Bits and Pieces

Today, a smattering of news culled from the wonderful World Wide Web:

WHILE in Japan, President Obama enjoyed some green tea ice cream and revisited the Great Buddha of Kamakura.

I’VE written about Sulak Sivaraksa before, here and here. He’s a activist-economist-philosopher and Buddhist from Thailand, and has one of the most relevant and thoughtful voices out there. I really like him and I’m not alone. So do the Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu San Kyi, Thich Nhat Hanh and many others. You can read their comments about Sivaraksa here.

This week the Huffington Post ran an interview with this great peacemaker, conducted by Katherine Marshall. He relates some of his biography and speaks a bit about Buddhism, offering thoughts such as this:

To make a long story short, I feel that to practice Buddhism, you must care not only for yourself but for society. To be Buddhist, you should not only adhere to the main teachings — not killing, stealing, having sexual misconducts or lying — but you also have to consciously distance yourself from the structures of violence that frame our lives. You may not kill directly, but you kill through the social structure. You don’t steal directly, but you let the bank steal. So, I became more involved in addressing what you could term “structural violence.”

Read the entire interview here.

SPEAKING of Aung San Suu Kyi, here’s what has happened since her release a week ago: Burmese Aids patients ordered to leave shelter after Aung San Suu Kyi visit; Lady of Burma Aung San Suu Kyi counts the true cost of isolation; Suu Kyi sees military role in democratic Myanmar; and UN chief, Suu Kyi hold first phone call.

ON a completely different note, according to Kenki Sato, horse riding “gels well with Buddhism”.

I’VE lamented the use of the word “Zen” in marketing and poked fun at articles with “Zen of” and “Zen and” whatever-one-is-promoting in the title, but this is one case I’m willing to overlook: a review of Begin Again, A Biography of John Cage By Kenneth Silverman, in the NY Times entitled “The Zen of Silence”.

IN the healthy and green living section of care2.com, Marc Lesser offers 3 Radically Simple Zen Lessons.

WHILE in Grand Rapids, be sure to check out The Funky Buddha Yoga Hothouse.

IN Georgia, it’s Buddha vs. Jesus.

FINALLY, your heart really goes out to this poor woman: Enters hospital for minor gynecological procedure, leaves as double leg amputee.

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Web Censorship Bill

Many people complain about big government, but the sad fact is most of the time these complaints are ill-informed and misplaced. The public will latch on to some non-issue manufactured by people with political agendas, yet remain silent and largely ignorant of real cases of government overreaching. One case in point is a web censorship bill that has just sailed through a US Senate committee. Anyone who uses the Internet should be very concerned over this legislation.

This week we’ve had the controversy over airport screenings and pat-downs conducted by TSA or Transportation Safety Administration, a branch of the US Department of Homeland Security. The bill in question amounts to another kind of pat-down and eventually, take-down. The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) received unanimous approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee. It will still require full approval from the House and Senate before becoming law.

In a nutshell, this bill gives the Attorney General the power to “shut down websites if copyright infringement is deemed central to the website’s activities”. Under this bill, a website can be shut down even if no crime was committed. Critics maintain that this bill will allow censorship of the Internet without due process, and the big question  is who will determine which web sites should be shut down. The government? Yahoo? Google? ARIN?

According to Wired.com, “scholars, lawyers, technologists, human rights groups and public interest groups have denounced the bill. Forty-nine prominent law professors called it ‘dangerous.’ The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch warned the bill could have ‘grave repercussions for global human rights.’ Several dozen of the most prominent internet engineers in the country — many of whom were instrumental in the creation of the internet — said the bill will ‘create an environment of tremendous fear and uncertainty for technological innovation’.”

One of those “prominent internet engineers”, Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the world wide web, said “Neither governments nor corporations should be allowed to use disconnection from the internet as a way of arbitrarily furthering their own aims.”

