Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Monday, April 26, 2010
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Hours later, I find myself reeling at the sheer number of not just Buddhist resource sites online, but blogs and narratives. I would expect nothing less than an overwhelming amount of information (it being the internet of course) and once I start out on the trail, I am pretty thrilled to add these numerous sites to my ever expanding blog lists.
Amidst all the blog surfing, I came across a wonderful interview that immediately dove into the act and mindset of American Buddhists "relating" to the spirits of the land, such an act being an extension of respect, but also of grounding the spiritual practice in alignment with the local spirit realm.
Connections between Buddhism and Native American Practices is an interview with Lorain Fox Davis and Tsultrim Allione that originally appeared in Inquiring Mind magazine. They both bring in correlates of the Tibetan and Native American traditions view of the being as in a highly interactive relationship with the environment. Using the example of raven's calls and an entire Tibetan divination system based on call number and flight direction, Tsultrim notes:
Lorain Fox Davis, who is Cree/Blackfeet and has been engaged with Tibetan Buddhist practices for over three decades, speaks of the similarities in Native American spirituality and Tibetan Buddhist teachings with regard to compassion for every creature. Such perceptions are threaded through indigenous worldviews on every continent. Likewise, natural phenomenon and land-forms are perceived as possessing not only the elements for creatures to sustain basic survival, but also a spiritual power. Thunder Beings, it is noted, are revered in both Native American and Tibetan Buddhism as "spiritual and physical manifestations of the Spirit."
The full interview is about three pages and and excellent read. Link to it here. I realized that this is the first, but certainly not the last time that I read or write about these women. Tsultrim Allione, a former Tibetan Buddhist nun, is the founder of Tara Mandala, a retreat center in Southwestern Colorado and author of Women of Wisdom. Lorain Fox Davis is a faculty member for American Indian Studies Program at Naropa University, the founder and director of Rediscovery Four Corners, a non profit serving Native American youth and elders and as well as a teacher at Tara Mandala. I look forward to reading more on these figures.
With regard to your locality and all the presences it is home to, wherever you may be.
Nagaloka is affiliated with FWBO, Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. The FWBO has recently changed its name to The Triratna Buddhist Community. Founded in 1967 by England native Urgyen Sangharakshita, the movement has a global path, with FWBO/Triratna affiliated groups, dharma and retreat centers in many countries. The movement is non-sectarian, drawing from Theravada, Hinayana and Vajrayana teachings and practices. Triratna's blog is very active and dynamic, with updates from many regions of the globe.
What strikes me immediately with this community is precisely how international and vast its span is, but also the emphasis on relating practice to modern life. Their website covers the extensive activities of the community, including prison programs, publications, school programs, approaches to 'right livelihood' businesses and numerous other social programs and activities reflecting the deep social engagement of many of the centers.
The central philosophy informing all Triaratna Buddhist Community activities is "Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels," the three jewels representing the Buddha (historical figure as well as our own potential for enlightenment), Dharma (teachings) and Sangha (community). The new name for the community, Triratna, itself means Three Jewels and will be celebrated in a collective name change ceremony this May
Image above of Nagoloka's space in Maine from FWBO's news site. Visit their blog here.
Friday, April 23, 2010
-Kadampa Center website
Today's virtual visit takes us, for the first time in this blog, to southeastern U.S.A., to the Kadampa Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Kadampa Center for the Practice of Tibetan Buddhism in the Gelugpa Tradition was founded in 1992 by Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche who is also the Spiritual Director of FPMT (Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition). The center is part of the global network of FPMT centers that perpetuate a spiritual community of practitioners as well as publications and community projects.
One project at the Center that immediately caught my attention was the Liberation Prison Project. An affiliate project of FPMT, the Liberation Prison Project has, since 1996, been supporting the practice of Buddhism by prisoners worldwide. Volunteer teachers offer guidance and tools to prisoners and visiting teachers go into the prisons to offer teachings and meditation.
Prisoners typically learn of the project by way of another prisoner who has become engaged with the Buddhist teachings. The Liberation Prison Project often initiates outreach after a prisoner sends a letter seeking material and support.
-LPP's Founder, Ven. Robina Courtin
The efforts of bringing Buddhist teachings to prisoners is one I find tremendous. As with many other posts and "virtual visits," what was intended today to be a look at a dharma center in North Carolina led to knowledge of an international organization and effort to bring the dharma to those who seek it, but do not have the resources nor freedoms to simply go to a local dharma center. As can be intuited from some of my other posts here, I am interested in Buddhism on many levels, but an area that particularly draws me is practice and awareness that leads to a major transformation in lives.
In reading the bios of the volunteer teacher's on the LPP website, it's immediately clear how that transformative nature of exchanging Buddhist teachings relates to both the teachers and the prisoners experiences. Andre Smith's (a North Carolina based LPP teacher) story is directly reflective of this. You can read it here. In essence, the idea of any individual who has lost someone dear to them to a violent crime to then turn their energy and efforts towards bringing teachings of compassion and self understanding to prisoners is tremendous. Many prisoners are stigmatized due to their own record of crime, but while in prison many do have the capacity to transform their thinking and their lives. It may be difficult, and at times even inappropriate, to view prisoners as victims, but in a sense it is a victimization of the self. The potential of suffering that human's are capable of creating for themselves and others can reach disastrous proportions.
