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…”

The Art of Being Peace

For the Fifth International Buddhist Conference in May 2008, the Venerable Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh was invited to offer the opening keynote address. The event took place at the National Convention Center, Hanoi, Vietnam with the theme Buddhist Contribution to Building a Just, Democratic and Civilized Society. Hosted by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and co-organized by International Organizing Vietnam Buddhist Sangha and National Coordinating Committee for the United Nations Day of Vesak. The date is May 13, 2008 and both audio and video are available below. The talk is 53-minutes. 

Promoting Peace

Practicing Buddhism is the art of being peace, the art of promoting peace, in the society and in the world. We all should learn this art. We all have elements of war in our body. Practicing Buddhism is recognizing these elements so that we can then transform these elements. In the Sutra on Mindful Breathing, the Buddha provided us the practice to release the tension in our body. It only takes a few minutes. If we can release the tension in our body, then our body can learn to heal itself. When we make peace body, we can begin to make peace with our feelings and emotions. Do you know how to recognize your emotions? This is the art of making peace with ourselves. Our body, and our feelings and emotions. The Buddha also taught in this sutra how to recognize and transform our mental formations. The Buddhist practice means going home to oneself. To restore peace. How does this work in the family setting? Or in the school setting? Why is it important for parents and teachers to learn this art of being peace? 

Deep Listening and Loving Speech

During our time teaching in the west, we have also taught listening with compassion and using loving speech to restore communication. In Plum Village, we have practiced this intentionally with groups in conflict – Israelis and Palestinians. What is outlined above is used to illustrate practical application with these groups. In Mahayana Buddhism, we have the Bodhissatva Avalokiteshvara – the bodhissatva of compassion. They do this practice in order to suffer less. 

Right View is the view of dependent co-arising, no-self, interbeing. Practitioners should always remember to maintain this right view in their daily life. How does this look between a father and a son? We learn that suffering is not an individual matter. Everything this is linked to everything else. To protect other species on earth, and the earth itself, is to protect ourselves. This is the insight of interbeing. 

The Five Mindfulness Trainings

Thay reminds of Unesco’s Manifesto 2000 which Thay helped to create with several Nobel Peace Prize laureates. There are six points and has been signed by 75-million people. This arose from the teachings of Buddhism and are very similar to the Five Mindfulness Trainings. If we practice these, we will have peace in ourselves and in the world. Just signing is not enough; we need to put it into practice. This is why we recommend forming ourselves into communities – in our families, schools, workplace, and within governments. These can all become a sangha and bring these six points (and Five Mindfulness Trainings) into practice. 

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Sutta Study: Factors of Concentration

This article is part of Trike Daily’s Sutta Study series, led by Insight meditation teacher Peter Doobinin. The suttas, found in the Pali Canon, comprise the discourses the historical Buddha gave during his 45 years of teaching. Rather than philosophical tracts, the suttas are a map for dharma practice. In this series, we’ll focus on the practical application of the teachings in our day-to-day lives.

In the Samadhanga Sutta (The Factors of Concentration), the Buddha offers a vivid explication of the relationship between concentration and discernment. As the sutta begins, the Buddha tells his disciples that he’s going to talk about “five-factored noble right concentration.” As he goes on to explain, the first four factors are concerned with jhana, the Buddha’s concentration. The fifth factor is discernment. The Buddha’s message is that if we develop jhana, we’ll be able to develop discernment.

The Buddha then describes each of the four jhanas, around which there has always been a great deal of misunderstanding. There’s a tendency to think about “jhana practice” as a standalone exercise in which we seek to attain four discrete states of concentration: first jhana, second jhana, and so on. But generally that’s not a useful way to think about it. Indeed, the Thai forest monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu explains in his essay “Jhana Not by the Numbers” that his teacher in Thailand, Ajaan Fuang, didn’t teach in this fashion. Instead, Ajaan Fuang “rarely mentioned the word jhana in his conversations, and never indicated to any of his students that they had reached a particular level of jhana in their practice.” We’re better served to think of jhana in terms of qualities of concentration that we cultivate through breath meditation practice.

In the first jhana, we cultivate the qualities of rapture and pleasure. Rapture is a quality of physical ease, an energy that flows through the body. When this quality of ease is developed, the mind registers pleasure. But even though pleasure is a mental quality, we feel it largely in the body. Rapture and pleasure, when fully developed, “pervade” the body. The Buddha likens this pervading to a ball of bath powder—which was used for soap in the Buddha’s day—being massaged, kneaded, and sprinkled with water, so that the bath powder is “saturated, moisture-laden, permeated within and without.”

The dharma student cultivates rapture and pleasure by using “directed thought & evaluation.” She guides herself through the process by applying what the teachings call “internal verbal fabrication”—essentially, internal dialogue. She purposefully brings her attention to her breath by using directed thought, and then she evaluates that breath. In practicing evaluation, the dharma student scrutinizes every inhale and exhale, discerning where there is ease or dis-ease. Gradually, she focuses her attention on the easeful part, cultivates that quality, and lets herself breathe in the most pleasurable way. Then she allows the easeful breath to pervade the whole body, all the while expanding her awareness of the body along with it.

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Buddhism According to Pessimism

Pessimism has been making a comeback lately, and it’s not hard to see why. Myriad frightening ecological and political crises are unfolding throughout the world, all caused by greed, hatred, and delusion—Buddhism’s three principal toxins. To some, however, what’s unfolding is not an aberration. It’s a revelation that shows us the truly hopeless nature not just of people but of reality itself.

