31 December 2007

Happy New Year 2551!?

The New Year is an event that happens when a culture celebrates the end of one year and the beginning of the next year. Cultures that measure yearly calendars all have New Year celebrations.

The most common modern dates of celebration are listed below, ordered and grouped by their appearance relative to the conventional Western calendar.
  • 1 January: The first official day of the year in the Gregorian calendar used by most countries.

  • In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the civil New Year falls on 14 January (1 January in the Julian Calendar). Many in the countries where Eastern Orthodoxy predominates celebrate both the Gregorian and Julian New Year holidays, with the Gregorian day celebrated as a civic holiday, and the Julian date as the "Old New Year", a religious holiday. The Church's own liturgical calendar begins on September 1, thereby proceeding annually from the celebration of Jesus' birth in the winter (Christmas). through his death and resurrection in the spring (Pascha / Easter), to his Ascension in the summer, and the assumption of his mother (Dormition of the Theotokos / Virgin Mary) in the fall.

  • The Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year, occurs every year on the new moon of the first lunar month, about four to eight weeks before spring (Lichun). The exact date can fall anytime between 21 January and 21 February (inclusive) of the Gregorian Calendar. Because the lunisolar Chinese calendar is astronomically defined, unlike the Gregorian Calendar, the drift of the seasons will change the range. Each year is symbolized by one of 12 animals and one of five elements, with the combinations of animals and elements (or stems) cycling every 60 years. It is the most important Chinese holiday of the year.

  • The Vietnamese New Year is the Tết Nguyên Đán which is for most times the same day as the Chinese New Year.

  • The Tibetan New Year is Losar and falls from January through March.

  • Hola Mohalla, New Year's Day in the Sikh Nanakshahi calendar is on March 14.

  • The Iranian New Year, called Norouz, is the day containing the exact moment of the vernal equinox, commencing the start of the spring season. In 2007 this falls on 20 March.

  • The Zoroastrian New Year coincides with the Iranian New Year of Norouz. It is celebrated by the Parsis in India and by Zoroastrians and Persians across the world.

  • In the Bahá'í calendar, the new year occurs on the vernal equinox on 21 March, and is called Naw-Rúz.

  • In the Saka Calendar (Balinese-Javanese Calendar) the celebration of new year falls on 30rd of March in this year. the celebration gather of Nyepi, Balinese Hindu holiday.

  • The Telugu New Year generally falls in the months of March or April. The people of Andhra Pradesh, India celebrate the advent of Lunar year this day. This day is celebrated across entire Andhra Pradesh as UGADI(Meaning the Start of a new Year.).The first month is Chaitra Masam. Masam means month.

  • Gudi Padwa is celebrated as the first day of the Hindu year by the people of Maharashtra, India. This day falls in March or April and coincides with Ugadi.

  • The Kannada New Year or Ugadi is celebrated by the people of Karnataka, India as the beginning of a new year according to the Hindu Calendar. The first month of the new Year is Chaitra.

  • A Sindhi festival of Cheti Chand is celebrated on the same day as Ugadi/Gudi Padwa to mark the celebration of the Sindhi New Year.

  • The Assyrian New Year, called Rish Nissanu, occurs on 1 April

  • The Punjabi new year Vaisakhi is celebrated on 13 April and celebrates the harvest.

  • The Nepali new year is celebrated in spring, on the first day of the lunar month Baisakh. In the English calender, it usually falls between 12 - 15 April.

  • The Thai and Lao New Year are celebrated from 13 April to 15 April by splashing water.

  • The Cambodian New Year and Lao New Year are celebrated from 13 April to 15 April.

  • The Bengali New Year Pohela Baisakh is celebrated on 14 April or 15 April in a festive manner in both Bangladesh and West Bengal, India.

  • The Sinhalese New Year falls In April (the month of Bak) when the sun moves from the Meena Rashiya (House of Pisces) to the Mesha Rashiya (House of Aries) Sri Lankans begin celebrating their National New Year "Aluth Avurudhu" in Sinhala and "Puththandu (புத்தாண்டு)" in Tamil. However, unlike the usual practice where the new year begins at midnight, the National New Year begins at the time determined by the astrologers. Not only the beginning of the new year but the conclusion of the old year is also specified by the astrologers. And unlike the customary ending and beginning of new year, there is a period of a few hours in between the conclusion of the Old Year and the commencement of the New Year , which is called the "nona gathe" (neutral period). During this time one is expected to keep off from all types of work and engage solely in religious activities.

  • In India, the Tamil New Year and Vishu are celebrated on the same day respectively in the Southern Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. They generally fall on 13 April or 14 April. The first month of the Tamil New Year is called Chithrai. Every year in the month of Chithrai (சித்திரை), in the temple city of Madurai, the Chithrai Thiruvizha is celebrated in the Meenakshi Temple. A huge exhibition is also held, called Chithrai Porutkaatchi. In some parts of Southern Tamil Nadu, it is also called Chithrai Vishu. The day is marked with a feast in Hindu homes and the entrance to the houses are decorated elaborately with kolams. Also in Karnataka New Year is celebrated in April in the name of festival called Ugadi. The tradition is to prepare a food called BevuBella which contains Neem extracts(leaves/flowers/buds) and Jaggery. This food depicts life which is always a combination of bitter and sweet.

  • Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew for 'head of the year') is a holiday commemorating the culmination of the seven days of Creation, and marking God's yearly renewal of His world. The day has elements of festivity and introspection, as God is traditionally believed to be assessing His creation and determining the fate of all men and creatures for the coming year.

  • In the Coptic Orthodox Church, the New Year, called Neyrouz, coincides with 11 September in the Gregorian calendar between 1900 and 2099, with the exception of the year before Gregorian leap years, when Neyrouz occurs on 12 September). The Coptic year 1723 began in September 2005. The Ethiopian Orthodox New Year, called Enkutatash, falls on the same date as Neyrouz; the Ethiopian calendar year 1999 thus began on September 11, 2006.

  • The Marwari New Year is celebrated on the day of the festival of Diwali

  • The Gujarati New Year is usually celebrated the day after the festival of Diwali (which occurs in mid-fall - either October or November, depending on the Lunar calendar). The Gujarati New Year is synonymous with sud ekam of the Kartik month - the first day of the first month of Gujarati lunar calendar. Most other Hindus celebrate the New Year in early spring, but the Gujarati farming community celebrates the New Year after Diwali to mark the beginning of a new fiscal year.

  • Some neo-pagans celebrate Samhain (a festival of the ancient Celts, held around November 1) as a new year's day representing the new cycle of the Wheel of the Year, although they do not use a different calendar that starts on this day.

  • The Islamic New Year occurs on 1 Muharram. Since the Muslim calendar is based on 12 lunar months amounting to about 354 days, the Gregorian date of this is about eleven days earlier each year. 2008 will see two Muslim New Years.

  • The Thelemic new year is usually celebrated with an invocation to Ra-Hoor-Khuit, commemorating the beginning of the New Aeon in 1904. It also marks the start of the twenty two day Thelemic holy season.

30 December 2007

Holy Water

Some Roman Catholics believe that water from Lourdes and other holy wells and shrines have supernatural powers, such as for healing. This water, technically, is not holy water in the same sense as traditional holy water since it has not been consecrated by a priest or bishop. Other Christian groups have sold water from the Jordan River and called it holy water as well, since this is the location of the baptism of the Christ.

In the Orthodox Church there have been many miraculous springs of water throughout the centuries, some of which still flow to this day, such as the one at Pochaev Lavra in Ukraine, and the Life-Giving Spring of the Theotokos in Constantinople (commemorated on Bright Friday).

Many Muslims believe that water from the The Well of Zamzam in Mecca is divinely blessed. It is also believed to have supernatural properties.

The Sikhs prepare holy water, which is called amrit, and used in a ritual Sikh baptism.

Among the Mandaeans, baptism is the central sacrament of their religious life.

Though the term "Holy water" is not used, the idea of blessed water is also used among Buddhists. Water is put in to a new pot and kept near a Paritrana ceremony, a blessing for protection. Thai 'Lustral water' can be created in a ceremony in which the burning and extinction of a candle above the water represents the elements of earth, fire, and air.[2] This water is later given to the people to be kept in their home. Not only water but also oil and strings are blessed in this ceremony. Bumpa, a ritual object, is one of the Ashtamangala, used for storing sacred water sometimes, symbolizing wisdom and long life in Vajrayana Buddhism. Kundika is the version in Korean Buddhism [3], [4] whereas the vase of holy dew is known to Chinese and Japanese Buddhism [5],[6].

