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The Reincarnation / Karma Conundrum May 7, 2008

Posted by Philip Ryan in Dalai Lama, Reincarnation, Tibet.
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Interesting stuff going on at the Urban Monk, where Dogo Barry Graham declares:

The Buddha did not believe in reincarnation (those who think he did do not understand the sutras).

This stems from an earlier discussion where the Dalai Lama said (among other things) that Tibet is being punished for feudalism. (See the DL interview here.)

The Urban Monk is a great blog. And if you’re in the Valley of the Sun, probably a pretty warm spot these days, go visit the Sitting Frog Sangha. Dogo Barry Graham is a student of the great Kobutsu Malone.

Burma’s Woeful Healthcare, Bhutan’s 100,000 Refugees January 23, 2008

Posted by Philip Ryan in Dalai Lama, Reincarnation, Tibet.
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400 children die every day in Burma from preventable diseases. The only country in Asia that ranks worse in terms of infant mortality is Afghanistan. In 2000 the World Health organization ranked Burma as having the second-worst healthcare system in the world after Sierra Leone. China, Burma’s only friend, encourages the junta to let U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari back into the country, but also tells the world to back off:

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said China wanted to see stability, democracy and development in the country also known as Burma.

However, Jiang urged the international community to be “objective when viewing the Myanmar situation … and provide constructive assistance.”

China objects to Western criticisms of the military regime, claiming that conditions in Myanmar have improved dramatically since a violent crackdown on peaceful protests in September.

“I don’t think sanctions are helpful,” Jiang told reporters at a regularly scheduled news conference.

And the story on China saying who, what, and where can be reincarnated has legs:

The issue of reincarnation was highlighted in November when the Dalai Lama announced during a visit to Japan that he might choose his successor while he is still alive. Although there are instances in Tibetan history where an incarnate Tibetan lama is believed by Tibetans to have reincarnated before his passing, the Dalai Lama’s statement was still somewhat unusual, and certainly politically significant as an attempt to thwart Beijing’s control and supervision of the reincarnation of influential Tibetan lamas.

And Bhutan is still in the news because of its upcoming elections. And along with that comes refugee news. Ethnic Nepalese refugees forced out of Bhutan in the 1990s have been living on international aid in camps in Nepal for seventeen years. Now some may be heading for the U.S.

Why did Bhutan create this refugee situation? The situation may be similar to that of neighboring Sikkim, once independent but now part of India, where the British government brought in ethnic Nepalese in order to influence voting and general control of the country.

The Dalai Lama’s philosophy is rooted in warm-heartedness, according to The Economic Times of India. And the Buddhist Blog has a “Free Burma” t-shirt giveaway!

Laura Bush Lashes out at the Burmese Junta; plus news on Gandhi, Baggio, and Burger King December 19, 2007

Posted by Philip Ryan in Burma, News, Reincarnation, Tibet.

Look out, Myanmar, Laura Bush is gonna getcha! Pop quiz: What was her First Lady project? Whatever it was, she’s letting the junta have it in no uncertain terms:

“The junta has made no meaningful attempt to meet and talk with democratic activists. Instead it has continued to harass and detain them,” Laura Bush said.

“The junta leaders continue to sell the country’s natural resources to enrich themselves. While they reject international calls for a democratic transition, they have put Burma in shambles and placed its people in a perilous state,” she said.

“Children are being trafficked and subject to forced recruitment into the military; citizens are fleeing the country to seek work and basic healthcare; meanwhile infectious diseases, including AIDS and malaria, continue to spread unchecked,” said Laura Bush.

Right on. Note the creative ways the AFP writer varied the ends of the above three paragraphs. The Independent says Burma’s girls are the victims of China’s one-child policy. Burmese monks in India devise a system to protect Buddhism. (When I first read this headline it said “protest Buddhism” but was later fixed. Or else, very possibly, I saw it wrong.)

Would Gandhi’s method of nonviolent resistance work in today’s Burma?

Buddhist monks in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh ran afoul of the police when they tried to gather outside the Vietnamese
embassy to protest that country’s treatment of Buddhist monks. (This despite Buddhism recently praised by a Communist Party member in Vietnam as being a “patriotic religion“.) Several photographers seem to have been very close to the action in Phnom Penh. You can see one right in the middle of the Herald-Tribune‘s picture.

