Monthly Archives: May 2012

You Sure Don’t Look Like a Buddhist

Everyone seems to have their own preconceived ideas of what Buddhism is and what Buddhists are. I mean, if you saw some punk rocker or even someone from Uganda, you probably wouldn’t think they look like the “typical Buddhist”. But what is a “typical” Buddhist supposed to look like? What’s a “typical Buddhist”, anyways?

There was one time this monk by the name of Bhaddiya. He sure didn’t look anything like all of the other monks. He was dwarfish in that he was shorter but not really proportioned, and he also happened to have a pretty bad complexion. Some of the other monks seemed uncomfortable by his appearance, and upon seeing this the Buddha told them that:

“Monks, that monk is of great power, of great eminence. There is no well-gained attainment that has not already been attained by that monk. For that benefit, for which sons of good lineage rightly go forth from home into homelessness, that ultimate conclusion of the holy life, even in this very life, by himself, having seen with his own eyes the higher knowledge, and having attained, he abides.”

This is because one’s outward appearance is in no way related to their inner wisdom. It doesn’t matter what we look like, or who we are – regardless of our class, gender, color, etc. – we all have the potential to realize full enlightenment. In terms of gender, Ven. Soma once observed that:

“What difference does being a woman make when the mind’s well-centered, when knowledge is progressing, seeing clearly, rightly, into the Dhamma. Anyone who thinks ‘I’m a woman’ or ‘a man’ or ‘Am I anything at all?’— that’s who Mara’s fit to address.”

The Buddha was pretty radical in his time for admitting that everyone was capable of arhatship regardless of gender, caste, etc. It’s not how you are born or even how you define yourself that really matters – its what you do. The Dhamma places a higher value on a person’s ethic and virtue rather than how we were born. Buddha stated in the Vasala Sutta that, “not by birth is one an outcast; not by birth is one a brahman. By deed one becomes an outcast, by deed one becomes an brahman.”

In MN 90, the Buddha explains the five factors for exertion to a king and asks him, “Lord, if these four castes were endowed with these five factors for exertion, would there be any distinction or difference among them in that respect?” The king actually wondered about this, so Buddha said “I tell you, great king, that there would be no difference among them with regard to the release of one and the release of another.”

It makes no difference how you were born, or how you define yourself. Your outward appearance or personal preferences, likewise, make no difference. We all have the potential to realize full awakening – that is, if we do our part and cultivate it with practice.


Emptiness, Oneness and Sheaves of Reeds

People often think that something along the lines of “oneness” is a basic Buddhist principle. However, the Buddha actually avoided this view, saying that it was an extreme. In the Lokayatika Sutta, a brahman cosmologist (lokayata) asks the Buddha if the All or “everything” exists or does not exist, or that if it was a “oneness” or “manyness”. The Buddha rejected these as extreme views, and instead related the Middle Way by teaching dependent origination.

Well, if “oneness” is an extreme view – then so isn’t emptiness? Isn’t that like saying that the All does not exist? Well, no, not really. The principle of emptiness (sunna in Pali and sunyata in Sanskrit), as an attribute of objects, simply states that all things are without an inherent, abiding self (anatta) because they are dependently co-arisen. Therefore, “emptiness” in this sense is not an extreme view, but a relative one.

In the Nalakalapiyo Sutta, Ven. MahaKotthita asks Ven. Sariputta if phenomena were “self-made or other-made or both self-made & other-made, or — without self-making or other-making — do they arise spontaneously?” Ven. Sariputta says that none of the aforementioned is actually the case, and uses a simile of sheaves of reeds to illustrate dependent origination:

“Very well then, Kotthita my friend, I will give you an analogy; for there are cases where it is through the use of an analogy that intelligent people can understand the meaning of what is being said. It is as if two sheaves of reeds were to stand leaning against one another. In the same way, from name-&-form as a requisite condition comes consciousness, from consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-&-form. From name & form as a requisite condition come the six sense media. From the six sense media as a requisite condition comes contact. From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling. From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging/sustenance. From clinging/sustenance as a requisite condition comes becoming. From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth. From birth as a requisite condition, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. Such is the origination of this entire mass of suffering & stress.

