Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Proposition 8- Zenju Earthlyn Manuel



Proposition 8: What Happened to Change?

While Prop 8 is the catalyst to our actions and the stimulus to a meta-dialogue on marriage, I would go further to say Prop. 8 is harmful legislation that is being used as a tool to further moral issues of many who feel that same-sex relationships are immoral and an "abomination to God." The clear message is that there really isn't a question of marriage for same-sex partnerships simply because the California Supreme Court has upheld 18,000 (!) same-sex marriages. The court could have easily denied the right to marriage to those 18,000 people.

Meanwhile, many Americans in this Obama era advocate for change on a national level and have celebrated change. Many have celebrated difference this year with the victory of a different kind of President. When it was announced that the California Supreme Court had decided to affirm Prop. 8, what I saw and experienced as a Zen priest that lives in a same-sex relationship, is the unbelievable shock of not being part of the change America claims in this 21st Century.

What happens when we must deal with change (and may I say inevitable change) that is meant to transform hatred among us? Despite, Obama's win there is still racial hatred. What if the change we were to embrace included the end of oppression of one group over another? Letting go of a superior or inferior being is what Shayamuni Buddha taught in his lessons on "no-self" or interrelationships with all living beings. We are nothing without each other. So, the denial of freedom to one is to deny freedom to all.

At the core of the "Prop. 8-struggle" is not marriage, but the transformation of massive pain into freedom and liberation. At the core of this struggle is finding the deep and meaningful purpose of our lives as human beings. Can the fire we feel be transformed into non-harming ways for reconciliation and peacemaking? Legislation alone will not do this. After same-sex marriage is legalized, we will still have the hatred to contend with in our living on this planet.

The saving grace is that as the seasons shift, the sun rises, the moon wanes and waxes, as nature continues to show us each day on this earth...change is coming. In the meantime, may there be peace in our hearts and minds so that we have room for the love necessary.

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel
Buddhist Peace Fellowship

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An Open Letter to Barack Obama

Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center CEO Lorri L. Jean has a few words for President Barack Obama, who visits California one day after the California Supreme Court ruled to uphold Prop 8.
An exclusive posted May 26, 2009
An Open Letter to Barack Obama

Dear President Obama:

Welcome to California, Mr. President. I welcome you with a heavy heart because of the California Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Prop. 8, relegating same-sex couples to second class status and denying us that most noble promise of America, “liberty and justice for all.”

You are arriving in Los Angeles on the heels of emotional demonstrations throughout California and our nation and your silence at such a time speaks volumes. LGBT people and our allies have the "audacity to hope" for a country that treats us fairly and equally and for a President with the will to stand up for those ideals. From you we expect nothing less.

We know the country faces many serious challenges and we have strived to be patient. We’ve waited for the slightest sign you would live up to your promise to be a “fierce advocate” for our equal rights while watching gay and lesbian members of the armed forces, who have never been more needed, get discharged from the military. And so far you have done nothing. No stop loss order. No call to cease such foolish and discriminatory actions that make our nation less safe.

You pledged to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, Mr. President. You promised to support a “complete repeal” of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and pledged to advocate for legislation that would give same-sex couples the 1,100+ federal rights and benefits we are denied, including the same rights to social security benefits. You said, “federal law should not discriminate in any way against gay and lesbian couples.”

What of those promises, Mr. President?

Your commitment to repeal DOMA has been removed from the White House website. Your promise to repeal "don’t ask, don’t tell" was removed and then replaced with a watered-down version. And in the aftermath of yesterday’s California Supreme Court ruling, you have remained silent while your press secretary summarily dismisses questions about the issue.

We not only need to hear from our President, we need his action. And we need it now.

We need your words, Mr. President. But we also need your deeds. We expect you to fulfill the promises you made to us. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us, “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.” Do not delay, Mr. President. The time for action is now.


Lorri L. Jean
Chief Executive Officer
L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center

Lorri L. Jean is the CEO of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center. This article is representative of the author's views and not those of
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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Democracy fighter Aung San Suu Kyi faces new struggle for freedom

Members of Peace for Nepal march for the unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi in May 2009. (Binod Joshi/Associated Press)

On May 18 2009, nine days before she was to complete a six-year house arrest term, Burmese pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi went on trial in a cloistered prison courtroom, accused of violating the terms of her incarceration.

