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Buddha Buzz Weekly: June 22, 2018

Buddha Buzz Weekly: June 22, 2018

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

Meditation Can Increase Your Ego

A new study suggests that meditation actually increases the ego. Researchers found that meditation boosted participants’ feeling of self-enhancement, which tends to accompany the acquisition of any new skill. A sense of well-being also increased among those surveyed in the study. “Ego-quieting is often called upon to explain mind-body practices’ well-being benefits,” the study’s authors wrote in their findings. “In contrast, we observed that mind-body practices boost self-enhancement and this boost—in turn—elevates well-being.” The research, however, was limited to European meditators, and it was unclear if their practice was within the context of a Buddhist ethical or philosophical tradition as the participants were recruited through Facebook.

English Dharma in Mongolia

At a Buddhist center in Mongolia, one lama is mixing Buddhist teachings with English language studies. Lama Zopa Rinpoche of the The Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT) has been teaching children at Ganden Do Ngag Shedrup Ling the 16 Guidelines for Life in English, an FPMT statement says. The 16 Guidelines is a Buddhist-inspired collection of ethical and mindfulness teachings offered online and developed by the British-based Foundation for Developing Compassion and Wisdom. “With the English language being a most convenient and popular language in the world [sic], we see that this learning will open many more doors for the participants and their futures as so many dharma materials and teachings are available in English,” the statement says.

South Korea Pagoda Reborn

South Korea’s restoration of its oldest pagoda, Mireuksaji Seoktap, is almost complete, the Korea Times reports. The pagoda, which is made of 2,800 stones and dates back to the year 639, fell into disrepair under Japanese colonialism. A restoration effort to dismantle and restructure the pagoda began in October 2001.

Tibetans “Sing” Praises of China—Against Their Will

Tibetans living in Chinese territories are being forced to learn songs of praise for the Chinese Communist Party that they will have to perform at the July 1 anniversary of the party’s founding, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports. Those who refuse to sing face stiff fines. “One member of every Tibetan family has been forced to perform the group songs in front of large crowds,” a source told RFA. “Tibetans are not willing to sing the songs, but the Chinese authorities’ grip on the people has tightened year by year.”

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Living by Meditation Alone

Living by Meditation Alone
Illustration by James Thacher

One of the most insistent trends on offer in the spiritual marketplace has been the cult of meditation, which has had important implications for Buddhism. Secular mindfulness has found a place in society, but occupying a somewhat different cultural and spiritual space, a new Buddhism has emerged alongside it. Its adherents claim that the fruits of the Buddhist tradition can be acquired though sitting meditation alone. Contemporary practitioners, in other words, need not bother with study, ethical precepts, ritual practice (other than meditation), or merit making. The proponents of the “just sitting” trend often claim the mantle of traditional systems, whether Theravada Vipassana, Japanese Zen, or Tibetan Dzogchen. All share the assumption that meditation must be as non-conceptual in content as possible, and that all other forms of activity can be largely, if not entirely, ignored.

Related: The Untold Story of America’s Mindfulness Movement

While these new meditation programs are called Buddhist, their presentations of meditation run counter to those of the dharma from all periods of Buddhist history. Indeed, the most clearly defined and often cited status of meditation within Buddhist doctrine and practice positions it as one of the three trainings, the other two being ethics and wisdom. As the great ancient Indian Buddhist thinker Nagarjuna declared in his Letter to a Friend,

In superior moral discipline, superior wisdomAnd superior contemplation, one must constantly train.More than one hundred and fifty trainingsAre truly included in these three.

Without the ethical development brought about by training in ethics—“the foundation of all qualities,” according to Nagarjuna—meditation is a spiritual dead end.

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H.H. the Dalai Lama’s Comments on the Troubles in Rigpa

H.H. the Dalai Lama’s Comments on the Troubles in Rigpa

By Joanne Clark

For years, the Dalai Lama has been criticized for not speaking out against Sogyal Lakar’s (Sogyal Rinpoche’s) misbehaviors. The idea was that one word from His Holiness could somehow fix things. Now, he has spoken out. He has been speaking out for almost a year. He has been naming Sogyal Lakar by name, saying that Sogyal is now “disgraced.” He has equated Sogyal’s behaviors to feudal exploitation. He has called for the need to topple religious institutions that exploit and named Rigpa as an example of such an institution. He has stated that while Sogyal Lakar might have some learning, he is lacking in practice and realization.

