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July, 2006
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Saturday,
July 1


Cletus' Bible: An Introduction
Who the Heck is Cletus?

Well now.  Old Cletus, he lived a-way up on Serenity Peak, about as close to the Almighty as a man could get.

Folks thereabouts couldn't quite agree on what he did.  There was some (who didn't think too hard about anything) who thought he was just a yarn spinner, sittin' around jawin' all day.  Others, of a practical sort, saw him as a shiftless bum.  But some, a few, felt he was a mouthpiece of the Almighty, talkin' truth like the prophets of old.

Whatever folks thought most of the time, when they were troubled, whether from the outside or on the inside, most of 'em made the long climb up the rough, narrow trail to the top of Serenity Peak, where they knocked on the door of the little one-room shack next to the spring house (a spring on a mountaintop!  A wonder!)  They'd ask old Cletus if he had somethin' to say about their problem.

And he usually did.

To tell the truth, no one knew just how he kept body and soul together.  Some gossiped that he had a hidden treasure somewhere (and in a manner of speakin' I b'lieve he did). Others suspected he got his money by nefarious means.  And a strangely reluctant few allowed that they had seen birds bringin' him sheaves of grain, and raccoons leavin' fruit on his stoop.  They knew he didn't hunt none, and in fact nobody ever saw him eat meat--not even squirrel.

Anyway, he never seemed to want.  And if anybody asked him where he got his daily bread, all Cletus would say was, "The Almighty provides."

And folks guessed that He must have provided powerful good, since Cletus was powerful old but fit as a fiddle.  He could walk the legs off a younger man, up or down the mountain, and still chopped all his own firewood. One fine day he told me, "Some feller said 'I ain't my body,' but by Heaven! When my body's all outta kilter I jus' can't get peaceable. Likewise, if I keep 'er all tuned up and bushy-tailed, well, the Almighty jus' seems a might closer."

Watch for stories from Cletus' Bible from time to time.

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[The audio version of this passage from Cletus' Bible is being re-recorded.  Watch for it soon!]

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Sunday,
July 2


"The King and the Corpse"
A Lesson in The Way of Seeing

[When I'm not out meeting adherents of various religions, I'm usually reading.  I'll often be sharing snippets of current reading and old favorites here.]

I want to take a brief look at a most amazing story.  This is the introductory passage from the story "The King and the Corpse" as exposited by Heinrich Zimmer (see here for a table of contents listing the other stories in this magnificent book). The beginning:

It was remarkable, the way the king became involved in the adventure. For ten years, every day, there had been appearing in his audience chamber, where he sat in state hearing petitions and dispensing justice, a holy man in the robe of a beggar ascetic, who, without a word, would offer him a fruit. And the royal personage would accept the trifling present, passing it along without an afterthought to his treasurer standing behind the throne. Without making any request, the mendicant would then withdraw and vanish into the crowd of petitioners, having betrayed no sign either of disappointment or of impatience.

Then it happened one day, some ten years after the first appearance of the holy man, that a tame monkey, having escaped from the women's apartments in the inner palace, came bounding into the hall and leaped upon the arm of the throne. The mendicant had just presented his gift, and the king playfully handed it over to the monkey. When the animal bit into it, a valuable jewel dropped out and rolled across the floor.

The king's eyes grew wide. He turned with dignity to the treasurer at his shoulder. "What has become of all the others?" he asked. But the treasurer was unable to say. He had been tossing the unimpressive gifts through an upper, trellised window into the treasure house, not even bothering to unlock the door. And so he excused himself and hurried to the vault. Opening it, he made his way to the part beneath the little window. There, on the floor, lay a mass of rotten fruit in various stages of decay, and, amidst this debris of many years, a heap of priceless gems.

The king was pleased, and he bestowed the entire heap upon the treasurer. Of a generous spirit, he was not avid for riches, yet his curiosity was aroused...(Amazon)

Of course it was! And in fulfilling that curiosity, the king was led into a most strange adventure.

But we won't go into that here. (However, a summary of the full story is given and analyzed, along with The Wizard of Oz and The Conference of the Birds, in an article subtitled "Three Path-of-Realization Tales.")

Zimmer's interpretation of the piece is masterful, a perfect example of how to "see" a story.  Here is my own understanding after reading his terms:

  • The king: The self, the ego, the waking consciousness, the "one on the throne," judging

  • A holy man: A denizen of the "dark side" that comes to us in silence, only to initiate an adventure that brings about radical change

  • A fruit: The world and its goods

  • {The king's] treasurer: The keeper of the mind-store

  • A tame monkey: That unpredictable part of our nature

  • The women's apartments...: The deep feminine side

  • A valuable jewel: Ah!  My favorite part!  See below...

  • The treasure house: The unconscious, where the treasure is hidden away

  • His curiosity was aroused...: and the adventure begins

So, the "dark side" presents us with hidden treasure, but it's not until our wildness comes into play that we find it.  Beautiful. Talk among yourself.

But what I really love is the jewel hidden in the fruit.  It rings so many chimes in me.  Here's a short list:

  • Om Mani Padme Hum: Sometimes translated "Hail!  The Jewel in the Lotus! Hum!"  Certainly Mani means "jewel" and padme means "lotus." How the two relate is less clear.  This page suggests that "Om Mani Padme Hum can not really be translated into a simple phrase or even a few sentences."  Nevertheless, I like this translation.  It suggests the hidden "thatness" within all of "this."  See the story of "You Are That" for more.

  • The highest understanding of the Mahayana: Samsara is Nirvana (discussed in the "This World and That" essays)

  • The well-known words of the Gnostic Christ from the Thomas Gospel (quoted in my "All Things at All Times Teach" essay): "Split wood, I am there; Lift a stone, find me there." The universe is permeated with the Christ.

  • Zimmer's own expression of this: "We accept indifferently the fruit of our existence and discover nothing particularly noteworthy about it."  Then, later: "Our fate bursts open in just this way, at a mere playful touch, at some little trick of chance, and reveals to our astonished eye its internal store..."

Of course, this is all pretty "far out there."  In a more practical sense, we can think of the jewel in the fruit as indicative of all the "specialness" inherent in the everyday.

Try this: Get an apple.  Look at it.  No, really look at it.  Cut into it and smell it.  Now bite into it.  Listen to the crunch.  Close your eyes and savor the taste. Let this apple be a full experience.  It's so much more than "just" a piece of fruit!

Now realize that everything around you is more than you usually take it for.  This puts your feet on the path to mindfulness.

Find the Jewel within!

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The same opening passage treated here is also discussed in the context of Jungian dream analysis in Anne Baring's  wonderful article "Myths, Fairy Tales and Dreams,"  part of a longer work called "'The Sleeping Beauty, the Prince and the Dragon': An Exploration of the Soul."

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Monday,
July 3


Uposatha
Buddhist Days of Observation

Today marks the moon's first quarter.  I have installed a cool "moon phases" program here.

Why?  Because many Buddhists observe two (new and full) or all four quarters of the moon's cycle.  There is more about this in the Library article Uposatha Days.  Enjoy!

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Tuesday,
July 4


Fair Warning
We Americans Are About to Get Revoked

This has been going around for a while, but I thought that, in honor of the Fourth of July, I would remind you of it.

It's the "Declaration of Revocation" (falsely attributed to John Cleese), and it begins:

To the citizens of the United States of America, in the light of your failure to elect a competent President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective today.

Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths and other territories.

Except Utah, which she does not fancy.

Your new Prime Minister (The Right Honourable Tony Blair, MP for the 97.85% of you who have until now been unaware that there is a world outside your borders) will appoint a Minister for America without the need for further elections.

Congress and the Senate will be disbanded.

A questionnaire will be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed. To aid in the transition to a British Crown Dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:...

There then follow 16 (in this version) points that make sport of British/American cultural differences (in spelling, sports, food, and so on).

This is in fact not by Mr. Cleese; Snopes has an excellent article with notes on the pieces development, as well as a couple of pretty funny American responses: "Declaration of Annexing the British Isles as Part of the USA"; and a letter refusing their kind offer to revoke our independence: "After much deliberation, we have decided to continue our tradition as the longest running democratic republic. It seems that switching to a monarchy is in fact considered a 'backwards step' by the majority of the world."

Funniest line on the page? USA to UK: "P.S. -- Regarding WW2: You're Welcome."

What's this doing in this Journal?  One of the most interesting repeated conversations I have had with my Chinese friends is about Anglo-American relations.  They're surprised to know that it hasn't always been smooth sailing:

Question: What country is the only one to successfully set the White House and the Capitol building on fire?

Answer: Our friends, England!

Question: Who opposed the government in Washington and abetted the operation of an anti-U.S. "pirate ship" during the American Civil War?

Answer: Once again, the dear old British!

It's a lesson for us all: First we were one country, then bitter enemies, now the closest of friends.  The fortunes of nations change, like the fortunes of men; allies become foes, and foes, allies; and no country rules this world forever.

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Wednesday,
July 5


Notes from a Small Isle
In which I receive communications from two deep thinkers in Britain

In the past couple of days I have had some interesting correspondence with two "heavyweights" in England.

Borrowed from http://www.annebaring.com
Anne Baring

The first is Anne Baring whom I mentioned a few days ago. Her home page is a magnificent exposition of the things I love best about Jungian thinking. She also has articles and excerpts of several of her published books on her pages; see the sitemap for a list of the site's writings by Anne and others.

I wrote to her to inquire into purchasing one of her books, and received an extremely kind and thoughtful response. Here is part of what she wrote:

I would love you to read the essay I wrote on Taoism because I know it captures the essence of the Taoist vision. It is under the book The Divine Feminine.... I did not reach China in my travels because it was out of bounds at the time and I got a terrible rocket from my diplomat uncle, then ambassador in Bangkok, when he opened the envelope containing my visa for China I had obtained from an Indian friend.