If convicted, she faces up to five more years in prison.

The charges were based on allegations by the Burmese government that American John William Yettaw, 53, swam across a lake and allegedly snuck into her home for two days.

According to Suu Kyi's restriction order, she is prohibited from having contact with embassies and political parties and she is barred from communicating with the outside world.

In response to the charges, Suu Kyi's lawyer quoted her as saying: "I am not guilty because I have not broken any law."

Human rights groups and the international community have derided the trial as a pretext to keep Suu Kyi imprisoned before 2010's national elections.

The proceedings mark the beginning of what appears to be the next chapter in what has become a familiar story for the opposition leader known simply as "The Lady."

Suu Kyi has spent 13 of the last 19 years in detention without trial. The Nobel Peace laureate and devout Buddhist has used a legendary mix of force and restraint to promote a non-violent movement for democracy in Burma, also known as Myanmar.

But the increasingly elusive and isolated regime in Burma has cracked down violently against the pro-democracy movement and has strived repeatedly to keep Suu Kyi — who it considers the greatest threat to its grip on power — under lock and key.

The situation echoes the events of 1988, when protests ended in bloodshed and a movement, symbolized by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, began.


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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings

by William Edelglass (Editor), Jay Garfield (Editor)

Product Description
The Buddhist philosophical tradition is vast, internally diverse, and comprises texts written in a variety of canonical languages. It is hence often difficult for those with training in Western philosophy who wish to approach this tradition for the first time to know where to start, and difficult for those who wish to introduce and teach courses in Buddhist philosophy to find suitable textbooks that adequately represent the diversity of the tradition, expose students to important primary texts in reliable translations, that contextualize those texts, and that foreground specifically philosophical issues.
Buddhist Philosophy fills that lacuna. It collects important philosophical texts from each major Buddhist tradition. Each text is translated and introduced by a recognized authority in Buddhist studies. Each introduction sets the text in context and introduces the philosophical issues it addresses and arguments it presents, providing a useful and authoritative guide to reading and to teaching the text. The volume is organized into topical sections that reflect the way that Western philosophers think about the structure of the discipline, and each section is introduced by an essay explaining Buddhist approaches to that subject matter, and the place of the texts collected in that section in the enterprise.
This volume is an ideal single text for an intermediate or advanced course in Buddhist philosophy, and makes this tradition immediately accessible to the philosopher or student versed in Western philosophy coming to Buddhism for the first time. It is also ideal for the scholar or student of Buddhist studies who is interested specifically in the philosophical dimensions of the Buddhist tradition.

About the Author

William Edelglass is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Marlboro College. Previously he taught at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, Dharamsala, India. His research focuses on Buddhist philosophy, environmental philosophy, and twentieth century continental philosophy.
Jay Garfield is Doris Silbert Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Philosophy at Smith College. His books include the translations of Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika: The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way (OUP, 1995); Tsong khapa's Ocean of Reasoning (OUP, 2002), and Empty Words: Buddhist Philosophy and Cross-Cultural Interpretation (OUP, 2006).

Pirate Bay Download

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Night and Fog

"Night and Fog (French: Nuit et brouillard, from the German Nacht und Nebel) is a 1955 documentary film about the Nazi concentration camps. The film, directed by Alain Resnais and written by Jean Cayrol, won the Prix Jean Vigo for 1956."

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Urgent! Help Aung San Suu Kyi


Action Alert from Friends of BPF!
Buddhist Peace Fellowship endorses action in the interest of Aung San Suu Kyi, the missing monks and nuns, and the civilians who are living under the oppression of those who gain from the suffering of others. BPF is witnessing along with the world the crisis of the human condition today as demonstrated in Burma this very moment. Please read letter sent by Amnesty International. And peace to all living beings. Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, Executive Director of BPF.