  1. Saint John (Maximovitch), On Holy Water.
  2. Buddhism in Thailand: Lustral Water.
  3. Smithsonian Institution. Buddhist ritual sprinkler (kundika).
  4. The British Museum. Stoneware kundika (water sprinkler).
  5. Harvard College and Diana Eck. Chua Bo De Buddhist Temple.
  6. Red Maple Connection. Goddess of Mercy.

29 December 2007

The Zen Mind - An Introduction

This is a clip from The Zen Mind documentary, filmed in Japan. It serves as a nice overview of zen - a topic very few people can fully understand.

28 December 2007

Christmas Dharma

When we see each other again on Christmas Eve for the celebration of Holy Jesus' birth, let us do so in peace and with a good vibration and a happy mind. I think it would be wonderful. To attend the celebration with an angry disposition would be so sad. Come instead with a beautiful motivation and much love. Have no discrimination, but see everything as a golden flower, even your worst enemy. Then Christmas, which so often produces an agitated mind, will become so beautiful.

When you change your mental attitude, the external vision also changes. This is a true turning of the mind. There is no doubt about this. I am not special, but I have had experience of doing this, and it works. You people are so intelligent, so you can understand how the mind has this ability to change itself and its environment. There is no reason why this change cannot be for the better.

Some of you might think, "Oh, I want to have nothing to do with Jesus, nothing to do with the Bible." This is a very angry, emotional attitude to have towards Christianity. If you really understood, you would recognize that what Jesus taught was, "Love!" It is as simple and as profound as that. If you had true love within you, I am sure you would feel much more peaceful than you do now.

How do you normally think of love? Be honest. It is always involved with discriminations, isn't it? Just look around this room and see if anyone here is an object of your love. Why do you discriminate so sharply between friend and enemy? Why do you see such a big difference between yourself and others?

In the Buddhist teaching, this falsely discriminating attitude is called dualism. Jesus said that such an attitude is the opposite of true love. Therefore, is there any one of us who has the pure love that Jesus was talking about? If we do not, we should not criticize his teachings or feel they are irrelevent to us. We are the ones who have misunderstood, perhaps knowing the words of his teachings, but never acting upon them.

There are so many beautiful sentences in the Bible, but I do not recall reading that Jesus ever said that without your doing anything whatsoever—without preparing yourself in some way—the Holy Spirit would descend upon you, whoosh! If you do not act the way He said you should act, there is no Holy Spirit existent anywhere for you.

What I have read in the Bible has the same connotation as the Buddhist teachings on equilibrium, compassion and changing one's ego-attachment into love for others. It may not be immediately obvious how to train your mind to develop these attitudes, but it is certainly possible to do so. Only our selfishness and closed-mindedness prevent us.

With true realizations, the mind is no longer egotistically concerned with its own salvation. With true love, one no longer behaves dualistically; feeling very attached to some people, distant from others and totally indifferent to the rest. It is so simple. In the ordinary personality, the mind is always divided against itself, always fighting and disturbing its own peace.

The teachings on love are very practical. Do not put religion somewhere up in the sky and feel you are stuck down here on Earth. If the actions of body, speech and mind are in accordance with loving kindness, you automatically become a truly religious person. To be religious does not mean that you attend certain teachings. If you listen to teachings and misinterpret them, you are in fact, the opposite of religious. And it is only because you do not understand a certain teaching that you abuse religion.

Lack of deep understanding leads to partisanship. The ego feels, "I am a Buddhist, therefore Christianity must be all wrong." This is very harmful to true religious feeling. You do not destroy a religion with bombs, but with hatred. More importantly, you destroy the peacefulness of your own mind. It does not matter if you express your hatred with words or not. The mere thoughts of hatred automatically destroys your peace.

Similarly, true love does not depend on physical expression. You should realize this. True love is a feeling deep within you. It is not just a matter of wearing a smile on your face and looking happy. Rather, it arises from a heartfelt understanding of every other being's suffering and radiates out to them indiscriminately. It does not favor a chosen few to the exclusion of everyone else.

Furthermore, if someone hits you and you react with anger or great alarm, crying, "What has happened to me?" this also has nothing to do with a mind knowing the meaning of true love. It is just the ignorant preoccupation of the ego within its own welfare. How much wiser it is to realize, "Being hit does not really harm me. My delusion of hatred is an enemy that harms me much more than this." Reflecting like this allows true love to grow.

These teachings came from Silent Mind, Holy Mind, a collection of talks given by Lama Thubten Yeshe at Kopan Monastery at the end of one of the month-long Kopan Meditation Courses. Western students had gathered on Christmas Eve, feeling a little out-of-place and unsure of what to do with their feelings of "missing out on Christmas," the first spiritual practice in this life for most of them.

Lama, sensing their confused feelings, had them gather in the meditation hall where he gave these talks about Christmas and Buddhist practice. These were recorded and later became the book published by Wisdom Publications.

27 December 2007

Biblical Magi

A mix of Christian Buddhist even Hindu traditions say these kings came from the "East" while the gospels say the "Orient". One Indian tradition claims they were Buddhist! Mixed traditions say they were looking for a transmigrated soul or bodhisattva - which many believe they DID find.

In Christian tradition the Magi, also known as the Three Wise Men, The Three Kings, or Kings from the east - although it is not said in the Bible how many Magi there really were - are sometimes considered to be Median, perhaps Iranian Zoroastrian priests, who were also proficient in astrology from Ancient Persia. The Gospel of Matthew states that they came "from the east to Jerusalem" to worship the Christ, "born King of the Jews". According to Matthew, they navigated by following a star which came to be known as the Star of Bethlehem. As they approached Jerusalem, Herod tried to trick them into revealing where Jesus was, so that he might be put to death. Upon finding Jesus, the Magi gave him an unspecified number of gifts, amongst which were three highly symbolic ones: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Because these three gifts were recorded, it is traditionally said to have been three givers; however, Matthew does not specify how many wise men came from the east.

The Magi were then warned in dreams that revealed Herod's deadly intentions for the child and decided to return home by a different route, in order to thwart them. This prompted Herod to resort to killing all the young children in Bethlehem, an act called the Massacre of the Innocents, in an attempt to eliminate a rival heir to his throne. Jesus and his family had, however, escaped to Egypt beforehand. After these events, the magi return home and passed into obscurity.[1] The story of the nativity in Matthew glorifies Jesus, likens him to Moses, and shows his life as fulfilling prophecy.

Three leaders of the Chinese Christian Church[3] cite an alternate proposal for the origin of one of the Magi. They state that many Chinese Christians believe at least one of the Magi came from China. They cite anecdotal evidence about Liu Shang, the chief astrologer during the Han dynasty in China at the time that Jesus was born. Liu Shang discovered a new star the Chinese called the "king star" - which was associated with the birth of a new king. The disappearance of Liu Shang from China's imperial court for two years shortly after this star was discovered, they interpret as perhaps traveling the Silk Road to Bethlehem.

  1. Eliza Marian Butler, "The Myth of the Magus By Eliza Marian Butler". Cambridge University, 1993. 281 pages. Page 20. ISBN 0521437776
  2. J. Duncan and M. Derrett, "Further light on the narratives of the Nativity". Novum Testamentum 17.2 (April 1975), pp. 81-108: "Jean Danielou's conclusion that the Magi were an invention of Matthew"
  3. Hattaway, Paul; Brother Yun; Yongze, Peter Xu; and Wang, Enoch. Back to Jerusalem. (Authentic Publishing, 2003). retrieved May 2007

22 December 2007

Going to ShangHai for the Yule Tide

I'll be gone to ShangHai for a week, sorry that I will have to put this blog on hiatus during this time. In the meantime check out all the links in the blogroll to the right. Happy Christmas to all the Christian readers of this blog!

21 December 2007

Jess Rowm's Eluding Happiness: A Buddhist problem with Christmas?

I grew up in a white, liberal, East Coast family, Unitarian with Presbyterian roots, and we celebrated Christmas in a typical American way: the tree, the school pageant, the Burl Ives carols, the Claymation Rudolph on television. Most of my memories of the holiday are happy ones. But one year—I was 9 or 10—things took a bizarre turn: I woke up and raced down to the tree, inspected all the gifts, and found, to my horror, that out of all of them only two or three were marked for me. My brother (it seemed) had gotten six times as many. It was the younger child's worst nightmare: left out, given the scraps.

