Thursday March 6, 2014
The Associated Press reports that His Holiness the Dalai Lama said a prayer in the U.S. Senate today. This is good; the U.S. Senate needs all the help it can get.
From the report, I take it His Holiness quoted from the Dhammapada: "With our thoughts, we make our world. Our mind is central and precedes our deeds. Speak or act with a pure mind and happiness will follow you like a shadow that never leaves." He also said a Bodhisattva Vow: "As long as space remains and as long as sentient beings remain, until then may I, too, remain and help dispel the misery of the world."
His Holiness also met briefly with members of the House of Representatives, who put aside partisan difference (briefly) to praise the Dalai Lama's efforts to promote religious freedom and tolerance.
Thursday March 6, 2014
One of the challenges of Buddhism is that, on the one hand, we're told not to believe something just because an authority figure or an ancient scripture says it (see "The Kalama Sutta"). We are our own arbiter; we are our own refuges, or islands, or lamps, depending on how you translate things. On the other hand, we're told that our conventional understanding, including sensory experience, is a big illusion. Is this not something of a catch? How is this reconciled?
I've found that it's possible to find a "sweet spot" between skepticism and credulity, affirming what seems wise to me but staying open to the wisdom in teachings I don't understand yet. When I say "staying open" that means "I don't get this and don't believe it, but maybe there's something here I'm not seeing, So I'm not going to toss it out. I'll keep it over here on this shelf where I can see it, and maybe someday it will speak to me." And sometimes, someday, it does.
But from listening to others I take that that for some people the sweet spot is really hard to find. More often than not, westerners tend to err on the side of skepticism, quickly rejecting teachings that don't make immediate sense. Occasionally I hear from someone who has tilted too far in the other direction, adopting Buddhist teachings as a belief system without bothering to experience directly what the teachings are directing us to experience. But that's relatively rare.
Wednesday March 5, 2014
I've been trying to wrap my head around current events in Thailand, in particular to see how the monastic sangha might be connected. Over the past few weeks there have been waves of protests in Thailand that turned violent late last month, and I read that one prominent monk is protest leader.
From what I can tell, the situation in Thailand is very different from what we're seeing in Burma and Sri Lanka. One monk, Buddha Issara, abbot of Wat Or Noi in the central Thailand province of Nakhon Pathom, is very visibly involved in the anti-government protests. He has been criticized for being surrounded by thuggish bodyguards and has been photographed handling money, which is a violation of the Vinaya.
My impression from reading news stories is that Thais are not happy about a monk getting mixed up in politics.The Buddhist Association of Thailand, a long-respected lay organization, has called him out for destroying the image of Buddhism. Buddhism in Thailand appears to be much less militant than in Burma or Sri Lanka, possibly because Thailand never dealt with being a European colony.
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Last week I looked at Buddhist violence in Sri Lanka, and this week I want to say something about our other "problem" sangha, in Burma. We've all read the news stories about Burmese Buddhists, including monks, attacking Muslims. It's hard to know exactly what's going on, viewing Burma from the other side of the world.
I call your attention to a commentary by Kyaw San Wai of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore and published in Eurasia Review. In "Myanmar's Religious Violence: A Buddhist Siege Mentality at Work?-- Analysis" Kyaw San Wai suggests that part of the problem is a kind of Buddhist millenarianism that is common in Burma. Millenarianism in this sense is belief in a coming revolution or other upheaval that will profoundly change society.
Many Burmese sincerely believe that Islam poses a real danger to Buddhism in Burma, in spite of the fact that Burma is something like 90 percent Buddhist. Again, this makes no sense to outsiders. Kyaw San Wai explains a little about where this belief is coming from. Being surrounded by larger and mostly not-Buddhist countries also contributes to something of a siege mentality in Burma. Anyway, if you are puzzling over the situation in Burma, as I am, I recommend the article.