Buddhist monks

Violent raid breaks up Burma mine protest

Thomas Fuller, New York Times: Security forces in Myanmar mounted a violent raid on Thursday against Buddhist monks and villagers who have been protesting the expansion of a copper mine. The crackdown was the largest since the civilian government of President Thein Sein came to power 20 months ago.

Witnesses said dozens of monks and other protesters were injured when the security forces used incendiary devices that set fire to protesters’ encampments outside the offices of the Chinese company in charge of the project. The company has a partnership with the powerful military in Myanmar, formerly Burma.

Photos from Burmese online news sites showed …

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Karma confusion in Malaysia

Karma is one of the most misunderstood Buddhist teachings, even among Buddhists. For example, a number of medical students in Malaysia reportedly decided to quit their studies because they’d been told by a monk “that patients should not receive medical treatment for their condition as sickness is the result of their karma.” The had become convinced “that they should not become doctors as the act of treating patients [would] interfere with karma.”

The monk seems to be rather atypical, and “allegedly claimed that he had supernatural power and was able to tell the past and predict the future of the students.” It’s possible that he’s a charlatan, or even that he’s mentally ill.

But ideas like this do tend to pop up from time to time, and so here are a few arguments against this particular take on karma.

First, the Buddha specifically stated that not everything that happens to us in the present moment is a result of karma. He pointed to physiological and environmental factors as affecting us, as well as the actions of other people. The earlier Buddhist commentators enumerated a number of forms of conditionality that included physical causality (physical and chemical laws), biological causality (which would include things like viruses and other diseases), mental causality, karmic causality, and also a form of transcendental causality. I won’t go into all of this, but it’s clear that neither the Buddha nor early Buddhists believed that karma was the only thing affecting us. Certainly our mental states and the choices we make can affect our health, but even Buddhas get ill.

Secondly, the Buddha stressed compassion, himself took care of the sick, and encouraged his monks to take care of the sick. “Whoever would tend to me, should tend to the sick,” he is reported as saying.

Thirdly, following from this, there are ample provisions in the monastic code of conduct allowing for medicines. Our unnamed monk would be well aware of this!

Fourthly, the Buddha said that trying to figure out what’s the result of karma is an “unconjecturable that is not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness and vexation to anyone who conjectured about it.” Although perhaps it also works the other way around: that people who are mentally ill are more prone to have delusions about karma.

And lastly, if it was indeed the karma of sick people that caused them to be sick, then wouldn’t it also be their karma that brought them into contact with a doctor?

The Buddha taught compassion. He taught us to recognize that other people’s sufferings are as real to them as ours are to us. And on the basis of this we should empathize with others and seek not to cause them suffering but to relieve suffering when we can. Here’s Dhammapada verse 20:

All tremble at violence
Life is dear to all
Putting oneself in the place of another
One should neither kill nor cause another
to kill.

This is the Buddhist version of the Golden Rule.

And in the Saleyyaka Sutta the ideal practitioner is described like this:

There is the case where a certain person, abandoning the taking of life, abstains from the taking of life. He dwells with his rod laid down, his knife laid down, scrupulous, merciful, compassionate for the welfare of all living beings.

Now I’m sure that this monk would argue something like “it’s more compassionate to let being suffer from sickness because it allows their past karma to come to fruition,” but a view like that is very far from the kind of compassion that the Buddha advocated.

In a conversation on the now-defunct social network, Google+, Denis Wallez pointed out the corollary that is karma determines everything then it brings sick people into contact with doctors and suggested that the antidote to such gullibility (thinking here of the medical students rather than the monk) was to get people to read more of the Pali canon, which contains ample evidence to contradict the idea that the sick do not deserve treatment, and more importantly to encourage critical thinking. The Buddha himself, in the Kalama Sutta, famously encouraged us not to believe something just because some monk says so!

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Dalai Lama appoints American as monastery abbot

Via NPR.

