Thursday, August 20, 2015

Amaravati all set to be Mahayana Buddhist centre


by Y. Mallikarjun, The Hindu, Aug 13, 2015

AP planning to attract tourists from China, Japan and Thailand

Andhra Pradesh, India --
The ancient town of Amaravati, which forms part of the upcoming capital region of the State, will be promoted as a cradle of Mahayana Buddhism to attract international tourists, particularly those from China, Japan, Thailand and other Asian countries.
<< The giant Dhyana Buddha complex at Amaravati.— Photo: T. Vijaya Kumar

Acharya Nagarjuna, known as the second Buddha, was the founder of Madhyamika school of Mahayana Buddhism, one of the two main branches of Buddhism. With the Urban Development Ministry already declaring the ancient Amaravati as one of the 12 Heritage Cities in the country under HRIDAY scheme, the Andhra Pradesh government is focussing on developing a major Mahayana Buddhist tourism circuit encompassing Amaravati and Nagarjuna Konda.
Generally tourists visiting Buddhist circuit go to Bodh Gaya, Sarnath, Lumbini and Kushi Nagar.

“We want to market Amaravati and Nagarjuna Konda as part of the Buddhist circuit,” a top official told The Hindu .Following Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu’s tour to China, a team from Chinese Buddhist Association visited Nagarjuna Konda. The Buddhist Association had assured to contribute its mite in the promotion of Nagarjuna Konda and other Buddhist sites among Chinese tourists and it was equally interested in investing in the tourism projects here.

The official said the State government was planning to establish an exclusive stall in Bodh Gaya to disseminate information on the importance of Amaravati, Nagarjuna Konda and other Buddhist sites in Andhra Pradesh. He said Buddhist-related festivals were being organised every year between October and March at Bodh Gaya where Buddhist Monasteries from different countries have been established. “We also want to tie-up with those monasteries,” the official said and setting up of Monasteries Boulevard in the new capital region was a major step in this direction.

Various projects have been planned to develop ancient Amaravati town under HRIDAY scheme and also under PRASAD scheme of the Union Ministry of Tourism by spending about Rs. 90 crore.
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Millionaire businessman gives up his possessions to become a Buddhist monk in China after living in isolation for two years


By Sara Malm, MailOnline, 10 August 2015

Guangdong, China -- A Chinese millionaire has given up his fortune and all material possessions in order to become a Buddhist monk. Liu Jingchong, a businessman from Guangdong Province, moved into the mountains to live in total isolation after an epiphany in 2012 made him desire a 'minimalist life'.
<< New life: Millionaire Liu Jingchong, 39,  moved into the mountains to live in total isolation after an epiphany in 2012 made him desire a 'minimalist life'
Two years later, he met a monk and decided to join a temple in east China, and instead of making millions he now works in a communal kitchen.

Mr Liu, 39, swapped big city life - and millions in annual income - for a life without material possessions on Zhongnan Mountain in north-western Shaanxi Province in December 2012.

He said a sudden epiphany had made him realise that people will never stop pursuing bigger houses, better jobs, and more expensive cars if they continue to live in metropolises, failing to focus on their 'inner' life.
He spent two years in total isolation, living in a shed made of straw and spending most of his days meditating, reading, and practising calligraphy.

Mr Liu said of his time in the mountains: 'The living conditions were bad. My bed was made of bricks and there was no electricity during the snowy winter.'
He continued: 'But I didn't feel cold there. Maybe it was because I liked the life there and focused just on what I liked.'

He grew his own vegetables in the mountains and only left his hermit lifestyle to buy rice, flour, and oil.

After meeting a monk, Mr Liu followed him to Baochan Temple in the county of Hanshan, in East China's Anhui Province to take a tonsure - the shaving of a Buddhist monk's head. He has been at the temple for three months now and, instead of managing millions, works as a cook in the communal kitchen.
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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Monks, critical thinking and how Theravada Buddhism would benefit the world


by Kooi F. Lim, The Buddhist Channel, Aug 6, 2015

Bangkok, Thailand -- The Buddhist Channel catches up with the manager of the International Association of Buddhist Universities (IABU), Dr. Dion Peoples. The following are his views on saddha (faith, or as he prefers - confidence) vs critical thinking, Asian monks' knowledge in general of the Buddha Dhamma and how Theravada Buddhism would benefit the world.
This is the first of a two part interview. Tomorrow, we will publish Dr People's views on support for the ordination of women as Theravada Bhikkhunis.
Thank you Dr. Peoples for agreeing to this interview. To start off, please tell us when and how did you get in touch with Buddhism.
I first came into contact with Buddhism through Chinese Kung Fu movies, when I was a young boy, perhaps around age 7-8 (1980?).  I remember seeing the Shaw Brothers' Kung Fu movies, in particular the ones featuring Shaolin monks.  I remember seeing the Abbot of the Shaolin Temple (in the movie), and reading the subtitles of the movie, and thinking that the wisdom that he was saying was very profound. 
I was attracted to the wisdom-tradition, and always wondered to be a disciple of a wise master.  Years later, and not coming into contact with Buddhism, the Dalai Lama would win the Nobel Peace Prize.  I joined the US Air Force in January of 1992, and when I arrived at my first duty-station in Germany, I would go to the bookshop sometimes to purchase some books.  Since he was so famous, the only Buddhism books in the shop were those by him.  I bought them, and read them, but felt these texts were not genuine Buddhist texts. 
A few years later, the internet became more widely available, and I did research into Buddhism and Buddhist texts, and discovered Theravada Buddhism.  After attending a Diamond Way Buddhist center in Saarbrucken, Germany on a few occasions, I learned that I was not a Vajrayana Buddhist, but a Theravada Buddhist, and dedicated my life then, to the Theravada Buddhist tradition.  In 1999, or early 2000, I officially converted to Theravada Buddhism - and took the necessary steps to change my identification-card, and dog-tags while in the United States Air Force, while stationed in Germany.   I became a fully-ordained Theravada Buddhist monk, in the Dhammayutika-Nikaya tradition of Thailand, at Wat Patumwanaram in 2002. 
After many deep conversations with my master, who recently died (he had two PhD's from India), we decided that I should disrobe to continue my higher-education in Buddhist Studies.  So after living in a cave, by myself, in a provincial area) for a few months, I disrobed and finish my BA degree in the USA. 
I returned to Thailand in April of 2004, to earn my MA & PhD, with Thai Studies and Buddhist Studies as my higher academic degrees, respectfully.  I have dedicated my life to the pursuit of Buddhist wisdom, since an early age.
Your views on Asian monks in general: about their adherence to the faith (saddha) vs critical thinking.
I don't want to make any racial-stereotypes, and must clarify that I can only speak about either Thai-monks that I have encountered, or those international students from around Southeast Asia that I formerly taught.  So, I have a limited perspective, so whatever I say will not be entirely conclusive. 
"There are monks who possess faith in Buddhism, but are ignorant (of) the texts - and when ... something (is mentioned) about the texts, it challenges their paradigms" - Dr Peoples  >>
I'm around only monks who are either working or studying at the largest Buddhist monastic university in Thailand, and maybe the world: Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University (MCU).  Many monks, despite their nationality, possess faith in Buddhism, but I think this is dangerous.  I disbelieve in the concept of faith.  I know what it means, but I think faith is akin to ignorance; rather, when translating "saddha", I use the word: confidence. 
When I was alone in my cave-temple in rural Thailand, I did a lot of walking meditation.  Rather than resisting the training I was given from my master back in Bangkok, I decided to embrace his methods, and trained earnestly or diligently in his methods, and I became successful with samatha-samadhi.  Therefore, I possess confidence in the Buddha's training system and his Buddhadhamma because I have experienced the truth of his teachings, as momentary as those moments existed, before fading away. 
I endorse confidence in Buddhism.  I cannot endorse faith.  I know people believe in Buddhism, but if they can confirm - which has practical implications - then faith (ignorance) is transformed, and confidence is gained.   This is one aspect of my teachings. 
As far as critical-thinking is concerned, I have written a few textbooks on this, but need a publisher, to get these ideas out to the greater Buddhist public, beyond just posting the documents on my website. 
Monks have the basic knowledge of the doctrine, but most of the monks have not read the entire Tipitaka: either in their own language, or in Pali (not really necessary, in my opinion), or in English.  They do not possess an all-encompassing view of the Buddhadhamma. 
For instance and for a fact, I've read 100% of what is available in English.  This means I have not read the Nidana or the Yamaka - but there are texts or articles that introduce the contents - nevertheless, I possess all of the available texts, and teach these texts. 
I encounter monks who possess faith in Buddhism, but are ignorant to the texts - and when I mention something about the texts, it challenges their paradigms, and they have complained to the department that I am teaching unfamiliar ideas and may possess the wrong views.
Enough ignorant students have taken up their frustrations, despite my citations, and made their protests clear - so through mutual consent, I no longer teach to students who do not want to learn.  If someone wants to learn Buddhism at a higher level, either for their MA, or PhD, I will willingly become their advisor, but my reputation for advanced thinking and higher expectations is unattractive to the general population of students struggling to get through the academic-curriculum in a language that is not their own. 
Currently, I am not teaching at MCU, despite teaching there for the first seven years of the program.  I challenge their faith, and try to encourage how Buddhism has practical applications - but it must be known, before I continue, that my courses that I taught were: World Religions, Sociology, Ecology, Professional Development, History of Buddhism, Abhidhamma, Selected Texts in Buddhist Scriptures, and Research/Literature in Thai Buddhism - so these classes offered very little in terms of critical thinking.

