Monday, 27 March 2017

A Quote That I Really Like

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

 —Philip K. Dick

Friday, 24 March 2017

Printing the Ancient Way Keeps Buddhist Texts Alive in Tibet

This from the New York Times by Edward Wong.                             点击查看本文中文版


DERGE, China — The dozen or so Tibetan men wearing aprons sat in pairs in low chairs, facing each other. Each pair bent over a thin rectangular wooden block and worked by sunlight streaming into the second-story room open to a courtyard.

Their hands moved quickly. Over and over they went through the same motions, several times each minute: One man slathered red or black ink on the block, which was carved with Tibetan words and religious images. Then his partner placed a thin piece of white paper atop the block and, bending even lower, ran a roller over it. Seconds later, he whipped off the paper and put it aside to dry.

That bending was an act of prostration to the Buddha, said Pema Chujen, a Tibetan woman who was leading a group of ethnic Han visitors around the monastery. I stood at the back of the tour, having walked into the monastery during a two-week road trip across this part of Tibet.

“They are like this every day,” she said. “This is just the faith in their hearts. Of course, it’s good to make offerings to the Buddha using a lot of money, but it’s more faithful to make offerings using your body, mouth and mind.”


So went a typical afternoon in one of the most revered institutions in the Tibetan world, the Parkhang printing lamasery in the mountainous heart of the Kham region. On Chinese maps, it is in the far west of Sichuan Province, across the Cho La, a vertiginous pass at 16,600 feet.

The press, in the town of Derge, dates to 1729 and draws pilgrims from across the Tibetan plateau to the three-story monastery, its walls painted scarlet and its roof adorned with golden Buddhist icons. 

The printing press is the embodiment of a hallowed tradition and is one site where the Tibetan language is being preserved, despite the lack of government support for immersive Tibetan-language education on the plateau. It has more than 320,000 wooden printing blocks that are on average more than 260 years old, said Ms. Pema, a volunteer who cleans the monastery’s objects and guides visitors.

The monastery also houses collections of sutras, including 830 classic scriptures and copies of more than 70 percent of ancient Tibetan manuscripts, she said. The founder of the monastery, Chokyi Tenpa Tsering, embraced works from the range of Tibetan Buddhist schools.

“He was very open minded, like the ocean containing water from all rivers,” she said.

Besides trying to preserve the old blocks, the printing house has been making new ones since the 1980s. A decade from now, it is expected to have 400,000 blocks, Ms. Pema said.


The printing blocks are constructed from red birchwood in 13 steps. At an early stage, the raw pieces of wood have to be soaked in feces for a half-year. Those that do not crack or break during this period are then made into printing blocks, Ms. Pema said. Craftsmen apply an herbal solution that repels rats and insects.

The printing operations employ about 60 people. The men have been here for two decades on average, despite low pay, Ms. Pema said. Each day, they print about 2,500 pieces of paper, on both sides, to be collected as sutras and distributed across the Tibetan plateau.

At its height, the press employed more than 500 people, and almost all were monks from the neighbouring Gonchen Monastery. These days, the printers are laypeople.

The monastery is a warren of hallways and rooms. On the third floor, a few men sat with wooden boards in a small, dark room. Here they made simple thangkas, large hangings with Buddhist iconography.

Clipped to a string were thangkas showing popular aspects of the pantheon: the seated Sakyamuni Buddha, the fingers of one hand touching the earth; Medicine Buddha, holding a bowl; Mahakala, the fierce protector deity that appears in paintings as a blue, multiarmed, fanged demon.


In one corner of the room, an abbot sat discussing a text with one of the printers.

A few feet away, a tall Tibetan man in a black Arc’teryx jacket pointed out items in the room to a friend. He was Chime Dorje, a prominent doctor and advocate of traditional medicine who ran a clinic in the town centre.

He said the monks here had once operated a clinic. Now he and others were the inheritors of the tradition. Like the printing process here, the practise of Tibetan medicine had managed to survive the Mao era and the advent of a quasi-market economy.

