28 December 2008

Buddhism on contraception and abortion

Buddhist attitudes to contraception are based on the idea that it is wrong to kill for any reason.

The most common Buddhist view on birth control is that contraception is acceptable if it prevents conception, but that contraceptives that work by stopping the development of a fertilised egg are wrong and should not be used.

Buddhists believe that life begins (or more technically: a consciousness arises) when the egg is fertilised. That is why some birth control methods, such as the IUD, which act by killing the fertilised egg and preventing implantation are unacceptable since they harm the consciousness which has already become embodied.

Unlike some other religions, Buddhism is not strongly pro-family and does not regard having children as a religious duty.

Although Buddha's teachings do not condemn non-reproductive sexual activity, they do object to the pursuit of sensual desire, which suggests that Buddhists actively seeking enlightenment should not use birth control in order to pursue sexual pleasure.

Buddhists believe that life should not be destroyed, but they regard causing death as morally wrong only if the death is caused deliberately or by negligence.
Traditional Buddhism rejects abortion because it involves the deliberate destroying of a life.

Buddhists regard life as starting at conception.
Buddhism believes in rebirth and teaches that individual human life begins at conception. The new being, bearing the karmic identity of a recently deceased individual, is therefore as entitled to the same moral respect as an adult human being.
Damien Keown, Science and Theology News, April 2004

According to the teachings of Buddha, five conditions must be present to constitute an act of killing.
  1. the thing killed must be a living being
  2. you, the killer, must know or be aware that it is a living being
  3. you must have the intention to kill it
  4. there must be an effort to kill
  5. the being must be killed as the result
Here's an example of how an abortion might constitute an act of killing:
  1. When a baby is conceived, a living being is created and that satisfies the first condition. Although Buddhists believe that beings live in a cycle of birth death and rebirth, they regard the moment of conception as the beginning of the life of an embodied individual.
  2. After a few weeks the woman becomes aware of its existence and that meets the second condition.
  3. If she decides she wants an abortion that provides an intention to kill.
  4. When she seeks an abortion that meets the fourth condition of making an effort to kill.
  5. Finally the being is killed because of that action.
Therefore the First Precept of Buddhism - not to kill - is violated and this is tantamount to killing a human being.

While it's pretty obvious why abortion generates bad karma for the mother and the abortionist it may not be so obvious why it generates bad karma for the foetus.

The foetus suffers bad karma because its soul is deprived of the opportunities that an earthly existence would have given it to earn good karma, and is returned immediately to the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Thus abortion hinders its spiritual progress.

19 December 2008

The Religious Origins of Our Weeks

All early cultures were exposed to the night sky. The seven celestial objects visible with the naked eye (that moved in a way that clearly indicated they were not stars) worked their way into the myths and legends of most early cultures. Time was and still is easily measured by celestial events, the spring equinox for example, occurs approximately every 365 days. It was easy to adapt the other 7 objects clearly seen floating about in the sky to measure the passage of time. The Sun, Moon and five visible planets gave their names to the weekly cycle of days.

This pattern lent itself to early religious teachings (Greek mythology for example) for most all knowledge -- astronomy, reading and writing, and most forms of education -- came from religious centers. Two in particular -- astronomy and religion -- often went hand in hand.

The concept of the Jewish and Christian seven-day week (Hebrew "shavua") is reflected in the Book of Genesis (the first book of the Torah and the Old Testament.) God creates the universe, earth, animals, and man in six days, resting on the seventh day, which is the Sabbath.

The existence of the sabbath day within the context of the seven-day week was affirmed. After the Exodus, manna appeared on all mornings except for the sabbath morning. Manna collected on other mornings rotted if held overnight but manna which was collected on the eve of the sabbath remained fresh for two days [1]. Observance of the sabbath is included in the Ten Commandments.

In Judaism, with emphasis on the Shabbat and the significant number seven, the week did not retain a lunar connection; by the time of the second temple it was defined only as a period of seven days, independent of the new moon. The new moon, heralding a new calendar month and observed as Rosh Chodesh, and the days of the month, are calculated according to the rules of the lunisolar Hebrew calendar.

From Judaism the week passed over to Christianity. Jesus did miraculous healings on the sabbath and declared himself to be Lord of the Sabbath.

Prior to Christianity, the week had already been regarded as a sacred institution among the Jews owing to the law of the Shabbat and its association with the first chapter of Genesis. The mixed practices of early Christian groups, which began with Jewish majorities, have been subject to varying interpretations. Many continued Sabbath meetings in synagogues (Acts passim); many celebrated "the first day of the week" (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2; cf. Rev. 1:10), also called the "eighth day"; but the seven-day weekly cycle remained undisturbed. Depending on location and timing within the first and second centuries, uniquely Christian meetings may have formed either an annual or a weekly cycle, or both.

The eighth day, according to the Epistle of Barnabas (xv), was "the beginning of another world .... wherefore also we keep the eighth day for rejoicing, in the which also Jesus rose from the dead and having been manifested ascended into the heavens." The Didache directs (viii), "Let not your fasts be with the hypocrites; for they fast on the second and fifth days of the week, but do ye fast on the fourth and on the day of preparation" (the sixth day, prior to the original Sabbath); and (xiv), "And on the Day of the Lord come together and break bread and give thanks." By the time of Tertullian, the first day in each week was regarded as commemorating the resurrection; it has also been suggested that the fourth and sixth days reflect the betrayal and passion of Christ. Over the first four centuries CE, Sunday gradually replaced the original Sabbath as the primary day of religious observances, and, eventually, as the primary day of rest.

In Roman Catholic liturgy, this simple week gave place in time, as feasts were introduced and multiplied, to an annual calendar, but the week, newly dominated by the special status of Sunday, retained its importance; this can be inferred from Amalarius, who preserves the particulars of the arrangement accepted in the Aachen chapel royal in 802, by which the whole Psalter was recited in the course of each week. In its broader features this division was identical with that theoretically imposed by the Roman Breviary until the publication of the Apostolic Constitution "Divine afflatu", November 1, 1911; and the Carlovingian arrangement was apparently substantially the same as that already accepted by the Roman Church. In the sixth century, St. Benedict had also said that the entire Psalter was to be recited at least once in the week, and a similar arrangement was attributed to Pope St. Damasus.

The Catholic church also devoted particular days to particular subjects: the Office of the Blessed Virgin on Saturday, Masses of the Passion on Friday during Lent, and Pope Leo XIII's arrangement of Votive Offices for special week days. In the early Middle Ages, Thursday may have been regarded in the West as a sort of lesser feast or Sunday, probably because it was the day assigned to the Ascension (cf. Bede, Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, IV, 25). The Breviary approved after the Council of Trent assigned certain devotions, such as the Office for the Dead and Gradual Psalms, to weekly recitations, particularly on the Mondays of Advent and Lent.

Other religions have also set apart a day for particular religious activities within the context of a seven-day week.

The seven-day week became established in both the West and East according to different paths. Hindu civilization used a seven-day week. It is mentioned in the Ramayana, a sacred epic written in Sanskrit about 500 BCE.

The earliest known reference in Chinese writings is attributed to Fan Ning, who lived in the late 4th century, while diffusions via India are documented with the writings of the Chinese Buddhist monk Yi Jing and the Ceylonese or Central Asian Buddhist monk Bu Kong of the 7th century. The Chinese transliteration of the planetary system was soon brought to Japan by the Japanese monk Kobo Daishi; surviving diaries of the Japanese statesman Fujiwara Michinaga show the seven day system in use in Heian Period Japan as early as 1007. In Japan, the seven day system was kept in use (for astrological purposes) until its promotion to a full-fledged (Western-style) calendrical basis during the Meiji era.

The Chinese use of the seven day week (and thus Korean, Japanese, Tibetan, and Vietnamese use) traces back to the 600s CE. The 28 stars were arranged in order of sun, moon, fire, water, wood, gold, earth, and every 7 days were called "qi-yao". The days were assigned to each of the luminaries, but the week did not affect social life or the official calendar. The law in the Han Dynasty required officials of the empire to rest every 5 days, called "mu", while it was changed into 10 days in the Tang Dynasty, called "huan" or xún (旬). With months being almost 3 weeks long (alternating 29 and 30 days) the weeks were labelled shàng xún (上旬), zhōng xún (中旬), and xià xún (下旬) which mean roughly "upper", "middle" and "lower" week. The 7 days "week" in ancient China is mostly kept in astrological purposes and cited in several Buddhist texts until the Jesuits reintroduced the concept in the 16th century. Thus the 19th century Japanese, when adopting the seven day western week, took their own astrological week with names for the days of the week that corresponded to the English names (and in fact were better preservations of the original Babylonian concepts, the English day names having been conflated with gods from Germanic mythology).

17 December 2008

Finding God in Buddhist Emptiness

From the Buddhist, I have learned to meditate. To sit in half-lotus position (because I can't do full) with my back straight, my hands resting together on my lap. I close my eyes, and see the heavy traffic of my thoughts. They come and go in a hundred different directions. They make me dizzy. I do not know where many of these thoughts come from. I want to stop them. I am not my thoughts, I am something else, something different. These thoughts, they are products of my ego.

