Buddhist monks

Burmese Forces Fire on Protesters

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Aung San Suu Kyi

The peaceful pro-democracy uprising led by Buddhist monks in Burma (Myanmar) came to a head as the military dictatorship’s troops attacked monks and lay supporters.

Government security forces cracked down for a second day on nationwide protests, firing shots and tear gas, and raiding at least two Buddhist monasteries, where they beat and arrested dozens of monks, according to reports from the city of Yangon.

At least three monks were killed in clashes with Burma’s security forces who cracked down on anti-government protests in Rangoon according to anonymous government officials. One monk was reportedly killed when a gun went off as he tried to wrestle the weapon away from a soldier, while two others were beaten to death, the official said.

The government of Myanmar began a violent crackdown on Wednesday after tolerating more than a month of growing protests in cities around the country. Security forces clubbed and tear-gassed protesters, fired shots into the air and arrested hundreds of the monks, who are at the heart of the demonstrations.

Despite threats and warnings by the authorities, and despite the beginnings of a violent response, tens of thousands of chanting, cheering protesters flooded the streets, witnesses reported. Monks were in the lead, like religious storm troopers, as one foreign diplomat described the scene.

In response to the violence, the United Nations Security Council called an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss the crisis, but China blocked a Council resolution, backed by the United States and European nations, to condemn the government crackdown.

An earlier peaceful uprising in 1988 was crushed by the military, which shot into crowds, killing an estimated 3,000 people.

At the United Nations, President Bush on Tuesday announced a largely symbolic tightening of American sanctions against Myanmar’s government. The European Union threatened to tighten its own sanctions if violence was used. On Wednesday, the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, said the first step after any meeting of the Security Council should be to send a United Nations envoy to Myanmar.

The Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, and Desmond Tutu, the former archbishop of Cape Town and antiapartheid campaigner, have spoken out in support of their fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy leader, who has been held under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years.

Myanmar Forces Fire on Protesters – New York Times

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Monks seize troops in Burma town

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The BBC reports (Monks seize troops in Burma town) that Buddhist monks have taken about 20 members of the security forces hostage in central Burma, a day after clashes at a protest rally.

In Burma (officially Myanmar) democracy and military dictatorship have been playing seesaw for decades. After liberation from Japanese occupation at the end of Word War II, was first under civilian leadership, but then in an ominous move, army Chief of Staff General Ne Win formed a caretaker government in 1958.

1960 saw elections and a win by U Nu, but then the military took over again in 1962. In 1974 power was transferred to a nominally civilian People’s Assembly — formed and run by the former military leaders. in 1990 the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi won a general election, but the military did not recognize the result. If this is a game of seesaw, then the military dictatorship is playing Moe to democracy’s Calvin.

The governing military dictatorship has persecuted minorities, hounded pro-Democracy activists, kept Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest on and off for 11 years, and has generally mismanaged the economy to the point where people are rioting.

The monks had been involved on Wednesday in an anti-government rally where security forces had fired rounds into the air. The officials who are being held captive had come round to the monastery the next day to apologize, only to be seized and to have their vehicles set alight.

This isn’t very monastic behavior, but given the situation we can’t help applauding them. According to the BBC the monastery is surrounded by hundreds of people who have gathered to support the monks, and the security forces are afraid to approach.

In June of this year US diplomats held talks with Burmese government ministers in Beijing to press for Aung San Suu Kyi’s release and to discuss the regime’s behavior, but reported that the military dictatorship showed no signs of softening its stance.

The regional grouping Asean (Association of South East Asian Nations) is also losing its patience with Burma, frustrated by the government’s continued refusal to progress towards democracy, the poverty it has causes, its tolerance of corruption, its human rights abuses and high levels of black market trading, which includes the smuggling of gems, drugs, and sex-workers into neighboring countries.

Burma is friendless in the region, but in January of this year China and Russia vetoed a draft US resolution at the UN Security Council urging Burma to stop persecuting minority and opposition groups.

Internal dissatisfaction with the ruling junta has been simmering for years and there’s no guarantee that the military dictatorship will relinquish power, but we can keep our fingers crossed that the actions of these feisty bhikkhus will inspire the Burmese people to restore democracy.

