Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Dharma Punx

by Noah Levine.

This is the story of a young man and a generation of angry youths who rebelled against their parents and the unfulfilled promise of the sixties.

As with many self-destructive kids, Noah Levine's search for meaning led him first to punk rock, drugs, drinking, and dissatisfaction. But the search didn't end there. Having clearly seen the uselessness of drugs and violence, Noah looked for positive ways to channel his rebellion against what he saw as the lies of society.

Fueled by his anger and so much injustice and suffering, Levine now uses that energy and the practice of Buddhism to awaken his natural wisdom and compassion.

Noah Levine is a Buddhist teacher, author and counselor. He is trained to teach by Jack Kornfield of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, CA. He teaches meditation classes, workshops and retreats nationally as well as leading groups in juvenile halls and prisons. Noah holds a masters degree in counseling psychology from CIIS. He has studied with many prominent teachers in both the Theravadan and Mahayanan Buddhist traditions.

Noah currently lives in Los Angeles, CA.

The Dharma Punx
Dharma Punx is not just a book it is a way of being, it is how we have come to integrate our political and spiritual beliefs. We sought a different path than our parents, the once idealistic hippie generation that had long since cut their hair, left the commune and bought in to the system. Peace and love had failed to make any real changes and in response to the despair and hopelessness we felt came the punk rock movement. Seeking to rebel against society's fascist system of oppression and capitalist driven propaganda the kids responded in our own way, different from those before us, a new revolution for a new generation. Aware of the corruption in the government and inconsistencies in the power dynamics in our homes we rebelled against society and family in one loud and fast roar of teen angst. Unwilling to accept the dictates of the system, we did whatever we could to rebel. We wanted freedom and were willing to fight for it.
The situation was compounded by the personal despair so many of our generation were facing; broken homes, addicted parents, abusive teachers and a lack of elders on top of all the normal strife of growing up. Our parents were too busy trying to succeed or survive in the aftermath of the sixties and the race for riches of the seventies and eighties, or in my case the dedication to spiritual practice and service that at times kept my father ever occupied.
So we hit the streets, fueled by the music of revolution, anger, angst, fear, despair, hatred and a total dissatisfaction with the status quo. We dyed our hair and donned new uniforms to set us apart from the mindless masses of adults and brain dead herds of kids that were going along with the lies, buying in to the great American fallacy, playing sports, going to school and listening to the awful popular music of the eighties that carried no meaningful message and was in our minds just another symptom of the disease that was plaguing our society.

We turned to drugs and booze to escape from the feelings of hopelessness and despair, many of us going directly to narcotics as teenagers. Eating acid like it was candy and chasing speed with cheap vodka, smoking our parents weed, consuming gallons of cheep beer all in a vain attempt to stay numb. Turning toward a nihilistic outlook on life. Having set our selves apart, we were a constant target of violence and ridicule. Fighting to survive, fighting for our views and right to be different, we often found ourselves involved in some battle or another, if it wasn't the cops it was the jocks or hicks or each other.
All the violence and drugs led to many early deaths; overdoses, murders, car accidents and countless suicides. Death and grief has been a central part of the lives of all the kids who were associated with the early punk rock scene. Following the great examples set by Sid Vicious and Darby Crash, live fast, do lots of drugs, fuck the system by dying young. Half of the kids that I hung out with in the eighties are dead and that is just from my crew in a small town punk rock scene.
This book is about those of us who didn't die young and are still around in the new millennium. Those of us who haven't totally sold out, who go around talking about punk as a phase they went through as a kid, this is about those of us who, fueled by our dissatisfaction with life and the material world, have turned toward Spiritual Practice. It is a book about finding the freedom we were seeking as young idealistic punk rockers. Having clearly seen the uselessness of drugs and violence and having found positive ways to channel our rebellion against the lies of society, still being fueled by anger at injustice we now use that energy to Awaken rather than for self-destruction.
This is a story about those of us who have taken ourselves and the struggle off of the streets. Who are now fighting the inner battle against delusions and ignorance, yet continuing to express our selves in our own unique Punk Rock ways outwardly. Having put down the booze and drugs, having let go of the violence and hatred, having lost countless friends to prison and death, we have found the Dharma. We have found the highest spiritual truth. The spiritual path has been described by the Buddha as being, " against the stream", against mans selfish desires, this fits in perfectly with the punk rock ethic, turning outer rebellion into an inner revolution.
This spiritual truth has come in many different forms and through many different spiritual traditions, while I find myself primarily engaged in Buddhist practice some of the other Dharma Punx have dedicated themselves to the Sufi path of Islamic mysticism, to a personal relationship with Christ or to the Hindu path of devotion and service. I use the term Dharma meaning the Truth with a capital T, and as my father often reminds me, "that which is true is found in all spiritual and religious traditions". No one has the corner on the truth.
This book will take you on a, sometimes ugly, sometimes beautiful, spiritual journey from Juvenile Hall to the Dharma Hall. It follows the life of a confused kid and his search for clarity, it will take you from the depths of grief and despair to the heights of spiritual awareness, from the streets of America to the paths of rural Asia. This is a story of transformation, a generation often touted as X, finding meaning and propose in spiritual practice and service. It is a full circle, from being institutionalized to teaching meditation in institutions, from robbing and stealing to giving and forgiving. It's about finding freedom and then spending the rest of your life giving it all away.

