Urban Dharma Newsletter... September 10, 2002
Book Review: Safeguarding the Heart: The
Buddhist Response to Suffering and 9/11
2. Anger is Not the Answer
Buddhist reflection on the World Trade Center tragedy
Response to the Tragedy of September 11, 2001
5. How to React as a Buddhist
to the September 11 Tragedy
6. A Statement of Sympathy
7. Temple/Center of the Week: The West Covina Buddhist
Safeguarding the Heart: The Buddhist Response to Suffering
and 9/11 ...by Yifa
horrific events of September 11, 2001—when two airplanes
crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City, another
into the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and a fourth in a field
in Pennsylvania—were stark reminders of the tenets central
to the Buddhist conception of existence: that life is full of
suffering, that everything is impermanent, and that everything
in existence is connected.
nun Venerable Yifa explores these fundamental ideas by studying
in detail what happened that day, the causes and effects of
what occurred from a spiritual perspective, and how we can learn
from the tragedy to access even deeper spiritual truths. In
the process of this examination, Yifa reveals the Buddhist perspective
on the nature of suffering, the meaning of justice, what is
evil and what is good, and why some people die and others live.
then elucidates Buddhism’s eight different types of suffering
from a practical standpoint, illuminating the essential Buddhist
ideas of compassion and mindfulness and showing how we can apply
these principles to everyday life and in our relationships.
Her aim throughout is to help us both reach out to and heal
others and protect ourselves—to safeguard our hearts—when
Yifa has been a nun at Fo Guang Shan Monastery in Taiwan since
1979. She received her Ph.D. in religious studies from Yale
University in 1996. She has been provost at Fo Guang Shan Buddhist
College and dean at Hsi Lai University in California and Taiwan.
She is the author of The Origin of Buddhist Monastic Code in
Song China and a contributor to Benedict’s Dharma: Buddhists
Reflect on the Rule of St. Benedict. She lives in Cambridge,
Anger is Not the Answer ...Delia Pemberton ...The Guardian
September 2, 2002
the face of it, Buddhism hardly seems a cheery philosophy, taking
as its central tenet the premise that the fundamental nature
of our existence is suffering. Like most people, when things
are going well, I would much rather focus on happiness than
dwell on the sufferings of the world. But reality has a nasty
habit of intruding. Love turns to heartbreak, wealth to poverty,
health to sickness, peace to war, life to death. We are shocked
and hurt to discover that things that once seemed so real and
solid turn out to have been mere illusions.
may be a personal tragedy that brings us to this realisation,
or a national or global disaster. We feel helpless and confused,
at a loss as to how to deal with our own and others' suffering.
It is then that we seek answers. Why did this happen? Was it
my fault? Can I do anything to make it better? Can I prevent
it happening again? By addressing such questions, Buddhism offers
an explanation for how our sufferings arise and a path by which
we may transcend them.
analysts say that since September 11, Americans and Europeans
have become more inwardly focused. We stay home more, spend
more time with our loved ones, consider our priorities in life
with greater care. This inward focus is a traditional characteristic
of the Buddhist practitioner; the Tibetan term for a Buddhist
translates as "insider", in the sense of one who looks
within for understanding. This prompts the question of whether
a Buddhist analysis can help us make sense of suffering in what
seems an increasingly dangerous world.
view the world we perceive as an illusion, in which everything
is subject to change, growth and decay in accordance with the
law of cause and effect, or karma. Tibetan Buddhists depict
the workings of this cyclical existence as a wheel showing the
chain of events leading from thought to action and its consequences.
At the hub, three creatures represent greed, anger and ignorance,
the driving forces that keep the wheel in motion, condemning
us to an endless cycle of suffering. If we can eliminate these
forces by applying the antidotes of compassion and wisdom, the
cycle is broken.
is all very well, but can this model help us to come to terms
with the sufferings we encounter individually or as a society?