While lecturing at Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University , did you encourage your students to think critically? Any examples? What was their response?
When I was teaching at MCU, and teaching my course on Research/Literature in Thai Buddhism and the class on Selected Topics in Buddhist Scriptures, I had one exercise for the final assignment.  For BA-students, I would pick a random number from the Dhammapada, a different number for each student - and the assignment was to run that verse through the analytical tools provided in the Nettippakaranam.  The Nettippakaranam has the sixteen-haras.  Each hara allows for a different perspective of the Dhammapada verse. 
Therefore, each student would have a different verse, which would not allow for copying assignments.  Each student had to work individually.  For the MA students, I selected a key-term, a famous Buddhist vocabulary term, and they had to scrutinize the term through the sixteen-haras. 
This was my assignment, to encourage the students to think critically.  While the BA students performed it with satisfaction (some better than others), the MA students protested, and proclaimed it was too hard, or different from the pre-existing curriculum that they were expecting to plagiarize. 
My assignments were new or novel, and after teaching that MA course - it was decided that the students were not proficient enough in English to study with me.  I am willing to assist any student willing to learn, but then no students were demanding my supervision! 
I've written two books on Buddhist critical thinking skills, and most recently combined all of this research into a new book that I've entitled: Buddhist Analytical Methodology, but I need a publisher. Inside, I clearly detail the analytical/critical thinking skills that the Buddhist tradition possesses and sanctions.  Buddhists seem more keen to scrutinize something through Western-psychology or Greek-philosophy, and can say nothing beyond the Kalama Sutta for Buddhism, but there is much much more to work with.

What is your current role in IABU? Please share with us some key research which have inspired you.
I am the Manager of the International Association of Buddhist Universities.  Every Buddhist university in the world or every program of Buddhist Studies or a related program is eligible to be a member of our association.
"Our Buddhist tradition is great and should play a greater role in universal affairs."
- Dr Dion Peoples  >>
Currently we have nearly 90 universities in the association, but many are unable to communicate with us, or have personnel who have transferred away from the universities, and our contact has diminished.  We are not legally able to collect membership fees, but do have an account for donations - but donations from universities are basically not forthcoming.  Many universities struggle financially. 
There is no key-research that inspires me, in terms of my duties for the IABU, rather, I am inspired through my love and appreciation for Buddhism, and the confidence that I possess, knowing that our Buddhist tradition is great and should play a greater role in universal affairs. 
If, at all, I am inspired by research which could have inspired me, it would be the work of Karl Marx.  While I was studying Buddhism and Socialism, I came into contact with the writings of the former Prime Minister of Myanmar, U Nu.  U Nu has inspired me greatly, through his utterance: Karl Marx taught only a fraction of a portion of dust, compared to what the Buddha taught. 
This made me reassess Buddhism, after my period as a Marxist, and I discovered that a great textbook for Buddhist Studies is the Sangiti Sutta of the Digha-Nikaya.  My PhD dissertation is on the utilization and application of the Sangiti Sutta.  I've freely contributed my expansion of the Sangiti Sutta to a website, Sutta Central, as well as made it generally available in my first book, published by my university, as Chanting the Sangiti Sutta, which merges my MA thesis on morning and evening monastic chanting, with the Sangiti Sutta for the sake of Buddhist Education. 
Now, with this as the root of my academic-career: Buddhist Education - or how to educate Buddhists to become better and wiser Buddhists, I moved into the realm of teaching Buddhist analytical methodology. 
My peers in Buddhist academia inspire me.  Many of my inspirations write for our annual UNDV conference that I organize through the IABU.  I crave to read and learn the wisdom of my peers. 

You seem to read western philosophy as much as the Suttas. How has this blend help you to understand Buddhism better?
As I just mentioned, I am a student of the writings of Karl Marx, and by extension, the Marxist tradition.  In fact, I left the United States Air Force, because I was a Buddhist-Socialist.  I advocate for Buddhist-Socialism, and am currently working on writing a text on improving Buddhist Socialism. 
I know it is not a popular idea in our capitalistic-globalized society, but my earnestness for compassion in action should not be so categorically rejected by social-antagonists.  I read Marx, yes; but currently I am fascinated by the writings and speeches of Slavoj Zizek. 
I have written a piece on his interpretation of Buddhism, as an attempt to introduce Buddhists to his writings - this piece can be found online.  I know Marxism is unpopular in some circles, so my radicalism has significantly decreased, but I am very much interested in Jurgen Habermas, Derrida, Ricoeur, Haile Selassie I, and basically just anything that I determine that has profound wisdom, deep enough to influence my perspectives. 
Yes, I am careful.  I try to read through Karl Popper, Whitehead, Spinoza, William James, Durkheim, Max Weber, and textbooks on Astronomy, Sociology, Economics, and so forth, but time is limited, and sometimes words just merge into other words, and I have to stop reading.  I read too much. 
Additionally, I read the Noble Qur'an and the Hadiths of the Prophet Muhammad, became aware of the great example of Malcolm X, and follow the lectures of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan (Nation of Islam).  I know Islam to a good degree.  Now, all of this material assists in my understanding of Buddhism, or Theravada Buddhism, because I learn that discipline, or social-discipline is important. 
I learn that people should follow some laws, and that these laws should be sanctioned by society.  I am bearing witness to the race-crimes in the United States, and I know that America is not based on Buddhist principles, but these unjustified-killings are tragic and painful to witness.  Intelligence and compassion is what Buddhism encourages, and if we behave and think better, our lives can improve. 
I think, as a scholar, I have not written my most profound work yet, so I am still struggling to reveal my most profound utterances or magnum-opus - but I do learn what is Buddhist and what is not Buddhist. 
If I read only Buddhism, I would not be able to translate the ideas across genres.  This leads into my career as the Manager of the IABU, and my organization of the annual United Nations Day of Vesak academic-conference, because I am trained in alternative wisdom-systems. 
I believe that my work enrichens Buddhism and Buddhist Studies.  I continue to read and reread the Tipitaka, and continue to find new things that I may have overlooked or did not focus on previously because of the filtering needed to compose an article pertaining to some strategic theme. 