In the meantime you can read more about Burma, and opposition to the junta, in the US Campaign for Burma‘s website. (The website of the British equivalent is currently down).

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Toddler’s dance destroys monks’ intricate sand painting

toddler destroys mandala

Destroyed sand mandala (Inset: security footage of toddler running over the mandala)

Thanks to Dave Csonka for passing this along:

Talk about a test of faith.

Eight Tibetan monks spent two days cross-legged on the floor at Union Station, leaning over to meticulously create an intricate design of colored sand as an expression of their Buddhist faith. They were more than halfway done.

And then, within seconds, their work was destroyed by a toddler.

Monks are bald, so they couldn’t rip their hair out. But were they angry? Did they curse?

No. They simply smiled and started over.

“No problem,” said Geshe Lobsang Sumdup, leader of the group from the Drepung Gomang Monastery in southern India.

The whole story is at KansasCity.com (archived copy).

These sand mandalas are intended to be demonstrations of — and trainings in — impermanence anyway. Monks spend days making very elaborate patterns by pouring sand, and then they ritually destroy the image, often pouring the sand into water. So that Lama Sumdup was unfazed by the artwork’s premature demise was a sign that the practice was working as planned.

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Meditation may bolster brain activity (WebMD Medical News)

Meditation may not only produce a calming effect, but new research suggests that the practice of Buddhist meditation may produce lasting changes in the brain.

Researchers found that monks who spent many years in Buddhist meditation training show significantly greater brain activity in areas associated with learning and happiness than those who have never practiced meditation.

The results suggest that long-term mental training, such as Buddhist meditation, may prompt both short and long-term changes in brain activity and function.

Buddhist Meditation May Change the Brain

In the study, which appears in this week’s online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, researchers compared the brain activity of eight long-time Buddhist monks and 10 healthy students.

The average age of the monks was 49, and each had undergone mental training in meditation for 10,000 to 50,000 hours over the course of 15 to 40 years.

The students’ average age was 21. They had no prior experience in meditation and received one week of meditative training before the start of the study…

Both groups were asked to practice compassionate meditation, which does not require concentration on specific things. Instead, the participants are instructed to generate a feeling of love and compassion without drawing attention to a particular object.

Researchers measured brain activity before, during, and after meditation using electroencephalograms.

They found striking differences between the two groups in a type of brain activity called gamma wave activity, which is involved in mental processes including attention, working memory, learning, and conscious perception.

The Buddhist monks had a higher level of this sort of gamma wave activity before they began meditation, and this difference increased dramatically during meditation. In fact, researchers say the extremely high levels of gamma wave activity are the highest ever reported.

The monks also had more activity in areas associated with positive emotions, such as happiness.

Researchers say the fact that the monks had higher levels of this type of brain activity before meditation began suggests that long-term practice of Buddhist or other forms of meditation may alter the brain.

Although age differences may also account for some of the differences found by this study, researchers say that the hours of meditation practice, rather than age, significantly predicted gamma wave activity.

Researchers say more studies are needed to look at whether differences in brain activity are caused by long-term meditation training itself or by individual differences before training.

Read the rest of the article…

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Learning the Robes: 11-year-old devotes summers to sampling the monastic life (Anchorage Daily News, Alaska)

KRISTA MAHR, Anchorage Daily News, Alaska: Five minutes ago, Oni Malamon had his hair shaved clean off for the third summer in a row. He sat on his heels on a towel in the basement of Wat Dhamma Bhavana Buddhist Center, a Thai Buddhist temple on a suburban street in South Anchorage. His eyes were squeezed shut, one cracking open periodically to watch two monks’ orange robes as they spread shaving cream over his head.

Getting bald was the second step that 11-year-old Oni, whose full name is Natachai Malamon, took in June to live as a novice monk for the summer at Wat Dhamma Bhavana. The first step was asking if he could.

As a novice, Oni gets a glimpse of a monk’s life: He sleeps at the temple, wakes up for chanting every morning at 5:30, eats only (mostly) before noon, practices meditation and learns how the principles of Buddhism can apply to everyday things. Like keeping his room in the temple clean.

