Thursday, September 29, 2011

Buddhists, Muslims, and Executing Infidels

Iranian Pastor Faces Execution for Refusing to Recant Christian Faith

Published September 29, 2011

 Yusuf Naderkhani and family

An undated photograph circulated by religious rights organizations shows Youcef Nadarkhani and his family.

The lawyer of an Iranian pastor sentenced to death for refusing to renounce his Christian faith is hopeful an appeals court will acquit his client.

Attorney Mohammad Ali Dadkhah says he believes there's a "95 percent chance" of acquittal for 32-year-old Yusuf Naderkhani.

Additionally, CBN News is reporting that the death penalty sentence for Naderkhani may be overturned.
Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice said in an email Wednesday evening that he'd gotten word of the chief judge's decision, although official notice from the court had not yet been received.

He stressed that the ruling doesn't mean that Naderkhani "will be set free without some additional punishment, potentially a long jail sentence or worse."

The Practical Buddhist Responds

Powerful Iranian clerics teach that apostasy (leaving Islam) should merit the death penalty. If they let Pastor Youcef off the hook if will be because he can prove he was never a Muslim in the first place. But don’t trash Islam and claim your Christianity is more humane or enlightened.

Even today, bishops regularly “excommunicate” apostates (those who leave Christianity in a public way) and “heretics” (those who embrace other flavors of the Faith). It goes on here in Phoenix.  

Excommunication is a kind of spiritual death sentence: no sacraments, and presumably, no salvation.  This recalls the Inquisition when threats of torture and death kept would-be heretics in line, and kept Jews in their place.

It’s about power and centralized control, control that extends to private thoughts.

The Buddha had a disciple named Sunakkhatta who decided to renounce the Teacher and all he stood for. The Buddha responded “Did I ever tell you to live by my teachings? Did you ever say you wanted to live by my teachings?  If not, what exactly are you renouncing?”

Buddhist teachings (like the teachings of Jesus) are powerful and transforming.  The difference is that most Buddhist teachings are ethical, not doctrinal, and that there is no set of required beliefs.  If you want to be a Buddhist, just find refuge in the Buddha, the Buddha’s teaching, and the Buddhist community. No Baptism or enrollment required. You don’t even have to give up being Lutheran or Baptist!

Christianity and Islam are beautiful religions, but dangerous to your health if you stray. Buddhism is like home: you’re always welcome, no matter what.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Saudi Women, Feminism, and Buddhism

Saudi Monarch Grants Women Right to Vote

Published: September 25, 2011

Saudi women, who are legally subject to male chaperones for almost any public activity, hailed the royal decree as an important, if limited, step toward making them equal to their male counterparts. They said the uprisings sweeping the Arab world for the past nine months — along with sustained domestic pressure for women’s rights and a more representative form of government — prompted the change.(New York Times) King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on Sunday granted women the right to vote and run in future municipal elections, the biggest change in a decade for women in a puritanical kingdom that practices strict separation of the sexes, including banning women from driving.
“There is the element of the Arab Spring, there is the element of the strength of Saudi social media, and there is the element of Saudi women themselves, who are not silent,” said Hatoon al-Fassi, a history professor and one of the women who organized a campaign demanding the right to vote this spring. “Plus, the fact that the issue of women has turned Saudi Arabia into an international joke is another thing that brought the decision now.”

The Practical Buddhist Responds

The Practical's Buddhist's sister Kathy used to work in Saudi Arabia as a nurse. When she left the hospital compound to transport a patient she wore a burka. Her male ambulance driver/chaperone  handled all interactions with he public, even registering at a hotel. Things are starting to change in the Kingdom, and it's time for the Practical Buddhist to comment on the role of women.
Buddhism is an old religion/philosophy, and one that evolved from even older Hinduism. It’s a supple body of teachings that has always molded itself to places and times.  As cultures quickly evolve in understanding of women’s roles, Buddhism will follow suit and apply its most central teachings to the process.

Buddhism is far less likely to oppose and resist full equality for women than, say, Catholicism or Mormonism or other power-centralized faiths that regularly issue new commandments and lists of required beliefs.

The Practical Buddhist spent a lot of time online looking for one good summary of the topic “Buddhism and Feminism” or even “Buddhism and Women.” No luck. There are plenty of articles and a few books. They tell various tales of the Buddha’s reluctant experiment letting females into monastic life (but with extra rules).  They recount Hindu and Buddhist histories on gender roles. They show how profoundly gender roles were shaped by politics and history and geography. They talk about current trends – more and more women teachers of high rank and rapidly increasing recognition that men and women are equal.

