Earth Day and Smokey the Buddha

It’s Earth Day, when each year we remind ourselves of all the things we can do to help and protect Mother Earth.

I remember the first Earth Day in 1970. It was called a “national teach-in on the environment.” Teach-in is term you don’t hear anymore. The first major teach-in was organized by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 1965. What made Earth Day rather epic is that it was really the first mass movement born out of the counter-culture to gain wide-spread support from mainstream America. And that first Earth Day was a big deal. On April 22, 1970, over 20 million people participated – on the streets, in parks, churches and auditoriums, 2000 colleges and universities and 10,000 elementary and high schools.

We had a rally that day at my high school, which was not that big of a deal unfortunately. Just sitting in the bleachers on the football field listening to some students and teachers give speeches. Pretty boring, actually.

It is heartening to see how Earth Day has grown over the years, but disheartening to think that we are still abusing our planet in ways that could have been stopped at any time during the last four decades. Three years after that initial Earth Day celebration, the United States had the first “oil crisis” when OPEC decided on an oil embargo to protest the U.S. decision to re-supply the Israeli military during the Yom Kippur war. To save gas, Nixon reduced the speed limit on highways to 55. Here it is 2011 and we are still dependent on oil.

I’ve always thought of Buddhism as a “green” philosophy. Many of the core principles relate directly to our relationship with the environment, particularly interdependency (pratitya-samutpada), which teaches that all things, sentient and non-sentient, are interconnected. Japanese Buddhism has the term esho funi or “self and environment are two but not two.” Our environment is only a reflection of ourselves. If the Buddha were still around and if he was invited to speak at an Earth Day event, I imagine he’d tell us that we will never clean up our outer environment until we clear up our environment within. The green revolution is really an inner revolution. You already know that, yet I don’t think we can remind ourselves of it too often.

Since it’s also National Poetry Month, I think this is the perfect occasion to present Smokey the Bear Sutra, the poem that Gary Snyder wrote for the 1969 Sierra Club Wilderness Conference. It takes the form of a Buddhist sutra with Smokey the Bear as the reincarnation of Vairocana Buddha, a celestial Buddha who first appeared in the apocryphal Chinese text, Fan-wang ching or “Brahma’s Net” (also the origin of the Mahayana Bodhisattva ordination precepts). It is a somewhat satirical piece (some might say sacrilegious), but satire often allows a writer to communicate valuable principles without having to get up on a soapbox and preach.

 

Ancient statue of Smokey/Vairocana found in Chinese cave

SMOKEY THE BEAR SUTRA

BY GARY SNYDER

Once in the Jurassic about 150 million years ago, the Great Sun Buddha in this corner of the Infinite Void gave a discourse to all the assembled elements and energies: to the standing beings, the walking beings, the flying beings, and the sitting beings–even the grasses, to the number of thirteen billion, each one born from a seed, assembled there: a Discourse concerning Enlightenment on the planet Earth.

“In some future time, there will be a continent called America. It will have great centers of power called such as Pyramid Lake, Walden Pond, Mt. Rainier, Big Sur, Everglades, and so forth; and powerful nerves and channels such as Columbia River, Mississippi River, and Grand Canyon. The human race in that era will get into troubles all over its head, and practically wreck everything in spite of its own strong intelligent Buddha-nature.”

“The twisting strata of the great mountains and the pulsings of volcanoes are my love burning deep in the earth. My obstinate compassion is schist and basalt and granite, to be mountains, to bring down the rain. In that future American Era I shall enter a new form; to cure the world of loveless knowledge that seeks with blind hunger: and mindless rage eating food that will not fill it.”

And he showed himself in his true form of

SMOKEY THE BEAR

A handsome smokey-colored brown bear standing on his hind legs, showing that he is aroused and watchful.

Bearing in his right paw the Shovel that digs to the truth beneath appearances; cuts the roots of useless attachments, and flings damp sand on the fires of greed and war;

His left paw in the mudra of Comradely Display–indicating that all creatures have the full right to live to their limits and that of deer, rabbits, chipmunks, snakes, dandelions, and lizards all grow in the realm of the Dharma;

Wearing the blue work overalls symbolic of slaves and laborers, the countless men oppressed by a civilization that claims to save but often destroys;

Wearing the broad-brimmed hat of the west, symbolic of the forces that guard the wilderness, which is the Natural State of the Dharma and the true path of man on Earth:

all true paths lead through mountains

With a halo of smoke and flame behind, the forest fires of the kali-yuga, fires caused by the stupidity of those who think things can be gained and lost whereas in truth all is contained vast and free in the Blue Sky and Green Earth of One Mind;

Round-bellied to show his kind nature and that the great earth has food enough for everyone who loves her and trusts her;

Trampling underfoot wasteful freeways and needless suburbs, smashing the worms of capitalism and totalitarianism;

Indicating the task: his followers, becoming free of cars, houses, canned foods, universities, and shoes, master the Three Mysteries of their own Body, Speech, and Mind; and fearlessly chop down the rotten trees and prune out the sick limbs of this country America and then burn the leftover trash.

