Sunday, June 10, 2012

Teach Your Kids to be Good: Part Two

Be good!  If you're good you'll get a treat. If you're bad you'll be punished.

Parents, pay attention.  You're not really teaching about goodness and evil, handing out happiness and pain on some moral basis, like a watchful god.  Mostly, you just want your kids to shut up, play quietly, and not raise a fuss. You want them to learn that goodness equals passivity and compliance, the two evils that lead adults to everything from not voting to genocide.

We even report that tiny babies were "good" if they slept soundly and didn't cry a lot.

Please teach kids that goodness means acting with compassion. Show them that goodness leads to more goodness, measured in the quality of family relationships. A parent who is gentle and available and interested will be more likely to have a child who feels free to express big feelings with  instead of aggression. A parent who shows tenderness and affection to the other parent is more likely to have a child who feels safe and comfortable with change and challenge. A child who sees parents being generous with money and possessions will be more likely to share toys and kindnesses. Demonstrations are a hundred times more valuable than explanations in this regard, and a thousand times more useful than punishments and bribes.

Show your children how to be good.

Teach Your Kids to be Good: Part One

A poor explanation of Karma

You can use the Hindu/Buddhist idea of karma to teach kids how to be good.

Karma's not as simple as this cartoon suggests.  Buddhism teaches that things happen for lots of reasons: weather, heredity, nature and karma. Karma's different from the others, though,  because we have some control over our decisions and actions. Unlike weather, genes, and the natural order of things, karma is about choice. We can choose to do good, or bad, or nothing.

We can't change nature or our genes, but acting with compassion and attention will make a difference.

Here's a way to introduce a toddler to karma without ever mentioning the word.

With your child, pick a or bowl or pot.  Together, go outside, find some dirt and fill the vessel. Do it with great attention, describing and experiencing together how the dirt looks and feels -- its texture and weight and color. Put the pot in a special place and let it sit for a day or more, commenting often on the wonderful things that will happen inside the pot later. Go out with your child and buy some radish seeds. Read the instructions on the packet out loud and explain them to your child. Together, plant a few of the seeds very carefully, add the right amount of water, and put the pot on a sunny ledge. Because radishes germinate very quickly, you won't have long to wait.

Explain to your child about all the things that have to come together to made the seed grow: soil, water, and sun, and someone to plant and care for the seed. 

As the radish grows and matures, you can refer to it again and again as you teach the child about cause and effect, pointing out that good deeds (planting, watering, putting the pot in the sun) help the seed grow.

Maybe you'll get a nice edible red radish after a few weeks. The radish will offer new opportunities. What is the best thing do with it? Eat it with great mindfulness?  

Maybe you won't get a radish.  How will you explain that in terms of cause and effect?  Maybe you did everything for the radish, but the sun was too dim or the water wasn't quite right, or the soil was not ready.

Either way, your child can learn about cause and effect, and you will have a touchstone for future teaching.  You can provide a context for many of your child's experiences when you start an explanation with "Remember the radish?"

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Child Custody Fights: A Buddhist Perspective

Because I work daily with child custody and divorce, I was delighted to find this little blogsite. It offers highly practical advice for parents from a Buddhist perspective. Unfortunately there's no usable contact information for the site but I'm confident that the generous authors won't mind my sharing it. Here's the link, and a recent article 

 click for the blogsite

Divorce - Buddhist Style

Experiencing divorce is one of the most painful parts of modern life. Buddhist practice can help us cope better with this trauma.  My own recent experience was quite an eye opener for me into my own life and practice. In hindsight, I can see where I did use the Dharma to guide me through and where I could have used the Dharma more.  Here are some thoughts on clinging, placing the kids first, and a look at the Four Noble Truths in the context of divorce.

What am I clinging to?

