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…”

Three Poems to Introduce Children to Mindfulness

Breathe and Be uses poetry and illustrations to show children practices that can help them stay calm, regulate their emotions, and appreciate the world.

By Kate Coombs, Illustrated by Anna Emilia LaitinenOct 01, 2019

How can you help a child reap the benefits of mindfulness, especially if they’re not old enough to read or sit still for very long?

Breathe and Be: A Book of Mindfulness Poems aims to introduce kids aged 4–8 to mindfulness by connecting them to the natural world through poems and accompanying images.  

The poems use a five-line form of Japanese poetry called tanka, an early version of haiku.

Below are three poems and illustrations from the collection, which was written by Kate Coombs and illustrated by Anna Emilia Laitinen.

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Buddha Buzz Weekly: Death Defying Monks

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

Deceased Buddhist Monk Will Keep Meditating as a Mummy

A revered Buddhist monk who spent nearly 45 years meditating in a cave will remain in a meditative state for, well, forever. After 94-year-old Wangdor Rinpoche died at his monastery in the Mandi district of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, his disciples—who believe that their teacher is abiding in a meditative state known as the Togden—began a process for preserving his body, according to Indian newspaper the Hindustan Times. “The master is in a high meditative stage of trance. Other teachers in the monastery will take the final decision to preserve the body, which will be mummified later,” said disciple Hara Zigar. After fleeing Tibet in 1959—the same year as His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama—Wangdor Rinpoche spent most of his early life in retreat, spending almost 45 years in a cave above Rewalsar Lake in northern India. He practiced in both the Nyingma and Kagyu schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Mummies aren’t a complete anomaly in Tibetan Buddhism and other Buddhist traditions (such as Shingon monks in Japan). The mummified body of the Dalai Lama’s teacher, Kyabjé Ling Rinpoche, is currently kept at His Holiness’s residence in Dharamsala. In 1975, after an earthquake struck the region, the remains of self-mummified monk Sangha Tenzin from the 15th century were found in the area of Spiti, on the Indo-Tibet border. The body of the monk showed little signs sign of deterioration—he even had teeth—despite appearing to have undergone no preservation procedure. Archaeologists believe this is the result of a Buddhist ritual of ingesting a mix of herbs, roots, sap, and poisonous nuts to deplete fat reserves and remove moisture before death.

Funeral for Hardline Sri Lanka Monk at Hindu Temple Defies Court Injunction 

A controversial Buddhist monk who recently died was cremated on the grounds of a Hindu temple in Sri Lanka in violation of a court order that prohibited the rites from being carried out on the premises. According to the Tamil Guardian, the memorial for the unidentified monk was led by extremist monastic Gnanasara, a member of the right-wing nationalist group Bodu Bala Sena, or Buddhist Power Force. The late monk had spent the decade prior to his death establishing a monastery and building a massive Buddha statue at the Hindu temple. Local worshippers had fiercely opposed his cremation, as corpses and funerals are considered contaminants and inappropriate for sacred spaces. The Buddhist group ignored these concerns and held the cremation on the banks of the temple’s sacred reservoir. Sri Lanka police disregarded the locals’ complaints and the court injunction and provided full security for the funeral while barring Tamils, a mostly Hindu ethnic group, from entering the area. One Buddhist monk reportedly assaulted a Tamil lawyer after taunting the protestors by stating that Buddhist monks held supremacy in Sri Lanka.

Dalai Lama Tweets Support for Climate Strike

As millions of people took to the streets for the global climate strike last Friday, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama voiced his support for the demonstrators. In a tweet, the Dalai Lama wrote that the young people who spearheaded the global movement were “being very realistic” about the impending changes to the world’s ecosystems and urged his followers to cheerlead the youths’ efforts. “It’s quite right that students and today’s younger generation should have serious concerns about the climate crisis and its effect on the environment,” he said. “They are being very realistic about the future. They see we need to listen to scientists. We should encourage them.” 

On September 20, tens of thousands of people across the globe protested for action on climate change ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit

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My World is in Your Blind Spot: A Review

A silence has fallen over the wave of self-immolations that engulfed Tibet over the last decade. Few raise the subject in polite circles nowadays.

For Tibetans, it is too painful to contemplate the possibility that 164 of their brethren may have died to advance a cause that appears stalled at best. For others, burning bodies in a distant land do not seem an appropriate topic of conversation at the dinner table or at a cocktail reception. The world has moved on.

But artist Tenzing Rigdol’s new exhibition, aptly titled My World is in Your Blind Spot (and currently on display at the Tibet House in New York City), breaks this collective silence about the fiery protests of a people on the edge of existence.

From Tenzing Rigdol’s series My World is in Your Blind Spot. Silk brocade and scripture, 72 X 72. | Photo courtesy of Sarah Magnatta

In a series of larger-than-life panels that overwhelm the gallery walls, Rigdol’s buddhas sit in repose, radiating the characteristic Buddhist equanimity, while their bodies are slowly consumed—or maybe miraculously unharmed, who knows?—by flames. There is no sense of pain, or alarm, in their expression, only a calm detachment that borders on indifference.

In a recent article, journalist Tracy Ross and anthropologist Carole McGranahan reflect on what happens during a protest by fire. The process is “almost incomprehensible. First, the kerosene or gas poured onto clothing enables ignition. The resulting third-degree burn—the most intense kind, producing charred or whitened skin—can be less painful than milder burns. That’s because the damage is so deep that the nerves die.”