I burst out crying and threw a screaming fit. I was shown the little packages underneath that contained the things I really wanted—a Swiss Army knife with my name engraved on it, a Bruce Springsteen tape. But it took an hour to placate me, as I remember.

I'm sure most American adults can dredge up a similar story from their childhood. Of all the holidays we celebrate, Christmas is the one with the highest stakes, the most payoff, and no one understands this better than children. The threat of lumps of coal in the stocking is, in a certain perverse way, very real to them: not because they fear getting nothing but because they fear not getting enough. Parents, too, understand instinctively that presents on Christmas are a test of their love and act accordingly.

Anthropologically speaking, there's nothing unique about our slightly mad celebration of abundance and good fortune at the darkest point on the calendar, with its attendant hangover. I witnessed this some years ago when I lived in Hong Kong during the lunar New Year, which the city celebrates with the same brazen commercial fever it applies to everything else. The highlight of the celebration for children is the distribution of red lai see packets filled with money.

For the last 11 years, I've been a student of Korean Zen, and as an American Buddhist I'm not quite sure how to feel about Christmas. It's not that I feel disloyal celebrating the holiday. Mahayana Buddhism, the larger tradition to which Zen belongs, encourages coexistence among religious traditions. When I asked one of my teachers recently how he feels about Christmas, he said, "When I'm at the temple, we celebrate Buddha's Enlightenment Day [the first week of December]; when I'm with people celebrating Hanukkah, I celebrate that; when I'm with people celebrating Christmas, I celebrate Christmas."

In many ways, I love Christmas, and not just because I generally enjoyed it as a child. There are many parallels between the Christmas story and the story of Buddha's birth.

East Asian Buddhism even has a figure strikingly analogous to Santa Claus—Budai, or Hotei, the enormously fat laughing monk, whose name literally means "cloth sack," a reference to the beggar's bag he carries. Budai's bag is said to be always be full of presents for children; he is often pictured with tots climbing all over him. In China and Japan he is a symbol of abundance and sometimes even overindulgence.

But at the same time, I can't help feeling that something is intrinsically wrong with the contemporary American version of Christmas. It's not simply that the gift-giving has become unmoored from the religious content or that the holiday has become "commercialized." (As Leigh Eric Schmidt's book Commercial Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays makes clear, Christmas in the United States has always been a commercial ritual.) What's awry, from a Buddhist point of view, is that for the most part we've lost the ability to let gifts make us happy. The means—gifts—and the ends—happiness—have become detached. Overwhelmingly today, we assume that the way to make people happy at Christmas is to give them what they have told us they want.

This is true of children and adults. The whole process of wish lists, of clear and defined expectations, is in a sense what makes the contemporary American Christmas possible.

Wish lists, however, mean that the giver takes no responsibility for—no ownership of—the gift. From a Buddhist point of view this is inherently a mistake. Whatever we give to someone else we also, in a sense, receive ourselves. The gift itself has only the existence and meaning we assign it. Another way of saying this is that gifts are an extension of our karma.

The most obvious examples of this are gifts that are dangerous or inappropriate—a rifle for an 11-year-old, a car for a 16-year-old who hasn't learned to stop at stop signs. But consider a more benign example. Say that you have a 16-year-old daughter who is dying for a pair of $500 skis. You can afford it; you've budgeted that much to spend on her; and buying them will make her extremely happy, in the short term. On the other hand, you feel it's inappropriate—even outrageous—to spend that much money on a present for a teenager.

Well, so what? It's not the end of the world to have a daughter who has expensive tastes. If you look at the gift simply as a transaction—I have this money, what would you like me to do with it?—it makes no sense for you to censor your daughter's desires. Nonetheless, after you buy these skis, the world will be slightly altered. She will feel validated about receiving extravagant presents as tokens of love, and you, by participating in the transaction, will have affirmed her choice. Nor do your guilt and frustration just disappear:

They become part of the exchange itself, part of the price of her happiness. Your relationship is shaped by the gift, instead of the other way around. It's such a subtle shift that you may not ever be aware of it, but the consequences, ultimately, are real.

There's no easy way to extricate ourselves from these binds of obligation and reassurance. For those who want to cut down on expense or shopping there are now many Web sites dedicated to making the season simpler—a worthy goal. But Christmas isn't just about being virtuous; it's about feeling lucky to be alive and grateful for the abundance we share, without letting that abundance drive us crazy. This requires a sense of proportion—an instinct for when more becomes enough. I'm certainly no paragon here: After reading this essay, my wife pointed out that my Amazon wish list has 79 items on it. Many of those titles have been up there for years, and I don't really expect anyone to buy any of them.

But the little boy in me wouldn't mind at all.

20 December 2007

Twin paths to a world full of love

They lived 500 years and more than 3000km apart, but Jesus and Buddha were soulmates, according to a new book.

Another recent book on the pair suggests Jesus might have studied Buddhism and adopted some of its philosophies.

Some modern scholars have been intensely studying the sayings of both religious masters to find similarities.

It's not that easy. The Dalai Lama once said trying to mix Buddhism and Christianity was like "trying to put a yak's head on a cow's body".

Maybe, but some modern Buddhist evangelists seem to be doing great business blurring the lines between cows and yaks.

Pop Buddhism has humanist beliefs that seem similar, at a glance, to the noble Christian ethics.

Of course, there are major differences in the spirituality of the West and the East, which avoids attaching a divine will to ethical codes.

Buddhists don't generally believe in the supernatural, but believe in reincarnation and the possibility for humans to live several lives.

In Christianity, each life is unique and is the only chance for salvation.

Buddha was born a prince into a wealthy Indian family, while Jesus was born into a poor and oppressed minority in a land under occupation. He declared himself divine and had to die to prove it.

Christ became a dangerous social and religious revolutionary while Buddha became a quiet teacher of spiritual wisdom.

But many of their words have a common thread,

Jesus said the heart of Christianity was: "Do unto others as you would have them do to you." Buddha said his Golden Rule was: "Consider others as yourself. Remember that you are like other men."

About love, Jesus said: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."

Buddha said: "Just as a mother would protect her only child at the risk of her own life, even so, cultivate a boundless heart toward all beings. Let your thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world."

All religion, in essence, makes the assessment that temporal life is, in some ways, unsatisfactory, asks the ultimate human questions and proclaims the answers. For Christians and Muslims it is about salvation. For Buddhists it is seeing "the true nature" of yourself.

The common way to enlightenment, according to each faith, is to proclaim universal love and believe the spirit is more important than the body.

Religious scholar Dr Marcus Borg, in his book Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings, said they shared a primary interest in compassion, extolled the love of enemies and encouraged their followers to find a new way to live beyond human appetites.

The wisdom of both was "world-subverting".

Vietnamese Buddhist monk and prolific writer Thich Nhat Hanh lights candles daily to celebrate both Buddha and Christ.

He said Buddha and Jesus were pivotal figures, both "living streams" who opened the way to better lives on Earth and in the afterlife.

But he also said: "We don't want to say that Buddhism is a kind of Christianity and Christianity is a kind of Buddhism. A mango cannot be an orange. If you analyse the mango and the orange deeply enough, you will see small elements are in both. If you look a little deeper, you discover many things in common."

Buddhists generally believe the universe evolved through natural law and that truth has been given through countless ages by various Buddhas.

To Buddhists, Jesus is seen as an Enlightened One, although the crucifixion of Christ is difficult to explain in terms of the law of karma. How could someone so enlightened and good end up on a wooden cross?

Still, followers of the faiths can learn from each other.

Christian philosopher Thomas Merton was not too concerned with the differences between cows and yaks.

He said: "I couldn't understand the Christian teaching the way I do if it weren't in the light of Buddhism."

19 December 2007

Religious views of love


The Christian understanding is that love comes from God. The love of man and woman, eros in Greek, and the unselfish love of others, agape, are often contrasted as 'ascending' and 'descending' love, respectively, but are ultimately the same thing.

