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…”

Learning to Contemplate the News

It’s 9:40 a.m. on a crisp Thursday morning at the University of New Hampshire. Students in Associate Professor Kevin Healey’s contemplative media studies class are asked to turn off their phones and walk deep into the school’s College Woods and get lost. “I tell them that I hope they get lost,” Healey half-jokingly says. Before entering the woods, students are handed an envelope with instructions to find a place far enough away from the main campus that could feel like anywhere. Then, settle in. “Be in the space,” the instructions read. “Remember in-class discussions and readings about detoxing and the benefits of reconnecting with nature.”

Students open their envelopes to find a photograph of a distressing news event: a woman and her two children in Bangladesh shielding themselves under a tarp as monsoon rains flood the area; a toddler crying as he’s lifted onto a rescue boat while a swiftly moving river rises in North Carolina; a landscape in the Bahamas littered with detritus after a deadly and devastating hurricane. Healey asks students to “be with the image, see what comes up for you, and notice where the image is coming from.” This encounter is based on what is known as beholding, a contemplative practice of pausing and thinking deeply about what is in front of you. It is a practice that is meant to change how we see. Without the distraction of their devices, digital natives—people who grew up with technology and the Internet at their fingertips—are given a chance to fully internalize a snapshot of a harrowing moment in time.

Emily Bourne, a senior communications major, had an image of a young boy escaping a flood in an inner tube. “All I could think of was that I am so privileged,” she said. “I’m here walking through the woods and this little boy is struggling for his life. I walked by a river in the woods and this was all I could think about.” Bourne saw it as a unique way to encounter what she might normally dismiss with a flick of a finger on her phone. “Often times I’ll get a news update from CNN or something, but then it’s gone and I never think about it again.”

Healey said he doesn’t want students to reject technology outright, but to be more intentional in how they use it: “I want them to slow down enough to see who or what is in the photograph and then ask themselves, ‘How does it make me feel?’”

Kevin Healey. Photo by Valerie Lester, producer for UNH Communications and Public Affairs

Contemplative studies is an emerging field that combines empirical social-science research—including neuroscience, medicine, psychology, and psychiatry—with first-person contemplative practices like meditation, yoga, the arts, and music therapy. Contemplative practices are meant to not only enhance an individual’s well-being, but also bring about a greater public good.

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How Dekila Chungyalpa Draws on Faith to Protect the Planet

From the writings of ecologist Joanna Macy to the strategies of climate action group Extinction Rebellion, environmentalism in the West has long been nurtured and informed by Buddhist perspectives.

Dekila Chungyalpa now clearly sees how the dharma that she grew up with shaped her path to becoming the director of the Loka Initiative, a climate change outreach program for faith leaders—but she wasn’t always able to reconcile her career as a conservationist with her identity as a Tibetan Buddhist.

“I had to have this moment of reckoning, because I knew I would lose credibility among peers who thought that what I was doing was too touchy-feely. People said that it would affect my reputation as a scientist and field conservationist,” she told Tricycle.

She had just started a promising career at the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) in the early 2000s, when a meeting with the Karmapa, one of most influential Tibetan lamas, changed everything.

Dekila Chungyalpa | Photo by Jeenah Moon

At the time, Dekila was the WWF’s youngest director, and she and her fellow scientists were waking up to some of the alarming truths that now make up the devastating headlines and despairing reports of the contemporary news cycle. Seeking a vacation from the mental anguish, Dekila went with her family on a pilgrimage to Bodhgaya. It was there, at the site of the Buddha’s awakening, that she had an audience with Ogyen Trinley Dorje, one of the two claimants to the title of the 17th Karmapa and the head of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. He asked Dekila to create environmental guidelines for his monasteries in northern India.

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Meditation Month 2020: Reconnecting with the World

Join meditation teacher Sebene Selassie for weekly guided meditations to help you sit every day in March.

By TricycleFeb 08, 2020

Welcome to Tricycle Meditation Month, our annual challenge to commit to a daily practice throughout March. Whether you’re new to meditating or a longtime practitioner, our free 31-day challenge is a great way to kickstart your practice and set aside more time for calm and clarity in your life. We’ll be supporting you along the way with an array of meditations, tips, inspiration, and resources. Our free offerings throughout the month include:

A new guided meditation video each week from our Meditation Month teacher Sebene Selassie, a leading Insight meditation teacher and author A live call with Sebene to ask any question you have about your practiceA steady stream of helpful articles on Trike Daily, including classic and contemporary Buddhist teachingsA Facebook discussion group where you can share your experience and connect with practitioners from all over the worldA weekly newsletter to keep you up to date on everything going onOur evergreen meditation section of Buddhism for Beginners

Sign up here to take the Meditation Month challenge.

