Buddha Boy Goes Berserk, Tibetan Environmentalist Gets Jail, and the Ground Zero Mosque

Palden Dorje-Buddha BoyMAYBE you heard about the “Buddha Boy”: Ram Bahadur Bamjan, age 20, known by his monastic name, Palden Dorje, and believed to be enlightened, in fact the reincarnation of the Buddha. He sat meditating in the hollow of a tree for nearly a year, between May 2005 and March 2006, where he received thousands of visitors and much media attention.

The Buddha Boy recently went berserk, savagely beating 17 people who sacrificed animals during an annual fair near Kathmandu, Nepal. Bomjan and a few of his associates more or less kidnapped these 17 villagers, jammed them in a small room and beat them up with sticks.

I don’t have much sympathy for anyone who would sacrifice an animal. Nonetheless, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say I don’t think that Buddhas beat people with sticks, either.

Rinchen SamdrupTIBETAN environmentalist Rinchen Samdrup was sentenced to five years in prison by a Chinese court earlier this month. His crime was inciting separatism by posting a pro-Dalai Lama article on his website. Samdrup is the third brother in his family to be jailed. His website is devoted to protecting the environment in the Himalayan region.

It is amazing to me that this man will spend five years in prison for doing what I have on this blog many times. I feel sad for him and I also feel thankful to live in a free society. Read the BBC report here.

Ground Zero

I HAVE mixed feelings about the proposed Ground Zero Mosque, which is actually going to be two blocks away. I’m not crazy about any of the three Western Monotheistic religions, but Islam I find particularly disturbing.  For many reasons.

Likewise, even though I have great respect the man, I also have mixed feelings about Robert Thurman’s recent editorial in the Washington Post.  He thinks it’s a wonderful idea to build a mosque and says that it would send a positive message of tolerance and peace.

Thurman says, “. . . let the 9/11 tragedy be mourned with museums and monuments to those who lost their lives, and let the building of mosques, churches, synagogues, temples, Dharma centers – and ideally a world religions’ Temple of Mutual Understanding . . .”

Maybe I have the wrong attitude, but I think it would be better to have a very simple, non-sectarian monument to remember and then take the money they would spend building all those mosques, churches, museums, etc., and create a global program or organization that would go out into the world to teach and foster tolerance and peace. That’s where the need is. Some readers will remember my recent post about a UN report that cited 24 countries where religious persecution was widespread in one form or another. Those are the places where we should send living monuments, in the form of dedicated practitioners of peace, a sort of Peace Corps of tolerance.

I suppose such an entity would require a building to be housed in, but I think one would suffice. Perhaps the idea is unworkable, I don’t know. I just feel that monuments are somewhat passive. We have enough of them already. If we are ever going to really deal with the underlying causes for terrorism and religious intolerance, I think we need to take a more active approach.

In any case, you can read the complete editorial by Robert Thurman here.


Sunday Dharma: Thoreau’s Lotus Sutra

Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau

American transcendentalism as advocated by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman and others became the first real port of entry for Eastern philosophy on these shores.

The New England Transcendentalists were exposed to Eastern in a number of ways: from the commercial ships returning from Asia and bringing with them snatches of Eastern wisdom, from their university studies, and from the writings of such individuals as Rammohan Roy, a Bengali social reformer.

Emerson was editor of The Dial, the Transcendentalist publication they called a “Journal in a new spirit”, and worked with Thoreau on the “Ethical Scriptures” column that featured excerpts from various Eastern texts. Both men were greatly influenced by Hinduism, and in particular, the Bhagavad Gita.

At this time there was some confusion in the minds of Americans between Hinduism and Buddhism, a situation that was not completely resolved until Edwin Arnold’s story of the life of the Buddha, The Light of Asia, was published in 1878.  Nonetheless, Emerson and Thoreau, apparently well-versed in the classics of India, China, which in addition to Hindu scriptures included classical Chinese texts, such as the writings of Confucius and Mencius, had each expressed a deep interest in Buddhism.