There are several Greek words for Love that are regularly referred to in Christian circles.
  • Agape - In the New Testament, agapē is charitable, selfless, altruistic, and unconditional. It is parental love seen as creating goodness in the world, it is the way God is seen to love humanity, and it is seen as the kind of love that Christians aspire to have for one another.
  • Phileo - Also used in the New Testament, Phileo is a human response to something that is found to be delightful. Also known as "brotherly love".
  • Two other words for love in the Greek language -- Eros (sexual love) and storge (needy child-to-parent love) were never used in the New Testament.
Christians believe that to love God with all your heart, mind, and strength and Love your neighbor as yourself are the two most important things in life (the greatest commandment of the Jewish Torah, according to Jesus - c.f. Gospel of Mark chapter 12, verses 28-34). Saint Augustine summarized this when he wrote "Love God, and do as thou wilt".

Saint Paul glorified love as the most important virtue of all. Describing love in the famous poem in 1 Corinthians he wrote, "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres." - 1 Cor. 13:4-7 (NIV)

Saint John wrote "Dear friends, let us love one another for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." - 1 John 4:7-8 (NIV)

Saint Augustine says that one must be able to decipher the difference between love and lust. Lust, according to Saint Augustine is an over indulgence, but to love and be loved is what he has sought for his entire life. He even says, “I was in love with love.” Finally, he does fall in love and is loved back, by God. Saint Augustine says the only one who can love you truly and fully is God, because love with a human only allows for flaws such as, “jealousy, suspicion, fear, anger, and contention.” According to Saint Augustine to love God is “to attain the peace which is yours.” (Saint Augustine Confessions)

John the Apostle wrote, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but the save the world through him." (NIV John 3:16-18)

Christian theologians see God as the source of love, which is mirrored in humans and their own loving relationships.

C.S. Lewis , influential Christian theologian wrote a book called The Four Loves.


In Buddhism, Kāma is sensuous, sexual love. It is often an obstacle on the path to enlightenment, since it is selfish.

Karuṇā is compassion and mercy, which reduces the suffering of others. It is complementary to wisdom, and is necessary for enlightenment.

Adveṣa and maitrī are benevolent love. This love is unconditional and requires considerable self-acceptance. This is quite different from the ordinary love, which is usually about attachment and sex, which rarely occur without self-interest. Instead, in Buddhism it refers to detachment and unselfish interest in others' welfare.

The Bodhisattva ideal in Tibetan Buddhism involves the complete renunciation of oneself in order to take on the burden of a suffering world. The strongest motivation one has in order to take the path of the Bodhisattva is the idea of salvation within unselfish love for others.


In Hinduism kāma is pleasurable, sexual love, personified by the god Kama. For many Hindu schools it is the third end in life (artha).

In contrast to kāma, prema or prem refers to elevated love. However, the term bhakti is used to mean the higher, divine love.

Karuna is compassion and mercy, which reduces the suffering of others.

Bhakti is a Sanskrit term from Hinduism meaning 'loving devotion to the supreme God'. A person who practices bhakti is called bhakta. Hindu writers, theologians, and philosophers have distinguished nine forms of devotion that they call bhakti, for example in the Bhagavatha-Purana and according to Tulsidas. The booklet Narada bhakti sutra written by an unknown author distinguishes eleven forms of love.


In a sense, love does encompass the Islamic view of life as universal brotherhood which applies to all who hold the faith. There are no direct references stating that God is love, but amongst the 99 names of God (Allah), there is the name Al-Wadud or 'the Loving One', which is found in Surah 11:90 as well as Surah 85:14. It refers to God as being "full of loving kindness". In Islam, love is more often than not used as an incentive for sinners to aspire to be as worthy of God's love as they may. One still has God's love, but how the person evaluates his own worth is to his own and God's own counsel. All who hold the faith have God's love, but to what degree or effort he has pleased God depends on the individual itself.

Ishq, or divine love, is the emphasis of Sufism. Sufis believe that love is a projection of the essence of God to the universe. God desires to recognize beauty, and as if one looks at a mirror to see oneself, God "looks" at itself within the dynamics of nature. Since everything is a reflection of God, the school of Sufism practices to see the beauty inside the apparently ugly. Sufism is often referred to as the religion of Love. God in Sufism is referred to in three main terms which are the Lover, Loved, and Beloved with the last of these terms being often seen in Sufi poetry. A common viewpoint of Sufism is that through Love humankind can get back to its inherent purity and grace. The saints of Sufism are infamous for being "drunk" due to their Love of God hence the constant reference to wine in Sufi poetry and music.


In Hebrew Ahava is the most commonly-used term for both interpersonal love and love of God. Other related but dissimilar terms are Chen (grace) and Hesed, which basically combines the meaning of "affection" and "compassion" and is sometimes rendered in English as "loving-kindness".

Judaism employs a wide definition of love, both between people and between man and the Deity. As for the former, the Torah states: "Love your neighbor like yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). As for the latter, one is commanded to love God "with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might" (Deuteronomy 6:5), taken by the Mishnah (a central text of the Jewish oral law) to refer to good deeds, willingness to sacrifice one's life rather than commit certain serious transgressions, willingness to sacrifice all one's possessions and being grateful to the Lord despite adversity (tractate Berachoth 9:5). Rabbinic literature differs how this love can be developed, e.g. by contemplating Divine deeds or witnessing the marvels of nature.

As for love between marital partners, this is deemed an essential ingredient to life: "See life with the wife you love" (Ecclesiastes 9:9). The Biblical book Song of Songs is considered a romantically-phrased metaphor of love between God and his people, but in its plain reading reads like a love song.

The 20th century Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler is frequently quoted as defining love from the Jewish point-of-view as "giving without expecting to take" (from his Michtav me-Eliyahu, vol. 1). Romantic love per se has few echoes in Jewish literature, although the Medieval Rabbi Judah Halevi wrote romantic poetry in Arabic in his younger years (he appears to have regretted this later).

18 December 2007

Qing Ming Jie

Tomb Sweeping Day and Clear Brightness Festival are the most common English translations of Qingming Festival. Tomb Sweeping Day is used in several English language newspapers published in the Republic of China.

For the Chinese, it is a day to remember and honour one's ancestors at grave sites. Young and old pray before the ancestors, sweep the tombs and offer food, tea, wine, chopsticks, (joss) paper accessories, and/or libation to the ancestors. The rites are very important to most Chinese and especially farmers. Some people carry willow branches with them on Qingming, or put willow branches on their gates and/or front doors. They think that willow branches help ward off the evil ghosts that wander on Qingming. Also on Qingming, people go on family outings, start the spring plowing, sing, dance, and Qingming is a time where young couples start courting. Another popular thing to do is fly kites (in shapes of animals, or characters from Chinese opera).

Hanshi, the day before Qingming, was created by Chong'er, the Duke Wen of the state of Jin during the Spring and Autumn Period when he accidentally killed his personal friend and servant Jie Zhitui (介之推) (or Jie Zitui) and his mother in a fireblaze in the hope of making him return to him (Chong'er). On Hanshi, people were not allowed to use fires to heat up food, thus nicknaming it the Cold Food Festival. Eventually, 300 years ago, the Hanshi "celebration" was combined with the Qingming festival, but later abandoned by most people.

Qingming itself was created by the Tang Emperor Xuanzong in 732. It is said that because the wealthy held too many expensive, elaborate ancestor-worshipping ceremonies, in a needed effort to lower this expense, Emperor Xuanzong declared that respects could be formally paid at ancestor's graves only on Qingming.

17 December 2007

China makes 3 traditional festivals holidays

The Chinese government on Sunday officially announced the scrapping of one of the country's three "golden week" holidays and introduced three new one-day public holidays.

The new national public holiday plan adds three traditional festivals -- Tomb-Sweeping Day, Dragon-boat Festival and Mid Autumn Festival -- to the list of public holidays.

The plan, which comes into effect on January 1, also increases the total number of national holidays from 10 to 11 days.

Each of the three traditional festivals will be a one-day holiday, according to the plan unveiled by the State Council, or China's cabinet.

The Spring Festival remains a three-day public holiday, but it will start one day earlier from the eve of the Lunar New Year, China's most important traditional festival.

The May Day holiday is shortened from three days to one day, while the three-day National Day holiday and one-day New Year holiday remain unchanged.

The government will continue to move the weekend days adjacent to a national holiday to form a longer holiday period so that people will have three days or seven days off in a row.

The New Year Day, Tomb-Sweeping Day, Dragon-Boat Festival, May Day, and Mid-Autumn Day then become holidays of three days each. The Spring Festival holiday and National Day holiday remain seven-day holidays.

The new plan contained no major revisions to the draft, which was published to solicit public opinions in early November.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the nation's top economic planning agency, said the new plan would uphold Chinese traditions and ease overcrowding on the three golden weeks.