It can certainly serve as a tool to remind us that since we
are the creators of our own suffering, we also hold the potential
for our deliverance.
the world seems full of evil," say the Buddhist teachings,
"transform all mishaps into enlightenment". This may
be hard to accept, but it can relieve our sense of powerlessness
and encourage us to take responsibility for our actions.
say the outbursts of public grieving following events such as
September 11 represent an attempt to recover a lost sense of
community. This can awaken our compassion towards others and
motivate us to work for a better society. But this can easily
turn to mass anger against those we hold responsible. Our tendency
is to judge people and events according to subjective notions
of "right" and "wrong" and then to enforce
that judgment on others. Once a common enemy has been identified,
their punishment becomes our "righteous cause". But
by surrendering our individual responsibility we create the
kind of mob mentality responsible for terrorist attacks.
men who carried out the attack on the Twin Towers sincerely
believed that their mission was a sacred duty. The US sincerely
believes that eliminating the attackers' supporters is a sacred
duty. In an interdependent universe, such concepts of "us"
and "them" are meaningless, counterproductive and
dangerous. Buddhism challenges us to rise above anger and extend
our compassion to all who suffer, victims and terrorists alike.
As Buddha himself said: "Anger is not destroyed by anger,
but by love alone."
Delia Pemberton is a lecturer in the art and architecture of
the ancient world and author of Buddha, to be published by the
British Museum Press later this month.
A Buddhist reflection on the World Trade Center tragedy
Day the World Changed
Monks are taught this world of ours is ultimately filled with
old age, sickness, death, and birth. And the suffering caused
by this ever changing flux is a constant reminder not to become
attached to the imperfect world we live in.
Tuesday 9/11 the greed, hatred, and delusion of a few... became
the cause of great suffering for many. The unskillful actions
witnessed on that day caused numerous people to question the
meaning of life. To look more closely at their relationships
with country, state, city, family, and friends. And some found
the secular language of everyday living totally inadequate in
explaining why so many people had to die in such horrible ways.
Clergy was asked to interpret the events in a way; the heart
could understand. The holy texts became a starting point, and
each tradition in their own special way arranged the pieces
and created a picture of the challenge we as human beings find
ourselves involved in.
human life of ours is filled with many choices... Greed or generosity...
Hatred or loving-kindness... Delusion or wisdom... It's our
choice, our community, and our world.
Loving-Kindness reflection from the Buddhist Pali Cannon
the highest realm of existence to the lowest, may all beings
arisen in any of these realms, with form and without, with perception
and without, with consciousness and without, may they be...
peaceful and free from suffering. May no harm come to them.
May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them.
May they always find fulfillment.
they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination,
to meet and overcome, the inevitable difficulties, problems,
and failures in life.
the suffering ones, be suffering free.
the fear struck, fearless be.
the grieving, shed all grief.
the sick, find health relief.
Response to the Tragedy of September 11, 2001
is with heartfelt concern that the Chairs of the Centers of
the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order in the United States
offer thoughts and reflections from a Buddhist perspective on
the tremendous loss of life and suffering resulting from terrorist
actions in New York and Washington DC and from a hijacked plane
that crashed in Pennsylvania. All this took place the morning
of September 11, 2001.
Let us find moments of silence.
teaches that pushing away suffering and pain will only disturb
our minds and hearts further. Sitting face to face with suffering
allows us to grieve and encourages compassion to arise.
the midst of the media spin take a few moments each day to be
silent and gather yourself. Become aware of your body, and your
breath coming and going. Be aware of your heart area and just
let sensations and emotions come and go with kindness and without
judgement. Sadness, appreciation of those we love, anxiety,
compassion, calm, fear, anger, peacefulness - all may flow through
you. Simply let yourself be as you are moment by moment and
stop running from all inner and outer commotion.
words around us move us from shock and pain directly to anger
with out giving pause to absorb what has happened, reflect on
it and experience our reactions. Despite this we also see the
other side of the story. Human solidarity, connection, generosity
and kindness have also manifested. We can choose what response
Let us wake up to suffering.