The Practical Buddhist couldn’t find anything in basic Buddhist thought that would justify keeping women in inferior roles. Period.  Where Buddhist women remain second-class, it’s due to culture and custom, not mainstream teaching.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Contrave Weight Loss Pill, Diet, and the Fifth Precept

Drugmaker revives obesity pill rejected by FDA

WASHINGTON (AP) — Orexigen Therapeutics Inc. said Tuesday it is reviving its previously abandoned weight loss drug Contrave, after federal health officials outlined a plan that could bring the drug to market by 2014.
The surprise announcement returns Contrave to the race to be the first new prescription weight loss drug to reach the U.S. market in more than a decade.
Company shares leapt 95 cents, or 64.6 percent, to $2.42 in after hours trading. The stock was trading in the $9 range before the FDA rejection of Contrave, which wiped out about two-thirds of its value.
The Practical Buddhist Responds
Americans spend more on weight loss schemes than on food for the poor. We are fat because we have too much, and eat too much, and can't control ourselves.  We seek to drug ourselves so we won't pig out. The first company with a drug to accomplish this (without perilous side effects like heart attacks or nasty ones like "anal leakage") will become wealthy beyond dreams.  We want to eat everything that tastes good, as often as we feel like it, and have a pill to take away the consequences.
Some think the Fifth Precept is about not drinking alcohol, and in a sense it is, even in Buddhist countries like Thailand where beer drinking is popular.  Even in Thailand, though, I have been to many parties where the booze in your drink is typically one bottle cap, and one pint is good for a big party, for everybody, all night. Buddhists know that the Precepts are not prohibitions or commandments, but ideals for training.
Certainly the Fifth Precept invites moderation or even total abstinence from alcohol, but it seems much more relevant to our relationship with food, our bodies, and our planet.  Take a look at this version of the Fifth Precept (or Training) written by Thich Naht Hanh:

-Fifth Training-
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practising mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I am committed to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practising a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.

(Thich Nath Hanh,



Saturday, September 24, 2011

Weight Loss the Buddhist Way: Mindfulness

Obesity Epidemic "Astronomical"

The prognosis for the nation is bad and getting worse as obesity takes its toll on the health of adults and children alike.

By R. Morgan Griffin
WebMD Feature

One of the biggest health stories of the year has been the rise in obesity among both adults and children in the U.S. We've all heard so much about the "obesity epidemic" that it's easy to think the story is being blown out of proportion. After all, people putting on a few pounds may not seem to warrant the proclamation of a national emergency.

The Practical Buddhist Responds

The Buddha lived in a royal palace surrounded by the finest of everything, including limitless food. Later he adopted the life of extreme ascetics who allowed themselves only the bare minimum for survival. At last he found Middle Way of Moderation. The Middle Way respects our bodies and our minds and avoids the excesses of starvation diets or compulsive gorging.

Following the Middle Way means focusing, but not on scales or sizes or the shedding pounds. It means attending to health, treasuring our miraculous  bodies, and treating them with tender care. If we are moderate in diet and in exercise, we will weigh what we should weigh and look as we should look, barring serious illness.

Why is moderation so hard? Some otherwise bright and disciplined people seem unable to attain it. The answer may lie in a combination of circumstance and training. We are surrounded by opportunities to eat without attention, mindfulness, or moderation.  Even now in our economic crisis, most can buy as much fat and starch and salt as they want. We have been taught that food is for comfort and entertainment, not for celebration of sharing. Sitting alone watching a TV romance, your companions a jumbo bag of chips and a sugary soda, you are in a drugged state of no-attention and no-awareness.  It masks pain and delays engagement with life.

A first step toward diet health is attention. Become aware of everything you put in your mouth. What is the consistency, the taste, the texture? How would you describe it to someone unfamiliar with it? Until eating with attention becomes habit, you could write your food (and drink, even water) in a special diary or notebook, along with your impressions and observations about it.  The vast majority of people find that careful and consistent attention to their food and drink will bring better order and moderation in eating and drinking.

A second step, after beginning to be aware of your food and drink, is to notice the triggers to consumption.  Many eat when anxious, for example. With practice you can learn better ways to manage your nervousness and fear, such as brief, focused meditation or even skillful breathing.

Meantime, know that you are here and now, and that whether fat or thin, there is nothing inherently wrong with you.  As you begin to seek the Middle Way and develop your skills in paying attention, the weight is likely to take care of itself.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Facebook and Buddhist Outrage

Facebook Users Outraged Over New Changes

Published September 22, 2011
| Associated Press

Facebook's new updates have been the focus of a popular meme which features Xzibit, a reference to when the rapper was the host of the MTV show 'Pimp My Ride'.