Efforts such as the Liberation Prison Projects bring the teachings of the dharma to a very particular place of need, even more so as prisoners are themselves seeking it out.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
"As time passes, everything changes – culture, people’s mentality and behavior, the environment and so forth – so the way that the teachings are presented also has to change. Today, when everything moves so fast, we can’t necessarily use methods that in earlier times took a long time to accomplish. Lord Buddha himself said that when the culture changes, delusion, mentality and behavior also change, so even the vinaya rules have to be adjusted, because in their original form they may no longer benefit. We should therefore understand that Lord Buddha taught in order to help beings according to their individual need, so naturally, as time passes, the way his teachings are presented and practiced might also have to change. Even in times of nuclear war there’d still be a skillful way to practice Dharma.
If the teachings are not suited to the times and way of life, they’re very difficult to practice. I mean, if the only way to reach enlightenment was to ride a snow lion around Amsterdam we’d really be in trouble.
However, the practice of tantra is very well suited to twentieth century life. Life today is full of pleasure but we also have a tendency to be easily confused and dissatisfied. Therefore we need a method whereby we can transform the energy of all our everyday life experiences into the path to enlightenment; we desperately need that kind of skill. So that’s what tantra offers us."
From: Vajrayana, by Lama Yeshe as published in Mandala Magazine
Monday, April 19, 2010
Tashi Dhargye: The Eight Auspicious Signs - Combined Form
Friday, April 16, 2010
It is partly, but not entirely, a pursuit of the mind. I am a student at heart. I love learning. But the heart of course is human. A basic reality of many religious teachings is the focus on the human condition. Buddhism, in particular, has been widely noted in popular conception as well as serious religious discourse, as a being a faith, a philosophy, that deals quite literally in the realm of human psychology.
My use of the word 'reform' in this post's heading brings to mind criticisms I have read in some places of the use of religion as a 'fad' of self improvement. Certainly, in our religiously pluralistic society, individuals don't always commit to a specific path of practice but take an exploratory route. I certainly wouldn't want to be judged if I decided to visit a church or temple a few times for inspiration or simply out of curiosity.
The idea of reform, is for me, integral to the adherence of faith and religious philosophies. Individuals come to various faiths with all sorts of histories. Personal reform, for me, indicates not only a deep and continuous self examination, an increasing understanding of how one needlessly perpetuates suffering in their own life, but also continuing to constructively engage with the world through one's daily acts and profession.
When I make these virtual visits to various dharma centers, I see the list of teachings offered at many sites, including:
- teachings on anger and other emotional states
- teachings on death and impermanence
- teachings on attachment
- teachings on compassion
I find myself increasingly interested in how the dharma enters and is integrated in people's lives. Being in a military community, I am now propelled to find out about service members who adhere to Tibetan Buddhist teachings, or simply who have an interest in it that they intend to cultivate, and how their adherence or interest informs even their profession.
These particular questions have been bubbling up increasingly in the past few days. This morning I turned to read an article that quickly delved right to the heart of some of my 'questions.'
Thich Nhat Hanh's The Bodhisattva at Work: Skillful Means in Any Path is an article I will certainly be referencing at a later date. But to introduce some of the thoughts here, Hanh immediately delves into the skillful means of a bodhisattva which he then leads into an incredibly grounded and relevant discussion of the possibility of the bodhisattva to manifest in many forms, regardless of one's path in life. He references the reality of prisoners, police officers, even gang members being capable of incorporating the role of the bodhisattva into their life, effectively transforming communication with others around them and perhaps even conditions.
I am so moved by this article and the ideas proposed in it because I have, for the past several days, been turning over in my mind a way in which to approach and write about concepts of non-violence in Tibetan Buddhist teachings, the implications and meaning of wrathful symbolism in Tibetan Buddhist art and how teachings of the Vajrayana can help to inform how we engage and respond to shifting acts and nodes of violence in the world.
For now, I am going to sign off....but more of this to come.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
On a personal note, I spent my childhood in southern Florida, no stranger to hurricanes. Several of my later adolescent years were spent in Southern California, accustomed to earthquake drills and the occasional deep Earth rumble in the night, propelling me out of bed to the door frame. My parents later decided to move from one of the most earthquake prone region in the States to the most active volcano region in the States. The reality of potential natural "disasters" has always been in my awareness in these places I lived. While some locations on Earth are simply more geographically hazardous than others, the basic truth is that none of us is immune to things changing drastically in a moment of time.
There is no state I call my "home state," but the state in which I am currently at home is Alabama. I am present in Southern Alabama where I'm guessing tornado warnings are not so infrequent and we experienced our first warning recently. It barely grazed a nearby region but I hovered by the window wondering if I would witness the havoc this phenomenon could wreak.
Today's virtual visit was to the website of a center about 3 hours north of my current location and may likely be the next dharma center I visit in person.
The Losel Maitri Tibetan Buddhist Center in Birmingham Alabama has been spiritually directed by Ven. Tenzin Deshek since 2002. Lama Deshek, who was born in Tibet and studied at Namgyal Monastery in India, has several times shown the spiritual artistry and skill in creating the sand mandala. The following photos are from the Ten Days of Tibet, 2006 photo album on the Losel Maitri website, showing Ven. Tenzin Deshek creating a sand mandala at the McWane Center in downtown Birmingham.