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Tag: Buddhism (Page 1 of 3)

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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The Importance of Interreligious Dialogue and Goals for the Encounter: From the Buddhist Perspective

A speech given by Ven. Hin Hung, director of the Centre of Buddhist Studies at The University of Hong Kong, on 27 July 2017 at The University of Mysticism in Avila, Spain.

Our world is rapidly changing. With the advances in science and technology, modern means of communication and transportation bring us closer together, but, at the same time, dividing and distancing people and cultures in a deeper level. Cultural conflicts and competition lead to hatred and violence, which unsettles world peace. The pervasiveness of materialism, consumerism, and individualism creates greed, suffering and despair, inciting doubt in the meaning of life in the minds of many. Issues like ecological degradation are global and cross-regional affecting all of us. They cannot be ignored and demand our immediate attention and urgent response.

Engaging in genuine interreligious dialogue is a constructive response to these challenges. Many difficulties that we face today arise from ignorance, fear, and misconceptions. Interfaith dialogue is indispensable because, without peace among religious communities, peace in the world would not be possible. Through dialogue,  understanding and acceptance of each other’s traditions and values would be nourished; intolerance and hatred would be reduced. By being broad-minded, one realizes that others are likewise pursuing their spiritual paths, and, very often, share the universal ideals of love and compassion. Last but not least, interreligious dialogue would set an example of how different communities can live in harmony in a world that is continuously being “flattened out.”

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Embodied Women

What does it mean to be a woman in the Buddhist tradition? To me, even a question as important as bhikkhuni ordination in the Theravada and Vajrayana schools is not as basic as the question of “the woman” in Buddhism. Nor am I convinced that gender is inconsequential to conventional Buddhist life just because gender is illusory at the ultimate level. Our society is gendered and we operate on gender as much as we use conventional illusions like “I” or “you.”

I’m not so much reflecting on the activist side of things, important though that is in winning more equitable circumstances for women. What I wonder more is how do women, as the Other in a mostly androcentric world, manoeuvre as embodied beings in the Buddhist world of monasteries, temples, charitable organizations, and university institutes?

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The Buddha’s Guiding Hand in the Chinese Dream

 

The Leshan Giant Buddha.

Buddhism should not be peripheral to the Chinese Dream, that great and multi-dimensional project of national rejuvenation. The religion should be front and center in informing it.

This is not simply my wild theocratic fantasy, but an idea actively encouraged by the Chinese government. It is also being propagated by Buddhist temples, media, and events (such as the World Buddhist Forum series, the most recent of which was held in Wuxi in 2015, and Hong Kong’s own Belt and Road symposium, which I hope is only the first of many more to follow). For Buddhism to exert satisfactory influence, the entire sangha (by this I mean the overall organism of Buddhist activity in China) needs to be engaged, from monastics to academics to householders; from influential monasteries to lay publishers to Buddhist Studies departments at universities.

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Buddhism is Bhutan’s Key to Working with the Great Buddhist Powers

India and China are right now locked in a dispute over a plateau (known as Doklam in India and Donglang in China) that lies at a junction between China, the northeastern Indian state of Sikkim, and Bhutan. My focus today is not on the technicalities of the border dispute (this analysis by Wangcha Sangey, a retired civil servant and former managing director of Bhutan Times, lays out the situation far better than I can), but rather how Bhutan could play its cards over the long term through the piety of its Buddhist people and its Buddhist royal family.

HRH Ashi Kesang Wangmo Wangchuck with Bhikkhu Sanghasena

In an age where landlocked Bhutan’s behemoth neighbors, China and India, are going all in with Buddhist diplomacy (not to mention regional neighbors like Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka), the Himalayan country’s Buddhist heritage grants it a unique and priceless asset. This is because the idea of “Buddhist kingship” or chakravartin-hood is embodied in its monarchy. I venture to propose that without Buddhism, the moral authority of the royal house of Wangchuk would be diminished whilst one of the country’s key soft power exports (such as its concept of Gross National Happiness) would be compromised. Nowhere else, except perhaps in Thailand, is there a monarchy invested with such a Buddhist mandate.

