Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

Buddha Buzz Weekly: Mt. Everest Deaths Spur New Climbing Rules 

Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week. 

New Rules for Everest Climbers After Deadly Season

You can no longer pay your way to the top of the world’s tallest mountain. After 11 climbers were killed or went missing in May of this year, a high-level commission for the Nepalese government ruled that anyone seeking a permit to climb Mt. Everest must demonstrate high-altitude mountaineering experience and training, replacing the policy of granting a climbing permit to anyone who could pay an $11,000 fee. The Guardian reports that the Nepalese commission found that the Everest deaths were primarily caused by the inexperience of the climbers and crowding near the 29,035 ft (8,850 m) summit. Now, anyone who has the desire to summit the mountain must have previously climbed another Nepalese peak of more than 21,325 ft (6,500 m), must submit a certification of good health, and must be accompanied by a trained Nepalese guide—an effort to discourage overzealous climbers from tackling the treacherous peak on their own. It is unclear what percentage of these compulsory guides will be Sherpas, a small ethnic group based in the villages below Everest. Culturally similar to Tibetans, most Sherpas are adherents of the Nyingma school, the oldest sect of Tibetan Buddhism founded by the legendary figure Padmasambhava. They also believe that the deity Miyolangsangma, or the Goddess of Inexhaustible Giving, lives at the top of Mt. Everest. 

Related: The First Bilateral Amputee Who Climbed Mount Everest and The First (and Only) Woman to Summit Everest Seven Times

Tibetan Nuns Complete Rigorous Geshema Exams

Over 50 Tibetan Buddhist nuns recently completed the prestigious geshema exams at Jangchup Choeling Nunnery in southern India, according to the nonprofit Tibetan Nuns Project. From August 1 through August 12, 51 nuns took various levels of the exams, which included both written tests and traditional Tibetan Buddhist debate. The geshema degree (known as geshe for monks) is the highest degree in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, equivalent to a PhD in Buddhist studies. Women were unable to pursue the geshema course until His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama opened the doors to nuns with his official blessing in 1995. Yet it wasn’t until 2016 that 20 women were actually granted the degree, a historic first in Tibetan Buddhism’s 1,200-year history. Nuns must complete 17 years of study to qualify for the four years of geshema exams, which are followed by two years of tantric study. 

In China, stressed-out workers are finding refuge in studying Sanskrit 

Hangzhou is one of China’s major financial hubs, but in the “city of entrepreneurs,” some people are electing to de-stress by learning an ancient language, the Washington Post reports. At the Buddhist Academy at Lingyin Temple, monks offer classes in Sanskrit, the ancient language of many Buddhist sutras. Similar to learning Latin, Sanskrit study has limited practical application in today’s time outside of academic or religious settings. Yet many people are enrolling in the courses as a way to separate themselves from the relentless pace of society and from a workaholic culture that glorifies a 12 hour workday. Student Jenny Li, who works in international trade, told the Washington Post that the Sanskrit classes allow her to “slow down and find a deeper meaning, reflect on what is important.” She enrolled in the classes partly because she is Buddhist and wants to read religious texts. But many of the Sanskrit students are “not necessarily Buddhists,” says Lingyin Temple’s deputy abbot Jun Heng. “There are a lot of people who come here because they’re looking for inner peace.They might be addicted to technology or stuck in the rat race or depressed by life. They are living with a lot of stress, so when they are up here with the Buddhist monks, they can find quiet.” Despite the fact that Sanskrit has little chance of enhancing one’s earning potential or social status, the courses are exceedingly popular—fewer than half the 380 applicants could be admitted to the first class (although only 50 students made it to the end of the semester, and 20 enrolled for a second class). And while the Chinese government is generally hostile toward organized religion, the Lingyin Temple has retained its right to train Buddhist monks, and also functions as a successful tourist destination. With three genders and a complicated script, Sanskrit is a difficult language to learn, but students say they don’t stress over it. “Sometimes you need to do things for your inner needs,” Li said. “For us in the millennial generation, we don’t need food or money as much as we need more spiritual sustenance.” 

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Three Mindful Ways to Calm an Anxious Mind

Stress and anxiety are a part of life, especially during these times of uncertainty. However, we don’t need to be enslaved by our anxiety and instead can strengthen our mindful skills to ease our anxious minds, come into our lives and grow in confidence.

