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3/22/2011

Come Hell or High Water -- You Are Empowered to Help

A death toll of more than 18,000, nuclear radiation, shifts in planetary balance, tsunami warnings along the west coast of U.S. and other parts of the world. . .

All this occurred because The identity of the Japanese people is selfishness. The Japanese people must take advantage of this tsunami as means of washing away their selfish greed. I really do think this is divine punishment” according to Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara.

This is a most unwise and unkind statement for the Governor's own people undergoing an unprecedented natural disaster.

Given that there are also rumblings about how the Japanese people deserve this catastrophe because of their karma (action) of having slaughtered whales, dolphins and other sea creatures, I want to say a little more about the law of cause and effect.

Karma is not a verdict to be slapped on anyone, especially not neighbors in distress. When you see others experiencing difficulty, attempt compassion and know that it is good karma for you to encounter a situation where you may help. Know that better karma will result for you and those in need.

When you experience difficulty, attempt wisdom and accept that, whatever it is you are experiencing is your individual or collective karma and you are now in charge of creating your upcoming karma. Better karma will occur as a result of your assuming complete and total responsibility-- mentally, physically and psycho-spiritually-- because you are responsible for what is in your future.

Once upon a time, a village decided to burn a woman to death for being an alleged phony and whore. The townspeople watched for signs as they wheel-barreled the outcast, all limbs tied and mouth stuffed shut, to the desolate desert to receive her execution. Along the way, they smell wafts of noxious odor. They sneer at each other, giddy as they tell themselves that their judgment is affirmed by the Almighty. They decimate the said criminal until she is reduced to ashes. Upon returning home, they see their houses burned to the ground, releasing a strong stench as carcasses of their dearly beloved cauterize.
Reading natural or man-made phenomena as signs can border on superstition and can be dangerous, especially if constructed or interpreted by a select few with an agenda. Is it possible that these are divine warnings for us to stop blaming the victim(s) and treat them as sacrificial lambs?

Furthermore, I would not be too quick to judge a situation the result of good or bad karma. In the aftermath of a series of disasters in Japan, there are also heartening stories of heroism and caring for neighbors like “the good old days”.

Karma is a web of cause and effect made up of a complex number of elements including: intention, action and outcome involving thoughts, speech and physical behavior that vary in degree depending on the timing, duration, participant(s), number and size of them etc. (Master Zhizhe's Commentaries on the Meanings of the Bodhisattva Precepts). Consequently, karma is not deterministic nor easily determined.

For this reason, leaders and religious institutions must be especially mindful that people are not toys or chess pieces, being enticed or driven according to the propounded interpretation of karma. For the power that be to claim a phenomenon reward or punishment for a specific populations is to demean the intelligence of those individuals, leaving only a bitter taste of condescension behind.

Fortunately, karma can also be simple and empowering. Lest you feel overwhelmed by the troubles of the world and wonder if there is anything else you can do other than make donations, here are a few ways to contribute to a safer and steadier Japan and the earth:

  • Commit an act of kindness. For example, as feasible, send care packages or letters to friends and earthquake victims in Japan.
  • Treasure the earth's limited resources and its sentient beings. For instance, stop wearing leather or fur, shop with our own bags and use less water and energy.
  • Pray, send loving-kindness and dedicate merit. Merit is derived from spiritual practices and acts of kindness. Like invisible capital in the bank, when you accumulate merit you will also be able to share such wealth. Examples of Buddhist spiritual practices include: reciting mantras (e.g., the Great Compassion Mantra) and meditating to alter vibrations and energy fields; reading, reciting, studying, memorizing or copying out sacred texts; repenting and bowing on behalf of humanity and the earth.
  • Maintain personal vows that create conditions for others to do good, e.g., not lying, not stealing, and not creating an environment where unkindness is the norm or is rewarded.
Pick one and do it once every day for seven to 49 days. Tell me what you notice by the end of that period of time.

3/14/2011

Ancient Wisdom Needed for Contemporary Spirituality


via the elephant journal
Photo: Dennis Jarvis
More harrowing tales of sex scandals, money laundering, power struggles and coercive threats. . .
Apparently Buddhism in the West is no different than any other faith tradition. No matter how developed, an organizational structure comes to embody some aspect of unhealthy cultic dynamics— and the denial of such dynamics, or a lack of awareness of them, is one of the most common indicators of this disease.
Health is restored 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.

Large doses of the Dharma are glaringly absent in Buddhism in the West despite the pervasiveness of meditation and occasional emergence of sagely teachers. In this cynicism-prone society, we must admit there are role models; however, teachers are of only two types — exemplars and gauges.

According to Advice for Monastics, a compilation of exhortations by Buddhist teachers and specifically referring to Buddhist teachers here: 1. Exemplars are those who are wise and solid in their practice. They are like light in an enclosed room, filtering through the window cracks. 2. Gauges are those who understand but their practices are full of flaws. They are like crooks who light up the Way with a lamp.

Photo: R. M. Calamar
Obviously exemplary teachers are in the minority and rarely recognized as such, not to mention when they are immersed in groupthinking sanghas that condone or support misconduct or misdirection. This has been the case historically with Shakyamuni Buddha and Devadatta, the Sixth Patriarch and Shenxiu.

For modern societies in the West, instructions of ancient sages must henceforth inform our compass. The Great Wisdom Shastra further argues that we must rely on the Dharma and not on individuals. I believe Buddhism will be different in the West if potential Buddhists and Buddhists have access to a substantial number of Buddhist texts in English.

The quality of teachers and sanghas declined in Asia over time because monastics were too often simply going through the motions and engaging in secular affairs in ways more secular than the rest of society. Buddhist monastics in China, in retrospect for example, had enlightened teachers in their midst but continued on a downward spiral.

One of the major reasons for such decline is that many of the monastics were illiterate and received no further education. They had no interest in and ability to understand the wealth of teachings by the Buddha and sages as compiled in the Tripitaka (the triple basket of spoken words by the Buddha, commentaries and moral guidelines). Even to this day, monastics in Asia continue to be less educated; one online statistic on the literacy of monks and nuns in Taiwan is said to be 60% and 16%, respectively.

Buddhists in the West, whether monastic or lay, male or female, have the propensity and literacy to read about different practices, advice and exhortations from the Buddha and sages on those practices and biographies of those who have awakened through those practices. Unfortunately, only a drop in the sea of Buddhist Tripitaka (whether Tibetan, Pali or Chinese Mahayanan) has been made available in English.
To build that bridge between ordinary people and sainthood, the urgent call now is to translate as much of the Buddhist Tripitaka as possible, in language that is accessible and perhaps created in collaboration. Buddhists in the West need upcoming generations to exemplify this path of practice now!