Tuesday 15 September 2015

Book review: Wondering Who You Are

My latest book review: Wondering Who You Are in Sakhi magazine. Here's the link:

Buddhism in the numbers

By Rev. Lynn "Jnana" Sipe - Zen Dharma Teacher

A Dharma Talk at the IBMC --- The rather inelegant title of today’s talk, “Buddhism in the Numbers”, does an injustice to the elegance of the subject itself, the role of numbers in communicating the dharma. For there is indeed a rich vein of numerical references in Buddhism, primarily in the sutras, but also in related doctrines and teachings. My purpose here this morning is to briefly mine that vein, to bring a greater degree of awareness to the place of numbers that permeate so much of our study and devotion along the Buddhist path.

First, a bit of historical and conceptual context. As we all know, Buddhism is in origin an Indian religion. As such it developed within an ancient cultural tradition whose scholarly mathematicians and astronomers were concerned with practical applications and who were motivated by a kind of passion for both numbers and numerical calculations. Indeed, India is the true birthplace of our numerals, which are popularly, but inaccurately, referred to as Arabic numerals.

On a very basic, fundamental level, a practical application of the Indian passion for numbers was in the compilation of lists. For instance, if we set aside the accompanying stories and biographical/historical information in the Pali canon one is left with a whole pile of lists from the Buddha and long explanations about the lists. The Buddha was like a scientist observing reality and Ultimate Truth from the deepest levels of insight and enlightenment. The lists are the breakdown of the doctrines, concepts, and reality as communicated by the Buddha.

Prior to the advent of written literature in India, including the initial written recording of the Buddhist sutras, knowledge was orally transmitted from one generation to the next. Once it was possible to record sacred texts in written form there was still reluctance on the part of religious figures to do so. The sacred word was deemed to be less sanctified if committed to writing. In a society in which it was quite possible for learned sages to commit the entire text of the Vedas to memory it is hardly surprising that the huge number of Buddhist lists, within the sutras, could be committed to memory by the various early Buddhist teachers and scholars. In a pre-literate society such lists were an ideal pedagogical approach as well as being very useful mnemonic devices. These enumerations helped, and still help, convey the meaning of the dharma.

In succeeding centuries, when Zen developed in China, a rich tradition of writing already existed. Thus, the development of numbered lists greatly declined, as the original reasons behind them were no longer extant. Accordingly, in the examples that follow, there are relatively few Zen references.

In the Mahayana Lalitavistara Sutra the Sage Vishvamitra, who was teaching the eight-year old Shakyamuni, explained that numeration, numbers and arithmetic constitute the most important discipline among the seventy-arts and sciences that the Bodhisattva must acquire. At a later point in this sutra the Bodhisattva Shakyamuni, now of marriageable age, pits his wits against the great mathematician Arjuna. Shakyamuni displays a mind-boggling mastery of numbers and mathematical calculation, ranging from the measurement of the size of what we would call a molecule to a value equaling the number 1 followed by 421 zeroes.

On one level, it is difficult for a modern student of Buddhism not to be struck by the frequent use of very high numbers or large numerical descriptions (such “as many as dust motes in Buddha lands”, references to kalpas and mahakalpas, etc.) in certain sutras and historical accounts. This is a reflection of the early passion that Indian civilization exhibited for high numbers. While it is unclear if this particular passion had been developed at the time of the Buddha, it certainly was in place at the time of the compilation of the later Mahayana sutras in the earliest centuries of the Common Era. For instance, the previously mentioned Lalitavistara Sutra is replete with references to high numbers of gods, divinities, sons of gods, Bodhisattvas, Buddhas, ornaments, flowers, etc. The Lotus Sutra or numerous other Mahayana sutras would serve equally well as examples of the seeming obsession in Indian Buddhist writings with high numbers.

When we chant om mane padme hum any reference to a numerical value is presumably far from our minds. The word padme, of course, means lotus. This flower is identified as the ‘throne’ of the Buddha as well as of most of his manifestations. It also represents the bodhi or the Buddha nature of awakening to supreme enlightenment. It is this idea of absolute and divine perfection that gives the word padme a high numerical value as well. Originally padme represented the number ten to the ninth power. Over time this value increased to be identified with ten to the 119th power. A lotus of so many petals would be inconceivably large, as inconceivable as is supreme enlightenment itself to one who has not attained it.

