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Buddhism Roots Deeply in the Western World

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Buddhism Roots Deeply in America

New America Media, Commentary, Andrew Lam, Posted: Oct 18, 2009

While the Dalai Lama was snubbed by President Barack Obama, who refused to meet with him last week, there was an open door policy everywhere else in our nation’s capital – from congressional receptions to synagogues and schools.

One scene in particular is striking: the most famous monk of the 20th Century on the dais, lecturing on wisdom in the modern world as hundreds of enthralled monks and laymen look on below. The scene harks back to the golden era of Tibet, with the halls festooned with hundreds of strings of colorful Tibetan prayer flags, except the event took place at American University.

In the last half of the 20th Century, America cunningly exported itself overseas, marketing its images, ideologies, products and religions with ingenuity and zeal, but what it has not been able to fully assess or prepare for are the effects in reverse. For if Americanization is a large part of globalization, the Easternization of the West, too, is the other side of the phenomenon.

I take it as some cosmic law of exchange that if Disneyland pops up in Hong Kong and Tokyo, Buddhist temples can sprout up in Los Angeles, home of the magic kingdom. Indeed, it comes as no surprise to many Californians that scholars have agreed that the most complex Buddhist city in the world is nowhere in Asia but Los Angeles itself, where there are more than 300 Buddhist temples and centers, representing nearly all of Buddhist practices around the world.

Over the past 25 years, Buddhism has become the third most popular religion in America behind Christianity and Judaism, according to a 2008 report from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Evidence of Buddhism spreading deep roots in America is abundant.

Last week CNN reported that, “programs and workshops educating inmates about meditation and yoga are sprouting up across the country.” There are more than 75 organizations working with some 2,500 people, most of them prisoners, and they inspired a documentary called “The Dhamma Brothers.”

This December, Thomas Dyer, a former Marine and one-time Southern Baptist pastor, will head to Afghanistan as the first Buddhist chaplain in the history of the U.S. Army.

The Supreme Court is currently deciding on Salazar vs. Buono. At issue is whether a cross that stood in the Mojave National Preserve is a religious symbol or not. The National Park Service had turned down a request to have a Buddhist stupa erected a few years back. The question to ask then: Why should the Christian cross be accepted in a national park as an icon that transcends religion but not a Buddhist symbol? And, what would the high court say about religious plurality if it decides that one religion is to take precedence over another on public lands?

Yet, despite Buddhism’s message of inner peace and compassion, it, in its own way, is a very radical spiritual practice for its refutation of the existence of a creator. In essence, the serious practitioner aims to extinguish the self by defeating his own ego and, thereby, seeing beyond the illusion spun by the ignorant mind.

The ultimate Buddhist experience entails neither god nor self, neither “out there” nor “in here,” for that membrane that separates the practitioner’s being and that of the world, upon awakening, has been lifted. All that remains is - ohm – absolute awe and bliss. Imagine, if you will, Moses not turning his face away from the burning bush that is god but approaching it then fully merging with that terrifying fire.

As ties deepened between the two continents, as immigration from Asia continues, and as the Dhamma [Buddha’s teachings] spreads beyond all borders, we are entering what many thinkers and philosophers call the second axial age, an age of pluralism where the various spiritual traditions co-exist.

In these global days, no single system can exist as a separate entity, nor can its borders remain impervious to change, all exist to a various degree of openness and exchange. And the old Silk Road along which so many religious ideas traveled has been replaced by a far more potent thoroughfare: unprecedented global migration, mass communications, and the information highway, which transcends geography.

I once kept on the wall in my study two very different pictures to remind me of the way East and West have changed. One is an issue from a Time magazine on Buddhism in America. In it, a group of American Buddhists sits serenely in lotus position on a wooden veranda in Malibu overlooking a calm Pacific Ocean. The other is of Vietnamese-American astronaut named Eugene Trinh’s space shuttle flight. The pictures tell me that East and West have not only met, but also commingled and fused. When a Vietnamese man who left his impoverished homeland can come very close to reaching the moon, while Americans are turning inward, trying to reach nirvana with each mindful breath, I think that East-West dialogue has come a long way.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

American-Thai enters monkhood

Pattaya People, Oct 13, 2009

Pattaya, Thailand -- A merit making ceremony was held at Tungklon Talman Temple on the afternoon of the 11th October when Mr. Scott Tanner was ordained into the Buddhist monkhood.

Mr. Maurice Tanner from Texas, where Scott spent most of his early days, and Thai mother Mrs Chammian Tanner, were both in attendance to watch their son being ordained.

Many close friend and relatives turned up to take part in the ceremony held at the temple and later at the Tanner’s residence for a special lunch put on for the occasion.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Being young, here, now

By Nandini Jayakrishna, The Boston Globe, September 8, 2009

Colleen Cary and others meditated during a retreat last month for those 18 to 32 years old at the Insight Meditation Center in Barre.
Colleen Cary and others meditated during a retreat last month for those 18 to 32 years old at the Insight Meditation Center in Barre. (Christine Peterson for The Boston Globe)

BARRE - Nestled in the woods of this small town, 96 young adults recently gathered at a quiet mansion for a weeklong sojourn, away from buzzing cellphones, humming iPods, and the myriad callings of human and cyber civilizations.

Keeping even the most basic forms of communication, like speaking and writing, to a minimum, they meditated in silence, practicing vipassana, or insight meditation, an ancient Buddhist technique that involves focusing one’s attention on the present, on the breath, mind, and body.

“It was just meditate, eat, sleep,’’ said Kestrel Slocombe, 19, a student at Vermont’s Bennington College who spends much of her time rushing to class, worrying about a novel she’s writing, and painstakingly planning her days, sometimes weeks in advance.

“It was almost like being a child, she said. “You didn’t have to put together a puzzle of a complicated day.’’

At a time when homework or job pressures and the likes of Facebook and Twitter compete for attention throughout the day, meditation groups say an increasing number of young adults are signing up for retreats and classes, seeking a temporary escape, a haven to reconnect with their thoughts.

