Tea House

Daily Perspectives and Stories on Buddhist Trends

The 15th Sakyadhita Conference in Hong Kong: Women’s Empowerment through Diversity and Plurality

Although gender equality has enjoyed progress in many sectors of our society, we can still see that discrimination against women in varying degrees is a feature of most societies. Gender casts a shadow in ongoing discussions about the re-establishment of Bhikkhuni Order, one of the crucial fourfold assemblies in the Theravada and Vajrayana Buddhist traditions.

Historically, it is evident that the Buddha recognized women’s capabilities in the society of monastics and their spiritual potential in becoming fully ordained nuns. In our time, this concern remains one of the most urgent and defining issues and was recently addressed in a conference on Buddhist women held at the University of Hong Kong (HKU).

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Love in the Cave of the Buddhas

Yungang Grottoes. From Travel Blog

The cave roof was high enough to tower
Over the trees in the forest that had
Grown around these medieval refuges.

We were two ghosts – wandering in abandoned
Land, apparitions from the future.
For we were dying. They, languid and still,
The buddhas, gazed down at us, their eyes
Gentle, free of judgement, seeing us, bodies in
Parts, hair, down, nails, teeth, skin, clay pots with
Hot air, bobbing on a river surface.
You ourselves all of us  and our love, like
Morning sunrays shining into the caves
To disappear traceless at dusk leaving
The buddhas holding their stone lotuses
Languid and still.

Bodh Gaya

A poem about the life of the Blessed One. By Tom Donovan

Bodhi Tree by Maranda Russell

It is a place and nothing more,
No different to behold despite particulars
Than any village in the district.
Still it is here,
In the public park,
Under the pipal tree,
On my mat of kusa grass,
I have apprehended the sorrow
Of myself and of all people,
And have understood the Unforgiving Law,
Seen the bleached and desolate fullness of it,
The devouring hungry emptiness of Craving.

And it is here that Mara has come to me,
In his fever to tempt my mind from its new way,
And I wonder that this bloated demon
Has not seen these wide eyes,
Which bid men open up their view,
To see between the dead habits of the Brahmin,
And the living folly of the poor Samana,
Between their expansion and reduction,
Between the cruel formal and the cruel nil,
Straight to Chanda,
The line through vain desire,
Through the irrelevant beginnings and ends of things,
The acceptance of the ambiguous and the unanswerable.

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Postcard from Raymond: We Never Truly Die

One of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s most eloquent and moving teachings is a summation of Buddhist doctrine about life after death: we do not leave this world until full, total enlightenment. We are integrally part of it and even when our personal time expires on this beautiful but hurting planet, we don’t disappear. Our constituents remain in this cosmos, and the loved ones and friends we leave behind can see us all around them if they just pay attention. This is the message of the Vietnamese teacher when he recounts losing his mother in one of his most personal books:

I opened the door and went outside. The entire hillside was bathed in moonlight. It was a hill covered with tea plants, and my hut was set behind the temple halfway up. Walking slowly in the moonlight through the rows of tea plants, I noticed my mother was still with me. She was the moonlight caressing me as she had done so often, very tender, very sweet… wonderful! Each time my feet touched the earth I knew my mother was there with me. I knew this body was not mine but a living continuation of my mother and my father and my grandparents and great-grandparents. Of all my ancestors. Those feet that I saw as “my” feet were actually “our” feet. Together my mother and I were leaving footprints in the damp soil.

From that moment on, the idea that I had lost my mother no longer existed. All I had to do was look at the palm of my hand, feel the breeze on my face or the earth under my feet to remember that my mother is always with me, available at any time.  — No Death, No Fear (2002)

I would like to leave you with this final, beautiful reflection from the same book. When we feel at such peace with our universe, and when we even have the Dharma’s promise of transcending it, and returning to it over and over again as bodhisattvas—What can we ever be afraid of? What can we ever hate?

I hope you enjoy these messages from Thay as much as I have loved to come back to them over the years.

This body is not me; I am not caught in this body, I am life without boundaries, I have never been born and I have never died. Over there, the wide ocean and the sky with many galaxies. All manifests from the basis of consciousness. Since beginningless time I have always been free. Birth and death are only a door through which we go in and out. Birth and death are only a game of hide-and-seek. So smile to me and take my hand and wave good-bye. Tomorrow we shall meet again or even before. We shall always be meeting again at the true source, always meeting again on the myriad paths of life.

Taking Action, Moving Forward

August was a difficult month for many in the Western Buddhist world. Two esteemed Tibetan teachers have stepped down from leading their organizations after students came forward with allegations of sexual and physical abuse, among other things.

For many, hearing about a teacher being accused of such acts will bring confusion. Isn’t this teacher awakened? Is this gossip? Will reporting him (or, very rarely, her) cause karmic or social harm to me or to my religion?

Luckily, many trustworthy and wise teachers have spoken out. The Dalai Lama, who has issued statements before about the need for Westerners to confront ant report abusive teachers, clearly stated that all teachers should have their teachings questioned and that any harmful conduct should be publicize. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Lama Rod Owens and Justin von Bujdass, and Dr. Miles Neal have also spoken out eloquently about the need for contemporary students to confront abusive teachers.

