Youtube Channel: The Compassion Network

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12/27/2010

The Power of Stories



  • Who gets to tell the story?
  • Who gets to broadcast the story?
  • Who gets to underline emphases in any fact, fiction or moral of the story?
  • Who gets to associate the characters with quick sketches of stereotype?
  • Who gets to name the fictional protagonist and antagonist?
  • Who are the real protagonist and antagonist?
  • Who gets to imply good or evil surrounding the language of light and dark?
  • Who gets to impose the choices, or lack thereof?
  • Who gets to embed cultural, generational and other biases, whether unexamined or intentional, in the story? 
Be your stories, the many and the evolving.


    12/26/2010

    New Year Forecasts

    2010 is coming to a close. It is the tail-end of what appears to be the worst three years of financial crisis since the Great Depression. Economists explain that the use of complex derivatives is one of the major reasons for the collapse of large financial institutions, the bailout of banks by national governments, and downturns in stock markets around the world. It became about predictions over how much one quantity is changing in response to changes in some other quantity.

    Though the market and the shopping trends this season may show signs of economic revival, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” is simply insanity, according to Albert Einstein. As long as the banking institutions continue to gamble on the rise and fall of complex formulaic quantities rather than back to the basics, nothing will change.

    My forecast is that derivatives will continue to be played out in the financial markets as well as other sectors. In our personal lives, lest you continue to do what you have always done and expect something different, here are some less complicated derivatives:

    • Do you measure love on the cost of the gift you received this week?
    • Do you measure luck by how many times you successfully avoided cracks on the sidewalk?
    • Do you measure security by having checked that your windows and doors are locked at least three times before you leave the house?
    • Do you measure safety by how perfectly symmetrical your art pieces on the wall are aligned?
    • Do you measure cleanliness on how many times you washed your hands when you come home?

    I consider these behavioral derivatives; the original intent or motivation is subservient to the secondary or tertiary behavior. And I would argue the ultimate intent and motivation to these obsessive-compulsive symptoms and sometimes superstitious actions are our wish for happiness. It is a sad, powerless way of controlling our outer environment, believing that it will makes us less anxious and nervous, that it will make us happier.

    Whether you have a mild to severe case of anxiety this holiday season or you are actually diagnosed with symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), it is your brain chemistry causing discomfort rather than a character flaw. It is possible to redirect your brain chemistry by developing awareness of the discomfort, noticing it without judgment, pausing, then deciding on your action.

    For the new year, for all of us in this anxiety-prone and consumption-oriented society, I highly recommend taking five to ten minutes each morning or evening to just breath and watch your thoughts. You can easily find instructions on being still if you wish. You will certainly discover the benefits of being aware of your thought-stream soon enough.

    Furthermore, for some dear friends whose brains often receive urges to act on obsession or compulsion, I highly recommend Jeffrey M. Schwartz's prescription of a breakthrough treatment based on mindfulness meditation. Here is a summary of his four steps from Brain Lock:

    Step 1 --- RE-LABEL = You must recognize that the intrusive obsessive thoughts and urges are the RESULT of "OCD." You must call the intrusive thought or urge to do a troublesome compulsive behavior exactly what it is! It is an obsessive thought or a compulsive urge. You must develop the ability to recognize the difference between the unpleasant feelings that "OCD" symptoms cause and reality!

    Step 2 --- RE-ATTRIBUTE = You must realize that the intensity and intrusiveness of the thought or urge is CAUSED by "OCD," which is probably related to a biochemical imbalance in the brain . You must ask the question, "Why does this keep bothering me?" And, you must answer it by accepting that you have a medical condition called "OCD."

    Step 3 --- RE-FOCUS = You must work around the "OCD" thoughts by focusing your attention on something more constructive, at least for a few minutes. DO ANOTHER BEHAVIOR by "shifting gears" and performing an alternative, wholesome behavior. You can actually repair the "gearbox" in your own brain by learning how to "RE-FOCUS" in a consistent way!

    This is where the hardest work is done and where the change in brain chemistry takes place. However, things come together very quickly, resulting in an almost automatic response. You can recognize"OCD" thoughts as "false" messages!

    Step 4 --- RE-VALUE = Don't take the "OCD" thought at face value! It is NOT significant in itself. You must "RE-VALUE" those thoughts and urges when they arise. You will learn to "devalue" unwanted obsessive thoughts and compulsive urges as soon as they intrude.

    2011 is the year for change. Do not let your thoughts, obsessions and compulsions drive you any longer. Switch to a happier way of living by repositioning the needle on the record player of your mind. Stop chasing after consumer trends or aggregating by betting on predictions.

    May all be free from the mind's burdens!

    12/05/2010

    Remember to Exercise During the Holidays -- Exercise Empathy!

    
    Identifying a male or female by sight is easier than identifying a male or female brain.
    
    Full from the over-seasoned stuffing and booming television commercials, the holiday party moves closer to the fireplace. Having been immersed in the blinking Christmas lights and the background holiday music for so long, they are long forgotten. Bored, you begin to play the anthropologist in the family, and notice an odd occurrence.

    In one corner of the room are the boys ramming their toy cars into each other, competing to call out the loudest “Zoom, zoom.” Tiptoeing ever quietly toward the boys, you peer at the boys from behind the house plant. You see Jeremy chasing after the boys until, out of the blue, one of the boys shoves him and makes him fall while shouting, “You loser! Fatso! Go away!”

    In the eyes of anthropologist Ritch Savin-Williams, this is how the boys make a bid for social dominance: pick on someone in the group, not only by ridiculing him but also by picking on him physically, and in full view of the others. For you who are observing this group, you must wonder if social dominance comes at the expense of empathy.

    Now let's take a peek at how social dominance develops among the girls. In the opposite corner are all the girls, putting on a play of characters that comment on each other's looks and inquire into each other's feelings. They seem nice enough, attempting to build friendships at first. Overtime, you notice Tami. She is holding the puppets and would accept or ignore other girls' suggestions, sometimes not looking at a girl or making her invisible. At one point, Tami takes a piece of napkin and wipes off a piece of food from her cousin's face.

    According to Savin-Williams' studies, even when some girls do start to hint that they are in control, they mostly do this through subtle strategies--the odd putdown (in words) or the withholding of verbal communication or eye contact. I am sure that you recognize these tactics. The girls’ verbal means for establishing dominance are usually indirect. Tami's apparently caring attitude actually draws attention to the other girl’s clumsiness. Savin-Williams says a boy would simply call the other boy a slob, and invite the other boys to join in a group-ridiculing session of the victim. Both tactics may have the same effect, but the girls’ method is more sophisticated.

    In Simon Baron-Cohen's book, The Essential Difference: the Truth About the Male and Female Brain. He explains the terms, “male brain” and “female brain”, as shorthand for psychological profiles based upon the average scores obtained when testing women as a group, or the average scores obtained when testing men as a group. The psychological profile of a male brain is that it is more systematizing while the psychological profile of a female brain is that it is more empathizing. Of course, this is very different than the sad generalization that “all men have lower empathy” or “all women have lower systematizing skills.” Neither brain type Empathizing nor Systematizing is better or worse than the other, Baron-Cohen explains.

