Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Pink Dot 2011 promotion video

The Pink Dot organization in Singapore has always produced high-quality videos to promote its activities. I've posted one in the past. And this year's video promoting the event is exceptionally well-done. Take a look for yourself.


I'm such a sentimental slob, videos like these make me tear up all the time. And the boys are so cute!

If you plan to attend this year's event, or you know anyone who will be attending, please share with me your experiences or ask your friends to share their experiences. I would love to hear from you.

This year's event is June 18 in Hong Lim Park in Singapore. Apparently, foreigners and expats are not allowed to participate, but may observe. The permit is restricted to Singaporeans and those with permanent resident status in Singapore.

And be sure to stop by the My Buddha is Pink page on Facebook! Join our conversations, or at least help them move along!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Buddhist Warfare, chapter 5

Brian Daizen Victoria provides a refreshing counterpoint to the previous essays in his “Buddhological Critique of ‘Soldier-Zen’ in Wartime Japan,” in that he pulls no punches when he flatly states that nowhere in the basic tenets of the Buddha’s teachings is violence condoned or justified. In fact, he admits that he is attacking the concept that Buddhism is innately violent and that the teachings support violent actions under certain circumstances. His target – Japanese Zen.

“I come to the conclusion that, by virtue of its fervent if not fanatical support of Japanese militarism, the Zen school, both Rinzai and Sōtō, so grievously violated Buddhism’s fundamental tenets that the school was no longer an authentic expression of the Buddhadharma.”

Them’s fighting words coming from a self-identified Zennie himself: Victoria states that he is a Mahāyāna Buddhist in the Sōtō Zen tradition.

Victoria’s basic critique is that the dharma was corrupted by teachings that came to be known as “warrior Zen.” At the root of this is the idea that the warrior must extinguish the self completely and be totally devoted to the emperor. Victoria cites what Yamazaki Ekijū (chief abbot of the Buttsūji branch of the Rinzai Zen sect) wrote at the end of a book by Zen-trained Lt. Col. Sugimoto Gorō.

“Buddhists say that one should have faith in the Buddha, or Mahāvairocana, or Buddha Amita, but such faith is one that has been captured by religion. Japanese Buddhism must be centered on the emperor; for were it not, it would have no place in Japan, it would not be living Buddhism. Even Buddhism must conform to the national structure of Japan. The same holds true for Śākyamuni’s teachings.”

Victoria reveals that this line of reasoning is more than just ethnocentrism, because at the heart of this notion is that one group of living, sentient beings is superior to another group of living, sentient beings.

“To purposely inflict pain and suffering, let alone death, on one segment of beings under the guise of benefiting another part, however defined, can never be a part of a Buddhism rooted in the teachings of its founder.”

An important distinction ought to be noted here. What Victoria exposes is more than just a mere twisting of the Dharma to justify violent acts. The entire concept of warrior Zen, and other similar schools of thought, is a corruption of the Dharma so severe that it justifies identifying entire nations as enemies worthy of slaughter.

Victoria notes that this is based on a flawed interpretation of the Buddhist concept of no-self, which I hear often repeated by many others, to mean that there is no self at all. Victoria quotes scholar-priest Walpola Rahula to explain:

“According to the Buddha’s teaching, it is as wrong to hold the opinion ‘I have no self’ (which is annihilationist theory) as to hold the opinion ‘I have a self.’ Why? What we call ‘I’ or ‘being’ is only a combination of physical and mental aggregates, which are working together independently in a flux of momentary change within the law of cause and effect … there is nothing permanent, everlasting, unchanging and eternal in the whole of existence.”

A simple Buddhist concept – there is no permanent self – is corrupted into there is no self at all, and if there is no self at all, imagine what heinous acts can be justified? Not long, as Victoria reveals with an excerpt from the Rinzai Zen master Takuan addressing a patron, the highly accomplished swordsman Yagyū Tajima no Kami Munenori:

“The uplifted sword has no will of its own, it is all of emptiness. It is like a flash of lightning. The man who is about to be struck down is also of emptiness, and so is the one who wields the sword. None of them are possessed of a mind that has any substantiality. As each of them is of emptiness and has no ‘mind,’ the striking man is not a man, the sword in his hands not a sword, and the ‘I’ who is about to be struck down is like the splitting of the spring breeze in a flash of lightning.”