Your thoughts on Thai Buddhism and how it can help enrich Buddhism worldwide.
I've basically lived in Thailand since the beginning of 2002 (leaving in 2003, and returning in April of 2004).  I've been around the monastic-tradition, either as a bhikkhu or as a professor for bhikkhus (and the occasional bhikkhuni).  I am well aware that in the Western World, the monastic tradition is not too popular, but the immigrant communities strive to maintain their foreign traditions within the United States, for example.
"Buddhism is a come-and-see tradition, and this is the beauty of its simplicity and complexity.  It is for mature people who are ready to undertake the precepts and live with morality." - Dr Dion Peoples  >>
In 2003-2004, I attended Wat Buddha-Oregon, in Turner, Oregon (near Salem), so I could be referring to this localized experience.  In the USA, monks are afraid to leave the temple, or because of their cultural restrictions, do not leave the temple.  Buddhism's missionary-attempts fail. 
The come-and-see attitude doesn't work around people who do not know, and often if these converted-houses, performing as a temple, usually cannot handle large crowds.  Buddhism is not something like a mega-church.  Buddhism does not perform in this way, and nor should it perform in this way. 
Buddhism is a come-and-see tradition, and this is the beauty of its simplicity and complexity.  It is for mature people who are ready to undertake the precepts and live with morality.   A problem with Americans is that they are unable to get on their knees and genuinely bow or prostrate before a Buddha-image in all humbleness, as being before the greatest teacher for humanity and our collective civilizations. 
I endorse the full Buddhist Sangha, the fourfold assembly of Bhikkhus, Bhikkhunis, and the laity (men and women).  A table with three legs is unstable.  Knowing that, but progressing, Thai Buddhists should continue to stress the importance of monasticism. 
Confidently, I proclaim that monasticism will ease global homelessness and poverty.  Some people, if they knew of or are able to come into close-contact with Buddhist monasticism, could alleviate their impoverished condition and do great work for society.  However, many Americans (and Europeans by extension), and Africans (for the lack of resources with the tradition) are unwilling or are ignorant to the benefits of monasticism. 
Sensual over-indulgence and material acquisition is harming global civilization.  In this sense, Buddhism challenges the capitalistic status-quo and serves a revolutionary function in this regard.  Buddhism would be the social utopia that many seek.  In contrast, the might of the government advocates for submission to law, to disarmament, to taking care of self and others - many dictates of our governments are pronouncements similar to Buddhism, but because the governments are improperly motivated, we see this as a violation of our human rights.  We would then have to take up the question of what rights do we genuinely want to express and possess?
Buddhism would genuinely improve our societies, but even within Thailand, rates of alcoholism are high and sexual misconduct pervades - life here in Thailand seems to run against the Buddhist precepts.  To this, I confirm: Buddhism is a renunciation-tradition, a monastic tradition, and it is not for the governance of a free-society.  I formerly taught at a Thai high-school, which neighbored a major brewery, and our own Buddhist university, MCU, also is neighbored by a brewery.
Buddhism advocates for rejecting the intake of intoxicants but the general population ranks highly, globally, for rates of consumption of alcohol.  In one study, Thailand ranked as high as #5 in the world for rates of consumption. 
Buddhists may proclaim to refrain from consuming intoxicants in front of the monk at the temple, but then go home and drink beer or something else with alcohol.  I would like to reclarify the question.  It may not be Thai-Buddhism that would benefit the world, because the Burmese, Cambodian, Lao, Sinhalese, and Bangladeshi-Buddhists have a great tradition as well, but greater respect for the textual tradition of Theravada Buddhism would benefit the world. 
The Dhamma has great teachings, the Jatakas have nice stories, the Abhidhamma has great psychology, and the Vinaya has great social-regulations. 
Our governments could rewrite laws and constitutions, and implement some basic ideas, as we move our civilizations forward through the crises that we are facing - but globally, too many people are attached to their traditions, which were once fine, but are growing more and more obsolete.
--------
Dr. Dion Peoples is the Manager of the International Association of Buddhist Universities, and the General Editor and Conference Organizer for the United Nations Day of Vesak Academic Conference, since 2007.  He additionally serves as an advisor for the Alliance for Bhikkhunis' magazine, Present.  He is also an academic-advisor (curriculum designer) for the Hispanic Institute for Buddhist Studies (IEBH), and for Buddhist Studies programs for ASEAN.  He has written books on the Sangiti Sutta, and on Buddhist Critical Thinking Skills.  He has been working with Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University since 2007.  His collection of writings, Buddhist and others, can be found online, on his www.academia.edu website-page.  He also publishes the Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Universities (JIABU), and the Santisuksa Journal for Peace Studies, through MCU's Peace Studies Program.  He can be freely contacted on his Facebook page, or the Facebook page for the IABU Secretariat. 
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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Australia’s second-largest religion is being ‘ignored’


by Jackson Stiles, The News Daily, Jul 6, 2015

This faith is larger than Islam, Judaism and Hinduism, yet receives far less attention from governments and the media.
Sydney, Australia -- Australia’s half-a-million Buddhists are largely ignored, its adherents have claimed.
When a Liberal frontbencher used Asian conservatism to argue against same-sex unions on the weekend, one of its leaders was given a rare chance to join the national debate.
Federation of Australian Buddhist Councils president Kim Hollow refuted Agricultural Minister Barnaby Joyce’s claim that south-east Asians would view the legalisation of gay marriage as ‘decadent’.
On most other social issues, Buddhists are ignored, he told The New Daily.
“Population-wise, we are bigger than the Islamic community, but the Islamic community is always talked about,” he said.
“Nobody ever talks to Buddhists about anything much, but we do have a point of view.”
Buddhism is the nation’s second-largest religion, and formerly its fastest growing. (It has been superseded in that regard by its parent, Hinduism).
Its founder, the Buddha, was a Hindu prince thought to have lived some 2400 years ago in Nepal or India.
At the last census in 2011, there were 528,977 Buddhists, outnumbering Muslims (476,291), Hindus (275,534) and Jews (97,300).
By percentage, Australians are predominantly Christian (61 per cent of the population), followed by adherents of no religion (22 per cent), Buddhist (2.5 per cent), Islamic (2.2), Hindu (1.3) and Jewish (0.5).
Mr Hollows is unsure why his religion receives far less interest and coverage, although he suspects it is because of prevailing stereotypes.
“There is generally a view about Buddhists that we don’t really want to comment on stuff and that we just do our own thing,” he said.
“It’s absolutely not true.
“It’s only been of recent times that we’ve tried to build up our profile because we do have a point of view on most social issues and we like the opportunity to get those across to people.”
There are three main branches of the religion: Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana.
All three of these strains believe in reincarnation and teach methods of ‘liberation’ from the suffering of physical existence.
Contrary to popular opinion, the Dalai Lama is only the head of Tibetan Buddhism (a meld of Mahayana and Vajrayana) and not the religion’s global leader.
Buddhism’s earliest contact with Australia could have been before white settlement via Indonesian traders, at least one historian has claimed.
The single largest influx was Vietnamese refugees in the 1980s.
Despite this, the federal government has often failed to include Buddhists in inter-faith gatherings, Mr Hollow claimed. This is changing.
“The federal government is now very conscious about including us in the faith community, whereas in the past, unless we found out about it and stuck our hand up and said, ‘What about us?’, we were ignored.”
These days, adherents come primarily from south-eastern countries such as Japan, Taiwan, China, Indonesia and Korea. There are also migrants from Western countries as well as local converts.
Ironically, this week’s media coverage came via a public forum that, Mr Hollow claimed, is often closed to Buddhists – the public broadcasters.
“The ABC continues to ignore the Buddhist community, in the main,” he said.
“We’ve written to shows like Insight and Q&A asking for Buddhist representation [to no avail].”
Bhante Sujato, a prominent Australian monk, confirmed to The New Daily that the Buddhist community is often “overlooked”, both by the media and the government.
His theory – squeaky wheels get the oil. “Buddhists are just not that squeaky.”
The community also does not invest heavily in state or national representation, nor does it receive many government grants, the monk said.
And Australia’s national debate is poorer for it, he said.
“I think that there is a severe lack of wisdom and compassion in our public life,” he said.
“Too often the politicians seem to appeal to the lowest of our urges, and we need voices to call us out to what is more meaningful.
“These qualities can be found in the Buddhist tradition, although obviously not only there.”
BUDDHIST CHANNEL

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Explore hidden Buddhist caves around Mumbai