“Young people are much more stressed out than people 20, 30 years ago,’’ said Rebecca Bradshaw, one of the retreat leaders who also works as a psychotherapist. “We have a fast-paced and alienating culture.’’

Since the Insight Meditation Society, a Buddhist nonprofit, introduced the retreat specifically for 18- to 32-year-olds in 2004, the number of young adults attending to practice vipassana has steadily risen, said Bob Agoglia, the organization’s executive director.

This year’s retreat attracted more applicants than ever from 16 states, he said, and for the first time the group had to turn away more than a dozen applicants.

The Cambridge Insight Meditation Center, a nonresidential nonprofit, has also seen a stream of curious young adults at its weekly vipassana, or “mindfulness,’’ meditation sessions for beginners, said Peggy Barnes Lenart, the center’s operations coordinator.

Harvard’s Humanist Chaplaincy, a community for agnostics, atheists, and the nonreligious, started a free, open-to-all group this year that practices different forms of meditation, including Buddhist and Quaker, said Zachary Alexander, 26, the group’s founder. Half of its nearly 30 members are under 32, he said.

“It’s something that people find can be a break from their stressful lives,’’ said Alexander, who considers himself an atheist.

“It can be something that leads to personal insight.’’

While traditional Quaker meditation emphasizes hearing divine messages, the humanist meditators focus on impulses toward love and truth, and try to accept the events of their lives to gain greater inner calm, said Alexander, a lab administrator at the Harvard Center for Brain Science.

Joshua Beckmann, 28, of Allston, who practices insight meditation, said he enjoys the flexibility Buddhist teachings provide.

“No one’s asking me to profess anything or asking me to call myself Buddhist,’’ said Beckmann, a public health researcher at Boston University who was raised Catholic. “I really appreciate the opportunity to explore.’’

The benefits of meditation, supported by scientific research, might attract younger populations, according to Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts General Hospital who conducts meditation research.

Lazar said her team recently studied the brains of about 30 adults - some as young as 18 - before and after they underwent an eight-week insight meditation course.

The results showed that in most participants, the portion of the brain that responds to fear, anger, and stress - the amygdala - became smaller. In animals, the amygdala has been shown to get larger in stressful situations, Lazar said.

About a year ago, the Center for Health Promotion and Wellness at MIT Medical began offering stress-reduction classes that incorporate meditation, said Lauren Mayhew, a program manager at the center.

“A lot of people have a hard time going from their frenetic lives to sitting still,’’ Mayhew said, noting that the classes, discounted for students, tend to fill up on the first day.

“The really crucial age is mid- to late-20s,’’ she said.

“That’s when students wake up and realize that they are mortal beings and that their bodies are affected by stress.’’

Some are drawn to meditation out of sheer curiosity about how their lives might change both during and after meditation.

Angela Borges, 26, a doctoral candidate in counseling psychology at Boston College, turned to insight meditation about two months ago, though she was skeptical of its tangible benefits.

Many have told her she looks much happier, she said.

“I actually have a sense of empowerment,’’ she said.

“I’m running around crazy but there’s just a little part of my attention . . . that sort of says ‘Look what’s happening, notice how I’m living.’ It’s just opened up this new way of being.’’

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Why is Buddhism the fastest growing religion in Australia?

by Darren Nelson

The answer to this inquiry is multi-layered and complex. It is a tantalising issue because it highlights the changing spiritual landscape of Australia and provides an insight into just how multicultural we have really become.

Cultures that were foreign to Anglo-European Australians are now being adopted by some of them - though not without some dissenting resistance. This level of resistance in Australian society can be seen as a litmus test, used to measure future political and religious tolerance in this country.

The story concerning the rise of Buddhism in Australia is a compelling tale of a resilient religion that has survived despite the odds. How is it possible for a 2,500-year-old philosophy, which began five hundred years before Christianity and one thousand years before the Muslim faith, to be relevant to modern life in Australia? Considering all the other ancient religions that have faded from contemporary practice, such as the sun worshippers of Ancient Egypt, the human sacrifices of the South American Mayans and the Druids from the Dark Ages of England, Buddhism has outlasted them all.

It does not preach the dogma of a strange cult, nor seek converts with evangelistic fervour. Those Australians who actively convert to Buddhism do so voluntarily, and are usually well-educated middle-aged professionals who are attracted to a sense of inner peace. This documentary therefore, seeks to immerse itself in the substance of this seemingly magnetic Buddhist approach. Perhaps it will be like seeing Australia for the first time, through ancient eyes.

It is interesting to note that in spite of the recent increase in Buddhist numbers across Australia, Buddhism has actually played a part in Australian history for some time. It did not just suddenly arrive in a recent wave of migrants. Some anthropologists, in fact, have suggested that Buddhism was possibly the earliest non-indigenous religion to reach Australia before white settlement.

Between 1405 and 1433 the Chinese Ming emperor, Cheng-Ho, sent sixty-two large ships to explore southern Asia. Although there is evidence that several ships from that armada landed on the Aru Islands to the north of Arnhem Land, it is not known whether they reached the mainland.

One unproved hypothesis of Professor A.P. Elkin is that the belief of some Northern Territory Koorie tribes in reincarnation, psychic phenomena and mental cultivation is evidence of early contact with Buddhists. Despite certain rock paintings that possibly depict Chinese junks weighing anchor or images of the Buddha, actual material evidence remains to be seen.

The first documented arrival of Buddhists in Australia was in 1848 during the gold rushes, when Chinese coolie labourers were brought into the country to work on the Victorian gold fields. These workers represented a transient population that usually returned home within five years. It was not until 1876 that the first permanent Buddhist community was established by Sinhalese migrants on Thursday Island. There the ethnic Sri Lankans built the first temple in Australia, while they were employed on the sugar cane plantations of Queensland.

