12 June 2008

Chan Buddhism: Dimensions of Asian Spirituality

Chan Buddhism has become paradigmatic of Buddhist spirituality. Known in Japan as Zen and in Korea as Son, it is one of the most strikingly iconoclastic spiritual traditions in the world. This succinct and lively work clearly expresses the meaning of Chan as it developed in China more than a thousand years ago and provides useful insights into the distinctive aims and forms of practice associated with the tradition, including its emphasis on the unity of wisdom and practice; the reality of "sudden awakening"; the importance of meditation; the use of "shock tactics"; the centrality of the teacher-student relationship; and the celebration of enlightenment narratives, or koans.

Unlike many scholarly studies, which offer detailed perspectives on historical development, or guides for personal practice written by contemporary Buddhist teachers, this volume takes a middle path between these two approaches, weaving together both history and insight to convey to the general reader the conditions, energy, and creativity that characterize Chan. Following a survey of the birth and development of Chan, its practices and spirituality are fleshed out through stories and teachings drawn from the lives of four masters: Bodhidharma, Huineng, Mazu, and Linji. Finally, the meaning of Chan as a living spiritual tradition is addressed through a philosophical reading of its practice as the realization of wisdom, attentive mastery, and moral clarity.

There's much helpful history here. Did you know that in one Buddhist university, Nalanda, there were at least 10,000 students and 2,000 faculty in residence by the 7th century. That in 707 as much as 80% of the total wealth of the Chinese empire may have belonged to Buddhist organizations and, as such, been untaxed? That in the 8th century, 1 out of 85 Chinese were either a Buddhist monk or nun? That between 755 and 764 A.D. two-thirds of all Chinese either died or were missing (missing to where?). That it was the persecutions of Buddhists that led to Chan's special place as a surviving Buddhist teaching, because it depended much less than on Buddhist teachings on the texts that were to a large extent destroyed during the persecutions.

Purchase "Chan Buddhism: Dimensions of Asian Spirituality" Here.

10 June 2008

The Book of the Dead

The Bardo Thodol, sometimes translated as Liberation through Hearing in the Intermediate State, is a funerary text. It is often referred to in the West by the more casual title, "Tibetan Book of the Dead", a name which draws a parallel with the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, another funerary text which is also known as "The Book of Coming/Going Forth By Day". The book of the dead was a description of the ancient Egyptian conception of the afterlife and a collection of hymns, spells, and instructions to allow the deceased to pass through obstacles in the afterlife. The book of the dead was most commonly written on a papyrus scroll and placed in the coffin or burial chamber of the deceased..

The Tibetan text describes, and is intended to guide one through, the experiences that the consciousness has after death, during the interval between death and the next rebirth. This interval is known in Tibetan as the bardo. The text also includes chapters on the signs of death, and rituals to undertake when death is closing in, or has taken place. It is the most internationally famous and widespread work of Tibetan Nyingma literature.

One can perhaps attempt to compare the descriptions of the Bardo Thodol with accounts of certain "out of the body" near-death experiences described by people who have nearly died in accidents or on the operating table. These accounts sometimes mention a "white light", and helpful figures corresponding to that person's religious tradition. The closest Christian "Book of the Dead" would be "The Soul After Death", a comprehensive presentation of the 2,000-year-old experience of ancient Christianity regarding the existence of the other world, addressing contemporary "after-death" and "out-of-body" experiences, the teachings of traditional Oriental religions and those of more recent occult societies.

05 June 2008

DuanWu Jie/Dragon Boat Festival

This festival actually has nothing to do with Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, or Christianity, but it is a very important festival in China, and I still wanted to share this weekend's significance with my readers.

The Duanwu Festival is a Chinese traditional and statutory holiday. It is a public holiday in mainland China and Taiwan, where it is known as Duānwǔ Jié. It is also a public holiday in Hong Kong and Macau, where it is known as Duen Ng Festival. Its alternative name in English is "Dragon Boat Festival", after one of the traditional activities for the holiday.

The Duanwu Festival is also been celebrated on the same day in other East Asian nations. In Korea it is called the Dano or Suritnal, in Vietnam it is called Tết Đoan Ngọ, and in Japan it is called Kodomo No Hi or Children's Day.

The Duanwu Festival occurs on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese (lunar astrological) calendar, giving rise to the alternative name of Double Fifth. In 2008, this falls on 8 June. The focus of the celebrations include eating zongzi, which are large rice wraps, drink realgar wine, and race dragon boats.

The Duanwu Festival originated in ancient China. One traditional view holds that the festival memorializes the high official Qu Yuan (c. 340 BC-278 BC) of the ancient state of Chu in the Warring States Period. Wut Yuen committed suicide by drowning himself in a river because he found out that Chu had lost a vital battle. The local people, knowing him to be a good man, decided to throw food into the river to feed the fish so that they would not eat Qu Yuan's body. They also sat on long, narrow paddle boats called dragon boats, and tried to scare the fish away by the thundering sound of drums aboard the boat and carved dragon head on the boat's prow. Another popular legend holds that after Qu Yuan committed suicide, because the people loved him so much, they raced out to recover his body, and the races signify the boats skimming across the water to find him. However, research has also revealed that the festival is also a celebration that is characteristic of ancient Chinese agrarian society: the celebration of the harvest of winter wheat, because similar celebrations had long existed in many other parts of China where Qu Yuan was not known. As interactions between Chinese residing in different regions increased, these similar festivals were eventually merged.

In the early years of the Republic of China, Duan Wu was also celebrated as "Poets' Day," due to Qu Yuen's status as China's first poet of personal renown.

Today, people eat bamboo-wrapped steamed rice dumplings called zongzi (the food originally intended to feed the fish) and race dragon boats in memory of Qu Yuan's death. In some rural towns, candles are lit in paper boats on the evening of the festival.

04 June 2008

Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism are one

Religion in China has been characterized by pluralism since the beginning of Chinese history. Temples of many different religions dot China's landscape, particularly those of Taoism, Buddhism, and Chinese folk religion. Mahayana Buddhism remains the largest organized religion in China since its introduction in the 1st century.

The original and state religion throughout Chinese history generally involved Heaven worship based on serving an omnipotent, incorporeal (without body), personal, judicious, monotheistic supreme being called Shangdi ("Lord on High") or Tian ("Heaven"). Buddhism was introduced to China around the first century AD and rose to predominance during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), which initially tolerated its coexistence. Tensions between Buddhism and the Chinese Tang state led to the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution in 845 AD, from which Buddhism in China never fully recovered.