    In the present day and age, however, Daniel Pink argues that "right brainers will rule the world". His point being that in today's world, we can outsource the systematizing part of our brain (left brain activities), such as logical thinking, computer programming, law and accounting; but we cannot outsource right-brain activities such as empathizing, creativity, storytelling, symphony, play and meaning.

    In the increasingly small world and in the interest of “An Empathetic Civilization”, I would hope that science will explore the more empathetic way of leadership that females exhibit and its relationship to survival and happiness at this time in humanity's history.



    For a Buddhist nun interested in seeing more empathy in the world, I am here to share some resources on neuroplasticity research, which let's us know that we are not boxed into only one of two seemingly exclusive types. Furthermore, I suggest that each of us possesses a spectrum of the male and female within us, not just in the brain of the head, but the brain of the body and the heart.

    The Chinese word for mind, heart (physical and literal) and inherent nature are all the same character: 心. This and Jon Kabat Zinn's explanations of mindfulness illuminate for us the idea that our intelligence, emotions and particularly empathy and compassion may not reside in the head alone. Richie Davidson of University of Wisconsin and Mind and Life Institute frequently tells the story of his early visit to Dhamasala. (See him tell the story in the video below, 21:56 to 23:54.) The 200 some resident monks burst out laughing, not at the funny electrode gadget capped on the head that Richie Davidson was using, but that these researchers were trying to measure the head to learn about compassion.




    With that said, we now know that we can choose to be more empathetic or systematic. Breakthroughs in neuroscience show that we can change our brain circuits of emotion; we are capable of changing “the source of the world's suffering [that] is the suffering mind.”

    At a conversation between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Stanford University's CCARE (Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education) scientists in October, Karl Deisseroth described his opti-genetics experiments where a laser beam can delete brain cells to increase or decrease socialability and a sense of nurturing in mice.

    There are numerous legal, ethical and philosophical implications and considerations with this particular research work; however, what is to be underlined here is that science is capable of altering our positive and negative emotions. I would propose that instead of getting botox injections of or permanent alterations to compassion, sociability, peace etc., that we strengthen our own “spiritual laser beams” so that we may choose to be more compassionate, wise or some combination we choose thereof in any situation.

    One enlightened master I know, for instance, was sometimes seen aggressively berating one student on his left side, then turns to wink at the student on his right, then back again, shouting and screaming at the student who needed the anger. My conclusion is that this is someone who has the entire palette of emotions and personalities available to him. He chooses a particular trait or role intentionally, conscientiously and empathically for the sake of the recipient. It is not a multiple personality disorder because he is egoless in any role.

    Contemplative neuroscience has shown that the brain science of meditation changes the brain for the better. Compassion meditation stimulates limbic systems, hence producing intense empathy and joy. Monks with 10,000 hours of practice exhibit significantly greater activism of the limbic systems, which permanently changes the way their brains operate even outside meditation. Like exercising a muscle, meditation is a form of mental exercise that stretches us.

    May we remember to exercise our empathy this holiday season so it is well-prepared for the times when we choose to task it.

    11/08/2010

    Quit Being Upside Down!

    How's this as a refrain for some of your crazy friends!?

    "Quit being upside down! Flip! Flip! Flip over!"

    Funny Pictures
    顛倒的是誰?

    10/26/2010

    Are You Blind? Don't You See, Our Love is Oozing Over. . .

    My parents often told us stories of how they fell in love.

    They were both giddy upon first laying eyes on each other. My father was wearing a striking red and my mother was looking like Snow White. People often commented on how they seemed to have walked out of a Cinderella fairy tale.

    My father revealed though, how nervous he was around my mother. He stuttered every time my mother took off her hat and showed off her shiny hair. “She takes my breath away!” He would mutter, “Mercy, mercy!”

    Noticing this, my uncle, my father's older brother and my mother's boss, long engaged in sibling rivalry with my father, came to make the match so that he may have a sister-in-law on his side. A salesman, my uncle began to cast my mother in a dual mix of ethereal aura and sex appeal. My mother was marketed for her approachability, for her sway of the hips, for her sexy bare ankles and for the way she slowly disrobed to show hints of her oh-so-edible shoulders etc. My mother knowingly took full advantage of her femininity to get what she craved, sending compliments and messages to my father through go-betweens for instance.

    So it is with the effort of my uncle and actually many aunties who made calculated use of feminine wildes that I got here.

    Now how's that for a steamy boy meet girl story?

    Okay, so maybe it's quite tame by today's standards, but I would still guess that certain thoughts and impressions are swimming in your mind right now.

    This demonstrates the power of metaphors and how they too can be absorbed into the depth of our consciousness (the alaya), where free association leads to fantasies, innuendos and finally action.

    As much as we ought to be grateful for our parents' love, a closer analysis of the kind of desire that led to our birth is not a pretty sight. I am not trying to be puritanical, but I do feel an urge to vomit thinking about the dripping blood, sperm and everything else that united my parents.

    Conditional love is a form of craving that leads to attachment rather than liberation; that is my understanding now. I am grateful to be a nun who learned from a teacher who never used marriage, romantic relationships or parental relations metaphorically to encourage Harlequin novel scenes and family entanglements. Instead, he spoke openly about sexual ethics, thoughts and acts of erotic love around him and unconditional love. Compassion is not only for those we love but for those we do not as well. Attempting to love everyone as much as we love our spouse, parent or child is much needed in our increasingly hostile world of mistreatment of the other.

    10/21/2010

    Signs of Meditative Absorption

    To test your progress in meditation and for scientific research into the effects of meditation, consider checking against these physical indicators:

    1. Warmth. Heat and energetic pulsations felt in the body. Most easily felt in the palms and fingertips. The heat spreads to the rest of the body and makes the body softer and more comfortable.

    2. Warmth and energetic pulsations reach the top of the head. Usually begins from the generator of this heat, the dantian (丹田), up the spine, the neck and finally the scalp.

    Depending on your size, the dantian is two or three fingers below the navel and two or three fingers in, deeper into the stomach.

    3. The gap between inhalation and exhalation becomes relatively long. Breathing stops for an extended period of time.

    4. Pulse stops. The heart does not beat for an extended period of time.

    5. Inner breathing begins. It feels like a circular wheel that turns in the cavity behind the dantian (丹田) and tucked close against the lower back.

    6. Thoughts (even the most subtle at the said rate of approximately 999 thoughts per second) stop.

    7. Insecurity about unable to reach this meditative state again dissipates.

    These are physical indicators experienced during the early stages of meditation, compared to the long journey to awakening, that is. Training in developing mastery over physical and mental energy means that you may direct the energy, possibly toward physical healing. Perhaps science will someday prove whether there is any direct link between this type of meditative training and physical restoration.

    10/20/2010

    A Tautology of Buddhist Theology



    A Buddhist can be a Theist.
    A Buddhist can be an Atheist.
    A Buddhist can be both an Atheist and a Theist.
    A Buddhist can be neither an Atheist nor a Theist.




    A Buddhist can be a Theist.
    According to the Mahayana Buddhist cosmology, there are gods, including a God that has dominion over this particular universe.

