Raleigh, NC -- Anger is indeed the source of a lot of world tensions and often breeds an "us versus them" mentality, whether it's between Indians and Pakistanis or Israelis and Palestinians. The three great monotheistic faiths (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) all counsel against anger. But it's hard to say they have a real method for defusing it.
In the Hebrew and Christian Bibles a random search for the word "anger" results in hundreds of verses. But for every verse that recommends curbing hostile tendencies -- "Refrain from anger, and turn from wrath," says Psalm 37:8 -- there are passages that promote rage -- "Pour out thy indignation upon them, and let thy burning anger overtake them," Psalm 69:24.
Even God is not immune from this dichotomy. One well-known verse speaks of God as "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness." Exodus 34:6. Another speaks of God as an avenger: "So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them." Judges 2:14.
Many see the Bible's emphasis on forgiveness and reconciliation as ways of dealing with anger. But others have found in the wisdom of Eastern traditions, especially Buddhism, more effective tools of transforming anger. In Buddhism, there is no more important virtue than forbearance and patience. Scholars of Buddhism say eliminating anger is the only way to achieve inner peace, enlightenment, or -- to use a Western term --salvation.
Buddhism teaches that one way of dealing with anger is realizing that there is no such thing as an independent, autonomous self. Once people are able to internalize this message, they begin to see that all things are related -- even the enemy.
"Analyzing or breaking down the notion of self and identity allows people to see the connections," said Richard Jaffe, a professor of Buddhist studies at Duke University. "There's a sense of compassion even toward those who cause us frustration and anger."
Several Buddhist traditions recommend a set of meditations to build compassion. The meditation consists of sitting down, closing one's eyes and visualizing a friend or beloved relative. The idea is to extend loving kindness to that person, and then to widen circle to include people toward whom a person might feel hostile or angry. The idea is to see the enemy as a person worthy of love.
The "Dhammapada," a collection of Buddhist teachings, has a famous saying:
"He reviled me! He struck me! He defeated me! He robbed me!
"Those who gird themselves up with this, for them enmity is not quelled.
"He reviled me! He struck me! He defeated me! He robbed me!
"They who do not gird themselves up with this, for them enmity is quelled.
"Not by enmity are enmities quelled. Whatever the occasion here.
"By the absence of enmity are they quelled.
"This is an ancient
meets Northwest through Buddhism
Seattle -- It was 1990, and George Draffan of Seattle needed help.
In the span of a year, Draffan's father, two grandparents, an aunt and two close friends all died from unrelated circumstances.
"Things just kind of got overwhelming," Draffan says.
Draffan, a free-lance researcher and writer, reacted to these personal crises by searching for some sort of spiritual support or belief system that could help him cope. His search led him to Buddhism, which he says provided him with the tools he needed to clear his mind of negative thoughts and to regain control of his life.
Draffan, 48, is now a leader of the Northwest Dharma Association, a nonsectarian, Seattle-based coalition of predominantly white and Western Buddhist practitioners living in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. Draffan estimates he is one of several thousand Western Seattle-area Buddhists, many of whom converted from some form of Christianity, Judaism or other belief systems.
"I think the thing that attracts a lot of Westerners
is stress" and how to manage it, Draffan says of Buddhism, which
rejects violence, promiscuity, alcohol and substance abuse.
• Five precepts of Buddhism are: Do not kill. Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not be unchaste. Do not take drugs or drink intoxicants.
• Buddhism has been adapted over the past 2,500 years into many Eastern and Western traditions, all of which employ combinations of meditation, chanting, discussion and study.
• Two universal goals of Buddhism are mindful awareness and compassion.
"If you get into it, you can't do without it. It's a much more productive way of dealing with problems than drinking beer."
In recent months, Draffan and other Seattle-area Buddhist leaders have been organizing the International Buddhist Festival and Change Your Mind Day, scheduled from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today in Seattle's Volunteer Park.
This year will mark the third Change Your Mind Day in Seattle, a nationwide Buddhist event that's also taking place today in other U.S. cities including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Kansas City. The goal will be for attendees — Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike — to change the way in which they think about the world, themselves and others.
Seattle's gathering, which organizers say could draw up to several hundred people, is open to the public and will feature music, food, dance, meditation, chanting, informational tables and presentations.
Draffan, whose Buddhist name is Karma Tsundru Gyatso, or "Ocean of Energy," explains that the goal of Buddhism, as practiced in the Western tradition, is to achieve insight into life's problems, primarily through meditation. A key for practitioners, Draffan says, is learning to recognize the things over which they have influence, while also learning to let go of the things they can't control.
"Buddhism is very good at absorbing whatever is in the culture," Draffan says. "It's just different methods and different cultural approaches to the same process."
Kekanadure Dhammasiri, a Buddhist monk originally from Tibet and a chaplain at Harborview Medical Center, says the unique aspect of this year's Seattle event is that it represents the first time Buddhists of Asian descent have participated. In past years, Seattle's Change Your Mind Day has been attended predominantly by whites and other Americans of the Western Buddhist tradition. Dhammasiri says this has been to the detriment of all in Seattle's Buddhist communities.
"It is for me very sad," Dhammasiri says. "We are living in the 21st century. We want to get together. Be united. That's the Buddha's teaching."
Roughly 400 Buddhist temples and organizations, ranging in size from a few dozen people to several thousand, are now active in the Pacific Northwest, local Buddhists say. Seattle alone has an estimated several thousand Western converts, as well as 60,000 Vietnamese, 20,000 Cambodians, and tens of thousands of other Asians immigrants and second-generation Asian Americans whose Buddhist traditions derive from Japan, Tibet, Laos, Thailand, China and others.
John Roberts, a Bellevue resident who converted to Buddhism five years ago, says a major benefit of today's festival will be to expose those from disparate traditions to other practices.
A retired business executive who has traveled extensively throughout Asia, Roberts recently helped establish the East-West Buddhist Coalition, an organization that aims to promote self-help and cooperation among Seattle Buddhists of all stripes. Buddhism practitioners across the spectrum can learn much from each other, Roberts says.
"The way Asians practice Buddhism is the way it was practiced thousands of years ago," Roberts says. "It's just a calmness and a clarity that it brings of trying to become mindful and aware."
But despite the diversity of traditions and cultural differences, Buddhist nun Kelsang Khyenwang of La Connor predicts that the message will be one that's universal among Buddhists.
"It's a matter of transforming our
mind," says Khyenwang. "By transforming our mind, we can transform
our experience. It really isn't magic. It works."
Discovering her own intuitive powers helped Michal Levin to uncover a malignant brain tumour. Here, she explains how the secrets of meditation can be used in everyday life to foster good health for both mind and body
London -- Meditation is a profound mystery, like a door into another reality that is always there but cannot be seen. For years I knew nothing about it, and cared less. But while looking for something else, I stumbled upon it. By its extraordinary, hidden power, meditation became the route that led me into a wider, deeper world — or to the farther reaches of this one. Meditation is the path that led me to my innermost self. I learnt this technique when I did not think it was possible. I was competent, caring, in charge and concerned. I took care of my children, pursued my work (as a current-affairs reporter on television), mourned the break-up of my marriage, saw friends, went to parties . . . and descended into an inner abyss. I saw no way out.
Far above I saw light, but I did not know how to reach it. As the months slipped by, my incomprehension deepened. It was hard to say what was wrong. Life simply did not add up. It was not enough, but it was too much. I did not know what to want. Impatient and distracted, like a petulant child, I decided one evening to give meditation a try — to prove that it was not for me.
That night, ten years ago, changed my life. Another reality opened and embraced me. In the months that followed I was forced to recognise my intuitive (some use the word “psychic”, which I dislike) and healing abilities. I was taught by the inner world — or is it an outer or extended one? — to see a quality that I can only call “energy”. Then I learnt to understand the meaning of what I could see. I gained a deeper and often different understanding of people, events and the world. And I changed, too. Most importantly, I discovered an understanding and experience of love that encompasses ethics, morality and truth.
It also brought what I can only call “a knowing”. I am not a Buddhist, but it was a high Tibetan lama who first insisted that I had a gift. Soon people started to seek me out for consultations. Their numbers swelled quickly. Professional people — psychotherapists, business people, creative artists, teachers, IT specialists, even celebrities — as well as those from other walks of life filled my diary, and formed a waiting list. Since then my ability to work with, and understand, energy has increased steadily.
Three years after beginning to work as an intuitive, while instructing a meditation group, I saw my own energy, something that rarely occurred. I saw the right-hand side of my body as dark, and the darkest area was at my head. I knew the condition was deeply ingrained from the fact that, though I could dispel the darkness by directing healing light at it, it soon returned. It was definitely something that was already in my body, and which I could not disperse by healing energy alone.
I saw several doctors, alternative and orthodox. None could explain my condition or find anything wrong with me. They sent me away with explanations that I knew were wrong: the aftereffects of hepatitis, a spiritual problem, mercury fillings, post-viral fatigue.
When I felt death was near (though no one else agreed), the inner voice of my meditation led me back to my birthplace, South Africa. It instructed me to find a doctor there, identified as “the rose grower”. I found him and in his hospital office the irascible, engaging doctor uncovered a suspected brain tumour, on my right-hand side. His discovery proved correct. I had weeks to live, a few months at best.
Soon after its discovery, the tumour was removed in Los Angeles. My life was saved, but at a cost. I lost my hearing on one side and my facial nerve was severed, with all the consequences that implies: an eye that could not shut, half a mouth that could not move, loss of feeling, and more. All the time, though, my meditation and reality, as I came to know it through meditation, kept me grounded. In the months that followed, my ability to work in an intuitive capacity became stronger.
However, the form of my work changed and the scope of my understanding widened. And through the years since, my physical recovery has progressed, slowly, steadily and successfully.My tumour was removed by a scalpel, but never for a moment did I let go of my spiritual practice. In that way I experienced a miracle, and continue to do so. The “knowing” that held me through my darkest hour continues to hold and reach me now.
In everyday life, for example, it shows
me the intense pleasure of a morning sky, a quiet street at night, or
the exuberance of a weed caught in a cracked paving stone. It helps me
constantly to learn and understand, by experiencing it, how all beings
are part of one another and the Universe. The start of it all was meditation.
Dying is the ultimate terror - unless you know how to make it a wonderful source of joy and inspiration
Bangkok -- Buddhadasa Bhikkhu urged all of us to ``die'' as quickly as possible: the sooner we die, the more fruitful our lives will be, he said in his book, Legacy for Mankind (Moradok Thi Kho Fak Ao Wai). How can this be?
Death, for most people, is the ultimate in unpleasantness; something to shun, or at least, something we want to brush from our thoughts until our very last moments.
As Lord Buddha himself said; isn't the fact of impermanence a source of universal suffering?
It is, but there is also a way to transcend the fading away of life and the perennial cycle of agonies - above all, to ``laugh at death'' as Buddhadasa put it.
To an unprepared mind, the prospect of dying may appear dreadful. But a well-trained mind will be able to face the final moment with serenity. More, the enlightened one will even embrace it with pure joy - to this person, death is like a change of clothes, a transition to freshness, liberty, salvation.
Many people will perceive such a pronouncement as utopian, akin, even, to the kind of psychedelic hallucinations that are a product of being on drugs.
Others may say that such statements suggest that there is immortality of the soul, which is definitely antithetical to the Buddhist tenets on the transience of all beings.
But remember: Buddhism supports neither the propositions of the ``eternalist'' school - that the mind or the body will live forever - nor those of annihilationism - that the "self'' will eventually die and disappear.
Buddhism says _ when there is no ``self'' to begin with, who is actually born, and who actually dies? This is no verbal jest.
There are two kinds of death: physical and spiritual. The prescription for preparing for both is virtually the same.
At the mundane, physical level, there are as many ways to die as there are human beings on earth. Life holds many uncertainties, but death is not one of them. It is an inevitable fact. Our body has been well ``designed'' to degenerate, to disintegrate and to die.
To accept this fact is not to be a passive fatalist.
Indeed, constantly reminding ourselves of the immanence of death can prompt us to act virtuously toward other fellow beings. Buddhadasa said: ``The contemplation of death is beneficial; it allows us to be willing to let go, to give away, to accept [things] more easily ... it can even compel us to continue working for the benefit [of others] until the very last moment [of our lives].''
Many names have been given to describe such a sublime state of being: loving-kindness, compassion, Bodhicitta (the heart of the enlightened mind), or just love. After all, the fragility of life is our common fate. It links together the entire human race, other beings, nature, the world.
Did the American writer Thornton Wilder have this in mind when he penned:
There is a land of the living,
The spiritual dimension of death is a matter of the here and now. One need not wait until one's very last breath to be aware of the endless succession of births, rebirths and deaths of our `self' - or to start working on breaking the cycle.
In fact, the kind of lives most of us are leading - plagued incessantly by worries, frustrations, delusions, pains, human foibles, ups and downs - is not so far from living a dead, vapid existence. How many of us feel fully "alive'' each and every day of our lives?
Contrary to the notion of Buddhism as a grim philosophy, it teaches that the true meaning of life, (cheewit), is that it is `not death'. It is arriving at a stage when mortality is overcome and eternal joy is realised.
Even for one brief, fleeting moment, when a person is able to shed his or her self-centred mental baggage, the quality of one's being becomes instantly immense, luminous and boundless.
For that span of time, transitory as it is, is quite simply, eternity.
Can we not live from one moment to the next, dwelling in and enjoying the present, neither lamenting the past nor being anxious over the future?
In Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, Zen master Shunryu Suzuki describes the simple beauty of this ``independent'' existence: ``Everyone comes out from nothingness moment after moment. Moment after moment we have true joy of life.''
The awareness of this spiritual "emptiness'' - in which are free of all forms of clinging - is not an endorsement of a life of sloth, however. The opposite is true. The venerable monk Phra Dhammapitaka has pointed out that it's a common error to mistake an enlightened person for one who is blind to worldly affairs. How could this be the case given that each day, forty thousand children are starving to death and given that our planet has over fifty thousand nuclear warheads, enough to destroy itself several times over?
To the contrary, the mind that has transcended thinking that is about me-ness, good versus bad, ugly versus beautiful, and so on, will be of invaluable service to the world. This person will put all his or her efforts into benefiting others and they will be unfettered by delusion, greed, hatred, or preoccupation with results.
Such is the meaning of selfless acts. The late Buddhadasa Bhikkhu always stressed that genuine dhamma is to perform one's duty. Indeed, dhamma IS duty. And duty can be carried out with the utmost joy, liberation, and equanimity.
It requires a tremendous degree of mental calibre to live in such a way, and this requires constant mindfulness. One of the best ways to practise this mindfulness is with the dying, whether they are loved ones or strangers.
Who else is in a better position to reveal the precariousness of each second of life?
Zen master Joan Halifax calls the terminally ill, whom she has been taking care of for over three decades, her ``Bodhisattvas,'' or people who embody the idea of compassion.