The Dharma Punx is not just my story it is the story of my Generation.

My hope is that this book will be to my generation what Kerouak's Dharma Bums and On the Road were to his generation and countless kids afterwards. This is a story that has yet to be told and people are hungry for this kind of literature, something they can relate to, that has meaning, that is inspirational, a book that is real, that we all lived through.
My intention in writing this book is inspire people to find the freedom they are seeking. To encourage investigation of the human heart and mind, and offer an alternative to drugs and violence. I am sharing the importance of meditation, prayer and spiritual exploration, in a medium that is easy to digest, emotionally moving and even entertaining. It will give hope to the older generations, and inspire the younger ones. People will recognize themselves and their children in this book and see the awesome potential for healing and happiness even out of the depths of suffering, grief and despair.
I offer a story of Gen. X that isn't all annihilation or some cheesy romance about brain dead computer programmers. I offer the path of transformation and the possibility of freedom.
This book looks at what it was like growing up in the eighties as a punk, committing to spiritual practice in the nineties and using the rest of your life to share this precious gift with others. It is not just one story but the lives of several different people that have come together to form our crew the Dharma Punx. A group a men and women who are deeply committed to spiritual practice and engaged service in the world. These are the new face of the punk rock scene, a crew of committed dharma practitioner's that you can still find down at the local club singing along to our favorite bands and doing the occasional stage dive.
Some of the Dharma Punx are in world famous bands or are internationally known Tattoo artist's others work 9-5's, some are married and own their homes, the rest of us rent, trying to get by, all of us are friends and all of us are real people. This is not a fictional tale of romantic suffering and Hollywood love stories, its about real people, real loss, and genuine spiritual experiences.

I offer this book to all of my friends that didn't make it… Or maybe they did. And we are the flunkies still hangin around trying figure out that we are not these bodies.

Dharma Punx Homepage

Monday, May 29, 2006


by William Graham, The Buddhist Channel, May 28, 2006

New York, USA -- Scott is a civilian volunteer who regularly comes into the Sing Sing prison Dharma Song Zendo once a week and sometimes twice a week. I am a prisoner engaged in programs and activities that are geared towards personal enrichment. He's white and I'm black. It was our mutual karma that brought us together in conflict, neither of us seemed to have had much of a choice.

We both practice Zazen in the close quarters of the Sing Sing prison chapel basement. To date, Scott is the only white person I've ever gotten to know in more than just a superficial way.

The question which begs an answer is: Do we choose to remain preoccupied, stymied and stagnated by thoughts and feelings of hatred toward other races, for perceived past and present wrongs and injustices - or can we do something directly, on a personal level, about the situation?

When I first met Scott, I did not view him as an individual, nor even a human being. I saw him as a monster and a member of a race and class of people who has wronged my race and hurt me personally. I really didn't give him a chance to prove himself otherwise.

White people have done a lot of wrong to me personally, so I pre-judged him and blamed him for what I perceived other members of his race have done for me. I saw Scott as aloof, arrogant and condescending. He seemed to exude an air of superiority that I attributed to his white skin.

Previously I have met many white people with parental attitudes, and Scott seemed to be one of these. The parental attitude I'm referring to always seems to me to be the attitude of many white people who feel they are bringing something to the natives to civilize them.

It seemed as if he felt he knew better than I the right way for me to live my life. This was reinforced with each new encounter between us.

It seemed to me that we looked at each other in challenging, derogatory or disdainful ways and engaged in passive-aggressive attacks on each other. One of my favorite ways of showing dominance and superiority over him involved sitting directly across from him in the zendo in a full-lotus position; I knew that he couldn't sit full-lotus. I used to gloat at the discomfort he would experience getting up from every sitting period. I sense that over time he picked up on my negative thoughts and feelings. This continued for some time back and forth between us.

One evening, all hell broke loose. It was on a night when Rev. Kobutsu wasn't able to come to the prison, and Scott, as I later found out, was left in charge. That night I twice unknowingly sat on the wrong cushion.

The first time was before the official sitting began. I got up, and when I returned Scott was sitting in the place I had vacated. I said nothing and sat directly across from him. He said that I was sitting in an officer's seat who helped conduct the service. I said, "No problem," and got up. I was mildly pissed, and commented to Scott that he really should try to speak up and not talk so low, and that he acted as though he was afraid. I told him if he had anything to say not to mumble, but to be a man.

Zazen began. I sat full-lotus. Usually we sit for only 35 minutes at a time, but on this particular evening we sat an additional 10 minutes. Anyone that has been practicing zazen for a while knows by the pain he begins to experience in his legs when the time is up. My legs and knees were screaming from sitting in a full-lotus for 45 minutes. During this extra ten-minute period, I began breathing deeper and harder in response to the pain. My breathing was audible to Scott. He said, "Control your breathing."

