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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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Thursday
Jun012006

Ask the Teachers

Q: There are lots of Buddhist resources available for the beginner or the person with modest experience (and a good income). But one can only read so many books and attend so many retreats. How does one get through that middle-to-later phase if one can’t go live in a monastery or sit with a teacher for several years?

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Thursday
Jun012006

A Message of Empowerment

    Encountering the Dharma: Daisaku Ikeda, Soka Gakkai, and the Globalization of Buddhist Humanism Encountering the Dharma: Daisaku Ikeda, Soka Gakkai, and the Globalization of Buddhist Humanism
    By Richard Hughes Seager

Reviewed by Martin Baumann

Ten years ago, I ran into a fellow from my school days. He was known for being a rigorous handball player, tough and uncompromising. At some point in our conversation, he mentioned that he had read bits of my work on Buddhism in the West, as he was now a practicing Buddhist. This was completely unexpected. Adding to my surprise, he explained that he had joined the Soka Gakkai, chanted "Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo" every morning, and served as the contact person of a Soka Gakkai regional chapter. All this was out of character for the man I once knew. I also noted the change in his manner—his style of speech had softened and his body language was smoother. As we parted, I remained perplexed by these changes and by the obvious impact Soka Gakkai had made on his life.

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Thursday
Jun012006

A Modern Man in Old Tibet

    The Madman’s Middle Way: Reflections on Reality of the Tibetan Monk Gendün Chöpel The Madman’s Middle Way: Reflections on Reality of the Tibetan Monk Gendün Chöpel
    By Donald S. Lopez Jr.

Reviewed by Felix Holmgren

One morning in the early 1940’s, when the Tibetan monk Gendün Chöpel was about forty years old and his travels had taken him as far as Sri Lanka, he accompanied a group of Theravadin monks as they went on their daily round of alms-begging. Although he had been ordained as a Buddhist monk for most of his life, he had never before witnessed or engaged in this practice. In Gendün Chöpel’s native Tibet, only genuinely destitute monks were ever seen begging. Stories of groups of monks approaching towns and villages to beg for alms were something one might come across in old books, something that belonged to the distant and long-lost Golden Age in the holy land of India. Seeing the Sinhalese monks re-enact this ancient tradition inherited from the Buddha, he thought, "I alone am seeing this legacy of our compassionate teacher," and he sat down on the ground and cried.

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Thursday
Jun012006

Book Briefs

Sayadaw U Pandita is one of the foremost teachers of the insight meditation method taught by the Burmese master Mahasi Sayadaw (1904-1982). His first book, In This Very Life (1990), quickly became a classic guide to vipassana. Sixteen years later, The State of Mind Called Beautiful (Wisdom Publications, 2006) offers some less commonly taught meditations and technical discussions related to specific aspects of vipassana practice. U Pandita’s instructions on the practices of recollecting the Buddha’s qualities and cultivating loving-kindness (metta) fill the first half of the book. These meditations, prescribed for a few minutes each day, are essential for a meditator in retreat, but they are also useful to the “working Buddhist” with a few minutes to spare. In the second half, the instructions on insight are more technical and will be of greater interest to readers actively engaged in vipassana meditation. However, editor Kate Wheeler’s evocative preface and translator Vivekananda’s consistent precision and helpful glossary make the entire work accessible to any reader.

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