Namo Sanghaya

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A month or so ago I found a website that contains talks on Buddhism by my first Buddhist teacher, Bhante Punnaji. We first met in 1992 when I took a class in Buddhism at The Catholic University of America. CUA requires all students to take courses in religion. I still find it ironic I entered CUA spiritually adrift, and left as a Buddhist. Probably not exactly what they had in mind. I digress. Back to the topic at hand.

Soon after we met Bhante Punnaji returned to Sri Lanka for his forest retreat; a time when Theravada monks live alone in deep contemplation. Although not in keeping with Dhamma, I found myself missing his thoughtful and gentle presence. Fortunately, the Sangha (monks) at the Washington DC Buddhist Vihara kept me on track, and gave me a place to seek refuge in the Sangha.

So, it was most gratifying to me to find evidence of Bhante Punnaji on the Internet, and I e-mailed him to express my best wishes and thanks. And soon after I tried to defuse the Hollywood Buddha debacle, Bhante Punnaji returned my e-mail. I love when kamma works quickly enough for my little brain to see it happening.

One of my first tasks when I moved to Portland was to try to find a Sri Lankan vihara with which to affiliate myself. While there are a host of Buddhist resources in Portland, I found no Theravada vihara. Well, Bhante Punnaji told me that recently three bhantes moved to Portland to start a vihara, and if I was interested, I could contact another student of his. I dialed the phone before Thunderbird could mark the message as read!

Today the gentleman to whom Bhante Punnaji referred, his partner and I went to see the monks. (Off topic, these two people are charming folks. My honor and privilege to meet them.) To see Sri Lankan bhantes, to perform puja (bringing and serving them food) and to pray and chant was bliss. Total, unabashed bliss. It was like a homecoming for mind, body and spirit. It is hard to describe the feeling to someone that is not spiritual (I hesitate to use the word “religious” with my practice). If you have never had a spiritual experience, I highly suggest that you consider that there is more to existence than what the five sense process, and start looking around with your heart. You may be missing a lot. Today I feel purged, renewed and strengthened. A feeling I wish I could share with everyone.

The bhantes have purchased a house in Hillsboro. Given their budget, it is far from palatial. We went to look at it along with some other lay Sri Lankans, and we all agreed to meet there on Saturday for a thorough cleaning of our new vihara. It’s tough to tell which will receive the better cleansing; the house or its cleaners.

Namo Sanghaya translates from Pali as “honor to the Sangha.” For those of you that know me well, it is a testament to the day’s experiences that English fails me.

Thank you, Bhante Punnaji. For everything.

Commercial Buddha (or “Here We Go Again”)

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A few weeks ago I posted a story about how American business seems to be unaware of religious sensibilities outside of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I wish I could report that things are getting better.

While doing my daily perusal of Buddhist News yesterday I was shocked to see a story regarding a poster for the upcoming film Hollywood Buddha. And, according to Buddhist News, I was not alone in my dismay.

Well, those who know me well know that I am not one to sit on my hands. I picked up the phone and called the production company. By last night I had e-mailed Buddhist News. I’ll let my e-mails do the talking.

From: mneptok
Date: September 08, 2004 13:36:24 PDT
To: no_spam@ukmba.org.my
Cc: no_spam@buddhistnews.tv, no_spam@ybg.com
Subject: “Hollywood Buddha” poster

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to you to inform you of a telephone conversation I had today with M. Philippe Caland, the producer of the film “Hollywood Buddha.” The poster for this film, which depicts M. Caland seated atop the head of Sakaymuni Buddha has been the source of controversy. The BuddhistNews.tv site is currently carrying several headlines about this issue.

I called the film’s production company and actually spoke with M. Caland himself. He assured me that he was shocked by the poster, as well. He did not design the poster, it was produced by a company that is respected as a creator of movie posters. When he saw the poster, he was as disturbed by it as we Buddhists are.

M. Caland assured me that he is working to remove the poster from all theaters, websites, press materials and any other public place. He will no longer be working with the company that produced that poster. And M. Caland also seems to have an understanding of Buddha-Dhamma, and how important it is in our increasingly violent world.

I would consider it a personal favor to myself if you would post a story to Buddhist News stating that the film’s producer and director was equally shocked and angered by the depiction of Sakyamuni Buddha in such an undignified position, and that he is working to make sure that this image is removed from public view. Also, he was not personally responsible nor aware of the poster’s content until it had been distributed.

I think this was an unfortunate mistake on the part of M. Caland, and a mistake that he has allowed to instruct him. Lord Buddha understood that we are not perfect beings, and the struggle for perfection through following of the Eightfold Path often leads to us making mistakes. The important thing is that we learn from our mistakes, and only make them once. Becoming awake is not an easy process, and M. Caland seems to have awakened to the error this poster company made. This being the case, I would hate for Buddhists to cultivate anger toward any living thing, and especially M. Caland. Let us all believe that this was a simple error, and cultivate compassion instead of anger.

Thank you for your attention. May all beings find peace and be free from suffering in the refuge of the Three Jewels.

Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammasambuddhassa.

I then received a very polite and thoughtful response from the Buddhist News Editor-In-Chief thanking me for having the poster removed. I though this was an overestimation of my role in this affair, and that, indeed, M. Caland had already decided the poster was in poor taste. So I wrote again.

I hope you are not under the impression that I myself convinced Philippe Caland to remove the poster. When I spoke to him on the phone, he was already in the process of having this poster removed and changed. It was not on my advice or insistence that he decided to do this.

I appreciate that you feel that my actions have generated positive kamma for me, and perhaps they have. But I do not act in order to generate good kamma. I act in accordance with the precepts of Sakyamuni Buddha, and trust that kamma follows like the cart follows the foot of the ox. But I am grateful that you see my actions as meritorious.