I broke the rule of no talking in the Zendo and challenged him "Try sitting full lotus as long as we were and see how you breathe." During kinhin he walked into the hallway and summoned me outside to speak with me. I told him, "Not now," but to wait until later. He requested the same thing twice more, and I responded in the same manner. He remained in the hallway until kinhin was over and everyone had sat back down on the cushions to begin another 35-minute sit.

Scott came into the zendo and turned the overhead lights on, and proceeded to lecture about how he would not tolerate disrespect in the zendo, and that I had a problem. I informed him that there were no children here, and that we were all men. The exchange went back and forth, and didn't really go anywhere. Finally, not really having any other place to go, I said, "if you want me to, I'll go." He acquiesced. As I was about to leave, Yogen, the inmate zendo leader, said that he was in charge, so I sat back down. Other prisoners within the zendo voiced their opinions. I told Scott he was behaving childishly.

He retorted that one of us was going to have to leave, and since I wasn't going anywhere, he left.

After he left, I was acutely aware each time I heard footsteps descending the stairs to the chapel-basement zendo. I though he might have informed the guards about what happened, and that the guards were coming to evict us. That didn't happen. Scott was gone and didn't return for a month afterwards. I really felt bad during that time; I missed his presence and hoped our interaction wouldn't be the cause of him discontinuing at the prison. I later learned hi hiatus was not a direct result of our confrontation.

The week after our confrontation, I spoke with Rev. Kobutsu about the situation. He was aware of the incident, having communicated with Scott during the interim. He pointed out that we were both at fault in the interaction, and that he himself was at fault for not informing the sangha of his intention of leaving Scott officially in charge during his absence. He commented that perhaps the confrontation could be an opportunity for us both to get to know each other and that we could write about what happened.

When Scott returned to Dharma Song Zendo, he and I began to work on developing an understanding of what had transpired between us. During the process, Scott became the only white person I've ever gotten to know. I'm glad that we had our verbal confrontation, because dealing with it gradually changed our attitudes toward the other. It brought about a sensitivity, respect, compassion and consideration that neither of us previously felt toward each other. It enabled us to reshape our viewpoints and share the same space without antagonism and competitiveness.

I'm beginning to understand the meaning of the phrase "Incomparably profound and minutely subtle." What occurred between Scott and me was profound. From that altercation, I learned that when we communicate with each other about our feelings and emotions, we can transcend our irritations. Through abandonment of pretensions and recognition of hang-ups, the door of transcendent wisdom opens.

Note: William "Red" Graham has been imprisoned for over two decades for a crime he has consistently denied ever committing. He was recently denied access to a book on "Prison Chaplaincy Guidelines for Zen Buddhism" written by Ven. Kobutsu Malone by the New York State Department of Correctional Services.

Article source: http://www.engaged-zen.org/articles/William_Graham-Negativity.html

This article originally appeared in Gateway Journal Vol. 1 Number 2 — Winter 1995. People can write to Willam Graham at:

Willam Graham # 84-A-6009
Gowanda Correctional Facility
Post Office Box 311
Gowanda, New York 14070-0311 USA

Sunday, May 28, 2006

A 'meeting of two religious streams'

By LOUIS SAHAGUN, Los Angeles Times, May 26, 2006

Blend of Judaism, Buddhism creating harmony for some, confusion for others

Los Angeles, CA (USA) -- The altar in Becca Topol's living room carries a statue of Buddha and a garden stone painted with the Hebrew word for peace, "shalom."

<< Becca Topol, meditating at the Santa Monica Zen Center in California, says commingling her Jewish faith and Buddhism has deepened her spirituality.

In April she celebrated Passover with a "Zen Seder" feast that opened with a modified Haggada narrative comparing Israel's exodus from Egypt to Buddha's liberation from suffering.

"I'm a Jewish Buddhist — a JuBu," said Topol, 37. "My Buddhist practice has actually made me a stronger Jew."

While Buddhism has enriched Topol's Judaism — giving her a deeper sense of spirituality, she says — it has produced confusion in fellow Jubu David Grotell. Grotell, 41, is so worried about breaking Judaism's ban against idol worship that "although I have a meditation spot in my home, as a Jew I just can't allow myself to put a statue of Buddha there."

Grotell's conundrum and Topol's confidence show how diverse the JuBu experience can be, even inside one Zen Buddhist center in Santa Monica, Calif. It also underlines how a new, American hybrid of Buddhism is blossoming, fed by a large representation of Jewish practitioners.

No one knows for certain how many JuBus there are; the last surveys were conducted in the 1970s. A large majority of the 3 million Buddhists in the United States are Asian, but by some estimates at least 30 percent of all newcomers to Buddhism are Jewish. (By comparison, U.S. Jews number 6 million.)

Alan Lew, who studied Buddhism for a decade before changing course to become a rabbi, calls the paradoxical blend of Judaism, which bows to one God, and Buddhism, which has no supreme being, "a fruitful and beautifully creative meeting of two religious streams that came together in the United States."