Glops of shaving cream and hair fell on Oni’s baggy black jeans.

“Why do you have to do it so hard?” he asked. Two monks took turns with the old-fashioned metal razor, encouraging Oni to put his hands back together in prayer now and then to officiate the event. They scraped neat rows in the shaving cream.

“Hey, I feel bald. I need some hair in my life,” Oni said to no one in particular.

His little sister, Oum, sat on a low, green vintage couch, watching the procedure. Their grandmother was upstairs, waiting for the small ceremony in which Oni would be ordained.

“You look like Grandpa now,” Oum, 9, observed.

Oum has inquired about being a nun, an option for girls and women, but isn’t interested in sacrificing her shoulder-length black hair, which some nuns do.

“You’re next,” her brother warned.

The monk leaned in toward Oni’s face. “No, not my eyebrows!”

Oni has been a novice monk three times already: as a 3-year-old in Thailand after his father died and for the past two summers here in Anchorage. He lifted a lanky arm. “How about my armpits?”

Oni’s eyebrows were gone with two swipes of the razor, pale patches of skin left under the ghost of fine black hair. The Venerable Sarit Phunjan leaned in to take a digital photo. Oni grinned and gave a thumbs-up for the camera.

Later, upstairs with his shirt on and his hair off, Oni moaned, “My girlfriend’s going to see me bald.”

In Thailand, it’s common for young men to spend some time removed from the world, either as novice monks or, when they reach age 20, full monks. In Alaska it’s more rare, but every summer novices come to stay at Wat Dhamma Bhavana and other Buddhist temples in Anchorage for anywhere from a few days to the whole summer.

Novice monks of Theraveda Buddhism, the branch practiced widely in Thailand and throughout Southeast Asia, are ordained in the same way that full monks are. (High monks’ ordination is different.) After a request to become a novice, the boy gets a set of robes and has his head shaved by the monks at the temple.

During the ceremony, Oni officially received the robes from the temple’s senior monk. He’ll wear them for the rest of the summer. At the temple, he’s required to follow 10 training rules of Buddhism. Full monks follow more than 200 rules of conduct.

In the prayer room upstairs, the temple’s senior monk read the 10 rules to Oni, and Oni repeated them back: Do not kill, steal, engage in sexual misconduct, lie, drink, eat after noon, wear makeup or any scent, dance or sing, sleep on a mattress, or spend money as you would in the secular world.

The robes, which aren’t kid-sized but can be folded to fit big or small people, were handed over.

Once Oni got help with the complicated folding process, he returned upstairs in the robes and sat on his heels in the middle of the ruby carpet in front of four of the temple’s five monks (one was visiting a temple in North Hollywood). He bowed from his waist and was promptly told how to do it right. Phunjan took another digital video.

Oni sighed loudly and tried again.


It was Oni who asked his mother, Supamit Khuntavichai, if he could come back to live at Wat Dhamma Bhavana this summer. During the school year, Oni and Oum visit the temple every weekend with their grandmother while their mom works as a housekeeper in a hospital in Anchorage. Their immediate family of three moved to Alaska in 1996 from Udon Thani in northeast Thailand.

Oni’s mother misses him when he’s not at home for months at a time, she says, but it’s up to him how long he stays.

“The monks teach him to be nice and a good boy,” Khuntavichai says in the temple’s kitchen after a Sunday-morning food blessing.

She wants him to learn about Thai culture. In Thai communities outside of Thailand, monks are vital links to the cultural, social and spiritual worlds that are a part of daily life back home.

“You can use everything you learn in monk life in a normal life,” says Somchai Thonkratok, who left the monastic order two months ago to work for BP Alaska on the North Slope.

One thing Oni was not banking on this summer was wearing his monk’s robes to math class.

He can deal with living away from home, all the way across town, during this summer between fifth and sixth grades. He can sacrifice warm evenings hanging around with friends from school to sit around with five men more than twice his age. He can handle his girlfriend seeing him with the pale scalp of a freshly shaved head.

Clothes were another matter.

But things change. First, there was the offer Oni couldn’t refuse: His mother would give him $100 if he’d wear his robes to summer school until the last day of class in late July. He said the only thing kids at school asked him is if he ever gets to change colors.

