Tea House

Buddhistdoor Global's Daily Dharma Blog

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Is There Something Buddhist About Mario? (Seriously)

On 27 October the video game Super Mario Odyssey was released worldwide by Nintendo for the Switch platform. It’s pretty safe to say that very few people in the world (except yours truly) is thinking about how this game series relates to Buddhism. And I can already guess what you’re thinking. You assume I’m writing nonsense to get attention. Actually, that’s not my intention at all. I enjoy thinking freely and writing from novel, informed perspectives that others might hopefully find interesting. Am I saying that Mario is a product of Buddhist thought? No, there’s no reason to suggest that. But it might be fun to consider how the world of Mario and that of Buddhism intersect. So as Mario would say, “Here we go!”

As I began to write this blog post, I operated under the assumption that no one else had shared their thoughts on this topic. As it turns out, I was wrong. Jane McGonigal (a video game designer and author) gave an insightful talk at the Buddhist Geeks Conference in 2012 entitled “Is Super Mario a Buddhist?”. Her main argument is that the Mario games help us achieve positive mental states: “There is something about gaming, in that way, that I think is similar to meditation. A lot of people play games during difficult times in their lives to avoid ruminating on it.”

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Postcard from Raymond: Involving the Young, Then and Now

The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Program in Buddhism and Contemporary Society hosted an intellectually stimulating and cozy 7th TLKY Canada Foundation Conference at UBC on 4 November, with academics and Buddhists sharing their findings and thoughts on the role of youth in Buddhist literature and practice.

The conference venue at St. John’s College

Natasha Heller’s keynote speech analyzing a Taiwanese Buddhist children’s book

Raymond Lam and Justin Stein discussing the role of youth in Japanese and Hong Kong Buddhism

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Tofu and Miso Soup

The ideal miso flavour is classically robust yet not overpowering. It’s the balance between the pleasantly distinctive taste of the seasoning and the crisp simplicity of the soup base that make this a soup that few dislike and many enjoy. In the meantime, the taste of the tofu and seaweed are characteristically mild, perhaps “bland,” but miso lovers prefer to call it “subtle.”

With thanks to Susan Sim of Ci Bei magazine for the recipe.

Tofu and Miso Soup

A traditional soup, perfect as a starter to all Japanese-themed meals.


200g Japanese tofu/bean curd (chopped into small cubes)
50g carrots (sliced)
150g radish (sliced)
1 tbsp wakame (seaweed seeds)

2 tbsp misoshiru seasoning

Bring water to boil with carrot and radish. Simmer over a small flame until the carrot and radish are soft. Add in the tofu and wakame. Cook for a further while, then turn off the flame and add in the misoshiru seasoning. Serve in a traditional miso soup bowl.

Back to Harvest Spoon

Humanism and Zen

Authentic humanism, in Pierre Furter’s words, “consists in permitting the emergence of the awareness of our full humanity, as a condition and as an obligation, as a situation and as a project.” – Paolo Feire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

These days my Buddhist practice life spins around, tumbles through, and is, ultimately, anchored by a weekly two-hour long period of Zen practice. Much else happens during the week. I sit, here and there. I teach a weekly class on Buddhism for a nearby Unitarian Universalist Church. I work on a mindfulness app that I am co-developing with a friend. I ponder the ins and outs of contemporary Buddhism, especially in the Western world. Is it taking root? Are we killing those roots? Is it all just for show? Is it just being used to cover up our deeper social ills?

Those questions are both social and personal. What is my relationship to the Dharma? Do I have too many relationships with the Dharma? Might I benefit from a clearer, more focused practice and approach?

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Being Used by Others

Master Jingzong; English translation by Foyuan, edited by Fojin

If you tell someone that he is “being used by others,” he may feel humiliated and cheated, and consider himself a pushover who is not worthy of respect and lacks a mind of his own. But the phrase “being used by others” is merely a game of semantics which the conceited and illusory ego plays and gets trapped in.

There is nothing wrong with “being used by others.” We don’t suffer any losses as a result. The question is whether this takes place knowingly or unwittingly, or is carried out with malicious or positive intentions. However, the most important consideration is whether or not it is done for a good cause.

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Almond Chocolate Cookies

There are three main components that determine the quality of these sweet bites: the dough, the almond, and the melted chocolate. Almond lovers enjoy having the baked nut at the heart and centre, but this dessert seduces chocolate lovers as well.