''My Bodhisattvas have had Aids, breast and prostate cancer. They have been broken-hearted, hungry, bereft and filled with pain. They are the people who have taught me what compassion is really about. For example Patrick, who was dying of Karposi's Sarcoma. He said he felt that God had let him live as long as he had so that he could take on the suffering of all those men who have Karposi's Sarcoma. Or Jonathan, who lay in perfect equanimity for a week before his death and taught us about acceptance and peace ...''
Death can generate as many beautiful stories as life. It is not all tragedy. Sogyal Rinpoche, author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, told of his student, Dorothy, whose ``graceful and dignified'' approach to her debilitating cancer was an inspiration for every member of her hospice, even one year after her departure.
Joan Halifax also recalled a Quaker friend whose years of meditation practice enabled him to retain a remarkable clarity of mind _ ``just like a child that [was] delighted at everything ... everything for him was just a miracle'' _ despite being afflicted by Alzheimer's disease. ``And he died on Thanksgiving Day, with exactly that quality of being clear and calm-minded,'' she noted.
But there is no one ``perfect'' way to die. Perhaps the greatest mystery of life is how, when and where one will die. In a flash, soon, or ten years from now? There could be months of bed-ridden agony or a sudden car crash. There is no way to forecast your death. The only way to prepare is to be prepared - through cultivation of mindfulness - each and every single moment.
That's how death can make our existence on earth more meaningful - and wonderful.
Word from Buddhadasa
"There is no one best way to prepare
for death, except to let go of [the clinging to] your mind and body. After
all, there is no death of any particular `self'. The enlightened mind
will realise there is no `us' who was born, grows old, succumbs to illness
and dies. There are only mental formations that arise in accordance with
the Law of `Idappacayata' [Conditionality]. As long as the mind still
clings to self, old age, sickness and death will prevail. If there is
no self, everything is part of the course of nature. There will be no
problems. There will be no suffering. Thus is life.''
Los Angeles -- A French neurological team has described a surprising new brain disorder --- a deficit of spontaneous conscious thinking. LaPlane and Dubois describe it as “auto-activation deficit.” (*) People with this problem lose spontaneous conscious feelings, thought and actions --- until they are asked to do something. Then they act perfectly well.
The neurologists write, “They tend to stay in the same place all day long, sitting on a chair or lying on their bed, taking no initiatives and asking no questions, although they answer questions appropriately. They do not move around or engage in spontaneous activity.” But “the most enigmatic symptom encountered in these patients is mental emptiness. Their mind is ‘empty, a total blank,’ they say. In most typical cases, they have no thoughts and no projections for the future.”
- An active businessman became dramatically inactive when stung by a wasp. Brain damage developed (perhaps due to an allergic reaction). “He did almost nothing all day long and expressed no sign of interest in anybody. Later he became capable of buying a newspaper, reading it quickly, and watching TV, but he remained inactive most of the time. When stimulated, however, he was able to perform more complex activities, such as playing high level bridge. He was not bored by his condition, but it surprised him.”
- Another patient “stayed in bed for half an hour with an unlit cigarette in his mouth. When asked what he was doing, he responded, ‘I am waiting for a light.’”
- A third victim “spent 45 minutes with his hands on a lawn mower, totally unable to initiate the act of mowing. This blockage disappeared instantaneously when his son told him to move.”
“In conclusion,” the authors say, “it might be said that the mind of patients is on stand-by when they are alone, but recovers almost all of its capabilities when stimulated by social interactions.”
Maybe it should be called Standby Disorder, as if the mind is on stand-by, idling --- ready to go but with no impulse to do anything, think anything, or feel anything.
What is going on?
Such tragic cases can help us learn about consciousness.
LaPlane and Dubois are careful to point out that auto-activation deficit (or AAD) does not affect movement as such. Patients move perfectly well when asked to do so. They show no signs of coma or drowsiness. They even seem to keep the same level of intelligence as before, as in the case of the businessman who could “play high-level bridge.” The emotions of AAD victims are appropriate when they hear good news or bad. But their emotions are short-lived, and they quickly go back to their neutral state.
Normally, when people have deficits in conscious contents, we would expect damage in cortex. These patients show no such damage. Or if people are in coma, we would expect damage in the brainstem. Again, no such injuries are seen in AAD. Rather, LaPlane and Dubois have found, the problem is in the basal ganglia. Brain imaging studies show injury to an area of the basal ganglia called the pallidum.
Why the basal ganglia? Usually we think of this part of the brain as having to do with automatic action components. For example, you are conscious of this sentence right now, but your eye movements are not conscious --- they are automatic. You have had so much practice reading that there is no need for conscious control. Such automatic action elements use the basal ganglia, deep inside the brain.
But if this part of the brain involves automatic, unconscious activities, how could it affect consciousness? After all, conscious contents are handled in cortex, not the basal ganglia. The answer is that there is a circuit between the basal ganglia, the thalamus (the gateway to cortex), and the prefrontal cortex (which handles goals, motor plans, working memory, and much more). The remarkable symptoms of AAD may reflect a disruption of this “striato-thalamic-prefrontal loop.”
It is as if major city were paralyzed by blocking a large traffic artery. Nothing may be wrong in the city itself. It is simply not receiving what it needs to keep going.
The endless activity of the conscious mind was already explored in the Upanishads, 2600 years ago. Meditation techniques were devised to calm the mind, to stop it from constantly buzzing with thoughts. The endless activity of the conscious brain can even make it hard to get a good night’s sleep.
But humans with AAD have too much peace
of mind. They are frozen in an eternal calm, unable to think or act on
Is This the New Age of Buddhism? Be There Now
New York -- According to Buddhist sages of another millennium, the age of Buddha would end 1500 years after his death. That was probably never meant to be taken literally, as Buddhists are given to sliding ages inside seconds and worlds within grains of sand. But the historical Buddha died in about 486 B.C.E., so I wonder what the wise ones would have made of Internet directories listing hundreds of dharma centers teaching various streams of Buddhism all over the world, the great fame of the Dalai Lama, or the hundreds of books on Buddhism published in recent years for an eager audience.
No doubt they'd welcome another sign of the growth of enlightenment teaching—the eighth annual "Change Your Mind Day," scheduled for June 8 in Central Park.
For those curious about Buddhist practice or the wide range of Buddhist teaching available in New York, CYMD is a pleasant introduction. The expression "change your mind" is a reflection both of the possibilities of "letting go" of the routine concerns of the mind through meditation and a reminder of the larger change possible through Buddhism's emphasis on examining the self. For me, it also implies the possibility of simply allowing a change of mind to suddenly unburden the soul of baggage.
It's hard not to notice something going on with the popularization of these ideas across the globe. Necessity has created a kind of pan-Buddhist community outside of Asia and particularly in the United States. In this immigrant country, perhaps the most diverse and polyglot society on the planet, many small Buddhist sects developed and have over time formed a virtual bazaar of Eastern teachings, and, of course, of marketable goods. In fact, Buddhism has been more successfully marketed here than anywhere, resulting in everything from expanded classes to Buddha-chic restaurants.
Yet one often passes storefront Buddhist temples in Chinatown, Brooklyn, and Queens, with handwritten signs in Chinese, Vietnamese, or Thai, and they seem remote from this new age of Buddhism. These community-based temples have sprung up for 200 years, sometimes fragile and mobile, to serve Asian immigrants, and are the traditional base of Buddhism in America. The temples have often continued to function in Chinese or Japanese and have not necessarily tried to proselytize other Americans. Though long present, they are not the reason so many Americans might now recognize an image of Gautama Buddha.
While most of the Buddhists in New York and other major cities are still Asian Americans, the American Buddhist establishment, of which Tricycle is a pillar, has other roots—in Zen and in the Beat movement of the 1950s. What is now the power center of American Buddhism has, during its development, consistently attracted a body of well-heeled, well-educated white practitioners, and ignored the traditional Buddhist communities. Language barriers play a role, but so does the inertia of American apartheid.
American Buddhists, owing to their relatively small numbers in various groups, have for some time put on teaching events that bring together different Buddhist teaching streams. What is new now is a greater effort to actually invite Buddhists of diverse cultures and languages. This is due to hard grassroots work and lobbying by people of color involved in various Buddhist sects; a few important critical articles, particularly in Tricycle; and maybe to some mysterious forces best described by the sages.
For instance, Reverend T.K. Nakagaki, of the New York Buddhist Temple on Riverside Drive, several years ago organized a series of public lectures at Columbia University, inviting teachers from local Buddhist communities to teach on basics shared by all Buddhists. The Higashi Honganji (Jodoshinshu) Buddhist Church, of which I am a minister, decided on a multi-year mission to explore diversity in its temples worldwide starting in 1998. Last summer Tricycle's national conference in New York invited several African American teachers for the first time.
In the days following 9-11, Nakagaki pulled together a number of Buddhist ministers, invisible in most of the official religious observances, to lead a prayer vigil at Union Square. The gathering of monks present, wearing knit hats, shawls, and thick socks with thin monastic robes, came from several different language groups, but many shared recitations of thousand-year-old texts that are still taught in Pali or Sanskrit. Understanding was not a problem.
Buddhist priests suddenly began to appear in small groups at ground zero and at splashy events at Lincoln Center and Riverside Church. This spring, I was happy to participate in the "New Dharma Series" presented at Dixon Place by dharma teacher Angel Kyodo Williams and writer Carol Cooper, which showcases some of the African American teachers. This summer the Spirit Rock center in Marin County, California, one of the leading dharma centers in the U.S., is hosting a very sizable retreat for African American practitioners. So some are definitely changing.
This year's CYMD in Central Park includes several ministers from Asian-based community temples. If these new efforts at outreach succeed, it means that the broader Buddhist community will manifest what is inherent in the historical Buddha's work—reaching out across class and race lines to liberate people one mind at a time.
Some participants are new to CYMD, and some have been on earlier programs. Soto Zen priest Sensei Pat Enkyo O'Hara, whose zendo is only a few blocks from ground zero, will teach this year, along with Loch Kelly, an insight meditation teacher who studied in Sri Lanka; Cyndi Lee, director of OM yoga center (and a practitioner in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition); Venerable Kurnegoda Piyatissa, a Theravadan teacher; popular meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg; and Sensei Bonnie Myotai Treace, vice abbess at Zen Mountain Monastery.
As the author of the classic Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, and founder of this country's first Zen Buddhist monastery, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, who came to America in 1959 to serve as a priest for a Japanese American sangha, or congregation, in San Francisco, became another of the pillars of American Buddhism. In his book Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness, he tried to explain what the sages were saying about how Buddhism would die off over time.
In the first 500 years of Buddhism, called shobo, while Buddha's direct disciples and "grand-disciples" lived, there would be "great sages like the Buddha." In the next 500 years, zobo, there would be imitation. And in the last period, mappo, beginning 1000 years after Buddha's death, "people would not observe the precepts; they would read and chant sutras, but . . . people who practice zazen and understand the teaching would be difficult to find."
Suzuki reminded us, of course, that it is also taught that Buddhist practice "is not disturbed by any framework of time or space," and that Buddha is always here. Most importantly, Suzuki said, "when we really understand what Buddha meant, we are in Buddha's time." Perhaps that is June 8.
For complete "Change Your Mind Day
2002" schedules and details, check www.tricycle. com/newsevents or
Canberra, Australia -- When Geshe Sonam Thargye, Tibetan Buddhist monk, teacher and surfer, went to India in September 1999 to invite the Dalai Lama to visit Australia, he was informed that it was ''too far''.
''In my mind,'' says Geshe Sonam, ''I thought: Your Holiness goes to America every year and that is just as far, but of course I could not say that.''
Undaunted, this resident teacher at the Buddhist Drol Ka Centre in Geelong in Victoria persisted with his request until finally the Dalai Lama agreed. Tomorrow the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet begins his Australian tour in Melbourne. His Holiness will visit three capital cities during his current tour and make a special trip to Geelong his only regional visit.
On Friday he will visit Canberra, to take part in a cross-cultural scientific and philosophical forum to discuss the study of the mind with eminent figures from the Australian scientific and philosophical communities. The Australian National University will host the forum.
A tireless worker for world peace and for the liberation of his homeland Tibet, the Dalai Lama is also religious leader, Buddhist monk, scholar and philosopher. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 and this visit to Australia will be his first in six years.
His own life story makes remarkable reading. He was born in 1935 in a tiny village in eastern Tibet, then one of the most isolated parts of the world. He was identified as the 14th reincarnation of the Dalai Lama while still an infant. At the age of 16 he was asked to accept the political leadership of Tibet on the eve of China's impending incursion. Following China's invasion in 1959, the Dalai Lama and 10,000 Tibetan citizens fled the country. They were forced to cross the high passes of the Himalayas on foot to reach the sanctuary of India. For more than 40 years the Dalai Lama has worked to restore Tibetan freedom but always based on non-violent means. It was on a second visit to India in 2001 that Geshe Sonam requested the Dalai Lama include Geelong in his tour as a special request.
''His Holiness thought for a good while,'' says Geshe, ''and finally gave a big laugh and said, 'I will.' " Geshe Sonam had developed a close relationship with the Dalai Lama during his visits to the Sera Je monastery in southern India where Geshe Sonam had studied philosophy.
Geshe Sonam, a well-known and colourful figure in the Geelong community, now describes himself as ''a local Geelong boy''.
He entered the monastery at the age of seven. ''I thought this was a good life,'' he says, ''but my nature is such that I have to keep asking myself questions, about why things are.'' This questioning led him to leave Tibet at the age of 17 to study Buddhism and Western Philosophy in India at the Sera Je monastery.
Catherine Cheyne helped sponsor Geshe Sonam to Australia after she met him in the late 1980s when she visited his monastery. Although she never considered herself a "religious" person, she was interested in Buddhist teachings and asked if she could sponsor one of the monks. At their first meeting, they had to "fumble along with hand signals" as neither could speak the other's language. In 1994 Geshe Sonam completed his Geshe Lharampa exams the highest possible academic qualification in a Tibetan monastery and came top of his class. The title "Geshe" is an equivalent of "Professor" in Australia.
Normally a new Geshe would immediately enter a tantric monastery for 12 months but Geshe Sonam returned to Tibet to teach. He was forced to leave after only 18 months and went back to India to complete his studies. Cheyne persisted in inviting Geshe -Sonam to visit Australia and then in 1997 when she was working in London he wrote to her and said, "Okay, I'm ready to come to Australia now."
When he arrived the following year, he was overwhelmed by everything he saw and heard but was very excited at the same time.
"I took him to Torquay beach on his first morning in Australia," she says, "and that was the beginning of his interest in surfing."
Now Geshe Sonam regularly surfs with friends along the Surf Coast beaches. Although he finds the waves too big at Bells' Beach, where the international surfing championships are held each year, he often surfs at Thirteenth Beach and Ocean Grove.
"I really like surfing." he says. "It's a form of meditation, a way of focusing and stopping the mind from thinking."
Cheyne remembers warning him about the dangers of swimming in Australian surf on a visit to Byron Bay. "I actually saw him drifting along on the tide toward Watego Beach but fortunately the tide was coming in."
