Thursday, 31 December 2009

Stephen and Martine Batchelor - Godless Religion or Devout Atheism? (Parts 10 - 14)

[Cross-posted from IOC.]

Here are the final five parts of this cool series from Upaya Zen Center.

Godless Religion or Devout Atheism? Part 10 of 14 – Dharma Talk on Buddhahood & Awakening

Speaker: Martine Batchelor

Martine begins the talk urging us to look at our motivation for awakening. Is it done with wisdom and compassion or perhaps with the goal to escape from the world? She discusses sudden vs. gradual awakening and working with bad habits. She goes on to discuss the role of insight in our lives and how we can use it to change ourselves and the world. When we sit, we should work on de-grasping so that we can let go in our everyday lives.

Podcast: Play in new window [Play] | Download [Play]

Godless Religion or Devout Atheism? Part 11 of 14 – Session 5

Speaker: Stephen Batchelor

The theme of this seminar is the title of the retreat, “Godless Religion or Devout Atheism?” Stephen tells of how Brahman or God was understood at the time of the Buddha, and how the Buddha rejected this notion. The Buddha, says Stephen, was deeply rooted in the phenomenal world and instructed his followers to pay attention to this world. As Buddhism developed in time and cultures, it added superstructure that looked religious, which we often find today.

Podcast: Play in new window [Play] | Download [Play]

Godless Religion or Devout Atheism? Part 12 of 14 – Discussion and Q & A

Speakers: Stephen & Martine Batchelor

Stephen begins the Q & A by taking a question on the Tibetan people’s relationship with their land and culture. Other topics include art, impermanence and aesthetics and our relationship to the world; the Buddha’s perspective on ritual; the Buddha as atheist or agnostic; finding mystery in everyday life; music as meditation; choosing the kind of meditation one should do; and “no self” further explained.

Podcast: Play in new window [Play] | Download [Play]

Godless Religion or Devout Atheism? Part 13 of 14 – Dharma Talk on Love & Compassion

Speaker: Martine Batchelor

How can we cultivate creative, wise love without grasping? One aspect of this kind of love, says Martine, is to create relationships outside of the primary love relationship. Another aspect is not to make assumptions in relationship, but to ask ourselves, “How can I creatively engage with others?” Meditation helps us to open up to others and to such questions, thus making ourselves less self-absorbed. At the root of compassion is deep listening, which sometimes is the most we can do in a difficult situation.

Podcast: Play in new window [Play] | Download [Play]

Godless Religion or Devout Atheism? Part 14 of 14 – Session 6

Speaker: Stephen Batchelor

The Buddha’s teaching was dialogic: interactive and responsive to the present circumstances. Stephen asks us to find the foundation beneath the superstructure of culture in order to understand the Buddha’s teaching. Stephen goes on to discuss what the Buddha meant by “entering the stream,” including three things that fall away for the stream enterer. He ends the seminar and the retreat by noting principles that are distinctly the Buddha’s, and not found in the superstructure of the Buddha’s time.

Podcast: Play in new window [Play] | Download [Play]

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Stephen & Martine Batchelor - Godless Religion or Devout Atheism?

Here is the second installment of the Stephen and Martine Batchelor podcast series, parts 5-9. Originally posted at Integral Options Cafe.

Godless Religion or Devout Atheism? Part 5 of 14 – Session 3

Speaker: Stephen Batchelor

In this seminar, Stephen begins deconstructing Buddhism with the metaphor of the poisoned arrow. Buddhism does not deal with metaphysical explanations; instead, it urges us to act. The Buddha gave a template for a better society, not just a personal spiritual practice. Cautioning against the two dead ends of indulgence and asceticism, the Buddha saw a Middle Way for individuals as well as for society.

Podcast: Play in new window [Play] | Download [Play]

Godless Religion or Devout Atheism? Part 6 of 14 – Discussion and Q & A

Speakers: Stephen & Martine Batchelor

Stephen and Martine take questions on topics including religiosity vs. the spiritual path; the story of the Buddha’s awakening; the way that the Buddha saw the Dharma as a healing medicine; stopping rebirth; and the validity of ancient texts.

Podcast: Play in new window [Play] | Download [Play]

Godless Religion or Devout Atheism? Part 7 of 14 – Dharma Talk on Grasping & Creative Engagement

Speaker: Martine Batchelor

Martine describes the Buddhist phrase “no mind” not as anti-mind, but as a mind that sticks nowhere. What happens when we experience sense objects? Do we stick at the experience, trying to prolong or push away? At this point, meditation can help us develop the ability to choose whether it is skillful to engage creatively in the experience. Meditation exercises our ability to open up so that we see choice more clearly.

Podcast: Play in new window [Play] | Download [Play]

Godless Religion or Devout Atheism? Part 8 of 14 – Session 4

Speaker: Stephen Batchelor

Stephen looks at the Buddha’s central metaphor of “awakening.” According to early Pali texts, the Buddha awoke to the Four Noble Truths. Often, we are taught that the Buddha awoke to original nature, or the Truth. The Four Noble Truths are alive, and they challenge our lives to act appropriately at every moment. In this seminar, Stephen also discusses the meaning of “dukkha,” and that the Buddha urges everyone to fully know it, to go directly into the darkness, where we may ultimately know a deep beauty.