Aung San Suu Kyi faces charges this week that could land her in jail for five years.The trial comes just days before she was set to be released from house arrest.Her life is on the line. Aung San Suu Kyi's health is at risk, and five years of torture and abuse at the infamous Insein prison could spell disaster.
Our rapid response to these developments started last week in Australia (a member of ASEAN) when the Amnesty section there mobilized and generated over 7,000 letters to ASEAN.2 Just a few hours ago, the chairman of ASEAN called on Myanmar (Burma) to release Aung San Suu Kyi.

With the international pressure snowballing, it's time to focus on General Than Shwe, leader of the military junta. Please write General Than Shwe and urge him to release Aung San Suu Kyi and then forward this email to your friends and networks.

We know influencing the general is an uphill battle, but you and I have faced these odds before. Last year, we sent tens of thousands of letters on behalf of Ma Khin Khin Leh, another prisoner of conscience in Myanmar. Today, she is free.
Now it's time for us to do the impossible again for Aung San Suu Kyi.
Will you forward this email to friends and to your networks, so we can reach at least 30,000 letters within the next 24 hours?

The stakes couldn't be higher: Aung San Suu Kyi's life is on the line.
Almost 20 years ago, Aung San Suu Kyi's party won over 80% of the vote, making her the rightful political leader of Myanmar. The military refused to hand over power, brutally oppressing any dissent, and imprisoning Suu Kyi for 13 of the last 19 years.
Since the elections in 1990, Aung San Suu Kyi's very existence has challenged the military's authority, and inspired the people of Myanmar to hope.

In her hour of need, will you do all you can? Will you write General Than Shwe and then forward this email widely to your friends and networks?
Aung San Suu Kyi has kept hope alive for the people of Myanmar, even when all hope was lost.Let's do the same now for Aung San Suu Kyi.

Thanks for standing with us.
Jim, Nancy, Anil, Laura, Steve and the rest of the rapid response team

P.S. We are gravely concerned about the health of 10 other political prisoners in Myanmar. Our ability to mobilize today for Aung San Suu Kyi could shift the direction for these lives on the brink.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Dealing With Hatred


Hi Brian, I’ve been tumbling this in my head. One of the strongest tenents in Buddhism I agree with is ending suffering, both for the self and others. It’s been a core part of my spiritual path as I’ve started transitioning from female-to-male. I’ve been lucky that many are supportive, even if they do not understand or necessarily agree with my decision. They do realize that the person inside this shell is still the same person in the old shell and this is something that I felt I had to do (it took me a good 3 years of debating whether transitioning was my path or not). But I have started to face more and more discrimination and hate (a lot less than many transwomen face like Angie Zapata).

I totally respect those that feel this isn’t their path but often have a hard time coming to terms with the violence and hate that is thrown at myself and others who find this as their only salvation from suffering (certainly one could have a debate that the body is nothing more than property and an attachment but it does, IMO, go deeper than that).

I try to view in my head that perhaps some experience in their past has them being angry and hateful towards others they do not understand, respect or otherwise. But there are times when I cannot come to terms as to how much pain they emit. How does one come to terms with this and help the other person relieve their own suffering from hate and anger? I know I cannot force them to realize that this is a personal path that has no direct effect on their life but often their hate has a direct effect on mine. Some might say that not transitioning would stop their pain (this is not family, friends or colleagues but rather strangers and society at large) but that, in turn, creates more suffering for me. I’m at a loss and can only turn my cheek so many times before I give up. How can I deal with this in Buddhism?


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Tao Te Ching Stephen Mitchell

A New English Version
HarperCollins, 1988

Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching, or Book of the Way, is the classic manual on the art of living, and one of the wonders of the world. In eighty-one brief chapters, the Tao Te Ching looks at the basic predicament of being alive and gives advice that imparts balance and perspective, a serene and generous spirit. This book is about wisdom in action. It teaches how to work for the good with the effortless skill that comes from being in accord with the Tao (the basic principle of the universe) and applies equally to good government and sexual love; to child rearing, business, and ecology.

Stephen Mitchell’s bestselling version has been widely acclaimed as a gift to contemporary culture.