Soon after arriving in Geelong, Geshe Sonam found a number of people interested in Buddhist teachings and the present Drol Kar Buddhist Centre was opened in 2001. He enrolled in English classes and was determined to improve his proficiency. Cheyne remembers that "sometimes it would take him the whole evening to read a single page of a Year 1-level book but his determination was undiminished". He spent many hours talking to the neighbours and chatting to people he met in the street. However, Cheyne says he still found time in those days to watch the World Cup soccer until the early hours of the morning.
Geshe Sonam was soon in demand to speak at schools and community and business groups. "My role is as a teacher," he says "and as there was nobody else to teach I decided to stay."
This year there are about 80 members attending the Buddhist centre for teaching twice a week and for "breathing meditation".
Geshe Sonam says that while spiritual matters are the highest priority for him he is just "an ordinary person''.
"My life's purpose is the study of philosophy and being in contact with other people so if I'm in a supermarket, I'm shopping, and if I'm eating, I'm eating."
He even once visited Melbourne's Crown Casino to get a feel for western mentality and lifestyle. "I'm interested in people. There's no point in being hidden away in a monastery," he says.
According to Cheyne, Geshe Sonam spends many hours visiting the sick, the elderly and patients dying in hospital. He has connected with many people public figures, religious leaders, hotel managers, labourers, academics, people with addictions and psychiatric illnesses, entertainers and agricultural workers.
Cheyne recalls that when they were visiting Byron Bay, Geshe Sonam spent many evenings talking to the young people who sat in the park near the town. "He demonstrated such incredibly strong compassion for their search for happiness and had such a thirst to understand their minds."
Rob Ryan, business partner of the Eureka nightclub in Geelong, is a surfing mate. Ryan says the two have a very close friendship, which includes walking on the beach as well as surfing or just going out to dinner.
"He's a really genuine, compassionate sort of guy," says Ryan. "He's a calming influence and sees things so clearly and yet at the same time he's really down to earth and has a great sense of humour."
Ryan is looking forward to accompanying Geshe Sonam when he returns to Tibet to visit his family in the next couple of years. Although Geshe Sonam, like the Dalai Lama, is very interested in science, modern ideas, education and technology, he admits they cause a number of problems too.
"It is the negative aspects of the mind that create the problems,'' he says. "That can destroy somebody's happiness. As technology develops, more problems seem to develop too. It is the mind after all that makes the problems."
Buddhism, according to Geshe Sonam, is a very cheerful system of beliefs. "I am a very happy person, not because I own a car or a house or money, but I'm happy from my heart. I really believe that."
Like the Dalai Lama, Geshe Sonam is committed to world peace by non-violent means.
In a speech to the European Parliament on October 25, 2001, the Dalai Lama spoke of what has been called his "Middle Way Approach", which would allow Tibet genuine autonomy within the framework of the People's Republic of China. In this speech he admitted that "the failure of the Chinese leadership to respond positively reaffirms the Tibetan people's suspicion that the Chinese Government has no interest whatsoever in any kind of peaceful co-existence."
His non-violent efforts for world peace have been relentless too, more recently since September 11 and America's war on Afghanistan. In a letter to President Bush on September 12, 2001, he expressed his shock at the terrorist attacks but firmly expressed his belief that "violence will only increase the cycle of violence".
During his address to the European Parliament, he raised his challenge to world leaders to another level. He urged the US to end air strikes on Afghanistan and to talk with those it held responsible for the September 11 attacks: "I believe the challenge before us is to make the new century one of dialogue and non-violence."
Dr Alan Molloy, the director of Dalai Lama in Australia Ltd, which is responsible for the spiritual leader's visit, believes the Australian people, too, want answers to the unfolding tragic events around us.
"The Australian public, like people all over the world, wants peace. They need answers that perhaps our own political and civic leaders cannot give and perhaps His Holiness has some of those answers."
Geshe Sonam feels the theme of the Dalai Lama's talk in Geelong Calm within Chaos is particularly relevant for our times.
"We can't entirely stop being busy but we can find calm in the middle of a busy chaotic world. This last century has seen a great development in technology but has also seen the greatest number of deaths through war."
The Venerable Jampa Drolma is someone whose life has been dramatically changed by Buddhist teachings. Formerly a scientist working in immunology, she is now a Buddhist nun at the age of 30.
Jampa came to Australia as a refugee from Vietnam with her family. "I always considered myself very fortunate and lucky to have all the material needs in my life," she says.
"However, I was still searching for that spiritual side and the more I heard about the teachings of Buddhism, the more I became convinced that this was the path I was going to follow."
After finishing university, she one day picked up a Vietnamese Heart Sutra (Perfection of Wisdom Sutra) from her mother's collections of books and started reading it. To her surprise, after reading the first paragraph, "I had a feeling as if a light was being switched on. It was as if I had found 'home' within myself."
Some of the research work she was doing in immunology conflicted with her belief system. She was working in an environment where animals were being sacrificed for medical research. After four years she resigned and headed to India with Geshe Sonam.
Soon after, she became a Buddhist nun in order to help young people understand the meaning of life. "I know that the younger generation are at times confused and frustrated about life and if they are directed in the correct way, they could make a difference to our future," she says.
Geshe Sonam believes that the Dalai Lama's visit will have a huge effect on young people for the cause of peace. "They are the ones who will be responsible for this century and many of them are interested in finding ways to peace."
He says: "Many young people it seems are very troubled in their lives and do not understand the meaning of life and the disproportionate number of youth suicides demonstrates this.
"I meet many people who are unhappy with their lives, who are on drugs and that is why I invited the Dalai Lama to Australia, because I feel the benefit of his visit will be so great.
"I believe that the Dalai Lama's
visit itself will have an effect for peace."
Colombo -- Once at the end of a teamwork-training programme, a participant confessed that she was very selfish was useless as a team player. Having realized it, she had felt so depressed during the programme that she had not benefited from it at all.
After listening to her tale of woe, the facilitator told her she had two problems. One was that she was not being cooperative in a team. "That may be the key problem. But look at the other problem as well - the label you have given yourself. You say you are a useless person. That is the second problem. Actually you have almost solved the first problem because you know that you are not a very good team player. Since you know it, next time you can be a better team player. But what about the other problem? It is your own creation; you are giving a value judgment to yourself. And in the process you are grading yourself very low", the facilitator explained. Isn't this how we face problems in life.
There isn't anyone who has no problems in life. You may think you have the biggest problem. But if you look around, you will see many more who are much more unfortunate than yourself. Remember the saying - "I stopped worrying about shoes the day I saw a man without both his feet".
Most of the time when we are faced with a problem we tend to extrapolate the present situation to the future. We imagine the worst possible scenario and tend to build unbearable conditions in our own mind. Of course, you may feel you are not capable of handling a situation if it happens now. "If this were to happen, the result will be such and such, that in turn will result in such and such a thing.
That will cause so many other things" the thinking process continues. Our worries are always linked to the past or to the future. Thinking about the past, we repent. We regret about doing or not doing certain things in the past. But we cannot do anything about it. Past is past. Similarly most of the fears and anxieties linked to the future are not real either, as the Future is not yet come.
This is different to reflecting about the past and to plan future actions. Those indeed are skillful actions every progressive person must do. Unpleasant circumstances and situations are common to all. According to Buddhist teachings, such situations are the result of previous bad kammas. (Un-skillful Volitional Acts) This is not necessarily acts of past lives, but those of the present life as well. If problems are the result of bad kamma then it is possible to counter such bad kammas by doing good or skillful kammas now.
This is a much more productive approach than looking for external and unseen powers for help. In such efforts your mind still revolves around the problem and the thoughts that you generate too are those of aversion and therefore, they are unskillful. For instance, when you go to a place of worship to pray for relief from a problem even though you may get the comfort of pouring out your worries, throughout the process you can still experience the same anxieties and fears associated with the problem. This, of course, is very subtle. Unless you are very sharp you will not even realize it. Then what are the wholesome or skillful deeds one can do?
Basically they are actions done without Greed, Hatred and Delusion. In other words, acts done with Generosity, Compassion, and Wisdom. When one is involved in a problem the mind usually is filled with thoughts of aversion arising from the fact that one does not want to experience such hardships or difficulties. While desiring for a state of freedom the dislike with the current situation colours one's thinking when trying to tackle a problem unskillfully.
Imagine a situation where you have been accused for a wrong deed that you never committed. What kind of thoughts will come to your mind? You will be afraid of the consequences. You might even develop thoughts of ill-will toward the persons who accused you. Now in order to achieve a relief you might go and pray to supernatural powers whoever they may be. Unless your mind is free from the basic defilements then you still do not act skillfully. According to the Dhamma, the basic skillful or wholesome deeds are identified as Dana (giving) Sila (moral conduct) Bhavana (development of mind).
Let us see how skilful deeds can help when we experience relatively bad spells in life. If the bad situations you experience are the result of bad kammas, then doing positive kammas will reduce or negate the impact of such kammas.
During a period of bad spell if you engage in activities of Dana or giving with a pure mind, you will certainly develop very powerful positive kammic forces.
Dana can be done in different ways. Giving with the thought of respect and veneration is different to giving with compassion. For a Buddhist the highest person to make an offering is Buddha himself as He is free from all worldly conditions. So start the day by offering the Buddha a cup of water as the first act. If you can do this even before you speak with anyone for the day, it will give you a great sense of satisfaction. Do it with utmost veneration as if you are offering water to the Buddha Himself who has had a good night's rest. Then before you partake your breakfast, offer a portion of that to the Buddha. Doing this will fill your mind with positive vibrations. It can be a great blessing throughout the day.
There are other forms of giving such as giving to persons with higher virtues such as pious monks and elders. One can offer food, clothing, medicine and shelter to such holy persons. You can also give to those who are less fortunate than you are. However bad you think your condition is, there can be others who are worse than you. Look for such persons and do whatever you can to make their lives happier. The thought that you are capable of helping someone will always give you positive energies.
Remember the Chinese proverb: 'If you want to have happiness for a lifetime help some one'. By seeing their plight you will be able to reconcile with your own condition. Their blessings will be with you.
As you engage in acts of giving you will develop positive energies. You need not expect any results from those, but you will discover that now you have more energy to face such situations. Never postpone doing such meritorious acts until your problems are over. You will never get a chance in that case. Make giving and helping others a part of your life.
If you cannot give material things, you can share your labour, knowledge. Look around and there will always be someone who needs your help. By this way you will begin to do positive deeds instead of worrying. They may not directly co-relate but you are adding positive energies to life. When you provide fertilizer to a tree, you do not get fertilizer back from the tree but fruits.
The other skillful activity is developing moral conduct or Sila. Sometimes your present problem itself can be owing to a past action of violating a precept, as they are basic behavioural standards needed for the smooth functioning of society. In that case, learn to forgive yourself. It is human to commit mistakes. Until you reach the stage of a ' Stream Enterer' (Sotapanna - the first stage in four steps towards enlightenment according to Buddhist teaching), you are bound to break precepts.
Renew your pledge with yourself to lead a sound moral life. Whenever you come close to breaking a precept remind yourself of the pledge and renew it. Do not think of the difficulty of leading your life according to the precepts. Live one day at a time. In the morning observe your precepts and think you are going to protect them till midday.
Around midday find a few moments to reflect upon to find out how you had progressed. If you have been good give yourself a pat on your back and renew the pledge till the end of the day. Before going to bed reflect and take stock. You will soon find that you had lived one whole day without breaking a single precept.
That can give you a very strong feeling of satisfaction. Once you develop this practice it will become a habit. You will be conscious of the precepts you have undertaken. If and when they are broken, you renew them. That is all. According to the Vinaya, monks who commit certain major offences are disrobed. Even at that moment they are not discarded. They are referred to as those "who have failed". (Parajika). Continuing to live according to a certain set of precepts is similar to developing a skill like cycling. Before you can ride perfectly you will fall many a time. Even after perfecting the art of riding for a long time, one can still have a fall.
When you bring in Dana and Sila to your life consciously you will see a change in the outlook of your life. You will feel much freer. You will meet friends who are engaged in such meritorious activities. You will be introduced to many others who do such things. Good friends will encourage you to lead a life according to the Dhamma. You will feel that life is worth living rather than unduly worrying yourself.
When you are on this path you can develop your mind, (Bhavana). There are two types of meditation called Samatha (concentration) and Vipassana (Insight ? Mindfulness). You can start by developing Metta - loving kindness meditation. First develop friendly thoughts towards you. Start by forgiving yourself. Before forgiving others, forgive yourself. Try to be a true friend to yourself. Your problem may be something to do with your body. Yet do not curse your body. Whether you like it or not it is what you are going to use for the rest of your life, perhaps with minor modifications!
So love your body and be friendly with what it is and even with pains and discomforts.
Forgive past actions as well. Sincerely say 'sorry' to yourself and to others in your own mind and move forward. Rejecting yourself doesn't help you at all.
Find a quiet place and spend a few minutes every day practising this loving kindness meditation. With your eyes gently closed, wish yourself well by contemplating " May I be well and happy". When you do this for sometime you will feel a sense of calmness in your mind and even in your body. Then try to extend the same feeling of goodness to those who are around you, who live with you, and gradually extend the thoughts of loving kindness even to those who are not friendly with you and those who may harm you.
In Vipassana or developing mindfulness, you learn to become aware of what happens in your mind and body all the time. Once you develop practicing mindfulness meditation you will be able to observe the changing nature of your body and mind. Instead of focusing on a singular object, in this method of meditation you learn to develop the capability of observing what goes in your mind and in your body without any selection. (Refer a book on insight meditation or visit a meditation teacher for more details). When you bring meditation to your life you will develop the unique capability of being able to look at life situations with a sense of objectivity.
You will soon become aware of the emotions that are in your mind such as anger, hatred, lust etc. Once you become aware of those conditions you can respond to life rather than reacting. Instead of you being led by emotions you can now act with a more balanced mind. On the other hand, developing insight and mindfulness is the most advanced form of skilful deeds. This way you will develop positive kammas. These will counter most negative kammic forces. Your life will change and changed for the better.
There are eight worldly conditions that we all have to face. They are gain and loss, praise and blame, happiness and sorrow, fame and lll fame. None can escape these eight worldly conditions. Not even the Buddha. But as you develop mindfulness and insight you will begin to see the changing nature of worries and problems. When you know that problems also change, your approach to life will be different. You will have a sense of freedom to live.
An old man before his last moments gave two rings to his two sons. The elder son who was very greedy wanted the ring with the diamond. The younger one got a silver ring. Next moment the father passed away. The younger son could not ask the father what was so important about the silver ring. When examining it closely he realized that there were a few words engraved. The words read 'This will change'. The younger son thought this to be a manthra and started repeating it all the time. In fact, it became his life's manthra. Whenever good things happened, he would say ' This will change'and that prevented him losing balance. Even in moments of difficulty he would say 'this will change'. Remembering the impermanent nature of even problems he gained enough mental energy to approach the problem with a positive frame of mind and find a solution instead of worrying.
When you are confronted with a problem begin to develop positive energies by practising dana, sila and bhavana.
