meditation and compassion

Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening, by Stephen Batchelor

Stephen Batchelor was formerly a Tibetan monk, a monk in the Korean Zen tradition, a respected translator (of Shantideva’s “Guide to the Buddhist Path”), and a student of existentialist philosophy. He’s now a determinedly freelance Buddhist practitioner and thinker, and “Buddhism Without Beliefs” is an uncompromising guide to his existentialist, stripped-to-the-basics, agnostic Buddhist practice.

As such I found the book both irritating and deeply inspiring, although on balance I was more inspired than annoyed. Batchelor got me thinking — which is very much his aim — about the way in which a well-lived life should be conducted and, if this doesn’t sound too grand, about the nature of reality.

Batchelor is a deep thinker, and he guides us step-by-step into an appreciation of “emptiness”, the Buddhist teaching that all things are “interactive processes rather than aggregates of discrete things”, and how an experience of emptiness necessarily results in the experience of compassion. It’s hard to convey in writing the effect this has, but ordinary things cease to look so ordinary, and begin to have an aura or wonder. It’s the depths of experience to which Batchelor leads us that I found particularly inspiring, as well as the freshness of his thinking and of his writing.

The irritability? Well, on occasion I got the impression that Batchelor thinks he has “got” what the Buddha taught, while just about everyone else is just “doing religion” — saying the words without understanding or practicing them. In fact he comes across as being rather dismissive (and unfairly so) of traditional Buddhism. Does this mar an otherwise excellent book? To me it does, and yet I found it worthwhile to breathe deeply and to let go of my irritation and delve joyfully into the many insights that Batchelor presents.

On balance, I found this to be a deeply satisfying and practice-provoking book.

Available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

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“The Lost Art of Compassion: Discovering the Practice of Happiness in the Meeting of Buddhism and Psychology,” by Lorne Ladner

The Lost Art of Compassion, by Lorne Ladner

Available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

There has been a steady trickle of books by Buddhist therapists recently, exploring the overlaps between western therapeutic models and practices and traditional Buddhist approaches to dealing with human suffering (see Tara Brach’s “Radical Acceptance” and Tara Bennett-Goleman’s “Emotional Alchemy”). Both systems have as their aim the reduction of suffering, and while at times the approaches may differ, there is also considerable overlap. There exists considerable possibility for cross-fertilization, and Ladner’s book is to my mind the finest fruit of that process to date.

Ladner’s book is more Buddhist than the other two examples I have picked, and for me that’s a bonus. While Brach and Bennett-Goleman look mainly towards a rather secularized form of mindfulness meditation for the Buddhist component of their mix of Buddhism and therapy, Ladner draws more widely from Buddhist mythology, meditation, and ethical teachings. “The Lost Art” contains so much Buddhism that this book would almost (but not quite) serve as an introduction to the subject even for a complete novice to the topic.

Choose any two pages at random from Lorne Ladner’s book, “The Lost Art of Compassion”, and there’s likely to be enough wisdom there to keep you thinking and boost your practice for months or even years to come. Ladner’s writing, perhaps because he doesn’t strive to write in a way which is ornate or poetic, has a rare clarity and is devoid of the sentimentality that I thought detracted from both “Radical Acceptance” and “Emotional Alchemy”.

I particularly appreciated the way in which at the end of the book Ladner outlines a summary of compassion practices for easy reference, showing how traditional Buddhist practices can be used as therapeutic tools, and how we can each become our own therapist.

I’d highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning to deal better with their own suffering, or who is interested in the overlap between Buddhism and therapy. This book will certainly make a lasting difference to my own practice and my own approach to teaching.

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“In Search of the Warrior Spirit: Teaching Awareness Disciplines to the Green Berets,” Strozzi-Heckler

In Search of the Warrior Spirit

Available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Note to Hollywood: this book would make a great movie. Take a bunch of aggressively skeptical and highly macho Green Berets, the U.S. Army’s elite special forces unit, and throw them into intensive training in meditation, aikido, and biofeedback — led by a bunch of guys heavily influenced by Eastern philosophy and wearing, believe it or not, lilac uniforms — stand back, and wait for all hell to break loose. Which promptly happens.

Some of the instructors are virtually eaten alive by the troops, who are on high alert for any sign of insincerity or lack of integrity, and who have a talent for finding buttons to press. At one point the Green Berets, on an intensive meditation retreat, are in open revolt, crowding round and yelling at the instructors in the middle of a “silent” meditation period. One of the soldiers steps forward menacingly and gives each of the three retreat leaders the finger, yelling, “F___ you and f___ you and f___ you!”

Fast-forward to a quieter moment on retreat, and Strozzi-Heckler opens his eyes to see a Green Beret sitting in blissful meditation. Below the still, relaxed, and concentrated face of the warrior is a T-shirt that reads, “82nd AIRBORNE DIVISION: DEATH FROM ABOVE”. And so on… Not your average meditation retreat.