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name. The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things. Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations. Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness. Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.

Ebook and Audiobook
Pirate Bay Download
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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Robert M. Pirsig - Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

In his now classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig brings us a literary chautauqua, a novel that is meant to both entertain and edify. It scores high on both counts.

Phaedrus, our narrator, takes a present-tense cross-country motorcycle trip with his son during which the maintenance of the motorcycle becomes an illustration of how we can unify the cold, rational realm of technology with the warm, imaginative realm of artistry. As in Zen, the trick is to become one with the activity, to engage in it fully, to see and appreciate all details--be it hiking in the woods, penning an essay, or tightening the chain on a motorcycle.

In his autobiographical first novel, Pirsig wrestles both with the ghost of his past and with the most important philosophical questions of the 20th century--why has technology alienated us from our world? what are the limits of rational analysis? if we can't define the good, how can we live it? Unfortunately, while exploring the defects of our philosophical heritage from Socrates and the Sophists to Hume and Kant, Pirsig inexplicably stops at the middle of the 19th century. With the exception of Poincaré, he ignores the more recent philosophers who have tackled his most urgent questions, thinkers such as Peirce, Nietzsche (to whom Phaedrus bears a passing resemblance), Heidegger, Whitehead, Dewey, Sartre, Wittgenstein, and Kuhn. In the end, the narrator's claims to originality turn out to be overstated, his reasoning questionable, and his understanding of the history of Western thought sketchy. His solution to a synthesis of the rational and creative by elevating Quality to a metaphysical level simply repeats the mistakes of the premodern philosophers. But in contrast to most other philosophers, Pirsig writes a compelling story. And he is a true innovator in his attempt to popularize a reconciliation of Eastern mindfulness and nonrationalism with Western subject/object dualism. The magic of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance turns out to lie not in the answers it gives, but in the questions it raises and the way it raises them. Like a cross between The Razor's Edge and Sophie's World, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance takes us into "the high country of the mind" and opens our eyes to vistas of possibility. --Brian Bruya

Audiobook at Pirate Bay
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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth

by Michael Parenti

I. For Lords and Lamas

Along with the blood drenched landscape of religious conflict there is the experience of inner peace and solace that every religion promises, none more so than Buddhism. Standing in marked contrast to the intolerant savagery of other religions, Buddhism is neither fanatical nor dogmatic--so say its adherents. For many of them Buddhism is less a theology and more a meditative and investigative discipline intended to promote an inner harmony and enlightenment while directing us to a path of right living. Generally, the spiritual focus is not only on oneself but on the welfare of others. One tries to put aside egoistic pursuits and gain a deeper understanding of one’s connection to all people and things. “Socially engaged Buddhism” tries to blend individual liberation with responsible social action in order to build an enlightened society.

A glance at history, however, reveals that not all the many and widely varying forms of Buddhism have been free of doctrinal fanaticism, nor free of the violent and exploitative pursuits so characteristic of other religions. In Sri Lanka there is a legendary and almost sacred recorded history about the triumphant battles waged by Buddhist kings of yore. During the twentieth century, Buddhists clashed violently with each other and with non-Buddhists in Thailand, Burma, Korea, Japan, India, and elsewhere. In Sri Lanka, armed battles between Buddhist Sinhalese and Hindu Tamils have taken many lives on both sides. In 1998 the U.S. State Department listed thirty of the world’s most violent and dangerous extremist groups. Over half of them were religious, specifically Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist. 1

In South Korea, in 1998, thousands of monks of the Chogye Buddhist order fought each other with fists, rocks, fire-bombs, and clubs, in pitched battles that went on for weeks. They were vying for control of the order, the largest in South Korea, with its annual budget of $9.2 million, its millions of dollars worth of property, and the privilege of appointing 1,700 monks to various offices. The brawls damaged the main Buddhist sanctuaries and left dozens of monks injured, some seriously. The Korean public appeared to disdain both factions, feeling that no matter what side took control, “it would use worshippers’ donations for luxurious houses and expensive cars.” 2