suffering on Tuesday, September 11 which resulted from the violent
events has extended to include friends and families of those
who perished. It extends to those who now fear the impacts of
war and further loss of life in this country and around the
this time we can be aware of those around us who are suffering
from these events. It is difficult to fully acknowledge and
experience the enormity of the suffering especially as so many
Americans are accustomed to relatively peaceful and comfortable
lives. Acts of violence and senseless loss of civilian life
is happening all around the world all the time. The shattering
violence of September 11 can wake us up to the tremendous suffering
in our world. It can encourage us to reach out in solidarity
to others with whom we share this single planet and with whom
we share the desire to live meaningful lives, free from suffering
Let us cultivate compassion.
action coming out of anger is clouded by anger and will tend
to encourage or create more anger both in us individually and
collectively and in those whom we fear. The Buddha said that,
"Animosity does not eradicate animosity. Only by loving
kindness is animosity dissolved. The law is ancient and eternal."
of Buddhism is aimed at teaching us to recognize and break the
chain reaction of hatred. Rather than fuel hatred we learn to
fuel clarity and love. To help us there is the practice of exchanging
self for other. If we feel numb we can practice exchanging ourselves
for those who have died, those who have lost parents, those
who hijacked planes and killed themselves along with thousands
of others. In doing so we try to find a human connection and
understanding and appreciate the suffering that all humans experience.
Our Centers teach a meditation called the Cultivation of Loving
Kindness (or Metta Bhavana) to make this sort of peacemaking
a regular practice and available to us at times of divisiveness
and hatred such as these.
is a time to be especially mindful of the Arab Americans and
Muslim Americans who are now fearful of acts of hatred against
them. Such acts have already occurred. Please help to build
friendliness and an atmosphere of tolerance towards these brothers
Let us find a healing way forward.
we may feel helpless at this time, the truth is that we can
and do have an effect in this world. While we may not be able
to single-handedly direct our nation's military response we
can move ourselves and our communities to healing through compassionate
we can strengthen our resolve to practice the central precept
of Buddhism, non-violence or non-harm. Looking honestly within
our own hearts and minds we can recognize traces of hatred and
intolerance and let these go with firm kindness. Non-violence,
non-harm, non-manipulation and loving kindness can be brought
into all our interactions. Vaclav Havel, founder of the Czech
human right movement said that, "Without a global revolution
in human consciousness, a more human society will not be possible."
Through Buddhist practice we can take responsibility for a revolution
in human consciousness towards wisdom and compassion.
can also increase our compassionate activity expressing our
caring and creating a momentum of positive action. It is not
just what we think and feel but what we do that creates our
world. Some who are working in altruistic vocations will find
renewed energy and commitment for their efforts to make a better
world. Some may join with others in engaged Buddhist peacemaking
(for example writing letters to elected officials and joining
in gatherings and marches for peace). The teaching of non-violence
asks us to consider life-taking action as extremely grave and
to encourage our country to pursue creative non-violent actions
to their fullest extent.
is a simple and direct way you can help:
Learn about local community peacemaking activities (The Buddhist
Peace Fellowship has a listing of local Buddhist social action
groups at http://www.bpf.org)
Let us remember to cultivate peace and extend well wishing into
the world every day.
summary, let us pause for meditation and reflection. Let us
develop awareness of others and endeavor to create more peace
and harmony. This can be done with a simple, heartfelt prayer
that we now offer to you and all beings:
all beings live in peace,
all beings be filled with loving kindness
all beings be free from suffering.
Avichala (Chairman, Seattle Buddhist Center)
Dayalocana (Chairwoman, Aryaloka Buddhist Center, New Hampshire)
Saramati (Chairman, Rocky Mountain Buddhist Center, Missoula)
Viveka (Chairwoman, San Francisco Buddhist Center)
How to React as a Buddhist to the September 11 Tragedy
Statement by ShaMar Rinpoche ...September 24, 2001
the past two weeks as I have traveled to several Bodhi Path
centers in the United States, many members have asked me to
explain the horrible acts of the terrorists on September 11
and to suggest a course of action from the Buddhist perspective.
