Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Palaka Shares a Teaching, "The Happiness Problem"

I recently received an email from Palaka in which he included a link to a talk by Maitreyabandhu who talks about the "Happiness Problem". It's very accessible and is primarily an examination of our Western obsession with wealth, possessions and our search for something to "make us happy", I particularly liked the part on choice.

Listen to it HERE

Friday, 26 June 2009

Government "Tolerant" of Animal Cruelty

THE religious slaughter of animals for meat causes them "pain and distress", a report has warned.

The Farm and Animal Welfare Council said that slitting animals' throats for kosher and halal meat was likely to be painful because the animal is conscious for at least 20 seconds as they bleed to death.

In a report by Fawc and leading veterinary experts, it recommends the Government begin talks with Jewish and Muslim communities to ensure animals are stunned first.
The report states: "Such a large cut will inevitably trigger sensory input to pain centres in the brain. Our conclusions are such that an injury would result in significant pain and distress."

But a spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "The Government has adopted a policy of religious tolerance and acceptance of the right to practise religion freely by allowing an exemption from stunning requirements for kosher and halal slaughter."

In addition to strongly opposing the idea that animals exist merely to serve and feed man, Buddhism also recognizes that every sentient being has the capacity to feel pain. Furthermore, as sentient beings are reborn according to their karmic propensities, all beings have transmigrated through the various animal realms. As the Buddha stated, (Over the repetition of rebirths since beginningless time,) "it is not easy to find a being who has not at one time been our mother, father, brother, or sister." So, when saving the life of another being, Buddhism believes that we are not just saving a fish or a rabbit, but the life of one of our mothers in the past.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Buddhist "Thought for Today"

Every now and then on the Radio 4 Today programme's "Thought for Today" they feature a hear it again here...
Buddhist speaker, usually Vishvapani of the Western Buddhist Order. This happens pretty infrequently and is easily missed if your not a regular listener. Today He gave a talk around the theme of "Self Absorption"......

Friday, 19 June 2009

Quotes That I Like, I

I thought that I'd start a new feature by regularly posting quotes that strike a chord with me, so here's the first from Lama Surya Das.

"Meditation, simply defined, is a way of being aware. ... Meditation masters teach us how to be precisely present and focused on this one breath, the only breath; this moment, the only moment. Whether we're aware of it or not, we are quite naturally present to this moment, where else could we be? Meditation is simply a way of knowing this."

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Pick 'N' Mix Buddhism

I came across this article by Ed Halliwell the other month and thought that I would share it, as it's particularly relevant to us as "Western Buddhists".

"I doubt it was his intention, but in 100 years time Richard Dawkins could be hailed as a prime architect of 21st-century religion.

Though strident to the point of comic fundamentalism, the New Atheist diatribe has not only laid bare the irrationalities of believers, but forced those of us who favour scientific-spiritual accommodation to sharpen our arguments. And that can only aid the development of spiritual forms fit for the modern world.

When I first picked up The God Delusion, I was a bit disappointed to find it was rather polite about my own tradition. Right up there in chapter one, Dawkins sensibly suggests that Buddhism might be seen as an ethical or philosophical system rather than a religion, and so not a major focus for his ire. We've got off lightly from other anti-religionists too – Sam Harris even goes on Buddhist meditation retreats.

The International Buddhist Film Festival, which opened in London last week, has at least provoked a bit of poking at our flabby underbelly. On Radio 3, Martin Palmer accused western Buddhists of creating their own version based on "the religion we don't want, which is Judeo-Christian, and the religion we would love to have, which isn't quite religion, which … doesn't have too many rules, and the rules it does have, like the Tibetan ban on homosexuality, are conveniently forgotten." Mark Vernon, relaying Palmer's comments on his blog, agreed, describing western Buddhism as "deeply partial, a pick 'n' mix religion". Their criticisms would appear to be supported by a glance at the IBFF schedule, which includes films – such as Donnie Darko and Hamlet – for which the label Buddhist seems pretty tenuous.

But Buddhism has always changed shape according to place and time. Impermanence, as one of the three marks of existence, must apply also to Buddhism itself. It accepts, even demands, that every culture must find its own unique expressions of awakening. To prevent them becoming pieces of stale ideology, its discoveries must be tested anew by each practitioner, rather than being swallowed from scripture. Whenever Buddhism is embraced in a new location, it has mixed with pre-existing wisdom – hence, for example, why Zen looks so different from Tibetan Vajrayana.

