Thursday, December 31, 2009
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Monday, December 28, 2009
Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow there, firm as weeds among stones. Charlotte Bronte
A human being fashions his consequences as surely as he fashions has goods or his dwelling. Nothing that he says, thinks, or does is without consequences. Norman Cousins
No fathers or mothers think their own children ugly; and this self-deceit is yet stronger with respect to the offspring of the mind. Miguel de Cervantes
Experience is a good teacher, but her fees are very high. W. R. Inge
Men are apt to mistake the strength of their feeling for the strength of their argument. The heated mind resents the chill touch and relentless scrutiny of logic. William E. Gladstone
Whenever nature leaves a hole in a person’s mind, she generally plasters it over with a thick coat of self-conceit. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The self is merely the lens through which we see others and the world. Anais Nin
Humor is the shock absorber of life; it helps us take the blows. Peggy Noonan
I found these quotes in Mardy Grothe’s very entertaining I Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Friday, December 25, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
Having said all this The Life of Nyanatiloka Thera has a serious downside. The editing of this otherwise terrific book is truly abysmal. There is hardly a paragraph which does not contain spelling mistakes, syntactical errors and stylistic peculiarities. The editors’ unfamiliarity with spoken English is painfully obvious. ‘Silananda did not know the exact whereabouts of Ananda Metteyya’s address’, ‘the food was very one-sided’, ‘Venerable Vappa was ‘an expert in the field of food’, ‘I decided to find my luck further south’, ‘the cosmopolitan crow is not absent here too’, ‘There were six of them, as high as a man’s height’, ‘I would then go back to my homemade sleeping bag with my feet full of mud’. ‘The ship’s engine was working so hard that the turbines caused waterfalls’, ‘The winter appeared to be over soon’, ‘this countryside was the ever-same yellow color’, ‘it turned out to be a great piece of good fortune for us’, ‘He reported about the keystones of the teachings explained to him by the German Buddhists’, ‘you have been thinking for years of the thought of naturalizing in Ceylon’.Some sentences are hopelessly awkward or far too long. ‘My father died in 1931, two days after an operation for cancer, and truly peacefully so, while my mother sat on his lap, and was discussing with her and my sister a journey they were planning to take to Switzerland’. ‘Coming back from the Galduva monastery that Robert de Soysa, the former supporter in Matara, had donated to me, I was arrested in Ambalagoda by a detective, just as I was standing in front of de Soysa’s house wishing to say goodbye to him before catching the last train to Dodanduva’. ‘Moreover, also without exception, including Buddhist and Christian monks and priests, everyone had to clean the toilets, which were used by the Australian soldiers as well’. ‘One evening, after a theater performance, all the inmates – including those inmates who had been acting and were still wearing their costumes – left with their travelling suitcases, and so on, through this tunnel, but when the leader reached the exit of the tunnel and had to throw out his suitcase in order to follow himself, there were gunshots outside’. Some phrases indicate the editor serious lack of knowledge of English usage. ‘(T)he Police President’ probably should have been the commissioner of police, ‘vegetable tins and milk tins’ probably meant to be tinned vegetables and tinned milk. We also have ‘snow sliding’ instead of tobogganing, ‘gong music’ instead of ‘the sound of gongs’, ‘guards with bayonets affixed’ instead of ‘with fixed bayonets’, ‘departure meal’ instead of ‘farewell meal’, ‘fore-mountains’ instead of foot hills, ‘Supreme judge’ rather than high court judge, ‘SMS Sydney’ instead of HMAS Sydney and scholastism’ instead of scholasticism, to name but a few. The meaning of some other words and phrases can only be guessed at - ‘my ears froze and then burst open’ ‘an acquainted waiter’, ‘disrobals’ and ‘churchly’ being some of the more humorous one. And what are we to make of ‘romantic necrophiliac’ on page 227?
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Despite this, Buddhist civilisations never developed the concept of human rights, probably because from an early period they adopted Hindu political theory in which the king is considered divine. Until recently Sri Lanka had a fairly good human rights recourd although it has declined abmisably in the last 20 years. Now that the civil war is over it can only be hoped that it begins to improve. The standard of human rights in most other traditional Buddhist countries - Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Mongolia, Bhutan – range from poor to appaling.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
After writing this post I put ‘Violent Video Games’ into my image search and this was the first picture that came up. Many of the others were even more graphic. I have never seen this type of material before and while I have heard of these types of games I had no idea they were so violent, graphic and gruesome. One can only wonder how people could find this sort of stuff entertaining! But it also raises a few questions. Here’s one. If violent films and games don’t encourage aggressive behavior then surely the depiction of ethnic minorities as stupid, dirty, cruel, etc must not encourage discrimination against such minorities? If violent films and games have no negative effect then surely cultural activities like art exhibitions, opera, recitals, poetry readings, etc, must have no positive effect either; in which case why should governments feel it worthwhile to promote such things? I’m just a simple monk but I think there needs to be more research into these matters.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Have a look at David Attenborough’s fascinating documentary on Darwin, evolution and religion. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwFFTxMjxoM
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
The picture shows an elephant fight in Baroda, India, in the 19th century.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1U6YG1YYr0 Varanasi in 1931
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0FSGL-QdBI Tibet in 1932
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ds_BDnISGjw Nepal in the early 1950’s
http://www.imagesofceylon.com/ Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in the 19th century
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Deepak Chopra is certainly no exception. The literary enterprise of crafting a fictional life of the Buddha is not in itself illegitimate. Of his early life, we really have very little solid information. Even the well-known account of the Siddhattha's life as a prince, with his father Suddhodana attempting to keep him hidden from the realities of sickness, old-age and death is mostly an early post-canonical gloss. Some elements of this story are improbable, for one thing we know from canonical sources that the Sakyans at that time had a republican government. The early and unknown teller of these tales should perhaps be credited with founding the genre of fictional Buddha stories.
While we may grant Mr. Chopra and the other authors some literary license for inventing details, it is fair to take them to task when they distort the known history and especially the teachings. If the Buddha's early life is very sketchy, his subsequent career and doctrines are very well documented in the Pali Canon.
For example, for whatever reason Deepak Chopra seems intent on making one of the Buddha's principal teachings to be the freeing of Indian civilization from a superstitious belief in the gods. In the introduction, he says the Buddha "never mentioned miracles or the gods, and had a doubtful view of both." Oh my. To cite just one counter-example among many, when the Buddha was asked point blank whether there are gods he answered, "It is known by me to be the case, Bharadvaja, that there are gods." (Majjhima 100)
So, Deeprak Chopra writes out the moving story of the Brahma Sahampatti begging the newly enlightened Buddha on bended knee to teach for the benefit of "those with little dust in their eyes." Instead, the event which moves the Buddha to get up from his Bodhi seat is a vision of the face of his wife Yasodhara! In passing, it should be noted that Chopra is not the only modern author to dismiss poor Sahampatti. Stephen Batchelor writes him off as "the ancient way of saying, an idea." This sort of thing seems to me a shame. Our modern taste is quite coarse, and seems unable to appreciate grandeur and high tragedy.
Curiously though, while there are no gods in Deepak Chopra's book, there is one devil. Mara is quite definitely personified. But he seems to my taste to be modeled much more on the Christian Satan than on the Mara of the Pali Canon. It is an odd cosmology that admits the demonic while denying the divine.
There are a few other incidents that appear to show Christian influence. In the middle section of the book, corresponding the period of the Bodhisatta's austerities and quest, at one point he is travelling with another "monk" (the term Chopra uses for samana) when they come across a farmer's cart over-turned in the ditch. Siddhattha proceeds to help the farmer push it out and in his mind he is critical of the other monk who seems to "have forgotten the monk's vow of service." Service in that sense was never a part of the Indian yogic tradition, either pre-or post-Buddhist. In addition, Siddhattha in his wanderings heals the sick and at least apparently raises the dead.
It is the last section, the Buddha after his enlightenment, that represents the greatest distortion though. Deepak Chopra's Buddha bears more resemblance to Keanu Reeeves in the Matrix movies than to the Buddha of the Pali Canon. He ends a war by striding into the battlefield and snatching the flashing swords away with his bare hands. And in another telling episode, he returns a weeping woman's dead husband by turning back time time so that his murder never happened. (Didn't Christopher Reeve save Margot Kidder in one of the Superman movies this way?) Compare this to the canonical Buddha and the story of Kisagotami.
The philosophical underpinning of this New Age Buddha seems to be quite close to the ideas expressed in "What the Bleep Do I Know?" and other New Age sources; that this world is essentially a phantom or a dream and that enlightenment is a kind of lucid dreaming. It is not transcendence of the world, but mastery over it.
What is perhaps worse, is the scene where the Buddha is re-united with Suddhodana and they hug one another and weep like sensitive new age guys. Why is it that the modern taste seems to want a weeping Buddha? What part of making an end of suffering don't we get?
I also have some historical and literary criticisms of Chopra's "Buddha." Historically, I think his portrayal of the religion of the Brahmins is totally anachronistic. He has the head priest of the Sakyans sacrificing to Shiva, which belongs to much later period. The brahmins of the Buddha's time were still following the original Vedic Aryan religion and would have prayed to Indra. In general, his picture of Indian beliefs, customs and mores seems to be that of several centuries later than the time the book is ostensibly set in.
On the literary side, several of the characters in Deepak Chopra's book are much less interesting than the originals known from the canon and commentaries. Suddhodana, for example, is quite one-sided; a simple bloody-minded tyrant rather than a basically good figure with the one tragic flaw of ambition. The oldest sources are a rich mine of fascinating character studies, very human people with a mixture of noble qualities and vices. This seems to be lost in translation, and most of Chopra's characters are more like one-sided cartoons. Surely in a literary treatment with pretensions to the novelist's art, the complexities of the characters should have been enhanced and explored, rather than written out.
It should be said that Deepak Chopra in his last chapter does a reasonable job of summarizing some of the main points of the Buddhist teaching, including a fair summary of the Three Characteristics and of the Eightfold Path. However, he does end the book on a false note, in the very last sentence misrepresenting the goal of the path. "[the Buddha] promised that the end point would be eternity." This is no better, and perhaps worse, than "dewdrops slipping into shining seas."
By Ven Punnadhammo, from http://www.bhikkhublog.blogspot.com/ Used with author’s permission.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Capital punishment is called brahmadanda or dandavadha) in Pali. The Tipitaka describes a number of gruesome ways criminals were executed during the Buddha’s time (M.I,87). It also records for us the words of a judge condemning a thief to death. 'Tie his hands behind his back with strong rope, shave his head, parade him through the streets to the sound of a harsh drum, take him out by the south gate and chop his head off!' (D.II,322). Horrible and heart-rending scenes were common at the places of execution. We read of a monk pleading with an executioner to dispatch a criminal quickly so as ‘to put him out of his miser’ (Vin.III,86).
The Buddha objected to capital punishment mainly because it involves cruelty and killing, thus contravening the first Precept. He said that judges who hand down cruel punishments, tormentors and executioners all practise wrong, literally ‘crue’l livelihood (kurura kammanta) and create much negative kamma for themselves (S.II,257).
Buddhism would also say that it is better to try to reform criminals and turn them into productive members of society rather than execute them. A king in the Jataka says of a wrongdoer: ‘I punish people according to justice but also with sympathy’. (Ja.III,442). This same point was made by the great Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna in the 1st century CE: ‘Just as a son is punished out of the desire to make him worthy, so punishment should be inflicted with compassion and not through hatred or greed. Once you have judged angry murderers you should banish them without killing them’. This approach would seem to be more fitting with modern society.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Well, I happened to dip into that book just the other day and these were some of the things it says about ‘family values’. Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his mother and father, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters…he cannot be my disciple” (Luke.14:26). He also said, “For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother’…a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household” (Matthew.10:34-6 ). He denied his own family (John.2:4; Mark.3:31-3), never got married himself, and promised his disciples a hundred-fold reward if they renounced their homes and families? (Matthew.19: 29). Wow! This must be where some Singaporeans are getting their ‘alternative values’ from!
These new ‘enthusiastic’ clergymen are not to my liking. I prefer the old-style ‘traditional’ ones with theirkindly, innocuous sermons, like this one. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOsYN---eGk
Friday, December 4, 2009
Thursday, December 3, 2009
As for the background to the present situation in Tibet I read Melvyn Goldstein’s A History of Modern Tibet, vol. 1 and 2, On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet, and The Struggle for Modern Tibet. Goldstein just tells it as it is – objective, factual, non-romantic and detailed, although romantic Western Tibetan Buddhist will find it very different from what they have been lead to believe about the old theocracy. Tom Grenfeld’s Making of Modern Tibet is another story. He is a professional historian but I get the impression that he is just a little too soft on the communists and a bit too hard on the Tibetans.
Tubtan Khetsun’s Memories of Life in Lhasa Under Chinese Rule offers a rare and chilling first-hand account of what the communists did during the Cultural Revolution. Because there are almost no visual records of what happened then, its true horror doesn’t have the impact it would have otherwise – an ancient traditional culture suffering the full force of a brutal totalitarian, ideologically-driven state determined to completely transform it. But one photo, from Chinese sources and which I reproduce here, gives at least some idea of that terrible time.
While things are bad for the Tibetans its not all bad, according to Goldstein and Kapstein’s Buddhism in Contemporary Tibet, the religion is undergoing something of a revival. And this despite constant restrictions and interference by the Chinese. Lets hope it holds out at least until the situation improves.
I finish with this picture of Rombuk Monastery near the foot of Mt. Everest taken in 1903 which I compare with my picture taken two months ago. And with this posts about my trip to Tibet finish. Tomorrow back to Dhamma and Dhamma-related posts.