Tea House

Buddhistdoor Global's Daily Dharma Blog

Month: October 2017

Buddhism and the Tea Leaf: One Fine Marriage

Monks pick tea leaves at a tea garden in Fajing Buddha Temple in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, 24 March 2014. From news.cn

From this month till December, The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Centre for Buddhist Studies at the University of Toronto is running a workshop series on the relationship between tea and Buddhist culture, history, and practice, along with tasting and sampling sessions with tea sommeliers. In the diverse regions covered in this series (the Himalayas, China, and Japan), the relationship between Buddhist life and tea drinking has for centuries been infused, to use a choice word, with a sense of the secular everyday meeting the sacred presence.

Formal tea practice has existed in China since the Tang era (618–907) with Lu Yu’s (733–804) Tea Scripture. Lu Yu himself had a Buddhist teacher and was buried beside his stupa. According to a writer called Feng Yan, tea was favored as a sugarless drink in the monasteries in accordance with Vinaya (Buddhist law) rules, and for helping monks to stay alert during meditation. The acclaimed pilgrim monk Yijing (635–713) also chipped in with praise for tea, noting its medicinal properties in his journal during his travels westward to India: “Tea is also good. It is more than twenty years since I left my native country, and this alone as well as the ginseng decoction was the medicament to my body, and I hardly had any serious disease.”

In Buddhist temples across China, Taiwan, and many other Asian countries, as well as the Omotesenke and Urasenke schools of ceremonial tea drinking in Japan, the beverage is enjoyed as a sacred experience that is at once disciplined and a repudiation of total asceticism. Tea is an adornment, but a vital and beloved one, of life’s most essential liquid.

Personally, I think tea of all kinds and cultures symbolizes well the Buddhist attitude to worldly pleasure: acceptance and enjoyment without attachment. Tea, as exemplified throughout history, is associated with restraint but also heritage and belonging, with the Buddhist soil from where the leaves are collected across Asia. Tea, as the British say, is “the cup that cheers, but does not inebriate.” This is not to say that Buddhist householders can’t drink alcohol, but tea has been so closely associated with monastic life and Buddhist historical figures that enjoying the drink itself represents a journey from the mundane to the sacral.

Delight free from addiction, relaxation without stupor, escape short of intoxication. What more can one ask for from a simple brew? The acclaimed Vinaya preceptor and reformer Daoxuan (596–667), to whom Chinese monasticism owes an immense and critical debt, chastised monks who wasted their tea. Not much more needs to be said.

Homage to Prajnaparamita

Prajnaparamita according to the Tibetan tradition. Drawing by the author

Prajnaparamita is the Buddhist goddess of wisdom, a personification of knowledge, revealed in the Prajnaparamita Sutras that laid the foundations of Mahayana Buddhism. The term combines the Sanskrit words prajna (wisdom) and paramita (perfection). Paramita is interpreted as having reached the opposite shore of samsara, and prajnaparamita is translated as “perfection of wisdom” or “transcendental wisdom.” This wisdom is associated with the highest stage of the path of the bodhisattva, which includes the practice of the six perfections: the perfection of generosity (dana paramita), the perfection of morality (shila paramita), the perfection of patience (khasnti paramita), the perfection of diligence (virya paramita), the perfection of the concentration (dhyana paramita), and the perfection of wisdom (prajna paramita).

In the early Mahayana texts, the goddess Prajnaparamita is portrayed as a beautiful and feminine figure, which represents the personification of the transcendental wisdom that realizes emptiness. Since nothing can exist outside of emptiness, Prajnaparamita becomes a kind of “mother” of everything. She is perceived as a cosmic woman who embodies the highest metaphysical principle and the essence of enlightened wisdom.

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May the Force Be Unnecessary With You

Jon Fujita

One needs wisdom, strength, and ethics to pursue a Buddhist life. It’s a discipline and a challenge. It’s a journey through the internal world. The Star Wars film series depicts worldly struggle: lightsaber duels, space battles, galactic journeys, and political intrigue. How can a close examination of the movies deepen our appreciation of the Dhamma?