I will comment on the essay she suggests in a later post.

I had originally found Anne's pages when I was looking for info for my post on The King and the Corpse (Amazon). She replied: "The King and the Corpse is one of my oldest and most precious books, given to me years ago by Cyril Connolly...."

Ah! I only found the book last summer, but I have reread it so much that I must say it has become one of my favorites, too.  I will be spending days reading Anne's online materials this summer, and I plan to have some books by autumn to carry with me to school.

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Borrowed from http://www.sangharakshita.org
Sangharakshita

Despite the fact that Anne Baring is listed at thePeerage.com, my second contact with deep thinkers in the UK is somewhat more famous--or infamous, depending on who's talking. Sangharakshita is the founder of the Western Buddhist Order (WBO), as well as the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO). These groups have been involved in a few problems in the past few years.  The Guardian seems to have published a highly critical article back in 1997; yet, in the past seven years, The Guardian has made seven mainly-positive mentions of the WBO/FWBO.  Most of the attacks, including scurrilous things about Sangharakshita himself, seem to have come from one opponent. Given that his is the only source of the Guardian article online, and that the Guardian has published either neutral or, more often, positive things about Sangharakshita's orders since then, I wonder how deep the problem could really be.

(If you're really interested in this issue, here are three more articles on the controversy: a reasonably balanced view by an insider, the FWBO's response to the allegations, and a refutation of that response.)

Sangharakshita also (perhaps with clearer evidence) has been criticized for Westernizing and amalgamating the various authentic Buddhist traditions, much of this censure coming from monastics within those traditions.  This is not surprising given that, in the words of Wikipedia, "The FWBO and the WBO are an attempt to translate Buddhism into a western context without the sectarianism that seems to characterise Buddhism in the East."

Born Dennis Lingwood in South London in 1925, his biography (see the first-person version here) tells of his studies in India after the Second World War, and his subsequent return 20 years later to teach Buddhism in the UK.  The opponent cited above disputes this story; nevertheless, a survey of his writings (as at his site or the FWBO site) shows lucid, practical thinking on a wide spectrum of Buddhist issues.

One book in particular, Peace is a Fire, is an easily-accessible collection of "aphorisms, teachings, and poems" which first appeared in the late 70s. In it, I found this gem:

"Universalism does not mean comparing the letters of different traditions, but trying to get through to the spirit."

As I am deeply interested in universalist/perennialist thinking, and as Sangharakshita invites questions and comments on his homepage, I wrote a note asking him this question:

Do you reckon that universalism or Perennialism underlies much of your thinking? Is the WBO based on Perennialist principles? (This would certainly explain the antagonism from some "institutional Buddhists.")

I have recently become aware of your work, and I am fascinated....I would enjoy hearing your thoughts on Buddhism and Perennialism, if you have time.

To my surprised delight, he responded within a day:

Thank you for your email dated 03 July 2006... You ask whether universalism or perennialism underlies much of my thinking. I much admit that I had not come across the term 'perennialism' before but I assume that it goes back, in modern times, to Aldous Huxley's well-known book The Perennial Philosophy and that the term corresponds approximately to universalism. Universalism or perennialism does underlie much of my thinking in the sense that, as a Buddhist, I seek to draw inspiration and guidance from all the different Buddhist scriptures and all the different schools of Buddhist thought and practice. I am also influenced, in this respect, by the Tibetan Rimé or 'Non-Sectarian' tradition, of which one of my Tibetan teachers was a leading representative. More broadly speaking, it has long been my conviction that in some of the greatest works of Western art and literature echoes and glimpses of the Dharma are to be found.

I am sorry I cannot reply at greater length, and hope that the little I have written will go at least some way towards answering your question.

With best wishes,

Sangharakshita

I'm fascinated by the implications of this statement.  It seems that there are two ways to look at the relationship between Perennialism and a specific tradition.  One could be called the "Platonic," the view that I take: There are general truths which come down and manifest themselves in various ways in different cultures.  In this way, all traditions are embodiments of the one transcendent Truth.  The other is (with, perhaps, some violence done to the term) "Aristotelian," and this I think is Sangharakshita's way when he says " in some of the greatest works of Western art and literature echoes and glimpses of the Dharma are to be found."  You have derived the Truth (a la Aristotle) from the particulars of your tradition; and this is the truth that you see reflected in the beliefs of others.  Still, you have the "real" truth; they have only pale imitations.  Anything good, or true, or beautiful in their tradition owes its existence to yours; anything that deviates from yours is error.  I have some more thinking to do on this; your thoughts are welcomed, too.

Two themes have emerged already in this young Journal: (1) the relationship between ethnic Buddhism and its Western developments, and (2) the relationship between specific traditions and Perennialism. Both of these thinkers, Anne Baring and Sangharakshita, have contributed to my thoughts on these matters, and I am looking forward to more serious reading in their pages and books in days to come.

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Thursday,
July 6


"Do your best! Do your best!"
Are you ready for self-empowerment?

A funny little thought skittered across my mind today.  How odd it is that people think you're supposed to be "good" to be religious or spiritual.  This puts the cart before the horse.  I mean, if I were "good" I wouldn't need to be spiritual!

OK, we're going to have some trouble with terms here, I can tell.  What do I mean by "good"?  It's an entirely subjective term in this case.  I mean, we object when a so-called "spiritual" person doesn't measure up to what we think of as "good."  I think the best way to deal with this is by anecdote.  I recently posted this in a Beliefnet discussion:

When I was working at my temple, I was often approached (by foreigners and Chinese) with the complaint that this nun or that monk had been less than polite to them, and "weren't these people supposed to be better than us?" My answer was always a resounding NO! It's unfair to expect people in the (monastic) sangha to be "better" than others. After all, I'm in the (lay) sangha, and I know what a jerk I can be when I try! In fact, as people pursue their paths with diligence, they often manifest behaviors that make others very uncomfortable--it's part of the process to dredge up some pretty scummy stuff and let it out. That's probably why the early monks needed over 250 rules for conduct!

Some of my dear friends and classmates, monastics at Hsi Lai Temple
Shiny happy nuns

For folks like you and me, at the start of the path rather than the far end, there's a lot of rough sledding involved.  But we don't have to be "good" to start out.  We don't have to wait until we reach some pre-set goal before we begin.  Cletus says, "Well sir, the fella who wants to be perfect before he can go to church is like an ol' lady who gets embarrassed if'n her house ain't all spiffed up before the housekeeper comes!"

Get it?  Now, what about those who have "arrived," the great teachers, sages, saints?  They are following a different manual.

My late pal Robert Urich once had a close and unpleasant encounter with a pushy, shouting, verbally abusive Indian man.  This fellow was late for his interview at Good Morning America, and was yelling at staff and other guests over the breakfast buffet at the Four Seasons.  When Bob asked someone who the h%*& that was, he was told, "Deepak Chopra."

Another actor told me that he had studied with Joseph Campbell, and had two observations.  (1) Uncle Joe could talk at length on any subject without notes and enlighten you in unimaginable ways; and (2) he was basically sneering at you the whole time for not knowing as much as he knew.

Bob and I talked this over a lot; he was ready to dismiss such people out of hand.  I finally convinced him that Jesus would have made a lousy upstairs neighbor!  I mean, who wants to live with a saint?

Zen masters are famous for shouting at people, whacking them, and even cutting off body parts--all in the interest of bringing about enlightenment.  I just think it can't be easy to be around people who are playing by a completely different set of rules.

Lone Pilgrim in the Snow

Oh, yeah, I know, there are lots of examples of blissed out holy men and women.  I don't deny it.  But who knows what torment they went through to get to where they are--and what torment they put others through?  I often think of gentle Saint Francis, preaching to birds and referring to all creation as his brother and sister.  This is the same guy who called his body "my little donkey" and scourged himself mercilessly.

All I'm saying is, it ain't easy.  In the last words of Kukai's teacher Hui Kuo, "Do your best! Do your best!"

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Friday,
July 7


A Few Program Notes
Just some things happening here

1. Search Page: I have created a Google search page for the site, complete with a "Realize!" banner and custom colors.  That's the good news.  The bad news?  As of this date Google seems to only have crawled about four of my pages!  I have been taking steps to rectify, this, and hope they will take hold in the next few days.

2. Sutra Study: I have posted the answers to the Sutra Study's Lesson 1 questions--and so far, they are all by me!  Come on guys, send me your comments!  Anyway, reading the sutras and the notes is a good means to take some "baby steps" into Buddhism.  The reading and questions for Lesson 2 have also been posted.

3. Foundations Friday: It's time once again to visit one of my Foundational Essays.  Today's pick: The Perennial Philosophy and Neo-Perennialism: An Introduction.  This is absolutely one of the most important articles I've written (but you'll probably hear that every time I mention  a Foundational Essay!)

4. Browse the Library: If you can't get enough of my stuff, I should point out that The Library is growing.  Browse the alphabetical list and see if anything there strikes you.

5. Gallery Additions: I have finally begun posting some pictures to The Gallery; take a look!  A few more and I can remove that dorky "In Development" pictures--a real incentive!

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Saturday,
July 7


"The Miracle of Purun Bhagat"
A dang good read


Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling was a complex man.  Some see him as the voice of empire, the Anglo-centric spokesperson for Britannia's right to rule the waves.  Such people accuse him of the worst sort of racism, misogyny, and a laundry list of blind prejudices.

It ain't that simple.

Take a look at this page on my The Temple Guy site, where I name Kipling "the expat's Poet Laureate." There you'll find "We and They" (along with "The Explorer"), which gives a singsong, children's version of a plea for tolerance.  Because I know clicking out is onerous, let me give you the last stanza here:

All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And every one else is They:
But if you cross over the sea,
Instead of over the way,
You may end by (think of it!) looking on We
As only a sort of They!

