By kudos

Let’s Go Clubbing with the Buddha

This picture frustrates me over and over again. It’ disrespectful, insensitive, and offensive.

My friend tells me that I’m overreacting and taking it too seriously.

But would they say the same if a Christian person complained about their religion taken out of it’s context and being used for commercial purposes?

Why, for some reason, do some religions in America seem to carry more legitimacy, treated with more respect and sensitivity, over other religions in America?

Can you imagine a scenario in which Las Vegas opened a new nightclub called “Trinity” that themed all it’s decorations and advertising material around Jesus and other Christian icons? Would Christians (and Americans in general) find that disrespectful and offensive? Would their feelings be treated as melodramatic and inappropriate?

Religious nightlife indeed.

I find that this doesn’t only happen with Christians or Americans. I went on a tour bus trip from Los Angeles to Yellowstone National Park. On our way back to Los Angeles, we stopped in Utah to visit their famous Mormon church. We had several tour guides who gave us a brief tour of the church and basics about the Mormon faith.

One of the tour guides was a girl from Korea who is spending about a year and a half studying and volunteering at the Mormon Church. She was younger than the other “Sisters” who helped lead the tour. Halfway though the tour, it became obvious that many of the men on our tour were intentionally trying to talk to the Korean tour guide or get a photograph with her. I heard men around me talkinabout how pretty she was, encouraging their friends to also take a photo with her. In comparison, the other two tour guides who were just standing to the side, apparently not interesting or attractive enough for the tourists to interact with.

I found this to be greatly disturbing – the idea that people were flirting with one of the religious representatives of the Mormon faith. Those men didn’t seem to care or see anything wrong with what they were doing. But would those men treat representatives from their own religion (monks, pastors, nuns, etc) in the same way?

How come we cannot follow one of the simplest pieces of advice taught to us as toddlers – to treat others the way we’d like to be treated?

Do You Love God?

As an ESL teacher, I spend several hours a week individually tutoring a first grader named Thomas. I started working with him because his mother, who was taking adult ESL classes at the community college I was volunteering in, approached me with concerns about his ability to acquire English reading and writing skills at the same pace as his peers, namely because he only uses English at school while his peers use English at home as well as school. In communicating with his parents, Thomas knows how to speak Cantonese, Taishanese, some Mandarin (from Sunday Chinese school), and of course English. I usually have Thomas read picture books to me, practice writing sentences and spelling words, or work on school work that his mom can’t help him with. Though from my perspective, he is a bright kid with a very active imagination and a good mind for actively learning what he is interested in, all his mom seems to see is a troublesome, naughty, unstudious child, characteristic of the troublemakers (especially guys) that are usually in every class.In line with his mother’s concerns, when he doesn’t enjoy what he is learning, he becomes stubborn, apathetic, and sometimes even silly in terms of not taking the study materials seriously. I try to make the books we read and the activities we do fun and interesting by shaping them in the form of games, rewards, and storytelling, largely based on his own interests. I treat him like a little brother and his mom treats me as her son. I rarely go home after a tutoring session (usually late afternoons) empty-handed in terms of a nicely packaged tupperware of whatever she has cooked for dinner that night. I see so much of my own youth in terms of family cultural dynamics and diversity of linguistic exposure in Thomas’ life, and that is what motivates me the most to spend time working with him.

So in having set the context, I was reading a book with Thomas on how polar bears and penguins would never meet because they live on opposite ends of the world. Essentially, they were learning about the North and South pole, the Arctic and Antarctica, and the wildlife in each region. I don’t remember how we transitioned from this topic to the next but Thomas ended up asking me, “Do you love God?”

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“Fidelity” – Relationship Advice from Our Very Own

I went through my first breakup last November, around the time of Thanksgiving, and anyone who has been through a breakup knows what that feels like. For those that don’t, I felt like my mind split into two halves: one side able to understand the situation and why it was the best for both of us to end the relationship mutually while the other side cringed in misery over missing him and wondering if things could have turned out differently “if only I had ____”. I couldn’t sort out the thoughts driven by emotional angst from those formed from reason and logic. I felt like I had no control over my thoughts or emotions, which as a practicing Buddhist can be a frightening experience. As with many problems and frustrations that arise in my life, I sought to try and find an approach to deal with this through Buddhism.

