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2020: The Year in Buddhist Wisdom

A collection of some of our favorite articles from the past year.

By The EditorsDec 21, 2020

We’ve finally made it to the end of 2020. It’s been a difficult and momentous year—one that’s brought tremendous change and uncertainty to our lives and our world. 

Every December, our editors take a look back at the stories and conversations that defined the year. In 2020, many of our top stories grappled with the most pressing issues of the day: the pandemic, the climate crisis, racial justice, and the US presidential elections. Others highlighted perennial wisdom and spiritual practices to help us find our inner core of strength, compassion, and joy, no matter what’s going on in the world around us.

We’ve compiled our top 10 articles of 2020 in the list below. We hope they may serve as a source of reflection, inspiration, and comfort through the winter holidays. Enjoy! 

Embracing Extinction By Stephen Batchelor
Climate change poses an existential threat to humanity. Secular dharma teacher Stephen Batchelor asks: How can Buddhism help us meet this pivotal moment in our evolution? Absolutely, Indestructibly Happy Interview with Tina Turner by Clark Strand 
The pop icon opens up about the Buddhist practice that supported her through the darkest moments of her life—and has given her an unshakable hope for the future. Shin Buddhism: A Path of Gratitude By Rev. Dr. Kenji Akahoshi
The secret of Shin Buddhist practice is a mental shift from the constant desires of the ego to a deep appreciation for all that we’ve already received. Say a Little Prayer By Ken McLeod
How do you make your life your spiritual practice? For writer Ken McLeod, the answer was hiding in a 12th century Tibetan prayer. Practicing in a Pandemic By Tricycle 
Our favorite Buddhist teachers and writers offer insights, advice, and practices for coping with COVID and navigating times of uncertainty. The Buddhist Bet By Leslie Mancillas
A writer looks back on the 100-day chanting challenge that saved her mother’s life and healed their abusive relationship. Racial Justice Is Everyone’s Work By Tricycle 
At the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, our editors compiled a series of Buddhist essays and conversations on healing racism within ourselves and in our country. How to Read the Lotus Sutra Interview with Jacqueline Stone and Donald S. Lopez Jr. by James Shaheen
The Lotus Sutra has mystified and perplexed generations of spiritual seekers. Scholars Jacqueline Stone and Donald Lopez show you how to make sense of the “King of Sutras.” One Hundred Karmas By Mindy Newman and Kaia Fisher 
Karma isn’t about blaming ourselves for the things that happen to us. Instead, it’s about empowering ourselves to change our lives for the better.  Don’t-Know Mind and the Election of Our Lives By David Loy 
For Zen teacher David Loy, the anxiety-ridden days leading up to the US presidential election were an opportunity to explore the power of not knowing. 

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Buddha Buzz Weekly: Another Temple Vandalized in a Year of Anti-Asian Hate Crimes

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

Vandalized Buddhist Temple Only the Latest in a String of Anti-Asian Attacks

Recent vandalism at Huong Tich Temple, a Vietnamese Buddhist temple in Santa Ana, California, is only the latest incidence of anti-Asian racism in the US and Canada. Last month, Thai Viet Phan, Santa Ana’s first Vietnamese American city council member , discovered that fifteen of the Huong Tich Temple’s buddha and bodhisattva statues had been spray-painted, Religion News Service (RNS) reported. On one statue’s back, the word “Jesus” had been painted in black letters. This happened just weeks after Phan was elected. When she reached out to other local elected officials, Phan learned that five other Buddhist temples in the same neighborhood, Little Saigon, had been defaced in November. “This is a hate crime, not just vandalism,” she told RNS.

Hate crimes against Asian and Asian American people in the US have increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and President Donald Trump’s incendiary rhetoric about the virus’s Chinese origins has put Asian American communities on alert. According to RNS, vandalism of Buddhist temples has historically been a common expression of hate toward Asian Americans in general, and has also served as a way to express dissatisfaction with the US government’s handling of Asian foreign affairs. In 1984 three Vietnam War veterans burned down a Tibetan Buddhist temple in Massachusetts to express their frustration with the lack of support they received from Veterans Affairs. Russell Jeung, a professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University who runs a center that tracks cases of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia in the US, said there have been no reported hate incidents at Asian American churches this year.

New Survey Aims to Count Buddhist Chaplains in North America

A new survey aims to obtain clear statistics on how many Buddhist chaplains are currently working in the field of spiritual care in North America. “Mapping Buddhist Chaplaincy in North America,” headed by Cheryl Giles of Harvard Divinity School and Monica Sanford of the Rochester Institute of Technology, is “a first attempt to answer some fundamental questions about Buddhist chaplaincy as a professional field, including how many Buddhist chaplains there are, where they work, what Buddhist traditions they represent, where they are educated, how they are certified, and what concerns they have about their profession,” according to the project’s website. Funded by Harvard Divinity School, the project was developed by a multi-institute research team representing the four existing accredited MDiv in Buddhist Chaplaincy programs in the US. Buddhist chaplains interested in taking the survey can do so here. The data collected by this study will be used to promote more nuanced research and advocacy about and for Buddhist chaplains. 