The three week-long holidays -- Spring Festival, May Day holiday and National Day holiday -- were introduced in 1999 to boost domestic demand amid efforts to promote China's economic growth.

But hundreds of millions of Chinese traveling at the same time made transport and tourist destinations very crowded, making these holidays far from an enjoyable experience.

16 December 2007

Ecumenical Buddhism Blog Updates!

Since blogspot.com is reformatting their CSS, my title background image no longer is working right, so I am moving the image to this post and removing it from my title header. (has this happened to everyone, or is it just a side-effect of my Chinese proxy, by chance?) I have replaced it with another equally appropriate background image.

I recently have added links to blogs and web sites of my commenters (even this site's detractors). I thank all of you have taken the time to comment and take the poll.

Speaking of the poll, according to the amount of poll responders, it seems we now have over 111 readers of this blog. I am very glad to have you all. And as one of my very infrequent comments back to my readers, for post #123, I would like to ask all of you to comment below and answer what you like best about this blog, and how you think it can improve. Please feel free to tell me anything that you would like to see added/increased, or deleted/decreased.

15 December 2007

The Religious Town of Qingyan, Guizhou, China

Qingyan Ancient Town, one of the most famous historical and cultural towns in Guizhou Province, lies in the southern suburb of Guiyang. As an ancient town, covering an area of 741 acres, Qingyan Town was originally built in 1378. Nowadays, because of its long history and strong cultural atmosphere, Qingyan Ancient Town has become an attractive destination for numerous domestic and foreign tourists.

Dating back to the beginning of the Ming Dynasty (1368--1644), Qingyan town was built for military reasons. Because of its geographical location, Zhu Yuanzhang, the first emperor of Ming Dynasty established it as a station for transferring military messages and to house a standing army. Through years of modification and repeated restoration, Qingyan Ancient Town has gradually become a distinctive ancient town with cultural features of Ming and Qing Dynasties (1644 - 1911).

Although small in size, Qingyan Ancient Town has a well-planned architectural style, hundreds of sites of relics, and an influential local culture.

Due to the local geology, Qingyan Ancient Town was built completely of stone. Visitors can see spectacular city walls built right on the cliffs with vast rocks, which divided Qingyan into inner and outer towns. There are four gates in the wall facing north, south, east and west. Outside the four gates, there were originally eight stone tablets, which were considered the symbols of Qingyan Ancient Town. Of the eight, three remain with delicate sculptures on each surface. The most famous one is called Zhao Lunli Baisui (longevity) Fang.

Walking inside the inner town, visitors will surely marvel at the ancient architecture here. There are over 30 types including monasteries, temples, cabinets, caves, courtyards and palaces. All of them were delicately designed by the skillful architects of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. A number of exquisite articles, such as the stone sculptures of Ciyun Temple and wooden sculptures of Shoufo Temple are all worth a look. You can visit the ancient business streets to admire the elegant classical wooden houses. If you like, stop at one of those tea houses and have a taste of the famous local snacks, such as Qingyan tofu, rice tofu and rose sugar.

Religious culture here is also quite rich, including Buddhism, Taoism, and Western Christianity. If you are interested in Buddhism, you can take this chance to learn the typical Buddhism culture here. Also, you will be impressed by patter of the Taoists. What's more, you will be surprised to find that so many residents here are Latin Catholic and Protestant Christian, since the Roman Catholicism was introduced here in 1851 by a French churchman and the Protestantism was introduced to Qingyan Town nearly 70 years ago.

While traveling in Qingyan Ancient Town, visitors will hear many stories of historical figures that were born or lived here. The first Zhuang Yuan (winner of the national examination) of Guizhou Province during the Qing Dynasty was Mr. Zhao Yijiong who was born and brought up in Qingyan Town. Mr. Chang Pinggang, the General Secretary of Dr. Sun Yat-sen was a county fellow of Qingyan Town.

Qingyan Ancient Town is really a fantastic place for visitors to learn about Chinese ancient culture. Time permitting, it is worthwhile to stay in the town for (at least) one or two days. By doing so, you can grasp a better sense of the classical elegance of this unique ancient town in the early morning.

14 December 2007

Zen Mind, Christian Mind

A second Interfaith Retreat/Conference for Zen practitioners across religious traditions was held at the Wainwright House, a newly renovated conference center in Rye, New York. This was led by Ruben Habito, resident Zen teacher of the Maria Kannon Zen Center in Dallas and The Rev. Susan Ji-on Postal, Zen teacher of the Meeting House Zen Group in Rye, New York. About 30 participants from various religious backgrounds participated in this 3-day retreat/conference.

The highlight of the event was a "dharma duet" in which both teachers gave a joint talk based on the text, "This is my body!" This particular text was chosen primarily because of its resonance in the experience of Christians with the Eucharist and Buddhists with Hakuin's Song of Zazen, in which it is repeatedly chanted, "this very body..the body of awakening." In Habito's words, "from a 3-dimensional perspective, to come to one focus and not as two parallel things, we offer one text, 'This is my body!'" Postal opened her talk by citing lines from Hakuin's Song of Zazen. "Sentient beings are primarily all Buddhas. It is like ice and water; apart from water, no ice can exist. Outside sentient beings, where do we find the buddhas? How boundless the cleared sky of samadhi; how transparent the perfect moonlight of wisdom. At this moment, what more need we seek as the truth eternally reveals itself, this very place is the land of purity. This very body, the body of the Buddha." She emphasized not only the importance of experiencing awakening but the embodiment of that as the "essential matter." Having also studied under Abbot Tetsugen Glassman, she recalled two kinds of eye-openings from a talk of his. "The first one being the wisdom eye where one sees the non-separation of all things and seeing clearly one's at one with all things." The second eye-opening she called the "dharma eye" which involved understanding uniqueness, or difference. In that kind of realization, one sees their own life as "all I have." Having been afflicted with systemic lupus, she described her earlier life as going up and down like an "inconsistent roller coaster." In the 1980s, as a single mother with two children, she struggled with her own anxieties, as well as with her physical condition, afflicted with an incurable illness (lupus). In this situation, attacked by fear, she said she was able to experience two gifts. The first, she said, was through a dream in which she saw a large Buddha, a beneficent Buddha who was touching and healing her. Suddenly she woke up from the dream and said, "Those are my hands." This was her first direct experience that it was her hands that were giving healing to her. The second experience came while she was meditating one night and she was filled with sorrow. She longed for her mother. Usually when we are sick, she said, our first impulse is to look for our mother. She went back to sit and kept meditating on that wish for her mother. She described a sudden "shower of unconditional love" that washed over her yet it was much stronger than what her mother could have given her. She felt totally healed, she said, and supported and cared for. She felt as though the whole universe was filled with love and energy. These were her two ways, she said, one may experience, "This is is my body." Habito offered three events in his life that brought the text home in a special way. After having been ordained as a Jesuit priest in Japan, he returned home to Manila to celebrate mass with his family and friends in his hometown in Cabuyao. The center of the celebration was "this is my body, given for you." He offered communion to each of the parishioners at the mass. After the mass, as he met his guests at the reception line, his parents introduced him to some people who were responsible for his parents' meeting one another, and to persons who held Habito in their arms when he was a baby, but whom he had never met since. "I realized in a very vivid way how each person celebrating the mass together at that time was part and parcel of who 'I am,' and re-cognizing those persons unleashed a sense of gratitude. There came the realization that I am all that I am, precisely because each and everyone of these persons were there in my life as they are. So...this is my body."

The second event he related occurred in Kamakura, Japan, while he was attending a sesshin with his Zen teacher Yamada Koun. Normally, there would be 50-60 participants and of those, 15-20 were Christians. The Christians were allowed to celebrate the Eucharist in the morning while the Buddhists chanted sutras. The Eucharistic celebration centered on the words of consecration, "this is my body given for you." While these words were being proclaimed, the Heart Sutra was being chanted, and it served as a steady pulsating background for the eucharistic celebration. There was an interior symphony resounding while the Catholics were receiving communion and sutras were being chanted. It was only during that particular part of the day, said Habito, that the Christians were there in that room and the rest of the Sangha chanted the sutras. The rest of the day, both Christians and Buddhists were doing the same things, waking up in the morning, dozing off, experiencing leg and back pains, falling in line for dokusan. Habito said it all became for him "a manifestation of one body...that sangha was one body. The resonance of those words in the Eucharist saw itself being realized in what was happening during that sesshin, 'This is my body'." The third event occurred at a worship service in the chapel of the Perkins School of Theology when some visitors from Central America spoke of how many of their friends were under oppressive conditions, wherein they became victims of military brutality, leading to death or "disappearance." The service was done in the context of the Eucharist, and there was a strong sense of solidarity with the Central American brothers and sisters in struggle that was heightened during the service. As each person went to receive the Eucharist, each was given a cross made of two sticks and a small slip of paper with the name of a person who had disappeared. Back in their pews, each recipient was asked to stand up one by one and read the name on their paper, saying "Presente!" while raising the cross with the other hand. As the names were called, Habito related, those persons became present in their midst: "This is my body."