People are still holding private worship of traditional religions (Buddhism/Taoism) at home. In recent years, the Chinese government has opened up to religion, especially traditional religions such as Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.

Some surveys suggest that the cultural adherents or even outright religious adherents of Buddhism could number as high as 80% of the population, or about over 1 billion. The second largest religion is Taoism (a recent survey puts “Taoist or worshipper of legendary figures” at 100 million, but some estimates are as high as 400 million or about 30% of the total population).

The number of adherents to these religions can be overlaid in percentage due to the fact that most Chinese consider themselves both Buddhist and Taoist.

The minority religions are Christianity (between 40 million, 3%, and 54 million, 4%), Islam (20 million, 1.5%), Hinduism, Dongbaism, Bon and a number of new religions and sects (particularly Xiantianism and Falun Gong).

It is a matter of current debate whether several important belief systems in China constitute "religions." As Daniel L. Overmeyer writes, in recent years there has been a "new appreciation...of the religious dimensions of Confucianism, both in its ritual activities and in the inward search for an ultimate source of moral order." Many Chinese belief systems have concepts of a sacred and sometimes spiritual natural world yet do not always invoke a concept of personal god (with the exception of Heaven worship).

Chinese religions are often classified as religions, philosophies, spiritualities or ways of life. Taoism and Buddhism are often considered pantheistic and nontheistic, while Chinese folk religion is widely polytheistic.

Independently of adherence to organized religions, most Chinese ground their spirituality in Chinese folk religion, Confucianism and ancestor veneration. These are not organized religions but rather practices or thought systems denoting membership in ethnic Chinese culture and civilization.

The Chinese religions are family-oriented and, unlike Western religions, do not demand the exclusive adherence of members. Chinese people may visit Buddhist temples while living according to Taoist principles and participating in local ancestor veneration rituals. To cite Rodney L. Taylor, "There is little doubt that Buddhism and Neo-Confucianism are deeply influenced by each other and that at the level of practice, methods from various sources are tried, borrowed, and interrelated." In other words, the questions of who should be called religious in China, and what religion or religions they should be called are up to debate.

02 June 2008

Christianity in Buddhism: Buddha on Christianity

References to Christianity in the earliest Buddhist teachings or "a Buddhist Catechism for Christians"
You may wonder how this can be? Buddha lived 500 years before Jesus was even born. How can we find references in the earliest Buddhist scriptures about Christianity. Well, according to Buddha the belief in an eternal creator God and eternal afterlife is a view which comes into being quite naturally. Mankind observed the sun going up and down and inferred that the sun circled the earth. Now, we know this not to be true. However, in a certain sense it isn't wrong either. Our ancient view was based on a limited amount of information. Likewise appears Christianity to a Buddhist: Or should we say at least to Buddhists versed in the original teachings of the Buddha, Christianity appears like small child: with very good intentions and a pure heart (the gospel) but without the knowledge of the bigger picture. To give you a better understanding what this means, let's hear some interesting remarks directly from the Buddha:

Buddha on God
There comes a time, monks, sooner or later after a long period, when this world contracts. At a time of contraction, beings are mostly reborn in the Abhassara Brahma world. And there they dwell, mind-made, feeding on delight, self-luminous, moving through space, glorious - and they stay like that for a very long time."

"But the time comes, sooner or later after a long period, when this world begins to expand again [Com: known as 'Big Bang' in Western Science]. In this expanding world an empty palace of Brahma [Com: the Indian name for the highest God] appears. And then one being, from exhaustion of his life-span or of his merits, falls from the Abhassara world and arises in the empty Brahma-palace. And there he dwells, mind-made, feeding on delight, self-luminous, moving through space, glorious - and he stays like that for a very long time."

"Then in this being who has been alone for so long there arises unrest, discontent and worry, and he thinks: ‘Oh, if only some other beings would come here!’ And other beings, from exhaustion of their life-span or of their merits, fall from the Abhassara world and arise in the Brahma palace as companions for this being. And there they dwell, mind-made, … and they stay like that for a very long time."

"And then, monks, that being who first arose there thinks: "I am God, the Great God, the Conqueror, the Unconquered, the All-Seeing, the All-Powerful, the Lord, the Maker and Creator, Ruler, Appointer and Orderer, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be. These beings were created by me. How so? Because I first had this thought: ‘Oh, if only some other beings would come here!’ That was my wish, and then these beings came into this existence!" But those beings who arose subsequently think: "This, friends, is God, Great Brahma, the Conqueror, the Unconquered, the All-Seeing, the All-Powerful, the Lord, the Maker and Creator, Ruler, Appointer and Orderer, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be. How so? We have seen that he was here first, and that we arose after him." [Brahmajala Sutta, Dighanikaya]


Buddha on Jesus
And this being that arose first is longer-lived, more beautiful and more powerful than they are. And it may happen that some being falls from that realm and arises in this human world. Having arisen in this world, he goes forth from the household life into homelessness. Having gone forth, he by means of effort, exertion, application, earnestness and right attention attains to such a degree of mental concentration that he thereby recalls his last existence, but recalls none before that. And he thinks: ‘That Brahma, … he made us, and he is permanent, stable, eternal, not subject to change, the same for ever and ever. But we who were created by that Brahma, we are impermanent, unstable, short-lived, fated to fall away, and we have come to this world.’ [Brahmajala Sutta, Digha Nikaya]

Buddha on the Prophets
“Once, monks, there lived a master and a faith founder named Sunetta, who was free from greed for sensual pleasures. And there lived once a master and a faith founder named Mūgapakkha - Aranemi - Kuddālaka - Hatthipāla - Jotipāla - Araka, who was free from greed for sensual pleasures. This master however had many hundreds of disciples. And he showed the way to rebirth under the Gods of Brahma to his disciples [Comm: as "Angels in the vicinity of God" - an alternative translation closer to the understanding of the Western culture]. Those now, which did not show confidence, when the master pointed out the way to rebirth in heaven, all those arrived with the decay of the body, after death, into lower existence, on a suffering track, into the abysses, to hell. Those however, who showed confidence, all those arrived after the decay of the body, after death, on the lucky track, into heaven.