Second, there was the matter of the robes themselves, a subject on which Oni has developed some expertise since his ordination in June. After continually being late to morning chanting because he was too slow folding the robe, Phunjan took him aside and showed him some tricks.

Now he’s pretty fast. Not only can he do his own robes, he’s teaching the new novices how to do theirs.


In early July, it’s a full house at Wat Dhamma Bhavana. Three novice monks, ages 7, 12 and 18, have joined the temple for a few weeks, and it’s Oni’s job to show them the ropes.

During the blessings before lunch, in which all the monks sit in a row to chant, Oni sits next to Phailuck Rasavong, the youngest novice. When the boy’s hands drift unconsciously from prayer to his lap, Oni props them back up for him. When he starts to lean over from morning fatigue, Oni gently nudges his shoulders back against the wall.

After the food blessing, as the formality of the chanting wears off, the boys sit down at their table to load their stomachs for a long period without solid food. Monks don’t eat after noon, though novices can drink Ovaltine or eat yogurt and ice cream as the day wears on and hunger pangs set in.

“I want some eggs,” Phailuck says after surveying a table of home-cooked Thai food.

“We don’t have eggs,” says J.D. Lyberger, 12, ordained the day before. He runs a hand over his shaved head. “We have noodles and stuff.”

“Eggs?” Phailuck asks again with hope. Somebody hands him a napkin.

He holds the white square blankly. He came to the temple four days ago to be a novice along with his older cousin, Ramsey Rasavong, who is 18. Everything is still brand new. “What do I use it for?” he asks, napkin in hand.

“Your hands, man,” Oni says, oozing something between disbelief and sympathy. Right here, at this table, Oni is the resident authority on all things great and small. Though second youngest, he’s been in this role the longest.

A young boy in street clothes sits on a large mat in the dining room with the temple members, watching the monks and novices finish their lunches before he can eat.

“Do you want to be a novice?” Phunjan asks from the monks’ table, aiming his thumb at the novices.

The boy shakes his head from the safety of 10 feet away.

“You can try,” Phunjan encourages. “If you can sit down for 30 minutes of meditation … if you wake up early at 6 o’clock, you can try.”

During summers in Thailand, Phunjan has had more than 500 novices at a time under his watch.

“I’m not very strict with the students here,” he says, smiling. “But they shouldn’t know me in Thailand.”

When the boys start to complain about the rules at Wat Dhamma Bhavana, Phunjan tells them about when he was a novice in Thailand, when for two years he woke up at 4 a.m. and learned about Buddhism without watching television or listening to the radio. At night in Thailand, all the novices go to bed like soldiers, he says.


It is Sunday afternoon, and Phunjan, two other monks from the temple, Oni, his sister and J.D., the newest novice, are out getting afternoon exercise, climbing a steep, dusty trail on the back of Flattop Mountain. The monks often go hiking, but it’s J.D.’s first hike in robes.

Before getting on the trail, Oni helps his friend pull the awkward, loose robes over his head and shoulders so his pale scalp and shoulders don’t get sunburned. Though they go to different schools, they’ve known each other from the temple since they were 8.

Oni turns from the group and bolts straight up the trail in a jog. J.D. is not far behind.

“You OK?” Phunjan shouts up the slope at them. The heat this afternoon is fierce. He calls up for them to stop hiking and find a spot to meditate. “Make your power come back!”

Phunjan catches up and finds places for the boys to sit, facing them in different directions toward expansive views of the valley and Anchorage. “Thirty minutes,” he announces.

“Thirty minutes?” J.D. asks, looking up at his teacher from his seat on the scree.

“You want more?” Phunjan looks down at him.

Oni’s eyes are already shut tight. Cross-legged, hands on his knees, his skinny chest rises and falls with the breathing in and the breathing out. Phunjan sits next to him, and they count breaths out loud together: One in, one out. Two, two. Three, three. Four, four.

“You just concentrate on the air going in and out of your lungs and on the wind,” Oni explains later.