This relates to a conversation we had tonight: One Canadian guy said that sometimes people exclaim laowai! (foreigner) when they see him.  He sometimes replies, Wo bu shi laowai, shi Jianadaren; ni shi laowai: "I'm not a foreigner, I'm a Canadian; you're a foreigner!"  I admit, I've done similar things in Japan.  A typical encounter: An old lady points and exclaims, "Gaijin!" (foreigner; literally "outside person").  I respond in kind: I point and exclaim "Gaijin!"

There was even the suggestion for a t-shirt reading "Wo bu shi laowai." However, Lila, my Filipina girlfriend, wants one that says Wo SHI laowai; "I AM a foreigner."  Since she looks Chinese but can't speak the language, people keep speaking to her in Chinese and expecting her to respond.  I told her they probably think she's just a stupid Chinese; she said something unprintable.

Anyway, who's a foreigner?  A Japanese friend (hi, Reiko!) was in Hawaii and over heard a Japanese father and son:

Son: Daddy, look at all the foreigners!

Father: Son, we're the foreigners here.

(Of course in Hawaii that may be debatable, but...) For us who live abroad, this question is part of our everyday existence.  For our bestest friends' going away party tonight, there were at least seven countries represented; "foreigners" far outnumbered the Chinese, and the medium of communication was English.  So who was the foreigner?

Zoran (left) and Vida (white) are leaving us soon; our friend Angel is "the Chinese"; and Mirasol, Richard (back) and Bobby (left) are the amazing "Mustang" at the Polo Restaurant, our newest hangout
Five foreigners and a Chinese (in  pink dress)

I also wrote briefly on that page (the one about Kipling, remember?) about a proper interpretation of Kipling's famous line, "Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet..."  Most see this as a declaration of irreconcilable differences.  As I say there, few know the rest of the stanza:

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

The story in brief shows a "border thief" who steals an officer's horse; the officer's son rides out on a dun to bring it back, of course.  But the narrative turns when the border thief learns that this son is truly a man, and he gives him his son (and the mare and the dun) to prove he's his biggest fan. (Let those who have ears to hear forgive me.) The face-to-face meeting between these two men of arms--that is, the encounter with "the Other"--eliminates distinctions of nation and race--no "Border, Breed, or Birth"--and the two become "Brothers-in-Blood."

Kipling, then, was looking deeper than his critics give him credit for.  This was recognized by wiser heads than ours during his lifetime: He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907.

Well then, I want to highly recommend a story, "The Miracle of Purun Bhagat." It tells the story of...but no, I really wish to tell you very little because one line in the story shocked me powerfully, and I don't want to deprive some of you of the same startle. How will you recognize the line I'm talking about?  Well, I'll tell you this: although it shook me mightily, it ends with the thought that this earth-moving course of action "was considered nothing extraordinary."

Read it.  Please.  And I'll leave you with a question to ponder. Which was the "miracle" of the title: the heroic action at the end of the story, or the very choice of "career" that led to it?

In either case, the story demonstrates Kipling's keen sensitivity to what is important to the "oriental mind," and belies the charges that he saw "the Other" as in any way inferior.

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Quote (just for fun): From this page of the online version of Evan Morris' amazing and witty The Word Detective column (where I often find myself going for "research" and ending up reading far more than I have time for):

"Keep in mind that English, like all languages, is the product of a committee composed of millions of people squabbling over the course of many centuries."

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Sunday,
July 9


Bie Chuan Chan Temple
A visit to a Chinese temple
Gallery

One of my main purposes for being in China is to study religion. One major component of this is visiting temples.  (And there's a great temple stay coming up; stay tuned for more info.) So it was with great delight that I accepted an invitation from my good Dharma Friend Wang Fu Qing, and his wife and son, to travel with them and our monk friend Luohan to northern Guangdong province in April of 2005.

It was my first time out of Shenzhen and into the "real" China: the first time I saw oxen pulling plows, and little country villages, and the city center of an older Chinese city.  The trip included stops at three temples: Dajian Temple in central Shaoguan; the world-famous Nanhua Temple just south of Shaoguan; and Bie Chuan Chan Temple in the Dan Xia Shan scenic area (a designated Unesco World Heritage Site) north of Shaoguan.

I hope to write about the other two later (I mentioned Nanhua briefly on June 23), but for now I will concentrate on Dan Xia Shan.  And "write" isn't exactly the word: Mostly I'm going to show you pictures.

I have built a gallery on LiveJournal.  Usually such materials are placed on my The Temple Guy site.  But I am currently rebuilding the structure of that site, and I don't want to put anything else on there until that's done.  So LiveJournal it is.

But aside from the "pure experience" of the temple visit, I wanted to tell you something else about Dan Xia San.

The Chinese are becoming increasingly savvy about marketing, and this is nowhere more apparent than in the way they "pump up" their tourist sites.  Nevertheless, it was with some surprise that I noticed, just next to the gate to this vaunted "Unesco World Heritage Site," a sex museum.

A what?!

[Note: According to this site the museum at Dan Xia Shan is one of the six branches of the China Sex Museum, whose main "campus" is in the town of Tonglli, 80 kilometers west of Shanghai.]

Yup.  And it wasn't until I got home that I found out why.

In visiting the temple, we bypassed any sightseeing amongst the rock formations themselves (though one beautiful formation added drama to the horizon as viewed from the temple; you'll see it in the gallery).  So I didn't realize that some of the formations were quite... uh... INteresting.

Here are two pictures I swiped from other people's sites:

Remind you of anything?

Put the Chinese name of Dan Xia Shane--丹霞山--into an image search engine (such as Google or Yahoo) and you'll see lots of views of these.

So THAT'S what was going on with the sex museum at the gate.  "Gold and women"--money and sex.  Hard to escape, even on the way to a Buddhist Sangri-La.

See the Bie Chuan Chan Temple Gallery

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Monday,
July 10


Cletus' Bible: Cletus on Karma
The Laws of Cause and Effect

(You might want to know more about Cletus, if you don't already.)

Well now.  Old Cletus, he lived a-way up on Serenity Peak, about as close to the Almighty as a man could get.

One day a feller come a-climbin' up to Serenity Peak, a-huffin' and a-puffin'. Ya see, he was a businessman from the city down in the valley, and he just weren't used to this long a pull. The most exercise he ever got was ridin' a desk. The haul nearly done 'im in, but beyond his plain discomfort from the climb, Cletus could clearly see that he was powerful worked up 'bout somethin'. So Cletus offered the feller some rose hip tea (though the feller was secretly wishin' for somethin' a might stronger) and waited until the feller was ready to spill.

Finally, "Cletus!" he busts out, "I'm in a mess o' trouble."

"What kind o' trouble?" asks Cletus.

"Well," says the feller, lookin' a might embarrassed, "money trouble." (At this, Cletus' eyes set to twinklin', 'cause he knows that women and gold are the two things most like to get a feller in a fix.) "Ya see," the feller says, "I done some things I shouldn't oughta done, kinda shady-like. And now my customers, and my partners, and the law--well, they're jus' plain after me, is what it is."

"And what," Cletus asks, "are you expectin' me t' do about it? I don't know a blessed thing 'bout business."

"Now, Cletus," he says, "ever'body knows that you have the ear o' the Almighty. Cain't ya jus' whisper a word or two in that Ear an' ask 'im t'get me outta this here mess?"

Ol' Cletus thinks on it fer a minute, then looks over the feller's shoulder an' says, "Ain't my melons doin' fine?"

"Howzat?" says the feller.

"I say," Cletus repeats, "My melons. They're doin' jus' fine! See my melon patch over yonder?"

The feller turns, an' looks, an' says, "I surely do."

"Well now," says Cletus, "I planted me a whole lotta sweet cantaloupes on one side o' my patch, and a handful o' bitter melon on the other. (And there's nothin' like a good bitter melon soup t'keep ya regular.)

"Yeah?" says the other. "And jus' what's that got t'do with me?"

"Well, now," says ol' Cletus, "I think I may o' planted more o' the bitter than I need, and not enough of the sweet. So let's jus' go on over t' that patch, an' let's get down on our knees, an' let's pray together, brother, let's beg the Almighty to make some o' those bitter melons into cantaloupe."

The city feller was dumbstruck. "Aw, Cletus," he says, "Why you wanna waste my time for? You know bitter melon seeds ain't gonna make no cantaloupe! You plant bitter, bitter is what you gonna get!"

"Ain't that the dang truth!" cackles Cletus. "Ol' Jesus said 'What ya sow, ya reap!' They say it over there in India an' China, too, lotsa places. Sow good, ya get good. Sow raw dealin', ya get raw dealin'!"

"OK," says the feller, kinda quiet now. "I reckon I see what yer sayin'. But why the Almighty gotta treat me this-a way?"

"The Almighty?" Cletus snorts, and "The Almighty," he muses, and "I'll tell you what. Guess I'm gonna hafta show ya."

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An' Cletus, he tol' the feller to fetch him a mess o' things: two ol' clay pots from behind the house, and the ax from by the front door; some butter from the spring house, and some pebbles from the stream; and a couple o' pieces o' cloth and some string from the shed.

"Now then," says Cletus, "fill this here pot with pebbles, an' this 'un with butter." And the feller did. "Now cover each one with that there cloth, and wrap the string around it real good, so the mouth o' the pot is a-covered tight." And he did.

"Now bring it all down to the pond." And he followed Cletus to the pond, carryin' the two covered pots and the ax.