1. Release the critic

Not only is anxiety painful enough, but we often get hit with a second round of self-critical thoughts. Ask yourself a simple question: Do the judgments make you more or less anxious? The answer is almost always, more. When you notice the self-critic, see if you can interrupt it by dropping into your heart and saying, “May I learn to be kinder to myself.”

2. Practice tuning into the senses

In moments of moderate to intense anxiety the 3×3 practice can come in handy. Drop into three of your senses and name three things that you notice about them. In other words, name three things you’re seeing, smelling, tasting, feeling, or hearing. This can help interrupt the automatic catastrophic thinking that’s fuelling the anxiety.

3. Channel your anxious energy

Not all anxiety is bad. Like most mental events, anxiety lies on a spectrum. When you’re feeling a lot of anxious energy, that could be stress or courage building up. Either way we need to release that. If your anxiety isn’t severe, you can actually channel that energy into something productive. If you’re nervously waiting to hear some news for example, get active—go for a brisk walk, clean, organize, or garden instead.

Original author: Elisha Goldstein
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A Review of McMindfulness

In his new book, McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality, Ron Purser contends that mindfulness dulls our social awareness and discourages us from taking action. Thought leader Andy Lee explores why Purser missed every opportunity to prove those points. 

Despite its ever-growing popularity and mounting evidence of its benefits, mindfulness as it is being taught today is not without its critics. Ron Purser is one of them. In his book, Purser assesses the contribution that mindfulness is making in helping people to reduce their stress and enhance their well-being, and finds it wanting.

His main concern is not what mindfulness does, but what it doesn’t do. In his estimation, much of people’s suffering is not caused by how they manage stress internally, but rather by the hardships and inequities imposed upon them by our capitalist society. To Purser, mindfulness courses are advertised as a meaningful and sustainable way to reduce your stress. But as long as the social and economic causes of stress are not discussed in mindfulness courses, they are not living up to this billing. In his words: 

“Reducing suffering is a noble aim and it should be encouraged. But to do this effectively, teachers of mindfulness need to acknowledge that personal stress also has societal causes. By failing to address collective suffering, and systemic change that might remove it, they rob mindfulness of its real revolutionary potential, reducing it to something banal that keeps people focused on themselves.”

That is a strong indictment of a practice that has been beneficial to countless people. To better understand it, we need to look at Purser’s argument from a few different angles. And to get started, let’s look at the big picture: What do we know about the causes of people’s stress and illness, and what mindfulness does and does not address?

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Retraining Deeply Ingrained Habits of Mindlessness

By Leo Babauta

It’s hard enough to change a habit that you can physically see: going for a daily walk, sitting down to write, having a salad for lunch each day. These are easily seen, but can still be quite a challenge to instill in your life.

But what about habits of mindlessness, that you don’t even know you’re doing? Maybe you notice it later, maybe you never notice. How do you change those kinds of habits?

For myself, I have a number of mindless habits that I could focus on:

Judging other peopleEating mindlessly, especially when I’m talking to people or watching TVSitting too long and getting distracted onlineComparing myself to others or judging myselfShutting down into self-concern when someone is unhappy with meHiding things from others because I’m ashamed or afraid for them to know

Of course, these are just a handful that stand out. They’re deeply ingrained, because I’ve had them since childhood.

They are not a reason to beat myself up, or judge myself. There is nothing wrong with me for having these habits. And yet I can see how they’re unhelpful to my happiness, to my relationships, to the work I want to do in the world.

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The Inner Work of Racial Justice Series with Rhonda Magee

Dive deeper into The Inner Work of Racial Justice with Rhonda Magee on Mindful.org where we’ll be hosting excerpts of her book as well as Q&As and guided meditations.

This October 2019, Mindful.org is hosting law professor and mindfulness practitioner Rhonda Magee for in-depth Q&As and live guided meditations based on her new book. Magee explores how the work of racial justice begins with ourselves. When conflict and division are everyday realities, our instincts tell us to close ranks, to find the safety of our own tribe, and to blame others. The practice of embodied mindfulness—paying attention to our thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations in an open, nonjudgmental way—increases our emotional resilience, helps us to recognize our unconscious bias, and gives us the space to become less reactive and to choose how we respond to injustice.

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It is only by healing from injustices and dissolving our personal barriers to connection that we develop the ability to view others with compassion and to live in community with people of vastly different backgrounds and viewpoints. Incorporating mindfulness exercises, research, and Magee’s hard-won insights, The Inner Work of Racial Justiceoffers a road map to a more peaceful world.

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