Buddhism

Kuan Yin’s Enlightenment Day

Kuan Yin’s Enlightenment Day

Wednesday, July 16, 2014 (All day)

Wesak

Wesak

Wednesday, May 14, 2014 (All day)

Wen Shu’s Birthday

Wen Shu’s Birthday

Friday, May 2, 2014 (All day)

Pu Hsien’s Birthday

Pu Hsien’s Birthday

Saturday, March 22, 2014 (All day)

Sakyamuni's Mahaparinirvana Day

Sakyamuni's Mahaparinirvana Day

Sunday, March 16, 2014 (All day)

Sakyamuni's Renunciation Day

Sakyamuni's Renunciation Day

Saturday, March 8, 2014 (All day)

Buddhist Identity and the DC Navy Yard Shooter

When the news broke that the shooter who had killed 32 at Virginia Tech was Asian, I thought what many Asian Americans thought across the U.S.  “Please don’t let him be my kind of Asian.” Well, actually I prayed that he not be Chinese, but you get the picture.  This reaction was shared by many Asian Americans regardless of our political views or how we generally felt about race in the U.S. Even when it turned out that the shooter was of not of Chinese descent, that only mitigated my sense of collective shame or guilt-by-association; it didn’t erase it.

Part of the reason for this, I think, is due to the Asian tendency to think collectively. You are never just your own person.  What you do, how you behave, reflects on your parents, your family, your village or town, your nation. It is a difficult thing to explain to folks who grew up in completely Westernized sensibilities, because obviously I know the difference between me and other family members, for example. We are different entities. But I cannot conceptualize myself, except as in relation to them, and I cannot do anything without thinking about how it impacts them.  Turning that around, whatever others in my family or nation or ethnicity do impacts me as well, to varying extents. There are no hard lines of demarcation, only gradations.

Another part of the “collective guilt” phenomenon is due to being an ethnic minority within the U.S.  Like all marginalized ethnic groups, we know that the actions of someone else in our group will be used to judge the rest of us, whether we had anything to do with that person.  When white men commit a violent crime, people seek to explain his actions as an individual (mental illness, troubled childhood, monster...) as opposed to judging his entire race. When Black men commit a violent crime it’s “evidence” that Black men have tendencies towards violence and criminality. When Latino men commit a violent crime it’s “evidence” of the perils of immigration and “gangs.” The reaction against Asians in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings were more mixed and muted. We were shielded from a stronger backlash by prevailing stereotypes. Asian American individuals (particularly East Asian American individuals) are considered too “meek” and “feminine” to be taken seriously as a threat. As a group, however, we become the Yellow Peril or Yellow Hoarde. Thus most of the attacks levied against us in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings came in the form of anti-immigrant rhetoric.

When the news broke that the shooter who had killed 12 at the DC Naval Yard was Buddhist, I felt a similar pang of shame mixed with a very different pang of guilt. The shame was similar because I felt a connection with him through Buddhism. Let me be clear. I do not for even a nanosecond believe that Buddhism influenced him towards the direction of violence. If anything, it makes more sense that he had turned to Buddhism to help him cope with violent urges likely due to post-traumatic stress from war, and in the end it just wasn’t enough. And obviously I know that Aaron Alexis and I are two separate people. Regardless, there is a sense of collective identity through something we shared.

But the sense of guilt was very different in that I knew with 99% certainty that the media and most of my fellow U.S.Americans would not focus on Aaron Alexis being Buddhist as a cause for his actions. They would not speculate about how he got “radicalized” in a Buddhist temple. Not question his association with other Buddhists to see whether they had any involvement. Not call on other Buddhists to condemn these actions and blame them for not renouncing him loudly enough. No, if anything the reaction would be / has been, “How could a Buddhist do something like this?”  “He must not really have been Buddhist.”

Similar to ethnicity, people who hold marginalized religious identities in the U.S. do not get to be judged as individuals. Here in the U.S. (and in other “Western” countries), when someone who is Protestant Christian commits a violent crime, their religion is rarely considered relevant. People again look to other clues to attempt to explain the person’s behavior.  But if a person who is Muslim commits a violent crime, their religion seems to be the only thing that is considered relevant.  Nevermind evidence of mental illness or that the person may have been motivated by political reasons that are not religious. Where religious identity differs from ethnicity, it's in that people can more easily convert into and out of religious traditions. And in the U.S., the folks who convert into Islam tend more to be African American/Black, whereas the folks who convert into Buddhism tend more to be Euro American/white. That difference makes it even easier to demonize Muslims, more difficult to demonize Buddhists.