“If one were to pull away one of those sheaves of reeds, the other would fall; if one were to pull away the other, the first one would fall. In the same way, from the cessation of name-&-form comes the cessation of consciousness, from the cessation of consciousness comes the cessation of name-&-form. From the cessation of name-&-form comes the cessation of the six sense media. From the cessation of the six sense media comes the cessation of contact. From the cessation of contact comes the cessation of feeling. From the cessation of feeling comes the cessation of craving. From the cessation of craving comes the cessation of clinging/sustenance. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of suffering & stress.”

Take a Hike!

The Buddha explained that whether we are standing, sitting, walking, or reclining – we should develop mindfulness. In another post, I explained that developing mindfulness (or sati) means developing a full awareness of the present moment – an awareness of our own thoughts, actions or motivations.

When it comes to utilizing the practice of walking meditation, there are actually five benefits which can be derived by walking up and down (or in some cases in a circumambulation around) a prescribed path. First of all, the more you walk – the longer you will be able to walk because you will have more stamina and will thus not tire as easily.

This is because, secondly, walking is an overall endurance exercise – it strengthens the heart and even the bones, it helps the lungs work more efficiently, etc. Therefore, we’re able to prevent disease easier. We can properly digest things with more ease. Also, the composure and concentration that is attained by practicing walking meditation regularly is pretty long-lasting.

One of the best advantages of walking meditation is that it can be practiced whenever we are walking. It’s also a great compliment to sitting meditation, because sometimes its good to get up and stretch your legs if you’ve been sitting for a while. However, it can also be done as a stand-alone meditation practice in its own right. In sitting meditation, we develop mindfulness while the body is at rest. With walking meditation, we develop mindfulness while the body is active. This is why Ven. Pannyavaro refers to walking meditation as meditation in action.

He goes on to explain a technique one can use as walking meditation practice:

“Establish your attentiveness by first noting the standing posture and the touch sensations of the feet at the start of the walking track. (You will need to find a walking path with a level surface from five to ten metres on which you walk back and forth). The arms should hang naturally with the hands lightly clasped in front. Allow the eyes to gaze at a point about two metres in front of you on the ground to avoid visual distractions. Then as you walk keep the attention on the sole of the foot, not on the leg or any other part of the body.

For the first five minutes you can note just three parts of the step: ‘lifting’, ‘pushing’, ‘dropping’. Then mentally note or label each step part by part building up the noting to its six component parts: ‘raising’, ‘lifting’, ‘pushing’, ‘dropping’, ‘touching’ and ‘pressing’ – concurrent with the actual experience of the movement.

While walking and noting the parts of the steps you will probably find the mind still thinking. Not to worry, keep focused on the noting of the steps if the thoughts are experienced just as ‘background thoughts’. However, it you find you have been walking ‘lost in thought’ you must stop and vigorously note the thinking as ‘thinking’, ‘thinking’, ‘thinking’. Then re-establish your attention on the movement and carry on. Also be careful that the mental noting does not become so mechanical that you lose the experience of the movement.

Try to do a minimum walking period of half an hour and build it up to a full hour. Strategically it is better to do a walking period before a sitting session as it brings balance into the practice. If you can alternate the walking and sitting sessions without any major breaks it will develop a continuity of awareness that naturally carries through into the awareness of your daily activities.”

In Zen Buddhism, a form of walking meditation is called kinhin. This typically involves walking clockwise around a room with the the hands in shashu (one hand closed in a fist, while the other hand covering the fist). Each step is taken for each full breath, so that the circle moves very slowly. Kinhin is also often done between long periods of seated meditation.

Walking up and down a prescribed path allows a break in the walking, so that if the mind easily wanders during meditation this “break” allows a “break” in the wandering mind as well. This “break” allows the mind to be a bit more easily brought back to and focused on the present moment. Walking in a circular pattern, therefore, allows for a more sustained mindfulness practice. So there are some obvious differences in the practices, but they still have their own benefits.

