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Green Tara

Tara is one of the most familiar, and beloved, iconic figures of Tibetan Buddhism. Who is she, and what does she represent?

Tibetan Buddhism
Buddhism Spotlight10

Not Following the Crowd

Wednesday April 16, 2014

I understand Sam Harris is writing a new book called Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, to be published in September. The spirituality-but-not-religious thing is hardly original, but okay. Harris writes about this book on his blog, and makes some interesting observations.

"Scientists generally start with an impoverished view of spiritual experience, assuming that it must be a grandiose way of describing ordinary states of mind," he says. He continues,

"New Age thinkers ... idealize altered states of consciousness and draw specious connections between subjective experience and the spookier theories at the frontiers of physics. Here we are told that the Buddha and other contemplatives anticipated modern cosmology or quantum mechanics and that by transcending the sense of self, a person can realize his identity with the One Mind that gave birth to the cosmos."

Harris says that this amounts to having to choose between pseudo-spirituality and pseudo-science, and his book will be a middle way.  To which I say, um, there are lots of other ways already.


Politics and Dharma in Sikkim

Thursday April 10, 2014

Sikkim is a small state of India located in the Himalayas, bordered by Bhutan, Nepal, and China. For several centuries it was a kingdom, and it became a state of India in 1977.  Sikkim is about 60 percent Hindu and 28 percent Buddhist.

Elections for seats in the Sikkim state assembly will be held April 12. One seat in the assembly is the "sangha" seat, reserved for a Buddhist monk elected by other Buddhist monks. Six monks are campaigning.

One of the campaign issues involves the 17th Karmapa, head of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. The official seat of Kagyu is Rumtek Monastery, which is in Sikkim. The last Karmapa to be enthroned there was the 16th, who died in 1981. The Kagyu school is split over the identification of the 17th, and factions supporting each candidate claim the right to possess Rumtek. Indian courts became involved and barred both 17th Karmapas from Rumtek until the matter was resolved.

And there the matter stalled. There actually was a court decision in 2003 that somehow didn't actually settle anything. Both Karmapas -- Ogyen Trinley Dorje and Trinley Thaye Dorje --  are stilled barred from Rumtek, I understand. The monks currently in resident at Rumtek are Ogyen Trinley supporters, although Trinley Thaye supporters say that's because his supporters were forcibly evicted.

Anyway, the Buddhists of Sikkim believe they have waited long enough. The six monks running for the dharma seat are promising to bring the Karmapa to Rumtek, although they aren't necessarily committing to which Karmapa.

Mind Alone?

Wednesday April 9, 2014

A few weeks ago I bit the bullet, so to speak, and finally wrote a brief introductory article to Yogacara. I've been avoiding Yogacara all this time, frankly, because every time I tried to study it, it hurt my brain. I swear. My head fought back learning about Yogacara at every turn.

What finally helped me think I could understand it -- and I may be kidding myself -- was reading about current research in neuroscience and social psychology that appear to confirm at least some of what Yogacara teaches.

If you aren't familiar with the word - Yogacara is a school of Mahayana philosophy that originated in the 4th century CE. It is primarily concerned with the nature of experience. It is also concerned with vijnana, a Sanskrit word sometimes translated as "mind" or "awareness."


Causes and Reasons

Thursday April 3, 2014

Recently I heard someone say that she appreciated Buddhism because it taught that "things happen for a reason." I don't think so. I know it's a tempting thing to believe, especially when you're going through a rough patch. But to believe "things happen for a reason" suggests there is an intelligence out there directing "things" toward some predetermined result, and Buddhism doesn't teach that at all.

However, it's something else again to accept life events as learning experiences and to accept setbacks as well as successes as the fruition of one's karma. Maybe the thing didn't happen "for a reason," but we can still benefit from it.

I also think there really is a "way-seeking mind," as it's called in Zen, which I understand to be our own Buddha-nature seeking to realize itself. But this is a natural thing. A flower doesn't bloom "for a reason"; blooming is a manifestation of flower nature. It's what flowers do.

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi said, "Actually the way-seeking mind is the conviction to fly as a bird that flies in the air, to enjoy our being in this vast world of freedom." It begins with a glimmer of thought that, maybe, flying as a bird is possible. Enjoying a world of freedom is possible. And then the way-seeking mind seeks, even when we are not consciously aware of seeking.

So I suppose that's sort of a reason, but to think of "reasons" puts us in danger of assuming some unique path for our individual ego-ridden self, which usually is not a helpful way to think.

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