Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Excitement in Totland!

We hold our Sangha meetings weekly on Tuesday nights form 7:00 to 9:00. Last week we were bemused by the sound of nearby sirens and wondered what was occurring and where.

This, from this weeks County Press.......

Car flipped 

A MAN was taken to St Mary's Hospital following a car crash in Totland. 

Emergency crews were called to Weston Road at 8.40 pm on Tuesday after a car flipped over and ended up on its roof. Fire crews made sure the scene was safe and one man was taken to hospital by ambulance.

That was just up the road from us. Who says nothing newsworthy ever happens in Totland!

Sunday, 3 December 2017

FULL MOON - Our Contribution To Sanity

By renouncing unworthy ways 
and by not living carelessly, 
by not holding to false views, 
we no longer perpetuate delusion. 

Dhammapada v. 167

The way our senses work we find it easy to look outside at that which is wrong with the world – indeed, there is plenty we would wish was otherwise. When the mind is trained with wise reflection, we remember that we can also turn our attention around and look at what can be done to help; we don’t just dwell on the deluded conduct of others. In this short teaching the Buddha is indicating how it is always possible to make a wholesome contribution. It is good to know that we are not powerless and our situation is not hopeless.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Buddhism and Islam in Asia

With the Rohingya crisis continuing in Bangladesh and Myanmar this piece by Akhilesh Pillalamarri, from The Diplomat, October 29, 2017 is a useful analysis of the cultural and historic context of the confrontation of Islam with Buddhism in Asia.

Buddhism and Islam in Asia: A Long and Complicated History

Demography and history explain troubled attitudes toward Islam in Buddhist-majority Asian regions today.


New Delhi, India -- A cursory glance at world news today may suggest that the fault-line where Buddhism and Islam meet in Asia is increasingly characterised by conflict between the two religions. Of course, in broadest sense, this is not true, as religions are made up of numerous individuals and leaders, who are generally of differing opinions.

Yet, there is an unusually high level of tension between Buddhists and Muslims in regions where the two groups share space, including Rakhine state in Myanmar, southern Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Ladakh, the eastern part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

At the root of this tension is the fear among Buddhists - not completely exaggerated - that Muslims will swamp them demographically. Many Buddhists also fear that their countries will lose their culture and become Muslim, as had been the case in many parts of modern day Central Asia, Xinjiang, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, which were majority Buddhist before the arrival of Islam in the 7th-11th centuries. Often, the arrival of Islam went hand-in-hand with the destruction of Buddhism.

When the Muslim Turkic Qarakhanids captured the Buddhist city of Khotan in Xinjiang in 1006 CE, one of their poets penned this verse: “We came down on them like a flood/We went out among their cities/We tore down the idol-temples/We shat on the Buddha’s head.” In the Islamic world, a destroyer of idols came to be known as a but-shikan, a destroyer of but, a corruption of the word Buddha, as Buddhism was prevalent in much of what became the eastern part of the Islamic world.

Unfortunately, this history, and demographics, have lead to great fear of Islam among Buddhists, which in turn has led to genocide in Myanmar, and violence in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Ladakh. If all Rohingya refugees were to be repatriated to Rakhine in Myanmar for example, they would outnumber the local Buddhist Rakhine people. And in Ladakh, the Buddhist proportion of Leh district fell from 81 to 66 percent over the past three decades (relative to Muslims and Hindus). In Ladakh as a whole, which also includes Kargil district, Buddhists are 51 percent of the population, and Muslims 49 percent, a fact of great concern to the region’s Buddhists.

Attitudes reported from Burmese Buddhists in a recent New York Times piece sum up views commonly held among both hardline monks and the lay-population of Myanmar. One monk said of the Rohingya: “They stole our land, our food and our water. We will never accept them back.” A Rakhine politician said: “All the Bengalis learn in their religious schools is to brutally kill and attack… It is impossible to live together in the future.” A local administrator elsewhere in Myanmar said, “Kalar [a derogatory term for Muslims in Myanmar] are not welcome here because they are violent and they multiply like crazy, with so many wives and children.”

Meanwhile, extremist elements in Myanmar, such as the 969 Movement, have pledged to work with Buddhist extremists elsewhere, such as in Sri Lanka, home to the Bodu Bala Sena, a Buddhist extremist organisation that lead anti-Muslim riots in that country in 2014. Ladakh was recently the scene of communal tensions between Buddhists and Muslims after the marriage of a Muslim man and a Buddhist woman, something seen as threatening to the region’s demographics. A head lama from a local monastery said, “The Muslims are trying to finish us off,” also adding that Buddhist women ought to have many more children.

Buddhism was arguably the world’s largest religion a century ago, if one counts everyone who also followed Chinese folk religion, Shinto, Muism, and other East Asian religions. In the modern era, Buddhism has been particularly vulnerable, however, to both secularism and evangelism from other religions. According to a Pew survey, alone among the world’s major religions (including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Chinese folk religion), Buddhism and its adherents are projected to decline both in terms of raw numbers, and as a percentage of the world population. The world Buddhist population is projected to fall from 488 million to 486 million people, and from 7 percent to 5 percent of total share. Christianity and Islam are still growing; in particular, the latter will grow from around 23 percent of the global population to 30 percent by 2050. Put another way, there will be six times as many Muslims as Buddhists by then.

The nature of Buddhism may be related to the issue of the religion’s decline: there is a huge gap between the religion’s lay practitioners, who have adopted a set of customs associated somewhat with Buddhist mythology, and the monastic community, which follows the Buddha’s example. While there is an element of elite-popular division in all religions, in few other religions is the gap so stark. After all, the community, the sangha, founded by the Buddha himself was monastic.

State patronage was also important to the survival of the sangha, as in many Buddhist countries, monks beg, do not produce food, and do not engage in warfare. When a territory was conquered by non-Buddhist powers, or Buddhism was patronised less by certain rulers, the sangha inevitably declined and the lay people merged their folk customs into whatever other religions were dominant.

By the Middle Ages, after a thousand years of growth, Buddhism was sidelined as the elite religion throughout much of its former dominion, except in mainland Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka. Neo-Confucianism and Shinto prevailed in East Asia, partially due to state policies. In 845 CE, China’s Tang Dynasty launched the great anti-Buddhist persecution, stimulated in part by the fact that too many people were entering tax-free monasteries. Neo-Confucianism thereafter became the dominant philosophy among the elite in China; a similar process unfolded in Korea with the rise of the Joseon Dynasty in 1392, and in Japan, where the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1868) promoted Neo-Confucianism and Shinto at the expense of Buddhism, mostly for political reasons.

