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…”

Buddha Buzz Weekly: American “Concentration Camps”

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

Shadow of Japanese Internment as Migrant Children at Held at Former Camp

The Trump administration announced plans last week to start housing undocumented immigrant children at Fort Sill, an Army base in Oklahoma that served as a Japanese internment camp during World War II. The Department of Health and Human Services said that Fort Sill will be used as a “temporary emergency influx shelter” in response to a surge of children being taken into custody at the border, Time magazine reported. Japanese American activists and those who lived through internment say the move is a sign that history is repeating itself. “That our country is once again incarcerating children in facilities used previously to incarcerate Japanese Americans is like a gut punch to the Japanese American community,” David Inoue, executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League, told the Daily Beast. “The damage being done to these children is immoral.” Actor George Takei, who was held in an internment camp at the age of 5, tweeted on June 18, “I know what concentration camps are. I was inside two of them, in America. And yes, we are operating such camps again.” Takei’s remark was in support of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who drew criticism after characterizing the detention centers as concentration camps, which she later clarified does not mean Nazi death camps. “The US ran concentration camps before, when we rounded up Japanese people during WWII. It is such a shameful history that we largely ignore it,” she tweeted on June 19.

Related: When Buddhists Were a “National Security Threat”

The Obama administration also used Fort Sill to house unaccompanied immigrant children for a period of four months in 2014 during a similar spike in border-crossing arrests, a move which Republicans opposed at the time on the grounds that it was a misuse of military resources. Some Trump supporters have noted that Fort Sill’s past as an internment camp was not brought up in 2014, but Trump critics have said that the context has changed due to the president’s “zero tolerance” policy, which has been called “cruel” and “racist.” Last year, a group of Buddhist leaders condemned the Trump administration’s immigration policy of separating children from their parents, which was reversed on June 20 after wide-spread public outrage—though families remained separated into 2019.

Slovakia Elects First Female President, a Zen Meditator

Slovakia inaugurated Zuzana Caputova on June 15, the nation’s first female president—and a Zen meditator. The New York Times reports that the 45-year-old lawyer and political newcomer encountered books on Zen meditation as a teenager, and has been sitting regularly for the past 13 years. “I try to meditate every day,” she told the Times. “I’m not sure how we’re going to manage that now. But the regular practice is important for me.” Caputova ran on a progressive platform that supported gay and minority rights, issues that remain controversial in socially conservative Slovakia. Yet she was able to communicate her support for liberal policies in a way that did not alienate her right-leaning constituents. “When I talked about these things, for me, this attitude is based on a value that I believe to be very conservative and Christian—empathy and respect for other people,” she said. Caputova has never held state office, and her victory is seen as a rebuke of the nativism sweeping across Europe.

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“Buddhism Is What Science Should Be Doing”

Just about any Westerner whose spiritual or intellectual journey includes the subject of Tibetan Buddhism will encounter the work of Robert A. F. Thurman. He was the first American to ordain as a Tibetan Buddhist monk before returning to lay life to become Columbia University’s Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Studies, the cofounder and president of the nonprofit Tibet House US, the president of the American Institute of Buddhist Studies, and a prolific author and translator.

Earlier this month, Thurman was a speaker at BuddhaFest LA, a three-day festival featuring a wide variety of films, talks, workshops, music, and guided meditations. Thurman gave two talks: one titled Buddha: Great Physician & Mind Scientist for Trying Times and another with Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg called How Radical Compassion Will Change Your Life, both of which are available at BuddhaFest Online through August 11.

Tricycle (the event’s media partner) spoke with Thurman about his talks, what he believes scientists can learn from the Buddhist wisdom tradition, and how the Buddha can serve as an example for social action today.