Unfortunately for them, the translation into European languages of Buddhist texts had not moved at the same pace as those of other Indian and Chinese philosophies. As a result, most Buddhist texts were unavailable to Western readers. However, Henry David Thoreau had a copy of Burnouf’s French translation of the Lotus Sutra, possibly a very early edition, which was translated into English (probably by Elizabeth Palmer Peabody) and subsequently published in the “Ethical Scriptures” column in 1844.

Here, then, is an excerpt on medicinal plants from “Thoreau’s Lotus Sutra” – quite possibly the first appearance of one of the most important pieces of Buddhist literature in English, predating Kern’s translation by some forty years:

Lotus FlowerThe Tathágata [ Thus-Come-One] is equal and not unequal towards all beings, when it is the question to convert them: “He is, Oh Kassapa, as the rays of the sun and moon, which shine alike upon the virtuous and the wicked, the high and the low; on those who have a good odor, and those who have a bad; on all these the rays fall equally and not unequally at one and the same time. So, Oh Kassapa, the rays of intelligence, endowed with the knowledge of omnipotence, make the Tathágatas venerable.

I who am the king of the law, I who am born in the world, and who governs existence, I explain the law to creatures, after having recognized their inclinations. Great heroes, whose intelligence is firm, preserve for a long time my word; they guard also my secret, and do not reveal it to creatures. Indeed, from the moment that the ignorant hear this science so difficult to comprehend, immediately conceiving doubts in their madness, they will fall from it, and fall into error. I proportion my language to the subject and strength of each; and I correct a doctrine by contrary explication (clarification). It is, Oh Kassapa, as if a cloud, raising itself above the universe, covered it entirely, hiding all the earth. Full of water, surrounded with a garland of lightning, this great cloud, which resounds with the noise of thunder, spreads joy over all creatures. Arresting the rays of the sun, refreshing the sphere of the world, descending so near the earth as to be touched with a hand. It pours our water on every side. Spreading in a uniform manner an immense mass of water, and resplendent with the lightning which escape from its sides, it makes the earth rejoice.

And the medicinal plants which have burst from the surface of this earth, the herbs, the bushes, the kings of the forest, little and great trees; the different seeds, and everything which makes verdure (greenness); all the vegetables which are found it the mountains, in the caverns, and in the groves; the herbs, the bushes, the trees, this cloud fills them with joy, it spreads joy upon the dry earth, and it moistens the medicinal plants; and this homogeneous (uniform) water of the cloud, the herbs and the bushes plump up, every one according to its force and its object. And the different kinds of trees, the great as well as the small, and the middle sized trees, all drink this water, each one according to its age and its strength; they drink it and grow, each one according to its need. Absorbing the water of the cloud by their trunks, their twigs, their bark, their branches, their boughs, their leaves, the great medicinal plants put forth flowers and fruits. Each one according to its strength, according to its destination, and conformably to the nature of the germ whence it springs, produces a distinct fruit, and nevertheless there is one homogeneous water like that which fell from the cloud. So, Oh Kassapa, the Buddha comes into the world, like a cloud that covers the universe, and hardly is the chief of the world born, then he speaks and teaches the true doctrine to creatures.

And thus, says the great sage, honored in the world, in union with gods. I am Tathágata, the conqueror, the best of men; I have appeared in the world like a cloud . . .  I fill the whole universe with joy, like a cloud which pours everywhere a homogeneous water, always equally well disposed towards respectable men, as towards the lowest, towards virtuous men as towards the wicked; towards abandoned men as towards those who have conducted most regularly; towards those who follow heterodox (contrary to accepted belief) doctrines and false opinions as towards those whose doctrines are sound and perfect . . .

This teaching of the law, Oh Kassapa, is like the water which the cloud pours out over all, and by whose action the great plants produce in abundance mortal flowers. I explain the law, which is the cause of itself; I tried, in its time, the state of Buddha, which belongs to the great sage; behold my skillfulness in the use of means; it is that of all the guides of the world.