“There were myths that Tibetan medicine contained a large amount of mercury and lead, but actually its ingredients are just normal,” he told me. “Some theoretical studies have also proven that Tibetan medicine is scientific.”

Outside, pilgrims walked around the building to complete a kora, or holy circuit. Old women spun hand-held prayer wheels and hobbled along with walking sticks. The monastery was one of three pilgrimage sites in the Tibetan world, each representing the body, mouth and mind of the Buddha, Ms. Pema said.

One visitor, Sonam, said he saw more traditional dress in Derge than anywhere else in the region. He pointed to women circling the monastery with coral and turquoise stones entwined into braids in their hair. “They have money,” he said.


Chanting emanated from loudspeakers. In hills to the east of the monastery stood clusters of red three-story wooden homes, a traditional design around religious centres in Kham.

Even if the scene around the monastery evoked ancient customs, the town did not. Modern five-story buildings lined the valley walls along the river. Yellow construction cranes loomed above the skyline, a sight typical of cities big and small across China. At night, neon signs glowed.

Katia Buffetrille, a scholar of Tibet at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris, said the sprawl of the town had surprised her when she visited last year. She had last come here three decades earlier. 

The monastery was in bad shape in 1985, she said. But the printing press was functioning back then, years after the end of the destructive Cultural Revolution.

“The operations of the printing press are today similar to what they were in 1985,” Ms. Buffetrille said. “It’s amazing how many pages they print every day.”

“That can explain the bad quality of the printing sometimes,” she added.

But the traditions endure. On the afternoon I visited, in a monastic building uphill from the printing press, monks held a dharma ceremony, which they do every few weeks. One monk walked around a crowded courtyard sprinkling drops of water on worshippers. Others sat on a dais at the front, reading aloud from scriptures that had been printed by hand next door.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

A Buddhist Poem for World Poetry Day

Here's a poem by Kenji Miyazawa – "Strong In The Rain" (Ame ni mo Makezu) for World Poetry Day.


Strong in the rain
Strong in the wind
Strong against the summer heat and snow
He is healthy and robust
Unselfish
He never loses his temper
Nor the quiet smile on his lips
He eats four go of unpolished rice Miso and a few vegetables a day
He does not consider himself
In whatever occurs…his understanding
Comes from observation and experience
And he never loses sight of things
He lives in a little thatched-roof hut
In a field in the shadows of a pine tree grove
If there is a sick child in the east
He goes there to nurse the child
If there’s a tired mother in the west
He goes to her and carries her sheaves
If someone is near death in the south
He goes and says, “Don’t be afraid”
If there’s strife and lawsuits in the north
He demands that the people put an end to their pettiness
He weeps at the time of drought
He plods about at a loss during the cold summer
Everyone calls him “Blockhead”
No one sings his praises
Or takes him to heart…
That is the sort of person I want to be.


World Poetry Day is today, the 21 March, and was declared by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) in 1999. The purpose of the day is to promote the reading, writing, publishing and teaching of poetry throughout the world and, as the UNESCO session declaring the day says, to "give fresh recognition and impetus to national, regional and international poetry movements".

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

"Walk With Me" Premieres at SXSW

On Sunday the film "Walk with me", about mindfulness advocate and Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh had its world premiere at SXSW, otherwise known as "South by Southwest" which is an annual conglomerate of film, interactive media, and music festivals and conferences that take place in mid-March in Austin, Texas.

Filmed over three years, at Plum Village monastery in rural France and on the road in America, the film is a meditation on a community grappling with existential questions and the everyday routine of monastic life.

As the seasons come and go, the monastics’ pursuit for a deeper connection to themselves and the world around them is amplified by insights from Thich Nhat Hanh’s early journals, narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch.