The following video gives a very basic walk-through for a simple walking meditation practice:

Half of the Holy Life

Ven. Ananda was the Buddha’s cousin and close personal attendant. He served the Buddha with devotion and care, and even memorized most of the Buddha’s sermons. One time, when they were staying in the Sakyan town Sakkara, Ven. Ananda was sitting next to the Buddha as he said, “This is half of the holy life, lord: admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie.” The Buddha replied with:

“Don’t say that, Ananda. Don’t say that. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, he can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path.

“And how does a monk who has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, develop & pursue the noble eightfold path? There is the case where a monk develops right view dependent on seclusion, dependent on dispassion, dependent on cessation, resulting in relinquishment. He develops right resolve … right speech … right action … right livelihood … right effort … right mindfulness … right concentration dependent on seclusion, dependent on dispassion, dependent on cessation, resulting in relinquishment. This is how a monk who has admirable people as friends, companions, & colleagues, develops & pursues the noble eightfold path.

“And through this line of reasoning one may know how admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life: It is in dependence on me as an admirable friend that beings subject to birth have gained release from birth, that beings subject to aging have gained release from aging, that beings subject to death have gained release from death, that beings subject to sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair have gained release from sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair. It is through this line of reasoning that one may know how admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life.”

I have already mentioned in an earlier post that the Buddha is often referred to as a teacher of gods and humans (satthadevamanusssanam). However, in the above paragraph the Buddha is actually saying that he isn’t just our teacher – but he is also our friend. He actually helping us out, offering us all release from the cyclic existence of Samsara and the dukkha associated with it.

Of course, we should always seek out admirable friendship with others and act in accordance with those who are consummate in faith (saddha), virtue (sila), liberality/generosity (caga) and wisdom (pañña). In the Dighajanu (Vyagghapajja) Sutta, the Buddha teaches householders how to preserve and increase their wealth and happiness – in both the mundane, material sense and in the spiritual sense. He also defines what is meant by “admirable friendship” by stating that:

“There is the case where a lay person, in whatever town or village he may dwell, spends time with householders or householders’ sons, young or old, who are advanced in virtue. He talks with them, engages them in discussions. He emulates consummate conviction in those who are consummate in conviction, consummate virtue in those who are consummate in virtue, consummate generosity in those who are consummate in generosity, and consummate discernment in those who are consummate in discernment. This is called admirable friendship.”

Therefore, the purpose of having such healthy relationships with admirable friends is to develop those admirable virtues within ourselves. Having the support of your friends is always a great motivator along the path of self-awakening. In fact, having admirable friends, admirable companions, admirable comrades, etc. is actually listed in the Sambodhi Sutta as being the first prerequisite for the development of the wings to self-awakening. This is why it is always important to choose your friends wisely.

In my post On Being a Lay Buddhist, I stated that the Sigalovada Sutta has been referred to as the “Vinaya of the householder”. It basically lays out the codes of conduct for lay Buddhists. So of course, it gives some wonderful advice on choosing your friends wisely.

If someone is constantly taking your stuff without returning it, gives you a lot of lip-service and is constantly full of empty promises, always flattering you just to gain your affection yet always talks crap behind your back, and is pretty much reckless and gets you in trouble – well, then these people aren’t really very good friends. They’re more like enemies in disguise. Also, the Sigalovada Sutta actually lists “indulging in gambling which causes heedlessness” as being a quality of the reckless friend that just gets you into trouble. Maybe someone should have informed certain Korean monks of that.

True friends are good-natured and warm-hearted. They are always willing to lend you a helping hand especially when you need it the most, and they usually give some pretty good advice too. You know that you can always count on them because they are there with you, through thick and thin. They don’t talk smack when you’re not around, and they have never revealed those secrets that you have told them in confidence. They pretty much become a refuge for you when you are in need. These people are real friends, because you know that you can always count on them. That is why the Buddha said that we must always cherish them and attend to them carefully and with devotion, like a mother does for her own child.