What I have said is the supreme truth; may my auditors arrive at complete annihilation; may they follow the excellent way, which conducts to the state of Buddha; may all the auditors, who hear me, become Buddhas.


Sufferings are Nirvana

In Root Verses on the Middle Way, Nagarjuna says, “Samsara has nothing that distinguishes itself from Nirvana; Nirvana has nothing that distinguishes itself from Samsara. The limit of Nirvana is the limit of Samsara, there is not the slightest difference between the two.”

Samsara is a Indian word that refers to our mundane world of suffering, the world of birth and death. When Nagarjuna says “samsara is nirvana,” he is pointing to the non-dual nature of samsara and nirvana.

The 13th century Japanese Zen teacher Dogen put it this way in Shoji (On Life and Death): “Living and dying is what nirvana is.” In Bendowa (On Practicing the Way of Buddhas), he says, “You must realize that birth and death is in and of itself nirvana. Buddhism has never spoken of nirvana apart from birth and death.”

This is not just Dogen speaking figuratively, it is, to some extent, a literal fact, for the Buddha never taught that nirvana was outside of this world, or this life.

The word “nirvana” literally means “to blow out” or “to extinguish” and originally referred to the extinguishing of passion, desire, the blowing out of the flames that cause suffering.

According to the Western monk Nyanatiloka, who in 1952 complied a Buddhist,  in early Buddhism, nibbana [the Pali transliteration of nirvana] was seen as “The full ceasing of the groups of existence . . . ‘Nibbana without the groups remaining’, in other words, the coming to rest, or rather the ‘no-more-continuing’ of this physico-mental process of existence. This takes place at the death of the Arahat.” Nirvana/nibbana then was seen as the extinction of the human entity transmigrating through the cycle of birth and death.

But is that really what the Buddha had in mind? Professor Max Muller, quoted in Mind Unshaken by John Walters:

If we look in the Dhammapada [one of the early collection of scriptures or sutras] at every passage where nibbana is mentioned, there is not one which would require that its meaning should be annihilation, while most, if not all, would become perfectly unintelligible if we assigned to the word nibbana that meaning.”

The idea of annihilation, of checking out of the cycle of birth and death, of nirvana as some other-worldly realm, or as pure nothingness, is definitely not what the Buddha was teaching. Most likely it was layered onto the Buddha’s teachings after his passing, possibly to bring Buddha-dharma more in line with the mainstream of Indian metaphysical thinking. However, Prof. Trevor Ling, in his book, The Buddha, writes,

The third noble truth concerns cessation (nirodha), and it is that the cessation of suffering is a consequence of the cessation of craving. The word used in this connection – nirodha – is a synonym of nibbana (in Sanskrit, nirvana), the best known name for the goal which Buddhist teaching has in view. Nirvana is the cessation of all evil passion, and because evil passion is regarded in Buddhist thought as a find of fever, its cessation may be thought of as a ‘cooling’ after fever, a recovery of health. In fact, in the Buddha’s time the associated adjective nubbuta seems to have been an everyday term to describe one who is well again after an illness. It is evident from this that  the original Buddhist goal, nirvana, was the restoration of healthy conditions of life here and now, rather than in some remote and transcendent realm beyond this life.

When Dogen used the phrase shoji soku nehan, or “birth and death are themselves nirvana”, he, like Nagarjuna, was saying that our sufferings and nirvana are interrelated. We can reach nirvana at any time. Actually, our sufferings are already nirvana, if we choose to look at it in that way.

We often talk about nirvana as being the other shore, about ferrying living beings across the sea of suffering to the other shore of nirvana – this is simile. We are already standing on the other shore, but we’re not sure about where we are because of the fog of delusion, pride, ego, attachment.

It’s not as simple as saying, “Okay, from now on I’ll see that sufferings are nirvana.” It is not a purely intellectual thing but rather an intuitive understanding that comes from the depths of one’s entire being. And we practice in order to be able to realize this intuitive wisdom.