Michel Martin: if you wanted to predict just who the Dalai Lama might select to lead one of the faith’s most important monasteries, you probably wouldn’t think about a boarding school educated, globe-trotting New York photographer whose grandmother was one of the most celebrated fashionistas of her time, but that’s just who the Dalai Lama did select, saying his, quote, “special duty is to bridge Tibetan tradition and the Western world,” unquote.

Nicholas Vreeland is the new abbot of the Rato Monastery in India and he joins us from there now. Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

NICHOLAS VREELAND: Thank you. It’s an honor to be here.

MARTIN: Now, in my introduction I made it sound as if you’re some sort of fish out of water, but when I think about it, probably not. You were born in Switzerland, lived in Germany and Morocco and New York. Your father was a diplomat. Your mother was a poet, and fashionistas will certainly know that your late grandmother was the longtime editor of Vogue magazine.

So I wanted to ask if, in a way, all this was preparation for your life now.

VREELAND: Well, I don’t know that it was preparation. I suppose that living in a lot of countries prepared me for living in a Tibetan refugee settlement where the monastery that I belong to was reestablished, but I’ve been here now – I’ve been a member of this monastery for over 27 years, and so it’s sort of home.

MARTIN: How did you first learn about Buddhism? And if you can describe it, what do you think it was that appealed to you?

VREELAND: I was in a French school in Germany and I began reading Tintin books when I was about six or seven, so Tintin and Tibet was my first introduction to Tibetan culture, to Tibetan Buddhism. Then I went to – I should say I came to India in 1972 to visit my godfather, who was the political officer in a little then country, now part of India, called Sikkim. It was a Tibetan culture that Sikkim had with Tibetan Buddhism as their religion. That was my introduction.

MARTIN: What is it that you think appealed to you, if you can even describe it?

VREELAND: It puts the responsibility for where you are on your shoulders. We, by our past actions, determine where we are today. How wealthy I am, how healthy I am, the opportunities that I have – all of those things are determined by my own past virtuous or non-virtuous actions.

MARTIN: Can you remember when you decided to become a monk? And I am assuming that that’s kind of a complex process and decision, but to the degree that you can, can you tell us why you think you chose this path?

VREELAND: I was working as the picture editor for the Vanity Fair that was being reestablished. We were working on the dummy issue and I was studying with my teacher, a Tibetan Lama in New York, and my mother had been discovered to have cancer, and all these different influences made me realize that to devote my life to a spiritual path was the most valuable thing I could do.

MARTIN: If you’re just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We’re have a Faith Matters conversation with the venerable abbot Nicholas Vreeland. He is abbot of one of the most important monasteries in Tibetan Buddhism, the Rato Monastery in Southern India, and he’s telling us about his journey to that place.

And you know I want to ask you your family reacted when you told them that you were becoming a monk. I can imagine that Diana Vreeland, who was so committed to style and fashion, was not as enthusiastic as one might think about your shaving your head and committing to a life of saffron and red robes.

VREELAND: No. She wasn’t very enthusiastic, but she understood it. She had seen me become more serious about my study of Buddhism, my practice of Buddhism. We were very close. The years before I came here to become a monk, I spent a few of those years actually living with her. My parents were both very supportive and understanding and have remained supportive, as has my brother.

MARTIN: Now, could you tell us about how you reacted when his holiness, the Dalai Lama, selected you to become the abbot of this important place in Tibetan Buddhism? How do you – how did you react to that?

VREELAND: Well, it was really a surprise. I must say that I’m sitting in the abbot’s chambers in the monastery here in the south of India. I helped design and rebuild the campus of the monastery recently and never would I have imagined that I would be inhabiting these quarters. I mean, it’s just – I might have designed it rather differently had I thought that I would end up here. It came as a big surprise.

MARTIN: Could you tell us about the ceremony when you were officially enthroned?