You will discover the art of living without
An isle group gives a modern-day, Western spin to Buddhist teachings
Honolulu, Hawaii -- Here's a religion that distributes leaflets of its teaching to unbelievers, sponsors a public parade and street fair to put its message out there and has posters of its sacred image plastered around town to publicize the event.
Well, sure, that's Christian evangelizing in the 21st century, right?
No, this is a new face of Buddhism in Hawaii.
birthday next Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Chinese Cultural Plaza.
There will be a parade from Aala Park, music including the Royal Hawaiian Band, lion dances, martial arts displays, firecrackers, food booths and other vendors.
And there will be the traditional birthday ritual in which people pour water over images of the baby Buddha. The ritual recalls the story of the birth of the Indian sage Shakyamuni 2,500 years ago. He studied the suffering and illusions in the world, went on to achieve enlightenment, then created a complex body of teaching to guide others to the same state of perfect mental and spiritual awareness and detachment.
The celebration comes a month after the birthday was marked by the Hanamatsuri or flower festival, a tradition Japanese Buddhists brought to Hawaii and have observed here for more than 100 years. This was the first time that other ethnic groups joined in the annual celebration, held this year at the Blaisdell Center.
More than 200 temples and shrines in the islands are affiliated with denominations that originated in Japan and are more traditional and reserved than the newer sects. In Hawaii, some practices, such as memorializing the dead and marking the New Year, are so woven into the Japanese-American culture that third- and fourth-generation descendants aren't always able to distinguish between belief and ethnic custom.
The new face of the old religion has similarities to new Christian churches that mix merchandising, socializing and service organizations with their worship center.
The Buddha's Light organization is led by businessmen who shed light on Buddhist teachings in terms modern Westerners can easily grasp, often by using comparisons with Christianity.
Albert Lui, who recently also was elected president of the Hawaii Association of International Buddhists, said he often encounters people who try to express their good will by asserting that "you and I worship the same God, we just call him by different names."
Lui feels obliged to set them straight. "If you're Christian or Jewish or Muslim, you worship God, he's up there," he said.
"We don't worship Buddha; anybody can be a Buddha," said Alan J.L. Chang. A retired executive of a Taiwanese manufacturing company, Chang and his wife established the denomination's first local temple in 1986 in a Hawaii Kai house.
Most members of the Fo Kuang Shan denomination, founded in 1967 by the Rev. Hsing Yun, are Chinese. But the organization has spread to America, where it has 30 temples and numerous schools, as well as a university in Los Angeles. It publishes books and leaflets in several languages, sponsors international academic events and expresses Buddhist teaching of kindness and compassion in projects that provide medical care, shelter and relief efforts.
Lui said: "Fo Kuang Shan is an international organization equivalent to the Lutheran Church. Just like in the Christian religion, our founder has his own vision and is promoting Buddhism in his own fashion. The goal is the same, different teacher, different style."
"In Taiwan it rapidly was welcomed. People recognized that the old dinosaur way had to be changed. (Hsing) has new, fresh ideas on promoting Buddhism," Lui said.
Lui drew another comparison with Christianity, simplifying Buddhist teachings in terms of commandments. "We only have five: Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not lie and thou shalt not use drugs, alcohol, whatever hurts the body."
If anyone can bring Westerners to an understanding of the Eastern religion, it would be Lui, a jeweler who has been in Hawaii for 30 years. Lui was raised in Hong Kong Catholic schools and "converted" to Buddhism about eight years ago.
Seeing the statues typical of a Buddhist shrine leads some outsiders to conclude that the idols are being worshipped, he said. "We don't worship Buddha. We pay respect to a teacher; we don't mind bowing to pay respect. It's like a kung fu student bows to the teacher.
"Buddhism doesn't say that we all are born with sin in us. We have the potential to be Buddha within us. We aren't required to have blind faith."
A figure of the Buddha carved of white Burmese jade graces the temple, which was relocated in January to the Chinatown Cultural Plaza. The Rev. Yi Chao is abbess of the serene space behind shaded glass almost indistinguishable from the plaza's restaurants.
Retired Honolulu dentist Joseph Young helped organize the Friends of Buddha's Light, a support group that includes non-Buddhist members. He said he is the only one of his parents' nine children who still visits their places of worship, particularly the Kwan Yin Temple at Foster Botanical Garden. He was an avid listener to the teaching tour by Chang and Lui.
"A person may come in here who has fear and needs consolation," Lui said of the temple. "We don't discourage an old lady who is here praying for good health.
"That is the kindergarten level of learning."
A dharma class, exploring the deeper levels of Buddha's teaching, is part of the weekly 10 a.m. Sunday service. Most attendees are Chinese and the service and lecture are in the Mandarin language.
"We talk about life, about how we should treat other people," said Chang.
Lui said the Buddha teaches that there are three poisons that "are at the root of all suffering. One is greed or craving. It causes you to have hatred or anger. It leads to delusion or ignorance. Everything wrong in society ... in politics, in business ... can be found in those things.
"If you do good, ultimately there is a good result. If you do bad, there is a bad result. That's what karma is."
The local Buddha's Light association is engaged in medical and social service outreach projects. One such program was the donation of about 600 wheelchairs to local agencies including Tripler Hospital, the Palolo Chinese Home and the Waikiki Community Center.
For information on the international organization,
see its Web site, www.blia.org
LENOX, Ma, USA -- You'd be forgiven, peeking inside the dance hall, for thinking you'd stumbled across college-age groupies on an overnight vigil for concert tickets.
Almost 100 people sit on the floor on seat pads and cushions, cocooned in blankets. Eyes closed, they are motionless, save for a stray head nod. Only the hum of the heating system disturbs the silence. But these aren't college students. They carry business cards from Merrill Lynch, Charles Schwab, Citigroup; one is a federal judge. What brings them here is a case of East meets West.
West: Leaders in business and other professions, mostly American with a smattering of foreigners, gathered at Eastover, a Berkshires resort of rambling fields, stately pines, tennis courts, and a penned herd of bison. East: They are learning an ancient form of meditation developed in India called Vipassana. It's not something you get at business school.
For 10 days, meditators take a vow of silence, speaking with instructors or with resort staff for practical needs only during breaks. They dine on a strictly vegetarian menu. (Canadian-fried tofu is a delicacy.) They sit for hours, observing their own breathing and bodily sensations.
''It's the most difficult thing I think I've ever done,'' says Thomas Crisman, a 60-year-old Dallas patent lawyer.
Vipassana (vee-PAH-sa-na), which disciples trace to Buddha, blends science, ethics, and self-control. Its essential insight is that adversity or craving produce suffering that can be detected in bodily reactions - altered breathing, palpitations, for example. Concentrate on and observe those sensations, and you purge the suffering. Vipassana also presumes a code of morality and abstention from distractions. For 10 days, students promise to shun killing (hence the vegetarianism), sexual activity, intoxicants, lying, and stealing.
''This is not a religion,'' insists S.N. Goenka, Vipassana's 76-year-old master teacher and international ambassador. ''You observe your breath. How can you say this breath is Muslim or Christian or Jewish.''
Goenka, who has taught the technique to people of all faiths and no faith for 33 years, observes Buddha's teachings but doesn't call himself a Buddhist. ''Buddha never made anyone a Buddhist,'' he says, but rather was a ''super scientist'' who understood mind-matter connections.
A gentle man whose mocha complexion offsets snowy hair and eyebrows, Burma-born Goenka spent his early professional life as an industrialist. In 1955, plagued by migraines, he talked to a friend who suggested he try a Vipassana teacher. Raised Hindu, Goenka had reservations about a Buddhist practice, but the teacher assured him that Vipassana's moral code and practices were non-sectarian. The teacher also told him that the technique was for erasing something more profound than a medical malady - misery.
Goenka took the 10-day course and found it so helpful - he says he hasn't had a migraine since, though practitioners warn that Vipassana is no substitute for medical or psychological care - that he plunged into years of study. Moving to India, he became a meditation teacher himself. Since 1979, he and hundreds of assistant teachers have run Vipassana courses on four continents, including North America, where Crisman met him in 1980.
At the time, Crisman was buried in litigation work and ''dealing with my stress the same way that many lawyers deal with it: drinking too much and just kind of internalizing most of it.'' Prepping for a big trial in L.A., he took a colleague's suggestion to attend a Vipassana course. After it ended, he wept for 45 minutes. ''It was probably what I'd been looking for all my life.''
The practical, scientific approach appealed to him. Crisman's undergraduate degree had been in engineering, and he'd shed the Southern Baptist religion of his childhood in college and law school in part because he thought its moral instruction relied too much on blind faith in authority. ''It's what you're supposed to do - obey the Ten Commandments. But why do you do that?''
Vipassana showed him why: By observing the unpleasant physical sensations that accompany anger, fear, and the emotions related to wrongdoing, he realized that ''breaking those rules personally hurts you.''
Michael Stein, a financial planner in Springfield, has meditated since he tried Vipassana on a lark while in India. That was 30 years ago. When his marriage of two decades collapsed seven years ago, meditation kept him from drowning in grief. Stein, 53, is not Pollyannaish about his ordeal. ''The pain was there. It was no less painful for me than it was for everybody else.''
But meditating tranquilized any impulse to lash out with drinking or non-committal carousing, he says. ''I wasn't vengeful,'' even toward his ex-wife, in part because Vipassana stresses the impermanence of all feelings, that ''you're not going to be in pain forever.'' Like Crisman, he lets the discipline guide his business habits. ''A client wanted me to hide money in somebody else's name, so that his wife couldn't get it in a divorce settlement,'' he recalls. ''I would've made a decent commission.'' Stein refused.
Might he have been honest and moral without Goenka's teaching? ''Let's put it this way,'' he says decisively. ''I wasn't.''
This story ran on page B2 of the Boston
Globe on 5/11/2002.
Ven. Nanadassana is a Buddhist monk from Greece who has lived in Sri Lanka for the last 20 years. He resided in the Mitirigala Forest Hermitage for over 19 years. He has studied and practised meditation under the guidance of the late Most Venerable Matara Sri Nanarama Mahathera, the first Meditation Master at the Mitirigala Forest Hermitage. Ven. Nanadassana was well acquainted with Ven. Mitirigala Dhammanisanthi Thero (Asoka Weeraratna), the founder of the Mitirigala Forest Hermitage. He has studied the Tripitaka under Sinhala Theras and Mahatheras and has thus acquired a theoretical and practical knowledge of Buddhism. He is fluent in several languages (including Sinhala) and is the author of the book ‘Bhikkhu Patimoksha’ in German.
Colombo -- Dear Friends in the Dhamma. I must firstly thank the German Dharmaduta Society for inviting me to give this talk. It was several years ago that the Ambassador for Sri Lanka in Italy came once to Mitirigala Forest Hermitage, where I am staying and had a conversation with me. He used to travel in Europe and gave me a bit of information about Buddhism in those countries and the reasons why Europeans are turning to find solace in Buddhism. Once he spoke particularly about Germany, which lies in the heart of Europe. He told me something, which can be, I think, a brief and comprehensive reply to what people in Europe actually want and need from Buddhism. The German Buddhists have a motto, he said, which is their guiding principle. The motto is: "We don’t want religion. We want peace and this is what Buddhism gives us".
It is well known that the prevailing religion in Europe is Christianity. It is derived from Jesus Christ. His life and so forth as reported in the New Testament by the Evangelists are the basis of the Christian message and religion. In spite of the fact that Jesus Christ is depicted to have delivered the message of love to each other or love your neighbour, yet there are several passages in the New Testament contradicting this message of love and these should not be overlooked by anyone who wants to understand this European religion. One such passage is found in Mathew Book 10. Jesus Christ delivers his speech thus: "Think not that I came to send peace on earth. I came not to send peace but a sword". Other passages are found in Luke Book 12 and 14. Jesus Christ speaks thus: "I came to send fire on the earth", and again, "if any man comes to me and hates not his father and mother, and wife and children, brothers and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple". One may wonder if the language here is figurative or literal.
However, if one looks back at the structure of Christianity, it’s history reveals that it is literally not a peaceful history at all. It is full of hostilities, persecutions, martyrdom, violence, bloodshed, slaughters, wars waged to propagate or defend the new faith, crusades, forced conversions and baptisms, inquisitions and even terrible wars between Christians with Christians. According to modern historians, far more Christians have been killed in religious wars between them than through persecution by the Romans. The two world wars started in Europe. They are almost forgotten and today there are no political or religious wars, at least not in Central Europe. Yet the people today cry out "We do not want religion. We want peace, and this is what Buddhism gives us".
What is meant here is mental or spiritual peace. A peace which springs from a deep knowledge. A knowledge that comes from seeing directly the real nature of the inner and outer world. A knowledge that pacifies mental defilements and frees the mind from mental vexation. Thus what is required in Europe is a spiritual peace which gives a real knowledge of the world which Christianity cannot provide to its followers for it is unable to give them the guidance, advice, precepts, hints, answers and techniques which fulfil the deep demand of the human spirit and the spiritual dimension of man.
The first contact of any significance between Buddhists and Europe came about as a result of European colonialism. Although the Indian Emperor Asoka is known to have sent envoys to Greece in the third century BC, Buddhism could not take root there due to the prevailing unfavourable conditions. Later Islamic expansion throughout the near East erected a formidable barrier between Europe and India. By the beginning of the 19th Century, however, interest in Buddhist ideas was clearly beginning to emerge in Europe. Of course, a few independent thinkers had earlier recognised the rationality of Buddhist thought. The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer who lived in the 19th Century must be given pride of place.
To Schopenhauer, Buddhism was the best of all religions because it was preferable to Brahminism with its Caste system and even more preferable to Christianity with its fallacious ideas about God and its defective code of ethics, which has no moral consideration for animals, and sometimes not even for human beings. Schopenhauer’s knowledge of Buddhism was based on the rather incomplete and inaccurate source materials then available. Nevertheless, the affinity between his philosophy and Buddhism is in many ways striking and a close look at Schopenhauer’s teachings reveal it as a kind of incomplete Buddhism. Schopenhauer’s philosophy became popular during the later part of the 19th Century and his high regard for Buddhism has definitely contributed towards the interest in it not only as a subject of study but also as a way of thought and life with which one can identify. It was only during the later years of his life that systematic attempts were first made to arrange and translate the huge volumes of Buddhist scriptures.
Hermann Hesse, a German author and essayist, and Nobel Prize winner, once wrote about the pacifying essence of the Buddha’s discourses. He wrote "Whoever attentively reads a small number of the countless discourses of the Buddha is soon aware of harmony in them, a quietude of mind, a smiling transcendence, a totally unshakeable firmness, but also invariable kindness, endless patience. As ways and means to the attainment of this holy quietude and peace of mind, the Buddha’s discourses are full of advice, precepts, hints".
Thus, however dimly most people in all Buddhist countries may apprehend the doctrinal content of Buddhism, their conviction of its depth and wisdom is shared almost instinctively by intelligent men and women everywhere. No religion, other than Buddhism, has set a higher value on the states of spiritual insight and liberation, and none has set so methodically and with such a wealth of critical reflection the various paths and disciplines by which such wholesome states are reached as well as their ontological and psychological underpinnings that make those wholesome states so valuable and those paths so effective.