Podcast: Play in new window [Play] | Download [Play]

Godless Religion or Devout Atheism? Part 9 of 14 – Discussion and Q & A

Speakers: Stephen & Martine Batchelor

Martine begins the Q & A humorously with the topic of daydreaming; Stephen explains the meaning of “antaka;” attachment. Other topics in this session include feeling tones of sensation; unpacking sukkha; meditation; and the meaning and role of Mara.

Podcast: Play in new window [Play] | Download [Play]

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Stephen and Martine Batchelor - Godless Religion or Devout Atheism?

Upaya Zen Center is posting an outstanding series of podcasts (14 in all) featuring Stephen and Martine Batchelor speaking on "Godless Religion or Devout Atheism?"

Stephen Batchelor is well-known, and perhaps infamous, for his book Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening. I am a tremendous fan of his modern approach to Buddhist practice. Each new culture that adopts Buddhism has adapted the teachings to make sense within its individual context. In Tibet, the Mahayana became the Vajrayana, which is central to all Tibetan lineages, but not identical with Tibetan Buddhism [Al Billings made an important correction on this point in the comments, for which I am grateful]; when Bodhidharma went to China, the teachings became the Ch'an tradition; in Japan, the Ch'an teachings became Zen.

We are now 2,500 years removed from the Buddha's enlightenment. The values and structures of human awareness have changed considerably since then. We are now more rational and less superstitious, so it is appropriate the Buddhist practice evolves to reflect who we are now as students. Progressive Buddhism, from my perspective, acknowledges the profound technology of enlightenment that the Buddha has left for us, but we also acknowledge that the cultural context of the original teachings are no longer appropriate to our current cultural context.

Perhaps unique among the current Buddhist teachers, Stephen Batchelor is offering us a progressive form of Buddhist practice. Enjoy the podcasts - I will post two more groups of five as they become available in the coming days.

Listen to the “Godless Religion or Devout Atheism?” series

For the next 10 days from Dec 18 to Dec 27, we will be sequentially releasing the podcasts from the Godless Religion or Devout Atheism? series recorded in October.

* * * * *

Godless Religion or Devout Atheism? Part 1 of 14 – Session 1

Speakers: Stephen and Martine Batchelor

Stephen opens the retreat asking, “What is Buddhism?” Is it devout atheism or a godless religion? Over the next few days, we will individually look at what the practice means to us. The West has begun to look at the different Buddhist traditions and scriptures in a way that has never happened before. We are fortunate in that we have a huge amount of information available to us. Martine discusses the practical set-up of the retreats, and sets the objectives for the meditations.

Podcast: Play in new window [Play] [Play] [Play] | Download [Play] [Play] [Play]

Godless Religion or Devout Atheism? Part 2 of 14 – Session 2

Speaker: Stephen Batchelor

Stephen deconstructs what we know of Buddhism, offering interpretations and explaining cultural elements of Buddhism that came from the Buddha’s time. This reveals what is left of the Buddha’s original teaching. In original texts, the Eightfold Path ends with the Four Noble Truths, which in turn end in the Eightfold Path. Stephen discusses what society was like at the Buddha’s time and what most people knew about other cultures, histories, and ideas. Therefore, we must rethink the Four Noble Truths and perhaps unlearn what we have been taught about Buddhism.

Podcast: Play in new window [Play] [Play] [Play] | Download [Play] [Play] [Play]

Godless Religion or Devout Atheism? Part 3 of 14 – Discussion and Q & A

Speakers: Stephen & Martine Batchelor

Topics include the myth of the Buddha vs. what we know to be more certain; the Buddha’s vision of society; unpacking the myth of the Buddha as a real man; the origin of merit in Buddhism.

Podcast: Play in new window [Play] [Play] [Play] | Download [Play] [Play] [Play]

Godless Religion or Devout Atheism? Part 4 of 14 – Dharma Talk on Exploring Meditation

Speaker: Martine Batchelor

In Zen generally there are 2 types of meditation: samatha and vipassana, or concentration and open awareness. However, in practicing samatha, we do not concentrate to the exclusion of everything else. In vipassana, we can use the brightness of the mind to inquire, as looking deeply is what causes transformation. Through samatha and vipassana, we experience the diminution of habits.

Podcast: Play in new window [Play] [Play] [Play] | Download [Play] [Play] [Play]

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Thursday, 10 December 2009

The future of Progressive Buddhism blog

Hi all,

Quiet isn't it?

The Progressive Buddhism blog has been running since August 2007. There have been 158 posts and we have 107 Blogger followers. There have some really great discussions.

I originally set the blog up because I wanted to be able to discuss Buddhism in an environment of free-enquiry (cough-esangha-cough) and because I wanted to be involved in the process of making Buddhism relevent and accessible for Westerners. From the start I wanted this to be a group thing rather than lone project - I knew I wouldn't be able to carry it by myself. And many people have expressed an interest in contributing but only a minority do - and of those only a very few have done so on an ongoing basis (thanks Justin. Things got a little quiet last year, but fortunately Kyle arrived with and contributed a great deal. But since he left, things have got a little quiet once more.