"Now, you walk on into that there pond," says Cletus, "and set them pots in water about knee deep." This took awhile, as the city feller had to take off his shoes an' socks, and roll up his suit pants, 'cause like most city folks he was particular.

When he'd put those pots in the water, ol' Cletus cracks a grin an' says, "Now, you give those pots a whack with the back o' that ax."

"Wha'?" says the feller.

"Go on, break 'em open!" Cletus crows.

So he did.

"Now," asks Cletus, "what're them pebbles doin'?"

"Well," says the feller, "they're jus' a-settin' there on the bottom."

"Uh-huh. And the butter?" Cletus asks.

"It's a-floatin', o' course!" the feller says.

"Why?" asks Cletus. "Why would the Almighty make the rocks go down an' the butter go up?"

"Aw, Cletus," says the feller, "the Almighty ain't doin' that. Rocks are heavy, an' butter's light, is all it is!"

"That's right," says ol' Cletus, "It's their nature. An' it's the nature o' wrong actions t' bring you trouble, jus' like it's the nature o' right actions t' bring you blessings. Ya know, ya ain't punished for yer sins; yer punished by yer sins."

"But not always!!" says the feller. "I know good folks who suffer, an' some pretty wicked fellers who seem t' get on jus' fine."

"Dang! but yer a stubborn critter," says Cletus. "Alright. One more doggone time."

* * * * * * * *

Cletus thinks for a minute, then he says: "How tall are you?"

"'Round 'bout six foot," the feller says.

"Six foot!" cries Cletus. "Boy, you musta dang near killed yer mama comin' outta her."

"Aw, Cletus," he says, "there ya go again, bein' foolish."

"Guilty as charged" Cletus whoops. "I am indeed. But so are you! Things don' jus' go from nothin' t' somethin'. They need time to come about. You were a little bitty baby, and become a big strong feller. But it took years. Same way, them good people that suffer, you don't know when the blessin's 'll come. And when the wicked prosper? Well, somethin' ugly's on it's way fer sure. Jus' give it time. Ya know, yer a lucky feller. Yer bad deeds up and bit ya right away. After you pay the piper, you'll be free t' move on."

"Well, maybe," the feller says, rubbin' his chin. "But even though ya call me lucky, it sure feels like hell t'pay."

"Yup," says Cletus, "an' I can tell ya more 'bout that, too. But that ol' sun's on his way west, and that there trail's mighty rough, so you'd best be getting' on home. You go face the music, and come back next week. You tell me how yer doin', an' I'll tell you why sometimes bad looks good, and good sure enough looks like bad."

And the feller said his "goodbye"s and his "thank ye"s and he headed on down the trail. Cletus set about fixin' his supper, fetchin' water from the springhouse (for boilin' his greens). And as he carried a bucket full o'water to the house, that city feller carried a whole head full o' thinkin' down from Serenity Peak.

Watch for stories from Cletus' Bible from time to time.

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[The audio version of this passage from Cletus' Bible is being recorded.  Watch for it soon!]

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Tuesday,
July 11


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Uposatha Day

Today is the full moon (3:02 GMT--check here for the moon's exact position)

Venerable Samahita, a Sri Lankan monk, runs eBuddha forum, and also has a homepage called "What the Buddha Said" (Access in China). In a recent e-mail, he informed us:

This Esala Poya day is the full-moon of July, which is noteworthy since on this celebrated day:

  1. The Blessed Buddha preached his First Sermon: The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta.

  2. The Bodhisatta was conceived in Queen Maya dreaming a white elephant entered her side.

  3. The Blessed Buddha made the Great Withdrawal from the world at the age of 29 years. 

  4. The Blessed Buddha performed the Twin Miracle (yamaka-patihariya) of dual appearance.

  5. The Blessed Buddha explained the Abhidhamma in the Tavatimsa heaven to his mother. 

  6. The ordination of Prince Arittha at Anuradhapura, under arahat Mahinda on Sri Lanka.

  7. The foundation of the celebrated Mahastupa & enshrinement of relics by King Dutugemunu.

  8. The next day the yearly 3 months rains retreat (vassa) of Buddhist Bhikkhus start.

Venerable Samahita goes on to point out that this is a particularly auspicious day to "Take Refuge" (become a Buddhist), and gives a ceremony for doing so at home.  The full letter can be read here.  And if you do take refuge, you can make a public declaration of it on his homepage here (Access in China).

Why is this a particularly good day to join?  Notice the first point above: It is the day the Buddha preached his first sermon.  Which means it is the day he ordained his first disciples, the Five Monks.  By "coincidence," we are studying that same sutra in my new Sutra Study right now!  And last Friday I posted responses to Lesson 1, which included a discussion of the significance of those Five Monks.  Wonderful how it all falls together!

(Read more about Poya--the Sinhala word for "uposatha"--days in Sri Lanka here.)

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How to Be Happy: Lesson 1
First in an occasional series

I have been thinking deeply about the story I urged you to read last Saturday, "The Miracle of Purun Bhagat".  I am absolutely captivated by the idea of a man who can attain the highest degree of success in the world, and then walk away to pursue inner values without a shred of regret.

It reminds me of any number of stories in Japan.  The pattern is this: A man has a crisis, a tragedy strikes.  Result? He becomes a monk.  It's almost a cliche. But the fact is, in these stories, the man only becomes a monk after a tragedy.  Purun Dass does so after success!

This is the embodiment of a famous story in the Upanishads (Svetasvatara Upanishad 4:6-7 and  Mundaka Upanishad 3:1-2 tell the identical story):

Two birds, inseparable friends, cling to the same tree. One of them eats the sweet fruit, the other looks on without eating.

On the same tree a man sits grieving, immersed, bewildered, by his own impotence (an-īsā). But when he sees the other lord (īsa) contented, and knows his glory, then his grief passes away.

That's Max Muller's late 19th-century translation in The Sacred Books of the East.


Swami Sivananda

Swami Sivananda translated the first of the two verses thus:

Two birds of beautiful plumage -- inseparable friends -- live on the same tree. Of these two one eats the sweet fruit while the other looks on without eating.

So the story of "The Two Birds" is brief in the extreme.  In fact, it is virtually opaque--out of context.  The second verse, about The Grieving Man who is an-isa or "not-God" is the key.  He is the bird who participates in the world.  God, what Swami Sivananda calls Brahman-- God without attributes-- is the second bird, who watches but does not participate.

According to Answers.com, the Swami commented:

...the first bird represents the individual soul, while the second represents Brahman or God. The soul is essentially a reflection of Brahman. The tree represents the body. The soul identifies itself with the body, reaps the fruits of its actions, and undergoes rebirth. The Lord alone stands as an eternal witness, ever contented, and does not eat, for he is the director of both the eater and the eaten.

Another commentary, by Sri Sri Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi, spells it out more clearly:

The Upanisadic story speaks of two birds perched on the branch of a pippala tree. One eats the fruit of tree while the [other] merely watches its companion without eating. The pippala tree stands for the body. The first bird represents a being that regards himself as the jivatman or individual self and the fruit it eats signifies sensual pleasure. In the same body (symbolized by the tree) the second bird is to be understood as the Paramatman [Sivananda's Brahman]. He is the support of all beings but he does not know sensual pleasure. Since he does not eat the fruit he naturally does not have the same experience as the jivatman (the first). The Upanisad speaks with poetic beauty of the two birds. He who eats the fruit is the individual self, jiva, and he who does not eat is the Supreme Reality, the one who knows himself to be the Atman.

I am preparing a talk to be given this autumn entitled simply "How to Be Happy."  This idea of The Two Birds is one of the keys to this happiness.

Ashwattha carpet (Ficus religiosa)
The Two Birds, woven in a carpet

How?  Here's a quote from Joseph Campbell (in The Power of Myth): 

There is a plane of consciousness where you can identify yourself with that which transcends pairs of opposites.

"Pairs of opposites," like good vs evil, joy vs suffering, success vs failure.

What happens, we ask, if we turn our attention from the affairs of This World to those of That? What happens when we identify ourselves, not with the bird who eats, but with the bird who watches?  In an unattributed quote (in an article entitled "Hinduism 101: Shedding Some Light on Light Shedding"), we read:

Henry [David] Thoreau, the transcendentalist, put it like this, "I am conscious of the presence of a part of me, which, (as it were), is not part of me, but a spectator, sharing no experience, but taking note of it..."

The author then continues with a specific recommendation for how to attain this "spectator" position: 

For the Hindu it is possible to develop this spectator, this Observer I, through separation. By separating yourself from what you are doing in your life you become more aware of yourself, tend to look at your life more objectively so you don't get caught up in the ego's illusions and fantasies, and you fulfill Socrates advise [sic] to "Know Thyself." A very practical way to do this is to sit for a few minutes each day in silence and inactivity focusing solely on the experience of breathing in and out. The best way to learn about anyone is to be alone with them, including yourself.

This is the Vedanta expression of the classic Buddhist concept of Non-Attachment.

Notice that I didn't say "detachment."  The distinction usually needs to be spelled out. "Detachment" sounds aloof, cold, uncaring.  This is a parody of the true Buddhist position.  "Non-attachment" is like the second bird: Not engaged in the action, but nevertheless present to it.

What would non-attachment look like "in action"?  Here's a famous Zen (Chan) story:

HakuinA beautiful girl in the village was pregnant. Her angry parents demanded to know who was the father. At first resistant to confess, the anxious and embarrassed girl finally pointed to Hakuin, the Zen master whom everyone previously revered for living such a pure life. When the outraged parents confronted Hakuin with their daughter's accusation, he simply replied "Is that so?"
When the child was born, the parents brought it to the Hakuin, who now was viewed as a pariah by the whole village. They demanded that he take care of the child since it was his responsibility. "Is that so?" Hakuin said calmly as he accepted the child.