Strictly speaking, Buddhism aims at cleansing the mind of impurities, agitation and disturbances, such as lustful desires, hatred, hate, anger, ill-will, indolence, worries, restlessness and sceptical doubts, and at cultivating good qualities such as concentration, awareness, intelligence, will, energy, the analytical faculty, confidence, joy, friendliness, compassion, tranquillity and so forth, leading finally to the attainment of the highest wisdom that sees the nature of ‘mind and matter’ as they really came to be and realising the ultimate truth, peace, Nibbana. Thus peace can be found in one’s own purified mind.
Greed, hate, delusion and vulgar behaviour mainly caused by the mental defilements and passions, have existed in humanity before and during the Buddha’s time. All these exist also today in the same and even worse manner. For those who abhor any kind of base bodily, verbal and mental behaviour and wish to attain a state of moral and spiritual purity, the Buddha’s Teaching offers an excellent guidance. Moreover, it is a Teaching that is not restricted to any historical times, and the moment one puts it properly into practice one gets immediately good results. Therefore it is called ‘akalika’.
Educated Westerners can gradually acknowledge Buddhism to be not only a message of great sophistication but also one of exalted ideals. Perhaps the most striking evidence that Buddhism continues to be an inexhaustible source of inspiration is the fascination it now holds for the Western World.
To many in Europe and also America, Buddhism seems to be a spiritual movement well-suited to mankind’s future, being grounded in reason and therefore in harmony with the prevailing spirit of scientific empiricism. Offering a path to salvation from all suffering, Buddhism requires no blind faith and no belief in the supra-natural. Those who encounter its refined morality and profound wisdom can only regard the Buddhist tradition as one of the greatest achievements of Man. It is, therefore a reassuring thought that despite recent reversals of fortune, Buddhism would not merely survive but may possibly be on the brink of a new age of appreciative revaluation.
Many remarkable men have worked to spread Buddhism in the world. Out of those great Buddhist workers who deserve to be honoured today is the late Sinhalese monk, Ven. Mitirigala Dhammanisanthi Thero, well known also by his lay name as Mr. Asoka Weeraratna. Seeing the necessity to propagate Buddhism, especially in Germany, he succeeded with his heroic efforts, sacrificial labours, devotion and energy in establishing the German Dharmaduta Society and a Centre for Buddhist Missions in Berlin for the benefit of the German people. In his missionary enthusiasm to spread the Buddha’s message in the world, he directed his efforts not only to spread Buddhism abroad but also in his own mother country, Sri Lanka.
At a time when Buddhism had lost its most supportive and protective structure, namely meditation, he established in 1967, a Forest Hermitage not very far from Colombo to enable Buddhist Yogi Monks to meditate and contemplate in a suitable and peaceful environment. The Forest Hermitage was named Nissarana Vanaya where thirty fully equipped independent dwellings for yogis were constructed for meditation. He brought there the most respectful meditation teacher, the late Venerable Matara Sri Nanarama Maha Thera, widely recognised as one of Sri Lanka’s outstanding meditation masters of recent times, to be the guide and instructor. Apart from Sinhala Buddhist monks and laymen, many foreign monks and laymen alike got the opportunity to pursue here the practice of meditation with full dedication, unhindered by other tasks and duties. Some of them came from USA, some from Canada, England, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Portugal, Italy, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Greece, India, Singapore, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.
In August 1972, Mr. Asoka Weeraratna himself became a monk under the monastic name Ven. Dhammanisanthi. As a layman and afterwards as a monk he served the cause of Buddhism in these and many other ways abroad as well in his mother country, Sri Lanka. His name will be included in a historical book now in preparation by the Sri Kalyani Yogashrama Sansthawa, an association of forest monks in Sri Lanka. May he, by the vast accumulation of this merit attain Nibbana.
May also the noble objective of the German
Dharmaduta Society to propagate Buddhism in Europe be achieved in increasing
measure in the years to come, thus spreading peace and happiness in this
life itself among the good people in Germany and also in other countries
in Europe, and guiding them ultimately towards the attainment of the supreme
bliss of Nibbana.
Our function in life is observation, according to Sister Bodhipala. To observe how our minds react to the changing circumstances around us, and to respond accordingly, not reactively.
London -- The diminutive Cambodian-born nun has had 'great fun' over the past three months, during the annual Rainy Season Retreat, observing how her mind reacted as she did things which are not usually part of her daily routine (reading the newspaper, for example).
Sitting with her at Amaravati Buddhist Monastery in the English countryside, a month after the terrorist attacks on the US (for many years her home), her warning seemed pertinent. 'The receivers [of the attack] do not need to blame themselves-or anyone-but to try to work out what needs to be done now.' And she sees herself as part of this doing. As a nun, she helps create and run a refuge where anyone can come to gain peace and wisdom, to learn better how to live-first with themselves and then with others, as part of a community.
'Now' is another word that Bodhipala, as she calls herself, uses often. 'Right now, what the US needs is wisdom, not revenge.' There is no point in looking back, she says; we need to take care of the present, so that the future will be as good as it can be.
Bodhipala is absolutely with us for the time we are there. She has not prepared for our interview in the traditional sense (by making some notes on paper, perhaps), just as she no longer prepares before giving a speech. But, unlike most of us, she is totally present, and so her wisdom is unadulterated. If she made notes for a speech, she says, she would not be totally with her audience, but caught up in the notes instead.
Her training (three years as a novice, in white robes, followed by two years in brown, as above) has meant that she is able to trust her first thought about anything-her wisdom arrives instantaneously, not via hours of thought. If she goes over and over ideas in her mind, picking out the best option, they lose their purity, she says. This is another reason why she does not prepare for the speeches she is asked to give. Amaravati is inhabited by many young professionals (doctors, architects...) who have become enslaved by the type of intensely rational reasoning that Western society contantly promotes, and who are yearning for a more direct, more natural way of living.
Bodhipala believes that we need DIRECT EXPERIENCE before we gain wisdom. It is easy to talk about something, but how do you do it? One of those magical people whose age it is impossible to gauge by looking (she is a grandmother) she has had plenty of direct experience. Born to a Cambodian- French father and a Vietnamese mother, Renee (as she was then called) married in 1960. Fourteen years later, after a stint in the US, and after the birth of three children, her husband, Sothi, was appointed Deputy Prime Minister of Cambodia. Less than a year later, he was a prisoner of the Khmer Rouge and Renee had fled back to the US. She has not heard from him since, and must assume that he is dead.
Renee brought up their three children on her own, alongside obtaining a master's degree in statistics and computer science, earning an income as an economic forecaster, helping other Southeast Asian refugees to settle in the US, and working for freedom and democracy in Vietnam. Finally, she became fed up. She yearned to help people, but didn't have the money that society required or the will to corrupt the government to achieve what she wanted. She compares her mind at the end of this time to a computer with too many bytes in its memory-it becomes slow and inefficient. Space is required before it can operate properly again. We need to engage in 'space management'!
In particular, her hatred of the Khmer Rouge was using up precious space in her mind. She 'determined' (another favourite word) to forgive them for what they had done to her family and to her country, and to ask their forgiveness for her thoughts. This decision did not come easily. During sleepless nights, Renee wrote, 'Khmer Rouge, I forgive you', on bits of paper, then screwed them up and threw them away. But, finally, it became clear to her that she was ready. When she spoke to Khmer Rouge members and forgave them-ten years after her husband had disappeared-she felt 'so calm, so light, like an angel came and picked me up'. Her heart was free from its heavy burden, and her mind able to think again. Now, whenever there is a conflict within herself, Bodhipala knows that she must face it right away, to let the prisoner (the hatred inside herself) out, and to escape the suffering it provokes.
In the monastery, Bodhipala values every moment of her time. She feels her life here is too precious to spend reading books about politics, for example, even though she was once an energetic political activist. Meditation enables us to transcend the emotions that clog our minds on a daily basis, she says. Through the practice (sometimes she will sit for hours at a time) she creates space that has enabled her to love her children more than ever. They are not constantly in her mind as they perhaps once were, but when she decides to bring them in, or to go to see them, she is totally with them. Through meditation and getting to know herself, she has come to know other people better, to really know that they are human too. She has greater compassion-not only for her own children, but for all of humanity. It is rare that people have the opportunity to live the kind of life she is living, at Amaravati, and she feels it is the best thing she can offer society now.
Often, she is asked what would happen if her husband were not in fact dead- if he came looking for her and found her in a monastery (where she is required to remain celibate). Bodhipala cannot answer this question, she says, because it is not the way things are now. But, if it happened, she would then know what to do.
During her recent retreat, she spent time contemplating a corpse, to help rid her of the fear of death. After 11 days of viewing and contemplating the degenerating body, her initial horror disappeared: 'This will be me'. Beneath our outer coverings, we are all skeletons, and when we realise this, we suffer less. 'Learn how to die', she says, for though life is uncertain, death is certain for us all. She takes refuge in this-and in the thought that through her life she is harming no one-rather than in the worldly refuges that so many of us are tempted to seek. Bodhipala has become disillusioned by politicians and others who lose the ability to satisfy themselves and so try to fill the gap in other ways-power, money.
Clearly, she is a determined person; clearly also, she gains greater determination through her faith. It doesn't matter what religion, she says, but to have faith is the most important thing. One of the most effective ways of reaching people is by caring for them, through our prayer and thoughts. 'Our caring travels through the air, to reach others.' However, prayers must come from your heart, to be effective; they are useless if they are coming from your head. She feels it is her ability to pray for others, from her heart, that makes her life in the monastery most effective in changing society.
For herself, she uses her own determinations as 'police'-without them, she would suffer greatly. They may be big (a determination not to criticise others) or small (not to drink coffee!) but they keep her healthy in mind and body. She sees herself as a constant host: 'The best home is the home within. Always go back to your home.' Guests come and go, but if we can remain hosts, we can enjoy the security of being ever present within ourselves.
Her message to us, above all? In this throwaway society, where we want results instantaneously, be patient. And practise the skill of observation.
Interview: Nicci Long
Colombo -- It is generally known that most prisons throughout the world are fast becoming training grounds for first offenders of petty crimes to graduate into fully-fledged criminals under the guidance of seasoned criminals. This defeats the very purpose of rehabilitation, one of the main objectives of incarceration. In addition the sub-human living conditions under which inmates have to live in most jails and the easy access to drugs and other vices further deters the achievement of this desired objective.
The imprisonment of criminals is said to serve many purposes according to Zimring. Some of these may be to physically isolate offenders, to assist in the correction of inmates, to reform and rehabilitate the offenders, to let retribution visit the offending persons and to deter potential offenders from committing crimes. This article will examine as to how Vipassana has helped to achieve some of these objectives.
It is generally known that most prisons throughout the world are fast becoming training grounds for first offenders of petty crimes to graduate into fully-fledged criminals under the guidance of seasoned criminals. This defeats the very purpose of rehabilitation, one of the main objectives of incarceration. In addition the sub-human living conditions under which inmates have to live in most jails and the easy access to drugs and other vices further deters the achievement of this desired objective.
These negative effects of incarceration are well known the world over and it has resulted in a growing concern over such trends worldwide. Many sociologists have shown that reformation and rehabilitation should in a civilized society be the prime aim of imprisonment. It is even said, "the level of a society’s civilization can be judged by the state of its prisons". Various jails in the West, especially in the USA have now introduced a number of correctional programs like vocational training in different trades, interview therapy, counselling and behaviour modification techniques and academic studies. But Greenberg who has studied these programs held under different conditions has concluded that they may serve other purposes, but the prevention of return to a life of crime after release. So the assertion that could be made is that such methods do not bring very much by way of positive results. Thus evidence of this kind has many to consider that reform programs are ineffective. Other techniques such as chemical pacification are being hotly contested. Recidivism, however, should not be the sole criterion of evaluating the effectiveness of a correctional system. Greenberg’s study, nevertheless, points to the need for a fresh look at this important issue. Vipassana meditation should, therefore, be seriously examined as technique for corrections of prisoners, particularly in view of its well-established efficacy in purifying the mind of its deep-rooted defilements and bringing the mind under control.
Vipassana in jails
Vipassana or experiencing within one’s self has helped many thousands of prisoners suffering inside the prisons. Many prisons in India are now organising Vipassana courses for their inmates as a step in the direction of reformation. Prisons in other countries like UK and USA have also started introducing Vipassana in their own jails. Many prison officials in India on the other hand have started to realise that spreading Vipassana in the society will help prevent crime. Prevention is no doubt better than cure.
The first course in Vipassana conducted in a prison in India was held in 1975. S. N. Goenka conducted the course. It was in the central jail of Rajasthan. This course was said to have been an unqualified success. In 1976 a course was held at the Police Academy at Jaipur for the police officials. At this course officers of the rank of Deputy Inspector-General of Police to the ordinary Constable sat together in meditation. In 1977 a second course was conducted in the Jaipur Central Jail. These were very successful courses. In 1990 another course was arranged in the same jail. In 1991 a course was conducted in the Gujarat Jail. Then came the course in the Central Jail in Baroda. These were all difficult tasks. The most difficult of all was the course conducted in Tihar Jail in the capital city of India, New Delhi.
Vipassana came to Tihar in 1993. Bringing Vipassana to Tihar Jail was a difficult task. But this was possible due to the untiring efforts and the commitment of the Inspector-General of Prisons, Kiran Bedi. This was followed by four other courses in 1994. The crowning moment for Vipassana in Indian Jails came when a course was conducted in Tihar for 1004 male prisoners and 49 female prisoners simultaneously in one single course in April 1994. This was possibly the largest ever Vipassana course held anywhere in the world. The participants were from various categories of prisoners involved in major crimes, including terrorist activities. They were from different backgrounds, religious groups and even from foreign countries. At the end of this course a permanent Vipassana centre was inaugurated under the aegis of the prison authorities with the blessings of the government of India. These courses have now produced many jail officials who have learnt Vipassana. Following the success at Tihar the Ministry of Home Affairs of Government of India have now opted to introduce Vipassana as a reform measure in all prisons in India. This is a very significant move. Success of Vipassana at Tihar heralds a new era of reform and rehabilitation for those who follow a life of crime. It provides an effective way of emancipation not only from a life of crime but from all suffering and misery as well.
The immediate effect of the Vipassana camps in Baroda Central Jail was reduction of offences inside the jail. The inmates observed prison rules voluntarily. Discipline inside the jail improved and conflicts with prison staff minimised. This resulted in better co-operation between the inmates and the prison staff thus bringing about a peaceful atmosphere inside the jail free from tension. Law and order situation inside the jail consequently did no longer pose a problem.
