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Daily Perspectives and Stories on Buddhist Trends

Tag: mahayana buddhism

Is Pure Land Buddhism a “Mystic” Tradition?

The Cathedral of Ávila. From Buddhistdoor Global

A groundbreaking conference between Teresian sisters and priests and Buddhist scholars and monastics has just concluded at the University of Mysticism in Avila, Spain. During our time here among new friends and Carmelite masters, I had the chance to visit many churches in the Old City (the UNESCO-listed complex behind the grand walled fortifications) and those beyond the walls, each of which hold a piece of the life of Saint Teresa, Saint John of the Cross, or some other Christian figure associated with the Discalced Carmelite Order. Within each sublime structure we were reminded of the simultaneous grandeur and humility of the contemplative life, which demands a retreat from the lies and futility of the world and an inner turning that results in the elevation of the human being and a union with God.

So, we turn inwards single-mindedly. What of the single-minded determination to become a Buddha, which is the ultimate goal in Mahayana Buddhism? What of the path to achieving Buddhahood, the quickest and most effective of which is total reliance on Amitabha Buddha’s 18th Vow and one-minded invocation of his Name? Isn’t this Buddhist anthropology also one of the highest elevation, of an evolution through bodhi to Buddhahood that parallels the metamorfosis of the Carmelite mystic into something God-like, a true human of light and love unified with all of God?

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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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Tears of Tara

Lyudmila Klasanova

White Tara. Drawing by the author

In Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, Tara is a complex figure that integrates mythical and historical threads and combines different functions. She is presented as a female aspect of Buddha and a symbol of unlimited compassion. The goddess protects humanity and saves people from dangers, protects them from fears, and helps fulfil their wishes. Her compassion to all sentient beings as well as her aspirations to save them from the suffering are described as stronger than a mother’s love for her own child.

Tara is among the most popular deities in the Buddhist world and among the most revered goddesses in Himalayan traditions. She is an object of worship not only for Buddhist monks and nuns, but also for lay Buddhists who invoke her to achieve material prosperity, spiritual healing, and liberation from all kinds of suffering.

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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.

Postcard from Raymond: Cosmic Lotus

From bestyleshare.online

What will I see when I leave this world? Will my “sight” even be the kind of visual “seeing” that I’ve known all my life? What will I hear when I have no auditory organs?

What will I bring with me when I sigh farewell?

Nothing.

I will have nothing.

I can take zilch, nada with me to the grave, the crematorium, or the seas where I might be sprinkled like flakes dissolving into a great foam of abyssal waters.

I am nourishment-in-waiting for the creatures and bacteria that feed on expired engines of fluid and meat.

But I am also made from the cooled gas and minerals of exploded stars. I am stardust from cosmic entities that suffuse the universe. Suffusing spacetime and consciousness itself is the invocation “Namo Amitabha Buddha,” which was revealed to mysterious visionaries in the Indic wilderness. We’ve received a personal invitation from a place beyond existence and nonexistence. We respond with our devotion and faith in “Namo Amitabha Buddha” and await our welcome.

I have no eyes in the earthly sense. But I can glimpse the celestial, inner flesh of a bud. I have no mortal sense of touch, but I can feel its softness. I have no more human ears, yet I can hear the most delightful music and gentle intonations. I take no breath, yet I gasp in joy.

Ju Ming: Finding what has been thrown away

Grace Ko

Ju Ming, Tai Chi Series: Strike with Fists 1984 Bronze

“Hell is in the living world, but the living world also has a paradise. Which way would you go? It’s your choice entirely.” The eminent Taiwanese sculptor Ju Ming wrote these thoughts about life at his first solo exhibition in Hong Kong in 2014. His artworks are inspiring and the path in his artistic career has run parallel with his Buddhist education.

As with most successful people, Ju Ming experienced a tough period and invested effort and hard work into building himself up as an internationally recognized artist. He was an ambitious craftsman and ran his own flourishing carving business before the age of thirty. But his success didn’t last long, failing because of the over-expansion of his business. This blow to his career made him rethink his life but he decided to be an artist. He worked as an apprentice under a renowned Taiwanese sculptor Yuyu Yang. After an eight-year apprenticeship, his teacher Yang taught him the “throwing away” principal: throw away skills and styles in the mind; discard forms; banish reality; and preserve the spirit.

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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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My Difficulties with the Lotus Sutra

Graham Lock

Working Title/Artist: Lotus Sutra Department: Asian Art Culture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: 07 Working Date: photographed by mma 1987, transparency # 2 scanned by film and media (jn) 11_15_01

“Devadatta,” Chapter 12 of the Lotus Sutra. From metmuseum.org

I have recently been studying the Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Marvelous Dharma (妙法蓮花經), usually called the Lotus Sutra in English. This sutra has been and still is enormously important and influential in East Asian Buddhism.

As far as I understand it, the sutra makes three main points: firstly, that the previous three paths or vehicles the Buddha had taught for the ending of suffering and realization of nirvana were skillful means (upaya, also translated “expedient means,” “convenient methods,” and “方便”), to be transcended by the “one vehicle” or “one way” that leads to Buddhahood; secondly, that Buddhahood is potentially available for all; and thirdly, that Buddhas transcend normal conceptions of time and space and that the Buddha we know as Shakyamuni actually became awakened incalculable aeons ago and has since remained available to teach living beings and to guide them on the path to Buddhahood. His life and seeming awakening as Siddhartha Gautama was actually just a skillful means.

What follows are my thoughts on first working through the sutra.

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