culture

Love the world

Your brain evolved in three stages (to simplify a complex process):

Reptile – Brainstem, focused on AVOIDING harm
Mammal – Limbic system, focused on APPROACHING rewards
Primate – Cortex, focused on ATTACHING to “us”

With a fun use (to me, at least) of animal themes, the first JOT in this series – pet the lizard – was about how to soothe the most ancient structures of the brain, the ones that manage the first emotion of all: fear. The next one – feed the mouse – addressed how to help early mammalian neural systems feel rewarded and fulfilled. The third one – hug the monkey – was about weaving the sense of being included and loved into the primate cerebral cortex.

Of course, these three practices go way beyond their anatomical roots. The three primary motivational systems of your brain – Avoiding harms, Approaching rewards, and Attaching to “us” – draw on many neural networks to accomplish their goals. In fact, one motivational system can tap the two other ones; for example, you could express attachment to a friend by helping her avoid harm and approach rewards.

Lately, I’ve started to realize that a fourth fundamental human motivational system is developing out of the other three.

Whether it’s our hunter-gatherer ancestors depending upon their habitats for food and shelter, or modern folks making use of the settings of home and work, or the nearly 7 billion members of the human race pressing hard up against the limits of Lifeboat Earth: to survive and flourish, cultural evolution alone and perhaps biological evolution as well are calling us to love the world.

The world is near to hand in the matter/energy, nature, and human-made objects all around you. And then in widening circles, the world extends out to include society and culture, the planet itself, and ultimately the entire and still often mysterious universe.

When you love the world, you both appreciate and care for it. Each of these actions makes you feel good, plus they help you preserve and improve everything you depend on for air and food, livelihood, security, pleasure, and community.

During the last several million years of human evolution, our emerging species had neither much capacity for harm nor much understanding of the effects it did have upon the world.

But now, humanity has great power for good and ill, as well as undeniable knowledge of its impact on both the natural and built world. As the planet heats up and resources decline . . . and as a species – us – that evolved in part through being lethally aggressive toward its own kind (see the research on the high fraction of deaths due to violence in hunter-gatherer cultures) must now live cooperatively and peacefully if it is to live at all . . . it is critically important that a fourth major motivation guide our thoughts, words, and above all, deeds:

Love the world.

How?

In terms of the aspect of love that is about appreciating, routinely look for opportunities to enjoy, value, and feel grateful for little things in your environment.

These range from whatever is close by – soft pillow cases, flowers blooming, traffic laws, sun rising, libraries, tree shade, shared language – to the increasingly vast nested nests we all share: the internet, global institutions, oxygen/CO2 exchanges through which animals and plants give breath to each other, the incredibly rare and fortuitous occurrence of a rocky planet – Earth – surviving the early formation of a solar system to find an orbit that allows for liquid water on its surface . . . all the way out to this universe which bubbled out of nothing: the largest nest of all, the extraordinary miracle in which we make our ordinary days.

In terms of the aspect of love that is about caring for, this means to me a combination of cherishing, protecting, and nurturing the world. You naturally cherish what you love; cherishing something, you want to keep it safe; once it’s protected, you want to help it flourish. (As an aside, it’s interesting that these three inclinations map to the three underlying motivational systems: the Attaching system cherishes, the Avoiding system protects, and the Approaching system nurtures; as with other aspects of evolution, new capabilities and functions draw on preceding, “lower” systems.)

SO much could be written – and has – about cherishing our world, and protecting and nurturing it, yet I must be brief here, with just three suggestions.

For a minute, an hour, or a whole week, touch natural and human-made things around you like you truly cherish them.If you cherished an orange or a cup, how would you hold it?

Protect something from harm. You could save something you might otherwise throw away, from water running in a sink to food in a restaurant. Security is a wholesome aim of the Avoiding system, which is achieved in large part by conserving what we’ve got.

Pick one thing and focus on helping it grow and thrive. Perhaps a plant, or a business, or a project at a local school, or a collaboration among some friends, or a fix-it repair at home.

