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HARMONY Integrating spiritual practice with daily life

A Buddhist Anthology Prepared for DHARMA FLOWER SANGHA


HARMONY Integrating Spiritual Practice with Daily Life A Buddhist Anthology

Prepared for DHARMA FLOWER SANGHA May 2012

Phap Hoa Buddhist Temple . 85 Prospect Street . Vernon . CT . 06066


Illustrations by Nicholas Roerich


“Surely, venerable sit, we are living in concord, with mutual appreciation, without disputing, blending like milk and water, viewing each other with kindly eyes.” “But, Anuruddha, how do you live thus?” “Venerable sir, as to that, I think thus: ‘It is a gain for me, it is a great gain fo rme, that I am living with such companions in the holy life.’ I maintain bodily acts of loving-kindness towards these venerable ones both openly and privately; I maintain verbal acts of loving-kindness towards them both openly and private; I maintain mental acts of loving-kindness toward them both openly and privately. I consider: ‘Why should I not set aside what I wish to do and do what these venerable ones wish to do?’ Then I set aside what I wish to do and do what these venerable ones wish to do. We are different in body, venerable sir, but one in mind.” Culogosinga Sutta (MN 31)

This booklet is an offering of the Dharma and may be freely reprinted. Some material is copyright. Please do not remove attributions.

Sabbe sattā bhavantu sukhitattā



TABLE OF CONTENTS Definitions and Texts


Being a Spiritual Person, by Thomas Moore


A Buddhist Response to the Contemporary Dilem18 mas of Human Existence, by Bhikkhu Bodhi On Being and Not Being a Buddhist, by Dustin Eaton


Killing the Buddha, by Sam Harris


Questions for Contemplation


What Makes You a Buddhist, by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse


Love, by Master Chin Kung


The Bad Snake, by Ajahn Brahm


Shred, by Hoa Nguyen


American Zenophilia, by Sarah Pulliam Bailey


Nourishing Our Families, by Thich Nhat Hanh


The Adamantine Perfection of Desire, by Jane Hirshfield


I Am A Jew and I Am A Buddhist, by Sylvia Boorstein


Two Haiku, by Ven. Yuttadhammo


She’s Got the Beat, by Joan Duncan Oliver


Contemplation, by Thich Nhat Hanh




DEFINITIONS AND TEXTS Harmony Harmony: 1. the quality of forming a pleasing and consistent whole; 2. the state of being in agreement or concord (Oxford Dictionary) Synonyms: 1. concord, unity, peace, amity, friendship. 2. consonance, conformity, correspondence, consistency “Monks, these six conditions that are conducive to amiability, that engender feelings of endearment, engender feelings of respect, leading to a sense of fellowship, a lack of disputes, harmony, & a state of unity. Which six? “There is the case where a monk is set on bodily acts of good will with regard to his fellows in the holy life, to their faces & behind their backs. This is a condition that is conducive to amiability, that engenders feelings of endearment, engenders feelings of respect, leading to a sense of fellowship, a lack of disputes, harmony, & a state of unity. “Furthermore, the monk is set on verbal acts of good will with regard to his fellows in the holy life, to their faces & behind their backs. This is a condition that is conducive to amiability, that engenders feelings of endearment, engenders feelings of respect, leading to a sense of fellowship, a lack of disputes, harmony, & a state of unity. “Furthermore, the monk is set on mental acts of good will with regard to his fellows in the holy life, to their faces & behind their backs. This is a condition that is conducive to amiability, that engenders feelings of endearment, engenders feelings of


respect, leading to a sense of fellowship, a lack of disputes, harmony, & a state of unity. “Furthermore, whatever righteous gains the monk may obtain in a righteous way — even if only the alms in his bowl — he does not consume them alone. He consumes them after sharing them in common with his virtuous fellows in the holy life. This is a condition that is conducive to amiability, that engenders feelings of endearment, engenders feelings of respect, leading to a sense of fellowship, a lack of disputes, harmony, & a state of unity. “Furthermore — with reference to the virtues that are untorn, unbroken, unspotted, unsplattered, liberating, praised by the wise, untarnished, leading to concentration — the monk dwells with his virtue in tune with that of his fellows in the holy life, to their faces & behind their backs. This is a condition that is conducive to amiability, that engenders feelings of endearment, engenders feelings of respect, leading to a sense of fellowship, a lack of disputes, harmony, & a state of unity. “Furthermore — with reference to views that are noble, leading outward, that lead those who act in accordance with them to the right ending of suffering & stress — the monk dwells with his views in tune with those of his fellows in the holy life, to their faces & behind their backs. This is a condition that is conducive to amiability, that engenders feelings of endearment, engenders feelings of respect, leading to a sense of fellowship, a lack of disputes, harmony, & a state of unity. “These are the six conditions that are conducive to amiability, that engender feelings of endearment, engender feelings of respect, leading to a sense of fellowship, a lack of disputes, harmony, & a state of unity.” AN 6.12: Conducive to Amiability (Saraniya Sutta)


“Being thus invited, Sakka, ruler of the gos, put his first question to the Lord: “‘By what fetters, sir, are beings bound – gods, humans, asuras, nagas, Gandhabbas and whatever other kinds there may be – whereby, although they wish to live without hate, harming, hostility or malignity, and in peace, they yet live in hate, harming one another, hostile and malign?’ This was Sakka’s first question to the Lord, and the Lord replied: ‘Ruler of the Gods, it is the bonds of jealously and avarice that bind beings so that though they wish to live without hate… they yet live in hate, harming one another, hostile and malign.’ This was the Lord’s reply, and Sakka, delighted, exclaimed: ‘So it is, Lord, so it is, Well-Farer! Through the Lord’s answer I have overcome my doubt and uncertainty!’ Then Sakka, having expressed his appreciation, asked another question: ‘But sir, what gives rise to jealousy and avarice, what is their origin, how are they born, how do they arise? Owing to the presence of what do they arose, owing to the absence of what do they arise?’ ‘Jealousy and avarice, Ruler of the Gods, take rise from like and dislike, this is their origin, this is how they are born, how they arose. When these are present, they arise; when these are absent, they do not arise.’ ‘But, sir, what gives rise to like and dislike?… Owing to the presence of what do they arise, owing to the absence of what do they not arise?’ ‘They arise, Ruler of the Gods, from desire … Owing to the presence of desire, they arise, owing to the absence of desire they do not arise.’ ‘But sir, what gives rise to desire?’


‘Desire, Ruler of the Gods, arises from thinking… when the mind thinks about something, desire arises; when the mind thinks about nothing, desire does not arise.’ ‘But, sir, what gives rise to thinking?’ ‘Thinking arises from the tendency to proliferation… when this tendency is present, thinking arises; when it is absent, thinking does not arise.’ ‘Well, sir, what practice has that monk undertaken who has reached the right way which is needful and leading to the cessation of the tendency to proliferation?’ ‘Ruler of the Gods, I declare that there are two kinds of happiness: the kind to be pursued, and the kind to be avoided. The same applied to unhappiness and equanimity. ‘Why have I declared this in regard to happiness? This is how I understood happiness: When I observed that in the pursuit of such happiness, unwholesome factors increased and wholesome factors decreased, then that happiness was to be avoided. And when I observed the pursuit of such happiness unwholesome factors decreased and wholesome ones increased, then that happiness was to be sought after. Now, of such happiness as is accompanied by thinking and pondering, and of that which is not so accompanied, the latter is the more excellent. The same applies to unhappiness and to equanimity. And this, Ruler of Gods, is the practice that monk has undertaken who has reached the right way… leading to the cessation of the tendency to proliferation.’ And Sakka expressed his delight at the Lord’s answer. Then Sakka, having expressed his appreciation, asked another question: ‘Well, sir, what practice has that monk undertaken who has acquired the restraint required by the rules?’ ‘Ruler of the Gods, I declare that there are two kinds of bodily conduct: the kind to be pursued and the kind to be avoided. The same applied to conduct of speech and to the pursuit of goals. 12

Why have I declared this in regard to bodily conduct? This is how I understood bodily conduct: When I observed that by the performance of certain actions, unwholesome factors decreased and wholesome ones increased, then such bodily action was to be followed. That is why I make this distinction. The same applies conduct of speech and the pursuit of goals. And this, Ruler of the Gods, is the practice that monk has undertaken who has acquired the restraint required by the rules.’ And Sakka expressed his delight at the Lord’s answer. Then Sakka asked another question: ‘Well, sir, what practice has that monk undertaken who has acquired control of his sense faculties?’ ‘Ruler of the Gods, I declare that things perceived by the eye are of two kinds: the kind to be pursued, and the kind to be avoided. The same applied to the things perceived by the ear, the nose, the tongue, the body and the mind.’ At this, Sakka said, "Lord, I understand in full the true meaning of what the Blessed Lord has outlined in brief. Lord, whatever object perceived by the eye, if its pursuit leads to the increase of unwholesome factors and the decrease of wholesome ones, that is not to be sought after; if its pursuit leads to the decrease of unwholesome factors and the increase of wholesome ones, such an object is to be sought after. After the same applied to things perceived by the ear, the nose, the tongue, the body and the mind. Thus I understand in full the true meaning of what the Blessed Lord has outlined in brief, and thus through the Lord’s answer I have overcome my doubt and got rid of uncertainty.’ Then Sakka asked another question: ‘Sir, do all ascetics and Brahmins teach the same doctrine, practice the same discipline, want the same thing and pursue the same goal?’ ‘No, Ruler of the Gods, they do not.’ ‘But why, sir, do they not do so?’ 13

‘The world, Ruler of the Gods, is made up of many and various elements. Such being the case, beings adhere to one or other of these various things, and whatever they adhere to they become powerfully addicted to, and declare: ‘This alone is the truth, everything else is false!’ Therefore, they do not all teach the same thing, pursue the same goal.’ ‘Sir, are all ascetics and Brahmins fully proficient, freed from bonds, perfect in the holy life, have they perfectly reached the goal?’ ‘No, ruler of the Gods.’ ‘Why is that sir?’ ‘Only those who are liberated by the destruction of craving are fully proficient, freed from the bonds, perfect in the holy life and have perfectly reached the goal.’ Then Sakka, having delighted in and expressed his approval of the Blessed One's words, said to him: “Yearning is a disease, yearning is a boil, yearning is an arrow. It seduces one, drawing one into this or that state of being, which is why one is reborn in high states and low. Whereas other outside priests and contemplatives gave me no chance to ask them these questions, the Blessed One has answered at length, so that he has removed the arrow of my uncertainty and perplexity.” DN 21 A God Consults the Buddha (Sakkapanha Sutta)


BEING A SPIRITUAL PERSON Thomas Moore Recently I was listening to my friend Satish Kumar being interviewed on the BBC. Satish is a former Jain monk who defined his life by walking for world peace. With no financial resources of his own, he founded two successful schools in England. The interviewer asked him about life as a Jain and then offered a question that made my ears prick up: “In what way are you a spiritual person?” I was interested in Satish’s answer because I’ve been writing a spiritual autobiography in which I describe how my original traditional Catholicism has seeped invisibly into my life, so that it’s difficult to separate the spirituality from the secular life. As usual, Satish was calm and comfortable as he responded without any hesitation to the question. He said that he devotes his life to service, and he takes care of the world, especially nature and animals. These values are deeply set in the Jain religion, and he has made them his own. When I heard Satish’s response, I thought about my own spirituality. I, too, spent my youth in a mostly monastic religious community. I, too, shed the outer signs of that life and have tried to live it in my daily life, fully but invisibly. I have made values of reverence, service, godliness, devotion, and prayer part of my daily life but without external signs of the religion. Step by step throughout my life, I have thoughtfully transformed a highly visible religion into an ordinary way of life. Notice that Satish didn’t talk about belief or authority or truth. Neither do I. It is the way you live, rather than what you believe, that accounts for your spirituality. 15

I make no separation between the spiritual and the secular. Yes, there is something called secularism, an ungodly insistence that there is no mystery, no ultimate source or depth, no meaning other than what we give to life. This is the way of the world today, and even church-goers sometimes split their lives between their impassioned belief and this secularistic way of life — another belief. In recent years I have worked with doctors and hospitals and have seen secularism flourishing in medicine. Of all areas of life, you would think that work so involved with life-or-death issues would be more godly. I have worked all my life against this kind of secularism, and yet I keep my spirituality so enmeshed with my secular life that no one can tell them apart. I learned this approach from Teilhard de Chardin, Paul Tillich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and several Zen masters. For me, there are three sources of a vital spirituality: First, know one religious tradition well, as in some way your own. I was born a Catholic and will always have that deep base. Second, learn many lessons and ideas from the inexhaustible resources of the many spiritual and religious traditions. Third, expand and deepen your spirituality in secular ways — through nature, the arts, philosophy, psychology, and science (without the secularism). As a monk, I learned that work is prayer, that reading is a spiritual practice, and that fostering community in concrete ways is the heart of a spiritual way of life. I left the external monastic life behind, but I didn’t abandon these spiritual lessons. It isn’t that any work is automatically spiritual; you have to bend it toward contributing to humanity and protecting the natural world. Not all reading is spiritual; you can be selective, but I would include good novels on my list. And, as Buddhism teaches


so well, community isn’t real unless it excludes no human nationality and no sentient beings. Being spiritual in an invisible, secular style isn’t a piece of cake. It’s demanding, and its rewards have nothing to do with the ego satisfaction of possessing the truth or being right. The rewards are about being part of life and being part of its solution, rather than its problem. (from Spirituality & Health, March-April 2011)



Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi Since my presentaon is entled "A Buddhist Response to Contemporary Dilemmas of Human Existence," I should begin by spelling out what I mean by the expression "contemporary dilemmas of human existence." By this phrase I do not refer explicitly to the momentous social and political problems of our time — global poverty, ethnic hostility, overpopulation, the spread of AIDS, the suppression of human rights, environmental despoliation, etc. I recognize fully well that these problems are of major concern to contemporary religion, which has the solemn responsibility of serving as the voice of conscience to the world which is only too prone to forsake all sense of conscience in blind pursuit of self-interest. However, I see many of these particular problems as symptoms or offshoots of a more fundamental dilemma which is essentially spiritual in nature, and it is this I am particularly concerned to address. Our root problem, it seems to me, is at its core a problem of consciousness. I would characterize this problem briefly as a fundamental existential dislocation, a dislocation having both cognitive and ethical dimensions. That is, it involves both a disorientation in our understanding of reality, and a distortion or inversion of the proper scale of values, the scale that would follow from a correct understanding of reality. Because our root problem is one of consciousness, this means that any viable solution must be framed in terms of a transformation of consciousness. It requires an attempt to arrive at a more accurate grasp of the human situation in its full depth and breadth, and a turning of the mind and heart in a new direction, a direction commensu18

rate with the new understanding, one that brings light and peace rather than strife and distress. Before I discuss some of the responses that religion might make to the outstanding dilemmas of our age, I propose to offer a critique of the existential dislocation that has spread among such significant portion of humankind today. Through most of this century, the religious point of view has been defensive. It may now be the time to take the offensive, by scrutinizing closely the dominant modes of thought that lie at the base of our spiritual malaise. I see the problem of existential dislocation to be integrally tied to the ascendancy, world wide, of a type of mentality that originates in the West, but which today has become typical of human civilization as a whole. It would be too simple to describe this frame of mind as materialism: first, because those who adopt it do not invariably subscribe to materialism as a philosophical thesis; and second, because obsession with material progress is not the defining characteristic of this outlook, but a secondary manifestation. If I were to coin a single a single expression to convey its distinctive essence, I would call it the radical secularization of human life. THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND The underlying historical cause of this phenomenon seems to lie in an unbalanced development of the human mind in the West, beginning around the time of the European Renaissance. This development gave increasing importance to the rational, manipulative and dominative capacities of the mind at the expense of its intuitive, comprehensive, sympathetic and integrative capacities. The rise to dominance of the rational, manipulative facets of human consciousness led to a fixation upon those aspects of the world that are amenable to control by this type of con19

sciousness — the world that could be conquered, comprehended and exploited in terms of fixed quantitative units. This fixation did not stop merely with the pragmatic efficiency of such a point of view, but became converted into a theoretical standpoint, a standpoint claiming validity. In effect, this means that the material world, as defined by modern science, became the founding stratum of reality, while mechanistic physics, its methodological counterpart, became a paradigm for understanding all other types of natural phenomena, biological, psychological and social. The early founders of the Scientific Revolution in the seventeenth century — such as Galileo, Boyle, Descartes and Newton — were deeply religious men, for whom the belief in the wise and benign Creator was the premise behind their investigations into lawfulness of nature. However, while they remained loyal to the theistic premises of Christian faith, the drift of their thought severely attenuated the organic connection between the divine and the natural order, a connection so central to the premodern world view. They retained God only as the remote Creator and law-giver of Nature and sanctioned moral values as the expression of the Divine Will, the laws decreed for man by his Maker. In their thought a sharp dualism emerged between the transcendent sphere and the empirical world. The realm of "hard facts" ultimately consisted of units of senseless matter governed by mechanical laws, while ethics, values and ideals were removed from the realm of facts and assigned to the sphere of an interior subjectivity. 20

It was only a matter of time until, in the trail of the so-called Enlightenment, a wave of thinkers appeared who overturned the dualistic thesis central to this world view in favor of the straightforward materialism. This development was not a following through of the reductionistic methodology to its final logical consequences. Once sense perception was hailed as the key to knowledge and quantification came to be regarded as the criterion of actuality, the logical next step was to suspend entirely the belief in a supernatural order and all it implied. Hence finally an uncompromising version of mechanistic materialism prevailed, whose axioms became the pillars of the new world view. Matter is now the only ultimate reality, and divine principle of any sort dismissed as sheer imagination. The triumph of materialism in the sphere of cosmology and metaphysics had the profoundest impact on human selfunderstanding. The message it conveyed was that the inward dimensions of our existence, with its vast profusion of spiritual and ethical concerns, is mere adventitious superstructure. The inward is reducible to the external, the invisible to the visible, the personal to the impersonal. Mind becomes a higher order function of the brain, the individual a node in a social order governed by statistical laws. All humankind's ideals and values are relegated to the status of illusions: they are projections of biological drives, sublimated wish-fulfillment. Even ethics, the philosophy of moral conduct, comes to be explained away as a flowery way of expressing personal preferences. Its claim to any objective foundation is untenable, and all ethical judgments become equally valid. The ascendancy of relativism is complete. THE SECULARIZATION OF LIFE I have sketched the intellectual background to our existential dislocation in a fair degree of detail because I think that any at21

tempt to comprehend the contemporary dilemmas of human existence in isolation from this powerful cognitive underpinning would be incomplete and unsatisfactory. The cognitive should not be equated with the merely theoretical, abstract and ineffectual. For the cognitive can, in subtle ways that defy easy analysis, exercise a tremendous influence upon the affective and practical dimensions of our lives, doing so "behind the back," as it were, of [T]he triumph of secularism in our outwardly directed the domain of public life consciousness. Thus, once eventually came to throw into the world view which exqueson the cogency of any tols the primacy of the exform of religious belief or ternal dimension of reality commitment to a transcendent over the internal gained guarantor of ethical values widespread acceptance on the cognitive front, it infiltrated the entire culture, entailing consequences that are intensely practical and personal. Perhaps the most characteristic of these might be summed up in the phrase I used at the outset of this paper: the radical secularization of life. The dominance of materialism in science and philosophical thought penetrated into the religious sphere and sapped religious beliefs and values of their binding claims on the individual in public affairs. These beliefs and values were relegated to the private sphere, as matters of purely personal conscience, while those spheres of life that transcend the narrowly personal were divested of religious significance. Thus in an early stage the evolution of modern society replicated the dualism of philosophical theory: the external sphere becomes entirely secular, while ethical value and spirituality are confined to the internal.


In certain respects this was without doubt a major step in the direction of human liberation, for it freed individuals to follow the dictates of personal conscience and reduced considerably the pressures placed upon them to conform to the prevailing system of religious beliefs. But while this advantage cannot be underestimated, the triumph of secularism in the domain of public life eventually came to throw into question the cogency of any form of religious belief or commitment to a transcendent guarantor of ethical values, and this left the door open for widespread moral deterioration, often in the name of personal freedom. While a dualistic division of the social order characterized the early phase of the modern period, as in the case of philosophy dualism does not have the last word. For the process of secularization does not respect even the boundaries of the private and personal. Once a secular agenda engulfs the social order, the entire focus of human life shifts from the inward to the outward, and from the Eternal to the Here and Now. Secularization invades the most sensitively private arenas of our lives, spurred on by a social order driven by the urge for power, profits and uniformity. Our lives become devoured by temporal, mundane preoccupations even to the extent that such notions as redemption, enlightenment and deliverance — the watchwords of spirituality — at best serve as evokers of a sentimental piety. The dominant ends of secular society create a situation in which any boundary line of inward privacy comes to be treated as a barrier that must be surmounted. Hence we find that commercial interests and political organizations are prepared to explore and exploit the most personal frontiers of desire and fantasy in order to secure their advantage and enhance their wealth and power. The ascendancy of secularization in human life in no way means that most people in secular society openly reject religion and 23

acknowledge the finality of this-worldly aims. Far from it. The human mind displays an astounding ability to operate simultaneously on different levels, even when those levels are sustained by opposing principles. Thus in a given culture the vast majority will still pay homage to God or to the Dhamma; they will attend church or the temple; they will express admiration of religious ideals; they will conform to the routine observances expected of them by their ancestral faith. Appeals to religious sentiment will be a powerful means of stirring up waves of emotion and declarations of loyalty, even of mobilizing whole sections of the population in support of sectarian stands on volatile issues. This affirmation of allegiance to religious ideals is not done out of sheer hypocrisy, but from a capacity for inward ambivalence that allows us to live in a state of self-contradiction. People in secular society will genuinely profess reverence for religion, will vigorously affirm religious beliefs. But their real interests lie elsewhere, riveted tightly to the temporal. The ruling motives of human life are no longer purification but production, no longer the cultivation of character but the consumption of commodities and the enjoyment of sense pleasures. Religion may be permitted to linger at the margins of the mind, indeed may even be invited into the inward chamber, so long as it does not rudely demand of us that we take up any crosses. This existential dislocation has major repercussions on a variety of fronts. Most alarming, in its immediate impact on our lives, is the decline in the efficacy of time-honored moral principles as guides to conduct. I do not propose painting our picture of the past in rosy colors. Human nature has never been especially sweet, and the books of history speak too loudly of man's greed, blindness and brutality. Often, I must sadly add, organized religion has been among the worst offenders. However, while aware of this, I would also say that at least during certain past epochs 24

our ancestors esteemed ethical ideals as worthy of emulation and sanctioned moral codes as the proper guidelines of life. For all its historical shortcomings, religion did provide countless people in any given culture with a sense of meaning to their existence, a sense that their lives were rooted in the Ultimate Reality and were directed towards that Reality as their final goal. Now, however, that we have made the radical turn away from the Transcendent, we have lost the polestar that guided our daily choices and decisions. The result is evident in the moral degeneration that proliferates at a frightening rate through every so-called civilized part of the world. In the self-styled Developed World the cities have become urban jungles; the use of liquor and drugs spreads as an easy escape route from anxiety and despair; sexually provocative entertainment takes on more and more degrading forms; the culture of the gun hooks even middle-class youths itching to break the tedium of their lives with murder and mayhem. Most lamentably, the family has lost its crucial function of serving as the training ground where children learn decency and personal responsibility. Instead it has become merely a convenient and fragile arrangement for the personal gratification of its members, who too often seek their gratification at the expense of each other. While such trends have not yet widely inundated Sri Lanka, we can already see their germs beginning to sprout, and as modernization spreads extraordinary vigilance will be required to withstand them. THE RELIGIOUS DIMENSION As humanity moves ever closer to the 21st century, the existential rift at the heart of our inner life remains. Its pain is exacerbated by our repeated failures to solve so many of the social, political and economic problems that seem on the surface as though they should be easily manageable by our sophisticated 25

technological capabilities. The stubborn persistence of these problems — and the constant emergence of new problems as soon as the old ones recede — seems to make a mockery of all our well-intentioned attempts to establish a utopian paradise on utterly secular premises. I certainly do not think that the rediscovery of the religious consciousness is in itself a sufficient remedy for these problems which spring from a wide multiplicity of causes far too complex to be reduced to any simplistic explanation. But I do believe that the religious crisis of modern humanity is intimately connected to these diverse social and political tragedies at many levels. Some of these levels, I would add, lie far beyond the range of rational comprehension and defy analysis in terms of linear causality. I would see the connection as that of co-arisen manifestations of a corrosive sickness in the human soul — the sickness of selfishness and craving — or as karmic backlashes of the three root defilements pinpointed by Buddhism — greed, hatred and delusion — which have become so rampant today. I therefore think that any hopes we may cherish towards healing our community, our planet and our world must involve us in a deep level process of healing ourselves. And since this healing, in my view, can only be successfully accomplished by re-orienting our lives towards the Ultimate Reality and Supreme Good, the process of healing necessarily takes on a religious dimension. It is hardly within my capacity as a very limited individual to delineate, in this paper, all the elements that would be required to restore the religious dimension to its proper role in human life. But I will first briefly mention two religious approaches that have sprung up in response to our existential dislocation, but which I consider to be inadequate, even false by-paths. Then I will sketch, in a tentative and exploratory manner, several re-


sponses religion must make if it is to answer the deep yearnings that stir in the hearts of present-day humanity. The two religious phenomena that in my view are false detours which must finally be rejected are fundamentalism and spiritual eclecticism. Both have arisen as reactions to the pervasive secularism of our time; both speak to the widespread hunger for more authentic spiritual values than our commercial, sensualist culture can offer. Yet neither, I would argue, provides a satisfactory solution to our needs. Fundamentalism no doubt bears the character of a religious revival. However, in my opinion it fails to qualify as a genuinely spiritual type of religiosity because it does not meet the criterion of true spirituality. This criterion I would describe, in broad terms, as the quest to transcend the limitations of the egoconsciousness. As I understand fundamentalism, it draws its strength from its appeal to human weakness, by provoking the ego-consciousness and the narrow, volatile interests of the small self. Its psychological mood is that of dogmatism; it polarizes the human community into the opposed camps of insiders and outsiders; it dictates a policy of aggression that entails either violence against the outsiders or attempts to proselytize them. It does not point us in the direction of selflessness, understanding, acceptance of others based on love, the ingredients of true spirituality. Spiritual eclecticism — omnipresent in the West today — is governed by the opposite logic. It aims to amalgamate, to draw into a whole a sundry variety of quasi-religious disciplines: yoga, spiritualism, channeling, astrology, faith healing, meditation, I Ching, special diets, Cabbala, etc. These are all offered to the seeker on a pick-and-choose basis; everything is valid, anything goes. This eclecticism often reveals a longing for genuine spiritual experience, for a vision of reality more encompassing than 27

