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Archive for the ‘Buddhism’ Category



Nuns, Invisibility, and the Question of Buddhist Activism

Jul23

by: on July 23rd, 2010 | 4 Comments »

Though they live as monastics, these Buddhist women in Burma cannot ordain

There is a huge movement going on in Buddhism today, one that could make Buddhism the only major world religion with gender equal access to ordination in nearly all denominations. All over the Buddhist world, women are battling for full ordination of nuns, something that is now only consistently available in one tradition and is hotly debated in the others. It’s also shockingly overlooked outside of these debates.

Consider an audience member’s question during a wonderful presentation by David Loy and Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi at the recent NSP conference. A long-time activist who’d been involved in Buddhism for a decade and a half wondered why most Buddhists aren’t also activists. The man noted that there were some exceptions, such as Thich Nhat Hanh, and “monks in Burma who were slaughtered, Tibetan monks who were slaughtered,” but that was about it. The way he phrased his question – and the way it was answered – is problem that must be addressed before we can consider other aspects of Buddhist activism.

Did you notice who was missing in those examples? David Loy didn’t catch it, and he’d just been talking about how a fear of death and nature relates to denigration of women. Neither did Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi, who is a fantastic supporter of women’s rights. Oh, but maybe the term “monk” was meant include “nun” too, so Tibetan nuns passionately engaged in nonviolent resistance weren’t being ignored. (We’ll get to the question of nuns in Burma in a minute). The term “monks” implies the subset of “nuns,” just like “man” includes the subset of women, right?

Except we know it doesn’t.

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Food for thought for Quran-bashers

Mar29

by: on March 29th, 2010 | 21 Comments »

Sometimes as a Muslim I feel suspect that the simplest, most effective way to begin to answer the many burning questions Westerners have about Islam and Muslims isn’t to give them a Quran or even the most erudite and engaging book on Islam. For many living in our postmodern world, such a discussion needs to start far closer to home, with a crash course in Western religious history and the basic ideas of the Judeo-Christian Tradition. Not only is that often a necessary remedial measure, but in this day of –to borrow an inspired metaphor once applied to U.S.-Iranian relations–“mutual Satanization” I think it is for many probably the only way to begin this critical conversation.

As an undergrad studying French in the early 1990s, I took a class on the Francophone literature of Quebec. Until recently in most Western societies literature was riddled with references to and assumptions of familiarity with the Bible, and this was especially true of Quebec’s literary output thanks to the province’s tradition of being *plus catholique que le pape*.

I was the only non-Christian in the class and my knowledge of the Bible is anything but encyclopedic, yet it sometimes seemed that I was the only student with even a rudimentary familiarity with the famous biblical narratives, events and turns of phrase that were mined at every turn by our Quebecois authors and film makers. During one class room discussion of the wonderful 1989 world cinema classic “Jesus of Montreal”, after painfully obvious Gospel allusion after painfully obvious Gospel allusion had appeared to be zoom over most people’s heads, I remember thinking, “My God, if these guys are so ignorant of their own tradition, what hope is there of explaining the yet more unfamiliar worldview of Muslims?” (For more on this trend, see Stephen Prothero’s stimulating Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know–And Doesn’t.)

In such a backdrop of abject religious illiteracy, the most effective introduction to Islam for the average American may not be a book on Islam at all, but rather an discussion of the parallels of Islam’s supposedly peculiar doctrines and practices that are to be found in one’s own culturo-religious heritage.

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Meet HuffPost’s New Religion Editor, Paul Raushenbush

Mar4

by: on March 4th, 2010 | Comments Off

On February 24, Rev. Paul Raushenbush issued a call for articles entitled “Dear Religious (and Sane) America” to inaugurate the launch of the Huffington Post’s new religion section. According to the article,

HuffPost Religion is dedicated to providing a provocative, respectful, and hopefully productive forum for addressing the ways in which religion intersects our personal, communal, national and international life. HuffPost Religion will demonstrate the vibrant diversity of religious traditions, perspectives and experiences that exist alongside and inform one another in America and throughout the world.

Huffington is clearly trying to expand its reach and become one of the big players in religion media, much as it already has in politics, popular culture, and even business. Based on initial responses to the section, it appears to be well on its way.

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A Collective Awakening? Buddhist Reflections on Copenhagen

Dec16

by: on December 16th, 2009 | 3 Comments »

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David R. Loy

David Loy is one of the most socially aware Buddhists that I am aware of. I don’t know that much about Buddhism, despite having various friends who are strong Buddhists. When I read Buddhist magazines, I find myself disappointed that there seems to be so little on social change as Buddhist practice and necessity. David Loy, who is Besl Professor of Ethics/Religion and Society at Xavier University in Cincinnati, is certainly a great exception (and I am not saying there aren’t many others out there, just that I am not aware of them). We have just posted at Tikkun Current Thinking a piece he has sent us about his response to Copenhagen. In it he calls climate change “the greatest threat ever to our species.” Some quotes:

The basic difficulty about responding to the “climate emergency” – and a host of related eco-crises such as desertification, and what is happening to the world’s oceans, and mass extinction (half of the earth’s plant and animal species may disappear by the end of this century) – is that climate change requires us to notice something we normally prefer to ignore or resist: that we are not separate from each other, but interdependent, and that we must therefore also assume responsibility for the well-being of each other…

In the past Western nations could use their technologies (including weapons, of course!) to dominate the rest of the world and exploit its resources, but suddenly we find ourselves in a new situation, where each nation is now directly dependent upon the good intentions of other nations, whether developed or undeveloped.

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How to Reclaim Christmas, Chanukah, and Other Holidays

Dec1

by: on December 1st, 2009 | 9 Comments »

ChristmasRed-and-white striped poles spring up in the vacant lot on my block every year, even before I’ve fully digested Thanksgiving dinner. Topped by floodlights, these oversized candy canes tower over the neighborhood, a blinding reminder that Christmas is coming. Next time I check, the tree sellers will have finished setting up shop there, erecting their bristling forest of dead pines under the dazzling lights.

Paired with the blitz of “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” ads that tend to flood my inbox and mailbox, this surreal invasion of my neighborhood always makes me feel like Christmas is breathing down my neck.

How did the commemoration of a homeless baby’s birth turn into this garish and materialistic extravaganza? And how can we start to reel the consumerism back?

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A Buddhist’s View of Wage Theft

Nov17

by: on November 17th, 2009 | 4 Comments »

This is beautiful, well said and right on.

Interfaith Youth Conference: What a Thrill!

Oct29

by: on October 29th, 2009 | 6 Comments »

In one room, young Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, secular humanists, and others cluster in a circle to learn strategies for facilitating constructive interfaith discussions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Down the hall, more young people — bareheaded or wearing headscarves or kippot — crowd together to discuss multifaith intentional living communities, learn about the Baha’i faith, create videos about youth-led interfaith activism, and train to volunteer as advocates for undocumented immigrants.

Talk about a rich space for conversation.

ifyc1All this happened during one morning of the Interfaith Youth Core‘s 2009 conference, which took place October 25-27 at Northwestern University, just north of Chicago. The conference brought high school and college students engaged in interfaith work together with religious leaders, politicians, and authors interested in interreligious cooperation. Speakers included Greg Epstein, the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard; Tikkun Daily blogger Joshua Stanton, who founded the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue; Rami Nashashibi, the inspiring director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network; Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who has worked with Tikkun to garner support for a Global Marshall Plan; and others.

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Between Heaven and Earth: A Brushstroke by Barbara Bash

Oct28

by: on October 28th, 2009 | 9 Comments »

“At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event.” — Harold Rosenberg, art critic, who coined the term “Action Painting” in 1952 (later called Abstract Expressionism).

Standing barefoot atop a long, white strip of paper laid out on the ground, the artist holds a mop-sized paintbrush dipped in black paint. She quiets her mind, remembering everything and then letting it go, her whole life, the entirety of existence. She surrenders to the moment. She lowers brush to paper and makes her mark, a single, swift, dynamic black stroke across the length of the massive page. Finally trading the black brush for red she lashes out again, a single shriek of red amidst the vivacious black, a splatter of blood upon the earth.

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Obama and the Dalai Lama

Oct16

by: on October 16th, 2009 | Comments Off

Today at The Immanent Frame, Professors Robbie Barnett, Cameron David Warner, Carole Ann McGranahan, and Edward Friedman respond to our questions about President Obama’s recent decision to postpone meeting with the Dalai Lama until after his upcoming summit with Chinese head of state Hu Jintao:

What does Obama’s decision say about his strategy regarding the protection of human rights and the competing demands of geopolitical gamesmanship? What do the decision and the strong reactions it has provoked say about the Dalai Lama’s authority as both a religious and a political leader? How does the intrinsic duality of his position play out on the international stage?

Read the responses here.

Buddha Park

Oct6

by: on October 6th, 2009 | 9 Comments »

BuddhaPark01

I’ve been thinking recently of Buddha Park, which Diana and I visited in Laos almost five years ago. There are ways it seems less bizarre now than it did at the time, and ways in which it seems even stranger. I guess some explanation is needed. (And since a picture is still worth over 900 words (the exchange rate has dropped slightly with the advent of digital cameras) visit the Buddha Park page in Tikkun Daily’s art gallery!)

Buddha Park (more formally known as Xieng Khuan) is one of two sculpture parks created by Bunleua, an apostate Buddhist monk who created his own religion, a syncretic blend of Buddhism and Hinduism. Both Buddha Park, built in 1958, and Sala Keoku, created in 1977, (I saw it in 1988, just across the Mekong river in Thailand) feature giant concrete sculptures of major and minor Hindu and Buddhist deities, interspersed with more than a few pinches of surrealism. At the entrance of Buddha Park there’s a giant three-story pumpkin, with three floors representing hell, earth, and heaven. One walks in through the BuddhaPark07demon mouth, and follows a spiral staircase to the top, past an interior sculpture garden featuring (amongst much else) the demons and gods grinding the milk of immortality from Mount Meru on the back of the giant turtle on which the world rests.

From the top of the Great Pumpkin you look out over the park, which is about the size of two football fields. There’s a giant reclining Buddha down one side, and a tower of Hindu Deities (Shiva, Durga, etc) at the other end. Lots of beautiful flower shrubs growing between the 200+ other sculptures … some recognizable, some (a three-headed elephant? A split-tailed alligator whose tail supports the world?) not. It’s really one of those places that is a whole lot like nothing you’ve ever seen. Even being there, it was hard to believe.

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