    The Pureland School of Buddhism in particular and many devotional aspects of Buddhism emphasize faith in omnipotent and omnipresent Buddhas and Bodhisattvas on high.

    A Buddhist can be an Atheist.
    Orthopraxic rather than orthodoxic, a Buddhist focuses on testing hypotheses in practice rather than adhering to a requisite system of belief.

    A Buddhist, particularly that of the Zen tradition, does not have to believe in any Buddha, Bodhisattva, god, godhead or anything divine.

    A Buddhist can be both an Atheist and a Theist.
    A Buddhist can have faith in a God or god-like being, in gods, or in the divine, any of which is the One within and without. Each and every being embodies the One and the One connects us all; to the point there is no more boundary between the self and the One.

    The Mahayana Buddhist cosmology describes heavens where gods reside and hells for the fallen. Heaven or hell can be an experience afterlife as well as a present state of mind. In a mindstate of bliss, we are in heaven, here on earth. In a mindstate of torture, we are in hell.

    A Buddhist can be neither an Atheist nor a Theist.
    One just is. . .

    So that reminds me, I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said, "Stop! Don't do it!" "Why shouldn't I?" he said. I said, "Well, there's so much to live for!" He said, "Like what?" I said, "Well, are you religious or atheist?" He said, "Religious." I said, "Me too! Are your Christian or Buddhist?" He said, "Christian." I said, "Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?" He said, "Protestant." I said, Me too! Are your Episcopalian or Baptist? He said, "Baptist!" I said, "Wow! Me too! Are your Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord? He said, Baptist Church of God!" I said, "Me too! Are your Original Baptist Church of God or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?" He said, "Reformed Baptist Church of God!" I said, "Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?" He said, "Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915!" I said, "Die, heretic scum!" and pushed him off.

    10/06/2010

    The Underbelly of Enlightenment

    “I have got a story the likes of which you have never heard…”

    Until I read Eyes Wide Open by Mariana Caplan and Cave in the Snow by Vicki Mackenzie, I was completely ignorant of the pervasivenesss of the so-called “spiritual gossip”.

    To Caplan, however, it is relatively common for her to hear about how “X” teacher manipulates his or her students into illicit relationships of all varieties, abusing their students on the physical, psychological/emotional, or spiritual level and further damage them with blame. She acknowledges the importance of life-threatening instances and that they do occur, but “most of the infringements are milder — and therefore less visible — including psychological, financial, and sexual coercion. Even more common is the phenomenon of spiritual mediocrity.”

    I have stayed in monasteries where I am weighed over. How much am I worth? What jobs am I good for? Who are my family connections and how much money do they have? I have been threatened with having to pay for monastery stays in either menial labor or rent.

    I recall both my teacher and His Holiness the Dalai Lama pleading that repeat offenders of the serious sort must be brought to light. I continue to wrestle over this, as there is a small voice in me that says wait until I have the opportunity to tell the story in total; meanwhile, adhere to the intent of the Bodhisattva Precepts and do my best to protect Buddhism and its serious aspirants.

    I also recall that both my teacher and His Holiness the Dalai Lama never asked anybody to respect them. They only model respect for others so that their students would emulate in turn. Spiritual mediocrity is too often expressed in idiotic demands such as, “Show me respect, you underling! You are to be abused and ridiculed in this insular realm where I have more power! This form of obedience is very good for you (and certainly for me)!”

    It is only too obvious, of course, that manipulative and sometimes more covert stances such as this only further make clear that these people must be so afraid of what little spiritual attainment they possess, to have to swagger about their only claim to hierarchical authority, “I am senior! I am your teacher! And that's an order, damn it!”

    When there is a large enough number of such individuals gathered, groupthink spreads like an insidious virus. “A spiritual group makes subtle and unconscious agreements regarding the correct ways to think, talk, dress, and act. Shared intentions with respect to practice and protocol become invisible, and institutionalized agreements homogenize the group, offering a level of psychological safety that has little to do with the shared task of spiritual development. Individuals and groups infected with group mind reject individuals, attitudes, and circumstances that do not conform to the often unwritten rules of the group.” (Caplan, 2009)

    There’s no group, no matter how developed, that does not embody some aspect of unhealthy cultic dynamics as part of its structure — and the denial of such dynamics, or lack of awareness of them, is one of the most common indicators of this disease.

    The cure for this disease in the underbelly, then, is not in denying or defending. Instead, peace is made in acknowledging the gnawing games played, in offering an explanation, an expression of remorse and reparation, and in investing patience, open communication and large doses of the Dharma into long-term healing.

    We'll know when we have touched enlightenment with these:

    The 12 Symptoms of Inner Peace - by Saskia Davis

    1. A tendency to think and act deliberately, rather than from fears based on past experiences.
    2. An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
    3. A loss of interest in judging others.
    4. A loss of interest in judging self.
    5. A loss of interest in conflict.
    6. A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.
    7. A loss of ability to worry.
    8. Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
    9. Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.
    10. Frequent attacks of smiling through the heart.
    11. Increased susceptibility to kindness offered, and the uncontrollable urge to reciprocate.
    12. An increasing tendency to allow things to unfold , rather than resisting and manipulating.

    9/26/2010

    The Invisible Elephant in the Room: Death

    What is humanity’s greatest problem? It’s not global warming, not nuclear weapons, not environmental degradation, not even war.

    We die. 150,000 people die daily, 56 million people die annually, a number greater than the population of Canada.

    But we package everything in our society as if death does not exist, as if everything lasts forever.

    The young professional puts in ungodly hours in the hopes of a bigger promotion, forgetting to eat or exercise, the environmentalist stresses and throws temper tantrums while strategizing the next protest, the celebrity athlete consumes hormones or undergoes surgery to suppress any sign of age.

    Transcending the cycle birth and death means we avoid the possibility of repeating this bug-like existence (such as in the Metamorphosis). To do so, we must accept death as imminent. Life is short, so we treasure every moment, every person and every resource.

    We change the world by changing ourselves, particularly by transforming our mind. Mind training sustains compassionate action. Instead of hedonism in the face of imminent death, we use the brief time available to us to develop insight and kindness.

    Resolution for death lies in:

    *Facing it;

    *Accepting it and becoming comfortable with the idea that death is eventual;

    *Using it as a reminder for life while we have it;

    *Transcending it. The assumption that births and deaths repeat in a cycle can refer to the microcosmic death and birth of a thought, an emotion, or an impulse, or the macrocosmic death and birth of a life in this time and space. Time and space are relative and in fact an illusion as Einstein pointed out. Hence, it is also possible that the micro and macro are very much related.

    Either way, salvation arrives upon awakening. And in short, the real solution to resolving the problem of death is to wake up to it.

    8/29/2010

    Without Compassion, What Hope?

    Race relations, immigration, Ground Zero and many other issues are sparking debates across a wide spectrum of politicos and religious.

    What does an apolitical Buddhist nun wish to offer?

