Madonna’s "Peace Room" raises questions about meditation (Religion News Service)

The Sun Newspaper in the UK reports that Madonna has asked that a special “peace room” be constructed backstage at the Manchester News Arena in advance of her two concert appearances there. The soundproof area is reportedly needed “so she can meditate and go into a trance before going on stage.” The room walls must be draped in green sheeting and have soft cushions on the floor. It quotes “an insider” as saying: “She doesn’t want to hear a pin drop and it needs to be green — the colour most conducive to meditation.”

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A religion for everyone? (The Scotsman, Edinburgh, Scotland)

Stephen McGinty, The Scotsman: The robes are mustard and plum. The glasses are thick as jam-jar bottoms. The head is shaven to a dark, prickly fuzz. The smile can only be described as beatific.

When the Dalai Lama steps out on to the stage of the SECC in Glasgow on Saturday afternoon, the applause generated from 10,000 admirers will match that for U2, Britney Spears or any other previous occupant of the concert hall. Packed in the audience beside the scarlet robed monks of the Tibetan monastery in Eskdalemuir will be plumbers and teachers, office managers and doctors, the young and the old. All believe the path to serenity and happiness lies in the 2,500-year-old teachings of the Buddha, the jolly fat chap with the rotund belly whose effigies in clay or brass are cropping up with increasing regularity in homes across Scotland.

The Dalai Lama, in his first visit to Scotland in more than a decade, will give a lecture entitled Inner Peace, Outer Harmony, advocating the practice of meditation as a means to achieve contentment. Unlike other spiritual beliefs, Buddhists have science on their side, with recent medical research revealing that practitioners of meditation lower their stress levels, heal faster and are freer from anxiety and depression.

So why in this secular age is a spiritual movement that seeks to eradicate the “self” gaining ground? In a time when avarice and greed is epidemic, why is a belief system that targets desire and possessions as the cause of unhappiness drawing hundreds of new followers each year? And, more curiously, how did the Scotland of the Kirk become an international centre for the Karma?

Today, according to the General Register Office for Scotland, there are 6,580 Buddhists in Scotland, a figure that puts the faith on a par with Judaism and Sikhism and ahead of Hinduism, the root from which it first sprang. As Christianity sub-divides into denominations such as Catholic, Baptist and Protestant, so Buddhism in Scotland is divided into Zen, Sri Lankan, Western and the Tibetan practices of the country’s oldest institute, the Samye Ling monastery nestled among the lowlands of the Borders near Eskdalemuir.

According to Professor Perry Schmidt-Leukel, of the department of theology and religious studies at Glasgow University, the popularity of Buddhism in Britain is down, on one level, to its relative novelty in a traditionally Christian country. This, combined with high-profile followers such as Richard Gere and Tina Turner, can make it attractive to those in search of a new spiritual path. But, while many express an interest in Buddhism or attend classes in Buddhist meditation, the faith has a high turnover. “Buddhism has a reputation as an accepting faith,” says Prof Schmidt-Leukel. “But if you study and practise you realise that it is as rigid on matters of sexual practice as any other world religion. It requires commitment, it puts strong limits on your behaviour.”

JOYCE HENDERSON, 42, has always sought answers to the big questions of life. Baptised in the Church of Scotland, she first encountered Buddhism, as so many teenagers do, in the pages of Hermann Hesse’s novel Siddhartha, which tells the story of a search for enlightenment. The death of her brother, William, from cancer when she was just 26 accentuated her questioning. A few years later, while on a Buddhist retreat in Shropshire, she discovered that meditation had greater benefits than prayer. “I feel in Buddhism I’m seeking answers in the right place. I’m sure the same answers can be found in Christianity, but I felt it was in a coded language I couldn’t understand,” she says.

Nicola Nisbet, 19, a student in public art at Falkirk College, encountered Buddhism through her teacher while studying for higher philosophy. She attended her first class in Buddhist meditation in January and on 2 July will become a Mitra – a person who considers themselves a Buddhist – during a short ceremony where she places flowers, a candle and incense by the Buddha’s statue. “I don’t believe there is a god,” said Nicola. “But Buddhism will help me to be a better person while I am here and I want to find peace within myself.”

Buddhism’s hip appeal is broached in Anne Donovan’s novel, Buddha Da, in which Jimmy, a Glaswegian painter and decorator, goes in search of enlightenment. Although not a Buddhist herself, Donovan has taken classes in meditation and will be attending the Dalai Lama’s talk this weekend. “I have a great respect for the culture and spirt of Buddhism and meditation. Anything that encourages people to slow down their busy lives and appreciate the now can only be helpful.”

Scotland’s first brush with Buddhism came in 1967, when Samye Ling, the first Tibetan Buddhist centre in the West, was established by two Tibetan rinpoches or “precious ones”. The pair had fled Chinese-occupied Tibet in 1959, and were attracted by the location’s serene surroundings. For the next 25 years, the community gathered lay students of Buddhism and supported only a handful of monks and nuns. In 1992, the centre was animated by the arrival of a new abbot, Lama Yeshe, the brother of the original founder. One young monk described him as “the rock’n’roll rebel of institutionalised religion”.

UNLIKE THE vast majority of Tibetan monks who enter holy orders as children, Lama Yeshe had experienced life in all its western decadence. Although born in Tibet and raised in a monastery, he fled to India at the age of 15 and spent his 20s in America, where he rode a motorcycle, had a string of girlfriends and developed a passion for Hendrix. Drawn back to his faith, he took his vows aged 30.

When Lama Yeshe arrived at Samye Ling he set about making it more accessible to western minds. Instead of taking vows for life, he introduced a probationary scheme, an unprecedented move in Tibetan Buddhism. He was accessible to the media and turned the monastery into an international destination for courses and seminars for those interested in all aspects of Tibetan life. Last year saw the fruition of his Holy Island project – when the retreat centre for world peace was finally opened.

In Glasgow during the early 1970s, just as Samye Ling was becoming established, a group of young Scots, infused by the vibe of the times, were experimenting with meditation. Sangharakshita, a Buddhist teacher of the Western Buddhist Order, lent his services and a centre was established. For the last 25 years the Glasgow Buddhist Centre has been based up a tenement close on Sauchiehall Street, bringing a stillness of mind and clarity of thought to a generation of curious Scots.

The current director is Viryadevi, formerly Maggie Graeber, a 51-year-old former music teacher. Each morning at 7am she sits before a Buddha figure and lights a candle to signify the light of wisdom, looks at the flowers to remind her of the impermanence of all things and breathes in incense that represents the spirit. She then meditates for 40 to 60 minutes. Today the centre has 60 Mitras, while four times this number attend meditation classes.

“The appeal of Buddhism, for me, was that it was not necessary to take on a set of beliefs,” explains Devi. “Buddhism taught me in practicable terms how to be kind to myself and to other people. Other people may be drawn because there is a distrust of organised religion, which is a pity because all religions have to be organised. For me there is depth to Buddhism, but it is also very practical.”

• Tickets for the Dalai Lama’s talks on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday at the SECC are priced at £20 per day and available from the SECC box office on 0870 040 4000

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On a mission (The Oberver, UK)

Ed Douglas, The Guardian: As the exiled leader of Tibet flies into Britain, supporters detect a fresh urgency in his pleas for an end to Chinese oppression. At 68, the Buddhist monk knows his people’s hopes live or die with him.

y the time the Apache leader Geronimo surrendered in 1886, stifling the last gasp of native American resistance, ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody had been touring for three years with the Wild West Show, selling a version of the world he helped destroy.

Something similar happened in the old Tibetan capital of Lhasa this month. Visitors to the Jokhang temple, the spiritual centre of the country and its religion, reported that the Chinese authorities had installed metal barricades across the inner temple’s entrance to make sure that tourists can no longer sneak in without paying.

The irony won’t be lost on Tenzin Gyatso, once the most important inhabitant of Lhasa but now a longstanding exile in India and better known as the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet and of the Tibetan Buddhist diaspora.

Just as Buffalo Bill cashed in on a disappearing world, the Chinese have created a Tibetan Wild West Show. The Dalai Lama may be in charge of a ‘splittist clique’, but Lhasa’s temples and his former homes – and all that they represent – are a superb business opportunity.

His Holiness wouldn’t recognise much else of his old home town. For at least a decade it has had more in common with a generic modern Chinese city than the ancient capital of a wholly different culture. More recently, the city’s authorities have acknowledged what had long been known; more Chinese now live there than Tibetans.

That he wants to return is undisputed. The Dalai Lama arrives in Britain for the first time in five years this week, on his never-ending tour to drum up political and popular support for his people’s cause. In their struggle to achieve some level of self-determination in the face of China’s 54 years of occupation, the 68-year-old monk remains by far their most powerful asset. He himself fled Lhasa in 1959, despairing at the broken promises of the Chinese, his dramatic escape fixing his plight in the world’s eye ever since. The democratically elected Prime Minister of Tibet’s government-in-exile, Samdhong Rinpoche, is also in London next week, lecturing at the International Society of Ecology and Culture. But everyone knows who the real draw is.

The Dalai Lama has his critics. Rupert Murdoch told Vanity Fair in 1999: ‘I have heard cynics who say he’s a very political old monk shuffling around in Gucci shoes.’ Given Murdoch’s ambitions in China, the put-down was laughable. The Dalai Lama doesn’t wear Gucci shoes, not even metaphorically, and to describe him as a political monk is like asking whether the Pope is a Catholic. Holding the future of millions of his fellow countrymen in his hands, what choice does he have? If anything, some critics argue, he has proved not political enough.

But there was a whiff of a more serious charge in Murdoch’s charmless sniping. The Dalai Lama is not as thoughtful as he might be about his public profile. And his willingness to meet pretty much anyone who asks can leave the public with the impression, however unfair, that he likes hanging out with movie stars. Christopher Hitchens has said that he heads ‘a Hollywood cult that almost exceeds the power of Scientology’.

Some of the celebrities devoted to the cause of Tibet have a long-standing commitment, like the glamorous Joanna Lumley, whose grandfather was a trade agent in the Tibetan town of Gyantse, close to the Indian border, and a friend to the Dalai Lama’s previous incarnation. As Kate Saunders, the Tibet specialist and a friend of Lumley, puts it: ‘People like Joanna can be very useful to the Tibetan cause. She has access to the right people, is friends with politicians and can raise a lot of money.’

Others, you feel, have a less than firm grip on what his life’s work means. Sharon Stone, barefoot and with a boa draped across her shoulders, invited the audience at an event in Los Angeles to applaud ‘the hardest-working man in spirituality … Mr “Please, please let me back into China!”‘ Or even Tibet.

The Dalai Lama’s secretariat, at times naïve, at times frustrated by their leader’s openness, hasn’t always picked the right openings for him to spread the message. He suffered particularly at the hands of CNN host Larry King, who introduced him on his Millennium Special , ‘as a leading Muslim’ – not a mistake Larry would make now – and then, six months later, conducted an interview which made the Tibetan leader appear incomprehensible.

Martin Scorsese’s film Kundun, which the Dalai Lama saw and admired, went some way to explaining that beneath the National Geographic glitz of Tibetan culture is a country with a gritty political history. But it is difficult for Westerners to get past the ineffable exoticism of the Dalai Lama’s childhood.

He was born Lhamo Thondup, the fourth son and fifth child to survive of Choekyong Tsering, a farmer from a small village called Takster in north-eastern Tibet in the former province of Amdo. Amdo has been swallowed up into the modern Chinese province of Xining. The boundaries of the Tibet Autonomous Region are often confused with historical Tibet. In fact, the TAR is a fraction of the old territory. Takster is, unsurprisingly, off limits to tourists.

Tibetan agriculture – and society – was largely feudal but the family worked for themselves, leasing a small parcel of land and growing barley, potatoes and buckwheat as well as keeping a herd of yaks, sheep and goats.

This life was interrupted by the arrival of monks from Lhasa. Through clues left by his predecessor, they identified the child as the fourteenth Dalai Lama. The family moved to Lhasa and while the young lama began his training, the family became involved in Tibetan political life. His mother was adored, but his father became embroiled in the internecine bickering which hamstrung any chance the Tibetans had of resisting the Chinese. The Dalai Lama’s brother, Gyalo Thondup, told the writer Mary Craig that he was convinced his father was murdered to get rid of a political nuisance.

From a young age, the Dalai Lama has been mesmerising in the flesh. After attending his enthronement in 1940, British diplomat Basil Gould said he had ‘never seen anybody assume more complete and natural control of great assemblies’. That ability has only deepened with the passing years. He can hold a crowd of agnostic Westerners in the palm of his hand despite simple English, but he is most impressive with his own people. Speaking Tibetan, his voice seems to possess a more serious tone.

When Mao heard that the Dalai Lama had fled Lhasa in 1959 in the face of rising tension with his Chinese overlords, the Great Helmsman is reported to have said: ‘In that case we have lost the battle.’

If his leadership is totemic, it hasn’t always been politically astute. Many believe the Tibetans missed an opportunity in the 1980s to take advantage of a thaw in relations when Deng Xiaoping invited exiled Tibetans to return home. In 1989, His Holiness declined an invitation to attend the funeral of the Panchen Lama – effectively the second-most important spiritual leader in Tibetan Buddhism. The Tibet scholar Tom Grunfeld described it as ‘probably the gravest error of his political life’.

The 1990s were a lost decade, but his government in exile seems to have learned from its mistakes. Discussions have resumed with the Chinese, and there is cautious optimism that these may lead towards some kind of settlement. His special envoy, Washington-based Lodi Gyari, is an astute lobbyist in Washington – the Dalai Lama met President Bush in 2001 – but some are concerned he is not sufficiently on the wavelength of the current Chinese leadership.

There is also the suspicion that all the Chinese have to do is wait until the Dalai Lama dies. Even if the discovery of the next Dalai Lama proves uncontroversial, it would be decades before he became a political force, by which time the idea of Tibetan autonomy will have lost impetus. His Holiness seems aware of these dangers, saying that his administration must now ‘turn its face to China’ for a solution and putting his foot on the diplomatic gas pedal. Luckily for Tibet, the Dalai Lama is in rude health.

His acknowledgement of Western advances – he always advises the sick to use whatever medicine will work – and his deep spirituality put the Dalai Lama at an interesting crossroads. His ideas about compassion strike a chord in the West but he is equally forthright on the damage consumerism and sexual freedom can inflict on individuals. Not attitudes, you feel, that would go down well in mainstream America.

He feels strongly about the environment and the damage inflicted on it. ‘An environment that is full of life is much better, much more attractive. Forests without animals or birds, bad. Without trees, even worse,’ he has said. Given the environmental price China is paying for its economic growth, he has a point.

Those of his people still in Tibet will continue to be second-class citizens in their own land. More or less, urban Tibet is now Chinese and making economic progress, while rural Tibet remains as it was, without health care or education.

Meanwhile, Tibet’s natural resources are beintrucked east. Soon a railway between Chengdu and Lhasa will open and the process will accelerate. Critics of the Dalai Lama say the old system in Tibet was backward and oppressive. But both communism and Chinese consumerism have plunged the people of Tibet into a morass of corruption and indifference.

With the Beijing Olympics on the horizon, perhaps the Chinese will see the merits of letting the hardest-working man in spirituality come home.

Dalai Lama

DoB: 6 July 1935 (Takster, Tibet)
AKA: Tenzin Gyatso, Lhamo Thondup, Ocean of Wisdom (a translation of Dalai Lama), Yeshin Norbu (Wish-Fulfilling Dream), Kundun (the Presence)
Jobs: Exiled head of state of Tibet, Buddhist leader

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How Buddhism was reincarnated (The Toronto Star, Canada)

Eslie Scrivener, Toronto Star, Canada: In exile, Tibet’s lamas adapted to West Timing perfect for spiritual revolution

By rights, Tibetan Buddhism should have faded like the dying light in a thousand butter lamps before a thousand knowing Buddhas. But something extraordinary happened after the Dalai Lama rode a mountain pony into exile in 1959, disguised as a soldier, his glasses in his pocket: Tibetan Buddhism found a new incarnation.

Not in the monasteries — the Chinese invaders took care to burn them. Not in the memories of monks and nuns — thousands were imprisoned or murdered. Not in secret, feudal Tibet at all — the Chinese ruthlessly dragged the land into the 20th century. But in Europe and the United States and Canada, too.

The lamas, who had followed the Dalai Lama into exile in India, headed west. It was the Sixties, and the West, weary of what it knew about Christianity or Judaism, was ready to bow down to what it didn’t know — spiritual practices of the East.

The timing was perfect, says writer Jeffrey Paine, whose new book Re-Enchantment explains how Tibetan Buddhism came to the West and how the lamas ushered in the greatest revolution in their religious history by adapting to western tastes.

Instead of esoteric theology and metaphysics, they taught simple meditation: breathe in, breathe out — anyone could do it. You were required to be kind and compassionate. You could chant, do a thousand prostrations — or more! And for New Agers who liked it, there was the thrill of magic and mystery, clairvoyant monks and even flying lamas.

“The first lamas, once they got the hang of what the West was like, were able to dispense with theology and teach practical things,” Paine says from Washington, D.C.

They gave people “something that was almost the experience of faith and close to the satisfaction of faith, without a theological structure.” In effect, “delivering a religion that could dispense with God and belief, too.”

Buddhism addressed the universal sorrow — suffering. “People suffer, people die. Why?” asks Chris Banigan, an artist and book designer. “Am I being duped by the senses? It was more about questions and a reminder that I have very little time here. What am I doing with this time? That’s the question.”

And if the lamas could also help North Americans with their bruised psyches, all the better. The lamas, including the Dalai Lama, were astounded that westerners, so well educated, so at ease with engines, suffered from low self-esteem, says Paine. When they compared the two cultures, they concluded that the major difference between Tibetans and North Americans was that Tibetans liked themselves.

Coming from Tibet, where the spiritual life was well-developed and one-quarter of the male population were monks, the lamas couldn’t understand North Americans walking around not thinking they were potential Buddhas, says Jeff Cox, president of Snow Lion Publications in Ithaca, N.Y., which specializes in books on Buddhism.

They were skillful teachers and appealed to those with a scholastic turn of mind, says Frances Garrett, an assistant professor of Buddhist studies at the University of Toronto where 200 students are enrolled in classes studying Tibetan Buddhism. But the lamas went further.

“They realized that monasticism just wasn’t going to catch on, so the practices and teachings that had only been available to monks and nuns became available to lay people. A transformation had to occur to become palatable and interesting to the West.”

Some purists were critical, saying secret teaching was being squandered on ordinary people, homeowners, students, people with families and jobs, people who couldn’t possibly appreciate or practise the teachings as they should.

But in Richmond Hill, Lama Tashi Dondup of the Karma Tekchen Zabsal Ling centre appreciates his western students. “They don’t just do what the teacher says. They check to see if that is what the Buddha says. Westerners do this. They are not just jumping in. I like this way. It’s not a stupid way.”

And, he adds, it doesn’t matter if you are Christian or Jewish. “You can still meditate. Then you really become relaxed, peaceful and comfortable.”

Buddhism in the West was seen as a spiritual practice, not a religion, which appealed not only to those attached to western religious practices, but those who were dissatisfied and the rising group of people known by the census takers as the “religious nones,” those who declared they had no religious beliefs. “It’s just a word game, but another way Buddhism transformed itself in a new culture,” says Garrett.

Garrett had always been interested in philosophy, but after studies in India became drawn to Buddhist practices. “They satisfied me with a complexity and profundity of thinking, but gave those ideas some purpose in interacting with other people. It was a profound philosophy aimed at helping others.”

Then there is the appeal of science. “Generations of disciples looked at the nature of reality and mind from a scientific point of view,” says photographer Don Farber, whose most recent book is Tibetan Buddhist Life. “That meant they tested and analyzed and didn’t take anything for granted. That approach to spirituality appeals to the western mind since we’ve had scientific education.”

Plans are under way at the University of Toronto for a centre that would unite western scientists who study the physiological and neurological effects of Buddhist meditation with researchers, such as Garrett, who study Buddhist texts. “It will be unique in North America to unite the expertise,” says Garrett.

American actors and celebrities also embraced Tibetan Buddhism, making it better known — though some see it as an embarrassment. Steven Seagal’s celebrity was the sort that gave Buddhism in the West a bad name. The actor, who plays efficient but good-guy killers, was declared a tulku, or reincarnation of a great religious figure, by a Tibetan rinpoche he had supported financially.

Richard Gere was the good side. Paine was told the actor has become a “lovely person,” a generous contributor to Tibetan causes, presumably the effect of meditating between 45 minutes and two hours every day for 25 years.

“A few matinee idols and film directors have done more than a thousand monks could have to chant Tibetan Buddhism into general awareness in the American culture,” Paine concludes.

Cox estimates there are 800,000 western Buddhists — about half of those follow Tibetan Buddhist practices — and about 500 Tibetan Buddhist centres in North America. In the United States, Paine reports, Buddhism is doubling its numbers and the fastest growing form is Tibetan. Canada’s 2001 census showed there are 97,000 Buddhists in Toronto — about 4,000 are not visible minorities.

In Toronto, there are at least eight Tibetan centres, some in suburban bungalows, some established centres, with some lamas in residence as teachers and dozens of others visiting regularly from India for special teachings.

It’s the connection to his teacher, Lama Namse Rinpoche, that’s important to Allen Gauvreau, who lives and works at the Karma Sonam Dargye Ling Tibetan Buddhist Centre on Vaughan Rd.

Outside, prayer flags strung across the parking lot flap wildly in the wind. Inside, it’s serene, with shining floors, a screen of glimmering gilt Buddhas and meditative images of Buddhas hanging from the walls.

Gauvreau recalls there was no religious ritual in his upbringing. He remembers going to Sunday school. It was United Church. No, he says, it was Anglican. “The practice has given me what was missing; it’s given me ritual,” he says. “Though I find I’ve become more interested in the meditation. But all this ritual helps me in visualizations.”

Meditative visualization takes you through a series of exercises. A simplified description of these elaborate practices: Picture a Buddha at the centre of a mandala with other Buddhas around him, then you picture yourself as Buddha and imagine taking all the suffering of the beings around you and transforming that into happiness.

At mid-week, perhaps seven members will come for a chanting and meditation; when the lama teaches, 50 will attend; 100 may come for visiting teachers. The members are mixed. While most are Canadian-born, one is from Mexico, another from Ethiopia, one is Serbian, and some from Hong Kong.

Says Gauvreau: “The important thing, there’s a place, here, for people to have contact with a living meditation master.”

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Starting all over again (CricInfoIndia)

Rahul Bhatia, Interview with Indian cricket star, Ajay Ratra, CricInfoIndia: When Ajay Ratra first burst on the scene in 2001-02, he was thought to be the solution to India’s hunt for a long-term wicketkeeper, but since then he has been upstaged by Parthiv Patel. In an exclusive chat interview with Wisden Cricinfo before the Duleep Trophy this season, Ratra talks about the work he has put into his game since being out of the national team.

o you think you have improved as a wicketkeeper over the last two years?
Not dramatically, but yes, there has been an improvement. I’ve been working on tips from Kiran More. He’s been teaching me a few things that have been useful. He advised me to meditate and concentrate while keeping, because if you lose it for a moment, you’re guaranteed to put the ball down.

How have you been practising?
I keep with one stump, and collect deliveries going down leg. Then I put a batsman between the bowler and me, so I’m blinded by him, which is a bit like match practice. I also practice diving and rolling. And since we don’t have fast bowlers in Faridabad, I decrease the distance between the bowler and the wicket, which helps me cope with the bounce. For swinging deliveries, I ask bowlers to use plastic or tennis balls on cement wickets.

Moving on to your batting, in England and the West Indies, you were LBW and caught behind quite often. Have you done something about that?
I spoke to John [Wright] about that. He explained that my head was falling over, which is why I was playing across the line of the ball. So I concentrated on keeping my head still, and it has worked out for me. I usually speak with my seniors, and the ones who’ve watched me play. Ajay Jadeja advises me, and Syed Kirmani tells me how to build an innings at No. 7, when we don’t have too many overs left to play.

What did you do when you were told that you weren’t in the national team after the England tour?
Actually, no one tells you that you’ve been dropped. It’s only when the team list is made that you realise you’re not included. Obviously, it’s disappointing, but it’s part and parcel of the game. If I keep agonising about why I was dropped even after I had scored a century, I won’t be able to concentrate during practice. I’m 22, and I’m starting all over again. People die at 25. So I’m not putting undue pressure on myself. I’m just working hard, and try my best in the matches that come my way. Otherwise, I prefer not to think about things I cannot control.

What parts of your game did you focus on after being left out?
Well, I spoke to the team about my batting, and I practiced a lot more. I practised tackling the bouncer by facing a synthetic ball and playing on concrete wickets. And during the last camp, Sourav and Sachin [Tendulkar] remarked in the nets that my batting had improved, and even John remarked that I’d done a lot of work. And I’ve had a good season, batting at number seven in the Deodhar Trophy, when you get 10-15 overs to play.

What do you do to stay fit when you aren’t playing for the national team?
Each player is given a fitness plan by the physical trainers, which advises us what to work on. On non-match days the weight training is more intensive, but it’s up to us to decide how fit we want to be. And whenever a camp is organised, there are a few tests we undergo, and the results are fed into a computer. If a weakness is noticed, we’re told about it.

And the mental aspect of your game?
Meditation is essential for keepers. I joined an institution for meditation which I visit whenever I’m in Faridabad. It has helped me deal with and control my thoughts in adverse conditions. I did it by myself earlier, but the institute has taught me the nuances of meditation. It emphasised the importance of not letting my thoughts waver. Whether you’re batting, or keeping to just one delivery, you can’t let your mind waver.

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Meditation and movies

Mireya Novu, Tampa Bay Times: It was hard to reach Khyentse Norbu, Tibetan spiritual leader-turned-film director, as he traveled from his native Bhutan to Sydney, Australia, then to Tokyo and Honolulu on his way to the Miami International Film Festival, where his latest film, Travellers and Magicians, was screened at the Gusman Theater last month.

His jet-setting ways are quite a departure from his life of quiet contemplation in the remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, the country that inspired the fictitious Shangri-La in James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon. It was in the tiny kingdom, nestled between China and India, that he was enthroned at age 7 as the reincarnation of revered 19th century saint and reformer Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo.

The Lama H.E. Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, as he is known by his followers, is a revered teacher who studied under the 14th Dalai Lama and has dedicated his life to teaching Buddhism….

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But we still want to know if a Tibetan lama can hang on to his serenity while he schmoozes with celebrities and producers at film festivals. “Well, I have to get up an hour and a half before everyone else and do my meditation,” he said affably when we finally located him for this interview in Honolulu. But this is not an ordinary monk.

After all, he counts among his favorite films Kill Bill and Natural Born Killers. “We all have preconceived ideas about Tibetan monks, but he defies most preconceptions,” said producer Mal Watson. “He is witty and wise. A great teacher.”

Born in Bhutan in the Year of the Metal Ox (1961), Norbu is an inveterate movie buff who admits to carrying around a VCR and tapes of Truffaut’s 400 Blows and Cocteau’s Blood of a Poet. While studying at London’s School of Oriental and African studies in 1998, he was hired as a consultant for Bernardo Bertolucci’s Little Buddha. “Bertolucci had heard that there was a Tibetan lama in London who was obsessed with film,” recalls Norbu. “And he found me.”

The collaboration with Bertolucci proved fruitful in more ways than one. It was through the contacts he made while working on Little Buddha that Norbu was able to finance his first feature film. Based on real events, The Cup displays the lighter side of monastic life, as a soccer-obsessed young monk is determined to rent a satellite dish and have it installed in time to watch the World Cup final between France and Brazil.

Since there are no actors in Bhutan, Norbu had no choice but to cast real monks in the film. It proved an inspired neorealist touch. This gentle, upbeat fable of the cultural clash between East and West in a Tibetan monastery charmed audiences worldwide. The Cup had its world premier at the Cannes Film Festival in 1999 and traveled to the Miami Film Festival a year later. Distributed in 40 countries, the film earned Norbu international critical acclaim.

Was Norbu surprised at the film’s success? “I was surprised that the film was made at all, since I don’t have any film background,” he said. “But seeing it screened at some of the most important film festivals in the world was an even bigger surprise.”

He is especially delighted that his cinematic debut helped demystify Westerners’ perception of Tibetan monks. Norbu had a message for his countrymen as well: “We’re in the 21st century,” he said. “We have faxes, e-mail, Web sites, telephones, film. Let’s make friends with them. They are not a threat.”

Adapted from a Buddhist fable, Norbu’s latest film, Travellers and Magicians, is more philosophical and somber than his previous offering. “I don’t want to claim there’s a profound spiritual teaching in the film, but I can always learn something out of anything that involves life,” he said.

Shot entirely in Bhutan, the film premiered in Thimphu, the Bhutanese capital, in August and has already been shown at the Venice, Toronto, Sao Paolo and London film festivals and at the Buddhist Film Festival in Los Angeles.

The film tells the tale of a young man fed up with life in his Bhutanese village. He decides to head to the United States, where he has heard he can make a fortune picking grapes. “You always think that the grass is going to be greener on the other side, but that is a fantasy and hope becomes pain,” said the third incarnation of the Khyentse lineage. He adds that the movie is really about Bhutan, “its serenity, its culture, its tradition.”

Even as he travels to film festivals around the globe, Norbu continues to teach Buddhist philosophy, found charitable institutions and spend several months a year in strict meditative retreat.

At 42, he doesn’t envision being a filmmaker indefinitely, although there is one project he would love to undertake: The life of Buddha. “For it to be authentic I would have to cast the right actor. I will look for an actor in India or Nepal, but who would finance me if this actor isn’t a big star? To be successful,” he adds philosophically, “I would need to speak the language of Hollywood.”

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Rugby star on Buddhist life (BBC)

Former rugby star Ricky Evans has spoken about how life has been transformed by his conversion to Buddhism.

Evans, who won 19 caps for Wales, says the inner peace he has found by adopting the Eastern spiritual tradition means as much to him as representing his country.

“I cannot speak for everybody. But it has something that has worked for me and something I value as much as my Welsh caps,” he said.

Now working as a firefighter at Aberporth in Ceredigion, the 43-year-old ex-Llanelli prop meditates at 5am every day and admits it is very different to the hard man image he needed on the field.

“It’s a complete contrast to the life I used to lead,” he told BBC Radio Wales.

“But I don’t believe I have changed that much myself – it’s just I have taken on these values.”…

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Medicine for the mind (The Independent, UK)

The Independent: Ian Robinson doesn’t mince his words when it comes to admitting his past failings. “I was a bugger for road rage,” he confesses. “I’d be driving along and someone would cut me up and I could kill.” Ian laughs at the admission. Other road users no longer wind him up. Their driving hasn’t changed – Ian has. The 44-year-old factory worker has discovered meditation.

Ian Robinson doesn’t mince his words when it comes to admitting his past failings. “I was a bugger for road rage,” he confesses. “I’d be driving along and someone would cut me up and I could kill.” Ian laughs at the admission. Other road users no longer wind him up. Their driving hasn’t changed – Ian has. The 44-year-old factory worker has discovered meditation.

Ian and eight of his colleagues from Indmar Sheetmetal in Wigan, Lancashire, were taught how to meditate over a three-month period for a BBC2 documentary which will be screened on Thursday evening. The results were remarkable. According to Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Umist, their mental and physical wellbeing increased by more than 300 per cent. “We took pulse rate measures before they started the course,” he says. “We repeated them before and after various sessions, and then at the end to see if there was an overall improvement on pulse rate.” The researchers also used psychometric stress tests at the end of the experiment. “What was very interesting was that the workers showed a massive improvement in their overall mental and physical health scores. And they were better than normative. Eight out of nine people showed substantial changes. And their heart and pulse rates improved significantly, too.”

The factory workers, most of whom were initially sceptical, were taught breathing techniques and t’ai chi, and were then taken on guided meditations during which they imagined themselves in a tranquil place. “I loved it, I really did,” says Ian, a systems manager. “I wasn’t too keen on the t’ai chi, but the meditation – there’s something in that. I felt more focused after I did it. I could meditate for 50 minutes and it would seem like five or 10 minutes. While I was doing it, all sorts of things were happening – I was flying and seeing lights. After-wards I felt relaxed and more focused.” Ian has continued to practise. “I do the meditation once a week at least. Now I’m more chilled. Nothing fazes me.”

Ian’s colleague Elaine Walsh, 40, a press operator, says that learning to meditate has changed her life. “I was sceptical at first,” admits Elaine. “But I found it very relaxing. I had mood swings before. I don’t get them at all now. My husband noticed a change straight away; he made me carry on. It has changed my life. I feel more alive, awake. I suffered from asthma and I don’t get it as much now. I still meditate twice a day.”

Meditation has never been so popular, as more people struggle to cope with the pressures of work and home life. Celebrities such as Richard Gere, Shania Twain, Sting, Goldie Hawn and Sheryl Crow are also at it. Some forms require you to concentrate on your breathing, others on an object such as a candle, or to repeat a mantra. Some are practised while walking or dancing.

Researchers continue to find evidence of its benefits. It was recently discovered that Buddhists who meditate may be able to train their brains to feel happiness and to control aggressive instincts. According to Owen Flanagan, professor of philosophy at Duke University in North Carolina, Buddhists appear to be able to stimulate the left prefrontal lobe – the area just behind the forehead – which may be why they can generate positive emotions and a feeling of wellbeing at will.

In August, the journal Psychosomatic Medicine reported that researchers from the University of Wisconsin had found that meditation could boost the body’s immune system and change brain activity in areas associated with positive emotion. Twenty-four employees took an eight-week meditation course, and found that the positive biological effects lasted for up to four months.

Meditation appears to be helpful for a wide range of health problems. Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the stress reduction programme at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has been using a type of meditation called mindfulness (which involves paying attention to the experience of the moment) to help people cope with cancer, Aids, heart disease, chronic pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, anxiety and panic. In two trials by Dr Kabat-Zinn, psoriasis patients who listened to meditation tapes while receiving ultraviolet light treatments healed four times faster than those on light treatment alone.

In addition, two studies by Dr John Teasdale, a psychologist at the Medical Research Council’s cognition and brain sciences unit in Cambridge, have found that, teamed with cognitive therapy, mindfulness meditation halved the risk of relapse for people who have suffered three or more episodes of clinical depression. The treatment is currently being used clinically within the NHS in a small number of places around the country.

The greatest claims, however, come from supporters of Transcendental Meditation (TM), a specific technique popularised by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It was first taught here in 1960 and more than 160,000 Britons have subsequently learnt it – at a cost (currently £1,280 for the course). It is practised for 15 to 20 minutes twice daily, repeating a specific mantra while sitting comfortably with the eyes closed.

Research into the technique has been conducted at more than 200 universities, hospitals and research institutions in 27 countries, its supporters say. They claim the studies show that practising TM reduces a variety of important risk factors for diseases such as coronary heart disease and cancer, including high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, drug abuse, obesity, stress levels, anxiety and depression.

One US study on volunteers with high blood pressure, which was reported in The Lancet, found that TM could significantly reduce clogging of the arteries and cut related health risks, particularly of heart disease. Studies published in The American Journal of Cardiology and Stroke have shown that TM helps to relieve angina and reduce hardening of the arteries.

More research conducted in America found that a group of 2,000 people who practised TM had fewer than half the number of visits to the doctor and days in hospital compared with a control group over a five-year period. Jonathan Hinde, a TM teacher and spokesman for the organisation in Britain, says over the last five or so years, The National Institutes of Health, the main government funding body for medical research in the US, has put about $20m into research specifically on the connection between TM and various aspects of cardiovascular health. “What has been found is that if you practise TM for about three months, blood pressure tends to be reduced by about the same amount as taking any drug for hypertension. Hypertension is implicated in both strokes and heart attacks, two of the three biggest killers in the Western world.”

There are, of course, sceptics. In an editorial in the BMJ last May, Peter H Canter, a research fellow in complementary medicine, concluded that “overall, current evidence for the therapeutic effectiveness of any type of meditation is weak, and evidence for any specific effect above that of credible control interventions even more so.” He added that most of the researchers for these studies were directly involved in the organisation offering TM, and “seem keen to demonstrate its unique value”.

Yet Larry Culliford, a consultant psychiatrist at a community mental health centre in Brighton, who was trained in meditation by Buddhist monks more than 20 years ago, is convinced that it works. He practises it once a day, paying attention to the rise and fall of his chest and abdomen while he breathes. “Sogyal Rinpoche, who wrote The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, says that giving yourself the gift of learning to meditate is the best gift you can give yourself in this life. You could say without too much exaggeration that it has transformed me and my life.

“The evidence is that it is very good for people with a range of physical as well as mental health problems. Meditation gets the mind and body back into harmony and this allows the natural healing processes the best chance to work. Benefits are possible in every organ system of the body and every part of health disorder, including mental health disorder.”

Also convinced of the benefits of meditation is Roger Chalmers, a GP working in East Anglia, who has been practising TM since 1974. “An enormous amount of what we deal with in general practice is stress-related, and TM is a really excellent method for eliminating stress.

“TM is something that anyone can do; it’s completely effortless and enhances wellbeing. Everybody benefits from being more well-rested and free from stress. We all know what it feels like when we have a good rest overnight or a good holiday. Everything in your life improves, and, in a way, you can see TM as something that just gives you a very easy technique to ensure that more of life is spent in that state and less is spent feeling tired and strained.”

[via the Independent]
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Dalai Lama: Moment for Meditation

Newsweek: The Dalai Lama always stirs up plenty of karmic excitement when he comes to town. But a sold-out conference–“Investigating the Mind: Exchanges Between Buddhism and the Biobehavioral Sciences on How the Mind Works”–held last week at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had a bunch of Western scientists downright giddy. For 15 years they’ve been holding invitation-only meetings with the Dalai Lama at his residence in India to discuss the science of Buddhism; the fact that this year’s rendezvous was cosponsored by the venerable McGovern Institute for Brain Research–with celebs like Richard Gere attending–is a giant boost for the field. Says one participant: “This is really a coming-out party in Kresge Auditorium”…

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Buddhism and mind science

Deseret.com: Can concentration be controlled? Can attention be practiced and perfected? These are questions that are of increasing interest today to scientists but which Buddhist monks have been exploring for thousands of years.

With the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, sitting between them, the two sides gathered over the weekend at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in a search for common ground in their pursuit of understanding of the mysteries of the human mind.

The Dalai Lama, who is halfway through a 16-day tour of the United States, said he hoped science could provide answers in areas where inward contemplation can’t.

“I myself am not clear,” he said at one point, drawing laughs from the overflow crowd that included actors Richard Gere and Goldie Hawn.

The scientists want to pick the minds of the Buddhist scholars about how best to use technology such as brain imaging to study consciousness.

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