The question "What am I clinging to?" has resounded through my mind repeatedly through the process of ending the marriage.  In the beginning, it was in an effort to see what was wrong with the marriage.  Am I clinging to some desired ideal that doesn't exist and want to end a marriage that doesn't live up to that ideal?  Am I clinging to the thought that I should save the marriage no matter what because that is what society expects of me?  Am I clinging to the idea that an intact family is the best for the  kids?
Later it was to help with the separation negotiations.  Am I clinging to this idea or that thing?  What is really necessary for the well being of the children?   Am I clinging to the idea that only I can be an effective parent?  Am I clinging to ownership of this or that asset?  Am I clinging to my own ideas about what is best for the children while avoiding the other parent's ideas?

And finally with the adjustments to life after separation - one thing I was not expecting was for friends to make themselves scarce.  The ending of a marriage is scary to a lot of people, and when they see friends divorcing sometimes compassion goes by the wayside and their fears cause them to turn their backs.  For me the loss of friends has been even more painful than the marriage breakup.  And I had to ask myself:  Am I hurt because I'm clinging to friends or the thought that friends should support me?  Am I clinging to the thought that I am worthless because of the rejection of others?
Looking for answers to the questions about clinging is a difficult process, but it does help.  Sometimes when you have the answers it's easier to let go.

Kids First

Placing the kids first in the divorce negotiations is of prime concern.  My children had little problems adjusting to the marital breakup because we placed the kids first.  Here are some ideas to for keeping the kids first
  • Keep decisions about the kids separate from other divorce considerations.  Don't use the kids as battle pawns. Negotiate in private away from the children - especially if the negotiation tends to deteriorate into arguments.
  • Maintain as familiar a home as possible.  Whoever was the main care giver, should continue.  Think of the family home as the children's home.
  • Child support is money that would have been spent supporting a child even if the divorce never occurred. For the parent paying child support:   Don't think you will have more money to spend if the children are living with you - you may end up spending more than you think.  Your ex-spouse is not profiting from child support. Express gratitude for the parent who is taking care of the children.  For the parent receiving child support:  Don't ask for excessive child support - the other parent has expenses, too.  Express gratitude to the parent who is paying the child support.
  • Become partners in raising the kids.  Don't deny access to the kids as a way to get back at your ex-spouse.  Both parents are needed by and loved by the children.  Amazingly, you may find that co-parenting is a lot easier when you are no longer dealing with each other constantly and also don't have to deal with saving your marriage.
  • No matter where the children are physically, they are always the children of both parents.  If long distance parenting is necessary, involvement can continue and perhaps be more meaningful than before .  Don't think of it as the other spouse stealing the children away from you.  Use the time you would spend with the kids (if they were close) to become involved by letter writing (or email), making videos, taking pictures and planning visits.  Some times wonderful relationships can develop out of written correspondence.
  • Maintain good communication.  Direct communication is best.  Kids should not be used as messengers.
  • Respect each other.  Keep negative comments about the other parent to yourself - don't express them to your children.

Four Noble Truths & Divorce

First Truth:  Recognize the existence of suffering.   Sometimes in a relationship we don't even realize we are unhappy.  When I told one friend that my spouse and I were splitting up, she remarked "I was wondering when the two of you would realize you're both unhappy ."    She realized we were both suffering at least five years before we admitted it to ourselves.
Second Truth:  Recognize the cause of suffering.   Rarely is the cause of suffering the other person.  More likely the cause is in the relationship - that third entity that is the both of you.  Blaming one another only takes you away from seeing the real causes.  Until you recognize the real causes, you won't be able to move on.
Third Truth:  Eliminate the cause.    If the cause of suffering is due to an irreparable relationship, then eliminate the relationship through divorce.  But divorce is not the only way to eliminate the cause!   The cause of suffering may be something that can be eliminated through other sources for instance bad communication can be eliminated through counseling and learning to communicate better.   That's why it is so important to really analyze and recognize the true causes of suffering.
Fourth Truth:  Follow the Eightfold Path.  The changes in your life after the divorce can be more traumatic than the actual breakup.  Use the eightfold path as a guideline to get your life back together. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Whitney Houston Autopsy and Buddhism

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Royal Buddhist Diet: Guaranteed Weight Loss