From the late 1870’s onwards many Japanese Shinto Buddhists also arrived and were active in the pearling industry across northern Australia, establishing other Buddhist enclaves in Darwin and Broome. Buddhist cemeteries were kept and festivals celebrated. Official government statistics compiled as part of a national census in 1891 indicate that, at the time, there were slightly more Buddhists in Australia (at 1.2%), than there are today (at 1.1%).

Buddhist numbers would have continued to increase if the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 had not been introduced to combat the ‘yellow peril’. Alfred Deakin, who was destined to be Prime Minister three times, drafted the legislation to pacify a somewhat xenophobic Caucasian electorate. This bill later grew to represent the more broadly implemented White Australia Policy.

For the next fifty years the benefits of mind training and meditation, as taught by Buddhism, would be disregarded as some sort of obscure ‘eastern mysticism’. Except for some remote surviving pockets of Buddhists (such as Broome and Thursday Island), the religion became virtually extinct in Australia.

A small group of committed western Buddhists formed the earliest known Buddhist organisation in Australia, The Little Circle of the Dharma, in Melbourne in 1925. Progress was slow though, until after World War II when local enthusiasm for the White Australia Policy began to decline. In 1951 the first Buddhist nun visited Australia. Sister Dhammadinna, born in the USA, ordained and with thirty years experience in Sri Lanka, came to propagate the Theravadin School of Buddhist teaching. She received nation-wide media coverage.

Inspired by this visit, the next year the Buddhist Society of New South Wales was formed under the presidency of Leo Berkley, a Dutch-born Sydney businessman. This organisation is today the oldest Buddhist group in Australia. Its membership was, and still is, compromised mainly of people from Anglo-European backgrounds.

In 1958 the Buddhist Federation of Australia was formed in order to co-ordinate the growing Buddhist groups that had sprung up around the country in Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland and Victoria.

The Buddhist presence in Australia had depended for the first hundred years on lay people with only the occasional visits by ordained members of the Sangha (the Buddhist clergy). But in the 1970’s the growing number of Buddhists created a need for resident monks, and a new phase in Australian Buddhism began.

In 1971 the Buddhist Society of New South Wales established the Sri Lankan monk, Somaloka, in residence at a retreat centre in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. This became the first monastery in Australia. A succession of monasteries representing different aspects of Buddhism slowly became established around Australia; in 1975 at Stanmore in Sydney, in 1978 at Wisemans Ferry in country NSW and in 1984 at Serpentine in Western Australia.

The charismatic face of Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, (who was awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 1989 and describes himself as ‘a simple monk’), has travelled the world constantly giving lectures and answering questions in 20,000 seat pop concert halls. John Cleese speaks out for him in London, Henri Cartier-Bresson records his teachings around France and Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys pop group has even interviewed him in Rome for Rolling Stone magazine.

In the past few years he has opened eleven Offices of Tibet, everywhere from Canberra to Moscow and last year alone provided prefaces and forewords for roughly thirty books. The 14th Dalai Lama, who holds the titles of Ocean of Wisdom, Holder Of The White Lotus and Protector Of The Land Of Snows, has even served as the guest editor of French Vogue magazine.

The three visits of the Dalai Lama to Australia in 1982, 1992 and 1996 were joyful occasions for Buddhists of all traditions, and huge crowds of Buddhists and the general public gathered to hear him speak. On the third visit, and despite virulent Chinese protests, the Dalai Lama met with and was photographed with the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard. It was now clearly evident at this stage, that Buddhism had become a significant minority religion in Australia.

During this visit local celebrities contributed generously to fundraising activities. For example, Kate Ceberano, Rachel Berger and Frente were just some of the ‘star-studded cast’ to perform at the Dalai Lama Lounge Room. They helped to raise $14,000 over three nights. Mushroom Records released a benefit album called The Mantra Mix CD, featuring Jenny Morris, Jimmy Barnes and Johnny Diesel. One local advertising agency, providing their services for nothing, came up with the slogan "You missed Jesus. You missed the Buddha. Do not miss the Dalai Lama". When was the last time such hype accompanied the visit of a religious leader?

But Australians are not alone in their sympathy towards his cause. The issue of Tibetan oppression has come to the attention of Hollywood and with two new films about his life in the cinematic pipeline, the Dalai Lamas’ profile has not only moved into the mainstream, but has (much to the horror of the Chinese Government) gone global.

The first to be released, Seven Years In Tibet, tells the story of Heinrich Harrer, a mountain climber and Nazi party member who encounters his own sense of enlightenment after becoming the tutor to the young Dalai Lama in Tibet in the 1940’s. The film has attracted healthy attention because it stars Brad Pitt.

The other film is Kundun, directed by Martin Scorcese. This epic tells the remarkable tale of the Dalai Lama from his point of view, from his recognition as the reincarnated Buddha of compassion at age two until his escape to India at twenty-four. Recently released here in Australia, it was reviewed by Channel Nines’ Sunday program on June 14th and described as ‘the most beautiful and important film released this year’.

Hollywood’s fascination for Buddhism extends beyond these two screenplays, with many stars expressing interest in the religion itself. In February 1997, the karate-kicking action star Steven Seagall was recognised by the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism as the reincarnation of a 15th century lama. Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys pop group has organised two huge benefit concerts to publicise the plight of Tibet.

Actor Richard Gere, together with Uma Thurmans father, Richard Thurman, has opened Tibet House in New York, published books on the subject, and meditates daily. Other practitioners that have come to attention include Tina Turner, Harrison Ford (whose wife Melissa Mathison wrote Kunduns script), Oliver Stone, Herbie Hancock, Courtney Love, composer Philip Glass (who also worked on Kundun) and REM’s lead singer Michael Stipe.

The momentum of Buddhism’s’ profile is driven by other, more subtle reminders as well. A new make up is being advertised as Zen Blush, a new sitcom is called Dharma and Greg, a designer fruit juice container has on its’ label "Please recycle this bottle. It deserves to be reincarnated too", and monks star in television commercials and news items.

