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”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

Good Vibrations: A Buddhist Music Playlist

Music has long served as a bridge between the ordinary and the divine. And while the early vinaya [monastic code] required monks and nuns to abstain from listening to or playing music, the Buddha’s teachers were preserved through chanting and oral recitation of the canonical texts. As Buddhism spread across the world, methods of transmission changed, as did the way music was used as a part of the tradition—as mantras, offerings, and celebrations of insight. Today, music is used by various Buddhist schools to help cultivate focus, express devotion, reflect on life, or just to relax.

Tricycle has collected some of our favorite examples of Buddhist music, including music by contemporary Buddhists, music inspired by Buddhist thought, and music from centuries-old traditions. Some examples are surprising, while others are standards that warrant listening anew. They are all united by a common theme of drawing us in to contemplate awakening or encouraging us to enjoy the moment.

“Silly Boy Blue” – David Bowie

In 1966, David Bowie knocked on the door of the Tibetan lama Chime Rinpoche and said, “I want to become a monk.” But when Chime Rinpoche heard that Bowie’s talent was music, he advised “Don’t become monk; you do the music.” And that’s what Bowie did. He first developed a fascination with Buddhism and Tibet at 19. The song Silly Boy Blue was inspired by the description of Lhasa in Heinrich Harrer’s 1952 classic Seven Years in Tibet and the Potala Palace, Tibet’s traditional seat of government.

“Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” – Tina Turner

Tina Turner converted to Nichiren Buddhism in 1974 after an attempted suicide. She credits chanting with giving her the strength to leave her troubled marriage with Ike Turner and find peace. To show her gratitude, she recorded the mantra Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo on her album Beyond. The chant, which is central to Nichiren Buddhism, embodies the vow to embrace and manifest one’s buddhanature. Directly translated, it means “Glory to the Sutra of the Lotus of the Supreme Law,” referring to the Japanese title of the Lotus Sutra. Turner brings her trademark soulful, resonant vocals to the monotonic chant, giving it an urgency and rawness that’s deeply moving and inspiring.

“Chöd – In Praise of the Sacred Feminine” – Ayya Yeshe and IndiaJiva

Chöd is a powerful tantric practice for cutting through ego delusion in order to reach liberation. Here Australian Tibetan Buddhist nun Ayya Yeshe chants praise invoking the 11th-century Tibetan yogini Machig Labdrön, one of the founders of Chöd, accompanied by music from IndiaJiva (Vicki Hansen and Ronni Ragel).

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My Teacher, The Tree

Driving home from a ski trip in 1983, vipassana teacher Joseph Goldstein had an idea. He turned to his pal, journalist Wes Nisker, and suggested that Wes start a journal to serve the growing Theravada community in the West and to explore the path of dharma as it made its way through the new frontier. Wes accepted the challenge, asking his friend Barbara Gates to join him.

Soon thereafter, Joseph came up with the name Inquiring Mind. We at the Mind took it from there. For the next three decades, the Inquiring Mind published two issues per year dedicated to the creative transmission of buddhadharma to the West.

The journal became known for its thought-provoking interviews of Buddhist teachers from many traditions, as well as neuroscientists, environmentalists, and other thinkers. Contributors included Gary Snyder, Jack Kornfield, Dan Goleman, Joanna Macy, Jane Hirshfield, and Tsoknyi Rinpoche, to name a few. Each issue focused on a theme (Addiction, War and Peace, God, Money–Sex–Power), and presented contrasting and sometimes controversial views, as well as poetry, art, and humor.

By 2015, as a donation-supported print journal, we couldn’t afford to keep going. While we put the finishing touches on the final issue, miraculously a check arrived in the mail from the estate of recently deceased Buddhist teacher Ruth Denison. Ruth’s generous bequest, along with several other anonymous donations, allowed us to begin developing an online archive.

The Inquiring Mind archive went live this summer. Sixteen complete issues (2007–2015) are available now, with more added every month. We encourage you to visit the archive and enjoy its wealth of articles. While you’re there, if you are so inclined, please make a donation to help the Mind finish digitizing articles dating all the way back to 1984.  

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Surrender Yourself to the Present Moment

The monastic community is practicing during the Rainy Season Retreat from January 4 to March 14 at Deer Park Monastery with the lay community. This 55-minute dharma talk in the Ocean of Peace Meditation Hall takes place on Wednesday, January 14, 2004 during the second week. Both audio and video versions are available with this post.

We begin with a reminder of the gatha we learned in the prior dharma talk. The gatha can be used when we are practicing sitting mediation, standing, walking, and lying down – the four positions of the body. We can listen to the music of our breathing in and breathing out. 

This is practice of stopping. This does just mean stopping the mind, but it also applies to our body. Because our body also has a habit of running; a feeling of restlessness in the body. And the body contains the mind along with the mind containing the body. Helping the body to stop is also helping the mind to stop. And this is why meditation includes the body. The Buddhist term for stopping is samatha.  We also need some insight, vipasyana, in order to truly stop. These are like two wings of a bird.

The first insight is to stop running. Being in a retreat environment is a good opportunity to learn how to stop. With our practice of walking, each step is a healer. We can totally surrender ourself to the present moment. To the power of healing that is inherent in our body. In the Plum Village tradition, we offer the practice of total and deep relaxation. We use the techniques of mindful breathing to allow our body to rest. We embrace our body with tenderness. This is a practice of love. Darling, I am home. Thay takes us through some parts of meditation on the body. We also learn some of the exercises found in the Sutra on Contemplation of the Body in the Body. This practice can be very pleasant and healing. 

