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

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Postcard from Raymond: Holy Chamber

Mogao Cave 254. From e-dunhuang.com

The darkness inspires awe, even as the divine faces around me are illuminated for my mortal eyes.

The cavern’s patterns, the motifs, the mosaics, the chapels, the shrines. Mortal channels of traceless wisdom and compassion. Tangible expressions of immaterial insight.

Within this cool shroud of black, with only a streak of warm illumination from the hot star outside the cave, I am immersed in the ineffable infinity, among the stars and the pantheon of the “beyond beings.”

This is the enlightened holy of holies, crafted by inspired hands.

A bell rings.

The summons has been made. The call, echoing to all sentient beings. To return to the Buddha, to their true nature.

All are one in the Dharma. This is what has been revealed to us in this grotto.

Related news from Buddhistdoor Global

English Version of Digital Dunhuang Offers Virtual Tour of Mogao Caves

Shaolin (2011): A Guilty Pleasure

I have mixed feelings about films that have an overtly religious element, especially when the religion plays a central role in a movie focused on bone-crunching action, head-crushing martial arts, and temple explosions. I class Shaolin, which is an overwhelmingly positive portrayal of the martial art masters in Republican-era China, as one such guilty indulgence. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the film. The action and martial arts film lover in me was very happy with it, and I like how the Shaolin monks are depicted faithfully as defenders of the dispossessed and redeemers of superstar Andy Lau’s character, a warlord-turned-monk who forgives the lieutenant that betrayed him (played by Nicholas Tse).

At the heart of the film is not just the redemption of Andy Lau’s character, but the insight that violence and cruelty are cyclical: it takes a big, brave man to break the cycle of revenge by choosing forgiveness, letting go of hate, and transforming enemies in the process. Wu Jing, who is currently China’s most sought-after male star thanks to his role in the wildly popular Wolf Warriors 2, also makes a welcome appearance as one of the more experienced monks. His character dies defending the temple, along Yu Xing’s character (Yu Xing himself is a 32nd generation Shaolin monk).

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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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Global Travels, Local Practice

This month I am far from my birth home in Montana and my adoptive home in Seattle. I am in China, currently in a monastery outside of Ningbo called “Golden Mountain.” As I told a friend recently when discussing my travels, there is a saying, attributed to Native American wisdom, that a person should not travel further in a day than a horse can carry them. That is, humans are not just spiritual creatures or social creatures, but also local and geographical creatures. We are not just intellects, but bodies, intimately connected to our physical space.

How precious and how liberating it is to really know a place, to know what to expect around each corner, the ebbs and flows of each time of day, the norms and customs, the currencies and laws. How equally demanding and perhaps frightening to be a stranger in a strange land. There is a wonder, no doubt, in being in new places. But this wonder must be born of a security and comfort in one’s body. To explore the globe, one must know one’s self, one’s body.

So here, in my room in the very early hours of a Saturday morning, I meditate.

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Of Statecraft and Sangha: Po Lin Monastery and the Silk Road

Raymond Lam

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Hong Kong handover at Po Lin Monastery, Lantau Island. From Hugo San

29 June will be remembered as a key date in post-handover Hong Kong: aside from president Xi Jinping’s landmark visit to the fragrant harbor, Po Lin Monastery is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the handover as well as the 25th anniversary of its Big Buddha. It is also hosting a carefully timed, simultaneous symposium: Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism along the Belt and Road (29 – 30 June). This is a statement, at least from Po Lin Monastery and its friends: that the time is ripe for Buddhists, both of the southern and northern traditions, to integrate themselves into the new Silk Road that is China’s outreach to the world.

The conference is packed with guests and VIPs from Southeast Asia and South Asia. There are guests from Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and many others. There are many good, old friends here: Ven. Sovanratana, one of Cambodia’s most influential monastic professors. Karma Lekshe Tsomo of Sakyadhita, the world’s largest Buddhist women’s association. Ven. Fa Ren, one of Hong Kong’s most active Chinese Buddhist nuns.

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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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Ways of Seeing Life

Grace Ko

Chinese artist Cheng Ran’s video art “ Circadian rhythm.”

The esteemed British art critic and author John Berger once said: “Art is one of the noblest achievements of man”. He advocated that the art critic must not only look at art from his personal point of view, but also from that of other artists, the conscious and unconscious mind of the spectator, the general public, and even future generations, if possible. Berger’s underlying meaning was that art and human life are inseparable, and when we view a 
work of art, we may find ourselves through its aesthetic. That is why some of the best works of art 
resonate throughout our lives and leave lasting impressions that unfold with new meaning repeatedly.

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Moonscape Riders: Moon Reverie

Raymond Lam

A young girl discovers a magical secret entombed within an ancient grotto in the Chinese desert. What wonders will reveal themselves to her as she sets out to discover a mysterious secret of the long-lost Tangut Empire?

(Link to part 1 here)
(Link to part 2 here)
(Link to Water’s Moon, Mirror’s Flower)

They set off from the caves of Yulin, and like snaking streams of light, four spectral horses exploded in the direction of the Tangut Empire’s Imperial Tombs. The entourage, winding its way through the starry night, was like four lanterns shining in the vast wasteland, a quartet of miniature comets streaking across the dark sandscapes.

Xiaomao’s freezing hands—she chastised herself bitterly for forgetting to put on her mittens— were shaking so much in excitement that she was terrified that she might accidentally release Rong Rong and tumble off. Teeth chattering uncontrollably, she hung on, watching the ghost of Laosuo intently as his steed rocketed across the dark desert plains below the empyrean. The skin of her palms were worn, flakes of it rubbed and scratched off painfully from her grip on her horse’s reins.

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Moonscape Riders: Spirit Steeds

Raymond Lam

A young girl discovers a magical secret entombed within an ancient grotto in the Chinese desert. What wonders will reveal themselves to her as she sets out to discover a mysterious secret of the long-lost Tangut Empire?

(Link to part 2 here)
(Link to part 3 here)
(Link to Water’s Moon, Mirror’s Flower)

It was nightfall when Xiaomao had reached her remote destination, a distance beyond the abandoned caves of Mogao in the desert. She was exhausted, sweating and sore in her baggy pants and furry coat, with strands of ebony hair flying loosely from loosened gaps in her turban. But when she finally glimpsed the edge of a deep and spacious canyon and the quiet trickle of a stream, she knew she had made it. Her weary pace quickened, suddenly imbued with new energy and hope. She felt close enough to unwind the cloth around her head. “Come on, Rong Rong,” she groaned, tugging gently at the nose peg of the sleepy camel behind her. “We’re almost there.”

Rong Rong, who had been raised by Xiaomao since his days as a calf, snorted tiredly but obeyed. He and his master hurried to the edge of the canyon. What Xiaomao saw took her breath away: a long, flowing river with the color of dark silt, with a long row of elm trees along the embankment. “This is why they call it Yulin,” she said to Rong Rong. “The grove of elms. And there—” She jabbed her calloused finger at the dark, human shaped holes strategically occupying various spots along the cliffs. “—are the Tangut caves. There must be a trove of treasures and art the old men back in Beijing would die for.”

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