From my ego are birthed thoughts. From my thoughts, desire. From desire, suffering. Extinguish desire, cease the turning of thoughts. This I have learned from the Buddhist. Shatter the false idols of my mind, and I shall see what is truly real. The non-being of material things, and how I am like them in nature. What separates me from my brother, or a stranger, or a rock, or a blade of grass? We are all non-being. There is no we. There is only peace. Peace from the destruction of ego and duality, and the illusion of inherent being. Form is emptiness, and emptiness is form.

And into this darkness beyond light we plunge ourselves, deeper and deeper, and find that point where infinity and nothing meet. Where the Logos has drawn us forth ex nihilo. This is the true meaning of Nihilism, that creation understands her nothingness before her Creator, and in doing so sees her unity with herself, one as the bride of the Logos.

Into the darkness of the world that did not understand her emptiness, did the Logos Incarnate come, bearing great light. Come also into the darkness of my sin-laden soul, and illumine me.

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16 December 2008

When Jesus met Buddha

Something remarkable happened when evangelists for two great religions crossed paths more than 1,000 years ago: they got along.

Was the Buddha a demon? While few mainline Christians would put the matter in such confrontational terms, any religion claiming exclusive access to truth has real difficulties reconciling other great faiths into its cosmic scheme. Most Christian churches hold that Jesus alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and many also feel an obligation to carry that message to the world's unbelievers. But this creates a fundamental conflict with the followers of famous spiritual figures like Mohammed or Buddha, who preached radically different messages. Drawing on a strict interpretation of the Bible, some Christians see these rival faiths as not merely false, but as deliberate traps set by the forces of evil.

Being intolerant of other religions - consigning them to hell, in fact - may be bad enough in its own right, but it increasingly has real-world consequences. As trade and technology shrink the globe, so different religions come into ever-closer contact with one another, and the results can be bloody: witness the apocalyptic assaults in Mumbai. In such a world, teaching different faiths to acknowledge one another's claims, to live peaceably together side by side, stops being a matter of good manners and becomes a prerequisite for human survival.

Over the past 30 years, the Roman Catholic Church has faced repeated battles over this question of Christ's uniqueness, and has cracked down on thinkers who have made daring efforts to accommodate other world religions. While the Christian dialogue with Islam has attracted most of the headlines, it is the encounters with Hinduism and especially Buddhism that have stirred the most controversy within the church. Sri Lankan theologians Aloysius Pieris and Tissa Balasuriya have had many run-ins with Vatican critics, and, more recently, the battle has come to American shores. Last year, the Vatican ordered an investigation of Georgetown University's Peter Phan, a Jesuit theologian whose main sin, in official eyes, has been to treat the Buddhism of his Vietnamese homeland as a parallel path to salvation.

Following the ideas of Pope Benedict XVI, though, the church refuses to give up its fundamental belief in the unique role of Christ. In a widely publicized open letter to Italian politician Marcello Pera, Pope Benedict declared that "an inter-religious dialogue in the strict sense of the term is not possible." By all means, he said, we should hold conversations with other cultures, but not in a way that acknowledges other religions as equally valid. While the Vatican does not of course see the Buddha as a demon, it does fear the prospect of syncretism, the dilution of Christian truth in an unholy mixture with other faiths.

Beyond doubt, this view places Benedict in a strong tradition of Christianity as it has developed in Europe since Roman times. But there is another, ancient tradition, which suggests a very different course. Europe's is not the only version of the Christian faith, nor is it necessarily the oldest heir of the ancient church. For more than 1,000 years, other quite separate branches of the church established thriving communities across Asia, and in their sheer numbers, these churches were comparable to anything Europe could muster at the time. These Christian bodies traced their ancestry back not through Rome, but directly to the original Jesus movement of ancient Palestine. They moved across India, Central Asia, and China, showing no hesitation to share - and learn from - the other great religions of the East.

Just how far these Christians were prepared to go is suggested by a startling symbol that appeared on memorials and stone carvings in both southern India and coastal China during the early Middle Ages. We can easily see that the image depicts a cross, but it takes a moment to realize that the base of the picture - the root from which the cross is growing - is a lotus flower, the symbol of Buddhist enlightenment.

In modern times, most mainstream churches would condemn such an amalgam as a betrayal of the Christian faith, an example of multiculturalism run wild. Yet concerns about syncretism did not bother these early Asian Christians, who called themselves Nasraye, Nazarenes, like Jesus's earliest followers. They were comfortable associating themselves with the other great monastic and mystical religion of the time, and moreover, they believed that both lotus and cross carried similar messages about the quest for light and salvation. If these Nazarenes could find meaning in the lotus-cross, then why can't modern Catholics, or other inheritors of the faith Jesus inspired?

Many Christians are coming to terms with just how thoroughly so many of their fundamental assumptions will have to be rethought as their faith today becomes a global religion. Even modern church leaders who know how rapidly the church is expanding in the global South tend to see European values and traditions as the indispensable norm, in matters of liturgy and theology as much as music and architecture.

Yet the reality is that Christianity has from its earliest days been an intercontinental faith, as firmly established in Asia and Africa as in Europe itself. When we broaden our scope to look at the faith that by 800 or so stretched from Ireland to Korea, we see the many different ways in which Christians interacted with other believers, in encounters that reshaped both sides. At their best, these meetings allowed the traditions not just to exchange ideas but to intertwine in productive and enriching ways, in an awe-inspiring chapter of Christian history that the Western churches have all but forgotten.

To understand this story, we need to reconfigure our mental maps. When we think of the growth of Christianity, we think above all of Europe. We visualize a movement growing west from Palestine and Syria and spreading into Greece and Italy, and gradually into northern regions. Europe is still the center of the Catholic Church, of course, but it was also the birthplace of the Protestant denominations that split from it. For most of us, even speaking of the "Eastern Church" refers to another group of Europeans, namely to the Orthodox believers who stem from the eastern parts of the continent. English Catholic thinker Hilaire Belloc once proclaimed that "Europe is the Faith; and the Faith is Europe."

But in the early centuries other Christians expanded east into Asia and south into Africa, and those other churches survived for the first 1,200 years or so of Christian history. Far from being fringe sects, these forgotten churches were firmly rooted in the oldest traditions of the apostolic church. Throughout their history, these Nazarenes used Syriac, which is close to Jesus' own language of Aramaic, and they followed Yeshua, not Jesus. No other church - not Roman Catholics, not Eastern Orthodox - has a stronger claim to a direct inheritance from the earliest Jesus movement.

The most stunningly successful of these eastern Christian bodies was the Church of the East, often called the Nestorian church. While the Western churches were expanding their influence within the framework of the Roman Empire, the Syriac-speaking churches colonized the vast Persian kingdom that ruled from Syria to Pakistan and the borders of China. From their bases in Mesopotamia - modern Iraq - Nestorian Christians carried out their vast missionary efforts along the Silk Route that crossed Central Asia. By the eighth century, the Church of the East had an extensive structure across most of central Asia and China, and in southern India. The church had senior clergy - metropolitans - in Samarkand and Bokhara, in Herat in Afghanistan. A bishop had his seat in Chang'an, the imperial capital of China, which was then the world's greatest superpower.

When Nestorian Christians were pressing across Central Asia during the sixth and seventh centuries, they met the missionaries and saints of an equally confident and expansionist religion: Mahayana Buddhism. Buddhists too wanted to take their saving message to the world, and launched great missions from India's monasteries and temples. In this diverse world, Buddhist and Christian monasteries were likely to stand side by side, as neighbors and even, sometimes, as collaborators. Some historians believe that Nestorian missionaries influenced the religious practices of the Buddhist religion then developing in Tibet. Monks spoke to monks.

In presenting their faith, Christians naturally used the cultural forms that would be familiar to Asians. They told their stories in the forms of sutras, verse patterns already made famous by Buddhist missionaries and teachers. A stunning collection of Jesus Sutras was found in caves at Dunhuang, in northwest China. Some Nestorian writings draw heavily on Buddhist ideas, as they translate prayers and Christian services in ways that would make sense to Asian readers. In some texts, the Christian phrase "angels and archangels and hosts of heaven" is translated into the language of buddhas and devas.

One story in particular suggests an almost shocking degree of collaboration between the faiths. In 782, the Indian Buddhist missionary Prajna arrived in Chang'an, bearing rich treasures of sutras and other scriptures. Unfortunately, these were written in Indian languages. He consulted the local Nestorian bishop, Adam, who had already translated parts of the Bible into Chinese. Together, Buddhist and Christian scholars worked amiably together for some years to translate seven copious volumes of Buddhist wisdom. Probably, Adam did this as much from intellectual curiosity as from ecumenical good will, and we can only guess about the conversations that would have ensued: Do you really care more about relieving suffering than atoning for sin? And your monks meditate like ours do?