Wrathful but calm. Austere but Comic. Smokey the Bear will Illuminate those who would help him; but for those who would hinder or slander him…

HE WILL PUT THEM OUT.

Thus his great Mantra:

Namah samanta vajranam chanda maharoshana Sphataya hum traka ham mam

“I DEDICATE MYSELF TO THE UNIVERSAL DIAMOND BE THIS RAGING FURY BE DESTROYED”

And he will protect those who love the woods and rivers, Gods and animals, hobos and madmen, prisoners and sick people, musicians, playful women, and hopeful children:

And if anyone is threatened by advertising, air pollution, television, or the police, they should chant SMOKEY THE BEAR’S WAR SPELL:

DROWN THEIR BUTTS

CRUSH THEIR BUTTS

DROWN THEIR BUTTS

CRUSH THEIR BUTTS

And SMOKEY THE BEAR will surely appear to put the enemy out with his vajra-shovel.

Now those who recite this Sutra and then try to put it in practice will accumulate merit as countless as the sands of Arizona and Nevada.

Will help save the planet Earth from total oil slick.
Will enter the age of harmony of man and nature.
Will win the tender love and caresses of men, women, and beasts.
Will always have ripened blackberries to eat and a sunny spot under a pine tree to sit at.

AND IN THE END WILL WIN HIGHEST PERFECT ENLIGHTENMENT

…thus we have heard…

(may be reproduced free forever)

 

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Kirti Monastery: “A Jail Filled with Monks”

Young monk Phuntsok

On March 16, 2011, coinciding with the third anniversary of the widespread demonstrations that rocked Tibet in 2008, a young Tibetan monk named Phuntsok Jarutsang set himself on fire to protest the Chinese government’s continued repression of the Tibetan people. Police officers extinguished the flames and then proceeded to beat the young monk mercilessly. He died in a hospital early the next morning from injuries sustained from the beating. He was 21.

According to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, on April 9th, Chinese security forces cordoned the Ngaba Kirti Monastery restricting the movement of monks with no one being allowed to go in or out. The monks have been living on food offered by locals through the monastery administration as the Chinese authorities have prohibited local Tibetans from offering food to monks directly. Chinese officials maintain that the situation at Kirti Monastery is “normal.”

Yesterday a report surfaced from Tibetan sources that gives a clearer picture of the situation: The source called the monastery “a jail filled with monks.” Monks are not allowed to leave their quarters after 8PM.  The monastery’s medical facilities has been shut down. Chinese authorities have constructed walls around the monastery.  Soldiers and police enter monks’ quarters at random and ransack them, and some one hundred monks have gone missing or are unaccounted for in the area since the March 16th incident. Authorities have also subjected the monks to extensive “Patriotic Reeducation” sessions that in some cases have lasted for hours.

On April 16th, the Tibetan Parliament in exile appealed for the United Nations to intervene. The UN has yet to respond.

From what I have seen, the cable news networks and my local channels have ignored this story. They keep me up to date with what is happening in Libya, but nothing on Tibet. It’s an old story. It doesn’t have the large scope that the Middle East has, there is no oil in Tibet, and I suspect China’s influence has something to do with it, too.

Six decades have passed since China invaded Tibet. The Dalai Lama gets lip service from US presidents but little else. In 1990, Iran invaded Kuwait and within months, we were chomping at the bit to go and liberate a country that is but a fraction of Tibet’s size. The disparity is obvious. Tibet is only important to Buddhists and liberals and social activists and people of that ilk. Our president, whom I admire, is two out of three there, so I wish he were more outspoken on the subject, and a few others to boot.

