhist, it reiterates the interconnectedness of everything and the impermanence inherent in the very structure of the Universe.

"You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

And at one point you'd hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell them that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.

And you'll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they'll be comforted to know your energy's still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you're just less orderly."

Check out "Pr. Brian Cox - A Night with the Stars" for an explanation of the science.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Prince George Entitled to be Buddhist, says Archbishop

The Archbishop of Canterbury says he has no objection to Prince George converting to Buddhism. 

The Most Reverend Justin Welby, speaking one day after he led the christening of the future Supreme Governor of the Church of England, said the prince is ‘perfectly entitled’ to change his religion should he so choose.

Although the remark is likely to alarm traditionalists it is however, in keeping with Prince Charles’s oft-repeated wish that he wants to be seen as the Defender of Faiths’ instead of ‘Defender of the Faith’, to more accurately reflect Britain’s multicultural society.

The Archbishop was asked by Channel 4 News what his reaction would be if George, the third in line to the throne, wanted to leave the Church of England to become a Buddhist.

He replied: ‘He’s perfectly entitled to be that, and we’ll cross that bridge if we ever get to it. Who knows?’

The remarkable statement came just 24 hours after he conducted the young prince’s christening at the Chapel Royal in St James’s Palace.

Wear a Purple Poppy

With Armistice Day only a fortnight away you may like to consider also wearing a Purple Poppy this year to commemorate all of the animals killed in war. The poppies can be obtained from the Animal Aid website with profits going to support the charity's work.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

More Dalits Convert to Buddhism

The Indian caste system was formed 3000 years ago and divides society into four main groups. Each caste division represents a social status and a generalized profession or employment.

The four castes consist of the Brahmins, (priestly and scholarly caste, designed to provide for the intellectual and spiritual needs of a community), Kshatriyas, (rulers and warrior caste, designed to rule and protect others), Vaishyas, (merchants and landowners designed to look after commerce and agriculture), and Shudras, (manual labourers and service providers).

A fifth group was formed more recently for those carrying out very menial and polluting work to do with bodily decay and dirt. This group is outside of the caste system and its members are labelled as 'Outcasts' - cast out from the caste system so to speak. Dalits fall into this category and are excluded from mainstream society, they are considered worthless and spiritually unclean.

At Vishal Hadmatiya village in Bhesan taluka, 21 km from Junagadh, a statue of Dr B R Ambedkar greets visitors. It's been a week since all the 60 families in this Dalit neighbourhood 'converted' to Buddhism at an event in Junagadh. The organisers of the event have claimed that a total of 60,000 Dalits converted to Buddhism.

Caste, which was a matter of vital importance to the brahmins of India, was one of utter indifference to the Buddha, who strongly condemned the debasing caste system. The Buddha freely admitted into the Order people from all castes and classes when he knew that they were fit to live the holy life, and some of them later distinguished themselves in the Order. The Buddha was the only contemporary teacher who endeavoured to blend in mutual tolerance and concord those who hitherto had been rent asunder by differences of caste and class.

B. R. Ambedkar was an Indian jurist, politician, philosopher, anthropologist, historian and economist. A revivalist for Buddhism in India, he inspired the Modern Buddhist movement. As independent India's first law minister, he was principal architect of the Indian Constitution.

Born into a poor Mahar family, Ambedkar campaigned against social discrimination, the Hindu caste system. He converted to Buddhism and is also credited with providing a spark for the conversion of hundreds of thousands of lower caste Indians to Theravada Buddhism. The Triratna Buddhist Community - formerly known as the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO) which was co-founded by Ambedkar and Sangharakshita continues to support and promote the Dalit Buddhist community in India.

Gujarat state officials have announced an investigation into the conversions, which took place in Junagadh district, as potential violations of the state’s Freedom of Religion rules passed in 2008 to restrict conversion.

Under the rules, prospective converts must obtain permission from district authorities before changing their religion. Any violation of the rules could invite legal action against the convert and anyone involved in the conversion. The right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which runs the Gujarat government, is investigating whether the Dalits petitioned for such permission.

District Collector Alok Pandey, Junagadh’s highest government official, told local media that the organizers of the conversion event – Baudh Diksha Mahotsava Samiti – had not obtained “proper permission”.

It is also interesting how the Indian press put the word convert in quotes when reporting this story................................

Saturday, 19 October 2013

FULL MOON – Saturday 19th October 2013

Fooled again

One should not be considered worthy of respect 
because of birth or background or any outer sign; 
it is purity and the realisation of truth 
that determine one's worth. 

Dhammapada v. 393

A liberated being is never fooled by the way things appear to be. They know the difference between outer ‘form’, which the eye sees, and ‘actuality’ which the heart knows. They naturally feel respect for and take delight in the inherent beauty of the ‘real’. Our awareness, however, is limited because of fixed views and we must take care to not casually follow our mind’s conditioning. So long as we are unaware of Truth, we are susceptible to being impressed by outer forms. Transient beauty, intense emotions, wealth; all these and more, intimidate us into unhelpful desires i.e. we want that which brings no lasting benefit. Whenever we offer respect towards the Truth which is beyond intimidation, our affinity with that Truth increases.

With Metta,
hikkhu Munindo

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Western Science and Tibetan Buddhism

From the New York Times.......................

