Saturday, June 30, 2012

A lotus for you . . .

. . . a Buddha to be.

Said with hands held in a prayer position in front of the heart, these beautiful words are a common greeting between Buddhists at temples and meditation retreats. The joined hands represent the bud of a lotus flower, preparing to blossom in all its beauty and purity. As Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh explains, "The meditation practitioner is like a lotus flower in the process of blooming. Buddhas are fully bloomed flowers, beautiful and refreshing. All of us are Buddhas-to-be." This is one of the main reasons why people practicing meditation and the Dhamma greet each other in this way. 

As a botanist, flowers and plants in general inspire a great amount of fascination and interest, but the lotus has always been among my favorites (A happy premonition, perhaps? :) Since becoming a Buddhist and learning about both Buddhist and Hindu spiritual symbolism, this sacred flower now has taken on a deep personal meaning. I find that the inspiring way these delicate blooms emerge so purely from the deep, dark muck below are a great subject for contemplation. 

Is the same true for you? How does the symbolism of the lotus blossom inspire you in your life? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.  

The following images are from a trip my husband and parents took to Pennsylvania's beautiful Longwood Gardens a few weeks ago. Much to our delight, the lotus ponds nestled between the wings of the enormous, four-acre conservatory were in full bloom. I hope you enjoy looking at some of the pictures we took there- I couldn't think of a better time to share them!  

Overview of the central lotus pond, with a beautiful Indian lotus contemplating its own breathtaking reflection. 

A magenta colored lotus emerging from the dark water, luminous in the sunshine. 

A lovely purple lotus, with its bountiful petals. 

A delicate white lotus. 

My favorite image: A delicately pink water lily looking almost silken in the bright afternoon sun. I love how the reflection of clouds in the sky seem to caress the flower; a harmonious union of earth, sky, water, and sun.  

I hope you've enjoyed these images I have posted today. I know that I certainly enjoyed capturing these photos and sharing them with you!

May all beings be happy- and now a lotus for you, a Buddha to be! _/|\_ 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Buddhism in the news, June 2012

The following is my new monthly "Buddhism in the News" segment, where I provide links to articles about Buddhism, along with news of prominent Buddhists and everyday laypeople. Buddhism is an ancient religion, but it is also very much alive and relevant today. By writing these posts, I hope to show how very true that is. I am certain that I have probably not included all important events, but I think the articles below are a good sampling of current Buddhist happenings around the world. I welcome you to browse the linked articles below and read what interests you. Enjoy!

1. Ancient statue reveals prince who would become the Buddha Ancient artifacts discovered in the ruins of the Buddhist monastery Mes Aynak in Afghanistan show representations of prince Siddhartha Gautama before he became the Buddha. The stone statue, or stele, was found in 2010, but had not been analyzed until recently, and may provide evidence of a cult dedicated to celebrating events in Siddhartha's life before his enlightenment. Article is from Fox News.

2. Buddhist yoga retreat death raises questions about Arizona monk's 'Enlightenment Preaching' An account of the story that ended in the death of Ian Thorson, who was attending the three year yoga retreat with his wife. His wife had previously been married to the man leading the retreat, who some say has built a bizarre Buddhist cult around himself. His practices have been heavily criticized by the Dalai Lama and other leaders in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Police investigating the death do not suspect foul play, but people are now questioning what has been going on at the retreat, set near a remote town in Arizona. Article is from ABC news.

3. South Korean monks launch reforms following gambling scandal An update to the scandal that broke last month, where South Korean monks were caught on video in a luxury hotel suite drinking, smoking, and playing an illegal poker game with stakes reaching $875,300 USD. Reforms include hiring outside financial professionals to manage the funds of the monastic order, lay people to run the temples, and making financial records open to the public. Article from the Global Post.

4. Censorship in China is morally wrong: Dalai Lama The Dalai Lama speaks out on the control of information and freedom of movement of the Chinese People by the Chinese government. He insists that the Chinese people have a right to know the realities of their current situation, and to be able to freely determine right from wrong based on correct information. Article is from Firstpost.World.

5. The Dalai Lama and Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi meet in London A brief article of the two Nobel laureates' half hour meeting in London. It was the first time Aung San Suu Kyi had been abroad to Europe in 24 years. She was released from house arrest in Myanmar in 2010. Article is from

6. Crisis in Myanmar over Buddhist-Muslim clash Violence between Muslims and Buddhists in the Rakhine state in Myanmar has resulted in the burning of 500 homes and 17 deaths. President Thein Sein has declared a state of emergency in this part of the country. Article is from the New York Times.

7. Buddha attacked by Taliban in 2007 gets facelift An Italian archeologist has partially reconstructed the face of the Jahanabad Buddha located in the Swat valley in Northwest Pakistan, which had been dynamited by Taliban extremists in 2007. The article also discusses the concern regarding the protection and preservation of other ancient Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim sites in the region. From

8. American Buddhism on the Rise A video of 'Buddhafest' film festival in Arlington, Virginia featuring people who discuss their interest in Buddhism, and what benefits they have received from learning about and practicing the Buddhist faith. Video from PBS.

