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: Buddhist Geniuses

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

Buddhists Awarded MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship

The MacArthur Foundation announced the 2019 winners of its no-strings-attached $625,000 fellowship, known commonly as the MacArthur genius grant, and several Buddhist and Buddhism-inspired fellows made the list. 

Poet Ocean Vuong | Photo courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

At the age of 30, Zen Buddhist poet and novelist Ocean Vuong was one of the youngest winners (alongside 30-year-old visual artist Cameron Rowland). Vuong, who was born in Vietnam and came to the United States as a refugee when he was 2, writes about the effects of war and exile with “tragic eloquence and clarity,” blending the “rhythm, cadences, and imagery of rural Vietnamese oral storytelling and folkloric traditions” with a “restless experimentation with the English language,” says the MacArthur Foundation. His latest book, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, is a New York Times bestseller and is a top contender for the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction. Vuong discussed his Buddhist influences, among other subjects, in a 2017 interview with Tricycle.

Attorney and restoration justice practitioner sujatha baliga | Photo courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Attorney sujatha baliga was chosen as a grant recipient for her work in restorative justice, which encourages “constructive, rather than punitive or retributive, responses to wrongdoing.” Having grown up with a sexually abusive father, she knew early on that she wanted to become a prosecutor, according to a New York Times profile. But when she was an undergraduate student living abroad in India, she found herself struggling with her own anger. So she wrote a letter to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, saying, “Anger is killing me, but it motivates my work. How do you work on behalf of oppressed and abused people without anger as the motivating force?” A week later, she was invited to meet with the Dalai Lama, who advised her to start meditating and, as she recounts to the Times, “to align myself with my enemy; to consider opening my heart to them. I laughed out loud. I’m like: ‘I’m going to law school to lock those guys up! I’m not aligning myself with anybody.’ He pats me on the knee and says, ‘OK, just meditate.’” Eventually, she came to understand his advice and put it into action as the director of the Restorative Justice Project

Cartoonist Lynda Barry | Photo courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Cartoonist and educator Lynda Barry is credited with expanding the psychological depth of the graphic-novel format and for developing a curriculum that helps other people tap their creative potential. Her acclaimed 2002 work One! Hundred! Demons! was inspired by Rinzai Zen master Hakuin Ekaku’s work of the same name (sans exclamation points). In Tricycle’s Summer 2008 issue, Barry explained the influence Zen painting has had on her work.

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Buddhist Books for Beginners: A Comprehensive List

When we hosted a discussion titled “What Led You to Buddhism?” in 2011, we asked participants to share the stories of how they came to learn more about Buddhism. While reading through the discussion from people of many different backgrounds and traditions, one common theme became immediately apparent: Buddhist books.

As we continued to read through the comments, it occurred to us that we should compile all the Buddhist books for beginners mentioned into a list, and that such a list, composed solely of personal accounts of life-altering realizations, could be quite special. We created that list in 2011 (read the original here), and asked readers to suggest more. Here is an updated list incorporating that feedback:

Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings
by William Edelglass and Jay L. Garfield 

What is Buddhism? While the diversity of Buddhist schools of thought make it all but impossible to encapsulate the tradition in one book, the new collection. Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings is as comprehensive an attempt as any. This is a dense volume, but its coherent presentation of Buddhist philosophy in all its variety makes diving in worth the effort.

Taking the Path of Zen
by Robert Aitken

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A Japanese Ensemble Keeps an Ancient Sound Alive

A small ensemble silently steps out in single file. Dressed in clothing from Japan’s Heian period (794 to 1185), rounded-collared sokutai robes and tall black eboshi hats, they kneel beside an array of ancient instruments and offer a deep bow. Then a haunting harmony rises out of a mouth organ (sho) and the percussionists roll in like a distant march. Hichiriki (oboes with a bag-pipe-like quality), wooden flutes, and long twangy string instruments join in, creating a rich chorus of both wailing and triumphant voices.

This is how the Reigakusha ensemble began their recent performance of gagaku, Japanese court music, at the Japan Society in New York City. The style dates back to the 6th century, when it crossed the sea from China and Korea alongside Buddhism. When the conflicts of the Warring States period (in the 15th to 17th centuries) threatened to eliminate gagaku and the accompanying dance bugaku, Buddhist temples kept the artform alive through performances at annual ceremonies. 

