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.

Buddhists Show How to Throw a Big Party, Cheap

How to give a big Thai party, living small.

Kalasin kids check out the Farang
We were in Kalasin, a province two hops from Viet Nam, in the most rural reaches of the Kingdom.  Unpainted houses on stilts, little more than enclosed platforms for sleeping, stood over expanses of wet red dirt inhabited by noisy chickens and children. 

Under one of these homes, some 70 neighbors had gathered  to welcome us and our Thai friends from Bangkok, a day's drive to the west. It was also a chance for the youngest children to see their first Farang (their name for pink skinned Westerners). They peered at us from a safe distance and fled giggling if we made eye contact.

Because it was a Thai party, it was a feast, and every morsel was fried or boiled over one wood fire topped by a small iron grate. No mulitple-burner ranges, no ovens, and certainly no microwaves. From this simple setup,  one cook produced a dozen dishes of chicken, fish, pork and exotic vegetables, aggressively seasoned but delightfully delicate too. Party-goers stopped to help with the chopping and peeling as needed.

The street in front of the party house.
We ate for hours and hours.

At home in America a party like that would take weeks of planning, cost hundreds, and require a day off work. In Kalasin, invitations went out the day before on the verbal grapevine. Guests brought what they had on hand -- a chicken, some herbs, a tin of rice. They even brought their own plates and spoons from home.  
What little fuss for such a memorable, joyful party. And no clean-up.  It seemed easy and natural for Thai farmers who have mastered the art of living small.
Note -- No photos of the party itself. We were participants, not observers, so we put our cameras away.

This post appeared in slightly different form in my other blog,, August 8, 2011.

Buddhism Better Than Other Religions?

Is Buddhism Better?

We lived in Chiang Mai, near the ancient moat. The golden tower of Wat Champu was 25 meters from our door. Just as close, in other directions, were crumbling chedis, closely sown among houses and businesses. 

No doubt new temples spring up, but all we've seen in Chiang Mai are centuries old. Some lie in undisturbed ruins but most are in continuous use. All are revered, and it's common for passerbys to wai, Thai style, to the Buddha image inside.

Unlike American Christians and Jews, who every generation plant and replace churches and synagogues and schools and parish centers in styles that trumpet their current affluence level, Thais are born to their places of prayer, and take them for granted completely. Temples and towers are as much part of the longtime landscape as hills and rivers.

Blending deep familiarity with transcendent awe, Thais seem completely at ease in the holiest places, though they observe all the rituals that connote sacredness: no shoes, no turned backs, and perfect attentiveness.

When an American guest placed a newly acquired  jade Buddha image on our dining room table, a local Thai friend immediately removed it to a high shelf nearby, muttering in a tone as stern as a gentle Thai can produce, "cannot, cannot." Thais are hard wired not to look down on a Buddha image.

And yet. Except for the few Muslims and Christians among them, Thais don't believe in God, or at least any personal and specific divine being. And they don't have a creed or any set of beliefs. Even the ethical precepts, though central, are aspirational. Anyone and everyone can belong. Buddhism tends to cross-fertilize with local cultures, including superstitions and social practices like gender privilege.

Jewish scholars love Talmudic polemics. Christian theologians delight in endless apologetics. Muslim Imams treasure their debates about the Koran. For Buddhists? There is nothing to argue about. It's the only religion that systematically synthesizes rather than analyzes, with the result that there is no coherent theology -- only a consistent ethical code rooted in 2500 years of evolving teaching.

So does that make Buddhism better? Should we all rush out and take refuge in the three jewels of Buddha, Dharma, and Sanga? I don't think so. In fact the Dalai Lama often warns followers never to prosyletize or even promote their Buddhist views.

This post, in different form, originally ran in August, 2011 in my other blog:

Women and Buddhism? Just Give Up.

Women in Buddhism

A smart Buddhist will not fight pointless battles. Most battles are distractions anyhow. 