Buddhism also all but vanished in South Asia, as folk Buddhism was reabsorbed into Hinduism, with the Buddha being acknowledged as an avatar of the god Vishnu. Hinduism was simultaneously less dependent on state promotion for its survival, and more attuned with the ritual and political needs of kingship, as well as being more aligned with folk beliefs. The destruction of the great Buddhist university at Nalanda in 1193 by Muslim Turkic invaders sealed its fate. Throughout South Asia, after the establishment of Muslim dynasties, conversion to Islam occurred fastest in the heavily Buddhist regions of Afghanistan, Swat, Sindh, western Punjab, and eastern Bengal, compared to other areas where Hinduism was more prevalent.

This history informs Buddhist attitudes toward Islam, regardless of the actual doctrines of Buddhism, or Islam for that matter. History and demographics have created a sense of siege that is unlikely to be resolved soon. Unfortunately, ideas such as education, development, spreading awareness of family planning, or autonomous regions for Muslim minorities are taking a back seat to hysteria throughout numerous Buddhist-majority countries with Muslim-minorities.

Friday, 1 December 2017

FULL MOON - Pavarana Day - Fully Awake

Disciples of the Buddha 
are fully awake both day and night, 
taking delight 
in cultivating the heart. 

Dhammapada v. 301

The Buddha encouraged the cultivation of our heart's potential to awaken. We are already aware of the need to look after our physical health, and the benefits of maintaining mental well-being; if we heed the Buddha's advice we will also invest in those qualities which lead to wisdom and compassion. Wisdom sees the advantages and disadvantages in any given situation. Without wisdom we risk seeing only that which pleases us. Sometimes it is more wise to endure discomfort and disappointment for the sake of being able to see deeply, beyond the world of preferences. Compassion, the heart's warmth and impulse to care, is the natural expression of wisdom.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

A Good Day Was Had by All

The Newport Soto Zen Group is affiliated to Reading Buddhist Priory which in turn is a subsidiary of Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey in Northumberland. 

Last Friday the group had a daylong meditation retreat and were joined for the day by the Prior of Reading, the Reverend Gareth Milliken, a certified Buddhist priest and teacher in the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives and a monastic disciple of Rev. Master Daishin Morgan, the Abbot of Throssel Hole.


By all accounts a good day was had by all!

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

A Bit of Controversy?

Some of you may have heard the story a few days ago of Engineers dowsing for water using L or Y-shaped divining rods. Their use came to light when a couple called out engineers from the Severn Trent water company to their home in the Midlands. They were so astonished to see a technician use dowsing rods to locate the mains pipe that they contacted their daughter Sally Le Page, an Oxford University scientist. She contacted Severn Trent, who confirmed their technicians still use the method.

Now many of you who have attended some of our recent Meditation Retreat Days will have had a go at divining. I have been interested in the subject for a number of years and introduced a "sampling session" to the retreat days as a demonstration that we can be mindful and aware of very subtle influences in our environment. I give brief instructions as to how to correctly hold the rods (we use 30 inch braising rods with 6 inches bent at a right angle to form the handle) and how to walk slowly and attentively.


The would be diviner is then given a direction to walk and started on their way, no additional instructions, no clues and no prompts just advice on grip and walking speed. Everyone gets some sort of reaction and at the same points.

I first came across dowsing when a colleague brought a pair of rods into work. I hadn't a clue as to what they were so asked. He sheepishly replied that he had to put up some shelves and wanted to know if there was any wiring in the wall where he had to drill.

As I was looking very strangely at him he gave them to me, showed me how to hold them and told me to just walk across the office. I took about five steps and the rods swung violently across each other almost pointing directly back at me. In total bemusement I asked, "what the hell happened there". He told me to look at my feet, it was a modern office block and all the cabling was routed through underfloor trunking - I was standing directly on top of a section.


I asked my friend how he discovered dowsing and his story was almost identical to that of Ms Le Page's parents. Two chaps from the Gas Board turned up after he had reported a drop in the gas pressure to his property, they said that they had a problem with their gas detector so they were going to use divining rods as they always used to in the past but begged my friend not to mention it to "management". The rods were used, a single hole was dug and the leak fixed.

Now I'm not going to make any claims for dowsing other than to say, that in my experience, the vast majority of people that try dowsing succeed in detecting something. This may be because we detect subtle clues from our environment but that is my point, we can be mindful of those usually ignored parts of our field of awareness.

Just out of interest if you Google Ms Le Page, unlike most such searches the hits keep on going, I got to page 15 before Google started to go off piste and started referencing other le pages, you will also get acres of pictures on an image search.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that General Electric has launched a “creator-in-residence” program, tapping 22-year-old British biologist and Oxford PhD candidate Sally Le Page as its first face. Le Page, who first gained a YouTube following with her self-produced videos, made a video a week for GE throughout June 2015, tackling subjects like the science behind movie magic and the relationship between humans and machines. One of Le Page’s most popular GE videos focused on Chappie, a science fiction film. The video, which kicks off with Le Page asking, “When am I going to have a robot best friend?” includes an interview with the project leader of GE’s robotics program and a visit to the company’s Global Research Centre.

Could Ms Le page's parents' much publicised outrage be anything to do with actually publicising their already much promoted daughter and was her response part of her continued quest for ever higher celebrity status re her considerable social media presence?




Friday, 3 November 2017

FULL MOON - Happiness Indeed

While in the midst 
of those who hate, 
to dwell free from hating 
is happiness indeed. 

Dhammapada v. 197

It takes a certain sort of strength to not be pulled into the moods of those around us. Part of us possibly wants to feel included in the group, to not stand out as different. But when our sense of well-being is defined by whether we are included or excluded by others, we are perpetually vulnerable. Although feeling excluded can produce a sense of suffering, it is suffering that we can learn from. There are two types of suffering: that which leads to more suffering and that which leads to freedom from suffering. If we are willing to endure the suffering which arises from being excluded by others who are caught in hatred, in gossiping, or in greed, then that is the sort of suffering that leads to happiness.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Are These Hobbit Holes?

Are these curious structures Hobbit-holes, otherwise called Smials?


They were holes dug into the hill side, usually having a minimum of one round window and front door and sometimes back door. On the other hand, the poor lived in basic burrows with perhaps only a single window. Are these then the burrows of poor Hobbits?

Well no, they are in fact meditation caves tucked into the hills just above Dochula pass in Bhutan. These tiny, open-faced caverns are built from stone and painted in colourful detail with Buddhist symbolism. The druk, or dragon—Bhutan’s long-time national symbol and spirit animal—stretches over the cave entrance, bringing good luck and good tidings (unlike the dragons in Middle Earth!).

For comparison, here is a Hobbit house...............



Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Karma

Somewhat belatedly, I'm picking up on an email from one of our Sangha members who sent me the following link to this article from Lion's Roar, What Is Karma and How Does It Work?