For many months he took very good care of the child until the daughter could no longer withstand the lie she had told. She confessed that the real father was a young man in the village whom she had tried to protect. The parents immediately went to Hakuin to see if he would return the baby. With profuse apologies they explained what had happened. "Is that so?" Hakuin said as he handed them the child.

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(Found here, along with an interesting collection of people's reactions to the story.)

You see, Hakuin was not disengaged from the people around him; he was just unaffected by their opinions of him.  As the new-agey L.A. saying goes, "What you think of me is none of my business!"  He was not detached, as in uncaring; look at the sacrifice he made for that baby's well-being.  He was compassion personified, despite the disapproval of the crowd.  But regarding their behavior he was non-attached, in the way the second bird was unaffected by the first bird's actions.

The Pali word for non-attachment, viraga (the first a is long), means "the absence of raga," and raga means "excitement, passion."  By extension, raga is  lust, desire, and craving for existence. Viraga, then, is the antidote to the "desire" which the Buddha speaks of in the Second Noble Truth, when he says that suffering is the result of desire (also called "craving" and "thirst").

Look, we just arrived at how to be happy: Suffering comes from desire; non-attachment eliminates desire, and, thus, suffering.

Now, everyone wants to avoid suffering.  But what is the first bird doing?  He's not suffering; he's enjoying a fruit.  So a tougher lesson is to learn not to be attached to joy, either!  Because it will certainly pass, leading again to-- you guessed it-- suffering!  The Buddha described suffering as, among other things, both "association with the unpleasant" and "dissociation from the pleasant."  To have something good and lose it, as we all know, can sometimes be worse than never having it at all.

English poet, artist, and mystic William BlakeBut what if we could learn to greet both suffering and joy equally?  This is equanimity.  "En-joy," yes, but don't grasp at it.  As William Blake wrote:

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in Eternity's sunrise.

I know, it ain't easy.  There are lots of illustrations of this, like this cartoon. (The whole series is great.)

So one important point about non-attachment is that we must avoid attachment both to positive and negative experiences (Cletus will have something to say about this later this week.)

A second point is that non-attachment is not non-action.  We still must participate in the world. This is where the equally important Buddhist idea of compassion comes from.  And this is not just a religious thing.  Hear the great bodhisattva Albert Einstein: 

A human being is a part of a whole, called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest... a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

(More of his wisdom here.)

[An interesting aside: There is a quote floating around spuriously attributed to Einstein: "Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: It transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology; it covers both the natural and the spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity." It may not be anything Al said, but I can certainly give it a big "Amen!" See Wikipedia for a comment on the quote (Access in China).]

Back to the idea at hand, that non-attachment is not non-action: The word dharma has a wide range of meanings.  In Buddhism, the most commonly grasped of these many meanings is "the teachings of the Buddha."  In the traditions we refer to collectively as "Hinduism," the preferred meaning seems at first to be quite different: it is generally understood as "duty."  But here, I think, the two meanings coincide.  It is our duty to practice compassion, a key component of the Buddha's teaching.

One cannot think of the story of The Two Birds without thinking of Lord Krishna's instructions to Arjuna in The Bhagavad Gita.  In Chapter 4, he gives a divine view of the relationship between the first bird (action, doing your duty, fulfilling your dharma) and the second (non-attachment):


Lord Krishna instructs Arjuna

The awakened sages call a person wise when all his undertakings are free from anxiety about results; all his selfish desires have been consumed in the fire of knowledge. The wise, ever satisfied, have abandoned all external supports. Their security is unaffected by the results of their action; even while acting, they really do nothing at all [i.e., nothing producing karma].

In fact, many have drawn this parallel: The first bird is Arjuna, who participates in the struggles of the world.  The second, then, is Krishna, who observes.

To act, and act fully and without reservation, and yet to be free of concern about the results: This is living in the spirit of Lila, recognizing this world as the Play of the Gods, or, as Jung said, seeing things "as if": I don't know if there is a God, but if I live as if there were, my life will be better; I don't know if my wife loves me, but if I live as if she did, I will have a happier marriage; and so on.

An interesting example of this concept of "work hard, without attachment to results" is summed up in a Japanese expression: "shoganai."  Surely no people are more diligent and industrious (sometimes to the point of obsession) than the Japanese.  And yet, sometimes, matters are taken out of one's hands: an earthquake strikes, a tsunami washes away years of effort.  And what, in such cases, do the Japanese do?  They shrug, raise their hands skyward, and say "Shoganai!" Which means, roughly, "What can be done?" or "It can't be helped."  The Filipinos have a similar expression, "Bahala na!" "Come what may," a kind of "Que sera, sera-- What will be, will be."  These are the first glimmerings of the right attitude of non-attachment.

And then there are the old shortcuts: "Will anyone really care about this a hundred years from now?" and "Someday we're gonna look back on this and laugh."

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Wednesday,
July 12


American Gods
The Idea Underlying Neil Gaiman's Novel

American Gods UK cover
(Amazon)

After so many looooong entries, I've decided to go easy on you.

A few weeks ago, I read Neil Gaiman's American Gods.  I took a ton of notes...WAIT! WAIT! You'll be happy to know that after I took them, I lost them.  I'm sure I'll find them some day, and when I do, I'll put them on a page of their own.

All I want to do today is tell you the interesting premise of the book, and then throw you a poem.

Neil GaimanThe book is essentially about a battle.  The religious right in America has a tendency to see the battle as between God and secularism, belief and non-belief.  But Jesus drew a clear line in the sand two millenia ago when he said in Matthew 6:24: "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." Now, this saying has been widely misinterpreted.  There was no god named Mammon.  It was simply a word that meant "money."  But notice that he describes money as a "master." So the misinterpretation is easily understood, and in fact, may point toward a greater truth...

And that is exactly what Gaiman puts forward in his book.  The battle is not between old gods and new ideas; it is rather between old gods (the old gods: Odin, Kali, etc.) and new ones, with names like Media and Technology, the living personifications of the ideas that people hold most dear.

In other words, lurking under Jesus' assertion that money can be a master is the idea that anything that we put our trust in becomes personified, and becomes a god.  (Like our egos?)

It's a great book, and I can't recommend it enough.  The writing is clever, the plot moves right along, the characters are compelling, and the ending...well, you tell me what you think after you've read it.

William Butler YeatsAnd now, a poem.  William Butler Yeats' "The Second Coming" sets up the start of a new era in which a new god (who is an old god, just as Gaiman's Commerce is the mammon of Jesus) rises up and "slouches toward Bethlehem to be born":

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all around it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

The falconer stands in the center of the falcon's exercise circle (the "gyre"), as God should occupy our center. As the people retreat from God, like the falcon, they can no longer hear his voice.  And so they lose their center-- literally.  And thus, "mere anarchy," blood, and drowned innocence.  Apathy replaces virtue, and passion propels vice.

The Sphinx
The Sphinx

This awakens a sleeping god, empowered by the negative energy generated by "the worst." Gaiman's old gods need sacrifice to keep them alive, and the struggle between the old and the new is a kind of sibling rivalry, the prize for which is attention.  Gods die of neglect.  And so this old/new one of Yeats is born through the people's attention/intention, and rises up to take the place of the babe in the rocking cradle who displaced him.

Joseph Campbell spoke often of the development of new myth; both Yeats and Gaiman seem to posit that the new myth will be a revival of some old myth in new clothing.

Are they right? Only time will tell.

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Thursday,
July 13


Guru-Bhakti
Is it OK to worship a teacher?

One of the huge differences between the "Big 3" monotheistic religions and those of the East is the attitude toward the teacher.  In monotheism, the teacher is a vehicle of the teaching, and is to be respected, and even taken as a role model, but never to be worshipped.  (This statement gets a bit hazy when we talk about Catholic saints, but that's for another day.) Never mind that that is exactly what Christianity does--worships its teacher.  He's said to be unique.

And so Westerners--especially certain kinds of Christians, it seems-- are quick to cry "Foul!" when they apprehend that Easterners are worshipping a "Master."

You won't find it any more-- Wikipedia is by its very design one of the most volitile entities on the net-- but a year or so ago, I read this in their article on Master Hsing Yun:

Many critics in Taiwan and the United States think that Fo Guang Shan members treat Master Hsing Yun as an idol.

Now, I worked for Fo Guang Shan for a while, and met dozens of monastics and hundreds of devotees.  (Heck, I even co-edited the English translations of a couple of his books.)  And, although I never spoke with him, I was in his presence quite a few times, and I can honestly say that I saw respect, reverence, and appreciation, but never anything like (gasp!) idolatry.

Last summer, when I visited Hsi Lai Temple on a trip back from China, I was delighted to see this statue at the foot of the courtyard:

It captures the Master's lively spirit: the joy on his face, and the vitality of his carriage.

A week or so later, I visited Fo Guang Shan's small temple in the suburbs of Tokyo.  I was greeted with great hospitality, and considering that there were no grounds-- only a building-- I was quite impressed with the atmosphere.

I was invited into a sort of conference room/work area for tea, where I spoke (mostly in Japanese) with a Taiwanese lady who had immigrated to Japan.  When she was called away, I looked around the room, and was surprised to see this:

This statue is based on a well-known painting of the Master (a copy of which hangs in the conference room at the former Hsi Lai University, now University of the West).  That is no surprise.  What is surprising is the incense "boat" in front, and the sticks of incense, and the lighter.  Are they lighting incense to an image of the Master?  Clearly they are.  THAT'S IDOLATRY!

Just hold on, now.  This is not idolatry; it's a kind of guru-bhakti, "Devotion to the Teacher." Rightly understood, guru-bhakti is the practice of realizing that the Teacher and his Image represent the Teachings themselves. "Hindus" are absolutely unapologetic about this; and the 88-temple pilgrimage that I completed in Japan explicitly included prayers to Kobo Daishi, founder of Shingon Buddhism.

