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David Houck commented on the group 'the Hut by the River'
"You're welcome Mahboobe; his presence touches people wherever he goes, and makes our world a little better every day. "
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David Houck commented on the group 'the Hut by the River'
"The Dalai Lama was in Glastonbury for the festival this weekend, and he expressed his support for the Pope's recent message on climate change. "
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David Houck commented on the group 'the Hut by the River'
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Florence Rastogi commented on the group 'the Hut by the River'
"These last 2 items are music from the middle East, i am so glad that the public is giving such a warm welcome - in spite of the awful attack and beheading  (camouflaged as an ISIS attack) just 20 km from Vienne, 2 days ago)."
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The Value of Silence

Posted by Terry Firma on June 28, 2015 at 12:00pm — 8 Comments

Equanimity

Posted by Kenneth Daly on June 14, 2015 at 9:02pm — 12 Comments

Beyond Desire...

Posted by Bronco on June 14, 2015 at 4:23am — 11 Comments

Recent posts from the Poetry Club's current discussions

Hi Will, Nice post! :-) It'…

Hi Will,

Nice post! :-)

It's good to have dialog beyond just posting poem after poem, as much as that's interesting, it's the author's thoughts and viewpoints, outside the verse, that are fascinating too. 

I received the Rattle special edition on tanka and haikai literature as I took part in the Skype conference with Richard Gilbert and Roberta Beary.

I haven't met Richard Gilbert in person, but I have met Roberta a few times, and…

Alan, Thanks for your very g…

Alan,

Thanks for your very generous reply, and supply of info: I will certainly follow up on the variety of possibilities you have indicated. Looks like we need a revolutionary voice to cut through the red tape of the ordinary.

Collective mind and the ensuing engagement of the sub- or semi-conscious awareness in writing to and fro, as in the haiku corner, seems to produce unexpected metaphor.

 

                          vacant new home     doe…

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Lost in Capitulation

A life-affirming Buddhism that teaches us to find happiness by opening to the richness of our everyday lives.

That's what we want—or so we're told by the people who try to sell us a mainstreamlined Buddhism. But is it what we need? And is it Buddhism?

Think back for a moment on the story of the young Prince Siddhartha and his first encounters with aging, illness, death, and a wandering contemplative. It's one of the most accessible chapters in the Buddhist tradition, largely because of the direct, true-to-the-heart quality of the young prince's emotions. He saw aging, illness, and death as an absolute terror, and pinned all his hopes on the contemplative forest life as his only escape. As Asvaghosa, the great Buddhist poet, depicts the story, the young prince had no lack of friends and family members who tried to talk him out of those perceptions, and Asvaghosa was wise enough to show their life-affirming advice in a very appealing light. Still, the prince realized that if he were to give in to their advice, he would be betraying his heart. Only by remaining true to his honest emotions was he able to embark on the path that led away from the ordinary values of his society and toward an unsurpassed awakening into the deathless.

This is hardly a life-affirming story in the ordinary sense of the term, but it does affirm something more important than life: the truth of the heart when it aspires to a happiness absolutely pure. The power of this aspiration depends on two emotions, called in Pali, samvega and pasada. Very few of us have heard of them, but they're the emotions most basic to the Buddhist tradition. Not only did they inspire the young prince in his quest for awakening, but even after he became the Buddha he advised his followers to cultivate them on a daily basis. In fact, the way he handled these emotions is so distinctive that it may be one of the most important contributions his teachings have to offer modern-day culture.

Samvega was what the young Prince Siddhartha felt on his first exposure to aging, illness, and death. It's a hard word to translate because it covers such a complex range—at least three clusters of feelings at once: the oppressive sense of shock, dismay, and alienation that come with realizing the futility and meaninglessness of life as it's normally lived; a chastening sense of our own complacency and foolishness in having let ourselves live so blindly; and an anxious sense of urgency in trying to find a way out of the meaningless cycle. This is a cluster of feelings we've all experienced at one time or another in the process of growing up, but I don't know of a single English term that adequately covers all three. It would be useful to have such a term, and maybe that's reason enough for simply adopting the word samvega into our language.