Phunjan says that is the level of meditation that children practice, a basic focus on breath and the movements of the stomach for 30 minutes every day. Not on the sirens they could hear from Anchorage. Not on Oni’s little sister poking sticks into mysterious rodent holes in the hillside.

After meditation, J.D.’s and Oni’s attention shifts to throwing J.D.’s wood walking stick like a spear into the hillside. Oni’s throws land at a satisfying perpendicular angle in the scrubby hillside plants. J.D.’s throws aren’t sticking.

“I messed up,” he says. “Are you spinning it?”

“Try again.” Oni hands him the stick.

The hardest part of J.D.’s first 24 hours as a novice was the no-dinner part.

For Oni, the hardest part of his first three weeks has been learning the chants, though now he is the only novice who can follow along at least part of the time. He had three days to learn five verses of a chant in Pali, the language that the Buddha’s teachings were written in during the first century B.C.

“If you can remember one word, you can remember another one too,” Phunjan told Oni a few weeks ago when the boy was frustrated with his lessons. Phunjan talked Oni through the temple’s food blessing word by word, repeating one word five times so Oni could get used to its sound. Eventually, Oni got it.

Now J.D. feels the frustration of hearing and not understanding the foreign words.

“How do you remember?” he asks Oni, readjusting the robes around his spindly frame. “I never remember anything. I don’t even remember anything from school last year.”

Oum, diligently keeping up with the older boys in her flare jeans with rhinestones on the cuffs, is getting bored watching them throw the spear.

“You guys play too much,” she says.

“It’s not play. It’s competition,” J.D. tells her.

“You guys competition too much,” Oum says.

Oni is already looking up the yet-to-be-climbed hill in front of him. One of the monks has hiked ahead and is a bright, distant dot on the trail far above.

“We gotta climb more,” Oni says. It’s only late afternoon, and there’s a whole lot of daylight and no dinner in sight. “I don’t want to go do chanting.”

“We need two hours,” J.D. agrees. The novices set out to catch up under the cloudless blue sky.

Original article no longer available…

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A day in the life: A monk on Fearless Mountain (Ukiah Daily Journal, CA)

Tony Anthony, The Ukiah Daily Journal: Ajahn Pasanno appears out of the woods, walks up a few steps and plunks himself down in a comfortable wicker chair on the front porch of Abhayagiri “Fearless Mountain” Monastery in Redwood Valley.

The day is coming to a close and the peace and the quiet of the place is what is noticeable. The only noise is the distant sound of a lawnmower, which almost seems to come from some other world, a world different from this one. Ajahn, means teacher and is used in place of a first name for the abbot of the monastery. Pasanno means “one having faith and joy,” the name his teacher bestowed on him when he was still a novice.

It is difficult to imagine Ajahn as a young man in a secular sense, now that he is of middle age, with a shaved head and clothed in a simple mustard-colored robe. It seems he was always this person he is now. But Ajahn’s journey began in the 1970s as a young man when he left his home in Manitoba, Canada after finishing his university studies to travel the far reaches of the world. He rambled through Europe, Afghanistan and India, not seeking to become a Buddhist monk but visiting various holy places along the way.

It wasn’t until he arrived in the north of Thailand that he began to feel a sense of belonging. In order to learn more about Buddhism, he attended some classes at a monastery called Wat Nong Bah north of Chiang Mai. “I was just passing through, but the Thai society seemed to have a whole different value system. I felt at home,” he said.

After a month-long stay, the Abbot of the monastery suggested the young man consider ordination with an initial goal of remaining three or four months. Although he was not yet sure what he was getting into, he was willing to give it a try. He took on the robes of a forest dwelling monk thinking it would be only for a short time that was the beginning of the life he still lives now, more than 30 years later.

“You are not required to make a life-long commitment,” Ajahn says, “It just happened.”

The monk says he didn’t have any intuition that he would lead a monastic life.

“When I began it was to learn how to meditate.” But, he says, “at one point, it didn’t seem possible to go back.”

Thus the young monk began a practice where monks wear plain robes and shave their heads in an effort to let go of their own personal preferences.

“Doing this, is about simplification,” Ajahn says. “We renounce the world because of the peace that comes from it. The quality of peace we can access and dwell in is deeply satisfying.