It is a nice follow on from our previous post Tuesday Talks - a New Feature, which referred to the Dharma talk What About Karma by David Loy.


The Lion's Roar piece is an open discussion between Bhikkhu Bodhi, who is an American Buddhist monk and scholar living in Sri Lanka, Jan Chozen Bays, a Zen master in the lineage of Maezumi Roshi and Jeffrey Hopkins, Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at the University of Virginia.

The Buddha taught that because of karma, beings are bound to the ever-turning wheel of rebirth. Only when a person stops believing in the existence of a permanent and real self can he or she become free from karma.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

NEW MOON - Blessings

Blessed is the arising of a Buddha;
blessed is the revealing of the Dhamma;
blessed is the concord of the Sangha;
delightful is harmonious communion.

Dhammapada v. 194


We all delight when we receive blessings. Let's also delight in our ability to generate blessings. Whatever our circumstance in life, we have the power to bring virtue into the world. To some it appears naive to dwell on developing virtue; they think it is up to others to stop causing darkness. But we are not responsible for what others do or don't do. We are responsible for our own actions. Sometimes we are surrounded by light, at other times it seems the light has disappeared. But we don't have to be defined by external conditions. We always have the possibility of being a bit more kind, a bit more patient, a bit more honest.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Tuesday Talks - a New Feature

This is the first of our new series of monthly talks that we are having at the West Wight Sangha. As our meetings are shorter than those at the Newport Soto Zen group the talks are perforce also shorter.

I'm featuring the first talk here on our Home page but in future they will be posted directly to our main Audio page along with the regular talks from the zen groups meetings.


This talk is What About Karma by David Loy and is just under 30 minutes long.



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Friday, 6 October 2017

Some "Buddhist" Poems for National Poetry Day

Today is National Poetry Day when Britain is encouraged to “break the tyranny of prose for 24 hours by sharing poetry in every conceivable way.”


Here are a selection of Buddhist poems and poems with a "Buddhist" theme to them for the day...

Wind and Rain

Wind and rain,
Mara again
But no, I don't feel no pain
Wind and rain,
Trying to drive me insane
But I know it's all in the brain

Demons, demons!
At it again
Trying to mind-hack me once more
Her body so fine,
But there's no gold mine
Behind the exterior

Sensations are temporal,
Their value material
And I've glimpsed beyond this lower realm
If you ain't got wisdom,
You better get spiritual
I'll see you in the next life,
Yes, I'll see you in the next life

Ashley Burns

Ode I. 11

Leucon, no one’s allowed to know his fate,
Not you, not me: don’t ask, don’t hunt for answers
In tea leaves or palms. Be patient with whatever comes.
This could be our last winter, it could be many
More, pounding the Tuscan Sea on these rocks:
Do what you must, be wise, cut your vines
And forget about hope. Time goes running, even
As we talk. Take the present, the future’s no one’s affair.

Horace (Roman, 65-8 BCE)

Night Prologue

Warm at centre, on a long winter’s night.
Through the bone-cage, through the breathflow,
buds of silence are opening out:
awareness shimmers; suffusions glow;
the heart is listening, translucent, bright;
a filigree pulse unbinds my head.

This joy – what is this lovely drawing near,
gathering up horizons, moulding attention?
A spring, welling up through still zero;
a turning tide that unbends intention
into a resonance that enshrines us here:
bare room; a small lamp; presence, burning.

Shine: let my colours find the axis.
And my soft-edged shadow feel your turning.

Ajahn Sucitto

And now, why poetry matters..............................




Thursday, 5 October 2017

FULL MOON - Pavarana Day

Disciples of the Buddha
are fully awake both day and night,
taking delight
in cultivating the heart.

Dhammapada v. 210

The Buddha encouraged the cultivation of our heart's potential to awaken. We are already aware of the need to look after our physical health, and the benefits of maintaining mental well-being; if we heed the Buddha's advice we will also invest in those qualities which lead to wisdom and compassion. Wisdom sees the advantages and disadvantages in any given situation. Without wisdom we risk seeing only that which pleases us. Sometimes it is more wise to endure discomfort and disappointment for the sake of being able to see deeply, beyond the world of preferences. Compassion, the heart's warmth and impulse to care, is the natural expression of wisdom.


In India, where Buddhism began, there is a three-month-long rainy season. According to the Vinaya (Mahavagga, Fourth Khandhaka, section I), in the time of the Buddha, once during this rainy season, a group of normally wandering monks sought shelter by co-habitating in a residence. In order to minimise potential inter-personal strife while co-habitating, the monks agreed to remain silent for the entire three months and agreed upon a non-verbal means for sharing alms.

After this rains retreat, when the Buddha learned of the monks' silence, he described such a measure as "foolish." Instead, the Buddha instituted the Pavarana Ceremony as a means for dealing with potential conflict and breaches of disciplinary rules (Patimokkha) during the vassa season.

Pavarana usually falls during the eleventh lunar month - October - and it marks the end of the three month 'rains retreat' which began on the full moon of Asalha. Literally 'pavarana' means 'inviting admonition'.

The three month period (vassa) is often used by lay and monastic folk alike to make a variety of determinations; to take up a particular devotional or meditation practice, to challenge or renounce some old habit - like eating sugar or smoking or drinking coffee (or worse). In Asia this may even be taken to the extent of lay folk taking temporary ordination for all or part of this time. The full moon of Pavarana marks the end of this period and is a time of celebration. For those who have maintained a strict practice it means they can relax a bit; hopefully having learnt something about the particular thing they had been investigating and not falling back into old habits.

For monastics it ends a period of containment within the boundaries of the monastery. The Buddha appreciated how this containment can sometimes cause difficulty between people and he outlined a ceremony to be performed by the monks and the nuns on the Pavarana day. There are several aspects to this ceremony but the underlying spirit is one of asking for admonishment. This is not that one wants a good telling off but invitation is formally given to one's ordained brothers and sisters to offer any reflections on one's past behaviour. This invitation need not be taken up then and there but an opening is created.

The words of part of the ceremony are as follows: "Venerable One's, I invite admonition from the Sangha. According to what has been seen, heard or suspected (of my actions), may the venerable one's instruct me out of compassion. Seeing it (my fault), I shall make amends. I ask this of you for the second time; and again I ask for the third time."

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Newsletter

I was recently noting the various email notifications that I needed to send to the group and had a “Light Bulb” moment that the obvious thing to do was to put everything together in a Newsletter and that it would be a good idea to make this a regular offering.

It is obvious from the above that this will be a work in progress but my initial intention is to both post the newsletter to our website and to email it to everyone whilst also producing some hard copy.