As with any religion, squabbles between or within Buddhist sects are often fueled by the material corruption and personal deficiencies of the leadership. For example, in Nagano, Japan, at Zenkoji, the prestigious complex of temples that has hosted Buddhist sects for more than 1,400 years, “a nasty battle” arose between Komatsu the chief priest and the Tacchu, a group of temples nominally under the chief priest's sway. The Tacchu monks accused Komatsu of selling writings and drawings under the temple's name for his own gain. They also were appalled by the frequency with which he was seen in the company of women. Komatsu in turn sought to isolate and punish monks who were critical of his leadership. The conflict lasted some five years and made it into the courts. 3

But what of Tibetan Buddhism? Is it not an exception to this sort of strife? And what of the society it helped to create? Many Buddhists maintain that, before the Chinese crackdown in 1959, old Tibet was a spiritually oriented kingdom free from the egotistical lifestyles, empty materialism, and corrupting vices that beset modern industrialized society. Western news media, travel books, novels, and Hollywood films have portrayed the Tibetan theocracy as a veritable Shangri-La. The Dalai Lama himself stated that “the pervasive influence of Buddhism” in Tibet, “amid the wide open spaces of an unspoiled environment resulted in a society dedicated to peace and harmony. We enjoyed freedom and contentment.” 4

A reading of Tibet’s history suggests a somewhat different picture. “Religious conflict was commonplace in old Tibet,” writes one western Buddhist practitioner. “History belies the Shangri-La image of Tibetan lamas and their followers living together in mutual tolerance and nonviolent goodwill. Indeed, the situation was quite different. Old Tibet was much more like Europe during the religious wars of the Counterreformation.” 5 In the thirteenth century, Emperor Kublai Khan created the first Grand Lama, who was to preside over all the other lamas as might a pope over his bishops. Several centuries later, the Emperor of China sent an army into Tibet to support the Grand Lama, an ambitious 25-year-old man, who then gave himself the title of Dalai (Ocean) Lama, ruler of all Tibet.

His two previous lama “incarnations” were then retroactively recognized as his predecessors, thereby transforming the 1st Dalai Lama into the 3rd Dalai Lama. This 1st (or 3rd) Dalai Lama seized monasteries that did not belong to his sect, and is believed to have destroyed Buddhist writings that conflicted with his claim to divinity. The Dalai Lama who succeeded him pursued a sybaritic life, enjoying many mistresses, partying with friends, and acting in other ways deemed unfitting for an incarnate deity. For these transgressions he was murdered by his priests. Within 170 years, despite their recognized divine status, five Dalai Lamas were killed by their high priests or other courtiers. 6

For hundreds of years competing Tibetan Buddhist sects engaged in bitterly violent clashes and summary executions. In 1660, the 5th Dalai Lama was faced with a rebellion in Tsang province, the stronghold of the rival Kagyu sect with its high lama known as the Karmapa. The 5th Dalai Lama called for harsh retribution against the rebels, directing the Mongol army to obliterate the male and female lines, and the offspring too “like eggs smashed against rocks…. In short, annihilate any traces of them, even their names.” 7

In 1792, many Kagyu monasteries were confiscated and their monks were forcibly converted to the Gelug sect (the Dalai Lama’s denomination). The Gelug school, known also as the “Yellow Hats,” showed little tolerance or willingness to mix their teachings with other Buddhist sects. In the words of one of their traditional prayers: “Praise to you, violent god of the Yellow Hat teachings/who reduces to particles of dust/ great beings, high officials and ordinary people/ who pollute and corrupt the Gelug doctrine.” 8 An eighteenth-century memoir of a Tibetan general depicts sectarian strife among Buddhists that is as brutal and bloody as any religious conflict might be. 9 This grim history remains largely unvisited by present-day followers of Tibetan Buddhism in the West.


