Tea House

Buddhist Creative Writing and Inspiration

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Blinded

Nina Müller

Inspired by the Tittha Sutta

The night was still and fresh, and not a sound was to be heard—a perfect time for the first snowflake to make its appearance, and soon it was followed by many more until the whole village was wrapped up in winter’s soft embrace.

But as the sun rose and the first shutters opened onto the village square, it was not the snow that got the villagers running out of their homes but the curious mystery that had arrived with it that night. For in the middle of the square stood a gigantic, rectangular parcel that towered above every single rooftop. That it was a parcel was clear, for it was enveloped in white silk and long, golden ribbons shimmered down its sides. What was not so clear was how it had landed there—for not a single footprint surrounded it, and yet it must have arrived after the snowfall because its spectacular wrapping remained intact.

A meeting had been called between the village elders as soon as they were alerted of the mystery and it had been unanimously agreed that this was a matter for the armed forces. Unfortunately, despite the urgency of the situation, it would be at least a day before the required forces could be dispatched to the village and so—for the remainder of the day—the parcel stood tall and silent, dominating the square.

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Building a Community of Buddhist Studies Students at Fo Guang University, Taiwan

BD Dipananda

Ven. Shi Huifeng delivering the concluding speech at the conference. Photo from the FGU website

On 17 December last year, I travelled with a group of post graduate students and researchers from Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan to a Buddhist conference. This was the 2016 Buddhist Studies Graduates Students’ Conference organized by the Department of Buddhist Studies of the Fo Guang University (FGU), also known as the Buddha’s Light University, situated in a lush hilly terrain of Yilan County in Taiwan.

I learned a lot from the Conference and was able to explore some important aspects of Buddhism development in Taiwan.

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Art and the Language of Change

Grace Ko

Simone Boon, “Promising Red,” 2010, Photography

What kind of language is art? Every time I read the gatha in Diamond Sutra, “Thus shall you think of this fleeting world: a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream; a flash of lightning in a summer cloud; a flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream,” I think of Dutch artist Simone Boon’s photography. Her unearthly images seem to visually express this gatha.

Viewing art is like opening up another sensory channel that hones an artist’s view of the world. Everyone’s sensory channel and how we interpret the world is different. A few years ago, when I saw Boon’s first series of photographic stills. I found the work stunning, but also eerie. The figures in these photographs of females who move into the abstract blurs look like spirits.

For Boon, she was trying to explore other types of photography to present the idea that, “form is only a snapshot view of transition,” — a statement from French philosopher’s Henri Bergson. Her aim is to capture human essence that forms in relation to patterns in a flow of becoming. The flowing essence of humans can be attuned to the changing rhythms of reality. It is not in the everyday images we see.

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Meditation

Craig Lewis

“Why are we such tortured human beings, with tears in our eyes and false laughter on our lips?

If you could walk alone among those hills or in the woods or along the long, white, bleached sands, in that solitude you would know what meditation is. The ecstasy of solitude comes when you are not frightened to be alone, no longer belonging to the world or attached to anything.

Then, like that dawn that came up this morning, it comes silently, and makes a golden path in the very stillness, which was at the beginning, which is now, and which will be always there.”

Jiddu Krishnamurti

Images © Craig Lewis, new light dreams

This is just to say

Ratnadevi

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

By William Carlos Williams

I was reminded of this poem recently when it was recited in the film Paterson, by Jim Jarmusch. The movie is as counter-cultural as it gets: nothing (or almost nothing) more dramatic happens than a bus breaking down. It has no sex in it, but breathes tenderness, right from the starting scene, where you see a couple waking up, entwined in each other’s’ arms; streaks of golden-white morning light playing on their skins. You see this scene repeated throughout the film, with variations in posture and light, as the days of the week unfold. He is a bus driver in Paterson, the town William Carlos Williams lived and wrote in, and also writes poetry, jotted down in spare moments around his shifts. She is a designer/artist in waiting, developing her style at home, by painting every large enough surface: crockery, curtains, clothes and even homemade cupcakes in black and white patterns.