At the heart of it, I experience this practice as a matter of our relationship with the world. Do we relate to it as an adversary or distant acquaintance?

Or do we relate to the world as a friend, a child, a beloved nest?

Here and there and everywhere, let’s all live in a world we love.

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Christmas for Buddhists

Buddha christmas ornament

Do Buddhists celebrate at Christmas?

This one does!

As a Buddhist I’ve spent Christmases in a variety of ways. My first substantially non-traditional Christmas was 20 years ago when I went on a two-week intensive meditation retreat in Carn Dearg lodge in Gairloch, Wester Ross, in Scotland. It was well into the afternoon of Christmas Day before I even realized it was the 25th, and I remember it struck me then that there was nothing intrinsically Christmasy about Christmas. If I hadn’t checked the date I would never have known that it was a special day in the western calendar.

The lesson of this for me was that the festivity of festivals comes essentially from within. There is no “season of goodwill” without people actually exhibiting goodwill. I think people tend to automatically assume that they will feel and act differently just because the page of the calendar has flipped, but of course that’s not the case.

Anyway, for several years I was on retreat at that time of year, and Christmas just didn’t exist for me. I opted out of giving and receiving gifts, and instead spent hours each day meditating. Sometimes I wouldn’t be on retreat, and Christmas would just be a normal day, although I admit I could be a bit stubbornly resentful on my ignoring of the festival going on around me. After all, this was a nominally Christian day, and I was not going to compromise on my Buddhist beliefs. I was a bit rigid in those days.

Later I came to appreciate that Christmas isn’t really very Christian. My favorite parts of the day are pagan: the tree, the lights, the gifts, the feasting, the traditions like kissing under the mistletoe — even that “jolly old elf,” Santa Claus.

The reason we celebrate Christmas on December 25th is that this was the traditional birthday of the Roman sun god Mithras, who was probably the single most important deity in the empire in the early days of Christianity. What better time to honor the Sun than at the time its light is weakest? Mithraists celebrated their deity each Sunday (that’s why it’s called Sunday) with bread and wine. Christianity borrowed all this, down to the birth-date, in order to gain more legitimacy.

The festival day became amalgamated with other winter celebrations such as Yule, which was a Germanic pagan 12-day festival based around the solstice. Bringing evergreens into the house reminds us of life in the midst of Winter’s quasi-death. Mistletoe, sacred to the Celtic Druids, reminds us of fertility.

The ironic thing is that Christmas, having been co-opted from Paganism by Christianity, has now in turn been co-opted by Capitalism, our new religion, and that it’s taken Buddhist practice to help me to avoid the gross commercialism of the day and to appreciate the simpler things, and as I’ve grown older I’ve enjoyed more and more the opportunity to spent time with my family.

We combat commercialism by not having a TV, which spares us from an endless barrage of advertisements. We meditate, in order to find inner peace, rather than looking for happiness in material possessions. My wife and I set a low limit on how much we’ll spend on each other’s presents (this year it was $30), and we give the kids a limited number of gifts. This year we’re spreading the gift opening over two days so that we can be more mindful of what we’ve received, and we’ve considered taking a Hanukkah-style approach and having the kids open one gift a night for a week, to further take the pressure off of the 25th, and to give more time for appreciation.

So I wish you all a Merry Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Birthday of the Unconquered Sun — the feast of Mithras), a good pagan Yule, and a Happy Christmas. Concentrate on appreciating the people more than the gifts, and remember that it’s only a season of goodwill if you let your heart soften and connect with others.

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Florida Dharma Film Festival embraces Buddhist teachings

Amy C. Rippel, Orlando Sentinel: Whether you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim or any other religion, Mark Winwood wants you to embrace your inner Buddhist ideals.

It’s not about changing religions. It’s about living a happier, more meaningful life that is full of strength, confidence and clarity. Winwood, founder of the Yalaha-based Chenrezig Project and a self-taught Tibetan Buddhist teacher, hopes that local residents — no matter what religion, ethnicity or affiliation — will embrace the Buddhist teachings.