Gee, seems like a lot of people forgot about the Kalama Sutta, which guides us to test assertions to determine if they are true and comport with the Dharma. And as Victoria points out, it appears that many have forgotten the Buddha’s words in the Dhammapada:

“All men tremble at punishment, all men fear death; remembering that thou are like unto them, do not strike or slay.

“All men tremble at punishment, all men love life; remembering that thou are like unto them, do not strike or slay.”

But this didn’t happen specifically or uniquely to Japanese warrior Zen; this corruption of the Dharma began much earlier in China with the Ch’an school that preceded Zen, which Liang Su criticized in the eighth century:

“Nowadays, few men have true faith. Those who travel the path of Ch’an go so far as to teach the people that there is neither Buddha nor Dharma, and that neither good nor evil has any significance. When they preach these doctrines to the average man, or men below average, they are believed by all those who live their lives of worldly desires. Such ideas are accepted as great truths that sound so pleasing to the ear. And the people are attracted to them just as moths in the night are drawn to their burning death by the candle light (italics added by Victoria).”

Victoria also flatly denies that a bodhisattva could possibly kill any other living being and have that killing justified. Victoria acknowledges the Mahayana concept of expedient means which seems to create loopholes for “compassionate violence.” To portray this, he cites the Lotus Sutra and the story of the burning house in which a loving father deliberately lies to save his children’s lives. What is interesting about this parable is that instead of it being used to explain how telling a lie may be necessary to save a life, it is used to show that the Buddha was a liar! The “lesser” vehicle really wasn’t true at all, asserts the Lotus Sutra; the Buddha only taught it as an expedient mean to bring believers to the “greater” vehicle.

Victoria concludes this chapter with a dire warning to we Westerners as we adopt Buddhism into our culture.

“As Buddhism continues its spread in an easterly direction (i.e., to the ‘West’), one critically important question is, how much of Buddhism’s historic proclivity to condone warfare as a function of the Buddhadharma will spread with it?”

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Coyote Tale - The Wolf

As mentioned on the Facebook page for this blog, I am working on a post about karma and its relevance to being gay. A lot of stuff to read about that first, and life is filled with distractions. But another distraction of sorts that has been on everyone’s minds of late is the use of violence as a means to accomplish a goal, such as ridding the world of someone like Osama bin Laden.

It is ironic that I’ve been reading “Buddhist Warfare” at the time all this discussion arises, at the very time of bin Laden’s assassination, because regardless of your point of view on the matter, I think we must recognize that his death was via assassination. It was an extra-judicial killing, an act that we as Americans have loudly condemned when committed elsewhere in the world by other governmental regimes.

And in reading “Buddhist Warfare,” I get it that Buddhists have over hundreds of years found ways to justify violent acts through what I call suspect interpretations of the Dhamma. Even I, as pacifistic as I believe myself to be, am realizing that total resistance to violence is not always the right path to take.

Kyle, who writes The Reformed Buddhist, left a comment on the Facebook page for My Buddha is Pink that has been oft repeated by many, and that is if we act with true compassion, then a violent act may be committed because the act, in fact, was committed with Right Intention.

That idea just drives me freaking crazy. It bugs the hell out of me because on one level, I see the truth in that assertion; but it also freaks me out because such a statement can be so easily misunderstood and abused. We all suffer from greed, hatred and delusion, and of the three, delusion is the most difficult to deal with because how does a deluded mind understand that it is deluded?

This recalls for me a legend told by many Plains Indians among a canon that is known by American Indians as Coyote Tales. In this case, it is the story about The Wolf, which I shall present as follows.

Old Many Coyote was wandering about the plain when he saw The Wolf up ahead loping about the prairie. Knowing that The Wolf was a difficult character to deal with, Old Man Coyote turned and hastily retreated.

Old Man Coyote next encountered a rabbit. Feeling benevolent, Old Man Coyote warned the rabbit that he should take shelter and hide because The Wolf was near.

“I am not afraid,” replied the rabbit. “I will befriend The Wolf and he will let me be.”

“You are wrong,” said Old Man Coyote. “He is The Wolf, and he is what he is.”

Shortly after Old Man Coyote left the rabbit, The Wolf arrived and pounced upon the rabbit. As The Wolf was about to eat the rabbit, the rabbit began to plead for its life.

“Oh, Mr. Wolf, you are so strong and intelligent, please have mercy upon me and spare me my life,” said the rabbit. “Why eat me? I am such a small morsel. I have never done anything to harm you nor have I ever said anything bad about you.”