A Slim King Pasenadi Thanks the Buddha
King Pasenadi of Kosala was very fat. He waddled around his kingdom, belly swollen, feet sore,  and short of breath. One day, after eating a whole bucket of rich food, he found the Buddha and sat beside him panting.
The Buddha commented "When you stay mindful you will know how much you have eaten and what is enough.  Then all your afflictions will become slender and you will age gently and protect your life."
Fortunately, a brahmin youth from the king's retinue was nearby. Pasenadi instructed him to memorize the Buddha's comment and recite it whenever the King was about to eat.
As soon as Pasenadi learned to pay attention to his food -- to savor it and become aware of tasting and chewing and swallowing -- he was able to delight in a single cup of rice.
In time Pasenadi became slim and strong, and as he sat stroking his slender limbs, he said "The Buddha has shown me compassion twice: for my welfare now and for my welfare in the future."

For lots more on the Buddhist Diet, click here

Best Buddhist Cartoons

The Practical Buddhist has been taking himself too seriously again, so here's a break:

Ashamed of Your Atheism? Come Out of the Closet.

Richard Dawkins in not some crank. He's one of the foremost ethologists and evolutionary biologists of our time. 

He is also a very intentional thorn in the side of religious people and their leaders. 

Dawkins has proposed that  the current pope be tried as a war criminal for many offenses including opposition to birth control in poor nations (where the alternative for limiting population is starvation.)

After 9-11 he was quoted in the Guardian:

Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where's the harm? September 11th changed all that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism. Let's now stop being so damned respectful!

He's right.  We have no problem arguing public policy, vigorously and endlessly. Why is religion so, um, sacrosanct?  

Why are atheists more fearful of coming out of the closet than gays?  Buddhism has no god, and Hinduism doesn't require one, so apparently godlessness can be respectable. But for God's sake, don't tell my parents!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Aggressive Atheism: Buddhist Response

As I write I'm in Chiang Mai province where our Thai friend is preparing a Buddha shrine for a newly-rented home. It's done with great and precise ceremony. 

There's proper placement of candles, flowers, small glass of water, incense, and above all, the Buddha image itself. 

And there's lots of bowing involved. How come?  The Buddha, who said he wasn't a god, but only "awake," taught that gods in general weren't very useful on the path to self-realization and universal compassion. 

So why does a Buddha statue rate all this fuss?

One teacher told me that when we bow to the Buddha image, we bow to ourselves, not a dead guy from India. I still think about that. 

Here's a religion/philosophy that insists we look inside, not just outside, for beauty and completion. 

Buddhism isn't atheistic.  Its teachers aren't like Dawkins who rallies followers to heap scorn on believers.

Lacking gods, it's properly non-theistic, but that doesn't mean you can't have any God or gods you like.  You don't have to stop being a Jew or a Catholic to embrace the triple jewels of Buddha, dharma, and sangha.  You just have to be willing to look deeply inside too, and practice compassion and seek to relieve suffering in the world. 

Back to the new rental --- the shrine is installed, all reds and fake gold, and looks down from its high perch, candles ablaze and incense smoking, reminding me of 2500 years of dharma. As I bow to the gilt plaster statue, I realize that without the certainly of guidance by gods, I have to look deep into me for the meaning I seek.  But I'm not giving up Jesus or Mohammed or the Holy Spirit any time soon. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

I Am Not Trayvon Martin

Some protestors are wearing shirts that read "I am Trayvon Martin."  They mean that they look suspicious and maybe dangerous, probably because they are Black.  Maybe they wear hoodies or walk too slowly on the way home.

I'm am not Trayvon Martin. I'm pretty old, and very pink-skinned. I wear glasses and usually walk in middle-class neighborhoods, when I walk at all. I drive an aging Toyota.  Cops always give me a pass. So does everyone.  I'm safe. No danger to anyone. I fit a no-threat, clean old white man profile. If I were female instead of male, I'd be perfect.

But remember this. Privileged old white men like me run everything. We drag our feet investigating hate crimes, or pursue them with vigor, all for political reasons. We start and stop wars. We oppress, and when convenient, liberate. 

The Trayvons of the world aren't dangerous. Old pink men like me are the ones to be feared. I am not Trayvon Martin.

Hunger Games and Buddhism

This teen-search-for-meaning flick is setting stunning box office records.