The attitude of the prisoners towards work entrusted to them changed noticeably in that they now worked conscientiously. Another beneficial effect of Vipassana was that it helped them to get rid of their addiction to smoking, drugs and other intoxicants. It also taught how to control their emotions and feelings and also to develop an attitude of positive thinking. Communal harmony was strengthened helping the inmates of different castes and creeds to live together peacefully respecting each other’s rights. They also responded positively to various reform activities by giving expression to their feelings through art and other forms of literary activities. In short the inmates have developed a purpose in life. This is the spiritual reward of Vipassana meditation.
A research study was conducted on the first Vipassana meditation camp in Tihar Jail. The main objective of the study was to assess the beneficial effects of Vipassana on the inmates quantitatively. The research was conducted by getting the inmates to answer a carefully prepared questionnaire before and after the camp. According to the study 42% had indicated that Vipassana had given them a new direction in their lives. About 90% said that they would practice Vipassana regularly. More than 90% felt it very inspiring to see prison staff and officials meditating along with them and that it increased their fraternal feelings. 48% of them conceded that they had committed a crime. This is significant since only 24% had admitted to committing a crime before the camp. It was also significant that many who had carried feelings of hatred and revenge had decided to give up their plans, which they had meticulously prepared before the camp to be carried out on their release. 78% of those who smoked or chewed tobacco had expressed that the feeling was extinct after the camp. Many others reported an improvement of their general health and release of tension. On the other hand, of the prison staff that participated, 66% felt that it would improve the environment in the jail. About 40% reported that they were able to overcome their urge for drinking and smoking.
It is, however, obvious that any scientific investigation will have the limitation that it tests only that which can be operationalised objectively and measured experimentally. It often ignores the unique characteristics of each individual, and the finer aspects of the change process. However, the initial results of this study have been found to be highly satisfactory and needs to be followed up with further research.
In another experiment carried out also in the Tihar Jail the study revealed that most of the prisoners who participated in the experiment said that they had better control of their anger. In others anger occurred less frequently. Most of them also felt that they had gained some mental peace and suffered less from stress. All of them said that their benevolence and compassion towards others - staff and co-inmates increased. Many prisoners gave up smoking and others cut down on the habit drastically. Most of them reported an improvement of health. The study reported fourteen major points of improvements in the prisoners.
Thus, Vipassana has been very useful in reforming the inmates in the prisons in India. It has helped the authorities to successfully transform some of them into good citizens. Further, it has been successful as a tool in the reform process as it helps to achieve the ultimate aims and objectives of imprisonment that have been set by the government. It has also given purposefulness to the lives of many prisoners and rendered the various steps and activities undertaken for the welfare of the inmates more effective and successful.
[Author is a retired Senior Deputy Inspector-General
of Police and is presently one of the Commissioners of the Commission
to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption. He is also a visiting
lecturer at the University of Sri Jayawardenapura]
St Paul, Minneapolis -- Miriam Cameron's Karma and Happiness is many things. It is a memoir of her own efforts to live a good life. It is a primer on ethics and spiritual concepts such as mindfulness, impermanence, and compassion. It is an introduction to the situation of Tibet, and it is a travelogue of a demanding journey to Tibet. And by the end of the book, Cameron has succeeded in making the case that while East is East and West is West, the twain can and should meet, speak, and share what each has to offer for the betterment of the entire world.
Cameron, a bioethicist at that the University of Minnesota Center for Spirituality and Healing, began life as a Lutheran pastor's daughter. The practicalities of her professional life eventually made it apparent to her that she needed additional sources of wisdom: "Once I became a registered nurse, I worked with dying children who belonged to a variety of wisdom traditions. It was then that ethical problems bombarded me. . . . Doing what Jesus would do and following the Ten Commandments no longer gave me enough guidance to resolve complicated ethical conflicts. Christianity, my first wisdom tradition, was no longer sufficient for me."
Further exploration led Cameron to convert to Judaism and to study yoga. Participation in twelve-step programs and formal study of philosophy and ethics added to her store of wisdom sources. Exposure to Buddhism, particularly as practiced in Tibet, became the next major source during a trip to China. This led to detailed studies, back home in Minneapolis, of Buddhism and of Tibet's political situation, and then to an extended trip to the "roof of the world" itself.
As travelogue, Karma and Happiness is good enough to be occasionally exhausting. It is almost as if we are along for the ride -- in outdated and probably unsafe vehicles on insufficient roads, at high altitudes where the effects of thin oxygen can be painful and potentially life-threatening, in hotels that lack even the comforts of a cheap American motel, in a society in which spies mingle and swoop in on citizens and foreigners who discuss the Tibetan situation among themselves. On a particularly treacherous bus ride, Cameron distracts herself from her fear by thinking about "the Buddhist perspective on the preciousness of human life."
While I was trying to distract myself with Buddhist philosophy, the slippery, steep climb became more arduous as the road snaked round and round, higher and higher. Suddenly, the road disappeared. Ngawang [the driver] slammed on the brakes and the bus slid to a halt --ten feet short of a sixty-foot drop. Despite close calls, illness, and discord among the members of their traveling party, Cameron and her husband and companions manage to take in the sights and much more. They see firsthand some of the mistreatment of the Tibetan people. Visiting a nunnery, they learn that all but two of the nuns are absent because they are attending a "mandatory meeting called by the Chinese government."
Their guide, Karma, explains, "The purpose is to straighten them out about their proper role in liberated Tibet, to reeducate them about His Holiness' [the Dalai Lama] abuses of human rights. Basically, the Chinese are informing the nuns about the consequences of their actions if they engage in protests against the government." Despite such oppression, one of the nuns shows the visitors a tiny altar in her room, complete with a faded, forbidden photo of the Dalai Lama hidden in a crevice.
Throughout her journey, Cameron outlines some of the ethical dilemmas she is trying to work out by drawing upon the many sources of wisdom she has engaged throughout her life. Is she obligated to help Tibetans and if so, how? Can she be true to the Tibetan cause while being on good terms with people in China? Solving these dilemmas cannot take place apart from compassion, the central discipline of Tibetan Buddhism, and Cameron spends a chapter giving a comprehensive summary of the teaching of the Dalai Lama during a three-day seminar:
The Dalai Lama called for individual, scholarly, and political attention to the discipline of compassion. "We need to cultivate not only the rational mind, but also the human spirit. Western educational systems are not paying enough regard to development of the heart, compared with the brain." This comment drew a strong round of applause. "Compassion should be taught to children, because this concept is difficult for adults to understand. If families and teachers are role models, children will grow up understanding compassion. This is the proper way to transform society."
When all is said and done, Cameron comes away from her odyssey with a strong sense of the suffering that results when one group "forcibly imposes its values on another group," and calls for us to not merely tolerate, but celebrate each other's values. "Diverse wisdom traditions have not only added richness to my philosophy of life, but also helped me to deal with life's inevitable difficulties." Wisdom traditions, she points out, "can be compared with world cuisines, which vary in sight, smell, texture, nutrition, and taste. Tibetan momos, Jewish matzo balls, Chinese wontons, and Italian gnocchi are all dumplings, but each has different characteristics. . . . Life would be boring if all food -- and wisdom traditions -- were the same."
Karma and Happiness has many values. While it is not as comprehensive an introduction to the situation of Tibet as John Avedon's In Exile from the Land of the Snows (which is unfortunately out of print), Cameron covers the ground of recent Tibetan history well enough to easily bring the reader up to speed. As an example of the value and even necessity of intelligent syncretism if a pluralistic world is to have any chance of being a peaceful world, the book is unlike any other I have read. And Cameron's chapter on the Dalai Lama's teaching on compassion is in itself practically worth the price of admission. The discipline of compassion transcends theologies and doctrines and dogmas, and apologists within any tradition could benefit by exposure to this teaching.
I purchased my copy of Karma and Happiness while attending a benefit concert in Minneapolis for the Gyuto Monks, who are raising money to finance a Tibetan spirituality center in the Twin Cities. The monks sincerely promised the audience (in this post-9/11 world) that the money raised would be used for no other purpose than to spread compassion. Karma and Happiness gives a taste of the Tibetan ideal of compassion, in theory and in practice, leaving the distinct impression that the health of the individual and the world will be much improved by attention to this challenging and powerful discipline.
Back in the courtyard, I noticed a tiny, elderly nun wearing a maroon robe, sweater, and hat, with prayer beads around her left wrist. I smiled at her, and she walked over to me. She radiated such compassion that I felt chastened, cared for, and exhilarated all at the same time. My attachments, resentments, fears, delusions, and sadness melted away to reveal my buddha nature. No longer did I need to defend my ego, for I didn't have an ego. Feelings of goodwill rolled over me. I could afford to forgive myself, my family, and everyone else; I was connected with all sentient beings everywhere. It all seemed so simple, this interconnectedness of life. We were all blessed -- even oppressive, autocratic government officials. I felt grateful and joyful.
Instead of being weakened by suffering, this little nun stood tall and strong like a mountain. Realizing that my life had been too self-indulgent and unfocused, I wanted to shout out that, from now on, I would use each day well and grow into a mountain, like her. But words would ruin "my intuitive grasp of first principles," as Aristotle might have said.
As I stood silently in the nun's healing presence, I relaxed deeply and my thoughts slowed. My mind became still. I felt serene.
Karma spoke to the nun. "She's seventy-two years old," he said to me. "She became a nun at the age of twelve. When the Chinese took over, her life was in danger, so she left the nunnery and went to live with her family. She returned here as soon as it was safe again, and she has lived here ever since"
"Please tell her I can feel her faith, her serenity, and her strength," I said in a husky voice, wanting to fall at her feet. "Let her know how deeply moved I feel by her. And thank her."
I reached out to shake her hand. She pressed it between both her hands. I bowed to her, and she bowed to me. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I was sure that if I could just stay in her presence for a while, I'd figure out why I was crying, and my remaining sadness would wash away.
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Baltimore woman finds the path to inner peace in conversion to Buddhism.
Baltimore -- "In 1995, I was 41 years old and I thought I was living the way I wanted - no children, never married. I wondered, 'Why wasn't I happy?'
"Then a young, very sincere, dedicated teacher of Buddhism came to Hampden in Baltimore City. It was quite amazing, and I was very inspired. What inspired me was his integrity, the way that he had actualized Buddhist teaching into his own behavior. I fell in love with Buddhist teachings.
"I had been raised a Catholic and attended parochial school. Although we didn't go to church every Sunday, we held certain values. I realize now that at this time, when I wasn't spiritually oriented, I was not a happy person."
The speaker, Kelsang Osel, with her salt-and-pepper hair cropped short and dressed in the maroon and yellow robes of a Buddhist nun, shared her spiritual journey Wednesday at Building Bridges, a monthly gathering of clergy sponsored by Columbia Cooperative Ministry.
"The idea is to call congregations to come together and to talk to one another. The object is to know and to trust one another," said George Martin, facilitator of the Columbia event. "Building Bridges started when some pastors wanted to look at the reactions to the church burnings of 1994. And we began building bridges between the congregations."
Each Building Bridges meeting begins with participants giving a miniature version of their spiritual journey, including a brief introduction and details about their personal lives and their congregations.
Introductions include work ranging from a church's ministry, help at funerals - "Resurrection Ministry" - and the pastoral care at Howard County General Hospital to working with immigrants and prisoners.
Then the speaker explains his or her spiritual journey. "In the more than five years we have been meeting, about 40 different clergy have told their spiritual stories," Martin said.
Osel said her attraction to Buddhism "stems from teachings that I find personally compelling. I have also learned to appreciate Christianity - the ethics are much the same. Jesus' example is remarkable and inspiring for Buddhists."
She added: "The Buddhist path is where one seeks to improve inner peacefulness through prayer and meditation. Without inner peace, world peace is not possible. In the Mahayana branch of Buddhism, we seek enlightenment because we want to help others. As an enlightened being, one is in the most effective position to help people."
According to Osel, Shakyamuni Buddha - the founder of Buddhism - lived 2,500 years ago and gave 84,000 teachings in different levels of difficulty. Osel practices and teaches Kadampa Buddhism, a branch in the Mahayana tradition.
According to tradition, Siddhartha Gautama, the son of a Nepalese rajah, was given the title Shakyamuni Buddha ("the awakened"). Gautama left a life of luxury at age 30 and devoted himself to years of contemplation and self-denial, finally reaching enlightenment while sitting beneath a tree. He spent his life teaching disciples about his beliefs (embodied in the Four Noble Truths) and the goal of achieving the enlightened state of nirvana.
At the Building Bridges meeting, questions on Osel's spiritual journey involved popular Western perceptions of Buddhist beliefs, such as the Buddhist lack of a deity.
"We believe there are many enlightened beings," Osel explained. "Buddha and Jesus were enlightened beings. The Buddhist concept of enlightened beings is that they are omniscient, but not omnipotent. We do not believe in a sole creator of the universe."
She said another popular misconception is that Buddhism denies the reality of suffering.
"Life is suffering in various degrees and kinds," Osel said.
"Things we typically think of as happiness are actually things that will ultimately give rise to pain. Happiness comes from developing inner peace, love and forgetting ourselves to care for others. This can bring one to full enlightenment."
This month, she sold her townhouse in Baltimore and moved to the Kadampa Buddhist Center in Baltimore's Charles Village, which is the site of daily, weekly and monthly devotions, group prayer, meditations and discussions.
"We are small," Osel said. "But we respond to requests for classes."
Osel was ordained a Buddhist nun five
years ago. "From a Buddhist perspective, I am an aspiring Buddhist,"
she said. "I will be a genuine Buddhist when I have developed my
meditation to the point that I have a 'spontaneous realization' to free
all living beings from suffering. My journey is just beginning."
Bangkok -- Since the target audience for TV talk show This is Life is people who usually do not take any interest in Buddhist teaching, Chorpaka Wiriyanon believes she is the perfect person for the job of programme host.
''Look at me,'' she said, gesturing towards her knee-length black skirt, tightly fitting top and skilfully applied, multi-hued make-up. ``I don't look at all like someone who would venture anywhere near a temple now, do I?
''When I sit there as the outward face of the programme, the message we're sending is that if this woman [points at herself] who doesn't look like a spiritual sort of person, can understand and talk about dhamma, then you, too, can do it.''
Dhamma has to do with understanding, with the brain, she emphasised; it has got nothing to do with physical appearance, the way one dresses, nor with following certain codes of behaviour.
''Many people think that people who are into dhamma have to follow some fixed patterns ... such as speaking softly, or not laughing too much,'' said Chorpaka..
''I'd like to show viewers that you don't have to change yourself or your personality. You can study dhamma or practise dhamma and be fashionable at the same time.''
For many people, Chorpaka seems an unlikely person to host This is Life. She is usually thought of as a dashing personality from the glittering world of entertainment. The fact that she used to emcee a prime-time variety show on TV called Dao Larn Duang, a programme which regularly featured extravagant, Las Vegas-style performances by celebrities, has strengthened this public perception of her character.
All of us have many faces, Chorpaka insisted. ``I might strike some people as a light-headed, happy-go-lucky sort of person. But there's a serious side to my personality. I'm perfectly capable of handling weighty matters.''
But how has someone like her, who hardly ever ventures into a temple, becomes so deeply involved in the contemplative realm of dhamma?