What do you think, o monks? If someone insulted with malicious thought these seven masters and faith founders, who had turned away from sensual pleasures and who had hundreds of disciples, wouldn't such a one load a debt on himself? “ - “Certainly, o Blessed One.” - “Who insults however, monks, only one human being, who has realized Nirvana with malicious intention or defames him, loads a still larger debt on himself. [Anguttara Nikaya.VII. 69 Defamation of the noble ones]

And another mentioning of Jesus like prophets of love and believers in a Creator in the Pali Canon:

Bhikkhus, in the past, there was a Teacher called Sunetta, one free of greed who helped to cross the ford. The Teacher Sunetta had innumerable hundreds of disciples .Bhikkhus, this Teacher taught, to be born in the world of Brahma. Those who completely knew the dispensation of Sunetta, after death, were born in a good state in the world of Brahma. Some of those who did not know the complete dispensation of Sunetta, after death, were born with those attached to the creation of others. Some attached to creation, some with the happy ones, some with the Titan gods, some with the gods of the thirty three and with the guardian gods. Others were born with high clans of warriors, Brahmins and householders.

Then it occurred to the Teacher Sunetta. `It is not suitable for me to be born in the same plane as my disciples, after death, what if I develop loving kindness further.'

Then the Teacher Sunetta developed loving kindness for seven years. Having developed loving kindness for seven years, he did not come to this world for seven forward and backward world cycles. During the forward world cycles he was born a radiant god and during the backward world cycles was born in an empty Brahma paradise. There he was Brahma the supreme Lord, not conquered with sure insight wielding authority

There, he was Brahma, Brahma the great, the unconquered lord and master with sure insight, holding authority for seven times. Thirty six times he was Sakka the king of gods. Innumerable hundreds of times he was the righteous universal monarch, winning the four directions and establishing states. Bhikkhus, he was endowed with these seven jewels, such as the jewel of the wheel, the elephant, the horse, the jewel, the woman, the householder and the advisor. Bhikkhus, he had over a thousand courageous sons with valiant figures, for crushing foreign armies. They lived ruling over the earth righteously, without weapons as far as the limit of the ocean. Bhikkhus, that Teacher Sunetta with long life and long standing was not released from birth, decay, death, grief, lament, unpleasantness and displeasure, I say not released from unpleasantness.

What is the reason? For not realizing and experiencing four things. What four?

Not realizing and experiencing the virtues, concentration, wisdom and release of the noble ones. Now he has realized and experienced the virtues, concentration, wisdom and release of the noble ones. The craving to be is uprooted, the leader of being is destroyed. Now he has no more birth. [Anguttara Nikaya, VII 66]

Buddha on the Path to God
Once two young brahmin students had an argument about which teacher shows the best way to God. In order to settle their argument they came to the Buddha and inquired from him, how to reach God. His full answer is recorded in the Tevijja Sutta, which you can read here. Below some excerpts, especially interesting for Christians, I find:

Not Knowing the Beauty of God
...'Just, Vasettha, as if a man should say, "How I long for, how I love the most beautiful woman in this land!"

'And people should ask him, "Well! good friend! this most beautiful woman in the land, whom you thus love and long for, do you know whether that beautiful woman is a noble lady or a Brahman woman, or of the trader class, or a Sudra?
'But when so asked, he should answer: "No."

'And when people should ask him, " Well! good friend! this most beautiful woman in all the land, whom you so love and long for, do you know what the name of that most beautiful woman is, or what is her family name, whether she be tall or short or of medium height, dark or brunette or golden in colour, or in what village or town or city she dwells?

'But when so asked, he should answer: No."

'And then people should say to him, So then, good friend, whom you know not, neither have seen, her do you love and long for?

'And then when so asked, he should answer: "Yes."

'Now what think you, Vasettha? Would it not turn out, that being so, that the talk of that man was foolish talk?'

In sooth, Gotama, it would turn out, that being so, that the talk of that man was foolish talk!'...

Not Knowing the Whereabouts of God
21. 'Just, Vasettha, as if a man should make a staircase in the place where four roads cross, to mount up into a mansion. And people should say to him, "Well, good friend, this mansion, to mount up into which you are making this staircase, do you know whether it is in the east, or in the south, or in the west, or in the north? whether it is high or low or of medium size?
'And when so asked, he should answer: "No."

'And people should say to him, "But then, good friend, you are making a staircase to mount up into something -- taking it for a mansion -- which, all the while, you know not, neither have seen!"

'And when so asked, he should answer: "Yes."

'Now what think you, Vasettha? Would it not turn out. that being so, that the talk of that man was foolish talk?'

'In sooth, Gotama, it would turn out, that being so, that the talk of that man was foolish talk!'


The uselessness of mere prayer for ultimate re-union with God

24. 'Again, Vasettha, if this river Aciravati were full of water even to the brim, and over flowing. And a man with business on the other side, bound for the other side, making, for the other side, should come up, and want to cross over. And he, standing on this bank, should invoke the further bank, and say, "Come hither, O further bank! come over to this side!"

' Now what think you, Vasettha? Would the further bank of the river Aciravati, by reason of that man's invoking and praying and hoping and praising, come over to this side?'
'Certainly not, Gotama!'

25. 'In just the same way, Vasettha, do the priests versed in the Vedas, -- omitting the practice of those qualities which really make a man a holy man, and adopting the practice of those qualities which really make men unholy -- say thus: "Indra we call upon, Soma we call upon, Varuna we call upon, Sana we call upon, Pajapati we call upon, God we call upon" Verily, Vasettha, that those priests versed in the Vedas, but omitting the practice of those qualities which really make a man holy, and adopting the practice of those qualities which really make men unholy-- that they, by reason of their invoking and praying and hoping and praising, should, after death and when the body is dissolved, become united with God verily such a condition of things can in no wise be!'

The necessity to overcome sensual attachments to attain company with God

26. 'Just, Vasettha, as if this river Aciravati were full, even to the brim, and overflowing. And a man with business on the other side, making for the other side, bound for the other side, should come up, and want to cross over. And he, on this bank, were to be bound tightly, with his arms behind his back, by a strong chain. Now what think you, Vasettha, would that man be able to get over from this bank of the river Aciravati to the further bank.

'Certainly not, Gotama!'

27. 'In the same way, Vasettha, there are five things leading to lust, which are called, in the Discipline of the Holy Ones, a "chain" and a "bond."'

'What are the five?'