Through the Florida Dharma Film Festival, which begins Friday at the Windhorse Wellness Center, he hopes to bring together Eastern philosophies to the west.

Feature films with ties to Eastern ideals will be shown during the free festival, which also will be held Saturday at the Windhorse Wellness Center, 353 Plaza Drive, Eustis. It continues March 30 and 31 at the First Congregation Church of Winter Park, 225 S. Interlachen Ave., Winter Park.

Some of the films on tap are big Hollywood productions with famous-named actors while others are small, lesser-known independent films.

“These films communicate that there is a lot more to our lives than the everyday struggles we all engage in,” said Winwood, who in 2006 took a spiritual trip to Dharmsala, site of the Tibetan government in exile and home to its political and spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

That year, Winwood, 60, started the Yalaha Tibetan Buddhism Study Group as a means to teach Tibetan Buddhist practices. Today, it’s evolved into the Chenrezig Project with dozens of students learning the peaceful ways. Three years ago he started the film festival, which has grown into a two-weekend event.

Between films there will be breaks for discussion. All are free but reservations are recommended by going to flharma.eventbrite.com.

Film schedule

Friday, March 23 (Windhorse Wellness Center, Eustis)

7-7:50 p.m. — “The Lion’s Roar”

8:10-10:15 p.m. — “Fearless”

Saturday, March 24 (Windhorse Wellness Center)

Noon-1:30 p.m. — “10 Questions for the Dalai Lama”

1:50-3:20 p.m. — “Saint Misbehavin'”

4-5:45 p.m. — “Buddha’s Lost Children”

7-7:45 p.m. — “Tibetan Book of the Dead”

8:10-9:55 p.m. — “Enlightenment Guaranteed”

March 30 (First Congregation Church of Winter Park)

7-8:10 p.m. — “The Devotion of Matthieu Ricard.”

8:30-10:20 p.m. — “Twelve Angry Men”

March 31 (First Congregation Church of Winter Park)

Noon-1:15 p.m. — “Tulku”

1:35-3:15 p.m. — “Recalling a Buddha”

3:30-5 p.m. — “How to Cook Your Life”

6-7:20 p.m. — “The Sun Behind the Clouds”

7:45-10 p.m. — “Little Buddha”


WindHorse Theatre: 353 Plaza Drive, Eustis, FL
www.windhorseworld.com :: (352) 602-4351

First Congregational Church of Winter Park: 225 South Interlachen Avenue, Winter Park, FL
www.fccwp.org :: (407) 647-2416

The Chenrezig Project: PO Box 11, Yalaha, FL 34797
www.chenrezigproject.org :: info@chenrezigproject.org

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Islamic extremists destroy priceless Buddhist statues in the Maldives

In the Maldives, a tiny Indian Ocean nation of 1,200 islands, a group of men stormed into the museum last Tuesday and ransacked a collection of coral and lime figures, including a six-faced coral statue and a 1 1/2-foot-wide representation of the Buddha’s head. Officials said the men attacked the figures because they believed they were idols and therefore illegal under Islamic and national laws, according to the New York Times.

The Maldives were Buddhist from around 250 BCE until the 12th century, when the king converted to Islam.

The vandalism is reminiscent of the Taliban’s 2001 destruction of the giant statues of the Buddha at Bamiyan, in Afghanistan.

The destruction of the Buddhist artifacts is just a symptom of a wider problem in the Maldives; it took place the same day that Mohamed Nasheed, who won the presidency in 2008 in the country’s first democratic election, was forced from office in a coup. Islamic and other opposition parties had complained that Nasheed was not enforcing morality strongly enough, and were enraged that he proposed to allow the sale of alcohol in hotels.

According to a Maldives news source, the destruction included a coral stone head of Lord Buddha which was one of the most significant pieces at the museum. “Other pieces vandalised include the Bohomala sculptures, monkey statues and a broken statue piece of the Hindu water god, Makara, while the two five faced statues discovered from Male’ were also damaged – the only remaining archaeological evidence proving the existence of a Buddhist era in the Maldives.”