As I noted in another post, there are also six conditions that Buddha recommended which are conducive to a state of harmony and unity. Therefore, it would probably be a good idea to try to apply these six conditions, or “harmonies”, in order to establish and maintain healthy relationships with good friends. We should also always keep in mind that those who are close to us – colleagues, friends, companions, family, etc. are not just a part of our spiritual life. They are our spiritual life.

Never Bet the Buddha Your Head

When I first made my post on Spiritual Materialism and Cherry Picking, I never would have thought that it would expand into a three part series. Yet now it seems that Seon Master Jinje, the head of the Joyge Order in Korea, had to apologize Friday after the revelation of certain footage. According to MSNBC, this particular video didn’t show “some supposedly serene monks” cursing during a meditation sesshin. No, they were supposedly “raising hell, playing high-stakes poker, drinking and smoking.”

These so-called “monks” were shot with a hidden camera at a luxury hotel in late April which they were staying at for a fellow monk’s memorial service. The video shows them smoking, drinking, and gambling illegally. The Guardian reported that:

South Korean TV networks aired shots of monks playing poker, smoking and drinking, after gathering at a luxury lakeside hotel in late April for a fellow monk’s memorial service. “The stakes for 13 hours of gambling were more than 1bn won [£543,000],” Seongho, a senior monk, told Reuters on Friday. He said he had reported the incident to prosecutors.

Gambling is illegal in South Korea outside of licensed casinos and horse racing tracks and is frowned upon by religious leaders.

“Buddhist rules say don’t steal. Look at what they did, they abused money from Buddhists for gambling,” Seongho said.

Seongho said he had obtained a computer memory stick with the video clip from a camera that had been hidden in the hotel. He would not say who had planted the camera because of recent threats made against him.

The scandal has cast doubt on the future of the order’s head, Jaseung, who apologised to all of South Korea’s 12 million Buddhists.

“We deeply apologize for the behavior of several monks in our order,” he said in a statement. “The monks who have caused public concern are currently being investigated and will be punished according to Buddhist regulations as soon as the truth is verified by the prosecution.”

Chung Yoon-sun, the secretary general of the Buddhist Solidarity for Reform, said conflict between South Korean monks had become as commonplace as disputes between the country’s politicians. “It’s just like politics,” she was quoted as saying by the Korea Times. “If there’s a conflict in interest between two groups, they make a deal or they fight.”

Chung said the scandal highlighted the need to monitor how Buddhist orders spend their large, and untaxed, donations from the public.

I think the last point is worth emphasizing. There is definitely a need to monitor and regulate Buddhist orders. In Theravada, for example, monks aren’t even supposed to handle money. All of the financing is to be done by the laity. Which is why in Thailand, when people donate money they use envelopes. However, there were reports of supposedly bogus monks that were begging for money from the public.

A lot of people don’t know that there are actually “monastic police” in Thailand, as well, whose job is basically to protect the Sangha. They can’t make arrests, or anything. They just pass information on. A long time ago, the National Buddhism Bureau established four teams of officials to monitor the “wayward activities” of any suspicious Buddhist monk. Any monk that is accused of breaching the Vinaya or engaging in any kind of wrongdoing will be investigated by a panel of monks, and if there is any basis to the accusation – the monks will therefore be defrocked.

Therefore, for us lay Buddhists, since we aren’t monks or nuns we should always do our part to keep harmony and order in the Sangha. It’s pretty much our job to make sure that people are held accountable for abusing the teachings, their monastic vows, etc. Everybody is aware of the important role of a monk or nun in Buddhism, but we can’t forget that the laity holds just as an important role – and these recent incidents only emphasize that. In fact, us lay people make up half of the four groups of Buddha’s following (parisa or “assembly”) – i.e. monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen. These recent events only emphasize how important of a role us lay Buddhists must have for any kind of coherent semblance of order in the Sangha, and it is a role that we must take seriously.

