Sunday, July 29, 2012

Buddhism in the news: July 2012

The following is part of my monthly "Buddhism in the News" series, where I provide links to articles about Buddhism, along with news of prominent Buddhists and everyday laypeople. I am certain that I have not included everything, but have tried to provide 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. The Dalai Lama celebrates his 77th birthday This is a link to a post I have written about the 14th Dalai Lama's birthday celebration. Post includes links to various articles and a slideshow featuring the festivities.

2. 'Meaningful autonomy is the only realistic solution' Interview with the Dalai Lama in the Indian newspaper The Hindu. The interview focuses on the Dalai Lama's new role, China, and the issue of choosing the next Dalai Lama in the face of Chinese restrictions on the concept of 'reincarnation'.

3. Thailand tourists, Disney asked to show Buddha some respect A series of articles written about the commercialization of Buddhism and the Buddha in Thailand tourism and in movies. Articles are from CNN Global Experiences.

4. New Buddha site discovered Researchers have discovered Buddhavana, described by the Chinese scholar Xuanzang in the 7th century AD. It is an important site associated with the Buddhacarika, or sublime wandering of the Buddha. The Buddha is said to have stayed one night in a cave of the Buddhavana, near the present day Indian village of Ayer. As with many places in the Gaya district of Bihar, India, the Buddhavana and Ayer village are filled with Buddhist antiquities, many of which have
yet to be excavated and categorized. In addition, this second article also provides quite a few pictures of the ancient artifacts researchers and locals have gathered. Articles are from Times of India and the blog Nalanda- insatiable in offering.

5. Meditating Buddhist monk saddles up for London The story of a Japanese Buddhist monk's plans to participate in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. He and his family have a long tradition of both spiritual and equestrian pursuits! Article is from Agence France-Presse (AFP).

6. Taiwan to stage 1st same-sex Buddhist wedding First same-sex Buddhist wedding in Asia will be held August 11th at a Buddhist monastery in north Taiwan. The article features the experience of one of the two women to be married, and discusses the reaction from different segments of Taiwanese society. Article is from AFP.

7. Gateway to Myanmar's past, and its future A detailed article of the great wealth of Buddhist archeological treasures that now await foreign visitors and scholars as Myanmar opens it's doors to the outside world. Article is from New York Times.

8. A rare Buddhist ceremony in Queens, paid for with a life's savings Sherpa woman uses her life savings to sponsor Tibetan Buddhist monks in reading the Kangyur, or Tibetan-language version of Buddhist canons, in their entirety. The ceremony took over 40 days to complete. Article is from the New York Times.

and for just a little bit of crazy . . .

9. Alleged crossbow road-rager: I'm a Buddhist Bizarre story of how a road rage incident escalated when one man wielded a crossbow. It was later found on his facebook page that he described himself as "a Buddhist who holds tolerance in great importance". The moral of the story? Watch out for all those crazy Buddhists out there- They probably have crossbows, and they will mess you up! :) Story is from NBC Philadelphia.

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!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mindfulness, meditation, and the magic spot

Yesterday I took a really nice, long, meditative walk. It was quite hot out, so I lingered in one of the cool, shady groves of the trail I frequent. A stream runs there, and so I decided to relax on its banks for a little while. 

As I was sitting, the woods around me seemed to come to life. Frogs jumped near the stream, dragonflies buzzed, birds sang. A beautiful butterfly flitted by and landed on the shiny wet stones near the stream. It paused for a few minutes, opening and closing its wings, revealing bright blue patches. Suddenly, the creature fluttered its wings and flew to the shelter of a nearby tree. 

This moment made me remember something I had long forgotten. When I was about eleven years old, my class took a field trip to a local park. One of the foresters there gave us a quick tour, and also told us about something called a 'magic spot'. She invited us to find a spot in the forest, settle down, and then be very, very, still. She described how nature will come to life around us, just like magic. Of course most of us laughed at how kiddish it sounded- after all, we were mighty sixth graders! 

But to tell the truth, it really was like magic. While sitting in our 'magic spots', the natural surroundings seemed to awaken. We each wrote what we observed in a little journal the forester had given us, which we (secretly) enjoyed sharing with our classmates.

Back to yesterday's experience, I realized the 'magic spot' can truly be an exercise in mindfulness, and a gateway to a meaningful meditation practice. This was exemplified by my observation of that beautiful butterfly: As I sat watching, my breath slowed, becoming one with the rhythm of its undulating wings. 