9. What's an American Buddhist? This article discusses the huge boom of Buddhism in North America since 1990, and why Americans and others may have been attracted to this ancient faith. There is also an interesting discussion of cultural differences between 'Eastern' traditions and 'Western' practitioners, how they may emerge in the practices of North American Buddhists, and how the basic tenets of the Buddhist faith unites them. Article from the Washington Post.

10. Buddhism and the unconscious An article discussing the connections between the theories of the unconscious from psychoanalyst Carl Jung and ideas about our survival as a species from biologist Edward O. Wilson, all compared with Buddhist psychology. From the blog Huffington Post.

11. Keeping the peace: Britain's Buddhist police A very interesting article about Buddhist officers in the British police force. The article features an account by Sergeant Gary Watts, who, feeling isolated, reached out to see if there were others like him on the police internal website message board. He was surprised to find that there were in fact others in the force, both officers and staff, who practiced Buddhism. Sergeant Watts also discusses the issue of using force during his job, and describes that using force can be done properly and guided by Buddhist principles, if it is only used to protect himself and others, and without anger or malice. In the future he hopes to offer meditation classes to all officers for the purpose of health and general well-being. Article from The Telegraph.

12. Europe's largest Buddhist temple inaugurated in Bussy-Saint-Georges Public figures and representatives from several religious groups were present to inaugurate the new Buddhist temple on June 24th, 2012. The temple, which is now the largest Buddhist temple in Europe, will open to the public on July 1st. A slideshow of images from the inauguration accompanies this article from

As always, please share your thoughts about whatever captured your interest in the comments. Also please let me know if I missed something important this month by providing the title of the article. I will google it and include it here, with credit to you! :) Finally, if you are reading this at a later date, please inform me of any dead links, since some newspapers post articles for a short time before archiving them. Thank you so much!

May all beings be happy!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Turning 30: Lessons for my younger self

Earlier this month I hit another (albeit relatively artificial) milestone in my life. My twenties have come to a close, and I now suddenly find myself to be 30 years old. Although I do marvel at where the time has gone, I in no way feel 'old'. If it wasn't for the lessons I have learned and the lines forming on my face, I could persuade myself that 19 was only yesterday. 

But despite feeling 20, I am glad to be 30. I think it is an accomplishment that all things considered, I still love to smile, laugh, and continue to be ever-curious about life. And yes, I am still a little goofy and immature. 

Recently I came across something I had written years ago, a note listing goals I had for my life. I also expressed concern for my future, wondering if I would ever finish my degree or get married (at the time I was already dating the wonderful man who is now my husband). 

Now here I am, a recently married woman, and an even more recent PhD. The words I had written made me smile, but mostly at my own ignorance. Although happily married and proud of my academic accomplishments, I now know that these things do not define me. It is the love, laughter, hard work, and character built along the way that matters. And the amazing thing is, I have found that I can be happy, right here, right now, but only if I let myself. I am pretty sure the same is true for everyone, but also think it is something we all must learn on our own.  

With this in mind, I thought of other things I have learned this past decade. If I could send a letter back in time, these are the things I would tell my 20-year-old self:   

  • True compassion is not what you think it is. It is not pity, or even charity for that matter. And it is most certainly not 'people pleasing'. You will learn the difference. 
  • By all means help friends in need, and cheer them up if they've got the blues. But stay away from malcontents. They will bring you down, and their jealousy will poison your happiness. Smile and walk away, your grace and dignity intact. 
  • The less people know about you, the better. Never talk too much about yourself or your relationships with others. Listen mindfully to those around you instead. 
  • Speaking of less, it really is more. In almost every aspect of your life. 
  • If you are unsure about a decision, think, "Will I regret it if I do it, or regret it if I don't?". Trust your instincts.
  • Never believe that someone else has your best interests at heart. Those who claim to may be genuine, but really, how could they know what makes your heart soar? Only you can know that, so don't be complacent. 
  • To quote Eleanor Roosevelt, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent". Take that quote to heart, girl!
  • Anything in this world worth having does not come easy. Personal growth is definitely one of them, and requires patience and being gentle with yourself. Instead of kicking yourself for what you didn't achieve yesterday, focus on the progress you've made today.
  • The only actions you can control are your own. You are never in control of other people's thoughts, actions, and beliefs, so let go of worrying about them. If an issue arises that causes concern, the only thing you can rightfully do is lead by example.   
and last but not least . . .  
  • Despite what you may think now, know that a spiritual life is possible, even for a nonconformist like you :) Just don't think that it has to be what other people think or say it should be. So go ahead, keep exploring your beliefs- and more importantly, continue challenging them! 

Did you enjoy this post? What are some of the things you would tell your younger self? Please share in the comments below.

May all beings be happy!