    I used to have strong opinions about various issues related to what I perceive to be discrimination and injustice. Why? I was an immigrant to the United States at the age of ten. Having personally experienced differential treatment based on my ethnicity and culture, one of my first jobs I took on after college was a civil rights investigator. Constantly searching for discrimination with detective magnifier tore me apart emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. And now as a Buddhist nun looking to celebrate differences among traditions, I recognize that in general, Western theories of justice begin with the intention to legitimize and ensure the individual's freedom to pursue his or her own interests.

    Consequently, justice can mean different things to the family of the victim and the family of the perpetrator. According to Sallie King's Buddhist critique of popular conceptions of justice, justice is often associated with these four common forms of politics that perpetuate conflict instead of ending it:

    1. Identity politics: The sense of victimhood nourishes suffering and keeps it going generation to generation.
    2. Righteous indignation: The angry sense that we are justified and the others wrong.
    3. Justice: The insistence on finding justice before there can be peace.
    4. Revenge: In particular the concept of justice based on retribution perpetuates conflict.

    Bishop Desmund Tutu stirs us to confront injustice with this, "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." I believe this requires skillful means and consideration for the long term out of compassion, rather than a strident attitude of “anti-injustice”.

    It is said that to generate genuine compassion, one needs to realize that one is suffering, that an end to suffering is possible, and that others want to be free from suffering too. Furthermore, as Sharon Salzberg explains, "Sometimes we think that to develop an open heart, to be truly loving and compassionate, means that we need to be passive, to allow others to abuse us, to smile and let anyone do what they want with us. Yet this is not what is meant by compassion. Quite the contrary. Compassion is not at all weak. It is the strength that arises out of seeing the true nature of suffering in the world. Compassion allows us to bear witness to that suffering, whether it is in ourselves or others, without fear; it allows us to name injustice without hesitation, and to act strongly, with all the skill at our disposal. To develop this mind state of compassion...is to learn to live, as the Buddha put it, with sympathy for all living beings, without exception."

    For instance, a Buddhist woman was harassed, cursed and spit upon with vituperation by a gangster on the street. The hoodlum only succeeded in frightening the woman in the end, but she was quite upset by the incident. When the woman reached her teacher to ask what she should have done, “What would have been the appropriate, Buddhist response?”

    The teacher said very simply, "You should have very mindfully and with great compassion whacked the attacker over the head with your umbrella."

    I do not think justice as a virtue can be or should be done away with for the society at large; but when I perceive injustice, I accept it as my karma. The law of cause and effect has time and again proven to me that I am responsible for what I experience. When I perceive others experiencing injustice though, I try to mindfully act from any or all of the following bases:

    1. The law of cause and effect. I determine my future karma depending on whether I alleviate, exacerbate or remain indifferent to the pain of any and all parties involved. It is not to be used as a concept to ridicule others or worse, intensify their difficulty.

    2. Common humanity. Compassion is not reserved for only those who are compassionate to us or any specific sector of individuals, but all beings. All beings wish to leave suffering and attain happiness. Most fundamentally to Buddhists, all beings have the potential to realize awakening. “All sentient beings have the Buddha nature, no different than the Buddha himself.” (Avatamsaka Sutra)

    3. Interbeing. We are all intimately connected in some way or another, “Our natures interpenetrate and interconnect in infinite intersections.” (Avatamsaka Sutra)


    Reflecting on those who have experienced grave injustice acknowledged by all -- Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and others -- they never asked for justice avenged; instead, they ask for compassion even for those perpetrators against them and their people. So too, in the well-known conversation the young Buddha had with his cousin, the Buddha held the swan Devadatta shot down and cared for it because, “A life belongs to one who tries to save it, not one who tries to take it."

    What is noteworthy from the Buddhist perspective too is that compassion requires a big heart that is not particularly sticky with a person or issue. This non-attachment allows us to access a pause before we respond to a challenging situation. Action or non-action from that objective state of mind prevents further aggravation and aggression. I know when I ask for compassion for myself, it is hardly about standing up and fight for myself. Compassion for myself is about the ceasing of anger, guilt and resentment -- it is about forgiveness. Along that line, I only wish compassion for all, may all suffer no more and may peace make their hearts full.

    8/07/2010

    Save the Date - The Alchemy of Our Spiritual Leadership: Women Redefining Power


    Calling all women of spirit and faith! 
    ~ Save the date ~



    The Alchemy of
    Our Spiritual Leadership:
    Women Redefining Power


    April 28 – May 1, 2011


    Opening Keynote Speaker:  
     Sister Joan Chittister.
    Voted "the most inspirational woman alive" in a recent survey!


    This is NOT
    your typical women's conference!
    Imagine the energy of more than 300 women ready for inspiration,
    deep wisdom and potent co-creation.

    Registration opens September 1, 2010 


    Convened by Women of Spirit and Faith


    7/30/2010

    The Religion of Homonyms, Not Harmony

    If we were in Hong Kong, you would not want to see me first thing in the morning. Why? Because the Chinese do not want to see a bald head first thing in the morning! A bald head is partly a homonym for emptiness (空), and as usual, the Chinese thinks about money and how that is symbolic of an empty pocket!

    Food is such an important part of the Chinese culture and food selection among those with a penchant for lucky homonyms may determine their diet. For example, pineapple (黃梨 or 鳳梨) is a most popular fruit because in Taiwanese it sounds like “prosperity arrives” (旺來). A white sponge cake (發糕) is loved too because it is pronounced as fa gao, “get rich and climb high” in Mandarin. Stir-fried squid is an unpopular Chinese dish because it is the homonym for the slang, “You're fired!” (Thank goodness for vegetarians!) Watermelon (西瓜) is unlucky because it symbolizes returning to the Western Pureland, a heaven after death.

    Fear of death is so prevalent in the Chinese culture, and many cultures, that the Chinese avoid the word “death” and its homonyms, such as the number four (4). Conversely, a favored digit among the Chinese is eight (8) because it means affluence or growing wealth.

    Avoided and favored as they are, the death rate has not slowed and the gap between the rich and poor has not changed. In fact, sometimes the same words take on utterly opposite meanings in different Chinese dialects.

    Looking beyond the quirky surface of homonyms, they really are reflections of a culture and its values. Affluence (八), births (三), longevity (九), victory and other prized possessions are symptoms or the fingers doing the pointing, rather than the moon of superstition. These values reflecting a culture and thoughts running through the minds of individuals are entertaining, though somehow sad.

    Reflecting on the intentions of those who arrange their lives around homonyms, I see, at the least, humor mostly at the expense of others; at its most egregious, self-preservation embroiled in a framework of materialism and progeny, us vs. them, and winning vs. losing. Using said and unsaid homonyms rather than straightforward communication only make the intention of the instigators more palpable. For example, repeatedly sending emails at 4:44 PM to someone with the tacit understanding that “four” bespeaks of death, the notes begin to take on a tone of “Death! Death! Death!” Is it a curse, a death wish, or a threat?

    The intention of someone who attempts to cast mystery around his teachings may be: “I am going to use it on you until you get used to it!” “You should get ready for death anyway!” Note the smugness of “I have the teachings or Lady Luck on my side, and I am now pointing out how flawed you are. Yes, I have the power to reward you and condemn you! Damn it!”