And yet, the mere thought of turning to Buddhism for relationship advice seemed laughable. Getting caught up in a relationship seemed to break the golden rule in Buddhism: that attachment leads to suffering. And I knew what Buddhism would say: (1) true happiness starts with non-attachment , (2) attachment causes suffering, (3) I became attached to him, therefore, (4) I would suffer. Everything seemed to play out just like the concepts in Buddhism claimed they would. Without really even trying, I turned away from Buddhism as a source of advice, expecting the dreaded feeling  of “I told you so”.

Just a few weeks ago at the library, I came upon a new book from Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh called Fidelity. The brief synopsis on the back cover of the book asks questions like “How can we get a new relationship off to a strong and stable start?” and “How do we take care of our jealousy, restlessness, and loneliness?”. For many Buddhist-themed self-help books, I find the information esoteric and difficult to actually apply to my own personal life. Buddhism itself is very complicated and can even upon understanding the teachings, application can require whole other stage of fluency. What I found pleasant about this book is that for a subject that seems so distant from what Buddhists “should” be thinking about, there is actually a lot Buddhists have to say about how not to think about it.

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Asian Art Museum in San Francisco

During the first week of March, I made a trip with a friend to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Every first Sunday of the month, admission into the museum is free, with the exception of $5 to see the featured exhibit, of which was themed around Bali.

Bodhissatva Maitreya

I was quite impressed with the collection of Buddhist items, with entire sections dedicated to Buddhism from different time periods and regions. Of all the historical artifacts, I would say what became most apparent and valuable as a take-away lesson was the diversity of Buddha imagery in Buddhism, again depending on time periods and regions. As I walked from one room to the next, I sometimes found myself not sure if I was even still browsing the Buddhist exhibit in seeing images I would initially associate with Hinduism or other Eastern religions.

 

Specifically, this statue of the Buddha surprised me. My first impression, as I think yours might be, is that it looks quite like a certain other religious leader popular and dominant in Western culture.

 

Description of Bodhisattva Maitreya

The description of the statue points out certain details that mark this to be a figure of Bodhisattva Maitreya, namely the princely garments and water bottle held in the left hand. Moreover, with origins  inPakistan, it is no wonder that their regional depiction of Maitreya is much different than the Chinese-derived Buddhist images I’m used to.

And though I enjoyed the informative exhibits and felt the museum overall was well worth my time (especially for free), I did notice one detail near the end of the exhibit that triggered a cringe, especially for such a reputable facility.

Asian Art Museum restroom

What do you notice in the picture below? Yes, you’re right. Those are restrooms right across from Buddhist figures that are as much part of the exhibit as any of the other statues. Really? Could they find no where else to put those items? It seems as though in treating the museum items as representatives of history and culture, the curators seem to have forgotten their original function as representatives of religion and faith, a significant factor to consider regardless of whether placed in a temple or museum.

Asian Art Museum in San Francisco

During the first week of March, I made a trip with a friend to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Every first Sunday of the month, admission into the museum is free, with the exception of $5 to see the featured exhibit, of which was themed around Bali.

Bodhissatva Maitreya

I was quite impressed with the collection of Buddhist items, with entire sections dedicated to Buddhism from different time periods and regions. Of all the historical artifacts, I would say what became most apparent and valuable as a take-away lesson was the diversity of Buddha imagery in Buddhism, again depending on time periods and regions. As I walked from one room to the next, I sometimes found myself not sure if I was even still browsing the Buddhist exhibit in seeing images I would initially associate with Hinduism or other Eastern religions.

Specifically, this statue of the Buddha surprised me. My first impression, as I think yours might be, is that it looks quite like a certain other religious leader popular and dominant in Western culture.

Description of Bodhisattva Maitreya

The description of the statue points out certain details that mark this to be a figure of Bodhisattva Maitreya, namely the princely garments and water bottle held in the left hand. Moreover, with origins  inPakistan, it is no wonder that their regional depiction of Maitreya is much different than the Chinese-derived Buddhist images I’m used to.