Let’s turn from the rarefied realm of high numbers and proceed with what I’ll call “Jnana’s List”, which provides a very modest sampling of the more comprehensible enumerations of various aspects of devotional and descriptive attributes, qualities, concepts, and similar references that can be found in the Buddhist literature. My primary emphasis as we progress through only 20 of the most important numbers will be on the lower end of the scale, with the highest number considered being 108. The number 108 is an important magic and sacred number in Indian tradition, with one of its associations symbolizing perfection. In this context it refers to the 108 distinctive signs of perfection that distinguishes a Buddha from other human beings. Partly related to this usage then is the text of the chant, found at the back of our chant book, which we use in the “108 Bows Ceremony” on the first Sunday of each month.

The first of the remaining 19 numbers to consider is 62. 62 refers to the “62 Kinds of Wrong View”. Here the wrong views are in reference to eternity, self and causality. A characteristic example is the view that the self after death is healthy and conscious and material.

52 refers to the “52 Mental Formations”. These range from greed and hatred to discretion and balance of mind.

40 refers to the “40 Meditation Subjects”. This challenging list of subjects on which it is most fruitful to meditate includes a corpse that is hacked and scattered as well as the contemplation of charity.

37 refers to the “37 Factors of Enlightenment” or the “37 things that are conducive to awakening”. Among these factors are the four foundations of mindfulness as well as the Eightfold Path.
32 refers to the “32 Parts of the Body”. These parts, ranging from teeth to urine, are focal points for reflection on their impure and impermanent nature.

32 also refers to the “32 Physical Marks” or the “32 Characteristics by Which a Great Man can be Recognized.” These marks are found on the body of both a Buddha and a Universal Ruler or chakravartin. Included among these are a long tongue, blue eyes, and webbed fingers and toes.

31 refers to the “31 Planes of Existence”. Ghosts, animals and humans occupy three of the planes, for example, and devas of unbounded radiance occupy another.

22 refers to the “22 Faculties”, as identified in the Abhidamma. Included here are the six senses, the three factors concerning gender, the five feelings, the five spiritual faculties, and the three super-mundane faculties.

18 refers to the “18 Principal Insights”. A characteristic insight from this list is that “The contemplation of change abandons the perception of stability.”

16 refers to the “16 Arhants” and their disciples, to whom the Buddha entrusted the care of his teachings at the time of his paranirvana.

We have two references to 12. The first is to the “12 Links of Dependent Origination” or pratitya-samutpada. When one link exists the link following arises as an effect or the preceding link, such as craving giving rise to grasping or birth giving rise to old age and death.

Another reference for 12 is the “12 Psychic Powers” possessed by a Buddha, such as clairvoyance and recalling one’s previous existence and the existences of others.

The number 10 is probably one of the three most important numbers in Buddhist compilations, the other two being 3 and 5. We will begin with the “10 Precepts”, the minimum number that each member of the clergy sitting here on the tatami has taken in achieving their current position.

10 also refers to the “10 Hindrances to Enlightenment”, otherwise known as the “10 Fetters”. Included among the fetters are conceit, restlessness and ignorance.

Contrasting with the preceding listing, there are the “10 Good Deeds or Meritorious Actions”. Representative of these are non-greed, non-hatred and right views. 

A set of powers ascribed to a Buddha differing from the “12 Psychic Powers” mentioned earlier is described in the “10 Powers of a Buddha”. These powers confer on him knowledge of various aspects of existence.

The “10 Great Disciples” refer to the Buddha’s most famous disciples, including the first two Indian patriarchs of the Zen lineage, Mahakasyapa and Ananda.

Finally, in the Zen tradition the “10 Oxherding Pictures” utilize an artistic metaphor for the path of meditation and the attainment of enlightenment.

9 refers to the “9 Ways Not to Accept Something as Completely True”, such as “do not believe in something just because the authorities say it is so.”