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Monday, May 11, 2009

Fabulous! The Story of Queer Cinema (2006)
Fabulous! The Story of Queer Cinema is constructed with interview snippets featuring a wide array of actors, directors, and festival organizers, to portray our last century's history of same-sex films. Dealing mostly with American film, minus acknowledgment of a couple European directors such as Chantal Ackerman, Fabulous! tells the story, by citing filmic examples from each decade, of post-war repression in the '40s and '50s, the gay civil rights struggle of the '60s and '70s, AIDS in the '80s and '90s, and the blossoming of new gender genres in a contemporary setting. With timelines to contextualize conversation, Fabulous! leads the viewer through discussions of Kenneth Anger's seminal 1947 work, Fireworks, to Warhol, through Derek Jarman, John Waters, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show, all the way into Brokeback Mountain's current success. Interviews with independent film icons such as Todd Haynes, Gus Van Sant, John Waters, critic B. Ruby Rich, and Outfest's Stephen Gutwillig, make this an enjoyable journey through the minds of Hollywood's auteurs. More actual film footage of some difficult-to-see underground pieces would be nice, but clearly this documentary is an introduction to the history of transgressive cinema, meant to urge people to investigate further. --Trinie Dalton

Torrent Download
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Wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands

By The Book Comics

PBS Nova - Lost Treasure of Tibet

Join the race to save the surviving sacred masterpieces of an ancient Buddhist kingdom.Mustang (moo-stahn) one of the last outposts of Tibetan culture is so isolated and protected that no Westerner set foot inside its borders for centuries. But in the early 1990s this untouched society set high in the Himalayas opened its borders for the first time exposing an ancient world s dazzling sacred relics long damaged by the elements and neglect.Today outsiders are working with local townspeople to rescue priceless masterpieces dating back to the 13th century but can these efforts preserve history in a way that is acceptable to the local culture? Join the race against time as art and restoration experts mix history science and politics in a complicated and daunting mission to preserve these religious works of art. With gods literally peeling off the walls will outsiders be trusted with saving the sacred art of Mustang?

Download at LINK
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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill

by Matthieu Ricard

From Publishers Weekly
For millennia, philosophers, writers and artists have sought the key to human happiness. A Buddhist monk and former cell biologist, Ricard offers his own musings about the nature of happiness and tips on how to attain it in his sometimes tedious, sometimes dynamic guide. Happiness, for Ricard, cannot be found in fleeting experiences of pleasure—the joy of a sunny day, the refreshing taste of an ice cream cone, the ecstasy of sex—but only in the depths of an individual's being. Happiness is not self-interested, but rather compassionate, seeking the well-being of others. If we are truly happy, writes Ricard, we can change the world because of our compassion for others and our desire to end hatred and bring happiness even to those we don't like. For Ricard, happiness is a deep state of well-being and wisdom that flourishes in every moment of life, despite the inevitability of suffering. Individuals can, however, learn to minimize suffering in life by practicing moderation in all things, as well as meditation. Meditative exercises that individuals can practice to achieve happiness appear in each chapter. Ricard (Tibet: A Compassionate Eye) doesn't have much new to tell us about his subject, but he imbues these reflections with his own deep sense of happiness and verve. (Apr. 12)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Rapidshare download at

Friday, May 8, 2009

Fred Phelps' Son's Speech at the American Atheist Convention

The Uncomfortable Grayness of Life
by Nathan Phelps
American Atheists Convention
April 11, 2009
Atlanta, GA

(recite the books of the bible)

At the age of 7, I could recite all 66 books of the Bible in 19 seconds. My father insisted on this because he was frustrated at waiting as his children flipped back and forth trying to find the verses he was preaching from. Afterwards, if one of us took to long my father would stop in the middle of his preaching, cast a gimlet eye on the offender and demand that, “Somebody smack that kid!”

I would like to take a minute to thank a few people for their efforts in making this opportunity possible for me today. David Silverman for inviting me here to speak. Arlene Marie for all her effort and support in slogging through the logistics. John Lombard for his time and invaluable support in helping me get my thoughts down on paper. And finally, my fiancé Angela for her unflagging love throughout this process. And thank you all for being here today.

For me, the story of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church is a very long and painful one. But the first time that the wider community became aware of them was in 1991, when my father led his church in Topeka, Kansas to stage a protest against gays at a local city park. (Almost the entire membership of the church consists of 9 of my 12 siblings and members of their immediate families.)