Retreat Day

As we are now officially in Autumn it’s time for the West Wight Sangha Autumn Retreat Day which will be on Sunday the 15th of October, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

For anyone who hasn't been before, we are at Yew Tree Cottage, Weston Road, Totland and you can ring me on 756884.

As is now our usual practice we’re looking to evenly balance the morning and afternoon sessions so we’ll be having lunch from 12:30 finishing at 1:30, so it would be nice if you’re only coming for the morning or afternoon to stay or come at half twelve and join everyone for lunch…… usual format of bringing vegetarian food to share (and don’t forget fruit juice etc. to drink). Also feel free to bring any readings that you would like to share.

Please let me know if you intend coming so that I have some idea of the numbers.

Meeting Schedule

As some of you will know we have experimented with having “themed” evenings for our Tuesday meetings and have changed the arrangements for running proceedings.

So we now come directly up to the Shrine Room via the side gate without meeting in the house first. This enables us to get the meeting underway earlier and as such we will be able to stick more rigidly to the 7:30 time for our sit.

On the first meeting of the month (as is this Tuesday) we will now be having a more focused meditation session with two sits, the first the usual practise of 30 minutes with a second sit of 20 minutes at the end of the meeting. We tried this last month and it proved very popular.

We are still feeling our way with this and are experimenting between using the four part timers for new group members who are not so familiar with Buddhist orientated meditation techniques, and having uninterrupted sessions with bells at the beginning and end only. It’s all very organic and we will go with the flow.

With the more punctual start to proceedings we will have time to listen to recorded Dharma talks and I’m scheduling that for the second meeting of the month, in this case Tuesday the 10th.

The talk will be “What about Karma?” by David Loy.

The talk was given at Spirit Rock Meditation Centre as part of "Awakening in Service and Action: A Study Retreat on Socially Engaged Buddhism."

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Disability advocate Yetnebersh Nigussie receives Right Livelihood Award

The fifth "fold" of the Buddha's Noble Eightfold path is Right Livelihood.

The Right Livelihood Award Foundation announced the three recipients of its 2017 prize today in Stockholm: Ethiopian lawyer Yetnebersh Nigussie, Azerbaijani investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova and Indian attorney Colin Gonsalves were honoured for their work "offering visionary and exemplary solutions to the root causes of global problems." US attorney Robert Bilott received an honorary mention.

Yetnebersh Nigussie was five when she went blind. Her family initially struggled to come to terms with her disability. They took her to traditional healers and used holy water treatments because a disabled child was viewed as "God's" way of punishing the parents for some misdemeanour .

She describes being thus "cursed" by her blindness as an opportunity as it helped her to escape from the early child marriage which is widely exercised in the Ethiopian district where Yetnebersh was born.

But through sheer determination and the help of family members she managed to go to school and excelled. Yetnerbersh is now one of the most influential global disability activists from Africa promoting gender and disability inclusion. She works as a senior advocacy office for the disability and development organisation Light for the World.

The Right Livelihood Award is an international award to "honour and support those offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today." The prize was established in 1980 by German-Swedish philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull, and is presented annually in early December. An international jury, invited by the five regular Right Livelihood Award board members, decides the awards in such fields as environmental protection, human rights, sustainable development, health, education, and peace. The prize money is shared among the winners, usually numbering four, and is €200,000. Very often one of the four laureates receives an honorary award, which means that the other three share the prize money.

Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh wrote,

"To practice Right Livelihood (samyag ajiva), you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion. The way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self, or it can be a source of suffering for you and others. "

... Our vocation can nourish our understanding and compassion, or erode them. We should be awake to the consequences, far and near, of the way we earn our living."

Our global economy complicates the precaution to do no harm to others. For example, you may work in a department store that sells merchandise made with exploited labour. Or, perhaps there is merchandise that was made in a way that harms the environment. Even if your particular job doesn't require harmful or unethical action, perhaps you are doing business with someone who does. Some things you cannot know, of course, but are you still responsible somehow?

Ming Zhen Shakya argues that any work that is honest and legal can be "Right Livelihood." However, if we remember that all beings are interconnected, we realise that trying to separate ourselves from anything "impure" is impossible, and not really the point. 

 If you keep working in the department store, maybe someday you'll be a manager who can make ethical decisions about what merchandise is sold there.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

NEW MOON - Consistency

The Awakened Ones, firm in their resolve,
vigorously apply themselves,
and know freedom from all limitation:
liberation, true security.

Dhammapada v. 23

Consistency is one of the characteristics of the Awakened Ones. Those free from the limitations which arise from clinging, never get lost in moods, positive or negative. It is not because they don't feel anything. They feel everything, but because they know beyond doubt the nature of all things, they don't interfere with, or obstruct, reality. Unawakened beings are always interfering by indulging and denying. Even when we want to be helpful, so long as we are still caught in clinging, we obstruct reality. Whatever goodness arises from our efforts is limited. Incomparable goodness arises from a heart that is unobstructed, that is truly secure.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

New Buddhist Group on Island!

A new Buddhist group, the Heart of the Island Sangha has started in Newport.

The group is affiliated to the Community of Interbeing UK (COI) which is part of the international Sangha founded by the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh and follows his teachings and practices in the Plum Village Tradition and meets every Tuesday between 19:45 – 21:30 at the Riverside Centre, on The Quay in Newport.


It follows on from the new mindfulness course Be Calm Be Happy which was developed and is promoted by the COI as a truly Buddhist based original foundation teaching for mindfulness which includes the full teachings on Mindfulness. Thich Nhat Hanh was nominated for a peace prize by Martin Luther King for his work to alleviate suffering during the Vietnam war and to start peace talks to end that same war.

He has since dedicated his life to peace work with conflicts all over the world such as Palestine/ Israel and many others.

The Heart of the Island Sangha is led by Sylvia who is a trustee for the national educational charity to spread this work and also an experienced mindfulness teacher with over twenty years experience teaching and a strong personal practice.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Myanmar and the Rohingyas

On yesterday's edition of BBC radio 4's program Today Vishvapani (a member of the Triratna Buddhist group) offered his thoughts on the situation in Myanmar and the plight of the Rohingyas..........

"When I hear about the horrific repression that's being inflicted on the Muslim Rohingyas, I share many of the outraged feelings that others are expressing. But I feel something extra as well: shame that these things are being done by my fellow Buddhists for the sake of a Buddhist state and with the support of many Buddhist monks.

How did we get here? I don't want to over-simplify the situation in Rohingya, or generalise the responses of all Burmese Buddhists; but the question remains. The Buddha said that 'hatred is never overcome by hatred, but only by love'; so how has the faith he founded become associated with such brutality?"

Listen to the full talk here................