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What Happens to Our Karma If We Fall Into a Black Hole?

Crossing the event horizon of a black hole (astrophysical bodies born from the inward collapse of a massive star) means no coming back, because a black hole is not just an invisible object, but the collection of happenings that we, who are outside of the black hole, say don’t happen at all. This extraordinary and literal hole in the fabric of spacetime deletes entire occurrences within itself from every external observer’s self-consistent history of the universe. Whoever and whatever crosses a black hole’s event horizon simply stops at the edge to an outside observer is forever stuck there to our eyes, even as that thing or person does cross the event horizon and moves inevitably towards the singularity of infinite gravitational density. It can never be a part of the spatial or temporal region that is our known universe, ever again.

What about that thing’s karma? Karma, as it is classically understood, can only be totally expunged through total liberation from samsara (the attainment of Buddhahood) or intervention through a celestial Buddha. The violent death of Maudgalyayana, one of the Buddha’s chief disciples, is commonly used as an example of the inevitability of karma. This was because he committed matricide and patricide in a previous distant life, and even with the Maudgalyayana’s attainment of arahatship, there was no escaping the severe karma for two of Buddhism’s Five Grave Offences. Like causality itself, karma is like an arrow that chases the sentient being through infinite past lives and infinite future lives, ripening with a ruthless yet not immediately discernable inevitability.

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Meaning-crafting: An Emerging Discourse of Contemporary Buddhist Art

Pond 2007 © Andrea Traber

There is a fascinating group of people shaping contemporary artistic culture in the Buddhist world. Some of them are regular contributors to this website, including Sarah Beasley, Tilly Campbell-Allen, or Tiffani Gyatso, whilst others have been interviewed about their craft (sometimes by our aforementioned artist writers). These individuals include contemporary creators like painter Andrea Traber, calligrapher Alok Hsu Kwang-Han, and sculptor Sukhi Barber, as well as artists who more overtly blend traditional items like thangkas or brocades and other tactile crafts for contemporary needs, like Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo (who specializes in Tibetan applique) and Helene Rein (similarly, a stitcher of Tibetan textiles).

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Buddhist Studies: A Vital Academic Tradition

Bezeklik. From buddhiststudies.berkeley.edu

Is Buddhist Studies elitist? Short answer: ideally, although it depends on how one defines the word. Like every humanities subject, Buddhist Studies can feel like an insular field if it’s not careful. Much of my work as a journalist who loves Buddhist Studies, a subject of which I was a devoted but hardly competent student, has been to ask, in effect, the sharp and groundbreaking scholars I encounter: “What’s at stake here?” in their thesis or research.

It’s a blunt question (I don’t actually phrase it so directly). Yet it’s a crucial one, I believe, that helps PhD students, professors, and other academic professionals articulate their objectives and hopes for what to achieve, be it for their own circle of researchers or when they share their voices with us on Buddhistdoor Global.

But as any Buddhist Studies academic who knows me personally, I’m keen on defending the Buddhist Studies discipline because, when done right, it nudges our understanding of Buddhism toward the right direction (over many years, admittedly, as per the pace of academia): to a more open-ended, curious, and non-dogmatic conception of this great religious organism.

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Postcard from Raymond: The Unseen is the Real

There is a mysterious, imperceptible force from beyond the observable universe yanking our galaxy in a certain and irresistible direction. We can’t stop it.

The cosmic phenomenon known as “dark flow” is controversial, but it describes a flow or peculiar velocity of galaxies towards the Centaurus and Hydra Constellations. The gravitational anomaly called the “Great Attractor” is responsible for this debated flow, and is a concentration of mass tens of thousands of times more gargantuan than our Milky Way galaxy. Yet even the Laniakea Supercluster, which is in that region of the cosmos, does not have enough mass to be able to cause the dark flow.

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Shaolin (2011): A Guilty Pleasure

I have mixed feelings about films that have an overtly religious element, especially when the religion plays a central role in a movie focused on bone-crunching action, head-crushing martial arts, and temple explosions. I class Shaolin, which is an overwhelmingly positive portrayal of the martial art masters in Republican-era China, as one such guilty indulgence. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the film. The action and martial arts film lover in me was very happy with it, and I like how the Shaolin monks are depicted faithfully as defenders of the dispossessed and redeemers of superstar Andy Lau’s character, a warlord-turned-monk who forgives the lieutenant that betrayed him (played by Nicholas Tse).

At the heart of the film is not just the redemption of Andy Lau’s character, but the insight that violence and cruelty are cyclical: it takes a big, brave man to break the cycle of revenge by choosing forgiveness, letting go of hate, and transforming enemies in the process. Wu Jing, who is currently China’s most sought-after male star thanks to his role in the wildly popular Wolf Warriors 2, also makes a welcome appearance as one of the more experienced monks. His character dies defending the temple, along Yu Xing’s character (Yu Xing himself is a 32nd generation Shaolin monk).

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