On 18 July 2011, Sam Mowe wrote about diversity within American Buddhism for Tricycle: The Buddhist Review’s blog in an article titled “Tell Us Your Story.” One of the comments to that post led to another post on Tricycle’s blog by Monty McKeever, “Why Is Buddhism So Damned Expensive?” That comment read, in part, There [...]
Something like the Master of Divinity (MDiv) program at Harvard—of which I am a graduate—obviously isn’t training students to be roshis, lamas, or any other sort of teacher in a Buddhist lineage. Neither is it giving them a traditional monastic education. While several Buddhist monastics and teachers have gone through Harvard’s MDiv program and probably found it quite helpful, such a program couldn’t have qualified them for these roles on its own. So, what roles are these Buddhist ministry programs training people for?
I recently translated the Prayer to Avert War by Khenpo Gangshar Wangpo (gang shar dbang po, 1925-1959). Khenpo Gangshar resided at Shechen and, later, Surmang Monastaries in eastern Tibet. He was also one of the primary teachers of both Thrangu Rinpoche and the infamous Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Trungpa was one of the first Tibetan teachers to settle in America, where he founded Shambhala International.
I tend to think of Buddhist practice as a way of cultivating a mind so stable that such storms leave it unscathed, and I often judge myself harshly when I fail to live up to that standard—when the storm breaks through my mental roof, leaking in toxic emotions, and I’m too exhausted, or cynical, or just plain lazy to apply the Buddha’s teachings. Suffering and delusion are always my suffering and delusion. They are always personal, always private, and always necessitate a private remedy. What I often forget, though, is just how much social, political, and economic structures really do affect our ability to practice the dharma.
With the recent controversy over a compromise to extend all of the Bush-era tax cuts for two years, with congress threatening to de-fund everything from AmeriCorps to NPR, and with fiscal battles raging at the state level, government spending and revenue has become surprisingly hot-button issues. What’s even more surprising is how much classical Buddhist thinkers have had to say about taxes and fiscal policy. Now is a perfect time to survey some of their thoughts on these topics. Rather than serving as a liability, these thinkers’ cultural, political, and historical distance from us can give us some much-needed perspective on our own time and place.
Lady Gaga’s performance at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards began with her sprawled out center-stage singing a line from “Poker Face,” followed by the ominous line, “Amidst all of these flashing lights I pray the fame won’t take my life.” Then she launching into “Paparazzi.” The tall white columns and chandeliers onstage gave the impression of a Gilded Age mansion, but soon one noticed the dancers’ lace face masks. When a dancer came onstage in a wheelchair and Lady Gaga continued dancing leaned against a crutch, it became obvious that one was watching not a gilded mansion, but a gilded sanatorium.
The song’s dramatic climax came when, at the beginning of the final chorus, blood began dripping from beneath her white, rhinestone-encrusted halter top and covered her bare midriff. After the chorus she collapsed into the arms of one of her dancers, who laid her back where she began center-stage. Dancers surrounded the screaming Lady Gaga for a few moments before the performance’s final scene: Lady Gaga hanging in midair by one of her arms with a blank expression on her blood-smeared face while a chorus of cameras clicked and flashed behind her.
Two years ago I started Dana Wiki, an online, collaborative handbook to help American Buddhist congregations get more involved in community service. This past week, I re-launched the site with new hosting, an improved design, and a shiny new URL—www.danawiki.org. What’s more, I recently did an interview about Dana Wiki and American Buddhist in general [...]
In the Kalama sutta, the Buddha is approached by a group of villagers called the Kalams, who ask him a very simple question: “All of these preachers pass through here praising their own doctrines and criticizing the doctrines of others. How can we sort out the truth?” It is much the same question implied by Harvard’s moto, veritas, and in the Divinity School’s self-description as “an academic community characterized by . . . investigation of truth.” Indeed, it is much the same question that western intellectuals have been dealing with in one way or another ever since the Enlightenment shook our belief in received knowledge to the core: “How can we sort out the truth?”
It was all I could do to keep from scratching my chigger bites incessantly as I sat in a white plastic lawn chair with about ten other people underneath a tent on a stiflingly hot, muggy day in the summer of 2004. It was the last day of a wonderful, if physically uncomfortable, weekend retreat at Pema Gochen Ling, a rural retreat center outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Seated in front of us were two men in their seventies, dressed in burgundy robes and chanting in Tibetan as we struggled to repeat after them. These were Khenchen Palden Sherab and Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal, brothers from Eastern Tibet who were now becoming my teachers, my lamas, my gurus.