pragmatic materialism. It fails because it tears profound disciplines out from their context in a living faith and blends them together into a shapeless mixture without spine or substance. Its psychological mood is that of a romantic, promiscuous yearning for easy gratification rather than that of serious commitment. Owing to its lack of discrimination it often shades off into the narcissistic and the occult, occasionally into the diabolical. I believe that a viable solution to humanity's spiritual hunger can arise only from within the fold of the great classical religious traditions. I must also state frankly that I am convinced that the religious tradition that best addresses the crucial existential problems of our time is Buddhism, especially in its early form based on the Pali canon. However, to speak in terms of a more general application, I would maintain that if any great religion is to acquire a new relevance it must negotiate some very delicate, very difficult balances. It must strike a happy balance between remaining faithful to the seminal insights of its Founder and ancient masters and acquiring the skill and flexibility to formulate these insights in ways that directly link up with the pressing existential demands of old-age. It is only too easy to veer towards one of these extremes at the expense of the other: either to adhere tenaciously to ancient formulas at the expense of present relevance, or to bend fundamental principles so freely that one drains them of their deep spiritual vitality. The middle way, which fuses fidelity to tradition and relevance to contemporary concerns, is always the most difficult. Above all, I think any religion today must bear in mind an important lesson impressed on us so painfully by past history: the task of religion is to liberate, not to enslave. Its purpose should be to enable its adherents to move towards the realization of the Ultimate Good and to bring the power of this realization to bear upon life in the 28

world. The purpose is not to subordinate the individual to the institution, to multiply the numbers of the faithful, and to sacrifice the individual conscience upon the altar of the Establishment. Despite the vast differences between the belief systems of the major religions, I think there are vitally important areas of common concern which unite them in this Age of Confusion. With the world torn between senseless violence and vulgar frivolity, it is critically necessary that representatives of the great religions meet to exchange insights and to seek to understand each other more deeply. Cooperation between the great religions is certainly necessary if they are to contribute a meaningful voice towards the solution of the momentous spiritual dilemmas that confront us. THE TASKS OF RELIGION TODAY Here I will mention several challenges that confront the major religious traditions today, and I will also sketch, very briefly, the ways such challenges may be met from within the horizons of the religion which I follow, Theravada Buddhism. I leave it to the Christian scholars involved in this dialogue to decide for themselves whether these points are of sufficient gravity to merit their own attention and to work out solutions from the perspective of their own faith. (1) The Philosophical Bridge The first challenge I will discuss is primarily philosophical in scope, though with profound and far-reaching practical implica29

tions. This is the task of overcoming the fundamental dichotomy which scientific materialism has posited between the realm of "real fact," i.e., impersonal physical processes, and the realm of value. By assigning value and spiritual ideals to private subjectivity, the materialistic world view, as I mentioned earlier, threatens to undermine any secure objective foundation for morality. The result is the widespread moral degeneration that we witness today. To counter this tendency, I do not think mere moral exhortation is sufficient. If morality is to function as an efficient guide to conduct, it cannot be propounded as a selfjustifying scheme but must be embedded in a more comprehensive spiritual system which grounds morality in a transpersonal order. Religion must affirm, in the clearest terms, that morality and ethical values are not mere decorative frills of personal opinion, not subjective superstructure, but intrinsic laws of the cosmos built into the heart of reality. In the Buddha's teaching, the objective foundation for morality is the law of kamma, and its corollary, the teaching of rebirth. According to the principle of kamma, our intentional actions have a built-in potential for generating consequences for ourselves that correspond to the moral quality of the deeds. Our deeds come to fruition, sometimes in this life, sometimes in future lives, but in either case an inescapable, impersonal law connects our actions to their fruits, which rebound upon us exactly in the way we deserve. Thus our morally determinate actions are the building blocks of our destiny: we must ultimately reap the fruits of our own deeds, and by our moral choices and values we construct our happiness and suffering in this life and in future lives. In the Buddha's teaching, the law of kamma is integral to the very dynamics of the universe. The Buddhist texts speak of five systems of cosmic law, each perfectly valid within its own do30

main: the laws of inorganic matter (utuniyama), the laws of living organisms (bijaniyama), the laws of consciousness (cittaniyama), the laws of kamma or moral deeds and their fruits (kammaniyama), and the laws of spiritual development (dhammataniyama). The science that dominates the West has flourished through its exclusive attention to the first two systems of law. As a Buddhist, I would argue that a complete picture of actuality must take account of all five orders, and that by arriving at such a complete picture, we can restore moral and spiritual values to their proper place within the whole. (2) Guidelines to Conduct A second challenge, closely related to the first, is to propose concrete guidelines to right conduct capable of lifting us from our morass of moral confusion. While the first project I mentioned operates on the theoretical front, this one is more immediately practical in scope. Here we are not so much concerned with establishing a valid foundation for morality as with determining exactly what guidelines to conduct are capable of promoting harmonious and peaceful relations between people. On this front I think that the unsurpassed guide to the ethical good is still the Five Precepts (pancasila) taught by Buddhism. According to the Buddhist texts, these precepts are not unique to the Buddha Sasana but constitute the universal principles of morality upheld in every culture dedicated to virtue. The Five Precepts can be considered in terms of both the actions they prohibit and the virtues they inculcate. At the present time I think it is necessary to place equal stress on both aspects of the precepts, as the Buddha himself has done in the Suttas. These precepts are: 1. The rule to abstain from taking life, which implies the virtue of treating all beings with kindness and compassion. 31

2. The rule to abstain from stealing, which implies honesty, respect for the possessions of others, and concern for the natural environment. 3. The rule to abstain from sexual misconduct, which implies responsibility and commitment in one's marital and other interpersonal relationships. 4. The rule to abstain from lying, which implies a commitment to truth in dealing with others. 5. The rule to abstain from alcoholic drinks, drugs and intoxicants, which implies the virtues of sobriety and heedfulness. In presenting the case for these precepts, it should be shown that quite apart from their long-term karmic effect, which is a matter of faith, they conduce to peace and happiness for oneself right here and now, as well as towards the welfare of those whom one's actions affect. (3) Diagnosis of the Human Condition A third project for religion is to formulate, on the basis of its fundamental doctrinal traditions, an incisive diagnosis of the contemporary human condition. From the Buddhist perspective I think the analysis that the Buddha offered in his Four Noble Truths still remains perfectly valid. Not only does it need not the least revision or reinterpretation, but the course of twentyfive centuries of world history and the present-day human situation only underscores its astuteness and relevance. The core problem of human existence, the First Truth announces, is suffering. The canonical texts enumerate different types of suffering — physical, psychological and spiritual; in the present age, we should also highlight the enormous volume of social suffering that plagues vulnerable humanity. The cause of suffering, according to the Second Truth, lies nowhere else than in our own minds — in our craving and ignorance, in the defilements 32

of greed, hatred and delusion. The solution to the problem is the subject of the Third Noble Truth, which states that liberation from suffering must also be effected by the mind, through the eradication of the defilements responsible for suffering. And the Fourth Truth gives us the method to eradicate the defilements, the Noble Eightfold Path, with its three stages of training in moral discipline, meditation and wisdom. (4) A Practical Method of Training The next point is a practical extension of the third. Once a religion has offered us a diagnosis of the human condition which reveals the source of suffering in the mind, it must offer us concrete guidance in the task of training and mastering the mind. Thus I think that a major focus of present-day religion must be the understanding and transformation of the mind. This requires experiential disciplines by which we can arrive at deeper insight into ourselves and gradually effect very fundamental inward changes. Buddhism provides a vast arsenal of timetested teachings and methods for meeting this challenge. It contains comprehensive systems of psychological analysis and potent techniques of meditation that can generate experiential confirmation of its principles. In the present age access to these teachings and practices will cease to remain the exclusive preserve of the monastic order, but will spread to the lay community as well, as has already been occurring throughout the Buddhist world both in the East and in the West. The spirit of democracy and the triumph of the experimental method demand that the means of minddevelopment be available to anyone who is willing to make the effort. The experiential dimension of religion is an area where Christianity can learn a great deal from Buddhism, and I believe that Christianity must rediscover its own contemplative heritage and make available deeper transformative disciplines to 33

both its clergy and its lay followers if it is to retain its relevance to humanity in the future. (5) The Preservation of the Human Community The last challenge I will discuss is the need for religions to reaffirm and to actively demonstrate those values that are particularly critical for the human race to attain the status of an integrative, harmonious community. They must translate into concrete programs of action the great virtues of love and compassion. Because the world has become more closely knit than ever before, we have to recognize the enormous responsibility that we each bear for the welfare of the whole. What all religions need to stress, in the face of so much cruelty and violence, is the development of a sense of global responsibility, a concern for the welfare and happiness of all living beings as well as for the protection of our natural environment. Love and compassion must issue forth in active endeavor to alleviate the sufferings of others and to ensure that the oppressed and afflicted are granted all the opportunities that have hitherto been denied them. This is an area where Christianity, with its Social Gospel, has shown far greater initiative than Buddhism, which too often has subscribed to a false, fatalistic interpretation of the karma doctrine that stifles social action. But the foundation for a socially oriented expression of Buddhism is already found in the Dhamma, especially in its formula of the four Brahma Viharas, or "Divine Abodes," as the ideal social virtues: loving kindness towards all beings, compassion for those who suffer, altruistic 34

joy for those who are well, and equanimity as freedom from arbitrary discrimination. Already a socially engaged form of Buddhism has emerged and no doubt it will become an important development in the future of the religion. I wish to conclude this talk by drawing attention to the fact that religion today has two crucial tasks to accomplish in responding to the vital problems of our time. One is to help the individual fathom the ultimate truth about his or her own personal existence, to move in the direction of the Ultimate Good, the Unconditioned Reality, wherein true liberation is to be found. The other task is to address the problem of the Manifest Good: the problem of the human community, of promoting peace, harmony and fellowship. The urgency of combining these two tasks was beautifully summed up by the Buddha in a short discourse in the Satipatthana Samyutta. There the Blessed One said: "Protecting oneself, one protects others, Protecting others, one protects oneself" He then explains that the expression "protecting oneself, one protects others" refers to the practice of meditation, which purifies the mind of its defilements and gives insight into the real nature of the world. By "protecting others, one protects oneself" he means the development of the virtues of patience, loving kindness and compassion, by which one safeguards others from harm and suffering. I believe that a commitment to these two great principles — pañña and karuna in Buddhist terms, gnosis and love in Christian terms — is essential if religion today is to guide humanity from the brink of darkness and despair to the realm of spiritual light and freedom. ("A Buddhist Response to Contemporary Dilemmas of Human Existence", by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi. Access to Insight, 5 June 2010,http:// . Retrieved on 30 April 2012.)


ON BEING AND NOT BEING A BUDDHIST Dus%n Eaton I am not a Buddhist. I've never told anyone that I am a Buddhist and have in fact denied the title on more than one occasion. Even though I have been circling around thestupa for the last ten years, I have never made any formal or official commitment to the Buddha sト《ana. I've never sown a rakusu or received a "dharma name." I am, as of this moment, a freelance wanderer through the six realms of samsara. I was raised in West Michigan to a small family of born-again evangelical protestants. As early as a few weeks after my birth I was sitting on my mom's lap in one of the world's first megachurches. (Although at the time I'm sure it wasn't as mega as it is now). I loved felt-boards and summer bible camp. I memorized the books of the Old and New Testaments. I attended Awana and filled up my little plastic crown pin with little plastic jewels. This cheap trinket that I wore on a bright red vest represented the authentic crown that I would wear when I finally entered into the presence of God, my dead grandparents and all my recently expired turtles. I anticipated the rapture and feared the Devil. I sang "Jesus loves me this I know" and I did know it. I believed in the literal truth of the Bible before I knew what a metaphor was, and I can remember feeling guilty because I loved my heavenly father more than my earthly one. Over the years I was baptized and rebaptized, committed and recommitted. If there was an alter call, I was answering. Then one day, while attending a student-oriented bible study, the youth pastor's wife said something that changed my life. I was eighteen at the time and just about to begin my first semes36

ter at Calvin College when a woman I hardly knew said (apropos of what, I don't recall): "When I can't sleep, I start to pray and in five minutes, I'm out like a light." This was followed by nods of affirmation and a hand shot up from the crowd. A very sincere young woman replied, "Just before I came here, I lost my keys. I prayed and five minutes later I found them." These two seemingly innocuous statements by semi-strangers planted tiny seeds of doubt in what I thought was a fertile field of Christian faith and piety. Over the next year I replayed these statements over and over and eventually came to two conclusions. 1) I did not want any part of a religion that used God as a sleep aid or as a butler to find lost keys, and 2) there was no reason to believe that God as I currently envisioned him was anything other than a figment of my imagination. It was only a matter of months before I was telling my parents that I was no longer a Christian. The journey from born-again Christian to wanna-be Buddhist was both long and short. It was short because Buddhism was the first religious tradition I turned to after I ceased to believe in God. It was long because I did not immediately adopt Buddhism as my re-bound faith. I casually flirted with Islam and Hinduism, and had a more serious relationship with Reform Judaism. At my most desperate moments I have to admit I read Ekhart Tolle and even sent away for some Rosicrucian pamphlets. Obviously, I've got a lot of faith to give. Between my brief trysts with Moses and Muhammad, I would always return to Shakyamuni. Five years ago I took my first sixweek meditation course and learned how to watch my breath and think non-thinking. I lived in Southern California for a few years and would occasionally attend services at Zen Mountain Center.