I offer the following thoughts for my disciples' guidance.
terrorists who brought about this senseless tragedy are afflicted
by ignorance and consequently can be deceived by a blind faith
in a belief system that distorts the true spirit of Islam. They
do not have the wisdom and proper sense of judgement to determine
what is right and wrong. Because of their ignorance and blind
faith, people with evil intentions manipulated and misused them.
Therefore, just as we should show compassion on the victims,
we should also have compassion on the terrorists due to their
governments and individuals set a future course of action, their
motivation or aim is the critical determinant to what is appropriate
and morally correct. The seeking of revenge clearly is not acceptable
in Buddhist terms. However, if a government or individual must
take an action that has harmful effects but that is done for
the purpose of preventing evil and benefiting the majority,
this is acceptable.
to Buddha's teachings on ethics, I believe there are four different
combinations of aim/intention and action. Listed from the most
evil to the most compassionate, they are:
Bad or evil aim-negative or hurtful action
Bad aim-benign or positive action
Good, realistic aim-destructive or harmful action
Good or pure aim-benevolent action
order to counter terrorism, governments of the world and their
leaders must pursue this goal only with the aim of benefiting
everyone, including the ignorant terrorists themselves. If purely
benevolent acts are inadequate to achieve this goal, then there
is no choice but to engage in narrowly targeted acts designed
to root out the evil of the terrorists while inflicting the
least amount of harm to the innocent. This can be accomplished
through the use of our wisdom and compassion which we find through
logical analysis that is a part of human wisdom. It is important
not to make decisions based on our obscured emotions.
a personal level, we should not dwell in our sadness or fear
over this tragedy. Instead, we should use it as an inspiration
to develop our own compassion. We should make wishing prayers
for the victims but also expand our wishes to include all beings
who have suffered throughout the world. This tragedy must inspire
us to achieve a vast compassion for all beings.
A Statement of Sympathy
following is a letter sent to the White House stating the feelings
of all Higashi Honganji ministers regarding the World Trade
Center tragedy and future American foreign policy.
George W. Bush
Pennsylvania Avenue NW
terrorist attacks on New York and Washington D.C. on September
11th have brought tremendous confusion and suffering. We, the
followers of Shin Buddhism, express our deepest condolences
to the victims, their families and friends. This tragedy reminds
all of us how helpless we are in the face of such a catastrophe
where only sadness, pain, and anger remain.
while we do not accept any act, terrorist or otherwise, in which
the dignity of human life is ignored, we cannot condone any
retaliatory acts that can lead to war. Such actions will only
result in spreading more hatred and violence throughout the
world and lead to the suffering of innocent victims. We therefore
urge you to seek a course of non-violent action to detain and
bring before a world forum of justice, those who may be responsible
for the acts of September 11, 2001. We further urge you to seek
a way of building bridges of understanding and reconciliation
with all those who have harmed us. In addition, we ask that
you do everything possible to defend the safety and rights of
citizens here in the United States who may be targeted because
of their ethnic or religious background.
years ago in June 1995 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary
of the end of World War II, our Headquarters, Shinshu Otani-ha
of Kyoto, Japan, issued an Anti-War Statement which reaffirmed
that all followers of our tradition should do our best to work
for world peace and walk the same path as all people, regardless
of their ethnicity, language, culture, and religion. Buddhism
is a religion to free oneself from sufferings, one of which
is the attachment to one’s own views and the imposing
of it on others. This attachment hinders true dialogue.
terrorist attacks and the probable American retaliation reconfirm
the urgent need for our pledge to be practiced. The primary
wish of all humanity, past, present, and future, is to live
peacefully in a world free from discrimination. Only through
realizing this universal wish, may all human beings be united
is our fervent hope that America display her greatness by looking
deeply into the nature of all suffering and showing true Compassion.
of Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temples
America and Hawaii Districts.)