We are all familiar with the Noble Eight-Fold Path. 8 is additionally represented by the “8 Jhanas” or the 8 states of meditative absorption.

There are also the “8 Auspicious Symbols”, signs of good fortune very popular in Tibetan Buddhism and linked with various aspects of Buddhist teachings. They are visually represented in the wall hanging on the south side of the tatami platform.

7 refers to the “7 Factors of Enlightenment”, such as calm and equanimity as well as to the “7 Universal Mental Constituents”. These arise in every unit of consciousness, such as feeling and perception.

6 refers to the “6 Kinds of Temperaments”, which range from lustful to devout or faithful temperaments.

Additionally, there are the “6 Paramitas or Perfections”: generosity, morality, patience, effort, meditation and insight.

6 also refers to the “6 Realms of Rebirth”, ranging from gods to hell denizens.

All Buddhist laypersons have taken the “5 Precepts”. There are also the “5 Skandas or Aggregates”: form, feeling, sensation, volition and consciousness. Finally, there are the “5 Moral Sins”: killing one’s mother or father, killing an arahant, causing division in the sangha and wounding a Buddha.

The “4 Noble Truths” are the foundation of all Buddhist teachings. 4 also refers to the “4 Supreme Efforts”, regarding unwholesome and wholesome thoughts.

There are “4 Types of People with Realization”, beginning with the Stream Enterer and ending with the arahant. There are also “4 Types of Reincarnation”, through which one enters the cycle of rebirth.

Finally, the “4 Brahma Viharas” of loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity are key meditative practices. The positive qualities of each state of mind radiates outwards towards oneself, then to one’s family, the local community, and eventually to all beings in the universe.

The number 3 strikes me as the most important of all in the various compilations, so I’ve included more references to it than any other number. Most all of us have taken the “3 Refuges” in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. These are also collectively known as the Triple Gem or the Triratna.

3 also refers to the triloka or the “3 Worlds” or the “3 Realms” of existence. These are the Desire Realm, the Form Realm and the Formless Realm.

All Buddhas manifest themselves in “3 Bodies” or the Trikaya: the Truth Body, the Body of Bliss and the Emanation Body.

There are “3 Roots of Evil”, namely greed, hatred and delusion. All negative states of consciousness are ultimately grounded in one or more of these.

The “3 Characteristics of Existence” are suffering (dukkha), impermanence (anitya) and no permanent self (anatman).

Most of the above teachings are found within the “3 Baskets”, or the Tripitaka, of the traditional Buddhist canon.

Not to ignore Zen, there are the “3 Pillars of Zen”: the constituent elements of teaching, practice and enlightenment.

2 represents our mundane understanding of reality, as reflected in our focus on duality. There are also the ”2 Truths”, relative truth and absolute truth, the former referring to mundane reality and the latter to transcendental reality.

1 refers to “1 Mind”, a focused, undisturbed mind, concentrating on a single object. 1 also refers to the one person whose birth into the world is for the welfare of many folk, a Tathagata.

Perhaps most important of all of these numbers is another manifestation of 1, namely each of you. Within each person in this room is a not yet fully realized Buddha nature, to which all of the other numbers mentioned here today ultimately point.

Thursday 10 September 2015

You can never be a perfect daughter-in-law!

Today I came across an article on Akkar Bakkar that shares ideas and opinion similar to those I have for the past eight years. Here you go, enjoy and say if I'm wrong or this article is wrong...

For those of you women who have already started on the nuptial expedition and for the rest of you who are super excited to embark upon this journey but have millions of questions on how do you come out as an all-rounder, in other words be termed and tagged as the Perfect “Daughter in law”, here is a little news flash, you are never going to be that girl, only because you never can! You can always try but you never can be someone who is perfect in the eyes of every flawed human being around you who is happy to judge you with hundreds of different perspectives, on what a perfect Daughter-in-law should be like. Here is why:

1. A typical Indian “Bahu” is supposedly expected to be Dumb not by birth but by choice

Hey now, you must be a double degree holder to be able to hold the hand of her son, but definitely not more educated than him. You should be super smart to teach her grand children, to pay the bills, to manage the house, take care of household expenditures but not smart enough to back answer your in-laws if they are ever wrong.
You are not privileged to have a opinion on your own about anything that is happening in the house, outside the house, something on TV news, nope, just not allowed as it is not your place, it is never your place to comment on anything literally. Independence and constitutional rights are for the country and not for you.