Today, I am a graduate student at the University of Iowa, studying the religion and culture of South Asia. I am on the board of directors at the local Zen Center and have spent a few weekends doing all-day zazen. I recently acted as a teaching assistant for a class called Living Religions of the East, and although I love teaching about Hindu, Taoist and Confucian traditions, I love learning about Buddhism. I am becoming—carefully and with as much mindfulness as I can muster—more than what has been dismissively labeled a "bookstore Buddhist." To me, being a Buddhist means more than just saying you are one. It means placing yourself within the structure of a particular school, a particular lineage and a particular teacher. It means changing your life, not just changing your mind. Since I live in Iowa City and there is no school, lineage or teacher, I am technically not a Buddhist. On the other hand… At least once a day I descend the stairs to my basement, bow towards my zabuton and turn clockwise. I bow to the world and then lower myself onto a round black cushion. I light a small tea -light and bow to the Nepali Buddha statue that I bought in Madison. I take refuge in the three jewels. I ring a Tibetan singing bowl three times. I place my hands in the mudra of Vairocana Buddha. I sit. I think non-thinking. A little while later, I get up. ( the_impermanent_record.html)


KILLING THE BUDDHA Sam Harris The ninth-century Buddhist master Lin Chi is supposed to have said, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” Like much of Zen teaching, this seems too cute by half, but it makes a valuable point: to turn the Buddha into a religious fetish is to miss the essence of what he taught. In considering what Buddhism can offer the world in the twenty-first century, I propose that we take Lin Chi’s admonishment rather seriously. As students of the Buddha, we should dispense with Buddhism. This is not to say that Buddhism has nothing to offer the world. One could surely argue that the Buddhist tradition, taken as a whole, represents the richest source of contemplative wisdom that any civilization has produced. In a world that has long been terrorized by fratricidal Sky-God religions, the ascendance of Buddhism would surely be a welcome development. But this will not happen. There is no reason whatsoever to think that Buddhism can successfully compete with the relentless evangelizing of Christianity and Islam. Nor should it try to. The wisdom of the Buddha is currently trapped within the religion of Buddhism. Even in the West, where scientists and Buddhist contemplatives now collaborate in studying the effects of meditation on the brain, Buddhism remains an utterly parochial concern. While it may be true enough to say (as many Buddhist practitioners allege) that “Buddhism is not a religion,” most Buddhists worldwide practice it as such, in many of the naive, petitionary, and superstitious ways in which all religions are practiced. Needless to say, all non-Buddhists believe Buddhism to be a religion—and, what is more, they are quite certain that it is the wrong religion. 39

To talk about “Buddhism,” therefore, inevitably imparts a false sense of the Buddha’s teaching to others. So insofar as we maintain a discourse as “Buddhists,” we ensure that the wisdom of the Buddha will do little to inform the development of civilization in the twenty-first century. Worse still, the continued identification of Buddhists with Buddhism lends tacit support to the religious differences in our world. At this point in history, this is both morally and intellectually indefensible—especially among affluent, well-educated Westerners who bear the greatest responsibility for the spread of ideas. It does not seem much of an exaggeration to say that if you are reading this article, you are in a better position to influence the course of history than almost any person in history. Given the degree to which religion still inspires human conflict, and impedes genuine inquiry, I believe that merely being a selfdescribed “Buddhist” is to be complicit in the world’s violence and ignorance to an unacceptable degree. It is true that many exponents of Buddhism, most notably the Dalai Lama, have been remarkably willing to enrich (and even constrain) their view of the world through dialogue with modern science. But the fact that the Dalai Lama regularly meets with Western scientists to discuss the nature of the mind does not mean that Buddhism, or Tibetan Buddhism, or even the Dalai Lama’s own lineage, is uncontaminated by religious dogmatism. Indeed, there are ideas within Buddhism that are so incredible as to render the dogma of the virgin birth plausible by comparison. No one is served by a mode of discourse that treats such pre-literate notions as integral to our evolving discourse about the nature of the human mind. Among Western Buddhists, there are college-educated men and women who apparently believe that Guru Rinpoche was actually born from a lotus.


This is not the spiritual breakthrough that civilization has been waiting for these many centuries. For the fact is that a person can embrace the Buddha’s teaching, and even become a genuine Buddhist contemplative (and, one must presume, a buddha) without believing anything on insufficient evidence. The same cannot be said of the teachings for faith-based religion. In many respects, Buddhism is very much like science. One starts with the hypothesis that using attention in the prescribed way (meditation), and engaging in or avoiding certain behaviors (ethics), will bear the promised result (wisdom and psychological well-being). This spirit of empiricism animates Buddhism to a unique degree. For this reason, the methodology of Buddhism, if shorn of its religious encumbrances, could be one of our greatest resources as we struggle to develop our scientific understanding of human subjectivity. The Problem of Religion Incompatible religious doctrines have balkanized our world into separate moral communities, and these divisions have become a continuous source of bloodshed. Indeed, religion is as much a living spring of violence today as it has been at any time in the past. The recent conflicts in Palestine (Jews vs. Muslims), the Balkans (Orthodox Serbians vs. Catholic Croatians; Orthodox Serbians vs. Bosnian and Albanian Muslims), Northern Ireland (Protestants vs. Catholics), Kashmir (Muslims vs. Hindus), Sudan (Muslims vs. Christians and animists), Nigeria (Muslims vs. Christians), Ethiopia and Eritrea (Muslims vs. Christians), Sri Lanka (Sinhalese Buddhists vs. Tamil Hindus), Indonesia (Muslims vs. Timorese Christians), Iran and Iraq (Shiite vs. Sunni Muslims), and the Caucasus (Orthodox Russians vs. Chechen Muslims; Muslim Azerbaijanis vs. Catholic and Orthodox Armenians) are merely a few cases in point. These are places where 41

religion has been the explicit cause of literally millions of deaths in recent decades. Why is religion such a potent source of violence? There is no other sphere of discourse in which human beings so fully articulate their differences from one another, or cast these differences in terms of everlasting rewards and punishments. Religion is the one endeavor in which us–them thinking achieves a transcendent significance. If you really believe that calling God by the right name can spell the difference between eternal happiness and eternal suffering, then it becomes quite reasonable to treat heretics and unbelievers rather badly. The stakes of our religious differences are immeasurably higher than those born of mere tribalism, racism, or politics. Religion is also the only area of our discourse in which people are systematically protected from the demand to give evidence in defense of their strongly held beliefs. And yet, these beliefs often determine what they live for, what they will die for, and— all too often—what they will kill for. This is a problem, because when the stakes are high, human beings have a simple choice between conversation and violence. At the level of societies, the choice is between conversation and war. There is nothing apart from a fundamental willingness to be reasonable—to have one’s beliefs about the world revised by new evidence and new arguments—that can guarantee we will keep talking to one another. Certainty without evidence is necessarily divisive and dehumanizing.


Therefore, one of the greatest challenges facing civilization in the twenty-first century is for human beings to learn to speak about their deepest personal concerns—about ethics, spiritual experience, and the inevitability of human suffering—in ways that are not flagrantly irrational. Nothing stands in the way of this project more than the respect we accord religious faith. While there is no guarantee that rational people will always agree, the irrational are certain to be divided by their dogmas. It seems profoundly unlikely that we will heal the divisions in our world simply by multiplying the occasions for interfaith dialogue. The end game for civilization cannot be mutual tolerance of patent irrationality. All parties to ecumenical religious discourse have agreed to tread lightly over those points where their worldviews would otherwise collide, and yet these very points remain perpetual sources of bewilderment and intolerance for their coreligionists. Political correctness simply does not offer an enduring basis for human cooperation. If religious war is ever to become unthinkable for us, in the way that slavery and cannibalism seem poised to, it will be a matter of our having dispensed with the dogma of faith. A Contemplative Science What the world most needs at this moment is a means of convincing human beings to embrace the whole of the species as their moral community. For this we need to develop an utterly nonsectarian way of talking about the full spectrum of human experience and human aspiration. We need a discourse on ethics and spirituality that is every bit as unconstrained by dogma and cultural prejudice as the discourse of science is. What we need, in fact, is a contemplative science, a modern approach to exploring the furthest reaches of psychological well-being. It should go without saying that we will not develop such a science by at43

tempting to spread “American Buddhism,” or “Western Buddhism,” or “Engaged Buddhism.” If the methodology of Buddhism (ethical precepts and meditation) uncovers genuine truths about the mind and the phenomenal world—truths like emptiness, selflessness, and impermanence—these truths are not in the least “Buddhist.” No doubt, most serious practitioners of meditation realize this, but most Buddhists do not. Consequently, even if a person is aware of the timeless and noncontingent nature of the meditative insights described in the Buddhist literature, his identity as a Buddhist will tend to confuse the matter for others. There is a reason that we don’t talk about “Christian physics” or “Muslim algebra,” though the Christians invented physics as we know it, and the Muslims invented algebra. Today, anyone who emphasizes the Christian roots of physics or the Muslim roots of algebra would stand convicted of not understanding these disciplines at all. In the same way, once we develop a scientific account of the contemplative path, it will utterly transcend its religious associations. Once such a conceptual revolution has taken place, speaking of “Buddhist” meditation will be synonymous with a failure to assimilate the changes that have occurred in our understanding of the human mind. It is as yet undetermined what it means to be human, because every facet of our culture—and even our biology itself—remains open to innovation and insight. We do not know what we will be a thousand years from now—or indeed that we will be, given the lethal absurdity of many of our beliefs—but whatever changes await us, one thing seems unlikely to change: as long as experience endures, the difference between happiness and suffering will remain our paramount concern. We will therefore want to understand those processes—biochemical, behavioral, ethical, political, economic, and spiritual—that account for this differ44

ence. We do not yet have anything like a final understanding of such processes, but we know enough to rule out many false understandings. Indeed, we know enough at this moment to say that the God of Abraham is not only unworthy of the immensity of creation; he is unworthy even of man. There is much more to be discovered about the nature of the human mind. In particular, there is much more for us to understand about how the mind can transform itself from a mere reservoir of greed, hatred, and delusion into an instrument of wisdom and compassion. Students of the Buddha are very well placed to further our understanding on this front, but the religion of Buddhism currently stands in their way. —from Shambhala Sun, March 2006

Ques%ons for Contempla%on What does it mean to be in harmony? Does harmony mean that others agree with and accept us? That we agree with and accept them? Does it mean we achieve a peaceable, passable understanding that we’re different? What is your defini%on of harmony? What values support harmony? Generosity? Wholesomeness? Forgiveness? Respect? Kindness? Pa%ence? What drew you to the Buddhist path ini%ally and how might that guide you in your rela%onships with others. Where is your understanding? What challenges do you face? What more do you need to know and understand for yourself so that you can create and maintain harmony with others? Let your ques%ons guide you.


WHAT MAKES YOU A BUDDHIST Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Once, I was seated on a plane in the middle seat of the middle row on a trans-Atlantic flight, and the sympathetic man sitting next to me made an attempt to be friendly. Seeing my shaved head and maroon skirt, he gathered that I was a Buddhist. When the meal was served, the man considerately offered to order a vegetarian meal for me. Having correctly assumed that I was a Buddhist, he also assumed that I don’t eat meat. That was the beginning of our chat. The flight was long, so to kill our boredom, we discussed Buddhism. Over time I have come to realize that people often associate Buddhism and Buddhists with peace, meditation, and nonviolence. In fact many seem to think that saffron or maroon robes and a peaceful smile are all it takes to be a Buddhist. As a fanatical Buddhist myself, I must take pride in this reputation, particularly the nonviolent aspect of it, which is so rare in this age of war and violence, and especially religious violence. Throughout the history of humankind, religion seems to beget brutality. Even today religious-extremist violence dominates the news. Yet I think I can say with confidence that so far we Buddhists have not disgraced ourselves. Violence has never played a part in propagating Buddhism. However, as a trained Buddhist, I also feel a little discontented when Buddhism is associated with nothing beyond vegetarianism, nonviolence, peace, and meditation. Prince Siddhartha, who sacrificed all the comforts and luxuries of palace life, must have been searching for more than passivity and shrubbery when he set out to discover enlightenment. 46