Ali Waheed, the director of the National Museum, which was built by China as a gift to the country, said on Monday that officials might be able to restore two or three of the damaged statues, but that the rest were beyond repair. “The collection was totally, totally smashed,” Mr. Waheed said. “The whole pre-Islamic history is gone.”

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The Green Lama Strikes for Justice!

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If you caught our story the other day about the Buddhist comic-book hero from the 1940’s, the Green Lama, you might be fascinated to know that it later ran as a radio show on CBS — and we have an episode below for your entertainment!

Om Mani Padme Hum! The Green Lama Strikes for Justice!

Time now for another exciting adventure, taken directly from the files of Jethro Dumont.

Jethro Dumont, the wealthy young American, who after 10 years in Tibet, returns as the Green Lama to amaze the world with his curious and secret powers in his single-handed fight against injustice and crime.

The show is introduced by Tulku, “whose honor and pleasure it is to serve the Green Lama.”

Click on the link below to hear an episode that was broadcast on May 17, 1949. (I think it may have been the first ever.)

The Green Lama, and The Man Who Never Existed

Two other episodes are available from archive.org. These files are in the public domain, and you’re free to download them.

Dumont spent ten years in Tibet studying to be a lama and learning many mystical secrets in the process. He returned to America intending to spread the basic doctrines of Tibetan Buddhism in order to remove ignorance and relieve suffering, but realized that he could accomplish more by fighting crime. He never carried a gun, believing that this would make him no better than those he fought.

Wikipedia has a sizable entry on the Green Lama:

The Green Lama first appeared in a short novel entitled The Green Lama in the April 1940 issue of Double Detective magazine. The novel was written by Kendell Foster Crossen using the pseudonym of “Richard Foster”. Writing in 1976, Crossen recalled that the character was created because the publishers of Double Detective, the Frank Munsey company, wanted a competitor for The Shadow, which was published by their rivals Street & Smith.

The character, partially inspired by explorer Theos “the White Lama” Bernard, was originally conceived as “The Gray Lama” thinking that he could hide in the shadows and sneak around, but tests of the cover art proved to be less than satisfactory so they changed his color to green. The Green Lama proved to be successful (though not as successful as The Shadow), and Crossen continued to produce Green Lama stories for Double Detective regularly up until March 1943, for a total of 14 stories.

And (da-da-da-DAH!) — the Green Lama lives! There’s a series of books of the adventures of this Buddhist superhero available on Amazon. Check ’em out!

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America’s forgotten Buddhist superhero

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From Salon.com:

If you have never heard of the Green Lama … he was an American pulp magazine hero of the 1940s whose superpower was imparted by, of all things, Buddhism. Om mani padme hum: such is the mantra of billionaire playboy Jethro Dumont (best billionaire playboy superhero name ever) when he wants to magically turn into his crime-fighting alter ego, the Green Lama. With his trusty sidekick Tsarong, Dumont/Lama battles evildoers like Willie the Sleeper and the Mad Magi.

Salon’s article discusses an exhibit on the Green Lama, among other comic book heroes with a Tibet connection, at the Rubin Museum of Art [archive.org link].

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The Buddha Walks Into A Bar, by Lodro Rinzler

Cover of Lodro Rinzler's book, The Buddha Walks Into a Bar

The Buddha Walks Into A Bar: A Guide to Life for a New Generation is the literary debut of 28 year-old Shambhala Buddhist teacher, Lodro Rinzler. The book is aimed at “Generation O” and makes no assumptions about any prior knowledge or experience of Buddhism. Having said that, despite being a ‘young Buddhist’ I have almost a decade of experience of Buddhism yet I still found this book enjoyable, useful, and interesting.