In case you've been in a coma -- Hunger Games is a tale of violence and corrupt power: The evil government picks 24 kid-gladiators to main and kill each other in high def until only one is left standing. It's a variation on a plot older than Greek mythology. And it has the obligatory love-triangle, but there's also a twist.

In this post-armageddon HG world, where the starring adolescents are adorable and noble, there's not a hint of a formal religion. The tale hangs on teen self-discovery and emerging virtues of courage, selflessness, and commitment to the common good. It also addresses the eternal question of whether violence is OK if you murder in pursuit of some higher good.  These ethical questions are the ones the dharma has explored for for millennia. 

By the way, they're the same questions raised in the Harry Potter franchise, and even in the Batman movies.

It takes more than sex, violence, and really cute actors to capture the attention of untold millions of teens, so fast. 

Like our ancestors, we're hard-wired for this story, and long to hear it again and again. We want reassurance that in the midst of horrible loss and suffering, nobility of spirit triumphs and in the end all will be well.  This is the core plot in all literature, including sacred scriptures, and when you can come up with a fresh presentation like HG (or Potter, or Logan's Run) it's a matter of build it and they will come.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Where is Compassion for Father Marcel? Buddhism

A wise reader in Minnesota gently chided me for excoriating Father Marcel, the priest who denied a woman communion at her Mom's funeral because he'd heard she was Lesbian.  I called his act a "real hate crime" in contrast to the callow Rutger's student's tragic prank that helped spark a suicide.

This little trifecta of Practical Buddhism posts is one of your best. 

The only question I have is where is the compassion for the Father Marcel?  Your commentaries about Buddhism and Christianity, Buddhism and GLBT matters, and the like are always good, and reflect, I think, a truly practical Buddhist response.

The commentary about Father Marcel is also quite good.  I hadn’t heard about this atrocity until I read your post this morning.  I’m not sure if I agree with you about which is worse.  On second thought, I guess I end up choosing the priest because he has intended the pain he’s inflicted, perhaps thinking he’s doing the Lord’s work, lopping off all the bad branches in the vineyard.  But I’m wondering where the Buddhist compassion angle comes in for the likes of Marcel.  What lessons do we have to learn from his ilk – whether we are gay or straight, Christians who take Jesus’ commandment to love seriously to heart or non-theistic Buddhists trying to be practical about all the noise in the neighborhood…

Practical Buddhist Response

I get indignant. Morally superior. I decide who's a criminal and who's not.  I said Marcel was far guiltier than Ravi the Rutgers boy because Marcel had years of training and study to teach the love of Jesus. I claimed Marcel's failure was ego-based and wicked.

Who do I think I am?  Not in a Cartesian sense, but just plain who?

Marcel could be just as wounded as the Lesbian daughter. Or worse.  He could be battling horrible demons in his heart. He may suffer.  Many who hurt others are themselves deeply hurt. 

Being a Buddhist blogger is good for the soul.  It's not up to me to say who is a criminal and who is not, and if I go there, a teacher who is wiser than I am will tell me to stop.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sex, Drugs and Buddhism

Buddhism and Addiction

Buddhists like to talk about attachment, and how it messes with our peace of mind and ability to see clearly. 

Addiction is attachment gone crazy.  The addict can never really pay attention or be at peace. 

It can be sex or eating or cocaine or work or even extreme sports. Anything that gets me high can become an addiction.

While I'm high, my suffering is blunted or can even seem to disappear.  Problem is, the high never lasts, and most methods of  getting high cause troubles of their own.

The addiction cycle can be triggered by any kind of stress or pain. To dull the pain, I'll get high (acting out), then sink into shame. The remorse leads to resolutions and commitments, and things can go fine until I'm in pain again and it starts all over.

Buddhist philosophy can help at every state phase of the addition cycle.  Stress and pain can be eased through regular meditation and the practice of compassion, reducing the craving for the high. Shame and depression can be less a problem when the addict begins to learn self-awareness and self-care. New commitments can be bolstered by healthy reliance on others for support. 

