Zen Blog

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Eight Slogans to Transform Your Mind

American Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön outlines a daily practice to help you work through difficult moments and put you on the path to awakening.

By Pema ChödrönMar 28, 2020

Pema Chödrön Foundation | Facebook

Not knowing how to act during a difficult moment can be frustrating— but there’s a way to get better at it. The following excerpt is from Pema Chödrön’s The Compassion Book: Teachings for Awakening the Heart, which features the 59 Tibetan Buddhist lojong, or “mind-training,” slogans, as well as concise commentaries to guide you toward a compassionate way of living.

Pema Chödrön advises picking a slogan at random each morning and then applying its message to experiences that arise as you go about your day. Over time, this practice will equip you with quick, skillful pointers for how to act (and react) in any given situation.

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Buddha Buzz Weekly: Thai Monks Recycle Plastic into Face Masks

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

Thai Monks Who Recycle Plastic into Robes Now Producing Face Masks

Thai monks at the Wat Chak Daeng temple south of Bangkok, who have been recycling plastic into saffron-colored robes for over two years, have begun producing face masks, reported Channel News Asia. On March 23, the confirmed number of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in Thailand rose to 721, making it one of the most highly affected countries in Southeast Asia. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), face masks can help protect surrounding air and surfaces when a person coughs or sneezes, which could, in turn, prevent the spread of infection. 

Wat Chak Daeng temple receives over 15 tons of used plastic bottles from nearby villages every month. To turn them into fabric, machines crush the bottles into bales, which are then transformed into polyester fibers. On some masks, which include an extra filter layer sewn into the inner lining, monks have been writing a Buddhist prayer that translates to “to know the problem is to find a way to end the suffering.”

Buddhist Nuns in Australia Took Early Action Against Coronavirus

The Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple in Perth, Australia—which usually has hundreds of visitors each week—took measures against the spread of the coronavirus weeks before the Australian government mandated precautions, reported Australia’s SBS News. These early interventions may have been particularly influential, as religious activities have been hotspots of contagion. Temple leaders said they knew what preventive measures to take and to take them early because of experiences they had with the 2003 SARS epidemic.

In February, over a month before a government-mandated ban on large gatherings, the temple shut down its regular services, removed prayer cushions from their halls, began disinfecting surfaces daily, put hand sanitizer by the doors, asked elderly people not to attend in-person teachings, and asked people returning from overseas not to visit the temple for 14 days. Now, the temple has canceled all in-person events and services, but their doors remain open. (About 20 people visit the temple each day; everyone has their temperature checked at the door.) 

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Being Present With August at Akiko’s

At Akiko Masuda’s Zen Buddhist bed and breakfast on the Big Island of Hawaii, the host offers a few words of guidance for guests: “Leave no trace… leave only a ‘presence,’ a feeling that for a moment you loved a place so deeply that both you and the place were transformed, and both became more beautiful.” 

The transformative power of place is the theme of August at Akiko’s, one of the New Yorker’s best films of 2019, which follows Alex Zhang Hungtai playing a fictionalized version of himself as a jazz musician searching for his late grandparents’ home in Hawaii. Alex’s search for his ancestral roots coincides with a personal transformation brought to fruition through his friendship with Akiko. 

Tricycle spoke with Akiko Masuda and director Christopher Makoto Yogi about the significance of ancestral callings, their contemplative approach to filmmaking, and how a place can embody its history.

August at Akiko’s is Tricycle’s Film Club selection for the month of March. Watch the film here before April 3.

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Forget About Consistency

A Zen teacher was talking with a colleague about a student. “I’m quite puzzled by this one student. I told her to rest attention on the breath and count up to ten breaths and then start again,” said the Zen teacher. “She keeps saying that she can never get past five before she is distracted. As soon as she notices she is distracted, she starts again. In every meditation interview, she says she must be doing something wrong, because she never gets further than five. I don’t understand why she thinks that.”

What is going on here?

From the student’s point of view, she is not succeeding. She is probably thinking, “I place my attention on the breath and start counting, but I get distracted, and I never get past five. I must be doing something wrong.”

Likewise, the teacher is probably thinking, “She is practicing very well. Every time she notices that she is distracted, she returns to the breath and starts again.”

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Creativity, Compassion, and the Coronavirus

First, we bought up all the toilet paper and hand sanitizer. The pasta and baby formula weren’t far behind. Then the waves of backlash, denial, and fear—the spring breakers who vowed to party until the beach bars shuttered, the wealthy trying to place orders for their own personal ventilators, the echochamber of voices saying this is just like the flu. Europe is the current epicenter, with more than 150,000 confirmed cases on Tuesday. In the US, there are cases in all 50 states, and Americans are bracing for the outbreak to peak in the coming weeks, with few assurances that the healthcare system will be able to accommodate everyone.

It’s bad out there, for sure. But good things are happening, too. 

Buddhist communities have mobilized, offering alternative ways that we can connect and take care of each other. We talked to a few Buddhist teachers who are offering new approaches and helpful practices in the midst of this time of increased anxiety.

“I think people who have practiced meditation in a retreat context are probably more familiar than many with periods without much sensory stimulation or conversation. Feeling deeply connected to others while all alone is an experience many people describe while on retreat. Well, here we are,” said Sharon Salzberg, a meditation teacher, bestselling author, and cofounder of Insight Meditation Society, in Barre, Massachusetts. (Salzberg kicked off Tricycle’s series of free online practice sessions and will be teaching again on March 31. We’ve also put together a calendar of livestreams and other resources that are available online to everyone.)

“Since I am an older person with a pre-existing bronchial condition, I am truly the person who benefits from others practicing social distancing. I like to think of people doing it out of a sense of lovingkindness. And I think many realize that it is itself a mark of privilege to be able to practice social distancing, while many simply cannot.”

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