'Forms perceptible to the eye; desirable, agreeable, pleasant, attractive forms, that are accompanied by lust and cause delight. Sounds of the same kind perceptible to the ear. Odors of the same kind perceptible to the nose. Tastes of the same kind perceptible to the tongue. Substances of the same kind perceptible to the body by touch. These five things predisposing to passion are called, in the Discipline of the Holy Ones, a "chain" and a "bond." And these five things predisposing to lust, Vasettha, do the priests versed in the Vedas cling to, they are infatuated by them, attached to them, see not the danger of them, know not how unreliable they are, and so enjoy them'.

28. 'And verily, Vasettha, that priests versed in the Vedas, but omitting the practice of those qualities which really make a man holy, and adopting the practice of those qualities which really make men unholy-clinging to these five things predisposing to passion, infatuated by them, attached to them, see not their danger, knowing not their unreliability, and so enjoying them -- that these priests should after death, on the dissolution of the body, become united to God, -- such a condition of things can in no wise be!'

Not even close to God they are and still believe they will meet him

31. 'Now what think you, Vasettha, and what have you heard from the priests aged and well-stricken in years, when the learners and teachers are talking together? Is God, in possession of wives and wealth, or is he not?'
'He is not, Gotama.'

'Is his mind full of anger, or free from anger?'
'Free from anger, Gotama.'

Is his mind full of malice, or free from malice?'
'Free from malice, Gotama.'

'Is his mind tarnished, or, is it pure?'
'It is pure, Gotama.'

Has he self-mastery, or has he not?
'He has, Gotama.'

32. 'Now what think you, Vasettha, are the priests versed in the Vedas in the possession of wives and wealth, or are they not?'
'They are, Gotama.'

'Have they anger in their hearts, or have they not?
'They have, Gotama.'

'Do they bear malice, or do they not?'
'They do, Gotama.'

'Are they pure in heart, or are they not?'
'They are not, Gotama.'

'Have they self-mastery, or have they not?'
'They have not, Gotama.'

33. 'Then you say, Vasettha, that the priests are in possession of wives and wealth, and that God is not. Can there, then, be agreement and likeness between the priests with their wives and property, and God, who has none of these things?'

'Certainly not, Gotama!'

34. 'Very good, Vasettha. But, verily, that these priests versed in the Vedas, who live married and wealthy, should after death, when the body is dissolved, become united with God, who has none of these things -- such a condition of things can in no wise be!'

35. 'Then you say, too, Vasettha, that the priests bear anger and malice in their hearts, and are tarnished in heart and uncontrolled, whilst Brahma is free from anger and malice, pure in heart, and has self-mastery. Now can there, then, be concord and likeness between the priests and God?'

'Certainly not, Gotama!'

36. 'Very good, Vasettha. That these priests versed in the Vedas and yet bearing anger and malice in their hearts, sinful, and uncontrolled, should after death, when the body is dissolved, become united to God, who is free from anger and malice, pure in heart, and has self-mastery -- such a condition of things can in no wise be!

'So that thus then, Vasettha, the priests, versed though they be in the Vedas, while they sit down (in confidence), are sinking down (in the mire); and so sinking they are arriving only at despair, thinking the while that they are crossing over into some happier land.

'Therefore is it that the threefold wisdom of the priests, wise in their Vedas, is called a waterless desert, their wisdom is called a pathless jungle, their wisdom is called perdition!

Being asked, the Buddha teaches the path to re-union with God

37. When he had thus spoken, the young Brahman Vasettha said to the Blessed One:
'It has been told me, Gotama, that the Samana Gotama knows the way to the state of union with Brahma.'

'What do you think, Vasettha, is not Manasakata near to this spot, not distant from this spot
'Just so, Gotama. ManasakaTa is near to, is not far from here.'

'Now what think you, Vasettha, suppose there were a man born in Manasakata , and people should ask him, who never till that time had left ManasakaTa, which was the way to Manasakata . Would that man, born and brought up in Manasakata , be in any doubt or difficulty?'

' Certainly not, Gotama! And why? If the man had been born and brought up in Manasakata , every road that leads to Manasakata would be perfectly familiar to him.'

38. 'That man, Vasettha, born and brought up at Manasakata might, if he were asked the way to Manasakata , fall into doubt and difficulty, but to the Tathagata [Comm: the Thus-Gone, an epithet of the Buddha relating to his realization of Nibbana], when asked touching the path which leads to the world of God, there can be neither doubt nor difficulty. For God, I know, Vasettha, and heaven, and the path which leadeth unto it. Yea, I know it even as one who has entered the Heaven, and has been born within it!'

39. When he had thus spoken, Vasettha, the young Brahman, said to the Blessed One:

'Just so has it been told me, Gotama, even that the Samana Gotama knows the way to a state of union with God. It is well! Let the venerable Gotama be pleased to show us the way to a state of union with God, let the venerable Gotama save the Brahman race'!

'Listen then, Vasettha, and give ear attentively, and I will speak!'
'So be it, Lord!' said the young Brahman Vasettha, in assent, to the Blessed One.

40. Then the Blessed One spake, and said:

Know, Vasettha, that (from time to time) a Tathágata is born into the world, an Arahat, a fully awakened one, abounding, in wisdom and goodness, happy, with knowledge of the worlds, unsurpassed as a guide to mortals willing to be led, a teacher of gods and men, a Blessed One, a Buddha. He, by himself, thoroughly understands, and sees, as it were, face to face this universe -- including the worlds above with the gods, the Maras, and the Brahmas; and the world below with its Samanas and Brahmans, its princes and peoples; -- and he then makes his knowledge known to others. The truth doth he proclaim both in the letter and in the spirit, lovely in its origin, lovely in its progress, lovely in its consummation: the higher life doth he make known, in all its purity and in all its perfect-ness.

41. 'A householder (gahapati), or one of his children, or a man of inferior birth in any class, listens to that truth. On hearing the truth he has faith in the Tathágata, and when he has acquired that faith he thus considers with himself:

"Full of hindrances is household life, a path defiled by passion : free as the air is the life of him who has renounced all worldly things. How difficult it is for the man who dwells at home to live the higher life in all its fullness, in all its purity, in all its bright perfection! Let me then cut off my hair and beard, let me clothe myself in the orange-colored robes, and let me go forth from a household life into the homeless state.

'Then before long, forsaking his portion of wealth, be it great or be it small; forsaking his circle of relatives, be they many or be they few, he cuts off his hair and beard, he clothes himself in the orange -- colored robes. and he goes forth from the household life into the homeless state.

