Friday, 30 December 2016

A Buddhist Father Christmas

The Listening Project is a BBC Radio 4 initiative that offers a snapshot of contemporary Britain in which people across the UK volunteer to have a conversation with someone close to them about a subject they've never discussed intimately before.

Just before Christmas Fi Glover introduced a conversation between a Buddhist Father Christmas and a Baptist chaplain about how they spend Christmas morning in the hospice. Another in the series that proves it's surprising what you hear when you listen.


Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Good News but NOT the First

Now here's a good one to end the year on. His Holiness the Dalai Lama awarded 20 Tibetan Buddhist nuns with Geshema degrees yesterday at a ceremony at Drepung monastery in Mundgod, South India last Thursday, the 22nd of December. (Geshema is simply the feminine version of Geshe). 

According to the Tibetan government in exile the nuns are the first female monastics to complete the necessary training and examinations to earn the degree.

However, what about Venerable Kelsang Wangmo? In April 2011, His Holiness advised the renowned Institute for Buddhist Dialectical Studies (IBD) in Dharamsala, India, to confer the degree of “Geshe” to Venerable Kelsang Wangmo, a German nun (formerly Kerstin Brunnenbaum).

The Geshema degree is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism, and could previously only be earned by men. In July, the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration announced that all 20 candidates for the degree had passed the examination process. The exams take a total of four years to complete, with one 12-day exam period per year each May that tests the knowledge gained in a 17-year course of study.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

West Wight Sangha Review of 2016

Well it's heading for the end of December and time for our review of the year again.....................

Right at the start of the year we featured a post on the Fear of Emigrants which was bit ahead of the wave back in January; how that changed!

Later that month we ran a piece on the latest exploits of John and Nicole in "More from The Travelling Buddhists" and showed some of their amazing photos.............

At the end of the month came the sad news of David Bowie's death and we featured some shots of the location where his close family scattered his ashes following a Buddhist ceremony on the Indonesian island of Bali.

February the 13th marked the 250th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Malthus. Malthus was the father of Malthusianism, which contends that the Earth cannot support unchecked population growth.

Although Buddhism does not direct people to give birth, or suggest how many children they have, if any. Buddhist leaders are acutely aware of issues related to overpopulation. The Dalai Lama stated, back in 2008 that if the population grows beyond 6 billion, this will cause great difficulty - (the world population is now approaching 7.5 billion). Therefore, he says, family planning is necessary.

In March we asked Which Country is the Most Generous? With a surprising result!

Later in the month we featured Some Buddhist Poems for World Poetry Day. Here's one from Vijaya Samarawickama..............


This day is a special day, it is yours. 
Yesterday slipped away, it cannot be filled anymore with meaning. 
About tomorrow nothing is known. 
But this day, today, is yours, make use of it. 
Today you can make someone happy. 
Today you can help another. 
This day is a special day, it is yours.

At the end of the month we discussed How Things Come Together in a sequence of coincidents revolving around a Dharma talk, a book and a debate between Stephen Batchelor and Ajahn Brahmali.

Beginnings and endings.
April started with the exciting news that here on the island a New Buddhist Group was Starting in Ryde!

Sadly we finished the month with a report of the death of Dennis Sibley who was one of the original pioneers involved with bringing Buddhism to the Isle of Wight.

In may we reported that a Christian group was protesting that the Canon Chancellor of York Minster, the Revd Canon Dr Chris Collingwood supported by Fr. Patrick Kundo Eastman Roshi, a Roman Catholic priest and Zen master, have introduced Zen Buddhist zazen meditation sessions. They are now a regular fixture, listed among the Minster’s main “spiritual” activities.

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the pressure group Christian Concern, said: "Buddhism contrasts sharply with Christian teaching about God. The two are incompatible. To try to mix them is deceptive and dishonours Jesus Christ."

"It is sobering that last year a Canon of this same cathedral blessed the city's 'Pride' march. The Church of England must take decisive action to deal with this radical agenda."

We ended May with an item which is as topical now as it was then - the state of our charities.

At our Sangha meeting we discussed charitable giving. The subject came up in relation to revelations that 32 UK charity bosses were paid over £200,000 last year.

In June we introduced our Daily Mindfulness Exercise.

Quite simply, the exercise is to pick up and dispose of one piece of litter every day.

This was closely followed by the news that Christianity could be cured!

The Disciple Shoppe Bible Bookstore in Emporia, Kansas USA put this quote in their window: "The best cure for Christianity is reading the Bible." (The quote is apparently by Mark Twain).

Things did not end there however.

"Jack" commented,

"Pretty poor taste poking fun at Christians who you know will turn the other cheek. Would you be equally enthusiastic to criticise Islam I wonder? If so I dare you!!!"

I replied,

"It's not me poking the fun, most of this seems to be self inflicted. As for Islam, read our previous post The "Crime" of NOT believing in the Non-Existent. If that's not worth a Fatwa I don't know what is. 

For a bit of balance try Je Suis Charlie - a Buddhist Perspective."

At the beginning of July I posted "Fireworks, Fear and Our Fellow Beings", calling attention to the distress caused to animals by the large and frequent firework displays that start at that time of year and go on to point out an alternative....................

