A couple of days ago I wrote about an Irish Buddhist monk ordained in Burma sometime before 1900, while Burma was part of British India. It seems the monk got into trouble for making anti-colonial speeches. But Buddhism and anti-colonialist activism were joined in other parts of Asia as well.
Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933) of Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) was a lay Buddhist who headed Buddhist revival and Sri Lankan independence movements. I've written about Dharmapala before, and how he influenced first impressions of Buddhism in the West by framing it as a pro-science spiritual tradition. I think he's one of the most interesting figures of recent Buddhist history.
Yesterday my Zen center held a most-of-the-day meditation retreat honoring Rohatsu, the commemoration of the Buddha's enlightenment. This was followed by a Jukai ceremony, in which five students received the Precepts and made public their commitment to the Buddha's path. It was a lovely and heartfelt event.
After, some of us chatted about how grateful we were to have a place to practice with such a strongly committed group of people. Some talked about the difference practice had made in their lives. Still, it strikes me that this great place is still mostly unknown in our community. Zennies don't proselytize, although we have done a bit of community outreach now and then.
People do seem to find their way to the dharma when they are ready. Mosf of our stories about how-I-found-Buddhism are stories about what happened that caused us to be ready. It's important to trust that. (And, anyway, what would we advertise? Attain Nothing! Not very promising.)
Here's a bit of history trivia for you. The BBC has a feature story about a man believed to be the first western-born Buddhist monk. And he didn't exactly fit the mold of a scholarly romantic searching for an idealized religion, as many of the first western Buddhists were.
Laurence Carroll is thought to have been born in Dublin in 1856. He left Ireland as a teenager and traveled to America. Carroll got work on a San Francisco/Yokohama shipping line, but he was fired -- reportedly for drunkenness -- and left stranded in Japan. He made his way to Burma, which at the time was a province of British India, and found employment with a logging company.
For the past few years us "converts" have been debating how to incorporate Buddhism into family life, especially child raising. Some data revealed that "dharma brats," children of Buddhist convert parents, rarely take to Buddhism themselves. This is not necessarily a problem, because I don't think everybody has to be Buddhist.
But I was taken aback by a series of articles I found on "how to raise an enlightened child." The actual advice given wasn't bad, but my first bit of advice would be "don't try to raise an enlightened child." Maybe just aim at raising a kind child. That's do-able. But nobody can be conditioned into enlightenment.
Recently I've seen several articles about the college-age children of "helicopter" parents and how these young people don't function well when mommy and daddy aren't around. I've also learned there is a "mindful parenting" movement (also "attachment" parenting, "green" parenting, and "free-range" parenting, the latter of which sounds like something that would require open prairies).
My children are adults now, so I'm mostly out of the parenting biz. Looking back, I don't think my parenting "style" ever rose to the level of a movement methodology. Well, not unless there's a "what the bleep do I do now?" movement. The only book I ever consulted was one of Dr. Spock's, which was so old it still discussed when the kids should get their smallpox vaccines.
I found a couple of articles on mindful parenting, and apparently this boils down to using mindfulness to manage one's own stress while practicing non-attachment (which is not the same as detachment) with one's children. An established mindfulness practice could help a parent avoid a lot of parenting pitfalls, I would think.
A little more on the raft parable -- I occasionally bump into someone saying the raft parable tells us we can ignore dharma teachings as we like, because we're supposed to ditch them, anyway. This is an un-serious interpretation, seems to me.
However, in his comments on this parable, Thanissaro Bhikkhu said something that I don't believe is true --
"Many a casual reader has concluded from the simile of the raft simply that the Dhamma is to be let go. In fact, one major Mahayana text -- the Diamond Sutra -- interprets the raft simile as meaning that one has to let go of the raft in order to cross the river."
Let's look at this --
Most of you probably know the Buddha's raft simile -- that the dharma is like a raft that you can abandon once you are on the other shore. Recently I decided to check out exactly where the raft story originated.
The search led me to the Alagaddupama Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 22), also called the Water Snake Simile Sutta. There's a water snake parable that comes right before the raft parable, and apparently the organizers of the Sutta-pitaka found the water snake story more compelling and named the sutta after the snake and not the raft. Go figure.
It turns out there is some disagreement as to exactly what the raft parable is trying to tell us, and the water snake story ties into that. In the snake story, a man picks up a water snake by the tail instead of by the proper way, by the head, the way the wildlife experts on the Discovery Channel always do. Of course, the snake gives the man a venomous bite, and he was very sorry and probably died. The moral of this story is that if we "grasp" the dharma improperly, we could fall into all kinds of spiritual dangers.
A team of archeologists have found the remains of what might have been a Buddhist shrine in Lumbini, Nepal -- thought to be the birthplace of the Buddha -- that dates to 550 BCE. If this is accurate, it pushes the time of the life of the Buddha back a century or so.
The archeologists have been excavating beneath the Mayadevi temple, thought to mark the exact place where the Buddha was born. As I understand it, the ruins of the oldest part of the temple are brick structures dating to the 3rd century BCE What the archeologists discovered under that was evidence of a wooden structure that had been laid out in exactly the same way as the brick.
It appears the brick temple was built to replace a wooden one. It also appears the shrine had been built around a tree. No evidence of sacrifices have been found, which suggests the shrine was Buddhist and not tended by the Brahmins of that period. However, other archeologists say that shrines built around trees were common in early Indian religions before the time of the Buddha. They want to see more evidence before they connect the shrine to Buddhism.
In reading over the comment to the last post, I think there is some confusion between goals and commitments. A goal, by definition, is "the object of a person's ambition or effort; an aim or desired result." That's directly out of an online dictionary. A goal is the object of effort, not effort itself. In many Mahayana schools, it is taught that holding on to any idea of goal in practice is a fetter to realization.
The same dictionary defines commitment as "the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc." Dedicating yourself to a spiritual discipline is a commitment, not a goal.
In Mahayana Buddhism, ultimately, "goal" is a delusion. The Heart Sutra, which says that in prajna paramita there is "no ignorance, no end to ignorance; no old age and death, no cessation of old age and death; no suffering, no cause or end to suffering; no path, no wisdom and no gain." In short, without self-reference, without the "I," there is no cause of suffering and no Path as explained in the Four Nobe Truths.
The comments to the last post are so good that I'd like to keep the conversation about goals going. Zen liturgy and commentary have a lot to say about goalless goals. For example, this is from the Sandokai (best known in English as Identity of Relative and Absolute), an 8th century Chinese text by Shitou Xiqian:
Make no criterion: if you do not see the Way
you do not see It even as you walk on It.
When you walk the Way, you draw no nearer, progress no farther;
who fails to see this is mountains and rivers away.
In his commentary on this text (working with a sightly different translation), Shunryu Suzuki Roshi said,