“I encourage people that peace and well-being are a possibility for your life – to explore that for your life. I encourage people to use the tools of a virtuous life.”

An Abhayagiri pamphlet lists the “The Eight Precepts” for leading such a life: 1. Harmlessness: not intentionally taking the life of any living creature. 2. Trustworthiness: not taking anything which is not given. 3. Celibacy: refraining from any sexual activity. 4. Right Speech: avoiding false, abusive or malicious speech. 5. Sobriety: not taking any intoxicating drink or drugs. 6. Renunciation: not eating after mid-day. 7. Restraint: Not seeking entertainment, playing radios or musical instruments. Dressing in a modest, unadorned way that does not attract attention. 8. Alertness: refraining from over-indulgence in sleep.

Choosing to live amidst the beauty that surrounds Fearless Mountain may not seem to be renouncing the world at all, but Ajahn Pasanno says, “we even try to renounce the beauty. Most people try to get more of everything. Then when they get more they feel a loss when they lose it and don’t have it anymore. Then they lament the separation.

“A monk gets to the place of stillness. It is not rejecting anything – it’s another aspect of life that most people don’t pay attention to.”

A gift of land

There are eight monks who live at Abhayagiri, plus one novice and one postulate in training, all living on 250 acres of almost untouched forest land, originally a gift from the late abbot of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Ukiah – Master Hsuan Hua. Master Hua dreamed of bringing the Northern and Southern Traditions of Buddhism together again where they could relate in an atmosphere of mutual respect and harmony.

The monastery was founded by two teachers, Ajahn Sumedho, and Ajahn Amaro after they developed a devoted following in Northern California in the1980s. The original Abhayagiri was in ancient Sri Lanka at Anuradhapura and although it follows the Theravada branch of Buddhism, the monastery was known for accepting both teachers and practitioners from many different Buddhist traditions.

“The monastery currently has more people who want to come here and be monks than the facility can handle,” Ajahn says.

A monk named Sudanto, meaning “one who trains himself well” calls Abhayagiri, “a zone of peace people can use as a community resource.” He explains the monastery’s connection with the community as, “an interrelationship that keeps us (the monks) relevant, as a peaceful presence – people with deep knowledge and experience of the Buddhist teachings of peace and wholeness.”

A day in the life of a monk

The day on Fearless Mountain begins at 4 a.m. Then from 5-6 a.m. they begin their spiritual practice with meditation and chanting. These reflections set a tone of the mind during the day. 6:30-7 a.m. there are some general chores, cleaning up and a light breakfast. At 7:30 a.m. the monks meet to delegate chores – maintenance, cooking, office tasks and the job of maintaining the miles of trails which circle through the forests. After chores, the monks have their main meal from 10:30-11 a.m.

When it comes to food, the forest dwelling monks are alms mendicants. Not allowed to plant or pick their own food, they rely on gifts. The monks can be seen on Fridays walking through the center of town collecting gifts of food.

“This creates interdependence with the lay community. We don’t want to be completely cut off,”Ajahn said.

He explains this synergistic relationship. “People from the community come to the monastery to gain more simplicity, more well being. We give the opportunity for people to have the way of living, which is more peaceful, more fulfilling. Sharing our life is sort of the by-product. If one’s goal is to teach, it can be distorted. Refocus on the quality of our lives and that becomes an example to others.”

Ajahn is suddenly explaining some of the core elements of a monastic life. “The more the I’ can get out of the way, the more peaceful things become. The monks spend the remainder of the daylight hours in their cabins where they do various forms of meditation – both traditional sitting, and walking. Ajahn explains: “Outside each cabin is a level 50-foot path where the monks develop sustaining attention on the walking – recognition of words and mental states. ”

At 5:30 in the afternoon the community gathers once again for tea. This is the time for guidance by the teacher. Help also comes from the community at large – mental support from other monks. Even monks learn from each other’s foibles. Asked if monks maintain personality traits like senses of humor, Ajahn says that even ascetic monks remain individuals and some are known for their enlightened sense of humor.

At 6:30 p.m. there is a reading where monks can ask questions, then from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., evening chanting and meditation.

