Tea House

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

Tag: philosophy

Life, Death… All a Matter of Perspective

We like to tell ourselves that we intellectually (even if we struggle to emotionally) grasp the significance of death as the end of our present existence. But time, life, and death are nowhere near as commonsense as we think. In an article in The Independent, professor Robert Lanza lays out the concept of biocentrism: ‘the universe only exists because of an individual’s consciousness of it – essentially life and biology are central to reality, which in turn creates the universe; the universe itself does not create life. The same applies to the concepts of space and time, which Professor Lanza describes as “simply tools of the mind.”’

We don’t experience reality “as it is.” We simply don’t have that kind of access, unless we are bodhisattvas or Buddhas. For us, “life,” “death,” and everything in between is filtered through our senses and perceptions. Similarly, as Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh has said (and which we highlight in today’s Wisdom for Today quote on the main website), birth and death are quite literally a matter of perspectives, much like the concept of above and below when we’re sitting on this blue and green rock in a quiet corner of a galaxy among billions of galaxies in a vast, unfathomable universe.

The most ancient and primeval human story is the struggle to understand the great mystery and what lies beyond, that which is too big to be contained merely by our conceptions of what reality is. Only the Buddha can help us peer past the veil that our minds have created to obscure our insight.

#Buddhistdoor Global—Your Doorway to the World of #Buddhism
#Wisdom for Today: https://www.buddhistdoor.net/wisdom-for-today

An Introduction

Justin Whitaker

Hello. I’m Justin Whitaker, a new North America Correspondent for Buddhistdoor Global. I thought I’d use my first contribution here to tell you a bit about myself. Like so many of us these days, especially in North America, my background and resulting practice of Buddhism is deeply eclectic. Unlike many, my passion for Buddhism drew me in to a lengthy academic career, seeking ways to understand it both very broadly and in as much depth many thousands of hours in libraries can offer.

I am a recently “minted” Ph.D., with a degree from Goldsmiths college of the University of London. Prior to that, I earned an M.A. in Buddhist Studies from Bristol University (also in England), and a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Montana. In my period as a Ph.D. candidate – a very long nine years – I took time out to work and live in Bodhgaya, India for a semester study-abroad program in the falls of 2010 and 2014. I also traveled twice to China with the Taiwanese nun, Ven. Yifa, to experience Buddhism there and am currently a core faculty member for her Woodenfish program.

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On Exploring Karma and Rebirth by Nagapriya

Graham Lock

Nagapriya (2004) Exploring Karma and Rebirth. Birmingham: Windhorse Publications

Nagapriya (2004) Exploring Karma and Rebirth. Birmingham: Windhorse Publications

As some people said they liked my review of David Loy’s book (well, two people actually), I thought I would again present some musings on what I have been reading.

Nagapriya’s Exploring Karma and Rebirth is not a new book (it was published in 2004), but I came across it only recently in a secondhand bookshop. I’m glad I did, because although it covers some very familiar ground, it has been very useful in clarifying my understanding of some issues that have long nagged at me.

There are basically three three main strands in the book. One deals with what Nagapriya considers to be misunderstandings of the Buddhist teachings on karma and rebirth. Another explains clearly and in quite a lot of detail what the traditional Buddhist teachings are, and talks about the difficulties many modern Buddhists might have with aspects of them. The third strand explores different ways of thinking about karma and rebirth that could be useful for modern Buddhists who find the traditional interpretations hard to accept. I’ll just focus on one or two points that I found useful and interesting in each of these strands.

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The Sage, the Wayfarer, and the Treasure in the Desert

Raymond Lam

From cong.dvrlists.com

From cong.dvrlists.com

Imagine an endless desert, sparsely populated by tribes struggling to survive in a hostile wasteland. Murmuring starts to circulate in the scattered villages about a grotto of incredible treasure so precious that discovering this cave would summon miracles that restore verdant green and life to the desert.

Accompanying the rumors about this incredible treasure are whispers about two mysterious figures who have been travelling to every village, stopping to preach conflicting ways this treasure can be accessed. One, which folk simply call the Wayfarer, urges everyone he meets to take the meager resources and tools they have and journey with him to find this cave. It’s out there somewhere, he proclaims, and while not everyone will live to see it, a generation in the future eventually will. Many are daunted by the prospect of leaving their already precarious life behind to possibly die wandering the desert to locate the grotto, while others are excited by the Wayfarer’s systematic, carefully thought-out plan.

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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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On Killing People

Graham Lock

By Chris Lockhart, from limeadestudio.com

Syrian Civil War (2012) by Chris Lockhart, 36 inches x 52 inches, oil on canvas. From limeadestudio.com

Watching scenes of barbarity on the news or reading about them in the newspaper, I have sometimes wondered whether there are any circumstances in which I would be willing to kill someone, or more realistically in my case (if I had a gun in my hand I would probably shoot myself in the foot, or if I had a sword I would undoubtedly manage to cut off my own fingers), whether I would support a government’s military or law enforcement agency killing people in my name or on my behalf.

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