Lest you think that the program was all confrontation and culture clash, the program, stormy as it was, produced stunning results, with massive increases for example in the soldiers’ abilities to control their body temperature in extreme conditions and to recuperate quickly after exercise. And on a more personal level, it’s fascinating to witness these warriors contact their softer sides. One of the soldiers, who was a Christian, is thrown into turmoil because he’s unsure whether he could kill someone now that he’s learned to meditate and come to a deeper appreciation of the compassion taught in his own faith.

This kind of quandary represents the central question that Strozzi-Heckler returns to over and over in his writings, which are based on a daily journal he kept over the six months of the project. Can he teach these men to be warriors rather than soldiers — fully feeling human beings rather than alienated killing machines — and have them still function as soldiers? It’s not a question that is ever likely to be resolved, but nonetheless this is a fascinating account of a bold experiment in bringing awareness disciplines to the U.S. Special Forces.

Oh, and Hollywood, Kevin Costner is a natural to play Strozzi-Heckler.

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Albert Einstein: “A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe’ —a part limited in time and space”

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe’ —a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

In the Buddhist meditation called the Six Element Practice, we reflect in turn on each of the six elements—the four physical elements of Earth, Water, Fire, and Air—plus Space and Consciousness.

In each case we reflect on the presence of the element within our being: for example, with Earth we note the presence of bone, tissue, teeth, hair, etc.

We then reflect on the element outside of ourselves; in this case we consider rocks, stones, earth, buildings, plants, the bodies of other beings, etc.

Then we note how everything that is in us that pertains to the element under consideration came from the element outside.

Originally our body started as the fusion of one cell from our mother and another from our father—neither of whom was us. Then our body grew as our mother passed on nutrients that she’d ingested from the outside world. Again, those nutrients weren’t us. Later, we ate on our own, but still everything that went into building up the body was and is merely borrowed from the outside world.

Finally, for each element we recollect that everything in us that is that element is constantly returning to the outside world. Our muscles and other tissues, and even our bones, are constantly dissolving and being rebuilt (which is why your muscles and bones waste away through inactivity). We lose hairs, shed skin cells, and have to make regular trips to the bathroom to rid ourselves of waste. All of this returns to the world outside us and to the wider element. And when we die, we stop even trying to hold on. Everything that was “us” returns to the wider element.

This practice is completely liberating. It frees us from the “prison,” as Einstein called it, of the delusion that we are separate from the universe. We come to realize instead that we are nothing but interrelatedness, that we exist only in relation to the world, including other people, and that we have no separate existence in any real sense. We are completely and inseparably connected on a physical, mental, and emotional level with other beings.

The six element practice gives us a realization of this truth—a realization that goes far beyond the intellectual—and other Buddhist practices such as the Brahmaviharas help to ignite the emotions of relationship that follow from this insight into interconnectedness, widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature.

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Mahatma Gandhi: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi never actually said this quote, which is commonly attributed to them. Instead he said something similar: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.”

So that’s a little teaching in itself. Do we want to see more truth in the world, or more falsehood? I know which I prefer.

When we look at the world around us, with its many serious problems, including poverty, injustice, war, overpopulation, and environmental degradation, we can become angry and frustrated, or passive and despondent. Not only are these responses ineffective at bringing about change, they are also part of the problem to begin with.

In order to bring about positive change in the world we need not only engagement with the outer world, but also engagement with our inner world. If we want to see greater awareness in the world, we have to cultivate awareness. If we want to see more love, we need to cultivate love. If we want to be genuinely helpful we have to learn to be less hateful and frustrated, and more compassionate.

Meditation can of course help here — a notion that Mahatma Gandhi would have agreed with. Meditation helps us to recognize unhelpful emotional patterns and to develop the mental freedom to choose more helpful responses.

The cultivation of mindfulness helps us see what’s going on within us. It lets us see our own reactivity, and also our potential for change.

The cultivation of lovingkindness helps us to find alternative and more compassionate responses to life. If we want to see greater harmony and less strife in the world, we need to learn to respond to frustrations with more patience and kindness than we do at present.

Trying to change the world without changing ourselves is largely pointless. We simply inflict our impatience and ignorance on others, and there are enough of those qualities in the world already. So we need to work on developing the qualities that the world most needs — awareness and compassion.

Of course changing ourselves without attempting to make the world a better place is just a form of selfishness — trying to curate personal experiences of happiness with no regard to others — and there’s enough of that in the world as well.

The world needs our help, so we need to do what we can to help ourselves to be better, so that we can make the world better as well.

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Going to the mat for Kerry (LA Times)

Michael Ordona, Los Angeles times: As if President Bush didn’t have enough trouble, the yoga community of Los Angeles launched its campaign of chakra and awe against him on Sunday.

