Tea House

Daily Perspectives and Stories on Buddhist Trends, People, and Ideas

Month: October 2016

Wagging the Tail at Digital Dilemmas


Kelvin River. From Panoramio

Kelvin River. From Panoramio

Last week I had a Skype call with Raymond Lam, Buddhistdoor’s senior writer, to discuss my new blogging venture. At some point I mentioned that I have trouble attracting interest for some of my courses. He replied that Facebook is now what the telephone and email have been in previous decades: if you don’t use it you are off the radar. He wasn’t the first person to stress the importance of social media for promoting one’s work, but something about his youthful, calm and confident presence, sitting there with this headphones in his sun-filled office in Hong Kong, tipped me into action.

Someone actually had already set up a Facebook page for me about a year ago, but I lacked confidence and conviction to use it. I mentioned the issue to my peer-coaching partner in Bangkok, Kanya Likanasudh, and she, bless her, taught me how to use Facebook via screen sharing in zoom. “And you need more friends!” she said.

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Reflections on a Bengali Community in California

Students of the Dhamma School. Photo from Bangla-America Buddhist Fellowship Facebook

Students of the Dhamma School. Photo from Bangla-America Buddhist Fellowship Facebook

In June this year, I was invited to present a paper to the 10th International Conference on Conflict Education at the Ohio State University in Ohio, USA. En route to my destination, I made a stop to call on the Bengali Buddhist community at Long Beach in Los Angeles, California.

This was on the recommendation of the Founder of the Bangladesh-American Buddhist Fellowship and head of the Buddhist Temple of Sambodhi Vihara in California.

I stayed three days and had an informative and enjoyable visit.

On the first day, I gave a talk to children who are students at the Sunday Dhamma School. Normally, Sunday School is of course held on Sundays! But on this pleasant Saturday, I entered to find to my delight a large number of children and youth chanting devotedly in the shrine chamber of the temple.

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Songs of the Ocean’s Tides


St Catherine's Chapel in Abbotsbury, with Chesil beach in the background. From Jurassic Coast

St Catherine’s Chapel in Abbotsbury, with Chesil beach in the background. From Jurassic Coast

Take a walk on the beach, holding a friend’s hand, and relax. Feel the sand squeezed between your toes and listen to the gently lapping waves. Peaceful, isn’t it?

Well, maybe not. Choose a different beach, and the surface might be sharp edges of volcanic rock, a foam frozen in time and cut by erosion to leave knife-edge broken bubbles. Or perhaps the beach is a long bank of rounded pebbles, tiring to walk on, like the 29-kilometer Chesil Beach in southern England. Each beach has its story, a varied history perhaps of fire and upheaval, or of shipwrecks and smugglers. But even a smooth, sandy beach has secrets. Life teems beneath your feet and the washed-up seaweed is home and food for numerous worms, crustaceans and arthropods. Come back in a few hours, and the broad swathe of sand might have disappeared so the waves pound the bottom of the cliff; the tide has come in.

The creatures of the beach face constant change, dominated by the twice-daily tide. Yet not quite: the major rhythm is every 12 hours, 25.2 minutes because the Moon orbits the Earth in the same direction as the Earth’s rotation. Beach creatures synchronise their activity with the tide, feeding when the food arrives and burrowing or hiding when necessary. Beach visitors, such as gulls, plovers, and curlews, time their visits by the tides too.

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Encounters with Dharma

Craig Lewis


Nestled peacefully on the side of a valley, beneath the looming icy majesty of Minya Konka (Gongga Shan), known locally as the “King of Sichuan Mountains,” lies Konka Gompa, a small Tibetan monastery wreathed in shifting clouds.

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Weaving Stories of Dharma and Joy

Raymond Lam

From visitmeadow.com

From visitmeadow.com

Stories have been a beloved pastime of mine since I learned to read. In my childhood I devoured fiction of all kinds: from fantasy novels based on pop culture franchises to my favourite genre of world myths and legends retold in modern prose. Odin, Hathor, and Trickster Raven were my companions as much as my high school friends and classmates. As I became more involved in the great religions of the world I discovered that Buddhists, Christians, and practitioners of all faiths regularly explore the depths of meaning in their traditions’ stories. I’ve always thought of life itself as a tale in progress, and that a life well lived was, in essence, a story that could be told with a sense of poignancy and meaning. How beautiful, even if sometimes impossible, is the simple wish for a happy ending?