It was never her intention to do so, Chorpaka said. But a friend of hers wanted to go to a meditation session at Sathira Dhammastan, a nunnery and Buddhist retreat centre run by Mae Chee Sansanee, and asked her to go along too.
''My friend suffers from SLE [lupus; an ulcerous skin disease],'' she said. ``Hers is a classic case of the relationship between the mind and body.''
Chorpaka was anxious about her friend's health. Every time her friend was stressed out, she would have a persistent nosebleed. And they had decided to see if practising anapanasati, a form of breathing meditation, would relieve the situation.
Not only did the sessions help her friend, they also supplied Chorpaka with answers for questions she didn't even realise she had had.
''I came to understand that dhamma is not meant only for monks; it's a medicine for everybody. It has resolved every doubt I've ever had.''
Practising anapanasati, she said, has helped her release the pent-up stress that accumulates from working in the cut-throat, competitive world of TV. ``What I do is fight with people every day. For several years, I suffered from migraines. My head ached so badly that sometimes I'd throw up. After I came to understand how dhamma works, I noticed that my symptoms were occurring less and less often.
''And I want to emphasise here that a person who studies
dhamma and practises dhamma can still enjoy life. Everything is so much
more enjoyable when you know how to think. You have something to guide
you in your life ... something to tell you what to do at what time, and
how to do it.''
The way to a happy life
Cheer up for life is short and soon we’ll all be dead.
Kuala Lumpur -- With these words, Buddhist monk Ven Visuddhacara, a former journalist, takes it in his stride to lead a happy life and at the same time also teaches others along the way.
ENLIGHTENING...Ven Visuddhacara addressing the gathering
in Bukit Mertajam recently. “I admit it is a morbid way of putting
things. But it is quite useful to cheer oneself up,” he said during
his talk on How to Lead a Happy Life at the Vaidurya Buddhist Lodge, Bukit
In an about turn after living a hedonistic lifestyle, he took up meditation to realise that contentment with oneself was the answer to happiness.
“Meditation helped me to lessen my cravings and to be more contented with myself,’’ he said.
He asked the audience to define what happiness meant. Two replied that it was when one possessed the basic necessities which were food, shelter and health.
“Happiness is actually a state of mind. Without contentment, you are still hungry even if you have a mansion or all the material wealth in the world.
“In a way, all of us are addicted to sensual pleasures. We crave seeing beautiful sights, hearing pleasant sounds, eating delicious food and having sex.
“You may be satisfied temporarily but like an addict you have to chase after them constantly,’’ he said.
And what’s the cure for that addiction? His answer was simple – learn to let go.
“Easier said than done. But through wise reflection, we could begin to understand.
“Happiness, like everything in life, is impermanent. It arises and then passes away. And suffering is part of life. It’s an existential problem.
“Happiness that is dependent on an object or a person is very vulnerable. When you lose them, that is the end of your happiness.
“When we understand that, we will learn to let go, knowing that attachments will only bring suffering,’’ he said.
Buddha, who had eradicated all desires, was once asked if he was happy, and his answer, despite not having any possessions except the robes he was wearing, was the affirmative, he said.
Ven Visuddhacara also gave some pointers on how to extricate oneself when one was upset or miserable.
“First, acknowledge it. Secondly, know the reasons behind your state of mind. Thirdly, realise that it is your attachment or craving for a person or object or an expectation that is the root of it. Finally, learn to let go.
“Be optimistic. Have confidence that when one door closes, others will open. Cultivate love, kindness and wisdom,’’ he said.
Ven Visuddhacara is an author and a meditation teacher.
He conducts meditation retreats in Malaysia, Australia, Hong Kong, Italy
and the Czech Republic. His next talk will be on Living Skills and on
the topic of death. For details, call the temple at 04-5385142.
Spirituality can heal, doctor
Conferencegoers say prayer helps drop stress levels
Deseret, Utah -- While spirituality doesn't replace medicine and medical procedures, it seems to play a powerful role in health — particularly aspects that are related to stress and coping. "There's a profound mind/body effect," Dr. Herbert Benson told a large audience at the "Spirituality and Healing in Medicine" symposium by the Harvard Medical School Thursday morning at Grand America Hotel.
The three-day conference brings doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers, clergy and others together to examine that mind/body connection. "We're not talking about complementary or integrated medicine. It's scientific data, based on evidence."
Benson, a cardiologist and president of The Mind/Body Medical Institute in Boston, became interested in it when he was studying why patients seem to have high blood pressure in disproportionate numbers, a phenomenon now called "white coat blood pressure" because people get nervous when going to the doctor. His research eventually lead him to study transcendental meditation's effect on blood pressure.
Researchers found both breathing rate and blood pressure drop during meditation, along with stress levels, which he calls a "relaxation response." Conversely, blood pressure, anxiety and depression, anger and even pain levels increase for people who don't feel well or who have been given a frightening diagnosis. He wondered if spirituality, in the form of meditation or prayer, could be the only way to battle that. Study results have been measurable, reproducible and predictable, the hallmarks of science, he said.
It's a concept so thoroughly proven that medical schools are teaching courses in spirituality's role in getting well, said Dr. Christina Puchalski, director of the George Washington University Institute for Spirituality and Health. A focus that had shifted to physical care almost exclusively with the advent of medical advances is now slowly moving back to whole-person care, but it's a challenge with the limitations imposed on a modern medical practice.
Not only do spirituality courses offer health-care providers the chance to see medicine as a form of compassionate service, but the reality is that people who are spiritual want — and even demand — that as part of their treatment. And spirituality may affect a patient's decision about treatment. Studies show people who see God as a partner in their illness tend to cope with it better, while those who see illness as a God-given punishment for something are more depressed and sometimes angry.
A Burlington, Vt., hospice study found that people who were very ill but spiritual had increased life satisfaction, happiness and less physical pain than those who were not. In fact, prayer is the most commonly used nondrug for pain management.
Spirituality, which Benson defined as belief in the presence of a power, force or energy — "God, if you will" — within them, can "effectively treat any condition to the extent it's caused or made worse by stress," Benson said. He added that agnostics benefit from repetition of a mantra, phrase, prayer, etc., too. That doesn't negate the need for medicines or surgical and other treatment procedures, he said.
When broken ribs punctured his lung, he didn't need prayer
as much as he needed someone to drain the blood running into his chest,
threatening to collapse the other lung and kill him. But there's no question,
he said, that spirituality "is related to health and well-being and
is related to forces and powers beyond us."
BNN Web Posted 04/07/2004
New York -- Believers from every tradition and around the world have reported similar sensations of religious experience - a feeling of completeness, absence of self, or oneness with the universe, feelings of peace, freedom from fear, ecstatic joy, visions of a Supreme Being.
With the aid of new technology that allows them to watch the brain in action, a group of scientists - sometimes described as "neurotheologists" - have tried to explain how such experiences occur and perhaps even why.
"There are certain [brain] patterns that can be generated experimentally that will generate the sense, presence and the feeling of God-like experiences," says professor of Neuroscience Michael Persinger of Ontario's Laurentia University. "The patterns we use are complex but they imitate what the brain does normally."
Persinger originally set out to explore the nature of creativity and sense of self. But his research into patterns of brain activity led him to delve into the nature of mystical experiences as well.
To do this Persinger puts his subjects in a quiet room, depriving them of light and sound, so that the nerve cells typically involved in seeing and hearing are not stimulated. Then he applies a magnetic field pattern over the right hemisphere of the brain.
Persinger was asked if his work leads him to conclude that "God," or the experience of God, is solely the creation of brain-wave activity.
"My point of view is, 'Let's measure it.' Let's keep an open mind and realize maybe there is no God; maybe there might be," says Persinger. "We're not going to answer it by arguments — we're going to answer it by measurement and understanding the areas of the brain that generate the experience and the patterns that experimentally produce it in the laboratory."
Mind, Body and Belief
To others who have thought deeply about religion, that is a conclusion that far outstrips the evidence — a scientific leap of faith, if you will.
"They have isolated one small aspect of religious experience and they are identifying that with the whole of religion," says John Haught, professor of theology at Georgetown University.
Religion "is not all meditative bliss. It also involves moments when you feel abandoned by God," says Haught. "It involves commitments and suffering and struggle.… Religion is visiting widows and orphans; it is symbolism and myth and story and much richer things."
Persinger says he is less concerned with trying to prove or disprove the existence of God than with understanding and documenting the experience. However, in his view, "if we have to draw conclusions now, based upon the data, the answer would be more on the fact that there is no deity."
He is clear about an underlying motivation of his work — a fear that unscrupulous people might use techniques to provoke a spiritual experience to control people.
But Persinger also acknowledges a more positive possibility: "If you look at the spontaneous cases of people who have God experiences and conversions, their health improves," he says. "So if we can understand the patterns of activity that generate this experience, we may also be able to understand how to have the brain — and hence the body — cure itself."
What Prayer Does
That search for the mind-body connection also motivates the work of other researchers, such as Professor Andrew Newberg at the University of Pennsylvania.
"Whether there is a God or not in some senses isn't as relevant to the kind of research we're doing so much as understanding why those feelings and experiences are important to us as human beings," he says.
Newberg observed the brains of Tibetan Buddhists and Franciscan nuns as they engaged in deep prayer and mediation by injecting radioactive dye, or "tracer" as the subject entered a deep meditative state, then photographing the results with a high tech imaging camera. He found that "when people meditate they have significantly increased activity in the frontal area — the attention area of the brain — and decreased activity in that orientation part of the brain."
Many of these changes occur whether people are praying (focusing on oneness with a deity) or meditating (focusing on oneness with the universe). But there are differences, in that prayer activates the "language center" in the brain, while the "visual center" is engaged by meditation.
Either way, Newberg finds that the sense of "unity," or "oneness" experienced by his subjects is a real, biological event. And he acknowledges the limits of his own work: He currently lacks a means to measure the neurological events associated with other religious practices — such as caring for the poor or ecstatic worship.
"Our work really points to the fact that these are very complex kinds of feelings and experiences that affect us on many different levels," says Newberg. "There is no one simple way of looking at these kinds of questions."
Science and the Afterlife
Across the country, at the University of Arizona, professor of Neurology and Psychiatry Gary Schwartz would probably say: "Amen" to that.
Perhaps the most controversial of the group of researchers dedicated to studying the "God spot" in the brain, Schwartz explores the question of whether consciousness survives death with the help of mediums (people who demonstrate unusual accuracy in describing intimate attributes of the dead to those who knew them well).
His experiments compare the brain waves and heart rates of both the medium and the person for whom he or she is trying to contact the dead.
"One of the fundamental questions is, 'How does a medium receive this kind of information?'" he explains. "To what extent are they using specific regions of the brain which are purportedly associated with other kinds of mystical or religious experiences?"
Schwartz says his research "is actually a window or a doorway, if you will, to a much larger spiritual reality which integrates ancient wisdom with contemporary science."
He concludes that the human brain is wired to receive signals from what he calls a "Grand Organizing Design," or G.O.D.
"Survival of conscience tells us that consciousness does not require a brain, that our memories, our intentions, our intelligence, our dreams? all of that can exist outside of the physical body," says Schwartz. "Now, by the way, that's the same idea that we have about God — that something that is "invisible," that is "bigger than all of us," which we cannot see, can have intellect, creativity, intention, memory and can influence the universe."
The Quest for Larger Things
Like the other researchers interviewed for Nightline , Schwartz suggests that his work has taken him on a personal spiritual journey, requiring him to ask himself hard questions about science, faith, and reason. And Schwartz says that rather than diminishing faith, inquiries like his should enlarge the world's understanding of it.
On that point, he and theologian John Haught agree.
"Faith is the sense of being grasped by this higher dimension, or more comprehensive, or deeper reality," says Haught. "If we could come up with clear proof or an absolutely mathematically lucid proof or verification of deity, then that would not be deity — it would be something smaller than us.…"
— Nightline producer Joe O'Connor contributed to
BNN Web Posted 04/07/2004
Implications on meditation: Science finding hallucinations may be reflection of brain pathways
Chicago -- Near-death experiences, in which people believe they see the bright light of heaven at the end of a tunnel, may be nothing more than the brain cells that process vision lighting up in such a way so as to reveal the circular pattern of how they are wired together.
New research also indicates that prehistoric cave and rock art depicting spirals, zigzags and other geometric forms may have been done by artists experiencing the same kind of drug-induced hallucinations that people today have when they take LSD, mescaline, Ecstasy and other psychedelic compounds.
A visual hallucination is defined as seeing something that's not there. They are relatively common, and almost all cultures from prehistoric times on have used drugs to induce hallucinations for religious, healing and artistic purposes.
But science now suggests that near-death images and other hallucinations involving geometric patterns are really there-- on the inside of the brain.
Inducing creative mood
People like Arthur Conan Doyle, Aldous Huxley, Cary Grant, Allen Ginsberg, Tallulah Bankhead, the Beatles, Charles Dickens, Timothy Leary and Salvador Dali, who used hallucinogens in the hopes of inducing a creative mood, were actually lighting up their brain wiring.
"[It] surged upon me an uninterrupted stream of fantastic [kaleidoscopic-like] images of extraordinary plasticity and vividness," is how Albert Hoffman, the brilliant Swiss chemist, described his first experience with LSD, a compound he had synthesized in 1938.
Hallucinations can also be caused by anesthetics, fatigue, hunger, stress, alcohol, fever, adverse drug reactions, sleep deprivation, bright flickering lights and even pressure on the eyeballs.
Normally, the 100 million neurons of the credit-card size visual cortex at the back of the head convert what our eyes see into edges color, depth and other features, and then reassemble the pieces into recognizable scenes of the outside world.
The process works fast. About 40 milliseconds after seeing an object, edge detectors are activated and in another 40 milliseconds the edges become pieced together into contours and the beginnings of surfaces. This information goes to other parts of the brain to be compared with stored memories.
In far less than a second you've basically solved the problem of vision, of remembering, recognizing and sorting out what the object is.
In the case of a hallucination, this does not happen. Through the action of drugs or other influences, the edge detectors become disengaged from the rest of the network and begin firing on their own.
The resulting hallucination reflects the pinwheel pattern of brain cells that process lines, curves and other geometric shapes, providing a remarkable view of the physical architecture of the visual cortex, according to recently published findings by Jack Cowan of the University of Chicago and Paul Bressloff of the University of Utah.
"It's almost like seeing your own brain through a mirror," Cowan said. "You're basically seeing patterns that your own brain is making."
4 basic groups
Cowan, who is a mathematician and a neurologist, has been studying hallucinations for 20 years. He was intrigued by the work of another U. of C. scientist, Heinrich Kluver, who in the 1920s and 1930s classified the drawings of people experiencing drug-induced hallucinations into four basic categories--tunnels and funnels; spirals; lattices; and cobwebs.
Based on new findings from optical imaging, in which scientists can actually see which neurons light up in the visual cortex of cats and monkeys when they view different lines and contours, Cowan, Bressloff and their colleagues developed a mathematical model that can accurately predict the shapes of different hallucinations.