Monday, 13 March 2017

FULL MOON - Training

Let the dread of endless mediocrity
spur you into great effort,
like a well-trained horse
encouraged by the mere touch of the whip.
Relinquish the burden of endless struggle
with unapologetic confidence,
with purity of action, effort, concentration,
and by conscious and disciplined commitment
to the path.

Dhammapada v. 144

It is appropriate to feel afraid at the thought of being endlessly caught up in delusion and suffering. It is a mistake to think that all feelings of fear are a symptom that we are somehow failing. Sometimes, feeling afraid may well be a warning sign that we are in danger and need to be extra careful. Fear can serve to protect us from harm. Like a good friend who points out something that we perhaps don't want to hear, but need to, fear can also serve as a motivator.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Women's Day & Bhikkhunis

Today is International Women's Day and the theme for this year is "Be Bold for Change" so it seems appropriate to have a look at the current situation for Buddhist nuns or Bhikkhunis who in many traditions are denied the same level of ordination as male monks.

The excuse that is usually offered is that to be fully ordained as a nun you need, according to the Vinaya, the rules governing the monastic community within Buddhism, to be ordained by an existing ordained nun.

As the nun's lineage died out in all areas of the Theravada school, traditionally women's roles as renunciates were limited to taking eight or ten Precepts. Such women appear as maechi in Thai Buddhism, dasa sil mata in Sri Lanka, thilashin in Burma and siladharas at Amaravati and Chithurst Buddhist Monasteries in England.

However, back in October 2009, Sisters Vayama, Nirodha, Seri and Hassapañña were ordained as Theravada Bhikkhunis, or nuns, in a dual ordination ceremony held at Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery in Perth, Western Australia. Ayya Tathaaloka, from the United States, was the Preceptor. Ajahn Brahm and Ajahn Sujato performed the certifying acariya chanting in the bhikkhu's (monks) part of the ceremony.

But, despite this, change has been very slow in traditional Theravada countries such as Thailand. King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand died at the age of 88, on 13 October 2016, after a long illness. A year-long period of mourning was subsequently announced.

As millions of people across Thailand mourned the passing of the widely beloved King and Thais flocked to pay their respects at Bangkok’s Grand Palace, where the late monarch lies in state, one segment of society in this Buddhist kingdom has been blocked from visiting the royal funeral ceremony — bhikkhunis, or fully ordained female monastics.


A recent commentary in the Bangkok Post notes that in December, a group of bhikkhunis from the central province of Nakhon Pathom were turned away from the Grand Palace and reprimanded for wearing the saffron robes of Theravada monks. In a similar incident in November, a party of bhikkhunis from the southern province of Songkhla were also denied entry. Both groups were confronted by officials from the National Office of Buddhism and Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya, a Buddhist university, who are in charge of screening monastic visitors.

It is still illegal for women to take full ordination as a Buddhist nun (Bhikkhuni) in Thailand because of a 1928 law created by the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Books, Books, Books

Back in the middle of November last year we received the following email...............

I stumbled across the West Wight Sangha website and thought I might send you some of the books published by our organization. You can see some of them here. http://www.bhantedhammika.net/ If you would like some copies for yourself and your friends and you give me a postal address I will happily send you some copies. Kind regards Bhante Dhammika.

The books were ordered and duly sent on their way by ship.

The books arrived yesterday and coincidentally today is World Book Day! It is a celebration of authors, illustrators, books and (most importantly) it’s a celebration of reading. In fact, it’s the biggest celebration of its kind, designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading, and marked in over 100 countries all over the world.