The Force is the most important element of this modern myth. According to the character Obi-Wan, the Force is an “energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” Life itself gives rise to a supernatural force that grants extraordinary physical and mental powers. The Force has a dark and a light side, represented respectively by the Sith Order and the Jedi Order. Characters are either evil or good. Take Kylo Ren from Episode VII: The Force Awakens as an example. His father, Han Solo, believes that this dark figure can redeem himself and appeals to the boy he once knew. Kylo Ren kills him, reaffirming his malevolence. Even those characters who engage in both good and bad behavior possess an internal composition that eventually leads them in one direction or another over time with finality.

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Cultural Repatriation of Buddhist Artifacts: A Job for Cool Heads

Amitabha raigo at the Guimet. From BD Dipananda

Instinctively, my politics is anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist. However, I also appreciate the complexity inherent in human affairs and recognize that nuance of thought is required even in—perhaps especially for—matters as emotionally charged as the repatriation of cultural and artistic relics.

Today my fellow writer and blogger BD Dipananda has published an article looking back on his visit to the Guimet Museum in Paris, which houses some of the most beautiful Buddhist art in France. My political sensibilities inform my belief that the ideal place of a Buddhist artifact should be in a museum or temple in its home country. Yet many of the most beautiful historical items of the Buddhist world are scattered across the world, in New York, Saint Petersburg, London, Paris, and many more.

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Master Huijing’s Dharma Words about the Purpose of Life

If we step back and pause to reflect a little, we’ll realize just how many concerns dog us in our daily existence. As Buddhists we shouldn’t seek to ignore the conventional realities that can cause concern and vexation to arise in us. I’d be the first to confess that I have plenty of worries. But we should also put these worries into perspective. In our everyday lives, over the course of many years, we discern that some worries are trivial and deserve little thought while others, like marriage, family, and work are legitimately significant and can shape the direction and affect the wellbeing of our lives.

Let’s take the most significant of worldly worries, then, and contrast it with the great matter of birth and death. Even the biggest matters of our lives will fall into frivolity when compared to our concern about that which lies beyond. The true purpose of life is invoking Amitabha Buddha with faith, for when it comes to we who are unenlightened and lacking insight, the matter of transcending birth and death overrides all others.

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Good to See Our Own Misdeeds

Master Jingzong; English translation by Foyi, edited by Fojin

Some people get panicky when they become aware of their own wrongdoings. Others stay nonchalant, as though they don’t see any transgression.

As a matter of fact, those who can see their own misdeeds have reason to be quietly relieved. By contrast, those who are oblivious to their evil deeds should be scared.

Bad deeds are like dark shadows. If you cannot see your own evil deeds, that is either because you are the light itself, or you are entirely devoured by darkness or just blind. Unlike Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who are themselves light, ordinary beings who don’t perceive the shadows of their own wrongdoings can only be engulfed in complete darkness, unable to see anything. Isn’t that cause for panic? If we can detect dark shadows, it means we are in the light and have clear vision. Isn’t that reason to rejoice?

We should be pleased to able to see the shadows of transgression in our hearts. We should also know that for as long as we exist, while we are amid the light but before we have become light ourselves, we will always be followed by the shadows. If we want to escape the distressing stalking of the shadows, there is no need to run frantically in the light or get embroiled in a fight with them. We only need to turn around and face the light.

For this reason, Master Shandao explained to us the two kinds of deep faith: believing that we iniquitous ordinary beings are already immersed in the light and thus able to see the shadows of our own sins, and turning towards Amitabha Buddha. Thus Shandao urges us to “recite Amitabha Buddha’s name single-mindedly and exclusively,” like sunflowers facing the sun.

Life, Death… All a Matter of Perspective

We like to tell ourselves that we intellectually (even if we struggle to emotionally) grasp the significance of death as the end of our present existence. But time, life, and death are nowhere near as commonsense as we think. In an article in The Independent, professor Robert Lanza lays out the concept of biocentrism: ‘the universe only exists because of an individual’s consciousness of it – essentially life and biology are central to reality, which in turn creates the universe; the universe itself does not create life. The same applies to the concepts of space and time, which Professor Lanza describes as “simply tools of the mind.”’