Thomas Ligotti, dire pop-philosopher and acclaimed author in the “cosmic horror” genre, is one who embraces this view—that the underlying structure of reality is not just unfulfilling but malignant—which he dramatizes in his elegant, eerie, and deeply disturbing fiction. In this view, reality is not even depressingly neutral. Like the Halloween monster Michael Myers—who stalks the world, knife in hand, as his soulless eyes peer out behind a grey mask—reality is callous, monstrous, and utterly without sympathy for human concerns. This is pessimism turned to terror.

Eugene Thacker, a Ligotti fan and professor at The New School, teaches a popular, even hip, class on pessimism there. His style is ironic and playful as well as morose and hopeless, as shown in his recent collection of aphorisms and short essays, Infinite Resignation: On Pessimism. As he writes therein, for him “the definition that best captures pessimism is given by the joke ‘I see the glass half full, but of poison.’” Pessimism is, he writes, “more of an indictment than a philosophy.”

A thoroughgoing presentation of philosophical pessimism has also recently been offered by David Benatar, the head of the philosophy department at the University of Cape Town, where he directs the university’s Bioethics Centre. Benatar, like Ligotti, is an anti-natalist, which means he believes that it is immoral for humans to procreate, because coming into existence does terrible harm to those born. He has attracted attention lately for his books The Case Against Being Born and The Human Predicament, even getting a somewhat sympathetic treatment in the New Yorker.

Although it might come as a shock to some Western Buddhists, the Buddha himself made many comments which on the first glimpse seem to resonate with those of philosophical pessimists and even purveyors of cosmic horror. Ligotti himself has drawn this connection, stating his interest in Buddhism’s stark depictions of life’s suffering, as have Benatar and Thacker.

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Tricycle’s Buddhist Gift Guide 2018

In most Buddhist traditions, the winter solstice is not a time for presents wrapped in paper with big bows on top. While there are Buddhist cultures with gift-giving conventions—such as in Japanese etiquette—the practices of donating alms or offerings is much more widespread. But for those of us living in the West, ’tis the season for trading tokens of gratitude. So how can we give gifts in a Buddhist way?

An article in Tricycle’s Winter 2007 issue, “Gifts That Keep Giving” by Joan Duncan Oliver, provides an answer: give compassionately. Oliver suggests that we purchase gifts that are ethically sourced, environmentally conscious, and help someone in need—in other words, they relieve suffering instead of creating it.

One approach is to give to a charity in someone else’s name, and there are many excellent organizations to choose from (see below). But for those times when we’re expected to hand out gifts (at the annual office Secret Santa, for instance), here is a selection of ways to give in the Buddhist spirit.

Get Crafty!

For a variety of ethical shopping needs, visit the online store Ten Thousand Villages, which as its name implies, offers ethically sourced crafts from developing countries around the world. The Pennsylvania-based nonprofit’s mission is to provide their artisans with fair, living wages and safe work conditions as well as to promote energy-efficient practices and the use of local and recycled materials. The organization, one of the oldest and largest fair-trade groups, started in 1946 and was based on the Mennonite principles of its founder, Edna Ruth Byler, but its shop includes several goods from Buddhist traditions. Check out its selection of singing bowls from Nepalese artists or pick up a yoga mat bag from a pair of female weavers in Guatemala. Or for non-Buddhist recipients, browse their selection of jewelry, home goods, and other handicrafts.

The Tibetan Nuns Project (TNP) is a more Buddhist-oriented alternative for handmade crafts. Known for their Sponsor a Nun program, TNP was created to help refugee nuns coming to India from Tibet, but it has expanded to “provide food, shelter, education, and health care to over 700 nuns of all traditions,” the group says. Their online shop supports these efforts by selling bags, malas, prayer flags, and other crafts that are made and blessed by nuns. You can also purchase pujas [prayers and rituals], which can be dedicate to a loved one.

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Buddha Buzz Weekly: Dec. 1, 2018

Tibetan religious leaders postpone conference, Buddhist groups aid wildfire victims, and Khmer Rouge leaders are found guilty of genocide. Tricycle looks back at the events of this week in the Buddhist world.

By Matthew AbrahamsDec 01, 2018

Army Sgt. Anthony Orduno takes part in the response to the wildfire in Butte County, California. Photo by Senior Airman Crystal Housman / US Air National Guard | https://flic.kr/p/2c9BDXN

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

Tibetan Religious Heads Postpone Annual Meeting

A gathering of major Tibetan Buddhist leaders in Dharamsala, India, scheduled to take place November 29–December 1 has been “indefinitely postponed,” according to the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), the Tibetan government-in-exile. The 13th Religious Conference of the Schools of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon Tradition was canceled because of the sudden death of Kathok Getse Rinpoche, the head of the Nyingma lineage, the CTA said. Many Nyingma leaders had been unable to attend due to his passing.

The change of plans also led Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje, one of the claimants to the head of the Karma Kagyu lineage, to cancel his return to India. The Karmapa has been living in America for more than a year but had said he would return at the behest of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Ogyen Trinley Dorje is considered by some to be the top candidate to fill the leadership void that would be left behind in the event that the Dalai Lama chooses not to reincarnate and the Panchen Lama remains in Chinese custody. The issue of the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation and how to prevent Chinese officials from meddling in the identification process had been expected to be a major topic at the postponed gathering, according to the Religion News Network.

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