“Voting is one of the ways society gives us to express our values,” said keynote speaker Robert Rabbin, a writer who has practiced meditation for 35 years. “If we don’t vote, it’s a betrayal of the very yoga and meditation we pursue. There’s no such thing as being apolitical. I hope to get out the vote for the mystic crowd. Twenty million U.S. adults practice yoga and meditate regularly — that’s one hell of a swing bloc.”

At a Hollywood yoga studio called Focus Fish, about 250 people took part in “Yoga for Kerry,” an all-day fund- and consciousness-raiser aimed at regime change in the United States. For donations starting at $50, attendees could take classes with respected teachers, listen to kirtan music and political speakers, and take part in group meditations.

Organizers had hoped the event would draw about 300 people, which it nearly did, and raise as much as $20,000, which it didn’t (early estimates were about $3,600). Nevertheless, event co-producer Michael Mollura thought the day served its purpose….

“We didn’t think we’d change the balance of the financial competition,” Mollura said. “We felt like we wanted to imbue the election process with love. It’s really an attempt to create something that is positive and loving in something that is otherwise thought of as cynical. I think everybody who came here today felt loved, felt cared for. Usually these things are Bush-bashing and people-bashing, but this was a positive event.”

The crowd seemed generally in agreement that Bush had not obeyed the yamas, or moral tenets, but there was little negative rhetoric. The most pointed barbs came from speaker Rabbin and in private conversations. Most participants who took issue with the Bush administration’s mantra of preemptive war countered with their own Weapons of Meditation and Dharma.

“There isn’t a lot of policy difference between Bush and Kerry on some issues,” Rabbin said. “But there’s a world of difference between their levels of consciousness. I’m voting for Kerry and Edwards because in my mind they and the people they will bring in are at least human beings. In my mind, George Bush et al are a group of psychopaths — it’s a clinical term, the primary element of which is an absolute lack of empathy.”

At Sunday’s event, yogis and yoginis were free to follow their bliss. In one room, some indulged in “healing sessions.” Outside, some bought beads, tea and Indian food. On the roof, musicians played to appreciative audiences.

The multiethnic crowd wore gym clothes, traditional Indian garb and a few political T-shirts — in other words, a pretty typical Los Angeles bunch. While a few admitted they were there for specific teachers, most said they were drawn by the mix of yoga and politics — and a chance to say neti-neti to President Bush.

“The planet needs more kindness,” said Harijiwan, who has taught yoga for 29 years. “I would ask him to look through all of his policies to see if they make people’s lives better or if they’re based on fear.”

Adam Sigel, a representative of California Grass Roots for Kerry, said, “My concern is that our country has been taken away from us by extremists. So we’re here to show that the left have beliefs and spirit too — and we’ve got a lot more soul.”

Among the booths in the parking lot was one for the Democratic Club of West Los Angeles, where volunteers registered voters and spread the gospel according to John (Kerry).

“I was looking at the mix of religion and politics, the way that George Bush uses evangelical language,” said volunteer Matt Gunn. “Yoga is not a religion, but it is something that has a spiritual focus. I think it’s just about finding that balance. If you’re a spiritual person, then you want to bring that to the way you feel about civic life.”

While Gunn had at best “flirted” with yoga, volunteer Michelle Martin said she had been practicing for three years and was anxious to check out some of the events. “When the war was going on, meditation was helpful to me,” she said. “It’s a way to stay calm and centered amidst a lot of chaos.”

In the middle of the day, teacher Steve Ross led a yoga class of about 35 through a series of positions that the Geneva Convention might prohibit but the students seemed to enjoy. The air-conditioned studio with its soft, iPod-generated music seemed like a completely different world from the vendors and political booths in the blazing heat outside.

After Ross’ class, which was mostly young and female, Rabbin delivered his keynote speech about “spiritual activism,” to a somewhat older and mostly male crowd.

“Spiritual activism refers to the various ways that we actualize our spiritual understanding, and ‘actualize’ means ‘to make real through action,’ ” Rabbin said. “There’s a propensity in the yoga and meditation communities to think that the summit of realization is to have an internal, subjective experience of bliss or union. It isn’t. That focus on the discovery of the Self, capital S, has an unspoken downside, which is forgetfulness or neglect of civic responsibility.”

Mostly, organizers hoped to unleash the kundalini of the spiritual voting bloc, which sounds naughty but isn’t. Kundalini is “the cosmic energy in the body that is often compared to a snake lying coiled, waiting to be awakened,” according to www.yogamovement.com. It’s also the style of yoga taught by Jenn Joos, a local teacher who helped produce the event.

“I would give [Bush] an exercise that would open his heart,” Joos said. She suggested the “camel pose,” which involves kneeling and arching one’s back. “It opens up your heart chakra, which embodies your compassion. You can see the other person as yourself.”