2. Obedience is not a choice, it’s a way of life!

The moment the mangalsutra is tied around your neck, you are expected to be obedient by default. You obey your husband, your in-laws, your society, your husbands’ relatives and sometimes even the kids in your husband’s family. You obey and obey and obey until the end of time and still somewhere down the line you better get ready to be whipped, scrutinized and screwed if you accidentally fail to obey a tiny detail of an order given to you. This country will expect this type of obedience from you because you signed up to be a Daughter-in-law, and what does a good Daughter-in-law do? She obeys!

3. You become a living fountain of love, affection and selflessness

You are bound to keep a smile on your face 24*7, no matter what has gone wrong with the world. You always smile! Your smile apparently is where your in-laws family respect, dignity and decorum hang. You could have had a massive fight with your husband the previous evening, your in-laws could have made a sarcastic comment about something you cooked that could have made you upset, you can have any kind of physical ailment or it can be bloody PMS that has kept you feeling a little bit off lately but guess what! You don’t smile and the world is going to know that you are not happy in your in-laws’ house, you are suddenly moody, absurd, a loner and you know what that means — you are not a perfect “Bahu” material.

4. You are literally ranked next to Saints and Mythical goddesses

You thought you were just Daddy’s pampered smothered in love, little princess and somebody ties a thread around your neck and all of a sudden BOOM, you are expected to be a goddamn saint with no likes, ambitions, desires of your own. You are expected to adjust to the people around you, constantly making compromises on what you want but not with a frown, instead willingly and happily, you care for everybody around you except YOURSELF. Also, last but not the least you literally become a perfect clone of Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi and Mother India or you just can’t be the perfect Bahu!

5. Home is work

Are you ambitious about being successful in your career and then you thought like may be some day I want to get married and try my hand at both – taking care of your family as well as being successful career-wise! If that’s what you thought then you are wrong in the eyes of your in-laws and this society. You can be a good bahu only if you stay at home, take care of your family and do household chores; as being a full-time homemaker is the only job that a Bahu is allowed to take up. If you go out of the house, you apparently are less caring towards your family, you suddenly become disobedient, selfish, arrogant, you lack in your duties as a good wife and as a good mom. You bring your work home every day and thus the children don’t get enough attention. A woman going to work today is unsafe for any woman in this country as rapists are on the loose 24*7.
Also, what kind of husband sends his wife off to work and lets her earn – the incompetent one probably and the one that can’t make enough money to take care of his family, last but not the least a woman who works won’t respect her husband and her in-laws and thus shouldn’t be allowed the privilege of taking up a job. These are some of the very valuable points that many families very comfortably list out as valid reasons for not letting their talented and highly educated Daughter-in-laws not go to work.
Now can you be that girl?
Let me the rephrase the question! Do you want to be that girl? Even if you want to make your loved ones happy, even if you want to make sure that the sweet smile in your husband’s face never disappears, even if you care so deeply about hearing that one golden sentence – “You are not our Daughter-in-law but our Daughter” and if it means the world to you to be tagged as the “Perfect Daughter in Law of the Century”. Do you really think, going through all of the above is even worth the run?
You are as much of a human being as anybody else with desires, hopes, dreams and ambitions. Why would you want to give up on any of that? Here is the worst case scenario, while you are in the race to please everyone around you and make sure that you never dishearten anyone at any point of time, imagine you take a moment to look back at your journey; can you really tell that there won’t be any regrets at all? Life waits for nobody, you get to live it once, the only person you need to please is you and if you are doing that on a day to day basis then give yourself some credit because you are on the right track my friend.
Nothing pays off better than being you and enjoying doing that. Everything from Marriage to Divorce is way over-rated in this country. Don’t let yourself down with what the society thinks of you, don’t give them that satisfaction! Don’t let people stereotype you as a perfect Bahueven if it sounds like a compliment at first, because it has been impossible for women over years to live up to it even if they were at some point tagged as one!
You can be a married woman and still be a horrible Bahu and that is perfectly, completely and a 100% fine in an imperfect world such as the one that we live in today, so relax!
Be proud of the Daughter-in-law that you are, that’s all that matters, everything else is background noise.

