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I spend much of my time as a Buddhist Sunday School teacher trying to fit my lessons to the specific personalities of the class. For the three years I’ve been teaching each group of students has been so different that I seldom use a lesson twice. One exception, which I eventually try with any and every group is called the Red Green Game. I love it, and there is almost nothing on the internet about it, so I shall describe it for our lovely readership.

I first played the game in a Psychology class at a community college, and its magic works just as will with third graders as it does with back-to-school Moms: It is a game designed for you to lose, and to have no one to blame but yourself. Continue Reading »

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.

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.

Right now I am editing a book of Chinese Buddhist Literature, and as such am chin-deep in Chinese Buddhist lore. I find the stuff immensely fascinating. I think that some Buddhists are much too quick to poo-poo the “cultural” elements of Buddhism. A religion is far more than its scriptural teachings: it is the teachings as read and practiced by its adherents. Buddhism is found in its aesthetics just as much as its orthodoxy.*

That being said, the one thing that shakes me is that, time and time again, it seems like the way to know that a given figure is enlightened, the way to know that they’ve really got it figured out, is when they don’t act anything like one would think an enlightened person would or should behave.

It makes so little sense, but, coincidentally, that seems to be the very thing that such a trope is least interested in making. The concept of the enlightened person as the antithesis of an enlightened person assumes that this latter ideal, the standard and agreed upon garden-variety, halo-wielding enlightened being exists.

Continue Reading »

If I hadn’t made a stupid resolution to post at least once every month, I would not be writing this post tonight. I would be meditating—because I didn’t meditate this morning. But that’s still no excuse for not meditating.

The most consistent challenge I have to face in my daily practice is dealing with the limitless excuses that bubble up—the excuses that tell me I really don’t have to meditate. I don’t have enough time today. I can meditate better tomorrow. I don’t need to meditate every day. It’s so easy, so tempting to just go and sleep or check the news or eat or shop… But the truth is, I always have time to meditate. I always have ten minutes to squeeze out of my schedule.

For me, inspiration isn’t as much of a problem as is discipline. I am well aware that the biggest lie I tell myself is that meditation is not a priority. So here are some techniques I use for days like today—long days tucked between nights of less than four hours’ sleep.

Continue Reading »

There are not many great Buddhist writers. This is not an accident; good writing is just not an aspiration for most Buddhist teachers. The Dharma is shared in words, practice, shared experience, and community. Writing carries with it the necessity of saying something new and valuable to as many people as possible, while the domain of a good teacher is to impart what is old and worn and true in the way which speaks to the heart of the individual whom most needs to hear it.

That is why I am fascinated by the curious case of Master Yin Guang (印光), a pre-Civil War Chinese Pure Land master. Master Yin Guang lived most of his life in seclusion on the Buddhistically sacred Mount Putuo off the coast of southern China. He did not perform lavish ceremonies or amass skads of lay and monastic disciples. But he did write.

He wrote letters.

Continue Reading »

When I find myself in the company of loud and proud Buddhists during a quiet moment, I like to ask the question: How do you talk to people about Buddhism for the first time?

I have gotten many answers, and coupled with most responses is an acknowledgment of the difficulty of the endeavor. Buddhism is a huge topic, awash in a jargon whose impenetrable status drops farther and farther from mind with each attended retreat.

I’ve seen Buddhism described in opposition to other religions, stressing the non-godliness of the Buddha and the rationality its teachings, but this seems to be not stating Buddhism on its own terms. I’ve seen explanations grounded in the Buddha’s life which do a great job of framing the concerns of Buddhism, but can make Buddhism seem less immediate and relevant. I’ve seen and attempted personal appeals, drawing out the differences and benefits measured in my own life. This approach is only effective for people who are willing to listen to me describe the intense Buddhist significance of giving up potatoes.

Of course, people have been answering this question since the time of the Buddha, in one form or another. My favorite are historical accounts of interactions with Buddhists; because they answer a related but slightly different question: How does a non-Buddhist talk to people about Buddhism for the first time? What are the most pertinent details. Continue Reading »

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?

It’s all over the front page of the Nation. “Thailand’s most revered monk; a guiding light has passed on.” Luangta Maha Bua had an enormous influence on Thai Buddhism, culture, politics and even the Thai economy. You can read some recent pieces about Luangta Maha Bua at Wandering Dhamma, where the author had the great fortune of being able to speak with him. For those who’ve never heard of this charismatic old monk, it is hard to relate how huge an impact he had on Thai Buddhism—not to mention what his passing may mean for the future of the Thai forest tradition. Much more to say, but those are my thoughts for now.

My thanks to Bhante Sujato for altering us of this sad news.

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