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Educating the Heart: Vancouver welcomes the Dalai Lama in April

Michael Buckley, Phayul, Tibet: In a world largely lacking peace and compassion, the Dalai Lama is a beacon in the darkness. His advocacy of a nonviolent approach to resolving conflicts earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. But more than this, the Dalai Lama has become an international icon for peace, an inspiration to millions who believe in nonviolence. He promotes what he calls “secular ethics”: living so that people can achieve a certain degree of happiness and cultivate compassion through “the warm heart”. These, he maintains, are values that should be promoted irrespective of one’s religion.

In April, Vancouverites will get a chance to welcome this charismatic thinker. His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama has been invited to inaugurate a contemporary Tibetan studies program-the only one of its kind in Canada-to be launched under the auspices of UBC’s Institute of Asian Research. Spinning off from this will be a two-day academic conference, a roundtable dialogue, and two public talks, one on universal responsibility and the other on cultivating compassion. (The talks are on Sunday, April 18, at the Pacific Coliseum. Tickets for each event go on sale Friday, February 20, through Ticketmaster.)

And what does the ancient and arcane Tibetan culture have to offer the modern world? Victor Chan, chair of the event’s visiting committee, elaborates in an interview: “The Tibetan Buddhist view and perception of reality is significantly different from that of the West. If you look at the monastic education of Tibetans, people go into that system when they are a few years old, and their whole training is to produce a person with heightened awareness of empathy and compassion, who can make a contribution to help others and alleviate suffering. So this is a highly focused education in mind science.”…

High in the Himalayas, isolated for more than a millennium from the West, Tibet fostered a culture without parallel. Central to the Tibetan world-view is the concept of accruing merit through performing good or compassionate deeds, or by going on pilgrimage to sacred sites. It is believed that this karmic energy can be carried through to the next incarnation.

The most famous graduate of the Tibetan monastic system is the Dalai Lama himself. He debated his way to attain the highest philosophy degree-that of geshe-while in Tibet, before fleeing into exile in India in 1959, following the Chinese invasion. Although he claims to be nothing more than a “naughty monk”, the Dalai Lama has become Buddhism’s first global celebrity, cutting across barriers of race, religion, and creed. Remarkably, for someone who has experienced the loss of his nation, he is famed for his offbeat sense of humour and his hearty laugh.

The 68-year-old Dalai Lama will give the keynote speech at a roundtable dialogue that involves Nobel Peace Prize laureates Shirin Ebadi and Desmond Tutu, former Czech Republic president Vaclav Havel (a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003), Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (scholar of Jewish mysticism), and Jo-Ann Archibald (B.C. First Nations leader). The moderator will be Anglican Bishop Michael Ingham of Vancouver. The dialogue is a collaboration between UBC and SFU. The discussion topic is Balancing Educating the Mind With Educating the Heart. The warm heart is one of the Dalai Lama’s core convictions. “He has always thought that regular education-going through high school, getting a degree, and so on-should be paralleled with ways to develop the warm heart so that young people have a perspective on the world around them, especially in ways that they can be of service to the people around them,” Chan says.

With this in mind, an essay-writing competition, open to grades 11 and 12 in B.C. and to students at SFU and UBC, has been initiated. Organizers will select six winners to ask questions at the roundtable dialogue, and runners-up will be present at a simulcast session. The 800-word essay is to focus on an aspect of balancing mind-heart education in the context of sustainable development or community-building. Chan sees this as inspirational. “For the students to be in the presence of these luminaries would be the kind of memory that they would take with them for a long time, and hopefully would have beneficial, far-reaching consequences.”

The Dalai Lama believes in promoting harmony between religions, thus reducing violent conflicts due to religious intolerance. Shirin Ebadi is the first Iranian to win the Nobel Prize (in 2003), and the first Muslim woman to do so; she has worked tirelessly to improve the status of women and the rights of religious minorities. “She is a dynamic advocate of basic human rights and nonviolence. We are extremely pleased she will share her vision and her time with us,” Chan says. Chan draws on September 11 as an instance of missing heart: “Basically, the way the Dalai Lama sees it, some highly educated people were able to put together a very complex set of logistics and devise a very complicated plan of a level sufficient to bring down the towers. These are highly intelligent, highly educated people, but because they do not have what he calls a warm heart, they are using this knowledge, this capability, in a very destructive way. That’s why it’s important to parallel education of the mind with that of the heart.”