We don’t experience reality “as it is.” We simply don’t have that kind of access, unless we are bodhisattvas or Buddhas. For us, “life,” “death,” and everything in between is filtered through our senses and perceptions. Similarly, as Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh has said (and which we highlight in today’s Wisdom for Today quote on the main website), birth and death are quite literally a matter of perspectives, much like the concept of above and below when we’re sitting on this blue and green rock in a quiet corner of a galaxy among billions of galaxies in a vast, unfathomable universe.

The most ancient and primeval human story is the struggle to understand the great mystery and what lies beyond, that which is too big to be contained merely by our conceptions of what reality is. Only the Buddha can help us peer past the veil that our minds have created to obscure our insight.

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#Wisdom for Today: https://www.buddhistdoor.net/wisdom-for-today

The Right Balance: Negotiating Buddhist Power in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan commandos march during a Victory Day parade in the southern town of Matara on 18 May 2014

After a mob attacked a UN safe house for Rohingya refugees on 26 September near the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo, cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne came out with some of the strongest public words I’ve seen leveled by a Buddhist public servant against fellow, self-proclaimed Buddhists. “As a Buddhist I am ashamed at what happened,” Senaratne told the press a day after the attack. “Mothers carrying very young children were forced out of their safe house which was attacked by a mob led by a handful of monks. This is not what the Buddha taught. We have to show compassion to these refugees. These monks who carried out the attacks are actually not monks, but animals.”

Strong words from a government that’s struggling to convince a skeptical Buddhist establishment it isn’t attempting to undermine Buddhism’s interests. One might read Senaratne’s condemnation as a subtle plea to mainstream Buddhists: “we are sincere, critical Buddhists.” Not only has it been accused by detractors of pandering to religious minorities, the center-right United National Party is also being pressured to underwrite the state patronage and protection of Buddhism that is guaranteed by Sri Lanka’s current constitution.

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No Easy Answers: Bangladesh’s Buddhists and Rohingya Refugees

Rohingya refugees walk next to huts in a makeshift camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district. From Hindustan Times

The tragedy of Myanmar’s displacement of Rohingya Muslims, aside from its complex ethnic, historical, and religious backdrop, is exacerbated by two essential political realities. The first is that Western media and governments erroneously saw what it wished to see in Aung San Suu Kyi throughout her difficult struggle against the Burmese junta. When she decided to become the country’s state counselor in 2016, she did so under a constitution that favors the continuity of military authority and acquiesced to a context of government that does not fit with the simplified dichotomy of oppressor versus oppressed. Myanmar is also far more ethnically and politically diverse than many care to appreciate.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s father was the founder of Myanmar’s independence movement and the modern Burmese army; her mother was a high-level diplomat in the newly created country. She has the full backing of the Buddhist sangha and its representative organization, the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee. She is therefore understandably and justifiably a nationalist. As a statesman and diplomat, her priority is the political integrity of Myanmar, nothing more and nothing less. So she isn’t unaware of international sentiment turning against her; she’s as cosmopolitan as they come. Rather, it’s far more likely that she sees the criticism against her and has decided that there are more pressing urgencies. Such hard choices are dilemmas that haunt many a politician.

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Postcard from Raymond: Holy Chamber

Mogao Cave 254. From e-dunhuang.com

The darkness inspires awe, even as the divine faces around me are illuminated for my mortal eyes.

The cavern’s patterns, the motifs, the mosaics, the chapels, the shrines. Mortal channels of traceless wisdom and compassion. Tangible expressions of immaterial insight.

Within this cool shroud of black, with only a streak of warm illumination from the hot star outside the cave, I am immersed in the ineffable infinity, among the stars and the pantheon of the “beyond beings.”

This is the enlightened holy of holies, crafted by inspired hands.

A bell rings.

The summons has been made. The call, echoing to all sentient beings. To return to the Buddha, to their true nature.

All are one in the Dharma. This is what has been revealed to us in this grotto.

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