We all have Buddha nature, but with some people it shows more. The following delightful story about Bernhardt Wichmann III is from the New York Times, read it HERE...........

Talking About Buddha Nature this example is a homegrown one from the streets of London..................

On the 8th of August we reported on Leonard Cohen's Goodbye to Marianne....................
Little did we know then -

We then had the pleasure of announcing news of the UK’s first ever nunnery for fully ordained Buddhist nuns and a teaching tour of Britain by Ajahn Brahm!

24th of August - A Quote That I Like

Now here's a quote that I like despite it referencing a supposedly all powerful faith construct or god.

This one is by Abdu'l-Bahá whose father, Bahá'u'lláh, founded the Bahá'í Faith.

Sometimes I want to ask "God" why He allows poverty, famine, and injustice when He could do something about it, but I'm afraid he might just ask me the same question.

Not only was Italy struck by an earthquake on Wednesday the 24th but central Myanmar was also shaken by a powerful quake which killed at least three people two of whom were children, and damaged scores of centuries-old Buddhist pagodas around the ancient capital of Bagan.

September started with a group of us braving the overcast and blustery conditions on the Duver for the annual Buddhist picnic.

We then featured a story of how "China’s Tech-Savvy, Burned-Out and Spiritually Adrift, are Turning to Buddhism"

On the 21st we celebrated the United Nations International Day of Peace with a not so well known fact about the Peace Bell............

October started with me quoting one of my favourite columnists in the Isle of wight County Press, Charlotte Hofton. I doubt she realised how "Buddhist" her article was.

That week she produced this excellent piece on compassion and its "near enemy" pity in the form of a utilitarian, fix anything that's "wrong" with people and the world, approach.

It all centred around a gig by Eddie Izzard......................

In the middle of the month we reported on three courses being run on the island by Buddhist friends on mindfulness and Buddhism.

Mindfulness Courses on the Isle of Wight

Foundation Course in Tibetan Buddhism

I finished the month with a cartoon and a quote that I liked

November the 11th was Armistice day, Leonard Cohen died early that morning..........................

In the middle of the month we posted a piece on the development of Western Buddhism and the danger of it becoming "watered down". One point made was that the Secular Buddhism UK branch had disbanded with some of its members then forming the Middle Way Society which states that it is "independent of Buddhism".

This lead to a series of comments and further related posts bringing us to the middle of December!

The first was from a long term "digital" friend A.W. (Jack) Kennedy who runs the Bowerchalke Buddhist Meditation Group over in Wiltshire on the Dorset, Hampshire border.

You can read Jack's detailed and invaluable contribution to the discussion HERE.

Hot on the heels of Jack's comment came one from the chair of the Middle Way Society, Robert M. Ellis, he was not a happy bunny............

My original post about the danger of the Buddha's teachings being "watered down" as the West absorbed them was prompted by an article in Lions Roar entitled “We’ve Been Here All Along,” by Funie Hsu who complains about the cultural appropriation of Buddhism by Westerners who she feels sideline Eastern "native" Buddhists. This article produced a number of responses one of the best of which was the one from Ajahn Amaro, abbot of Amaravati which we featured in the post "Western Buddhism (Watered Down?) Cont."

In the middle of December came the wonderful story of how nine year old island boy Paddy Cotton got his parents to use the money that they had put aside for his Christmas presents to buy coal for the Isle of Wight Bus Shelter for the homeless instead.

We end the year with yet another "watering down" story, this time about the demise of Buddhist Geeks.

“We’ve been teaching for several years. Recently we decided that the direction we wanted to take our teaching was outside of the Buddhist framework, so it just made sense to start a new project that reflected that,” says Vince Horn as he announced the closure of the Dharma pod-casting site.

Wishing all our readers a happy end to the year and our sincere hopes for a safe, peaceful and secure 2017.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

More Watering Down

We've run a series of stories recently on the "watering down" of Western Buddhism. Just when I thought it was all over for a while up pops the story of Buddhist Geeks coming to an end!

On Tuesday, founders Vincent and Emily Horn announced that Buddhist Geeks — the podcast about dharma, technology, and culture, was no more and that they have stopped the podcast which had been downloaded more than 10 million times.

In terms of "watering down", Vincent and Emily are working on an online meditation training platform called, which Vincent explains, “is more centred around meditation than Buddhism.”

“We’ve been teaching for several years. Recently we decided that the direction we wanted to take our teaching was outside of the Buddhist framework, so it just made sense to start a new project that reflected that,” says Horn.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

FULL MOON - Greatest Joy

Hunger is the greatest affliction, 
conditionality the greatest source of despair. 
The wise, seeing this as it is, 
realise liberation, the greatest joy. 

Dhammapada v. 125

Our Teacher, the Buddha, realised that knowing the true nature of existence is the source of the greatest happiness, not by our struggling to gratify preferences. Conditioned preferences exist for all beings, those who are liberated or those lost and confused. Our spiritual work is to see all conditions for what they truly are – the natural activity of existence – and not become caught up in this activity. The temptation that we face is to try to hold onto those conditions which accord with our preferences and to get rid of those which don't. This futile pursuit leads to perpetual disappointment; at best we manage to gratify preferences once in a while. Dhamma teaches us that the effective way to true satisfaction is by letting go of preferences with understanding; it is this right understanding that leads to joy.

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