    (Well, I have the power to return your gift, thank you very much!)

    This reminds me of a story. Two American disciples went with their teacher to Asia. During the tour they watched their teacher yell at everyone who came to him, a very different way of teaching than in the U.S. The students noted it and when their master was away for a couple of days, they imitated their master and started yelling at everyone in sight, screaming at women for desiring equality, telling the non-whites that it is their karma for not being Caucasians or using profanities like cow shit. Whether they meant to break people's attachments or not, people got up and left. And deservedly so, they got a huge scolding from their master for their blind imitation.

    I remember knowing some people in my life who were so good at communicating non-verbally using this type of coded language, not just to communicate personal desires to the universe, but to communicate with each other about collective action that is damaging -- of course it is damaging, otherwise why would they not communicate succinctly, explicitly and openly?! It is a means of communicating without leaving a trace, so they may never be accused of having instigated any harm. This is especially practiced by those who love a respectable facade. Unfortunately, too many people interested in preserving their personal or organizational face become so entrapped in their “status”, their “status quo”, they skew the proper means that initially led to their current status.

    In the West, there is superstition around the number 13. People alter their behavior and day because of it. I hear Nancy Reagan avoids travels on the 13th. The strange ritual of the soccer manager before the World Cup games fascinated many too. Psychological pressure among politicians, CEO's, gamblers, sports figures and celebrities engaged in fierce competition may drive them to superstitious behavior. Superstition and ritualistic behavior impose a sense of control in the midst of fear, particularly fear over uncertainty.

    For those who adhere to some faith tradition, superstition can also become rationalized as signs from God. To me, the difference between intuition and imagined messages is calculation. One slips in and acts before our rational mind even realizes while the other wraps itself in the shrouds of wondering and personal judgments.

    The problem with any obsessive compulsive superstition or a constant focus on arranging externals so they somehow mean luck to us, is the lack of inner peace. The mind is actually a mess of thoughts garbled and gnarled several times over with different drama. As Walter Landon noted, "As soon as we wish to be happier, we are no longer happy." The association of cultural patterns, personal fears and desires, and the maneuver to display them in exactly one way or another are like unceasing waves in the mind.

    Even if we were able to go through life trying to arrange lucky signs around us, we may never discover the serendipity in the clarity of inherent tranquility and the joy from committing a random act of kindness.

    Venerable Master Hua and many have said that the Dharma is on its decline in Asia. Religious about superstitious double entendre rather than a mind of peace and acts of compassion, faith is misplaced more often in win vs. loss, us vs. them, and holy vs. evil. In the West and increasingly in countries with better education, those on a spiritual path understand to trust their direct experience, to test their assumptions and examine their paranoia and hungers.

    With less superstition and more mindful witnessing of our thoughts, speech and action, we can “lead all beings to the fruit of kindness and joy. It is not the fruit of the Truth or good and evil; it is the meditative absorption for understanding the nature of that entity emptiness.” (The Braham Net Sutra)

    7/01/2010

    48 Hour Mantra Marathon for Peace -- July 4th Weekend

    Test your fortitude for peace!

    48 hours to pray for peace over the Fourth of July weekend. TCN Buddhist Center offers this nonstop mantra marathon for the survival of our planet and prevailing harmony among our indigenous brothers and sisters, fellow Americans and world citizens.

    Researchers such as Harvard pioneer Herbert Benson have found that by directing the energy of sacred syllables as a collective, healing locally and in the distance occurs. Besides wishes for peace, half of the funds raised at this event will be donated to ACRS Walk for Rice.

    Please register for meals in advance.
    Suggested Donation is $30 for vegetarian meals during these 48 hours.
    RSVP:
    http://www.meetup.com/TheCompassionNetwork/calendar/13773898/

    6/14/2010

    Stepping into A New Realm



    High School was a nightmare for me. I shiver at the thought of cliques shouting out their daily popularity index for their favorite cheerleader, back-biting and finger-pointing too often played out in the bathrooms for some reason, slick rumor mills and imitated moves meant to seduce in those pre-pubescent bodies. Unkindness was reserved for their targets, but really for the perpetrators.

    Unfortunately, high school continues for many who never grow up.

    In one of my first tastes of a women’s leadership workshop, I was dumbfounded by a list of shadows named. I never knew this was a common experience among women; I thought I was alone in my experience.

    For twelve years I tried to drop my civil rights investigator knack at detecting discrimination until I reached a comfortable place where I was more often looking beyond gender, race, color, creed, religion etc., and seeing into the Buddha nature of each being I encountered.

    Stepping into the territory of women of spirit and faith not only affirmed some observations that I never acknowledged but also made me realize that I was more comfortable among religious women. I am a straight though celibate nun, mind you, but “It’s just a feeling” that I am more comfortable with spiritual women. Not Asian religious fundamentalists of any tradition and not men who control and overpower. I sometimes dismiss “this feeling” because it is nothing rational or logical, and yet I am comforted and comfortable with how feelings are accepted as valid and intuitions are considered important among women of spirit and faith. Though I am very good at being logical and analytical, I cannot find all the answers through thinking. I stop thinking for answers.

    This non-analytical and non-linear stream of consciousness is precisely what many spiritual seekers practice, including me on my Buddhist path. This and other inner spiritual methods may resonate with women who are interested in depth and deepening, perhaps more so than hands stretched toward the sky in the hopes of a hand extended in return.

    This type of thinking (non-thinking mode), capable of being mastered by both men and women, requires awareness, egolessness, collaboration, being open to or even embracing differences through non-judgment, care, kindness and compassion. Qualities lacking in many earlier models of leadership, now more than ever, need to be brought to the fore.

    6/13/2010

    A Chinese Mahayana Nun’s Many False Names

    A pointed finger or stutters sometimes replaces my name. Why? English speakers have trouble pronouncing it, and which part? Is it just Guo? Is it pronounced Go, Gwo? Cheen – is it Chin or like Cheetos with an “n”? And with or without the Reverend as a title? Or is it Sister, Venerable or some other honorific?

    I appreciate people asking, and yet sometimes I do not seem to have a strong preference. I wonder in my head: Who am I? Will you ever know me?

    I went with Cheen or Reverend Cheen because I think it is easier for people. It is also part of the Chinese Buddhist tradition to only call a monastic by his or her unique part of the Buddhist name (in my case, Cheen) plus the title “Dharma Master”, so it would be most polite to call me 琴法師 (Dharma Master Cheen). OMG! I much prefer the casual friendliness of the western culture considering the sound of that!

    Creating an identifier easiest for people was the exact reason that my father gave me my legal name “Linda” at the age of ten when our family immigrated to the United States. Just try and pronounce Long-Chyn! And I don’t even have a long chin! Actually, it’s a meaningful name that contains a Chinese character that loops to my father and his siblings’ names; similarly, the names for my father and his siblings contain a Chinese character that loops to my grandfather’s generation. The linked characters together mean “prosperity” or “universe” etc. Each person also has a unique character to his or her first name.

    Having used “Linda” as a label for nearly 30 years, I then tried to completely erase that identity. I discovered permanent remnants of Linda in not only the identity of my spirit, psyche and social circles, but most certainly on social security papers! Yes, papers may be biodegrade, but that "Linda" is in the records for a long time!