Such recent exposure does not take away the fact that Australians have been quietly turning to Buddhism for some time. The statistics compiled in the 1986, 1991 and 1996 Commonwealth Government Census support the view that Buddhist numbers have been steadily increasing. Between 1986 and 1991 the numbers of practitioners rose from 80,387 to 139,847, a growth of 74%. Due largely to the decrease in immigration numbers in recent years the percentage growth for Buddhists slowed between 1991 and 1996 to 43%, from 139,847 to 199,812. This rate of increase is still higher than that of any other religion.

The three census surveys also indicate that of the eight Christian denominations listed in the analysis for New South Wales only three show an increase (Baptist, Catholic and Orthodox), while five (Anglican, Church Of Christ, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Uniting Church) have decreased in numbers.

Does the fluctuating demographic between Buddhism and Christianity point towards dissatisfaction with traditional Australian religious beliefs? Is Buddhism more competitive than Christianity or is one spiritual experience simply more meaningful than the other?

Of the 199,812 Buddhists across Australia today, approximately thirty thousand are Anglo-European’s who have ‘crossed over’, by choice, to this alternative philosophy. They have turned from ‘Christian sinner’ to ‘Eastern Mystic’. The slump in immigration figures from Buddhist countries is apparently not enough to stall the continued growth in Australian Buddhism, especially now that local support has been established. Back in 1938 a Japanese Shinto monk, noting that it took China three centuries to adopt Buddhism from India, said introducing it in the West would be like holding a lotus to a rock and waiting for it to take root.

When the Age of Aquarius spread across the world in the form of the 60’s alternative hippie counter-culture, there appeared to be no shortage of poets, artists, actors, writers and musicians interested in a voyage of inner peace through Buddhist philosophy and meditative practices. John Lennon used Buddhist mantras’ in the lyrics of his music such as Across the Universe. Allen Ginsberg used a mantra (Buddhist blessing) to bless the ground at Woodstock before the first fans arrived. Zen meditation too, first embraced by the Beat poets in the 1950’s flourished across first world nations as a healthy alternative to LSD-induced enlightenment.

More importantly the drug-fuelled 1960’s, when the Vietnam War was at its height, feminist protestors burnt their bras and man landed on the moon, saw a relaxation of traditional middle class values that allowed a greater versatility in public consciousness. During this time, people had greater access and freedom to experiment with new schools of thought (feminism, civil rights, the peace movement, alternative lifestyles etc) without suffering as many social ramifications as in the past.

According to the Reverend Phillip Hughes, a Melbourne-based religious researcher, "many people thought in the 1960’s that science itself was not sufficient to really explain existence, but then they were not keen to go back to the Judeo-Christian tradition with its holy books, miracles and so forth. Also the need for a sense of peace has become more apparent".

Potential Buddhists are attracted to the Dharma (Buddhist teachings) not only to take refuge from a world of chaos and confusion, but also to re-invent their own personal sense of a meaningful spirituality in a society of high-tech consumerism, commercialism, violence and apathy. Compared to the Christian beliefs many Anglo-European Australians grew up with, Buddhism does not require its adherents to remain faithful to a specific dogma.

It is not a faith. It is not technically a religion either, though when discussing systems of worship it is easier to work with that label. It is more a psychology and a philosophy wrapped around a moral code of mind training.

The founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama (born in 563 B.C.), turned his back on the royal family he had been born into, to live life as a simple ascetic monk. At the age of thirty-five he became enlightened and ‘saw things as they really are’, having achieved a mental state of absolute egolessness, where he no longer felt any sense of narcissism or craving.

He became the first Buddha and was quick to teach his disciples that he was not a god, should not be revered and no rituals should be developed around his teachings. Heaven and hell, he taught, are not external places that we travel to after we die; they do not in fact exist. Rather, both places dwell only in the hearts of people. People are either good or bad, pious or evil. Paradise exists within our spirit, it is here and now, and not some destination in the after-life.

Meditation, he believed, is the process required for all adherents to achieve Buddhahood. This is one of the main differences between Buddhism and other religions. Practitioners are offered an ultimate goal, enlightenment itself, which is equivalent to the level attained by the Buddha himself. He taught that everyone is capable of achieving this, providing equality to all his followers.

This is a radical departure for born-Christians to realise when they first start studying the principles of Buddhism. The best a faithful Christian could hope to achieve with his devotion was entry to heaven as an angel where he is still subject to the will of a greater being who could smite him anytime at will. The Buddha teaches his disciples too become the same as he, which is why he is not a god. In Buddhism there is no pecking order in the after life, because that would require the presence of an ego, which is the Buddhists life work to gradually eliminate.

Buddhism dispenses with the notion of a Supreme Being, as does science, and explains the origins and workings of the universe in terms of natural law. All of this certainly exhibits a scientific spirit. The Buddha advised that we should not blindly believe him but rather question, examine, inquire and rely on our own experience. This scientific approach of cause and effect was not overlooked by Albert Einstein in the 1930’s:

"The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion", he said, "it should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both natural and spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, and a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description. If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism".

While the antipodean blossoming of Buddhism seems to have gone from strength to strength since the 1980’s, this has not always been the case. It is in the Buddhist principle of godlessness that the journalist can find opposing and dissenting voices to the Buddhist cause. This theological bone of contention is the main source of friction with other religions.

On Wednesday, the 18th of January 1995, Pope John Paul II arrived in Sydney and attended an Interfaith Gathering in the Sydney Domain. Representatives from major religions, including Protestant, Orthodox and Coptic Christians, Jewish and Muslim were invited to share the platform with him. Notable by its absence was Australia’s’ third largest religion, Buddhism.