These efforts bore fruit far beyond China. Other residents of Chang'an at this very time included Japanese monks, who took these very translations back with them to their homeland. In Japan, these works became the founding texts of the great Buddhist schools of the Middle Ages. All the famous movements of later Japanese history, including Zen, can be traced to one of those ancient schools and, ultimately - incredibly - to the work of a Christian bishop.

By the 12th century, flourishing churches in China and southern India were using the lotus-cross. The lotus is a superbly beautiful flower that grows out of muck and slime. No symbol could better represent the rise of the soul from the material, the victory of enlightenment over ignorance, desire, and attachment. For 2,000 years, Buddhist artists have used the lotus to convey these messages in countless paintings and sculptures. The Christian cross, meanwhile, teaches a comparable lesson, of divine victory over sin and injustice, of the defeat of the world. Somewhere in Asia, Yeshua's forgotten followers made the daring decision to integrate the two emblems, which still today forces us to think about the parallels between the kinds of liberation and redemption offered by each faith.

Christianity, for much of its history, was just as much an Asian religion as Buddhism. Asia's Christian churches survived for more than a millennium, and not until the 10th century, halfway through Christian history, did the number of Christians in Europe exceed that in Asia.

What ultimately obliterated the Asian Christians were the Mongol invasions, which spread across Central Asia and the Middle East from the 1220s onward. From the late 13th century, too, the world entered a terrifying era of climate change, of global cooling, which severely cut food supplies and contributed to mass famine. The collapse of trade and commerce crippled cities, leaving the world much poorer and more vulnerable. Intolerant nationalism wiped out Christian communities in China, while a surging militant Islam destroyed the churches of Central Asia.

But awareness of this deep Christian history contributes powerfully to understanding the future of the religion, as much as its past. For long centuries, Asian Christians kept up neighborly relations with other faiths, which they saw not as deadly rivals but as fellow travelers on the road to enlightenment. Their worldview differed enormously from the norms that developed in Europe.

To take one example, we are used to the idea of Christianity operating as the official religion of powerful states, which were only too willing to impose a particular orthodoxy upon their subjects. Yet when we look at the African and Asian experience, we find millions of Christians whose normal experience was as minorities or even majorities within nations dominated by some other religion. Struggling to win hearts and minds, leading churches had no option but to frame the Christian message in the context of non-European intellectual traditions. Christian thinkers did present their message in the categories of Buddhism - and Taoism, and Confucianism - and there is no reason why they could not do so again. When modern scholars like Peter Phan try to place Christianity in an Asian and Buddhist context, they are resuming a task begun at least 1,500 years ago.

Perhaps, in fact, we are looking at our history upside down. Some day, future historians might look at the last few hundred years of Euro-American dominance within Christianity and regard it as an unnatural interlude in a much longer story of fruitful interchange between the great religions.

Consider the story told by Timothy, a patriarch of the Nestorian church. Around 800, he engaged in a famous debate with the Muslim caliph in Baghdad, a discussion marked by reason and civility on both sides. Imagine, Timothy said, that we are all in a dark house, and someone throws a precious pearl in the midst of a pile of ordinary stones. Everyone scrabbles for the pearl, and some think they've found it, but nobody can be sure until day breaks.

In the same way, he said, the pearl of true faith and wisdom had fallen into the darkness of this transitory world; each faith believed that it alone had found the pearl. Yet all he could claim - and all the caliph could say in response - was that some faiths thought they had enough evidence to prove that they were indeed holding the real pearl, but the final truth would not be known in this world.

Knowing other faiths firsthand grants believers an enviable sophistication, founded on humility. We could do a lot worse than to learn from what we sometimes call the Dark Ages.

13 December 2008

Introductory notes for the Tao Te Ching

Victor Mair’s translation of the Tao Te Ching has certainly more than earned its place in a crowded field. Mair’s introduction and notes to the Tao Te Ching (Dàodéjīng, to give the proper HanYin PinYin form) begins like this:
Next to the Bible and the Bhagavad Gītā, the Tao Te Ching is the most translated book in the world. Well over a hundred different renditions of the Taoist classic have been made into English alone, not to mention the dozens in German, French, Italian, Dutch, Latin, and other European languages. There are several reasons for the superabundance of translations. The first is that the Tao Te Ching is considered to be the fundamental text of both philosophical and religious Taoism. Indeed, the Tao or Way, which is at the heart of the Tao Te Ching, is also the centerpiece of all Chinese religion and thought. Naturally, the different schools and sects each bring a somewhat different slant to the Tao, but all subscribe to the notion that there is a single, overarching Way that encompasses everything in the universe. As such, the Tao Te Ching shares crucial points of similarity with other major religious scriptures the world over.

The second reason for the popularity of the Tao Te Ching is its brevity. There are few bona fide classics that are so short, yet so packed with food for thought. One can read and reread the Tao Te Ching over and over scores of times without exhausting the insights it offers.

The third aspect which accounts for the wide repute of the Tao Te Ching is the fact that it is supposedly “very easy to understand” when actually it is exceedingly impenetrable. Paradox is the essence of the Tao Te Ching, so much so that even scholars with a solid grounding in Classical Chinese cannot be sure they have grasped what the Old Master is really saying in his pithy maxims. This deceptive ease which masks tortuous difficulty is both a challenge and an invitation, a challenge to the honest scholar and an invitation to the charlatan. Since no one can fully plumb the profundity of the Tao Te Ching, even the amateur cannot be held responsible for misrepresenting it. Hence the plethora of translations, many by individuals who command not one iota of any Chinese language. In the words of the eminent Dutch Sinologist, J.J.L. Duyvendak:

Not only do translations made by competent Sinologues vary considerably, but there also exists a multitude of so-called translations made by people who try to make up for their entirely imaginary or extremely elementary knowledge of classical Chinese by philosophical speculations which often are completely foreign to the Chinese spirit. With due acknowledgement of the interest which this Chinese classic has been able to arouse in a large circle, one cannot help regretting that the Tao-tê-ching has thus become the object of the worst dilettantism.

It is precisely because of my annoyance at the sheer presumptuousness of those who pretended to convey the words of the Old Master to others, when they themselves had not the slightest idea how to read them, that I vowed two decades ago I would never be so bold as to add my own voice to the cacophonous chorus of Tao Te Ching paraphrasts. Two unexpected and celebrated events, however, conspired to make me recant. One was the egregiously large advance and effusive national publicity awarded to an absolute tyro a couple of years ago who dared to dabble with the daunting Tao Te Ching. Although the individual concerned will remain mercifully unnamed, I felt duty bound to reclaim translation of the Tao Te Ching as the proper province of the conscientious Sinologist.

The other prod was the recent discovery of two ancient manuscripts in China which made it possible to produce a totally new translation of the Tao Te Ching far more accurate and reliable than any that has hitherto been published. This is the first translation of the Tao Te Ching based from its very inception wholly on these newly found manuscripts. The manuscripts came from a place in central China called Ma-wang-tui, not far south of the Yangtze River….

10 December 2008

Religions and their Lunisolar, Lunar, and Solar Calendars

A lunisolar calendar is a calendar in many cultures whose date indicates both the moon phase and the time of the solar year. If the solar year is defined as a tropical year then a lunisolar calendar will give an indication of the season; if it is taken as a sidereal year then the calendar will predict the constellation near which the full moon may occur. Usually there is an additional requirement that the year have a whole number of months, in which case most years have 12 months but every second or third year has 13 months.

The Hebrew, Buddhist, Hindu lunisolar, Tibetan calendars, Chinese calendar, and Korean calendar are all lunisolar, as was the Japanese calendar until 1873, the pre-Islamic calendar, the republican Roman calendar until 45 BC, the first century Gaulish Coligny calendar and the second millennium BC Babylonian calendar. The Chinese, Coligny, and Hebrew lunisolar calendars track more or less the tropical year whereas the Buddhist and Hindu lunisolar calendars track the sidereal year. Therefore the first three give an idea of the seasons whereas the last two give an idea of the position among the constellations of the full moon. The Tibetan calendar was influenced by both the Chinese and Hindu calendars. The English also used a lunisolar calendar before their conversion to Christianity.

The Islamic calendar is a lunar, but not lunisolar calendar because its date is not related to the sun. The Julian and Gregorian Calendars are solar, not lunisolar, because their dates do not indicate the moon phase — however, without realizing it, most Christians do use a lunisolar calendar in the determination of Easter.

08 December 2008

11th Panchen Lama calls on Buddhists to back national unity

One of China's most respectable Tibetan living Buddhas, the 11th Panchen Lama Erdeni Gyaincain Norbu, told Buddhist believers to make due contributions to the unity of the country and harmony among different ethnic groups.

The remark was made by the 11th Panchen Lama to followers while doing prayers at two local temples during an inspection tour to central China's Hunan Province from Nov.26 to Dec.4.

On the first day of his stay in Hunan, the Panchen Lama toured a memorial for late Chairman Mao Zedong and Mao's former residence in Shaoshan, a village-turned city to the southwest of Changsha, the provincial capital.

He wrote a piece of calligraphy in Tibetan language saying "Long Live Chairman Mao's Spirit" on the very desk Mao used to work at.