But more than providing a useful term, Buddhism also offers an effective strategy for dealing with the feelings behind it—feelings that our own culture finds threatening and handles very poorly. Ours, of course, is not the only culture threatened by feelings of samvega. In the Siddhartha story, the father's reaction to the young prince's discovery stands for the way most cultures try to deal with these feelings: He tried to convince the prince that his standards for happiness were impossibly high, at the same time trying to distract him with relationships and every sensual pleasure imaginable. To put it simply, the strategy was to get the prince to lower his aims and to find satisfaction in a happiness that was less than absolute and not especially pure.

If the young prince were living in America today, the father would have other tools for dealing with the prince's dissatisfaction, but the basic strategy would be essentially the same. If the father were really up on current trends, he might find a dharma teacher who would counsel the prince to find happiness in life's little miraculous pleasures—a cup of tea, a walk in the woods, social activism, easing another person's pain. Never mind that these forms of happiness would still be cut short by aging, illness, and death, he would be told. The present moment is all we have, so we should try to appreciate the bittersweet opportunity of relishing but not holding on to brief joys as they pass.

It's unlikely that the lion-hearted prince we know from the story would take to any of this well-meant advice. He'd see it as propaganda for a life of quiet desperation, asking him to be a traitor to his heart. But if he found no solace from these sources, where in our society would he go? Unlike the India of his time, we don't have any well-established, socially accepted alternatives to being economically productive members of society. Even our contemplative religious orders are prized for their ability to provide bread, honey, and wine for the marketplace.

Fortunately for us, however, the prince was born in a society that did provide support and respect for its dropouts. This was what gave him the opportunity to find a solution to the problem of samvega that did justice to the truths of his heart.

The first step in that solution is symbolized in the Siddhartha story by the prince's reaction to the fourth person he saw on his travels outside of the palace: the wandering forest contemplative. The emotion he felt at this point is termed pasada, another complex set of feelings usually translated as "clarity and serene confidence." It's what keeps samvega from turning into despair. In the prince's case, he gained a clear sense of his predicament and confidence in the way beyond aging, illness, and death.

As the early Buddhist teachings freely admit, the predicament is that the cycle of birth, aging, and death is meaningless. They don't try to deny this fact and so don't ask us to be dishonest with ourselves or to close our eyes to reality. As one teacher has put it, the Buddhist recognition of the reality of suffering—so important that suffering is honored as the first noble truth—is a gift, in that it confirms our most sensitive and direct experience of things, an experience that many other traditions try to deny.

From there, the early teachings ask us to become even more sensitive, to the point where we see that the true cause of suffering is not out there—in society or some outside being—but in here, in the craving present in each individual mind. They then confirm that there is an end to suffering, a release from the cycle. And they show the way to that release, through developing noble qualities already latent in the mind to the point where they cast craving aside and open onto deathlessness. Thus the predicament has a practical solution, a solution within the powers of every human being.

It's also a solution open to critical scrutiny and testing—an indication of how confident the Buddha was in the solution he found to the problem of samvega. This is one of the aspects of authentic Buddhism that most attracts people who are tired of being told that they should try to deny the insights that inspired their sense of samvega in the first place.

In fact, early Buddhism is not only confident that it can handle feelings of samvega but it's also one of the few religions that actively cultivates them to a radical extent. Its solution to the problems of life demand so much dedicated effort that only strong samvega will keep the practicing Buddhist from slipping back into his or her old ways. Hence the recommendation that all Buddhists, both men and women, lay or ordained, should reflect daily on the facts of aging, illness, separation, and death—to develop feelings of samvega—and on the power of one's own actions, to take samvega one step further to pasada.

For people whose sense of samvega is so strong that they want to abandon any social ties that prevent them from following the path to the end of suffering, Buddhism offers both a long-proven body of wisdom for them to draw from, as well as a safety net: the monastic sangha, an institution that enables them to leave lay society without having to waste time worrying about basic survival. For those who can't leave their social ties, Buddhist teaching offers a way to live in the world without being overcome by the world, following a life of generosity, virtue, and meditation to strengthen the noble qualities of mind that lead to the end of suffering.