The human impulse to produce and consume stories is universal, even if we know those stories are fictitious and can be deconstructed, taken apart, dismissed. In my interview with Sri Lankan poet Ramya Jirasinghe, she made the emphatic point that “artistic creation and working through the Eightfold Path can’t be linked as they have contradictory goals and processes,” since artists and writers need to work from their self and experience and the Buddhist must see through the illusion of the self. No self, no story, just a process that is misinterpreted as a story.

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The Dung Beetle

Nina Müller

Inspired by the Pilahaka Sutta

untitledRonnie stood at the mirror and beamed at the pristine reflection that shone back at him. He had greased his hair and parted it down the middle and was wearing his trendiest suit, which he had ironed himself last night. He straightened himself and grinned at the thought of his entrance into the conference room. The partners would nod at him with respect, and he imagined Francine giving him a cheeky wink as he swaggered past her on his way to the whiteboard. He was meant for this position, he knew it, and his reflection confirmed that he would get it.

Now all he needed was the final touch, the tie with the yellow stripes that added a hint of adventure to his classy look—a clever combination which had brought him success time and time again. He walked to his dresser, grabbing his pungent deodorant on the way and dousing himself with it one last time. Odd, he thought, when he got to the closet and saw that his tie was not on the top shelf as it should be. He checked the two lower shelves and cast a quick glance at his watch—he had exactly eight minutes to make it to the bus stop.

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Conference: “The Inexplicable and the Unfathomable: China and Britain, 1600–1900”


The “Chinese character seems at present inexplicable,” observed Lord Macartney during his celebrated embassy to China in the 1790s, while the Chinese themselves at this time often described “western ocean barbarians” as “unfathomable.” The failure of Macartney’s embassy is well known, not least the Emperor Qianlong’s dismissive comment that “we possess all things. I set no value on objects strange or ingenious, and have no use for your country’s manufactures.”

A sense of bafflement might therefore overwhelm the present-day visitor to the Forbidden City, on encountering its glorious array of English clocks, many imported during Qianlong’s reign. The present conference will consider some of the endless misunderstandings and deliberate deceptions that characterized relations between Britain and China in the four centuries under review, in fields as varied as religion and art, and commerce and literature. It will also explore, however, the burgeoning range of contacts between the two countries, and the increased mutual understanding achieved by two cultures separated by “the confines of many seas.”

Venue: Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN


Friday 11 November

17:30–18:00 Registration

18:00–18:10 Welcome: Ted Lipman (The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation) and David Park (The Courtauld Institute of Art)

18:10–19:15 Donald S. Lopez (University of Michigan): “Britain and Buddhism: George Bogle in Tibet, 1774–1775”

19:15 Reception

Saturday 12 November

09:45–10:15 Registration

Session 1 – Chair: Roderick Whitfield (School of Oriental and African Studies)

10:15–10:45 Greg Clingham (Bucknell University, PA): “Cosmology and Commerce on Lord Macartney’s Embassy to China, 1792–1794”

10:45–11:45 Catherine Pagani (University of Alabama): “Elaborate Clocks and Sino-British Encounters in the 18th Century”

11:15–11:25 Discussion

11:25–11:55 Break

Session 2 – Chair: David Park (The Courtauld Institute of Art)

11:55–12:25 Tang Hui (University of Warwick): “’The finest of Earth’: Selling Porcelain in 18th Century Canton”

12:25–12:50 Lars Tharp: “China on a Plate: Images from Hogarth to Whistler”

12:50–13:00 Discussion

13:00–14:30 Lunch

Session 3 – Chair: Frances Wood

14:30–15:00 Jessica Harrison-Hall (The British Museum): “Collecting Chinese Art at the British Museum 1760–1860”

15:00–15:35 Edward Weech and Nancy Charley (Royal Asiatic Society): “The Thomas Manning Archive and Prospects for a New Perspective on British Intellectual Engagement with China in the Early 1800s”

15:35–15:45 Discussion

15:45–16:15 Break

Session 4 – Chair: Lars Tharp

16:45–17:15 Elizabeth Chang (University of Missouri): “Writing Personhood from the Frontier of Western China”

17:15–17:45 Frances Wood: “The View from the Other Side: China’s Reactions to the West”

17:45–18:00 Discussion and concluding Remarks

Good Question, Good Quest

Steve Braff

From quotesgram.com

From quotesgram.com

A sense of ease
this settling down
wonderfully absent worry.

Till I feel the old hunger
to capture and codify
to make it all ways always mine.

And in this very grasp
to witness the diminution
of that subtle grace.

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