Facebook is at it again. The social network is tweaking the home pages of its 750 million users, much to the chagrin of some very vocal folks.

Wednesday, many users woke up to find their homepages altered, with what Facebook calls "top stories" on the top of their pages, followed by "recent stories" listed in chronological order. On the right side, meanwhile, there's something called a "ticker," a live feed of all the ongoing activity that also appears in users' news feeds. It's a kind of Facebook inside Facebook, if you will.
Read more:

Practical Buddhist Outraged Over Facebook Users

The Practical Buddhist doesn't get it. Are these Facebook fanatics outraged over African famine, the Perry execution, or congressional infighting? Not likely. In fact, Facebook junkies use the social media to avoid engagement with the world and its pain.  There are exceptions, but I have proof that most Facebookers are self-absorbed consumers who substitute a superficial virtual network for real encounters with real people in real time.

My proof is the widely circulated article below, a kind of sappy ten commandments for Facebook use according to "Buddhist" principles. The article encourages users to be themselves, to be really nice, to avoid conflict, and not to tweet excessively. Not a word about how powerful social media could in forming networks for peace or for social justice, or even for learning.  If that's Buddhism, I'm saying so long to the sangha. No, this drivel is Buddhism-Lite, a kind of pseudo-spiritual new-age Emily Post. I include it for your consideration. (The Practical Buddhist is now taking long healing breaths.)

Ten Tips on Mindfulness in Social Media Use 
1. Know your intentions.
Doug Firebaugh of has identified seven psychological needs we may be looking to meet when we log on: acknowledgment, attention, approval, appreciation, acclaim, assurance, and inclusion. Before you post, ask yourself: Am I looking to be seen or validated? Is there something more constructive I could do to meet that need?

2. Be your authentic self. 
In the age of personal branding, most of us have a persona we’d like to develop or maintain. Ego-driven tweets focus on an agenda; authenticity communicates from the heart. Talk about the things that really matter to you. If you need advice or support, ask for it. It’s easier to be present when you’re being true to yourself.

3. If you propose to tweet, always ask yourself: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? 
Sometimes we post thoughts without considering how they might impact our entire audience. It’s easy to forget how many friends are reading. Two hundred people make a crowd in person, but online that number can seem insignificant. Before you share, ask yourself: is there anyone this might harm?

4. Offer random tweets of kindness.
Every now and then I ask on Twitter, “Is there anything I can do to help or support you today?” It’s a simple way to use social media to give without expectations of anything in return. By reaching out to help a stranger, you create the possibility of connecting personally with followers you may have otherwise known only peripherally.

5. Experience now, share later.
It’s common to snap a picture with your phone and upload it to Facebook or email it to a friend. This overlaps the experience of being in a moment and sharing it. It also minimizes intimacy, since your entire audience joins your date or gathering in real time. Just as we aim to reduce our internal monologues to be present, we can do the same with our digital narration.

6. Be active, not reactive.
You may receive email updates whenever there is activity on one of your social media accounts, or you might have your cell phone set to give you these types of alerts. This forces you to decide many times throughout the day whether you want or need to respond. Another approach is to choose when to join the conversation, and to use your offline time to decide what value you have to offer.

7. Respond with your full attention.
People often share links without actually reading them, or comment on posts after only scanning them. If the greatest gift we can give someone is our attention, then social media allows us to be endlessly generous. We may not be able to reply to everyone, but responding thoughtfully when we can makes a difference.

8. Use mobile social media sparingly.
In 2009, Pew Research found that 43 percent of cell phone users access the Web on their devices several times a day. It’s what former Microsoft employee Linda Stone refers to as continuous partial attention—when you frequently sign on to be sure you don’t miss out anything. If you choose to limit your cell phone access, you may miss out online, but youwon’t miss what’s in front of you.

9. Practice letting go.

It may feel unkind to disregard certain updates or tweets, but we need downtime to be kind to ourselves. Give yourself permission to let yesterday’s stream go. This way you won’t need to “catch up” on updates that have passed but instead can be part of today’s conversation.

10. Enjoy social media!
These are merely suggestions to feel present and purposeful when utilizing social media, but they aren’t hard-and-fast rules. Follow your own instincts and have fun with it. If you’re mindful when you’re disconnected from technology, you have all the tools you need to be mindful when you go online.

Lori Deschene is the founder of @TinyBuddha on Twitter and, a multi-author blog that features wisdom and stories from people all over the world

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Troy Davis: Buddhism and the Death Penalty

World shocked by U.S. execution of Troy Davis
By Peter Wilkinson, CNN
updated 11:45 AM EST, Thu September 22, 2011

London (CNN) -- Troy Davis may be dead, but his execution Thursday in the American state of Georgia has made him the poster boy for the global movement to end the death penalty.