When a conversation arises like the one with my seatmate on the plane, a non-Buddhist may casually ask, “What makes someone a Buddhist?” That is the hardest question to answer. If the person has a genuine interest, the complete answer does not make for light dinner conversation, and generalizations can lead to misunderstanding. Suppose that you give them the true answer, the answer that points to the very foundation of this 2,500 -year-old tradition. One is a Buddhist if he or she accepts the following four truths: All compounded things are impermanent. All emotions are pain. All things have no inherent existence. Nirvana is beyond concepts. These four statements, spoken by the Buddha himself, are known as “the four seals.” Traditionally, seal means something like a hallmark that confirms authenticity. For the sake of simplicity and flow we will refer to these statements as both seals and “truths,” not to be confused with Buddhism’s four noble truths, which pertain solely to aspects of suffering. Even though the four seals are believed to encompass all of Buddhism, people don’t seem to want to hear about them. Without further explanation they serve only to dampen spirits and fail to inspire further interest in many cases. The topic of conversation changes and that’s the end of it. The message of the four seals is meant to be understood literally, not metaphorically or mystically—and meant to be taken seriously. But the seals are not edicts or commandments. With a little contemplation one sees that there is nothing moralistic or ritualistic about them. There is no mention of good or bad behavior. They are secular truths based on wisdom, and wisdom is 47

the primary concern of a Buddhist. Morals and ethics are secondary. A few puffs of a cigarette and a little fooling around don’t prevent someone from becoming a Buddhist. That is not to say that we have license to be wicked or immoral. A Deeper Understanding of Karma, Purity and Nonviolence The concept of karma, the undeniable trademark of Buddhism, also falls within these four truths. When causes and conditions come together and there are no obstacles, consequences arise. Consequence is karma. This karma is gathered by consciousness— the mind, or the self. If this self acts out of greed or aggression, negative karma is generated. If a thought or action is motivated by love, tolerance, and a wish for others to be happy, positive karma is generated. Yet motivation, action, and the resulting karma are inherently like a dream, an illusion. Transcending karma, both good and bad, is nirvana. Any so-called good action that is not based on these four views is merely righteousness; it is not ultimately Siddhartha’s path. Even if you were to feed all the hungry beings in the world, if you acted in complete absence of these four views, then it would be merely a good deed, not the path to enlightenment. In fact it might be a righteous act designed to feed and support the ego. It is because of these four truths that Buddhists can practice purification. If one thinks that one is stained by negative karma or is weak or “sinful,” and is frustrated, thinking that these obstacles are always getting in the way of realization, then one can take comfort in knowing that they are compounded and therefore impermanent and thus purifiable. On the other hand, if one feels lacking in ability or merit, one can take comfort knowing that merit can be accumulated through performing good deeds,


because the lack of merit is impermanent and therefore changeable. The Buddhist practice of nonviolence is not merely submissiveness with a smile or meek thoughtfulness. The fundamental cause of violence is when one is fixated on an extreme idea, such as justice or morality. This fixation usually stems from a habit of buying into dualistic views, such as bad and good, ugly and beautiful, moral and immoral. One’s inflexible selfrighteousness takes up all the space that would allow empathy for others. Sanity is lost. Understanding that all these views or values are compounded and impermanent, as is the person who holds them, violence is averted. When you have no ego, no clinging to the self, there is never a reason to be violent. When one understands that one’s enemies are held under a powerful influence of their own ignorance and aggression, that they are trapped by their habits, it is easier to forgive them for their irritating behavior and actions. Similarly, if someone from the insane asylum insults you, there is no point in getting angry. When we transcend believing in the extremes of dualistic phenomena, we have transcended the causes of violence. The Four Seals: A Package Deal In Buddhism, any action that establishes or enhances the four views is a rightful path. Even seemingly ritualistic practices, such as lighting incense or practicing esoteric meditations and mantras, are designed to help focus our attention on one or all of the truths. Anything that contradicts the four views, including some action that may seem loving and compassionate, is not part of the path. Even emptiness meditation becomes pure negation, nothing but a nihilistic path, if it is not in compliance with the four truths.


For the sake of communication we can say that these four views are the spine of Buddhism. We call them “truths” because they are simply facts. They are not manufactured; they are not a mystical revelation of the Buddha. They did not become valid only after the Buddha began to teach. Living by these principles is not a ritual or a technique. They don’t qualify as morals or ethics, and they can’t be trademarked or owned. There is no such thing as an “infidel” or a “blasphemer” in Buddhism because there is no one to be faithful to, to insult, or to doubt. However, those who are not aware of or do not believe in these four facts are considered by Buddhists to be ignorant. Such ignorance is not cause for moral judgment. If someone doesn’t believe that humans have landed on the moon, or thinks that the world is flat, a scientist wouldn’t call him a blasphemer, just ignorant. Likewise, if he doesn’t believe in these four seals, he is not an infidel. In fact, if someone were to produce proof that the logic of the four seals is faulty, that clinging to the self is actually not pain, or that some element defies impermanence, then Buddhists should willingly follow that path instead. Because what we seek is enlightenment, and enlightenment means realization of the truth. So far, though, in all these centuries no proof has arisen to invalidate the four seals. If you ignore the four seals but insist on considering yourself a Buddhist merely out of a love affair with the traditions, then that is superficial devotion. The Buddhist masters believe that however you choose to label yourself, unless you have faith in these truths, you will continue to live in an illusory world, believing it to be solid and real. Although such belief temporarily provides the bliss of ignorance, ultimately it always leads to some form of anxiety. You then spend all your time solving problems and trying to get rid of the anxiety. Your constant need to solve problems becomes like an addiction. How many 50

problems have you solved only to watch others arise? If you are happy with this cycle, then you have no reason to complain. But when you see that you will never come to the end of problem solving, that is the beginning of the search for inner truth. While Buddhism is not the answer to all the world’s temporal problems and social injustices, if you happen to be searching and if you happen to have chemistry with Siddhartha, then you may find these truths agreeable. If that is the case, you should consider following him seriously. Richness Within Renunciation As a follower of Siddhartha, you don’t necessarily have to emulate his every action—you don’t have to sneak out while your wife is sleeping. Many people think that Buddhism is synonymous with renunciation, leaving home, family, and job behind, and following the path of an ascetic. This image of austerity is partly due to the fact that a great number of Buddhists revere the mendicants in the Buddhist texts and teachings, just as the Christians admire Saint Francis of Assisi. We can’t help being struck by the image of the Buddha walking barefoot in Magadha with his begging bowl, or Milarepa in his cave subsisting on nettle soup. The serenity of a simple Burmese monk accepting alms captivates our imagination. But there is also an entirely different variety of follower of the Buddha: King Ashoka, for example, who dismounted from his royal chariot, adorned with pearls and gold, and proclaimed his wish to spread the buddhadharma throughout the world. He knelt down, seized a fistful of sand, and proclaimed that he would build as many stupas as there were grains of sand in his hand. And in fact he kept his promise. So one can be a king, a merchant, a prostitute, a junkie, or a chief executive officer and still accept the four seals. Fundamentally it is not the act of leav51

ing behind the material world that Buddhists cherish but the ability to see the habitual clinging to this world and ourselves and to renounce the clinging. As we begin to understand the four views, we don’t necessarily discard things; we begin instead to change our attitude toward them, thereby changing their value. Just because you have less than someone else doesn’t mean that you are more morally pure or virtuous. In fact, humility itself can be a form of hypocrisy. When we understand the essencelessness and impermanence of the material world, renunciation is no longer a form of selfflagellation. It doesn’t mean that we’re hard on ourselves. The word sacrifice takes on a different meaning. Equipped with this understanding, everything becomes about as significant as the saliva we spit on the ground. We don’t feel sentimental about saliva. Losing such sentimentality is a path of bliss, sugata. When renunciation is understood as bliss, the stories of many other Indian princesses, princes, and warlords who once upon a time renounced their palace life become less outlandish. This love of truth and veneration for the seekers of truth is an ancient tradition in countries like India. Even today, instead of looking down on renunciants, Indian society venerates them just as respectfully as we venerate professors at Harvard and Yale. Although the tradition is fading in this age when corporate culture reigns, you can still find naked, ash-clad sadhus who have given up successful law practices to become wandering mendicants. It gives me goose bumps to see how Indian society respects these people instead of shooing them away as disgraceful beggars or pests. I can’t help but imagine them at the Marriott Hotel in Hong Kong. How would the nouveau-riche Chinese, desperately trying to copy Western ways, feel about these ash-clad sadhus? Would the doorman open the door for them? For that matter, how would the concierge at the Hotel Bel-Air in 52

Los Angeles react? Instead of worshipping the truth and venerating sadhus, this is an age that worships billboards and venerates liposuction. Broadly speaking, wisdom comes from a mind that has what the Buddhists call “right view.” But one doesn’t even have to consider oneself a Buddhist to have right view. Ultimately it is this view that determines our motivation and action. It is the view that guides us on the path of Buddhism. If we can adopt wholesome behaviors in addition to the four seals, it makes us even better Buddhists. But what makes you not a Buddhist? If you cannot accept that all compounded or fabricated things are impermanent, if you believe that there is some essential substance or concept that is permanent, then you are not a Buddhist. If you cannot accept that all emotions are pain, if you believe that actually some emotions are purely pleasurable, then you are not a Buddhist. If you cannot accept that all phenomena are illusory and empty, if you believe that certain things do exist inherently, then you are not a Buddhist. And if you think that enlightenment exists within the spheres of time, space, and power, then you are not a Buddhist. So, what makes you a Buddhist? You may not have been born in a Buddhist country or to a Buddhist family, you may not wear robes or shave your head, you may eat meat and idolize Eminem and Paris Hilton. That doesn’t mean you cannot be a Buddhist. In order to be a Buddhist, you must accept that all compounded phenomena are impermanent, all emotions are pain, all things have no inherent existence, and enlightenment is beyond concepts. It’s not necessary to be constantly and endlessly mindful of these four truths. But they must reside in your mind. You don’t 53

walk around persistently remembering your own name, but when someone asks your name, you remember it instantly. There is no doubt. Anyone who accepts these four seals, even independently of Buddha’s teachings, even never having heard the name Shakyamuni Buddha, can be considered to be on the same path as he. The Beautiful Logic of the Four Seals Consider the example of generosity. When we begin to realize the first seal—impermanence—we see everything as transitory and without value, as if it belonged in a Salvation Army donation bag. We don’t necessarily have to give it all away, but we have no clinging to it. When we see that our possessions are all impermanent compounded phenomena, that we cannot cling to them forever, generosity is already practically accomplished. Understanding the second seal, that all emotions are pain, we see that the miser, the self, is the main culprit, providing nothing but a feeling of poverty. Therefore, by not clinging to the self, we find no reason to cling to our possessions, and there is no more pain of miserliness. Generosity becomes an act of joy. Realizing the third seal, that all things have no inherent existence, we see the futility of clinging, because whatever we are clinging to has no truly existing nature. It’s like dreaming that you are distributing a billion dollars to strangers on the street. You can give generously because it’s dream money, and yet you are able to reap all the fun of the experience. Generosity based on these three views inevitably makes us realize that there is no goal. It is not a sacrifice endured in order to get recognition or to ensure a better rebirth. Generosity without a price tag, expectations, or strings provides a glimpse into the fourth view, the truth that liberation, enlightenment, is beyond conception. 54

If we measure the perfection of a virtuous action, such as generosity, by material standards—how much poverty is eliminated— we can never reach perfection. Destitution and the desires of the destitute are endless. Even the desires of the wealthy are endless; in fact the desires of humans can never be fully satisfied. But according to Siddhartha, generosity should be measured by the level of attachment one has to what is being given and to the self that is giving it. Once you have realized that the self and all its possessions are impermanent and have no truly existing nature, you have nonattachment, and that is perfect generosity. For this reason the first action encouraged in the Buddhist sutras is the practice of generosity. Adopting Wisdom, Dropping Distorted Mortalities As you read this, you may be thinking, I’m generous and I don’t have that much attachment to my things. It may be true that you aren’t tightfisted, but in the midst of your generous activities, if someone walks off with your favorite pencil, you may get so angry that you want to bite his ear off. Or you may become completely disheartened if someone says, “Is that all you can give?” When we give, we are caught up in the notion of “generosity.” We cling to the result—if not a good rebirth, at least recognition in this life, or maybe just a plaque on the wall. I have also met many people who think they are generous simply because they have given money to a certain museum, or even to their own children, from whom they expect a lifetime of allegiance. 55

If it is not accompanied by the four views, morality can be similarly distorted. Morality feeds the ego, leading us to become puritanical and to judge others whose morality is different from ours. Fixated on our version of morality, we look down on other people and try to impose our ethics on them, even if it means taking away their freedom. The great Indian scholar and saint Shantideva, himself a prince who renounced his kingdom, taught that it is impossible for us to avoid encountering anything and everything unwholesome, but if we can apply just one of these four views, we are protected from all nonvirtue. If you think the entire West is somehow satanic or immoral, it will be impossible to conquer and rehabilitate it, but if you have tolerance within yourself, this is equal to conquering. You can’t smooth out the entire earth to make it easier to walk on with your bare feet, but by wearing shoes you protect yourself from rough, unpleasant surfaces. If we can understand the four views not only intellectually but also experientially, we begin to free ourselves from fixating on things that are illusory. This freedom is what we call wisdom. Buddhists venerate wisdom above all else. Wisdom surpasses morality, love, common sense, tolerance, and vegetarianism. Wisdom is not a divine spirit that we seek from somewhere outside of ourselves. We invoke it by first hearing the teachings on the four seals—not accepting them at face value, but rather analyzing and contemplating them. If you are convinced that this path will clear some of your confusion and bring some relief, then you can actually put wisdom into practice. In one of the oldest Buddhist teaching methods, the master gives his disciples a bone and instructs them to contemplate its origin. Through this contemplation, the disciples eventually see the bone as the end result of birth, birth as the end result of karmic formation, karmic formation as the end result of craving, 56

and so on. Thoroughly convinced by the logic of cause, condition, and effect, they begin to apply awareness to every situation and every moment. This is what we call meditation. People who can bring us this kind of information and understanding are venerated as masters because, even though they have profound realization and could happily live in the forest, they are willing to stick around to explain the view to those who are still in the dark. Because this information liberates us from all kinds of unnecessary hiccups, we have an automatic appreciation for the explainer. So we Buddhists pay homage to the teacher. Once you have intellectually accepted the view, you can apply any method that deepens your understanding and realization. In other words, you can use whatever techniques or practices help you to transform your habit of thinking that things are solid into the habit of seeing them as compounded, interdependent, and impermanent. This is true Buddhist meditation and practice, not just sitting still as if you were a paperweight. Even though we know intellectually that we are going to die, this knowledge can be eclipsed by something as small as a casual compliment. Someone comments on how graceful our knuckles look, and the next thing we know we are trying to find ways to preserve these knuckles. Suddenly we feel that we have something to lose. These days we are constantly bombarded by so many new things to lose and so many things to gain. More than ever we need methods that remind us and help us get accustomed to the view, maybe even hanging a human bone from the rearview mirror, if not shaving your head and retreating to a cave. Combined with these methods, ethics and morality become useful. Ethics and morality may be secondary in Buddhism, but they are important when they bring us closer to the truth. But even if some action appears wholesome and positive, if it takes us away from the four truths, Siddhartha himself cau57

tioned us to leave it be. The Tea and the Teacup: Wisdom Within Culture The four seals are like tea, while all other means to actualize these truths—practices, rituals, traditions, and cultural trappings—are like a cup. The skills and methods are observable and tangible, but the truth is not. The challenge is not to get carried away by the cup. People are more inclined to sit straight in a quiet place on a mediNow that Buddhism is flourishing in the tation cushion than to West, I have heard of people altering contemplate which Buddhist teachings to fit the modern way will come first, tomorrow or the next life. of thinking. If there is anything to be Outward practices are adapted, it would be the rituals and perceivable, so the symbols, not the truth itself. mind is quick to label them as “Buddhism,” whereas the concept “all compounded things are impermanent” is not tangible and is difficult to label. It is ironic that evidence of impermanence is all around us, yet is not obvious to us. The essence of Buddhism is beyond culture, but it is practiced by many different cultures, which use their traditions as the cup that holds the teachings. If the elements of these cultural trappings help other beings without causing harm, and if they don’t contradict the four truths, then Siddhartha would encourage such practices. Throughout the centuries so many brands and styles of cups have been produced, but however good the intention behind them, and however well they may work, they become a hindrance if we forget the tea inside. Even though their purpose is to hold the truth, we tend to focus on the means rather than the outcome. So people walk around with empty cups, or they forget 58

to drink their tea. We human beings can become enchanted, or at least distracted, by the ceremony and color of Buddhist cultural practices. Incense and candles are exotic and attractive; impermanence and selflessness are not. Siddhartha himself said that the best way to worship is by simply remembering the principle of impermanence, the suffering of emotions, that phenomena have no inherent existence, and that nirvana is beyond concepts. Now that Buddhism is flourishing in the West, I have heard of people altering Buddhist teachings to fit the modern way of thinking. If there is anything to be adapted, it would be the rituals and symbols, not the truth itself. Buddha himself said that his discipline and methods should be adapted appropriately to time and place. But the four truths don’t need to be updated or modified; and it’s impossible to do so anyway. You can change the cup, but the tea remains pure. After surviving 2,500 years and traveling 40,781,035 feet from the Bodhi tree in central India to Times Square in New York City, the concept “all compounded things are impermanent” still applies. Impermanence is still impermanence in Times Square. You cannot bend these four rules; there are no social or cultural exceptions. Practicing Harmony Profound truths aside, these days even the most practical and obvious truths are ignored. We are like monkeys who dwell in the forest and shit on the very branches from which we hang. Every day we hear people talking about the state of the economy, not recognizing the connection between recession and greed. Because of greed, jealousy, and pride, the economy will never become strong enough to ensure that every person has access to the basic necessities of life. Our dwelling place, the Earth, becomes more and more polluted. I have met people who 59

condemn ancient rulers and emperors and ancient religions as the source of all conflict. But the secular and modern world has not done any better; if anything, it has done worse. What is it that the modern world has made better? One of the main effects of science and technology has been to destroy the world more quickly. Many scientists believe that all living systems and all life-support systems on Earth are in decline. It’s time for modern people like ourselves to give some thought to spiritual matters, even if we have no time to sit on a cushion, even if we are put off by those who wear rosaries around their necks, and even if we are embarrassed to exhibit our religious leanings to our secular friends. Contemplating the impermanent nature of everything that we experience and the painful effect of clinging to the self brings peace and harmony—if not to the entire world, at least within our own sphere. —from Shambhala Sun, January 2007


LOVE Master Chin Kung With their true sincerity, purity, equality, Ul%mate wisdom and compassion, Saints and gods of all religions Benefit all people in ac%ng as Leaders by guiding, Parents by nurturing, and Teachers by educa%ng. Saints and gods teach all people The rela%onships between Humans, Humans and nature, and Humans and spirits of heaven and earth; To change from bad to good, Deluded to awakened, Ordinary to sage; To have kind hearts and thoughts, and do kind deeds; To differen%ate neither by na%onality, belief, or race, Nor between self and others. Coexist harmoniously, Regard each other with equality and respect, and Love one another. Work together, Care for each other and accord with all, Unceasingly and forever. Through true honesty, deeply believe that All sen%ent beings are one with the Same true nature, wisdom, and virtue. One who achieves these teachings is a saint. A manifesta%on of a Perfectly Enlightened Being of Infinite Life and Light.


THE BAD SNAKE Ajahn Brahm A bad snake lived in a forest outside a village. He was vicious, malicious and mean. He would bite people just for fun—his fun, that is. When the bad snake became advanced in snake-years, he began to wonder what happens to snakes when they die. All his hissing life he had spat scorn on religions and those snakes that, in his opinion, were gullible and susceptible to such nonsense. Now he was interested. Not far from the snake’s hole, on top of a hill, lived a holy snake. All holy people live on the summit of a hill or mountain, even holy snakes. It’s the tradition. One never hears of a holy man living in a swamp. One day, the bad snake decided to visit the holy snake. He put on a raincoat, dark glasses and hat so his friends wouldn’t recognize him. Then he slithered up the hill to the monastery of the holy snake. He arrived during the middle of a sermon. The holy snake was sitting on a rock with hundreds of snakes listening with rapt attention. Bad snake slithered to the edge of the throng, close to an exit, and began to listen. The more he listened, the more sense it made. He started to become convinced, then inspired and then, finally, converted. After the sermon, he went up to holy snake, tearfully confessed the many sins of his life, and promised, from now on, he’d be a totally different snake. He vowed in front of holy snake never to bite a human again. He was going to be kind. He was going to be caring. He was going to teach other snakes how to be good. He even left a donation in the box on the way out (when everyone was looking, of course). 62

Although snakes can talk to saneks, it all sounds like one and the same hiss to human beings. Bad snake, or formely bad snake, was unable to tell the people that he was now a pacifist. Villagers would still avoid him, even though they began to wonder about the Amnesty International badge he wore so prominently on his chest. Then one day a villager, distracted by a song on his Walkman, danced right past bad snake, and bad snake didn't strike; he just smiled religiously. From that time on, the villagers realized that bad snake was no longer dangerous. They would walk right past him as he sat cross-coiled in meditation outside his hole. Then some naughty boys form the village came to tease him. ‘Hey, you slimy creep!’ they jeered from a safe distance. ‘Show us your fangs, if you’ve got any, you oversized worm. You’re a wimp, a cream-puff, a disgrace to your species!’ He didn't like being called a slimy creep, even though there was some truth in the description, or an oversized worm. But how could he defend himself? He had vowed not to bite. Seeing that the snake was now passive, the boys grew bolder and threw stones and clods of earth. They laughed when a stone hit. The snake knew that he was fast enough to bite any one of those boys, before you could finish saying ‘world Wildlife Fund’. But his vow prevented him. So the boys came closer and started hitting him over the back with sticks. The snake took the painful beating; but he realized that, in the real world, you had to be mean to protect yourself. Religion was nonsense after all. So he slithered painfully up the hill to see that fake of a snake, and be 63

released from his vow. Holy snake saw him coming, all battered and bruised, and asked, ‘What happened to you?’ ‘It’s all your fault,’ bad snake complained bitterly. ‘What do you mean, “It’s all my fault”?’ protested the holy snake. ‘You told me not to bite. Now look what’s happened to me! Religion might work in a monastery, but in the real world…’ ‘Oh, you stupid snake!’ holy snake interrupted. ‘Oh, you foolish snake! On you idiot snake! It’s true that I told you not to bite. But I never told you not to hiss, did I?’ Sometimes in life, even saints have to ‘hiss’ to be kind. But no one needs to bite. —from Opening the Door of Your Heart, by Ajahn Brahm


SHRED Hoa Nguyen we are complica%ng pa=erns. des%ny is a big room. we talk like jets missing home: a view of sky as a child a co=on diorama. birds collect where they will telephone wire. the front stop. what days aren’t pinched by absence we are here In our skin. des%ny is a small city I could die today.


AMERICAN ZENOPHILIA Sarah Pulliam Baily Americans must like Buddhism. Corporate America thinks so, judging from a host of recent advertisements. While associating their products with organized religion is something most companies avoid, GNC has marketed a dietary supplement as “Fully Empowered Zen,” Red Bull humorously promises the “ways of meditation” if you consume its caffeine-filled drinks, and MasterCard has shown a woman meditating in one of its “Priceless” commercials. Although the centuries-old religion isn't overwhelmingly practiced in the United States (studies suggest less than 1 percent of people self-identify as Buddhist), its ideas permeate American culture—from song lyrics by the Beastie Boys and spiritual themes in Star Wars, to the publicly professed faith of superstars such as Tiger Woods and Richard Gere. Buddhists have been elected to Congress, and according to recent polls, Buddhists are less discriminated against than are Christians. “There’s a disproportionate amount of influence for the number of Buddhists in the country,” says Christopher Queen, lecturer on world religions at Harvard University. “Because of highspeed transportation and travel, we feel part of one global village. Buddhism is playing an important role in that global village.” But what do Americans really know about Buddhism? There’s the Dalai Lama, who famously advocates for peace, ethics, and interfaith efforts. Tibet’s spiritual leader has continually called for the country’s autonomy and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. He has met with numerous world leaders, and in 2007 received the Congressional Gold Medal. 66

But what about Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism? “Most people don’t know the story of the Buddha. He’s more of an abstraction, while the Dalai Lama is a real figure in our world today,” says filmmaker David Grubin, who directed the upcoming NEH-supported documentary on Gautama’s life. “The Buddha is more of an archetypal figure, so I tried to bring him to life.” Grubin’s The Buddha, scheduled to air on PBS in April, is set in India and explores the life and meaning of the Buddha. The film enlists elegant, sparse animation to tell the story of Gautama’s life. Grubin weaves Buddha’s story together with his teachings and examples of modern Buddhism through interviews with markedly passionate practitioners—including a psychiatrist, a poet, a monk—and religion scholars. Gautama grew up in a royal family in India during the sixth century BCE. His father tried to shelter him from anything unpleasant, but at the age of twenty-nine he encountered human hunger, old age, illness, and death on four successive outings from the palace. The sight of human suffering affected him greatly and made him realize that he, too, would eventually age, suffer, and die. Plagued by the questions of why humans suffer and how to end suffering, he left his privileged life behind, abandoning his beloved wife and infant son, to seek an answer. He visited gurus and became an ascetic, depriving himself of material goods, shelter, and nourishment, eating barely enough to survive. But none of this brought him the answers he sought. Having rejected a life of opulence, he now rejected a life of deprivation to seek a new way—what would become the Middle Way. Under a pipal tree, legend has it, he sat and meditated until he achieved enlightenment. That tree in Bodh Gaya, India, or what is supposedly that tree, has been a sacred place for Buddhist pilgrimage ever since. 67

There Buddha formulated the Four Noble Truths: suffering exists, suffering is caused by attachment, ending suffering is possible, and there is a way to end suffering through the Eightfold Path (right view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration). In this way, humans can break the cycle of reincarnation, being reborn again and again under the law of karma. At thirty-five, Buddha devoted the rest of his life to spreading his teachings about the dharma, the fundamental laws of all things. “Buddha said my followers should not accept my teaching out of devotion but rather your own experiment,” the Dalai Lama says in the documentary. “So real Buddha’s sacred place must build within ourselves. We must build within our heart.” To declare their Buddhist identity, adherents “take refuge” in the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the dharma (his teachings), and the sangha (the community). Buddhists also follow precepts: not killing, not stealing, avoiding sexual misconduct, not lying, and not using intoxicants like alcohol or drugs. “Everybody has a potential to work to change themselves, to find more serenity, to search for enlightenment, whatever you want to call it,” Grubin says. And though not everyone is going to find enlightenment, everyone can seek it. In 2008, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life Religious Landscape survey and the American Religious Identification Survey estimated Buddhists at 0.7 percent and 0.5 percent of the American population, respectively. ARIS estimated that the number of adherents rose by 170 percent between 1990 and 2000, reaching 1.2 million followers in 2008. Scholars are unsure whether the reports are accurate, as Americans who might dabble in various forms of Buddhism may not identify themselves as Buddhist on a survey. That makes it difficult to quantify the number of Buddhists in the United States, 68

says Robert Thurman, father of the actress Uma Thurman, a friend of the Dalai Lama’s, and a professor at Columbia University; though the Harvard Pluralism Project lists more than two thousand Buddhist centers in the United States, the majority of which can be found in New York, California, and Texas. “Buddhism has sort of gone along with whatever the national religion was. It is not a creedal religion, especially in America,” Thurman says. “We have a phenomenon of millions of people who use mindfulness to improve their health, but it might have nothing to do with Buddhism.” The Buddha did not consider himself a deity, so some consider Buddhism a philosophy that can be practiced without leaving another religion. American Buddhists are often people who switch their religious affiliation; 32 percent were raised Protestant, while 22 percent were raised Catholic, according to the Pew study. However, the Dalai Lama discourages conversion. “He would say, ‘You can like what I say about compassion and being more content and being more generous, but you don’t have to be a Buddhist,” Thurman says. “You can do that as a Jew, Christian, whatever you are.” “The question is, How is Buddhism going to adapt here in America?” Grubin asks. “We’re a very pragmatic culture, so it’s taken a therapeutic and a psychological form.” Thomas Tweed, a religious studies professor at the University of Texas at Austin, believes that Buddhism has adapted to American culture by becoming more Protestant (borrowing words like “worship” and “churches”), democratic, pragmatic, and ecumenical. “Buddhism has blended in the culture and challenged the culture,” Tweed says. “Individualism and focus on experience are deeply American, so many people find resources in Buddhism.” Buddhists in America are generally divided between ethnic Bud69

dhists, often Asian-Americans who are descendants of immigrants, and convert Buddhists. Buddhism is often broken into four categories: Theravada, which emphasizes the difference between the monks’ authority and the lay people (practiced mostly in South and Southeast Asia), Mahayana, which concentrates less on monks (practiced in countries like China, Japan, and Korea), Tibetan Buddhism, a form of Mahayana led by the Dalai Lama, and Zen Buddhism, which is best known in America and teaches that everyone can be a Buddha through meditation and mindfulness. One of the ways Americans have dabbled in Buddhism directly or indirectly is through medicine. Jon Kabat-Zinn, director of a stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, is credited with mainstreaming mindfulness meditation as a way to help people deal with stress. Americans have also been interested in “engaged Buddhism,” a term popularized in the 1960s by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and author Thich Nhat Hanh, for people who want to apply meditation and dharma teachings to social injustice. “Engaged Buddhism is the cutting edge of Buddhism today,” Queen says. These Buddhists want more than to “just study ancient texts or philosophy.” As a result, many of today’s Buddhists promote peace, conduct prison and homeless outreach, and do environmental advocacy. The Buddhist Peace Fellowship is one of the largest organizations to be involved in such work. “Buddhism teaches the notion of the interconnectedness of all things; what we do is part of a web of relationships,” says Paul Numrich, professor of religion and interreligious relations at Methodist Theological School in Ohio. “The welfare of animals and plants are affected by our own actions.” Americans are less prejudiced against Buddhists than other kinds of believers, a recent Gallup poll suggests. Forty-three per70

cent of survey respondents acknowledged at least “a little” prejudice against Muslims, while 18 percent said they had some prejudice against Christians, compared with 14 percent against Buddhists. However, fewer Americans viewed Buddhism favorably when compared with Christianity and Judaism: 91 percent for Christianity, 71 percent for Judaism, 58 percent for Buddhism, and 42 percent for Islam. “Many people have an image of a Buddhist as somebody in the lotus position,” Numrich says. “Americans are worried about global Islam in a way they’re not worried about global Buddhism.” Buddhism’s roots began to form in the United States when Asian immigrants came to the country to mine gold in California in the mid nineteenth century. More Buddhists immigrated after the 1965 Immigration Act, when Americans were taking an interest in Eastern religions, says Buddhist scholar Charles Prebish, who teaches at Utah State University. “Hippies began to realize that perhaps Buddhism was safer than drugs,” Prebish says. “There’s a myriad of ways that people have wandered into Buddhism without intending to do so.” Some might pick up a Zen book at a bookstore; others might attend a meditation session with a friend. Hollywood has produced Buddhist movies like Little Buddha and Seven Years in Tibet, and other films with Buddhist themes like Star Wars and The Matrix. Celebrities practicing Buddhism include Richard Gere, Tina Turner, and Steven Seagal. The Beastie Boys offer many Buddhist lyrics in songs like 71

“Bodhisattva Vow.” In 2007, two Buddhist representatives were elected to Congress: Democrats Mazie Hirono of Hawai’i and Hank Johnson of Georgia. There are four main publishing houses in America that produce Buddhist books: Wisdom Publications, Shambhala Publications, Snow Lion Publications, and Parallax Press. But does Buddhism fit with all aspects of American life? “If you look at a lot of psychological therapies, they’re based on a notion of a healthy sense of ego,” Prebish says. “Buddhism says we should let go of ego altogether.” And technology has produced a culture of multitasking, which can make it difficult to meditate. “Meditation, sitting down in a quiet room, turning off your computer, getting away from television, creating quiet space in your life, is not simple,” Prebish says. “There are a lot of things going against people who might say, ‘Aha, this is for me.’” Unlike Christianity, where important rites are performed in a church, the practice of Buddhist meditation can be removed from a strictly religious context, notes Scott A. Mitchell of the Institute of Buddhist Studies. “For whatever reason, people feel like they can practice Buddhism without being in a community,” Mitchell says. “Buddhism’s teachings focus on the community aspect, an interrelationship, which challenges the American idea of the individual.” Buddhism is welcomed in America because it appears to provide benefits to individuals without negative consequences. “People generally believe Buddhism is a more pacifistic religion,” he says. “Buddhism provides a bridge for non-normal American religion but not so completely different that they’re shunned.” However, it faces challenges in retention. Buddhism has the second lowest retention rate among all religions in America, ac72

cording to the Pew Forum’s survey. Ninety percent of Hindus marry another Hindu, and about 80 percent of people who were raised Hindu remain so as adults. On the other hand, 45 percent of Buddhists are married to someone of the same faith, and just half of those who were raised Buddhist remain so as adults. “I see on the horizon a pushback or backlash against that for folks who want to preserve a traditional understanding of Buddhism,” Mitchell says. “There’s definitely a question about how people are practicing Buddhism and whether it’s authentic or not.” —from Humanities: The Magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities, March-April 2010


NOURISHING OUR FAMILIES Thich Nhat Hanh The problems we encounter in a monasc Sangha are also problems that can arise in a family, whether the family is practicing a spiritual path or not. To bring happiness to the family, you can bring the practices of monastic life to the home life. If a family practices mindfulness, then they will know how to deal with problems and will be able to avoid the storms of disharmony. If members of the family do not practice, the family will become unhappy, and they will have no joy left. The life of the Sangha can be a model so that families can also live together joyfully. For example, we can look on our father as an abbot and our mother as an abbess. Fathers and mothers should allow their children to participate in making decisions which relate to the happiness of the whole family. This will make everyone’s life in the family happy and help the children grow into adulthood quickly and easily. In a family, even if it is as small as two people, the family life can be organized democratically. Parents should not think that their children, because they are still young, are unintelligent. Children have good ideas and the wish to share them. It is very important for the happiness of the family that parents known how to listen deeply to their children. When you know how to listen deeply to your children and accept the value of their opinions, your children will know how to listen deeply to you and to understand you better also. ‌ Parents always want their children to have happiness in the future, and that is why they think about leaving things like a house, a piece of land, or a savings account to their children. 74

Parents also want to help give their children an education so they will be happy with a career in medicine, engineering, or some other field. The parents’ love expresses itself in their desire for their children to have a firm foundation for a secure future. It is only natural that parents should have wishes like this, but this way of showing love is not the sort of love that children need most of all. Generally, children do not need as much material security as the parents think. What children need most of all is a peaceful life in the family. When the parents are living together in harmony, children have happiness right away and they also have the foundation for happiness in the future. Young people who come to Plum Village all agree that the most precious gift parents can offer their children is their own happiness. What is more important, however, is that when the children grow up and find partners, they will also be able to bring happiness to their own families. While they were living with their parents, they saw how their mother and father looked after each other. They heard their father say gracious things to their mother, and they heard their mother say gentle things to their father. Father and mother made each other happy by the way they spoke and acted. Although the parents were not directly teaching their children in words, they were teaching their children by the way they behaved towards each other. This is the most effective way of teaching. ‌ As a mother or father we may have the feeling that parents have much wisdom and experience, while children are still young and know very little. We may force our children to do what we think is best for them, and then the communication between us and our children will break down. When there is no more communi75

cation between us, how can we be happy? The most important this is to keep communication alive between parents and children. When the door of communication has been shut, both parents and children suffer But when we practice good communication, parents and children will share their lives together as friends, and that is the only way to find true happiness. Buddhism teaches us how to use loving speech and how to listen deeply as two wonderful methods to open the door of communication. As parents we should not use the language of authority but the language of love when we speak to our children. When we can speak with the language of love and understanding, our children will come to us and will tell us about their difficulties, suffering, and anxieties. With this kind of communication we will understand our children, and only then can we really love them. Before that, we thought that we loved our children, but our love was not based on understanding. For the more we loved, the more our children felt stifled and miserable. In Plum Village we often say that to love without knowing how to love, wounds the person we love. The person may be our son, our daughter, our wife, or our husband. To truly love, the father can say to the child: “My son, do you think that I understand you? Do you think that I understand your difficulties and your suffering? Please tell me. I want to know so that I can love you in such a way that does not hurt you.â€? When a father says this, his son will have an opportunity to open his heart to the father. The same is true for a mother. ‌ This is what we call loving speech. When our child is talking, please practice listening deeply. Sometimes our child will say something that surprises us. It is the opposite from the way we see things. All the same, we have to listen deeply. We should not be annoyed with her, because we have vowed to listen deeply to our children. Please allow your child to speak freely. Do not cut her off as she is talking or criti76

cize what she says. When we listen deeply with all our heart— for half an hour, one hour, or even three hours—we will begin to see her more deeply. We will begin to understand her more, and we will begin to realize that although our child is still very small, she has some deep insights and her own special needs. We may also begin to realize that for a long time we have been making our child suffer. Parents have to look deeply at their children. Are they happy or are they suffering? If they are suffering, then we will suffer too. --from Joyfully Together: The Art of Building a Harmonious Community, by Thich Nhat Hanh, Parallax Press, 2003

The Adamanne Perfecon of Desire by Jane Hirshfield Nothing more strong than to be helpless before desire. No reason, the simplified heart whispers, the argument over, only This. No longer choosing anything but assent. Its bowl scraped clean to the bo=om, the skull-bone cup no longer horrifies, but, rimmed in silver, shines. A spo=ed dog follows a bitch in heat. Gray geese flying past us, crying. The living cannot help but love the world.


I AM A JEW AND I AM A BUDDHIST Sylvia Boorstein In the middle of a Buddhist meditaon retreat, my mind filled with a peace I had not known before--completely restful, balanced, alert, joyous peace--and I said, "Baruch Hashem" (Praise God). The next thing I did was say the Hebrew blessing of thanksgiving for having lived long enough, for having been "sustained in life and allowed to reach" that day. The blessings arose spontaneously in my mind. I didn't plan them. My prayer life in those days was a memory rather than a habit, but the blessings felt entirely natural These days when students report experiences of their minds free of tension--clear and balanced and peaceful--I usually say something like: "This is great. This is an insight into the third Noble Truth of the Buddha. The end of suffering, an alert and contented mind, is possible, in this very lifetime, remembering your whole story, remembering everyone's whole story. The mind can hold it all--with equanimity, even with joy." I rejoice with them and for them. I am grateful that I know two vocabularies of response. I think of one as my voice of understanding and the other as the voice of my heart. One More River I have discovered that the questions most asked of me by Jews are "how" questions. I am recognized as a Buddhist. I am also--and have become much more open about this part in the last few years--an observant Jew. Not only more open, but also more observant. Because I am a Buddhist. Because I have a meditation practice. So the questions now are: "How did 78

that happen?" "What is your practice?" "Do you pray?" "To whom?" "Why?" "Do you also do metta (lovingkindness) practice?" "When do you do what?" "Why?" "What are your 'observances,' and why do you do them?" "How do you deal with the patriarchal tone of Jewish prayers?" "What is your relationship to the Torah?" "To Buddhist scripture?" Most of all, "How can you be a Buddhist and a Jew?" And, "Can I?" The answer to the "how" questions requires that I tell my personal story. Certainly not my story as a prescription for anyone else, but to explain how my Buddhism has made me more passionately alive as a Jew. And how my renewed Judaism has made me a better Buddhist teacher. When I realized the degree of personal exposure that telling my story would require, I became alarmed that I was going to rock the boat. I had been quietly enjoying a private life as a Jew and some new, pleasant recognition as a Buddhist teacher. I had been accepting invitations for some years to teach Jewish groups, and although I had worried initially that they would be hostile about my Buddhism, they weren't. They invited me back. Then I worried about the Buddhists. "What if the Buddhists get mad at me for not renouncing Judaism?" Clearly, this was my issue, not anyone else's. No one is mad at me. I've been announcing myself, regularly, at Buddhist teachers' meetings, and it causes no ripple at all. I feel anticipatory alarm, I tell my truth, and it is completely a nonevent. Recently I was one of twenty-six teachers meeting with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, to discuss how we are teaching Buddhism in the West. As part of the preparation for our meeting, we each answered the question, "What is the greatest current spiritual challenge in your practice and teaching?" I thought, "Okay, this is it! These are major teachers in all line79

ages, these are people I respect and who I hope will respect me." And I said my truth: "I am a Jew. These days I spend a lot of my time teaching Buddhist meditation to Jews. It gives me special pleasure to teach Jews, and sometimes special problems. I feel it's my calling, though, something I'm supposed to do. And I'm worried that someone here will think I'm doing something wrong. Someone will say, 'You're not a real Buddhist!'" It was another nonevent. I think--I hope--that was the "One Last River to Cross." I never did ask the Dalai Lama if what I am doing is okay. It had become, for me, a nonquestion by the time we got to our meetings with him. My particular group discussed "Lay and Monastic Practice in the West," and I did say, "I am a Jew, and monasticism is not part of Jewish tradition." I'm not entirely sure of the context in which I made that remark. It may not have been completely relevant to the discussion. Perhaps it was prompted by my desire to make sure I made my declaration publicly, in Dharamsala to the Dalai Lama, just in case that might emerge later as "one more river." The three-hour return taxi ride from Dharamsala to Pathankot was occasionally hair-raising. Indian taxis are truly dangerous. Accidents, fatal ones, are common. I was sitting in front with the driver, trying to maintain some composure in the face of many last-minute reprieves. As we passed through one particular section of narrow mountain road, there were a few swerves that brought the taxi very close to the edge. My friend Jack Kornfield was sitting with Steve Smith and Heinz Roiger in the backseat. Jack said, "I hope you are saying protection mantras, Sylvia." I said, "Of course I am." He said, "Are they Jewish mantras or Buddhist mantras?" I said, "Both." Jack laughed. "Good." 80

