Tea House

Daily Perspectives and Stories on Buddhist Trends

Myanmar: Another Square on the Buddhist Chessboard

Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda

From 5-6 August, the Vivekananda Foundation and the Tokyo Foundation will be hosting the second Samvad conference* at Sitagu International Buddhist Academy (SIBA), Yangon. I reported on Samvad’s first symposium two years ago in New Delhi, and it was then that it became clear India’s government was trying to manoeuvre among different Asian countries – Japan, Mongolia, and now Myanmar – to establish for itself a solid bloc of Buddhist support that could rival China’s plans for Buddhist development. Samvad is one of the main organs through which Indian PM Narendra Modi hopes to accomplish this.

I can make this relatively bold assertion with confidence because the Vivekananda Foundation and the Tokyo Foundation are open about what they do. The former, as stated on its website, “is a New Delhi-based think tank set up with the collaborative efforts of India’s leading security experts, diplomats, industrialists and philanthropists under the aegis of the Vivekananda Kendra. . . . to kick start innovative ideas and thoughts that can lead to a stronger, secure and prosperous India playing its destined role in global affairs.” Its advisory board and executive council are filled with political grandees, analysts, and advisors and senior military figures. The Tokyo Foundation is broader in its foci, from tax to social security and constitutional reform, but one of its core interests is maritime defence, and the foundation has published numerous research papers about Japanese security concerns.

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Echo Through the Worlds

And in the darkness shines a light so bright
It masks the sun that we in error
Took for wisdom;
Delusion is dispelled,
The Lord of Bliss arises, blazing forth,
His light in ten directions;
All beings in every realm are touched
By kalpas worth of grace
Held in the Name;
And Nianfo praise resounds
Throughout a trillion worlds,
To Amitabha’s fame.
Namo Amituofo!

Show me the Truth

This poem on insight and illusion was translated from Portuguese to English by Daniela Boeira.

Show me the truth
Honey is sweet by nature
Offer me the most precious treasure
The lamp that dissipates the darkness
Within my hesitant mind
Small and slow steps
Your enlightened compassion does not waver
While cutting sharply through illusions
I see my attachments
My lies
Artifices
Naked under your gaze
It hurts but relieves
I discern my delicate anatomy
While anesthetized
I find myself helpless to resist
Stunned I sleep
Soundly I awake
My gratitude
I express honour to Your teachings
Namo Guru
May the realization of emptiness
Break the hollow conception of the ego

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A Conversation with Tenzin Palmo on Nuns and Challenging Sexism

In this extended discussion recorded on the spot by Sónia Gomes, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo discusses important but often uncomfortable gender issues in Vajrayana, including the need to challenge engrained cultural sexism in monasteries and the plight of ordained Western women, who more often than not have no institutional, psychological, or moral support after becoming nuns.

 

Arrival of Infinite Light

Like dew on a morning meadow, my heart bleeds for you, Lord of Sukhavati;
Like the mist that rises at the touch of the sun,
My lips breathe Nianfo praise as you embrace me with your light;
Like the cry of the eagle, rising on the winds of the mountains,
Faith rises on the winds of your grace, that I cry Namo Amitabha!

Toward you, O Lord of Life, I fly!
In your light I take my refuge!
In your Land of Bliss I will make my home;
Where blind passions are no more like the night that is no more before the dawn;
And Enlightenment is mine by virtue of your Vow!

Take this fool, Lord of Life, and call forth the Tathagata;
Dispel conditioned things! Reveal the truth!
That Buddha to Buddha, I might praise your glory evermore!

Embodied Women

What does it mean to be a woman in the Buddhist tradition? To me, even a question as important as bhikkhuni ordination in the Theravada and Vajrayana schools is not as basic as the question of “the woman” in Buddhism. Nor am I convinced that gender is inconsequential to conventional Buddhist life just because gender is illusory at the ultimate level. Our society is gendered and we operate on gender as much as we use conventional illusions like “I” or “you.”

I’m not so much reflecting on the activist side of things, important though that is in winning more equitable circumstances for women. What I wonder more is how do women, as the Other in a mostly androcentric world, manoeuvre as embodied beings in the Buddhist world of monasteries, temples, charitable organizations, and university institutes?

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Heard Through All Worlds

Shine, mighty Name!
Your splendour turning dark nights of the soul
to day;
The rays of Namo Amitabha
Piercing clouds of ignorance,
Blazing in the twilight where fears dwell,
Burning away the chaff to which craving
hearts cling,
Your spotlight scattering shades of fury
And kindling in its place Nianfo peace;
Shine, mighty Name!

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The Buddha’s Guiding Hand in the Chinese Dream

 

The Leshan Giant Buddha.

Buddhism should not be peripheral to the Chinese Dream, that great and multi-dimensional project of national rejuvenation. The religion should be front and center in informing it.

This is not simply my wild theocratic fantasy, but an idea actively encouraged by the Chinese government. It is also being propagated by Buddhist temples, media, and events (such as the World Buddhist Forum series, the most recent of which was held in Wuxi in 2015, and Hong Kong’s own Belt and Road symposium, which I hope is only the first of many more to follow). For Buddhism to exert satisfactory influence, the entire sangha (by this I mean the overall organism of Buddhist activity in China) needs to be engaged, from monastics to academics to householders; from influential monasteries to lay publishers to Buddhist Studies departments at universities.

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I was Siddhartha’s Mother

They carried me into the forest.
The sal trees, shaken by our clamour
Showered small soft flowers on us.
The trees’ slender trunks rose column-like
Into the leaves, and everywhere, that scent.

He was born on a floor of petals.

Later, he will talk about impermanence:
Bodies are flowers, fading.
Faded, the newborn.

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This is the Beginning

My day grows old;
My sun sinks low,
A north wind, cold
And stark begins to blow;

My bones are chilled,
My soul recoils,
No matter what I will,
Turbid Samsara boils;

My fate seems sealed,
This is not the end –
Long ages have I reeled
From birth, to death, and
Birth; what would I give
To halt this hopeless round,
To blissfully believe
This is my last time in the ground;

But wait! Thus have I heard
A long, long time ago,
Of such a hope, a word,
On a breeze that westward blows;

A word containing virtue,
A word of life and light,
That transforms our karmic dues
And makes rubble golden bright;

A word that we may ride
To a shore where joy is sure,
Where Amitabha resides
In a land joyful and pure;
And now, aloud, I cry
As my sun sinks fast and low,
To the Lord of Sukhavati –
This Namo Amituofo!

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