Friday, December 24, 2010
(In other news - Hi! I'm back! Yes, I know I can't update regularly to save my life...)
Thus I have heard:
Once, long ago, the Supreme Buddha was travelling alone to all corners of the world, until his feet had touched every part of the surface of the Earth. He walked in the deserts, the valleys, the mountains and over the molten rocks. On every atom lay his footprint, and on every tiny grain of being lay his gaze. He started in the very south, and ended in the very north.
When his feet touched the most northern point and the last of the Earth's particles, The One That Has Come and the Earth herself formed a new Buddha nature between them. The newborn had the eternal heart of a child, and the long white beard of the wise. His form is as an old man, in red clothes bordered with the nurturing fur of the female Snow Lion.
In his left hand he holds the Sack of the Perfection of Generosity, which he uses to bring charity all who invoke his name; the charity of coal to teach non-attachment, and the charity of wrapped presents to those who seek the perfection of the holiday spirit.
His right hand remains open in the mudra to Dispel Fear, indicating that no-one should have to be afraid of the cold and fruitless winter months, of hunger and need. All hibernating creatures, all creatures who fly to the south, and all who brave the winter chill all have the right to live without fear.
And his name is SANTA CLAUS. Or, Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle and many more. His mount is the reindeer Rudolf who pulls his chariot across the skies and teaches understanding of the world by breaking the laws of physics.
He is followed by, and led by, the emanations of the Noble Eightfold Path. Dasher and Dancer of Right View and Right Intention. Prancer and Vixen of Right Speech and Right Action. Comet and Cupid of Right Livelihood and Right Effort. Donner and Blitzen of Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. Together these thought forms are what drives him forward.
The Buddha, Perfect in Illumination and Conduct, saw this and was pleased. He put up a marker at the site at the end of the world, a giant pole in the north to show all that at the end of all paths is goodness and enlightenment.
Thus the great mantra of Santa is:
Ho ho ho Namas Puraana Pitraaya svargasya rathe gaganam gacchati
“Ho ho ho, Homage to the Ancient Father of Heaven, in his chariot he goes across the sky”
And he will give charity freely to all, and the gift of charity he will bestow on any who spend time with his mantra. He has no wrathful form, and all those who recite this sutra will gain merit as boundless as snowflakes.
All who recite this sutra, in its full or its sort form of “Ho ho ho”, will have safe eggnog, fruity puddings, and a pine tree to leave presents under.
And in the end will attain the perfection of wisdom and highest enlightenment.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
When I started this previous term I took the opportunity to begin a course entitled Encountering Buddhism. Not “Understanding” Buddhism or “Introduction” to Buddhism. Encountering. And this is exactly what the class ended up doing. We encountered everything, from rituals from around the world to complex philosophy. As a result a lot of people in my class told me that they felt like they hadn’t learnt anything at all, in fact they came out more confused than when they went in! But they said it fondly, and held a more matured view of Buddhism and Buddhists than when they went in.
This approach definitely affected me as well, and not more noticeably than in the Second Life project. A group of about 5-7 of us agreed to do our presentations in a different way to the rest, spending lots of extracurricular time engaging in the virtual reality project Second Life.
Luckily I was already familiar with Second Life, and didn’t have to make a new avatar for the class. Our HQ was Emptiness Hall, virtual Buddhist monastery and resource centre. The group was given time to explore SL, tasks to do, building instructions and were generally left to themselves for a while. Then, halfway through the term we took part in an ordination ceremony and completed our time around Second Life as a virtual monk/nun/nunk, before being un-ordained at the end of term.