It was most disturbing to me to see my fellow Buddhists so angry, especially members of the Sangha. To see the picture on the front page of

http://www.thaitemple.org

with a large, red “X” over the head of Lord Buddha and another human being, and with the word “IGNORANCE” written is deeply disturbing to me. I do not feel it is auspicious for bhantes to cultivate or promote anger or hatred. But, I would never think to counsel venerable bhantes, it is not my place. But if I can, through some small action, help to remove the cause of this anger, I am happy, and compelled by Dhamma, to do so.

I sincerely hope that together as sangha and lay-people we can set aside our anger, and show M. Caland that we practice Buddha-Dhamma by showing him compassion and understanding.

Again, my heartfelt thanks for your kind wishes. May you and all living beings be free from suffering and warmed by the bright lamp of Buddha-dhamma.

After speaking with M. Caland again today, he has convinced me completely that he is a decent, sensitive man who has been the unfortunate victim of a less-sensitive poster company. He graciously offered an invitation to the Hollywood premier of the film, an invitation I had to decline due to my current economic circumstances. M. Caland then offered to send a DVD of his film. Truly, a generous and thoughtful man. Philippe Caland has my gratitude and my apologies for being the recipient of any actions or words from Buddhists who are not being mindful of their deeds.

Thanks also go to Buddhist News, who have published a new story relating my experiences and communications. It is clear that Buddhist News does not want to prolong controversy simply to increase readership. They could have milked this story for days, allowing tempers to spiral while they received more website hits. But they are interested in the truth of matters, and it speaks well of their journalistic integrity.

Please, no comments thanking me for what I have done. It was the correct thing to do, and I did it not for kamma or merit or thanks. I did it because it was the correct thing to do. I hope I can do the same all the time; and that we all can.

Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammasambuddhassa.

Bagarmo By Degrees

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DrukNet IRC chum bagarmo (that’s her IRC nick, not real name) has completed her university studies, has turned in her thesis and is about to receive her Master’s degree. She’s headed back to Bhutan to begin teaching at Sherubtse College, most probably languages. A great choice, as her English is impeccable. Congratulations, and safe journey back to Druk Yul!

Grand Ayatollah Sistani

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Have you been following events in Iraq, particularly Najaf? I have, and have been moved deeply by the words and deeds of Grand Ayatollah Sistani. His return to the country turned off the Najaf meat grinder, not simply by his presence, but by his direct action. He saved untold suffering, ensured hundreds of Shi’a civilians and American soldiers would live to be old men and women and gave the world a real example of how Islam is a religion of peace, knowledge and understanding. And, being trigger-happy myself, I sent him an e-mail.

I think it’s important to recognize people that are working to improve the world through peaceful means, as well as support them in their efforts. So I sent the Grand Ayatollah an e-mail thanking him and the Marjaiya for publicly disavowing themselves of violence. Not just on my behalf, but on behalf of a grateful world.

Not more than 48 hours later I received a hand-written reply that had been scanned and e-mailed. I was stunned. First, this man is too busy to concern himself with the likes of me. Second, although he knows I am a Buddhist, he was reverent and wished me well. No proselytizing. No admonition to examine my faith. Just his thanks and wishes that all beings find the right path.

As I say, I am not a Muslim. My knowledge of Holy Qu’ran is not deep. But I do get the sense that Holy Qu’ran encourages peace and discourages suffering. And that prophet Muhammed through Allah understood that the real enemy of spiritual people (be they Jew, Christian, Muslim or Buddhist) is ignorance. As long as we live in fear or distrust of our brothers and sisters, no matter their creed, our spirits can never walk freely.

The Grand Ayatollah, I think, understands this. And his note to me, while perhaps not making me less ignorant, has drawn my heart closer to my Shi’a brothers and sisters. I say here, and publicly, that Grand Ayatollah Sistani is a holy man. As a Buddhist, I believe he is walking the Eightfold Path described by Sakyamuni Buddha. To Muslims I say this man is truly a follower of prophet Muhammed and Holy Qu’ran.

Included in my e-mail to the Grand Ayatollah was a favorite quote of mine by An Wang:

We must not contradict, but instruct him that contradicts us; for a madman is not cured by another running mad also.

If any of my Muslim brothers or sisters sees an error in my statements, please instruct me. And I encourage all Muslims to listen to the words of the Grand Ayatollah, and ask themselves if the path of violence so many of their brothers and sisters in Islam have chosen is more “instruction” or “contradiction.” And ask themselves if the Jews of Israel and the Christians of America are the real enemy, or is perhaps the greatest enemy today the ignorance of spirituality; ignorance most recently displayed by the Chinese in their treatment of the Tibetan people and practitioners of Falun Gong?

Don’t listen to the anger and frustration. It is temptation. Americans love peace. Israelis love peace. Sometimes our leaders have trouble remembering they are the cart and not the ox. But things change. You can be assured that Americans will not tolerate an Iraq where Muslims are not allowed to worship as they please. Someday the bullets will stop, the Americans will leave and the imams will call the faithful to prayer. This did not happen in Tibet. So, look at the world, and let us, as brothers and sisters in spirit, try to instruct those that contradict the idea that there is more to life than mere physical reality.

Again, my deepest gratitude and heartfelt best wishes to Grand Ayatollah Sistani. My he find shelter in Allah, Islam and Holy Qu’ran from the flame of ignorance now burning so brightly in Iraq. May he be kept safe from harm; and may all my brothers and sisters that seek peace through peaceful means.

May all beings be free from suffering. And in these times, especially in Iraq. Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammasambuddhassa.