Tag Archives: japan

may 2010 buddhist carnival

callirgraphy: zen art

it’s a day late but here it is: my monthly buddhist carnival, serving up interesting little tidbits from the buddhist blogosphere.

we always start with a poem.

how bitter, how blue is the anger!
at the bottom of the light in april’s atmospheric strata,
spitting, gnashing, pacing back and forth,
i am asura incarnate

this is the lament – or perhaps just observation? – of kenji, one of japan’s most celebrated poet. he was a staunch follower of nichiren buddhism who has been accused by some of seriously fanning the flame of japanese imperialism during world war ii. this article by hiroaki sato at the asia-pacific journal provides an interesting insight into japanese culture and history and its connection with buddhism. a great article, and also one that dispels the idea that all buddhists are gentle and ever peace-loving. in addition, this essay is also a thoughtful reflection on the difficulty of translating japanese poetry into english.

buddhism and mental health: PTSD

since this month is mental health month, i’d also like to refer to at least two posts that talk about buddhism and mental health. at wildmind, we find this:

in northern india, the tibetan government in exile has been taking care of monks and nuns who have been brutally tortured by the chinese before they managed to escape to safety in india … there is no ability to provide the years of psychotherapy that might be necessary. the only hope for these people was to create a program of relaxation and meditation that could be taught in a group setting.

… the tibetan program was so impressive to researchers that a group from columbus, ohio, decided to try it out with women who had experienced domestic violence and other similar traumas. the group worked with the institute of buddhist dialectics and devised a program of short lectures and twice daily meditation. the results? significant reduction in overall PTSD symptoms, increase in positive emotions and reduction in fear, shame and sadness. many of the women continued to experience an overall benefit 365 days after the program ended and also experienced improved overall functioning.

(i’ve abbreviated some of this, hope that’s ok, wildmind people)

buddhism and mental health: the pros and cons of meditation
here is a mental health blog from singapore. it’s always nice to find blogs from non-western countries! he offers three different points of view on the usefulness of meditation when dealing with mental health challenges: meditation is definitely useful; meditation retreats can be harmful to some participants’ mental health; and meditation is useful, as long as it is undertaken with the help of a mental health professional.

the neurology of dualism

from mental health to neurology, not too much of a jump. travis eneix makes a very good point about accepting the concept of dualism for what it is:

the neurological structures of the brain are specifically evolved to give us the sense of being separate from our environment. it is an actual felt experience that what you feel as you is separate from things beyond the sensate barrier of touch, and therefore not-you.

with this simple knowledge, hard won by dedicated and caring scientists over the years as knowledge itself evolves, we can immediately take that feeling of separation into account not as a mistake, but as a useful tool for navigating our lived experience. instead of trying vainly to be rid of that sense, which if you listen to the non-dual teachers none of them are, you can view the sense as simply that, a sensation.

open source buddhism

something that travis and i have exchanged a few messages about is open source. the idea of open source has fascinated me for quite a while (actually, i’m surprised i haven’t written much about it. a little bit is here) so i was interested to find this site on open source buddhism. here they explain what it is:

a key component of open source is peer production. this is a form of joint collaboration by groups of
individuals. it relies on self-organizing communities of individuals who come together to produce a shared outcome, result, or product.

this same style of organization, as well as the philosophy behind it, can be applied to buddhism as well. we are living in an era where we have access to extant forms of buddhism and the records and documents of many forms that do not survive in a living form today. for those of us who are converts to buddhism, we do not have a vested national or cultural reason to embrace a specific form of buddhism over another. if one is thai, for example, it would make sense that the thai form of theravadan buddhism would be embraced and followed as a practitioner. …

as a european american, it does not necessarily make sense to embrace a very culturally entrenched form of buddhism. people do this and, for example, take tibetan names, where tibetan clothes, and generally embrace a culturally specific form of buddhism. this is definitely one possible path. an alternative to this is to look at the various forms of buddhism, evaluate the teachings and practices of them, and to work with those aspects that make the most sense within a non-buddhist culture without the history and relationship to buddhism that other nations and peoples already have. …

this is not a call to abandon traditional forms of buddhism but is, rather, a decision to not necessarily be limited by boundaries or practices simply because the form of buddhism practiced in a specific region or period had these limitations.

more about buddhism and open source here.

how important is enlightenment?

all of us who have spent some time hanging out with the ideas and practice of buddhism have thought about the place of enlightenment in our lives. here’s how one buddhist teacher, amaro bikkhu, talks about it

we developed a tradition of having a winter retreat during the cold, dark months of january and february. about three weeks into one of these early retreats, i was working very diligently and was extremely focused on the meditation. i wasn’t talking to anyone or looking at anything. every lunar quarter we would have an all-night meditation vigil. this was the full moon in january. i was really charged up and was convinced, “okay, tonight’s the night.”

want to know the rest? go here.

the importance of immediate response

from inexhaustible things:

someone said, “if you give a man a fish, you’ve fed him for the rest of the day. if you teach a man to fish, you’ve fed him for the rest of his life.” whose idea is this? does it match your own circumstances right now? is this piece of wisdom the rule for every instance? how would you behave if it was?

regardless, i responded: if you see someone who needs to be taught to fish, teach him to fish. if you see someone is hungry, feed him.

life can be this simple.

i don’t know what to add.

zen and calligraphy

having started with a poem, let’s end this edition of the buddhist carnival with another view at a creative endeavour: calligraphy.

on sunday chozen-roshi, co-abbot of great vow, gave a wonderful talk pointing out the variety of lessons we can learn from brushwork. the main point that stood out to me was how a skilful calligrapher is attention to each brushstroke, finishing each cleanly and starting each freshly. there isn’t regret, “oh, that stroke was all wrong. i should just give up.” in a similar way a student of zen is attentive to each moment. she also pointed out in calligraphy the delicate nature of various pressures. at times only the thin delicate tip of the brush makes a mark. at other times one presses the whole brush on the paper. in a similar way to live our lives skilfully we learn when to press harder and when to let up.

free-form writing frenzy #3: creative mistakes

creative mistakes

today’s writing prompt is:

i create problems for myself just so i can get creatively turned on.

ha! this is for you, ray [a lawyer i worked for back in the eighties]. numbers here, numbers there, tumbling all over the place and rarely getting to their assigned seat. number monkeys. taxes unpaid. misspellings. words misheard. it took me years to realize that apart from the fact that i was and still am simply addle-brained (my friend pete quily would say i’m ADD-le brained) (nothing french about that) i also need creative freedom. so if i don’t have it, i will make it. page too white? i’ll add some white-out. law practice going too smoothly? i’ll find some shiny stones to throw on the path. look how they glitter! look how they sun themselves in the light of my “mistakes”. aaah, that was good. that’s what i said after a particularly glaring mistake – only i couldn’t hear it and you couldn’t either. all we could hear was the cacophony of misunderstanding, the screech of logic that planted itself squarely in our path, demanding ransom. “why would you do that?” would you say, would i say, and logic would be happy. yes, that’s a logical question. and then, “how will we prevent it next time?” and logic would be happy again because that’s the next step. only they were the wrong questions, so we could never answer them satisfactorily.

that’s a nice word, by the way: satisfactorily. a little hard to type. oh, and then there was this coworker who would type and type and type with the dictaphone on and daydream while she did it and hardly make a mistake. wow. so impressive. and then another one who said, disdainfully, “i don’t make mistakes”. wow, again. how do you not make mistakes? mis-takes? takes are too boring. there needs to be an over-take, and under-take, a between-take, a take-out, a take-over, a takedown, and all kinds of japanese words that start with take-. the mistake is just the beginning. and so i let my mistake monkey out once in a while because otherwise i would explode, not knowing that what i needed was to cre-ate. mis-take. cre-take. mis-ate. again, how japanese this all looks! that i didn’t know back then either, that i would end up with so much japanese in my life.


for those of you who want to know what this is about, here is elizabeth’s post:

this is the third post in a free-form writing frenzy productivity experiment.

each afternoon for a week i’ll post a writing prompt and some simple instructions. the next morning i’ll post a quote that has something to do with the prompt, so you can take a peek at differences or similarities in how someone else relates to the same thing. some relationships will be predictable or subtle, some off the wall.

make a mental note now, and again after writing. ask yourself:

  • am i productive?
  • am i encouraged?
  • am i creative?
  • am i curious?


  1. be ready to write, word processor open, or pad and pencil in hand. set a timer for five minutes.
  2. clear your mind.
  3. click “reveal writing prompt” below, and look at the prompt for the space of one deep, quiet breath.
  4. as you start the second breath, clear your mind of expectations.
  5. write, full on, whatever comes to you, related to the prompt or not, for five minutes. do not stop to correct anything – just go.
  6. when the time is up, you have to stop.
  7. get up and wiggle. yes, that’s what i said. move. laugh. growl. pat self on back.

you’re welcome to leave comments about the experience and anything that comes of it, including links, but please don’t paste in your entire prompt-generated exercise. what you’ve got right now is a personal thing. what happens next is up to you.

image by m-c

september buddhist carnival part 2

woman meditating in japanhello friends, i’m back with part 2 of the buddhist carnival. part 1 is here. the last one had a pretty clear theme – delusions and illusions. this one is a bit more all over the place except for the first two pieces, they have something in common. they’re a bit crude.

meditation rant

new age bitch, one of my newest blog discoveries, throws around a few four-letter-words as she rants against self-proclaimed gurus and praises meditation. or does she? the title of the post is meditation is for masochist.

Q: o guru healer-person in whom i am blindly and unthinkingly placing all my trust and faith, how can we mere ignorant mortals apply this revolutionary new amazing healing method in our own lives please oh please?
A: that’s going to be in my second book.

meditation. it’s billed as a panacea, something that will cure every ill and imbalance. you. must. meditate.

but … what is meditation, exactly?

most people view meditation as a sort of struggle. calming the monkey mind. cultivating stillness, inside and out, so as to eradicate every thought. KILL THE THOUGHTS!! BANISH THOUGHTS FROM YOUR MIND! MAKE YOUR MIND EMPTY!!

you want more of this, right? well, read the rest.

zen in the outhouse

while we’re on the topic of hearty language, let’s talk about shit:

one day sosan was sent into town to buy brushes and ink. upon returning to the temple he had to respond to a call from nature. the temple had an old-style outhouse which was built very high off the ground. it was said that the outhouse was so high that if shit dropped when a traveler left taejon, it wouldn’t land until the traveler reached seoul! that’s how high this toilet was! so, as sosan taesa was squatting over the hole he happened to look down below-way below!-and saw many small animals.

as soon as his fresh shit hit the bottom, worms, rats, many kinds of animals would rush and dive into it, eating ravenously. after contemplating this scene for a while it struck him that the people in the market place were no different. they are always looking for something, always seeking something, always going for something new, always trying to make a profit off something. ahh… his mind opened.

this reminds me of my father. no, not the outhouse. but there was nothing that wasn’t capable of inspiring him when he was open to it. he would have loved this story.

buddhism and the japanese language

let’s move from the korean outhouse into more lofty intellectual realms in japan. glowing face man is studying japanese and mandarin and has noticed some features of these languages which lend themselves to buddhism in a way that english does not.¬† in his post connections between japanese and buddhism he gives a few examples; and believe it or not, once again there is one about illusion – the illusion of duality:

if a japanese monk is meditating, and she opens her eyes and sees a mountain, she might say “yama da” – “is mountain.” by context, we assume the sentence means “that’s a mountain,” but strictly speaking it could just as well mean “i am a mountain.” except japanese doesn’t have articles (“a”, “an”, or “the”), so it would actually be “i am mountain.” japanese doesn’t have plurals either, so we may as well make it “i am mountains.”

the weird way that japanese subjects work (or, don’t work, when they’re omitted) makes the idea of oneness just a little easier to grasp.

EXERCISE: experiment with removing some subjects from your mental dialogue. easier than it sounds, actually. if nothing else, a fun alternative way of thinking.

a companion post to this would be axel g’s post about meditating in japan.

planetary bodhisattva

for my last feature article, i’m happy to share with you the thoughts of christine the bliss chick, writing, in her own way, about the illusion of duality – the illusion that we are “other” from our environment.

when we get up the morning and don’t feel like being inconvenienced by a bike ride to work and consider driving our cars two miles instead, we can decide on that morning that we are not riding for ourselves but that we are riding for everyone and everything — for the entirety of the planet.

how could you possibly get in your car then?

please also read

… tejvan’s recounting of an old zen story, is that so? and anmol mehta’s thoughts on the role of urgency in motivating us to meditate.

thank you all for participating in this carnival – writers, readers, and all the techies behind the scene we never meet. the MySQL soldier at 1&1, the support fairy at shaw, the good person who took the photograph above, and the #8 bus driver taking home the nice lady who looks after my hydro bill. thank you all!

the next buddhist carnival will take place on october 15. please submit your articles here, or, if you have a hard time connecting to blog carnival, drop me a line.