Southeast Asia is full of trouble. Four deaths (including one beheading) allegedly by Muslim insurgents in Thailand’s turbulent south. An election is scheduled for Sunday but there seems to be no connection between that and these most recent killings.

Xinhua, a Chinese news agency, talks about the tulku system in Tibet.

Buddhist soccer star Baggio will accept a humanitarian award from the city of Rome on behalf of Aung San Suu Kyi, who is of course held in indefinite detention by the Burmese junta.

Burger King, previously praised here for making tiny steps forward vis a vis animal cruelty, now takes several large steps backward in its dealing with the humans who pick their tomatoes and other vegetables.

And the state of New Jersey has voted to abolish the death policy. The U.N. General Assembly voted 104-54 for a worldwide moratorium on the practice. Danny Fisher writes about it here (and features a YouTube movie with Jeremy Irons who is very convincing on the subject.)

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

Atheism, Vietnam, Sarkozy, and Holiday Stress November 27, 2007

Posted by Philip Ryan in Burma, Dalai Lama, Meditation, News, Reincarnation, Tibet.
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 Why is atheism so hot right now? The Nation‘s Katha Pollitt:

There’s no question in my mind that horror at militant Islam and fear of Muslim immigration lie behind at least some of the current vogue for atheism–you don’t make the bestseller list by excoriating the evils of Lutheranism or Buddhism. The problem is that the more scorn one feels for religious belief, the less able one is to appreciate “reformed” or “moderate” variants of the faith. After all, pro-gay Episcopalians and liberation theology Catholics still believe in Christ, the afterlife, sin; reformed Jews still find wisdom in the Old Testament. Strictly speaking, an atheist should have no truck with any of it. But if all you can offer people is reasons to quit their religion–which also often means their community, their family, their support system and their identity–you’re not going to have many takers. For every brilliant angry teenager you strengthen in doubt, there’s a mosque- or churchful of people who’ll choose the old-time religion if the only other choice is nothing.

BURMA: The UN has asked Vietnam to engage Burma. I guess this is because everything else has failed:

Vietnam will soon become a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and has better relations with Myanmar than most other countries in the region, Ibrahim Gambari told reporters.

As a result, Vietnam has a responsibility to “exercise that closeness, that leverage, positively,” Gambari, the U.N. envoy for Myanmar, said.

Gambari, who met later in the day with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, said he delivered a message from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon asking Vietnam to urge Myanmar to intensify its efforts to cooperate with the UN.

The goal, he said, is to create a “peaceful, united, stable, prosperous, democratic Myanmar with full respect for human rights.”

And don’t forget Don’t Forget Burma, and Burma is Important.

TIBET: China continues to fume over the Dalai Lama’s comment that his successor will be found outside of China if he dies.  (And why not? This is less ridiculous than China’s proclamations about regulating reincarnation that started all this.  The Dalai Lama will choose where he wants to incarnate next, right?) China “played the French card”, warmly welcoming French president Nicolas Sarkozy this week. This was meant to be a snub to Angela Merkel and Germany for receiving the DL recently. But Sarko slammed China for its belligerent attitude toward the Dalai Lama and Tibet with one hand and secured 30 billion dollars in Chinese contracts for France — triple what French businessmen had expected — with the other. Now THERE’s a politician.

Meditation may help ease holiday stress, and there are many reasons to feel stressed this and every year. Any recommendations for a 15-minute guided meditation? Someone asked on LinkedIn.

– Philip Ryan, Web Editor

Einstein and Buddha, together again November 21, 2007

Posted by Philip Ryan in Books, Burma, News, Reincarnation.

Steven Seagal is back on the Buddhist scene, visiting what is said to be Europe’s largest Buddhist temple in the Russian Federation republic of Kalmykia. Most readers will remember that Seagal was recognized as a tulku by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche about ten years ago. Kalmykia itself is notable for being the only region in Europe where Buddhism is the dominant religion. Seagal is also visiting a boxing tournament in Elista, Kalmykia’s capital.

BURMA: Along with all its other problems, Burma is being deforested at a frightening pace. This is in contrast to China and other Asian countries, which are working to plant forests. Astoundingly this will result in a net gain of woodland for the continent next year. But China’s not exactly in the clear:

But according to Global Witness, a London-based, non-governmental organization that exposes the corrupt exploitation of natural resources and international trading systems, Burma illegally exports some 95 percent of its timber—more than 1 million cubic meters of wood— from northern Burma to Yunnan Province in China every year.