The Wolf paused and considered the rabbit’s words. He then replied, “It may be true that you have not said anything bad about me, but it is also true that you have never said anything good about me.”

Just before The Wolf swallowed the rabbit, the rabbit cried out, “Old Man Coyote was right! The Wolf can justify anything with his mind.”

Monday, May 2, 2011

Death waits for no one

When the news was released, crowds spontaneously gathered at the critical spots, some sooner than at others. The obvious first location was the White House from where the news came – Osama bin Laden was dead. Finally dead. Finally. Dead.

As I write these words, I am struck by the thought of how we view death. That it really isn’t there. That somehow, we and others escape it. Because when it does occur, we respond with shock, horror, dismay, and sadness.

Or if we harbor hate, then with glee. The water dipper couldn't look any clearer now.

Not with equanimity, not with mere observation. Death waits for no one.

Except when it is someone we collectively revile, who has come to stand for a communal feeling of being so deeply wounded that we cannot see the reason or the rhyme.

Gradually, people began gathering at other critical spots: Times Square, Ground Zero. More slowly did they congregate in Shanksville, Pa. I wonder what they did inside the Pentagon.

It was revelry. It was celebratory. It was, like it or not, human. Yes, I let out a brief “whoop!” when I heard the news. But that was it. It was gone. Spent. I did feel a bit of shame at the exclamation. But I am, after all, an imperfect human. And despite what Susan Piver says, and she says many wonderful things, it’s not a problem. It just is.

And I have often pondered what drives a person such as Osama bin Laden to scheme such violence, to nurture such hatred.

And I also often think about what makes us so blithely ignorant of how our actions impact others.

My favorite verse of the Dhammapada is right up there at the right, and it says it all. Everything begins with a thought, followed by a word or deed. Intention arises and we decide whether to act on the intention. But many of us are so automatic that we don’t even understand how the intention arises – we just act.

And actions, mind you, bring results.

Yes, Osama bin Laden was an evil and twisted man. He created great evil in this world. Like a true megalomaniac, he had no thought for others: it was all about him and his vision. Seriously, there are great parallels between bin Laden and Hitler. Hitler at first thought he could do something to elevate Germany, which had been seriously done a major wrong by the Western powers following WWI. But he became obsessed with mind, a mind that sought only to satisfy its cravings. Bin Laden was no different. The narrative quite similar.

And our reaction to the “end” is also eerily quite similar.

There is nothing new. It’s all the same being replayed over and over and over. And each time it happens, we have a choice. Will it be to respond automatically just like always? Or to intellectualize everything, to speak in platitudes so far removed from any actual emotion that we become dead inside while at the same time patting ourselves on the back for saying the right thing, the correct thing, the Buddhist thing.

Or will it be to say, “Wait, not this time. I want this to end.”

Many thanks to Nathan at Dangerous Harvests, to Justin Whitaker who told me about Susan Piver, for William Turner at Being Buddhist, Kyle at The Reformed Buddhist, Adam at Fly Like a Crow, and Maia Duerr at the Jizo Chronicles (Jesus was a very wise man).

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Join the discussion on Facebook!

I’ve created a Facebook page for My Buddha is Pink. While I will continue to blog here the way I have been, I think the Facebook page will allow for greater flexibility to cover other Buddhist and gay-related topics. More discussions, links to news and events, and just plain sharing and socializing.

I hope you take a look here at the page and become a fan. And when you do, join the discussion! I’ve already asked a question about the individualistic nature of the Buddhist practice and how to balance that with a need to develop a community of practitioners that identify together as more than just Buddhist. It’s been a topic from time to time throughout the Buddhist blogosphere.

What’s happening in Singapore is a gay Buddhist group called Heartland is feeling pressure from local Christian groups that create social activities to not only attract new members, but to strengthen relationships between current members.

In Asia, Buddhist practice in many places is very ritualistic and individualistic. People come to a temple to make offerings, pray, chant, meditate and make prostrations. But seldom are there regularly scheduled activities to bring congregants together for social activities.

Many ethnically-based temples in the U.S. do create social activities for members, but often these are centered on sustaining the members’ cultural identity.

Certainly we have discussed throughout the various blogs the “Westernization” of Buddhism and what that means. Does it mean Anglifying it? Or does it mean blending the practice American culture that makes the practice relevant and attractive without crushing the core concepts under the weight of commercial superficiality?

Stop by my new page and let’s get the discussion rolling!