I guess the rub comes in for some people when the person to whom the devotion is directed is still alive.  And at this, I can only think of an event in the life of Jesus.  A woman (claimed by many to be one of the Marys, perhaps the Magdalene or Mary of Bethany) came and anointed Jesus' head from an "alabaster jar" of expensive perfumed oil.  Some objected that this was a waste; the oil could have been sold and the money given to the poor.  Jesus told them to leave her alone, that what she had done was good.  Then he said: "The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me." He went so far as to say that, wherever the story of his life was told, this woman would be remembered.  This whole affair ticked Judas off so much that it was the catalyst that sent him straight "to the chief priests to hand [Jesus] over to them." (Mark 14)

Love me while I'm here, says Jesus.  (My dad has a homier way of saying it: "Treat me good while I'm here; then, I don't care if you bury me in the back yard when I'm dead.")

And what was it that made Jesus deserving of such devotion? At that point in his ministry, there had been no crucifixion.  Mostly what he had done is teach. (True, he had performed miracles, but it is agreed that these were meant only to prove the validity of the teaching).

So there is a precedent, at least in Christianity, for guru-bhakti.  And if people want to reverence the teacher as an embodiment of the teaching, well, it isn't my way, but I see it as a perfectly valid expression of spiritual feeling.

I can't help but think of this when a new "pop idol" comes along: Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, The Beatles: all had the ability to drive their followers into a Dionysian frenzy.  It's not that common anymore, at least on a mass scale, as "consumers" have become more "sophisticated" (and we have become saturated with media). But it still happens on smaller scales, and especially on individual bases: the kid who sleeps with a memento of a sports star, the girl with the posters in her room, the Madonna Wannabes, and, in perhaps the latest real craze, that whole Britney thing. Sometimes it's good to be an expat; the fads roll in and out again virtually unnoticed.

Anyway, all I'm saying is, I guess the "worship" of a teacher who stands for something is better than the cult of celebrities who look pretty.  (Though I'll never give up the Beatles.)

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Friday,
July 14


"Hello, I Must Be Going..."
Talk Amongst Yourselves 'til I Get Back

(Happy Bastille Day, Dad!)

Well, the time has come for me to go. It's travel season again, and I have a LOT coming up.  For the first week or so, this Journal will be mute; then I will post like hell; then it will become spotty; then...

Here's my relatively fixed itinerary:

July 14-20: I'm staying in a temple in Fujian, where for two half-days I will teach Buddhism (in English) to about 100 Chinese high-schoolers.  I'm told there's not much technology there, but even if there were, I'm staying in a temple.  My journal will be kept on paper. You can see where I'm going here; the words are in Chinese, but the pics are cool. (Thanks, Peter, for the research.) [Update: In fact, only the first picture--reproduced here--is of Hua Yan Si.  And even that has changed significantly, as the picture was taken in early stages of the construction of the compound.  My up-to-date photos will be posted soon.]


Hua Yan Si--from this homepage

July 21-24: Home again, where I will post my written journal (and some pictures).  There's a big birthday party on Saturday night (I turn 51 while at the temple) and I'll catch up with my honey.

July 25-August 7: Back to L.A. My niece will get married, I will see a lot of family and friends, and I have some temples to check out...I also hope to be journaling again while I'm there, but I don't know what the technological situation is like at my folks' house.

August 9: Back home in Shenzhen.

There will be one more trip, in late August, to Tokyo; dates are pending.

Now, how will you live without me while I'm away this week?  Don't worry.  Today is Sutra Study Day and, as always, Foundations Friday. So first:

1. Read today's Sutra Study, and send in those replies. They don't have to be "astute," just from the heart.

2.  Today's Foundations article is the six-part This World and That. By a sheer, huge-o coincidence, I will be gone six days! So here is your reading schedule:

So you'll still get your daily "fix" (and read the article that I wrote before anything else on this site; it was posted on www.TheTempleGuy.com, and before that it was a university paper).

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Monday,
July 17


Uposatha Day

Today is the Last Quarter (19:13 GMT--check here for the moon's exact position)

Happy Birthday to Us!
Birthday Buddies All!

On July 17th, happy birthday to: Brittany Baquet, my niece (who is getting married later this month); Jesse Warren, a Shenzhen bud (the latest in the group, just discovered last week); Brittany Haid, a former student, and daughter of actor Charles Haid; Colleen Sembauer, from the first school I taught in; Robert Wilson, one of my best buddies in junior high and high school; David Rowden, 13 years of Rosemead schools together; and Jay Inglis, the first I knew of:

.

Honorable Mention (I don't know 'em, but I know of 'em):

  • Isaac Watts (1674) English hymn writer (d. 1748)

  • James Cagney (1899) American actor (d. 1986)

  • Erle Stanley Gardner (1899) American author (d. 1970)

  • Art Linkletter (1912) Canadian television host

  • Phyllis Diller (1917) American comedian

  • Vince Guaraldi (1928) American musician and composer (d. 1976)

  • Diahann Carroll (1935) First African American to star on a long- running network television series

  • Peter Schickele ("P.D.Q. Bach") (1935) American composer, author, and radio host

  • Donald Sutherland (1935) Canadian actor

  • Spencer Davis (1941) British singer and guitarist (Spencer Davis Group)

  • Camilla (1947) Duchess of Cornwall

  • David Hasselhoff (1952) American actor and musician

  • M.I.A. (1977) British rapper

  • (more)

Also of note: Billie Holiday (b. 1915) died on this day in 1959, and John Coltrane (b. 1926) in 1967. (If you don't know who they are, shame on you.) It is also Kyoto, Japan's Gion Matsuri, which I once enjoyed shooting with my friend Masae.  Gotta post those pics some day.

See an account of my birthday party.

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Friday,
July 21


Hua Yan Temple
My Week in Fujian

Hua Yan Temple
Hua Yan Temple

The following posts are meant to give you a sense of my thoughts when I visited Hua Yan Temple in Ningde City, Fujian.  They are largely reflective.  In the next few weeks I will be building pages about the temple itself on The Temple Guy, and those pages will be referenced here.

But before you read those more reflective posts, you might want to know a few details about the trip itself.  You can find the journal of the trip here.  You can also see some of the people I met here.

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Saturday,
July 22


"Make This World a Pure Land"
East Meets West

At dinner with the jingoistic monk a few weeks ago, I was asked a presumptuous question: "What is your devotion?" Elaborated, they meant to what Buddha are you devoted, and, therefore, what sutra do you chant daily?

This is a, uh, foreign concept for me.  (Yeah, I know, I'm the one that's foreign.)

So I cobbled together an answer based in truth: I chant the Heart Sutra (almost) daily; I sit quietly, sometimes formal Zen, but usually reflective sitting, just about every day; and Guan Yin is perhaps my favorite Bodhisattva.  It held them off, but I don't think it completely satisfied their need for an answer patterned on their own practices.

Fast forward to Friday, July 14, in the car going from Fuzhou Airport to our hotel in Ningde.  Present were Wu Xian Shou and Diego Wu, as well as the driver (a mute witness).  Mr. Wu and I danced around the idea of my learning Chinese, and his learning English.  Then he asked an interesting question: Was the Medicine Buddha Sutra available in English? (It is.) Implied was the idea: could he learn English from reading the sutra? That would be motivating!

While we were talking about it, Diego said, "My father has given his heart to the Medicine Buddha."

The conversation turned to other things.  But later (it was a long ride) I had time to ask: Why has Mr. Wu chosen the Medicine Buddha for his devotion?


This large statue of Yaoshifo (Yakushi Nyorai)
dominates the two halls at Kiyotakiji
on the 88-Temple Pilgrimage of Shikoku, Japan

The answer was deeply thought out and a pleasure to hear.  The Medicine Buddha, Mr. Wu said, was dedicated to bringing aid and comfort to those suffering.  It was not just medicine as in pills and so on, but any comfort.  For example, if a person were cold, clothes could be considered a "medicine" for the body.  By this thinking, all aid rendered was a form of medicine. (Likewise, wisdom is a mental medicine, to cure the disease known as "delusion.")

Now, the Twelve Great Vows recorded in the Sutra of the Medicine Buddha each begin with the words "I vow that in a future life..." This is consistent with the general concepts of both Amitofo (Amitabha) and Yaoshifo (Bhaishajyaguru) devotion.  Both point toward Pure Lands: Sukhavati in the West, for devotees of Amitofo; and the Land of Lapis Lazuli Radiance in the East, for devotees of Yaoshifo. These are places that faithful believers will go after they die, whence they will practice further with the support of the Buddha who presides there.

But some teachers make an interesting distinction between these two Buddhas.  It is common to see three Buddhas on the altar of the Main Hall in a Buddhist temple.  They sit left to right:

Amitofo Shijiamouni Yaoshifo

(Amitabha Buddha)

(Shakyamuni Buddha)

(Medicine Buddha)

And so these teachers say:

Shijiamouni is the Buddha of the past, since he came and went 2500 years ago
Yaoshifo
is the Buddha of the present, since he comforts our bodies now
Amitofo is the Buddha of the future, since he waits for us in the Western Pure Land

So while the Sutra emphasizes a vow for the future, the emphasis of Yaoshifo is the present.

That's why Mr. Wu's next statement gave me chills (in a good way): Devotion to the Medicine Buddha, he said, was meant to help create a Pure Land in this world.  Certainly Mr. Wu's efforts to support the monastic sangha, and poor lay teachers like me, is evidence of the depth of his devotion to this effort.