So the Buddhist attitude toward life cultivates samvega—a clear acceptance of the meaninglessness of the cycle of birth, aging, and death—and develops it into pasada: a confident path to the deathless. That path includes not only time-proven guidance, but also a social institution that nurtures it and keeps it alive. These are all things that our society desperately needs. It's a shame that, in our current efforts at mainstreaming Buddhism, they are aspects of the Buddhist tradition usually ignored. We keep forgetting that one source of Buddhism's strength is its ability to keep one foot out of the mainstream, and that the traditional metaphor for the practice is that it crosses over the stream to the further shore. My hope is that we will begin calling these things to mind and taking them to heart, so that in our drive to find a Buddhism that sells, we don't end up selling ourselves short.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu is the abbot of Metta Forest Monastery. His many Buddhist writings are available for free at accesstoinsight.org

Adapted from Noble Strategy: Essays on the Buddhist Path by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, available free upon request from the Metta Forest Monastery. 

Image: Denish C/Flickr 

A Big Gay History of Same-sex Marriage in the Sangha

Buddhist same-sex marriage was born in the USA. That’s a little known but significant fact to reflect on now, just after the Supreme Court has declared legal marriage equality throughout the country. Appropriately enough, it all started in San Francisco, and was conceived as an act of love, not activism.

The first known Buddhist same-sex marriages took place in the early 1970s, at the Buddhist Church of San Francisco. Founded in 1899, it’s the oldest surviving temple in the mainland United States. It’s also part of the oldest Buddhist organization outside Hawaii: the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA), part of the Shin tradition of Pure Land Buddhism.

During the Nixon years, the LGBTQ rights movement was picking up, and San Francisco was one of the primary centers of both activism and community building. Located not far from the famously gay Castro District, the Buddhist Church of San Francisco (BCSF) was attended by singles and couples, gay and straight. As consciousness rose, people began to seek the same services that heterosexuals already enjoyed in American society.

A male couple in the congregation eventually asked Rev. Koshin Ogui, then assigned to BCSF, to perform their marriage. He readily agreed, and the ceremony was held in the main hall—identical to other marriages at the temple, except for the dropping of gender-based pronouns in the service. Without fanfare, history was made.

Soon other BCA temples were also conducting same-sex marriages, and by the time of my research into the subject in the early 2010s, I couldn’t find a single minister in the scores of BCA temples who was unwilling to preside over same-sex weddings. Indeed, BCA ministers had already performed marriages for gay and lesbian couples, bisexuals, transgender people, and polyamorous groups. Many of these were interracial marriages, or carried out for non-Buddhists who had nowhere else to go, though most were for members of local BCA temples.

The BCA and its sister organization in Hawaii had gone on record years earlier in support of marriage equality, and even lobbied the government to change the law. This support for LGBTQ rights has been recognized by the Smithsonian, which collected a rainbow-patterned robe worn by the BCSF’s current minister for the museum’s permanent collection.

I’m ordained in the Shin tradition, so I was already aware of Shin inclusivity. (Indeed, though I’m not gay myself, I would not have joined any organization that failed to support LGBTQ rights.) But the historian in me itched to explain this phenomenon more comprehensively. Why was the BCA the first Buddhist organization to move toward marriage equality, and why hadn’t this movement provoked rancor and conservative resistance, as we’ve seen in so many other American religious denominations?

In searching for answers, I came to several interrelated conclusions. First, the history of racial and religious discrimination that the originally Japanese-American BCA faced (everything from mob violence to WWII internment camps) instilled revulsion for discrimination in Shin circles. Second, since Shin ministers are not celibate (the tradition was founded by a married monk in 13th-century Japan), they share lifestyles similar to their parishioners, and thus readily empathize with them on matters of sexuality and social relationships, which may be more abstract to celibate monks and nuns.

But most importantly, what minister after minister told me was that the fundamental point of Shin Buddhism is that Amida Buddha embraces all beings without any exceptions, without any judgments, without any discrimination. Amida opens the way to the Pure Land (and thus liberation) to the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the good and the bad, the black and the white. Therefore, Amida Buddha also embraces the gay and the straight, the gender-conforming and everyone else, without any hesitation. It is this spirit that led Shin ministers to open their doors to same-sex couples, led Shin temples to march in Pride parades across the country, to pass proclamations affirming same-sex rights and marriage in particular, and to carry out education programs in their own communities.

The Shin community hasn’t been alone in supporting LGBTQ communities in American Buddhist circles. Though not as quickly or comprehensively, many other Buddhist groups have also moved toward performing same-sex marriages and affirming the value of their LGBTQ members. In the 1980s, a handful of same-sex marriages were performed by non-BCA teachers, including Sarika Dharma of the International Buddhist Meditation Center in Los Angeles. By the end of the 1990s, American Tibetan, Theravada, and Zen teachers had all performed the first same-sex marriages in those respective traditions as well, and Soka Gakkai had gone from seeing homosexuality as a condition to be cured through Buddhist practice to performing large numbers of same-sex marriages for its members.