Tibetan Prayer Wheel (Mani Khorlo)

I don’t know what to say except that it’s tragic. I don’t know what else to do other than be one of the voices calling attention to China’s cruel repression, even though, if you’re reading this, chances are you are part of the choir. I may have some strong opinions about the validity of lineage claims and some of the historical misrepresentations about monastic Buddhism, but that does not mean that I am against Buddhist monks or want to see that aspect of Buddhism disappear. We owe so much to the monastic tradition. One thing is sure, without it, there would be no Buddhism today. Had there not been such a tradition in Tibet, perhaps many important sutras and teachings would not have been preserved. This is just one contribution to world culture Tibet has made. Comparing Tibetan texts with Chinese versions has helped scholars understand how the sutras were compiled, how they were revised, which are apocryphal and so on.

Tibet has given us a rich and unique culture to appreciate – and we should not forget that uniqueness is also part of diversity, for diversity means not merely to tolerate or accommodate differences, but to also celebrate and, in some cases, preserve them. Tibet is home to a culture suffused with ancient wisdom, one that struggles to maintain its identity as it faces an uncertain future. Based on the Buddhist concept of dependent arising, their struggle is also ours.

Meanwhile, the siege of Kirti monastery continues . . .

May all types of harm and violence in these snowy lands,
Be swiftly pacified and eliminated entirely.
May precious sublime bodhichitta
Arise naturally in the minds of all beings, human and non-human alike,
So that they never again think or act in harmful, violent ways.

May the minds of all be filled with love for one another!
May the whole of Tibet enjoy abundant splendours, happiness and wellbeing!
And may the Buddha’s teachings flourish and endure!
Through the force of the truth embodied in the Three Roots, the Buddhas and their heirs,
And through the power of all the sources of merit throughout samsara and nirvana,
And of our own completely pure, positive intention,
May this, our prayer of aspiration, be fulfilled!

“Prayer for Peace and Stability”, Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thayé (1813-1899)

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I Live in The Joy

I live in Los Feliz.

It’s a section of Los Angeles just below the hills that borders Hollywood. Feliz is Spanish for happiness or joy, so sometimes I like to call my neighborhood, The Joy.

Living in The Joy is not always a joy. But, today it was. Spring decided to show up for a while. The air was warm and the birds sang love songs to one another all day.

The word “joy” comes from the Anglo-French joie, as in joie de vivre, “joy of life.” Joy is one of those words we use a lot but probably don’t spend much time thinking about. When we use “joy” it’s usually as a synonym for happiness, in the context of pleasure.

In the Treatise on the Great Prajnaparamita Sutra, Nagarjuna says,

Happiness is bodily happiness; joy is mental happiness. We call happiness the happiness associated with the five sensory consciousnesses; we call joy the happiness associated with the intellectual consciousness. We call happiness the happiness that arises from among the five types of sense objects; we call joy the happiness that arises from the dharmic objects of mind.

In this work, Nagarjuna uses “joy” in three different contexts, but they all have selflessness at their root.  One nuance of joy is priti, a sense of joy, referring to the seven factors of enlightenment: “the bodhisattva puts his joy (priti) into real wisdom (bhutaprajna): this is true joy (bhutapriti).” Then, joy as one of the Four Immeasurables (Love, Compassion, Joy, and Equanimity). Here the term for joy is mudita or sympathetic joy: “Mudita is to wish that all beings obtain joy as a result of happiness (sukha).” And lastly, altruistic joy, one of the four elements of boundless heart (apramana).

Shantideva, an adherent of Nagarjuna’s Madhyamaka philosophy, summed it up: “All joy in this world comes from wanting others to be happy.”

As I write this on Sunday evening, the daylight is fading and fog is moving in. They say it’ll be cloudy tomorrow, cooler. Might rain. The birds may not be crooning again . . . The happiness we find in a day may be fleeting, but joy we find in life is a constant thing, when it is the sort of joy that Nagarjuna and Shantideva talked about.

That’s the kind of joy I found today. While savoring the sensual pleasures of a fine Spring day, in my mind I thought how all things reflect the nature of awakening . . . a simple but sublime thought that transformed the singing birds into chanting bodhisattvas, the rays of the sun into rays of compassion, and made each flower a serene and omniscient golden Buddha, pollinating the world with innumerable Buddha-dharmas . . .

And I know that tomorrow, come rain or come shine, that joy is not fleeting, it will remain if I want it to – that greatest joy is constantly unfolding, mine to realize in each present moment, mine to live in.

I live in Los Feliz.

I live in The Joy.