One of your talks has the provocative title of Buddha: Great Physician & Mind Scientist for Trying Times. In what way was the Buddha a scientist?
I didn’t realize that was provocative. Buddhism is categorized as a world religion, but the Buddha was not a prophet. He did not promise to save anybody, and he openly proclaimed that God, as understood in his day as Brahma, the creator, was not able to do so either. Instead, he said people could save themselves from suffering by learning about their own nature and understanding their reality as relational beings.

My point is that the Buddha was not asking for blind faith as much as he was treating human suffering the way a physician does. The four noble truths, for example, follow the Ayurvedic model of medical diagnosis: recognition of the symptoms of the disorder; diagnosis of the cause (ignorance and the craving that arises from it); prognosis of how you can recover if you treat the disorder; and then four, the prescribed therapy. The Buddha being a physician is actually a common theme in the literature.

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Coming Out Whole

Once a month, Tricycle features an article from the archives of Inquiring Mind, a Buddhist journal that was in print from 1984–2015. For Pride Month, we present “Coming out Whole” by Caitriona Reed, which first appeared in Spring 1998 and was republished in The Best of Inquiring Mind: Twenty-Five years of Dharma, Drama, and Uncommon Insight (Wisdom Publications, 2008).

This past April I gave up hiding. The energy I had been using to maintain a life of secrecy was exhausted. I could no longer bear to live with the fear and shame that had haunted me. I let it be known that I am a transgendered person, a transsexual. I came out of the closet!

For about 16 years I have taught Buddhism and Buddhist meditation. For the last eight years or so, it has been my main occupation, my job description. Although I have been “out” among certain friends for about 20 years, to truly come out of the closet has always meant coming out within my community of students and fellow teachers. Only now do I realize how incomplete I have been because I have not had the courage to do that. The whole process of my transition, whatever that might turn out to be, has been on hold.

I, like all of us, have been afraid. Fear makes us lie. It cripples us, even though we may get comfortable enough to move around within the confines of our deceptions. Then we end up inhabiting them, and they become an invisible shell that we drag around with us. I wandered, lost in obsession and fantasy, not knowing where my secret would lead me. I couldn’t imagine it would lead anywhere but to more shame and to rejection by the people I cared for.

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Goodnight Metta: A Bedtime Meditation for Kids

A 5th-century depiction of a reclining Buddha at the Ajanta Caves in Aurangabad, India. | Photo by Matthew Abrahams

Bedtime provides a magical window of opportunity to meditate with children. This transition in the schedule is already set up as a time when we stop playing, drop the busyness of the day, and prepare our minds and bodies for relaxing, resting, and eventually, for sleep. Meditation, likewise, is predicated on letting go of tasking and settling back into quiet reflection. Many of us with young children also have well-established, pre-bedtime routines, so slipping a three to five minute meditation into this pattern is relatively straightforward.

Of the multitude of meditations, children tend to take to metta, or lovingkindness, because it is visual, directed, and invokes warm fuzzies. I began practicing lovingkindness with my two children when they were preschoolers and slept in the same bedroom. I didn’t expect much of a response, but they loved it and eventually did not feel their bedtime routine was complete without practicing metta nightly. Even in later years, if we found ourselves sleeping in the same space such as in a tent or hotel room, our kids asked me to lead a metta meditation before going to sleep.

Related: Teaching Your Children Buddhist Values

With young children, keep metta meditation short and simple. In its most basic form, metta can employ three phrases:

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Joy and Ease for Enlightenment

This is a 82-minute dharma talk with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh from Hanoi during the “Engaged Buddhism” retreat. This is the third talk on May 7, 2008 and the talk is offered in English. 

Walking Meditation

How can we enjoy walking? How can we use breathing?

Every step is life. 
Every step is a miracle. 
Every step is healing. 
Every step is freedom. 

We learn how to use this gatha with our walking – whether alone or in a group.

Photo by Paul Davis

Seven Factors of Awakening

The Buddha taught of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment. Buddhism is about enlightenment and mindfulness is already enlightenment. Awareness of breathing is already enlightenment.  

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