Saturday, 10 December 2016

Island Nine Year Old Teaches Us All a Lesson

I always keep an eye open for an uplifting story at this time of year and I couldn't do better than this one about the generosity of young Paddy Cotton as related in this week's County Press.

GUESTS of the Isle of Wight Bus Shelter were shocked by the generosity of nine-year-old Paddy Cotton, of Ryde, who spent his Christmas money on Coal for the shelter's multi-fuel burner. Paddy's kind gesture sparked a social media campaign, urging people to buy coal for the homeless shelter, to see it through the Winter.

The Oakfield Primary School pupil was inspired to spend the remainder of his Christmas money on coal, rather than have more presents, when he saw a homeless man in Newport and noticed someone stop to buy the man a coffee.

Paddy said: "It made me really upset and shocked. I didn't know there were homeless people on the IW. I was inspired by the person who stopped to help him. I saw that and it made me think about what I could do to help."

He asked his mum, Katherine Cotton, to contact the IW Bus Shelter, a converted bus that currently accommodates 15 homeless people, and she was told the shelter needed coal. After he had spent the rest of his own money on coal, he asked his mum to start a Facebook campaign encouraging others to do the same.

Katherine said: “It was overwhelming how many people got in touch. I am so proud of Paddy. I think he has realised that just by doing a small thing to raise awareness, people on the Island really get together to support the community."

Kevin Newton, who runs the Bus Shelter, said: "I am amazed at what Paddy has done. It is good to know there are children out there like Paddy who are thinking about homeless people at Christmas time." 

The BBC have visited to film a feature for The One Show; about the Bus Shelter and Paddy's kind donation. 


"Our guests couldn't wait to meet Paddy,” Kevin said, “they just can't believe a child has done that for them." 

• Anyone can buy coal for the Bus Shelter from Windmill Farm, in Upton Road, Ryde. The farm will store the coal until it is collected by the Bus Shelter and they are doing a special price of £8.40 a bag if it is being donated. Each bag lasts two days at the Bus Shelter, which is also looking for volunteers to help out.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Support for Bhikkhunis

As part of our recent series of posts on secular Buddhism and mindfulness I mentioned the following:-

"A while back I ran a series of stories on the plight of Buddhist nuns in various traditions who are denied full ordination. Many have now achieved this, "illegally" according to their parent traditions. But they have done this by side stepping the established protocols of the purely Asian schools of Buddhism. They have separated and moved away and formed their own monastic settlements here in the West where they can enjoy the liberal, progressive freedoms denied them within the traditional, Asian context of Buddhism."


Coincidentally yesterday I received an email from the Alliance for Bhikkhunis about how one can help them in supporting the establishment and growth of training monasteries, hermitages and viharas for nuns.

It is striking how this contrasts with the Popes recent assertion on the subject of female ordination.

Pope Francis said that he believes the Roman Catholic Church's ban on women becoming priests is forever and will never be changed.

He was speaking aboard a plane taking him back to Rome from Sweden, in the freewheeling news conference with reporters that has become a tradition of his return flights from trips abroad.

A Swedish female reporter noted that the head of the Lutheran Church who welcomed him in Sweden was a woman, and then asked if he thought the Catholic Church could allow women to be ordained as ministers in coming decades. "St. Pope John Paul II had the last clear word on this and it stands, this stands," Francis said. Francis was referring to a 1994 document by Pope John Paul that closed the door on a female priesthood. The Vatican says this teaching is an infallible part of Catholic tradition.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Western Buddhism (Watered Down?) Cont.

Further to our recent run of posts relating to the establishment/evolution of a genuinely Western form/school of Buddhism the following article cropped up in Lion's Roar.

Recently we published an article by Funie Hsu titled “We’ve Been Here All Along,” which explores how Asian American Buddhists have historically been marginalized in American Buddhism. The author — an Asian American Buddhist scholar — bravely discusses what happens when white American Buddhists embrace teachings from Asia in a broader culture built on white privilege and racism. It’s a challenging but important article.

We don’t usually get much feedback from readers, but this one struck a nerve with several who took the time to write to us. The tone of these letters surprised me — some were quite angry at Hsu and lodged personal attacks (“She should be grateful for what she has”; “She ain’t no buddhist”). Others were more tempered but equally defensive (“I felt judged and unwelcomed”; “The article is implicitly racist toward white people”). 