VREELAND: Initial ceremony was the investiture, which took place in California, actually. His holiness, the Dalai Lama, proclaimed me the abbot and I made three prostrations and made an offering to him and he then offered me a scarf and said congratulations to the new abbot of Rato Monastery and then advised me on just what he wished me to do.

I then came to India to assume my position. It was a sort of formal procedure. Early in the morning, at 5:00, I was led from my room in the monastery to the abbot’s chambers and I was told to sit on the throne and then the administrators made three prostrations before me and made symbolic offerings. And then, after prayers were said in my room, I was led to the temple and there in the temple were all the monks of Rato seated and they all bowed when I came in and I made my three prostrations to the throne of his holiness, the Dalai Lama, and assumed my position on the throne of the abbot.

And then each of the monks in the monastery came and offered me a symbolic white scarf, which is a sort of Tibetan way of showing one’s respect. And that was it. I was the abbot.

MARTIN: And there it is. As we mentioned earlier, the Dalai Lama, his holiness, said that he felt that your mission is to unite the two or to be a bridge between the traditions and the Western world, so I hope that we will speak again, that maybe we could be part of that, you know, bridge.

But before we let you go, I wanted to mention that you’ve been the director of the Tibet Center in New York for some time now, and so I envision that you’d be going back and forth. What else do you think it means to be that bridge? Do you have any sense of how else you envision that role?

VREELAND: What I can bring as a Westerner, as someone born, raised and educated in the West, to this very, very traditional, ancient world – Tibet was a country that was totally closed off to the rest of the world until 1959 and the monastic traditions helped maintain a curriculum which was extraordinary – which is extraordinary, and I wouldn’t want to, in any way, tamper with that.

However, it is necessary that we bring modern day procedures to this society, so that’s one part of my responsibility. The other is helping to bring my knowledge and experience of this world, this Tibetan world, to the West as a Westerner.

But ultimately all I can really do is be myself wherever I am, and my self is a Tibetan Buddhist monk. My self is an American. And so wherever I go, just being myself as best I can is the way in which I might be actually bridging these two worlds.

MARTIN: The venerable Nicholas Vreeland is the abbot of the Rato Monastery. It’s in Southern India. He’s also the director of the Tibet Center in New York, but we were able to reach him in India.

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Tibetan monks at Musikfest to make mandalas, meditate and chant for world peace

wildmind meditation news

Sienna Mae Heath, Lehigh Valley, PA: Monks at Musikfest will set the tone for a peaceful yet energetic festival this year.

The Tibetan monks of the Drepung Loseling Monastery will perform for several days, starting with a mandala sand painting ceremony noon Thursday at Handwerkplatz and ending with the closing ceremony 6:30 p.m. Aug. 6 when the monks will hand out half of the sacred sand to audience members and then pour the other half into a nearby body of water to spread its healing properties throughout the world.

The monks will make a mandala design out of millions of grains of colored sand during the mandala sand …

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Meditating Buddhist monk saddles up for Olympics

He’d prefer enlightenment to a medal, but when Japan’s horse-riding Buddhist monk Kenki Sato saddles up for London 2012, he’ll be representing one of the Olympics’ more unusual families.

Shaven-headed Sato, who starts each day with a morning prayer, is following his younger brother Eiken, who also trained as a priest and rode at the Beijing Games. His sister, Tae, 24, is a five-time national showjumping champion.

And his father, Shodo, who heads a 460-year-old temple and adjacent horse-riding club, was a member of Japan’s equestrian team before the 1980 Games in Moscow — only to have his Olympic dream dashed when Japan boycotted.

Kenki Sato is …

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Stanford studies monks’ meditation, compassion

Meredith May: Stanford neuroeconomist Brian Knutson is an expert in the pleasure center of the brain that works in tandem with our financial decisions – the biology behind why we bypass the kitchen coffeemaker to buy the $4 Starbucks coffee every day.

He can hook you up to a brain scanner, take you on a simulated shopping spree and tell by looking at your nucleus accumbens – an area deep inside your brain associated with fight, flight, eating and fornicating – how you process risk and reward, whether you’re a spendthrift or a tightwad.