by Abhishek Rawat, Hindustan Times, Jul 25, 2015

Mumbai, India -- Two women flank a man; one of them is playfully trying to pull a sash off the man’s waist. This scene, sculpted in the 1st century BC at the Kondane caves near Karjat, is among the architectural marvels you can find in Maharashtra’s collection of little-known Buddhist caves.
<< This set of 16 Buddhist caves, excavated in the 1st century BC, are known for intricate sculptures on the façade, especially of common men and women. (Photo: Sandesh Lad)
These caves are called lenis, derived from lavanya, the Marathi word for beauty. “Their architecture is deeply influenced by the state’s climate. For instance, they have verandahs to keep out the torrential Sahyadri rains, which make them different from lenis found elsewhere in India,” says Yojana Bhagat, coordinator of the department of Pali, University of Mumbai.In the monsoon, you can trek through lush greens and cascading waterfalls to explore the rock-cut caves, created between the 1st century BC and 6th century AD. “Back then, Maharashtra was an important juncture on the coastal trade route,” says Kamini Gogri, coordinator of the arts and aesthetics course at the University of Mumbai. “These exquisite structures were built to house Buddhist monks and serve as guest houses for traders.”
Made during the rule of the Satavahanas, Vakatakas and Kshatrapas dynasties, these caves, with sculptures and paintings of Buddha and scenes from everyday life, also house those of Hindu deities. “Most kings from these dynasties were followers of Hinduism,” says historian and filmmaker Benoy Behl. “These caves are one of our greatest heritage assets.”
Pitalkhora Caves
The inscriptions found on these 14 caves date back to 250 BC to 3rd century AD. “The chaitya griha here or the monk’s rooms are the crowning glory of Indian Buddhist architecture,” says Behl. “Also, you find the first examples here of the popular motif of elephants holding up temples.”
“From the early phase of Buddhism, these caves have beautiful sculptures of Yakshas, and house a painting of Buddha,” says Bhagat.Getting there: Take the overnight train, bus or an hour-long flight to Aurangabad; from here, the caves are about 40 minutes away by road.
Kondane Caves
This set of 16 Buddhist caves, excavated in the 1st century BC, are known for intricate sculptures on the façade, especially of common men and women. These are indicative of a free, equal society, says Behl.
Aside from having interesting architecture, the caves are hidden under a grand waterfall, and you could get the chance to spot unusual birds here, and sometimes, deer stroll by too.
“It’s an easy, hour-long trek to the caves, one that even kids can take,” says Sandesh Lal, 36, an eco-tourism professional.
Getting there: Drive or take a train to Karjat station, and then drive about 30 minutes to Kondivadi village, the start point of the trek.
Panhalekaji Caves
These 29 rock-cut caves are situated on the river Kotjai, in Dapoli. Nestled inside a forest, these are a combination of Hindu and Buddhist caves, believed to be 1,000 years old. Kotjai river is also home to some crocodiles. “It is the only leni from Vajrayana, the last sect of Buddhism. The stupas are placed outside, rather than inside, which is very rare,” says Bhagat.
Getting there: The caves are 25 km from Dapoli, towards Dabhol. It should take about five hours by road from Mumbai.
Gandharpale Caves
On a hill near Mahad-Konkan, across the Mumbai-Goa highway, this cluster of 30 Buddhist caves rest by the banks of Savitri-Gandhari rivers.
One of the most interesting carvings of the cave, excavated in 150AD to 300 AD, is of people giving donation to the monks. A sculpture shows a farmer handing over his farm to the group of monks who ran the place. “Moreover, these also have inscriptions in the rare Brahmi script,” says Bhagat.
Stone steps take you to the top of the hill, a 15-minute climb to the viharas. “In the monsoons, the hillock is wrapped in a green blanket, adorned with rivulets,” adds Saurabh Thakekar, 27, director of travel company Mumbai Travellers.
Getting there: Drive to Gandharpale village, which is on the NH17 or the Mumbai-Goa road, about six hours from Mumbai.
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The Buddhist way of life in the Northeast


by Jayashree Narayanan, DHNS, July 28, 2015

New Delhi, India -- What many know of Buddhism is Siddhartha Gautam and his awakening under a peepal tree. ‘BUDDHISM – A Living Religion in the North East of India’, a documentary directed by Bappa Ray tries to delve deep with interesting insights into Buddhism being practised in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
The documentary filmed over a year traces the origins of Gautam Buddha and the Mahayana branch of Buddhism. As a world religion, based on the teachings of Buddha or the ‘Awakened One’, in modern times, two major branches of Buddhism exist -- the Theravada in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, and the Mahayana throughout the Himalayas and East Asia.
From Ladakh and Himachal in the west to Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim in the east, in small villages scattered throughout the areas bordering Tibet, are communities which have adopted the Buddhist way of life.
Ray tells Metrolife, “Buddhism spread from Ladakh to Sikkim, bordering Tibet in the remote areas.” The film follows the narrative tradition of story telling where the voiceovers lead the 60 minutes of the film. From the 7th century, Buddhism underwent radical changes, and new forms appeared which were called Mahayana and Vajrayana and Tantra.
The film shows the discipline combined yoga practice with highly complex ritualism, mixed with magic, and includes the worship of a large number of divinities. It also traces Padmasambhava, ‘the great master of tantra’, who introduced Tibetians to Buddhism’s Tantric form. His journey from Tibet to northeast India forms an interesting part of the film revealing Padmasambhava as more powerful to the Buddha and incarnated to transfer an esoteric doctrine called ‘Pemagatha’.
While Sikkim showcases the daily lives of the worshippers and the rich cultural heritage that still remains nascent, the artistic pagodas, symmetries, stupas, arts, crafts of the Buddhist tribe of Arunachal Pradesh have been captured in the second half of the film.The film looks at the influence of Buddhism as a ‘Living Religion’, on the socio-cultural heritage. “Mainland India many times fails to look at northeast but they are close to nature, understand beauty and have a strong cultural heritage,” says Ray.
sourse:Buddhist channel


China to expand 1,943-year-old Buddhist temple


by Jagriti Kumari, One India, July 27, 2015

Beijing, China -- China is all set to expand country's oldest Buddhist temple in Henan Province in the country, media reported.
A site-cleansing ceremony was recently held in Baima Temple in Luoyang city in Henan Province, the local religious affairs authority said, The Global Times reported.
A new Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas, designed in Han Dynasty style and with a floor space of 13,891 square meters, will be added to the ancient temple.
The 1,943-year-old Baima Temple, also known as the White Horse Temple.
It was the first Buddhist temple in China and is considered "the cradle of Chinese Buddhism. The temple went through two major expansions by Empress Wu in 685 AD and by Emperor Shizong of Ming Dynasty in 1555 AD.
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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Why a Buddhist Monk Doesn't Need an App to Meditate and Why You Do


by Dragos Bratasanu, The Huffington Post, July 17, 2015

A few years ago I traveled to Nepal to hike in the Himalayas, learn a bit more about myself and about the world from the Buddhist spiritual teachers.

For over seven years I have went back and forth across the bridge between science and spirituality. I have studied both, trying to understand why we try to separate them, why we need to follow one path or the other. I never could quite understand why a scientist cannot spend time in meditation or pray and why a person on the spiritual path can't actually think?
"Why a scientist cannot spend time in meditation
and why a spiritual person can't think." -- Dr Dragos

As the night embraced the highest peaks in the world, I walked through the gates of a beautiful Buddhist monastery. Pale yellow lights shimmered from the classrooms where students were still learning their most sacred ancient texts. Only the crackled sound of me turning the prayer wheels a couple of times, my footsteps in the garden and the bark of a stray dog in the distance created rhythm through the stillness of the night. Suddenly I felt somebody pulling my jacket and as I turned around, a small Buddhist kid with a big smile and sparkling happy eyes asked me laughing: "Do you have candy?"
Four words you need to make your dreams come true:
"Do you have candy?"

As it brings me great joy to share what I have, I gave him all my chocolate bars that I bought to help me resist the long hikes in the mountains. He ate all the chocolates really fast and I soon realized that "do you have candy" were the only English words he knew. He took my hand and walked me to the abbey of the monastery without saying another word.
The abbey was a wonderful man in his fifties now, with a most obvious trait: he was always laughing and smiling. When he was just 5 years old he ran away from Tibet to escape the Chinese oppression. Leaving his family behind, he fled across the mountains and took refuge in a Buddhist monastery in Nepal. He became a monk. In spite of all his hardships, he was now intensely happy.
How do you do it? I asked him. How do you stay so happy?
He begun his answer with a delicious laughter: "You know, in the western world you have everything you need to have a happy life. You have access to an abundance of information online, you have freedom, you have bookstores to learn anything you want, you can afford to buy anything you need. You even have apps for meditations!
I don't know what those are because I just sit down and meditate."
"What in the world is an app for meditation? I just sit down and do it." -- Buddhist monk
"You know what the problem really is? You fill your head with so much information but you never put it into practice. You never take action. You never do it. You study meditation, you learn techniques, you take courses, you read books, you go to classes but you never do it on the long run. And it's driving you crazy. It's that simple."
"Stop thinking and start doing!" -- Dr. Robert Richards, Co-Founder Singularity University
It's never the extraordinary people who do the extraordinary. It's the ordinary people like you and me who decide to stand up and take the journey. Because they complete the journey, ordinary people become extraordinary. What do you need to do today that you know you have to do and don't do it? Is it to go to the gym and exercise? It is to eat healthy? Is it to find the courage to tell your manager that he's wrong? Is it to take bold leadership of your life and stand up for who you really are?
 SOURSE: bUDDHIST CHANNEL

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Dharmarajika – a Buddhist monastery in Bangladesh, feeds fasting Muslims over Ramadan


AFP, July 7, 2015

DHAKA, Bangladesh -- A Buddhist monastery in Bangladesh is serving food to hundreds of poor Muslims during Ramadan, in a rare example of social harmony between the religions in the South Asian nation.
Dharmarajika, in the capital Dhaka, has become a hit on social media since it started distributing daily food packs for Muslims who break their fast during Iftar.
“Buddhism taught us that serving humanity is the ultimate religion. We are feeding poor Muslims who cannot afford to buy proper meals to break their fast,” Suddhananda Mahathero, the head monk of the monastery, told AFP.
When AFP visited on Monday evening, more than 300 Muslims were waiting at the gate of the monastery in Dhaka’s Basabo neighbourhood to receive some Iftar delicacies.
“I can eat some good food served with love and care,” said 70-year-old Amena Khatun, who added that she had walked several kilometres to get there.As a young monk distributed tickets to hungry Muslims, police were on hand to ensure the process remained orderly.
“This is such a wonderful example of religious harmony: showing respect and affection to the fasting neighbours without thinking of the difference of religions,” said policeman Asad Uzzaman.
Muslims make up around 90 per cent of Bangladesh’s 160 million population, with a tiny community of Buddhists residing mostly in the country’s southeastern districts bordering Myanmar.
In September 2012, tens of thousands of Muslims vandalised and torched nearly a dozen Buddhist temples in the south of the country following allegations that a Buddhist man had desecrated the Holy Quran.
Many Muslims took to social media to thank the Dharmarajika monastery for their food distribution, posting photos on Facebook of the yellow-clad monks handing out supplies. Others praised the monks on Twitter.
“I really appreciate the initiative and thank them,” Nur Hossain, a banker, told AFP.
The monastery was established in 1949 and is home to more than 700 orphans who study at a free school it runs.