GERMANS LOVE BUDDHISM PART IX: A study in Germany shows that Zen meditation makes psychotherapists better at their job.

einsteinandbuddha.jpgYou may remember our recent post about bogus Einstein quotes about Buddhism discovered floating around the web. I recently came across this book, Einstein and Buddha, The Parallel Sayings, from 2002. So far as I can tell it doesn’t address the bogus Einstein quotes (nor does it use them) but I think it is exploiting the same urge: Einstein was a genius and knew a lot about science in our modern world. The Buddha said similar things. Therefore the Buddha also addresses issues about science in our modern world in a meaningful way. The book is probably very interesting and entertaining but I think the desire to make the dharma relevant by comparing it to such accepted wisdom as Einstein’s is ultimately going to leave us disappointed. Science is science. Religion is religion. They are separate endeavors and have been separate since, I don’t know, the Enlightenment, no matter how much people wish them together with intelligent design or whatever. They are parallel endeavors, both addressing big topics in wholly different realms — and parallel lines never touch. (Side note: I don’t know much about this newer book Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings. Maybe that can be addressed at a later date!)

– Philip Ryan, Editor

A statue saved in Pakistan, and the Zen of Meeting Women November 20, 2007

Posted by Philip Ryan in Burma, Dalai Lama, Reincarnation.
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There’s a mention of SFZC’s groundbreaking restaurant Greens in this pretty photo gallery of vegetarian dining in San Francisco, and also in the related article (from the New York Times.)

Normally when we hear Pakistan and Buddhism in the same sentence, it’s because Islamists have dynamited another statue. But here’s a case where some villagers got together and saved a statue.

Will Smith has studied Buddhism and Hinduism and says they’re no better or worse than Scientology.

Who came out on top at the recent ASEAN conference? The Burmese junta, of course.

The Dalai Lama may break with tradition and appoint a successor before he dies. This is in response to China’s new rules on reincarnation.

And, umm, the Zen of Meeting Women, discovered by Zen Filter.

– Philip Ryan, Web Editor 

Gustaaf Houtman, Kate Wheeler, Joseph Goldstein, and Michael Caine November 7, 2007

Posted by Philip Ryan in Burma, General, Reincarnation.
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Here’s a great interview with anthropologist Gustaaf Houtman, an expert on the big, messy world of the Burmese military. It’s from Irrawaddy News Magazine. Quick take:

Q: But surely, secular politicians, such as Aung San, never approved of Buddhism as a political instrument?

A: Approving of Buddhism as a political instrument is one thing: understanding by means of Buddhist concepts how disorder arises and order may be established, and what kind of political intervention might be necessary, are another.

To proclaim that Buddhism here serves as a political instrument would be to grossly oversimplify what has been going on. In raising fuel prices to unaffordable levels, the regime has made it impossible for the laity to support Buddhist monastic practice and so has politicised Buddhism.

Kate Wheeler’s article “Cave With a View” from the Summer 2007 issue of Tricycle has been selected for the book The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2008. The book comes out in February 2008 but is available for pre-order now. Kudos to Kate!

Joseph Goldstein TricycleInsight Meditation teacher and author Joseph Goldstein is doing a Q & A on the Tricycle site. Please drop by and ask him a question, and vote on the questions of others. He’ll answer the top three questions in early December.

Gem traders aren’t worried about the turmoil in Burma. Gems account for 10% of Burma’s exports in monetary terms, making them a critical crutch for the regime. (Imagine losing 10% of your salary.)

Certainly, some companies are not eager to conduct business-as-usual with the Burmese regime following the crackdown against peaceful demonstrations led by Buddhist monks in September. For instance, Cartier has announced that it will stop buying gemstones mined in Burma. And the Jewelers of America, a national association of jewelers, has urged Congress to amend a law enacted in 2003 that bans all imports from Burma, because the ban has a loophole allowing gemstone traders to import Burmese gemstones if they have been cut and polished elsewhere.

And Michael Caine believes in reincarnation. That’s a good thing because he and Jude Law are trying to resurrect reincarnate the film Sleuth (1972 and 2007.)

– Philip Ryan, Web Editor