Living in Tune

President Obama recently announced his full support for marriage equality. This is an historic event for LGBT rights advocates, and for human rights in general. Hopefully, people will finally realize that marriage is really all about love – regardless of gender, race, religion, etc.

A long time ago – that is, thousands of years ago when the Buddha was still around, arranged marriages were still very much a part of tradition and culture of the time. However, despite this archaic arrangement, in the Samajivina Sutta we find a couple (who happen to be the parents of the Arhat Nakula) who are still deeply in love and wish to be with each other in the future – that is, to be reborn together in the next life. Therefore, the Buddha gives advice to Nakula’s parents on how they can still be in union, knowing and rejoicing with each other, in the realm of devas in the next life. This is timeless advice that can apply to any couple – not just to arranged heterosexual marriages.

Lay Buddhists still very much live within the sensual world, and are therefore subject to rebirth in the rounds of Samsara. Buddha is very considerate of that and as this Sutta makes apparent, he never expected householders to follow the Vinaya (monastic codes of conduct) and practice as renunciate Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis (i.e. monks and nuns). However, as a result of present kusala kamma (wholesome actions), householders can again be in union with their loved ones in the realm of devas.

“Both husband and wife,
Having faithfulness, conviction, and virtue,
Being generous and responsive,
Being restrained and living righteously by the Dhamma –
They are the couple who addresses each other lovingly.
Their beneficial results will be abundant;
Their living together would be meaningful.
When they are in tune with equal virtues, their enemies will be dispirited.
Having followed the Dhamma here in this world,
The couple will not only lead a happy life here and now,
But they will also delight in the realms of the devas,
Enjoying heavenly sensual bliss in the life to come.”

Think Carefully

In my post Spiritual Materialism and Cherry Picking, I explained that its “perfectly okay to not belong to any tradition, and to test each of them out for many years before ever committing to one” and that is, in fact, “much better than just ‘diving in’ into any tradition simply because of its outward attractiveness, or following any teacher simply because of their charisma. That is exactly how people end up in cults, and end up being even more confused than when they initially began their spiritual journey.”

The tragic events that happened in Arizona may prove to be a sad example of my point above. This is why it is always important to choose your teachers wisely and with caution. Upon investigating the teachers Christie McNally and Michael Roach, one will learn that Roach was once ordained in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. In fact, he was said to be the first westerner to qualify for a Geshe degree at the Sera Monastery in India. He is said to have once recognized McNally as a “Lama” and his “spiritual partner”. This has led to quite a bit of controversy itself – which eventually lead to the Dalai Lama censuring Roach, who refused to renounce his monastic vows, effectively barring him from having anything further to do with the order, stating that his “unconventional behavior does not accord with His Holiness’s teachings and practices.” Their “spiritual partnership” eventually ended, although they supposedly still teach together. McNally began a relationship with and eventually married one of their students – Ian Thorson, who was recently found dead in a cave in Arizona.

Before ever deciding upon a teacher or school, it is always wise to do some proper investigation first. Sometimes, we may put our trust in those who would only misuse it and misinform us – filling our heads with all kinds of incorrect ideas. We should always check out our potential teacher’s credentials and their lineage and be entirely confident in their ability to teach us and lead us correctly on the path. However, even this can sometimes be tricky as well. As in the example of Roach, some people may have been ordained into a certain lineage at one point – even though they may not be recognized by that lineage anymore. Therefore, although a certain person may appear to have the credentials to back them up, that is no guarantee that they are still involved with any school or that they are not misrepresenting the teachings.

In fact, the Buddha himself insisted in the Upali Sutta that people think carefully before following any teacher – including himself! The Upali Sutta tells the story of a famous Jain who came to debate with the Buddha and prove him wrong. However, instead of being proven wrong, he was very impressed by the Buddha and decided to become a disciple right then and there on the spot. The Buddha told him to take more time to carefully think about this and to reconsider it before finally making a conclusive decision. Upali was even more impressed by this, saying that if it were any other teacher they would gloat and brag and go on about converting a chief lay-disciple of Mahavira. Upali then went on to say that he wouldn’t stand up until the Buddha accepted him. Therefore, the Buddha did on one condition: since he had been a Jain and gave alms to Jain monks, he should continue giving alms to Jain monks if he was to become a disciple of Buddha.