And though I enjoyed the informative exhibits and felt the museum overall was well worth my time (especially for free), I did notice one detail near the end of the exhibit that triggered a cringe, especially for such a reputable facility.

Asian Art Museum restroom

What do you notice in the picture below? Yes, you’re right. Those are restrooms right across from Buddhist figures that are as much part of the exhibit as any of the other statues. Really? Could they find no where else to put those items? It seems as though in treating the museum items as representatives of history and culture, the curators seem to have forgotten their original function as representatives of religion and faith, a significant factor to consider regardless of whether placed in a temple or museum.

Meditation Program for Prisoners

So I realize that many of my past posts have been about the negative portrayals of Buddhism or Buddhist images in mainstream culture, particularly in the media. I guess in a lot of ways, I find the negative much more interesting to message about.

But just this past Tuesday morning, I heard on the radio a report on Alabama’s most “violent and mentally unstable” prison inmates practicing Vipassana meditation. They’ve seen positive results in the inmates that participate in the program. Yet, the most interesting part of the story for me is the intercultural implications of having a program derived from Buddhist practice in a dominantly Christian state.

The Vipassana technique, though secular, is based on the teachings of Buddha. Soon after it started at Donaldson about a decade ago, the prison system’s chaplains expressed concern that it might not be in keeping with Christian values. The state put an end to the program.

But Hetzel, the warden, saw the dramatic results and brought it back.

It seems a bit ironic that of all places to see a positive, religiously relevant mention of Buddhism in the media, it appears under the context of a prison. Go figure.

You can listen to the whole report on KQED Public Radio’s website here.

“Save the Money”

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVkFT2yjk0A&feature=player_embedded]

I get it. You’re trying to be funny, sarcastic, and witty. You’re trying to think out of the box and use humor that catches people’s attention and makes them actually remember the ad. Instead of Saving Tibet, why not just Save Money. According to Groupon:

The gist of the concept is this: When groups of people act together to do something, it’s usually to help a cause. With Groupon, people act together to help themselves by getting great deals. So what if we did a parody of a celebrity-narrated, PSA-style commercial that you think is about some noble cause (such as “Save the Whales”), but then it’s revealed to actually be a passionate call to action to help yourself (as in “Save the Money”)?

I don’t really think the commercial achieves the sense of satire that Groupon had intended it to. All I think of when I see this commercial is how disrespectful, insensitive and ignorant Timothy Hutton sounds. On their blog, Groupon does explain that…

…you can donate to mission-driven organizations that are doing great work for the causes featured in our PSA parodies. If you guys pony up, Groupon will contribute matching donations of up to $100,000 for three featured charities – Rainforest Action NetworkbuildOn, and the Tibet Fund — and Groupon credit of up to $100,000 for contributions made to Greenpeace.

What do you think of it?

What’s your ‘Inception’ totem?

Cobb's Spinning Top Totem

Venerable Kusala mentioned the movie during his dharma talk with the University Buddhist Association at UCLA and Reverend Danny Fisher wrote a review for the film. I’m sure many others have contributed their two cents on the movie Inception so here’s mine.

The part of Inception that became the most memorable for me was not the gravity-defying fight scenes nor was it the magnificent dream worlds the characters were transported through. Rather, the one part of Inception that really had me thinking was the totem. Cobb describes the totem as a small object used to confirm whether one is in reality or a dream – what an idea! Three totems are introduced in the film: Cobb and Mal’s spinning top, Arthur’s weighted red die, and Ariadne’s chess piece.

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A Compassionate Schedule

Trying to get into the college class of your choice nowadays can be brutal.

If you’re currently a college student, you probably know from experience that because of budget cuts, fewer classes/sections are being offered, more students are attending, and everyone is rushing to get their degree finished. The result: if you want to get into a popular professor’s class, you have to fight for it. While there’s nothing wrong with being proactive and assertive, what ends up happening sometimes is a “every man himself” mentality, which may not create the friendliest peer atmosphere.

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