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First annual Wisdom and Mindfulness retreats for westerners in Myanmar


by Alan Clements, The Buddhist Channel, July 14, 2015

Yangon, Myanmar -- Myanmar’s renowned Mahasi Meditation Center will launch a first-ever Western yogi meditation training for lay-teachers, first-time and experienced meditators.

First annual Wisdom and Mindfulness retreats for westerners in Myanmar, January 3-17, 2016 and January 24-February 7, 2016
Mahasi Sasana Yeiktha-Yangon (MSY), in partnership with the Buddha Sasana Foundation-USA/Canada (BSF), is hosting two rare meditation retreats (January 3-17, 2016 and January 24-February 7) specifically for Westerners interested in training in the techniques and foundations of insight meditation at the Center that launched the global mass lay meditation movement.
For nearly seventy years the Center has maintained a continuous 24-hour schedule of meditation for as many as 500 yogis at a time. The life-transforming training and practice
has impacted the lives of millions of meditators both in Myanmar and worldwide who have practiced in the tradition of the late Mahasi Sayadaw.
The techniques have been adapted to a variety of settings in the West - medical, educational,  correctional,  psychotherapeutic, business, and personal growth and spiritual development, in addition to the integrated approach to Buddhist philosophy and enlightenment. In South and Southeast Asia, the Mahasi method of insight meditation has influenced the face of Buddhist practice regionally.
Since 1962, the Mahasi Center has been closed to the world (other than in rare circumstances for a handful of practitioners). With Myanmar’s recent democratic opening,
the Center is poised for the first time to accept foreigner lay meditation teachers and passionate practitioners interested in training in the systematic mindfulness techniques of
Buddhist insight meditation, that is currently sweeping the world. (TIME: The Mindfulness Revolution).
Rooted in the long monastic tradition of an integrated ethical, scholarly and meditation based approach to pedagogy and outcomes, MSY has embarked on an unprecedented undertaking: a long-term training center for Western lay teachers taught in the medium of the English language. The 2016 Retreats mark the first annual meditation events and the
start of a new era in Buddhist training and practice.
The first yearly Mahasi Commemorative Gathering will follow the launch of the two Special Retreats on February 7 from one to five pm. The event commemorates the life and work of
the late Mahasi Sayadaw with lectures and commentaries offered on the extraordinary life and impact of the Mahasi’s systematization of insight meditation practice.
The retreats are open to all yogis by application on the The Wisdom of Mindfulness website but space is limited to 50 yogis in total. The retreats offer practical insights into the heart of Buddhist insight meditation and the emancipatory teachings of the Buddha.
The Retreats will be guided by the Center's abbot, Sayadaw U Jatila and the meditation teachers at Mahasi Sasana Yeiktha. Cultural and retreat assistance will be provided by Mr.
Alan Clements (former monk at the Center). Dr. Ingrid Jordt (former nun at the Center) and Dr. Jeannine Davies (long-time practitioner in the Mahasi tradition). Participating yogis may
come to the Retreat Assistants (kappiyas) with any questions regarding cultural translation of the monastic environment, help explaining protocol, interview style, technique questions,
and other general help.
If you go:
First Annual
INSIGHT MEDITATION FOR WESTERNERS IN MYANMAR
MAHASI SASANA YEIKTHA (MSY) MEDITATION CENTRE, YANGON

Retreat 1: Sunday January 3-17, 2016 (25 spaces)
This retreat, reserved for beginning and experienced meditators, will be taught in the Theravada Buddhist tradition using the Satipatthana Vipassana mindfulness method of insight meditation as instructed by the late Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw. The teachings emphasize developing sustained mindfulness throughout the day. (i.e., awareness of mental and physical phenomena as they arise moment to moment, in all activities, when sitting, walking, standing, bending, bathing, eating, lying down to rest, waking up etc.)
Retreat 2: Sunday January 24 – Feb 7, 2016 (25 spaces)
Reserved for lay meditation teachers and guides who would like to receive comprehensive training in the systematic Mahasi pedagogy. This retreat offers a special opportunity for teachers in the West to deepen their practice and to gain a more systematic knowledge of insight meditation. Guidance will be offered in the pedagogical foundations and skillful means required to guide practice and decipher the meditator’s report of vipassana experience in order to facilitate their role as a noble friend and guide/mentor.
First International Mahasi Commemorative Gathering: Feb 7th 1:00- 5:00 pm.
The Gathering to be held at the Mahasi Sasana Yeiktha Yangon, commemorates the life and works of the late Ven Mahasi Sayadaw and the history of the Mahasi teachings in Burma and throughout the world.
Further details and online application at:
http://www.thewisdomofmindfulness.org
-------
Alan Clements is author, dharma guide and a former Buddhist monk residing in Burma.
SOURSE:BUDDHIST CHANNEL

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Buddhism and the World Crisis


by Prof Dr Damien Keown, The Buddhist Channel, May 29, 2015

In his keynote address at the opening of the United Nations Day of Vesak 2015, Prof Dr Damien Keown presents his view on how global crises can be turned into opportunities in the context of the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) region

Bangkok, Thailand
-- While reflecting on the word ‘crisis’ I was reminded of a remark made by US President John F. Kennedy in a speech he gave in Indianapolis in 1959. The President said ‘The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word “crisis.” One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger - but recognize the opportunity.’ I don’t know if the President’s understanding of Chinese was accurate, but I would like to take those words as the inspiration for my comments.

Certainly, there is a world crisis, and this presents itself in many shapes and forms. While the world has faced many crises in the past, the threat seems greater today due to modern developments such as globalization, advanced technology, mass migration, and the accelerated speed of transport and communications.

The pace of change has never been faster, allowing less time to pause in the face of the challenges that arise on every side, and less time to develop wise solutions.

In the face of these challenges there is a pervasive feeling, both among individual citizens and their political leaders, of being caught off-balance and wrongfooted by events; of being swept along by a tsunami of powerful forces which are beyond the power even of governments and world leaders to control. In this context, there is a greater need than ever for Buddhist teachings to be heard, and not just heard but implemented with commitment and decisiveness.

The panels in this conference will explore the role of Buddhism in the current world crisis under four different headings:

1.    Buddhist Response to Social Conflict
2.    Buddhist Response to Environmental Degradation
3.    Buddhism and the ASEAN Community
4.    Buddhist Response to Educational Crisis

These are interrelated themes, but let's start with the third, Buddhism and the ASEAN Community. I begin with ASEAN for two reasons. First, because 2015 marks the year in which the ASEAN Community comes into being; and second, because questions like social conflict, the environment and education will increasingly demand regional as opposed to national or local solutions.
ASEAN
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations was founded in Bangkok with the signing of the ASEAN Declaration on 8 August 1967. The five founding nations were Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. These were subsequently joined by Brunei, Cambodia, Lao, Myanmar and Vietnam, bringing the total to ten, and with the planned inclusion of East Timor the total will be eleven. The ASEAN Charter, which came into force on 15 December 2008, gave a legal and institutional framework for the creation of the ASEAN Community.

