Friday, August 31, 2012

Buddhism in the news: August 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. My list of articles is shorter this month, which I think is perhaps more beneficial than a more exhaustive list. However, as always I 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. Buddhist monk sentenced to seven years for spreading information about Tibet. Tibetan Buddhist monk Yonten Gyatso was sentenced to seven years in prison for sharing pictures and information about the self-immolation of Tibetan Buddhist nun Tenzin Wangmo, and distributing information about the political situation in Tibet. Critics say that this incident shows the dire restrictions on free communication and speech in China and China-occupied Tibet. Yonten Gyatso will serve his sentence in the Mianyang prison in Sichuan Province, China. From Reporters Without Borders.

2. Two Buddhist brides wed in Taiwan. Two Taiwanese women were married in a Buddhist ceremony presided by Buddhist master and social activist Shih Chao-Hwei. The couple hopes that their union will help encourage fellow Taiwanese citizens to accept same-sex marriage. However, the article also commented that a bill introduced in 2003 legalizing same-sex marriage and adoption has received little attention from the Taiwanese legislature. From CNN.

3. Thai girl inspires Buddhist nun program. Video account of how an eight-year-old Thai girl wanted to share in developing good merit to her deceased grandmother by temporarily entering into monastic life. Although this is very common for (and often expected of) her male counterparts, this honor has not been extended to young females, because the ordinations of Buddhist nuns are not recognized in Thailand. Through this program, which allows young girls to enter temporary nun-hood, many hope that this will raise the status of Buddhist nuns in Thai society. Video is from Aljazeera.  

4. Buddhist ceremonial release of captive birds may harm wildlife. There are concerns from the scientific community that the practice of building merit by releasing captive animals (usually birds) may have negative impacts on the birds, other wildlife, and humans. This article also warns of the possibility of humans contracting H5N1 (aka: Bird flu) from birds that are stressed (and therefore more susceptible) to the disease. Article is from Scientific American. 

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!

May all beings be happy!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A short hiatus

I just wanted to let you know that for the time being I am going to be taking a short hiatus as I gear up for my anniversary posts in September. I will periodically be checking the comments to this post, so if you have any suggestions for posts about basic Buddhist concepts, please share with me! In return I will do my best to write something that is helpful (and hopefully also interesting and informative :). Your comments and suggestions will help immensely because chances are if you have a question about something, it is likely that someone else out there (including me!) will have the same question. I look forward to your input!

Also just FYI, I will still post my Buddhism in the News segment for August 2012 at the end of the month. From what I can tell, there seem to be some interesting stories out there, so stay tuned :)

Until later, all the best, I hope you enjoy the rest of August! 

With Metta,

May all beings be happy!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Behind the mango tree

One thing I love about writing ByChanceBuddhism is that I am constantly inspired by readers and their comments. My last post (also inspired by a reader's comment) was about the tendency for many of us to define ourselves with labels, sometimes with unfortunate results, i.e. relationships/perceptions based on assumptions and superficiality. In his response to this post, one reader summed it all up in an eloquent metaphor about a mango tree. As a botanist, I must say that this comparison hit a special chord with me, so I am excited to share it with you!

The comment went something like this:

 ". . . For example, when I go to the park, I look at a mango tree and I know it is a mango tree because I love to eat mangos. But that's about it. In truth, I don't know anything about the tree that produces the mango, but I know and understand only the fruit. But since I know this tree produces mango and I know its name, I assume I know everything. The label "mango tree" stops me from understanding and knowing the tree.

The tree is a totally different story, for it has a life force of its own. Deep within, the tree radiates life that if we were to sit or meditate under it, then we can feel its pulse. The tree is alive, so why do we not enjoy its presence, but instead choose to stop at the word "mango tree"?"

So indeed, why do/should we stop at the words Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, agnostic, conservative, liberal when considering another human being? Although some labels can be useful, we must be careful in attaching them to ourselves, and distinguish the label from the human being as we try to relate to others.