    I also discovered that my Buddhist names (yes, there are a few – inner, outer, refuge, novice, ordained, aliases and perhaps some posthumous name will be granted me) contain those meaningful connectors too. Sometimes they become said reasons for hierarchy and oppression.

    And I don’t know whether it’s a cultural thing or it is the virtue of respecting the Triple Gem (the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, of which I am a monastic member), but there are all kinds of grand titles that accompany every little nun like me! But again, it is for those who call on this entity to earn the karma of being respected in turn when respecting others, especially toward members of the Buddhist monastic order, according to Buddhist thought.

    Etiquette grew out of this idea and perhaps the Asian culture aided it. Monastics uniformly have the surname of “Shr”, a transliteration for "釋" in Chinese , which is a transliteration for the Sanskrit "Shakya", the family name of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni. For Chinese monastics, this Shr is sometimes confused with Shi (師), transliteration for the abbreviated version of Dharma Master or Dharma Teacher (法師).

    In case you are not confused enough, here is an all-too-linear listing of the names by which I have been identified.

    Metamorphosis: 王隆琴 (Wang Long-Chyn), Linda Long-Chyn Wang, Guo Cheen/果琴, 釋親弘, 釋近廣, Reverend Cheen/果琴法師

    I love my late teacher, Venerable Master Hsuan Hua – see, there’s another title with no last name and sometimes referred to as Master Hua – and how he designates true names for himself such as Tiny Ant, Crazy Monk, Little Mosquito, Living Dead Man, Monk in the Grave, etc. More importantly, these are expressions of the lightness of his ego, an attitude toward the status quo and like Thich Nhat Hanh’s poem in an earlier post, “Please Call Me By My True Names”, an easy understanding of how connected we are, so connected that we readily morph into each other and all beings.

    Now, that’s freedom I can lick by licking all those many names!

    6/07/2010

    A Prescription for Happiness: A Twelve Step Program

    If only I were slimmer. . .
    If only I had the money to . . .
    If only so-and-so were my partner . . .
    If only these people knew who I will be someday . . .
    If only I were born into a different family . . .

    We fantasize about how perfect our lives would be if and only if those “if only’s” were realized. We imagine how the requisites, if met, would make us complaint-free and happy forever and ever.

    Start observing all the movies, programs and advertisements that promise to increase our happiness, directly or indirectly, if we buy what they are trying to sell. Pay attention to the externals that we desire and buy to make us happy or happier.

    I chased after achievements all my life. I told myself how I wanted those grades in elementary school, high school, college, and graduate school. I pursued the similarly illusory success in the real world. When I thought I had made it, it was a let down, a “dreadful hoax” as Alan Watts observed.

    A sense of deep dissatisfaction and restlessness remained despite the external approvals. I sought meaning. I learned to let go, first the peace and recharge from temporary letting go’s for a day, a weekend, and a week or longer retreats. Then I learned to let go for the long run by joining an order of monastics. People whom I thought would support my path of peace turned out to be petty and controlling. I was evicted from where I thought was my life-long retreat only to pick things back up again.

    Through it all, I started to notice what makes me happy from within and built on that. Internal happiness is free, within my control and cannot be taken away by anyone. This time, I was to let go of the self that wanted to let go. The self is the ego, which is linked explicitly with the phenomenon of "othering," rather than the sturdy sense of self that is by any reasonable measure a healthy thing. In Tenzin Palmo's words, it is "this tight little sense of solidity in the center of our being which is 'me,' and which therefore makes everything else into 'non-me.'" Ego is not so much a thing, then, as a condition: a narrowness and a paralysis and a grievous limitation.[1]

    To generate internal happiness, therefore, simply stop thinking about ourselves and help others. The less we think about ourselves and the more we help others, the happier we will become. Our brain secretes positive chemicals corresponding to our positive emotions.[2] When we help someone, we are being generous with our time and personal resources. We are being brave because we are not afraid of losing out while we are helping someone else, instead of ourselves. Plus, we experience the feeling of love and well being when we help someone. [3]

    Hence, I learned to apply the law of cause and effect to my advantage, which is the law of attraction in the mind, with speech and with action: do onto others as you would want done onto you.

    For instance, I started giving away what I could, such as packed lunches with notes of encouragement for the homeless I know I always see when I go downtown. Although I had no bank account, no house and no income at the time, I felt that I had enough to share. As a mendicant, I relate to the homeless. Consciously I was not asking for anything in return, and yet I felt reassured of my current and future abundance because, after all, I have so much to share. In addition or perhaps due to the messages that my body and mind receive in not having to panic about poverty, I attract rather than repel opportunities for further material abundance.

    When I am afraid, I notice the sudden onset of anxiety attacks. I acknowledge those thoughts and sensations, then notice the other side of the coin of fear, bravery. I never feel one side unless I own both sides. Someone who has never known happiness could not tell you what sadness feels like, someone who has never known sickness could not tell you what health feels like, and someone who has never experienced poverty could never know wealth when they encounter it. So I put, for the time being, that seemingly feeble part of me to use. The more I use that muscle to help others alleviate their fears, the more my personal fear diminishes or dissipates.

    With sound intentions and balanced mindfulness, we reap what we sow, but the “we” is redefined. By helping others sow, all involved reap similar effects. Do unto others as we would want done onto ourselves is not only a moral imperative but a practical strategy for getting what we want in life.

    A Twelve Step Program to Happiness

    1. Compassion

    Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, vow to cultivate compassion and to learn the ways of protecting the lives of people, animals and plants.[4]

    2. Generosity

    Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing and oppression, vow to practice generosity by sharing time, energy, and material resources with those who are in real need.[5]

    3. Faithfulness

    Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, vow to cultivate responsibility and learn ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families and society.[6]

    4. Honesty

    Aware of suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to the suffering of others, vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering.[7]

    5. Mindfulness

    Aware of our thoughts, emotions, speech and physical sensations, label them as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral instead of creating entire dramas around them

    6. Non-duality

    Acknowledge that for every aversion or attachment that surfaces, we also embody their opposite.

    7. Non-judgment

    Note that stressors are effervescent and let cease the discriminating analytical mind’s critiques and aversion.

    8. Pause

    Take a few deep breaths and open ourselves up to the consciousness of the body, to a higher level of consciousness or to the universal hum.

    9. Presence

    Enjoy being fully present in the now, without worries about the past or the future. Abide in the open spaciousness and stillness, savoring any sense data that come to us at that point and any messages that emerge for us.

    10. Action

    Do onto others as we would want done onto us. Use the law of attraction to bring the effect we want into our lives by committing some small act of kindness everyday.

    11. Dedication

    Direct the invisible capital from our good deeds and kind thoughts to ourselves and others.

    12. Gratitude

    Be grateful for all that we have and received.

    As Alan Watts reflects, life, as "in music, one does not make the end of the composition, the point of the composition." It was a musical thing where we were supposed to sing or dance while the music was being played. And therein lies happiness.

    [1] Carol Lee Flinders. Enduring Lives: Portraits of Women and Faith in Action. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.