42. 'When he has thus become a recluse he passes a life self-restrained by that restraint which should be binding on a recluse. Uprightness is his delight, and he sees danger in the least of those things he should avoid. He adopts and trains himself in the precepts. He encompasses himself with goodness in word and deed. He sustains his life by means that are quite pure; good is his conduct, guarded the door of his senses; mindful and self-possessed, he is altogether happy!'

43-75. 'And how, Vasettha, is his conduct good?'

[1. The confidence of heart that results from the sense of goodness.
2. The way in which he guards the doors of his senses.
3. The way in which he is mindful and self-possessed.
4. His habit of being content with little, of adopting simplicity of life.
5. His conquest of the Five Hindrances, each with the explanatory simile.
6. The joy and peace which, as a result of this conquest, fills his whole being.]

76. 'And he lets his mind pervade one quarter of the world with thoughts of Love, and so the second, and so the third, and so the fourth. And thus the whole wide world, above, below, around, and everywhere, does he continue to pervade with heart of Love, far-reaching, grown great, and beyond measure.

77. 'Just, Vasettha, as a mighty trumpeter makes himself heard-and that without difficulty-in all the four directions; even so of all things that have shape or life, there is not one that he passes by or leaves aside, but regards them all with mind set free, and deep-felt love.

'Verily this, Vasettha, is the way to a state of union with God.

78. 'And he lets his mind pervade one quarter of the world with thoughts of pity [29], ... sympathy [30], equanimity [31], and so the second, and so the third, and so the fourth. And thus the whole wide world, above, below, around, and everywhere, does he continue to pervade with heart of pity. . . . sympathy, . . . equanimity, far-reaching, grown great, and beyond measure.

79. 'Just, Vasettha, as a mighty trumpeter makes himself heard -- and that without difficulty -- in all the four directions ; even so of all things that have shape or life, there is not one that he passes by or leaves aside, but regards them all with mind set free, and deep-felt pity, ... sympathy, ... equanimity.

'Verily this, Vasettha, is the way to a state of union with God.'

80. 'Now what think you, Vasettha, will the Bhikkhu who lives thus be in possession of women and of wealth, or will he not?'
'He will not, Gotama!'

'Will he be full of anger, or free from anger?'
'He will be free from anger, Gotama!'

'Will his mind be full of malice, or free from malice?'
'Free from malice, Gotama!'

'Will his mind be tarnished, or pure?'
'It will be pure, Gotama!'

'Will he have self-mastery, or will he not?'
'Surely he will, Gotama!'

81 'Then you say, Vasettha, that the Bhikkhu is free from household and worldly cares, and that Brahma is free from household and worldly cares. Is there then agreement and likeness between the Bhikkhu and Brahma?'

'There is, Gotama!

Very good, Vasettha. Then in sooth, Vasettha, that the Bhikkhu who is free from household cares should after death, when the body is dissolved, become united with Brahma, who is the same -- such a condition of things is every way possible!

'And so you say, Vasettha, that the Bhikkhu is free from anger, and free from malice, pure in mind, and master of himself; and that Brahma is free from anger, and free from malice, pure in mind, and master of himself. Then in sooth, Vasettha, that the Bhikkhu who is free from anger, free from malice, pure in mind, and master of himself should after death, when the body is dissolved, become united with Brahma, who is the same-such a condition of things is every way possible!'

82. When he hid thus spoken, the young. Brahmans Vasettha and Bharadvaja addressed the Blessed One, and said:

'Most excellent, Lord, are the words of thy mouth, Most excellent! Just as if a man were to set up that which is thrown down, or were to reveal that which is hidden away, or were to point out the right road to him who has gone astray, or were to bring a lamp into the darkness, so that those who have eyes can see external forms; -- just even so, Lord, has the truth been made known to us, in many a figure, by the Exalted One. And we, even we, betake ourselves, Lord, to the Blessed One as our guide, to the Truth, and to the Brotherhood. May the Blessed One accept us as disciples, as true believers, from this day forth, as long as life endures!'

[Excerpts from the Tevijja Sutta, Digha Nikaya]

To God through Selfless Love
Monks, do not fear to do good. Pleasantness is a synonym for good. Monks, I know of enjoying the results of pleasing and agreeable good, done long ago. I developed the thought of loving kindness for seven years and did not come to this world for seven forward and backward world cycles. During the forward world cycles I was a god of radiance and during the backward world cycles I was born in an empty paradise of God

There, I was God, Brahma the great, the unconquered lord and master with sure insight, holding authority for seven times. Thirty six times I was Sakka the king of gods. Innumerable hundreds of times I was the righteous universal monarch, winning the four directions and establishing states. Monks, I was endowed with these seven jewels, such as the jewel of the wheel, the elephant, the horse, the jewel, the woman, the householder and the advisor. Monks, I had over a thousand courageous sons with valiant figures, for crushing foreign armies. They lived ruling over the earth righteously, without weapons as far as the limit of the ocean.

Look at the results of good, how merits bring pleasantness.
Developing the thought of loving kindness for seven years
I did not come to this world for seven forward and backward world cycles
During the forward world cycles I was a radiant god
And during the backward world cycles was born in an empty paradise of God
There I was Great Brahma for seven times, wielding authority.
Thirty six times I was king of gods, ruling over the gods.
Innumerable hundreds of times I became universal monarch in Jambudipa
Head anointed warriors were the leaders of the people
They ruled without punishments and weapons. I advised them,
To rule this earth without force and impartially.
Thus I earned for the clan much wealth and resources.
I was endowed with the five strands of sense pleasures and the seven jewels
By the enlightened ones showing compassion for the world
It was told was the cause for my greatness and success in the world.
With much resources and means I became a powerful, famous king in India.
Who would not be pleased to hear this other than those born in darkness
Therefore desiring your own good, honour the Teaching recollecting the dispensation.

[Anguttara Nikaya, VII 62]

Final Word
Amazing, isn't it? After reading these passages from the Pali Canon which itself handed and written down in 80 BC you may really wonder how the Buddha could describe the quintessence of Jesus teachings in these few lines? Well, that is you might wonder if you never heard or read about the Buddha's thorough teachings before. Not in vain is one of the epithets of the Buddha "sattha deva manussanam" - the "Teacher of God and Men". This being said, Christians and other followers of (mono)theistic religions might be considered in effect pupils of the Buddha (from a Buddhist perspective, of course) - simply due to the fact that God (as Mahabrahma) himself has taken refuge in the Law (Dhamma) which the Buddhas (Awakened Ones) time and again will realize and share with all who are intent to understand the universe, the world and their minds. Therefore, though they might fight with him, he never will fight with them!