Ten Commandments Battle in Florida: Buddhist Response

Another round in Ten Commandments fight hits Fla.

| Associated Press

The folks who live in this sparsely populated rural region along Florida's upper west coast don't like outsiders butting in, especially when it comes to their religious beliefs.

They're miffed, to put it politely, and appealing a federal judge's order to remove a five-foot high granite monument that prominently displays the Ten Commandments in front of the Dixie County courthouse by Sunday. The six-ton, $20,000 monument still sits on the courthouse steps. Beneath the commandments, the monument reads in large capital letters, "LOVE GOD AND KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS."

The Practical Buddhist Responds

A Buddhist watching this dogfight would be confused. Here's why.

America's moral foundation is deep and beautiful and well described in our founding documents. Not in Exodus 20. No scriptures of any faith are mentioned there.

Fact is, Jesus taught that the Ten Commandments needed a fresh look even in his day, and when when Pharisees wanted to know which commandment was greatest, he told them to love God above all, and to love neighbor and self. Throughout the Gospels Jesus makes it clear that you can't find salvation just by superficial obedience to Moses' law.

Still the folks in Cross City are promoting their version of what they've decided the Commandments mean, in the original Elizabethan English, and they're fighting to keep their monument on the people's land.

The loss of religious freedom begins when promoters of one brand of faith win special recognition or privilege from the government. 

Why Catholics Don't Like Santorum

Republican Catholics cool so far to Rick Santorum

FILE - In this Jan. 15, 2012, file photo Republican presidential candidate, former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., bows his head in prayer as he campaigns at a prayer breakfast in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Across all states where Republican primary voters were asked their religion in exit polls, Mitt Romney, a Mormon, trounced Santorum among Catholics, with an average margin of victory above 20 percentage points. Even in Southern states, where Romney has struggled, Catholics broke his way. Sunday, March 18, overwhelmingly Catholic Puerto Rico is holding its primary.

FILE - In this Jan. 15, 2012, file photo Republican presidential candidate, former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., bows his head in prayer as he campaigns at a prayer breakfast in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Across all states where Republican primary voters were asked their religion in exit polls, Mitt Romney, a Mormon, trounced Santorum among Catholics, with an average margin of victory above 20 percentage points. Even in Southern states, where Romney has struggled, Catholics broke his way. Sunday, March 18, overwhelmingly Catholic Puerto Rico is holding its primary. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

The Practical Buddhist Responds

In almost every state The Mitt beats Rick by 20 points with Catholics. But why? Romney's Mormon, Santorum's a Catholic who goes to Mass almost every day, fights abortion and same sex marriage.

Why do Catholics in big numbers take refuge in the LDS guy?

Santorum preaches a rigid, black and white moral view, with no room for nuance, much less for compromise, and he does it with the indignation that only a powerful white man can muster.  Catholic moral teaching is complex and thoughtful, and has always put justice for the poor and working for peace ahead of bedroom concerns.  A lot of Catholics who hear Santorum actually think he's an evangelical, and even more evangelicals think so.  

Santorum is not a mainstream Catholic. Average Catholics do not go to Mass every Sunday, do practice contraception, and the majority favor civil rights for gays. If a middle Catholic wants someone comfortable and familiar, they'll pick Mitt over Rick, and certainly over the other Catholic, Newt. 

Mainstream Catholics are also unconcerned about Mormonism. It's the evangelicals who deny Mormons are Christians and call them a cult. A generation or two ago, they were making the same claims about Catholics, and some still do. 

There really isn't any such thing as a Catholic vote any more, but if there were, it wouldn't go for Santorum.  He's way too far from center to attract the average Catholic.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Want to Smell Like a Pope? Buddhist Response

Pope commissions custom-blended eau de cologne

Fragrance, which mixes hints of lime tree, verbena and grass, was concocted by Italian boutique perfume maker Silvana Casoli