The organisers told SBS Radio that they were unaware that Buddhism was Australia’s’ third largest religion and besides that there was no national leader of Buddhism, so who were they to invite? The Sydney Morning Herald reported that "somebody in the State Government had forgotten to invite the Buddhists". This is unlikely, as the New South Wales Government is very aware of the presence of Buddhists in this state and often invites Buddhist representatives to State functions. A more likely explanation is that the Vicar of Rome holds Buddhism in very low esteem as is evident from the following extract from his book, Crossing The Threshold Of Hope:

"Buddhism is in large measure an ‘atheistic’ system. We do not free ourselves from evil through the good which comes from God; we liberate ourselves only through detachment from the world, which is bad. The fullness of such a detachment is not union with God, but what is called nirvana, a state of perfect indifference with regard to the world. To save oneself means, above all, to free oneself from evil by becoming indifferent to the world, which is the source of evil. This is the culmination of the spiritual process. Christian mysticism is born of the Revelation of the living God. This God opens Himself to union with man, arousing in him the capacity to be united with Him, especially by means of the theological virtues - faith, hope and above all, love".

Graeme Lyall, Chairman of the Buddhist Council of New South Wales, strongly refutes the Catholic position. "The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘atheism’ as ‘disbelief in the existence of God’ ", he said, "the Buddha is described as the teacher of ‘gods and men’, so how can Buddhism be an atheistic system? Religious arguments often come down to the use of religious language. We must ascertain to what we are referring to when we use the term ‘God’.

What is a ‘living God’? Anything that is living is subject to death and decay, so why should we place ourselves in the hands of something, which, like ourselves, is impermanent? If he is referring to the old man with a white beard who sits in the sky taking notes in his little black book ready for the day of judgement, then he is out of step with modern theological thinking and most other theologians.

Modern theologians, such as Paul Tillich, suggest that the term ‘God’ refers to the ‘ground of being’ - the very fact of existence. No Buddhist would argue with this, but they may be reluctant to use the term ‘God’ to describe it".

Lay’s implication that the Pope is out of touch appears to be more than just a knee-jerk defence, when you consider that the ranks of Catholics themselves are split on the issue. Irish-born Father William Johnston, a Jesuit priest, spoke of his sympathy to Buddhism when he visited Sydney in early January 1997. Here to attend the Religion, Literature and Arts Conference at the Australian Catholic University, Father Johnston spoke of the Christian churches need to introduce aspects of Eastern Mysticism - such as meditation, yoga and Zen - if they want to increase numbers attending weekly services.

"Some Catholics are very nervous about meditation but there is a lot to learn from it and yoga and Zen", he said. "The Catholic Church has always kept meditation very strongly in its religious orders; our problem is that we didn’t teach it to the laity, who are now looking for it".

Father Johnston, director of the Institute of Oriental Religions at Tokyos’ Sophia University, has lived in Japan since 1951 and believes Christianity has become ‘too legalistic’, with ‘too many do’s and don’ts and not enough vision and enlightenment’.

Besides the Catholic Churches’ potentially bilateral reaction to Buddhism, local opposition to the arrival of Eastern Mysticism has also occurred in the steel manufacturing town of Wollongong, an hours drive south of Sydney. There the Anglican Bishop of Wollongong, the Reverend Reg Piper has weighed into the debate expressing his annoyance not only at the presence of Buddhism, but the presence of a philosophy he sees as evil.

The contest began when a Taiwan-based Buddhist sect, Fokuangshan, opened a huge fifty million-dollar temple just south of the steel city in Berkley. The monks there planned to promote their style of ‘humanistic’ Buddhism, which emphasises the ‘oneness and co-existence of the global village’.

The Fokuangshan sect was founded in the mid-1960’s and has more than one hundred branches world-wide (including Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth) with 1.5 million members and its own university, several schools, an organ donor bank, a retirement home, even a cemetery. This growth is due to its’ charismatic founding father, the Venerable Hsing Yun. The size of the Wollongong temple, called Nan Tien, is second only to their headquarters in Taipei.

Bishop Piper’s concerns are not shared by other Christian churches such as the local Uniting Church, which has adopted a user-friendly approach to the temple. On Tuesday, the 18th of June 1996, Bishop Piper appeared on the ABCs’ 7.30 Report to voice his opposition.

Bishop Piper: See when you have the bible view of humankind, generally, if it is outside the framework of the truth - the bible terms it as evil.

Reporter: Is it a deception?.

Bishop Piper: In that respect, yes. While ever it is not based in the truth of Christ, it would be a deception. Because Buddhism is basically an atheistic religion. There is no god.

Reporter: Why is that a problem?.

Bishop Piper: Because God has revealed himself through Christ. Christ has been raised from the dead. He said he is God. There is no other way to the truth and no other way to really live except through Christ.

The growing curiosity about Buddhism has so worried Bishop Piper that he has made a video called In Search Of Paradise - A Biblical Response To Buddhism. It is to warn all Christians of the evil deception of Buddhism, that has arrived to convert them.

Reverend Shin of the Nan Tien temple (pic) remains perplexed with Bishop Pipers attitude. "We don’t convert people to Buddhism or change their religion", he said. " As long as they feel comfortable with any of the practices or any of the beliefs and it is good for the society, good for them and good for the family, that is the most important thing. Whether they decide to become Buddhists or not - that is not our concern".

Local opposition to Buddhism also extends beyond the Christian clergy. A survey by the Federal Office Of Multicultural Affairs, conducted in 1988, found that 41% of the general population did not wish to have a Buddhist as a workmate. Only Muslims fared worse.

Despite this, on Sunday 8th February this year Australian Buddhists were delighted to learn they had a friend in a high place when the Governor-General, Sir William Deane, expressed his support at the opening of the Rahula Community Lodge in Canberra.

"A report from the Bureau of Immigration, Multicultural and Population Research a couple of years ago, showed that over the ten years to 1991 Buddhism was by far the largest growing religion in our country: an increase in the order of some 300%" he said. "To a significant extent, of course, the figures reflect the substantial increase in migration from south-east Asia over that period.

But the second largest national group were Australian-born Buddhists - many from non-Asian cultures attracted by both the philosophy and the practice of Buddhism, with its emphasis upon the search for inner peace and understanding. I offer my very best wishes for the success of all that you hope to achieve in the years ahead as future stages of the centre are completed. May all your endeavours prosper and bring joy to those whom they are intended to help".

