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Q: How do we retain passion in life and still follow the teaching that we should accept all of life with equanimity?

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Community Profiles

 

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Saturday
Sep012007

Ask the Teachers

Q: I have been practicing for almost thirty years. I find when I meditate or study dharma teachings, I feel wonderful, as if all my problems have disappeared. But that feeling doesn’t usually last long. In my daily life at work and at home relating to my wife and children, I experience stress and anxiety. This manifests as a feeling of intense hunger, which causes me to overeat and occasionally causes severe muscle spasms in my lower back. I also struggle with feelings of sorrow and anger relating to financial problems and the behavior of others. I think about how my job and family situation aren’t what I want them to be, and I fantasize about a life where I could spend more time meditating and studying dharma, which only exacerbates my feelings of discontent.

Evidently I keep my act together in some ways, because my teacher wants to certify me as a dharma teacher, but I feel like a fraud because of my personal situation. Please help.

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Saturday
Sep012007

Before They Were Ajahns

Sons of the Buddha,
By Kamala Tiyavanich

Reviewed by Guy Armstrong


Kamala Tiyavanich’s latest work, Sons of the Buddha, is the third in her series exploring Buddhism in Thai culture from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. This volume examines the early lives of three famous monks from the south of Thailand: Ajahns Buddhadasa (1906–93), Panya (short for Paññanada, b. 1911), and Jumnien (b. 1936). The author lovingly reconstructs their childhood and adolescent years as an evocation of the unique dharma strengths of each man. At the same time, she illuminates the culture of rural southern Thailand in those years, which was grounded in both Buddhism and what today we would call environmental values.

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Saturday
Sep012007

Book Briefs

 John Daido Loori, the abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery in upstate New York, is also an accomplished photographer and committed environmental activist. These interests and talents were combined in his 1999 publication, Teachings of the Earth: Zen and the Environment. It is fitting that this hard-to-find manifesto on the place of the natural world in the practice of Zen should be reprinted (Shambhala Publications, 2007) at a time when global warming has brought the environment to the forefront of our attention. Loori extends the Buddhist doctrine of interdependence into the ecological ethic: “What you do to the smallest thing on this great earth, you do to yourself.” Drawing upon sources ranging from Dogen to Walt Whitman to Gary Snyder, and beautifully complementing the text with his own photographs of the natural world, Loori’s timely meditation on Zen and the environment is a poetic and definitive statement of American Buddhist ecology.

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Saturday
Sep012007

Profile: Mount Baldy Zen Center

Joshu Sasaki Roshi wanted a property that could serve as a monastic-style retreat center for his community, and Shozan Marc Joslyn thought he’d found just the house. Sasaki Roshi, however, took only a cursory glance at it and asked to be driven farther up the mountain. Then, just above Mount Baldy village at a defunct, vandalized Boy Scout camp, Roshi wanted to stop the car. The cabins’ windows were broken and the rooms were littered with feces, used condoms, rotten food, and the charred chunks of a building. After barely poking his head into a particularly distasteful cabin, Roshi turned to Shozan. “OK,” he said. “You buy.”

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Friday
Jun012007

Are You Ready for Death?

What we see as the worst crisis of our lives is actually a wonderful opportunity to discover enlightened mind, says The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche. He tells us how to prepare for death now in order to take advantage of this greatest of all gaps.

Whether or not we are prepared, we will all meet the Lord of Death. Who is this great Lord and what is his power over us? This legendary figure that inspires so much fear is merely the personification of impermanence and cause and effect, or karma. In Buddhist literature, this Lord is invincible. No one can beat him at his game, except a true holder of wisdom. It is wisdom that slays the slayer.

Ultimately, what we call life is just an illusion of continuity—a succession of moments; a stream of thoughts, emotions, and memories, which we feel is our possession. And, therefore, we too spring into existence, as the possessors of that continuity.

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Friday
Jun012007

This Fantastic, Unfolding Experiment

Reflecting on the history of the Insight Meditation Society and Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Jack Kornfield describes the challenges and tensions that have accompanied the movement to bring Buddhism to the West and the creative solutions that have emerged to meet them.

