Zen Blog

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

Newly Launched A Khmer Buddhist Foundation Donates $500,000 in COVID Relief

The nonprofit aims to support Cambodians impacted by the pandemic. Plus, Chinese President Xi Jinping visits Tibet for the first time in decades, and the Tibetan Nuns Project launches a fund for female geshemas. 

By Amanda Lim Patton and Daniel Ilan Cohen ThinJul 24, 2021

Government officials distribute food donations in Phnom Penh, Cambodia during the pandemic. | Photo courtesy ZUMA Press Inc / Alamy Stock Photo

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

A Khmer Buddhist Foundation Is Launched

San Francisco resident, Cambodian advocate, and philanthropist Lyna Lam has launched A Khmer Buddhist Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering the Khmer people and preserving their traditions and culture. As its first act, the organization donated nearly $500,000 to support Cambodians impacted by COVID-19, GlobeNewswire reports. The donation will be administered through Friends International, a Cambodia-based nonprofit organization, to provide the country’s stretched healthcare system with critical supplies, including ventilators, patients’ monitors, personal protective equipment, and oxygen manometers. Part of the donation will also go towards providing food and aid to impoverished children and their families. “We were saddened to hear about the devastating COVID-19 situation in Cambodia,” said Lam in a press release. “While we know firsthand that the people of Cambodia are resilient and have a history of recovering from any hardship stronger than before, we also know that additional supplies and resources can help accelerate their recovery and end this terrible pandemic.” The foundation is currently accepting donations through its website

In addition to COVID-19 relief, the foundation aims to support various causes for the Cambodian people–both in Cambodia and abroad—through grants to temple operations and new businesses, college internships, and arts and culture initiatives. Lam is also in the process of building a temple in San Jose, California. 

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How to Sit—And Why It Matters

Any child who enjoys playing with building blocks understands the principles and importance of alignment. If the blocks are placed one directly on top of the other, the pile remains standing. If the blocks do not bear this vertical relationship to one another, the pile falls over. 

These very same principles of alignment determine the degree of balance available to a human body. The building blocks of the human body are the major bodily segments: the feet, the lower legs, the upper legs, the pelvis, the abdomen and lower back, the chest and upper back, the shoulders and arms, the neck, and finally, the head. If these segments can be stacked one directly on top of another, that body will be able to stand in a balanced way. A balanced posture requires very little effort to sustain and allows the major muscles of the body to relax. This relatively small expenditure of energy, coupled with the phenomenon of relaxation, produces a  distinct feeling of softness, ease, and vibratory flow. 

It also generates a natural condition of alert awareness. This dual condition of comfort in the body and relaxed alertness in the mind is the fruit of balance. If the major bodily segments are not comfortably stacked one directly on top of the other, the body (unlike the child’s blocks) won’t topple over, but it will have to compensate for its lack of alignment by exerting constant muscular tension to offset the force of gravity. This constant tension generates a feeling tone in the body of hardening, numbness, and pain. It clouds the mind and makes it difficult to remain focused or alert with any kind of ease. 

The exact same force provides support for the balanced body and withholds it from the imbalanced body. That force is the gravitational field of the earth. The force of this field always flows through the vertical. Even though the primary function of this most powerful of planetary forces is to draw objects to its source (the center of the earth), it also provides support or buoyancy to any structure that’s able to conform its shape to the precisely vertical direction of its influence. . .  

The ability to align the upright structure of the body with the directional flow of gravitational energy is the primary requirement in securing the posture of meditation, and its importance cannot be overemphasized. Our first task, then, is to create a structural situation in which gravity supports our bodies and meditative efforts. This task corresponds to the initial instructions to “sit with the back straight.” 

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Letting Go to Find Yourself 

Dr. g's essay "Turning, Turning, Turning" from Afrikan Wisdom New Voices Talk Black Liberation, Buddhism, and Beyond is out now with North Atlantic Books. | Author photo courtesy Dr. g

“Form is emptiness, emptiness also is form; emptiness is no other than form, form is no other than emptiness.” 

This phrase is from the Heart Sutra, the heart of the Mahayana teachings, the pith of the Prajnaparamita Sutras. The Buddha really punctured concepts with these lines! This was the first time my mind stopped. The Heart Sutra was the first piece of buddhadharma that I devoured; I even memorized it so I wouldn’t be without it, because it was both frightening and freeing. To think, all this, all this experience and solidity that we place as we move through this world, all of it is both solid and evanescent. It was the first piece of dharma I encountered that spoke to the nature of my fluid being. I just happened to be born of this female body and it is not fixed. I felt, once again, the dharma gave me the practice opportunity to view how my form emerges and dissolves in every moment. And as frightening as that was initially, I gradually practiced to remember that it wasn’t a dissolve into nothing, but an emptiness so vast it accommodates everything. 

