Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

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Buddha Buzz Weekly: Haemin Sunim Returns to Monastic Life

“Twitter monk” Haemin Sunim deactivates his Twitter and returns to monastic life after backlash, the UK Charity Commission criticizes Rigpa leaders for failing to protect students from Sogyal Lakar Rinpoche, and a new Tibetan literary journal arrives on the scene. Tricycle looks back at the events of this week in the Buddhist world.

By Emily DeMaioNewton and Karen JensenNov 28, 2020

Haemin Sunim, who earned the moniker the "Twitter Monk" for his online presence, recently returned to monastic life after facing criticism online.

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

“Twitter Monk” Haemin Sunim Returns to Monastic Life

The well-known Korean Zen monk Haemin Sunim announced that he will step away from public life and return to a public seowon, a Buddhist education institution, Buddhistdoor Global reported last week. This decision was prompted by backlash on social media that Haemin is not living the ideals he teaches in his books and on his app. The strongest criticism came from Kocadile Choi, a Korean singer with more than 8.9 million subscribers on YouTube. He condemned Haemin’s app, Kokkiri, for requiring in-app purchases, saying Haemin was “ripping off those emotionally hurt with sugarcoated words.” An American monk, Hyon Gak, also criticized Haemin for profiting off the Buddha’s teachings, but later took back what he said after a reported phone call  with Haemin, after which he called him, in a Facebook post, a “beautiful human being with great sincerity.” Haemin shared an apology and his announcement that he will return to monastic study on his Twitter account, which has since been deactivated.

New Tibetan Literary Journal Launched 

A group of scholars, writers, and artists have created a new open access, peer-reviewed annual journal that will publish academic articles, book reviews, and interviews related to Tibet, as well as poetry, prose, art, and fiction. Yeshe: A Journal of Tibetan Literature, Arts and Humanities is staffed by editor-in-chief Patricia Schiaffini-Vedani, professor at Southwestern University and founder of the Tibetan Arts and Literature Initiative, managing editor Shelly Bhoil, an independent scholar who writes about Tibetans in the diaspora, fiction editor Tenzin Dickie, poet and Treasury of Lives editor, as well as poetry editor Chime Lama, whose poetry was featured on High Peaks Pure Earth’s Instagram takeover by Tibetan women poets earlier this year.

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A Buddhist Book of Spells

Eviscerating somebody by lightning, breaking up lovers (or bringing them together), becoming invisible, exorcising demons, and raising corpses into zombie assassins. These may not be the kinds of activities we generally associate with Buddhism, but casting spells and curses has long been integral to everyday Buddhist life, from the earliest days up to the present.

Despite its historical importance, magic has been one of the most neglected aspects of Buddhist traditions in the past several decades as many have sought to portray the religion as rational, philosophical, and free from superstition and ritual. Since the modern discipline of Buddhist studies first emerged in the 19th century, the magical dimensions of Buddhism have often been downplayed or ignored altogether. Even Buddhists themselves have dismissed these aspects as corrupted forms of “pure” Buddhism that cater to the needs of the unlettered masses, rather than being a fundamental part of Buddhist life. 

In recent years, however, magical practices have begun to gain currency as a serious topic in academic and mainstream Buddhist circles, thanks to the work of scholars like Sam van Schaik. A textual historian who currently heads the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme, van Schaik was a doctoral student when he stumbled upon a Tibetan book of spells written roughly one thousand years ago. Originally found in a cave shrine along the Silk Road in Dunhuang, western China, the spellbook made van Schaik realize just how little attention was paid to magic in Buddhist literature.

Over twenty years later, van Schaik revisited the Dunhuang spellbook in his new book Buddhist Magic: Divination, Healing, and Enchantment through the Ages, which argues that magical rites can provide a better understanding of the socio-economic networks of early Buddhist communities as well as a fuller picture of their everyday existence. 

Tricycle recently spoke with van Schaik, in a bicontinental Zoom room, about how he approaches magical literature as a textual archaeologist and why it’s important to dispel misperceptions about this lesser-known side of Buddhist traditions.

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A Zen Harvest

At the saw-toothed edge of autumn, violent forest fires obscured the noonday sun at Green Gulch Farm. Ominous clouds of charcoal soot and thick, vermilion smoke darkened the Pacific Northwest, covering the last rows of butter lettuce with ghost-gray ash. 

Eight months ago the fields lay fallow at Green Gulch, the Soto Zen farm and practice center where my husband and I trained for 25 years before moving into our current home next door. It was early March then, the coastal headlands above the Gulch pale blue, blowing with wild lilac and late rain. California had just ordered the nation’s first shelter-in-place mandate in an attempt to staunch the rising tide of COVID-19 cases. One of the last formal ceremonies offered at Green Gulch before the sangha began sheltering in place was the annual seed-sowing ceremony, which opened this year’s agricultural season with a chant of dedication:

We offer the sowing and tending of these seeds to our great,
original teacher Shakyamuni Buddha
Whose real nature is in harmony with the mysterious process of
living and dying . . .
May we labor in love and awareness and with deep humility open to
the true nature of all being!