Master Hsing Yun, of Fo Guang Shan, consistently says the same thing. I had always assumed he was talking from the Amitofo Pure Land tradition.  Now I wonder if he wasn't speaking of the Medicine Buddha devotion.  It's a concept that seems to have developed greatly in the 20th century, with great monks like Tai Xu leading the way.

In any case, my week at Hua Yan Temple was very much like living in a Pure Land on earth, where everyone was courteous and helpful, bringing ease and comfort to each other with generosity and compassion.  It can be done.

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The Great Sun Buddha Shines Everywhere
In Which I Reveal My Secret Devotion (besides Lila)

I have long had a secret Buddha in my heart.

The very first time I saw the Dainichi Nyorai, the "Great Sun Buddha," I had an instinctive grasp (excuse the pun--you'll see) of the meaning of his mudra.

Image found at http://www.univie.ac.at/rel_jap/ikon/dainichi.htm Image found at http://www.univie.ac.at/rel_jap/ikon/dainichi.htm
The Great Sun Buddha Detail of the Mudra

Without words, I knew that this was about "grasping the One." I knew little else about the figure, but my knowledge developed over time.  My understanding has not developed, however; that first intuitive flash regarding the meaning was all I needed, or will ever need.

(I admit to having sometimes called this the "Pull My Finger" Buddha, most notably in a museum on Mt. Koya, where my pal Gavin shouted at me to "Shut the F*** UP!"  Not likely, I countered.  If you don't know the meaning of "Pull my finger," ask your uncle; it's an uncle thing.)

Anyhow, it was only with the passing of time that I learned that:

  • In a Japanese system which designates a Buddha for each month, the Buddha for July (my birth-month) is the Great Sun Buddha

  • In a Chinese system which designates a Buddha for each birth-year animal, the sheep (my year) is the Great Sun Buddha

  • The key Buddha of Shingon Buddhism, my favorite school, is the Great Sun Buddha

  • In the system of five Dhyani or "Wisdom" Buddhas, the Great Sun Buddha occupies the center (the other four being: Akshobhya, east; Ratnasambhava, south; Amitabha, west; and Amoghasiddhi, north).

And so on.  I am tied to this Buddha in a multitude of ways.  But I have never (as discussed in the previous post) centered my practice around his sutra.  It is esoteric and complex.  I may try to find it when I'm back in the states, but for now, I will love him for that gesture.

So, in the conversation with Mr. Wu discussed in the previous post, I mentioned my affection for this Buddha. And Mr. Wu said that this is a good Buddha to love, because he represents all Buddhas.

In fact, there are some who say that this Buddha's body is the body of the universe.  As I wrote elsewhere:

The Three Buddhas [the Triad mentioned above] may also symbolize a complicated idea, that of the Trikaya or Three Bodies of the Buddha. You may have noticed that, except for the items held in their hands, the Three Buddhas [as represented at Hsi Lai Temple in Los Angeles, and in many Chinese temples] are almost identical, as though they were three aspects of the same person. This is not accidental. The Trikaya is the idea that the One Buddha has Three Bodies--a kind of Buddhist Trinity. The first is the Dharmakaya, the "true nature" of the Buddha that pre-exists any earthly appearance. It is the bond between the Buddha and all existence. The word "Dharmakaya" may be translated "Law Body," but it signifies his oneness with the cosmic order. The second is the Sambhogakaya, the "Body of Delight" in which a Buddha dwells when he is resident in a Paradise or Pure Land. This would be the body out of which a Buddha descends to Earth, and into which he returns after "death." Finally, when out of compassion a Buddha does come to Earth to teach sentient beings, he dwells in a Nirmanakaya, or "Body of Transformation."

When we see a Buddhist Triad, it sometimes signifies the Trikaya. In the Triad at Hsi Lai, the Shakyamuni Buddha who came to Earth to teach is the Nirmanakaya; and the Amitabha Buddha of the Western Pure Land is the Sambhogakaya. But what about the Dharmakaya? This is usually represented by Vairocana, the Great Sun Buddha sometimes identified with the AdiBuddha or First Buddha. Why is Bhaishajyaguru here instead? As it turns out, Bhaishajyaguru and Vairocana are somewhat interchangeable in art. There are mandalas, for example, in which the place usually occupied by Vairocana is held by Bhaishajyaguru instead-and vice versa.

So the Medicine Buddha, the least discussed of the Three Buddhas at Hsi Lai, is standing in for the ineffable cosmic order, and represents the Buddha's Dharmakaya or "Body of the Great Order." ...

So the chart I gave above may be amended to add one more row:

Amitofo Shijiamouni Yaoshifo

(Amitabha Buddha)

(Shakyamuni Buddha)

(Medicine Buddha)

Sambhogakaya
("Body of Delight")
Nirmanakaya
("Body of Transformation")
Dharmakaya
("Law Body")

But in order to do this, we must see that Yaoshifo and (Maha)Vairocana, the Great Sun Buddha, are interchangeable.

As you'll see in a later post, Mr. Wu discounts the idea. His main reason is that you could never place the Great Sun Buddha in a triad.  After all, if he is all Buddhas, how could two more be seated next to him?

He also told me something very exciting: Hua Yan Temple, where I stayed for the week, has a very special statue of the Great Sun Buddha.  The mother of one of the Ming emperors had sent out five statues of this Buddha to five temples; this was said to be the only one remaining.  It is housed on the top floor of the highest hall of the temple (the Dharma Hall, where the sutras are stored), placing it literally above all other Buddhas there.

The Great Sun Buddha Detail of the Mudra

Notice that this mudra is quite different from the one I showed you before.  I don't know if this is peculiar to this statue, or if it's the general Chinese iconography for this Buddha.  Instead of grasping the One, it seems to be pointing at it.  Nevertheless, the emphasis is on the One.

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One more thing I want to say about this: Kheper.net discusses the idea of the AdiBuddha, which some identify with the Great Sun Buddha:

[T]he Trikaya doctrine is an important thesis that can be understood on many levels and applied to many different realities. For example, there is the cosmological teaching of the Adibuddha and the Tathagata Buddhas. According to this, the original Dharmakaya, which is beyond all ideas and concepts, all images and forms, is represented symbolically by, or alternatively its first emanation or manifestation is, the Adibuddha; the First or Original Buddha, the perfect Buddha or Primordial image of all buddhas.

This is very close to the "Hindu" idea of Brahman, the All, the One, "God without Attributes."

I picked a good One!

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Sunday,
July 23


"No!"
The Role of Challenge in Chinese Buddhism

[NOTE: I wrote this piece a couple of days after the the events described. It reflected a certain understanding; "That's Debatable" below reflects a modification of these views.  However, I felt this piece still had some provocative ideas, so I have let it stand as originally written.]

As we drove from the airport to the hotel last Friday night, Mr. Wu and I shared stories and ideas from our respective Buddhist studies.  Several times during our discussion, Diego translated Mr. Wu's response to my assertions as, "My father says that can't be true."

My impression is that the assertion of a differing interpretation is unacceptable.  As reported above, when I said that the triad in a Main Hall could be Amitofo-Shakyamuni-Great Sun, Mr. Wu was adamant that that could not be so.

How adamant? Well, the phrase that Diego was gently translating "My father says that can't be true" was in fact "Bu shi!"--roughly equivalent to "No way!"


Venerable Hui Jing: "No!"

My great friend Venerable Hui Jing spoke only one word of English all week, and that he spoke repeatedly.  It was a much better translation of "Bu Shi" than Diego's.  He simply said "No!" with a dismissive wave of his hand, and sometimes a little stomp of the foot for emphasis.

Poor Diego was nervous that I might be offended by all this rejection; I told him to stop worrying, that in fact I greet this sort of reaction as a chance to learn.  When I float a story to a sophisticated layman like Mr. Wu, or a monk like Hui Jing, I'm looking for either confirmation, or for alternatives.  This method adds immensely to my "stock" of stories, lists of teachings, etc.

For example: On one of my first days there Diego, Venerable Hui Jing, and I were standing exactly between the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower in the courtyard.  I decided to send up a trial balloon and see what happened.  So I made my assertion.  The bell and drum were interesting, I said; the steady drone of a struck bell was like the undivided nature of eternity, while the "thock-thock-thock" of the drum imitated time.  To pass between time and eternity was to follow the Middle Way, which led directly, literally to the Buddha (that is, the Buddha seated in the center of the Main Buddha Hall).

"No!" cried the monk.  He never got around to challenging the "pass between" idea, so I don't know how he felt about it.  But he had alternate explanations for both the bell and drum.

The bell, he said, with its serene tone, is a call to prayer. And the use of a drum in temples dates back to a macabre story.  A wicked man repented just before death; and he asked that his skin be made into the head of a drum, so that every time someone beat it, people would be reminded of the laws of cause and effect, which would hopefully encourage them to be kinder to one another. ( An aside: I've always loved this quote from Aldous Huxley, a heroic dabbler in spiritual things: "It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one's life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than 'Try to be a little kinder.'")

So Venerable Hui Jing rejected my "perennialist" expression of truth in exchange for a more specific tradition.  But my mind tends to work in synthesizing ways; so when he says "serene" and "call to prayer," I think that serenity is an attribute of eternity, and prayer is the business of eternity.  As for the story of the drum: It is a beautiful illustration of my point. This "cause and effect" we are to be reminded of is a process in time, and cannot take place in eternity where "everything happens at once."

One of "Uncle Joe" Campbell's central ideas was the exploration of the relationship between Elementary (or universal) ideas and and Folk (or ethnic) ideas. My use of "eternity" and "time"--universal concepts--were generalizations of the monk's more localized imagery.