Buddhism continues to maintain a steady trickle of recruitment at the grass roots level. According to the Venerable Pannyavaro, a monk based in Surry Hills in Sydney, young people are still attracted to Buddhism because they are looking for an alternative to established Christian churches and they can explore Buddhism without feeling obliged to join.

"A lot of young people in the twenty to mid-thirty age group are coming because they don’t feel imposed upon", he said, " and there are deeper meditative techniques they can draw upon". The Buddhist website he operates (http://www.buddhanet.net) gets an average 50, 000 ‘hits’ a day. Venerable Pannyavaro offers cyber-nirvana at this site in the form of online meditation sessions where people can log on, meditate and contemplate the infinite.

There are now more than ninety Buddhist temples and organisations in New South Wales, sixty-five of them in Sydney. The bulk of the two hundred people who each week visit the Buddhist Library, Meditation and Information Centre in Camperdown in Sydney are in the thirty to fifty age group. About eighty-percent are from a non-Asian background.

Much to the horror of the Christian clergy (if they ever find out), Buddhism is even being taught in one New South Wales primary school during religious scripture classes. In early 1995 at Blackheath Primary School a group of parents approached the principal, Kate Allan, asking the school to provide Buddhist instruction as well as the traditional Catholic and Protestant options. Now, forty-five of the schools three hundred and fifty students attend classes in Buddhism.

"The move came from the community", Allan says. "In the mountains we have quite a diverse community and it was the choice of the parents to have these classes - it was not something imposed on the whole school".

Answering the question of Buddhism's growing popularity in is clearly going to be a rich and involved conclusion. This religion seems to have, at first glance, a vigorous influence on the world stage. Just when you think you have examined the issues thoroughly, you suddenly discover that you are still only looking at the tip of the iceberg.

source: http://www.buddhanet.net/whybudoz.htm

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Former Buddhist Nun Helps Stressed-Out Find Inner Peace

By Cynthia Lee, UCLA Today, Aug 21, 2009

Diana Winston spent more than a decade pursuing inner peace and serenity within the walls of Buddhist monasteries in Southeast Asia, immersed in periods of mindful meditation that lasted from just a few hours to a year.

But that's not the journey she imagines most people would take.

"My life story is not a good example of what I expect people to follow," she said, smiling, as she sat in her office in the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

In fact, Winston rarely talks about the spiritual evolution that brought her here, to a large university where researchers are discovering that the practice of mindfulness meditation has many physical and psychological benefits, including slowing the progression of HIV in patients suffering from stress and helping ADHD teens focus.

While it was this kind of research that brought her to UCLA, Winston, as director of mindfulness education, primarily teaches mentally healthy — yet stressed-out — people. She also shares what she has learned from her years of practicing mindful meditation as a Buddhist with those dealing with difficulties such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

Going beyond religion

“To me, Buddhism is really secondary because the questions people are dealing with are all the same: How do we live happier, healthier and saner lives and have more peace? It doesn't matter whether you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist. These techniques are tremendously valuable, and so I've learned to teach them in a way that makes them accessible to all."

Through the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center (MARC), Winston has taught the practice to hundreds of teens and adults, including Bruin football players, medical students, interns and residents, and entire UCLA departments seeking to de-stress. All her classes are open to the general public.

"Most people are not going to go live in a monastery," she said. "So I'm interested in how we can bring mindfulness into our lives in the midst of family, job and other responsibilities. It's not necessarily about being mindful every second. It's about what you can do when you're caught in traffic or getting ready to meet your boss. How can I stop, take a breath and manage my anxiety? How can I live life more fully?

"We teach people how to be more present in the midst of daily life, how to be more self-aware of physical sensations, emotions and thoughts. We teach people how to deal with difficult emotions — like anxiety and depression — to help us be less reactive and more in the present moment."

Happiness from the inside out

Winston first became exposed to Buddhism during her junior year abroad in Thailand as a Brown University student. But it wasn't until after graduation when she worked for the Free Tibet movement in Dharamsala, India, headquarters for the Dalai Lama's government in exile, that she became "really hooked on Buddhist teachings because they seemed to explain a lot of things in my life,” she said. “I saw the way I was endlessly pursuing praise and success, and trying to make something of myself outside of myself." Buddhists, she found, presented her with an alternative, "that happiness wasn't about something outside of myself, but can come through inner peace."

Over the ensuing years, she deepened her study of Buddhism and Vipassana (mindfulness) meditation techniques. Going on meditation retreats in Thailand and on the East Coast transformed her life, she found. "It was like going to a spiritual bootcamp. I was learning to find peace within myself, despite life's ups and downs, cultivating more compassion, self-acceptance and kindness for myself and others."

Combining social activism with Buddhism, Winston started a volunteer program within the Buddhist Peace Fellowship in the San Francisco Bay Area that offered training, study and meditation to volunteers who worked in homeless shelters, soup kitchens and environmentalist organizations.

In 1997, she felt the need to fully immerse herself in a spiritual life so she traveled to a monastery in Burma to spend a year living as a Buddhist nun, "which meant I had to shave my head, put all my possessions in storage and live by certain precepts." There was to be no reading or writing; no eating after 12 noon; no sex, drugs or alcohol; and, oddly enough, no sleeping on high and luxurious beds. "It was easy to give up those things because I was so interested in what I was doing. It was so powerful to me," she recalled.

Mindful meditation consumed all her waking hours — sleeping was limited. This austere lifestyle, spent mostly in silence, left her feeling lonely at times and sometimes sick because of the diet and heat. "But it becomes your life. You just live it. Over time, it made me learn to trust myself and know I had a capacity to handle whatever life brought me," she said.

"Parts of it, I hated; and parts of it, I loved," she said. "When you spend that much time with yourself, your mind gets very, very subtle. You become very aware, and all sorts of insights and self-understanding arise. It's pretty amazing." The experience wasn't just self-absorbing, but helped her develop "an open heart," heightening her sense of compassion for others.

Giving back

After a year, she said, "I was done. I felt I could sit here in a monastery for 20 years, but what about the rest of the world where there was so much suffering?"