I must admit, I did wince slightly at some of the expressions in the book, such as “Sid said…” when referring to the Buddha, but perhaps this is due to not being so ‘down with the kids’ these days. However, the cringe-effect quickly passed and I found Rinzler’s approach to be both down to earth and inspiring at the same time. The introduction clearly sets out the book’s purpose as a guide for (young) people who have sex, drink alcohol once in a while and still get annoyed at life when it doesn’t go our way. The book also discusses how to apply the Dharma to these daily issues that pervade our lives by living life to the fullest and being more in the “now” (and not necessarily having to give up those things that you enjoy. I think this is a reassuring message for young people interested in Buddhism.

I run monthly events for young people at the Brighton Buddhist Centre. There has been some resistance and challenge from people who are too old to come along, asking why young people need their own separate events, and this is why: Early adulthood is a time when people are exploring their identity and role in society. Young adults, from teenage years even into their twenties and thirties, may be still going through the process of separating from their parents by exploring, pushing and defining their own boundaries, beliefs and ideologies. What is needed is not any perceived imposition of more rules or boundaries, or anyone telling them how they ought to behave. What this book does well is to avoid that; it acknowledges in the first chapter that we might have the intrusive thought “Brett is a real asshole” [sic] while meditating. Rather than discussing the negative implications of having such thoughts on a prolonged and regular basis, Rinzler simply gives advice on how to use meditation practice to break free of our habitual responses in a playful and realistic way.

To give you a flavour of the playful and realistic character of the chapters, here are some the chapter headings: Being Gentle with Your Incredible Hulk Syndrome; Sex, Love and Compassion; How to Apply Discipline, Even When Your Head gets Cut off; Singing a Vajra Song (in the shower). Each of these chapters appears in one of four parts of the book: The whole book is divided into four parts: 1. First, get your act together, 2. How to save the world, 3. Letting go into space and 4. Relaxing into magic. Each part explores a different ‘dignity’ of Shambhala Buddhism: the tiger, the snow lion, the garuda and the dragon. The qualities of the tiger are discernment, gentleness and precision. This part of the book guides us in discerning our intentions and motivations in life (discerning our mandala), and working with difficult emotions and includes some instruction some shamatha practice that is simple enough for a beginner, starting with just 5 minutes.

Rinzler also emphasises the importance of inhabiting the present moment, and making the most of it by taking care of the details of our home, our finances and even our clothes, in a way that is relevant to young people. In the next part, the snow lion represents open heartedness and positive emotion; her qualities are applied particularly to sex and relationships, and we are introduced to the six paramitas (perfections) and the practice of loving kindness meditation. Following on from this, the garuda makes its entry. The garuda is an outrageous mythical being (half man, half bird) who flies above the earth and embodies the quality of fearlessness. Here we come to recognise the nature of fear, impermanence, groundlessness and to ultimately develop equanimity. This part of the book guides us leaning into the less comfortable aspects of life, letting go of attachment and creating a greater sense of spaciousness with our jobs, family, money, gadgets, social life, et cetera.

Finally, we are introduced to the magical dragon, and her qualities of authenticity, humour and delight. I loved this part of the book; I’m currently writing my PhD thesis and can get a bit cranky at times! The dragon has at some dark times inspired me to let go and be a bit lighter, and to be more accepting when I’m not feeling at my best. This part also contains the story of Milarepa, who caused much harm in his lifetime but still managed to attain enlightenment. Reading the story reminded me that we can all transform ourselves and shine light into the darkness. There is a lovely simple exercise here for opening the heart and mind, which can be really helpful when feeling as though one is in the middle of a maelstrom!

Overall, I found this book enjoyable, engaging and inspiring. I think I would have liked to see a bit more of a health warning along the lines that although the practices in the book are great and can be really effective, they aren’t always easy to do, and that deeper effects tend to be cumulative. Having said that, I loved the book and think it’s a great introductory read for a younger person who would like to know more about Buddhism, or just life in general. There is no pressure from the book to become a Buddhist; in fact this is even stated in the introduction. We’re actually planning to use some of the ideas from the book, combined with Sangharakshita’s System of Meditation’ as a theme for our Young Sangha activities at Brighton Buddhist Centre, so there’s a recommendation!