This is an issue I would think right-wingers, Republicans, and Tea-baggers would be all over. They’re always talking about how people should fend for themselves, pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, etc., and now that the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people too, I think the same should apply to those media companies who support this bill. I do not condone online piracy, but at the same time, I don’t understand why music and film companies should get an assist like this in the job of protecting their property. Let them look out for themselves, like the rest of us. It would be unreasonable for me to expect the police to come and stand guard over my personal property twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I think it is just as unreasonable to expect any government entity to do the same with my intellectual property.

Legal experts are concerned, and rightly so, that allowing government to shut down internet sites based upon vague and arbitrary evidence, especially if no law-breaking has been proved, is an unconstitutional abridgment of the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Become an engaged Buddhist, or an engaged whatever you may be, and write to your representatives in Congress and ask them to vote against this Draconian bill.

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Teachings: Dalai Lama on Nagarjuna Pt. 5

Some more from my transcript of teachings by the Dalai Lama on Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland (“Ratnavali”) given at UCLA in 1997. Previous excerpts may be found here, here, here, and here.

Because it may be a lengthy excerpt, I think I will break it up into several parts. So, more  to come shortly. Eventually, I will get the entire transcript from my typewritten pages into a Word file and I will make it available, as long as I am not running afoul of any laws by doing so.

Although most of the Dalai Lama’s books are just transcripts of teachings such as this, to my knowledge this particular instruction on the Precious Garland has not been published. There are/were some tapes, but I do not know where they might be available. An earlier commentary by the Dalai Lama, The Precious Garland and The Song of the Four Mindfulnesses, was published in 1975 and used copies are probably available on Amazon.

I provide some explanations in brackets.

Having listened to the dharma
That puts an end to suffering,
The undiscerning, afraid of the fearless state
Are terrified because they do not understand.

In this verse, the Precious Garland states that in actual fact emptiness is the state of fearlessness, therefore, one should not develop a sense of fear towards it, rather a sense of joy. The reason why the childish feel terrified and see emptiness as an object of fear is because of their ignorance. When one doesn’t understand the nature of emptiness, it becomes a source of fear.

In the next verse, the Precious Garland is arguing with the Buddhist essentialists, particularly the Vaibhaskika [a “Hinayana” school] who maintain that the attainment of nirvana constitutes cessation of the continuum of consciousness, so the Precious Garland is arguing that if this is the understanding of nirvana or liberation, and since you do not fear the concept of total cessation of the individual in the continuum of consciousness, how can you then be afraid of the concept of emptiness?

Emptiness or nirvana from the Madhyamaka [Middle Way school of Nagarjuna] standpoint is the state where all the negative afflictions of the mind are purified or calmed within the state of emptiness of the mind. Therefore, if the Vaibhaskika maintain that nirvana or liberation constitutes a total cessation, they why are they afraid of the notion of emptiness, where all the afflictions of the mind are eliminated?

In liberation there is neither Self nor aggregates:
If you are intent upon that kind of liberation,
Why are you not pleased with the teaching that
Refutes Self and aggregates as well?

[Aggregates: Skt. Skandhas; lit, heap or bundle – the five aggregates that make up the individual: corporeal form, feeling, perception, impulse, and consciousness.]

The point about liberation where there is no-self or aggregates is that because, according  to the Madhyamaka understanding, nirvana constitutes the total elimination of all the delusions of the mind within the sphere of emptiness. So, from this view of nirvana, no duality can be maintained. Therefore no self or aggregates or perception can be maintained. All the dualities are calmed or dissolved into a state of emptiness. This is further developed in the next verse:

Nirvana is not even nonexistent,
So how could it be existent?
Nirvana is said to be the cessation
Of the notions of existence and nonexistence.

So this develops the Madhyamaka understanding of the concept of Dharmakaya [Dharma-body; an undifferentiated state of being], which is the state where all the dualities dissolve into the sphere of emptiness. All forms of dualities, such as subject and object, such as aggregates, and also emptiness itself, is dissolved here. Therefore, the Madhyamaka school talks about the emptiness of emptiness, as well.

Here, we are encouraged not to be fearful of emptiness.  Emptiness does not equate to nothingness. It is not nihilistic or negative in its implications. As the Dalai Lama says, we should look upon emptiness with a sense of joy. Emptiness is openness, freedom, happiness, equality, liberation. All positive qualities.