We cool off the passions, then we recover from our fever and become healthy, whole – when our mind is clear and calm we see that sufferings are nirvana. Indeed, without suffering, there is no way that we could know joy or peace.

In the Kevaddha-Sutta, the Buddha is asked, “Where do earth, water, fire, and air come to an end?” And the Buddha replies, “The  answer is: In the invisible, infinite, all-radiant, consciousness (Vinnanam anidassanam).”  This term, Vinnanam anidassanam refers to consciousness in its undivided purity, no longer split into the duality of subject and object. This consciousness is said to be identical with nirvana.

We do not need to look any further beyond our own world, our own lives and our suffering to find peace and joy, nirvana, for it is always within our mind. As the Dalai Lama says,

Samsara-our conditioned existence in the perpetual cycle of habitual tendencies and nirvana – genuine freedom from such an existence- are nothing but different manifestations of a basic continuum. So this continuity of consciousness us always present.”


“Samsara is my beat” Philip Marlowe, Bodhisattva

Raymond Chandler and Bogart as Marlowe

Today I feel compelled to note the 122 anniversary of the birth of my favorite author, Raymond Chandler. The main reason being that I am currently re-reading what I think is the true Great American Novel, Chandler’s masterpiece, The Long Goodbye.

Chandler, as some of you may know, was the creator of arguably the second most famous fictional private detective in the world, Philip Marlowe. [Sherlock Holmes is undoubtedly Number 1] Marlowe is a tough, down-at-heels private eye, who in spite of the cynicism he tries to project is at heart an idealist and an optimist. Over the narrative course of five novels he continually gets involved in the messy lives of the people he meets even when he doesn’t really need to.

In The Long Goodbye, Marlowe meets a guy named Terry Lennox:

The first time I laid eyes on Terry Lennox he was drunk in a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith outside the terrace of The Dancers. The parking lot attendant had brought the car out and he was still holding the door open because Terry Lennox’s left foot was still dangling outside, as if he had forgotten he had one. He had a young-looking face but his hair was bone white. You could tell by his eyes that he was plastered to the hairline, but otherwise he looked like any other nice young guy in a dinner jacket who had been spending too much money in a joint that exists for that purpose and for no other.

When Lennox is abandoned by the girl he’s with just because he’s just run out of dough, Marlowe takes him home and sobers him up. Marlowe knows better than to get involved with drunks, but he does it anyway.

Marlowe says, “Terry Lennox made me plenty of trouble. But after all that’s my line of work.” Well, maybe. Usually a private eye gets paid for helping people. Lennox has no money, and in fact, Marlowe rarely makes a dime off any of the people he helps. So, it’s more than just Marlowe’s “line of work.” More like his mission.

“I’m supposed to be tough but there was something about the guy that got me,” Marlowe ruminates after his first encounter with Terry Lennox. Later, he tells Lennox,

I’m a private dick. You’re a problem that I don’t have to solve. But the problem is there. Call it a hunch. If you want to be extra polite, call it a sense of character. Maybe that girl didn’t walk out on you at The Dancers just because you were drunk. Maybe she had a feeling too.

Tricycle Magazine did an article once on Marlowe as a Bodhisattva. I wish I could find it. If you’re a subscriber, you can log in a read it. I think It’s called “Zen Master Marlowe.” There might be an earlier one, from the ‘90’s also. I remember they described him as the “true American Bodhisattva.”

Continue reading ““Samsara is my beat” Philip Marlowe, Bodhisattva”


The Top Buddhism Blog Awards Hustle

I don’t know how this went down but The Endless Further has received an award as one of the fifty Top Buddhism Blogs of 2010. Now before you congratulate me, or if you are a fellow “winner” before you begin to congratulate yourself, let me share this with you:

According to the website, “Top Buddhism Blog Awards are brought to you by Online Schools & Awarding the Web.” And who might they be? Neither website provide any real information about who they are. This alone tells me a story. Except that they also give out awards in such categories as Top Allergy Blog, Top Literary Studies Blog, and so on.