Source: http://akkarbakkar.com/will-never-perfect-daughter-law-country-dont-even-try/

10 horrible things a mother-in-law always says

10 Horrible Things Every Indian Married Woman Has Heard From Her Mother-In-Law Once In Her Life

Just can't stop loving this website Akkar Bakkar. Here's one more, enjoy. Most of us, including me, have heard such dialogues from mother-in-law! 

There was a reason why Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi went on for over eight years in this country. It was the longest-running, biggest grossing serial in India once upon a time. The point is however modern we may have become as a society today, some things just never change, because they are just so deep rooted in our blood that it’s difficult to throw those habits out of the window now. One such horrible habit that India possesses is — curse of the mummy ji. It is depressing to even start thinking about what some females go through who are married into an Indian joint family. She must really run for her life.
This is just a small glimpse of the crucial relationship that a girl shares with her mother-in-law in India. Still! It’s shameful but true. Here are a few statements that every Indian daughter-in-law has heard at least once in her lifetime from her monster-in-law that’s made her hate her saas:

1. “You are the luckiest woman in the world to not only marry my son but also gain entry into such a prestigious family.”

What she means: You should thank God every single day! I am not sure why my son decided to even look at you considering you are not that pretty even. He is so handsome and good-looking while you are plain. Even his complexion is fairer than yours! And on top of that he has an Engineering degree. So what if he passed out in the bottom 5% and you in the top 5%?

2. “My son should be coming any minute from work now. He must be so tired.”

What she means: Imagine driving all the way to work, sitting in front of a computer and dealing with so many people and then driving all the way back. He must be under so much stress and feeling so hungry. I think you should change quickly and start preparing his dinner right away so that it will be hot and ready when he gets back home. Maybe you should first put away the groceries you shopped for on your way back from work which is just 20 miles away from home and all you have to do is talk to this person!

3. “Your daughter’s good looks, long hair, big eyes, sharp nose, smart brain, tall legs, dimple on the cheek and lastly but most importantly her fair complexion comes from my side of the family.”

What she means: Your daughter’s attitude, independence, forthrightness, stubbornness and everything seemingly  negative comes from YOUR side of the family.

4. “My daughter does all the work in her house. Her husband rarely helps. She has to cook, clean, do groceries, take care of the kids, look after the house and everything else.”

What she means: My poor daughter works so hard. Oh how she suffers! You are so lucky to have a husband who washes his coffee mug and picks his dish up after eating everyday.

5. “So what if I asked for your opinion? Having an opinion does not mean that you have one that goes against mine!”

What she means: Shut up!

6. “So what if you cook, clean, shop and take care of everything around the house. This house is yours, so you are doing no one a favour.”

What she means: Woe on you if you so much as insinuate that this house belongs to you. This house belongs to my son and he belongs to ME! The housework though belongs to you.

7. “Why would you need a maid to help you?”

What she means: So what if you work, have three kids, your husband and in-laws to take care of and can also pay the maid with your money. You should be independent enough to do your work by yourself. I do think we need to hire someone to do the lawn mowing my son does once every month. Now, that’s hard work!

8. “Your parents are visiting?”

What she means: Why do your parents feel the need to visit once every decade? Don’t they know your in-laws live with you?

9. “Don’t know why you have to insist on eating out once every week. The food isn’t good and is way too expensive.”

What she means: It’s so much better to eat at home — the food that you shop for, cook, serve and though it may be too salty for my taste, it’s after all home-cooked!

10. “We used to work so hard in our times.”

What she means: Women these days are so spoilt. All they want to do is look good, pursue a career and take care of themselves. How selfish can one be?
Source: http://akkarbakkar.com/10-horrible-things-every-indian-married-woman-has-heard-from-her-mother-in-law-once-in-her-life/

Tuesday 1 September 2015