Under other circumstances I'd take up the challenge myself and try to contribute something at least once a week, and when I started blogging I had loads of time (I was freelancing) and loads of thoughts about progressive Buddhism. But that isn't really the case any more. I'm permanently employed with a long commute, a wife, a son and two dogs. I spend over an hour a day doing my Zen (and/or mindfulness) practice. And I'm a regular contributor to Zen Forum International, and other site. Also, my own attitude have shifted a little - it's not that I've become more of a traditionalist, it's more that with the expansion of secular mindfulness-based approaches I no longer see such a pressing need to 'reform' Buddhism in this regard. Secular and traditional approaches can sit alongside each other quite happily and people can choose which path suits them (apart from awkward people like myself who insist on doing both!).

Anyway it seems that we have three options:
  1. Close the blog
  2. Find new, regular contributors
  3. Simply accept that Progressive Buddhism is a quiet, infrequent blog due to it being a fairly niche interest
What do you all think?

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Saving the world by sitting on our butts

My wife (who has a sensitive and anxious disposition) desperately wants her first child. She is in her mid-30s now. In the course of the last year she has miscarried three times and three times I have seen her heart break. There is no instruction manual given out for how best to support someone going through something like that and it has been a real learning curve for me. Even her normally-very-supportive best friend told her she could no longer support her and they are no longer firends. I know that I'm far from perfect but also know that I've been invaluable to someone who was dependent on me and whom I was in a position to genuinely support. I also know that my Buddhist and mindfulness practice has helped a great deal - allowing me to be calmer, more patient, more empathetic, less interfering and to have a better view of my own 'stuff' than I might otherwide have had.

Zen teachers I know have stated (quoting Dogen as saying that a person who does zazen unconsciously and automatically benefits all beings) that the best way to help others is not by supporting them or engaging with them in any way, but by practicing zazen. One explanation given was that without wisdom our attempts are useless or even harmful (which by itself I have some agreement with). And that zazen by itself (perhaps via the dedication ceremony) benefits all beings through some mysterious karmic processes.

This doesn't accord with my experience. My experience is that to influence the world we need to engage with it. I certainly have no experience of this mysterious process and would have to believe in it through blind faith. I remember hearing about the belief among transcendental meditators that simply by doing TM they could influence social harmony in a positive way (by emanating harmony in some mysterious way). But, as I recall, the supposed evidence for this didn't withstand much scrutiny.

One of these teachers (not knowing the full background) suggested that I should not have cut short a week-long retreat to support my wife. This seems like a rather escapist view of life.

I have also heard of a monk in the same lineage declining to visit his own father on his deathbed in order to attend an extended retreat.

Buddhist ethics are indeed focussed on the intentionality behind our actions, but if my intention is sincerely to benefit all rather than just myself then my intention will be to actually act rather than merely to have 'good intentions'. My understanding of our dedication ceremonies and vows had always been that they are expressions of selflessness, ways to let go of selfish attachments, rather than seen as acts which by themselves help others and absolve us of any further responsibility to them. Is it really more selfless to dwell in private feelings of harmony than to actually help others? For me, to help others we have to actually engage with them. Meditation and self-awareness may help us in our relationships a great deal. Letting go of trying to change others may help a great deal, but we still have to engage, to be there, to care, and to act with wisdom and compassion. We need to 'return to the world' or 'return to the marketplace' rather than simply look after and dwell in our own feelings of cosmic harmony.

Friday, 13 November 2009

We've Come a Long Way: 30 years of American Buddhism

Charles Prebish has a great commentary in the latest issue of BuddhaDharma, discussing his observations of American Buddhism over the past 30 years. The main theme of the commentary is that we've come a long way since the late '70s and things are generally looking very good.

He speaks about our growing connections here in the U.S., not only through greater numbers and more centers, but the internet and great books. One of the things that caught my eye was his statement that American Buddhism:
... has developed, I think, in large part because of the ecumenical cooperation between practitioners and scholars. In a culture that fosters a mostly lay membership, the scholar practitioners have come to fulfill the role of the scholar monks of Asia, generating a Buddhist literacy among current practitioners that is unrivalled anywhere.
This was a point related to my recent presentation at the American Academy of Religion conference in Montreal. There, I spoke about the convergences of the Theravadin Buddhist practice of Metta-bhavana, or "Cultivation of Loving-Kindness" and the Jesuit "Spiritual Exercises."

An excellent question was raised afterward about our ability, as scholars, to put into words what practitioners are actually experiencing. Our presider, John Keenan of Middlebury College, called this the "Elephant in the Room" in contemporary Buddhist Studies. Sure we, as scholars, can argue about the dates of texts or the influences of scholars or events on the development of Buddhism, but can we really get inside the heads of practitioners? I think so.

For one thing, many, such as myself, are scholar-practitioners. So I can speak not only about the use of reflexive pronouns in the Pali texts, but from my own experiences, from those of my teachers and now, as I teach meditation, I can speak about what my own students tell me. If that puts me in the company of greats such as Charles Prebish, Richard Gombrich, and Rupert Gethin, (as well as the bright "young thinkers" mentioned by Prebish: Shannon Wakoh Hickey and Jeff Wilson) then I'm quite happy to be there.