AIMS AND PURPOSES

The motto of ASEAN is ‘One Vision, One Identity, One Community,’ and the aims and purposes of ASEAN, as stated in its founding declaration, are as follows:
  1. To accelerate the economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region through joint endeavours in the spirit of equality and partnership in order to strengthen the foundation for a prosperous and peaceful community of Southeast Asian Nations;

  2. To promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law in the relationship among countries of the region and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter;

  3. To promote active collaboration and mutual assistance on matters of common interest in the economic, social, cultural, technical, scientific and administrative fields;

  4. To provide assistance to each other in the form of training and research facilities in the educational, professional, technical and administrative spheres;

  5. To collaborate more effectively for the greater utilisation of their agriculture and industries, the expansion of their trade, including the study of the problems of international commodity trade, the improvement of their transportation and communications facilities and the raising of the living standards of their peoples;

  6. To promote Southeast Asian studies; and

  7. To maintain close and beneficial cooperation with existing international and regional organisations with similar aims and purposes, and explore all avenues for even closer cooperation among themselves.
In these seven items , the key words that stand out are: partnership, peace, prosperity, respect, collaboration, assistance, and cooperation. To what extent are these seven aims and purposes in harmony with Buddhist values? Like us, the Buddha lived at a time of change and instability: in his day, smaller states were being incorporated into larger political units, not voluntarily - as in the case of ASEAN - but as a result of the aggressive policies of their expansionist neighbours. 

As an alternative to this pattern of conquest and annexation, the Buddha commended an alternative political model based on collaboration and peaceful co-existence through the implementation of what he called ‘the seven conditions of welfare’ (sattā aparihāniyā dhammā) (D.ii.73ff).

THE SEVEN CONDITIONS OF WELFARE

  1. There are regular and frequent assemblies. This implies a democratic system in which the people or their representatives meet regularly for discussion on all matters.
  2. The assemblies meet in harmony, rise in harmony, and carry on their business in harmony.  Here there is an emphasis on united action in establishing an agreed manifesto, an agenda for action, and the implementation of democratically agreed policies. It also implies that communities will help each other in times of need.
  3. They enact nothing not already established, abrogate nothing that has already been enacted, and proceed in accordance with their ancient institutions. Perhaps this sounds overly conservative and suggests the Buddha was opposed to change. I think instead it was intended to safeguard the identity of the community and to establish the principle that resolutions should only be approved when they are in harmony with the community’s constitution and values.  In simple terms it suggests that everyone should respect the law.
  4. They honour, respect, revere, and salute the elders among them and consider them worth listening to. This involves recognition of the contribution made by statesmen and political leaders. It can also be seen as a call to respect and participate in the democratic process.
  5. They do not take away by force or abduct others’ wives and daughters and detain them. Here we see the Buddha’s strong disapproval of violence towards women and an implicit call for gender equality. While directed specifically at women, by extension it includes all vulnerable members of society and would prohibit exploitative practices like slavery, human trafficking, and child labour.
  6. They honour, respect, revere, and salute religious shrines at home and abroad, not withdrawing the proper support given before. This is a call for respect for religion and its symbols and material culture. It includes the sacred buildings of all religions such as temples, mosques, churches and shrines, along with their respective communities.
  7. Proper provision is made for the safety of arahants so that those from far away may enter the realm and live in peace along with those already present. Linked to the previous condition, this can be interpreted as a call for tolerance and religious freedom throughout the community. In addition, it suggests that restrictions on free movement should be removed so that those who wish to live in peace and bring benefits to the community are welcomed.

I make no claim that these two lists of seven items are identical, much less that the Buddha laid the foundations for the ASEAN constitution. I suggest only that the two lists share a common direction of travel.

In essence, what I think we see the Buddha calling for is a transparent democratic system built around consensus and based on a constitution enshrining humanitarian values, protection of the vulnerable, and freedom of religion. I think we can say there is no great incompatibility between the two lists, and it seems the political constitution and economic infrastructure provided by ASEAN can further the aims of allowing communities to co-exist in peace and prosperity in the modern world, an ideal to which Buddhists can happily subscribe.

ASEAN COMMUNITY

To forge the member states into a functioning community was the aim of the ASEAN Vision 2020, adopted in 2006. Here, the ASEAN leaders agreed on a shared vision of ASEAN as ‘a concert of Southeast Asian nations, outward looking, living in peace, stability and prosperity, bonded together in partnership in dynamic development and in a community of caring societies.’ The ASEAN Community is made up of three pillars:

1.    ASEAN Political-Security Community
2.    ASEAN Economic Community and
3.    ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.

While nations in which Buddhism is influential will, like other member states, have an interest in the first two of these pillars, the contribution of Buddhist teachings and values will be especially important in the third. The aims of the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, in which matters such as religious belief and traditions will play an important role, include achieving ‘enduring solidarity and unity among the peoples and Member States of ASEAN. It seeks to forge a common identity and build a caring and sharing society which is inclusive and where the well-being, livelihood, and welfare of the peoples are enhanced.’1

The various dimensions of ASEAN mentioned so far connect in various ways with the topics to be discussed at this conference. Buddhism has no objection to economic prosperity and the expansion of trade, provided, of course, that prosperity does not lead to rampant consumerism, and economic development takes place in a sustainable and environmentally responsible manner.

Here we have a link to the second conference theme, namely concern for environmental degradation. Regional peace and stability, and respect for justice and law, are also admirable objectives, and connect to our first conference theme, which addresses the problem of social conflict. ASEAN’s commitment to renunciation of the use of force and a commitment to the peaceful settlement of disputes is of key importance here.

The fourth conference theme, the Buddhist response to the educational crisis, is picked up by references - in the fourth and sixth of the seven ASEAN principles - to the provision of assistance in training and research, and also to the promotion of Southeast Asian studies. This last item provides a platform for expanding the study of Buddhism at various levels of the curriculum, a point I will return to shortly.

While Buddhist values overlap to a large degree with those of ASEAN, on a practical level it will be the task of the representatives of the Buddhist member states to be vigilant in ensuring that the formulation and implementation of specific policies reflects the values of their home constituencies. Buddhist groups and organizations will need to ensure that their views on social, economic and political issues are expressed at the appropriate levels within the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.

ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION


Having said something about the aims and principles of ASEAN, we turn individually to the three remaining conference themes. Of these, the environmental crisis is perhaps the most serious. It is the most serious because of its global nature, and its capacity to threaten the wellbeing of the planet in a fundamental way. Apart from harm to the environment itself, environmental degradation has a knock-on effect in other areas: it affects health and economic development, and potentially also gives rise to conflict as resources become scarcer.

Importantly, the effects of environmental degradation are felt most keenly by the poor. To turn this challenge into an opportunity will require considerable initiative, thought and planning.
The ASEAN Declaration on Environmental Sustainability states :

ASEAN shall work towards achieving sustainable development as well as promoting clean and green environment by protecting the natural resource base for economic and social development including the sustainable management and conservation of soil, water, mineral, energy, biodiversity, forest, coastal and marine resources as well as the improvement in water and air quality for the ASEAN region. ASEAN will actively participate in global efforts towards addressing global environmental challenges, including climate change and the ozone layer protection, as well as developing and adapting environmentally-sound technology for development needs and environmental sustainability.

Developments in this respect are already under way. A programme run by the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) in conjunction with Germany was launched in Jakarta on 7 April 2015. The project, titled ‘Protection of Biological Diversity in the ASEAN Member States in Cooperation with the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity,’ aims to ‘protect the biological diversity, promote the sustainable management of natural ecosystems, and improve the livelihoods of local population in the ASEAN region.’

Earlier last month, the Secretary General of ASEAN, H.E. Le Luong Minh, speaking in Hanoi, accepted that ‘ASEAN, as elsewhere in the world, despite abundant human and natural resources, does face a big challenge in keeping a delicate balance between environmental sustainability and economic development.’ 2

In his remarks, the Secretary General said there was ‘broad agreement that with regard to sustainable development, ASEAN's Post-2015 Vision should continue to promote inclusive, sustained and equitable economic growth and sustainable development, consistent with the UN Post- 2015 development agenda,’ while ‘ensuring a proper balance between economic development and environmental protection.’

Other interesting work has been done to explore ways in which specific economies can thrive in ASEAN while preserving their traditional ecological values. An example of this includes papers from a conference at Assumption University in 2013. One author, in his contribution titled ‘Buddhist Economics and Ecology: A Lesson for the Future of the ASEAN Community’  contrasts ‘mainstream economics, which is an economics of greed, with Buddhist economics whose goal is not to maximize utility but to promote a healthy life for the individual and wellness, peace and tranquillity for the society.’3

In the Buddha’s time there was no environmental crisis of the kind we face today. He was nevertheless well aware that nature can be a powerful ally or a dangerous enemy, and that the relationship between human beings and the natural world was complex and needed careful management.

The inhabitants of the region where he lived were very much at the mercy of the environment, and the early sources speak of natural disasters like flooding or drought leading to starvation, depopulation (A.I,160), poverty and crime (Ja.II,367; VI,487).4  The Buddha realized that the survival of forests and the wilderness was important to those who, like himself, left home to pursue the religious life.

