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Ram Dass on Knowledge February 21, 2008

Posted by Philip Ryan in Random Notes.
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Information is just bits of data.
Knowledge is putting them together—
wisdom is transcending them.

– Ram Dass, One Liners A Manual for a Spiritual Life


“Dive-bar Dharma” in Salon February 20, 2008

Posted by Philip Ryan in News, Random Notes.

Statler and WaldorfSalon has an interesting article called Dive-bar Dharma about Ethan Nichtern and Noah Levine and the new generation of Buddhists (or at least one of the new generations) in New York. The article mentions the graying of American dharma centers, and we should note this is true of all — or maybe we should most — churches and religions across the industrialized world, so the solution to this problem is by no means unique to Buddhism or even Buddhism in the West.

The article describes young New Yorkers who are stressed out and looking for peace and relief from their crackberries, the 24-hour news cycle, and Facebook pages, so they’re heading to dharma centers run by hip young people who speak in terms young Americans can understand (i.e. celebrity-and-technology-obsessed pop culture). The article is fun and inspiring, but after a little reflection, it struck me this way: Does Buddhism have to be packaged as cool in order to survive? Is speaking in pop culture babble a skillful way to get young people interested (then when they least expect it, wham! You hit ’em over the head with the Diamond Sutra!) or a shibboleth designed to repel the old folks? Are generations of Buddhists doomed to remain forever separate because the minutiae of their cultural experiences are different? (That is, the difference between being cool now vs. being cool in the 60s is very small compared to the real cultural gap that exists between American young people and old men from Tibet and Japan.) Will the young folks eventually graduate to dharma centers for old, boring people? (Are we all doomed to turn into our parents?) Or will the people going to the hip new centers stick with the places and teachers that speak to their specific cultural preoccupations, so that the centers and students will all age together? This latter way seems unsustainable, and maybe it’s far-fetched, too.

We can all understand why foreign words and rituals might be off-putting, especially to us insular Americans, and even why many of the cultural riders that come with Buddhism seem extraneous to the core of the religion, or, as some prefer to avoid that dirty word, the practice. No matter what cultural clothes you dress it in, from Asian rituals to exaggerated uber-hip pop-culture technojargon (which is nothing if not an updated form of the hippie feel-good yeah-man peace-and-love talk of the old folks that’s mocked in the article) the underlying truths should be the same. There are dangers in reductivism, but there’s also danger in clinging to cultural baggage that has nothing to do with wisdom compassion or the end of suffering and that only serves to push people away who could benefit from the practice. Isn’t this really the big discussion of Buddhism in America at this point?

Thanks to the Worst Horse for pointing us to this one.

UPDATE: Seems Barry Graham is discussing this issue now as well.

UPDATE THE SECOND: Ethan responds to the article on the One City blog, and in the comments section, he and other I.D. Project members discuss how they feel the article over-represented the “hipster” angle of their group and missed the more serious side.

Departure February 12, 2008

Posted by Philip Ryan in Random Notes, Who Are We Reading?.

Blogger / photographer An Xiao of That was Zen, This is Tao, the best name in all of blogdom, has a photo in the current issue of Tricycle. You can see it on her blog.

Sri Lanka Suicide Bombing; Severe Weather in China Continues February 3, 2008

Posted by Philip Ryan in Environment, Random Notes.
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At least 11 dead and 92 wounded in a sucide bombing in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The Tamil Tigers pioneered the suicide bomb. This one was a woman.

Millions still struggling to get home to celebrate the New Year in China. Unusually severe winter weather including ice and snow has handicapped the huge country and perhaps exposed the fragility of its infrastructure. But a five-year plan will fix that.

LIVE-BLOGGING THE SUPER BOWL: Seems like some casual racism directed at Asians in the Super Bowl ads. I think it was a Bud Lite ad and that one advertising free sales leads with the pandas. (Salesgenie?)

Ishikoro January 23, 2008

Posted by Philip Ryan in Random Notes.
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Sarah Boxer has a piece on blogs in the New York Review of Books. I couldn’t find it online, but I done learnt me a new word from it: ishikoro, (ishi – stone, koro – an affectionate diminutive) meaning pebble, referring to a disused or neglected blog (of which, the article suggests, there may be 85 million in the world, or more.) Picture a pebble thrown into a huge placid pond that sinks with nary a ripple, or a pebble packed in with 84,999,999 other pebbles on a path leading somewhere, between two rows of tall shady trees.

This might be what it looks like in Japanese (if not, blame Alta Vista. Some computers / browsers probably won’t be able to render the Japanese characters either):


UPDATE: This NYRB article is now online.

Non-Attachment January 22, 2008

Posted by Philip Ryan in Random Notes.
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We like to publish Buddhist cartoons when we get the chance. Buddhism can be funny and we published a book, Buddha Laughing, to prove it! Here’s one that’s not in the book from longtime contributor P.B. Law:


“The beauty of it is that as long as I’m not attached to my things, I don’t have to give any of them up.”

Science is messy January 17, 2008

Posted by Philip Ryan in Environment, Random Notes.
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This will make Scientologists happy: Prozac and Paxil may not work as well as we’re led to believe.

Scientists are now saying we’re “some momentary fluctuation in a field of matter and energy out in space… Your memories and the world you think you see around you are illusions.” Is this a problem?