Let's put it this way:

A bell has certain fixed qualities, expressed in many ways

One of these fixed qualities, at least in the case of a large, sonorous bell, is the steadfast, unbroken nature of its tone.  This speaks naturally of eternity.  "Prayer" is one of the many ways this can be discussed.  Likewise:

A drum has certain fixed qualities, expressed in many ways

One of these fixed qualities is the discrete nature of its sound.  It is vastly different from the bell's continuous tone, ringing off into the distance. And so its sound can remind us of the passage of time and all its artifacts, like the ticking of a clock. A story about cause and effect is one of the many ways this can be discussed.

At its best, a strong tradition can have many benefits.  It's like knowing one's scales on the piano, which is the basis of later improvisation. Or, to take an example from my field, I love the fact that I have taught the same lessons many times over; this allows me to concentrate on the efforts of individual students, without worrying about what I am going to do next.  There is security in a tradition, and this security gives one the confidence to stretch one's wings.

On Saturday night, I attended a service of chant and meditation. During one part of the chant there was a kind of "follow-the-leader" perambulation through the hall.  When we had been standing, we had held our hands with palms joined at chest height.  Once the walking started, a lady was nudging me to point out that I should lower my hands to a gently clasped position in front of the belly.  Dang, I thought, why do I have to do it her way? But as we continued to walk, I noticed I was the only one with my hands up; it wasn't her way, but theirs. When Diego stepped forward to give me the same little scold, I lowered my hands.

This, I think, is a China/America difference.  We are a "do your own thing" people, a "tossed salad" where all the different styles mingle, yet maintain their own characters.  My temple in L.A. had members from all over the world; this temple had members from all over one province of China!

When I was working 20 hours a week in the Bodhisattva Hall of Hsi Lai Temple, I once set myself the task of observing how people bowed to the images.  I thought that by doing so, I could learn the "correct" way. I discovered that there was no one way; even amongst the Fo Guang Shan monastics, most of whom are from Taiwan, there was plenty of variation. I am quite sure that a similar trial in this temple would yield more unified results.

"Truth is One, yet the sages call it by many names": so how could there be "one right way" to do something? That smacks of fundamentalism. yet, when one knows where one's hands go, the mind is freed to think on higher things. There is no detriment in exhibiting unity.

In fact, I eventually became careful not to draw too many "nos" from the monk, for fear that he might decide I was heterodox (which I guess I am, in a way) and prevent me from teaching the kids.

But later in the day, I received warm expressions of acceptance, and the week went off without a hitch.

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That's Debatable
The Role of Debate in Chinese Buddhism

I used to work with a lot of bright people in Japan, people who spoke near-native English.  So every now and then, I was caught off guard when one of them had a small gap or misunderstanding in his or her knowledge of English.

Once I was talking with a friend and I said, "That's debatable." She replied, "You think that's debatable.  Have you ever tried talking with S____? All she wants to do is argue!"

He's malleable. You're reliable. She's debatable.  Why not?

I couldn't help but think of this every time the monk Hui Jing said an adamant "No!"  I began to realize that this response was part of a tradition, the manifestation of a culture of debate that stretched back to India. This was not being argumentative; this was a teaching (and, perhaps, learning) technique. I've used it myself, and often.

When you're hanging with monks, there are no simple questions. I came up with a proverb this week: "Ask one monk, get an answer; ask two, and forget about it." You ask, they start arguing, and you're into other things before they come close to a conclusion.

I have a hunch this may have been the cause of the breadth of Buddhist traditions, even in one area; monks dispute, come to different conclusions, and ultimately found a "school" or a "sect."  Once this process has settled in, though, I think that debate becomes an effect of having disparate traditions. I mean, much of the debate that happens now may be in defense of the "received tradition."

In the car on the way to Ningde and, ultimately, the Fuzhou airport, I had a chance to discuss the various sects with Vnerable Dun Chao.  One thing that he said intrigued me. He reminded me that, in the early days, one temple would be composed of monks (or nuns) of one sect. "This is a Chan (Zen) temple; that is a Pure Land temple." But monastics moved around so much that, ultimately, the schools "blended" within each temple.  So, at Hua Yan Temple, we chanted "Amitofo" and sat Chan in the same one-hour ceremony.  Venerables Dun Chao and Hui Jing are both Chan monks, but one is Linji (Rinzai) and the other Caodong (Soto) sect. And so it goes.

Sometimes the distinctions are within a culture; but sometimes they are between cultures. A typical example is what happens when I say "The Buddha." When I asked students what they thought I meant by these words, they answered in unison, "Amitofo!"--the Amitabha Buddha.  Of course, when a Westerner uses these words, he means the Shakyamuni Buddha, Siddhartha Gotama, the historical Buddha...you know, THE Buddha.

A major East/West distinction in thinking can be attributed to one man (sort of). Joseph Campbell used to talk about how Japan had never "known the fall" of Adam and Eve. I say, they and their brothers and sisters in East Asia have never known Aristotle! They live with multiplicity in ways that are unimaginable to us. "Either/or" seldom manifests itself for long; most conversations end in "both/and."

But they don't start that way.  The evening we were dining outside at the hermitage, I mentioned to Venerable Hui Jing that some Japanese "monks" are married.  After thinking for a moment, he provoked a major debate by stating (in a categorical manner): "Well, then, there are only two gems in Japan!" The Buddhist "Triple Gem" is made up of the Buddha, the Dharma (his teachings), and the Sangha (his followers).  He contended that the Sangha only includes ordained monastics (and most commentators support his point of view). Our debate included my assertions that (a) there are celibate monks and nuns in Japan, usually the greatest teachers, and (b) just for fun, I thought I'd insist that laypeople are an essential part of the sangha.  When the cook came out of the kitchen to ask how our dinner had been, I used her as an example.  "Who's more important," I asked, "Master Ji Qun or this woman?" I was really putting Hui Jing on the spot, with her standing there;  nevertheless, he said that what Ji Qun offered was timeless, whereas her food was for the body.  I countered that the Buddha, when seeking enlightenment, had declared that extreme asceticism interfered with practice; if you're weak with hunger, you can't meditate properly. Hui Jing liked that; the cook liked it so much that she invited us back for lunch the next day!

Anyway, Venerable Hui Jing's question was clearly meant to provoke debate, and we both engaged in it in a spirit of fun and learning.

How do I know? Well, through it all, we were calm and smiling.  But poor Diego, our translator, at the tender age of eighteen, would get hot! I often had to pause to calm him down.

Venerable Hui Jing's calmness, though, was never the calmness of a man who says "I'm unshakably right"; rather, it was the calmness of "I am grasping my point lightly, and enjoying the enhanced perspective that comes from this kind of discussion." It was a wonderful lesson for me in "how things are done."

Later, I discussed my theory directly with Venerables Dun Chao and Hui Jing, and they agreed that yes, it was a bit of an "intellectual game" that leads to improvement.  I quoted the Book of Proverbs to them: "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." They countered with another metaphor.  They said to clean freshly-dug sweet potatoes, you put them in a vat of water and stir them. As they tumble against each other, they wash each other clean. It's a marvelous image, and it describes exactly the process I took part in this week.

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Monday,
July 24


On the Road Again...Again
Headin' fer Amerika

I will be in transit for a few days; updates should continue around Wednesday or Thursday as I settle into the "technology" at my folks' house in L.A.

Your patience will be amply rewarded, as I have a lot more pics of the temple to put up. I'll also be plugging in some pictures to the posts above.

And for the two or three of you out there who are following the Sutra Study: I will catch up by Friday.

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Tuesday,
July 25


Uposatha Day

Today is the new moon (4:31 GMT--check here for the moon's exact position)

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Monday,
July 31


I'm Back Again
Debilitating Technical Problems; Some Additions to My Library

Sorry, Friends. I was unable to post anything because I lacked FrontPage. But it's OK now.

I will continue posting about my temple trip tomorrow. But in the meantime, I have two things for you.

One is that the Sutra Study is now up-to-date, meaning I have posted Questions through Lesson 5 and Comments through Lesson 4. Also, I have posted comments from my first outside commenter (and my responses to him) on the Lesson 1 page. Enjoy!

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Second, I want to tell you about some books I bought today. (One of the main reasons for coming to America is to get some books.)

First, I picked up (literally: I bought it last year, and it's been at my sister's since then, so I just picked it up today) a Heinrich Zimmer book (edited by Joseph Campbell) called Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization (Amazon). Read the Table of Contents at the title link for some idea of what's inside; I'm sure I'll be writing about it soon.

I also picked up the latest Parabola Magazine (on "Absence and Longing," appropriate while I'm away from "home"), and four Buddhist books:

Buddha, a biography by Karen Armstrong. (Amazon) Armstrong's track record leads me to believe that this is going to be a darned good read.

Buddhism without Beliefs, by Stephen Batchelor. (Amazon) From the back cover: "What the Buddha taught, says Batchelor, is not something to believe in but something to do."  A beautifully written, easy to read, practical book: three traits that are seldom found together.

Buddhist Scriptures, edited by Donald Lopez. (Amazon)   Lopez has become one of the leading popularizing scholars of Buddhism. This book brings together 60 passages from a wide variety of sources, under five headings:

The Buddhist Universe
The Buddha
Monastic Life
Meditation and Other Rituals
Enlightenment.

In the Buddha's Words, edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi. (Amazon) This anthology from the Pali Canon includes virtually all of the best-known illustrations from the earliest body of the Buddha's teachings, collected thematically. The ten chapters are:

I. The Human Condition
II. The Bringer of Light
III. Approaching the Dhamma
IV. The Happiness Visible in This Present Life
V. The Way to a Fortunate Rebirth
VI. Deepening One's Perspective on the World
VII. The Path to Liberation
VIII. Mastering the Mind
IX. Shining the Light of Wisdom
X. The Planes of Realization

I guess I'll be busy reading for a while!

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