Time and again he encouraged his monks and nuns to spend as much time as they could away from human habitation in the jungle (A.III,87). With respect to animals, the Buddhist values of non-violence and compassion are clearly expressed in the Buddha’s opposition to animal sacrifice. Various Buddhist teachings can be drawn on to promote environmental values and ecological awareness. Influential in defining ethical attitudes towards the natural world are the four Brahma-vihāras, or sublime states of mind, namely universal love (metta), compassion (karuṇā), sympathetic joy (muditā) and equanimity (upekkhā).

These attitudes foster feelings that lead to the protection of the natural world and ensure its well-being. While the environmental problems we face today are on a vastly larger scale, we can find in the Buddha’s teachings principles that can help guide our thinking.

SOCIAL CONFLICT

The topic of social conflict is a subject that brings us face to face with a number of difficult questions. It is an unfortunate fact that religious discrimination, intimidation, harassment, and violence toward minority religious and ethnic groups are currently on the rise, even in countries where Buddhism is well established.

Contemporary events have shown that the simplistic view that Buddhism is exclusively a religion of peace, and that only other religions promote violence is no longer sustainable. Buddhism like any religion can become entangled with nationalism and caught up in ethnic conflict.

Of course, this is clearly contrary to Buddhist teachings on violence, which are well known and often repeated. The Dhammapada (v.129), invoking the ‘Golden Rule,’ counsels against violence, and the First Precept prohibits causing intentional harm to any living creature. The Buddha explained how conflict often arises from greed, hatred and delusion, and taught virtues such as kindness, compassion, non-violence, mindfulness, gentleness, contentment, generosity and wisdom that promote harmonious co-existence, and criticized vices like arrogance, pride, covetousness, egoism and greed, which fuel animosity and conflict. Greed gives rise to attachment to pleasures, material possessions, territory, and economic and political power.

Attachment to dogmatic views and inflexible fundamentalist ideologies can lead to persecutions and bloody crusades. In the last century millions of deaths can be attributed to such attitudes. Claims such as “This alone is true, all else is false” (idam eva saccaṃ moghamaññam) (M.ii.170) are characteristic of attitudes that divide society.

Hatred and prejudice becomes entrenched, often for generations, and are difficult to dislodge. The delusion that one’s self, or one’s community, is uniquely privileged and must be protected at all costs reinforces egocentric and nationalist perspectives that see other communities as the enemy and a threat. The Buddha specifically warned against this kind of attitude, counselling his followers not to react angrily if the Buddha, Dhamma, or Sangha were disparaged by others (D.i.3).

The great king Asoka was no stranger to conflict, and was responsible for suffering and death on a large scale, as he himself admits. Repenting of these campaigns of conquest he later sought to implement values of toleration, and in his 12th Rock Edict spoke about the importance of religious toleration and his desire that ‘all should be well-learned in the good doctrines of other religions.’ He states that he ‘honours both ascetics and the householders of all religions’ and desires that they flourish. Key to this, he suggests, is restraint in speech, which means:

… not praising one's own religion, or condemning the religion of others without good cause. And if there is cause for criticism, it should be done in a mild way. But it is better to honour other religions for this reason. By so doing, one's own religion benefits, and so do other religions, while doing otherwise harms one's own religion and the religions of others. 
Not resorting to divisive speech is also important in avoiding and defusing conflict, and one who refrains from it is said to be: ‘one who reunites those who are divided, a promoter of friendships, who enjoys concord, rejoices in concord, delights in concord, a speaker of words that promote concord.’ 5

Although delivered many centuries ago, this wise advice seems particularly timely on the threshold of closer integration among the ASEAN nations and their diverse faiths.
The ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR) was established in 2011 under the auspices of the ASEAN Political-Security Community and held its first Governing Council Meeting in Jakarta in December 2013. Since then it has held two symposia in 2014, the first in Manila and the second in Bali. It will have a valuable and difficult role to play in mediation and defusing tensions which will inevitably arise in a religiously and ethnically diverse community of some 600 million people.

Relations between the two largest ASEAN religions, Islam and Buddhism, will play a key role in the integration of the community. According to one scholar:

The coming formation of the ASEAN community in 2015 highlights the urgent need for religions of Southeast Asia to move from co-existence to dialogue. When the 10 countries of ASEAN are integrated economically, Buddhists will make up about 40% and Muslims 42%. Hence the formation of an economically dynamic, politically plural and peaceful ASEAN community will depend on the future of Buddhism-Islam relations.6

Apart from intolerance of other religions, conflict can also arise from other sources.
Economic inequalities in the distribution of resources can lead to crime and social unrest, and a wise government will seek to avoid revolution and revolt by ensuring that material support is provided for the poorest in society.

The Cakkavatti-Sīhanāda Sutta records how by failing to do this, the kingdom of one ruler fell into ruin. For those members of the laity with greater resources, the Buddha gave useful advice on how to generate and spend their wealth (e.g. S.iv.331-7).

In the Sigālovāda Sutta he recommends that a quarter be used for one’s personal needs and comfort, a half on one’s business, and the remaining quarter saved in case of hardship (D.iii.188). The Sigālovāda Sutta also gives advice on social relationships, and other sources offer guidance on what sort of trades and professions should be engaged in and which not. Buddhism thus has a wide range of strategies to draw on - including mindfulness and meditation--to help avoid social conflict and to defuse it once arisen.

EDUCATIONAL CRISIS7

Turning now to the final conference theme of the educational crisis, Buddhism is an intellectually dynamic tradition that holds learning in great esteem. Scholarship, or ganthadhura, is recognized as an important and legitimate monastic career. Unfortunately, however, learning can also deteriorate into the mindless copying or chanting of texts without any real understanding. To avoid this requires a comprehensive system of education from primary to university level in which questioning, originality, analysis and critical reflection are encouraged.

A UNECOSOC ministerial declaration in 2011 spoke of ‘the inter-linkages between education and the advancement of all the other Millennium Development Goals. We also recognize that education plays a fundamental role in creating an inclusive society and reducing inequity and inequality, as well as for achieving sustained, inclusive and equitable economic growth, poverty eradication and sustainable development.’

Following a two-year review of the curricula of member countries, ASEAN produced an ASEAN Curriculum Sourcebook as a tool for educators. The Sourcebook describes itself as :

… a resource that teachers throughout ASEAN can use to help learners explore their many connections to one another and to conceive of themselves both as individuals, and as engaged members in their community, country, their region, and the world. As they do so, they will understand the complex ways in which peoples and lands across ASEAN are connected, be able to exchange and appreciate diverse perspectives, and envision new ways in which they can work together to realize common goals and a brighter future.8

The Sourcebook explore five themes (Knowing ASEAN, Valuing Identity and Diversity, Connecting Global and Local, Promoting Equity and Justice, and Working Together for a Sustainable Future), through four Pathways (People, Places, Materials, and Ideas).
A third component is the ‘Essential Questions’ which ‘articulate the Pathways, connect the Themes with the learners’ own ideas and perspectives, and guide them in applying critical thinking and problem-solving skills as they engage with the material.’ These three elements form the basis of lesson plans which serve as free-standing teaching units.

While the Sourcebook is primarily intended for use in primary and secondary schools, it provides a blueprint that could be adapted for use in higher education as well. Institutions will need to review their existing curricula to make sure they meet the needs of incoming students who will graduate as citizens of the ASEAN community. 

The International Association of Buddhist Universities (IABU), with member universities in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia, seems well placed to coordinate this work among Buddhist universities and to represent Buddhist views on education in the Socio-Cultural Community of ASEAN. The IABU’s vision, mission and goals broadly coincide with the educational objectives of ASEAN, UNESCO and UNECOSOC, and discussions have already taken place on a model ASEAN Buddhist Studies Curriculum. It remains to be seen whether and how this work will be carried forward by member institutions. 9

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, let me echo the quote from John F.Kennedy mentioned at the start with one from another famous politician, Winston Churchill. Churchill is reputed to have said, ‘Never waste a good crisis,’ and while he was referring to crises of a political nature I think his words also apply more broadly. Crisis brings the opportunity for change, and our conference will explore four areas of contemporary crisis and the opportunities they present.
While each of these can be tackled independently, I have suggested that they are interconnected. The positive outcome we look forward to in addressing these crises successfully is a well-educated population enjoying prosperity based on sustainable development and living in peaceful communities. I hope this is not too utopian an ideal, and that it is one which our discussions in this conference can help bring a little closer.

------
Damien Keown is Emeritus Professor of Buddhist Ethics, University of London Goldsmiths. The United Nations Day of Vesak (UNDV) is currently being held in Bangkok, Thailand from May 28-30, 2015. Presentation was edited for publication.

