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We’ve moved! May 27, 2008

Posted by Philip Ryan in General.
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The Tricycle Editor’s blog has moved from this space over to blog.tricycle.com. Please reset your browsers, links, and minds accordingly. In our new space we will bring in many more blogging voices, so if you’re bored by the voice you normally find here (ah-hem!) don’t worry, relief is on the way!

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One Answer to Carbon Woes: Blowin’ in the Wind May 20, 2008

Posted by Sarah Todd in Environment, General.
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An article in Salon points out,

“For under 2 cents a day per household, Americans could get 300 gigawatts of wind by 2030. That would:

  • Reduce carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation by 25 percent in 2030.
  • Reduce natural gas use by 11 percent.
  • Reduce cumulative water consumption associated with electricity generation by 4 trillion gallons by 2030.
  • Support roughly 500,000 jobs in the U.S.”

All we need is an administration that will let it happen.

The Biological Boon Behind Incense May 20, 2008

Posted by Sarah Todd in General, Meditation, News, Random Notes.
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A new study reveals one reason why incense and spiritualism go together like zendos and zafus. Beyond the symbolic tradition of burning incense lies a biological benefit: it can help ease anxiety and depression. When scientists administered incensole acetate, a compound found in incense, to mice, the compound affected them in “brain areas known to be involved in emotions as well as in nerve circuits that are affected by current anxiety and depression drugs.” Adds Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal, “This study also provides a biological explanation for millennia-old spiritual practices that have persisted across time, distance, culture, language, and religion–burning incense really does make you feel warm and tingly all over!” Read all about it over in Science Daily.

David Brooks on “neural Buddhism” May 13, 2008

Posted by Philip Ryan in General.
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David Brooks discusses the “militant materialism of some modern scientists” then says:

Over the past several years, the momentum has shifted away from hard-core materialism. The brain seems less like a cold machine. It does not operate like a computer. Instead, meaning, belief and consciousness seem to emerge mysteriously from idiosyncratic networks of neural firings. Those squishy things called emotions play a gigantic role in all forms of thinking. Love is vital to brain development.

Researchers now spend a lot of time trying to understand universal moral intuitions. Genes are not merely selfish, it appears. Instead, people seem to have deep instincts for fairness, empathy and attachment.

Scientists have more respect for elevated spiritual states. Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania has shown that transcendent experiences can actually be identified and measured in the brain (people experience a decrease in activity in the parietal lobe, which orients us in space). The mind seems to have the ability to transcend itself and merge with a larger presence that feels more real.

This new wave of research will not seep into the public realm in the form of militant atheism. Instead it will lead to what you might call neural Buddhism.

If you survey the literature (and I’d recommend books by Newberg, Daniel J. Siegel, Michael S. Gazzaniga, Jonathan Haidt, Antonio Damasio and Marc D. Hauser if you want to get up to speed), you can see that certain beliefs will spread into the wider discussion.

First, the self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships. Second, underneath the patina of different religions, people around the world have common moral intuitions. Third, people are equipped to experience the sacred, to have moments of elevated experience when they transcend boundaries and overflow with love. Fourth, God can best be conceived as the nature one experiences at those moments, the unknowable total of all there is.

In their arguments with Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, the faithful have been defending the existence of God. That was the easy debate. The real challenge is going to come from people who feel the existence of the sacred, but who think that particular religions are just cultural artifacts built on top of universal human traits. It’s going to come from scientists whose beliefs overlap a bit with Buddhism.

This seems to be the “Buddhism is the religion of the future” meme again.

Buddhist Holidays May 5, 2008

Posted by Philip Ryan in Events, General.
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I came across a gathering (the Lotus Lantern Parade) in celebration of the Buddha’s birthday yesterday in New York’s Union Square (quite the Buddhist hotspot lately) and it made me think how scattered holidays are in western Buddhism. Maybe westerners don’t want them, having secularized the holidays of their cradle religions. But it seems to play into the worries Clark Strand expressed over the future of the dharma in America. Pardon the crummy cellphone picture.

New Buddhist Forums May 1, 2008

Posted by Philip Ryan in General.
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Loden Jinpa has started up a promising new Buddhist Forums site. He blogs about it here.

America’s Shame — 5% of the world’s population and 22% of the prisoners April 23, 2008

Posted by Philip Ryan in General.
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“Whatever the reason, the gap between American justice and that of the rest of the world is enormous and growing.”

The Diversity of China April 17, 2008

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The diversity of China, photographs from National Geographic.

Big Dream on the Bare Stage April 16, 2008

Posted by Philip Ryan in General.
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[The following is a guest post from Tricycle’s Copy Editor Karen Ready.]

I’m puzzled that virtually no New York bloggers have posted anything about Evan Brenner’s work in progress The Buddha-In His Own Words, a one-man performance of excerpts from the life and teachings of the Buddha taken directly from the vast collection we know as the Pali canon. These texts form the basis of the Theravada tradition: discourses, teachings, monastic rules, and philosophical texts attributed in large part to the Buddha and his disciples, they were passed on orally and committed to writing only after the Buddha’s death. The play is the result of some four years of work (so far) on Brenner’s part to “assemble the life of the Buddha.” I like his choice of “assemble”: in fact, Mark Epstein has referred to the play as “masterfully crafted,” and both terms provide a good sense of Brenner’s deceptively simple eighty-minute creation, like the attentive folding of an origami shape. Here the actor-playwright takes on all the roles, from the young prince who leaves his royal surroundings to seek an answer to the world of suffering and death he finds beyond the palace gates, to those he encounters along the way (including Mara the tempter), to members of his ever-growing following as well as opponents who brought tragedy to his later years. (more…)

Laos Tourism April 15, 2008

Posted by Philip Ryan in General.
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This picture from the Times was fairly striking. Americans in action-paparazzi poses photographing monks. The article is about tourism in a town in Laos. [Photo: David Longstreath/Associated Press]