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Killing the Buddha February 20, 2008

Posted by Philip Ryan in General, Who Are We Reading?.
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2001: KtB: The Buddha is dead.

2008: The Buddha: KtB is dead.

Vaya con dios.

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.

Book Review: Haiku Haven January 16, 2008

Posted by Sarah Todd in Books, Who Are We Reading?.
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51yqvbn-1jl_aa240_.jpgFor northern city-dwellers, the grey months of January and February can feel like a kind of apocalyptic-aftermath, but duller: dirty slush on the subway steps and reality television. When seasonal melancholy threatens, it’s best to turn to poetry, which makes ennui seem more bearable—or, at the very least, more important. The most premium of all poetic medicines may be the haiku, being formally required to address time and loss, as well as beautiful enough to make up for the indignity of damp socks.

Turning the pages of Haiku Master Buson, you feel can feel your commonplace Seasonal Affective Disorder being transformed into something unique and delicate, more along the lines of

With the soundlessness of winter rain
on mosses, vanished days
are remembered

than the tax season blues. Yosa Buson, an eighteenth-century poet and painter, ranks as one of the three Japanese haiku masters, along with Issa and Basho. However, due to a dearth of English translations, his work is largely unknown in the United States. With any luck, this new collection, translated by Yuki Sawa and Edith Marcombe Shiffert, will bring the poet the recognition he deserves.

Divided into four main sections—Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter—and accompanied by longer poems, a brief biography, and selected letters and essays, this little companion brings a fresh perspective to the turning of the seasons. Buson knows how to swoon:

Hazy moonlight!
Someone is standing
Among the pear trees

Thus, Buson sums up the lush promise of youth and season in three lines: a blossoming tree, a paramour waiting in the evening, made mysterious by fog. What winter chill? But it’s Buson’s job as a poet to keep one ear cocked toward a certain winged chariot, and so all joy is mixed with the knowledge that the moment will pass, and all sorrow leavened by that same awareness. Though it’s clear Buson has a soft spot for spring, he doesn’t discriminate, finding things to love in the austerity of winter, too: “snow snapping off twigs,” “a charcoal peddler all alone/in a small ferry boat.”

Buson’s greatest asset is his gift for paying attention; his poems show the reader a more concentrated way to see the world. Haikus are often compared to photography, but Buson’s woebegone, radiant poems are better than a snapshot: they’re meticulous dioramas, each cormorant and chrysanthemum recorded and polished to a shine. Talking about the weather never sounded so good.

West Eats Meat November 16, 2006

Posted by amerz in Who Are We Reading?.

What is undoubtedly one of the premiere websites on Buddhism and vegetarianism launched this week. Shabkar.org is named after the Tibetan yogi Shabkar Tsodruk Rangdrol (1781-1851), who adopted vegetarianism far before it was an advisable practice in high-altitude, low-crop Tibet. His teachings on the subject are collected in Food of Bodhisattvas: Buddhist Teachings on Abstaining from Meat from Shambhala Publications. One of the first questions Western Buddhists seem to get (upon “outing”) is “are you a vegetarian?”, often accompanied by a smirk of varying degrees of smugness. Whatever the stereotype is here in the West, vegetarianism is by no means the norm in the Asian Buddhist world–no Buddhist lay population has ever been primarily vegetarian, and the monastic orders of a number of countries do indeed eat meat.

What the Buddha himself actually thought about it is the subject of much heated debate–the sutras just aren’t straigtforward about it. Does ahimsa, the general principle of non-harm, include killing for food? If so, why are certain animals specifically verboten according to the Vinaya monastic code?

“One must not eat the meat of a tiger, nor the flesh of elephants, horses, and snakes. One must not eat the meat of animals with undivided hooves, nor of foxes, monkeys, woodpeckers, crows, vultures, water birds, dogs, cats, hawks, owls and other carrion birds, gray ducks, bats, snow lizards, apes, and insects.”

Clearly, this means it’s okay to eat penguins, llamas, bison, and turtles. And, um chicken. But definitely no vultures or crickets. Some argue that it’s all about intent, why the animals are killed, and there’s the oft-quoted “eat whatever is put in your begging bowl.” But for those of us today who aren’t making alms rounds and have easy access to plenty of healthy vegetarian options, it is open to personal interpretation. Shabkar.org has a wealth of writings on the topic to help us decide for ourselves. Another valuable resource is veggiedharma.org.

-Andrew Merz, associate editor