I initially had some misgivings about this, as a practising Buddhist myself. Surely, there’s no real difference between me and my avatar? Don’t the vows apply to me in my “real life” too? I talked to my lecturer about it and realised I wasn’t the only one taking it so seriously, others in the class who were religious didn’t like the idea of ordaining in another religion. Though, the real world and Second Life are basically incompatible. It’s impossible to move physically between the two, and for all intents and purposes it is a “second life” in a world inaccessible physically by us humans. Instead, the idea of the human/avatar relationship is like the two headed terrapin - They both do different things, they have to do different things because their world is entirely different. Many ordination vows govern the body, and as such when an avatar takes the vows, it could only apply to them. I’m still not fully convinced that there can be such a clear distinction, and certainly for many SLers introducing myself as a nun made them question my first life with the assumption that if it was a purely SL thing then I was just pretending. But, my avatar Tenzing Ansar took the vows and was most definitely as close to a real nun in SL as you can get.
This wasn’t as easy as you’d think. We were given a few tasks, such as to try traditional begging for alms in popular places. That resulted in:
[2009/04/21 9:01] ****** Boyau: Hi, Iam on the ****** Staff, we do not alow any soliciting or begging here
[2009/04/21 9:02] ****** Boyau: could you please remove you red tag or leave the sim
[2009/04/21 9:02] ****** Boyau: thank you
[2009/04/21 9:02] Tenzing Ansar: Yes, of course. :)
-- Instant message logging enabled --
[9:02] ****** Boyau: thank you very much
[9:03] ****** Boyau: here is one of our behavior cards for you to review when you have a chance
Begging, regardless of your reasons, is a huge no-no in the libertarian capitalist paradise of Second Life.
This experience was an amazing one and taught me many things about Buddhism and the nature of social interaction in virtual communities, I even learnt how to build in Second Life to a more adequate degree. Even though the term has finished and the monastery is empty, I decided to stay on as a lay resident.. Perhaps even to help next years crop of students encountering Buddhism.
Part 2 coming soon: Ritual objects in Second Life!
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
When me and my mother arrived at the Albert Hall we saw a large crowd of people gathered around the stage entrance, so not wanting to miss this opportunity we managed to get a good place at the end of the line. After 30 minutes of waiting he finally arrived, and headed straight towards us. Sometimes I wish I was less inclined to take pictures of things and record everything I see, rather than be able to sit back and enjoy them. Though through this small sacrifice I get to bring you, gentle reader, some rather nice images and notes.
He began by talking about how we have a responsibility to serve human value and religious harmony above most other things in life. "Generally when I visit in response to invitation... like this visit... it is to promote these two things, but this time due to recent events we will be talking about universal responsibility instead." Indeed, the introductory speech by Philippa Carrick, Chief Executive of the Tibet Society said that when they originally invited His Holiness over a yea ago they had no idea this talk would coincide with such unrest in Tibet. Though I do question this, even over a year ago it should have been fairly easy to predict what would happen here. For all her insistence's that it was an accidental coincidence, she was quick to say that it was "time to give something back to His Holiness!" I'm sure he's not complaining.
Then came some introductory examples as to the nature of sentient beings: "Nobody thinks 'I should have more trouble!' when they wake up in the early morning - Or in the late morning." Which he linked to the Western commercialism. We strive to avoid suffering and gain happiness, and in the West short-term cures for our unhappiness are available wherever we go, but this just cultivates within us a "lack of comprehensive perspective and short-sightedness." We are all connected, and everything is interdependent, which can be seen on a global scale when you look at economic conditions, population sizes and the rise and fall of individual opinion. He linked this to something his Muslim friend told him, that a true Muslim has love for the entire scope of creation as they have for God - "It's the same Buddhist idea of global responsibility!"
"There is a nickname for money in Tibetan... [I forget the Tibetan term he used, but I'm trying to find out]... Which means 'That which makes you happy and accomplishes everything. So, money is very important. Perhaps to some, the mantra becomes 'Om money money money peme hum'! Or 'Dollar padme dollar padme... pound padme pound padme!' But, it is physical comfort versus mental comfort - 'I have a lot of money!' is an illusion, you are rich but unhappy... With suspicion and jealousy... More money, more worry... What have you actually gained but worry?"