Those who are more inclined to emphasize the almond might choose to wrap a thinner layer of dough around it and dunk it in less chocolate. The melted chocolate’s texture and creaminess (or lack thereof, if you prefer dark) also affects the final outcome of the cookie. As a chocolate adorer, I personally would prefer to smother the dough and almond in the richest of milk chocolate.

With thanks to Susan Sim of Ci Bei magazine for the recipe.

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Buddhism and Youth: A Symposium

University of British Columbia • November 4, 2017

There are Buddhist monastic rules, stories, and teachings that directly address those of lesser years and the issues that are thought to be unique to their stage of life. And Buddhist individuals and groups have created literature, activities, and organizations for boys, girls, and young people in general. Although young people have appeared throughout Buddhist history, Buddhists have engaged most intensively with the category of youth and young people during the modern and contemporary periods. This symposium is a chance to explore this theme and learn together.

Participants: Susie Andrews, Mount Allison University; Kimberley Beek, McMaster University; Casey Collins, University of British Columbia; Melissa Curley, Ohio State University; Natasha Heller, University of Virginia; Raymond Lam, Buddhistdoor Global; Jessica Main, University of British Columbia; Vanessa Sasson, Marianopolis College; Justin Stein, University of Toronto; Joanne Yuasa, Vancouver Buddhist Temple.

This symposium is the 7th Annual Tung Lin Kok Yuen Canada Foundation Conference, and it is hosted by UBC’s Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Program in Buddhism and Contemporary Society.

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Evolving into Buddhahood: A Dispatch from Anam Thubten Rinpoche

It’s always a delight to catch up with Anam Thubten Rinpoche whenever he returns to Hong Kong (he’s based mainly in the US). I enjoy listening to his thoughtful, spontaneous, and frank responses about the big questions of our day. He is also a most engaging writer, and you can verify this for yourself at his Dharma Gossip column, which Buddhistdoor Global hosts.

Although I belong to the Chinese tradition, I think it’s fair to say that Rinpoche and I share a strong affinity and I’m not surprised at his growing popularity here. In my upcoming interview with him we discussed inner turmoil and how practitioners need to dive deeper into their interior being to examine what’s really going on before they can relate to the outside world in a more peaceful, compassionate, and wise manner. It’s a step-by-step journey to Buddhahood, and Rinpoche used the idea of evolution to illustrate how our collective spiritual maturity hasn’t kept up with the incredible advancement of civilization of the past few thousand years.

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Hearing and Seeing

Master Jingzong; English translation by Foying, edited by Jingxing

We may develop trust in someone by listening to their words. But sometimes that does not suffice, and we need to observe, investigate, gather facts and have firsthand experience before believing. Which of these two approaches shows greater confidence in the other person?

Both Amitabha-recitation and Amitabha-contemplation take Amitabha Buddha as the object, so they produce equally unfathomable merits and benefits. However, reciters develop their faith upon hearing of Amitabha Buddha’s deliverance, while contemplators base their faith on seeing Amitabha Buddha. Because of this, Amitabha-recitation is superior to Amitabha-contemplation, in that the former reflects stronger faith.

In worldly matters, most people assume that a thing heard from others is not to be trusted unless it is seen for oneself. But if we apply this principle to Amitabha Buddha, aren’t we treating him as just another worldly person unworthy of trust? Aren’t we placing the Buddha’s teachings in the same category as the shallow, easy-to-see matters of the world?

How can an ordinary being conceive of, or verify, anything concerning the realm of the Buddhas? If we insist upon fact-finding, investigating and reflecting before we trust the Buddha’s words, we will never develop faith in the Buddha.

The easiest, quickest and most secure way to approach Buddhism is to accept the Buddha’s teachings as unfathomable. Only a humble heart can truly hear the Dharma. Such a principle especially applies to the Pure Land school, as taught by Shakyamuni Buddha. This is because the Pure Land is of the realm of Buddhahood, and does not belong to our world.

Faith is the only way to enter the ocean of Buddhism. Faith is the origin of the Way and the mother of all merit. It nurtures all good roots. If we just accept whatever the Buddha teaches us (“So it is! So it is!”), we will naturally develop a clear faith in the Buddha’s wisdom.

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.

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