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…”

A Call For Impartial Compassion

If you look from the point of view of cultivating or acting from an impartial compassion, a compassion that goes out to everybody equally, you can view abusive situations within Buddhist communities from four different angles:

What do those abused need?What does the perpetrator need?What does the organisation / institution need?What does the community need?

 
If you choose a long term perspective – considering long term benefit and long term harm – then, in general, what I understand so far is:

The bodhisattva does not follow many Dharmas. The bodhisattva holds one Dharma well and realizes it well. The whole Buddhadharma will be in the hand of that person. What is that Dharma? It is great compassion. – Chenrezig Sutra Well-Condensed Dharma

1) The abused need to be heard and taken seriously. Then help should be offered according to her/his needs and wishes – without pressuring or manipulating her/him to either stay silent or to go public. Also the perpetrator and the leadership of the organisation should take responsibility, acknowledge the harm their own actions (or inactions) have caused and honestly excuse. Further steps according to the needs and situation should be taken, like offering financial help for therapy or financial compensations to balance the harmful impact abuse has had on the persons’s life – for instance, trauma that prevents a person from being able to have a secure income / job or limits her/his ability to work for more than a few hours or that requires a longer reconvalescence treatment.

2) The perpetrator needs to be given clear boundaries. He or she must be faced with / made aware of the wrong doing. He/she should be offered psychological or qualified help. He or she needs to experience a consequence for the harmful action that is neither too strong nor too weak. The perpetrator, who is also a victim of the kleśas (mind poisons such as attachment, anger or confusion etc and an inability to regulate these), should get a chance to change through better understanding and finally by weakening or overcoming the harmful patterns that led to the abusive action(s). He or she should be supported to be successful in that. Moreover, the perpetrator should not be put in an environment or situation (such as a teaching position) that might trigger his/her inner patterns so much that he or she loses control again and repeats the abusive action. Of course, criminal acts should be reported to the police. Being sentenced to prison might be just the right consequence for the perpetrator. To stop the perpetrator, to set boundaries, to issue consequences for misdeeds and offer help to overcome the harmful patterns that gave rise to abusive actions can be in itself a deeply compassionate action. Nobody is served – not the perpetrator [because harmful actions harm him/herself], not the victims, not the community and not the society – if a perpetrator is not prevented from harming others or not provided a context in which he or she can learn from and to let go the harmful behaviour.

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Opinion: Buddhists Can Be Happy Trump Lost

As I write this at least one looming civilizational disaster has been averted: a second term as US president will not happen for Donald Trump, the man whom biographer David Cay Johnston called “the greatest con artist in the history of the world.” Buddhists, or at least this Buddhist, can greet this news with joy. The election results have concrete benefits for those who have been hurt by the policies of the Trump administration or are vulnerable to such harm—which actually includes every living being because Trump’s ecological policies have contributed to hastening the destruction of the environment and causing the deaths of billions of wild animals every year. Whatever one thinks of President-elect Joe Biden, his victory seems to have moved us away from the dark timeline and toward the possibility of positive change for the world. 

Some will object to a Buddhist weighing in on politics. They may not believe that Buddhism has a political heart or that its tenets can guide our political aspirations and commitments, or they may hold that the separation of church and state should be upheld in all situations. But Buddhism has never been entirely separate from the political world, and pretending otherwise makes us likely to repeat the mistakes of the past.

History shows—abundantly—that there is no magic shield to protect Buddhism from exploitation by ill-intentioned politicians and intellectuals. The 20th Century furnishes us with many examples. In the 1930s, Julius Evola, an Italian fascist and anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist, wrote a glowing appreciation of the teachings of the historical Buddha called The Doctrine of Awakening. In the Pali canon, he found a heroic “Aryan” morality; the fact that Buddhists were using the term to subvert the then-popular notion that nobility comes from an ethnic heritage was apparently lost on Evola. Meanwhile, in Japan, some Zen Buddhist teachers used teachings on emptiness and not-self to justify “selfless killing” in the service of the country’s imperialist war. 

More recently, Buddhists in Sri Lanka and Myanmar have declared war against ethnic minorities in order to defend their Buddhist homeland against perceived ideological threats. In Myanmar, the military atrocities have risen to the level of outright genocide

All of this might lead us to believe that Buddhism is itself politically pernicious or, at best, neutral and capable of being bent to suit whatever worldview may be surging with power. Yet that would be a mistake. 

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My Phone Call With Mortality

It begins with a phone call from the doctor, and it is as I’ve often and unwillingly imagined: “I’ve got bad news.” 

There is a silent, airless implosion. I force myself to breathe, pull myself together, and ask whatever I can manage. The call ends, and I feel like the world is pulling away. I am being left behind. I put down the phone and make some notes about the disease, the treatments, the calls I’ll need to make, then I burst into tears. 