"We calculated that given the kinds of anatomy in the visual cortex, there are only four kinds of patterns it will make when it goes unstable," Cowan said. "It turns out that those four kinds of patterns we get from the math correspond exactly to the four classes of patterns that Kluver ended up with based on his looking at the drawings."
Terry Sejnowski, director of the Salk Institute's Computational Neurobiology Laboratory, said the work of Cowan and Bressloff could have wide application in the areas of artificial intelligence and artificial vision.
"They have created a mathematical model which replicates surprisingly well the states that the brain gets into when it's having visual hallucinations," he said. "These hallucinatory states are really abnormal conditions. Sometimes you learn a lot about a complex system from the conditions which occur when it breaks down or when it's not operating under normal conditions."
The mathematical study of vision is also helping to explain near-death experiences. Essentially they are physical representations of striplike columns of neurons in the visual cortex that form a tunnel pattern.
"What actually happens when somebody takes a drug is the first thing they experience is a very bright light in the center of the visual field, which is very reminiscent of this sort of light in the tunnel when people think they see heaven beckoning in the distance," Bressloff said.
"What seems to happen is that this bright light spreads across the visual field and from that state then this structure emerges which is the seed for the hallucination pattern," he said.
Since spirals, tunnels, zigzags and other hallucinatory patterns can be found in the art of almost all cultures and go back more than 30,000 years, many anthropologists speculate that they were done under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs or self-induced trances, and that these experiences served as the origin of abstract art.
The foremost masters of hallucinogenic experiences are shamans, ritual practitioners in hunting-and-gathering societies who enter altered states of consciousness to achieve a variety of ends that include healing the sick, foretelling the future, meeting spirit-animals, changing the weather and controlling animals by supernatural means, according to Jean Clottes, scientific adviser to the French ministry on prehistoric art, and David Lewis-Williams, professor of cognitive archeology at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.
In their study of shamans, religious mystics and visionaries around the world, Clottes and Lewis-Williams found that while drugs are widely used to induce hallucinations, trances are also used to produce unusual mental imagery. Trances can be induced through sensory deprivation, prolonged social isolation, intense pain, vigorous dancing and insistent, rhythmic sound, such as drumming and chanting.
3 stages of trances
In their book, "The Shamans of Prehistory: Trance and Magic in the Painted Caves," Clottes and Lewis-Williams outline three stages of trance.
In the first stage trance, people "see" geometric forms, such as dots, zigzags, grids, parallel lines, nested curves and meandering lines. In the second stage, subjects try to make better sense out of the geometric imagery by illusioning them into objects of religious or emotional significance, such as construing a zigzag line into a snake. The third stage is reached via a vortex or tunnel, at the end of which is a bright light. When people emerge from the tunnel they find themselves in a bizarre world where geometric patterns become mixed with monsters, people and settings. It is in this stage where the drawings of humans with animal features occur.
Clottes and Lewis-Williams concluded: "We emphasize
that these three stages are universal and wired into the human nervous
system, though the meanings given to the geometrics of Stage 1, the objects
into which they are illusioned in Stage 2, and the hallucinations of Stage
3 are all culture-specific, at least in some measure, people hallucinate
what they expect to hallucinate."
Los Angeles -- Would the Tibetan Book of the Dead by any other name be as popular? That's one question that Francesca Fremantle's thoughtful and intricate "Luminous Emptiness" brings to mind.
The real title for what we call the Tibetan Book of the Dead is the less melodic "The Great Liberation Through Hearing During the Bardo." Fremantle's book attempts to be no less than a guide for maintaining one's perceptions and awareness during the bardo (or transitional state between life and death) in which she shows readers the complicated process of understanding one of Buddhism's most sacred texts.
One surprising aspect of Fremantle's revelations about the Tibetan Book of the Dead, written by "the precious guru" Padmakara in the 8th century, is that the book is not so much a guide to the afterlife as a guide for the stages of life in preparation for death. Death, she asserts, is not the end of existence but a passage into a more evolved state of consciousness, similar to what is achieved in transcendent meditative states: "After death, without the grounding influence of the physical body, events will overtake us with such speed and intensity that there will be no chance to stop and meditate.
To be of use, meditation must become part of our innermost nature. That is why this is a book of the living as well as a book of the dead." "Luminous emptiness" is the space between life and death before rebirth. "Space is emptiness and luminosity: luminous emptiness," Fremantle says. "Because it is empty, nothing exists, yet because it is luminous, everything arises from it." Though this description might seem elusive--and, indeed, it is this language that makes Eastern religions hard for many Western critics to grasp--it describes a state of spiritual bliss with abstract language that forces the reader to let go of a rational, linear thought process.
A British scholar of Sanskrit and Tibetan, Fremantle helped translate the Tibetan Book of the Dead in the 1970s with her teacher, Chogyam Trungpa, to whom this book is dedicated. Fremantle is a student of Indian Buddhism--the purest form of which, according to her, is practiced in Tibet. The struggle to arrive at a state of enlightenment is palpable in the meticulous and detailed manner in which Fremantle lays out its spiritual path. She begins with a concise explanation of the fundamentals of Buddhism and then moves on to the more complex ideas of karma, self-deceit, the immaterial, the ego and consciousness.
Fremantle acts as our intellectual guide, unraveling the book's complicated and powerful imagery and abstract messages. For example, she presents this daunting passage dealing with the moment of death:
Now the bardo of dying is dawning upon me,
Then she explains how this passage treats dying as a transference, not an end, like moving from "one place to another," just as one would move from one room in a house into another. In skillfully unraveling such knotted imagery and symbolic meaning, Fremantle points to the meanings that each passage contains.
Her description of Buddhism makes no bones about it: "Buddhism is a religion of practical methods for spiritual realization." Every religion might make the same claim, but Fremantle argues that Buddhism provides the unique ability to provide those steps without being dogmatic. "[Buddhism] contains many different views and formulations in response to people's needs and a huge variety of techniques to suit their inclinations and capabilities. Some of these may appear contradictory, yet they do not teach different truths; they present different points of view from which to approach the same truth."
"Luminous Emptiness" differs from some Western books on religion--it is not an anthropological study, or even an academic explanation, that tries to simplify concepts for an unfamiliar general audience. Instead, this book is a deeply heartfelt guide to spiritual fulfillment through Buddhism, and the work of a believer who has studied her tradition with academic intensity and whose faith has emerged on the other end, undiminished.
The reader who comes to "Luminous Emptiness" with a predisposition toward believing in Buddhism, and a desire to understand how to use the Tibetan Book of the Dead as a way of furthering that knowledge, will be rewarded. However, readers who come with only a passing interest in the subject and seek a convincing argument for taking on the Tibetan Book of the Dead will perhaps find Fremantle's work less than illuminating. Not a book for the casual reader, "Luminous Emptiness" provides interested seekers with a journey through the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and Fremantle is an expert guide.
- Ruth Andrew Ellenson writes about religion, arts and
culture for the Forward, People magazine and the Jewish Journal of Los
Meditation mapped in monks
London -- Scientists investigating the effect of the meditative state on Buddhist monk's brains have found that portions of the organ previously active become quiet, whilst pacified areas become stimulated.
Andrew Newberg, a radiologist at the University of Pennsylvania, US, told BBC World Service's Discovery programme: "I think we are poised at a wonderful time in our history to be able to explore religion and spirituality in a way which was never thought possible."
Using a brain imaging technique, Newberg and his team studied a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks as they meditated for approximately one hour.
When they reached a transcendental high, they were asked to pull a kite string to their right, releasing an injection of a radioactive tracer. By injecting a tiny amount of radioactive marker into the bloodstream of a deep meditator, the scientists soon saw how the dye moved to active parts of the brain.
Sense of space
Later, once the subjects had finished meditating, the regions were imaged and the meditation state compared with the normal waking state.
The scans provided remarkable clues about what goes on in the brain during meditation.
"There was an increase in activity in the front part of the brain, the area that is activated when anyone focuses attention on a particular task," Dr Newberg explained.
In addition, a notable decrease in activity in the back part of the brain, or parietal lobe, recognised as the area responsible for orientation, reinforced the general suggestion that meditation leads to a lack of spatial awareness.
Dr Newberg explained: "During meditation, people have a loss of the sense of self and frequently experience a sense of no space and time and that was exactly what we saw."
The complex interaction between different areas of the brain also resembles the pattern of activity that occurs during other so-called spiritual or mystical experiences.
Brain imaging provides painless study
Dr Newberg's earlier studies have involved the brain activity of Franciscan nuns during a type of prayer known as "centring".
As the prayer has a verbal element other parts of the brain are used but Dr Newberg also found that they, "activated the attention area of the brain, and diminished activity in the orientation area."
This is not the first time that scientists have investigated spirituality. In 1998, the healing benefits of prayer were alluded to when a group of scientists in the US studied how patients with heart conditions experienced fewer complications following periods of "intercessory prayer".
And at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston last month, scientists from Stanford University detailed their research into the positive affects that hypnotherapy can have in helping people cope with long-term illnesses.
Scientific study of both the physical world and the inner world of human experiences are, according to Dr Newberg, equally beneficial.
"When someone has a mystical experience, they perceive that sense of reality to be far greater and far clearer than our usual everyday sense of reality," he said.
He added: "Since the sense of spiritual reality is
more powerful and clear, perhaps that sense of reality is more accurate
than our scientific everyday sense of reality."
A moment in Vipassana
A moment's peace Vipassana meditation is sometimes likened to the fasting of the spirit in order to eradicate past conditionings ...
Bangkok -- When practising Vipassana, our task is simply to observe sensations throughout the body. The cause of any particular sensation is beyond our concern; it is sufficient to understand that every sensation is an indication of an internal change.
The change may be either mental or physical in origin; mind and body function interdependently and often cannot be differentiated. Whatever occurs at one level is likely to be reflected at the other.
At the physical level, the body is composed of subatomic particles _ kalapas _ which every moment arise and pass away with great rapidity. As they do so, they manifest in an infinite variety of combinations the basic qualities of matter _ mass, cohesion, temperature and movement _ producing within us the entire range of sensations.
There are four possible causes for the arising of kalapas. The first is the food we eat; the second is the environment in which we live. But whatever occurs in the mind has an effect on the body and can be responsible for the arising of kalapas. Hence particles may also arise because of mental reactions occurring at the present moment, or because of past reactions which influence the present mental state.
In order to function, the body requires food. If one stops feeding the body, however, it will not collapse at once. It can continue to support itself, if necessary, for weeks, by consuming the energy stored in its tissues. When all the stored energy is consumed, at last the body will collapse and die; the physical flow comes to an end.
In the same way, the mind requires activity in order to maintain the flow of consciousness. This mental activity is called sankhara.
According to the chain of conditioned arising, consciousness originates from reaction. Each mental reaction is responsible for giving impetus to the flow of consciousness.
And while the body requires food only at intervals throughout the day, the mind requires constant fresh stimulation. Without it, the flow of consciousness cannot continue even for an instant.
For example, at a given moment one generates aversion in the mind; in the next moment, the consciousness that arises is the product of that aversion, and so on, moment after moment. One keeps repeating the reaction of aversion from one moment to the next, and sending new input to the mind.
By practising Vipassana, however, the meditator learns not to react.
At a given moment, he creates no sankhara, he gives no fresh stimulation to the mind. What happens then to the psychic flow? It does not stop at once. Instead, one or another of the accumulated past reactions will come to the surface of the mind in order to sustain the flow.
A past conditioned response will arise and from this base, consciousness continues for another moment. The conditioning will appear at the physical level by causing a particular type of kalapa to arise, which one then experiences as sensation within the body.
Perhaps a past sankhara of aversion arises, manifesting itself as particles, which one experiences as an an unpleasant burning sensation within the body. If one reacts to that sensation with dislike, fresh aversion is created. One has started giving fresh input to the flow of consciousness and there is no opportunity for another of the stock of past reactions to rise to the conscious level.
However, if an unpleasant sensation occurs and one does not react, then no new sankharas are created. The sankhara that has arisen from the old stock passes away. In the next moment, another past sankhara arises as sensation. Again if one does not react, it passes away.
In this way, by maintaining equanimity, we allow accumulated past reactions to arise at the surface of the mind, one after another, manifesting themselves as sensations. Gradually, by maintaining awareness and equanimity toward sensation, we eradicate past conditioning.
So long as conditioning of aversion remains, the tendency of the unconscious mind will be to react with aversion when facing any unpleasant experience in life.
So long as conditioning of craving remains, the mind will tend to react with craving in any pleasant situation.
Vipassana works by eroding these conditioned responses. As we practise, we keep encountering pleasant and unpleasant sensations. By observing every sensation with equanimity, we gradually weaken and destroy the tendencies of craving and aversion.
When the conditioned responses of a certain type are eradicated, one is free of that type of suffering. And when all conditioned responses have been eradicated one after another, the mind is totally liberated.
One who well understood this process said:
Impermanent truly are conditioned things,
Every sankhara arises and passes away, only in the next moment to arise again in endless repetition. If we develop wisdom and start observing objectively, the repetition stops and eradication begins.
Layer after layer, the old sankharas will arise and be eradicated, provided that we do not react. As much as the sankharas are eradicated, that much happiness we enjoy, the happiness of freedom from suffering. If all the sankharas are eradicated, we enjoy the limitless happiness of full liberation.
Vipassana Meditation therefore is a kind of fasting of the spirit in order to eliminate past conditioning.
Every moment for the whole of our lives we have generated reactions. Now, by remaining aware and balanced, we achieve a few moments in which we do not react, do not generate any sankhara.
Those few moments, no matter how brief, are very powerful; they set in motion the reverse process, the process of purification.
To trigger this process, we must literally do nothing; that is, we must simply refrain from any fresh reaction. Whatever might be the cause of the sensations we experience, we observe them with equanimity. The very act of generating awareness and equanimity will automatically eliminate old reactions, just as lighting a lamp will dispel the darkness from a room.
The Buddha once told a story about a man who had made great gifts of charity. But in concluding, the Buddha commented:
``Even if he had performed the greatest charity, it would have been still more fruitful for him to take refuge with an accepting heart in the Enlightened One, in the Dhamma, and in all saintly persons.
"And had he done so, it would have been still more fruitful for him to undertake with an accepting heart the five precepts.
"And had he done so, it would have been still more fruitful for him to cultivate good will toward all just for the time it takes to milk a cow.
"And had he done all of these, it would have been still more fruitful for him to develop the awareness of impermanence just for the time it takes to snap one's finger.''
Perhaps the meditator is aware of the reality of sensations in the body only for a single moment, and does not react because he understands their transient nature. Even this moment will have a powerful effect.
With patient, repeated, continuous practice, those few moments of equanimity will increase, and the moments of reaction will decrease.
Gradually, the mental habit of reacting will be broken and the old conditioning eradicated, until the time comes when the mind is freed from all reactions, past and present, liberated from all suffering.
The article above is an excerpt from the book The Art
of Living: Vipassana Meditation as Taught by S.N. Goenka by William Hart.
More information about S.N. Goenka is available at www.dhamma.org.