Stopping means to be fully present. In the here and the now. And when you are fully present in the here and now, then you are present to being fully alive. And vipasyana is what helps us to see this. Another function of samatha is to recognize: to recognize what is happening in the present moment. When we are able to recognize, then the “blue sky” is always there. We come to Deer Park so that we can learn to practice stopping. 

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Buddha Buzz Weekly: August 10th, 2018

The great room at the Zen Hospice Project guest house in San Francisco

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

Zen Hospice Project Suspends Operations, Needs More Funding to Reopen

Zen Hospice Project, the pioneering Buddhist-inspired residential hospice that has operated in San Francisco since 1987, suspended their guesthouse at the end of June because of insufficient funding, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The project was started by San Francisco Zen Center members to care for AIDS patients turned away by hospices at the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis and has since expanded to care for any terminally ill patients. Their iconic Victorian townhouse accommodated six residents with a 1-to-1 ratio of residents to staff at a cost of $850 per resident per day; fees were charged on a sliding scale and no one turned away because of inability to pay. Two of the project’s other programs, volunteer support at San Francisco’s Laguna Honda Hospital’s palliative care unit and a course on caregiving, are still operating. Executive Director George Kellar said the internationally renowned project has seen a “substantial” drop in donations over the last 18 months; he believes many donors have shifted their giving to social justice causes since President Trump was inaugurated. The project hopes to find a corporate donor willing to give about $2 million a year for a few years to reopen its doors.

Related: Attention to Death

Thai Boys Complete Temporary Ordination; Stateless Boys Recieve Thai Citizenship

The Wild Boar soccer team recently rescued from a flooded cave completed their nine-day period as novice monks and returned to lay life on Saturday, August 4th. The Thai youth soccer team was trapped in a flooded cave for 18 days and rescued in a perilous and dramatic operation. Eleven of the twelve boys ordained as novice Buddhist monks to express gratitude for their rescue and dedicate the merit believed to be earned from ordination to the late Saman Gunan, 37, a retired Thai Navy Seal who died while volunteering on the rescue operation. (The twelfth boy is Christian and did not participate.) Their coach Ekapol Chanthawong, 25, a former novice monk, ordained as a full monk and will remain at the monastery three months.

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Does Dispassion Belong in the Bedroom?

On one occasion, the Buddha was dwelling among the Bhagga people, near Sumsumaragiri. There, the married lay followers Nakulapita and his wife, Nakulamata, asked him how they could remain together in subsequent lives. The Buddha answered, “If, householders, both wife and husband wish to be in one another’s sight so long as this life lasts and in the future life as well, they should have the same faith, the same moral discipline, the same generosity, the same wisdom” (Anguttara Nikaya 4:55, trans. Bhikkhu Bodhi). The Buddha was supportive of the couple’s desire, but his reply does not necessarily mean that he approved of such romantic relationships. Elsewhere, in the Sutta Nipata, the Buddha warned: “For one who has formed bonds, there is affection; following on affection, this suffering arises. Discerning the danger born of affection, one should live alone like a rhinoceros horn.”

And so the tension regarding romantic relationships among lay Buddhists has continued down to this day. As modern practitioners we are left with many questions: is dating detrimental to the equanimity we aim to cultivate through meditation? Does being sexually active—even within a committed relationship—hinder our progress past a certain point on the path? If we haven’t ordained, should we still try to live alone like a rhinoceros horn and observe celibacy? That might feel prudish, naive, and even extreme for people living in the 21st century, but that distaste alone is not a sufficient reason to simply ignore these teachings. And since there are instances of abuse in both celibate monastic communities and traditions that allow monastics to marry and have sex, neither approach is obviously superior in this regard. Clearly, sex and romantic love on the Buddhist path can be quite tricky to navigate, but we can  look to the Pali Canon to see what Buddha himself said about the subject.

The tradition of Vipassana that I practice—as taught by S. N. Goenka—is a householder tradition, with many assistant teachers who have gotten married and had children. (Goenka himself had nine sons before becoming a teacher.) We take a vow of celibacy while sitting a meditation course, but in lay life we’re encouraged to follow the five precepts, the third of which is to abstain from sexual misconduct. In the Buddha’s time, sexual misconduct was usually referred to as “going to another man’s wife.” In the Culakammavibhanga Sutta, he elaborates, defining sexual misconduct as “intercourse with women who are protected by their mother, father, mother and father, brother, sister, or relatives, who have a husband, who are protected by law, and even those already engaged (trans. Bhikkhu Bohdi).”

Related: The Joy of No Sex

Times were different then. Now we associate sexual misconduct with nonconsensual sex as well as consensual adultery. Abstaining from sexual misconduct is expected of all Vipassana meditators. But as one progresses down the path, the requirements change. For instance, anyone can take a ten-day Vipassana course, but in order to be allowed to sit a 20-day course or longer in Goenka’s Vipassana tradition, one must either be in a monogamous relationship for at least one year or celibate for at least one year. (One is also encouraged to refrain from masturbation.) The idea is that as one develops dispassion, lust subsides and sex is abandoned, even within a marriage. As the nun Bhadda Kapilani—once wife of the Buddha’s disciple Mahakassapa—writes in the Therigatha: “Once we were husband and wife, but seeing the danger in the world, we both went forth, we removed our defiling compulsions, we became cool, free” (trans. Charles Hallisey).

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