Reigakusha performs a bugaku dance at the Japan Society in New York City. | Photo by Ayumi Sakamoto

Today, the average Japanese citizen likely has heard of gagaku, though few know much about it, Japan Society artistic director Yoko Shioya told Tricycle. But that’s changing: Around 15 years ago, music education in Japanese schools started shifting its focus from Western classical music to include more lessons about traditional Japanese performing arts, Shioya said. Then, in 2009, UNESCO added gagaku to its Intangible Cultural Heritage List, calling it a “crystallization of the history of Japanese society” and a “demonstration of how multiple cultural traditions can be fused into a unique heritage.”

Reigakusha is helping to make a gagaku revival possible through its classical demonstrations as well as by performing new reigaku, or neo-gagaku, compositions arranged for the traditional 17-person ensemble. The Japan Society program on September 21 was split into two parts, ancient gagaku and neo-gagaku. Gagaku is performed without a conductor, a feat rarely attempted by ensembles of that size in the world of Western classical music. The musicians also did not use sheet music for the ancient portion. After the intermission, however, the performers returned with music stands to play two reigaku compositions: “Shotorashion” and “In an Autumn Garden” (Shuteiga).

“Shotorashion” was composed by Reigakusha’s founder, Sukeyasu Shiba. He named the work after Shotora, one of the 12 divine generals in Japanese Buddhism, as a nod to the history that gagaku and the dharma share. The final work, “In an Autumn Garden” (Shuteiga), was written by Toru Takemitsu for the National Theatre in Tokyo in 1973. Takemitsu (1930–1996) was a pioneer of contemporary gagaku and a major influence for Shiba, who established the Reigakusha ensemble in 1985 to continue Takemitsu’s work.

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Love in Action

2008-05-09 | Love in Action

This is a 78-minute dharma talk from Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in Hanoi during the “Engaged Buddhism in the 21st Century” retreat. This is the fifth talk on May 9, 2008 and the talk is offered in English.

Teaching and Social Work

In 1964, Thay was teaching at Colombia University and my friends in Vietnam asked me to return home. In Saigon there was a school (School of Youth for Social Service) to teach engaged Buddhism and serve the communities in Vietnamese countryside. An expression of Love in Action. They did not want sponsorship from the government and didn’t want to be involved in the war. Inspired by compassion. Nonviolence and rural development. It started with 300 workers and expanded to 10,000 workers — these were volunteers. Thay shares some of the work they did during this time and where they learned to do this work. Some of these social workers died in service and there is a memorial at the Dharma Cloud Temple (Chua Phâp Van) in Ho Chi Minh City. Thay talks of the spiritual dimension to this social work.

This is where the Order of Interbeing arose and Thay talks of the first members and the first ordination.

In 1966, That was invited by Cornell University to teach a series of lectures. The purpose was also to help Thay get out of Vietnam and to speak out about the war in Vietnam. This was sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. After this, Thay was not allowed to return to Vietnam. At this time was intensifying and a young OI member immolated of herself – her name was Nhat Chi Mai. Also several members of the school were murdered.

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Why It’s So Hard to Let Others Care For You

Both of us have experienced (and, so far, survived) cancer and its treatments multiple times. Evan twice, and Pat three times. On this matter, at least we can invoke authority through experience.

When first diagnosed and in planning treatment one can usually rely upon support from partners, friends and family, as well as the numbness of shell shock, to get through the initial period. Most of us are pretty good for the short-term. Then the routine of hospital visits, coping with side effects and managing daily life sets in and friends and family, and even partners, are often less available, as what was acute usually moves into the chronic. Staying in for the long haul can be tough. It can be helpful to remember this whether you are carer or being cared for.

Although support programs are increasingly available through the hospital and cancer organizations, both of us were very fortunate that key friends stepped in to organize formal care teams. They accompanied us to hospital visits when our partners were working, prepared meals and provided visits and emotional support to both us and our partners.

It seemed allowing others to care for us is sometimes hard to accept. We may view it as a weakness, imagine we are a burden, or not worthy of such attention…

This was extremely helpful but came with varying degrees of resistance. It seemed allowing others to care for us is sometimes hard to accept. We may view it as a weakness, imagine we are a burden, or not worthy of such attention; and yet we often have no trouble caring for those in need; and may even go out of our way to do so. We might well ask, why the double standard? We are so often, sooner or later in the same boat.

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