Digital Dharma

The Middle Path, One Day At A Time


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What will be the direction of American Buddhism?

GARRISON, N.Y. — Crosses still adorn one wall of this former Roman Catholic monastery, but a 6-foot golden Buddha now anchors the main room. The meditation hall, also used as a meeting space, is where the luminaries of Buddhism in the West recently gathered to debate.

The issue they were facing had been percolating for years on blogs, in Buddhist magazines and on the sidelines of spiritual retreats. It often played out as a clash of elders versus young people, the preservers of spiritual depth versus the alleged purveyors of “Buddhism-lite.” Organizers of the gathering wanted the finger-pointing to end. The future of American Buddhism was at stake, they said….

Read more: http://www.appeal-democrat.com/articles/generational-108402-shift-american.html


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Am I A Buddhist?

Occasionally people find the stuff I write interesting enough to comment.  One reader made some remarks yesterday that I found intriguing, and I thought I’d share his comment and my response with you.

The question of “Who Is A Buddhist” seems to occupy some folks’ minds quite a lot, since I see blog posts and articles about it all the time.  (BTW, don’t forget to visit my commentator’s blog at the link below; it’s really interesting.)  I don’t quite understand what all the fuss is about, and hadn’t given it a lot of thought.  However, this gentleman’s question caused me to toss the idea around a bit.

I’d be curious of your take on my religiosity or lack thereof. It seems we share much but that you may be a bit more tolerant. Today I did a post asking if I am a Buddhist? which toys with the concept of orthodoxy, atheism and such. I liked this post. Thanx. I will follow you for a while.

Thanks for writing. It is an honor to have a reader who obviously takes such questions very seriously. Let me say from the outset that my opinions are only my opinions, and that I make no claim to guru-hood, roshiosity, or lamary. That said, I do think about it some.

First of all, it seems to me that a Buddhist does at least some of the things that Buddhists do, and believes at least some of the things that Buddhists believe — otherwise, calling oneself that would be meaningless. However, the attempt to quantify the whole thing would seem to indicate a grasping and attachment to names and labels that is not consonant with Buddhism (at least in terms of basics).

Second, there are as many Buddhist sects as there are Christian or Muslim. That renders the concept of “buddhism” pretty vague. I am of the Zen pursuasion, since my lack of religious belief and desire to experience my path with as few trappings as possible give it the most appeal. My approach, therefore, is as far from that of one who practices in some of the more esoteric areas of Tibetan Buddhism (for example) as a Quaker is from a Eastern Orthodox Patriarch — or the Archbishop from an Indio practicing the Central American variety of Catholicism, and consulting the local brujo on the side. On the other hand, from the Zen point of view I’m a touch aberrant, because I do not practice with a sangha, although I have taken the Precepts and sit zazen.

Third, there is the issue of tradition v. adaptation of Buddhist beliefs to modern conditions. Many practitioners believe that practice includes deep involvement with and discussion of the suttas and other writings. I believe that this is a good thing, but that one must live in the modern world, and that rational people approach teachings with that in mind. I am also mindful of the fact that there is absolutely no reason to believe, as Brad Warner is fond of pointing out, that there weren’t plenty of bullshit artists back in those days — just as there are today — who wrote about things from their ivory towers or thrones of personal aggrandizement without having actually lived the kinds of lives about which they pontificated.

Non-attachment is not about discarding the things of this life. It is about living life from moment to moment, dealing with issues as they arise, and neither coloring them with personal preference nor clinging to the results out of unwillingness to change. It’s about staying in the present and allowing ourselves to see its reality, letting it flow past and being concerned only about those things that we can (and need to) influence. This requires flexibility, and involves some number of unpleasant experiences such as having to change our minds about things (to which we might prefer to cling, because we feel comfortable in old mental clothes that are well-worn and broken in). In short, Buddhism is about practical reality, change, and — of its essence — is non-doctrinal. We adopt certain guidelines for living, certain practices that make it easier to follow those guidelines, and then we live them in our lives.