This article originally appeared in Buddhist Christian Studies, Vol. 16

13 December 2007

KarmaSense, a positive alternative to Google AdSense

KarmaSense is a positive alternative to Google’s AdSense for your website or blog. The Library Project, a small charity that provides books to elementary schools in the countryside of China developed KarmaSense to help raise awareness of their good works. The Library Project is asking owners of websites and blogs to post a banner ad that clicks through to The Library Project website. In return, The Library Project will post a link on their Partner’s page under “Media Partners” back to sites that helps raise awareness for The Library Project. If you have any questions regarding KarmaSense, and how you can get involved, please contact Tom Stader, the founder of The Library Project.

If you have any questions regarding KarmaSense or The Library Project, please feel free to contact them at anytime. They have a great website with a ton of information on our programs, results and how to get involved.

To download an overview of the KarmaSense program, please click here.

Thomas Stader
The Library Project Founder

China: (+86) 159 2955 6183
USA: (+1) 602 490 0688
Email: tom@library-project.org
Website: www.library-project.org

KarmaSense Banner Ads Look good while promoting positive change for children living in the Chinese countryside. For hi-quality Library Project banner ads please go to this website address: http://www.library-project.org/presskit.html

Please let them know when you have posted a banner so we can visit your site. Send your URL to: tom@library-project.org

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The Library Project donates books and libraries to under financed schools and orphanages in China. They believe education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty that exists in the developing world. As they see it, education is change. The Library Project accomplishes this by; getting the local community involved through book drives and awareness raising, providing libraries to under financed orphanages and elementary schools, and partnering with local NGOs (charities) and companies.

The Library Project has some amazing yet attainable goals: by the end of 2008 they will have donated over 80 libraries to orphanages and countryside elementary schools in China. The number of libraries will more than double by the end of 2009. Projecting further into the future, they hope to provide 350 libraries by the end of 2010. Their goal is to develop The Library Project into an organization that helps empower millions of children every year through the gift of education. This goal will take an enormous amount of dedication, planning, and hard work. They need your help.

To get involved, please check out their website at www.library-project.org.

If you have any questions, please contact Thomas Stader, The Library Project's Founder, at: tom@library-project.org.

12 December 2007


In addition to the historical Buddha, Siddhattha Gotama (or Gautama), Buddhism has a mythological dimension that incorporates a range of other Buddhas with their own specific qualities. Here are some of the more prominent:

Aksobhya (Akshobhya)
'Aksobhya' - which means 'immovable' or 'imperturbable' - is the name given to a Buddha who is said to reside in the eastern paradise of Abhirati. According to one legend, when he was a Bodhisattva he vowed never to give in to anger. In painting, however, he is portrayed, somewhat paradoxically, as a wrathful form with blue complexion, a vajra or diamond in one hand and touching the earth with his other. Often he is depicted riding on a blue elephant.

Amitabha (Amita, Amida)

Amitabha is 'the Buddha of Unlimited Light' who is said to preside over the Western paradise known as Sukhavati. The story has that in a previous birth, as a monk called Dharmakara, he vowed that he would in the future create a land which was conducive to winning enlightenment. Sukhavati or the Pure Land is the fulfillment of this vow. Those born in the Pure Land cannot be reborn as a hell-being, animal or ghost and would only have one further rebirth before attaining enlightenment. To be born in the Pure Land the believer must have a sincere wish to be reborn there and must call upon the name of Amitabha ten times. Amitabha has especial significance for Pure Land Buddhism.


This is 'the Healing Buddha' or 'Medicine Buddha' and is deemed to have a number of powers beneficial to those who call upon him. These include healing, long life, wealth, and protection of the state. In Buddhist art his skin is either gold or blue and in one hand he holds a medicine bowl symbolic of his role.

Sakyamuni (Shakyamuni)

This is the name given to the historical Buddha and means 'Sage of the Sakyas', Sakya being the clan that the Buddha was born into. In the Lotus Sutra, however, Sakyamuni is portrayed more as a supernatural figure who proclaimed that he achieved enlightenment many eons ago. The historical Buddha is viewed as one of a number of projections of Sakyamuni that have appeared in the world to lead beings to enlightenment.

'Vairocana' means the 'Resplendent One' or 'Shining Out' and represents the dharma or transcendent truth of the Buddhist message. In the three-body doctrine of Mahayana Buddhism, he represents the dharma-body and is also associated with the Adi Buddha who embodies the essence of the teaching and the final goal.

11 December 2007


As Mahayana Buddhism developed, a range of Bodhisattvas were identified, each with their own special qualities. What follows is a description of the main ones:

Avalokitesvara (Avalokiteshvara)

The literal meaning of Avalokitesvara is 'the Lord who looks down', the implication being that he looks down with compassion (karuna). He is often depicted with eleven heads and with many arms. These depict his ability to see the suffering of all beings and his readiness to help all those who invoke him. In the Tibetan tradition he is known as Chenrezi. In China he takes a female form and is known as Kuan Yin.


Ksitigarbha has a number of roles. Primarily, he is the bodhisattva who vowed to postpone nibbana until all those beings trapped in hell-worlds are free. By invoking him, the fate of hell-beings is said to be shortened and their suffering alleviated. He is also said to offer protection to travelers and children. Traditionally he is depicted as wandering monk with robe and staff.


Maitreya is the future Buddha who presently resides in the Tusita heaven where - traditionally - Buddhas reside before their final rebirth. He was the earliest Bodhisattva to gain devotees who aimed to be reborn in the Tusita heaven alongside him. 'Maitreya' means 'the loving one'. He is associated with good luck, friendliness and prosperity. The so-called 'Laughing Buddha' is a Chinese representation of Maitreya

Manjusri (Manjushri)

Manjusri means 'gentle glory' and this bodhisattva is associated with wisdom and courage. He is often portrayed wielding, in his right hand, a five-pointed sword which cuts through the bonds of ignorance. In his left hand, he holds a book symbolizing the Prajnaparamita or 'wisdom literature' of Mahayana Buddhism.


'Samantabhadra' means 'universal virtue'. This bodhisattva is renowned for his ten vows which include the respecting of all Buddhas and to transfer merit to all beings. He is often shown riding a six-tusked elephant, the six tusks representing the six perfections or paramitas: giving, patience, morality, vigor, meditation and wisdom.


Tara is a female Bodhisattva who is said to have been formed from tears shed by Avalokitesvara. These stemmed from his realization of how many suffering beings there were dependent on his deliverance. Like Avalokitesvara, it is Tara's compassionate nature that she is noted for. There are twenty-one forms of Tara but it is Green Tara and White Tara that are the most popular. White Tara is portrayed as having seven eyes, one on each hand and foot and three in her face.


Vajrapani, meaning 'holder of the vajra', signifies the power of all the Buddhas. The vajra, is a five pronged scepter which represents the combination of wisdom and compassion. In Buddhist art, Vajrapani is depicted as a blue wrathful deity, with either two arms or four arms and a tiger skin about his waist.

10 December 2007

מרכז ישראל לחקר הבודהיזם is Promoting Judeo-Buddhist Ecumenism

Buddhism is one of the largest world philosophies that exist today. It is entrenched in almost all the cultures of the Far East, from Mongolia in the north to Vietnam in the south, Japan in the east and Central Asia in the west and is making head way in the US and Europe. In the age of Internet connections and Globalization one would best understand the culture and society of one of the world's biggest philosophies. This is wholesome for a bilaterally influenced world society.

The Far East has an enchanting pull on young Israelis. They go traveling for long periods of time to India, China and other South East Asian countries where they see a very different world outlook. The Israel Center for the Study of Buddhism will give them that outlook closer to home.