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The Religious Sect That Worships Charlie Chaplin

Maybe you saw Google’s video tribute to Charlie Chaplin on his 122th birthday yesterday. Maybe you know a little about him. Filmmaker, comic actor, composer, kicked out of the US for his left-wing sympathies, returned 20 years later to accept an Honorary Award at the Academy Awards where he received the longest standing ovation in Oscar history (lasting twelve minutes). Maybe you saw Robert Downey Jr.’s outstanding performance as Chaplin in the 1992 film directed by Richard Attenborough.

Cao Dai main temple

Betcha didn’t know that Chaplin was a religious icon. Yes, the Cao Dai sect of Vietnam, described as a “monotheistic religion”, worships the immortal Charlie Chaplin. In The endless war: Vietnam’s struggle for independence, James P. Harrison writes,

[The] Cao Dai (“high place” or altar) was a remarkable syncretic religion, claiming inspiration from all the great religious thinkers from Buddha and Confucius to Jesus Christ and Muhammad to Victor Hugo, and even Charlie Chaplin. Founded in 1919 and organized after 1925, it established a “Holy See” under its Grand Master at Tay Ninh, southwest of Saigon.

Okay, perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch to say they worship Chaplin, but they do revere him as a saint. And actually, at one time Chaplin was about as close as you can get to sainthood while still breathing. From the late teens of the last century and into the 1920’s, he was arguably the most beloved man in the world. Almost everyone could relate to Charlie in one way or another, especially everyday people, working class people, folks who were closer to the bottom than the top. Charlie represented them. When he kicked a cop or tricked a bullying boss or hit a pompous rich man in the face with a custard pie, he was doing what they wanted to do – strike a blow against authority. Charlie’s Little Tramp character was usually  left with the short end of the stick, rarely got the girl he loved, and at the end of many of the films, he wandered off alone, lonely and a little sad.

Because his films were silent, they transcended language. People the world over considered Charlie to be one of them. St. John Ervine, in a 1921 article for Vanity Fair, wrote, “Mr. Chaplin has conquered the world because he has remained of the world.”

I don’t know if Chaplin had any interest in Buddhism, but I know he was a great admirer of Gandhi. The two met in London in 1931. Gandhi was staying at Kingsley Hall Community Centre, operated by Muriel Lester, a Christian pacifist. In her 1932 book Entertaining Gandhi, she relates this story in which it seems Gandhi was one of the very few people who had not heard of The Little Tramp:

One of my clearest mental pictures is of Mr Gandhi sitting with a telegram in his hand looking distinctly puzzled. Grouped round him were secretaries awaiting his answer. As I came in, the silence was being broken by a disapproving voice saying ‘But he’s only a buffoon, there is no point in going to meet him.’ The telegram was being handed over for the necessary refusal when I saw the name.

“‘But don’t you know that name, Bapu?’ I inquired, immensely intrigued. ‘No’ he answered, taking back the flimsy form and looking at me for the enlightenment that his secretaries could not give.

“Charlie Chaplin! He’s the world’s hero. You simply must meet him. His art is rooted in the life of working people, he understands the poor as well as you do, he honours them always in his pictures.

It took me many years to learn how to appreciate Charlie Chaplin’s artistry. Watching silent movies is a different sort of filmgoing experience than watching “talkies.” I’d see a Chaplin movie and feel that it didn’t live up to the hype. Then I saw a three-part documentary, Unknown Chaplin, by film historians Kevin Brownlow and David Gill (and narrated by the late James Mason), that shines a light on Chaplin’s filmmaking methods and techniques. Using rare footage and previously unseen outtakes, the documentary shows Chaplin rehearsing and experimenting, and reveals how he developed many of his gags. I got it after that.

For those who are unfamiliar with Charlie Chaplin and want to check him out, (in addition to the documentary) I recommend Modern Times, as it may be his most accessible work for us modern folk. Although it’s a comedy, it’s also a social protest film, a commentary on technology and economics that is just as relevant today as it was when he made the film in 1936. It’s also the film that debuted the classic song, written by Charlie, “Smile.”

Here is a clip from one of my favorite Chaplin shorts. It’s a gag you’ve seen many times before. I doubt Chaplin invented it just I doubt that anyone has ever done it better. Filmed in 1918, A Dog’s Life:

 

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Adapting the Precepts According to the Time and Locality

Originally, becoming a bhikkhu was a simple matter. You’d ask, and the reply was “ehi bhikkhu” – “come, bhikkhu” – and that was it. This is consistent with our understanding that upasampada, the rite by which one undertakes the spiritual life, of other sanghas was similar and consisted of merely going before the central figure and saying “I take you as my teacher.”