The scholar-practitioner issue was discussed over at Kyle's blog a while back and came up again in comments by the Zennist at the tricycle blog more recently where he wrote, "the wheels of academia move oh so slow where dogma is often prized more than innovation." My own humble experience has been quite the opposite, with academics pushing countless innovations, forcing people to rethink old dogmas again and again.

As the Buddha's own teachings were richly contextual, we need people who study the context of his teachings as well as people who study the context of today to know how and when they should be applied. We should be cautious of believing everything stated by someone just because they hold a Ph.D. (or traditional credentials, for that matter), but it's wise and a sign of healthy humility to grant respect to those who have spent the time to study or practice enough to earn those credentials. Question, but listen first.

Correction (11/13/09, 7:50pm): I had originally stated that John Bullitt was the "respondent" for the panel. It was in fact John Keenan and he was the presider.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Self, No-self, Psychology and Buddhism

Ha! Thanks for that last post Shonin Justin. I just came across the same over at the Tricycle blog. I posted some comments there and then over at my blog, but figured it's good grist for the Progressive Buddhism mill as well.

In the interview, Epstein says, roughly, that the self is real, it's just not really real. Tricycle editors picked up on that in their title:

The self exists, it’s just not as real as you think.

My response(s) follow, slightly edited.
Hmmm… Is that like saying a creator God exists, it’s just not as real as you think? Sounds fishy. Perhaps skillful, but fishy nonetheless.

Sabbe dhamma anatta, all phenomena are not-self. Even nibbana is anatta. And all of samsara is associated with the 5 khandhas, which are the basis for all other dhammas. Where then, lies the self in Buddhism? (hint, next to unicorns and the creator God).

On second thought, yes, the Buddha does make wide use of the term atta as a reflexive pronoun: “nowhere is found one who is dearer than [one]self; in this way for others too the self is dear. Thus one should not harm others who loves [him/her]self.” (Nevajjhagā piyataramattanā kvaci; Evaṃ piyo puthu attā paresaṃ, Tasmā na hiṃse paramattakāmo’’ti.) fom the Mallika sutta in SN I,3 (#8). But this should be read as making an ethical point rather than a metaphysical one: you [think] you have a self, and it is dear to you; this is also true of others, so develop metta/lovingkindness for all (as you do yourself).

In this way the Buddha uses the term in a practical or conventional manner. When speaking of the true nature of things, though, the above quoted sabbe dhamma anatta, along with anatta as one of the “Marks of Existence” should suggest clearly his teaching of no-self. This is as much of a categorical denial as I can think of. He doesn’t deny the existence of the self to the wanderer Vacchagotta precisely because FOR HIM (this confused Brahmin) it would lead to a belief in annihilationism. So in that instance we have the Buddha’s silence. (SN 44:10)

As for the necessary fiction of self; yes it probably is needed at some level, but at the point of awakening we are said to finally(!) let go of the “asmi mana” the conceit or mania of I AM. I suppose as long as we have the conceit of self, it’s useful to act accordingly :)

I'm curious about the apparent streak of neo-Puggalavadins or Attavadins (those who teach that there is a person, or there is a self) in contemporary Buddhist circles. I suppose it has to do with our cultural fascination with the self: liberating it, actualizing it, helping it. If you're trying to gain self-liberation, self-actualization, or self-help you're probably off on a wild-goose chase. Much like trying to have a conversation with an omniscient, benevolent, creator God.

Check out the Sabbasava sutta. There the Buddha lists 16 unwise reflections:
1. What am I?
2. How am I?
3. Am I?
4. Am I not?
5. Did I exist in the past?
6. Did I not exist in the past?
7. What was I in the past?
8. How was I in the past?
9. Having been what, did I become what in the past?
10. Shall I exist in future?
11. Shall I not exist in future?
12. What shall I be in future?
13. How shall I be in future?
14. Having been what, shall I become what in future?
15. Whence came this person?
16. Whither will he go?
Now, as I mentioned in my first response above, any questioning into the self is thus pretty fishy. BUT, it could perhaps be skillful for some people. Just as in the Tevijja Sutta, where the Buddha tells young Brahmins that he'll teach them "the way to union with Brahma" and in fact teaches them ethics and meditation toward awakening, we perhaps could tell people we'll help them "discover their true self" only to lead them, through ethics and meditation, to the understanding of no-self. I'll leave you with one last snippit from the Pali sources (many thanks to Thanisarro Bhikkhu for compiling some Pali sources on Anatta):
“Monks, where there is a self, would there be (the thought), ‘belonging to
my self’?”
“Yes, lord.”
“Or, monks, where there is what belongs to self, would there be (the thought),
‘my self’?”
“Yes, lord.”
“Monks, where a self or what belongs to self are not pinned down as a truth
or reality, then the view-position—‘This cosmos is the self. After death this I will
be constant, permanent, eternal, not subject to change. I will stay just like that for
an eternity’—Isn’t it utterly & completely a fool’s teaching?” — MN 22
To say that this is a denial of only a certain kind of self seems to me to miss the point. It's like, to reiterate the above, saying that the Buddha only denied a certain kind of creator God, and thus perhaps there is one after all for Buddhists. Any view of self, it seems, is going to spiral into wasted time and effort trying to understand, fix, help, whatever, it (unless, again, guided by a wise teacher toward the understanding that there is no self). Similarly, views of God can be played with (as in the Tevijja sutta) by the wise, in order to bring others to an understanding of ethics, meditation, and wisdom (aka the Buddha's 3-fold path).

But in the hands of the unwise, people like me, speculation on the self or God is just likely to waste time.. how many gods can dance on the head of a pin? Oh, I'm sorry, that was angels. I'll have to speculate on that in a future post.

Can Buddhism and Psychology Co-Exist?

"Meet a doctor who thinks you can better understand the self by destroying it"

After the confusion about 'annihilating the self' is cleared up this is a very interesting story.

Can Buddhism and Psychology Co-Exist?

Friday, 23 October 2009

Buddhists Need Love Too: The Dharma of Dating

Dan Brodribb is a writer and stand-up comic. His misspent past also includes stints as a pro-wrestling announcer, substitute teacher, video store clerk, martial arts instructor, crisis worker, and heavy metal musician. He is a lay member of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives. Learn more about him at

Buddhists need love too.

I mean, I realize I’m relatively new to the practice of meditation, but we can’t ALL be monks, right? Someone has to ensure the human race survives.

That doesn’t mean I don’t take training seriously. I’m always looking for ways to reduce suffering in my life while training myself to be a more compassionate, equanimous person.

Enter online dating. Or any kind of dating at all, come to think of it.

There's no question in my mind: dating is dharma in action. I remember reading a Buddhist book and thinking, “You know, you could substitute the word ‘dating’ for the word ‘meditation’ and you could have pretty much the same book.”

You learn surprising things about yourself when you go out with people. You are tested. And if you’re lucky, you get to practice some righteous smooching (Not to be confused with Right Smooching which isn’t part of the eightfold path, but at times I think should be).

But online dating comes with it’s own challenges, especially if you’re new to it or returning to the dating world following a long term relationship. It’s easy to get frustrated, either with the people out there, the LACK of people out there, or even yourself.

Love is a roller coaster ride. Here are four ways Buddhist training can help with the ups and downs.

1 - Stay Present
At first with online dating, it’s easy to get discouraged. happens. A clever, funny message appears in your inbox. You go back and forth a couple times, and have a couple of nice exchanges. Suddenly, you start thinking of the future. You imagine what he or she will be like when you meet in person. The next thing you know you’re flashing forward to a wedding, kids, growing old together…

Then you meet in person and are devastated to discover that not only is there no chemistry, they have horrible taste in shoes.

On the other hand, it’s equally easy to get caught up in all the things that went wrong on previous dates and in previous relationships. Some of us are tempted to relive every dating mistake we’ve ever made in our mind, or worse, pay bitterness from a former relationship forward to the next people we meet.

But that’s unfair to the other person. It’s also unfair to ourselves.

Be where you are. Live here, not some imaginary future. Pay attention to the person you‘re with, instead of comparing them to the person in your mind.

2 - Equanimity
Dating is an emotional business. There‘s exhilaration, there‘s despair, and there's everything in between. These feelings are normal. They also aren’t worth getting worked about because they will change.

In fact, even when you’re in a relationship, feelings are transitory. Sure, at first, it feels like your love is unshakeable and everlasting. Four months later, you are shocked to find yourself wanting to smother him with a pillow because you can’t stand the way he grinds his teeth when he sleeps. But fear not, that feeling too will pass.

In fact, this would be a good time to remind you that…

3 - Everything Changes
Sometimes, when you’re feeling single and frustrated and miserable, it feels like you’ll be that way forever. But situations change. Even feelings change. In fact, we've all heard the story about people finding peace with singleness (Singlitude? Singularity?)--and then meeting someone, throwing their entire world into disarray.

As one friend told me. "I can't fall in love with somebody now. I have too much STUFF to do!"

Romance reminds me of a quote by screenwriter William Goldman: “Nobody knows anything.”

Might as well get used to it.

4 - Actions have consequences
Dating is cruel, but fair. I’m not saying that people DESERVE to have bad dates, but there are folks out there entertaining the mistaken idea that the world owes them a boy- or girlfriend.

It doesn’t work like that.

If you treat people like they are out for themselves and will betray you at the first available opportunity…you will probably find what you are looking for. If you expect the best from people while being clear about what those expectations are, you have a better than even chance of finding someone who can meet them.

Tired of dating jerks? Learn to notice the warning signs and stop going out with them. Wondering why women never call you back after the first date? Time to take a look in the mirror and see what you‘re putting out there.

Dating is scary because rejection feels so personal. But that‘s an illusion. I‘ve never met anyone who WANTED to hurt other people. I know from experience one of the hardest things to do in dating is to stay true to yourself while minimizing the damage you do to other people. Sometimes people make mistakes. But it is never personal. Try not to take it that way.

After all, right smooching might not be on the Eightfold Path, but with the right person, it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

Conference on Contemporary Buddhism in the West

For those with an academic penchant and transportation to the west coast of the US, there is a conference next March that should be of interest (from here):

Buddhism without Borders: Contemporary Buddhism in the West

at the Institute of Buddhist Studies
Berkeley, California
March 18 - 21, 2010

Conference Schedule*

Thursday, March 18
Early registration and check-in 11:00 - 2:00

Panel I: Buddhist Experiences: Expressions and Subjectivities, 2:00 - 5:00 p.m.
Daniel Veidlinger, California State University, Chico
"From Indra's Net to Internet: The Effects of Social Networking Websites on the Acculturation of Buddhism in North America"
Ruth Fitzpatrick, University of Western Sydney
"Transforming Tara, Meanings in Motion"
Erik Braun, University of Oklahoma
"The United States of Jhana"
Kimberly Beek, McMaster University
"Telling Tales Out of School: The Fiction of Buddhism in North America"
Respondent TBD

Friday, March 19
Panel II: Buddhisms in America, 9:30 - 12:30

Jeff Wilson, Renison University College, University of Waterloo
"Regionalism within American Buddhism"
Charles S. Prebish, Redd Chair in Religious Studies, Utah State University
"Buddha in Mormon Land: American Buddhist Challenges in a Dominant Mormon Culture"
Duncan Ryuken Williams, University of California, Berkeley
Michihiro Ama, University of California, Irvine
"The First White Buddhist Priestess"
Respondent TBD

12:30 - 2:00 Lunch break

Panel III: Transnational Buddhisms, 2:00 - 5:00
Richard K. Payne, Institute of Buddhist Studies
"Syncretism and Syntax: An Examination of Yogi Chen's Christian Homas"
Chapla Verma
"Comparative Study of Zen Buddhism in Japan and North America"
Todd Perreira
"Beyond Americanization: On the Transnational Boundaries of Theravada America"
David McMahan, Franklin & Marshall College
"Buddhism and Multiple Modernities"
Respondent TBD

Keynote Address and reception, 5:00 - 8:00
The Keynote Address and reception will be open to the public. A catered reception will follow Prof. Tweed's address.

Saturday, March 20
Panel IV: Identifying Buddhists, Buddhist Identity, 9:30 - 12:30

Richard Hughes Seager
"Dharma Images and American Buddhist Identity"
Christine Walters, University of South Florida, Tampa
"Denominationalism in American Buddhism"
Mindy McAdams, University of Florida
"Finding Buddhism in Blogs"
Wakoh Shannon Hickey, Duke University
"Two Buddhisms, Three Buddhisms, and Racism"
Respondent TBD

Lunch break, 12:30 - 2:00

Panel V: Living Buddhism: Community and Family, 2:00 - 5:00
Helen Baroni, University of Hawaii at Manoa
"Zen at a Distance: Isolation and the Development of Distant Membership"
Jitka Cirklová, Faculty of Social Science, Department of Sociology
"Buddhism as Value Source in the Course of New Identity and Lifestyle Formation in the Czech Republic"
Eve Mullen, Emory Univeristy
"Care for the Dying: Innovative American Buddhist Institutions"
Zach Zimmerman, Princeton University
"Bringing Up Buddhists in America"
Respondent TBD

Dinner (on your own), 5:00 - 6:30

6:30 Special film screening: TBD

Sunday, March 21
Panel VI: Interpreting Buddhism in the West, 9:30 -12:30

Franz Aubrey Metcalf, The Forge Institute
Mira Nicelescu
"The Jewish Buddhists: The Upcoming Rise of a New School of Buddhism?"
Galen Amstutz, independent scholar
"Kiyozawa In Concord: Will Shin Buddhism Manage to Make a More Successful Contribution to American Religious Thought in the 21st Century?"
Jeannine Chandler, Siena College
"An Analysis of Western Involvement in the Dorje Shugden Controversy"
Respondent TBD

Conference closing remarks, 12:30 p.m.

* This schedule is tentative and subject to change

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Homeless Meditation Practitioners

I received the following request for help from Jon at Homeless Meditation Practitioners. Please help if you can.

Hi Dharma-Friends,

I recently went to work for a San Antonio Interfaith Ministry that provides services for the Homeless.

I have been volunteering there for years. But now I am on the Payroll, which means I can hang around more often, without having to run off and do something else to pay my bills.

So, as I look down the sidewalk at all the gentle spirits waiting for us to unlock the that they can come in and get a hot shower and a hot meal...I think about my own Buddhist Practice.

I think about Buddha, wandering the hills with his disciples....all renuncites...ascetics...homeless... wandering...wandering...and now... I see them here...right in front of me.

I see the Wandering Ascetic Renunciate Bhikkus and Anis (Monks & Nuns) of the Twenty-First Century.

Now listen, Jesus is very popular here. In fact, there are only a few open, random nights for me to offer meditation...because so many Churches are coming down here to minister to the Homeless. Which is wonderful.

But, like in so many other areas...Where is the Buddhist Community?

So, I wondered how many of my Meditative Friends I could get down here or to start a HMP in their area? Nothing big...just sitting and walking and maybe reading from the Dhammapada.

This website is dedicated to this. It is for all of encourage one other, to streach ourselves, and to practice better.

If you are a Lama, Roshi, Priest, Monk, Nun, Teacher, Meditation Center Director, average meditator like me, or currently living the Homeless Life....

I would love to get your help, advice, and posts.

So, Welcome to Homeless Meditation Practitioners(HMP) Website.

My plan is simple.
  1. Meet with the Homeless at the Downtown San Antonio Shelter... several nights a month.
  2. Bring in fresh flowers, incense, colorful alter-style fabrics, do walking and sitting meditation with them...and read from the Dhammapada.
  3. Ask all my Buddhist & Meditative brothers and sisters to join with me in this experience.


"Master your words. Master your thoughts. Never allow your body to do harm. Follow these three roads with purity And you will find yourself upon the one way, the Way of Wisdom."

jon clark

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Traditional vs Modern: My resolution

It was about 20 years ago that I was initially interested in Buddhism. I was drawn by the various tantalising nuggets of wisdom and the promise of inner peace. I was put-off by apparent tendencies towards supernaturalism, and preoccupation with faith-based metaphysical theories. After the teacher of our undergraduate meditation course went off to become a nun I didn't take it any further.

More than 10 years passed, in which I started a career and had a son, before I returned to Buddhism in the form of Zen. Zen suited me well. I was attracted by it's simple, down-to-earth emphasis, being relatively free of supernatural and metaphysical elements, although I still found it sometimes traditionalist and backward-looking.

Lurking around in online Buddhist forums with my tentative new 'Buddhist' identity, I was told repeatedly that those who did not accept literal rebirth as an article of faith were 'not real Buddhists' and was reminded of the more conservative and authoritarian aspects of the faith. In the light of our modern understanding of the universe and the mind, I grew weary of the narrow, backward-looking nature of much contemporary Buddhism and the tendency of some Buddhists to try to exclude people like myself and I wondered if the best solution was to find like-minded individuals and call ourselves something else altogether.

I felt that the teachings of the Buddha and his descendents should not be discarded but should be re-examined in the light of modern understanding - and vice-versa. The setting up of this blog as an area to discuss these things unmolested was part of that.

With a full-time job, family, a long commute to work, daily meditation practice and MBCT training I don't have a lot of time for blogging. But looking back, it also occurs to me that I no longer feel this tension in my practice in the way that I did.

I think this comes down to irrelevance of metaphysical theories to Zen practice (although in form it can still be very traditionalist), I think that my practice itself has helped and my MBCT training is helping too.

For me now, it seems likely that there will always be valid traditional forms of Buddhism and yet it is through mindfulness based therapies and similar secular approaches that the Buddhist methods will be (and already are) opened up to the mainstream. For those who wish to go beyond the great matter of birth and death, to realise the unborn, there is still Zen. And for those wish for a good rebirth or to end rebirth there is Tibetan or Theravada.

So now it seems to me that there is no need to 'reform Buddhism' since there are enough avenues for people of all persuasions to benefit from it, one way or another.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Know the Truth for Yourself

This seems to be a central mantra of many Western Buddhists. The idea is that we shouldn't accept things on mere faith (like those other religions do), but should instead evaluate how ideas and practices actually work for us. The idea is expounded in the much loved (in the West) "Kalama Sutta" - actually called the Kesamuttisuttaṃ if you ever want to look it up in Pāli (click here and scan down to #5, paragraph #66).

I'm no expert on the text or the tradition that follows, but it was the focus of (I believe) a full week of reading and discussion in my Intro to Buddhism college course and I have seen it used countless times by other Western authors and teachers. Yet I've also learned that it is traditionally an obscure text, rarely commented upon or used in teaching. And it has been suggested that our Western love of this sutta stems largely from our rejection of the other (Christianity for most of us).

The real impetus for this post, though, is a recent musing by Amod Lele, over at his wonderful blog Love of All Wisdom. There he describes his acceptance of "one and a half noble truths."

It makes me wonder:
  1. for Progressive Buddhists (if we so claim that label) - how do we approach such basic teachings as the Four Noble Truths?
  2. Do we need to accept them as a pretty basic starting point for our practice and understanding?
  3. Can/should we be skeptical as many suggest we should be toward karma and rebirth?
  4. Do we accept them with saddha (faith/confidence) for the tradition or our own teachers, or wait until we are fully awakened ourselves before we feel confident in endorsing the possibility of awakening?!
  5. When is healthy skepticism instead the fetter of doubt?
Too many questions? haha...

Thursday, 20 August 2009


Hello all,

Since this is my first post on Progressive Buddhism as a contributor I figure I should introduce myself and explain a little of how I became involved with Buddhism. First off I have a Bachelors Degree in Philosophy and I am currently attending film school; right in the middle of a two year diploma program. I actually started my post secondary education as a Management student thinking that a career in Human Resources would be the best career for me. Thanks to a particularly competent high school teacher, who commented that I had a very philosophical outlook on things, I decided to take Philosophy 1000 as part of my general studies requirements. I lasted about a month as a management student and by semester two I had officially switched my major to Philosophy.

Such a move raised an important question from those around me: “what are you going to do with a degree in philosophy?” Admittedly this is a valid question. After all I had given up on a degree that would ensure a solid middle management position, nice salary, and likely some decent benefits for the real world life I would soon be exposed to. But there was something about philosophy that captivated me and since I have never been one to follow the crowd I decided to go with something I’d enjoy. Turns out my decisions was right, I discovered I had a talent for philosophy as well as a particular dislike for “normal” jobs. I honestly had no idea what I was going to do with a philosophy degree, but I knew that it was something that I enjoyed and felt that it fit with who I am.

Growing up in a particularly non-religious home I was never really directly exposed to religion but through the media and people I met in life I was well aware of the role it plays on the world stage. Since philosophy encourages one’s thirst for knowledge I began taking religious studies course to find out all I could about this strange phenomenon I had only experienced through others. I found the academic approach taken to be particularly efficient when it came to illustrating where each tradition came from, what they believed, and why they believed it in that particular way. We made our way through all the Abrahamic Traditions and it was all pretty interesting, but once we got to Buddhism things changed for me.

A funny thing happens when you place religions side by side and analyze them rationally and objectively. Anything you had been skeptical about before hand becomes more pronounced, irrational logic becomes blindly obvious, and any doubt regarding whether or not your own beliefs will coincide with a religion is erased. Now, it wasn’t at this moment that I became a Buddhist, still not exactly sure if I’m a full-fledged Buddhist yet, but it seemed I had found a set of beliefs that was consistent with my own. I ended up taking every Buddhist related course my university offered, including a graduate level course where we had to come up with a new perspective on Buddhism.

Since then I have been constantly reevaluating my beliefs as a Buddhist, attempting to figure out if it’s appropriate for me to identify with this particular religion. I am not someone who believes that anyone one set of beliefs will bring us “truth,” actually believing such a thing would be contradictory to who I am. I am a philosopher; I love learning new things and firmly believe that true knowledge comes from many different sources. When you shut your mind to a set of beliefs you shut your mind off to any knowledge that system may offer you. At the very least you shut your mind off to a source of experience in your life.

Thinking about this with respect to Buddhism led me to a rather comforting conclusion. Buddhism doesn’t require you to be a completely devoted and unyielding follower, it encourages learning and experience. One needs only to listen to one of the many Buddhist leaders to know that Buddhism has a lot to offer, but you need not shut your mind to other systems to benefit from Buddhism. Knowing this I began to identify with the religion to the point when people inquired about my beliefs I would identify with Buddhism. It is a system of beliefs that is more consistent with my own beliefs than it is different because of this it makes sense for me to identify with it.

I hope this gives you an idea of where I’m coming from and the approach I take to Buddhism and Buddhist topics. I am glad to be here and look forward to discussing the progressive form of Buddhism this blog represents.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Reciting the Metta Sutta in solidarity with the monks of Burma

Last Wednesday was Metta Sutta Day in Burma. However, the government there has clamped down on the traditional chanting of this sutta because of it's association with the protests there in 2007.

As an act of solidarity, Rev. Danny Fisher has recorded himself chanting the sutta and has put it on YouTube in the hope that others will do the same in a viral video campaign.

All you'll need is a web-cam, digital camera or microphone, the sutta (above) and access to YouTube. Please join in if you can.

Friday, 7 August 2009

gently holding the idea of death

scrodinger's cat is a thought experiment in which a cat is theoretically inside a box, and has a 50-50 chance of being dead or alive. this, to work as a metaphor for something in science which would otherwise be difficult to explain - how can something be a wave and a particle at the same time?

the idea of a thought experiment is to explain a real life scenario which would not be carried out, so no cats are harmed!

in this case, the thought experiment encourages us to hold the idea of life and death as possibilities - illustrating the wave/particle business in quantum physics. but, for me, the schrodinger's cat experiment resonates with the idea of meditating in part to make a good life, and in another part to make a good death. and, further, the exercise of holding both the idea of life and the idea of death in awareness at the same time.

here is a clip where the experiment itself is explained

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Review: Zen - ("Dogen, The Movie")

This isn't a full review, just a quick recommendation really.

'Zen' is a drama based on the life of Japanese Zen Master Dogen. Overall, I enjoyed it very much. Beautifully shot and well acted, although for me it was let down slightly by a couple of CGI scenes, especially one where Dogen attains enlightenment and flies into the sky on a huge lotus flower. I also suspect that much of the character drama and many of the characters were invented to create a story that works as a movie. There is a scene in which a Dogen advises a woman with a dying child to visit the every household in which no one has ever died. This is a parable I've heard attributed to both Buddha and Jesus, but not Dogen. It is peppered with some of Dogen's sayings - enough to get a flavour of his teachings.

It wasn't easy for me to get hold of a copy - I had to get it imported from Hong Kong, but for me it was a must-see.


The preview is here: Zen

And there is a more substantial review here: Religious film lacks thrill of temptation

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Amongst White Clouds

Another video. This one is a documentary about hermit monks and nuns iving in the remote mountains of central China. The scenery is stunning and it has a wonderful stillness to it. It's great to see that this ancient tradition continues to survive.