The Israel Center for the Study of Buddhism will strive to instill awareness, understanding and appreciation of the arts and culture of Israel and the Far East through artistic collaboration and intellectual exchange.

The Israel Center for the Study of Buddhism main goal is to bring an understanding of the fundamentals and the history of Buddhism as a whole from the earliest times up to the present so that Israeli society can better understand the Far East and it's impact on globalization.

By elevating Israeli academic scholarship onto the forefront of Buddhist research internationally to better understand the social, political and economic dynamics of the region and by advancing the notions of inter-faith Tolerance and Non-violence, the Israel Center endeavors to bring the Far East to the Middle East.

Our primary objective will be to develop and maintain a research library unique to the Middle East. This will comprise the primary sources of Buddhist, Far Eastern and Jewish cultural and literary activity over the ages. In addition to the foundation of the library, the Israel Center will also have access to computer databases, internet, audio-visual facilities and other general educational materials to develop well rounded research inquiries.

Understanding the traditional cultures of the Far East requires a comparative standard which in our case is Israeli society and Judaism. Each culture will be studied individually to comprehend its specific ethnic characteristics, such as Confucianism and Taoism in China, Hinduism in India, shamanistic Bön and King Gesar legends of Tibet, Shintoism in Japan and Judaism in Israel.

The translation of the Chinese, Tibetan and Pali Tipitakas into Hebrew will be the cornerstone of our activities. Other translations of traditional and modern works of Israeli and Far Eastern literatures will also be undertaken.

Specific interest will be placed on the dispersion of Buddhism from India to other parts of Asia and how Buddhism influenced and was influenced by the indigenous religions and philosophies in those countries, especially in Gandhara and in Dunhuang.

Comparative studies will center on the art, history, languages, literatures, philosophies and other cultural aspects of Buddhism, especially with Judaism, in the Diaspora and in Israel and the impact they have on Globalization.

Lectures and seminars will be held on general and academic subjects and issues. University scholars and religious sages will meet to exchange modern and traditional perspectives surrounding common topics. Researchers will be able to share their work with others informally or with colleagues from various institutions in annual forums organized by the Israel Center.

The teaching of the Pali, Sanskrit, Chinese, and Tibetan languages (and the translating from one to the other) will center on techniques and styles the Buddhist sage-translators used in order to help us better translate the Tipitaka into Hebrew. It will also invite interest with the Israeli general public to better understand our global neighbors. Other relevant languages would also be taught upon member request.

Publication of the lectures, conferences and translations will be distributed for further investigation and inquiry through various mediums such as anthologies, monographs, the Center's web site and academic journal in Hebrew, English and French.

With the world becoming a much smaller place, the Israel Center for the Study of Buddhism was created to give Israeli society the opportunity to better understand our Asian neighbors, then and now.

Through independent research and extensive translations, the Israel Center endeavors to open the doors of the Far East much wider. Once opened, the cultural, economic and global interaction between the Israeli and the Far Eastern societies will mutually flourish in all areas.

In order to promote the objective cultural understanding between Judaism and Buddhism in their respective societies and their place in a global environment, the Israel Center for the Study of Buddhism requires financial support. This can be done by becoming an associate of the Israel Center. By donating, you will receive the Center’s newsletter with updates on lectures and progress reports on our translation works.

For further information on ways to support us, please contact the director Shmuel Ben Or at:

Israel Center for the Study of Buddhism
P. O. Box 948
Beit Shemesh 99000

Tel.: (972)-054-5302547
Fax: (972)-(0)2-9992469
E-mail: office@israel-center.org

For tax-deductible contributions in the U.S.A. through the P.E.F. Israel Endowment Funds, go to http://www.israel-center.org/Eng/P.E.F.htm.

The preliminary goals in need of support are the following:
  1. The Israel Center for the Study of Buddhism Library Fund: Donations to this fund will help the Center to acquire the primary sources of Buddhist (Tipitakas), Far Eastern and Jewish literary activity in their various languages and to build up a general library collection. The library will be open to the public.
  2. The Israel Center for the Study of Buddhism R&T (Research & Translation) Fund: This fund will be used to enable us to carry out independent research, projects and our translation enterprise.

09 December 2007

Sifang Bagua

Two diagrams known as bagua (or pa kua) loom large in feng shui, and both predate their mentions in the Yijing or I Ching. The Lo (River) Chart (Luoshu, or Later Heaven Sequence) and the River Chart (Hetu, or Early Heaven Sequence) are linked to astronomical events of the sixth millennium BCE, and with the Turtle Calendar from the time of Yao. The Turtle Calendar of Yao (found in the Yaodian section of the Shangshu or 'Book of Documents') dates to 2300 BCE, plus or minus 250 years.

It seems clear from many sources that time, in the form of astronomy and calendars, is at the heart of feng shui.

In Yaodian, the cardinal directions are determined by the marker-stars of the mega-constellations known as the Four Celestial Animals.
  1. East: the Bluegreen Dragon (Spring equinox) --- Niao (Bird), α Hydrae
  2. South: the Red Bird (Summer solstice) --- Huo (Fire), α Scorpionis
  3. West: the White Tiger (Autumn equinox) --- Xu (Emptiness, Void), α Aquarii, β Aquarii
  4. North: the Dark (Mysterious) Turtle (Winter solstice) --- Mao (Hair), η Tauri (the Pleiades)
The bagua diagrams are also linked with the sifang (four directions) method of divination used during the Shang dynasty. The sifang is much older, however. It was used at Niuheliang, and figured large in Hongshan culture's astronomy. And it is this area of China that is linked to Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor, who allegedly invented the south-pointing spoon.

  • Deborah Lynn Porter. From Deluge to Discourse. 1996:35-38
  • Sun and Kistemaker. The Chinese Sky During the Han. 1997:15-18
  • Aihe Wang. Cosmology and Political Structure in Early China. 2000:107-128
  • Sarah M. Nelson, Rachel A. Matson, Rachel M. Roberts, Chris Rock, and Robert E. Stencel. Archaeoastronomical Evidence for Wuism at the Hongshan Site of Niuheliang. 2006

08 December 2007

Shinto and Buddhism

The introductions of writing in the 5th century and Buddhism in the 6th century from the Korean Peninsula had a profound impact on the development of a unified system of Shinto beliefs. In the early Nara period the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki were written by compiling existing myths and legends into a unified account of Japanese mythology. These accounts were written with two purposes in mind: the introduction of Taoist, Confucian, and Buddhist themes into Japanese religion; and garnering support for the legitimacy of the Imperial house, based on its lineage from the sun goddess, Amaterasu. Much of modern Japan was under only fragmentary control by the Imperial family, and rival ethnic groups (including, perhaps, the ancestors of the Ainu people) continued to war against the encroachment of the Japanese. The mythological anthologies, along with other poetry anthologies like the Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves (Man'yōshū) and others, were intended to impress others with the worthiness of the Imperial family and their divine mandate to rule.

With the introduction of Buddhism and its rapid adoption by the court, it was necessary to explain the apparent differences between native Japanese beliefs and Buddhist teachings. Indeed, Shinto did not have a name until it became necessary to distinguish it from Buddhism. One explanation saw the kami as supernatural beings still caught in the cycle of birth and rebirth (reincarnation). The kami are born, live, die, and are reborn like all other beings in the karmic cycle. However, the kami played a special role in protecting Buddhism and allowing its teachings of compassion to flourish. This explanation was later challenged by Kūkai (空海, 774–835), who saw the kami as different embodiments of the Buddhas themselves. For example, he famously linked Amaterasu (the sun goddess and ancestor of the Imperial family) with Dainichi Nyorai, a central manifestation of the Buddha, whose name is literally "Great Sun Buddha". In his view, the kami were just Buddhas by another name.

Buddhism and Shinto coexisted and were amalgamated in the shinbutsu shūgō and Kūkai's syncretic view held wide sway up until the end of the Edo period. At that time, there was a renewed interest in "Japanese studies" (kokugaku), perhaps as a result of the closed country policy. In the 18th century, various Japanese scholars, in particular Motoori Norinaga (本居 宣長, 1730–1801), tried to tease apart the "real" Shinto from various foreign influences. The attempt was largely unsuccessful, since as early as the Nihon Shoki parts of the mythology were explicitly borrowed from Chinese doctrines. For example, the co-creator deities Izanami and Izanagi are linked to yin and yang. However, the attempt did set the stage for the arrival of state Shinto, following the Meiji Restoration (c.1868), when Shinto and Buddhism were separated (shinbutsu bunri).