"Inner peace, inner satisfaction depends on our own mental attitude." We are social animals, a biological fact. We are dependant on our mothers womb, her milk and our parents love and protection. Even animals, like cats for instance, rely on this. Without our mothers care, we would have died. "So, there must be some emotional factor to mother's care. The mother self-sacrifices to protect." He talked about how once, on a place journey there were two children, and the younger one who was about 1 wouldn't go to sleep at all, so he tried to give it sweets to calm it down but to no avail. The father of it fell asleep around midnight, but the mother stayed up all night looking after it, even though her eyes were red and sore. "This compassion doesn't come from religious teaching but fact of nature and biology. Human affection is the human basic value." A good way to cultivate it is to do "give and take" meditations - Take these bad feelings and give them god ones like compassion and kindness. Hence, "the biggest danger we have right now is of losing compassion to the Chinese. In order to keep inner peace, compassion really makes a difference." If no universal responsibility is taken, suffering is inevitable, even to yourself because everything is interconnected. "More enemies, less happiness. More fortune, more fake friends. Less money, less fake friends, even if you telephone them they wont answer, they were not real friends."
He then talked about the sense of self, and how using "me", "my", and "I" actually give you a greater risk of heart attack. It's attachment to your self, which is unreliable. Your 'self' makes even tiny problems seem immense, but if you give it up and take on a universal responsibility suddenly your own problems seem not so big. "Anger, hatred, fear actually decrease our immune system." Compassion on the other hand increases it. If a family is full of hate and suspicion, how can there be inner peace there? You can only solve problems with universal brother and sisterhood. Even those who criticise you are your brothers and sisters. It is possible to have faith for one religion and respect for all. "Most people see a contradiction in 'one truth, one religion and all true, all religions', but it's not because of respect for all of them."
Then came the question and answer session:
Q. What are your opinions of the China earthquake?
HH: Very sad, very shocking. I saw a picture of a young student crushed in a school. Only one, but such unimaginable pain. The one good thing is how there has been such a great and wonderful response from the authorities and the world, just like the tsunami. Even many Tibetans who have suffered under China are helping!
Q. What makes you laugh?
HH: Other people's little mistakes. Too serious people, like this Japanese person at an interfaith conference once... He was sat very seriously, doing his rosary beads. Then suddenly, the string broke, and the beads went everywhere! And he was still sat there austere like this [Makes a grumpy face].
Q. What can we do to keep Tibet and its wonderful tradition alive?
HH: Meaningful autonomy is needed to preserve our country. Please continue your expression of solidarity, your concern and your sincere want to help. If you find the ability to talk to our Chinese brothers and sisters, then do so, educate them!
Q. Would you like to be reborn in London?
HH: Oh no, no, no. Wait [Confers with his translator] Oh, oh... possible! When in Tibet as children we used to describe Westerners as "big nose". So, I could have a big nose one day. Wherever there is some usefulness in my next life, I will go there.
So ended the talk on universal responsibility, to much cheering. There were also some famous faces in the crowd too, me and my mum spotted Joanna Lumley in the line on the way in.This picture has a story. His exit from the stage was right beneath my seat, so I tried to get a good picture but he started looking at me and smiling so I could only respond. Then the man next to me shouted, I quote, "Holy father, how about a high five?" and leaned over. Hell with it, so did I and we both got a joint hand slap from His Holiness. It took me a while to think straight again so you only get a blurry, dark picture of his exit afterwards.
This was what greeted HH outside. What I think of the New Kadampas (And what the Tibetan beside me in the chupa was shouting at them) doesn't need to be said, but I am glad we live in a country where people CAN stage a peaceful protest, even if they are a disgrace. What was worse were the Chinese Nationalists on the other side, who went crazy at me for having a picture of the Dalai Lama, shouting "You're brainwashed!" My mum pulled me away from them because she was so scared of their violent outburst. It made me wonder, how could you call someone brainwashed, when you have such angry and volatile tendencies towards a picture?
There are some shaky hand footage videos of the talk and of the protests on YouTube, if you have trouble finding them leave a comment and I'll give you the direct links.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Monday, March 17, 2008
Tibetans launch historic movement ahead of Beijing Olympics.
