Buddhism roundup: Dalai Lama; Dharma Punx; Buddhism and Psychology

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Dalai Lama inspires reverent silence, cheers at stadium

The Boston Globe reports on the Dalai Lama‘s visit to Gillette Stadium:

The Dalai Lama’s afternoon address was about the path to peace and happiness; in the morning, he gave a lesson about the teachings of Buddha and The Four Noble Truths. To each lesson, the reaction from the crowd was the same: sustained silence. Serenity, even.

“You know what the strange thing is? You’ve been to Gillette Stadium before? It’s quiet in there,” said Kim Hubert, 42, a nurse from Marshfield, as she made her way through the crowded concourse, where people waited in long but patient queues for concessions and restrooms. “It’s surreal. Even the kids in there are quiet.”

The crowd of 15,935 ticket-holders was diverse – Buddhist and non-Buddhist, young and old, clad in hemp and Oxford cloth, sweaters and sandals, flowing robes and fleece. But many cited the same reason for coming: the chance to be close to, and learn from, a singular figure. […]

– Source / Full Story: Dalai Lama inspires reverent silence, cheers at stadium, The Boston Globe, May 3, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Among other things the Dalai Lama talked about the importance of valuing all faiths in the “supermarket of religion.”

“For example I am Buddhist. I studied Buddhism, I practiced Buddhism, and through practice I got some sort of little experience . . . Very low but still better than zero,” he said. “Buddhism is best for my case. That doesn’t mean Buddhism is best religion to everyone, certainly not.”

A primer to get you up to speed on the Dalai Lama

Speaking of the Dalai Lama, [m]any of us would recognize him on the street, and yet many of us know little about him, writes Brian Ettkin in the Times-Union.

“For the most part within American pop culture he stands for a symbol of this holy man above regular human existence, this extremely peaceful character,” said Bob Thompson, the founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University.

“But my guess is if you asked actual Americans who he is, by what authority he is named, what the whole notion of what the Dalai Lama is and how it’s arrived at and theology associated with it, my guess is that very few people would do well in a pop quiz of that nature.”

With that in mind, here’s a primer on the Dalai Lama before his first appearance in Albany, which will be Wednesday at the Palace Theatre.

– Source / Full Story: A primer to get you up to speed on the Dalai Lama, Brian Ettkin, The Times-Union, May 3, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

In the stillness, space for a rebellious spirit

Except for his bald head, there isn’t much monkish about Noah Levine. His body is covered with tattoos, his speech is spiked with profanities, and his style (T-shirts devoted to his favorite bands, lots of black) is a throwback to his days as a hard-core punk rocker.

So it looked a bit unusual to a newcomer when, on a recent evening, Levine, 37, sat cross-legged at a Buddhist center in East Hollywood to lead several dozen people in a guided meditation.

“Now bring your awareness to your breath,” began the Buddha in the Bad Brains T-shirt, who happens to be one of the most influential Buddhist teachers in America.

Levine is the founder of the Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society, which has centers in East Hollywood and Santa Monica and more than 20 affiliated groups nationwide. He and his students practice a unique incarnation of Buddhism infused with punk rock’s anti-establishment ethos. They call themselves Dharma Punx.

Dharma Punx don’t wear robes and they don’t bow to statues of the Buddha. Anyone can form a group — as long as he checks with Levine first — and there isn’t the emphasis on hierarchy found in many forms of Buddhism (there are no Zen masters or Tibetan lamas). The idea, Levine said, is to make Buddhist teachings accessible to punks — and to reconnect Buddhism with what he sees as its radical roots. […]

Though he draws inspiration from many strains of Buddhism (including Thai, Sri Lankan and Burmese), he said, he has tried to tear down the hierarchical difference between teacher and student that is common in those forms. […]

Levine runs things with a casualness that might make a Tibetan lama cringe, but that’s what attracted Holly Brown, 39, a self-described “goth girl” who has been a member of Against the Stream since it opened.

“We all respect the Dalai Lama, but we’re living a totally different life than him,” she said. “Noah’s living our same life.”

– Source / Full Story: In the stillness, space for a rebellious spirit, Los Angeles Times, May 4, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Ancient Buddhism and modern psychology

Douglas Todd, at the Vancouver Sun, takes a look at the similarities between ancient Buddhism and modern psyschology: both practices are focused on releasing followers from suffering, and both aim for emotional health.

He writes that one yoga studio owner notes

how many of her yoga students were joining western nature lovers, spiritual seekers and global pacifists in describing themselves as followers of the 2,500-year-old Asian tradition.

Most of them were finding their entrée into Buddhism through meditation and the healing arts – because the biggest names in western Buddhism these days are men and women who blend the ancient practice with psychology.

Todd acknowledges that [t]here are many natural links between Buddhism and psychology. But he also points out that

[s]ome Buddhist psychotherapists do not acknowledge that ideals such as compassion, respecting human dignity, overcoming negative emotions and practising awareness are deeply embedded in the Jewish-Christian-Islamic tradition. Practising loving kindness, for instance, is the central teaching of Jesus and the church.

Many of these so-called western religious values and ideas were also developed by the ancient Greeks, particularly the Stoics, and later picked up by humanistic European and North American philosophers.

After discussing some critics of Buddhist psychology, Todd concludes,

[I]n the end I don’t think there is much inherently wrong with blending western psychology and Buddhism.

But it should be seen for what it is.

Buddhism itself is a powerful and demanding tradition with many diverse streams, the largest being Mayahana and Theravada. Just as followers of any tradition should study its complexities, so should new Buddhists.

Alternatively, the Dalai Lama offers something else to think about.

He often surprises westerners who are drawn to Buddhism by telling them they don’t need to convert.

As a proponent of interfaith dialogue, the Dalai Lama typically suggests westerners take a second look at the richness of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions in which they were raised. The Dalai Lama, a close friend of Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, believes those religions are much more sophisticated, including about divinity, than most westerners believe.

At the least, westerners who are getting into Buddhism through psychology could keep in mind that some of the values they’re learning have been shaped by the Bible and European philosophy.

Buddhist-shaped psychology is helpful. It could also prove to be a fertile spiritual endeavour. But it’s useful to realize it’s not the same as original Buddhism.

It is a new fusion of East and West.

– Source / Full Story: Ancient Buddhism and modern psychology, The Vancouver Sun, Canada, May 2, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

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This post was last updated: May. 4, 2009