Digital Dharma

The Middle Path, One Day At A Time


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Forest of Light

Sofan Chan paints lovely images of the Buddha in bright primary colors.  For some reason I find them very much in the spirit of the Buddhism that I practice — focused on obtaining peace, often happiness, and occasional joy by looking at the world as clearly as I am able at a given time.  (I’m not saying I’m good at it, I’m saying that my efforts bring me peace and joy — what’s not to like?)  Anyway, if you’d like to see more of Chan’s work, even purchase some, click the image.

Disclaimer: I have no connection with the artist whatever; I just like the work.


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The Rise of the Professional Military | Miller-McCune

In 1975 the American science fiction author Joe Haldeman, himself just back from Vietnam, wrote a “future history” novel called The Forever War. Joe saw then how a standing military and long standing threat (or perceived threat) could change society. He was right, as this article from Miller-McCune Magazine so clearly delineates.

…the professional military has taken the public out of the mix, something noted at the highest levels of government. Speaking at Duke University in September, Secretary of Defense Robert … noted the disconnect: “Whatever their fond sentiments for men and women in uniform, for most Americans the wars [in Iraq and Afghanistan] remain an abstraction. A distant and unpleasant series of news items that does not affect them personally … warfare has become something for other people to do.”

via The Rise of the Professional Military | Miller-McCune.


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Gender and religion: Where nuns fear to tread

The controversy over a Thai Buddhist nun successfully petitioning an Indian court to gain control of a temple has raised broader questions surrounding the administration of temples overseas. It has also highlighted the ambiguous role nuns, or mae chi, face within the structure of Buddhism in Thailand.

via Gender and religion: Where nuns fear to tread.


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A Personal Note To My Loyal Readers

This is a permanent post.

New material is below this entry.

If you have been around here much, you will have noted that lately my posts have dropped off dramatically. It’s not that I’ve lost interest in Digital Dharma, but rather a matter of time constraints.

For about a year I have been writing a blog for a chain of drug and alcohol detox facilities. I took on the job primarily because it was a unique way to facilitate the spread of information and hope regarding addiction and recovery. Over the past few months it has turned into a sort of full-time part-time position, and my duties have expanded to writing informational material that will eventually be placed in such a way as to reach most everyone who contacts any of the facilities.

This is far more reach than I had hoped for Continue reading


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I run across people, on the Web and elsewhere, who seem directionless. They don’t seem engaged with their lives. Some seem simply to exist passively, with little pleasure and no discernible joy. Others flail around at this and that, become intrigued or outraged by every small thing that crosses their path and may, briefly, stop off and register their interest in some way. However, when push comes to shove, if you ask them what moves them, what their passion might be, they are often unable to answer. If they do, it’s often with a caveat: too old, too young, not enough time, can’t afford it, and so forth.

There is a temptation to think of those folks as shallow and superficial, but that is an arrogant (not to mention judgmental) attitude. It is not up to me to weigh the importance of someone else’s life, their degree of satisfaction and joy, or their lack thereof. I do, however, see folks who I believe could be happier, and I suspect that’s because they haven’t looked deeply enough into themselves. They haven’t identified the one or two things that they feel strongly enough to act on, instead of reacting.

I think everyone needs such an avocation: not a job, not a hobby, but something that is so important to them personally that they would work at it — whether or not for pay — in preference to many of the things that we conventionally think of as “fun.” Self-fulfillment is a basic human need, and I believe that in order to be happy we must pursue it in some way. We may not be able to change the world, but we can change our little corner of it, a little bit. We may not be able to affect history, but we can affect the future of individuals.

We can drive a disabled vet to the store or to the VA hospital. We can read to someone who is unable. We can volunteer as a Big Brother or Sister. We can call up a church, a charitable organization, a library, and ask if they need people to help with anything at all. We can volunteer at a local nature center and turn our love of critters or plants into an enthusiastic presentation that will engage budding naturalists. There are hundreds of such things that we can do, if we but look for them — things that allow us to make a difference that we can see, that is tangible, that can bring us satisfaction and fruits that we probably can’t imagine yet. The people I see doing these sorts of thing nearly always seem fulfilled and happy.

I’ve got mine. It’s not posting links on blogs or Facebook, not even writing essays like this. Those are things I do when I’m distracted — and I have a lot of distractions — but I also have time to pursue my “bliss”, as Joe Campbell used to say. It doesn’t matter what I do. What matters is what you do. I’ve found mine.

Have you? Will you look? Will you at least think about it?


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The Banyan Deer — a parable of courage and compassion (Book Review)

It’s remotely possible that even those folks who consider themselves “serious” Buddhists may not have gotten around to reading the Nigrodhamiga-jataka (part of the Pali Jataka, a collection of 500 stories about the Buddha’s earlier lifetimes).  Somehow, I find myself able to forgive such lapses.  However, in addition to being a renowned writer of, among other things, childrens’ books, Rafe Martin has apparently delved into it — at least the first few stories.

Martin’s latest book, a slim volume entitled The Banyan Deer, is a not-too-modernized retelling of one of the Jataka tales (number 12).  The writer has stayed with the common construction of Buddhist parables and allegories, building on the central theme, step by step, until the lesson is completely delivered.  This repetitive form is common in oral storytelling. The repetitive and progressive structure helps listeners learn the stories themselves so that they can pass them along in their turn.