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Friday, 8 September 2017

Anniversaries and Milestones

I had a note in my diary for tomorrow that it's the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Alliance for Bhikkhunis which is a nice coincidence as the West Wight Sangha is also ten years old this year.


While looking at their website I noticed that it was the 7th International Bhikkhuni Day on Wednesday, so a slightly belated congratulations on this auspicious event which marks the end of a significant year — the 2600th year of the Bhikkhuni Sangha.

Between the full moon of September 2016 and the full moon of September 2017 there were worldwide commemorations of the 2600th anniversary of the bhikkhuni sangha.

In the fifth year of his ministry, the Buddha was staying at Vesali when he heard that his father, King Suddhodana, was ill. He decided to visit him again at Kapilavatthu to teach him the Dharma, and made the long journey. After hearing the Dharma, the king immediately attained arahantship and passed away peacefully seven days later. It was in this year that the order of nuns was founded at the request of Maha Pajapati Gotami, the aunt and foster mother of the Buddha.

Three times she approached the Buddha and asked him to ordain her into the Sangha, but each time the Buddha refused, giving no reason at all. After the Buddha had stayed at Kapilavatthu a while, he journeyed back to Vesali.



Pajapati Gotami was a determined lady, and would not be so easily discouraged. She had a plan to get her way. She cut her hair, put on yellow garments and, surrounded by a large number of Sakyan ladies, walked 150 miles from Kapilavatthu to Vesali. When she arrived at Vesali, her feet were swollen and her body was covered with dust. She stood outside the hall where the Buddha was staying with tears on her face, still hoping that the Buddha would ordain her as a nun.


Ananda was surprised to see her in this condition. "Gotami, why are you standing here like this?" he asked.

"Venerable Ananda, it is because the Blessed One does not give permission for women to become nuns," she replied.

"Wait here, Gotami, I'll ask the Blessed One about this," Ananda told her. When Ananda asked the Buddha to admit Maha Pajapati Gotami as a nun, the Buddha refused. Ananda asked three times and three times the Buddha refused.

So Ananda put the request in a different way. Respectfully he questioned the Buddha, "Lord, are women capable of realising the various stages of sainthood as nuns?"

"They are, Ananda," said the Buddha.

"If that is so, Lord, then it would be good if women could be ordained as nuns," said Ananda, encouraged by the Buddha's reply.

"If, Ananda, Maha Pajapati Gotami would accept the Eight Conditions* it would be regarded that she has been ordained already as a nun."

When Ananda mentioned the conditions to Maha Pajapati Gotami, she gladly agreed to abide by those conditions and automatically became a nun. Before long she attained arahantship. The other Sakyan ladies who were ordained with her also attained Arahantship.

based on Anguttara Nikaya 8.51

The establishment of an order of nuns with rules and regulations was an opportunity for women that the Buddha offered for the first time in the history of the world. No other spiritual leader had given such high religious status to women.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

FULL MOON - Do Not Abandon Yourselves

To lose the company of those
with whom one feels at home is painful,
to be associated with those
whom you dislike is even worse;
so do not abandon yourselves
either to the company of those
with whom you feel at home
or those whom you dislike.

Dhammapada v. 210

Abandoning ourselves here means losing ourselves or losing perspective. It is thoroughly natural to experience warm-hearted caring for another, as the Buddha pointed out in his teachings on cultivating loving-kindness. What we add to that with our clinging, is unnatural, or at least unnecessary. And if we could stop clinging we might be more whole-heartedly caring. If we are not really attentive we could be harbouring some hesitation to truly care for others out of fear of becoming attached. With wise contemplation however, it is possible to care and at the same time be mindful of tendencies to attach. The only thing to be afraid of is the time it takes to remember to be mindful.

Monday, 4 September 2017

It Never Rains But it Pours!

A stalwart group of us gathered on the Duver at St Helens yesterday to participate in the annual Buddhist picnic when the various Buddhist groups from across the island meet for a relaxed late summer get together and alfresco meal. This year was a milestone as it was the 20th year that we had held the picnic.

It poured down................. all day.

So we went back to Matt's and had the "picnic" in his conservatory where we could fantasise we were communing with nature by looking out at the garden.


While at the same time feeling quite Tropical in the conservatory.

Not to mention that the tea was better than anything stewed in a thermos.
And to match up with the Tibetan prayer flags we had our guest Tibetan dog. Dogs are always
especially welcome at the Buddhist picnic.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

The Isle of Wight, The Buddha, NCIS and The Ham

Everything is interconnected.

Our last post concerned the changes to Japan's traditional Buddhist inspired vegetarian cuisine brought about by Japan's contact with the West.

I've just come across this story about the "World’s Oldest Edible Ham" which is stored in the Isle of Wight County Museum!

Before you all book a ferry to come over to the island to see it pause a moment for the penny to drop that this museum is in Isle of Wight County, Virginia USA which featured in a previous post about the Isle of Wight appearing in an episode of NCIS.


To further add to the confusion and connections the museum is in the town of Smithfield a name any Brit immediately associates with Smithfield market, the largest wholesale meat market in the UK.

You can keep track of what the ham is doing here, yes they've got a webcam on it.......

Thursday, 24 August 2017

How the West Eroded Vegetarianism in Japan

I receive a daily email from Delanceyplace.com which is a brief excerpt or quote that they view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context. There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, are occasionally controversial, and hopefully have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came.

Today's selection is from A Daughter of the Samurai by Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto. For centuries under Buddhism, vegetarianism was widely practised in Japan. That continued until the 1850s, when the expedition of Commodore Matthew Perry forced the opening of Japanese society and the Japanese began to tentatively adopt Western eating habits and other practises, (I particularly like the grandmother's final comment):


"I was about eight years old when I had my first taste of meat. For twelve centuries, following the introduction of the Buddhist religion, which forbids the killing of animals, the Japanese people were vegetarians. In late years, however, both belief and custom have changed considerably, and now, though meat is not universally eaten, it can be found in all restaurants and hotels. But when I was a child it was looked upon with horror and loathing.

"How well I remember one day when I came home from school and found the entire household wrapped in gloom. I felt a sense of depression as soon as I stepped into the 'shoe-off' entrance, and heard my mother, in low, solemn tones, giving directions to a maid. A group of servants at the end of the hall seemed excited, but they also were talking in hushed voices. Of course, since I had not yet greeted the family, I did not ask any questions, but I had an uneasy feeling that something was wrong, and it was very hard for me to walk calmly and unhurriedly down the long hall to my grandmother's room.

" 'Honourable Grandmother, I have returned,' I murmured, as I sank to the floor with my usual salutation. She returned my bow with a gentle smile, but she was graver than usual. She and a maid were sitting before the black-and-gold cabinet of the family shrine. They had a large lacquer tray with rolls of white paper on it and the maid was pasting paper over the gilded doors of the shrine.