So, we should all consider the advice of the Buddha and think things over carefully before ever committing to any practice, school, teacher, etc. We should keep in mind that it’s okay to take our time, as there is absolutely no reason to rush anything. Ultimately, we have to walk the path ourselves – and at our own pace.

Harvest Moon, Cinco de Mayo, and the Beastie Boys

This post is dedicated to the memory of Adam Yauch, also known as MCA, who passed away yesterday at the age of 47. He had been battling salivary gland and lymph node cancer for several years. He was one of the founding members of Beastie Boys, and he directed many of their videos under the moniker of Nathanial Hornblower. The Beastie Boys started out as a hardcore punk band inspired by the Bad Brains (which is where they derived their name), later expanding into hip hop and dance. They subsequently helped make rap music even more mainstream throughout the years.

As a practicing Buddhist, Adam founded the Milarepa Fund and also organized the Tibetan Freedom Concerts. After 9/11, he and the Beastie Boys organized New Yorkers Against Violence, as a benefit concert for those victims who were least likely to recieve much help elsewhere.

As I noted in my last post, for many Buddhists today marks the observance of Vesak Puja because it is the first full moon of May. For many people in Mexico and the United States, today is also Cinco de Mayo which commemorates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867). So today is certainly an auspicious day for many throughout the world. But that isn’t all.

This full moon is also considered to be a “supermoon” or “harvest moon” because this is the closest point that the moon gets to the Earth on its elliptical orbit. This will make it bigger and brighter than at any other point of the year. But that is not the only thing that is happening in the night sky tonight. There will also be the Eta Aquarid meteor shower.

These meteors are actually fragments of Halley’s Comet and they tend to leave large streaks in the sky. However, the harvest moon may be bright enough to wash out any of the smaller meteors, so they may not be very easily detectable tonight. You will probably have a better chance of seeing the meteors a few hours before dawn. Regardless, there are plenty of reasons to keep your eyes on the night skies tonight.

The following video is of Adam Yauch performing Bodhisattva Vow live in 1994.

Vesak Puja and the Sunshine Award

As I noted in my post Zombie Jesus and Buddha’s Birthday, many different traditions celebrate the Buddha’s birth on different dates, such as Vesak (or “Visakah Puja”) which marks the birth, enlightenment and passing of the Buddha all in one day. This celebration is called Vesak because it is the name of the month in the Indian calendar.

China/HK and Taiwan celebrated Vesak already on April 28th, in accordance with Chinese Mahayana liturgy. However, most Theravadin traditions will observe Vesak on either May 5th or 6th, with the exception of Thailand. They, along with Tibetan Buddhists (who call this day “Saga Dawa Duchen” or simply “Saka Dawa”), will observe it on June 4th.

Vesak is a day to recommit to our practice and study of Buddhist teachings. To paraphrase Ven. Mahinda:

“The significance of Vesak lies with the Buddha and his universal peace message to mankind…The teaching of the Buddha became a great civilising force wherever it went. It appeals to reason and freedom of thought, recognising the dignity and potentiality of the human mind. It calls for equality, fraternity and understanding, exhorting its followers to avoid evil, to do good and to purify their minds.”

May the three auspicious days of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana be a blessing to all of us. May we all attain the wisdom and courage that can liberate us from all stress and suffering!

Also, on a different note, fellow blogger Priyesh at Meditation 4 All nominated me for the Sunshine Award! This award is given to blogs that contribute to the blogosphere in a positive or inspirational way. I am extremely grateful for the nomination, and even more grateful for everyone who visits this blog. You are all my inspiration to keep doing what I do!

Those receiving the Sunshine Award are asked to:

1. Thank the person who nominated you and write a post about it.
2. Answer ten questions about yourself.
3. Pass the award on to 10 or 12 bloggers you enjoy, link to their blogs, and let them know you nominated them.