A few months later, the fields were arrayed in a tapestry of dark green kale, golden beets, red mustard, collards, rainbow chard, purplette onions, and multi-hued lettuce—all ready for harvest just as access to the Bay Area farmers markets closed down in May due to a surge in coronavirus cases.  

Our Zen farm quarantined and unable to go to market, we needed a new plan for our crops. So when the current Green Gulch residents entered into “no coming, no going” isolation, my farmer-husband, Peter, and I offered to mask up and load our vintage red Toyota farm truck with harvest bounty to share across the increasingly food-insecure Bay Area community. 

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Buddha Buzz Weekly: Dagri Rinpoche Permanently Removed as FPMT Teacher

The Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition removes Dagri Rinpoche from its list of teachers after an investigation in sexual misconduct, the murder of a Tibetan woman ignites outrage, and the 84000 Translation Project releases a “sutras for well-being” series. Tricycle looks back at the events of this week in the Buddhist world.

By Emily DeMaioNewton and Karen JensenNov 21, 2020

Dagri Rinpoche. Photo by Gyalwa Gyatso | https://flic.kr/p/VJfQuK

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

Dagri Rinpoche Permanently Removed as FPMT Teacher After Investigation into Sexual Misconduct 

Tibetan lama Dagri Rinpoche has been permanently removed from the list of teachers at the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT). The FPMT announced the news in a statement on its website last week. Following allegations of sexual abuse against Dagri Rinpoche that surfaced in May 2019, the FPMT suspended Dagri Rinpoche from its list of teachers. In October 2019, the organization commissioned an independent investigation by the FaithTrust Institute, a multifaith organization helping religious groups with issues of sexual and physical abuse. From witness interviews, statements, and corroborating evidence, the investigation concluded that Dagri Rinpoche had engaged in a pattern of inappropriate sexual behavior that persisted over many years. The allegations, which date back to 2008, include complaints from many women, including ordained nuns, of groping, sexual harassment, and sexual assault at FPMT centers and elsewhere. Despite multiple requests, Dagri Rinpoche did not meaningfully engage with FaithTrust Institute’s investigation, the FPMT said. However, after receiving a detailed summary of multiple victim statements from FaithTrust Institute, he emailed a written response asking for forgiveness. The FPMT said it will continue to publish updates and a summary report on the fact-finding assessment, together with the steps the organization is taking to help protect its students from abuse. 

Murder of a Tibetan Farmer by Her Ex-Husband Ignites Outrage in China

The murder of a Tibetan farmer named Lhamo during a livestream on Douyin, the Chinese version of Tiktok, has raised concerns about China’s legal system’s failure to protect victims of domestic violence, the New York Times reported. Lhamo gained a following of about 200,000 by posting videos of herself cooking, singing, and picking herbs in the mountains where she lives in southwestern China. Over 400 people were watching her livestream in mid-September when a man stormed into her kitchen and she screamed before the screen went dark. Police in the area are investigating Lhamo’s ex-husband on suspicion that he doused her with gasoline and lit her on fire. She died two weeks after the attack. 

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Sweets and Suffering 

Before I came to the US from Korea, I was under the impression that middle-class Americans were living a worry-free existence. They were materially affluent and had access to technology that streamlined their lives, and from where I stood, that seemed like enough for a flourishing human life.

In 1979, I moved to Pittsburgh, and the following year, I started my doctoral studies at Temple University in Philadelphia. Around this time, I learned just how many people around me were in therapy or undergoing some kind of psychological counseling, and my notions about Americans living without suffering started to waver. As my life in the US progressed, I felt more and more compelled to understand why, despite the material abundance, mental suffering was rampant around me. 

When I started looking at this conundrum with some depth, and as I continued to study and read Buddhist teachings, I came to realize that the dominance of material wealth was weakening the human spirit. The US had started to show signs of a material illness by that time, and now, I think, the whole world shows signs of this same phenomenon.

Siddhartha Gautama—the Buddha—said immediately after his awakening: Life is dukkha, which means suffering or dissatisfaction. This lesson is probably pretty familiar to everybody now.  Gautama declared that “life is dukkha” regardless of any human situation: rich or poor, young or old, from a noble family or not, with or without power. He also explained that we have no choice about what happens to us physically: getting old, being sick, and eventually dying. We must face this reality, whether we like it or not. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the boundlessness of dukkha. How much loss we have experienced during this pandemic! We have endured separation from those we love, and many of us have faced material losses—all against the already changing and transient nature of life itself. 

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