Tea House

Buddhistdoor Global's Daily Dharma Blog

Month: September 2017 (Page 1 of 2)

Pop Culture: The Case for A Greater Buddhist Presence

Siddhartha and Yasodhara, from the “Buddha” animated film.

I never bought the argument that sacred stories, figures, and themes should not be brought to pop culture media like films or novels. Some of our more powerful and compelling pieces of modern fiction (and indeed, fiction from any era) was informed by not just the author’s spiritual identity or values, but by their intentional deployment of religious figures and ideas to shape the narrative and deliver the message of the novel, comic, film, or cartoon.

A long time ago I got into a discussion with someone about the accuracy of Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha manga serial. The animated adaptation hadn’t yet been released—the two films have not been critically successful, although I would argue it is largely due to the film’s internal structure and poor use of Tezuka’s source material rather than any overarching problem with depictions of the Buddha. The manga itself was far more self-referential, bawdy, and subversive than this particular person was prepared for. His main complaint, however, was that it depicted the life of the Buddha inaccurately and therefore risked misleading people who were sincerely searching for the Dharma.

I want nothing more than for more people to draw closer to accurate Buddhist teachings. However, I have real difficulty with this argument.

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Spontaneous Union

Mystic dance of siddha. Drawing by the author

Everything in nature is conditioned by the fundamental principle expressed in the unity of opposites: yin-yang. The fusion of the male and the female is a creative act and the source of life. Even though Buddha Nature is beyond genders, Buddhist iconography uses sexual polarity to symbolize the Mahayana and Vajrayana concept of the union of principles: female wisdom (Skt. prajna, Tib. sherab) and male compassion (karuna, nyingje) or skilful method (upaya, thab).

The union of wisdom and compassion symbolizes the non-polarized state of bodhicitta (jang chub sem), or the mind of enlightenment, which is represented visually by showing two deities engaged in sexual union. In Tibetan Buddhism such images are known as yab-yum, which literally means father-mother. The Sanskrit term for such union is yuganaddha (union of opposites), which refers to Tibetan term zung jug.

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Gifts of the Moment

Walking along the fence of the allotment, a window opens into something like deep, foraging time. Walking carefully, steadily, gaze turned towards the edible potential to my left, with senses open to the wider environment. Calm, content, alert, I could keep going like this all afternoon. What is it that makes me think of an ancestor gathering berries into a container woven of grass, a hundred thousand years ago? The imagination renders this moment both less and more significant than usual. Gentle warm wind, intense brightness when clouds give way – a gift this late in the summer.

There is a mild burning at the inside of my third finger where it was touched by nettles and the rubbing with dock leaf hasn’t completely taken it away. A “be careful” message enlivening the skin. Thorns are ready to rip into my scarf, which I hold close to my body. There is barbed wire too and you have to reach a little further at this time of the year to get to the last crop of blackberries. Aware of the whole body, the reach, balance, in-breath, contact with the fruit, careful release, exhale. Some of them are too soft to come off the branch whole and dark, sticky red juice runs down the fingers into the palm. Others are too firm and don’t yield to a probing tuck. They are for later, or for others, whose anonymous presence replaces the “wanting for one-self.”

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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, Taiwan-born Lee Ming-wei, 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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