The community reacted with outrage at the mean-spirited and hateful nature of the protest, and sentiments on both sides escalated quickly. However, far from discouraging my father, this incited him to much greater efforts at publicly protesting all that he decided was wrong. The church was soon staging dozens of protests every week, against local politicians, businesses, and citizens who dared to speak out against him and his church.

But public protests weren’t enough. My father equipped his church with a bank of fax machines, and daily sent faxes to hundreds of machines across the city and state, filled with invective and diatribes against anyone who had offended him. To demonstrate the effectiveness of his methods, this tiny church of 60 people, led by my father, is today known not just throughout the United States, but across the world.

Over the past 17 years, their campaign has expanded to picketing funerals of American soldiers, and victims of high profile disasters from 9-11 to Hurricane Katrina and from the murder of Matthew Shepard to the slaughter of 5 young amish children; and declaring the entire country – indeed, the entire world – doomed for embracing the notion of equality for gays.
The church’s original website,, now links to companion sites, each of which is more outrageous than the last. The latest addition is, which intends to list, for every nation, the reasons why God hates them.

Most people, coming in contact with them for the first time stare in stunned amazement. But for me, it is a natural and almost inevitable progression, from the things I was taught and experienced in the Phelps household as a child, to the circumstances we find today.

Some of my earliest memories of my childhood include children’s song lyrics about god’s might and wrath. Lyrics like, “The lord he thought he’d make a man with a little bit of mud and a little bit of sand”. Or a song about Noah’s ark with these words, “The animals come in two by two, the Rhinoceros and the Kangaroo, said the Ant to the Elephant “Quit your Shovin”, it’s rainin’, I believe.” The message was fed to us from an early age, packaged to catch our interest. But, I also recall a storybook with a stark image of the ark setting sail as frantic, half-clothed women clawed against the side of the ship, lifting their squirming infants in supplication towards the impassive man of god on deck.

And there was the painted sign, with one corner broken off, that sat in the vestibule of our church for years, with a verse from the book of Hebrews declaring, “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment.”

The danger inherent in these messages was not apparent to me until an event that occurred when I was about 8 years old. I recall sitting in a church pew, My father’s voice droning on in the background with yet another sermon about suffering for eternity in a lake of fire, where the worm that eats on you never dies. With an emerging obsessiveness, I’m determined to grasp the concept of eternity. As my mind struggled with this issue I’m suddenly in the midst of a panic attack. Tears come unbidden.

The message was getting through.

My father is a self-styled Primitive Baptist, adhering to the teachings of John Calvin. The acronym TULIP defines the basic tenets of this branch of Protestantism.
“T” stands for “Total Depravity”
“U” stands for “Unconditional Election”
“L” stands for “Limited Atonement”
“I” stands for “Irresistible Grace and
“P” stands for “Perseverance of the Saints”
But the heart of Calvinism is the doctrine of absolute predestination, which posits that in the council halls of eternity past, an omniscient and omnipotent god preordained who would be saved, and who would be damned. Mankind would have no say or choice in this, since they are dead in their trespasses and sin. If you are selected you gain eternal life. If you lose, you suffer the most extreme physical and mental anguish forever. My father has simply refined Calvin’s doctrine to the point where the vast majority of us are going to hell. And he and his followers are among the privileged few chosen by God.


Monday, May 4, 2009

Shin Buddhism, by Jeff Wilson

As a Shin Buddhist, my primary practice is not meditation, Sutra study, ritual, or precepts. All of these can be valuable of course, but in our school of Buddhism our main focus is the practice of gratitude.

About 800 years ago, a Japanese monk named Shinran founded a new Buddhist school with his wife, Eshinni. After twenty years spent at the center of Buddhist studies in Japan, Shinran’s insight was that meditation, precepts, and other rigorous practices have a tendency to subtly reinforce our egos. As we become better at sitting still for long periods of time, we may start thinking “man, I’m a great meditator, too bad all the other poor slobs out there don’t have my capacity.” A glimpse of emptiness leads us to believe we are more enlightened than normal people. And when we manage to adhere to strict precepts, we tend to slip into thinking “I’m a good person, and those people who don’t stick to the precepts are bad, they’re a bunch of weak-minded, self-indulgent losers.” Indeed, Shinran found these sorts of attitudes in himself, and in his fellow monks. I’m guilty of this too. Meanwhile, despite a lifetime of efforts, it seemed as if there were few if any monks that Shinran could look to who were reaching genuine levels of attainment akin to those described in the Sutras.