This slow-paced, meditative film has generally been very well received, which, in itself, gives me hope for our media and action saturated world. Paterson, the film’s unpublished “hero,” doesn’t own a mobile phone or other screen device. He still writes everything by hand, into a notebook with un-ruled pages. As the camera bouncily follows the familiar bus route you are impelled to view the scene through a poet’s eye. Ordinary house walls in juxtaposition to other ordinary house walls, the rambling conversation among passengers or with his colleagues are given significance as potential material for poetry. They are worth taking note of.

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My Journey to Become a Monk

In Bangladesh, a short term monastic experience is highly regarded by every male Buddhist.  Some join the monastic order permanently as a result, while others may give up the aspiration of monkhood to fulfill personal obligations.

In 2003, after receiving permission from my parents, I entered into monastic life at the age of 15.

It was on 25 June 2003 that the Venerable Shilananda, who is a relative of my family, conferred on me the status of a novice. The ceremony was held at a holy Buddhist site called Bura Gosai’s Temple in Chittagong.

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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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The Art of Emptiness

Grace Ko

Liu Kuo-sung, Symphony of Sun and Moon, 2015. Ink and colour on paper.

Liu Kuo-sung, Symphony of Sun and Moon, 2015. Ink and colour on paper.

Art has long captivated us and yet, even though art historians and philosophers have spilled much ink over its nature, we still can’t fully define it. Recently, notable American artist Trevor Paglen revealed what he thought art is, which really impressed me. “Art,” he said, “is about making invisible structures visible, the better for viewers to grasp the operations of the world around them.”

It made me ask, “How can we understand the world we live in? Do we need to understand the countless other lives that intersect with ours?” Is that what art does?

In The Diamond Sutra, the Buddha said to the senior monk Subhuti, “This is how the bodhisattva mahasattvas (enlightened great beings) master their thinking: Many species of living beings—whether born from eggs, from the womb, from moisture, or spontaneously; whether they have form or do not have form; whether they have perceptions or do not have perceptions; or whether it cannot be said of them that they have perceptions or that they do not have perceptions, we must lead all these beings to Nirvana so that they can be liberated.”

The Buddha also asked Subhuti, “Do you think that the space in the Eastern Quarter can be measured? Subhuti, can space in the Western, Southern, or Northern Quarters, above or below, be measured?”

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The Harp in the Crisp Wind: Intersections of Buddhism and Celtic Christianity

Raymond Lam

"The Way into the Woods," by Angela Jayne Barnett

“The Way into the Woods,” by Angela Jayne Barnett

In July 2015, I wrote a book review of Laurence Cox’s Buddhism in Ireland: From the Celts to the Counter-Culture and Beyond. “Celtishness” has fascinated European and global culture, from influences in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to historical accounts of sacred places like Lindisfarne. There is an earthly, grassy, hearty beauty about everything Celtic, including contemporary Celtic Christianity. From what little I know, there was no formal institution that could call itself the Celtic Church, although the term historically denotes the beliefs of the early Christians of Britain and Ireland. It flourished from the 5th to 7th century, lasting until the 11th as an intellectual force.

The vastness and openness of the Scottish highlands, the windswept fields of Ireland, and the shimmering Welsh coast have lent the amorphous idea of Celtic spirituality some consistency, in self-understanding if not in formal doctrine. Celtic Christianity invokes romantic ties to the natural landscape that transcend the old pagan ways and a creative articulation of spiritual and artistic expressions unique to Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. And there are two persistent affinities with Buddhism: love of the monastic way of life, from Saint Cuthbert to Saint Finnian of Clonard, and love of nature.

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If you think of the dark

Ratnadevi

the-dark_1

I see this poem by Carol Ann Duffy, the current UK poet laureate on our bathroom wall every day; it helps me to keep my cool when faced with the many concerns of 21st century living that easily spark fear. For example: the recent election of Donald Trump as the American president. In a delightfully whimsical tone, the poet counsels us in how to deal with fear: you simply change the way you look at things. There is no absolute reality out there called “the dark”—why not see it as a “park?” Similar sound, and still pitch black, but it is transformed into more familiar, manageable territory, particularly in the light provided by the moon. We’ve bounced it up there ourselves in fact; we’ve made use of our ingenious magical powers, fortified by rhyme (ball, at all).

And then there is a pause, where we hold our breath: has it worked?

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