Pope Benedict XVI has commissioned a bespoke eau de colognePope Benedict XVI has commissioned a bespoke eau de cologne. Photograph: AP
He is picky about his robes and his red shoes are tailor-made, but Pope Benedict has taken the meaning of bespoke to a whole new level by ordering a custom-blended eau de cologne just for him.
The fragrance, which mixes hints of lime tree, verbena and grass, was concocted by the Italian boutique perfume maker Silvana Casoli, who has previously created scents for customers including Madonna, Sting and King Juan Carlos of Spain.
Casoli said she had a "pact of secrecy" with her most illustrious client to date, and refused to release the full list of ingredients that had gone into his scent – but she did reveal that she had created a delicate smelling eau de cologne "based on his love of nature".
The Practical Buddhist Responds
I couldn't resist. This 84-year-old pope may be infallible, but he wants to smell nice. He also wants a scent nobody else has, like a lady with a custom designer dress. 
Buddhist monks, even the Dalai Lama, are careful not to dress in anything but ordinary robes, or wear jewelry or perfume, because it could be distracting from their lives of reflection and meditation.  It's not that different for Catholic monks, actually.
But as you go up in the Catholic hierarchy, the outfits get fancier and fancier, until the pope-stage, where you get to wear very tall hats and scarlet slippers and monster rings. 
And exclusive perfumes.
Buddhist monks don't go that route, but aren't likely to pass judgment on it either. They'd probably tell the pope he looks great and smells really nice, and wish him well in his tough job.
I confess frequent frustration with this pope, but learning about this little vanity somehow makes him seem more human, vulnerable, and likeable.

Forget Ravi, Here's a Real Hate Crime

This is the priest who denied a woman communion at her mother's funeral because he'd heard she was Lesbian. Fr. Marcel has been placed on disciplinary leave, but he's lashing out at his boss because he's sure he did the right thing. He's proud of it.  By the way, he also left the sanctuary when the alleged Lesbian gave her Mom's eulogy, and didn't go to the cemetery because he was "sick."

The Rugers student who spied on his gay roommate is a stupid, shallow boy who played a cruel prank. Because the roommate killed himself at the George Washington bridge, Ravi faces 20 years in prison.

This priest has had years of theology and a decade of formation to prepare him to minister with compassion. He's  facing nothing but crowds of adoring ultra-conservative fringe Catholics, to whom he's become a cult hero.  They'll lionize him 'til the fuss dies down, but he'll have a small group of ardent followers to bolster his ego for the rest of his life. People as hateful as himself. 

Fr. Marcel is the hate criminal, far more than Dharun Ravi.  His teachings and those of similar perverters of Jesus' message have created a climate that helps kill gay teens.

Gay Hate Crimes and Buddhism

Dharun Ravi, center, is helped by his father, Ravi Pazhani, second right, as they leave court around in New Brunswick, N.J., Friday, March 16, 2012. Defense attorney Philip Nettl follows, second left. Ravi, a former Rutgers University student accused of using a webcam to spy on his gay roommate's love life has been convicted of bias intimidation and invasion of privacy. A jury found that he used a webcam to spy on roommate Tyler Clementi. Within days, Clementi realized he had been watched and jumped to his death from New York's George Washington Bridge in September 2010.

Dharun Ravi, center, is helped by his father, Ravi Pazhani, second right, as they leave court around in New Brunswick, N.J., Friday, March 16, 2012. Defense attorney Philip Nettl follows, second left. Ravi, a former Rutgers University student accused of using a webcam to spy on his gay roommate's love life has been convicted of bias intimidation and invasion of privacy. A jury found that he used a webcam to spy on roommate Tyler Clementi. Within days, Clementi realized he had been watched and jumped to his death from New York's George Washington Bridge in September 2010. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

The Practical Buddhist Responds

Ravi's 20 years old, and he faces the next 20 years in prison. It's not likely he'll serve that much time, and it's not certain he'll go to prison at all. Still, he's brought international attention to the topic of gays and hate crimes.

Some are saying that it wasn't a hate crime because he didn't seem to hate gays.  Not the point.  If the roommate had been kissing a girl, Ravi would never sent those excited Tweets.

The fact that Ravi isn't a knuckle-dragging homophobe makes it worse. Flaming, personal hatred would have been an explanation. If I have the story right, Ravi was just having some cruel fun to entertain himself and his friends.  That meanness is worse than hot hatred, any day.