Feeling the need to give back, Winston began training to teach mindfulness. She first taught it to children in India and later to teens and adults at the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, Calif. "The teens would primarily come because their parents forced them," she said. "One of my philosophies is that you can't force anybody to do it." But by helping them connect on a deeper level with other teens, Winston found a way to engage them. The program she built — she subsequently wrote a book about mindfulness for teens — was very successful and now replicated by other organizations.

"I began to think: How do we take this out of the insular world of Buddhism into the wider world in a way that makes real change possible?"

An invitation from Dr. Susan Smalley to join a research project at the Semel Institute and ultimately teach mindfulness at the new MARC center gave her what she was looking for — a shared vision that mindfulness could be applied in a secular, mainstream way to life.

Now Winston, who is about to give birth to her first baby, is ready to conquer the next frontier – "practicing mindfulness with a screaming infant," she said, laughing.

For information on upcoming classes and meditations that can be downloaded free, visit the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center at www.marc.ucla.edu.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Venerable Master Heng Ch'ih

Venerable Master Heng Ch'ih has been a fully-ordained nun in the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism for 39 years. She became a disciple of Venerable Master Hsuan Hua in July 1968 during the summer study and practice session when the Master explained the Shurangama Sutra in San Francisco, California. She is a founding member of the Buddhist Text Translation Society and continues to serve actively as a translator, editor, and certifier of canonical Buddhist texts. She is currently monastic co-manager and a member of the Board of Gold Coast Dharma Realm in Queensland. She also resides at Gold Buddha Monastery in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and at the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association’s Women’s Translation Center in Burlingame, California.

The Mitra Youth Buddhist Network

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Venerable U Vamsarakkhita

Venerable U Vamsarakkhita is a Canadian born Buddhist monk from the Burmese Theravada tradition. He completed a BA in Psychology from St. Francis Xavier University,Nova Scotia, Canada and was a certified as well as registered financial planner. As a young student, Ven U Vamsa was physically active, being involved with various sports. Besides being a student leader (Executive School Council), he was also an athlete and won a University Athletic Scholarship (Basketball). His spiritual life began when he started practising transcendental meditation at age 17. As an adult, he was a self employed financial advisor and a film actor in Vancouver. He was the president of various charities such as Big Brothers and AIDS Vancouver. Ven U Vamsa has had intensive Vipassana/Metta Practice with Sayadaw and has toured with him to assist in teaching Vipasssana and Metta (Loving Kindness) Meditation. As a teacher, Ven U Vamsa is committed to convey the simple everyday usefulness of the Buddha’s teaching while inspiring those around him to explore and experience the Path to Freedom that He so clearly and elegantly lived. Ven U Vamsa has travelled and taught extensively throughout Asia, North America, and Europe both as an assistant to Sayadaw and leader of his own retreats. He spends Rains Retreat (Vassa) guiding monks in meditation at Dhammodaya Meditation Center (Nakhon Pathom, Thailand).

The Mitra Youth Buddhist Network

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Venerable Tejadhammo

Venerable Tejadhammo Bhikkhu was ordained by Venerable Tanchaokhun Phra Visalsalmanagun, Chaokhana Changwat, Phuket, in Thailand. Venerable Teja has a background in Western Philosophy and Theology, and has studied and taught at Silpakorn University, Thailand. Although ordained in the Theravada tradition, he has also studied with Tibetan and Mahayana teachers and has a commitment to the Dharma that he believes encompasses all traditional expressions of it. Bhante is the Spiritual Director of the Association of Engaged Buddhists founded in 1993, and senior resident monk at Sangha Lodge, Sydney. The Association aims to foster a more active engagement of followers of the Buddha within the local community. Apart from the usual teachings and retreat activities, Bhante works with people who are seriously ill in various hospitals, hospices and their homes in and around Sydney. Bhante teaches and conducts regular retreats and is a founding member of the Australian Monastic Encounter which seeks to promote inter-religious and inter monastic dialogue. Bhante has also taught in Thai Universities and jails.

The Mitra Youth Buddhist Network

Friday, July 3, 2009

Venerable Mudita

Born in 1974, in Geraldton, W.A., as Michael Percy, Venerable Mudita attended Wesley College in South Perth from 1986 – 91. He graduated from U.W.A. with a B.A. (1st class Honours) in 2000. At age 19 he discovered he was a Buddhist after talking with a Buddhist friend and reading Dharma books. From 1995 to 2000 he studied Zen meditation with Ross Bolleter Roshi and the Zen Group of W.A. After meeting Ajahn Brahm in 2000, he decided to take robes “for the ending of all suffering and for the realization of NibbÀna”. Ven. Mudita ordained at Bodhinyana Monastery, on Dec. 26 2002 as a bhikkhu, after completing 18 months of preliminary training as an 8 precept anagarika and as a 10 precept novice. Since this time he has served as Ajahn Brahm’s secretary for 3 years, taught meditation at Karnet Prison Farm, led funeral services & marriage blessings, taught meditation classes at Dhammaloka Buddhist Centre in Perth, and assisted with the administration & maintenance of Bodhinyana Monastery. Since late 2007 he has been teaching vinaya (monastic discipline) to the junior monks, novices and postulants at Bodhinyana.

The Mitra Youth Buddhist Network

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Venerable Shravasti Dhammika

Venerable Shravasti Dhammika (also known as Bhante Dhammika) was born in Australia in 1951 into a Christian family, and converted to Buddhism at the age of eighteen. In 1973 he went to Asia with the intention of becoming a monk finally ordaining in India in 1976 under Venerable Matiwella Sangharatna, the last disciple of Anagarika Dharmapala. That same year, he went to Sri Lanka where he studied Pali at Sri Lanka Vidyalaya, and later became one of the co-founders and a teacher, of Nilambe Meditation Centre in Kandy. Since then, he has spent most of his time in Sri Lanka and Singapore. Venerable Dhammika has written over twenty-five books and scores of articles on Buddhism and related subjects. He is also well-known for his public talks and represented Theravada Buddhism at the European Buddhist Millennium Conference in Berlin in 2000. At present he is spiritual director of the Buddha Dhamma Mandala Society in Singapore. His website is www.sdhammika.blogspot.com

The Mitra Youth Buddhist Network

Monday, June 29, 2009

Jonny Wilkinson: 'I've become a Buddhist after reading quantum physics books'

By Colin Fernandez Last updated at 8:03 PM on 19th September 2008

We should have known that Jonny Wilkinson had a spiritual side from the way he clasps his hands as if in prayer before he kicks for goal.

