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Archive for the ‘Buddhism’ Category

Glory, Fame, and Ambition: the Custer Model


by: on January 29th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

George Armstrong Custer. "The last thing we need in our homes, workplaces, and national leadership is a Custer," Kurth writes. Credit: Creative Commons/National Archives and Records Administration.

When I was a girl, my father called me a “glory-hound,” and I was embarrassed and indignant, probably because it was so true. Most writers, it seems, long for glory, fame, acknowledgement. Some of that is a human need to be seen and valued, an experience we all deserve. But lately, I’ve been seeing a very real danger in the obsessive pursuit of fame and even the pursuit of achievement.

What could be wrong with “following your dream” or “being all you can be?”

In a radio interview, a spiritual author writing a book about a religious icon, mentioned a key moment when she was allowed to see the icon. At that moment, her companion and guide, an elderly man, was so affected, he collapsed to the floor. Her reaction was something very close to, Oh, that’s all I need: a dead guide on my hands.

Wow, I thought. Doesn’t a spiritual quest draw us closer to others, make us sympathetic to their suffering and possible death? That moment is undoubtedly not typical of the writer’s attitude overall, but it made me certainly made me ponder ambition, my own and others’, and where it stands in the way of humanity. Where do we find ourselves seeing others and even their suffering as mere obstacles to our goals?

Custer: A Far Scarier Example

Soon after hearing the radio program, I watched a PBS feature on Custer, a horrible and disturbing story. My mind kept flipping back and forth between two visions. One was a popular picture of Custer in his time, glamorous Custer, a “gallant” triumphant competitor, a rule-breaker and risk-taker, adventurous, courageous, confident, dashing, a man who dressed with flare and had a passionate romance with an equally high-voltage woman, his wife, Libby. This, I thought, is the archetype of success in our culture, the fireworks person, the Steve Jobs, the important one who drives himself beyond human limits and achieves fame, power, and money – and makes us feel bad about ourselves.


Occupy the Dharma: How Contemplative Practice Will Save the World


by: Jay Michaelson on November 14th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

(Meditation over the Grand Canyon/ Credit: CC-BY-NC-SA by Moyan Brenn)

We hear it all the time. Meditation is narcissistic. It’s self-centered; you’re staring at your navel instead of out there fighting injustice. And God forbid it actually works, in which case you’re too happy. Dropping out, calming the mind – this only mutes our righteous political indignation. Because angry activists are effective activists.

Not only is this offensive and inaccurate, it’s not even new. Since the nineteenth century, Westerners have complained that Buddhism is pessimistic, passive, and world-renouncing. In the Victorian period, Buddhism was seen as nihilistic, offering no vision of hope, in contrast to Christianity. Contemporary complaints about Buddhist, Hindu, and other “Eastern” spiritualities are part of a colonialist and orientalist discourse that belies any claim to real progressivism.

To be fair, there are challenges in pursuing a spiritual practice concerned and engaged with problems of justice. There is a tendency in any contemplative practice to focus on one’s own “stuff,” because that’s what contemplatives do: we turn inward. And within Buddhism in particular, one can find world-renouncing and quietistic teachings, especially within the Theravadan tradition; the Buddha warned monks to stay out of politics, for example. Indeed, the very notion of a monastic community implies some degree of retreat from the problems of the world into a cloistered existence focused on other things. These tensions are present in all of us who take seriously the mandates to cultivate both wisdom and compassion. Often, one has to focus on one or the other.


Torah Commentary: Beshalach- Eating and Abjection


by: on January 24th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

In a previous essay, https://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2012/02/01/weekly-torah-commentary-perashat-beshalach-on-the-madness-of-creativity/ , we discussed the transcendent nature of the creative experience, how one must reach a unique overcoming of normal consciousness in order to transform a religious experience into an artistic act that can itself be counted as Torah.

In the latter sections of this week’s Torah reading, we have the presentation of two pivotal events; the miraculous feeding of the populace via the “Man”, and a reminder of the never ending cruelty of people against people, as represented by the Amalekite attack on the newly freed slaves.

A brief summary of the narrated events: despite the remarkable event of the splitting of the sea, which was, as the Midrashim point out, gloriously experienced by even the least ‘conscious’ member of the people, very rapidly the people start complaining about the lack of food on their journey. The people kvetch for food, and God provides them with a miraculous food from heaven, a food form which was not recognized by humanity prior to this moment (much like Tang in the 60s, I suppose), which the people named Man, from the Hebrew ‘man hu‘, which literally means: ‘what is this?’. It is clearly described as some sort of supernatural food, which had to be collected daily, as its shelf life was only a day, except for Shabbat, when a double portion collected Friday would stay worm-free and edible through Shabbat. Afterward receiving the man, the people demand water, and this time, the tone of the response is a bit more hostile; God has Moshe hit a rock, and water is procured through this violence. Why does the first request elicit a positive response and the second one elicit a response suggestive of violence?


Nonviolence, God, and a Theology of Not Knowing


by: on January 10th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

The result is that they are hungry all the time, yet itI’ve been somewhat haunted by the notion (or perhaps concept, or metaphor) of the hungry ghost since the early 1990s, when I learned about them during a time that I had some significant exposure to Buddhism through a community of writers I joined. Hungry ghosts, according to my own limited understanding, are mythical creatures characterized by an emaciated body with a huge and empty belly, combined with narrow necks and tiny mouths. ‘s almost impossible for them to feed themselves, or even to be fed by others who care for them, because the passage is so constricted. This image keeps coming back to me because it symbolizes so dramatically in a physical way the emotional condition of our time: profound hunger for love and connection that cannot be satisfied because we have been trained in isolation to such a degree that most of us cannot receive sufficient love, even when it’s offered.

Recently, I’ve been plagued, again, by the tragic nature of this pervasive condition. Caring for the hungry ghosts, wanting to find a way – personally and collectively – to leave no one behind, has been one of the consistent motivating factors in my continual efforts to do my work. Although I believe that just about any of us has some degree of this affliction, some people, for reasons we may never know, are so extreme in their insistence on being given what they cannot receive, that they become self-fulfilling prophecies: every community they join eventually discards them; every relationship anyone enters with them eventually ends; and they remain isolated and in extreme agony, often without understanding why. If they happen to be people in positions of power, they may be surrounded by people who do what they want and say “yes” to their requests and demands, and yet their experience doesn’t become better, because they know it’s done without really wanting. Since I am in essence working for the possibility of a world where everyone matters, the hungry ghosts are of paramount importance to me.

The other day, being particularly agonizing over one such person, someone I care deeply about and have enormous tenderness for, and yet do not know how to support at all, I put the question forth to a friend who is somewhat of a Buddhist scholar. “The hungry ghosts,” I said, “how are we ever going to get into a future that works for all people if we cannot find a way to generate sufficient love for the hungry ghosts to be able to receive it and heal?

Today, on my weekly walk with my one friend with whom I talk theology (funny, given I live in a god-less world), I brought up with her the startling response I got from my Buddhist friend: “According to Buddhism there will never be a future that works for all people. There is radical acceptance there of the suffering inherent in the lives of humans, animals, hungry ghosts, etc…” I wanted to talk with my friend about this because, although she is a practicing Christian who does preaching, and I am a non-practicing Jew who doesn’t believe in any god, we nonetheless have a compatible theology. I thought, given this unique conjoining of the Buddhist, the Christian, and the Jewish, and with the lens of nonviolence shining light on our conversation, we will get somewhere. And we did.


Why the Dalai Lama is Wrong to Think Meditation Will Eliminate Violence


by: on November 15th, 2012 | 22 Comments »

This quote by the Dalai Lama is going viral on the internet, “If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.” Marianne Williamson shared this quote via her Facebook account and it received a tremendous reception. Google the quote and you will find tens of thousands of web sites, Facebook pages and twitter feeds where it has appeared. Needless to say, the enthusiasm over the Dalai Lama’s statement is profound. It has struck a cord for sure.

His words reflect the more widespread belief that spiritual practices can provide grounding for more ethical and wise action. One could substitute meditation in the quote with yoga, prayer, chanting or sacred dancing and people would generally agree that these types of things will inspire compassion, kindness and generosity. Through meditation one can hopefully gain a better realization of the interconnectedness of all things. Many believe, or at least hope, like the Dalai Lama, that this renewed sense of awareness will inspire us to take action against injustice in the world.

While for much of my life I’ve also shared this popular sentiment I’ve now come to see it much differently. Based on years of research and writing as well as personal practice of yoga, meditation and Chi Kung I’ve discovered some very strong flaws in the Dalai Lama’s argument. Furthermore, I actually see these types of statements are very irresponsible as they mislead the public about the causes and solutions to violence. The real conversations about these very challenging issues that need to take place could potentially be minimized by these types of statements.

The first and most obvious problem with his statement is the ambiguity of what violence actually constitutes. Takes these few examples: spray painting over a sexist billboard, using violence to defend against rape, eating meat, the prison industrial complex, throwing tear gas canisters back towards the police who fired them, the capitalist system, racial microagressions, stealing food to support oneself…etc. Many would argue that abortion is violent. Would this be eliminated with meditation? There are so many forms of violence and ways that we all participate in systems that are violent that it would be nearly impossible to reach a consensus on who’s criteria of violence gets to be used. How can one eliminate something if we can’t agree on what it is that is being eliminated?


Leavening and The Oneness of God: Spiritual + Cultural Paradigm Shifts


by: on August 20th, 2012 | 2 Comments »


In my last article I discussed The Wild Goose Festival as a paradigm shift. Now I want to explore the shift in a greater, and lengthier context as I lead into describing (in coming articles) the way it is informing and being informed by a larger global culture, a larger spiritual and religious culture, and shifts within all which also lead to increased conversations within and outside of all current contexts of identity. We are restructuring the world, in tiny steps so small that it is often hard to see at the micro-level.

I think the greatest piece of this is the understanding that there is something bigger and better in God than we ever before conceptualized. We are beginning to see that within “my Christianity,” “my Judaism,” “my Islam,” “my Buddhism” there is a small sliver of God we are allowed to see, illuminated both through our own personal sacred texts and our visceral experiences of God in relationship to the faith we have learned (or as I sometimes call it, “faith of origin”). The second half to this is that we are realizing that my sliver of God-light and your sliver of God-light emanate from the same source and that saying that is no longer easily poo-pooed as heretical within my tradition but enhancing the basis of my traditional understanding with a God greater than we have ever been able to see or frame in our world-view before.

We are able to see that God can be many things to many people and to say that doesn’t make me a heretical Christian but makes me a Christian able to see God’s light from many different angles–like a prism refracting and dividing the sun’s light and sending it outward in millions of different directions.


Spirituality and Social Change: A Response to Be Scofield’s Analysis of Eckhart Tolle


by: Marisa Handler on July 9th, 2012 | 7 Comments »

In Buddhism, wisdom and compassion are seen as two wings of the same bird. "Building awareness builds clear-seeing, which fosters wisdom," the author writes. "But it is of little use without compassion, the other wing." Credit: Creative Commons/Kelcey Loomer.

I was grateful to read my friend Be Scofield’s post, “Why Eckhart Tolle’s Evolutionary Activism Won’t Save Us.” As someone who thinks a good deal about the intersection between spiritual practice and work in the world — and as someone with a longtime committed spiritual practice — this felt, to me, like the ocean does when you first step in: bracing, a little painful, ultimately rejuvenating. I noted in myself (good Buddhist practitioner that I am) some real discomfort upon reading, and after recognizing what it was – that some of my feel-good notions about my own spirituality were getting rocked — I welcomed it. Scofield’s piece got me thinking.

For those of us navigating the path between inner work and activist/service work, it’s a little easy, given that both carry such lofty agendas, to get self-righteous. To get comfortable, ideologically. I spent a large chunk of my twenties constantly occupied in some kind of global justice or peace organizing. I then submerged myself in graduate school, and I’ve spent the past couple of years since engaged in some pretty deep (and necessary) inner work. I think it’s normal, and healthy, to move in phases; that there is an intuitive cycling, when we are open to it, between our work for outer transformation and our work for inner transformation. And I believe both are needed. Especially now.


Sacred Snapshots Brings a Justice-Seeking Connection to the Holy


by: on April 17th, 2012 | Comments Off

On Saturday, April 21, Sacred Snapshots, a day-long Sampler for the Spirit, will invite participants to experience the divine, celebrate spiritual practices from a range of religions and traditions at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California (9 a.m. to 6 p.m.) Whether exploring religion in pop culture, engaging 12-step spirituality, or experiencing Hindu ritual, attendees will create a multi-religious, multicultural and international community for one day. Rumi wrote that “there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground,” and at Sacred Snapshots, you will have the chance to try at least a dozen.


Book Review: When “Karma” Stops Us From Deciding Our Destinies


by: Devadatta Kali (David Nelson) on March 2nd, 2012 | 1 Comment »

Courtesy of Kashi Publishing

Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati is the spiritual head of Kashi Ashram, an interfaith community she founded in Florida in 1976. Her spiritual teaching derive from universal principles underlying the world’s great religious traditions. Along with the typically Hindu emphasis on meditation, self-knowledge, and seeing beyond appearances into the heart of reality, there is the Buddhist emphasis on putting compassion into action, on doing something to relieve suffering wherever it is found. At the same time, owing to her own heritage, Ma’s outlook is also Jewish to the core with an ardent emphasis on social justice. Ma Jaya is more than a spiritual teacher or guru. She and her service organizations have been active for several decades in calling attention to the plight of various groups and addressing their needs – among them the homeless population, low-income seniors, Ugandan orphans, the LGBT community, and people living with HIV/AIDS.

The Sanskrit word karma means “action” or “deed,” so it is not surprising that it should be the subject of Ma Jaya’s book, The Eleven Karmic Spaces: Choosing Freedom From the Patterns That Bind You (Kashi Publishing, 2011).


How Mindfulness Can Overcome the Greed of the 1 Percent


by: Rick Heller on November 15th, 2011 | Comments Off

I have led mindfulness and loving-kindness meditations at Occupy Boston. Meditation is, of course, valuable as a refuge from stress. Participating in an occupation, which may involve living outdoors under threat of possible arrest and police brutality, can certainly be stressful (I myself am only a day visitor to the Occupy Boston encampment). But I believe mindfulness can actually address the core problem that the Occupy movement confronts, i.e. the greed of the wealthiest 1 percent.

The thesis of my eBook, Occupy the Moment, is that greed is literally an addiction, a distortion of the brain systems that govern habits and rewards. The way to overcome greed is to “be in the moment” or to practice mindfulness.

In the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha identified inordinate desire as the fundamental source of human suffering. To overcome suffering, he identified a path that included mindfulness, the practice of focusing on the present moment with a friendly, nonjudgmental attitude.

Recent findings in neuroscience validate the Buddha’s claims. When we want something, the brain transmits a chemical called dopamine. When we get what we desire, internal opioids are released. The latter are substances chemically similar to morphine and heroin. So you can start to see how desires become literally addictive.