The comment above was from xenusfreeman from over at Please check out his page here. With that, I will leave you to ponder the "life force" behind the words "mango tree" with these pics that I took years ago in Florida :)

I hope you've enjoyed this post and pics! As always, please share your thoughts in the comments below.

May all beings be happy!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The problem with labels

In my last Buddhism in the News, July 2012, I provided a link to an article about a man who escalated a road-rage incident by whipping out a crossbow and pointing it at the other driver. It was later discovered on his facebook page that he described himself as 'a Buddhist who holds tolerance in great importance'. This was something I found quite humorous (not to mention ironic), considering that anger and purposely inflicting harm are big no-no's according to Buddhist beliefs.

While I posted the link mostly in jest, a dear 'blog friend' of mine also pointed to lessons that could be learned. He expressed concern about how anyone who is not familiar with Buddhism could not only jump to conclusions about this individual, but about Buddhists in general. He added that whenever someone does something wrong, any labels they have attached to themselves can reflect badly upon others identifying themselves with that label.

These statements got me thinking about labels in general. Lately I have noticed how often people attach labels to themselves, sometimes moments after meeting someone for the first time. Although labels such as nationality can be useful, most are fairly ambiguous. Even if they have a completely different perception about what a label means, the minute we label ourselves, people think they've got us figured out. Based upon assumption, this prevents people from truly getting to know one another as individuals, and can also be a source of great misunderstanding. 

So then why do we need to make it so clear to others that we are Buddhist, Christian, minimalist, hippie, vegan, omnivore, republican, democrat, conservative, liberal? Is it an ego thing, to show others just how sure we are of our own identity? Or are we actually very insecure about who we really are, so we need to find ways (or in this case, words) to make ourselves appear solid and consistent? 

Of course since the basis of ByChanceBuddhism is my journey on the Buddhist path, it is clear that here I am identifying myself as a Buddhist. Fair enough. But in regard to my off-line existence, one of the first things I learned while studying Buddhism is that Buddhists don't necessarily have to go around telling everyone they are Buddhists. Many of the first books I read on the subject made it clear that our actions in daily life are much more important than 'being Buddhist'. 

Over time, I've begun to temper the impulse to reveal my 'labels' to people I meet. I also have started to let go of the constant need to define myself to others, and tested the idea of being just a little bit more mysterious. For the most part (and actually, to my amazement), this has resulted in more authentic interactions between myself and others. I guess that when it comes down to it, if I care at all about what others think about me, I would rather they think I am a good person than 'getting' the fact that I'm a Buddhist. I just need to remember that it's okay if others don't always know exactly where I are coming from, as long as I know where I'm going. 

I would like to thank Dan Kurtti over at for inspiring me to think critically about this topic and post. If you have a moment please click over to Dan's blog and check it out! 

"Don't try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are." H.H. The 14th Dalai Lama

May all beings be happy!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

In September

Next month I am celebrating a very significant personal milestone: the five-year anniversary of my journey on the Buddhist Path. During this celebration I would like to revisit the original purpose of ByChanceBuddhism, which is to help and welcome others who are new to the Buddhist way of life.

My goal for September is to write as many posts as I can that discuss the Basics (and not so-basics) of Buddhism. Similar to posts where I outline fundamental concepts such as the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, I plan to write a number of 'list' posts that describe other core Buddhist concepts and ideas.

Please keep in mind that due to my preparation for this project, my posts in August may not be as frequent (although I do have a few special posts planned ;). As always, I look forward to writing these future posts, and interacting with you as we discuss them.  

Although I have a good idea of ideas and concepts I would like to cover, I also would like to know what you are interested in knowing more about. After all, this celebration is not all about me- so I would be delighted if you would also share in its joy! Please post your suggestions/questions in the comments below, and I will do my best to follow up.

May all beings be happy!