All of this was taking place in a country without legal recognition for married same-sex couples. They performed those ceremonies even though they knew the state would not recognize them, because it was the right thing to do.

Today those marriages are equal to everyone else’s, and there are signs that marriage equality is gaining acceptance in parts of Buddhist Asia. Taiwan held its first Buddhist same-sex marriage in 2012, with two brides in white dresses and veils presided over by a traditional shaven-headed nun. In Kyoto, Japan, Rev. Kawakami Taka of Shunkoin temple not only performs same-sex marriages at his historic Rinzai Zen temple, but has also partnered with local hotel, flower, and similar vendors to provide wedding packages for same-sex couples arriving from around the world. Step by step, the movement continues.

On Saturday morning, June 27, I gave keynote address for a seminar at the New York Buddhist Church, “Embraced by the Heart of Amida Buddha: The LGBTQ Community and Shin Buddhism.” It’s part of an educational campaign that the BCA’s Center for Buddhist Education carries out every year in late June. Speakers talked about their experiences as gay, lesbian, and transgender Buddhists, and on Sunday we’ll walk in the New York Pride parade with members of the temple. We had no idea that our event would occur at such a historic moment, but now we know that we’ll be marching as an act of pure celebration, rather than hope and defiance.

Despite the positive record of many sanghas and individuals, discrimination and ignorance remain widespread in American Buddhism. That isn’t something that will change overnight with a single Supreme Court decision, no matter how momentous. But we can genuinely take heart that American Buddhists have been working for marriage equality for more than 40 years, and that Buddhists of many traditions spoke out for equality and contributed to the movement that led to today’s ruling.

Jeff Wilson, a Tricycle contributing editor, is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and East Asian Studies at Renison University College, University of Waterloo. His most recent book is Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture (Oxford University Press).

Legislating Love

In celebration of the historic Supreme Court decision ruling that the Constitution gaurantees a right to same-sex marriage, we present this article, originally published as a Web Exclusive in 2008, about the passing of Proposition 8 in California. We've come a long way in a few short years. —Eds.

I got the first call on Thursday, October 16, two weeks prior to the 2008 general election in California. The call came from Sue Hildebrand, director of the Chico Peace and Justice Center. Sue wanted to know if I would marry two lesbian couples the very next day. “The two couples know each other,” she explained. “They could marry at the same time, with one ceremony at 6 p.m. and the other at 6:30. I know it’s short notice, but my phone is ringing off the hook with marriage requests. Do you think you could manage this?” “What are the two couples’ names?” I asked. “Chellie and Lori,” she said, “and Becky and Kay.” And with that I took their phone numbers and began the process that would end up with my marrying four gay and lesbian couples in the space of a week and a half.

What brought about all this urgency to marry was the upcoming November 4th vote on California’s Proposition 8, which aimed to amend the California Constitution by placing a ban on same-sex marriage. The wording of the proposition was simple and direct in its intent: a yes vote would overturn an earlier ruling by the California Supreme Court that a prior California legislative ban on same-sex marriage violated civil rights and was unconstitutional.

Chellie, Lori, Becky, and Kay wanted to marry before their right to do so was voted away. They wanted, like every other creature on this earth, human or otherwise, to live their lives without the criticism, complaint, and interference of others. Do the proponents of Proposition 8 really believe they can constrain the affections of lesbians and gay men simply by amending the California Constitution?

The most common justification for Proposition 8 and similar legislative initiatives is that same-sex marriage threatens the sanctity of “regular” marriage. What can marriage mean, the argument goes, if “anyone at all” is allowed to marry? But if marriage is indeed sanctified, a union worthy of care and respect, surely that sanctity rests on the strength of the bond it creates and is not subject to what someone else might be doing. If the quality of one marriage is determined by the quality of others, what can be said about the sanctity of marriage in a nation where fifty percent of marriages end in divorce?

I’m married to Karen Laslo. She’s my best friend and loving wife. I like being married, and I don’t know how my marriage is threatened by anyone else’s. The tragic irony is that the sanctity of any couple’s marriage is forfeited in the instant of their intent to withhold it from others. I cannot keep love alive in my own heart if I would deny the same to someone else. Love is not selective in that way but is rather an affectionate generosity that wishes the same for all. Withheld, love isolates itself and won’t long survive. A lifetime relationship of enduring love, kindness, and understanding is rare enough in human affairs without anyone trying to legislate who gets a shot at it and who doesn’t.