Many questions, of course, will arise even in those experiencing blissful states of mind. Ajahn explains, “of course there is a longing to repeat that experience. We don’t want to be dependent on anything. The enlightened are not dependent on anything for their happiness. Although,”he is quick to add, “there is a quality of compassion. But we strive for separation from attachments that create entanglements. We are conditioned to think we need certain things for our well-being.”

Too much eating or sleeping creates complications in life. Ajahn laughs as he mentions just how much of everything people seem to need to be happy. And then, he asks, are they ever really happy?

As the sun is ready to drop behind the mountains to the west, Ajahn Pasanno is eager to show a “walking meditation.” High up on the mountainside at the end of a path curving between the manzanita trees, is a small cabin where the monk spends most of his time in meditation. Beside the cabin is a 50-foot dirt path where he thoughtfully, mindfully walks with his eyes sometimes closed, sometimes open.

A gift from Thailand

During one evening recently, the Abhayagiri Monastery held a ceremony for the installation of a statue of the Buddha, a gift from a Thai donor. After the sun had set and the moon had risen, a delegation of monks – both resident and visiting but of the same forest tradition – sat on a wooden platform amongst the trees, chanting at the base of the statue. The scene was magical, with a hundred or more devotees from all parts of the country in attendance.

As the mountaintop had grown colder as the night grew later, the visiting abbot Ajahn Liam spoke in his native Pali, translated by Ajahn Pasanno for the western guests in attendance. “We might feel it is a bit cold – but nature is just being natural, natural to the climate and the season. It is just liking it or not liking it.” He went on to say, “Nobody wants to suffer, to experience discomfort.”

The moon was half full, sitting in the sky above the mountaintop, giving a golden glow to the resplendent life-size statue of a sitting Buddha. The breeze rushed through the trees making a sound much like ocean waves breaking on a shore. The monk’s point was that nature is always in the business of just being nature and it is up to humans not to be disturbed by the world around them. Then, only then, when we accept the world for what it truly is, are we able to see ourselves as we truly are – perfect, divine, awakened individuals – happy to be who we are.

Original article no longer available…

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Monks bring wisdom to Lichfield (ic Birmingham, UK)

ic Birmingham (UK): In the chapter house of Lichfield Cathedral two Tibetan monks are sitting cross-legged on chairs scooping coloured sand from pots and tapping it onto a table to create a vibrant, geometric pattern. A third is curled up asleep on the floor.

This is not the only incongruous image created by these shaven-headed, ruby-robed chaps who are visiting Lichfield this week. They have also been spotted dancing around the cathedral close and visiting children at a school in Nechells, Birmingham.

Monks from the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Southern India are taking part in the Lichfield Festival as part of a five month tour of Britain.

“The reason for coming to England is to bring our culture to the West,” said Kachen Lobsang, though an interpreter.

“We want to show the people here about the existence of Tibetan Buddhism.

“It is important that we explain about the religious culture of Tibet because the culture is being destroyed. It is being wiped out. ”

The Tashi Lhunpo Monastery was founded in 1447 by the first Dalai Lama in Shigatse, the second largest city in Tibet.

By 1959, there were 5,000 monks there and another 2,000 affiliated to it outside Tibet. However, the Chinese occupation and Cultural Revolution of 1966 wrecked the great monasteries and in 1972, under the patronage of the present Dalai Lama, the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery was re-established in the Southern Indian state of Karnataka.

Today some 250 monks live in the monastery, preserving their Tibetan culture and monastic tradition in exile. They visit Britain every two years.

“We have found the schools and students very interested in our culture,” said Lobsang, who was also taking part in a concert with his monks in the cathedral on Tuesday night.

“People who have seen us before, come back to hear us every two years.”

Tibetan Buddhism is undoubtedly one of the more colourful styles of the religion.

Unlike some schools of Buddhism in which all that is needed is a comfortable stool upon which to meditate, the Tibetan culture is rich in hues and deities.

A good example of this is the sand mandala that the monks are creating all week in the chapter house of the cathedral.

Over a period of five or six days, the monks painstakingly pick up coloured sand in a metal cylinder and then gently tap the cylinder, dropping the sand in a particular place on the table.