31 May 2008

How Karma Works

The idea of secularized, new age karma is having its moment in the limelight. Newspapers and magazines use the word to spice up headlines or subtitles with colorful flair. Restaurants plaster their tip jars with signs promising good karma for only a dollar or two. Singers ponder over the power of a vaguely vindictive karma in songs like "Instant Karma" and "Karma." And according to the Social Security Administration, "Karma" even made it into the top 1,000 baby names for girls in 2006. But what is karma, and how did it get transplanted from Eastern religion to Western pop culture?

Karma is a central concept in Eastern religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism. The word "karma" has its roots in the Sanskrit word "karman," which means "act." In general, it is believed that actions affect the quality of life and the quality of future lives. Good deeds create good karma and evil deeds create negative karma. Karma's effect can manifest immediately, later in life or after multiple lifetimes. Some religions view karma as the law that governs reincarnation. Others believe that karma is actual particulate matter, something that gets stuck to the soul and must be removed through acts of piety.

In the West, the relatively modern idea of karma is not so much a spiritual reality as type of luck influenced by deeds. It's an appealing attempt to influence fortune -- something seemingly beyond our control -- with definite action. Most people would agree that it's reasonable enough to believe that good behavior merits a reward and bad behavior warrants punishment. Karma is also a convenient way to explain ostensibly random hardships. In a rational age, karma is a popular and fairly legitimatized form of superstition, unlike its closely related partner, reincarnation.

For most adherents of the major Eastern religions, karma is a spiritual, philosophical and ethical fact. It helps explain inequalities among animals, encourages virtue and allows people to make sense of life's ups and downs. However, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism have differing ideas about how karma works and its effect on one's existence in subsequent lives.

Hindus believe the soul is trapped in a circle of birth and rebirth called samsara. Until a person quells all desires and accepts that the individual soul is the same as the absolute soul, he or she must suffer in samsara and forgo moksha -- the goal of salvation. But because moksha is an ultimate goal, and one that can be achieved only after it is no longer desired, most Hindus attempt to generate good karma so that they can be born into a better life.

The law of karma controls samsara, with good actions engendering good karma and bad actions creating negative karma. For Hindus, good karma is usually produced by correctly performing the duties of one's caste, or social class. If a person lives admirably and fulfills the responsibilities of the caste, the soul can be reborn into a higher caste. Hindus also believe that because karma is its own law, it requires no divine interference.

While most Hindus believe that an unchanging soul is reincarnated until it achieves salvation, Buddhists believe that a soul's accumulated karma, rather than the soul itself, transmigrates between bodies. The soul, which consists of the five skandhas -- aggregates of body, sensations, perceptions, impulses and consciousness -- expires at death. However, the soul's accumulated karma becomes vijñana, or the "germ of consciousness," in a new life. Like Hindus, Buddhists strive to escape the cycle of samsara by achieving a state of complete passiveness. Many Buddhists believe that an individual can end the cycle of reincarnation and achieve nirvana by passing through multiple lifetimes and following the tenets of the Eightfold Path or "middle way."

Sikhism also teaches karmic law and reincarnation. For Sikhs, karma affects the quality of life and of future lives. To exit the chain of reincarnation, Sikhs must understand God and ultimately become one with him.

Not all Eastern religions conceive of karma as law. Jainism teaches that karma is an atomic substance -- an actual particulate that attaches itself to the jiva, or soul. Jain followers believe that as long as a soul is burdened by karma it remains trapped in a cycle of birth and rebirth. Because negative qualities of the soul (like anger, greed or pride) make karma more inclined to stick, Jain believers try to minimize passions, live soberly and inflict harm on no living thing, except in self-defense.

Most religions include some sort of impetus for good social behavior. For many Eastern religions, karma is that impetus -- its law decrees that positive and negative actions will be rewarded or punished (eventually). While karma works like a mechanical law, Western faiths usually entail a final judgment at the end of one's life. Good and bad actions are presumably tallied and leveled upon the soul at death.

However, the idea of karma is still appealing to people unfamiliar with its Eastern roots. Karma suggests that self-determination is possible and that action can influence the future's quality. Karma has become a popular New Age ethical philosophy -- one largely removed from religious connotations. The simple ethical basis of karma -- that good engenders good and vice versa -- translates into most religions.

The secularization of karma in the West started in part with the creation of the Theosophical Society in the late 19th century. The Russian émigré Helena Blavatsky founded the society with Henry Steel Olcott, a lawyer and journalist, in 1875 in New York City. Blavatsky originally shaped the group's doctrines around her gnostic and kabbalah beliefs, but an 1879 trip to India steered her toward Hinduism and a more regimented understanding of karma. Blavatsky believed that the Theosophical Society's studies, discussions and meditations could help prepare the world for the Aquarian Age -- a time of enlightenment and brotherhood. Annie Besant, an English woman, helped extend the society's reach and introduce modified Hindu beliefs to the West. Today, the Theosophical Society defines karma as "a law of spiritual dynamics related to every act in daily life". It's a view of karma that is only loosely connected to the structure of Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or Jain philosophies.

23 May 2008

The Golden Rule: The Ethic of reciprocity

"Every religion emphasizes human improvement, love, respect for others, sharing other people's suffering. On these lines every religion had more or less the same viewpoint and the same goal."
The Dalai Lama
Bahá'í Faith:
"Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not."
"Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself."