The Living Dharma ...The West Covina Buddhist Temple
West Covina Buddhist Temple belongs to the Jodo Shinshu (joh-doh-sheen-shoo,
or "Shin" for short) sect of Buddhism, which was brought
to America originally by the first generation of Japanese immigrants
around 100 years ago. However, the basic teachings of Buddhism
go all the way back to the Buddha himself, who was born around
2500 years ago in the area now known as Nepal. One of the most
basic teachings of the Buddha is impermanence. This is the fundamental
truth that all life is always moving, flowing and changing.
Buddhists call this truth the Dharma.
awakened to the Dharma of impermanence while meditating under
a Bodhi tree. The Dharma, or truth, humbled him; he saw that
his own life was fleeting. But he also realized that not just
he himself, but that all living things - his loved ones, the
bird, the tree - would someday also be destroyed by impermanence,
and he felt great compassion for every living thing, and saw
that all life is interdependent. He also saw that we suffer
because we tend to consider our "self" (our ego or
identity) as something that is fixed and permanent, but that
this puts us in conflict with the truth of impermanence. When
the inevitable changes occur to us or to our loved ones - such
as aging, illness or death - we may find ourselves asking "What
did I do to deserve this?," or "Why me?" Upon
awakening to the Dharma, he devoted his entire life to helping
all people also awaken to the truth and end their suffering.
Buddhists join their hands together and bow their heads in deference
to the Dharma. Shin Buddhists call this act gassho. In addition,
as we bow, we say "Namu Amida Butsu" (naw-moo-ah-mee-dah-boot-soo).
"Namu" indicates the attitude of the humble student
or seeker of the truth; "Amida Butsu" means the Dharma
of impermance (truth). Thus, "Namu Amida Butsu" essentially
means "Bow to the Dharma." If we imagine our head
as a "cup" which is currently full of our self-centeredness,
the act of bowing "empties our cup" so that it can
then be filled with the Dharma (truth). This is the essence
of the Buddhist awakening.
Can Buddhism Help You?
is not a teaching to change others; it is a teaching to change
ourselves. This change occurs when we are "filled with"
or awaken to the Dharma, and can deeply and positively transform
the way we view our life and all life around us. Ultimately,
as the life of the Buddha himself demonstrated, we find that
the true gift of Buddhism is really compassion. Awakening to
the Dharma - and the corresponding awakening of compassion -
leads to the discovery of a wonderful and dynamic life full
of energy and creativity.
is Shin Buddhism?
Buddhism was the creation of Shinran Shonin, who lived in Japan
around 800 years ago. He saw, as did Buddha, that what stands
in the way of our awakening to the Dharma is really only us.
Specifically, it is our ego, or that illusion we have that we
are a fixed and separate entity apart from everything else.
Thus, Shin Buddhism starts by getting us to see our egocentric,
arrogant and self-centered nature. Shin Buddhism "attacks"
our ego-self. When we awaken to the fallacy of our "self,"
we are literally "saved from ourselves," and become
Shin Buddhism does not lead to any kind of negative self-hate,
schizophrenia or cynicism. This is because it says with deep
compassion that, "Even as selfish as I am, I am still allowed
to live...I am 'OK' because of the infinite compassion of the
Dharma." It is to see deeply into the true meaning of what
it means to be a human being.
meaning of the Meditation Sutra, one of the key sutras of our
branch of Shin Buddhism, is, "Don't try to 'get rid of'
the pain of life, or your shortcomings - that is impossible;
instead, live with it all, but turn your focus inward and honestly
evaluate yourself. This leads to a kind of rebirth. "Kill"
your ignorance and be reborn in the truth, then live with the
important concept in Shin Buddhism is Tariki (Other Power, or
Power Beyond the Self), which tells us that we cannot enlighten
ourselves only through our self-power (Jiriki). Our ego-self
cannot deny or challenge itself. Thus, we all need a "teacher."