The media are not blaming Alexis’ actions on Buddhism because that does not fit the prevailing narrative of an inherently peaceful religion full of exoticized stoic Eastern monks and more familiar looking white adherents. Perceptions of Buddhists are filtered through positive stereotypes and contradicting data are ignored or explained away.  Whereas perceptions of Muslims are filtered through negative stereotypes and contradicting data are patently ignored.  Neither stereotype sees adherents of the respective religions for who they are with all their complexities.

This is, to put it simply, UNFAIR. And that is where the pang of guilt comes from.

And so I feel like it’s my obligation, to my Muslim sisters and brothers, and to fairness and justice, to say to everyone that yes, Aaron Alexis was Buddhist.  He didn’t just kinda sorta attend a Buddhist temple, nor did he lose his “Buddhist membership card” by committing an act of violence.  He was Buddhist.  And if you don’t blame Buddhism for his actions (which of course you shouldn’t), then you shouldn’t blame Islam for any violent actions of its adherents either.

Meditation on Inter-Being

Author: 
Thich Nhat Hahn

If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow: and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. "Interbeing" is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix "inter" with the verb "to be", we have a new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud, we cannot have paper, so we can say that the cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are.

If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger's father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.

Looking even more deeply, we can see we are in it too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, the sheet of paper is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. You cannot point out one thing that is not here - time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter-be should be in the dictionary. “To be” is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.

Suppose we try to return one of the elements to its source. Suppose we return the sunshine to the sun. Do you think that this sheet of paper will be possible? No, without sunshine nothing can be. And if we return the logger to his mother, then we have no sheet of paper either. The fact is that this sheet of paper is made up only of “non-paper elements.” And if we return these non-paper elements to their sources, then there can be no paper at all. Without “non-paper elements,” like mind, logger, sunshine and so on, there will be no paper. As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it.

Simile of the Raft

Bhikkhus I will teach you how the Dhamma is similar to a raft, being for the purpose of crossing over, not for the purpose of holding on to.  Listen closely to what I have to say:

Bhikkhus, suppose a man is on a journey and comes across a mighty river, with frightening dangers on this side, while the other side is safe and secure, but there is no bridge, no ferry, and no boat with which to cross.

He might think: "This is a mighty river, with frightening dangers on this side, while the other side is safe and secure, but there is no bridge, no ferry, and I have no boat with which to cross.  Suppose I gather together what branches, twigs, leaves, and grass I can find and bind them together with reeds to make a raft, and supported by that raft and making effort with my hands and feet, cross over from here to the beyond."

And then, Bhikkhus, he might gather branches, twigs, leaves, and grass, and bind them together with reeds and make a raft.  Then, making an effort with hands and feet, cross over from here to the beyond.

Then, once he had crossed safely and arrived on the further bank, it might occur to him: "This raft that I have pieced together has been very useful to me.  Supported by it, and making effort with my hands and feet, I got safely to the other shore.  Suppose I were to lift this raft up onto my head or shoulder and carry it around as I go on about my business?"  What do you think, Bhikkhus, if he were to do that, would that man be doing what ought to be done with that raft?

Or once the man had crossed safely and arrived on the further bank, it might occur to him: "This raft that I have pieced together has been very useful to me.  Supported by it, and making effort with my hands and feet, I got safely to the other shore.  Suppose I were haul it onto dry land or set it adrift on the water, and then I can go on about my business?"  Then Bhikkhus, if he were to do that, he would be doing what ought to be done with that raft.

In the same way, this Dharma is for crossing over, not for holding on to.  Bhikkhus, when you know the Dharma to be similar to a raft, you should let go of even the teachings, not to mention things contrary to the teachings.

 

(Bhikkhu = Buddhist monk)

 

Bodhisattva Prayer

From now on, until I achieve enlightenment, I rely on you.
Please give me wisdom to escape samsara.

If I am supposed to get sick, let me get sick, and I’ll be happy.
May this sickness purify my negative karma
and the sickness of all sentient beings

If I am supposed to be healed, let all my sickness
and confusion be healed, and I’ll be happy.
May all sentient beings be healed and filled with happiness.

If I am supposed to die, let me die, and I’ll be happy.
May all the delusion and causes of suffering of beings die.

If I am supposed to live a long life, let me live a long life, and I’ll be happy.
May my life be meaningful in service to sentient beings.

If my life is cut short, let it be cut short, and I’ll be happy.
May I and all others be free from attachment and aversion.

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