In Buddhism there should be no room for dogma – the ultimate criteria for performing an action is its role in alleviating the suffering of oneself and others. A course of action could reduce suffering in one circumstance and magnify it in another, so the rules are there to be broken and the traditions are there to be changed, provided, of course, you can do it skilfully. When asked to sum up the essence of Buddhism, Japanese teacher Shunyru Susuki replied "Not always so". The pliability of the teachings means that mistakes can be learned from, and culturally created doctrines or codes of behaviour that are unwise, outdated or harmful – the aforementioned approach to homosexuality for example – can be freely consigned to the bin.
Does that make western Buddhism a pick 'n' mix religion? Perhaps it does – but if we pick and mix well, we might create something good. Indeed, if we pick wise insights from the past and mix them with the ever-accumulating knowledge from our own cultural heritage, then what we might have a viable model for 21st-century spirituality. It needn't even be called Buddhism, which is, after all, just a word.

As a path that simultaneously emphasises both constant change and a relentless search for truth, perhaps Buddhism is in a good position to develop more mature forms. However, the rational onslaught must inevitably spur other traditions to self-question and adapt too. And this is where Richard Dawkins may well be one of religion's greatest allies. The old code that sacred beliefs cannot be challenged for fear of causing offence has been shattered – and it needed shattering. If the sacred dimension just means articles of faith that provoke outrage when assaulted, then religion and the religious would be better off without them. Dawkins and his ilk may have their sights trained on eliminating religion, but what they are actually doing is exposing its dead wood, the anachronisms that have been protected from critical thinking, and that needed cutting away.

Claims to special privilege in society, indoctrination of belief as fact, repressive or violent acts as a means of evangelism, and the upholding of outdated worldviews on scriptural grounds – all these and many other examples of the misuse of spiritual traditions do them no favours and should be dropped. If that is pick 'n' mix religion, can I be first in the queue at the sweet counter?"

For another take on this read Mark Vernon's article, also from the Guardian.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Take a Step Back

One of our Sangha members recently sent me this Chinese Proverb.

Say's it all really..................................

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Our Policy on Politics

Today we are having Local Government elections in England and European Parliament elections across the U.K. This along with the current row over M.P.s expenses makes for a good time to reiterate our editorial policy on "political" statements...........

"It is Not the purpose of this blog to campaign on political issues, however as a Buddhist site we will continue to promote peace and the welfare of all beings by any appropriate non-violent means".

Hence our numerous postings of late regarding the fate of Burma's elected "de facto" leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

By the way, her American "visitor", John Yettaw is a Mormon who apparently wanted to "pray" with her and is intending to write a "faith-based" book on heroism. Given that his timing could not have been worst, the arrest will allow the junta to keep her away from the public eye until after elections scheduled for 2010, one cannot but wonder if he was duped into his escapade.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

64 words for Aung San Suu Kyi

A coalition of celebrities, NGOs and trade unions have launched a new website http://www.64ForSuu.org calling for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, and all of Burma’s political prisoners.

64 words for Aung San Suu Kyi allows anyone to upload video, text, image or twitter messages of support to Burma’s imprisoned democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Burma Campaign UK want to gather thousands of messages by her 64th birthday on June 19th 2009.

The campaign has the backing of major celebrities, including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Vaclav Havel, David Beckham, Daniel Craig, Stephen Fry, Eddie Izzard, Kevin Spacey and the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

The Prime Minister has released an open letter to Aung San Suu Kyi.

Dear Daw Suu

The Burmese regime continues to resist the righteous clamour from your people and from the international community for your release. As you and the Burmese people are denied your democratic rights and freedoms the only way for me to communicate with you is through this open letter.

I wanted to publish it to let you know that you are not alone - that people are standing with you not just here in Britain, but everywhere that democracy and freedom are upheld.

We are heartened by your tremendous courage, your inspirational leadership, and by the knowledge that no oppression is so great that the forces of liberty cannot prevail The history books are full of stories of injustice. But they are also full of stories of hope, resistance and the victories that satisfy the deep human yearning to be free. I am confident that your story will stand prominently among those that show that from
the deepest wells of despair can come the greatest triumphs of human endeavour.

Inspired by and in solidarity with you, the British Government will continue to work with our international partners to support Burma’s path to stability, peace and economic recovery. The UN Security Council has set out the steps necessary for a return to democracy in Burma. I have worked with our partners in the EU to maintain sanctions that are tough and targeted against those individuals who wish to deny the Burmese people their rights. And I will continue to press your neighbours in Asia to work even harder for your release and that of all political prisoners in Burma.

My message to the Burmese regime is clear the people of Burma have suffered nearly half a century of conflict and isolation, it is time to embrace a new beginning. So I say to the Generals who imprison you: the time for a transition to democracy is now. By excluding you from that future, by silencing and imprisoning you, they condemn your country to
further decades of poverty and exclusion.

Your continued imprisonment reminds all of us that we should not take for granted the institution of democracy for which you campaign That we should not rest until you are able to play your rightful role in a free and secure Burma. And that our place is alongside all those who face imprisonment, repression and despair in their battle to build democracy, confront poverty and protect human rights. Daw Suu I want you to know: you are not alone.

Yours sincerely

Gordon Brown