The solution that Shinran hit upon was to flunk out. If traditional Buddhist practice so often reinforced self-attachment and created divisions between people (even as practitioners believed that they were making spiritual progress), then the way out of the trap was to stop practicing. Or rather, to stop striving egoistically. Instead, Shinran turned away from self-power (since the self is a delusion anyway) to power-beyond-self, using a Buddhist theory with a long history in India, China, and Japan.

For Shinran, Amida Buddha (the name means Infinite) was the embodiment of power-beyond-self. Hundreds of Sutras attributed to Shakyamuni Buddha describe Amida and his Pure Land, as well as his helpers Avalokiteshvara and Mahastamaprapta. Pure Land motifs and practices are part of virtually all Mahayana schools of Buddhism, whether in Japan, China, Tibet, or elsewhere. Amida is described as infinite light and life, symbols for unlimited wisdom and compassion. Tibetan monks visualize Amida Buddha, Zen monks chant his name during funerals, and Foguangshan nuns seek to create the Pure Land here in this life.

Shinran taught that Amida is actually reality in its true, liberated nature, and the Pure Land is a poetic description for nirvana. Putting the insights of Mahayana Buddhism into narrative format, he talked about how Amida embraces all beings no matter how bad or good, and liberates them from their greed and delusion. In fact, this liberation is something that has been accomplished in the primal past (i.e. it is always naturally present), and so we should stop endlessly chasing after attainment. Instead, when we give up attachment to our ego-laden efforts to become enlightened, and relax back into the embrace of inconceivable wisdom and never-abandoning compassion, we are freed from our anxieties and pettiness. Our practice, then, stops being about getting Buddhahood for ourselves, and instead is refocused to be about expressing gratitude for all that we have received, spiritually and materially.


Saturday, May 2, 2009

Engaged Shin Buddhism

Alfred Bloom
Emeritus Professor
University of Hawaii

In the 21st century many social and political issues are coming to a head culminating in
violent conflicts between and within nations. We need not enumerate all the problems here. For
Buddhists, the problem is to find a voice to respond with some degree of unity to those issues.
Unlike many other religious institutions in the West, Buddhism does not have a central authority
to speak for all Buddhists. Perhaps that is not even desirable. Individual organizations such as
Shin Buddhism does have a central organization in Japan and in the areas beyond Japan it is the
largest and well-organized Buddhist community. Nevertheless, it has not been able to speak with
a strong voice, despite the verse in the Juseige (Verses on Weighty Vows), chanted frequently in
temples, that the community would open the Dharma treasury universally within the world and
always being among the masses, speak with a lion’s voice. Other Buddhist groups are
compsed of small local fellowship focused on the practice of their tradition. The Tibetans
achieve a degree of unity through the activities of the Dalai Lama. However, the Buddhist voice
does not have a real focus with American society, particularly.

The reason, in part, for this lack of a social voice, is that during the long history of
Buddhism, over 2600 years, it has endured many forms of despotism and political or
government control. Only now in the West Buddhism has the freedom to speak out but it has not
been prepared to do so. Only one organization exists, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, to carry
the banner of Buddhism into the arena of social change and advocacy. It is a national
organization but in comparison to other religious traditions, small.

It is important for Buddhists to apprise themselves of the foundations in Buddhism itself
which can give direction for their participation in society. In a sense Enlightenment begins here,
in attaining understanding of the world to which we offer Buddhism and to engage the various
cultures in viewing life from the standpoint of Buddhism and its implications. Hopefully this
series of studies will help in that direction and point students to the resources that are available
to inform their understanding.

(161 pages) DOWNLOAD