Baha'u'llah
"And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself."
Epistle to the Son of the Wolf

Brahmanism:
"This is the sum of Dharma [duty]: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you."
Mahabharata, 5:1517

Buddhism:
"...a state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that upon another?"
Samyutta Nikaya v. 353
"Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful."
Udana-Varga 5:18

Christianity:
"Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets."
Matthew 7:12
"And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise."
Luke 6:31

Confucianism:
"Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you."
Analects 15:23
"Tse-kung asked, 'Is there one word that can serve as a principle of conduct for life?' Confucius replied, 'It is the word 'shu' -- reciprocity. Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.'"
Doctrine of the Mean 13.3
"Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, and you will find that this is the shortest way to benevolence."
Mencius VII.A

Ancient Egyptian:
"Do for one who may do for you, that you may cause him thus to do."
The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant, 109-110

Hinduism:
"This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you."
Mahabharata 5:1517

Islam:
"None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself."
Number 13 of Imam Al-Nawawi's Forty Hadiths

Jainism:
"Therefore, neither does he [a sage] cause violence to others nor does he make others do so."
Acarangasutra 5.101-2
"In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self."
Lord Mahavira, 24th Tirthankara
"A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated."
Sutrakritanga 1.11.33

Judaism:
"...thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
Leviticus 19:18
"What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary."
Talmud, Shabbat 31a.
"And what you hate, do not do to any one."
Tobit 4:15

Native American Spirituality:
"Respect for all life is the foundation."
The Great Law of Peace

Shinto:
"The heart of the person before you is a mirror. See there your own form"
"Be charitable to all beings, love is the representative of God."
Ko-ji-ki Hachiman Kasuga

Sikhism:
"Compassion-mercy and religion are the support of the entire world."
Japji Sahib
"Don't create enmity with anyone as God is within everyone."
Guru Arjan Devji 259
"No one is my enemy, none a stranger and everyone is my friend."
Guru Arjan Dev AG 1299

Sufism:
"The basis of Sufism is consideration of the hearts and feelings of others. If you haven't the will to gladden someone's heart, then at least beware lest you hurt someone's heart, for on our path, no sin exists but this."
Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh, Master of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order

Taoism:
"Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss."
T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien
"The sage has no interest of his own, but takes the interests of the people as his own. He is kind to the kind; he is also kind to the unkind: for Virtue is kind. He is faithful to the faithful; he is also faithful to the unfaithful: for Virtue is faithful."
Tao Teh Ching, Chapter 49

Unitarianism:
"The inherent worth and dignity of every person;"
"Justice, equity and compassion in human relations.... "
"The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;"
"We affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part."
Unitarian principles 7,8

Wicca:
"An it harm no one, do what thou wilt" (i.e. do what ever you will, as long as it harms nobody, including yourself; One's will is to be carefully thought out in advance of action.)
The Wiccan Rede

Zoroastrianism:
"That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good for itself."
Dadistan-i-dinik 94:5
"Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others."
Shayast-na-Shayast 13:29

22 May 2008

The Same(?) Ten Precepts of Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity

The Ten Commandments may be called the 10 precepts of the Jewish and Christian faiths. However other faiths also have 10 precepts which are not very different from the morality of Judeo-Christian religions either.

The Ten Precepts of Daoism were outlined in a short text that appears in Dunhuang manuscripts. The precepts are the classical rules of medieval Daoism as applied to practitioners attaining the rank of Disciple of Pure Faith. They first appeared in the Scripture on Setting the Will on Wisdom.

1. Do not kill but always be mindful of the host of living beings.
2. Do not be lascivious or think depraved thoughts.
3. Do not steal or receive unrighteous wealth.
4. Do not cheat or misrepresent good and evil.
5. Do not get intoxicated but alwyas think of pure conduct.
6. I will maintain harmony with my ancestors and family and never disregard my kin.
7. When I see someone do a good deed, I will support him with joy and delight.
8. When I see someone unfortunate, I will support him with dignity to recover good fortune.
9. When someone comes to do me harm, I will not harbour thoughts of revenge.
10. As long as all beings have not attained the Dao, I will not expect to do so myself.

The Ten Precepts (Pali: dasasila or samanerasikkha) may refer to the precepts (training rules) for [Buddhist] samaneras (novice monks) and samaneris (novice nuns). They are used in most Buddhist schools. The ten precepts of Buddhism are:

1. Refrain from killing living things.
2. Refrain from stealing.
3. Refrain from un-chastity (sensuality, sexuality, lust).
4. Refrain from lying.
5. Refrain from taking intoxicants.
6. Refrain from taking food at inappropriate times.
7. Refrain from singing, dancing, playing music or attending entertainment programs.
8. Refrain from wearing perfume, cosmetics and garland.
9. Refrain from sitting on high chairs and sleeping on luxurious, soft beds.
10. Refrain from accepting money.

In the 17th chapter, "Al-Israa" ("The Night Journey"), verses [Qur'an 17:22], the Qur'an provides a set of moral stipulations which are "among the (precepts of) wisdom, which thy Lord has revealed to thee" that can be reasonably categorised as ten in number. According to S. A. Nigosian, Professor of religious studies at the University of Toronto, these resemble the Ten Commandments in the Bible and "represents the fullest statement of the code of behavior every Muslim must follow".

1. Worship only God
2. Be kind, honourable and humble to one's parents
3. Be neither miserly nor wasteful in one's expenditure
4. Do not engage in 'mercy killings' for fear of starvation
5. Do not commit adultery
6. Do not kill unjustly
7. Care for orphaned children
8. Keep one's promises
9. Be honest and fair in one's interactions
10. Do not be arrogant in one's claims or beliefs

19 May 2008

The Five Precepts in Taoism

The Five Precepts in Taoism (Chinese: 五戒; Pinyin: Wu Jie; Cantonese: Ng Gye), constitute the basic code of ethics undertaken mainly by Taoist lay-cultivators. For Taoist monks and nuns, there are more advanced and stricter precepts. These precepts are no different as the Buddhist Five Precepts, but with minor differences.

According to The Ultra Supreme Elder Lord's Scripture of Precepts, the five basic precepts are:

  • The first precept: No Murdering;
  • The second precept: No Stealing;
  • The third precept: No Sexual Misconduct;
  • The fourth precept: No False Speech;
  • The fifth precept: No Taking of Intoxicants.

Their definitions can be found in an excerpt of The Ultra Supreme Elder Lord's Scripture of Precepts:

The Elder Lord said: "The precept against killing is: All living beings, including all kinds of animals, and those as small as insects, worms, and so forth, are containers of the uncreated energy, thus one should not kill any of them."

The Elder Lord said: "The precept against stealing is: One should not take anything that he does not own and is not given to him, whether it belongs to someone or not."

The Elder Lord said: "The precept against sexual misconduct is: If a sexual conduct happens, but it is not between a man and a woman who are married to each other, it is a Sexual Misconduct. As for a monk or nun, he or she should never marry or practice sexual intercourse with anyone."*

The Elder Lord said: "The precept against false speech is: If one did not hear, see, or feel something, or if something is not realized by his Heart, but he tells it to others, this constitutes False Speech."