The 11th Panchen Lama also presided over prayers at Fuyan Temple in Hengyang, a key city in southern Hunan, on Nov.27 and Lushan Temple in Changsha on Dec.1.

"Buddhist believers should blend holy Buddhist doctrine with socialist construction, work for harmony with the society, and make due contributions for national unity, social stability and reunification of China," said the eminent living Buddha.

Gyaincain Norbu, born on February 13, 1990 in Lhari county of Nagqu prefecture in northern Tibet, was approved by the central government in November 1995 as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama, who died in 1989, after a lot drawing ceremony among three candidates in the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa. He was enthroned as the 11th Panchen Lama on Dec. 8, 1995.

Drawing lots from a gold urn to decide on the final choice of the reincarnation of a high lama is a tradition in Tibetan Buddhism. Gaining the approval from the central government on the choice began in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

04 December 2008

TaiJi Quan & QiGong

Tai chi chuan (traditional Chinese: 太極拳; simplified Chinese: 太极拳; pinyin: tàijíquán; Wade-Giles: t'ai4 chi2 ch'üan2) is an internal Chinese martial art often practiced for health reasons. Tai chi is typically practiced for a variety of reasons: its soft martial techniques, demonstration competitions, health and longevity. Consequently, a multitude of training forms exist, both traditional and modern, which correspond to those aims. Some of tai chi chuan's training forms are well known to Westerners as the slow motion routines that groups of people practice together every morning in parks around the world, particularly in China.

The Mandarin term "t'ai chi ch'uan" literally translates as "supreme ultimate fist", "boundless fist," or "great extremes boxing" (note that 'chi' in this instance is an earlier romanization of modern 'ji', not to be confused with the use of 'chi' in the sense of 'life-force' or 'energy', which is an earlier romanization of modern 'qi'). The concept of the "supreme ultimate" appears in both Taoist and Confucian Chinese philosophy where it represents the fusion or mother of Yin and Yang into a single ultimate represented by the Taijitu symbol. Thus, tai chi theory and practice evolved in agreement with many of the principles of Chinese philosophy including both Taoism and Confucianism.

Many styles list in their history that tai chi was originally formulated by a Taoist monk called Zhang Sanfeng and taught by him in the Taoist monasteries at Wu Tang Shan.

When tracing tai chi chuan's formative influences to Taoist and Buddhist monasteries, there seems little more to go on than the legendary tales from a modern historical perspective, but tai chi chuan's practical connection to and dependence upon the theories of Sung dynasty Neo-Confucianism (a conscious synthesis of Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian traditions, especially the teachings of Mencius) is claimed by some traditional schools. The philosophical and political landscape of that time in Chinese history is fairly well documented. Tai chi's theories and practice are therefore believed by these schools to have been formulated by the Taoist monk Zhang Sanfeng in the 12th century, at about the same time that the principles of the Neo-Confucian school were making themselves felt in Chinese intellectual life.

In these legends, Zhang Sanfeng as a young man studied Tao Yin (導引, Pinyin dǎoyǐn) breathing exercises from his Taoist teachers and martial arts at the Buddhist Shaolin monastery, eventually combining the martial forms and breathing exercises to formulate the soft or internal principles we associate with tai chi chuan and related martial arts. Zhang Sanfeng is also sometimes attributed with the creation of the original 13 Movements of Tai Chi Chuan. These 13 movements are in all forms of tai chi chuan. Its subsequent fame attributed to his teaching, Wu Tang monastery was known thereafter as an important martial center for many centuries, its many styles of internal kung fu preserved and refined at various Taoist temples.

The philosophy of the style is that if one uses hardness to resist violent force, then both sides are certain to be injured at least to some degree. Such injury, according to tai chi theory, is a natural consequence of meeting brute force with brute force. Instead, students are taught not to directly fight or resist an incoming force, but to meet it in softness and follow its motion while remaining in physical contact until the incoming force of attack exhausts itself or can be safely redirected, meeting yang with yin. Done correctly, this yin/yang or yang/yin balance in combat, or in a broader philosophical sense, is a primary goal of tai chi chuan training. Lao Tzu provided the archetype for this in the Tao Te Ching when he wrote, "The soft and the pliable will defeat the hard and strong."

Along with Yoga, tai chi is one of the fastest growing fitness and health maintenance activities in the United States.

Before tai chi's introduction to Western students, the health benefits of tai chi chuan were largely explained through the lens of traditional Chinese medicine, which is based on a view of the body and healing mechanisms not always studied by modern science. Today, some prominent tai chi teachers have advocated subjecting tai chi to rigorous scientific studies to gain acceptance in the West. Researchers have found that long-term tai chi practice shows favorable effects on the promotion of balance control, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness and reduced the risk of falls in elderly patients. The studies also show some reduced pain, stress and anxiety in healthy subjects. Other studies have indicated improved cardiovascular and respiratory function in healthy subjects as well as those who had undergone coronary artery bypass surgery.

Tai chi and neijia in general play a large role in many wuxia novels, films, and television series; among which are Yuen Wo Ping's Tai Chi Master starring Jet Li, and the popular Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. A movie that features a traditional tai chi chuan teacher as the lead character is Pushing Hands, Ang Lee's first western film. It is also used as the basis for fictional "Waterbending" in Avatar the Last Airbender.In the video game Dead or Alive, Lei Fang uses Tai chi chuan. Internal concepts may even be the subject of parody, such as in Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle. Fictional portrayals often refer to Zhang Sanfeng and the Taoist monasteries on Wudangshan.

Qigong, and its intimate relation to the Chinese martial arts and traditional Chinese medicine, are often associated with spirituality. This link is much stronger than with other techniques in traditional Chinese medicine. Qigong was historically practiced in Taoist and Buddhist monasteries as an aid to concentration as well as martial arts training, and the health benefits of martial qigong practice have recently been confirmed in western medical studies. In addition, the traditional teaching methods of most qigong schools (at least in Asia) descend from the strict teacher-disciple relationship conventions inherited in Chinese culture from Confucianism.

Qigong (or ch'i kung) refers to a wide variety of traditional cultivation practices that involve methods of accumulating, circulating, and working with Qi or energy within the body. Qigong is sometimes mistakenly said to always involve movement and/or regulated breathing; in fact, use of special methods of focusing on particular energy centers in and around the body are common in the higher level or evolved forms of Qigong. Qigong is practised for health maintenance purposes, as a therapeutic intervention, as a medical profession, a spiritual path and/or component of Chinese martial arts.

In some styles of qigong, it is taught that humanity and nature are inseparable, and any belief otherwise is held to be an artificial discrimination based on a limited, two-dimensional view of human life. According to this philosophy, access to higher energy states and the subsequent health benefits said to be provided by these higher states is possible through the principle of cultivating virtue (de or te 德, see Tao Te Ching, chapters 16, 19, 28, 32, 37, and 57). Cultivating virtue could be described as a process by which one comes to realize that one was never separated from the primal, undifferentiated state of being free of artificial discrimination that is the true nature of the universe. Progress toward this goal can be made with the aid of deep relaxation (meditation), and deep relaxation is facilitated by the practice of qigong.

16 November 2008


  • Sacred within Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and connected yoga and dharma based practices.
  • A mala usually has beads for 108 repetitions of a mantra.
  • Hindu deities have 108 names. Recital of these names, often accompanied by counting of 108-beaded Mala, is considered sacred and often done during religious ceremonies. The recital is called namajapa.
  • It is described in the Srimad Bhagavatam that Krishna dances with 108 'Gopis' (cow-herd girls) in His Vrindavan pastimes, and later marries 16,108 wives in His city of Dwarka. Hare Krishna devotees thus hold 108 as a number of great significance.
  • Siva Nataraja dances his cosmic dance in 108 poses.
  • The total of all digits of 108 (1+0+8) is 9, which in Hinduism is said to represent the 9 tattvas[citation needed]. If you divide 108 by 2 or multiply by 2 the total of all digits again equals 9.
  • 2^2 * 3^3 = 108 ( (2 * 2) * (3 * 3 * 3) )
  • The number of sins in Tibetan Buddhism.
  • In the temple Angkor Wat area there are numerous references to the number 108, which plays a significant role in the symbolism of the structure.
  • Ananda Coomaraswamy holds that the numerology of the decimal numeric system was key to its inception. 108 is therefore founded in Dharmic metaphysical numerology. One for bindu; zero for shunyata and eight for ananta.
  • In Japan, at the end of the year, a bell is chimed 108 times to finish the old year and welcome the new one. Each ring represents one of 108 earthly temptations a person must overcome to achieve nirvana.
  • Zen priests wear juzu (a ring of prayer beads) around their wrists, which consists of 108 beads.
  • Many Buddhist temples have 108 steps.
  • Hindu Kshatriya Dhangars have 108 clans. The lineage of these clans is from solar and lunar dynasties. It should be noted that the diameter of the Sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth. The distance from the Sun to the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Sun. The average distance of the Moon from the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Moon.
  • The Eklingji temple complex includes 108 temples within its walls.
  • In Hindu Astrology there are 12 Rashis or Zodiacs and 9 Planets or Navagrahas. 12 X 9 = 108. There are 27 Lunar mansions or Nakshatras which are divided in 4 Padas or quarters each. 27 X 4 = 108.
  • There are 108 holy temples of Vishnu.
  • Sahasranamastotra or Sahasranama (1008 names (List of 10,000 names is given to a rishi called Tandi by Shiva; the rishi gives it to Upamanyu, and the latter to Krsna in an abridged. He gives only one tenth of the names, viz. 1008 names)) has a total of 108 shlokas.
  • 108 signifies the wholeness of the divinity, perfect totality.
  • The Lankavatara Sutra repeatedly refers to the 108 steps.
  • Marma Adi has 108 pressure points.
  • The Chinese school of martial arts agrees with the South Indian school of martial arts on the principle of 108 pressure points.
  • 108 number also figures prominently in the symbolism associated with Karate, particularly the Goju Ryu discipline. The ultimate Goju-ryu kata, Suparinpei, literally translates to 108. Suparinpei is the Chinese pronunciation of the number 108, while gojushi of gojushiho is the Japanese pronunciation of the number 54. The other Goju-ryu kata, Sanseru (meaning "36") and Seipai ("18") are factors of the number 108.
  • The 108 of the Yang long form and Wing Chun, taught by Yip Man having 108 movements are noted in this regard.
  • Several different Taijiquan long forms consist of 108 moves.
  • Paek Pal Ki Hyung, the 7th form taught in the art of Kuk Sool Won, translates literally to "108 technique" form. It is also frequently referred to as the "eliminate 108 torments" form. Each motion corresponds with one of the 108 Buddhist torments or defilements.
  • Traditionally the Angelus Bell is rung 108 times.
  • Chinese astrology and Tao philosophy holds that there are 108 sacred stars.

05 November 2008

Xia Yuan Festival: The Taoist Thanksgiving

The fifteenth day of the 10th lunar month is a day that is commonly known as the ‘Xia Yuan festival’. (2008/11/12)

This is the birthday of the celestial emperor also known as the Official of Water or the God of Water. According to Taoist cosmology the three primary elements of the universe are Heaven, Earth and Water. There are three celestial officials/emperors governing these realms and they are; the emperor of Heaven, emperor of Earth and the emperor of Water. There are three festivals, at different times of the year that celebrate the wonders associated with these celestial emperors. San Yuan – known as the lantern festival, JungYuan – known as the hungry ghost festival and of course, Xia Yuan.

It is commonly believed that the emperor or official of the waters was charged with the movement and flow of the seas, streams, brooks, rivers and rain but also to address the aspect of human sin and alleviating the hardships incurred by the average person. To pay their respects people will provide offerings to the emperor of the Waters during the Xia Yuan festival. By praying to him on this day, in a sincerely remorseful way, it is suggested that all your sins and misfortunes can be deleted from the ‘spiritual records’ and you are free to turn over a new leaf.

This festival is not that well known and is a traditional Taoist celebration held in the latter part of the year. It is therefore selected to perform the Hsieh Ping An – Thanksgiving for safety and well being ceremony in the local temples to show gratitude to the gods for the safe year and good harvests. We all know the benefit of being grateful for what you have.

Each member of the community is able to participate in this ceremony. It is expected that each man provide an amount of ‘Ting Ah’ (money) and every woman ‘Ban Ting’ (half the amount of money) as a contribution towards the Hsieh Ping An ceremony and its associated activities. It is the opportunity to present and reinforce the solidarity through the bonds of the earth, the temple and the celestial beings.

In the Taoist temples, the ceremony of ‘Hsieh Ping An’ is held to offer sacrifices. Hsieh Ping An also called Hsieh Dong meaning ‘thanksgiving in winter’, is the most cheerful and exciting activity in the community at that time of the year. Generally, theatre groups will come to the temple forecourt and produce their plays over the course of several days. At night street vendors will set up stalls around the temple forming a temporary night market providing varying types of recreational activities. It is for celebrating the good harvest and relaxing after a hard years work.

25 October 2008

The Ox Walk

In Japan, Buddhist monks do what's called the "Ox Walk" in busy city centres. They will walk deliberately slowly and ring a bell each time they take a step. If someone gives them alms, they will stop and recite a prayer for them, then continue their "Ox Walk". It's meant to be a reminder to the people to slow down and not rush, but live in the moment. Here's a video of a Tokyo monk Ox Walking in the CDB.

08 October 2008

Burning Incense Is Psychoactive

Religious leaders have contended for millennia that burning incense is good for the soul. Now, biologists have learned that it is good for our brains too. An international team of scientists, including researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, describe how burning frankincense (resin from the Boswellia plant) activates poorly understood ion channels in the brain to alleviate anxiety or depression. This suggests that an entirely new class of depression and anxiety drugs might be right under our noses.

"In spite of information stemming from ancient texts, constituents of Bosweilla had not been investigated for psychoactivity," said Raphael Mechoulam, one of the research study's co-authors. "We found that incensole acetate, a Boswellia resin constituent, when tested in mice lowers anxiety and causes antidepressive-like behavior. Apparently, most present day worshipers assume that incense burning has only a symbolic meaning."

To determine incense's psychoactive effects, the researchers administered incensole acetate to mice. They found that the compound significantly affected areas in brain areas known to be involved in emotions as well as in nerve circuits that are affected by current anxiety and depression drugs. Specifically, incensole acetate activated a protein called TRPV3, which is present in mammalian brains and also known to play a role in the perception of warmth of the skin. When mice bred without this protein were exposed to incensole acetate, the compound had no effect on their brains.

07 October 2008


Yoga is a traditional Indian discipline of the mind and body. Depictions of yoga-like meditation have been found on seals dating from more than 3,000 years ago, however it was Indian sage Patanjali who compiled the first yoga doctrine, the Yoga Sutras, about 2,200 years ago.

Yoga, or Rāja (Royal) Yoga, is considered one of the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy.

Yoga and Sufism

The development of Sufism was considerably influenced by Indian yogic practises, where they adapted both physical postures (asanas) and breath control (pranayama). The ancient Indian yogic text, Amritakunda, ("Pool of Nectar)" was translated into Arabic and Persian as early as the 11th century.

Yoga and Buddhism

Yoga is intimately connected to the religious beliefs and practices of the Indian religions. The influence of Yoga is also visible in Buddhism, a descendant of Hinduism, which is distinguished by its austerities, spiritual exercises, and trance states.

Yogacara Buddhism

Yogacara (Sanskrit: "Practice of Yoga [Union]"), also spelled yogāchāra, is a school of philosophy and psychology that developed in India during the 4th to 5th centuries.

Yogacara received the name as it provided a yoga, a framework for engaging in the practices that lead to the path of the bodhisattva. The Yogacara sect teaches yoga in order to reach enlightenment.

Ch'an (Seon/Zen) Buddhism

Zen (the name of which derives from the Sanskrit "dhyana" via the Chinese "ch'an") is considered a form of Mahayana Buddhism. The Mahayana school of Buddhism is noted for its proximity with Yoga. In the west, Zen is often set alongside Yoga; the two schools of meditation display obvious family resemblances. This phenomenon merits special attention since the Zen Buddhist school of meditation has some of its roots in yogic practices. Certain essential elements of Yoga are important both for Buddhism in general and for Zen in particular.

Tibetan Buddhism

Yoga is central to Tibetan Buddhism. In the Nyingma tradition, practitioners progress to increasingly profound levels of yoga, starting with Mahā yoga, continuing to Anu yoga and ultimately undertaking the highest practice, Ati yoga. In the Sarma traditions, the Anuttara yoga class is equivalent. Other tantra yoga practices include a system of 108 bodily postures practiced with breath and heart rhythm. Timing in movement exercises is known as Trul khor or union of moon and sun (channel) prajna energies. The body postures of Tibetan ancient yogis are depicted on the walls of the Dalai Lama's summer temple of Lukhang. A semi-popular account of Tibetan Yoga by Chang (1993) refers to Dumo, the generation of heat in one's own body, as being "the very foundation of the whole of Tibetan Yoga" (Chang, 1993, p7). Chang also claims that Tibetan Yoga involves reconciliation of apparent polarities, such as prana and mind, relating this to theoretical implications of tantrism.

Yoga and Tantra

Tantrism is a practice that is supposed to alter the relation of its practitioners to the ordinary social, religious, and logical reality in which they live. Through Tantric practice an individual perceives reality as maya, illusion, and the individual achieves liberation from it. This particular path to salvation among the several offered by Hinduism, links Tantrism to those practices of Indian religions, such as yoga, meditation, and social renunciation, which are based on temporary or permanent withdrawal from social relationships and modes.

During tantric practices and studies, the student is instructed further in meditation technique, particularly chakra meditation. This is often in a limited form in comparison with the way this kind of meditation is known and used by Tantric practitioners and yogis elsewhere, but is more elaborate than the initiate's previous meditation. It is considered to be a kind of Kundalini Yoga for the purpose of moving the Goddess into the chakra located in the "heart," for meditation and worship.

Goal of Yoga

The goal of yoga may range from anywhere between improved health and reaching Moksha.Within the monist schools of Advaita Vedanta and Shaivism the goal of yoga takes the form of Moksha, which is liberation from all worldly suffering and the cycle of birth and death (Samsara), at which point there is a realisation of identity with the Supreme Brahman. In the Mahabharata, the goal of yoga is variously described as entering the world of Brahma, as Brahman, or as perceiving the Brahman or Atman that pervades all things. For the bhakti schools of Vaishnavism, bhakti or service to Svayam bhagavan itself is the ultimate goal of the yoga process, wherein perfection culminates in an eternal relationship with Vishnu, Rama or Krsna.

01 October 2008

Buddhism And The Zen Of Punk Rock

The word "punk" doesn't usually bring to mind meditation. But the growing popularity of Buddhism in the U.S. is attracting an unlikely fan base among punk rock enthusiasts.

What does punk rock have to do with Buddhism? "There's a disdain for authority. There's a strong sense that the individual is responsible for herself or for himself," says Brad Warner, a bona fide punk rocker and ordained Zen master.

The former bassist of Ohio-based punk rock band Zero Defex is also the author of two books on the subject: "Sit Down and Shut Up: Punk Rock Commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, Death, and Dogen's Treasury of the Right Dharma Eye" and "Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies, & the Truth about Reality", which explores Buddhism and punk's overlapping approaches to rebellion.

At some point in a Zen master's day, Warner admits, the punk rock needs to turn off. "I have practiced zazen [which literally means "seated meditation"] in punk rock houses full of filth and garbage, but it's much more difficult," he says.

Noah Levine, author of "Against the Stream: A Buddhist Manual for Spiritual Revolutionaries" and the memoir "Dharma Punx", doesn't quite fit the Buddhist stereotype either. Some people might be put off by his shaved head, silver tooth and his tattoo-covered body — hardly what one might expect from a teacher of Buddhism. But a closer look reveals that the tattoos reflect his Buddhist lifestyle. The left side of his neck reads, "Dharma Punx," with "dharma" meaning truth in Sanskrit; and the right side reads, "Against the Stream," referring to his meditation society.

Although his father is an American Buddhist author and teacher, Levine embraced the practice only after hitting rock bottom in jail. Levine, who says he started doing drugs by the time he was 10, spent his teens as a crack addict. "I came to meditation practice, to Buddhism, strung out on drugs, filled with rage," he says. Now 20 years sober, Levine's group teaches meditation to convicts, the homeless and other groups of people.

Levine's method, summed up in his new book, Against the Stream, has attracted thousands of students all over North America and Europe. His ethic is also captured in a new documentary film titled Meditate and Destroy, about punk rock, spirituality and inner rebellion. Levine says there is always a bit of struggle with meditation, which is another thing that makes it akin to punk mentality.

"Here in meditation, we say, 'Stop thinking, pay attention to the breath.' And your mind says, 'F*** you. I will do whatever I want,'" says Levine. "We begin to understand that it is inner anarchy."

13 September 2008

More of the Agony of the Church by Saint Nikolaj Velimirovic

India was the cradle of the teaching of the Incarnation. The supreme God, Brahma (roughly equivalent to the deity Hwang-Cheon-Sang-Je {皇天上帝 [Heavenly Divine Supreme Emperor]} {Huang-Tian-Shang-Di in Mandarin} in Chinese and Korean mythology), had already been incarnated in many persons since the dawn of history. But the highest incarnation of Him was still to come. Well, Jesus Christ was this highest incarnation of Brahma in human shape.

The cultivated polytheists did not like the idea of a monotonous theology of one solitary God. They liked rather a divine company upon Olympus. Well, Christianity with its Trinity-teaching presented to them a limited polytheism. God was not physically one, as in Judaism, nor many, as in Hellenism. He was a Trinitarian Plurality in Unity. He was not a grim hermit, but He had the riches of an eternal life.

The intellectual Greeks and Hellenists climbed to the idea of one God and of Logos, the Mediator between God and the world, through whom God created whatever He created, and who may be incarnated for the salvation of the fallen, suffering creation. Well, Jesus Christ could include in His person this wonderful doctrine of Neoplatonism.

The mountainous Asia under Caucasus and Ararat, plunged into the mystery of Mithras, which was born out of the Zoroastrian dualistic religion of light and darkness, of Ormuzd and Ahriman. Well now, Christ, the friend of humanity, revealed Himself as the God of light struggling against Satan, the enemy of humanity.

Rome, politically ruling the world, was longing for a sacred King, for a Prince of Peace, who should come from the East and bring to the people some higher and truer happiness than that deceiving chimera of political bigness. Well, Christ should be this universal, sacred King, this Prince of Peace, and Messenger of a durable happiness. It is not true that Christ had His prophets among the people of Israel only. His prophets existed in every race and every religion and philosophy of old. That is the reason why the whole world could claim Christ, and how He can be preached to everybody and accepted by everybody. Behold, He was at home everywhere!

11 September 2008

More on Prayer Beads

Bahá'ís recite the phrase "Alláhu Abhá", a form of the Greatest Name, 95 times per day, sometimes using prayer beads. Baha'i prayer beads often are made from wood, stone, glass beads or pearls.

There are two main types of Baha'i prayer beads. One consists of 95 beads, often with the first 19 distinguished by size, color or some other means, and will often have five additional beads that are strung below. The other main type has 19 beads strung with the addition of five beads below. This counts Alláhu Abhá 95 times (19*5).

Prayer beads, or Japa Malas, are also used in many forms of Mahayana Buddhism, often with a lesser number of beads (usually a divisor of 108). In Pure Land Buddhism, for instance, 27 bead malas are common. In China such malas are named "Shu-Zhu" (数珠); in Japan, "Juzu". These shorter malas are sometimes called 'prostration rosaries', because they are easier to hold when enumerating repeated prostrations. In Tibetan Buddhism malas are also 108 beads: one mala counts as 100 mantras, and the 8 extra are meant to be dedicated to all sentient beings (the practice as a whole is dedicated at its end as well). because they are . In Tibetan Buddhism, often larger malas are used of for example 111 beads: when counting, they calculate one mala as 100 mantras, and the 11 additional beads are taken as extra to compensate for errors.

The Orthodox Christian Desert Fathers (third to fifth century) used knotted ropes to count prayers, typically the Jesus Prayer ("Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner"). The invention is attributed to St Anthony or his associate St Pachomius in the fourth century.

Roman Catholics and some Anglicans use the Rosary as prayer beads. The Rosary (its name comes from the Latin "rosarium," meaning "rose garden"), is an important and traditional devotion of the Roman Catholic Church, combining prayer and meditation in sequences (called "decades") of an Our Father, ten Hail Marys, and a Glory Be to the Father, as well as a number of other prayers (such as the Apostle's Creed and the Hail Holy Queen) at the beginning and end. Traditionally a complete Rosary involved the completion of fifteen decades, but John Paul II added an additional five. Roman Catholics also use prayer beads to pray chaplets.

Eastern Christians use loops of knotted wool (or occasionally of beads), called chotki or komboschinia to pray the Jesus Prayer. Although among the Orthodox, their use is mainly restricted to monks and bishops, being less common among laity or secular clergy. Among Russian Old Believers, a prayer rope made of leather, called lestovka, is more common, although this type is no longer commonly used now by the Russian Orthodox Church. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "The rosary is conferred upon the Greek Orthodox monk as a part of his investiture with the mandyas or full monastic habit, as the second step in the monastic life, and is called his 'spiritual sword'."

The earliest use of prayer beads can be traced to Hinduism, where they are called Japa Mala. Japa is the repeating of the name of a deity or a mantra. Mala (Sanskrit:माला; mālā) means 'garland' or 'wreath'.

Japa mala are used for repetition of a mantra, for other forms of sadhana (spiritual exercise), and as an aid to meditation. The most common mala have 108 beads. The most common materials used for making the beads are Rudraksha seeds (used by Shaivites) and Tulsi stem (used by Vaishnavites).

In Islam, prayer beads are referred to as Misbaha or Tasbih, and contain 99 beads, corresponding to the 99 Names of Allah. Sometimes only 33 beads are used, in which case one would cycle through them 3 times to equal 99. Use of the misbaha to count prayers and recitations is an evolution of Muhammad's practice of using the fingers of his right hand to keep track. While in pretty wide use today, some adherents of Wahhabism shun them as an intolerable innovation, preferring to stick to the exact method believed to have been used by Muhammad. Their use as a religious item has somewhat diminished over the years, and many use them nowadays strictly as worry beads and as status symbols.

They are most commonly made of wooden beads, but also of olive seeds, ivory, amber, pearls or plastic.

Sikhs use a Mala with 108 beads. They also use prayer string made of wool with 99 knots rather than beads.

10 September 2008

Christianity popular in Tang Dynasty

Latest research on a tombstone dating back to the ninth century showed Christianity had most probably been popular among Tang Dynasty (618-907) civilians, Chinese archaeologists said.

