Tea House

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

Tag: religion

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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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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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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Why I Don’t Believe in Spiritual Experiences

Raymond Lam

Some scientists and psychologists draw parallels between religious experiences and psychological illnesses and conditions, like epilepsy. We’re not just talking about feelings of lovingkindness or compassion generated in meditation, but ecstatic visions of angels or hearing thundering voices of celestial beings. Drawing parallels between mental illness and religious ecstasy is pretty politically incorrect, as one can imagine. I also don’t believe in the efficacy or the necessity of these experiences, though for completely different reasons to religious skeptics. I take after my theological hero Saint Augustine, who believed that such experiences handicapped the genuine spiritual life.

"The Conversion of Saint Augustine" by Fra Angelico (circa 1395-1455). From tollelegecamp.com

“The Conversion of Saint Augustine” by Fra Angelico (circa 1395-1455). From tollelegecamp.com

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