    [2] Michael Anthony. How to be Happy and Have Fun Changing the World. http://www.howtobehappy.org/free-happy-e-book.html

    [3] Michael Anthony. How to be Happy and Have Fun Changing the World. http://www.howtobehappy.org/free-happy-e-book.html

    [4] Thich Nhat Hanh. For a Future to Be Possible: Commentaries on the Five Wonderful Precepts. Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1993.

    [5] Thich Nhat Hanh. For a Future to Be Possible: Commentaries on the Five Wonderful Precepts. Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1993.

    [6] Thich Nhat Hanh. For a Future to Be Possible: Commentaries on the Five Wonderful Precepts. Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1993.

    [7] Thich Nhat Hanh. For a Future to Be Possible: Commentaries on the Five Wonderful Precepts. Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1993.

    6/05/2010

    Making History with the Buddhadharma!

    Translating the Commentaries to the Flower Ornament Sutra Now!
    弘揚佛法於西方!

    I'm inspired today to share an idea for how you can make history for the English-speaking world. I believe you are kindred protectors of the Dharma who would wish to bringing Commentaries and Sub-Commentaries on the Avatamsaka Sutra 華嚴經疏鈔by National Master Qing Liang清涼國師 into English for yourself, Westerners and English-speakers all around the world.
    I am living up to a vow of helping to share the Dharma in the West and English-speakers by translating Buddhist texts. Please see the translated preface to the Commentaries to the Avatamsaka Sutra. Just by reading the draft translation will give you shivers of awe, understanding, and strengthened Bodhi resolve. Read the English and Chinese preface here -- http://www.thecompassionnetwork.blogspot.com/
    Read the Chinese in its entirety here – http://player12345.myweb.hinet.net/web/C8.htm
    This is exquisite and enlightening literature that will awaken our understanding of the mind, cosmology, the magic of interconnectedness to all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. It is knowledge that will broaden our minds and humanity’s minds in a whole new way.
    The catch is that this translation has only begun. We need that extra bit of excitement, juice, and support to get it started. This can be an opportunity for a movement of merit-making and blessing-building. Time, talent and treasures are all welcome.
    If you're with me in recognizing that this translation simply has to be completed (and soon!), here is our three step-idea for how we do it by creating a big wave of buzz this week:
    * Read the translation
    * Donate $1 at The Point today to help make it and gain access to it - more gets your name in the credits!

    * Invite 5 friends to read the translation and do the same today - I've put an invite sample below.
    Simple! For ten minutes and $1 or more, you can be a history-maker for Dharma in the West!

    In Infinite Interconnectedness,
    Guo Cheen

    ******Template below this line*****

    Dear friends,

    Let's make history for the Buddhadharma! Check out the following translation and if you're as inspired as me by its lofty and all-embracing principles, pass it along to 5 friends today and help it spread like wildfire.

    http://www.thecompassionnetwork.blogspot.com/
    I'm donating $1 to translating the Commentaries and Sub-Commentaries to the Avatamsaka Sutra and I'll announce its completion to 10 friends when it comes out, which shows the translator(s) that they have support and will persist. I invite you to join me in doing the same.
    The world needs more ancient wisdom that wake us up and this text can deliver. Let's make it happen!

    5/31/2010

    TCN Buddhist Center

    Moved to North Seattle and into a studio that is the new TCN Buddhist Center! Come by and tell a friend in the area to visit!

    TCN Buddhist Center
    11024 2nd Ave. NE
    Seattle, WA 98125
    upper corner unit in the building center of the block
    Email: TheCompassionNetwork@gmail.com
    Tel: 253-332-6752

    Open any time where there is an activity on the schedule below:

    TCN Buddhist Center Calendar(2)

    5/29/2010

    Learn Rare Buddhist Teachings Firsthand!

    OBJECTIVE
    Translate the Commentaries and Subcommentaries to the Flower Garland Sutra.
    TERMS

    If we reach at least $791 by June 29, 2010, then We will translate the first fascicle of the Commentaries to the Sutra in one month.

    Here is the preface to the Commentaries by a preeminent Buddhist monk who taught seven Chinese emperors:

    大方廣佛華嚴經隨疏演義序

       唐清涼山大華嚴寺沙門澄觀述
    至聖垂誥。鏡一心之玄極。大士弘闡。燭微言之幽致。雖忘懷於詮旨之域。而浩瀚於文義之海。蓋欲寄象繫之跡。窮無盡之趣矣。斯經文理。不可得而稱也。晉譯幽祕。賢首頗得其門。唐翻靈編。後哲未窺其奧。澄觀。不揆膚受。輒闡玄微。偶溢九州。遐飛四海。講者盈百。咸扣余曰。大教趣深。疏文致遠。親承旨訓。彷彿近宗。垂範千古。慮惑高悟。希垂再剖。得睹光輝。順斯雅懷。再此條理。名為隨疏演義。昔人云。人在則易。人亡則難。今為解釋。冀遐方終古。得若面會。然繁則倦於章句。簡則昧其源流。顧此才難。有慚折中。意夫後學。其辭不枝矣。

    The Preface to An Elaboration on the Meaning of the Commentaries to the Great Means Expansive Buddhas Flower Garland Sutra
    By Sramana Cheng Guan of Tang Dynasty’s Avatamsaka Monastery, Qing Liang Mountain

    The final teachings of the utmost supreme sage reaches the most ultimate and mystical in the singular mind’s mirror. By the candle, Bodhisattvas vastly and comprehensively proclaim the subtleties of these words. Though they may be forgotten in the zone of meanings interpreted, they are extensive like the sea of literary meaning. If you wish to know the elephant overall, you must begin by understanding its footprints; that way you will reach inexhaustible meanings. The principles to this text are said to be unattainable. Xian Shou grasped rather well the mystical intricacies contained in the Jing Dynasty version of the sutra translation; but those of latter generations were not able to peek into the profundity contained in the enchanting compilation of the Tang Dynasty edition o of the sutra translation. Cheng Guan does not accept superficial conjectures; instead he willfully expounds on its fine esoteric points which occasionally brim over the nine continents and soar above the four seas. There had been more than hundreds of speakers, I really do not mean much. The meaning of the great teaching is profound and the commentaries reach principles afar. By personally inheriting the instructions that are close to contemporary schools of thought, they become models who will last for millenia. Worried or confused over lofty awakenings, I hope that you will further dissect the principles so that we may behold its light and comply with their elegant intent. Furthermore, these principles are called the proclaimed meanings in the accompanying commentaries. People in the past said, “Things are easy when people are around; things are difficult when people are gone.” Hopefully these explanations today will reach those throughout lands and times. Though people come face to face with this text, they may grow weary of the passages due to their complexity or they may be blind to their source due to the simplicity of the text. Considering these difficulties, I shamefully compromised in the hopes that students in the future will not go astray in their understanding of the meanings.

    Badges

    5/23/2010

    Women of Faith and Spirit: Exploratory Conversation 2

    What is the special contribution of women to spiritual leadership?

    An exploration with 25 women on the leadership style, paradigm and next steps for women of faith and spirit.