Here is a picture I took of a butterfly at a conservatory a while ago. I am posting this for your to enjoy, because I did not take a picture of the butterfly described above. After all, I was in my 'magic spot' :)

Have you had an experience like this? How do natural surroundings affect you and your mindfulness/meditation practice?
May all beings be happy!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A beautiful greeting

A little while ago my Mom sent my husband and me this beautiful card. It totally brightened our day, and now hangs on the wall above our altar. I just thought I'd share its beauty with all of you :) 

I love the lotus symbol, floating above the Buddha's hand. :)

Amazingly, the back of the card is almost as beautiful and ornate as the front! The artist's name s Miriam Robert (-Moraza) of Mystik Art Studio. Unfortunately the website appears to be down, but 
some of her creations can be found at greenearthstones, Keta Trading, and Kheops International. Her cards feature an eclectic range of spiritualities, depicting Buddhist, Christian, and Goddess themes. My mom purchased this card from one of our favorite Indian grocery stores. 

I love this card, and smile every time I look at it! :)

I hope you enjoyed this post. And once again, thank you Mom! :)
May all beings be happy!

Friday, July 20, 2012

May all beings be happy!

I have recently been receiving some positive feedback for the way I end my posts, which is with the words:

"May all beings be happy!"

I have chosen to close each post with this because the truth is, we all want to be happy. Given this basic commonality, I believe that "May all beings be happy" brings us together as fellow sentient beings, whatever path we choose.

A little while ago my mother-in-law also commented on how much she liked my sign-off phrase. She then told me the Sanskrit translation, which is (in Roman script, of course):

"Samstha Loka Sukhino Bhavanthu!" 

I was very happy to learn these uplifting words in this beautiful ancient Indian language. As with many of the new things I have encountered lately, this is yet another precious lesson in my lifetime of learning with my wonderful husband and his family. 

Thanks so much, all of you, for your kind and positive comments. I hope you have enjoyed this post! 

May all beings be happy! 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

I've come a long way

In my last post I discussed my decision to pursue the goals I have in life by enjoying them for their own merit, letting go of the idea of 'self-improvement.' This means that, for now, I want to do things because they make me happy, not because my life is some kind of pet project. 

A few years ago, I was an aggressive and very impatient person. Needless to say, these emotions caused me a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety. My troubles were compounded by the fact that I didn't have a constructive way of dealing with them. 

Enter my 'discovery' of Buddhism. If such a thing were to exist, it was like being hit (hard) with an enlightenment stick! Suddenly the ideas I had believed all my life (yet had not quite connected) were right there in front of me. Intellectual appreciation gave way to effort, effort to practice, and practice to a way of life. My realizations and initial zeal were also tempered by the indispensable Buddhist concept of rejecting extremes and following the Middle Way

Slowly and steadily, my attitudes towards other people and the world around me changed. Don't get me wrong, I still get angry and act unskillfully. But I in the past few years I have grown more calm, patient, and understanding. I regularly engage in activities that require self-discipline, like meditation, mindful eating, and practicing yoga. I also try (and sometimes succeed) in making an effort to practice Metta, or loving-kindness, towards all beings. I take part in these activities because I feel it is the right thing to do.

I realize now that this type of action is very different from the 'self-improvement' I had always pursued. Although (usually) unintentional, my efforts at 'improvement' had been outwardly motivated, to seek approval from others. It took me a long time to discover this pattern, not to mention how draining and demoralizing it can be. Now that I know, I am ready to let it go. It is time to focus on effort that is not only beneficial, but filled with freedom and joy.

In making this decision to change my motivation, I believe I have come a long way!  
In our lives, we are all on our own great journey. How do you feel that you have you come a long way in your life? What does the term 'self improvement' mean to you? As always, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

May all beings be happy!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

I've finally freed myself

It seems like ever since I can remember I have been working to improve myself. Lose weight, tone down, eat better, work harder, get better grades, be more confident. During this journey of 'self-improvement', I went from being a gung-ho, crash-and-burn type to someone who gradually works towards personal change. As you can imagine, the second method has brought me the most success. 

Yet recently I have felt very frustrated. Although I may have accomplished a lot in the past few years, I still have many more goals- perhaps more than I have had at any time in my life. But I don't seem to be getting anywhere with any of them. 

Thinking of posts I've read from success gurus like Leo Babauta, I decided to make one last-ditch effort. Leo is at the forefront of advocating bite-sized change for big-time goals, from losing weight to becoming a great athlete. Baby steps are key.

With this in mind, I planned to take the smallest step I could. I made a date with myself to work on my own self-improvement, for just one minute each day. I could choose to do anything I wanted, and stay at one minute until I was comfortable to move on to two minutes, then three, then four . . . all the way up to an hour of working on self-improvement each day. What a great idea! (Right?)    

Well, even though I do actually think this was a pretty decent plan, I had not anticipated the massive resistance I would put up against it. After procrastinating for several hours, I finally was ready to do my 'one minute'. However, instead of the one minute of pushups I had planned, I just sat there and rested for one minute. Then two. Then three. 