And is cloned beef, or lab-grown beef, that bad, given that much of the world continues to eat cows?

Dow Jones Dharma Global Index January 16, 2008

Posted by Philip Ryan in Burma, Random Notes.
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More violence in southern Thailand, this time a Baghdad-style bomb in a crowded market.

British groups have called for tourists to boycott Burma.

India is big on family planning, and with good reason, but Buddhists in Ladakh, also known as Little Tibet, worry that if they follow this policy, they will die out.

A controversial facelift for Bodh Gaya, Buddhism’s holiest town, is in the works.

There have been investment indices for Christians and Muslims for some time. Now there’s on for Buddhists and Hindus:

Global index provider Dow Jones indexes and Dharma Investments, a private investment company, today announced the launch of Dow Jones dharma index for measuring the performance of companies selected according to the value systems and principles of Dharmic religions, especially Hinduism and Buddhism.

[UPDATE: The Worst Horse had a similar item to this, plus a cool Tibetan Buddhist jukebox, yesterday. I tell ya, ya gotta get up early in the morning! . . . ]

An amazing article on the horror of rabies in Africa and parts of Asia from the New York Times. So many of these diseases would be routinely treatable, or even eradicable, given sufficient resources.

Also from the Times, do you want to learn about Boltzmann’s Brain? It’s very strange.

Accidental Dharma and the newbuddhist.com Boards January 8, 2008

Posted by Philip Ryan in Random Notes.
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Check out Accidental Dharma (and post an entry on it!) It’s a collaborative blog created by Peter Clothier of The Buddha Diaries. What a great idea.

Ad while you’re at it, stop by the newbuddhist.com discussion boards. It’s a great place for newbies and grizzled veterans alike.

OCD, China, and Shakespeare in Arizona December 4, 2007

Posted by Philip Ryan in Dalai Lama, Random Notes, Reincarnation.

Reading about perfectionism / OCD in the New York Times. A counselor at U.C. Davis treating perfectionists gives them this advice:

Leave work on time. Don’t arrive early. Take all the breaks allowed. Leave the desk a mess. Allow yourself a set number of tries to finish a job; then turn in what you have.

David Brooks, in another part of the paper, talks about China being a radical meritocracy (no one leaves work on time there):

When you talk to Americans, you find that they have all these weird notions about Chinese communism. You try to tell them that China isn’t a communist country anymore. It’s got a different system: meritocratic paternalism. You joke: Imagine the Ivy League taking over the shell of the Communist Party and deciding not to change the name. Imagine the Harvard Alumni Association with an army.

Why the second-person here, and what’s the connection with OCD above? Don’t know. Konchog of Dreaming of Danzan Ravjaa found himself in Arizona. Will he run into another of our favorite bloggers, the Rev. Dogo Nanshin Barry Graham Sensei of Urban Monk? If the world were Shakespearean locations he sure would (see this great thing, by the way) a world with places like, “Act II, scene iii. France.” As if everyone of importance to the plot who is in France will be on the stage together. . .

Act CCCVIII, scene one million and four. Arizona.

Enter Konchog, with laptop.

I came at my teacher’s invitation, and while, as often happens at Dakini Valley, it was a bit of a karmapalooza at first, we’ve now settled into a nice, relatively low-intensity retreat rhythm. I’ve also been more extensively discussing with Jetsunma plans for a teaching visit to Mongolia next spring/summer, which would be my fondest wish come true.

SILENCE is heard off-stage. Enter Barry Graham.

cold room,
unlit logs
in the fireplace

All right, sorry. . . . The Wall Street Journal takes a look at the reincarnation row (rhymes with “oww”) in China and has this this to say:

That reincarnation could become a political issue is one of the many curiosities of Tibetan politics. If you are going to believe in reincarnation, a non-believer might ask, can you really start haggling over specifics? In Tibetan Buddhism’s case, yes. For all its pageantry and mysticism, it has always contained the pragmatic streak found in any durable religion.

The Economist also took a look at this issue. Funny to hear these stolid and starched publications discussing reincarnation with a straight face:

[The Dalai Lama] has long has said he may not be reincarnated at all, or, if Tibet is not free, that he may be reborn outside China. This would do much to undermine any attempt by China to appoint its own Dalai Lama in the way it chose a new Panchen Lama, the second highest-ranking leader of Tibetan Buddhism, in 1995. (A rival reincarnation endorsed by the Dalai Lama, a boy living in China, has not been seen since.) Recently the Dalai Lama has gone further, proposing that his successor be chosen while he is still alive, by himself or by senior monks. And this week he even suggested that Tibetans could hold a referendum to decide on the Dalai Lamas’ future.

And more science-type stuff (yawn) saying meditation is good for you:

Research from the University of Oregon claims to prove that attaining a state of “restful alertness” for 20 minutes a day over a period of just five days can reduce anxiety and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

The millions of people worldwide who practise meditation may well allow themselves a wry smile at receiving the approval of modern science. For theirs is a tradition that dates back nearly 3,000 years.

Comment. Meditation is enlightenment. And so is everything else. So where is the stress? (Massage is good too. – Eds. See this Wildmind post (courtesy Simra.net) for a more satisfying read on the benefits of meditation vis a vis ADHD.)

Oh yeah, can’t let this pass: Bush insists pressure be kept on Iran. Stay afraid, America, say very afraid!

– Philip Ryan, Web Editor