World figures, including Pope Benedict XVI and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, human groups and commentators urged the execution to be halted -- but to no avail. On Wednesday Davis was put to death by lethal injection for the 1989 killing of off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail despite doubts being raised over the conviction.

The Practical Buddhist Responds

Forget that there is no consistent science to say the death penalty deters anything. Forget that all but two or three big Western democracies have abandoned it (though many Buddhist countries still have it.) Forget that in the US it is disproportionately imposed on poor people of color. For the moment, forget the First Precept about the taking of life.

Remember this: if a society is going to kill its members as punishment or retribution for crimes, the only excuse can be is hot, passionate, indignant rage.  We are not gods and have no right to plan coldly to end a human life.

Imagine a father so angry that he hits his son for some infraction and makes the boy bleed.  A loving father will regret it and make amends not because he knows corporal punishment does not work or is universally condemned by mainstream psychology.  He will regret it because he loves his son and wants to teach him, not cause him to suffer.  

Imagine a father who waited and brooded for months over the son’s infraction, then coldly and carefully planned to smite him. Unforgiveable, right? Unforgiveable because passionless and love-less.

It’s not hard to understand how a primitive society might be shocked and horrified by the killing of a child, then in deep outrage kill the killer before sundown. Passion is no justification, but provides an understandable explanation. 
In some American states, we wait decades, dancing through appeals and writs endlessly, then finally killing a prisoner in the coldest and remorseless possible way.  It cannot be true vengeance since (except for a ruined few for whom it never ends) rage does not last for years and years. The rage that could explain killing is long gone.  All that is left is cool calculation and planning to kill: this cannot be justified and is ultimately impractical too. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Gays in the Miltary: Buddhism and Homosexuality

'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Policy is History

The "don't ask, don't tell" ban on openly gay U.S. service members was lifted Tuesday, ending a policy under which 14,000 men and women were discharged.

"Today, every American can be proud that we have taken another great step toward keeping our military the finest in the world and toward fulfilling our nation's founding ideals," President Barack Obama said in a statement.
Obama, who signed a measure repealing the ban in December, said lifting the ban "would enhance our national security, increase our military readiness and bring us closer to the principles of equality and fairness that define us as Americans."

"As of today, patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love," the president said. "As of today, our armed forces will no longer lose the extraordinary skills and combat experience of so many gay and lesbian service members."

He said the country "deeply values" the service of those discharged under the law.

The Practical Buddhist Responds

Please forgive the length of the article below (from It has to be long to represent Buddhist thought on homosexuality because there is no central teaching and no single spokesperson on the topic. If you read the article you'll see that Buddhism fits itself to the local culture.  Many Buddhist countries are conservative sexually.  Even so, if you don't mind the oversimplification, Buddhism doesn't get too excited about homosexuality, one way or the other.  Even the Dalai Lama seems to change his mind on the topic, although he always insists on equal rights for everyone. Some Buddhists  have a problem with gays in the military because they're not sure anybody should be in the military. Others see no conflict with military service, at least under some condition.  In either case, it's almost impossible to find any body of Buddhist thought that would support keeping gays out of military service.

Buddhism and Homosexualty (

Buddhism has three main branches: Theravada, the oldest form of Buddhism that emphasizes the monastic life;Mahayana Buddhism, a later form that includes Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren, and other sects; and Vajrayana, a unique form that arose in India and Tibet and is led by the Dalai Lama.

Though they share a common heritage, each of these branches has a somewhat different view of the way life should be lived in general and are thus treated separately in the article that follows.

Homosexuality in Buddhist Scriptures and Theravada Buddhism
Theravada Buddhism is most commonly found in Southeast Asia, and focuses on the original teachings of the Buddha. In Theravada Buddhism, there are two main ways of life: the life of the monk and the life of the lay person (i.e. ordinary person with a job, a family, a home, etc.)

Buddhist monks are expected to live lives of celibacy, meaning abstinance from any type of sex. There is no explicit rule prohibiting those with a homosexual orientation from monastic life. [1] However, in the Vinaya, the Buddha is recorded as opposing the ordination of those who openly expressed cross-gender features [2] or strong homosexual desires and actions [7]. The Buddhist sacred texts do contain a great deal of instances of loving relationships between unmarried men, which some believe to have homoerotic overtones. No sexual contact is mentioned in these instances, however. [1]