Last week, while we were taping a panel discussion on Buddhist ethics for our next issue, Ajahn Amaro, abbot of Amaravati, took a moment to let us know how much he appreciated Funie Hsu’s article. I thought it might be interesting for him to tell you why. —Tynette Deveaux, editor, Buddhadharma 

"I am not an Asian-American Buddhist but I have certainly witnessed and been a part of some of the situations described in the piece, and to which Ms. Hsu calls useful attention. I am European by birth and have been a monk in a Buddhist lineage hailing from North-East Thailand since 1979, practising under the guidance of Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Sumedho. I have lived mostly in the West as a monk since that date, in both the UK and the USA. 

As a monk in a somewhat conservative order, my community has maintained close ties with its Asian cultural and religious roots. Our monasteries in the West, of which there are about thirty (there are about 300 in Thailand as well), tend to straddle two worlds; on the one hand there are the Asian immigrant communities, mostly from Thailand, Sri Lanka, Laos, and Cambodia, and on the other there are the Western-born folks who have encountered Buddhism through reading, travelling or browsing the net. 

Over the years, particularly during my time in the USA, I have interacted a lot with both of these groups. It is sad to say, but in conversations with Western-born Buddhist teachers and practitioners, at formal meetings and conferences as much as in informal dialogues, I have regularly encountered the kind of white cultural conceit that speaks of practising “real Buddhism” rather than “folk Buddhism” weighed down with so-called “cultural baggage.” As one whose lifestyle is devotedly built around such “baggage” (preferably understood as “skillful means”) such comments and discussions come across bearing the ugliness and conceit of the unconscious racism of: “Some of my best friends are…” 

I found I could empathise with the spirit of Ms. Hsu’s article and felt many of her points were very apposite. We can all be blind to our conceits (I had no idea how English I was until I went to live in an international community) and her highlighting of these issues helps the reader to, in my humble opinion, turn the attention back on to their own heart to consider what they are assuming to be true and real. When we challenge such assumptions, often only spotting them when we feel particularly gratified (Yes!) or offended (How dare she!), we can then become aware of the stress-filled limitations these conceits bring. Once the heart is awake to the bondage it is creating, it can more easily let go and be free of it." 

All good wishes, Amaro Bhikkhu, Abbot, Amaravati Buddhist Monastery

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

NEW MOON - Trackless Land

Some are reborn as humans;
evil-doers are reborn in hell.
Doers of good are reborn in bliss.
and the pure enter the trackless land.

Dhammapada v. 126

Whatever our views on the potential for future rebirth, we can witness daily our constantly being born into and dying out of states of mind. An agreeable experience, when clung to, can make us feel we will be happy forever; when we cling to a disagreeable experience, we may feel as if we are in hell and it will always be that way. Our lack of perspective means we don't see the connection between clinging to experiences and getting lost in them. Even goodness if clung to, will lead to suffering. Only when we see clearly that all experiences are what they are – gladness feels pleasant, sadness feels unpleasant – and that no experience lasts forever, will we truly embrace the path of purification. Those who have purified their hearts and minds from all compulsive clinging know reality in a way that the rest of us can't imagine; hence their reality can be called the trackless land.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Response from the Middle Way Society

Jack said in the previous post that it was "plucky of me to venture into the thorny arena of Buddhist hermeneutics: the way in which Buddhism has been, and is being, re-interpreted to suit contemporary western (American and European) social life, and precisely who claims authority to perform those acts of hermeneutics". How right he was, following quickly on from his comment came one from the chair of the Middle Way Society, Robert M. Ellis.

As I had to post Jack's contribution (it exceeded the character limit on comments) I think it only right to afford the same prominence to Mr Ellis' input to this debate.

If you seek to learn anything from the Buddha's teachings, presumably quite early on there will be anatta - the recognition that our ideas about 'essences' are our own construction. One's construction of 'Buddhism' is just as subject to this as anything else. If you want to follow the Buddha's experimental example in his early life as he discovered the Middle Way you will be similarly inclined to learn from but move beyond absolutised teachings that are no longer practically helpful, as the Buddha moved on from Alara Kalama and Udaka Ramaputta, the the 5 ascetics. Thus I find it very ironic when Buddhists try to essentialise Buddhism and write in dismissive terms about those who want to follow the spirit of the Middle Way wherever it leads.

The Middle Way Society is indeed independent of Buddhism, as I would have thought anyone who wants to make use of the Buddha's insights would want to be. That doesn't mean that one can't make use of what one can learn from the Buddhist or any other tradition, but that one is not subjected to the authority of a tradition. For a Buddhist to give absolute authority to that tradition and also to want to follow the Buddha's example seems contradictory. But you have made huge and inaccurate assumptions about our motives which presumably stem from a failure to investigate what we actually do. It has nothing to do with political correctness or secularism, nor is it 'watering down' the Buddha's insights, but rather seeking a universal practical method that the Buddha's insights share with those of other individuals and traditions to varying degrees. We can hardly be losing essential elements of Buddha's teaching' when Buddha's teaching involves there being no such essential elements to anything. Only critical investigation in the light of experience can help us to understand and apply what we learn from sources like the Buddha, and the uncritical adoption of tradition is antipathetic to that process of human investigation.


