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Friday
Dec012006

Forum: Diversity and Divisions in America Buddhism

Introduction by Charles S. Prebish

Although the counterculture of the 1960s inspired much interest in Zen and the various Tibetan Buddhist traditions, by 1975 there were no more than several hundred thousand Buddhists in North America. Most of them belonged to either Buddhist Churches of America, a series of predominantly ethnic communities in the Japanese Pure Land tradition, or the then-titled Nichiren Shoshu of America, popular with so-called American converts and composed largely of women and minorities.

If we fast-forward to the turn of the century, most reasonable estimates cited between four and six million Buddhists in North America. Fueled by the 1965 change in American immigration law, there was a huge influx of Buddhist immigrants from war-torn Southeast Asia. In all likelihood, the number of Buddhists in North America with Asian ancestry represents about 75 to 80 percent of the total number of Buddhists on the continent.

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Friday
Dec012006

Searching for Bodhidharma

I don’t know what I am expecting. As we exit the van we are welcomed only by a chilly winter wind blowing down Bear Ear Mountain. The lonely mountain, just a few hundred feet high, conveys a sad sense that something important has been forgotten here. Naked land stretches for miles in all directions.

We’re about an hour’s drive west of Luoyang, China’s most ancient capital, and a few miles off the new Luoyang—Xian expressway. We left the highway at an exit called Kwan Yin Hall, although no hall — and no Kwan Yin — were to be seen. A short drive south brought Bear Ear Mountain and the site of Kong Xiang (“Empty Form”) Temple, Bodhidharma’s final resting place, into view.

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Friday
Dec012006

Ask the Teachers

Q: Is there a Buddhist perspective regarding practitioners who become afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia? Since the mind is the primary tool with which we work toward the realization of buddhanature and enlightenment, what does it mean if one loses that mind, or loses the capacity to practice, long before one dies?

I’ve been able to find teachings and information on Buddhist skills for caring for loved ones with dementia, but I cannot seem to find anything on the potential quandary of practicing Buddhism if confronted with dementia oneself. What happens to our right effort if we lose the ability to practice or to work with our mind? And what happens to the skillful means we developed for our own death?

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Friday
Dec012006

Beyond Good and Evil

By Jan Chozen Bays

I’ve been pondering the question of good and evil, a question my Christian mother also deliberated upon. A few weeks before her sudden death from a stroke at age eighty-four, she told me, “I’ve come to the conclusion that evil doesn’t exist as a separate entity. I think that evil is created when man turns away from good.”

When I asked about God in my childhood, my mother said that she felt that God was love. That would mean that evil was its opposite, anger or hatred. This is congruent with the teachings of both Jesus and the Buddha. Then, late in life, my mother decided that God was energy. She reasoned that God must be in everything, and since God was completely fair, it must be a force that is fully present in all people and creations. Only energy fit these criteria.

In a meeting over whisked green tea with my Zen master, Shodo Harada Roshi, my mother told him of her new understanding of God as energy. He looked deeply into her eyes and said, “That’s right! But you only have half of it.” She grinned like a child, so pleased to have been given a new question to ponder. She referred to him thereafter as “my Roshi.”

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Friday
Dec012006

A Masterful Guide to Vajrayana Practice

A Cascading Waterfall of Nectar
By Thinley Norbu

Reviewed by Francesca Fremantle


Thinley Norbu Rinpoche is a renowned writer and teacher in the Nyingma tradition. He is the eldest son of the late Dudjom Rinpoche, Jigdral Yeshe Dorje, who was the incarnation of the nineteenth-century terton Tragtung Dudjom Lingpa. In this wonderful volume, Thinley Norbu presents his own commentaries on a treasure text revealed by Dudjom Lingpa and also on a short prayer composed by his father, who was one of the greatest realized masters to escape from Tibet and to bless the Western world with his teachings.

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Friday
Dec012006

Book Briefs

The Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism has been the most conservative in maintaining the secrecy of its lineage’s special practices. In particular, leaders of the school have been reluctant to authorize any publications on their supreme esoteric system, the Lamdré (“Path and Result”). The latest volume in the Library of Tibetan Classics series, Taking the Path as the Result: Core Teachings of the Sakya Lamdré Tradition (Wisdom Publications, 2006; $59.95) represents a major breakthrough by bringing these teachings to light with the full blessings of the Sakya masters. In nearly seven hundred pages of translation, the indefatigable Cyrus Stearns presents an anthology of essential texts on Lamdré. The first section includes both the Vajra Lines of the seventh/eighth-century Indian adept Virupa (the root text of the entire tradition) and the commentary by Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092-1158). Writings on the history and the practice of the tradition by the sixteenth-century master Jamyang Khyentse Wangchuk (updated by later lineage holders) comprise the second part of the volume. This collection will be an invaluable resource for practitioners of the Lamdré system.

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Friday
Dec012006

Profile: Unitarian Universalist Buddhist Fellowship

UU Buddhists, who combine Unitarian Universalism and Buddhism, “may be the largest convert Buddhist grouping in the country right now,” says James Ford, a Zen priest and Unitarian Universalist minister. As senior minister of the First Unitarian Society in Newton, Massachusetts, and a leading teacher at Boundless Way Zen, a regional consortium of Zen groups, Ford exemplifies the not-one, not-two spirit of UU Buddhism. Buddhism can offer Unitarian Universalists profound contemplative experience, and Unitarian Universalism can offer American Buddhists a traditional American-style congregation.

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Friday
Sep012006

The Phenomenal Universe of the Flower Ornament Sutra

Chinese Huayan Buddhism is considered by many Buddhist scholars to be one of the highpoints of Mahayana thought, even of world philosophy.

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Friday
Sep012006

Caught in Indra’s Net

I once attended a memorial service for an old grandmother in Mishima, Japan. She had been a Zen student, and members of her family had connections with Shingon and Nichiren sects as well. A priest from each of these three denominations took part in the service, and they joined in reciting the Heart Sutra together.

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Friday
Sep012006

Crucial Instructions

Son, there are four instructions for using things as the path.

As it is said in the Six Prerequisites for Concentration:

    On account of material possessions one suffers.
    To own nothing is supreme bliss.
    By abandoning all its food,
    The pelican becomes ever happier.

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