This can take the form of a sensei (minister, priest, etc.)
and/or the events in our lives, especially those that cause
us difficulty, i.e., those events that illustrate the impermanence
of life. In this sense, the Dharma is both our teaching and
Shin Buddhism cautions us to always remember that, even if we
do awaken to the Dharma and to our true, egocentric nature,
we don't become "better people." We're still egotistical,
judgmental, impatient, fallible and arrogant. In that sense,
Buddhism is really beyond ethics, beyond "right and wrong,"
because it accepts, with compassion, that to be human is to
be flawed. However, though we don't become "better"
(more moral) people, we do gain insight. As mentioned above,
what can change is the way we look at our lives and our relationship
to others. We can come to see that our lives and, indeed, all
life, is both interdependent and precious. This insight can
have a profound and transforming effect on how we live our lives.
(sheen-jean) is the most important term in Shin Buddhism. "Shin"
means to understand or trust. This is a twofold understanding.
We must understand not only the ignorance and smallness of the
self, but also, the greatness of the Dharma ("Amida Buddha,"
infinite compassion, truth/impermanence). Thus, because of the
futility of our self-efforts, we have no choice but to simply
and humbly trust in the Dharma.
Amida Butsu is, in essence, a verbal expression of this experience
of Shinjin. Namu expresses our recognition of the futility of
our self (humility). Amida Butsu (Amida Buddha) expresses the
recognition that our futility is embraced and liberated by the
Dharma. In other words, "bow to" (seek the truth)
and be saved by the Dharma.
Shinran Shonin, these two terms, Shinjin and Namu Amida Butsu,
are all we need to live as Buddhists.
The Living Dharma Website...
Was Our Website Started?
website was designed to serve as a form of outreach into the
worldwide community. It is our attempt to make the wisdom of
the Buddhist teaching available outside the doors of West Covina
Buddhist Temple. The essence of this teaching, or Dharma, is
the interdependence and oneness of all life. To learn more about
Buddhism, please read our What Is Buddhism page.
a form of outreach, our website also represents an exciting,
ongoing experiment. First, a bit of history: Shin Buddhist temples
in America were established by the first generation of Japanese-Americans,
who immigrated to the U.S. around the beginning of the 20th
century. In addition to the Shin teachings, they of course also
brought with them their Japanese culture and language. Even
today, our temples have a definite Japanese "flavor."
However, we are aware that our future rests on our ability to
communicate the Shin Buddhist teachings to Americans, 99% of
whom are not of Japanese ancestry. Therefore, we felt strongly
that our website should "speak" to Americans interested
in Buddhism. That is, our site should not appear "foreign,"
and should be written in plain everyday English.
this sense, our website marks the beginning of a new era for
our temple. We are learning, via our interaction with Americans
and visitors around the world, not only new ways to communicate
the Buddhist teachings in contemporary terms, but also what
changes we need to make at our temple to insure that all visitors
to our services feel at home. As the distinguished Shin Buddhist
scholar Dr. Nobuo Haneda has said, "Buddhism is either
for everyone, or it is worthless."
on the deepest level, the reason for our website was best expressed
by Shinran Shonin, the 13th century Japanese priest and founder
of our tradition of Buddhism. Shinran used the phrase, Jishin
Kyoninshin. Jin is "self," shin is "believe,"
kyo is "teaching," and nin is "others."
Hence, "First believe in the teaching yourself, then teach
others to also believe." The critical point about this
statement is that in Shin Buddhism, we understand that both
"my believing in" and "my teaching others"
are actually accomplished without self-effort. That is, through
constant listening to and reflection upon the teachings, the
"Buddha Spirit" within each of us can be awakened.
The essence of this spirit is the deep understanding that all
life is one. When we receive this insight, we--like the Buddha
himself--are naturally inspired to work for the awakening of
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