Friday, 25 November 2016

Comment on "Watered down Buddhism"

Further to the previous post "Watered Down Buddhism" I received an email from a long time correspondent, A.W. (Jack) Kennedy who runs the Bowerchalke Buddhist Meditation Group over in Wiltshire on the Dorset, Hampshire border.


He had tried to post a comment on the article but it exceeded the permitted word count. It is an excellent take on the subject so I am posting the entire piece here..........

Stephen, 
Thanks for this post. You point to an interesting article by Funie Hsu (accessible with a bit of searching on the ‘Lions Roar’ website). It is plucky of you to venture into the thorny arena of Buddhist hermeneutics: the way in which Buddhism has been, and is being, re-interpreted to suit contemporary western (American and European) social life, and precisely who claims authority to perform those acts of hermeneutics. 

Your post is brief, so please allow me to make a few comments by way of expansion: 

1. American and British Buddhism are not identical. Historical conditions have affected them in different ways they cannot be conflated. Certainly, there are two forms of Buddhism (indigenous immigrant and white convert) on both sides of the Atlantic, but in Britain there has generally been respect and interaction between the two. Hsu, and others, are concerned that the majority of white convert Buddhists should show respect and solidarity towards Japanese, Black, and LBGT minority Buddhists, in the face of neglect and oppression from the wider community, in the past and under Trump’s new world order. We should listen up, and make sure that neglect and oppression of marginalised communities doesn’t happen over here. 

2. Yet, any person, whatever their origin, has the right to inform themselves about the vast gamut of Buddhist teaching and practice, and the right to decide for themselves what’s meaningful and what’s meaningless in the light of their own cultural circumstances, which these days are usually scientifically-informed and liberal about human rights. Authority can, of course, be claimed by Buddhist teachers, but in the final analysis authority is only provisionally granted by those that decide to accept a teacher. My point is that white convert Buddhists can’t be expected to rely on indigenous immigrant teachers, or on traditional texts, without any right to apply their own forms of interpretation. 

3. You mention the ‘cultural appropriation’ and the ‘translation’ of Buddhism into western contexts. Whenever these terms are used, I think it only fair to reference my old PhD. supervisor, Philip Mellor, because he was the first person to use these terms and address these issues, and because subsequent commentators tend to forget his original contribution: Mellor, P.A. 1989, The Cultural Translation of Buddhism: problems of method in the study of Buddhism in England (University of Manchester, unpublished PhD thesis); Mellor, P.A. 1991, ‘Protestant Buddhism? The Cultural Translation of Buddhism in England’, in Religious Studies, 29, pp.111-127. Coming from an ‘outsider’ Catholic perspective, Mellor had a rather biased view of western Buddhism, but he made three interesting points: that Buddhism is being translated into Protestant forms of religious behaviour; that Buddhist practitioners are not particularly aware of this alteration, and that it is difficult for ‘the analyst’ (the academic observer) to disentangle western Buddhist discourse and practice from western psychotherapeutic discourse and practice. You note that the Robert Ellis’s ‘Middle Way Society’ is independent of Buddhism; could that also be said of the Mindfulness movement? Robert Ellis, as is his right, has made up his own mind on the basis of his own interpretation of Buddhism, and in the light of his sceptical philosophy. He has generated an impressive website but has few followers, therefore, not much effect on the progress of Buddhism in Britain. Might not the Mindfulness movement prove more damaging? Is today’s Mindfulness movement not an outcome of the entanglement of Buddhism with psychotherapeutic discourse, and is there not a risk that the Mindfulness movement might go on to largely replace Buddhism in Britain? 

4. I want to defend the memory of the Secular Buddhist UK website. It was established by Anantacitta Tunnell, a thoroughly decent Birmingham social-worker who used to be a member of the FWBO/Triratna Community. He worked hard to create an open forum for the discussion of secular Buddhist ideas and practice, with Stephen Batchelor’s blessing but without the benefit of his involvement. Nobody was willing to take over the site when it became too much for Anantacitta. Since I was a contributor, I must share some of the blame for that misfortune. Regrettably, it went into abeyance, Wordpress closed it down, and the archives vanished into digital oblivion. But I remain dependent on Buddhism, as does the American Secular Buddhist website, as (I think) does Stephen Batchelor. Nobody can wholly escape the influence of their (white, western, contemporary, protestant, scientific) upbringing, but, of course, we can be Buddhists nonetheless, if Buddhist practice is truly applicable to all sentient beings.