“The Dalai Lama thinks that in some ways we would all be better people and the world would be a better place if we have this kind of parallel component in which we can somehow develop a heightened degree of compassion toward our fellow human beings, to instill in people a stronger sense of moral values, and a sense of doing the right thing,” Chan says. “The Dalai Lama has often said he is not a specialist on education. He would not presume to suggest very concrete ideas on how these things can be implemented. When the Dalai Lama talks about these things, there is a reasonable chance that people will listen. He is casting a little pebble into the pond, and hopefully the ripples would reach some of the right people who can do something about it.” The Dalai Lama has done his fair share of casting pebbles in ponds. In the 1980s, he initiated an ongoing dialogue with western scientists, meeting with them mostly in India every year, and thus catalyzing an interest in Buddhist philosophy. He once said that while western science pursued the physical world (such as in its quest for outer space), Tibetan Buddhism has turned inward, in a quest to understand the workings of the mind (inner space).

Western scientists have long been leery of anything to do with mysticism, but over the past decade some scientists have taken an interest in Tibetan Buddhist practices. Neuroscientists at a handful of U.S. universities have used sophisticated brain-imaging techniques to track activity such as blood flood in the brains of accomplished meditation masters. Research suggests that meditation practices reorient the brain from stress-induced mode to one of acceptance, a shift that increases contentment and calmness. The potential applications for this are wide-ranging: meditation practices have been effectively used by NBA teams to improve concentration and as a stress antidote by those with attention-deficit disorder.

The Dalai Lama’s invitation to Vancouver was somewhat casual: it was delivered in person by Chan on behalf of the Institute of Asian Research. Chan, now in his late 50s, is a research associate with the institute. Since 1999, he has followed the Dalai Lama around the globe in the course of co-authoring a book with him and about him.

Chan grew up in Hong Kong before moving to Canada, where he eventually graduated as a physicist. But that career took a strange turn in Afghanistan. In the course of driving overland from Turkey to India, Chan was kidnapped in Kabul in early 1972, along with two young women, one from Munich, the other from New York. Their Afghani captors were interested in the women, and Chan was simply unlucky. When the car they were riding in crashed, the three scrambled out and managed to escape, departing quickly from Kabul. The woman from New York, Cheryl Crosby, was a student of Tibetan Buddhism and was on her way to interview the exiled Dalai Lama at his seat in Dharamsala, in northern India.

Chan followed her. During the interview, the Dalai Lama kept casting glances at Chan’s long hair, droopy mustache, Moroccan pants, and black Spanish cape. He was giggling because he had never seen a Chinese hippie before. “I asked him whether he hated the Chinese for what they had done to Tibet, and he told me emphatically that there has been no hatred or resentment on his part; and that has always been his wish, to make friends with the Chinese. So I am sure this concept of nonviolence has been with him for a long time, and in spite of what has happened in Tibet, he has always adhered to this Gandhian philosophy.”

Enthralled by his visit to Dharamsala, where he experienced Tibetan culture for the first time, Chan became increasingly drawn to the Tibetan world. From 1984 to 1988, he made 11 trips to Tibet. Research from these forays resulted in the publication of Tibet Handbook: A Pilgrimage Guide, an epic tome weighing in at 1,100 pages. On a tour to promote the book in London in 1994, he met the Dalai Lama again and presented him with a copy.

Chan’s next book, to be published this fall, promises to be an unusual and intimate look into the life of the Dalai Lama. Chan was even allowed to sit in on the Dalai Lama’s morning meditation sessions in Dharamsala. “He meditates from 3:30 or 4 in the morning until 8 or so; most of that time is taken with sitting cross-legged in his inner sanctum, in his meditation room. It’s a good-sized room, with an altar, statues, thangkas (Tibetan scroll paintings), and picture windows of the mountains. Even when he is being served breakfast, he will not get up from this meditation posture.”

Chan’s portrait of the Dalai Lama will take in both his serious and lighthearted sides. “At one meeting in Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama, myself, and Pierce Brosnan were joking around and talking about reincarnation. Pierce Brosnan said he would like to be reincarnated as a bald-headed eagle. And the Dalai Lama said he would probably be reincarnated as a caterpillar because when he was young he was awfully afraid of caterpillars. So there was a great deal of daughter and hooting around. This forms one of the chapter titles in the book.”

Chan-working with Pitman Potter, director of the Institute of Asian Research-was able to arrange degree-conferral ceremonies for visiting Nobel laureates by both UBC and SFU. On April 19, honorary doctor of laws degrees will be conferred on the Dalai Lama, Ebadi, Tutu, and Havel at UBC. The following day, the same degrees will be conferred by SFU.

During the Dalai Lama’s visit, a two-day academic conference, titled Tibet in the Contemporary World, will take place at UBC. Top Tibetan research scholars have been invited to participate in discussions. Among them will be Robert Thurman, who is an ordained Tibetan monk, a widely published Tibetan scholar, and father of actor Uma Thurman. He is chair of religious studies at Columbia University, which is also initiating a Tibetan studies program.

Potter is hoping for input from these visiting Tibetologists on shaping UBC’s new Contemporary Tibetan Studies Program. “We have not entirely defined the syllabus,” Potter says. “It’s part of a graduate program: the principal component is to study aspects of Tibetan culture, encompassing socioeconomic, cultural, and political issues. Another dimension will concern the application of Buddhist principles of compassion and cross-cultural understanding associated with His Holiness the Dalai Lama to contemporary issues such as sustainable development, community building, economic and social change, security, women and development, governance, and human rights.” Potter is hoping, too, that this new program will encourage bridge-building and interaction between Tibetan, Chinese, and western scholars and specialists.

The Dalai Lama last visited Vancouver in July 1993, giving several public lectures. When he lectures in April, Chan said, he will be reaching out to Chinese Buddhists in Vancouver, to connect with what he terms his “Chinese brothers and sisters”. But the Dalai Lama’s visit is bound to be a high point for B.C.’s tiny Tibetan community. There are about 100 Tibetans living in the Lower Mainland, according to Tenzin Lhalungpa, president of the B.C. chapter of the Canada Tibet Committee. “And Tibetans from Alberta and from Seattle and Portland will come to Vancouver to attend the talks, and for a special audience. They are eagerly looking forward to this visit,” Lhalungpa said.

The Dalai Lama is revered by Tibetans as an emanation of Avalokiteshvara, the universal bodhisattva of compassion. To many others, he is a source of great inspiration. He is a superstar without the trappings of stardom: he doesn’t care if he stays in a five-star hotel or a tent. He teaches that wealth isn’t on the exterior of the self; it is on the interior. He himself may well be the greatest living example of those teachings. And as Chan puts it, “The Dalai Lama’s concept of educating the heart may prove to be one of his greatest legacies.”

–Michael Buckley is author of Tibet: the Bradt Travel Guide (2003), and Heartlands-Travels in the Tibetan World (Summersdale, 2002).

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Monks march in Encinitas park (Buddhist News Network)

CANDICE REED, The North County Times: More than 1,000 people gathered at San Dieguito County Park on Saturday morning to do – nothing.

It may be hard to believe that that many people turned off their cell phones, walked away from their TV sets and sat on the damp lawn at the park to literally do nothing. But they did it for one man, Thich Nhat Hanh.

The event was held to call attention to the profound interdependence between the monastic and lay communities. People from all walks of life and religions gathered to relax and share the art of mindful living with each other.

The celebration began with a procession of 300 Buddhist monks and nuns walking slowly and silently through the park in an Alms Round procession, a sort of re-enactment of ancient times when monks walked silently through villages to receive offerings of food while they gave teachings.

“This is a way to bring the practice of Buddhism to the west,” said volunteer Mary Kathryn Allman of La Jolla. “The Buddhists want to remind people that there are people all over the world who have nothing to eat. This is their quiet way.”

As the monks and nuns, dressed in the brown robes of their faith, walked past the observers, they stared ahead, while other people bowed their heads in respectful observance.

“This is very special, you don’t get this many people together like this for just any event,” said Kerry Thomlin of Encinitas. “Imagine this many people all meditating the day before the Super Bowl. This is what the world needs more of, peace and quiet.”

The main person the crowd came to see was an unassuming man who sat in the middle of his devotees. As a gong rang through the hillsides, Thich Nhat Hanh, an internationally known Vietnamese Buddhist monk, bit into an orange.

The crowd followed his lead and quietly began eating their own lunches.

Thich Nhat Hanh (pronounced tick-naught-han) was only 16 when he entered the monastic life and began his activism during the Vietnam War in Saigon. He was exiled from Vietnam in 1966 but his efforts for nonviolence continued, moving Martin Luther King Jr. to nominate him for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. Now he is 77 and one of the most popular Buddhist leaders in the world.

He’s also a poet, a teacher and a master in Zen Buddhism, blending the Theravada and Mahayana traditions of an Eastern religion that dates back 2,500 years and emphasizes human transcendence over the traditional Western concept of God. He has built a worldwide reputation for his devotion to the pursuit of peace and his adherence to the spiritual practice of mindfulness.

While he spends most of his time at his main monastery, called Plum Village, in southern France, he has spent much of this winter at his Deer Park Monastery in the hills above Escondido.

On Saturday, when Nhat Hanh spoke, everyone listened.

“With mindfulness we are able to be fully present, fully alive,” he told the crowd. “When you breathe in, and you know you are breathing in, and when you breathe out, you know you are breathing out —- that is mindful breathing. Mindfulness is knowing what is going on.”

Moving from personal practice to political, Nhat Hanh said, “Violence cannot solve the problem of violence. Violence cannot reduce the number of enemies or terrorists. It creates more hatred, more violence and more terrorists.” The crowd was moved by the small, unassuming man’s words.

“I learned a lot today,” said Krystal Hunt of Del Mar. “Peace needs to start with the regular people. Then maybe the politicians will get a clue. We don’t need war or violence. We need compassion.”

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‘The mindful can find heaven on Earth’

Buddhist News Network: Visiting Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says that “Heaven is here and now. Don’t look into the distance. The kingdom of God is really available in the here and now.”

His head is shaved, his small frame wrapped in the brown robe of his faith. It is late morning, and Thich Nhat Hanh is bathed in a sunlit room talking about heaven.

Heaven, he is saying, is here and now. Don’t look into the distance. “The kingdom of God is really available in the here and now.”

This is important, because he believes that if you truly understand that you’re living in the kingdom of God right now, you’ll behave better right now. “If you have the kingdom of God, you’ll not have to search for happiness in sex, wealth or fame anymore.”

Thich Nhat Hanh (pronounced tick-naught-han) was only 16 when he joined the monkhood in Vietnam. Now he is 77 and one of the most popular Buddhist leaders in the world.

A best-selling, and prolific, author, his most popular books include “Anger,” “Creating True Peace” and “Living Buddha, Living Christ,” which draws parallels between Buddhism and Christianity. He says his newest book will deal with the subject of power.

He’s also a poet, a teacher and a master in Zen Buddhism, blending the Theravada and Mahayana traditions of an Eastern religion that dates back 2,500 years and emphasizes human transcendence over the traditional Western concept of God. He has built a worldwide reputation for his devotion to the pursuit of peace and his adherence to the spiritual practice of mindfulness.

Thich Nhat Hanh was exiled from his native Vietnam decades ago for his anti-war efforts and now spends much of his time at his main monastery, called Plum Village, in southern France. But this winter, he and about 300 monks and nuns from his Unified Buddhist Church have gathered for a long retreat at his Deer Park Monastery in the hills above Escondido.

He arrived earlier this month and plans to leave in April. Between now and the end of March, he will participate in several programs and talks in Southern California – including a special alms round procession Saturday at San Dieguito County Park. Deer Park also is open to the public for days of mindfulness on Wednesdays and Sundays (his Dharma – or teaching – talks are in the mornings in the newly completed meditation hall).

This North County monastery opened almost four years ago, complementing his centers in France and Vermont. He is no stranger to this country. He studied at Princeton and taught at Columbia University. In the 1960s, he worked with Martin Luther King Jr. in protesting the Vietnam War (King nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize).

On this particular morning at Deer Park, Thay, or teacher, as he is affectionately known by his devotees, is sitting in a small house, talking about mindfulness and happiness, about America’s war on terrorism and war against Iraq, and trying to explain just why it is that Buddhism is so popular.

On mindfulness: “Mindfulness is the capacity to live deeply in the moments of your entire life.” Whether it’s drinking a glass of juice or being with a child, mindfulness means treasuring the present-tense – and not getting caught up in what’s going to happen next or in having to chase after other things. Mindfulness sets people free, he says. “There is freedom from worries, anger and forgetfulness. Forgetfulness is the opposite of mindfulness.”

On the popularity of Buddhism: “I think, first of all, Buddha is not a God. Buddha is a human being. He has suffered as a human being.” The strength of Buddha, he says, is that as a role model “he can offer wisdom, insight and practice.” He believes that followers of other religions can use the practices of Buddhism to deepen their own faiths. He does not want to convert people. (“We believe Christians should not be uprooted from their culture,” he says as an example. “It’s like a tree without roots.”) He compares Buddhism to a river; each person can take as much as you want. And there is no single truth, no single way. “Buddhism is inclusive, not exclusive.”

On teaching children spiritual practices: It can begin in the womb of the mother. “You don’t hear things that are violent, you don’t eat things that are violent and your husband should treat you with gentleness,” he says. Children have an almost natural affinity for mindfulness. “They can be in the here and now very easy, more than adults.” During his talks at Plum Village, he says he’ll give a short lesson for the children and then let them go out and play. “They practice in the form of play.”

On Americans: Americans are not as accepting as they used to be, he says. And he warns that when Americans reach out to other countries, they need to do it out of compassion, not out of control. He offers the Middle East as an example. Americans should seek ways to foster hope and “help them see a future.” Peace, he says, would benefit everyone. “If they have peace, they have trust.” And where there is trust, he suggests, there is an absence of fear and violence.

On the U.S.-led war in Iraq: It was a bad idea, he says. “I think the war in Iraq has cost a lot.” He favors relying more on the United Nations and thinks America should get more involved with that international body.

On the war on terrorism: In Buddhism, he says, every person is looked upon as a potential Buddha. But the war on terrorism turns that around to regard each person as a potential terrorist. “When a culture goes like that, it goes wrong,” he says. This campaign has “created more hate and terrorists.”