The sand is made from marble, which is then dyed by the monks, though traditionally lapis-lazuli would be used to make blue sand and rubies would be used to make the red and so on.

The mandala is a geometric pattern or design enclosed in a circle, which represents the celestial mansion of one or more of the deities. Each element of the design is highly symbolic.

The mandala being made in the chapter house this week, is known as the Mitrukpa mandala. At the heart of it is the Mitrukpa Buddha, represented by a thunderbolt, which is placed on the lotus throne, attended by the sun and moon.

“The different deities are represented by symbols because there is not enough space to draw the whole figure,” said Lobsang.

“We make the mandalas as a form of prayer. They are for visualisation. When you receive the initiation of a certain mandala, the priest, or lama, is letting you visual certain deities.”

The idea is that through being able to visual the deities, the monks develop their qualities.

The two monks making the mandala in the chapter house were referring to a coloured picture to show them were to paint the sand, but Lobsang – who has the equivalent of a PhD in Tibetan Buddhism – knows the intricate pattern by heart.

Before a monk begins practising using the technique for placing the sand, he has to first learn the meaning of the symbols.

White for example, is always placed at the East side of a mandala, so he will study the East and its significance before he can put down the white sand.

“Once the mandala has been completed the head monk calls on the deities and asks them to enter the mandala,” said Lobsang.

When the deities are present, the monks ask for their help in achieving their wishes and prayers.

“Then there is a closing ceremony when the deities are asked to take their leave and the mandala is destroyed to symbolise the impermanence of everything in the world. Everything, beautiful or ugly comes to an end,” he said.

Lobsang said he was particularly delighted to be making the mandala in the cathedral.

“We are very pleased to be in such an old and big and beautiful cathedral. We have been coming to England every two years and we have seen a lot of cathedrals from the outside but this is the first time we’ve made a mandala inside.”

Doubtless when the deities are asked to arrive, they will feel just as at home there.

l The monks will be making the mandala in the chapter house until Saturday.

l For further details of the Lichfield Festival go to www.LichfieldFestival.org

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A meditation on lessons of life (Movie Review) (Arizona Republic)

Richard Nilsen, Arizona Republic: Spring Summer Fall Winter . . . and Spring may be the antidote to Mel Gibson. It is one long, intensely beautiful Buddhist meditation on the passage of life and time, the acceptance of responsibility and the release of desire. It is as quiet as The Passion of the Christ is violent.

It is as quiet as The Passion of the Christ is violent.

It covers five seasons and five stages of life as a taciturn Buddhist monk raises his young apprentice from infancy to adulthood and teaches him the lessons of life.

We watch as the adolescent boy leaves his floating hermitage to follow the young woman he has developed a fever for, and we watch as the outside world gives our young apprentice nothing but stress and ashes.

Many years later – each season covered in the film skips a period of roughly 10 years — our apprentice returns to his lake, to pick up the meditative life after his master’s death.

Every scene in the film has the careful presentation and composition of a painting, and director Kim KiDuk keeps the film nearly as static as a painting. If the movie goes through the changing seasons, moviegoers used to American pacing may well feel they have sat in the theater for a full year.

Yet, if you can slow your emotional metabolism down to a more natural pace, the film has barely a moment that drags: It is completely involving.

There are a few odd missteps in the latter part of the film, as the monk is given “superpowers” you expect from a Hong Kong action film. Or maybe David Carradine.

They are completely unnecessary to the purport of the film and only distract the viewer, as will an extended bit of choreography with the apprentice practicing martial arts on the icecovered lake: His moves seem like a parody of Martin Sheen’s in Apocalypse Now.

Nevertheless, this South Korean movie is a balm for the soul and a reminder that even in the frenetic city, the cosmos has its own steady pendulum.

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Monks on the wing and a prayer for big match (Evening Times, Glasgow, Scotland)

A team of Buddhist monks swapped their sandals for football boots to take part in the most predictable game of the season. Six Tibetan monks, who had never played football before, took on a host of former Old Firm stars in a charity tournament this weekend. But there was no point betting on a winner because both teams played for a draw.

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