So when his colleagues saw him putting Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns into …

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Mood of meditation at Buddhist Temple

John Curry, Stittsville/Richmond EMC: Except for the intermittent sounds of traffic passing by on Hazeldean Road filtering into the building and the ticking of a wall clock, silence reigned in Stittsville’s Cambodian Buddhist Temple on Thursday evening, May 17 as Bhante Kovida led attendees through meditation exercises.

One involved moving the hands in a rotational cycle, while touching the body at certain points. These movements and touches enhance a person’s awareness of the moment and helps eliminating random thoughts from the mind. In this way, these hand and arm movements are a roadway to a state of meditation.

This exercise was followed by a …

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Ever mindful: Buddhist monastics practice simple life of meditation in Mississippi

Kristina Goetz: Before dawn, a Buddhist monk stands beneath a tall pine in a long brown robe the color of Mother Earth. He rings a bronze bell suspended from a low-hanging limb to signal it’s time for walking meditation.

By the light of a crescent moon, monks and nuns in the same brown robes walk slowly, silently. The crunch of gravel and the tap of footsteps on blacktop are the only sounds in the cool air. They focus on two things: breathing and walking. They may silently repeat a simple phrase.

Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in. Breathing out, I

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Buddhist temple in Bedford, Mass., embraces its Thai traditions

Lisa Kosian, Boston Globe: Except for the statues of Buddha at the entrance, the Boston Buddha Vararam Wat in Bedford looks more like a New England home than a religious temple with its roots in Thailand.

The three arches in front are due for some adornment, said Rojana Laplume, a temple member; that is on the “to-do’’ list, along with finishing work on the monks’ living quarters upstairs.

To help with such work, as well as upkeep costs, the small community of Buddhists, predominantly from Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, is reaching out to a wider audience, with its first fund-raising dinner and concert …

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Penn class teaches students how to live like monks

Associate professor Justin McDaniel’s religious studies class on monastic life and asceticism gives students at the University of Pennsylvania a firsthand experience of what it’s like to be a monk.

Students participating in the class are required to observe disciplines drawn from various monastic traditions, including refraining from using any technology other than electric lighting, quitting coffee and alcohol, avoiding physical contact and prolonged eye contact, and eating only unprocessed foods.

Students also have to follow a dress code, with males wearing black shirts and females wearing white shirts, and males and females have to sit on opposite sides of the classroom.

That’s not all.

No makeup, jewelry or hair products. Laptops are prohibited; notes can be taken only with paper and pen. And don’t even think of checking your cellphone for texts or email.

The disciplines are introduced gradually, but there is a full month of intensive restrictions that begins in mid-March:

Students can only eat food in its natural form; nothing processed. They can’t eat when it’s dark, nor speak to anyone while they eat. They must be celibate, foregoing even hugs, handshakes and extended eye contact. No technology except for electric light. They can read for other classes, but news from the outside world is forbidden.

Students are required to confess and acknowledge any transgressions of the rules in their class journals.

There are no exams for the class, which is graded entirely on the basis of participation and personal integrity.

Students see many personal benefits flowing from participation in the class.

As a nursing major at the Ivy League school in Philadelphia, [sophomore Madelyn] Keyser [20, of Castro Valley, California] said she hopes the class will help her become more observant and a better listener to her patients.

Students also have to write in a journal every 30 minutes during their waking hours. And required course research cannot be done online — students must consult books and librarians, or have conversations with religious leaders.

Freshman Rachel Eisenberg said she enrolled because it’s important “to figure out yourself before you can really help other people.”

“It would give me a chance to really listen to myself and focus on my needs and feelings,” said Eisenberg, 18, of Miami.

There were 100 applicants for the course, but this was whittled down to 17 students.

McDaniel’s course sounds like a fascinating way for students to learn about themselves.

via the Houston Chronicle

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