"Like almost every Japanese home, ours had two shrines. In time of sickness or death, the plain wooden Shinto shrine, which honours the Sun goddess, the Emperor, and the nation, was sealed with white paper to guard it from pollution. But the gilded Buddhist shrine was kept wide open at such a time; for Buddhist gods give comfort to the sorrowing and guide the dead on their heavenward journey. I had never known the gold shrine to be sealed; and besides, this was the very hour for it to be lighted in readiness for the evening meal. That was always the pleasantest part of the day; for after the first helping of our food had been placed on a tiny lacquer table before the shrine, we all seated ourselves at our separate tables, and ate, talked and laughed, feeling that the loving hearts of the ancestors were also with us. But the shrine was closed. What could it mean?

"I remember that my voice trembled a little as I asked, 'Honourable Grandmother, is --is anybody going to die?'

"I can see now how she looked -- half amused and half shocked.

" 'Little Etsu-ko,' she said, 'you talk too freely, like a boy. A girl should never speak with abrupt unceremony.'

" 'Pardon me, Honourable Grandmother,' I persisted anxiously; 'but is not the shrine being sealed with the pure paper of protection?'

" 'Yes,' she answered with a little sigh, and said nothing more.

"I did not speak again but sat watching her bent shoulders as she leaned over, unrolling the paper for the maid. My heart was greatly troubled.

"Presently she straightened up and turned toward me. 'Your honourable father has ordered his household to eat flesh,' she said very slowly. 'The wise physician who follows the path of the Western barbarians has told him that the flesh of animals will bring strength to his weak body, and also will make the children robust and clever like the people of the Western sea. The ox flesh is to be brought into the house in another hour and our duty is to protect the holy shrine from pollution.

"That evening we ate a solemn dinner with meat in our soup; but no friendly spirits were with us, for both shrines were sealed. Grandmother did not join us. She always occupied the seat of honour, and the vacant place looked strange and lonely. That night I asked her why she had not come.

" 'I would rather not grow as strong as a Westerner -- nor as clever,' she answered sadly. 'It is more becoming for me to follow the path of our ancestors.'

"My sister and I confided to each other that we liked the taste of meat. But neither of us mentioned this to any one else; for we both loved Grandmother, and we knew our disloyalty would sadden her heart."

Monday, 21 August 2017

NEW MOON - Foolishness

Riches mostly ruin the foolish,
but not those who seek the beyond.
Just as they dismiss the well-being of others and cause harm,
fools also ruin themselves.

Dhammapada v. 355

Wealth can generate great benefit; it can also cause considerable harm. The Buddha referred to wealth as an intoxicant. As with power, wealth can be an opportunity for bringing increased goodness in the world, or it can inflate a sense of self-importance, making us deaf to those who might otherwise be genuinely helpful to us. The intoxicating effect of wealth tends to cause us to believe we can afford to listen only to those who give us praise. Such arrogance leads to further greed and the only thing that increases is foolishness.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Only 4 Weeks Until the 20th Annual Buddhist Picnic!

It's hard to believe but this year's Annual Buddhist Picnic will be our 20th! As is traditional we will be holding the picnic on the first Sunday of September (that's the 3rd) on the Duver at St. Helens.

For those of you who have not been before , our picnic site is the other side of the road from the National Trust car park. Take the right hand turning by the signs showing the Duver and long stay beach front car parks, carry on a few hundred metres and the National Trust car park is on the left.


In the centre of the photo below you can see our original meeting place, the small oak tree. As previously reported, the tree has unfortunately died and as such now offers no shade.


However, Angie and Mark have found another oak tree about a hundred meters further on along the track you can see to the right of the photo. So just carry on along the path and look for some Buddhists sitting under another small oak tree! If you're on foot and coming from the St. Helen's side you can go to the end of Mill Road and come across on the causeway, the "new" oak tree will be facing you to your right.



Family, friends, children and dogs welcome. Bring vegetarian food to share (don’t forget the fruit juices).

Sunday, 23 July 2017

NEW MOON - What Do We Dwell On

Beware of devious thinking 
and be aware of all that you dwell upon. 
Renounce all unruly thought 
and cultivate that which is wholesome. 

Dhammapada v. 233

It takes a certain subtlety of attention to see how the thoughts that we harbour give shape to our character. It is obvious that what we do and say has an effect, but here the Buddha is cautioning that what we think also matters. Elsewhere he helpfully advises that in order to be able to let go of unruly thinking, we should pay close attention to the painful consequences of getting lost in it. To ignore the effect of being caught up in unruliness is similar to operating a computer without security; we shouldn't be surprised if we get hacked, that is, taken over. When we indulge in mental heedlessness we make ourselves susceptible to increased suffering. The opposite also applies: paying close attention to the beneficial consequences of letting go of unruliness naturally nourishes well-being, generating a sense of safety..

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Our Summer Retreat Day

On Sunday we held our West Wight Sangha Summer retreat day. For those of you who couldn't make it I thought I'd post the supportive materials that we used.

We had a recorded talk and guided meditation by Akincano Marc Weber on the Brahmavihāras.




DOWNLOAD        (Right click and "Save link as....")




There were two readings, the first was, The Hawk in the Rain by Ted Hughes.


'This water droplet, charity of the air,
Out of the watched blue immensity -
(Where, where are the angels?) out of the draft in the door,
The Tuscarora, the cloud, the cup of tea,
The sweating victor and the decaying dead bird -
This droplet has travelled far and studied hard.
'Now clings on the cream paint of our kitchen wall.
Aged eye! This without heart-head-nerve lens
Which saw the first and earth-centring jewel
Spark upon darkness, behemoth bulk and lumber
Out of the instant flash, and man's hand
Hoist him upright, still hangs clear and round.
'Having studied a journey in the high
Cathedralled brain, the mole's ear, the fish's ice,
The abattoir of the tiger's artery,
The slum of the dog's bowel, and there is no place
His bright look has not bettered, and problem none
But he has brought it to solution.
'Venerable elder! Let us learn of you.
Read us a lesson, a plain lesson how
Experience was worn or made you anew,
That on this humble kitchen wall hang now,
O dew that condensed of the breath of the Word
On the mirror of the syllable of the Word.'
So he spoke aloud, grandly, then stood
For an answer, knowing his own nature
Droplet-kin, sisters and brothers of lymph and blood,
Listened for himself to speak for the drop's self.
This droplet was clear simple water still.
It no more responded than the hour-old child
Does to finger-toy or coy baby-talk,
But who lies long, long and frowningly
Unconscious under the shock of its own quick
After that first alone-in-creation cry
When into the mesh of sense, out of the dark,
Blundered the world-shouldering monstrous 'I'.