Which brings up my fourth point. If we are comporting ourselves with compassion, tolerance, kindness toward others, willingness to learn and change, living a balanced life, and are forgiving, loving and know how to laugh at ourselves and live joyfully when life affords us the opportunity, it doesn’t make any difference what we call ourselves. We are following the Middle Path whether we know it or not. If we are not living that kind of life, we probably need to make the changes and practice the skills that make it possible, and it makes no difference what we call the result of that, either.

So, I have no opinion about whether or not you are a Buddhist, and I don’t think it’s anything you should be worrying about, either. Adopt some guidelines that look good to you. Try to live a good life. Don’t mess with folks if you can avoid it. If you can’t avoid it, do as little harm as possible.* Be compassionate. You have my permission to call it anything you want.

*In fact, that’s the whole thing, right there.


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A Conversation With Tariq Ramadan

A Conversation With Tariq Ramadan: Islam, the West and the Challenges of Modernity – Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

Ramadan is a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Oxford’s St Antony’s College. He is also the president of a Brussels-based think tank, European Muslim Network, and the author of more than 20 books, including What I Believe, published in November 2009. Foreign Policy magazine named him one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2009.

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Should We Be Cheering Religion’s Demise?

AlterNet: Religious Institutions Are Ruled By the Morally Bankrupt — But Should We Be Cheering Religion’s Demise?

…while the Protestant church and reformed Judaism have not replicated the perfidiousness of the Catholic bishops, who protect child-molesting priests, they have little to say in an age when we desperately need moral guidance.

God may not be dead, but She’s probably got a terrible pain in the butt.

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The Sound of One Trickster Clapping

On the unwillingness — and failure — of the media to report basic truths

Focusing on the incident—the man on wire or the lone gunman killing a child—the mass media ignores a system of corporate peonage which imprisons and executes a million childhoods. The barker on the boulevard of ordinary life is shouting out, “Extra! Extra!”—pointing to the Extra!ordinary and ignoring the ordinary. The media gives a false proximity to the incidental, but a false distance to systemic wrongs. Dangerously, it implies that the system needs little remark: witness the lethal length of time it took for the issue of climate change to finally make it big in the press.

The Sound of One Trickster Clapping | Jay Griffiths | Orion Magazine


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World at Gunpoint

World at Gunpoint | Derrick Jensen | Orion Magazine

A FEW MONTHS AGO at a gathering of activist friends someone asked, “If our world is really looking down the barrel of environmental catastrophe, how do I live my life right now?”

The question stuck with me for a few reasons. The first is that it’s the world, not our world. The notion that the world belongs to us—instead of us belonging to the world—is a good part of the problem.

The second is that this is pretty much the only question that’s asked in mainstream media (and even among some environmentalists) about the state of the world and our response to it. The phrase “green living” brings up 7,250,000 Google hits, or more than Mick Jagger and Keith Richards combined (or, to look at it another way, more than a thousand times more than the crucial environmental philosophers John A. Livingston and Neil Evernden combined). If you click on the websites that come up, you find just what you’d expect, stuff like “The Green Guide: Shop, Save, Conserve,” “Personal Solutions for All of Us,” and “Tissue Paper Guide for Consumers.”

The third and most important reason the question stuck with me is that it’s precisely the wrong question. By looking at how it’s the wrong question, we can start looking for some of the right questions. This is terribly important, because coming up with right answers to wrong questions isn’t particularly helpful. More…


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Religion and Science: Conflict or Harmony?

Some of the nation’s leading journalists gathered in Key West, Fla., in May 2009 for the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life’s biannual Faith Angle Conference on religion, politics and public life. Francis S. Collins, the former director of the Human Genome Project, discussed why he believes religion and science are compatible. Barbara Bradley Hagerty, the religion correspondent for National Public Radio, discussed how the brain reacts to spiritual experiences. Read the transcript »