Bhutan Parliament Decriminalizes Homosexuality 

The Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan has officially decriminalized homosexuality, according to Reuters. On Thursday, a joint sitting of both houses of Bhutan’s parliament approved a bill to legalize gay sex, making the small Himalayan kingdom the latest Asian nation to take steps towards easing restrictions on same-sex relationships. Bhutan has been moving toward decriminalizing homosexuality since last year, when the legislative body’s lower house passed a bill to repeal a section of the penal code banning “unnatural sex,” which in practice has meant homosexuality. (In January, the upper house of parliament debated the bill.) The changes still need to be approved by the King of Bhutan to become law.

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Raging Buddha

My son is 9, huddled down beside the toilet. I’m leaning over him, grabbing at his arm. We are both screaming, shrieking, cursing one another. All the energy in the house, in the whole universe it seems, has become a concentrated white light burning into this tiny bathroom. I am so wild with fury I can’t see, can’t even hear the words coming out of my mouth.

This is me, a Zen Buddhist practitioner of nearly twenty years.

Anger brought me into practice in my twenties. I was falling in love with the man I would later marry and have children with, and it was painfully clear that even his kindness wasn’t enough to defuse my rage. In fact, my anger seemed to expand alongside our growing intimacy, in a kind of terrible tango.

So I started to sit. With a Zen group, and alone. I read books, and listened to dharma talks. I sat through sesshins. I started to look at my anger with softer eyes, to pay attention to the terrified feelings beneath. I remember in a sangha discussion on the precept on anger, a friend recounted her appreciation of its liberating energy. But for me, despite Zen, and despite having an excellent therapist, anger still snapped at me like a metal trap. What l really wanted was to keep out of its way.

In time our daughter was born, followed closely by our son, and a few years later, another son. Three beautiful, healthy, wanted children. It was demanding of course, and a little dizzying to reorientate from career and travel to domestic life. I was so grateful to have found a tradition that honored the wisdom of repetitive tasks done with a fresh mind. Chop wood, Carry water! Change diaper, puree pumpkin! We played, read stories, cuddled, laughed, baked cakes. All the astonishing ordinary acts of a loving family.

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Buddha Buzz Weekly: Beatboxing Monk Goes Viral

A monk beatboxes Buddhist sutras, the Soto Zen Buddhist Association Boards calls for the end of the death penalty, and tourism in Bodhgaya remains low due to COVID-19. Tricycle looks back at the events of this week in the Buddhist world.

By Emily DeMaioNewton and Karen JensenDec 12, 2020

Zen Buddhist monk Yogetsu Akasaka beatboxes the Heart Sutra.

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

Beatboxing Monk Makes Sutras Go Viral

A Japanese Zen Buddhist monk, Yogetsu Akasaka, has become popular on YouTube for beatboxing, sometimes with guitars or a hang (a steel idiophone), in his brown robes. In July, he told VICE that he started his channel to continue feeding his passion for music even after becoming a monk. Akasaka also hopes to break down some misconceptions about Buddhism, particularly in Japan, where people often associate Buddhism with funerals. He hopes that his music shows people that sutras can help heal people’s hearts. His video “Heart Sutra Live Looping Remix” currently has over 2.5 million views.

Soto Zen Buddhist Association Board Calls for the End of the Death Penalty

The US-based Soto Zen Buddhist Association Board (SZAB) has released a call to abolish the death penalty and halt all executions in response to the recent increase in federal executions. In a statement, the organization said that its members “believe that social and personal transformation are always possible, and that even wounded people can change and contribute to society. . . . [T]he great majority of all prisoners are capable of transformation. This is our understanding of human nature.” SZAB included a set of action items for followers, and has also launched a change.org petition.

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Wholeness Is No Trifling Matter

As a Buddhist practitioner and teacher, I have sat on my meditation cushion in silence, with hundreds of other yogis, ripening my capacity to live in gentle and wise awareness, sometimes day after day for months at a time, without ever speaking to the yogi who sat beside me. Within me, there was comfort in knowing that despite racial appearances, we had somehow landed on our cushions and were opening our hearts together. This, in my mind, is a miracle.

But over the years, participating in a dharma community mostly attended and led by white people, I have often felt my heart quake and stomach tighten after hearing white teachers and yogis speak from a lack of awareness of themselves as racial beings. I have never heard white teachers make blatant racist comments with intent to harm. Rather, there was a more subtle obliviousness about whiteness as a collective reality and its privilege and impact, and an assumption that we were all the same or wanted to be. In those moments, despite my best efforts, I would be reminded of race and of being invisible and would spin into a hurricane of anger, confusion, and despair.

I had both experienced and witnessed intense bruising and racial distress from such ignorance, resulting in separation. This particular flavor of separation reflected not only a division of the races but also a division of heart. The consciousness—or unconsciousness—that supports racial suffering cuts people out of our hearts. We then try to live as if “cutting” doesn’t hurt. We pretend we are not bleeding from the wounds of separation as we move about our lives in search of freedom and contentment, and we have convinced ourselves that we can live disconnected—from the planet and each other—and still be whole, happy, and peaceful.

It was sobering to acknowledge that being in a sea of racial ignorance wasn’t going to disappear anytime soon. Then I began to muse: Clearly, my freedom is not dependent upon whether white folks wake up to their ignorance, right? Clearly, my freedom is more immediate and in my hands, right? Right! I was reminded of what Toni Cade Bambara had written in The Salt Eaters:       

Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well? . . . Just so’s you’re sure, sweetheart, and ready to be healed, cause wholeness is no trifling matter.

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