Bhante's books will also be a great addition to our already large and comprehensive library. They are:-

Good Question, Good Answer (which covers the following)

1. What is Buddhism? 2. Basic Buddhist Concepts 3. Buddhism and the God-Idea 4. The Five Precepts 5. Rebirth 6. Meditation 7. Wisdom And Compassion 8. Vegetarianism 9. Good Luck and Fate 10. Monks and Nuns 11. The Buddhist Scriptures 12. History and Development 13. Becoming a Buddhist 14. Some Sayings of the Buddha






Like Milk And Water Mixed

Introduction What is Love? - Two Hearts Beating as One - All in the Family - Until the Mountains are Washed to the Sea - I was a Stranger and You Took Me In - Firm Friends and True Self-sacrificing Love - Forbidden Love - Furred and Feathered Friends - That Love of Which there is None Higher - The Brahma Viharas - Breaking Down the Barriers - More About Metta Meditation - Kind Heart, Clear Mind - An Adorned and Beautified Mind - Images of Love - Appendix I. Instructions for Metta Meditation - Appendix II. Instructions for Mindfulness Meditation - Appendix III. Love, Kindness and Compassion in Early Buddhist Literature - Abbreviations
Good Kamma! Bad Kamma! 

What Exactly is Kamma?
Kamma and Rebirth in Buddhism
So what is Kamma?
Kamma and Rebirth
Collective Kamma and other Misunderstandings
Appendix I: The Buddha on Kamma and Rebirth
Appendix II: The Tsunami, A Buddhist View




To Eat or Not to Eat Meat

Vegetarianism in Ancient India
Buddhist Arguments for Vegetarianism
Motivation and Meat
The Last Link in the Chain
Problematic Vegetarians
Meat in the Buddhist Tradition
How I became a Vegetarian
The Buddha’s Last Supper



Thank you Bhante.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Over Population & Inferno

I have been keeping an eye on the Current World Population figures with a view to writing an article when it reaches seven and a half billion.

I was going to wait but I recently watched the film of Dan Brown's book "Inferno" and was really, really disappointed.

SPOILER ALERT

The whole point of the book was that the "plague" that the "mad scientist" successfully releases turns out not to kill people but to alter their DNA so as to render a random third of the population sterile and thus limit our numbers relatively humanely.

In the film it is a killer plague but our heroes prevent its release just in time so that we can continue to breed our species and the planet to death. (Sorry, that's a bit dramatic, the planet will be fine and enough creatures will survive to carry on evolution's great experiment just without us and a lot of other species.)

Well we're almost at the seven and a half billion humans point, so here goes..............

The average human now consumes 100,000 tonnes of fresh water, 720 tonnes of metals, 750 tonnes of topsoil and burns 5.4 billion BTUs of (mostly fossil) energy. This is 10 times more than our grandparents.

It takes the Earth 18 months to regenerate what humans consume in a year.

Humans are presently engaged in the greatest act of extermination of other species by a single species, probably since life on Earth began. We destroy an estimated 30,000 species a year. In the last 45 years we have killed off 58 per cent of the world’s large animals.

We contaminate the atmosphere with 50 billion tonnes of greenhouse emissions a year for a total to date of 2 trillion tonnes. This risks accelerated planetary warming reaching 4-5°C by 2100. Under such conditions there will be widespread famines, threatening all of the, by then, 10 billion members of the enlarged human population.


We contaminate the biosphere with 250 billion tonnes of chemicals and wastes each year. These have spread all round the planet from the deep oceans to the highest mountains and most remote regions. The World Health Organisation states “An estimated 12.6 million people died as a result of living or working in an unhealthy environment in 2012 – nearly 1 in 4 of total global deaths”.

We contaminate the oceans with megatonnes of nutrients, CO2 and toxins. This is causing acidification, the collapse of ocean food chains and the spread of 470+ ‘dead zones’ around the planet. Ninety per cent of world fisheries are maxed out.

Global soil loss due to agriculture and development amounts to 75 billion tonnes a year and scientists warn we could run out of topsoil within half a century.


One in nine of us are starving. That's 795 million people.

Acute water scarcity faces 4 billion humans at least one month a year; a UN report warns that at present rates of use world demand for freshwater will exceed supply by 40 per cent by 2030.

At the time of writing the world's human population stood at 7,487,326,251

Where's a Mad Scientist when you need one?