I Am a Jew and I Am a Buddhist I am a Jew because my parents were mild-mannered, cheerful best friends who loved me enormously, and they were Jews. It's my karma. It's good karma. My parents' love included respect, admiration, high expectations, and a tremendous amount of permission. I can't remember ever being scolded. I am a prayerful, devout Jew because I am a Buddhist. As the meditation practice that I learned from my Buddhist teachers made me less fearful and allowed me to fall in love with life, I discovered that the prayer language of "thank- you" that I knew from my childhood returned, spontaneously and to my great delight. From the very first day of my very first Buddhist meditation retreat, from the very first time I heard the Buddha's elegant and succinct teachings about the possibility of the end of suffering--not the end of pain, but the end of suffering--I was captivated, I was thrilled, and I was reassured. The idea that it was possible, in the middle of this very life, fully engaged in life, to live contentedly and compassionately was completely compelling. I felt better even before I was better. It took me a long time, even after I had begun to teach Buddhist meditation, to get ready to say, "I am a Buddhist." I often hesitated. I circumlocuted. I said, when pressed to identify myself, "I am a Dharma teacher," or "I teach Buddhist psychology," or "I am a Buddhist meditation teacher." To say, "I am a Buddhist" seemed too much like taking a plunge that I didn't need to take. Ten years ago I was a Buddhist delegate at an international interfaith women's conference in Toronto. There were two other 81

Buddhist delegates, Chatsumaran Kabalsingh and Judith Simmer -Brown, both of whom had more impressive Buddhist vitae than I did. Eight Jewish women, some of them famous, were delegates as well. I was nervous about them, wondering if they were thinking, "What's a nice Jewish girl like you doing as a Buddhist delegate?" On the first day of the conference all the delegates, sixty of us, stood up in turn around the large, rectangular table at which we were all seated and identified ourselves by name and religious affiliation. People were normally succinct. "My name is So-andso. I am a Jew." "My name is So-and-so. I am a Catholic." I'm fairly sure that Judith and Chat introduced themselves as Buddhists. When I stood up, I said, "My name is Sylvia Boorstein. I grew up as a Jew, and I teach Buddhist meditation." Both statements were true, but neither of them was the whole story. I felt awkward about what I said, but it was the best I could do at the time. One evening, as part of the program, all the delegates took a field trip to visit a mosque, a Buddhist temple, and a synagogue. In the Buddhist temple an Asian couple were doing prostrations by themselves in front of huge, gilt Buddha statues. The local abbot gave a far-too-parochial, far-too-sexist introduction to Buddhism than was appropriate for this group of sophisticated women. I glanced around, uneasy. "What are all these women thinking about Buddhism? What are the Jewish women thinking about me?" In the synagogue the rabbi and the cantor (both men) gave an introduction to High Holy Day observance that would have convinced anyone (including Jews, I think) that liturgy is nonparticipatory. I was too busy feeling awkward about sitting in the back of the synagogue with Chat and Judith instead of with the Jews who sat up front to worry about the rabbi and the cantor. The Jews worried, though. I overheard them grumbling afterward. 82

In the social hall later on, while we were drinking tea, the president of the temple sisterhood cordially inquired, "And which group are you with?" I said, "I teach Buddhist meditation." Startled eyebrow reaction and sincerely surprised exclamation: "That's funny," she said, "you don't look Buddhist!" —from Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There, by Sylvia Boorstein, HarperOne, 1996

old, %red, broken clinging in despera%on mind makes new the old bright, shiny and new out of the ordinary mind that clings no more —Ven. Yu=adhammo


SHE’S GOT THE BEAT: A PROFILE OF CHERI MAPLES Joan Duncan Oliver There’s a story Cheri Maples tells about the first time she saw her Buddhist practice in action. The year was 1991, and Maples, then a patrol cop on the Madison, Wisconsin, police force, was responding to a domestic violence call. A divorced dad was holding his young daughter hostage, refusing to hand her over to his ex-wife after a weekend visit. When Maples interceded, he threatened her. Ordinarily, she would have slapped handcuffs on the guy and hauled him off to jail. But she had just sat her first retreat with the Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, and the experience “had broken open my heart,” Maples says. She persuaded the father to release his daughter and then, instead of arresting him, spoke to him from her heart. Within minutes, he was in tears. “Here I am, 5'3"tall, with a gun belt strapped to my waist, and this 6'3" man is bawling like a baby in my arms,” Maples recalls. “I violated every tenet of my tactical training in that scenario.” But a few days later, when she ran into the man in a local shop, he swept her up in a bear hug and exclaimed, “Thank you for saving my life!” Maples loved her first retreat—the silence, the atmosphere of tolerance. “Thay [Thich Nhat Hanh’s nickname] kept changing pronouns from masculine to feminine, and when someone in a Q. & A. session asked him about same-sex relationships, he said the gender of the participants didn’t matter; what made a difference was the quality of the loving. I thought, ‘Man, I’m home!’” Initially, Maples had no plans to take the Five Mindfulness Trainings, the Order of Interbeing’s rendering of the five pre84

cepts. She confided to Sister Chan Khong, one of the monastics at the retreat, that she was a cop and couldn’t reconcile carrying a gun with the precept on nonviolence. The nun’s response was simple: “Who else would we want to have carry a gun but somebody who would do it mindfully?” Over the next decade, her practice deepened. She joined the SnowFlower Sangha in Madison and, as her supervisory and training responsibilities on the force increased, looked for ways to apply mindfulness on the job. “The biggest stressor in any workplace isn’t the work itself but the internal politics,” Maples says. Right speech—“ethical communication,” she calls it— became a major focus. “I started to think what it would be like to work in a workplace where people agreed not to gossip and to bring any criticism or complaint directly to the individual concerned or to the team.” As an adjunct to the mandatory health and wellness program for police officers, Maples began offering meditation training. “I taught them sitting, eating, and walking meditation and how to incorporate mindfulness into their work and life—all presented in a totally nonsectarian fashion.” In 2002, Maples made her first trip to Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh’s retreat center in France, to take the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings— vows marking a deeper commitment to the Order of Interbeing. While there, she wrote Thay about her struggles as a police officer: feeling like a victim because of the constant exposure to violence, and like an oppressor because of the authority she wielded. To her surprise, Thay’s dharma talk the next day focused on fierce and gentle compassion—and how to be a bodhisattva while carrying a gun. Maples once asked Thich Nhat Hanh how he was able to reach groups of people from so many different backgrounds. “I just try to understand their particular suffering,” he told her. For Maples, teaching criminal-justice professionals has been a matter 85

of translating the dharma into their language. In one training exercise she introduced at the police academy and still uses today, she asks people to identify the three core values they live by in everything they do, at home and at work. “If you’re not really what you stand for, then the things that matter the most are always going to be at the mercy of the things that matter the least,” she says. “The Buddha used precepts for this.” The exercise involves idenitifying what Maples calls “Zen activities”— those that give you great joy: “You have to water the seeds of joy in your practice by engaging in the activities that completely absorb you, that develop the same To her surprise, Thay’s things mindfulness does: dharma talk the next day concentration, focus, focused on fierce and finding the extraordigentle compassion—and nary in the ordinary.” how to be a bodhisa$va Her Zen activity is basewhile carrying a gun. ball. Though she no longer plays competitive softball or coaches her sons’ teams, she’s an avid fan. Maples continually seeks ways to apply her practice for social justice. With her current partner, Maureen Brady, she set up the Center for Mindfulness and Justice as an umbrella for such efforts. Her focus at present is the Dane County Timebank—an alternative economic system, based on the exchange of skills, that builds community and invites universal participation by assigning equal value to all skills, whether dog walking or acting as legal counsel. Maples encouraged her sangha to join, and she has been instrumental in setting up the Timebank’s two criminal-justice programs: Youth Court, an alternative to incarceration for teenage offenders, and the Coming Home Prison Reintegration Project, which teaches meditation and mindfulness in 86

prisons and provides training and support for prisoners upon release. As part of her ordination ceremony, the Transmission of the Lamp, held at Plum Village in January 2008, Thay offered Maples a gatha—a short verse— and she reciprocated with one of her own. Just eight lines long, Maples’s “Police Officer Gatha” is the bodhisattva vow of a peace officer who no longer carries a gun but still packs heat. The verse ends like this: Breathing in, I know my duty is to provide safety and protection to all beings. Breathing out, I am humbled and honored by my duty as a peace officer. Breathing in, I choose mindfulness as my armor and compassion as my weapon. Breathing out, I aspire to bring love and understanding to all I serve. Nowadays, finding a compassionate resolution to conflict is business as usual for Maples, a fifty-six-year-old social-justice advocate, consultant, and trainer for criminal-justice professionals— and, since January 2008, dharma teacher in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing. Since that pivotal night when her approach to policing shifted, Maples has introduced meditation and mindfulness to police officers, judges, prosecuting and defense attorneys, correctional and parole officers, social workers, and prison officials. “I’ve worked hard to bring the spirit of mindfulness training to my work,” she says, “including the belief that you can never end violence with violence and that punishment isn’t the right philosophy to build a criminal-justice system around.” If “Buddhist cop” sounds like an oxymoron, Maples’s back story soon makes sense of the dichotomy. Before even considering police work, she earned a master’s degree in social work from 87

the University of Wisconsin, worked as a community organizer and women’s advocate—she was the first director of the Wisconsin Coalition against Domestic Violence—and completed all but the last semester of coursework toward a Ph.D. in social work. Maples joined the police force at age thirty-one for the most mundane of reasons: she was disenchanted with academia and tired of struggling to get by on a part-time teaching assistant’s salary. She and her partner at the time were raising the first of their two sons. An acquaintance who had gone from social work school to the force told Maples, “If you want to make money, work in a male-dominated profession. We’re basically social workers with guns.” As it happens, it was a propitious time to become a cop. Madison’s police chief, who later became a minister, was, according to Maples, a very progressive guy. “He put billboards up around Madison saying things like ‘Join the alternative Peace Corps, the Madison Police Department.’” Over the next twenty years, she rose steadily through the ranks to captain in charge of recruiting and training—one of the top two posts in the department. (Along the way, she earned a law degree while working the night shift.) In 2005, when she was passed over for police chief, Maples left the force and became the head of probation and patrol for the state of Wisconsin, then served in the state attorney general’s office until 2008. —Tricycle, Winter 2009


CONTEMPLATION Thich Nhat Hanh Since the moon is full tonight, let us call upon the stars in prayer. The power of concentra%on, seen through the bright, one-pointed mind, is shaking the universe. All living beings are present tonight to witness the ocean of fear ooding the Earth. Upon the sound of the midnight bell, everyone in the ten direc%ons joins hands and enters the medita%on on Mahakaruna. Compassion springs from the heart, as pure, refreshing water, healing the wounds of life. From the highest peak of the Mind Mountain, the blessed water streams down, penetra%ng rice ďŹ elds and orange groves. The poisonous snake drinks a drop of this nectar from the %p of a blade of grass, and the poison on its tongue vanishes. Mara's arrow's are transformed into fragrant owers.


The wondrous ac%on of the healing water-a mysterious transforma%on! A child now holds the snake in her innocent arms. Leaves are s%ll green in the ancient garden. The shimmering sunlight smiles on the snow, and the sacred spring s%ll flows toward the East. On Avalokita's willow branch, or in my heart, the healing water is the same. Tonight all weapons fall at our feet and turn to dust. One flower, two flowers, millions of li=le flowers appear in the green fields. The gate of deliverance opens with a smile on the lips of my innocent child.




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