The Banyan Deer
has an archetypical theme that speaks to all compassionate hearts, especially those of children.  Martin tells the story of the deer king Banyan who, through his compassion for the members of his flock, turns the heart of the human king who has been hunting them and convinces him to spare them and their descendants from further hunting.  This teaching and conversion theme is another that is common in Buddhist folklore, and it carries a message that is critical to Dharma in the present day.

Too long have I lived with danger
to let it fall so heavily on others.
How can I abandon them and be
at peace myself, knowing that my
freedom was bought at such a price?

…”Imagine that,” said the young deer.
“Yes, imagine it.”

Rafe Martin has told a story that is especially suited for reading to children.  It has the feel of one of those tales from my childhood that I constantly nagged the adults to read to me again, pleeeeease?  Don’t get the idea that it’s just for kids, though.  Its lesson addresses the major problem in the world today, and its concepts of interbeing and compassion could well be our salvation in a physical sense — no metaphysics required (nor desired).

The Banyan Deer
, by Rafe Martin
Wisdom Publications, Boston, 2010
ISBN 978-0-86171-625-8
Order it from Amazon

Clarification: The publisher provided the writer with a complimentary
copy of the book in return for this review.


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Wealth, poverty and compassion: The rich are different from you and me

LIFE at the bottom is nasty, brutish and short. For this reason, heartless folk might assume that people in the lower social classes will be more self-interested and less inclined to consider the welfare of others than upper-class individuals, who can afford a certain noblesse oblige. A recent study, however, challenges this idea. Experiments by Paul Piff and his colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, reported this week in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggest precisely the opposite. It is the poor, not the rich, who are inclined to charity.

Wealth, poverty and compassion: The rich are different from you and me | The Economist


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Many Faiths, One Truth

by Tenzin Gyatso

When I was a boy in Tibet, I felt that my own Buddhist religion must be the best — and that other faiths were somehow inferior.  Now I see how naïve I was, and how dangerous the extremes of religious intolerance can be today.

Op-Ed Page, New York Times, 24 May, 2010


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The U.N.’s Death Squad Watchdog

The U.N.’s Death Squad Watchdog | Smart Journalism. Real Solutions. | Miller-McCune Online Magazine

With few resources but the force of his title — U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions — Philip Alston holds governments accountable for the politically motivated killings they commit, or ignore.

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Without a Face

A former fashion photographer now doing documentary work, Izabella Demavlys writes in her artist’s statement that “to illustrate a deeper definition of female beauty, I photograph women whose pictorial beauty radiates from their accomplishment, character and personal struggles.”

Her latest series, “Without a Face,” offers a direct and profoundly affecting kind of beauty: portraits of Pakistani women healing after attacks by men wielding kerosene oil or battery acid…

Eyeteeth:
A journal of incisive ideas: Without a Face: Izabella Demavlys on
photographing Pakistan’s survivors of acid attacks

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A 50-Watt Cellular Network

Technology Review: A 50-Watt Cellular Network

An Indian telecom company is deploying simple cell phone base stations that need as little as 50 watts of solar-provided power. It will soon announce plans to sell the equipment in Africa, expanding cell phone access to new ranks of rural villagers who live far from electricity supplies.


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I’ve Been Waiting A Long Time To Feel This Way

I’m truly proud to be an American these last few days.  It’s heartening to see my country finally stepping up and leading in an endeavor from which it can expect to gain nothing but the knowledge that it did the right thing — and the approval, at last, of the rest of the world.  It’s been far too long.

For nearly two centuries we have been the tough kid on the block. We were blessed by having managed to steal a land, rich in resources, from the previous tenants. We made rapid use of those resources and our relative isolation from the powers in Europe and Asia to build a worldwide economic power alongside which the 1st Century power of Rome pales in comparison. We have pretty much told the rest of the world how things were going to be, and made it stick through the power of our money and, too often, by force of arms.  Yes, yes, on a couple of occasions that was warranted by circumstances beyond our control, but even those wars were as much about economics as principle.

As Americans, we tend to forget that we are members of a global community, and that all we are depends on so many who preceded us.  We owe who and what we are to other cultures, those that went before and those that attempt to coexist with us today. The currently much-maligned Arabs invented the zero, without which modern mathematics would not exist. Africa gave us the rhythms that melded with European influences and became jazz. The Far East gave us philosophical insights; the Native Americans — the true owners of this land — an understanding of how we fit into the big picture along with all God’s other creations.

And so it goes. Every culture, every religion, every idea is built on those that have gone before. We Americans are the sum of all those parts: the Arabs, the Yoruba — stolen from their homes and forced to find another way to be themselves — the Hindu mystic, the Ojibway shaman, the Druid in his grove.

We need to think about this carefully. We need to understand that we are not isolated here in the US; that we are very much a part of the world, and it of us, and that we have the ability to decide the course of history. That course will be predicated, in turn, on our ability to discern our true place in the scheme of things: not whether we can kick the asses of those who disagree with our policies, but whether we can influence them to not want to kick ours.  The days of gunboat diplomacy are over.  They ended with the development of that most guided of missiles, the suicide bomber.

It is time to take our place as leaders in the quest for peace, not in the art and appliances of war.  When I see our powers diverted from that end to wage peace and compassion, as we are this week in Haiti, I have hope again.

If only we can remember that everyone hates a bully.