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Buddha Buzz Weekly: Rohingya Caught in Muslim Ban Expansion

Myanmar among six countries Trump added to Muslim ban, coronavirus causes Dalai Lama to cancel events, and Buddhist art scholar Marilyn Martin Rhie passes away. Tricycle looks back at the events of this week in the Buddhist world.

By Emily DeMaioNewton and Matthew AbrahamsFeb 08, 2020

The Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo by UN Women | https://flic.kr/p/2hEoF8c

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

Muslim Ban Expansion Creates New Obstacle for Rohingya

President Donald Trump expanded his Muslim ban (which his administration later insisted is a “travel ban”) to cover six new countries, including Myanmar, where the Rohingya Muslim minority has been fleeing genocide, according to the New York Times. Rounding out the list are Kyrgyzstan and the African nations of Nigeria, Eritrea, Sudan, and Tanzania. The Times reports that the new restrictions, which go into effect on February 22, will interfere with the potential immigration of more than 12,300 people. In Buddhist-majority Myanmar, the decision could be deadly. Since August 2017, military violence has forced more than a million Rohingya to flee their homes in the Rakhine state for camps in neighboring Bangladesh, where the refugees face a host of other problems. With the expanded ban, one of the Rohingya’s few paths to safety is being blocked. “Nearly 5,000 Burmese refugees started to rebuild their lives in America last year, many of whom seek to reunite with family still in harm’s way,” Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, told the Times. 

Dalai Lama Suspends Appearances Because of Coronavirus Risks

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama has suspended his appearances until further notice as a precaution against the rapidly spreading coronavirus, the Times of India reports. “The office is not taking requests for regular audience[s] from the public for now,” Tenzin Takla, the Dalai Lama’s private assistant, told the paper. The virus is particularly dangerous to the elderly—as of January 25, the median age of the people who have been killed by the virus is 75. The Dalai Lama is 84 years old. The health department in Dharamsala, the Indian city where the Dalai Lama and Tibetan government-in-exile are based, has placed the area on high alert. The city is frequently visited by Buddhist pilgrims, many from mainland China, who wish to pay respects to the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist sites. 

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How a Historic Buddhist Site Has Eluded Destruction—for Now

Saving Mes Aynak is Tricycle’s February Film Club pick, so subscribers can stream the film until February 29, 2020. Watch the film here.

Back in 2009, few seemed to know about or care about Mes Aynak, an ancient Buddhist city in Afghanistan. There was no mention of it in a New York Times story about a shocking and surreal investment in Afghanistan from China. A Chinese government-owned mining company, one of the largest in the world, was setting up an encampment in Logar province in an area controlled by the Taliban. The China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) had inked a deal with the Afghan government to mine $100 billion worth of copper buried at the site, which the MCC was able to lease for 30 years for a little less than $3 billion. The Times story was full of record-breaking details: the copper deposit at Mes Aynak was one of the largest untapped copper reserves in the world, and the MCC deal was the largest foreign investment in Afghanistan’s history. Not mentioned were the ancient ruins of a large Buddhist city a French geologist had stumbled across at the site in 1963, forgotten for centuries. The MCC planned to extract the copper at Mes Aynak via open-pit mining, the cheapest, fastest, and most environmentally destructive excavation technique, which would have demolished the ruins, leaving a gaping crater in their place. In 2009, the MCC and the Afghan government were banking on the world not knowing what was at stake at Mes Aynak. 

I am a documentary filmmaker and professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and I had worked in Afghanistan before. I decided to return to Kabul in 2011 to see if I could gain access to Mes Aynak and see for myself what was there. What I found was astounding and would change my life. I traveled to Mes Aynak alone in a rented taxi though rocky dusty roads rife with landmines. Mes Aynak was awe-inspiring. It was a sprawling Buddhist city over 450,000 square meters in size, around the size of 100 football fields, dating back 2,000 years. Only 10 percent of the site had been excavated. It reminded me of Machu Picchu and I immediately fell in love.

A Buddha statue at Mes Aynak | Image courtesy Icarus Films

The ancient city of Mes Aynak contains over 600 Buddha statues, dozens of intricate and fragile Buddhist stupas, an enormous circular monastic complex, thousands of coins and pieces of jewelry, as well as numerous ancient manuscripts and human remains. According to archaeologists, Mes Aynak represents one of the most significant archaeological finds in Afghanistan’s history and one of immense global importance due to its rare, well-preserved Buddhist artifacts, and to its sheer size. Over two thousand years ago, the residents of Mes Aynak were already mining copper using primitive drilling methods and smelters, explaining their close proximity to the precious metal. Mes Aynak was also a major stop on the Silk Road. Buddhists from all over Asia made pilgrimages to worship there and to trade with the city’s residents. This often overlooked chapter of Afghanistan’s history rests within Mes Aynak’s sprawling ruins.

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