There is nothing on the web that provides any background information about either of these entities.

I Googled onlineschools.org and came up with their main site, which has links to contact various educational institutions, also pages like “15 Things You Should Know About Breasts”, “15 Things to Know About Steve Jobs” and “The Facts about Poop.” Okay, that makes me go Hmmm . . .

Next, Googling awardingtheweb.com, I found this at MISH’S Global Economic Trend Analysis, dated June 16, 2010: “Today I received an email from Awarding the Web  congratulating me for making their best of web category. There was just one catch. I had to post their badge on my blog or they would give my spot away.”

I didn’t receive an email, perhaps because I don’t have an email link on this blog. If someone wants to contact me they need to go to the Contact page. I discovered my status as a winner by accident. Anyway, this “post the badge or loose the award” business seems fishy.

Also, their process for nominating blogs and judging the winners is a bit vague. There is a panel of 5 judges, but who are they? Okay so maybe they don’t want put the names out to the public for privacy reasons, but are they professionals, other bloggers, where do they come from and how were they picked? How about just a general idea? It’s definitely starting to smell now. Not only that, although that someone would nominate me does not seem beyond the realm of possibility, I seriously doubt that I would have garnered enough votes to rank in the top fifty.

A guy named Robert Archambeau at Samizdat Blog won a award and he checked with a colleague who informed him that it was basically a list to shore up Online School’s credibility as a diploma-mill. Archambeau says, “As it turns out, the awards are sponsored by a consortium of online doctoral programs, some run by for-profit institutions. What’s more, the html code for the badge one is meant to display on one’s blog contains a text link, just below the badge, for a site promoting these programs.”

The secondary purpose of the awards seems to be to drive traffic to the Online Schools website, which is not anything I want to do.  That’s just another form of advertising and I don’t want ads on this blog.

I don’t think it qualifies as a scam, but it’s certainly a hustle. Maybe some one else has some better information, and if so, it’d be nice if they put it out there.

I went through the list of the 2010 Top 50 Buddhism Blogs, and if nothing else, at least I discovered a couple of interesting blogs I didn’t know about, so I thank the Awards people for that. I noticed that about 1/3 of the winners displayed the badge on their blog, but only two or three had a post about winning the award.

I’m ambivalent about stuff like blog awards. I submitted The Endless Further to the Blogisattva Awards Blog Directory. I do want people to know about this blog, find it and read it, but I am not particularly interested in the awards. Unless I win one, of course. Which ain’t gonna happen.

No, I feel that perhaps the most fitting award that I could win would be something along the lines of The Best Curmudgeonly Buddhist Blog, because in regards to being a member of an award winning group, I kind of feel like Groucho Marx who once turned down membership in an elite club with this line, “I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.”

I haven’t decided if or how I will respond to the Awarding The Web folks, but while I am making up my mind, here’s few other “curmudgeonly” takes on the subject of awards to muse on:

Awards are meaningless to me, and I have nothing but disdain for anyone who actively campaigns to get one.
Bill Murray

Awards are only a publicity gimmick.
Tony Randall

I could have a roomful of awards and it wouldn’t mean beans.
Bobby Darin

I have done so much for hip-hop and ’til this day, I haven’t received any awards or any recognition for it.
Luther Campbell

Most awards, you know, they don’t give you unless you go and get them – did you know that? Terribly discouraging.
Barbra Streisand

I didn’t get a lot of awards as a [baseball] player. But they did have a Bob Uecker Day Off for me once in Philly.
Bob Uecker

To those of you who received honours, awards and distinctions, I say well done. And to the C students, I say you, too, can be president of the United States.
George W. Bush

Up there with my awards, I have a great big statue of Groucho Marx, just to put everything in perspective.
John Lithgow