The second was, Why We Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Suffering By Thich Nhat Hanh.

We should not be afraid of suffering. We should be afraid of only one thing, and that is not knowing how to deal with our suffering. Handling our suffering is an art. If we know how to suffer, we suffer much less, and we’re no longer afraid of being overwhelmed by the suffering inside. The energy of mindfulness helps us recognise, acknowledge, and embrace the presence of the suffering, which can already bring some calm and relief.

When a painful feeling comes up, we often try to suppress it. We don’t feel comfortable when our suffering surfaces, and we want to push it back down or cover it up. But as a mindfulness practitioner, we allow the suffering to surface so we can clearly identify it and embrace it. This will bring transformation and relief. The first thing we have to do is accept the mud in ourselves. When we recognise and accept our difficult feelings and emotions, we begin to feel more at peace. When we see that mud is something that can help us grow, we become less afraid of it.

When we are suffering, we invite another energy from the depths of our consciousness to come up: the energy of mindfulness. Mindfulness has the capacity to embrace our suffering. It says, Hello, my dear pain. This is the practice of recognising suffering. Hello, my pain. I know you are there, and I will take care of you. You don’t need to be afraid.

Now in our mind-consciousness there are two energies: the energy of mindfulness and the energy of suffering. The work of mindfulness is first to recognise and then to embrace the suffering with gentleness and compassion. You make use of your mindful breathing to do this. As you breathe in, you say silently, Hello, my pain. As you breathe out, you say, I am here for you. Our breathing contains within it the energy of our pain, so as we breathe with gentleness and compassion, we are also embracing our pain with gentleness and compassion.

When suffering comes up, we have to be present for it. We shouldn’t run away from it or cover it up with consumption, distraction, or diversion. We should simply recognise it and embrace it, like a mother lovingly embracing a crying baby in her arms. The mother is mindfulness, and the crying baby is suffering. The mother has the energy of gentleness and love. When the baby is embraced by the mother, it feels comforted and immediately suffers less, even though the mother does not yet know exactly what the problem is. Just the fact that the mother is embracing the baby is enough to help the baby suffer less. We don’t need to know where the suffering is coming from. We just need to embrace it, and that already brings some relief. As our suffering begins to calm down, we know we will get through it.

When we go home to ourselves with the energy of mindfulness, we’re no longer afraid of being overwhelmed by the energy of suffering. Mindfulness gives us the strength to look deeply and gives rise to understanding and compassion.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

West Wight Sangha’s Summer Meditation Retreat

Hi Everyone,

It is now just one week until West Wight Sangha’s Summer Meditation Retreat!


We still have plenty of spaces left so there’s room for everyone!

The retreat runs from 10 o’clock on the morning of Sunday the 16th of July to four o’clock in the afternoon.

As is now our usual practice we’re looking to evenly balance the morning and afternoon sessions so we’ll be having lunch from 12:30 finishing at 1:30, so it would be nice if you’re only coming for the morning or afternoon to stay or come at half twelve and join everyone for lunch…… usual format of bringing vegetarian food to share. Also feel free to bring any readings that you would like to share.

Please let me know if you intend coming so that I have some idea of the numbers.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

FULL MOON - Joyous Communion

If you find a good companion
of integrity and wisdom,
you will overcome all dangers
in joyous and caring company.

Dhammapada v. 328

Where might we turn when our heart needs uplifting? Spiritual community is one place we could go. If we don't feel we have a spiritual community, it might be wise to go looking for one. Just as we would register with a local doctor before we actually fell ill, so it is good to be aware of the spiritual communities available. And both physical and virtual communities can serve the purpose. What matters is that we find the kind of companionship which helps us rise above the way the world would define us. Age, nationality, gender, wealth, do not determine who we are. It is our effort to awaken to reality – to Dhamma – that matters most. The essence of spiritual community is the harmonious resonance of shared aspiration. Attuning to that spirit can be joyous and uplifting.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Buddhist Group Changing China (or visa versa?)

This article by Ian Johnson is from the New York Times..............................


For most of her life, Shen Ying was disappointed by the world she saw around her. She watched China’s economic rise in this small city in the Yangtze River Valley, and she found a foothold in the new middle class, running a convenience store in a strip mall. Yet prosperity felt hollow.

She worried about losing her shop if she didn’t wine and dine and pay off the right officials. Recurring scandals about unsafe food or tainted infant formula made by once-reputable companies upset her. She recalled the values her father had tried to instill in her — honesty, thrift, righteousness — but she said there seemed no way to live by them in China today.

“You just feel disappointed at some of the dishonest conduct in society,” she said.

Then, five years ago, a Buddhist organisation from Taiwan called Fo Guang Shan, or Buddha’s Light Mountain, began building a temple in the outskirts of her city, Yixing. She began attending its meetings and studying its texts — and it changed her life.

She and her husband, a successful businessman, started living more simply. They gave up luxury goods and made donations to support poor children. And before the temple opened last year, she left her convenience store to manage a tea shop near the temple, pledging the proceeds to charity.

Across China, millions of people like Ms. Shen have begun participating in faith-based organisations like Fo Guang Shan. They aim to fill what they see as a moral vacuum left by attacks on traditional values over the past century, especially under Mao, and the nation’s embrace of a cutthroat form of capitalism.

Many want to change their country — to make it more compassionate, more civil and more just. But unlike political dissidents or other activists suppressed by the Communist Party, they hope to change Chinese society through personal piety and by working with the government instead of against it. And for the most part, the authorities have left them alone.


Fo Guang Shan is perhaps the most successful of these groups. Since coming to China more than a decade ago, it has set up cultural centres and libraries in major Chinese cities and printed and distributed millions of volumes of its books through state-controlled publishers. While the government has tightened controls on most other foreign religious organisations, Fo Guang Shan has flourished, spreading a powerful message that individual acts of charity can reshape China.

It has done so, however, by making compromises. The Chinese government is wary of spiritual activity it does not control — the Falun Gong an example — and prohibits mixing religion and politics. That has led Fo Guang Shan to play down its message of social change and even its religious content, focusing instead on promoting knowledge of traditional culture and values.

The approach has won it high-level support; President Xi Jinping is one of its backers. But its relationship with the party raises a key question: Can it still change China?

Avoiding Politics

Fo Guang Shan is led by one of modern China’s most famous religious figures, the Venerable Master Hsing Yun. I met him late last year at the temple in Yixing, in a bright room filled with his calligraphy and photos of senior Chinese leaders who have received him in Beijing. He wore tannish golden robes, and his shaved head was set off by thick eyebrows and sharp, impish lips.

At age 89, he is nearly blind, and a nun often had to repeat my questions so he could hear them. But his mind was quick, and he nimbly parried questions that the Chinese authorities might consider objectionable. When I asked him what he hoped to accomplish by spreading Buddhism — proselytising is illegal in China — his eyebrows arched in mock amusement.