Lay Buddhists (those who live outside the monastery) are expected to adhere to Five Precepts, the third of which is a vow "not to engage in sexual misconduct." But what is sexual misconduct? Right and wrong behavior in Buddhism is generally determined by considerations such as the following:
  • Universalibility principle - "How would I like it if someone did this to me?"
  • Consequences - Does the act causes harm and regret (in oneself or others) or benefit and joy?
  • Utilitarian principle - Will the act help or harm the attainment of goals (ultimately spiritual liberation)?
  • Intention - Is the act motivated by love, generosity and understanding?
"Sexual misconduct" has thus traditionally been interpreted to include actions like coercive sex, sexual harassment, child molestation and adultery. As Homosexuality is not explicitly mentioned in any of the Buddha's sayings recorded in the Pali Canon (Tripitaka), most interpreters have taken this to mean that homosexuality should be evaluated in the same way as heterosexuality, in accordance with the above principles.

A Buddhist author of an article on homosexuality concludes:
In the case of the lay man and woman where there is mutual consent, where adultery is not involved and where the sexual act is an expression of love, respect, loyalty and warmth, it would not be breaking the third Precept. And it is the same when the two people are of the same gender. Likewise promiscuity, license and the disregard for the feelings of others would make a sexual act unskillful whether it be heterosexual or homosexual. All the principles we would use to evaluate a heterosexual relationship we would also use to evaluate a homosexual one. In Buddhism we could say that it is not the object of one's sexual desire that determines whether a sexual act is unskillful or not, but rather the quality of the emotions and intentions involved. [1]

It is also worth noting that Buddhism does not traditionally place great value on procreation like many western religions. From the Buddhist viewpoint, being married with children is regarded as generally positive, but not compulsory (although social norms in various Buddhist countries often have different views). [3]

Despite all this, in practice, Theravada Buddhist countries are not terribly open to homosexual practice. This has much to do with cultural norms, as well as the notion of karma, which remains strong in countries such as Thailand. From this viewpoint, a person's characteristics and situations are a result of past sins or good deeds. Homosexuality and other alternative forms of sexuality are often seen as karmic punishments for heterosexual misconduct in a past life. Thus far, the gay rights movement has not had great success in Theravada Buddhist countries. [7]

Homosexuality in Vajrayana/Tibetan Buddhism
In a 1997 interview, the Dalai Lama (the leader of Tibetan Buddhism and a widely-respected spiritual figure) was asked about homosexuality. He did not offer any strong answer either way, but noted that all monks are expected to refrain from sex. For laypeople, he commented that the purpose of sex in general is for procreation, so homosexual acts do seem a bit unnatural. He said that sexual desires in themselves are natural, perhaps including homosexual desires, but that one should not try to increase those desires or indulge them without self-control. [4]

In a 1993 talk given in Seattle, the Dalai Lama said:
nature arranged male and female organs "in such a manner that is very suitable... Same-sex organs cannot manage well." But he stopped short of condemning homosexual relationships altogether, saying if two people agree to enter a relationship that is not sexually abusive, "then I don't know. It's difficult to say." [5]

The Dalai Lama was more specific in a meeting with Buddhist leaders and human rights activists in San Francisco in 1997, where he commented that all forms of sex other than penile-vaginal sex are prohibited for Buddhists, whether between heterosexuals or homosexuals. At a press conference the day before the meeting, he said, "From a Buddhist point of view, [gay sex] is generally considered sexual misconduct." But he did note that this rule is for Buddhists, and from society's viewpoint, homosexual relationships can be "of mutual benefit, enjoyable, and harmless." [6]

The Dalai Lama is well known for his activism for human rights, and this specifically includes equal rights for gays. According to an Office of Tibet spokeman, "His Holiness opposes violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation. He urges respect, tolerance, compassion, and the full recognition of human rights for all." [6]

1.    A. L. De Silva, "Homosexuality and Theravada Buddhism." BuddhaNet's Magazine Articles, accessed 2005.
2.    Peter A. Jackson, "Thai Buddhist accounts of male homosexuality and AIDS in the 1980s ." Australian Journal of Anthropology, December 1995.
3.    Kerry Trembath, "Buddhism and Homosexuality.", accessed 2005.
4.    "On Homosexuality and Sex in General." Interview with the Dalai Lama, World Tibet Network News, Aug. 27, 1997.
5.    "A Lesson on Life, Happiness." Dalai Lama's speech to Seattle crowd, World Tibet Network News, Jul. 1, 1993.
6.    Dennis Conkin, "Dalai Lama urges 'respect, compassion, and full human rights for all,' including gays." Bay Area Reporter, San Francisco, Jun. 19, 1997.
7.    Mettanando Bhikkhu, "Will Buddhists allow gay marriage?" Buddhist View International, Jul. 25, 2005.

Books on Homosexuality and Buddhism