Tea House

Buddhist Creative Writing and Inspiration

Category: Glock’s Spiel

David Loy and Donald Trump

Graham Lock

Having recently reviewed David Loy’s latest book, I wasn’t intending to talk about him again so soon. Nor was I intending to add my voice to the howls of anguish following the election of Donald Trump. However, Raymond Lam, Buddhistdoor’s senior writer, recently sent me the transcript of a talk called “The Bodhisattva Path in the Trump Era” that David gave recently in Boulder, Colorado. Although the talk draws on ideas he has already elaborated in his book, it also presents a perspective on the post-election situation that I think is worth thinking seriously about. The transcript has just been made available on David Loy’s website [1], so I’ll just summarize some of the possibly challenging points he make and my reactions to them.

Anyone familiar with David Loy’s talks and writings will not be surprised that his primary concern is with how a Trump presidency might affect how the US deals with environmental and climate change issues. I certainly go along with that. Although I sympathize with the very real fears that have been expressed about how a Trump presidency might affect ethnic minorities, immigrants, women, gays, world trade etc., from outside the US such concerns seem rather parochial given the almost unimaginable catastrophes we are facing resulting from continuing deforestation, desertification, mass extinction of species and, of course, disruption of the climate.

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On Exploring Karma and Rebirth by Nagapriya

Graham Lock

Nagapriya (2004) Exploring Karma and Rebirth. Birmingham: Windhorse Publications

Nagapriya (2004) Exploring Karma and Rebirth. Birmingham: Windhorse Publications

As some people said they liked my review of David Loy’s book (well, two people actually), I thought I would again present some musings on what I have been reading.

Nagapriya’s Exploring Karma and Rebirth is not a new book (it was published in 2004), but I came across it only recently in a secondhand bookshop. I’m glad I did, because although it covers some very familiar ground, it has been very useful in clarifying my understanding of some issues that have long nagged at me.

There are basically three three main strands in the book. One deals with what Nagapriya considers to be misunderstandings of the Buddhist teachings on karma and rebirth. Another explains clearly and in quite a lot of detail what the traditional Buddhist teachings are, and talks about the difficulties many modern Buddhists might have with aspects of them. The third strand explores different ways of thinking about karma and rebirth that could be useful for modern Buddhists who find the traditional interpretations hard to accept. I’ll just focus on one or two points that I found useful and interesting in each of these strands.

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On Reading David Loy’s “A New Buddhist Path”

Graham Lock

51-pizf25qlI have recently finished David R. Loy’s latest book A New Buddhist Path: Enlightenment, Evolution and Ethics in the Modern World (2015, Boston: Wisdom Publications). While reading it I found myself frequently saying, “Yes! yes!” and furiously underlining passages to read again later (though, knowing me, I probably won’t).

I’ll try to briefly summarize his main ideas and explain my reaction. Of course, what I say has inevitably been filtered through and reconstructed by my mind, and in such a summary a lot of the nuances in his arguments will of course be lost. If you want an accurate and full account of what he says, then please read the book.

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My Difficulties with the Lotus Sutra

Graham Lock

Working Title/Artist: Lotus Sutra Department: Asian Art Culture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: 07 Working Date: photographed by mma 1987, transparency # 2 scanned by film and media (jn) 11_15_01

“Devadatta,” Chapter 12 of the Lotus Sutra. From metmuseum.org

I have recently been studying the Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Marvelous Dharma (妙法蓮花經), usually called the Lotus Sutra in English. This sutra has been and still is enormously important and influential in East Asian Buddhism.

As far as I understand it, the sutra makes three main points: firstly, that the previous three paths or vehicles the Buddha had taught for the ending of suffering and realization of nirvana were skillful means (upaya, also translated “expedient means,” “convenient methods,” and “方便”), to be transcended by the “one vehicle” or “one way” that leads to Buddhahood; secondly, that Buddhahood is potentially available for all; and thirdly, that Buddhas transcend normal conceptions of time and space and that the Buddha we know as Shakyamuni actually became awakened incalculable aeons ago and has since remained available to teach living beings and to guide them on the path to Buddhahood. His life and seeming awakening as Siddhartha Gautama was actually just a skillful means.

What follows are my thoughts on first working through the sutra.

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Am I a Buddhist?

Graham Lock

From shutterstock.com

From shutterstock.com

I have recently seen a few YouTube vids of talks and discussions in which renowned Dharma teachers assert that there can be no Buddhism without rebirth, and in a couple of cases they go as far as to say that those who don’t believe in rebirth shouldn’t call themselves Buddhists. Debates about this issue have, of course, been rumbling on at least since Stephen Batchelor’s Buddhism without Beliefs, and probably for a lot longer. I’m not going to get into the debate about rebirth here, but just for the record I don’t believe that rebirth happens and I don’t believe that it doesn’t happen. I just don’t know (and yes, I have read Ian Stevenson and Jim Tucker, and no, I am not a committed materialist).

So I suppose that in the eyes of some people I am not a Buddhist.

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Giving to charity and the trouble with empathy

Graham Lock

102264730-charity.1910x1000

I recently realized that, assuming I do not live too long beyond the age at which statistics say I ought to depart, I can enjoy a perfectly comfortable retirement on less money than I had originally budgeted for. There was therefore no reason why I should not be a bit more generous with what I have. But somehow I kept putting off doing much about it. So Sister Ocean’s recent feature on Buddhistdoor* on the parami/paramita of dana (“generosity,” “giving,” or “charity”) was a timely reminder.

Probably like a lot of people, I regularly made small donations to a couple of charities that for some reason I had formed a good impression of, and I now and again responded to disaster appeals. But I had never spent much time exploring in depth how effective giving to charity as a form of dana really is, or which charities would be best to donate to. So before increasing my current paltry donations I thought I should do some research.

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On Killing People

Graham Lock

By Chris Lockhart, from limeadestudio.com

Syrian Civil War (2012) by Chris Lockhart, 36 inches x 52 inches, oil on canvas. From limeadestudio.com

Watching scenes of barbarity on the news or reading about them in the newspaper, I have sometimes wondered whether there are any circumstances in which I would be willing to kill someone, or more realistically in my case (if I had a gun in my hand I would probably shoot myself in the foot, or if I had a sword I would undoubtedly manage to cut off my own fingers), whether I would support a government’s military or law enforcement agency killing people in my name or on my behalf.

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On Alan Wallace

Graham Lock

Graham picOver the last few years I have participated in a number of retreats, ranging from two months to a few days. And I have developed some pretty firm views on what is most useful to me and is what least useful to me. On my list of ‘least useful’ comes the dharma talk. Often I have found the hour or so each day customarily devoted to listening to a lecture from the teacher to be at best a good opportunity to cultivate patience. Such talks tend either to repeat stuff I have heard many times before, or to overload me with information unnecessary for doing the practices the retreat is focused on. Guided meditations also often do not work for me.

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