The day after Sue’s call, I meet the wedding party at the Peace Center.

We have come together for the marriage of Chellie and Lori. May they continue to deepen their love towards each other and towards all living creatures that ambulate, crawl, swim, slither, and fly, above, below, and over the earth.

The five of us—Chellie, Lori, Becky, Kay, and I—stand in a graveled clearing among the trees and shrubs behind the Peace Center building. It seems to me that we are here not merely for our own sakes but in actual fact for the sake of “all living creatures,” as the wedding scripture states. The very trees that shade this little fall garden, the scrub-jays and gold-crowned sparrows darting among the leaves, invite us into the all-inclusive body of life.

I Chellie, take you Lori to be my wife in unconditional and boundless love, as a mirror for my true self, as a partner on the path, to honor and to cherish, in sorrow and in joy, till death do us part.

I Lori, take you Chellie to be my wife…

Becky and Kay, waiting their turn, watch while their friends marry. I wish everyone were here to watch as these loving couples dedicate themselves to each other in marriage.

Chellie and Lori, you have chosen each other from all the other women on this earth, have declared your love for each other before this gathering, and have made your pledge to each other symbolized by the giving and receiving of rings. Therefore, I declare that you are wives together.

None of us has dry eyes, not Chellie, Lori, Becky, Kay, or me.These women are veterans of years spent together, and yet this evening on the gravel behind the Peace Center they face each other for the first time as legally recognized wives. They cry and wipe their eyes, glad at last for this acknowledgment of the lives they share.

And then in turn:

I Becky, take you Kay…
I Kay, take you Becky…

And in the next few days:

I Tricia, take you Kari…
I James, take you David…


Imagine what it would be like if all the people of the world and all creatures and beings of any sort were wedded to one another in mutual caring and respect:

I straight, take you gay and lesbian…
I Christian, take you Muslim…
I Buddhist, take you Jew…
I robin, take you sparrow…
I rabbit, take you fox…
I frog, take you salmon…
I stone, take you leaf…

I hereby declare that we are one family living under one roof ‘till death do us part.

Seng-ts’an, the third Chinese Ancestor of Zen, taught that “the ultimate way is not difficult; just avoid picking and choosing.” The ultimate way is the way of the interface of all beings—human, animal, mineral. Legislating the exclusion of lesbians and gay men from society denies the reality of our shared humanity, much like laws that override the needs of birds or trees or the fish that swim the rivers and oceans.

From the viewpoint of the contemporary deep ecologist or likewise one who has entered the Buddhist path, this sort of selective exclusion simply doesn’t make sense. To the Buddhist it is like rejecting the shape of one’s own face; to the ecologist it is a pointless argument with reality. If Seng-ts’an’s ultimate way is one of compassionate inclusion and love, then I don’t get to pick and choose who gets to love and who doesn’t. Love is not something I get to keep for myself. To hoard love is to already have lost it.

If we humans treat each other badly, so will we treat the earth. We have sought to shape conditions to our own liking by exhausting the earth’s mineral resources, driving other species to extinction, massing armies against each other. All this ignorance and greed rests on the same fatal flaw: the belief that we can possess the world on our own terms. If I walk the path of preference, I will be constantly at pains to rid the world of whatever offends me. If instead I come to realize that our lives and histories are shared, the whole world is kin and I take my place at the table where the entire earthly family is invited to dine. Who then will be told to go hungry? Who will be left outside?

On November 4, 2008, Californians passed Proposition 8, amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriages. This legislation works to the exclusion of our friends and families, just as we have adopted a century of laws and regulations that effectively legislate against the survival and inclusion of countless other species and that destroy the very earth upon which a viable ecosystem depends. Now we have turned our laws against our own kind. With this act, the legacy we leave to future Californians is a diminished culture in a rapidly diminishing world. When diversity is experienced as a threat, we all suffer separately. When the wide and various world is embraced we all thrive together.

Lin Jensen
is the author of Pavement, Bad Dog!, and Together Under One Roof. He is the founding teacher and senior teacher of the Chico Zen Sangha in Chico, California.

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