The incomplete damaged eight-surface tombstone, unearthed in Luoyang City, central Henan Province, in 2006, had scriptures of the Jingjiao, or Nestorian Church, and pictures of crosses, according to Luo Zhao, a Chinese Academy of Social Sciences religious researcher.

"To be exact, the Christian text was a China-proper ontological thesis about the Christian theology written by a prelate who had been long living in China in the late eighth century."

Luo said it was the first time to discover such tombstones engraved with Jingjiao scriptures. Tombstones engraved with Buddhist texts were common in the Tang Dynasty.

The significance of the finding is believed by Chinese archaeologists to be nothing less than that of the Jingjiao stone tablet unearthed in 1623 in the Tang capital Xi'an. The tablet, engraved in 781, revealed for the first time the spreading of the religion in half a century after it came to China via the Silk Road, a trade route linking China with Asian and European nations.

"Who would imagine that Chinese Christians had already engraved the lections onto the tombstones in funeral rituals to bless the soul of the dead? " asked Lin Wushu, a Guangzhou-based Sun Yat-sen University professor who has devoted himself to the Jingjiao studies.

Apart from the religious activities of the An family, the tombstone also revealed such important information as the churches and groups of believers at that time, according to the academic.

01 September 2008

The Agony of the Church by Saint Nikolaj Velimirovic

"If you ask what saintliness ought to mean, Christianity has not to argue but to show you the saintliness in the flesh. Christ the saintly Lord, St Paul and St John, Polycarp and Leo, Patrick and Francis, Sergius and Zosim, St Theresa and hundreds of other saints. And if somebody thinks still that a few thousands of Christian saints are not a sufficient argument to show that saintliness is practicable, then the Church has still not to give her ideal up and to take as her ideal thousands of great and small Napoleons and Bismarcks, and Goethes and Spencers, or Medics and Cromwells or Kaisers and Kings--no, in the latter case it would be much nicer for the Church to point out the saintly men outside of Christian walls, like St Hermes and St Pythagoras, or St Krishna and St Buddha, or St Lao-Tse and St Confucius, or St Zoroaster and St Abu-Bekr. Better even is unbaptised saintliness than baptised earthliness."

26 August 2008

The Three Ways to the Single Goal

Not only are the Chinese people the most numerous in the world: it also has a very rich culture and ancient statehood. Hundreds of years B.C. the Chinese had established the way of life which was preserved with little changes until very recently. Silk and paper, gunpowder and printing press speak for the material culture of China; names of Confucius and Lao-Tse remind us of its spiritual heritage.

Chinese religious scene is often understood as some sort of ecumenism where "anything goes". This is not so: three traditions of Chinese religious thought -- Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism -- constitute certain structure known as "the three ways to the single goal". This structure, moreover, was remarkably stable and resistant to external influences.

Fr. Seraphim (Rose), who had been a serious scholar of ancient Chinese culture, and for whom Taoism became a bridge to the Christian Orthodox faith noticed that
"...there is a very strong idea in the Chinese mind of orthodoxy: that there is a right teaching, and that the whole society depends on that right teaching. This orthodoxy is expressed in different forms ... Taoism is the esoteric side, and Confucianism is the more social side."
Reserved and cautious approach to alien influences helped the Chinese to keep their culture and civilization throughout millennia in numerous conflicts with neighbors and nomads. We all remember the timeless advise:
"...If we are truly born to imitate, why shouldn't we borrow then from the Chinese their wise incognizance of foreign tribes, and get redeemed from tyranny of fashion?" (Griboedov, Woe from Wit)
Traditional way of life based on the notion of orthodoxy was the foundation of the Chinese society and state. Western attempts to establish contacts with China, including Christian missionary efforts, remained largely unsuccessful due to disregard (or total ignorance) of that foundation.

25 August 2008

Christian Monk Thomas Merton and the Buddhist Monks he inspired

He he is a Buddhist monk, 小双 (Xiao Shuang) who goes by the English name of Zachias. Zachias was the Tax Collector described in Christian literature as the man who climbed a sycamore tree in order to get a better view of Jesus Christ. 小双 actually chose his name after hearing a lecture of mine on Trappist/Benedictine monk and prolific writer Thomas Merton. I was talking about Merton’s last journey before his death. He traveled to Tibet to meet the Dalai Lama in his quest to discover the true waters of religious thought he believed flowed from mainsprings the east. Merton had given his life to solitude believing that the distractions of the secular prevented a clear view of the spiritual. But, at that point in his life he also thought that the notion of complete segregation as practiced in his monastery created illusion of holiness. Holiness is something in the distance and one rises above the crowd to witness it, to be guided by it, not to achieve it.

Writer Edward Rice would later call Merton, in a book by the same name, The Man in the Sycamore Tree. Xiao Shuang aspires to be like Merton who is thought to have been a reincarnation of the Buddha by many Tibetan and Indian practitioners: He aspires to be a seeker of truth, not a symbol of reverence.

28 July 2008

Chinese Valentine's Day and Olympic Love

In 2008, Beijing is undoubtedly the focus of the world, because the 29th Olympic Games will be held here. It is not only a grand affair of the mankind, but also a great honor of Chinese people. We are solicitous of the advent of the Olympics and as well, we warmly welcome you to come to Beijing to appreciate the infinite glamour of the oriental ancient civilizations.

On the occasion of worldwide celebration, the coming of traditional Chinese Valentine's Day adds more festivity to the atmosphere. Double Seventh Day, the Valentine's Day in China on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, which falls on August 7 this year, while Aug. 8 is the opening day of 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Quite mysteriously, it seems that the Olympics is destined to be connected with the Double Seventh Day, QiXi.

The indissoluble bond between the Olympics and love was tied since the first Olympic Games. In the old Greek legend, Pelops was the grandson of the Olympian Zeus, the ruler of the Olympus. He fell in love with Hippodameia, the daughter of King Oenomaus of the Elis City. A god once predicted that Oenomaus would die if his daughter had got married. Therefore, he came up with an idea that anyone who wanted to marry his daughter had to race carriages with him. Only the winner could have his dream come true. 12 warriors lost the race and also their lives. Finally, Nelops resorted to Poseidon and won the game with the magic carriage and flying horse borrowed from him. Nelops had his wish fulfilled and also became the king of the Elis City. To celebrate his victory, he launched the world famous Olympic Games.

As well, the will of perseverance lying behind the beautiful love story of Double Seventh Day happens to be similar to the Olympic spirit. The legend goes like this: Zhi Nu was the youngest of the seven daughters of the Queen Mother, while, Niu Lang was a poor orphan cowherd, driven out of his home by his sister-in-law. His only companion was an old magical cow.

Under the direction of the cow, Niu Lang successfully married the youngest fairy, Zhi Nu. They lived happily together and had two children before the Queen Mother discovered Zhi Nu's absence. Queen Mother was so annoyed that she had Zhi Nu brought back to heaven. Again, with the help of the magical cow, Niu Lang was able to follow Zhi Nu into heaven. He was about to reach his wife when the Queen showed up and pulled off her hairpin to draw a line between the two. The line became the Silver River (also called Milky Way ) in heaven.

Zhi Nu went back to the heavenly workshop, going on weaving the clouds. But she missed her husband and children across the Silver River so much that the clouds she weaved seemed sad. Their loyalty to love touched magpies, so tens of thousands magpies came to build a bridge for the Cowhand and Weaver Maid to meet each other. Finally, the Queen showed a little mercy, allowing the couple to meet each year on the 7th of the 7th lunar month on the Silver River. Then for lovers who can not be together temporarily, this day became an important festival.

21 July 2008

Speaking of Faith: Recovering Chinese Religiosities

Put the words "religion" and "China" in a sentence together, and Western imaginations may go to indifference at best, to brutal repression at worst. Yet in grand historical perspective, China is a crucible of religious and philosophical thought and practice. Anthropologist and filmmaker Mayfair Yang says that the upheavals of the 20th century created an amnesia — in the West as in China itself — about this rich, pluralistic spiritual inheritance. She traces some of this story for us, and describes a subtle new revival of reverence and ritual.

» Download (mp3, 53:09)
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17 July 2008

In Japan, Buddhism May Be Dying Out

The Japanese have long taken an easygoing, buffet-like approach to religion, ringing out the old year at Buddhist temples and welcoming the new year, several hours later, at Shinto shrines. Weddings hew to Shinto rituals or, just as easily, to Christian ones.

When it comes to funerals, though, the Japanese have traditionally been inflexibly Buddhist — so much so that Buddhism in Japan is often called “funeral Buddhism,” a reference to the religion’s former near-monopoly on the elaborate, and lucrative, ceremonies surrounding deaths and memorial services.

But that expression also describes a religion that, by appearing to cater more to the needs of the dead than to those of the living, is losing its standing in Japanese society.

“That’s the image of funeral Buddhism: that it doesn’t meet people’s spiritual needs,” said Ryoko Mori, the chief priest at the 700-year-old Zuikoji Temple here in northern Japan. “In Islam or Christianity, they hold sermons on spiritual matters. But in Japan nowadays, very few Buddhist priests do that.”