Blogs I Nominate (in no particular order):
1. Fierce Buddhist
2. Zen and the Art of Borderline Maintenance
3. Fundamental Happiness
4. Live. Grow. Nourish. Create.
5. The Heart Drive
6. Serene One
7. Surface Nuisance
8. Living in the Now
9. Five Reflections
10. Tales from the Lou

Ten Q&A’s about myself
1. Favorite drink? Tea, of course.
2. Favorite food? This is a tough question. But I’ll go with vegetarian chili because its soooo yummy.
3. Age? 26
4. Favorite time of day? Sunset
5. Favorite time of year? Fall
6. Favorite animal? Another tough question. I love all different types of animals, but I do think megabats are amazing creatures.
7. Favorite movie? Suburbia.
8. Favorite vacation?: The beach, of course!
9. Physical activity?: I do a lot of walking, but I have to say my favorite “physical” activity would be just sitting, counting my breaths.
10. Favorite thing?: No-thing.

The Science of Dharma

Did you know that in the Lalitavistara Sutra, thousands of years ago, the Buddha uses a metaphor to make a fairly rough prediction of the size of a typical atom? Specifically, a typical carbon atom? And it actually turned out to be pretty close?

Well, it’s true. There’s a lot of interesting things in the Buddhist Sutras that’s pretty compatible with modern scientific theories. For example, in the Agganna Sutta, the Buddha actually uses metaphor to propose a cosmology of an expanding and contracting universe which is extremely consistent with the expanding universe model and Big Bang. Following this, the Buddha states that certain “beings” become attached to an earth-like world, and as a consequence of this they are reborn there; remaining there for the duration of its life. As a result of being reborn there, their physical characteristics change as evolutionary changes takes place. This has been taken to be a rough explanation of a theory of evolution.

There have also been attempts to link Buddhist concepts such as non-dualism to concepts in physics such as wave-particle duality, as popularized in some books like The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu Li Masters. However, these attempts have so far proved to only be suggestive. In Buddhism and Quantum Physics, Christian Thomas Kohl states that “There is a surprising parallel between the philosophical concept of Nagarjuna (the Buddhist philosopher of India) and the physical concept of reality of quantum physics. The fundamental reality has no firm core but consists of systems of interacting objects. These concepts of reality are inconsistent with the substantial, subjective, holistic and instrumentalistic concepts of reality which are forming the base of modern modes of thought.”

On top of all of this, some modern scientific theories have shown a lot of strong parallels with Buddhist thought, especially in the field of psychology – e.g. Rogerian psychology. Some of the most interesting work on the relationship between Buddhism and science, however, is being done in the area of modern evolutionary biology, especially DNA, with a comparison with Yogacara theories regarding the store-house consciousness. This is because it is thought that the theory of karmic seeds works well in explaining the nature versus nurture problem.

During the 1970s, several experimental studies suggested that Buddhist meditation could produce insights into a wide range of psychological states. Interest in the use of meditation as a means of providing insight into mind-states has recently been revived, following the increased availability of such brain-scanning technologies as fMRI and SPECT. Dr. James Austin, a clinical professor of neurology, has noted in his book Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness that meditation rewires the circuits of the brain, and that this has been validated by functional fMRI imaging.

Dr. Herbert Benson refers to these changes in the body during meditation as a “relaxation response”. This response is the collective change of metabolism, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and brain chemistry. Such studies have also been enthusiastically encouraged by the present Dalai Lama who has long expressed an interest in exploring the connection between Buddhism and science, and regularly attends the Mind and Life Institute Conferences.

The following video also shows Dr. Herbert Benson’s research on the science of meditation. This video specifically demonstrates how the mind can drastically effect the body, such as through the meditation practice of tummo or “inner-heat” yoga.

The next video is the first part of a series that goes more in depth on the relationship between Buddhist principles and scientific theories. There are a lot of videos which propose some interesting parallels between Buddhism and modern scientific theories, including a few interesting documentaries that are hosted at the Open Source Buddhist Research Institute.