Somewhere along the line, either during the Buddha’s lifetime or after (I say the latter is more likely) upasampada became a huge complicated process and remains that way today.

Frankly, I am uncomfortable with the whole notion of “ordination” in Buddhism. The Buddha was not “ordained” and since he was not starting a religion, it is safe to assume that he had no interest in founding a “system for maintaining priestly power and creating mystique” as one writer, David Brazier in The New Buddhism, has described it. Indeed, that is exactly the sort of thing that by all accounts the Buddha criticized in the Brahman system and to which he offered an alternative.

In the original 18 schools, there was some variation in the vinaya (rules) each followed. The Gobun-ritsu (Mahishasaka Vinaya), which is still extant, put forth the concept of zuiho bini, “adapting the precepts according to the time and locality.” Zuiho is short for zuiho-zuiji, which literally means ‘according’ (zuiho) ‘at any time or as occasion calls’ (zuiji), and bini is the Japanese transliteration of the Indian vinaya.

Painting of Saicho, the founder of Japanese Tendai

I recall reading years ago, probably in an SGI publication, that zuiho bini was one of the arguments Saicho used in his struggle to establish Mahayana ordination in Japan during the 9th century. I don’t know if this is accurate or not. Paul Groner’s book, Saicho, so far the definitive biography on the founder of the Tendai school, does not mention it. Although it’s not possible to have clear picture of Saicho’s entire rationale, I feel sure that it was partially based on an even more fundamental Buddhist concept, said to be taught by the Buddha himself: annica – impermanence – change.

If everything else in the universe is subject to change, then why not the rules and procedures under which Buddhists operate, why must these alone remain static, frozen in time, unchangeable.

And why should change not also include the formation of new institutions?

In Theravada, only fully ordained Bhikkhus can deliver discourses (bana) to the laity. However, there is no reason why Mahayana schools should follow Theravada in anything, and within Mahayana, there is no doctrinal reason that would prevent schools from instituting programs that would certify non-ordained persons to fulfill teacher roles. They do not have to “teachers”; they could be called guides or facilitators. In the Zen traditions, I know there are dharma teachers who are not ordained as priests, but I’m not clear on how that works. It’s definitely something that other Mahayana schools could adopt and all could work either collectively or individually to create more opportunities to develop more teachers.

Another solution is the idea of Buddhist “ministers.” That is the route that I took. Officially, I am a Buddhist minister, allowed to use the title of “Reverend” but not “Venerable” which would apply to a fully ordained Bhikkhu. I prefer, though, to use Dharma Teacher. The only real advantage to the Minister designation that I can see is that it does authorize one to conduct certain rites and ceremonies, both Buddhist and non-Buddhist (such as marriage ceremonies).

There are a few programs for Buddhist Ministers in operation now, including one here in my area that has received some support from an entity called the Southern California Sangha Council, a so-called governing body that really has no authority outside of the Theravada tradition.

I participated in this program as a candidate. It was to be a year-long process, and it was a horrible experience, one that left a bitter taste in my mouth that remains today. There was no structure to the program, no training and sadly, they had no clue. Essentially, they were rubber-stamping individuals based on personality and securing for them an ordination that would be “legit” in the eyes of most Buddhists. Because I clashed with a couple of the strong personalities involved, and I might also say, because of some underhandedness on their part, I was rejected, for which I am eternally grateful.

Training programs must have substance. Otherwise, they’re worthless. And the ways in which training for dharma teachers and ministers can be approached is myriad.

In terms of working within an individual tradition, it would be nice to see the Ch’an/Zen traditions take a lead on this. Realistically, Chinese Ch’an and Japanese Zen (and perhaps Korean Zen) are the only schools that have a significant enough presence in the West to make any impact. The Nichiren and Tibetan schools are rather insular, and the latter is a bit too fractured, not to mention busy pulling itself into the modern age. Tendai and Shingon are even more closed-off and barely visable here in the US.

To give one example, I don’t know how many Zen centers there are in the US but I feel there must be quite a few. Why couldn’t each one offer a mentoring program to would-be dharma teachers and ministers even if it amounted a single priest or roshi offering individual, personal instruction based on a tradition-wide model? Other traditions could do the same. Eventually it could lead to more expansive and intensive programs.