    5/16/2010

    A Buddhist Offering: Anticipations for Science

    Inspired by the Wisdom 2.0 Conference and the recent research on neuroplasticity, I offer some musings that scientists may consider for further research. I am not a scientist and certainly would skew the data were I to do research given my likely preferential intent with the outcome; fortunately, I am merely someone who grew up with a scientific education. Affirmed by scientific research more often than not, I look forward to more resonances between science and Buddhism.

    Inner World


    Stanford University’s pioneer researcher, Phillip Goldin, shared his research data on two types of meditation: samatha and vipasannā, or focus and open awareness. Each produces unique signals in the brain.

    I am intrigued and wonder what the brain imaging data might show for the meditative practice of dhyāna, or zen koans inquiring into the "I", the self, by asking "Who?" "Who is this I?" "Who is it that is reading?" "Who is it that is listening?" "Who is it that is smelling?" etc. What might the brain show when it is being contemplated upon as nonexistent?

    The Shurangama Sutra specifically recommends this meditative inquiry through the sense organ of ear, as opposed to the eye, nose, tongue, body or mind, the sounds, sights, smells, tactile objects of touch, or thoughts, the ear consciousness, eye consciousness, tongue consciousness, body consciousness or mind consciousness. What does our brain show when we use different meditation methods based on an aspect of a sense faculty? How does the speed of the sense data affect the quality of our meditative experience, e.g., the speed of light for images versus the speed of sound? How much of the sense data do we absorb then mimic, become inspired or depressed through mirror neurons?

    Mirror neurons appear to intersect with the Buddhist idea of consciousness, of which there are six sense consciousnesses that collect data, a seventh consciousness that transports the data and an eighth (ālaya ) consciousness that acts as a repository. According to the Consciousness-Only School of Buddhism, all sense faculties, bodies, lands and realms all come into being because of the ālaya consciousness. Here is Thich Nhat Hanh's translation of a verse from Verses Delineating the Eight Consciousnesses:

    How immense is the Unfathomable Triple Store!
    From the deep ocean of the Store arise the seven waves of the seven
    evolving consciousnesses,
    This consciousness receives impregnation, preserves all seeds and also the
    body, organs and environment.
    It is the one who comes first and leaves last,
    being truly a master of the house!

    Obviously the implication here is that every piece of sense data we come across is experienced by the brain as a personal encounter, as if being perfumed. What programs, education methodology, life style choices can we create and promote to elevate us so that we and our children become kinder, wiser and more at peace? (I have some ideas if anyone is interested in hearing more!)

    Outer World

    The fascination with finding the ultimate building block may have moved beyond materialism, but it is still an attempt at conceptualizing the universe or multiverse. Quark is now shown to be the conceptual elemental unit, and it is 99% emptiness. The string theory makes sense of the "point" and vibrating waves but may be struggling in some mathematical fog.

    On the matter of numbers, there is a metaphorical and metamorphosing relationship between zero, one, ten and infinity in Buddhist texts. I was struck by the string theory's ten dimensions, which parallels the Avatamsaka Sutra's cosmology. Ten is the number of dimensions for worlds. Each dimension continuously multiplies itself into multiple dimensions; hence infinity. And yet infinite and multiple galaxies fold into one thought or one hair pore, and finally experiencing time and space non-conceptually.

    With one dharma, all dharmas are created; with all dharmas, one dharma occurs. Dharmas cannot escape their interrelatedness and can never stand on their own. Infinite conditions of the Dharma Realm come into being because of the mind alone. . . In endless layers, the one and the many accommodate each other; the large and the small enter one another; the one is the myriad dharmas and the myriad dharmas are just the one -- they interpenetrate and pervade without obstructing each other. (A Brief View of the Avatamsaka, a manuscript.)


    The idea is demonstrated with one candle and ten mirrors.(See sample photo here.) The zero of the absence of inherent nature in the material candle is embodied in the one candle. The one candle is reflected in the ten mirrors while each of the ten mirrors further reflect ten more. The repetition occurs so that we see infinite candles.

    I also offer ten theories and their analogies according to the Avatamsaka cosmology for possible scientific exploration:

    1. The theory of totality. For instance, one drop of water in the ocean is replete with flavors from hundreds of streams.
    2. The theory of transcending dimensions of space. For instance, a small television set can display what is happening in different parts of the world.
    3. The theory of mutual accommodation. For instance, lights from a thousand lamps in a room interfuse.
    4. The theory that the attributes of dharmas are just the inherent nature. For instance, waves and water cannot be apart from one another.
    5. The theory of manifesting noumenon. For example, one individual can simultaneously be a son at home, a manager at work, and a parent at school without impeding one role over another.
    6. The theory that the inherent nature of each phenomenon does not debilitate one another. For example, one Buddha may sit in a minute dust mote to turn the great Dharma wheel and establish the land of jeweled kings on the tip of his single hair.
    7. The theory of inexhaustible nature. For example, the sheen of pearls referred to in the Indra's Net metaphor intersect, making appear layers upon layers of reflections.
    8. The theory of knowing autumn with one leaf. For example, casually pick an item or an event and see infinite Dharma Realms.
    9. The theory of the nature that transcends time. For example, one flies through a hundred years in a night’s dream.
    10. The theory of role reversals. For example, one Buddha emerges in the world and thousands of Buddhas guard that one Buddha.

    Behavioral Indicators


    It appears that most of the research on a core virtue being studied, compassion, measures some form of proactive giving, whether monetary donations or a helping hand. There may be more indicators of compassion for researchers to consider.

    Mahayana Buddhism names the Ten Pāramitās as practices for Bodhisattavas, enlightened beings who wish to be compassionate to themselves and others, and these are:

    1. Dāna pāramitā: generosity, giving of oneself
    2. Śīla pāramitā : virtue, morality, discipline, proper conduct
    3. Kṣānti pāramitā : patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance
    4. Vīrya pāramitā : energy, diligence, vigor, effort
    5. Dhyāna pāramitā : one-pointed concentration, contemplation
    6. Prajñā pāramitā : wisdom, insight
    7. Upāya pāramitā: skillful means
    8. Praṇidhāna pāramitā: vow, resolution, aspiration, determination
    9. Bala pāramitā: spiritual power
    10. Jñāna pāramitā: knowledge

    Rendering these in more specific actions for contemporary observation, I consulted the Brahma Net Sutra's prescription for Bodhisattvas. Here are a few indicators of compassion for consideration:

    * Refrains from fault-finding, slandering, or gossiping about others.
    * Accepts blame and endures humiliation and slander on behalf of others.
    * Seeks conciliation and forgiveness humbly, rather than revenge.
    * Counsels others to change for the better.
    * Refrains from selling or storing deadly weapons.
    * Promotes conflict resolution and peace.
    * Maintains a vegetarian diet to reduce demand for slaughter.
    * Cares for the elderly and the sick.
    * Rescues the dying, including creatures large and small.
    * Commits no arson.
    * Leads with just use of authority, inspiration and service.
    * Committed to help widely and for the long-term.


    May this offering of random thoughts lead to the understanding and application of wisdom and compassion. May all beings be happy and at ease.