In these statements, not only does His Holiness break his silence, but he also outlines clearly why he has been silent. He outlines the breadth of the problem, as it comes from intrenched feudal systems and cultural norms that he alone is not capable of breaking. And so of course, we see no magical fix from his statements. While Rigpa was happy to use the Dalai Lama’s years of silence and his visits to Rigpa centers as proof that there were no abuses and all was well, now they pretend he doesn’t have any place in the institution at all.

Also, there is another theme that runs through all of the statements made by His Holiness on problems of lama abuse. From the conference with Western teachers at Dharamsala in 1993 to recent statements about Sogyal Lakar, His Holiness consistently empowers Western Dharma students themselves to take the lead for reforms. It seems that he is under no illusions about Tibetan Buddhist teachers moving very fast in this regard.

Thousands of students have been deeply affected by this Rigpa trouble. The trouble extends not only to those who have been directly abused, but to those many many students who have been disillusioned and disheartened about their own spiritual paths. Blame lies not just with one abusive lama, but with the individuals and institution who supported and abetted his abuses. The problem is vast and complicated, requiring both legal and spiritual insights. However, Rigpa’s only solution to date is to offer an investigative committee made up of their own lawyers!

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Buddhist Leaders Condemn Child Separation at US-Mexico Border

United States border patrol agents have separated around 2,000 immigrant children from their parents in six weeks, the Department of Homeland Security revealed this week. Images released by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency show the children have been locked in cages, and audio obtained by the nonprofit ProPublica has captured their cries for their parents, the result of a “zero tolerance” policy enacted by Attorney General Jeff Session that prosecutes undocumented immigrants under criminal laws rather than civil ones.

As the Trump administration defends its decision—alternately blaming Democratic lawmakers, justifying the policy as a deterrent, and denying it is even happening—many activists and politicians have been calling for an end to this practice. And Buddhists are no exception.

This week more than 200 Western Buddhist leaders signed a petition condemning the new policy as “morally unconscionable.” It reads:

Whatever the legal status of those attempting to enter the US, separating children from their parents is a contravention of basic human rights. Parents seeking asylum make long, dangerous, and arduous journeys in an attempt to find safety and well-being for their precious children. Ripping these vulnerable children from their parents is cruel, inhumane, and against the principles of compassion and mercy espoused by all religious traditions.

The document goes on to point out how damaging early-childhood trauma can be and urges proponents of the rule to visit detention centers and see the suffering firsthand. “It is difficult to conceive that anyone having compassion for our world’s children and their families, and who witnesses such pain and anguish for themselves could continue to uphold such a practice,” it says.

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Grateful for Nothing

Grateful for Nothing

My friend Donna had an interesting experience awhile ago—she compared it to winning the lottery. She was so touched by this experience that she mentioned how grateful she was for things she normally takes for granted every day: water, trees, electricity, and more. So what kind of extraordinary good fortune came Donna’s way? Why was she feeling so grateful, so lucky? Here’s what happened: nothing happened.

You see, Donna lives near Vero Beach, Florida, and a hurricane was heading in her direction. She and her husband did everything they could to prepare for the storm—for 90 mph winds and drenching rains. But nothing happened. A few gusts of wind—some intermittent rain. That was it. That’s why Donna felt like she won the lottery. Nothing happened.

When was the last time you felt grateful because nothing happened? Nobody crashed into your car on the way home from work. The electricity didn’t go out. You didn’t wake up with a toothache. You didn’t have a heart attack. Nobody shot at you or robbed your home while you were gone.

There are people who are living in war zones at this very moment. Just look at the news and you can find those areas on a map. Many of those people are very aware at the end of the day that nobody in their family was killed and their home wasn’t destroyed by a bomb or hand grenade. Because they live with that awareness every day, they also are aware when nothing happens to hurt them.

Related: As If There Is Nothing to Lose

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