Outside the window there’s a bright sunset and dark, pine-covered mountains. There’s a cool evening breeze. How to tell my wife, my son, my family, my friends? I imagine how they are leading their lives assuming everything is going on as before. It’s inconceivable that so much love, so much intensity, can just end. But a door has just closed. Everything in the world will vanish, and I will vanish. It may not be immediate, but it’s now real. An innocuous little bump on my forehead has been diagnosed as nodular melanoma and mortality is no longer abstract. It’s strange I feel so well. 

There is, suddenly, an almost painful intensity to everything. I think of how Trungpa Rinpoche used the phrase “genuine mind of sadness” to point to an essential part of our lives. Sorrow, love, and being alive are inextricable. 

The next days are taken up with trying to understand this form of cancer—its development, treatments, prognosis. My wife Debbie and I, always close, grow closer as we face a newly tenuous future. I tell my son and my good friends. Without being overly pessimistic or optimistic, I try to put them at ease. I try to continue with my normal activities, which now seem frail and contrived. More tests are scheduled, and visits to surgeons and oncologists are set up. 

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Buddha Buzz Weekly: Interest in Buddhist Chaplaincy Increases During the Pandemic

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

Interest in Buddhist Chaplaincy Has Increased During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Interest in Buddhist chaplaincy has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Religion News Service. Hospital patients and their families have needed more help managing anxiety, sorrow, and grief, especially because physical proximity to patients has been restricted. Brent Beavers, a Buddhist hospital chaplain in the San Francisco Bay Area, said he was often a patient’s only human contact besides doctors and nurses. The Buddhist approach to chaplaincy has attracted interest particularly for its contemplative approach and calm acceptance of sickness and death

Right now, the Association of Professional Chaplains only counted 23 Buddhists among its 5,000 active chaplains, but Buddhist chaplaincy training programs at Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado have seen larger numbers of applicants since the pandemic began, including from non-Buddhists. Jamie Beachy, director of Naropa’s Center for Contemplative Chaplaincy, said that the capacity to be warm-hearted while also being confident and stable while navigating suffering will become more urgent as world crises seem to be intensifying.

Japanese Buddhist Nun Completes 36-Mile Walk in Honor of Indigenous North American People

Japanese Buddhist nun Jun-San Yasuda completed a three-day, 36-mile walk from Little Falls to Fonda, New York in memory of the suffering wrought upon North America’s Indigenous people after the Mayflower’s landing 400 years ago, Buddhistdoor Global reported. Several people joined her, chanting “Namu-myoho-renge-kyo,” the title the Lotus Sutra, while they walked.

Yasuda has been what she calls a “peace walker” since 1978, when she participated in the Longest Walk, a 3,107 mile walk from San Francisco to Washington DC, to protest a series of bills before Congress that threatened Native American treaty rights. None of the bills were ultimately passed. Her Thanksgiving walk was in solidarity with native people, focusing on being mindful of the history of the land that she and her fellow walkers set foot upon.

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The Aunt with a Grandmotherly Mind

Mahapajapati, the Buddha’s aunt and foster mother, represents the quality of the fierce feminine: deep compassion and a maternal, nurturing kindness, matched with the qualities of perseverance, grit, tenacity, and courage. 

The Buddha’s story goes that Mahapajapati and her sister Maya, who was the Buddha’s mother, were married to the same king or clan head, Suddhodana. As far as we know, Maya died very soon after Prince Siddhartha’s birth, probably from complications of childbirth, and Mahapajapati took him in and raised him along with her own son.

I always imagine what that must have felt like for Mahapajapati, to have these twin events of the loss of her beloved sister and at the same time being handed the responsibility for raising her young nephew. I wonder how she was able to engage with her grief. 

Mahapajapati is often understood in the Zen tradition as this great nurturing force, what’s sometimes called robai-shin, or “grandmotherly mind.” But she’s not only known for that—she’s also the founder of the bhikkhuni order, or the sangha of Buddhist nuns. The story goes that Mahapajapati asked the Buddha to ordain women three times, and he said “yes” only after the third ask. (In mythic language, three can be understood as “many.”) Traveling from her home to Vaishali in present-day India, where the Buddha and his sangha were staying, she asks the Buddha to join the holy life, but he declines to fulfill her request the first two times. The third time, or perhaps after many attempts, she brings a group of other women with her. Again, she implores her stepson: “Please, we’d like to join the sangha.” And again, he says no. She returns outside the gates of the sangha to greet the group of women, all of them exhausted after walking long distances, with bloodied feet and dusty robes, and they begin crying and wailing.

Ananda, the Buddha’s cousin and trusty attendant, hears their cries and asks Mahapajapati what is going on. She tells him, and he is apparently so moved by their plight that he goes and takes a stand. He pleads their case to the Buddha—but again, the Buddha says, “No. It’s not going to happen.” However, Ananda doesn’t take no for an answer. 

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