“I don’t want to promote Buddhism!” he said. “I only promote Chinese culture to cleanse humanity.”

As for the Communist Party, he was unequivocal: “We Buddhists uphold whoever is in charge. Buddhists don’t get involved in politics.”

That has not been true for most of Master Hsing Yun’s life. Born outside the eastern city of Yangzhou in 1927, he was 10 when he joined a monastery that he and his mother passed by while searching for his father, who disappeared during the Japanese invasion of China.

There, he was influenced by the ideas of Humanistic Buddhism, a movement that aimed to save China through spiritual renewal. It argued that religion should be focused on this world, instead of the afterworld. It also encouraged clergy to take up the concerns of the living, and urged adherents to help change society through fairness and compassion.

After fleeing the Communist Revolution, Master Hsing Yun took that message to Taiwan and founded Fo Guang Shan in the southern port of Kaohsiung in 1967. He sought to make Buddhism more accessible to ordinary people by updating its fusty image and embracing mass-market tactics. In sports stadiums, he held lectures that owed more to Billy Graham than the sound of one hand clapping. He built a theme park with multimedia shows and slot machines that displayed dioramas of Buddhist saints.

The approach had a profound impact in Taiwan, which then resembled mainland China today: an industrialising society that worried it had cast off traditional values in its rush to modernise. Fo Guang Shan became part of a popular embrace of religious life. Many scholars say it also helped lay the foundation for the self-governing island’s evolution into a vibrant democracy by fostering a political culture committed to equality, civility and social progress.

Fo Guang Shan expanded rapidly, spending more than $1 billion on universities, community colleges, kindergartens, a publishing arm, a daily newspaper and a television station. It now counts more than 1,000 monks and nuns, and more than one million followers in 50 countries, including the United States.


Government Support

But the group declines to offer an estimate of its following in China, where the government initially viewed it with suspicion. In 1989, an official fleeing the Tiananmen massacre took refuge in its temple in Los Angeles. China retaliated by barring Master Hsing Yun from the mainland.

More than a decade later, though, Beijing began looking at Master Hsing Yun differently. Like many in Taiwan of his generation born on the mainland, he favoured unification of China and the island — a priority for Communist leaders.

In 2003, they allowed him to visit his hometown, Yangzhou. He pledged to build a library, and followed through a few years later with a 100-acre facility that now holds nearly two million books, including a 100,000-volume collection of Buddhist scriptures, one of the largest in China.

Under President Xi, who started a campaign to promote traditional Chinese faiths, especially Buddhism, as part of his program for “the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” the government’s support has grown. He has met with Master Hsing Yun four times since 2012, telling him in one meeting: “I’ve read all the books that master sent me.”

While Mr. Xi’s government has tightened restrictions on Christianity and Islam, it has allowed Fo Guang Shan to open cultural centres in four cities, including Beijing and Shanghai. The organization’s students include government officials, who don gray tunics and trousers and live like monks or nuns for several days, reciting the sutras and learning about Master Hsing Yun’s philosophy.

But unlike in Taiwan, where it held special services during national crises and encouraged members to participate in public affairs, Fo Guang Shan avoids politics in China. There is no mention of civic activism, and it never criticises the party.

“We can keep the religion secondary but introduce the ideas of Buddhism into society,” said Venerable Miaoyuan, the nun who runs the library in Yangzhou. She describes the group’s work as “cultural exchange.”

“The mainland continues the ideology of ancient emperors — you can only operate there when you are firmly under its control,” said Chiang Tsan-teng, a professor at Taipei City University of Science and Technology who studies Buddhism in the region. “Fo Guang Shan can never be its own boss in the mainland.”


That limits its influence, but many Chinese express understanding given the reality of one-party rule.

“It certainly cannot promote social service and create associations,” said Hu Jia, a prominent dissident who is Buddhist. “The party certainly would not allow it, so Fo Guang Shan makes compromises. But it is still promoting Buddhism.”

A ‘Moral Standard’

Carved into two valleys of lush bamboo forest, the temple on the outskirts of Yixing features giant friezes that tell the story of Buddha, a 15-story pagoda and a gargantuan 68,000 square-foot worship hall.

Since construction started in 2006, Fo Guang Shan has spent more than $150 million on the facility, known as the Temple of Great Awakening. On a nearby hill, track hoes hack away at trees to make way for a new lecture hall and a shrine to the goddess of mercy, Guanyin. There, the group plans to feature a moving, talking, three-dimensional hologram of the deity.

Unlike most temples in China, it bans hawkers and fortunetellers, and it does not charge an entrance fee. The atmosphere is reflective and solemn, with quiet reading rooms offering books, newspapers, spaces to practice calligraphy, and tea. A stream of visitors from Yixing come for lectures, meals and camaraderie.

Last autumn, Fo Guang Shan welcomed 2,000 pilgrims at the temple to celebrate China’s National Day. Over the course of a long afternoon, they walked along a road to the temple in a slow, dignified procession: taking three steps and kowtowing, three steps and kowtowing, on and on for about two hours.


Mrs. Shen said that when she took over the tea shop she had a hard time understanding what being a good Buddhist meant. At first, she admitted, she wanted to make more money for the temple by using low-grade cooking oil.

But her husband objected. China is rife with scandals about restaurants using unsafe or cheap ingredients, and he argued that good Buddhists should set a better example.

“This made me realise that faith gives you a minimum moral standard,” Ms. Shen told me. “It helps you treat others as your equals.”

Many followers say they want a cleaner, fairer society and believe they can make a difference by changing their own lives.

Yang Jianwei, 44, a kitchenware exporter who embraced Fo Guang Shan, said he stopped attending the boozy late-night dinners that seem an unavoidable part of doing business in China. “I realise that you might lose some business this way, but it’s a better way to live,” he said.


This idealism is why the authorities support Fo Guang Shan, said Jin Xinhua, an official who helped the group secure the land for the new temple. “Through its work, Fo Guang Shan is helping the masses,” he said. “We need that sort of thing today.”

Saturday, 24 June 2017

NEW MOON - Hastening Towards Wholesomeness

Hasten towards doing what is wholesome.
Restrain your mind from evil acts.
The mind that is slow to do good
can easily find pleasure in evil-doing.

Dhammapada v. 116

We are familiar with the teachings that caution us against unwholesomeness. And we already know that it takes effort to be restrained. But here the Buddha is making a point which might not have occurred to us before: if we are tardy to do good, we are more likely to fall for the allure of the not-good; unwholesomeness increases its appeal. If we truly understand this, we see the wisdom of cultivating wholesomeness and the protection we are afforded.