Mr. Mori, 48, the 21st head priest of the temple, was unsure whether it would survive into the tenure of a 22nd.

“If Japanese Buddhism doesn’t act now, it will die out,” he said. “We can’t afford to wait. We have to do something.”

Across Japan, Buddhism faces a confluence of problems, some familiar to religions in other wealthy nations, others unique to the faith here.

The lack of successors to chief priests is jeopardizing family-run temples nationwide.

While interest in Buddhism is declining in urban areas, the religion’s rural strongholds are being depopulated, with older adherents dying and birthrates remaining low.

Perhaps most significantly, Buddhism is losing its grip on the funeral industry, as more and more Japanese are turning to funeral homes or choosing not to hold funerals at all.

Over the next generation, many temples in the countryside are expected to close, taking centuries of local history with them and adding to the demographic upheaval under way in rural Japan.

Here in Oga, on a peninsula of the same name that faces the Sea of Japan in Akita Prefecture, Buddhist priests are looking at the cold math of a population and local fishing industry in decline.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that the population is about half of what it was at its peak and that all businesses have also been reduced by half,” said Giju Sakamoto, 74, the 91st head priest of Akita’s oldest temple, Chorakuji, which was founded around the year 860. “Given that reality, simply insisting that we’re a religion and have a long history — Akita’s longest, in fact — sounds like a fairy tale. It’s meaningless.

“That’s why I think this place is beyond hope,” Mr. Sakamoto said at his temple, which sits atop a promontory overlooking a seaside village.

To survive, Mr. Sakamoto has put his energies into managing a nursing home and a new temple in a growing suburb of Akita City. That temple, however, has drawn only 60 households as members since it opened a couple of years ago, far short of the 300 said to be necessary for a temple to remain financially viable.

For centuries, the average Buddhist temple, whose stewardship was handed down from father to eldest son, served a fixed membership, rarely, if ever, proselytizing. With some 300 households to cater to, the temple’s chief priest and his wife were kept fully occupied.

Not only has the number of temples in Japan been dipping — to 85,994 in 2006, from 86,586 in 2000, according to the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs — but membership at many temples has fallen.

“We have to find other jobs because the temple alone is not enough,” said Kyo Kon, 73, the head priest’s wife at Kogakuin, a temple here with 170 members. She used to work at a day care center while her husband was employed at a local land planning office.

Not far away at Doshoji, a temple whose membership has fallen to 85 elderly households, the chief priest, Jokan Takahashi, 59, was facing a problem familiar to most small family-run businesses in Japan: finding a successor.

His eldest son had undergone the training to become a Buddhist priest, but Mr. Takahashi was ambivalent about asking him to take over the temple.

“My son grew up knowing nothing but this world of the temple, and he told me he did not feel free,” he said, explaining that his son, now 28, was working at a company in a nearby city. “He asked me to let him be free as long as I was working, and said that he would come back and take over by the time he turned 35.

“But considering the future, pressuring a young person to take over a temple like this might be cruel,” Mr. Takahashi said, after giving visitors a tour of his temple’s most important room, an inner chamber with wooden, locker-like cabinets where, it is said, the spirits of his members’ ancestors are kept.

On a recent morning, Mr. Mori, the priest of the 700-year-old temple, began the day with a visit to a rice farming household marking the 33rd anniversary of a grandfather’s death. Bowing before the home altar, Mr. Mori prayed and chanted sutras. Later, he repeated the rituals at another household, which was commemorating the seventh anniversary of a grandfather’s death.

Increasingly, many Japanese, especially those in urban areas, have eschewed those traditions. Many no longer belong to temples and rely instead on funeral homes when their relatives die. The funeral homes provide Buddhist priests for funerals. According to a 2007 report by the Japan Consumers’ Association, the average cost of a funeral, excluding the cemetery plot, was $21,500, of which $5,100 covered services performed by a Buddhist priest.

As recently as the mid-1980s, almost all Japanese held funerals at home or in temples, with the local Buddhist priest playing a prominent role.

But the move to funeral homes has sharply accelerated in the last decade. In 1999, 62 percent still held funerals at home or in temples, while 30 percent chose funeral homes, according to the Consumers’ Association. But in 2007, the preferences were reversed, with 28 percent selecting funerals at home or in temples, and 61 percent opting for funeral homes.

In addition, an increasing number of Japanese are deciding to have their loved ones cremated without any funeral at all, said Noriyuki Ueda, an anthropologist at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and an expert on Buddhism.

“Because of that, Buddhist priests and temples will no longer be involved in funerals,” Mr. Ueda said.

He said Japanese Buddhism had been sapped of its spiritual side in great part because it had compromised itself during World War II through its close ties with Japan’s military. After Buddhist priests had glorified fallen soldiers and given them special posthumous Buddhist names, talk of pacifism sounded hollow.

Mr. Mori, the priest here, said that after the war there was a desire for increasingly lavish funerals with prestigious Buddhist names. These names — with the highest ranks traditionally given to those who have led honorable lives — are routinely purchased now, regardless of a dead person’s conduct in life.

“Soldiers, who gave their lives for the country, were given special posthumous Buddhist names, so everybody wanted one after that, and prices went up dramatically,” Mr. Mori said. “Everyone was getting richer, so everyone wanted one.

“But that gave us a bad image,” he said, adding that the price of the top name in Akita was about $3,000 — though that was a small fraction of the price in Tokyo.

Indeed, that image is reinforced by the way the business of funerals and memorial services is conducted. Fees are not stated and are left to the family’s discretion, and the relatives generally feel an unspoken pressure to be quite generous. Money is handed over in envelopes, and receipts are not given. Temples, with their status as religious organizations, pay no taxes.

It was partly to dispel this bad image that Kazuma Hayashi, 41, a Buddhist priest without a temple of his own, said he founded a company, Obohsan.com (obohsan means priest), three years ago in a Tokyo suburb. The company dispatches freelance Buddhist priests to funerals and other services, cutting out funeral homes and other middlemen.

Prices, which are at least a third lower than the average, are listed clearly on the company’s Web site. A 10 percent discount is available for members.

“We even give out receipts,” Mr. Hayashi said.

Mr. Hayashi argued that instead of divorcing Japanese Buddhism further from its spiritual roots, his business attracted more people with its lower prices. The highest-ranking posthumous name went for about $1,500, a rock-bottom price.

“I know that, originally, that’s not what Buddhism was about,” Mr. Hayashi said of the top name. “But it’s a brand that our customers choose. Some really want it, so that means there’s a strong desire there, and we have to respond to it.”

After apologizing for straying from Buddhism’s ideals, Mr. Hayashi said he offered his customers the highest-ranking name, albeit with a warning: “In short, that this is different from going to a shop in town and buying a handbag, you know, a Gucci bag.”

16 July 2008

Monks and nuns say the Buddhist leader stifles religious freedom

Those looking for enlightenment Saturday from the Dalai Lama at Lehigh University's Stabler Arena first had to maneuver past 400 monks and nuns protesting a 40-year-old arcane decree by the Tibetan-leader-in-exile that they said violates their religious freedom.

The monks and nuns of the Western Shugden Society weren't hard to miss. Dressed in gold and maroon robes and most of them with shaved heads, the protesters held up signs and chanted -- in Tibetan -- "Dalai Lama! Give religious freedom." And "Dalai Lama! Stop lying."

The beef between the society and the Buddhist leader centers on the worship of the deity Dorje Shugden and specifically a prayer of peace and love Buddhists have used for 400 years.

Kelsang Pema, a society spokeswoman whose given name in her native England is Helen Gladwell, said the Dalai Lama "outlawed the prayer back in the 1970s because he claimed the thousands of Shugden followers saying the prayer did physical and spiritual harm to him."

Pema suggested that non-Shugden devotees persecute those who practice Shugden to the point of throwing all Shugden monks and nuns out of their monasteries and nunneries, denying Shugden followers jobs, getting their children expelled from schools -- even burning their homes and denying them medical care.

As an example, she told of a doctor in India who was about to treat a patient suffering from tuberculosis when an anti-Shugden follower in the room attacked the doctor, beating him.

"We admit this person could have done this on his own, but the Dalai Lama does not speak out against such actions."

No one in the Dalai Lama's entourage could be reached for comment.

Many people leaving Stabler Arena after listening to the Dalai Lama said they thought the protest was to get the Chinese out of Tibet and reinstate the Dalai Lama as the true leader of that Himalayan country.

Tom Howard of Center Valley said of the Dorje Shugden disagreement, "I'd have to know more about it before I could understand it."

The Western Shugden Society composed and delivered a letter dated April 12 to the Dalai Lama asking him to give them freedom to practice Dorje Shugden; to stop discrimination against Shugden people, to allow the Shugden monks and nuns to return to their monasteries and nunneries, and to put the three points above in writing and distribute it throughout the Buddhist world.

"We haven't heard from him," Pema said. "Honestly, we don't understand why he's doing this. It's so bamboozling."

The protest was peaceful, although a line of police officers was on hand and security at the arena was tight; metal detectors were in use.
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