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When to Let Go of the Dharma, Too

The following discussion of the Buddhist parable of the raft is excerpted from our upcoming online course, Secular Dharma. In the course, Stephen and Martine Batchelor lay out a new vision for understanding and practicing dharma in the contemporary world. Through these traditional parables, Stephen and Martine investigate the core elements of Buddhist thought and introduce practices geared toward the way we live today.

Imagine, friends, a man in the course of a journey who arrives at a great expanse of water, whose near bank is dangerous and whose far bank offers safety. But there is no ferryboat or bridge to take him across the water. So he thinks: ‘What if I collected grass, twigs, branches and leaves and bound them together as a raft? Supported by the raft and by paddling with my hands and feet, I should then be able to reach the far bank.’ 

“He does this and succeeds in getting across.

“On arriving at the far bank, it might occur to him: ‘This raft has been very helpful indeed. What if I were to hoist it on my head or shoulders, then proceed on my journey?’ Now, what do you think? By carrying it with him, would that man be doing what should be done with a raft?’

“’No, sir,’ replied his audience.

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Buddha Buzz Weekly: Low-Caste Buddhist Converts Denied Affirmative Action in India

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

Buddhist Dalits Struggle for Affirmative Action

In order to escape persecution, Dalits, the lowest group in the Indian caste system, have been converting to Buddhism en masse ever since activist and scholar B.R. Ambedkar spearheaded the movement in the early 20th century. But now the members of the group sometimes referred to as “untouchables” are facing a new obstacle in their struggle for equality. In the state of Tamil Nadu, the Buddhist converts are being denied access to affirmative action, the New Indian Express reports. Under India’s Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Orders Act of 1976, Dalits and other historically disadvantaged people receive an allotment of jobs, spots in schools, and higher education. But the state government in Tamil Nadu claims that Dalits who convert to Buddhism are no longer considered part of a Scheduled Caste and have rejected applications for community certificates granting the benefits to at least 20,000 Buddhist Dalits. Said K. Kalamani, who converted to Buddhism in 2010 with his family, told the New Indian Express that his daughter and granddaughter have not received any benefits under the Scheduled Caste policy. “It is true that we had converted from Hinduism to Buddhism, but it is also true that we are no different from other Dalits who, for years, have been subjected to economic and social oppression,” he said. In 1990, the Indian government issued an amendment to include Buddhist Dalits in the Scheduled Caste category at the national level, but the state of Tamil Nadu never implemented the change. Last week, Kalamani approached the National Human Rights Commission during an open hearing in the city of Chennai to ask the government to order the amendment into effect. The government’s director of Adi Dravidar [Dalits in Tamil Nadu] and tribal welfare has indicated that the order will be issued within a week, according to Kalamani. 

Stealing Gold from a Buddha

Four people have been charged in federal court with stealing cash and jewels from Buddhist and Hindu temples across the United States, according to a Department of Justice press release. A grand jury in Georgia indicted Valer Iazmin Varga, Robert-Auras Adam, and Ana-Loredana Adam on August 20. The three appeared in federal court in Atlanta on September 11, the same day that co-defendant Stela Patricia Varga was arrested in Louisiana. US Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak said the alleged thieves posed as tourists at temples in New Jersey, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri, and while one person distracted the staff with questions, the others stole money and gold jewelry, sometimes removing pieces of gold directly from the statues. “They exploited their victims’ custom of receiving visitors with open arms in their temples and religious centers,” Pak said in the DOJ statement. Prosecutors added that the crimes were caught on video, despite efforts to tamper with security cameras. Upon their arrest, the three defendants indicted in Georgia had a combined $50,000, despite having no record of employment in the US. 

Democratic and Republican Lawmakers Unite to Protect the Dalai Lama’s Reincarnation 

In a rare instance of bipartisanship, Democratic and Republican representatives recently introduced a new bill threatening sanctions against Chinese officials who interfere with the selection of the reincarnation of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, according to Radio Free Asia. Rep. James McGovern (D-Massachusetts), chairman of the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China, introduced The Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2019 to the House on September 13. If passed, commission co-chair Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) will bring the bill to the Senate. The proposed penalties include freezing the assets of Chinese officials who tamper with the reincarnation process and denying them entry into the US. In recent years, Beijing has said that the next Dalai Lama would be chosen within China, while His Holiness has stated otherwise and even indicated that he may make this life his final rebirth. 

Buddhist Monk Makes Robes from Plastic Bottles 

Now you can earn merit just by recycling. A Buddhist monk in Thailand has created a formula for mixing recycled plastic with cotton and zinc oxide nanoparticles to create a fabric used to produce saffron-colored monks’ robes, according to Thai newspaper Khaosod English. The monk, Phra Maha Pranom Dhammalangkaro, is the assistant abbot of Wat Chak Daeng temple in Thailand’s Samuta Prakan province outside Bangkok. The robe-making process is quite labor=intensive: Volunteers clean donated bottles and press them into blocks, which are then shipped to a factory to be shredded and turned into polyester threads. The polyester is blended with cotton and antibacterial polyester zinc fibers to create the fabric, which is finally dyed a classic saffron color. One robe, stitched by volunteers, consumes 15 plastic bottles. Only bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) can be used. Working with a chemical company, the formula for the fabric took three years to perfect—but the texture is said to feel as soft as cotton or silk. Followers can make merit by offering this nanofabric to the monks (more fabric = more merit). Describing the Buddha as a “recycling role model,” Phra Maha Pranom pointed out that “[t]he Buddhist canon said [the Buddha] made robes from discarded fabric obtained from trash piles and corpses, which he then cleaned and sewed into robes. We have to use our wisdom to see the hidden value of things around us. If we can see their value, there will be no excess or dearth.”

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