Wayfarers on the Buddhist path should have a clear understanding of emptiness. This is one reason why I talk about it quite often. I want to help people lose their fear of this concept and not mistake it for nothingness or think that it is too complicated to understand. To understand emptiness intellectually is not that hard. To live in emptiness is not that easy.

To be continued . . .

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Original Enlightenment Pt. 3

I believe the importance of hongaku shiso or original enlightenment thought lies with how it opens all dharma gates to all people. To “enter into enlightenment” is not a privilege for those spiritually gifted or something attainable by only the most accomplished and learned. Anyone can aspire and attain Buddhahood because the seed of enlightenment, Buddha-nature, is already present.

Zen master Dogen pondered the question of why, if we are originally enlightened, is it then necessary to practice. The answer, provided by Tsung-mi, prior to Dogen, is because “from the beginningless beginning the delusions of human beings has obscured it so that they have not been aware of it.”

We have a tendency to fashion our notions about enlightenment in such a way that it becomes something mystical. Enlightenment is not very different from anything else. Say a person has a natural talent for making music or painting. The talent may be present but nonetheless it must be developed, nurtured, one must learn how to use it skillfully. The same applies to enlightenment. Buddha-nature has to be awakened.  Literally, being a Buddha takes practice.

To make music, you need an instrument. To paint, a brush. This is what meditation is for Buddhists. A tool to use in developing Buddha-nature. Practice is indispensable, and this is what I think Dogen meant about the “oneness of practice and enlightenment.” It’s pretty simple.

Believing that you have a Buddha-nature is not something that you should elevate to the level of dogma or a “faith.” It’s a basic fact. You start from that understanding and build from there.

I once had a conversation about Buddha-nature with a respected monk from the Theravada tradition. He was against it. He said that it put ordinary people on the same level as the Buddha. I said, yeah, that’s the whole point.

To him, the Buddha is “perfect.” He’s in a special class. I don’t remember what Pali word is used for “perfect” or “perfection,” and actually, I’m not sure that I’ve ever known, but regardless of how it is meant, I surely don’t believe that the Buddha wanted people to give him such exalted status. And I think there is plenty of evidence in the early suttas to bear that out.

If only a Buddha can attain Buddhahood and if we do not posses some innate quality or potential that we can call Buddha-nature or original enlightenment, then there is no point to Buddhism. It collapses. Just another “-ism.”

We tap into our original enlightenment each time we wake up, each time we see deeper into ourselves, when we become more aware of what is going on around us and with our mind and emotions. We awaken Buddha-nature whenever our wisdom grows, whenever we make better decisions and resist easy temptations, and whenever we see the Buddha-nature in others.

To do these things, we need not be perfect. As Chih-i taught, the world of Buddhahood contains the world of Hell. Therefore, flawed, just as we are, just where we are, we are Buddha. It’s here and now, in the present moment. Don’t waste you time looking anywhere else.

Buddha-Nature exists in everyone no matter how deeply it may be covered over by greed, anger and foolishness, or buried by his own deeds and retribution. Buddha-Nature can not be lost or destroyed; and when all defilements are removed, sooner or later it will reappear.

The Dalai Lama

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Video of Aung San Suu Kyi’s Release

Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi greets thousands of supporters over the fence of her Yangon house after she was freed. (STR, EPA / November 13, 2010)

As the Los Angeles Times reports, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a Buddhist and the leader of Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement, was released from house arrest on Saturday. She said “I am so happy” as she greeted thousands of jubilant supporters at the gate of her compound.  “It’s very happy to see the people,” she said, barely audible over the chanting. “It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen you.”

In a statement released earlier today, President Barak Obama called Suu Kyi a personal “hero” and called for the military regime to “release all political prisoners, not just one.”

Here are two videos of Daw (as she is called by her supporters) after her release. The first, obtained by ITN, shows the cheers the moment that she appeared before the crowd:

A news agency run by exiles from Myanmar based in India, Mizzima, posted more video of Suu Kyi meeting her supporters on its YouTube channel:

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