Quantum theory tells us that the world is a product of an infinite number of random events. Buddhism teaches us that nothing happens without a cause, trapping the universe in an unending karmic cycle.

Reconciling the two might seem as challenging as trying to explain the Higgs boson to a kindergarten class. But if someone has to do it, it might as well be the team of scholars, translators and six Tibetan monks clad in maroon robes who can be spied wandering among the magnolias at Emory University here.

They were joined this week by the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, who decided seven years ago that it was time to merge the hard science of the laboratory with the soft science of the meditative mind.

The leaders at Emory, who already had created formal relationships with Tibetan students there, agreed, and a unique partnership was formed.

For the monks, some of the challenges have been mundane, like learning to like pizza and trying to understand Lord Dooley, the university’s skeleton mascot.

For the team of professors involved in the project, the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative, there are the larger issues, like how to develop methods to quantify the power of meditation in a way the scientific world might actually accept.

But for the Dalai Lama, an energetic 78-year-old who rises at 3:30 every morning for four hours of meditation, his pet project is kind of a no-brainer.

Buddhist teaching offers education about the mind, he said in an interview after lunch Thursday at the home of James W. Wagner, the university president.

“It is quite rich material about what I call the inner world,” he said. “Modern science is very highly developed in matters concerning the material world. These two things separately are not complete. Together, the external and the internal worlds are complete.”

The first batch of six monks, who arrived on campus on 2010, have gone back to India, where much of the Tibetan exile community lives, and started teaching. Dozens of monks and nuns have taken lectures from Emory professors who traveled to Dharamsala, India, to instruct them, and 15 English-Tibetan science textbooks have been developed for monastic students.

The university pays about $700,000 a year for the program, which includes tuition for the monks, who then go back and teach science in the monasteries.

It has not been a smooth road. It took until last year for Buddhist leaders to accept science education as a mandatory part of monastic education. It was the first major change in 600 years.

But as anyone who has tried to carry out an idea from the boss knows, the real work is in the details.

Many of the toughest battles have come down to seemingly simple but vexing issues of lexicon. How does one create new words for concepts like photosynthesis and clones, which have no equivalent in the Tibetan language or culture? How does one begin to name thousands of molecules and chemical compounds? And what of words like process, which have several levels of meaning for Tibetans?

So far, 2,500 new scientific terms have been added to the Tibetan language.

“Much of our work is to make new phrases novel enough so students won’t take them with literal meaning,” said Tsondue Samphel, who leads the team of translators.

Still, some concepts are quite easy to translate.

“We understand impermanence of things as simply existing through our traditions,” said Jampa Khechok, 34, one of the new monks on campus. “We are now challenged to understand the nature of impermanence through the study of how fast particles decay.”

Learning has gone both ways. Professors here find themselves contemplating the science of the heart and mind in new ways. A student presenting a report on the cardiovascular system described the physiological reaction his own cardiovascular system might have if he were told the Tibetan people were free.

Debate is a constant, said Alexander Escobar of Emory, who has gone to India to teach biology. Monks have wanted to know, for example, how he could be so sure that seawater once covered the Himalayas. (The answer? Fossils.)

Western scholars have had to look at their work with a new lens, too, contemplating matters like the nature and origins of consciousness.

One result has been the development of something called cognitively based compassion training, a secular mediation program proven to improve empathy.

The partnership has had other, more practical applications.

Linda Hutton, a social worker, has a longstanding clinical practice treating sexually abused children and families in Greenville, S.C. She drove to Atlanta this week to attend a private luncheon with the Dalai Lama, who was making his sixth visit to Emory.

She teaches her young victims and their families to practice mindfulness and how to use meditation and breathing to cope with trauma.

“I draw from a lot of medical research,” she said, “but what I have found here transcends that.”

Monday, 7 October 2013

Bhante Bodhidhamma Visits West Wight Sangha

We had the great pleasure of a visit by Bhante Bodhidhamma to the West Wight Sangha yesterday.

Bhante, whose brother is one of our sangha members, was interested to know how our group had originated and how it has developed over the years. He was particularly keen to get contact details for Geoff who produced our large Buddharupa statue.

For his part Bhante regaled us with with some fascinating tales of his time in Sri Lanka, I particularly liked the one about Luigi the polecat.

Listen to a Dhamma talk by Bhante; The Buddha's World View by Bhante Bodhidhamma

Saturday, 5 October 2013

NEW MOON - Friday 4th October 2013

Here and hereafter
those who live their lives well
abide in happiness. They are filled with
a natural appreciation of virtue, 
and they dwell in delight. 

Dhammapada v. 18

There is nothing special about Dhamma. Dhamma is what is natural. That we live such unnatural lives means we can miss what is in front of us. When we are balanced and at ease our faculties function to serve well-being. When we are wound-up and confused we lose perspective. It is then that we tend to forget we are in charge of our destiny. If we do good, goodness comes back to us. If we do bad, suffering comes back to us. This is not being naive, this is being natural. But being truly natural is not easy. Ultimately we aim to go beyond good and bad and dwell in unshakable peace.

With Metta,
Bhikkhu Munindo

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

A Quote That I Like - by Sylvia Plath

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.

From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked.

One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out.

I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar