We can always start anew, by Ajahn Sumedho

The bodhisattva Jizō. Metropolitan Museum of ArtWhen something unpleasant happens, or something bad, if we say, ‘Well, you know, that’s the way it is . . . !’ that’s not Suchness. That’s just a cynical statement. ‘Life is pretty horrible and that’s the way it is. Just got to put up with it.’ That’s like resignation to misery. It isn’t Suchness; unless, of course, you see the Suchness of that particular attitude.

Or, when we regard the past as something that is very real, we may think, ‘Ten years I’ve been a monk,’ ‘Twenty-eight, twenty-nine, years I’ve been a monk.” That is conventional reality, but it is also thinking of ourselves as having been something for twenty-eight years. That is just a memory; it is perception in the present. When you really look at it, there is not a person any more, there is just a memory in the present. Continue reading

The Long Way Home, by Sun Shuyun

Buddha Amida, Lord of the Western Paradise or Pure LandI grew up in China in the 1960s. Many of you will, I am sure, know what a strange time that was in China. Just about everything was turned upside down and Buddhism was very much a synonym for anything that was bad about our society. Buddhism was regarded as feudal, reactionary, and as something that gave China a lot of its evils. In primary school we had compulsory classes on political studies three times a week, during which times we studied Mao’s work, and religion was a target of attack. Communism regarded Buddhism, I would say, as the main competitor for the control for faith, for the control of people’s minds. Indeed, we had a saying, `One more Buddhist, one less Communist.’ Throughout China, even today, the one thing you will definitely see in most villages and cities, big and small, is a temple. It could be as small as a few square metres, or as big as a palace. This became, and still is I think, the symbol of Buddhism. Continue reading

Biographies of Three Books

The idea of writing a biography of a book: what a great idea. Well done Princeton University Press for coming up with ‘Lives of Great Religious Books’.

Lives of Great Religious Books is a new series of short volumes that recount the complex and fascinating histories of important religious texts from around the world. These books examine the historical origins of texts from the great religious traditions, and trace how their reception, interpretation, and influence have changed — often radically — over time.

The three we’ve looked at are:

Tibetan Book of the DeadThe Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography by Donald S. Lopez, Jr.

Hardcover, 2011, $19.95 / £13.95, ISBN: 9780691134352
192 pp. eBook ISBN: 9781400838042

The Tibetan Book of the Dead is one of the most famous Buddhist text in the West, having sold more than a million copies since it was first published in English in 1927. Recently, the book has been adopted by the hospice movement. Yet, as acclaimed writer and scholar of Buddhism Donald Lopez writes, “The Tibetan Book of the Dead is not really Tibetan, it is not really a book, and it is not really about death.” In this introduction and short history, Lopez tells the strange story of how a relatively obscure and malleable collection of Buddhist texts of uncertain origin came to be so revered — and so misunderstood — in the West. Continue reading

Suffering does have its good points, by Acarya Shantideva

Tolerance part 2 from a prose translation by Stephen Batchelor of the sixth chapter of Acarya Shantideva’s A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life (Bodhi-caryavatara).

Mii-dera (三井寺) - Misshaku Kongo Photo © @KyotoDailyPhotoYet suffering does have its good points: through humiliation conceit is dispelled; compassion is aroused for those in samsara; evil is avoided; and a liking is developed for virtue.

When I am not angry with such things as bile, which are the source of great suffering, for what reason do I get angry with beings endowed with consciousness? For they too are provoked by conditions. Illness, for example, breaks out without wishing to do so. Likewise, emotions violently erupt through no wish of their own. People suddenly get angry with­out first having thought, ‘I will be angry’. Similarly anger arises without first having thought, ‘I will arise’. Whatever difficulties there are, and the various kinds of evil, all come about through the force of conditions. They have no power of their own. The assembled conditions have no intention to produce any­thing and their product has no intention to be produced. Continue reading

Self is Heavy, by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu

With thanks to Golden Buddha Centre, TotnesIf we understand our problems, clearly and completely, then we shall be able to do something about them. We need to give adequate attention to them, therefore.

If we look carefully we shall see that there are two kinds of life — there is pure life, the essential part of life, and there is a kind of life which has something extra, something added. This addition is the burden. We need to understand this carefully and see that there are two kinds because most of us blur the two together and confuse them. When we talk about the pure life, life that has nothing extra added, we are talking about nama and rupa, or mind and body. Pure life is just mind and body; that is all there is. But the life that is a burden for itself has something added; a third element is added to mind and body. In Pali this is called the ‘atta’. In English we might call it ‘the self’. When we take the pure life of mind and body, and add a self to it, then there is this self which can suffer. This is the extra something that has been added. Continue reading

The Guru, by Dalai Lama

In the practice of Tantra, the guru is very important and many qualifications have been outlined in the various Tantric writings for Tantric masters. A Tantric master who confers the empowerment ceremony should possess the necessary qualifi­cations. It is important, there­fore, for the disciple to exam­ine whether a person he/she wishes to take on as a lama, or guru, possesses these qualifi­cations.

Photo: Tibetian Images, Monastries, and Monks from Ulaanbaatar. British Library #endangeredarchives project.

This point has been empha­sized in the Tantra. It is said that, even if it were to take twelve years to be convinced of a person’s qualifications, one should definitely take that time to convince oneself. Continue reading


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