I don't know Ravi's heart. Maybe he's just an immature, entitled middle class brat with a mean streak.  Maybe he would have grown up to be compassionate and caring, a hard-working computer scientist.  

No more. Ravi's life, even if it doesn't include 10 or 20 years in prison (and of course it shouldn't -- he was cruel, but not a killer) his life will be dramatically different.

Tyler suffered terribly (and not just because of Ravi and his cronies). His family is devastated and forever changed.  So is Ravi's. Everyone involved deserves deep compassion.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Is the Buddha Real? Mythology over Chronology

Was there really a prince named Siddartha Guatama, protected from all knowledge of suffering until he left the palace and saw sickness and death? Did he live as an ascetic and teacher and provide a coherent, orderly set of teachings until he died in 483 B.C.?  

Not likely. Outside of the Buddhist scriptures themselves, there's no evidence such a person ever lived. 

Anyway, those scriptures are philosophical and spiritual documents, never intended to be histories.

Does it matter?  If we find out there was an historical Buddha exactly like the one in the Keanu Reeves movie, will that impact the Four Noble Truths? 

If we discover that the Buddha is a holy composite and that the dharma is the product of many wonderful teachers, will it change suffering in the world or make us more or less compassionate and aware?

So why was I so thrilled last year to meditate at Lumbini in Nepal, the Unesco-designated  site of the Buddha's birth?

I prayed in there and and other Buddha sites and found it hard to leave because they are so holy. Holy not because of what might have happened there but made holy by use. For untold centuries faithful people have gone to those places for inspiration and reminders of what is true and what is important.  

Mythologies carry more truth than chronologies.  

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Catholic Social Teaching: Buddhists Can Learn from the Popes

Quick. Think about the teachings of the Catholic popes. What comes up for you first?  Birth control? Contraception? Gay marriage?  Abortion?  With the exception of abortion, these issues have never been near the top of the list of basic Church teachings. They are there at all  because Catholic teaching at its best is a “seamless garment,” but they are in the forefront because the more central teachings are just too challenging and uncomfortable for us in the rich countries.

Over 120 years ago Leo XIII strongly endorsed labor unions and justice for oppressed  workers, a decidedly unpopular view with the powerful.  Ever since, popes have pushed for human dignity and equality, the sanctity of all human life, equality of the sexes, the broad ownership of the means of production and profit (though not socialism), and care for the environment. 

Even when the Church was powerful in countries with imperial ambitions, the popes condemned imperialism and insisted on basic rights for all, including the right to self-determination and economic independence. Above all, popes preached the revolutionary “preferential option for the poor and vulnerable,” with all that means for social policy.

Yes, the Church takes itself and its prerogatives too seriously, sometimes at the expense of common sense. Right now, the American church is flexing its muscles for the first time since the priest-pedophile scandals almost broke its back. Too bad it’s about the technicalities of who pays for women’s health care. But still.
If you’re going to have a big religion that is still trying to get into bed with secular powers, it’s not a bad thing that it has consistently preached (and sometimes practiced) social justice.
Unlike Limbaugh and Santorum and some of the Ayatollahs, the popes can be wise teachers.

The Church has much to learn from Buddhism. . .and vice versa.

Gay Marriage? Buddhists Don't Even Believe in Marriage

 Buddhists Don't Even Believe in Marriage

If Buddhists don't get excited about homosexuality, they're even less concerned about marriage. Fact is, they don't believe in marriage at all, at least as a sacrament. It's a civil union, a contract between two people. Monks don't officiate at weddings.  They do bless weddings, but monks will bless anything including bikes and beer bar grand openings.

Over here, we're all tied up about the difference between marriage and civil unions. Many would let gays have all their civil rights, so long as they don't call it marriage, because marriage is "sacred."

For Buddhists, everything and everyone is sacred already. Including gay people and their love. And a commitment to love and fidelity between two people is just a civil union, but that's plenty. 

We're not going to see gay marriage in Thailand or Tibet any time soon. Most Buddhists live in countries that are very conservative socially, and social norms are always stronger than religion. But no matter, they don't have sacramental marriage for straight people either.