Title: The Buddha Walks Into A Bar: A Guide to Life for a New Generation
Author: Lodro Rinzler
Publisher: Shambhala
ISBN: 978-1-590-30937-7
Available from: Shambhala, Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

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How to love yourself (guardian angel not supplied)

Someone on Facebook just introduced me to this very moving clip from Luc Besson’s 2005 film, Angel-A, about an angel, played by Danish actress Rie Rasmussen, who intervenes to rescue, André (played by Jamel Debbouze), a self-loathing scam artist on the verge of killing himself.

This makes me long for the days when I used to live around the corner from the Glasgow Film Theatre, where I enjoyed many fine foreign movies…

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More Latinos choose a less travelled road to spirituality

Cristina Pinzon: Ruben Lambert was educated in Catholic schools and grew up as a faithful Roman Catholic. As he grew older, the first generation Cuban-American decided to adopt a religion more rooted in meditation and enlightenment.

Now he follows the practices of Zen Buddhism and has assumed the name Venerable Mooh-Sang Sunim.

Like Lambert, many Latinos are shedding their traditional spiritual beliefs for non-traditional, non-Christian religions. Whether it involves praying five times a day or forsaking a suit and tie for long robes, these people are firm believers in the doctrines of their chosen convictions.

While the numbers of Latinos converting to these religions …

Click to read more »

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Reincarnation: The Movie

"My Incarnation" movie Poster

My Reincarnation, a film about the burden of being told that you’re a reincarnated lama, opens October 28 in New York and Los Angeles, before moving nationwide.

My Reincarnation is said to be “an epic, intimate father-son drama wrapped in a spiritual documentary — spanning 20 years and three generations.” It follows renowned reincarnate Tibetan lama Chögyal Namkhai Norbu as he struggles to save his spiritual tradition, and his Italian-born son, Yeshi, who strains against the weight of being recognized as the reincarnation of his father’s uncle.

The film of the latest work by Jennifer Fox, producer of An American Love Story, Learning to Swim, and Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman.

For twenty years, Fox followed Norbu and Yeshi with her camera. The result tells the rare inside story of one of the last reincarnated teachers to be trained in Tibet and his son’s stubborn reluctance to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Norbu Rinpoche escaped Tibet in 1959 and settled in Italy, where he married an Italian woman and had two children, of which Yeshi was the first. As a boy, Yeshi was recognized as the reincarnation of a famous spiritual master who died after the Chinese invaded Tibet. But growing up in Italy, Yeshi never wanted to have anything to do with this legacy, not being convinced by the “proofs” and feeling that people knew about him but didn’t know him.

The film follows Yeshi though his spiritual explorations, and one reviewer commented that “Open-minded viewers are likely to be enthralled by interpretations of human existence and systems of belief that never play like a recruitment drive.”

“The film touches on so many topics that people don’t talk about openly in their lives,” Fox explains. “I wanted to use the film’s theatrical launch as an opportunity to create a safe space for people to share their spiritual stories and their stories of transformation, whether it be about a parent or a child, or in relation to a religious experience. I am so excited to see this web dialogue develop and grow. We’ve already had great support from wonderful people such as Robert Thurman and his son, Ganden, who have agreed to be interviewed about their spiritual stories for the site to prompt others to share.”

Earlier this year, My Reincarnation made news by breaking records as hundreds of patrons made it the number one fund-raising film of any completed film on Kickstarter, the popular crowd-funding platform.

My Reincarnation won a Top 20 Audience Award at the International Film Festival of Amsterdam, screened at the Sydney Film Festival, and will soon premiere at the Hamptons Film Festival.

Variety Review praises “the intimate feel of the project,” and Hollywood Report Card says, “The amount of access into the lives of these two men over two decades gives the film an amazing depth.”

The film will open October 28 in New York (Cinema Village, 22 East 12th Street), and Los Angeles (Laemmle Monica, 1332 2nd Street, Santa Monica).

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