The Elder Lord said: "The precept against taking of intoxicants is: One should not take any alcoholic drinks, unless he has to take some to cure his illness."**

The Elder Lord said: "These five precepts are the fundamentals for keeping one's body in purity, and are the roots of the upholding of the holy teachings. For those virtuous men and virtuous women who enjoy the virtuous teachings, if they can accept and keep these precepts, and never violate any of them till the end of their lifetimes, they are recognized as those with pure faith, they will gain the Way to Tao, will gain the holy principles, and will forever achieve Tao -- the Reality."


*The precept against Sexual Misconduct also outlines that sexual acts such as masturbation, premarital sexual conduct, adultery, prostitution, having intercourse with prostitutes, homosexual intercourse, etc, are all sexual misconducts.

**Smoking, the use of intoxicants other than alcohol, and the like, are also forbidden by the precept against Intoxicant-Taking.

17 May 2008

Thunder from Tibet

The police and soldiers were pelted with stones, their cars were burned, and, pursued by a group of stone-throwing youths, they fled. No reinforcements were sent into the area for at least three hours (one Western journalist who witnessed the events saw no police for twenty-four hours), though they were waiting on the outskirts. It was the traditional response of the Chinese security forces to serious unrest—but the hours of inaction left the citizenry unprotected and allowed the violence to escalate.

In this vacuum, a number of Tibetans turned from attacking police to attacking the next available symbol of Chinese governance, the Chinese migrant population. About a thousand Chinese-owned shops were set on fire by rioters who were seen by foreign tourists igniting cooking gas cylinders or dousing shops in gasoline. According to The Economist's correspondent James Miles, the only accredited foreign journalist in Lhasa at the time,

almost every [Chinese or Chinese Muslim] business was either burned, looted, destroyed, smashed into, the property therein hauled out into the streets, piled up, burned. It was an extraordinary outpouring of ethnic violence of a most unpleasant nature to watch.

Miles saw Chinese passersby, including a child of about ten years old, pelted with stones, and several Western tourists described hard-core rioters beating random Chinese civilians with enough force to have killed them. Eleven Chinese civilians and a Tibetan were burned to death after hiding in shops set on fire by the rioters, and a policeman and six other civilians died from beatings or unknown causes, according to the Chinese government.

The events of March 14 challenged any assumption that Tibetan Buddhists are necessarily nonviolent or that their political actions are limited to what Deepak Chopra has called "inert pacifism." If the six rounds of talks between Beijing and the Dalai Lama's representatives since 2002 had suggested that a negotiated solution for the Tibet issue might occur in the near future, such a solution [now] remains unlikely.

Tibetans were lifted out of feudal bondage by what China terms the liberation of 1950–1951, notes that the Tibetan Autonomous Region has received $13.8 billion in the form of government subsidies from Beijing since 1965, and that its GDP has boomed at over 10 percent per year for the last decade. As a result, a new and wealthy middle class of Tibetan Chinese has been created in the larger towns in the Tibetan region, and in 2007 alone the average annual urban income increased by 24.5 percent over the previous year to 11,131 yuan ($1,588) per person in the Tibet Autonomous Region. To say that Tibetan protests are driven primarily by people being economically disadvantaged thus seems hypocritical to those struck by highly visible economic gains in those towns.

Tibet has been an integral part of their motherland since at least the thirteenth century. The Chinese argument is indeed correct that Tibet was several times under the authority of Beijing.

It would seem that for many Chinese, and even some Westerners, the principal source of aggravation is the Dalai Lama. The Chinese authorities say that, although he has repeatedly declared support only for autonomy and renounced the claim for independence, he is concealing a continuing desire or a secret plan for independence. The government cites as evidence his refusal to say that Tibet was part of China in the past, his increasingly frequent journeys to the West, which are seen as a courting of anti-China feeling and a public shaming of China on the international stage, and his refusal to condemn those of his exiled supporters who continue to call for Tibetan independence.

The use of violence by Tibetans in some protests, leading, by the Chinese government's count, to the deaths of eighteen Chinese civilians and at least three policemen, raises a question about the ability of the Dalai Lama to persuade Tibetans to uphold his repeated calls for pacifism.

14 May 2008

Donate to the Chinese Earthquake Victims Through a Buddhist International Relief Foundation

Tzu Chi Foundation is a non-profit organization founded in 1966 by Dharma Master Cheng Yen in the impoverished east coast of Taiwan. The Foundation has been contributing to better social and community services, medical care, education and humanism in Taiwan for nearly 40 years. Master Cheng Yen firmly believes that suffering in this world is caused by material deprivation and spiritual poverty. She felt that "lack of love for others" has been the root of many problems in this world. "To save the world, we must begin by transforming human hearts."

A volunteer-based, spiritual as well as welfare organization, Tzu Chi’s missions focus on giving material aid and inspiring love and humanity in both the givers and receivers. Since its founding, the Foundation has dedicated itself in the field of charity, medicine, education, environmental protection, as well as the promotion of humanistic values and community volunteerism. The humanitarian work is both a means to help those in need, and also a way to open the eyes of the volunteer to the harsher side of life, so that through giving, they may find spiritual happiness and life's true meaning.

A home-grown Taiwanese organization, Tzu Chi volunteers living abroad began setting up overseas chapters in 1985. They use money that they have earned in their country of residence to help the poor and needy in their local communities. Today, Tzu Chi is an international organization with over 5 million supporters and over 30,000 certified commissioners around the globe.

Emergency aid to typhoon-stricken Bangladesh in 1991 marked the beginning of the foundation's international relief efforts. Firmly believing that, "Nothing is more valuable than life, All beings are equal." Tzu Chi demonstrates first hand that They overcome obstacles of time, distance, and politics, to provide relief and hope to victims of war, flood, and drought. As of August 2005, over fifty-seven countries in five continents have received Tzu Chi’s aid.

From the icy Arctic Circle to the sweltering tropics, Tzu Chi volunteers have left their footprints in many faraway lands, risking their lives in epidemics and wars. Their belief in "making the impossible possible" has sustained them in accomplishing many arduous tasks. In addition to material aid, Tzu Chi has also encouraged mutual help among disaster victims and helped them become independent by involving them in rebuilding their own communities. The ultimate goal is to inspire disaster victims to contribute to others in turn when they have the ability to do so, thus creating a global village of Great Love.
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