Now the England rugby star has revealed that he has found inner peace through Buddhism.

Wilkinson, 29, who became a national hero in the 2003 World Cup, said the religion had helped him overcome a fear of failure which was ruining his life.

His obsessive perfectionism had been making him miserable but Buddhism had liberated him from being motivated by ‘money, status, or ego’.

Shaggy: England rugby hero Jonny Wilkinson with his longer hair and more relaxed attitude playing for the Newcastle Falcons last weekend

The millionaire sportsman said that within 24 hours of winning the World Cup final against Australia in Sydney, he felt a powerful feeling of anticlimax.

‘I did not know what it really meant to be happy. I was afflicted by a powerful fear of failure and did not know how to free myself from it.’

Soon afterwards his career was derailed by injuries which put him out of the international game for four years.

To distract himself he tried learning the guitar, the piano, French and Spanish.

In the end he had a ‘Eureka’ moment while reading a book on quantum physics – the study of sub-atomic particles.


More relaxed: Wilkinson now and during the World Cup in 2003 which left him fearing failure despite his final drop goal clinching victory for England

‘Quantum physics helped me to realise that I was creating this destructive reality and that all I needed to do to change it was to change the way I chose to perceive the world,’ he told the Times.

‘I do not like religious labels, but there is a connection between quantum physics and Buddhism, which I was also getting into.

‘Failing at something is one thing, but Buddhism tells us that it is up to us how we interpret that failure.

'The so-called Middle Way is also about having the right intentions.

In love: The fly-half with girlfriend Shelley Jenkins early last year

In love: The fly-half with girlfriend Shelley Jenkins early last year

‘Are they decent and honest and are you giving consideration to other people? Selfishness can never be the route to happiness or success.’

Wilkinson’s live-in girlfriend Shelley Jenkins, 27, the daughter of a scaffolding magnate, is apparently ‘really happy’ about Wilkinson’s new enlightenment.

‘I have improved as a person in my relationships, not just with her, but with friends and family,’ he said.

Asked to explain the deeper reason for his Buddhist faith, he added: ‘I think it was rooted in an even deeper fear of death.

‘I couldn’t figure out how to avoid death: it was like a game I could not win. The closer I got to family and friends and the better things got, the more I had to lose.

‘I have accepted my career will finish one day and I am in a place that will enable me to make that transition comfortably. I will not have to reinvent myself to cope with life after rugby.’

Although Wilkinson is about to publish his autobiography, it will not mention Buddhism and physics in case anyone ‘might have thought I was trying to be the new Stephen Hawking’.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Buddhism Now Third Religion in Netherlands

Nisnews Bulletin

AMSTERDAM, 27/05/09 - Buddhism has expanded in the Netherlands into the third religion after Christianity and Islam. The growth is so strong that as well as Islamisation, it is possible to speak of Buddhisation of the Netherlands, argue researchers Marcel Poorthuis and Theo Salemink in De Volkskrant.

The Netherlands now has an estimated 250,000 Buddhists or people who feel strongly attracted by this religion, largely white Dutch. In 1998, there were only 16,000 including just 4,000 Dutch natives and 12,000 Buddhist immigrants from Asia.

While Islamisation is often seen as a threat by politicians like Geert Wilders, and associated with violence and collectivism, Buddhism in the Netherlands is seen as an individualist faith that stands for non-violence and pacifism. But this idea is doubtful, concludes De Volkskrant.

Poorthuis, a lecturer in inter-religious dialogue, considers it "odd" that "nobody is concerned" about the strong growth of Buddhism. "Buddhism apparently has a much better image than Islam."

Poorthuis and Salemink, both University of Tilburg scholars, argue in a just published book, Lotus in the Low Countries, that Buddhism also has other sides. "For example, the Kamikaze pilots in the Second World War had Buddhist teachers. And the Dalai Lama can also not avoid conflict due to Tibet's difficult political situation, even though the Netherlands wants to make him into an unworldly pacifist," says Poorthuis.

Many Dutch people call themselves Buddhist without knowing exactly what the religion consists of, according to Poorthuis. The teaching is also sometimes commercially misused, as in management courses. "Instead of raising the question of whether the credit crisis was caused by greed, Buddhism has been used to optimise production processes."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Teachings of Some Christian Churches Drive Some Converts to Buddhism

By: Robert Williams
Tuesday, 19 June 2007, 23:33 (EST)

As the Dalai Lama completes his tour of Australia, his visit has been seen by some as boosting the number of adherents to the Buddhist faith as the religion is now moving towards the Australian mainstream.

The Voice of America (VOA) reported that Tibetan nuns chanting traditional prayers are increasingly common in Australia, as the nation has more Buddhists per capita than anywhere else in the Western world.

Experts who study religious trends in Australia say many converts to Buddhism found the teachings of some Christian churches too rigid and intolerant of questions about the faith, reported the VOA.

In a three-year national study on the religious behaviour of Generation Y published last year, the co-author of the study, Dr Andrew Singleton from Monash University said that Generation Y in Australia is gradually departing from religion where some are turning to alternative spiritualities.

However the number turning towards these alternative spiritualities is not as big as Dr Singleton expected. He said: “It's well-known that there has been a turn away from church attendance and participation in young people. But we thought there was going to be a move towards alternative spiritualities. There are still a number turning towards it, but not as big as you would have thought."

The survey found 20 per cent of young people did not believe in a god and 32 per cent were unsure.



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