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Buddhist Masculinity: Living a Well-Weathered Life

Raymond Lam

Our musings on gender in Buddhism rightly focus on the feminine, underrepresented voice that it is. However, Buddhism’s gentle values and ethics often seem to be in (apparent) conflict with the toxic masculinity of today’s pop culture, where men are caricatured as avatars of explosions and gods of war, their churning inner lives spitting out destruction like a tornado or volcano. More enlightened perspectives are emerging, sometimes prevailing, but too often masculinity is still defined as or framed through dubious and harmful traits: violence and anger, a propensity to control others, predatory and rapacious attitudes to women, and all-round selfishness.

In the real world this vision of a negative masculinity does not bear out. A domineering or deceitful man will always be looking over his shoulder for the revenge of those he has mistreated. The overwhelming majority of women gravitate toward considerate, generous, and attentive men. Even in macho male circles, honourable ideals endure, like keeping one’s word and looking out for each other in solidarity. A sense of teamwork and self-sacrifice are prized, while a man who only looks out for number one or betrays his mates will be quickly isolated or shamed, much like a wolf ostracized from its pack.

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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.

Indian Buddhist Diplomacy: Some Musings

Raymond Lam

Narendra Modi making offerings at the Maha Bodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, 5 September 2015

In 2014 I began to cover the role of Buddhism in the diplomacy of Modi’s India. I have really just one gentleman to thank for setting me along this path. Prashant Agrawal was serving as consul general to Hong Kong and Macau when he organized an exhibit on ancient Indian Buddhist art in the district of Wan Chai. I always thought that the Indian diplomats’ approach to promoting Buddhism was the right one. Because they were serving on the ground in local Chinese cultures, their efforts to promote Indian Buddhism or Buddhism’s heritage in India emphasized the narrowing of differences and broadening of common ground. They didn’t seem as forced as the work of those who are aligned with the Hindutva ideology of Narendra Modi’s party, the BJP.

The diplomats’ method of showcasing information and exhibiting artifacts tends to emphasize the integral role of Buddhism in the evolution and story of Indian civilization. In contrast, attempts within India itself to sell Buddhism have perhaps inevitably coalesced around the personality and self-promotion of Modi (I have heard people, including some Buddhist figures, ridiculously comparing him to a modern-day Ashoka). It comes as no surprise to me that the government’s domestic attempts to project itself as an advocate of Buddhist interests have sometimes fallen flat—especially to Buddhist representatives visiting India during any of the expensive and lavish conferences it has hosted for this purpose.

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Amitabha All Around Me

Massimo Claus

Amitabha is to me the air I breathe, the sounds I hear, the colors I see, the music of the sea, the chant of a child. I saw Amitabha among the flowers of a cherry-tree and in my stupidity feeding my fears.

Shandao is His hand approaching me, so I chant the Sacred Name in order to see and feel in a better way. One can see the colors of Pure Land by listening to the sounds hidden in the Name. They will show up just for a moment and you won’t be able to hold them.

Namo Amitabha!

Acclamation from the Buddhist Community: West Bengal Gets a Holiday on the Day of Buddha Purnima

BD Dipananda

On 15 February, Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, India, declared “Buddha Purnima” as a state holiday this year onward. The Buddha Purnima usually falls on the full moon in the month of either in April or May in the Gregorian calibration which marks the important events of the Buddha’s life: his birth, enlightenment and great demise (mahaparinibbana). This year the day falls on 10 May.

The Buddha Purnima is one of the biggest religious festivals of the Buddhist community in the world. Although India has been celebrating this important day for centuries, except the gazetted holiday in all Indian Central Government departments, the celebration did not turn into an official occasion in West Bengal until Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced Buddha Purnima as the state holiday.

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