Tea House

Daily Perspectives and Stories on Buddhist Trends, People, and Ideas

Tag: Buddha (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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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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The Middle Way in Love

Guru Rinpoche

The doctrine of the Middle Way (Skt. madhyama-pratipad, Tib. ume lam) is one of the fundamental teachings of Buddhism. According to Theravada Buddhism, the term “Middle Way” is used for the first time in Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, which is perceived as the first teaching that Buddha Shakyamuni delivered after his awakening. In this text the Buddha explains the Noble Eightfold Path as a middle way of moderation between the extremes.

In Mahayana Buddhism the Middle Way refers to the understanding of the emptiness (Skt. shunyata, Tib. tong pa nyid) that transcends the extremes of existence and non-existence. The Middle Way School of philosophy, known as Madhyamaka, was founded by the 2nd century Buddhist teacher Nagarjuna and represents the idea that all phenomena are empty by nature: at the conventional level, they do exist, but ultimately they are empty of inherent existence.

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No Matter What

By Master Huijing; English translation by Jingtu

No matter what, Amitabha’s Fundamental Vow
Is like diamond, never changing.

No matter what, Amitabha thinks of me
Like a mother remembers her child, never abandoning it.

No matter what, Amitabha is with me
Every moment, never letting me go.

No matter what, sinful sentient beings
Need Amitabha and the deliverance of his Fundamental Vow.

No matter how contaminated and impure,
False and hypocritical are sentient beings,
Amitabha’s deliverance never changes.

No matter how sentient beings desire and detest,
Are deluded and vicious,
Amitabha’s deliverance never changes.

No matter how deep beings’ offenses and heavy their afflictions,
However intense their sufferings,
Amitabha’s deliverance never changes.

No matter how beings commit the Five Gravest Offenses,
Or slander the Dharma and lack self-cultivation,
Amitabha’s deliverance never changes.

Because the Fundamental Vow exists, our minds are at ease,
Hope arises and people turn virtuous.

Because no matter what, no matter what,
Amitabha Buddha’s deliverance is certain,
Amitabha Buddha’s deliverance is certain.

Postcard from Raymond: The Gaze of the Divine

“Look at me. Behold, encounter, and meet me.” Two of my favourite expressions of sacred art can be found in Cave 148 at the Mogao Grottoes at Dunhuang, along the Chinese route of the Silk Road, and the beloved icon of the Holy Trinity in the Orthodox Church. While all art forms of the holy presume some form of physical or emotional engagement with the devotee or viewer, these two specific artistic forms demand to meet your eyes, quite literally. For the eyes are windows to the soul (figuratively in the Buddhist mind), and what better to invite human wonder and devotion than for the divine itself to meet our eyes?

The Buddha in Cave 148 is of Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical Buddha of our world-system. He is in his state of Parinirvana, in a position of final repose as he leaves the world of existence and non-existence tracelessly. His head and body are massive, dwarfing the visitors that shuffle into the yawning, man-made cavern. Move slightly to the left or right of the Buddha’s head, and you will see something extraordinary – the Buddha gazing at you tranquilly, eyes shifting, silently attentive to your presence. It is an intentional illusion put in place by the long-gone sculptor – one that goes a step beyond the usual Dunhuang setup of having the Buddhas and bodhisattvas “meet” your gaze when you prostrate before them (there are several caves with statues that do this). That is, after all, the position you should approach the enlightened ones with.

There is no concept of Original Sin in the Orthodox Church – a concept that has plagued the Latin Church with guilt for more than a thousand years. The Trinitarian motif is also, I find, far more affirming than the Western Church. Three angels are seated at table, representing the Three Persons in One God. Yet there is an empty seat at the table, the one that is closest to the viewer. The viewer is invited to join the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost at the table, in full communion. Only then will the feast be complete.

Holy art that meets the viewer’s gaze with its own invokes the meeting between mortal creatures of decay and consecrated eyes. This art compels confession and conversion. It transforms lives and makes us aware of the greater forces behind them: presences beyond the stars and outside of the universe. Where their eyes wander, we scramble to go too.

Fathers and Sons: The Buddha and King Suddhodana

Raymond Lam

Siddhartha and Suddhodana in the Tezuka-inspired animated feature film Buddha.

This Sunday will be Father’s Day in Hong Kong. Most young people, luckily, will get to enjoy the 18th with their old men. In the grand scheme of things it’s not uncommon for kids to lose their father (or both parents) earlier in life. In the end, we all are destined to be orphans. We just hope to be orphaned as late as possible. We want our parents to stay with us well into our adulthood; by that time we’re hopefully emotionally mature enough to let go when the time comes.

When I look at so much of fiction and pop culture (not just the classics like King Lear or Chinese literature but also Batman, Superman, or Star Wars) I realize just how important the father-son archetypal relationship is to our collective folk memories. The father, be it through presence and nurture or absence and distance (or even a combination of both), shapes what the son becomes. Or, the son becomes what he is in defiance, or in spite, of his father.

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Postcard from Raymond: Pax Buddhica

Apparently it had only been a few centuries, a mere heartbeat in the eternally present minds of the holy men he had been hosting. How did one fellow – one gentle, wandering teacher – found this new religion? How did he establish a movement so great that long after his death, lords and kings would be prostrating before his image alongside his clean-shaven followers?

Huvishka, emperor of the Kushans, Maharaja of all Central Asia, equal of the Caesars in the west and Tianzi to the east, was still pondering that question as he listened to his monastic guests chanting briskly before his newly built Buddhist shrine.

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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 Bridge of the Cycle of Rebirth

Craig Lewis

1a
Theravada monks file silently across the Bridge of the Cycle of Rebirth at Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai, northern Thailand.

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