This was tested on two very important periods in my life. For most of my life, I hated who I saw in the mirror: plastered in scars, acne, and a disfigured body that was perpetually prepubescent. As I approached any mirror, echoes of abusive taunts would ripple at me, so I hung mirrors below the neck or didn’t look at them at all. During a month-long silent meditation program, a dathun, I decided to spend time with my reflection and realized my worst fears erupted in taunting thoughts, then dissipated. Another wave, of different insults and content, arose and dissipated. I actually didn’t know who that reflection was. So I got curious. I asked it. I began to notice the faces of several family members and of no one at all. This shifted something for me. Perhaps I wasn’t who I thought I was. 

Later, my mother was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s and I returned home to care for her. Over the next year and a half, I moved from “only daughter” to whomever she decided I was in the moment. Initially, I was not only sad but irritated that she would forget my name, of all people. In that moment, the clutch onto my existence and identity became personal. I felt my “I” disappearing. I would constantly correct her, quiz her, show photographic evidence, all for her to remember. After a few times of losing my patience, praying to the dralas [or in Tibetan Buddhism, something that “cuts through one’s habitual chain of thoughts,”] for clarity did note the impact of my righteousness. My mother would grow more irritable or worse, sad, as she momentarily realized I was correct and, even more stunning, that she’d forgotten and would continue to forget. When I took in her pain, when I felt how out of control it must feel to, for any given amount of time, have no reference point, I was grateful for the ingenuity of mind to pull some memory and place it in the present. 

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Do You Need an Entire Universe to Make an Apple Pie?

The following article is excerpted from the Tricycle online course Finding Freedom, by Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel. Find out more about this six-unit, self-paced exploration of dependent arising and how this central principle leads us to greater freedom and ease in our everyday lives at learn.tricycle.org.

The cosmologist and science communicator Carl Sagan said something in his 1980 series Cosmos: A Personal Journey that really challenges the notion of anything being independent.

He said, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the entire universe.” 

Let’s look at what this could mean. In the olden days, everybody made things from scratch. There were no boxed pie crusts or any of that yet. Then, in the 1930s and 1940s, someone industrious came up with the idea of making a pie crust mix. And then in the 1950s, cultural icon Betty Crocker really made that all prevalent. (She was a fictional character, but she seems very real.) But the question is, looking at the nature of interdependent relationships, is it even possible to make anything from scratch? Do you need an entire universe to make an apple pie? 

If you really want to make something from scratch—an apple pie—what would you have to do? You might buy a piece of land and get a piece of machinery—or at least a horse and a plow or something. And then you’ll have to get some seeds, fertilize the soil, and y set up an irrigation system.

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UC Santa Barbara and 84000 to Translate the Entire Tibetan Buddhist Canon

The Buddhist Texts Translation Initiative will tackle more than 230,000 pages. Plus, Illinois requires Asian American history in public schools and Buddhist scholar Michael Jerryson passes away.

By Alison SpiegelJul 17, 2021

Jokhang Temple, Lhasa, Tibet | Photo by Raimond Klavins on Unsplash

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

UC Santa Barbara and Nonprofit 84000 to Translate Entire Tibetan Buddhist Canon

The University of California, Santa Barbara, has teamed up with nonprofit 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha to commit to translating all 230,000 pages of the Tibetan Buddhist canon into English through a new project called the Buddhist Texts Translation Initiative at UC Santa Barbara. Students from the university’s Buddhist studies department have already worked with 84000 on translations, but this project provides further support for training new translators and welcomes two editors from 84000 as visiting scholars. “The 84000 is creating a bridge between the past and present and is facilitating the transmission of Buddhist knowledge between different cultural regions and languages,” says Professor Vesna A. Wallace, associate director of the initiative’s executive committee. 

Illinois Becomes First State to Require Public Schools to Teach Asian American History

Last week, Illinois ​​Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the Teaching Equitable Asian American History Act (TEAACH), which requires all public schools in the state to teach a unit of Asian American history starting in the 2022-2023 school year. The legislation comes at a time when Asian American hate crimes are surging. “We are setting a new standard for what it means to truly reckon with our history,” Pritzker said on Twitter, noting that Illinois is the first state to make such a requirement.

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