Thank you Jack. As you note the original post was somewhat brief when touching on this subject but it was prompted by the demise of the UK secular Buddhist website and the rest sort of just followed as background context.

I feel that secular Buddhism is a genuinely Western response to the Dharma and although I have the greatest respect for the various Eastern schools into which the Buddha's teachings have evolved that evolution has taken place within the context of cultures other than my own. It can feel somewhat of an affectation when performing, for example, Japanese or Tibetan rites and rituals when one is not Japanese or Tibetan. Secular Buddhism addresses this by removing the cultural accoutrements but then also jettisons anything "mythological". The question then arises as to what is myth or just a good story loaded with parable, allegory and fable that teaches the Dharma in the succinctly skillful way the Buddha had of pitching his message.

That said, I cannot but agree with your comment about "there (being) a risk that the Mindfulness movement might go on to largely replace Buddhism in Britain." 

I know that there is a counter argument that Mindfulness practise is in fact inculcating the Buddha's teachings "by the back door" but various mindfulness teachers that I know who are Buddhists say that apart from a brief comment that these practises are derived from ancient Buddhist ones Buddhism itself is never mentioned.

But, ultimately, despite all of the challenges that Buddhism faces in the West it will, in time, develop into a truly Western practise. A while back I ran a series of stories on the plight of Buddhist nuns in various traditions who are denied full ordination. Many have now achieved this, "illegally" according to their parent traditions. But they have done this by side stepping the established protocols of the purely Asian schools of Buddhism. They have separated and moved away and formed their own monastic settlements here in the West where they can enjoy the liberal, progressive freedoms denied them within the traditional, Asian context of Buddhism.


Thursday, 17 November 2016

Watered Down Buddhism

The subject of the “cultural appropriation” of Eastern forms of Buddhism by Western Buddhists crops up every now and then and in fact there is an excellent article by Funie Hsu in this quarter’s edition of Buddhadharma on this very subject.

It’s a fact not lost on practitioners here in the UK either. When Sangharakshita (the Dharma name of Dennis Lingwood) founded the, Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, or FWBO (now known as the Triratna Buddhist Community) it was “an attempt to translate the ideas and practices of Buddhism into Western languages. The non-denominational nature of the Triratna Buddhist Community, its equal ordination for both men
and women, and its evolution of new forms of shared practice, such as what it calls team-based right livelihood projects, have been cited as examples of such "translation", and also as the creation of a "Buddhist society in miniature within the Western, industrialized world” (Brassard, Francis (2000), The Concept of Bodhicitta in Śāntideva's Bodhícaryāvatāra).

The FWBO and Triratna draw their teachings from all the major schools of Buddhism to produce a “Western version” of the Dharma.

Another approach has been to “strip” the Buddha’s teachings of any “mythological” content and even to remove any elements that are to be found in other schools of philosophy contemporaneous with the Buddha. This approach, promoted by Western Buddhists such as Stephen Batchelor and John Peacock, has become known as Secular Buddhism.

This has the appeal of providing the Western practitioner with a “culture free” Dharma which can be practised without feeling that one is pretending to be Asian. However, for many of us there is the feeling that we run the danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water and losing essential elements of the Buddha’s teaching just because they do not fit in with some politically correct secular filter.

This however leads to the question of where does it all stop; to what extent can the Dharma be watered down and still be the Dharma?

While carrying out a regular check on the functionality of the links on this site I found that the one for Secular Buddhism UK is now defunct. On their associated Facebook page I found the following –
“Secular Buddhism UK (and associated website) are no longer active. However, several former SBUK members have since formed The Middle Way Society www.middlewaysociety.org, which visitors to this page may also be interested in. The MWS shares some of the aims of SBUK, but is nonetheless, independent of Buddhism.”

So there you go, you can water down the Buddha’s teachings to the point where they are no longer Buddhism.

Monday, 14 November 2016

FULL MOON - Self-harming

If you intentionally harm
an innocent person,
someone who is pure and blameless,
the harm will come back to you
like fine dust thrown into the wind.

Dhammapada v. 125

To grow up surrounded by people who show us a good example of what is wholesome and what is not is a great blessing. And one of the most important lessons that they could teach us is that what we get back from life is determined by what we put into it. Even if we are not blessed by carers who were completely wise and skilful, it is never too late to teach ourselves; we can always develop more mindfulness, restraint and wise reflection. Those who fail to learn this basic lesson fall prey to myriad forms of delusion. For example, they don't see how when they mistreat others, they mistreat themselves too. It is pitiable to observe when those in a position of influence misuse their power, creating more suffering instead of generating causes for increased well-being.