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Friday
Sep012006

Analyzing Enlightenment

    After: Poems Buddhism and Psychotherapy Across Cultures: Essays on Theories and Practices
    Edited by Mark Unno
    After: Poems The Psychology of Buddhist Tantra
    By Rob Preece

Reviewed by Mark Epstein, MD

 


Those who know do not speak; those who speak do not know. But at conferences on Buddhism and psychotherapy, the spoken word is all we have to go on. What is the point? The hope at such conferences is always for someone to explain what Buddhist awakening actually consists of, what enlightenment actually means.

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Friday
Sep012006

Book Briefs

Foundational teachings on Buddhist meditation are contained throughout the collection of texts known as the Pali canon. Much of this material has been translated into English but remains hidden in rare or out-of-print books and obscured in the archaic language of a bygone age. Sarah Shaw successfully remedies this unfortunate situation with her new book, Buddhist Meditation: An Anthology of Texts from the Pali Canon (Routledge, 2006). The structure of Shaw’s anthology follows the list of forty subjects of meditation established by the scholar-monk Buddhaghosa in the fifth century BCE and used in Theravada countries to the present day. Under each heading, Shaw provides elegant and highly readable new translations of relevant passages from the Pali canon and its earliest commentators. With introductory chapters addressing questions such as “What is meditation?” this excellent anthology is both a practical handbook for meditators and a useful reference for students of Buddhism at any level.

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Friday
Sep012006

Profile: Forest Sangha

A humble man of small stature, living simply in a kuti (meditation hut) in the remote and impoverished northeast of Thailand, grew to be one of the most influential figures in Buddhism in the West. Ajahn Chah was not only an important teacher for the founders of the Insight Meditation Society, a largely secularized group devoted to vipassana meditation, he also left a legacy of rigorous Theravada monasticism that is carried on in monasteries and their associated lay communities throughout the world. This group of monasteries is led by Ajahn Chah’s senior Western monks. There is no overarching organization that carries on his legacy, but the age of the Internet demands a label, so when the far-flung community decided to create a web portal in 2001, they gave it the name forestsangha.org.

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Thursday
Jun012006

Reflecting on a Mother’s Love

This is probably the last Saturday night talk that I’ll be giving for quite a while. I have received news from my sister in England that our mother is extremely ill, and the signs are that she won’t live for more than a few months. So I plan to fly to England in a week to be with her.

The Buddha once said (Anguttara Nikaya 2:32) that if you were to carry your parents around with you for their whole lives—your father on one shoulder and your mother on the other—even to the point where they were losing their faculties and their excrement was running down your back, this would not repay your debt of gratitude to them. But you could repay the debt if your parents were not virtuous and you established them in virtue; if they were not wise and you established them in wisdom; if they were stingy and you established them in generosity; if they had no faith in the spiritual path and you led them to it.

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Thursday
Jun012006

The Four Layers of Consciousness

The Vietnamese Zen Master Thuong Chieu said, “When we understand how our mind works, our practice becomes easy.” To understand our minds, we need to understand our consciousness.

The Buddha taught that consciousness is always continuing, like a stream of water. Consciousness has four layers. The four layers of consciousness are mind consciousness, sense consciousness, store consciousness, and manas.

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Thursday
Jun012006

Enlightenment in Female Form

I recently had the opportunity to speak at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City on the occasion of their exhibit Female Buddhas: Women of Enlightenment in Himalayan Art. I was happy to see this exhibit—the first of its kind, I believe—which focused on enlightenment in female form. It was long overdue, and I am grateful to the museum for providing such a wonderful show.

The fact that the show’s title included the word “female” makes it apparent that when we use the word “buddha,” most people imagine a male figure. Although it is true that buddhas can be male or female, it is also true that unless we say female, we assume it is male. That is our cultural baggage.

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Thursday
Jun012006

Into the Depths of Emptiness

We can speak of two kinds of emptiness: the emptiness of the dharma of teachings and the emptiness of the dharma of mind. The emptiness of the dharma of teachings can be understood through analysis and logic. The emptiness of the dharma of mind, however, can only be realized through actual experience. There is a real experience of this emptiness of the dharma of mind, but not all so-called experiences of emptiness are genuine.

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Thursday
Jun012006

Forum: How Should I Help?

It is hard to disagree with the idea that the way of the Buddha is to help others. If we help others, we get beyond carving out a space in which we can comfortably nest. Helping others challenges our tendency to zone out on a comfort binge of food, clothing, shelter, companionship, meditation—you name it. What could be better for promoting liberation and enlightenment than extending ourselves to others? And yet there could be big problems.

Being helpful can be very unhelpful. Much of what passes for help is really hindrance, as in, “Honey, I was just trying to help.” For one thing, we can comfortably delude ourselves into thinking we are a big help, and out of a desire to alleviate the pain we feel in the presence of someone else’s pain, give them exactly the Band-Aid they don’t need.

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Thursday
Jun012006

Opinion: Kobai Scott Whitney

Historians of religion often repeat the accepted truth that it takes about two centuries for a culture to absorb a new religion and make it its own. Buddhism is certainly not a new religion on the world scene; nevertheless, it may be turning into something new as it is adapted to fit Euro-American culture. And this revised Buddhism might be neglecting crucial elements of the original teachings in favor of values and practices that give comfort to us in the receiving culture. As North Americans and Europeans, we seem particularly attracted to the enticing and psychologized project of spiritual enlightenment, but we are neglecting, at our peril, other fundamental Buddhist values and practices.

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Thursday
Jun012006

The Lamp of Zazen

In our practice the most important thing to know is that we have buddhanature. Real practice happens when realization of the buddhanature takes place. Intellectually we know that we have buddhanature and that this is what was taught by Buddha. But even though we have buddhanature, at the same time, it is rather difficult to accept it. And although we have buddhanature, at the same time, our nature has an evil side. And although buddhanature is beyond good and bad, at the same time, our everyday life is going on in the realm of good and bad. So there is a twofold reality. One is the duality of good and bad, and the other is the realm of the absolute, or no good and no bad.

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