It might be too much to expect various schools to work collectively in offering training programs, or to be concerned about practitioners outside of their own traditions. However, a few people could come together to form some sort of organization that would offer multi-traditional training, with “apprentice” programs or “student exchange” programs in which a person from one tradition could stay at a center or temple belonging to another tradition for a period of time to learn the practices and doctrines of those schools. Someday I hope to see dharma teachers and ministers with a working knowledge of more than one tradition who could run already existing temples and centers or start dharma/meditation groups that would serve a wide variety of Buddhist practitioners.

Western models for developing religious leaders, teachers and clergy are viable options, based on zuiho bini, which holds that as long as there is no violation of the main tenets and precepts, it is acceptable to adapt to the customs and practices of one’s locality.

You may ask how would it be possible for a layperson that has to earn a living, and perhaps has a family, to just take off and travel across the country to stay at temple for a few weeks or a month or longer, or relocate temporarily in another city to participate in a training program? Well the answer is that if a person has a desire to follow this path they should be willing to make some sacrifices and endure some hardships. As I wrote the other day, teaching is a form of practice. Becoming a teacher should not be a piece of cake.

When Saicho wanted to abandon the Ssu fen lu precepts and adopt the Fan wang precepts for Tendai ordinations, he had to obtain government approval. In the United States, there is no government oversight when it comes to religion. Anyone is free to start a religion, a sect, a domination, a religious school, and within these entities conduct their affairs as they see fit, especially in regards to the manner in which they ordain their clergy. This applies to Buddhism as well. Again, there is no central authority in Buddhism. And the general rule is that once a person is ordained, that ordination is retained whether one stays in the tradition he or she was ordained in or not, unless that tradition later nullifies the ordination. That being the case, there is nothing stopping anyone from leaving their tradition and starting a new one. Even if the ordination is nullified, there are ways to become ordained again.

So if you are an duly ordained Buddhist monk, priest or teacher, and you start a sect, found a school, or form a religious corporation, and you identity whatever it is as Buddhist, and then ordain others as Buddhist clergy, there is no one who has a right to say that it is not Buddhist all the way. You are legal, so to speak, both in secular terms and, as far as I feel, in Buddhist terms.

It is the “going rogue” approach and many may be fearful that it would result in a lack of credibility. Non-traditional ordinations are generally considered invalid. Even Saicho had to scramble to cover his bases and have his monks ordained with both set of precepts in order to maintain legitimacy for the Tendai school. I feel that was unnecessary then and it’s unnecessary now.

The Buddha is said to have refused to appoint a successor or lay down rules for lineages. He said, “Do not know them by their lineage, know them by their deeds.”

I like the non-sectarian approach. I think it is the wave of the future: new institutions for the purpose of providing quality training to teachers, but with a nod of respect to and an eye to preserving many of the traditional aspects. If the established schools gave recognition to these endeavors and even cooperated with them, I think it would be to everyone’s benefit.

The important thing is to maintain the spirit of the teachings, not the technicalities, which must change with time. The purpose of lineage, dharma transmissions, and ordinations as they stand now is essentially to make sure that a qualified person authorizes another qualified person to teach dharma. If that can be achieved in non-traditional ways, what is the harm? And if the spirit of transitioning from one life to another can be maintained when revamping the ordination process, why not?

And if the objection then is that it would lead to unscrupulous characters, fakirs and poseurs going around starting new Buddhist sects, well, that’s happening now, so what’s the difference?

Not all the obstacles are institutional, of course. There are the geographical and financial issues to be considered, how to conduct training and what that training should consist of, the question of vows and precepts, what sort of lifestyle lay teachers should maintain – a thousand and one other areas to be thought over and discussed. This is a vast and involved subject, and no doubt boring to most readers. I have barely scratched the surface, but I will wrap it up.

In China, there were periods when Buddhism was a dynamic and rather liberal movement. During these periods, which coincided with liberal governments, new sects were created, many of which we have never heard about. According to historian Kenneth Chen, in one dynasty there was a system of lay priests, most of whom were village priests, which, unfortunately, died out when the political climate became more repressive. During another period, lay women’s organizations took a leading role in Buddhist affairs. All this says that Buddhism has adapted to the times and the localities in its past, and if it had not, it never would have spread across Asia. And in the midst of adapting, somehow the core principles were preserved.

The only limitations we have are the ones in our own minds. Those involved in online sanghas are using their minds to come up with innovative ways to spread dharma in the modern age. I think it is time for the brick-and-mortar sanghas to do the same.

It is still morning for Buddhism in the west. Let’s seize the day.

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