"We are calling on Tibetans worldwide to join us at this critical moment when China is trying to spread its Olympics propaganda," B. Tsering, President of the Tibetan Women's Association. "Together, we will seize this unprecedented opportunity to voice Tibetan resistance and reinvigorate our freedom struggle."
Tibetans march despite police ban
Tibetan exiles go on hunger strike
More than 100 Tibetan exiles began a hunger strike Thursday after police in northern India dragged them away from a six-month march to their homeland to protest China's hosting of the Olympic Games.
China pulls plug on YouTube after Tibet riots
Crisis? What crisis?
China warns Tibet of crackdown
Reports: At least 40 dead in clashes
Beijing says Olympic torch plans unaffected by Tibet killings
10 people burn to death in Tibet riots
Deadline looms for Tibetans to surrender
Tibet protester deadline passes
The deadline for Tibetan protesters to surrender to the police has passed, after a quiet day in the city of Lhasa.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Through these two examples it is evident that the Abrahamic notion of an everlasting human soul doesn’t fit with the Buddhist concept of anatta, and yet that is not what is meant by “self” in this context. Self and soul are fundamentally opposite ideas. Self here refers to a false sense that certain impermanent aggregates constitute an unchanging, real whole. The soul is seen as unchanging and real, your true essence which could not give you suffering, but only certain beings are given a soul. In Buddhism, even animals have a sense of self. Rather, the soul corresponds more to the notion of every sentient being having an inner Buddha nature, the only truly real immortal essence which allows them to awaken. The self and the Buddha nature are two of the four inverted views in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, meaning that either people can recognise the true nature of them, but not recognise the reality, or not see the true nature of them but see the reality: “Thinking that the self is the selfless or thinking that the selfless is the self.” This is relevant, as is shows that an apparent contradiction can arise in the understanding of “no-self”. In it the Buddha states that “Saying that the Tathagata (The Buddha, “One who is gone”) is Eternal is a Self-centred view. From this Self-centred view arise innumerable sins. Thus, one should say that the Tathagata is non-Eternal…The Tathagata's being non-Eternal would entail suffering. If [there is] suffering, how could one expect [to find] Bliss therein?” Thus a paradox over the existence of the Buddha nature arises, though most schools get around this by saying that Buddha nature is completely empty, not of it’s own reality, but of the reality of karma and suffering. This shows that “No-self” is a rather misleading term to use, it might be best appropriate to understand the concept purely in terms of the interdependence of reality than use “no-self” at all.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead states that “There are no phenomena extraneous to those that originate from the mind, so there are no modes of conduct to be undertaken extraneous to those…from the mind.” Here, the mind is the ability all sentient beings have to understand and experience both samsara and Nirvana, the self here is extraneous from the mind and therefore is not a good source for modes of conduct, including ethics. Buddhist ethics focus on how to act morally so that your accumulated karma has a positive effect on your present and future lives. Karma literally means “action”, and is the driving force behind samsara, the cycle of rebirth. This leads on to the fundamental teachings of Buddhist ethics; the Four Noble Truths. These being: All existence is suffering, suffering is caused by craving, suffering can have an end, the way to the end of suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path. Holding on to a view of the self is seen as a form of craving and attachment, which generates bad karma. The nature of the world, as we have said before, is ever-changing, so to cling onto one aspect of it is bound to bring on suffering when the inevitable happens. In this sense, the concept of anatta has a very little role to play in Buddhist ethics. Rather than an idea to inspire them, it is merely the negation of an idea, that shouldn’t inspire them. Just as if you said, “You cannot find morality in this apple”, it may be true in context, but it is self-evident and irrelevant to what you should and shouldn’t do ethically. It does however raise a good question: Why have ethics when people as individuals do not exist? The Buddha himself said that even good karma trapped you in the cycle of rebirth, so why is it so important to attain when it keeps