"Most people don't go very far into Buddhism; they just want to feel a little better," said Michael Shiffman, founder of L.A. Dharma, a nonsectarian Buddhist organization in Los Angeles. "But can you be Jewish and not believe in God? Good question."

Others, however, would say it all depends on an individual's definition of God.

Essentially, Buddhism creates a solitary and quiet path away from suffering and toward a moral life based on an all-inclusive vision of interconnectedness, wisdom and compassion. A method for achieving that awareness is daily meditation.

Being nondogmatic, Buddhism does not require that adherents join anything or reject anything — even the notion of God.

So in this regard it differs vastly from Judaism, a community-based tradition that relies on observances, laws and prayers such as the mourner's kaddish — the prayer for the dead — to connect adherents with a personal god.

So what is it that Jews find so attractive about Buddhism?

"Suffering is at the heart of the matter," suggested David Gottlieb, whose autobiographical book Letters to a Buddhist Jew examines the life of a "Zen Jew" struggling to resolve his two identities. "Judaism, at its best, embraces suffering and, at its worst, enshrines it. Buddhism explicitly seeks to end suffering and doesn't look to the past."

Lee Rosenthal, 59, of San Diego found that powerfully appealing. He'd just returned from the Vietnam War and was facing the deaths of his two children shortly after they were born, and then his wife's cancer.

"I couldn't buy into the spiritual answers I was getting from people for why my little babies passed away," he recalled. "But I picked up a book on Buddhism and it spoke to me, streetwise and honest."

"Instead of sugarcoating things, it gave me a plain explanation for why I was suffering: Life is painful and difficult," he said. "It said also you can't run away from it. Deal with it."

As the world's leading Buddhist, the Dalai Lama, likes to say: If there is a problem and there is nothing you can do about it, there's no use worrying. If there is something that can be done, there's no use worrying. And with that understanding can come contentment, even joy.

Rosenthal went on to become a Buddhist priest, which his mother, Rosalie, came to terms with a few years ago in a poignant meeting.

"My mother has Alzheimer's disease and thinks I'm a kid who lived down the street from us in the 1950s," he said. "So one day I asked her, 'Rosalie, how's your son Lee doing?' She sat up straight in her wheelchair and with a proud look in her eye said, 'He's a Buddhist priest.' "

"I got teary-eyed," he said.

A majority of JuBus, as they call themselves, are baby boomers who were raised in loosely religious families and began to feel unfulfilled in the tumultuous and experimental 1960s and '70s. They joined the legions of other young men and women searching for spiritual nourishment and ended up turning to Buddhism, a welcoming meditative practice devoid of the cultural stigmas contained in, say, Christianity or Islam.

And many, like Alan Senauke, now a Buddhist priest in the San Francisco Bay Area, discovered the two traditions combined easily, almost on their own.

Although he no longer celebrates Jewish holy days, with the exception of Passover, Senauke said, "My Judaism and Buddhism are like vines so entangled they are not separate."

"Because of my Jewishness, I'm faulty as a Buddhist, and because of my Buddhism, I can never really be a practicing Jew," he said. With a smile, he added: "I'm comfortable with that."

"Look at it this way," said Senauke, who is also a noted bluegrass guitarist. "I've been playing Southern music for 45 years, but I'll never be a Southerner. I'm a New York Jewish boy. But this is my music, it resonates in my heart, and I play it as authentically as I can."

The boom in Buddhism has left some Jewish leaders wondering how they could better serve their people.

"I'm encouraged that people want to find something more spiritual," said Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz of a group called Jews for Judaism. "But I'm also disillusioned that they have not found it in Judaism. Maybe we haven't done a good enough job of making Jewish mysticism accessible to the masses."

But Marc Lieberman, a San Francisco ophthalmologist who helped arrange a historic dialogue between Jewish leaders and the Dalai Lama in 1989, calls the JuBu phenomenon a fine example of "good old American innovation."

"I'm a healthy mosaic of Judaism and Buddhism," Lieberman said. "Is that fair to either religion? Fair schmair! It's what I am.

"My Jewish side is a tribal sensibility, a reflexive identity with the pain and agony of my people and the pride and glories of their traditions," he said. "But my Buddhist side asks, 'Does that exclude others in the world?' "

How all those clashing religious notions affect JuBus is illustrated in the paths taken by Lew and his lifelong chum Norman Fischer. In the 1970s, they lived in Buddhist monasteries and studied under Berkeley Zen master Sojun Mel Weitsman, an ethnic Jew.

Their friends figured that Lew, a freewheeling intellectual, would become a Buddhist priest, and Fischer, who was always a studious rabbi's pet, would become a rabbinical scholar.

Instead, the opposite happened. But their theologically competing spiritual realms have acquired a lot of the curlicues and ambiguities that are characteristic of JuBus.

Lew, for example, said, "I don't believe one can be both Jewish and Buddhist; your central commitment should be clear.

"Personally, my roots are more Buddhist than Jewish, but my spiritual practice is Jewish."

He also firmly believes in God.

But Fischer, a high-ranking Buddhist priest whose first name is now Zoketsu, suggested that a "person can be a faithful Jew and practice Buddhism."

Topol would tend to agree with Fischer.

Six years of Buddhist training at the Santa Monica Zen Center, where reconciling with one's religion of origin is emphasized, has only deepened her appreciation and respect for her Jewish roots.

"I've found that Buddhism has broken apart my fixed beliefs and notions," she said, "so that I can approach Judaism with a fresh eye."

For Topol, that means viewing biblical descriptions of God's active presence in human affairs not as literal history but as meditation tools and spiritual instructions for coping with daily life.

Rising from a meditation pillow after a Sunday-morning Buddhist service, Topol said, "I even look at the writings of the Old Testament, such as Moses' conversations with God, as Zen koans; that is, as questions and statements to be used as meditation disciplines along the lines of 'What is the sound of one hand clapping?' "

What happens next is anyone's guess. But some JuBus are predicting the emergence of a unique American-style Buddhism.

"Jews value education, hard work, innovation and strong commitment to family, all of which they are bringing to American Buddhism," said Charles S. Prebish, a professor of religious studies at Penn State University. "What you get is some kind of a hybrid."

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Dalai Lama hails Desmond Tutu and Tintin

IOL, May 22, 2006

New Delhi, India -- Tibet's exiled leader, the Dalai Lama, will honour South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and comic book character Tintin for promoting understanding of his homeland at a ceremony in Brussels next month, an official at the Buddhist leader's office in the northern Indian town of Dharamshala said on Sunday.
<< Dalai Lama honors Tintin for "his significant contributions to the public understanding of Tibet."

The annual Light Of Truth award, instituted by the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), is given to individuals and institutions that have made significant contributions to the public understanding of Tibet.

The Dalai Lama is scheduled to present the award at a ceremony on June 1 to Tutu and the Herge Foundation, a non-profit association created in memory of the Belgian creator of Tintin whose real name was Georges Remi.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Eating Buddhist for a Healthier Way of Being

Chosun Ilbo. May 21, 2006

Seoul, South Korea -- Many people who have had food at Buddhist temples are surprised by how delicious it can be given the limitations on what ingredients can be used - no spring onions or garlic, which are thought of as inflaming the senses, nothing that has been killed.

Instead, Buddhist cooking brings out the full flavor of the ingredients it does use, awakening both mind and body. Thus Buddhist cooking also serves as an excellent alternative in an age of proliferating food allergies and wariness of additives like MSG, excessive meat intake and irregular dietary habits. Here, the Chosun Ilbo explains the winning formula.

1. Natural Spices

The secret of the simple flavors unique to Buddhist dishes lies in natural spices. More than 30 kinds of natural spices, from mushroom powder to sea tangle, black bean powder, cinnamon powder and green perilla powder are used.

2. Fiber

If Buddhist monks rarely have trouble with constipation, it is because they eat hundreds of seasoned vegetables. Buddhist dishes are thrifty, often using even the roots and rind of plants. “Vegetables and seasoned vegetables are rich not only in fiber but also phytochemicals, which prevent cancer and chronic degenerative diseases”, says Prof. Shin Mi-kyung, a Wonkwang University nutritionist.

3. Low Salt

“We add the least amount of salt for seasoning because salty food makes it difficult to focus on self-discipline by stimulating our stomach and does not bring out the true flavors of the ingredients,” says Hongseung, a monk with a society for research on Buddhist cooking.

4. Low Calories

Buddhist food is low in calories, with a bowl of hot cereal for breakfast, a full meal for lunch and a bowl of rice and three side dishes for supper. They provide some 1,600 kcal on average a day, only 82 percent of adult’s normal calorie intake. This is why it is an excellent diet for those who want to lose weight.

5. Nuts and Beans

As meat is not an option, Buddhist cooking replaces it with pine nuts and peanuts and other nuts, beans, tofu and green perilla as sources of protein. Studies show that those who eat nuts on a regular basis have a 35-50 percent lower risks of getting heart disease, while beans are known for their anti-cancer effects.

6. Light Eating

Buddhist food makes it difficult to overeat. People often eat too much of any delicious food because they hurry while eating, run out of time or skip meals. “Nutrients left over when our body’s energy needs are already met are the cause of obesity and various diseases,” Hongseung says. “If you make a habit of light eating, you will be able to live a long and healthy life.”

7. Food as Medicine

Buddhism teaches that eating the right food is the best way to cure disease without taking medicine or getting other treatment. “When I have problem with my digestion, I eat cabbage, and when I have problem with the lungs, I eat gingko nuts seasoned with sesame oil,” says monk Seonjae. According to Prof. Lee Eui-ju of Kyunghee University’s Oriental Medicine Hospital, food plays an important role in the three stages of disease prevention, treatment and post-treatment. “For people with diseases related to dietary habits such as diabetes, hypertension and hypotension, Buddhist dishes are a great help.”

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Australia: More choosing Buddhist path

By Sarah Price, Sydney Morning Herald, May 7, 2006

Sydney, Australia -- BUDDHISM is growing as a religion of choice for Australians seeking an antidote to a greedy, violent and stressed out world.

Dr Cristina Rocha, a postdoctoral fellow with the University of Western Sydney Centre for Cultural Research, said increasing numbers of Australians were shying away from their religion of their birth and instead adopting spiritualities of choice.

"Buddhism is happiness, peace, tranquillity, well-being ... in sharp contrast with what is happening in the world," Dr Rocha said.

She said it was the fastest growing religion in Australia between the 1996 and 2001 census, and anecdotal evidence suggested its popularity was still as strong.

The growth was not only due to migration but also to large numbers of Australians becoming Buddhists.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Thousand-Hand Bodhisattva

The performers of the Thousand-Hand Bodhisattva are all hearing or speech-impaired who can hear nothing at all. They vividly present to us the images of the Thousand-Hand Bodhisattva in Dunhuang painted sculptures. As all the performers have disabilities, they must work much harder and more laboriously than the regular performers. Since they are unable to hear but are required to move in synchronization, there are four sign language conductors located at each corner of the stage to direct them during their performance. Throughout the performance, the performers must constantly move their hands. With all the 21 performers close to each other, there is a mere one-inch space between the hands of one performer and another. Furthermore, they must finish each motion within a single beat of music (about one second), while presenting the image of a thousand hands consistently and beautifully. Needless to say, this is extremely challenging for these hearing and speech-impaired performers. During their practice, the hearing-impaired performers must position their ears very close to the sound box to feel the rhythms of the music through vibrations. Compared to regular performers, they must work harder to create beautiful formations and move to the rhythm of the music.

The impact of this performance results not only from the wonderful artistic expertise and skill of the performers, but also from their unrelenting spirit of persevering through hardship and striving for excellence, which is reflective of the spirit of Huawei. Looking back at the 18 years of Huawei's development, it's the same unrelenting spirit of persevering through hardship and striving for success that has helped Huawei overcome unimaginable difficulties and challenges and This spirit has been the driving force behind the achievements of Huawei people today.

Whistle Blower exposes monk's corruption

The Buddhist Channel, May 18, 2006

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- A whistle blower has succeeded in exposing the illegal deeds and acts of corruption by Dr. Dodamgoda Rewatha Thero a Sri Lankan national and Buddhist monk who embezzled funds belonging to the Maha Bodhi Society of India (MBSI), considered to be the head quarters of the Buddhist movement.

<< The Bodh gaya Temple

The actions of this monk who headed the MBSI has hurt the sentiments of lakhs of Buddhist disciples associated with the MBSI that was founded by Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala a great Buddhist revivalist from Sri Lanka who established the MBSI in 1916 at Kolkatta, in India.

He liberated the Bodh Gaya temple from the clutches of the Mahants(Hindu head priest who controlled the Bodh Gaya temple )and restored the ancient Buddhist sites. He also built the Mulagandhakuti Vihara(is a Buddhist temple built near the Dharmmeka stupa where Buddha delivered his first sermon after attaining the enlightenment) at Sarnath.

The first Prime Minister of India after it achieved its freedom in 1947, the late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, had taken a keen interest in the development work that were undertaken at Sarnath and other places for providing facilities for travelling pilgrims.

The irregularities committied by Dr. Rewatha came to light when a whistle blower made it as an issue at the annual general body meeting of the MBSI held on 20-9-1998 at Kolkatta. The AGM was informed that between 1989 and 1997 Dr Rewatha had siphoned off donations of money received by the MBSI by not reflecting these transactions in the accounts books of the society. Dr Rewatha was unable to satisfactorily explain the alleged irregularities.

A complaint was then filed by the whistle blower before the Enforcement Directorate (E.D) on 30-09-1998 . A show-cause notice No. T-4/3-c/2000 (For Document Proof Click Here ) was served on Dr.Rewatha by the E.D for contravening section 8(1) and 71(1) of FERA 1973 by selling the Foreign Exchange to the tune of 000 and 5,53,00,000 Japanese Yen to Unauthorised persons without any permission from the Reserve Bank of India (R.B.I) and thereby rendered himself liable to be proceeded under section 50 of the said Act.

The central Bureau of Investigation filed a charge -sheet against Dr.Rewatha thero in 2000 . The chief Metropolitan court Delhi passed an order and imposed a penalty of Rs 50000 ( For Document Proof Click here)

In the Adjudicating proceeding No.ADJ/SDE/5/2004/AO/HB(53) File No. T-4/3-c/2000 dated 30-11-2004 a penalty amount of Rs.350,00000/- (For Document Proof Click here ) is imposed on Dr.Rewatha and he has filed an appeal before the tribunal court New Delhi.The E.D has filed a criminal complaint on 4-5-2002 against Dr Rewatha before the Chief Judicial Magistrate Varanasi and he has obtained a stay order on his arrest warrant( For Document Proof Click here )

Dr.Rewatha did not disclose the fact to the tribunal court, New Delhi that he had been charge-sheeted nor did he tell the court about the penalty imposed on him by the CBI. He deliberately concealed the Adjudicating penalty imposed by the E.D.

Dr.Rewatha did not disclose the fact to the tribunal court, New Delhi that he had been charge-sheeted nor did he tell the court about the penalty imposed on him by the CBI. He deliberately concealed the Adjudicating penalty imposed by the E.D.

In the AGM held on 26-09-2004 he oppointed Dr. B.K. Modi the secretary of the Vishva Hindu Parishad as the president of the MBSI and both of them announced the celebration plans on the occasion of the 2550th year of Buddha Jayanti in 2006. Plans to produce a mega budget film of lord Buddha at the cost of Rs. 200 crores and a massive donation collection drive to finance the film are currently being undertaken by Dr.Rewatha & Dr. Modi.

Sir Lanka is a Buddhist country that follows the highest traditions of Theravada. Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala had propagated Buddhism not only in Sri Lanka but also in India and other parts of the world through the establishment of the MBSI Branches/Centers.

It is unfortunate that the Sri Lankan Government is turning a blind eye and maintaining silence on the sordid affairs of the MBSI under Dr. Rewatha's leadership. Dr Rewatha has brought disgrace to the great Buddhist revivalist of Sri Lanka which has been widely publisided through the media. Surprisingly, not a single Buddhist organisation in Sri Lanka, who without exception hold a very high regard for the sentiments of the MBSI founder Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala have openly condemned Dr Rewatha.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Plea to adopt Buddhist economics

by PK Balachandran, Hindustan Times, May 20, 2006

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- Sri Lanka's Buddhist economists say that the cure for world-wide ills like poverty, inequality, insecurity and violence lies in abandoning Western economic theories and models and adopting Buddhist economics - economic principles enunciated by Gautama Buddha, 2550 years ago.

The Buddha proposed that the pursuit, accumulation and use of wealth be guided not only by self-interest but also by social responsibility and compassion for the less fortunate and the less endowed.

If this dictum is followed, the world will not be torn by the horrible conflicts and tensions that it is today. Fantastic strides in technology, mass production of an array of goods and faster communications have not made the world a better place to live.

These advances have only increased economic, social and political disparities; poverty, national and international instability; armed conflicts; terrorism and counter terrorism; and a sense of fear and insecurity.

To fight pervasive fear and insecurity, elaborate and expensive security systems and deterrents are put in place. Defence budgets have soared even in the poorest countries.

It is in the light of these developments that Prof JW Wickramasinghe, of the University of Sri Jayawardenepura in Sri Lanka, has a made a strong plea for the adoption of Buddhist economic principles, which stress compassion, altruistic sharing, and a social, as opposed to a purely individual-driven approach.

Buddhist economics replaces "self-interest" by "peoples' interest" as the driving force or rationale of economic activity.

Grim picture

In his work Buddhist Theory of Development Economics published by the Buddhist Cultural Centre, Dehiwela, Sri Lanka in 2002, Wickramasinghe paints a grim picture of the present state of the world.

He then contrasts the prescriptions of the traditional Western economists with those of the Buddha as contained in his numerous "Suttas". Quoting the Human Development Report of 1998, he says that 75 per cent of the world's population lives in the developing countries, but they enjoy only 20 per cent of the world's total output.

Fifteen per cent of the world's population, living in the industrialised countries, enjoys 70 per cent of the global income. The infant mortality rate in the developing countries is seven times that in the developed countries.

In 1996, the value of exports of all developing countries amounted to US$ 26 billion, which was only 10 per cent of UK's exports. The developing countries had been losing up to $700 billion in annual export earnings as a result of the trade barriers maintained by the industrialised countries.

"Had the poorest countries been able to maintain their share of the world market at the mid-1980s level, their average per capita incomes would be $32 a year higher, a significant increase over today's figure of $228 a year," Wickramasinghe notes.

"The export earnings of developing countries could rise by $127 billion a year if developed countries opened their markets to textile and clothing imports."

"In 1998 alone, the total agricultural support in the industrialised countries amounted to $353 billion, more than triple the value of official development assistance," he points out.

Poverty and inequality have only been increasing with economic growth. In other words, economic growth has not led to economic development.

Again quoting the Human Development Report of 1998, Wickramasinghe says that the ratio of the income of the top 20 per cent to the poorest 20 per cent was 30 to 1 in 1960.But by 1994, it had gone up to a startling 78 to 1.

In 1982, the developing countries owed $647.2 billion to the developed countries. But by 1993, it had jumped to $1162 billion.

The Net External Debt, as a percentage of the GDP, had risen from 37.1 per cent in 1982 to 43.6 per cent in 1993.

The total number of people below the poverty line (earning less that $1 per day) increased from 1195 million in 1987 to 1300 million in 1993.

In 1993, more than 160 million children in the world were moderately or severely under nourished. Half a million women in the developing countries died each year during child birth.

And to contain the intense competition and tension in the world, created by Western economic theories and policies, countries have been spending enormous amounts on defence.

In 1995, global defence spending stood at $ 800 billion, of which the poverty stricken South Asian countries accounted for $15 billion, says Wickramasinghe.

Disparities in Sri Lanka

Disparities have been increasing in Sri Lanka, an avowedly Buddhist and democratic country.

Using the Consumer Finance and Socio-Economic Survey data, Wickramasinghe points out that while in 1973, the lowest income recipient decile got 1.8 per cent of the total, it steadily fell to 0.40 per cent in 1985-86.

On the other hand, the highest income receiving decile, which got 29.98 per cent in 1973, secured 49.30 per cent in 1985-86.

Individual orientation at fault

The root cause of all this is the basic precept of Western economic science, which is that the ultimate objective of all economic activity is maximisation of the satisfaction of the individual.

Economists like Adam Smith believed that self-centered pursuit of economic activity would lead to perfect competition, and this would eventually level society.

But this has not happened, says Wickramasinghe.

Change of heart needed

What one sees is the very opposite. The development of capitalism and globalisation has only resulted in the widening of disparities. This has been due to the almost complete disregard for social welfare, equality and the common good.

Modern states have used instruments like taxation, welfare measures and affirmative action to narrow the disparities. But these have not been very effective, except in a few Scandinavian countries.

What is needed, according to Wickramasinghe, is not only the replacement of the "self-centered" approach by a "people-friendly" approach but a change of heart, that is, change at the individual level.

Individuals have to internalise the "people-friendly" approach. Only then will the new system work smoothly and last long. This calls for a deep study of Buddhism and the adoption of its basic principles.

Buddha's prescriptions

In contrast to Adam Smith's contentions, the Buddha says in the "Kosambiya Sutta" that when a person consumes wealth only by himself without sharing with others, he generates social unrest through jealousy and ill will. Unrest manifests itself in stealing and civil commotion.

While Western economics is based on greed, an insatiable appetite for wealth and generation of wealth, the Buddha's economics rested on production and acquisition of wealth without a trace of greed.

Greed to him was the root cause of inequality and subjection, and the consequent unrest, destruction and radical change.

The Buddha was acutely aware of the power of greed and Wickramasinghe quotes him as saying in the "Rajja Sutta" that "even if the Himalayan mountain is transformed into a mass of gold, it would not be sufficient to satisfy the craving of a human being!"

The Buddha foresaw the consequences of greed-driven economics in the " Chakkavatti Sihananda Sutta". He decried craving in the "Ratthapala Sutta".

The Buddha wanted people to produce wealth and consume it in the right way in the "Rasiya Sutta".

He said that people should ask themselves the following questions: "Was the wealth accumulated in the right, ethnical way? Was unfair means used? Whether consumption of it will deprive others of consumption? Whether one is developing a needless attachment to the article of consumption?

Meaningful charity

Distribution of wealth in the form of donation and other kinds of sharing is the cornerstone of Buddhist economics.

Wickramasinghe quotes the "Sanyuktta Nikaya, Sedaka Suttas" to say that protection of others is the protection of oneself, since it obviates the need for measures to protect one's wealth and person.

"Apart from the mental satisfaction one derives from a donation, it reduces the cost of enjoying wealth," he observes.

The Buddha laid out four principles for the use of wealth:

1. To make one's mother and father, children and wife, servants and workmen, and friends and comrades, happy and cheerful.

2. To make oneself secure from misfortunes.

3. To make offerings to relatives, guests, the ancestors and deities.

4. To give gifts to ascetics and Brahmins.

Middle Path

The Buddha was against both over indulgence and self-mortification or self- denial.

In the "Nivapa Sutta" and the "Dhammachakkappavattna Sutta" he criticised over indulgence because he detested craving. But he decried self-mortification and self-denial also. These were useless he said.

He advocated the Middle Path in personal, social, political and economic life.

The Buddha said wealth must be pursued and enjoyed without lustful attachment (Bhogha Sukha). And it should subject itself to universal compassion (Karuna).

However, the Buddha was against charity for its own sake. He wanted donations to enable the less privileged to get the wherewithal to make a better living.

The less privileged should be enabled to stand on their own feet and not be abjectly dependent and indolent. He condemned laziness in the "Mala Sutta".

Misinterpretation of the Buddha

Buddhism is often misinterpreted as a fatalistic religion, in which the pursuit of pleasure (or life itself) is decried as the cause of unhappiness or "Dukka".

Buddhists are expected to cultivate "detachment" and work towards total liberation or "nirvana".

These dictates are considered to be anti-economic activity or anti-development. But Wickramasinghe considers this view a "sad misunderstanding".

He says that the Buddha never decried worldly or mundane activities. All he wanted was a combination of economic and spiritual values for the sake of obtaining the maximum, all round benefit, for the individual and the society.

This was stated in the "Dwichakku Sutta". The Buddha was acutely aware of mundane problems. He gave foremost importance to the fighting of hunger.

As per the Dhammapada, there is no pain greater than hunger. It is treated as the most serious illness.

The utter practicality of Buddhism is reflected in the fact that its early followers were traders and that it was through trading communities rather than professional missionaries per se, that it spread to all parts of India, and South and South East Asia.

The spiritual cum rational character of Buddhism was noticed and appreciated by no less a person than the renowned scientist Albert Einstein.

Writing about his concept of religion of the future, Einstein said: "The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology.

Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description."

PK Balachandran is Special Correspondent of Hindustan Times in Sri Lanka