Notes:

[1] http://www.asean.org/communities/asean-socio-cultural-community.
[2] Communique in ASEAN Secretariat News, 1 April 2015. http://www.asean.org/news/item/sec-gen-minh-updates-world-parliamentarians-on-asean-s-sustainable-development-efforts?category_id=27.
[3] P.xii.
[4] S. Dhammika, Nature and the Environment in Early Buddhism, (Singapore: Buddha Dhamma Mandala Society, 2015) and available online from the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies. All of the information in the present paragraph comes from this useful source.

[5] Quoted in Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p.249.
[6] Professor Dr. Imitiyaz Yusuf , Graduate School of Philosophy and Religion, Assumption University. http://en.reingex.com/img/ASEAN-Religion.png
[7] This topic is addressed in depth by Dr Dion Peoples in a paper titled ‘Revised Role for Buddhism in ASEAN: Conquering the Educational Crisis’ to be presented in the ‘Buddhist Response to Educational Crisis’ panel of the conference, to which readers are referred for further information.
[8] ASEAN Curriculum Sourcebook, p.4.
[9] This was at the third conference of the Association of Theravada Buddhist Universities at Mahamakut Buddhist University, 16-18 May 2013 (Dion Peoples, ‘Revised Role for Buddhism in ASEAN: Conquering the Educational Crisis’).  
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Sunday, July 5, 2015

A Buddhist view of homosexuality


by (the late) Ven. Dr K Sri Dhammananda, Published on the Buddhist Channel, June 30, 2015

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- We can no longer pretend that this aspect of human behavior - homosexuality - is something shameful and if we ignore it long enough it will simply go away.
<< "There is nothing intrinsically wrong with sex. What is wrong is attachment and slavery to it, on believing that indulgence in sex can bring ultimate happiness.." -- Ven Dr K Sri Dhammananda (1919-2006)
To begin with, present day attitudes are largely influenced by the Tudor-Christian approach in the Bible which was blown out of proportion by the narrow mindedness of the Victorian era in 19th Century England.
In Asia, especially India and China, sex was never seen as something dirty only to be indulged in surreptitiously and only for the purposes of breeding. Stone sculptures on the Hindu temples of India amply testify to the fact that all kinds of sexual behavior (including masturbation) was an expression of KAMA, of sensual pleasure which could be indulged in within the limits of Dharma, which in this case meant virtue.
As human beings, we are equipped with bodies which crave for the pleasures of all kinds (not only sex) - for food, pleasant smells, sounds etc. If we deny these for being sinful, then we repress natural desires which are harmful. The being which is the victim of MAYA (ignorance) sees the body as real and craves to satisfy its longing for KAMA.
But as the being matures spiritually MAYA is replaced with VIDYA (knowledge) and PANNA (wisdom) . Therefore when the body is seen as an illusion, than the being naturally GROWS OUT of craving. Here, we see the superior being renounces sex through maturity just as a child stops playing with toys as he or she grows up.There is nothing intrinsically wrong with sex. What is wrong is attachment and slavery to it, on believing that indulgence in sex can bring ultimate happiness. This is the problem with the exploitation of sex by the mass entertainment industry today - extending the myth that sex can bring lasting happiness.
The third of the Five Precepts we recite in daily Buddhist practice is: undertake the training rule to refrain from sexual misconduct. First we note that there is no compulsion, no fear of punishment for infringement of any divine law, but when we recognize the danger of attachment to sex, we freely take the steps (training rule) to grow out of it, i.e. "I undertake".
Next we look at "sexual misconduct" - here we refer specifically to sexual misconduct, not all sexual behaviour. Sex is not prohibited to those who do not choose to be celibate. Undoubtedly, this rule only applies to those who are not monks or nuns. These latter have voluntarily taken it upon themselves to abstain from sex to better concentrate on their spiritual progress. By misconduct is meant behavior which harms the person who does the act or the other party.
This in a way means that if both parties are consenting adults, not under-aged, not “attached”- legally or otherwise to someone else, there is no harm done.
In Buddhism we do not consider any action "sinful" in the sense that we transgress a divine commandment. We act wrongly because of Ignorance and therefore we commit an Akusala Kamma (unskilful action) which delays or interferes with our spiritual progress. Because of our Ignorance about the real nature of things (in this case our body) we act in ways which are detrimental to us from a spiritual point of view.
Wisdom and Understanding will help us refrain from harmful actions, both mental and physical.
In this connection, Buddhism does not recognize that marriage is a divinely ordained institution which suddenly makes sex OK. Sex is a human activity which has nothing to do with heaven and hell. You will notice that sexual restraint is only ONE of the Five Precepts.
Killing is far more serious because you can hurt another being more viciously. Sex is caused by a craving just like craving for food, liquor, drugs, wealth, power, etc. Attachment to any of these constitutes Akusala Kamma. Buddhism discourages any of these forms of carving because it will tie us down more firmly to Samsara. Also indulgence in sex can lead to other evils.
One may see from this that Buddhism does not see Homosexuality as WRONG and HETROSEXUALITY as RIGHT. Both are sexual activity using the body, both are strong expressions of lust which increase desire for life and therefore trap us longer in Samsara. Whether two men or a couple fall in love, it arises out of the same human limitation that is, of not seeing the body as empty of any ultimate reality.
Buddhism does not condemn homosexuals in the same way as it does not condemn any wrong doing. We act through ignorance of the true nature of things, therefore we are only guilty of AKUSALA Kamma (unskilful action) . We have no right to condemn others.
Our duty is to help others see that they are acting out of ignorance, to show how real happiness can be gained. We have no right to condemn those who think or act differently from us especially when we ourselves are slaves of sensual pleasure in other forms. We know that when we point one finger at others, three fingers are pointing at us.
In summary, homosexuality like heterosexuality arises from Ignorance, and is certainly not "sinful" in a Christian sense. All forms of sex increase lust, craving, attachment to the body.
With wisdom we learn to grow out of these attachments. We do not condemn homosexuality as wrong and sinful, but we do not condone it either, simply because it, like other forms of sex, delays our deliverance from Samsara.

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

A most Profound and Wisely Ballanced Ontology:


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Buddha once explained existence as a chain of dependent emergence thus:
Some recluses and priests declare these excessively speculative views:
"Everything Exists"; which is the one extreme (Sarvastavadin Eternalism...).
Other recluses and priests declare a just as far fetched opposite extreme
view: "Everything does Not Exist" (Sunyatavadin Annihilationism...).
Avoiding both these extremes the Well-Gone-Beyond Buddha teaches
this Dhamma from the subtle, exquisite, and profound middle:
When this is present, that also exists.
When this emerges, that also arises.
When this is absent, that neither exists.
When this ceases, that also vanishes.
From ignorance arises mental construction.
From mental construction arises consciousness.
From consciousness arises naming-&-forming.
From name-&-form arises the six senses.
From the six senses arises contact.
From contact arises feeling.
From feeling arises craving.
From craving arises clinging.
From clinging arises becoming.
From becoming arises birth.
From birth arises ageing, decay, sickness and death.
From ageing, decay and death arises Suffering..
This is the origin of this entire mass of frustrating Pain...
When ignorance ceases, mental construction stops.
When mental construction ceases, consciousness stops.
When consciousness ceases, naming-&-forming stops.
When name-&-form ceases, the six senses stops.
When the six senses ceases, contact stops.
When contact ceases, feeling stops.
When feeling ceases, craving stops.
When craving ceases, clinging stops.
When clinging ceases, becoming stops.
When becoming ceases, birth stops.
When birth ceases, ageing, decay, and death stops... !
When ageing, decay and death ceases, then Suffering  stops!
This is the disappearance of this entire mass of frustrating Pain...
This - only this supremely stilled silence - is the deathless Nibbāna!


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Everything has a Cause: More on Co-Dependent Co-Arising (paticca-samuppāda):
http://What-Buddha-Said.net/drops/IV/Caused_by_What.htm
http://What-Buddha-Said.net/drops/Cohesive_Co-Origination.htm
http://What-Buddha-Said.net/drops/Collapsible_Co-Cessation.htm
http://What-Buddha-Said.net/drops/III/Causes_of_Emergence.htm

http://What-Buddha-Said.net/library/DPPN/wtb/n_r/paticca_samuppaada.htm
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Existence is dynamic thus:
 Neither a static substance out there, nor a mental illusion in here,
 But a chain of dependent states arising and ceasing momentarily...

 More on Buddhist Ontology: What exists and how does it exist?
 
http://What-Buddha-Said.net/drops/What_Exists.htm
 http://What-Buddha-Said.net/drops/Advanced_Right_View.htm
Everything has a Cause..
Have a nice and Noble day.
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Friendship is the Greatest! Bhikkhu Samāhita _/\_ ]
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