07 December 2007

Hollywood takes action hero Jesus to India

Hollywood is to fill in the Bible's "missing years" with a story about Jesus as a wandering mystic who travelled across India, living in Buddhist monasteries and speaking out against the iniquities of the country's caste system.

Film producers have delved deep into revisionist scholarship to piece together what they say was Jesus's life between the ages of 13 and 30, a period untouched by the recognised gospels.

The result is the Aquarian Gospel, a $20m movie, which portrays Jesus as a holy man and teacher inspired by a myriad of eastern religions in India. The Aquarian Gospel takes its name from a century-old book that examined Christianity's eastern roots and is in its 53rd reprint.

The film's producers say the movie will be shot using actors and computer animation like 300, the retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, and will follow the travels of Yeshua, believed to be the name for Jesus in Aramaic, from the Middle East to India. Casting for suitable Bollywood and Hollywood actors has begun.

"The Bible devotes just seven words to the most formative years of Yeshua's life saying: 'The boy grew in wisdom and stature'. The [film] will follow Christ's journey to the east where he encounters other traditions, and discovers the principles that are the bedrock of all the world's great religions," said Drew Heriot, the film's director, whose credits include the cult hit The Secret.

The film, which is due for release in 2009, sets out to be a fantasy action adventure account of Jesus's life with the three wise men as his mentors. Although the producers say the film will feature a "young and beautiful" princess, it is not clear whether Jesus is to have a love interest.

The producers say they are hoping for commercial and spiritual gains. "We think that Indian religions and Buddhism, especially with the idea of meditation, played a big part in Christ's thinking. In the film we are looking beyond the canonised gospels to the 'lost' gospels," said William Sees Keenan, the producer, who is currently making Lindsay Lohan's Poor Things.

"We are looking at new themes. In our story Jesus was loyal to the untouchables [in India] and he defended them with his life by saying that everyone could read the Vedas [Hindu holy books]," said Mr Keenan, a "lapsed Catholic".

The theory that Jesus's teachings had roots in Indian traditions has been around for more than a century. In 1894 a Russian doctor, Nicholas Notovitch, published a book called The Unknown Life of Christ, in which he claimed that while recovering from a broken leg in a Tibetan monastery in the Ladakh region, close to Kashmir, he had been shown evidence of Christ's Indian wanderings. He said he was shown a scroll recording a visit by Jesus to India and Tibet as a young man. Indian experts claim that documentary proof remains of this Himalayan visit.

"I have seen the scrolls which show Buddhist monks talking about Jesus's visits. There are also coins from that period which show Yuzu or have the legend Issa on them, referring to Jesus from that period," said Fida Hassnain, former director of archaeology at the University of Srinagar.

Hassnain, who has written books on the legend of Jesus in India, points out that there was extensive traffic between the Mediterranean and India around the time of Jesus's life. The academic pointed out that in Srinagar a tomb of Issa is still venerated. "It is the Catholic church which has closed its mind on the subject. Historians have not."

More dramatic are the claims that Buddhism had prompted the move from the "eye for an eye" ideology of the Old Testament to "love thy neighbour" in the New Testament.

In 1995 a German religious expert, Holger Kersten, claimed that Jesus had been schooled by Buddhist monks to believe in non-violence and to challenge the priesthood. Kersten's book remains a bestseller in India.

The Catholic church in India dismisses the film as just "Hollywood filmmakers in search of a new audience rather than the truth". Aware that religious passions are easily inflamed, after the Da Vinci Code film sparked protests among Indian Christians, its spokesman said that a movie about Jesus in India was plainly "fantasy and fiction".

"I have personally investigated many of these claims and they remain what they first seem: fiction," said John Dayal, president of the All India Catholic Union which represents 16 million churchgoers. "I am sure it will make money but I do not think it will displace thousands of years of biblical thought."

In 1935 a Shinto priest claimed that instead of being crucified, Jesus had fled to Japan where he lived to be 112. He married a Japanese woman, had three daughters and became a respected teacher and prophet

06 December 2007

Historical Roots of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Oriental Medicine is a term with many variations of a general meaning. Among the majority of american practitioners it refers to a system of medicine which originated approximately 4000 years ago in in far east Asia. This area included what are now China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, and Vietnam.

In the 20th century Oriental Medicine serves almost two billion people in far east Asia, the former Soviet Union and Europe. In the U.S. thirty-eight states have scope of practice for NCCAOM National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine or equivalent level practitioners. There are approximately 10,000 NCCA national board certified acupuncturists in the country. Since several states have licensure requirements and processes that are independent of the NCCA exhaustive totals have not been compiled.

Research on Oriental Medicine has been continual in China since the early 1950’s. After the civil war was settled in 1948, the Communist Government of China realized it could not afford to train, let alone equip, a sufficient number of allopathic doctors to meet the needs of the country’s population. The government evaluation of the traditional medicine showed that it had enough effectiveness to warrant not only active use and perpetuation but development. Today Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is practiced in allopathic hospitals, in traditional hospitals, in conjunction with allopathic medicine, and hybrids of both forms of medicine have been developed.

Although Oriental Medicine has a set of foundation principles it is not uniform. There have been and are many schools of thought. Oriental Medicine is a complete health care system capable of delivering both primary and specialized care. It’s based on principles which began evolving approximately between 2000BC and 4000BC and which continue to evolve. The roots of Oriental Medicine are considered by most to be Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. Buddhism is a religion, Confucianism is social and political philosophy, and Taoism is both a religion and a philosophy. These are gross simplifications. Literally thousands of volumes have been written on these subjects.

Taoism is the most influential root of Oriental Medicine. The Taoists main focus was on the observable and natural laws of the universe and the implications for human beings’ relationship to the universe. 2500 years (5000BC - 500BC) allowed much time for observation, study and speculation by many people. This activity yielded myriad principles. Below are five of the fundamental principles and applications of them to health and healing.
    You are part of the universe and therefore exist according to and subject to those laws.
    If you live according to it’s laws you will be harmonius.
    Lack of change is contrary to the universe and therefore causes illness.
    Always use a systems approach.
    Your health is affected by your environment.
These principles are the axioms about existence that form the foundation for Yin & Yang, The Five Elements, and Qi (pronounced chee). And those concepts are the primary engines of Oriental Medicine.

05 December 2007

The Goddess Of Mercy Reviewed

The Goddess Of Mercy
Dir: Shin Sang Okk, Lim Won Sik
Released: March 21, 1967

Imagine being entirely ignorant of Moses and watching The Ten Commandments and you’ll have a rough idea of what watching The Goddess Of Mercy is like for non-Buddhists. Now take out all of the scenes where Moses acts like a jerk, and you’ll start to grasp how the film’s shallowness.

Made as a co-production with South Korea, "Goddess" tells the story of religious icon Kuan Yin, he bodhisattva of compassion, who, in her earthly form of Li Miao Shan, brought Buddhism to ancient China and ascended into heaven. Shaw Brothers knew that their Chinese (and, I assume, Korean) audiences would already know the story of Kuan Yin, so they replaced all of the exposition with spectacle.

The result is a movie that, by 1967 Shaw Brothers standards, is chock-a-block with special effects — magical bridges appear from nowhere, force fields protect besieged peasants, battles rage over wide-open plains. Filmed mostly in South Korea, Goddess takes advantage of the new scenery and delivers some nice outdoor visuals.

The downside to all these glamour shots is a painfully simplistic story that neglects to fill in the important details. For example, we never see Miao convert to Buddhism. In one scene she says she’s interested and later on she’s a committed follower.

Any film about religious struggle needs to live in the grey areas where faith falters; how else are human audiences going to sympathize with the characters? Goddess, however, banishes grey and only recognizes black and white. Miao and the other Buddhists are presented as unfailing saints while non-believers twist their Snidely Whiplash mustaches and cackle over slaughtered farmers.

The closest Goddess comes to critiquing Miao is in a odd dance number. After Miao and her dancers finish singing the praises of Buddhism, her militaristic father (Kim Song-ho) beats out a vicious martial tattoo while his soldiers dance and sing a pean to killing and murder. It’s an odd scene, but it has more life than the rest of the film.

While shooting in Korea, Shaw Brothers made the film twice. Once with longtime Chinese box office queen Li Li-Hua in the starring role, and a second time with a Korean actress taking the lead. Celestial has only released the Hong Kong version so far.
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