you in suffering? There are many varied answers to this question. One is that karma can be donated to others. After meditation a Buddhist may dedicate their good karma attained in that particular sitting to helping all other sentient beings to awaken, or for all lesser beings to be born in a higher state. This means that they have helped others reach a higher understanding, and have gained no karmic effects in the process, a win-win situation. Another answer is that without compassion (wanting all beings to be free of suffering) and loving-kindness (love for everyone equally) you cannot possibly enlighten, as it shows that you are being selfish, grasping after your own release without care for others. This too leads to suffering as, also with the paradox of the four inverted views earlier, to grasp even after no-self, enlightenment, or any other truth, is to defeat the point. However, a criticism of this outlook is that Buddhist ethics is no more than a set of rules to keep your mind on the right path, and though the individual might feel real compassion, the concept itself is empty of meaning. If it were the case that nastiness caused people to become non-selfish and unattached to desires, then logically Buddhism should endorse it. This is also supported in the Buddhist belief that there are many different methods of teaching to different people, as even “[The Buddha] taught what was suitable according to the disposition of his listeners.” This lack of inherent moral value, or at least the low position of the good karma it attains, is limited more to doctrine than to practise. For a layperson, attaining as much good karma as possible is fundamental to offsetting all the bad karma they attain just by doing daily tasks, such as slaughtering the family goat, getting married or going to battle. They might do these things in the name of Buddhism, despite the fact that it goes against it’s teachings, such as Ani Pachen, a Tibetan nun who supposedly was prepared to kill in order to support her cause. This, however, is nothing new in religion. For instance, the Christian view of ‘love thy neighbour’ often doesn’t extend to enemies, or even “irreligious” folk, even if this irreligious behaviour is still Christianity.
Overall, the influence of the concept of anatta on the ethical nature of Buddhist tradition is very limited. It is perhaps cultural that we as westerners expect the self, or even the soul, to play a major part in it. Christianity focuses heavily on the intrinsic good of God’s commands, and how you will be given eternal life in heaven for your goodness, and also be blessed in your life with worldly goods and spiritual insights. All of these things are things to be desired, which Buddhism says cannot exist in this world, and so disagrees with the claim that your self should be given rewards. They do not disagree with the idea of your self attaining rewards through good deeds, only that overall, the cessation of all attachments is best. Buddhist ethics focuses instead on how to generate compassion to all beings, regardless of self, centring on the inner Buddha nature inside everyone. Indra’s web is the idea that the universe is like an infinite net, with a jewel in each gap, we are the jewel and as such, in our facets we reflect every other jewel on the web and they reflect us. Everyone is connected through Buddha nature, and so to cultivate an ethical approach to others helps every other living being as well. It is with this idea that Buddhism accepts morality without the need for a self.
Chamberland, S., Mahaparinirvana Sutra, 1st Edn, 2000, London, Nirvana Publications.
Coleman, G., Ed., The Tibetan Book Of The Dead, 1st Edn, 2006, London, Penguin.
Dalai Lama, The Four Noble Truths, 1st Edn, 1997, Thorsons.
Donnelly, A., Pachen, A., Sorrow Mountain, 1st Edn, 2000, Doubleday.
Gyamtso, K., T., Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness, 2001, Zhyisil Chokyi Ghatsal Trust.
Keown, D., Buddhist Ethics: A Very Short Introduction, 1st Edn, 2005, New York, Oxford University Press.
1. Nagasena - Often depicted cleaning his ear with a stick to symbolise the purification of the sense of hearing. "An adherent of Buddhism should avoid listening to gossip and other nonsense so that they are always prepared to hear the truth." - Wikipedia.
2. The death of the Buddha Sakyamuni, his (Maha)parinirvana. The Mahaparinirvana Sutra is said to be the last teachings of the Buddha before his death.
3. The Wheel of Life.
4. Ani Pachen.
Apologies for some of the terminology in this post not being explained, I wrote this a while ago and found it difficult to change. Please, leave a comment if you need any further clarification. I thought I'd put up some in-depth philosophy while I plan my next post, which focuses on the life of Milarepa.