Feeling defeated and angry at myself, I decided to go for a long walk to calm down. As I was walking, I kept wondering what the hell was wrong with me. Couldn't I just work on improving myself for ONE MINUTE?! How lazy am I, really?! 

After some time I calmed down and thought more rationally about my behavior. Okay, I had obviously been resistant to that one little minute of change because I simply didn't want to do it. Fine.

But it was the answer to my next question, Why didn't I want to do it?, that really hit me. 

"Because I've had enough!" my mind blurted out. Surprised, I realized in that moment that I don't need to do this to myself anymore. The idea of 'self-improvement' is all well and good, but the way I was going about it was sucking the joy out of my life. All the goals I have, everything I love and want to do in life, I had demoted to mere drudgery. 

And, turning inward, I realized something more. My slavish effort in 'self-improvement' was implying (and constantly re-enforcing) that there is something fundamentally wrong with me, that I somehow need to 'fix'. I know now that this is simply not true. I don't need any more 'improvement'.

Does this mean I think I am perfect? Absolutely not. But I think it is time for me to become comfortable with my own imperfection. Following a Buddhist way of life has helped me establish and strengthen a code of conduct not based on faith alone. Instead, the guidelines set by the Buddha in the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, and Five Moral Precepts have resonated with me as fundamental laws of the universe. In my effort to be in balance with them, these guidelines have helped set a distinct framework for my behavior, and shifted the emphasis of what I feel is important in life. 

Keeping this framework close to my heart, I think the time has come that I just need to do what makes me happy. It is in this way I will work towards my goals, joyfully, without self-reproach and judgement. 

I am finally free.

I feel like a butterfly, spreading my wings in freedom!
May all beings be happy (even me)! :)

As always, I welcome your comments. With love and Metta, Renata

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

You never know!

Because my last post was about the Dalai Lama's 77th birthday, I thought I would write a quick blurb on the coattails of that, since this experience is (at least remotely) related. 

On a visit to my husband's workplace last week, I remembered that it was the Dalai Lama's birthday, so I thought it would be nice to post about it. While I was writing, a colleague of my husband's stopped by to say hello- It was his birthday, too! However, he was unfortunately (albeit jokingly) rather bummed out, having been born on the same day as former US president, George W. Bush. 

I laughed and said that if he thought that was such a bad thing, he might be happy to know that he also shares his birthday with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. He brightened up for a second, then made a sudden 'head exploding' motion with his hands. "The Dalai Lama and George W. Bush have the same birthday?! Mind blown!" 

"Yes", I said, "and you too!" Then I jokingly shook my finger at him, "That is why you should never let people get under your skin. You never know what you'll have in common with them!" He shrugged his shoulders and sighed. (I don't blame him for sighing- I can be such a pain sometimes!)

But you know, I was only being sassy because I have learned this lesson myself. There have been times when for some reason I have been really put off by someone, disagreeing with them about almost everything. Yet, some of these same people have also become good friends of mine (eventually :).

The only reason I can think of why we became friends is because there was a mutual effort to see through the superficial. The fact is, I have realized that although I won't necessarily 'like' everyone (and vise versa!), I can now stand back and know that anyone, friend or foe, has the capacity to surprise. (And apparently, people have also realized the same thing about me)   

Have you had such an experience, where someone you thought you had nothing in common with suddenly surprises you? Perhaps you didn't become BFFs, but what did you learn? Please share in the comments below, I would love to hear your take on this!

"Hanging on to resentment is letting someone you despise living rent-free in your head" Ann Landers (Esther Lederer) 

May all beings be happy!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Happy Birthday!

. . . To His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso, the exiled Tibetan leader and 1989 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. He began life as Lhamo Dhondup, born to a farming family in the tiny village of Taktser, Tibet, 1935. According to Tibetan Buddhist tradition and through mystic signs that led a government deputation from Lhasa to Taktser, at the age of two he was discovered to be the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso. You can read more about the Dalai Lama's life before and after his exile from Tibet in 1959 here. Biography is from the official website of the 14th Dalai Lama. 

Of course, there are numerous festivities going on around the world to celebrate this day. Please enjoy this slideshow of people celebrating the birthday of the 14th Dalai Lama in India and Nepal. Slideshow is from TIMEWorld. 

Other articles:
The Dalai Lama's 77th Birthday Celebrated in Dharamsala Article is from New York Daily News.
Tibetans celebrate the Dalai Lama's 77th Birthday Article is Associated Press via ABC News. 
Dalai Lama 77th birthday celebrations ready for July 6th Article is from the Huffington Post. 

May all beings be happy! As always, please share your views and experiences in the comments below.

Update and caution: Apparently some people out there are trying to exploit this joyous occasion so they can infect computers with malware. If you get an email with a subject line that goes something like: "Dalai Lama's birthday on July 6th to be a low-key affair" Don't open it or the attachment enclosed! You can read the article about the malware at