Young Buddhist nuns in Burma
There are many Buddhist women leaders who learn and teach and practice compassion joyfully. They are not militant. They know that Buddhism is an imperfect, ever-evolving, culture-bound tradition that still practices gender discrimination. They love the dharma, and can let go of worry and anxiety about Buddhist nuns being officially inferior to monks. They are experts in giving up, giving over, and letting go of peripheral concerns while clinging fiercely to core truths like the Four Noble ones.

I am sad to see Catholic women waste their talent on single-minded pursuit of ordination, or priests pushing hard for a married clergy.  In countries where starvation is a daily threat, these topics seem silly. 

There is plenty in Catholic teaching that is useful and beautiful and life-giving. The present Pope has issued stunningly incisive teachings on social justice, poverty and peace, but is dismissed because of his silly statements on birth control increasing AIDS in Africa. He is a great but very imperfect teacher. 

Just so the Buddha. He discriminated against women, and so has Buddhism almost everywhere it has blossomed. Buddhists, depending on where they live, are superstitious animists, rigid reactionaries, or (in the West) elitists. Sometimes.  So what?   Everyone I love has faults and imperfections.  Any religion does too.  Can a I learn from it and follow it's best teachings in spite of the warts?

Sex is not Sin: Buddhism

What does an elderly celibate monk know about sex? Plenty, if the monk is Thich Nhat Hanh. His famous book Teachings on Love, and this new one, Fidelity, offer guidance about love and sex that could revolutionize relationships. 

Hahn, and  most Buddhist teachers, don't  fuss much about masturbation or pre-marital sex or gay sex or contraception. Instead worry about excess and selfishness and the consequences of unwanted pregnancies and abuse.  Every sex act has meaning and consequences, and that's were the focus needs to be.

Out of a profound respect for life and for persons, Buddhist teaching has created beautiful ethical guidelines rather than a set of rigid do's and don'ts.  

Hahn says sex without understanding and love is empty and can only increase loneliness.  He invites us to see sex in the context of daily acts of love and commitment.  For him, healthy sex is never exploitive. It builds happiness for self and others. It protects children and all vulnerable people from abuse.

Here's his version of the Third Precept:

"Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I undertake to cultivate responsibility and learn ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long- term commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct."

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Buddhism and the Barbour Pardons

Haley Barbour Pardons: Mississippi Supreme Court Rules Pardons Are Valid

Haley Barbour Pardons

 — The Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the pardons issued by former Gov. Haley Barbour during his final days in office, including those of four convicted killers and a robber who had worked at the Governor's Mansion.
Barbour, a Republican who once considered running for president, pardoned 198 people before finishing his second term Jan. 10. Most of the people pardoned had served their sentences years ago, but crime victims were outraged and created a furor that lasted for weeks.
Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood challenged the pardons based on the argument that many of them didn't follow a requirement in the state Constitution to publish notices in newspapers for 30 days.
In their 6-3 opinion, the Mississippi Supreme Court wrote "we are compelled to hold that – in each of the cases before us – it fell to the governor alone to decide whether the Constitution's publication requirement was met." The court also said it couldn't overturn the pardons because of the Constitution's separation of powers of the different branches of government.

The outrage seems nearly universal. Though most of the pardoned criminals apparently finished their sentences long ago, some of their crimes were horrible beyond imagining and devastating to survivors, who suffer still.

Survivors who have spoken on television make it clear that they feel victimized by the pardons, which re-open deep wounds.

It is so easy to understand why the survivors want to keep the criminals in prison forever, or perhaps have them executed, even now.  Revoking the pardons would make them feel better.

But would the survivors be healed?  They have not found healing in the years that passed since the crimes.

The deep hurt seems to be in what the pardons mean to the survivors. The pardons seem to say that the crimes were not so bad, or that they can be forgotten or forgiven.

The survivors are victims three times over. First, they lost loved ones through violent and evil and intentional acts. Second, they have never found peace or healing and remained victims all this time. Third, their grief is deepened when they feel the crimes are trivialized by these executive pardons.

Buddhism seeks above all to end suffering. What will ease the suffering here?