On post-9/ll: After the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, he believes America would have been better off with dialogue. The key question: Why would anyone hate us enough to do that? “If we are able to listen, they will tell us,” he says. If other countries have the wrong impression of the United States, then we should try to explain ourselves to them. “That kind of dialogue,” he says, “is much safer.”

On happiness: “The art of happiness is to learn how to be there, fully present, to attend to your needs and to attend to the needs of your beloved ones.” It’s about finding peace and harmony in your own self, and then helping those you love to do likewise. “And if you don’t do the first step, it’s very difficult to do the second,” he says. Happiness is possible. His advice? “Stop running and begin to make steps.”

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Student finds transformation in monastery stay (Buddhist News Network)

Knoe College News: Knox College student Sean Dowdy (photo) credits “feeling more focused” this term to the way he spent the last term: meditating with monks in a Buddhist monastery.

Dowdy, a junior from Morrisonville, Ill., recently returned from Bodh Gaya, India, where he spent three months in the Buddhist Studies program.

“I feel more focused since I’ve returned,” he said. “I think this experience has helped me overcome bad mental and emotional habits. It was an intense education.”

For the first three weeks of the program, Dowdy and a group of other American college students lived in a Buddhist monastery.

“We lived our days as if we were monks,” he said. “We got up at 4:30 a.m. and meditated for one hour, and then we’d have a silent breakfast.”

For Dowdy, this was a stark contrast from his life at Knox.

“The earliest I get up is six a.m., and that’s only when I have homework to do,” he said. “Otherwise I sleep in until right before class. And I never take time to eat breakfast.”

Students were expected to follow the monastery’s social and moral laws, which included “preserving all life, being celibate, avoiding intoxicants, and refraining from stealing,” he said.

“Vowing to preserve all life meant more than just being vegetarian,” Dowdy said. “It even included not swatting the mosquitoes that were bothering you constantly.”

A junior Anthropology-Sociology major, Dowdy enrolled in the program to study the cultural and historical aspects of Buddhism, which he first became interested in as a high school student.

“It’s one of the most peacefully-spread religions in the world,” he said. “I come from a background of staunch Irish Catholics, and my mother is a lay nun. But she encouraged me because she is interested in world religion. This program was a great way for me to study in another culture, but it was also a personal pilgrimage to see what I believed in.”

In India, Dowdy learned different types of meditation from a Japanese monk, as well as Nepalese and Burmese masters.

“In meditation, you’re striving toward mental and spiritual development,” he said. “Buddhism teaches you to seek true, unselfish compassion for others through meditation.”

Dowdy also took classes focusing on philosophical concepts related to meditation, as well as language instruction in Tibetan and Hindi. He also studied Buddhist philosophy and the history of Indian Buddhism.

“There are multiple variations of Buddhisms, like Zen Buddhism in Japan or Theravada Buddhism in Thailand, and each one is interpreted differently by different cultures,” he said. “It’s a very diverse and international religion. But there are basic similarities, such as a focus on compassion, and belief that all life is suffering.”

Nancy Eberhardt, Professor of Anthropology/Sociology at Knox, said Dowdy benefited from learning about Buddhism outside a classroom setting.

“Sean is an exceptional student, and already knew a great deal about Buddhism before he went,” she said. “But I know this experience has broadened his knowledge and deepened his commitment to studying the role of Buddhism in people’s every day lives. It introduced Sean to Buddhism as it is actually lived, with many opportunities to talk with practicing Buddhists from all walks of life. That’s an indispensable part of learning about any religion.”

Dowdy also traveled extensively while in India, visiting Dehli and Calcutta, among other places. In Darjeeling, in West Bengal, he saw the Dalai Lama—the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism—giving a religious talk to a large crowd.

“We received a blessing from him,” Dowdy said. “We shook his hand and he presented us with a white scarf.”

After leaving the monastery, Dowdy conducted anthropological and sociological field research in Lachung, a northern village near the Tibetan border.

“It’s small and isolated, and there are no phones there,” Dowdy said. “It’s spread out in a valley in the heart of the Himalayas, and when you look up, you see these awesome snow-capped precipices. It’s beautiful.”

For his research project, Dowdy interviewed heads of the village and spent time with its residents in order to study its unique form of government. “It’s a communitarian Buddhist government, where all decisions have to be made by each household,” he said.

Dowdy lived with a Tibetan family and with a translator in the village.

“Everyone was wonderful to me there,” he said. “I’d love to go back.”

After graduating from Knox, Dowdy hopes to return to India and work for a non-governmental organization in humanitarian aid.

“I see myself as more of a ‘world citizen’ now,” he said. “It was the greatest thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “It was a widening of my lenses. And I feel like I know so much more about the Indian students at Knox and their culture now. It’s given me a much more open way of looking at the world.”

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