The Theravada lineage—“the Way of the Elders”—has a rich history and tremendous diversity. Anybody who is not aware of that diversity can learn more from my first book, published in 1976, called Living Buddhist Masters. Now, they’re mostly dead Buddhist masters, so it has been retitled Living Dharma. You’ll notice that there’s a wide and often contradictory variety of approaches to dharma practice and liberation.

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Friday
Jun012007

Four Steps to Magical Powers

Before you fully embark on the path of the bodhisattvas and buddhas, says Chan master Sheng Yen, you must first practice the four steps to magical powers. What are these steps and what are the magical powers you need?

The four steps to magical powers are also called by such names as the four steps to the power of ubiquity, the four steps to unlimited power, and the four kinds of samadhi. In Sanskrit they are collectively known as riddhipada, meaning "steps to (magical) power." Its Chinese translation, si ru yi zu, speaks of a mind that can accomplish whatever it wants to. This is a mind that is master of itself, free and at ease.

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Friday
Jun012007

Forum: Too Much Meditation?

Introduction by Barry Boyce

Buddhism and meditation are often equated in the popular mind, and many people like to think of Buddhism as a kind of philosophy, or even spiritual technology, that stands apart from the cultural and religious trappings that have been attached to the way of Gautama Buddha over the centuries. The assumption is that one can become a Buddhist meditator without having to deal with the baggage that so often accompanies religion.

Part of the appeal of meditation techniques—often simply called mindfulness and stripped of nearly any association with religious tradition—is that they require the practitioner to do nothing more than pay attention and calm the mind. That is often the extent of the commitment. As a result, it is thought, a meditator will become a healthier, happier, and kinder person, and the world will be a better place.

Just as no one would argue that eating a good diet, getting plenty of rest, and keeping active are not good for you, so it is hard to argue that becoming more calm or centered through meditation is not helpful to one’s health and well-being. But is a path that is focused on meditation and meditative ability complete, and will it lead to the liberation that is the raison d’etre of Buddhism? Are there any dangers to eschewing the rituals and rules that are often regarded in the West as just the packaging, not the essence, of Buddhism? Or are these stripped-down approaches actually returning to Buddhism’s secular roots?

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Friday
Jun012007

Pilgrims’ Progress

The great pilgrimage sites marking major events in the Buddha’s life have gone from ruin to renewal, but problems remain and their future is not secure. Joseph Szostak reports from India on the history of Buddhist pilgrimage and the challenges and benefits of this ancient practice.

A few days into my first pilgrimage, I was traveling on an old Mazda bus, rolling on six bald tires along some of the worst roads in India, if not the world, in the unfortunate region of Bihar. The Indians have a saying, “The good, the bad, and the Bihar.” It is the poorest, most corrupt state in all of India. The potholes are the size of craters, and the highway is two converging lines of Tonka trucks, tourist buses, white ambassador taxis, and motorbikes, all honking their horns ferociously while spewing foul-smelling exhaust into the air. From our bus window, my fellow pilgrims and I observed scenes not much altered from the Buddha’s time: villages of clay huts with straw roofs, women in colorful saris working the earth with hoes, men in white dhotis.

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Friday
Jun012007

Outsiders or Infiltrators?

By Judy Lief

To be a societal force for change, you either have to work from an outsider stance or infiltrate and work from within. The outsider is ready to speak out when others are silent, ready to challenge conventional wisdom, ready to sacrifice her own comfort and reputation in the service of turning people from despair and reconnecting them with what is sacred. The outsider, through personal example, presents an alternative vision of reality, an alternative way of living your life. Working from the outsider stance requires you to opt out of the conventional paradigm. Rather than buying into the path of gaining credentials, establishing relationships, building careers, and planning for a comfortable retirement, you take a different route with different values. This requires sacrifice. Your education may be interrupted, your career put on hold, your relationships shaken.

The infiltrator, by contrast, takes on the forms and appearances of the society of which she is a part, rather than rejecting conventional structures and institutions. With this approach, you enter into the system as fully as possible and really try to understand it, so that you can transform it from within. On the surface, you lead a conventional, ordinary life, but your every action is colored by your dharmic perspective and training. Steadily and stealthily you apply your practice in the mundane activities of daily life and, in doing so, transform yourself and the world around you.

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