Finding Worldly Bodhisattvas

By: Shi Shen-Xi

For a while now we have spoken about the growing tendency of thinking Buddhism is in a phase of a reformation of sorts. The challenge for an organization like OEB is to find our way in this maze of change that seems to be challenging the very nature of what Buddhist is as it moved into the West. Not only that, but how are terms like religion or secular to be applied to the various Buddhist practices as we become an international teaching order. My own experience when I speak to other monks around the world, is that how we practice here in America is not often mirrored in other Western cultures.

Considering all of this, there is another element to this broad discussion that touches on how we come to consider what a Bodhisattva is. Or more specifically, how a practice is to transform to one that can be recognized as Bodhisattva-like. So, I want to speak a little about the notion of finding worldly Bodhisattvas.

I have read and studied Buddhism now for three decades, and have had a formalized and structured practice for over 10 years now. My practice is that of a Zen priest engaged in applying what I have been studying for the benefit of others, which in turn brings merit back to my own practice, although that is not my intent. During all this time I have slowly come to realize that Buddhism as it is being practiced in America today is going through an interesting and significant transformation. This is what you would expect from a philosophical and spiritual based tradition(s) migrating from an Asian culture. And much is being written today about the transforming component culture and language plays on such a shift in perspective: East to West. My teacher would speak often of this historical phenomena. Although the energy this discussion is taking has grown in energy  over the years since I last spoke to him about it. This reporting and dialogue is being generated by academics, Buddhist masters, and both the monastic and lay communities. The current journal publications are full of topics that can only be considered reformative. In fact, some of the most influential Western Buddhist teachers today are non-monastic’s, like Stephen Batchelor. It is also true that these teachers have had monastic training and years of personal experience in strict Buddhist training. And many monks in the West are now opting out to live away from a temple environment in order to pursue a dynamic social practice and ministry. This is one of the changes that is transforming Buddhist teaching and study and is generating a lot of discussion on secular vs. religious significance of how Buddhism should be viewed and practiced in the West. Continue reading

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A Pragmatic View Of Religion

David Xi-Ken Shi 曦 肯

When we consider a pragmatic view of the problems of society, we generally do so from an intellectual and philosophical mindset, especially in the beginning. This does not have to be different when we come to consider religious experience and thought. From a pragmatic perspective we can use the thoughts on the subject from the pragmatists John Stuart Mill, William James, and Richard Rorty as a guide as we also bring our Buddhist thought and practice into the equation.

Richard Rorty as a 20th century pragmatist considered describing religious thought in terms of:

1 Placing aside talk about Truth and Reason, our only responsibility, philosophically and morally, is to our fellow human beings, not some “sublime dimension of being” or “ the starry heavens.”

2 This responsibility is “to make our beliefs cohere with one another, and to our fellow humans to make them cohere with one another.”

3 We examine our beliefs by how they are “habits of actions,” not on whether they represent the world.

4 What emerges is a utilitarian ethics of belief, which treats a belief as a habit of action.

5 Place into the context of the philosophy of religion, a utilitarian philosophy of religion must “also treat being religious as a habit of action.” 1

Any useful and positive thoughts on what it means to be a “religious individual” does not need to be different from secular or pragmatic understanding of other aspects of human moral and ethical conduct that is essential in cultivating a civilized society. Any religious practice (or spiritual), Buddhist or other, owes much of its moral obligation and responsibility to all sentient beings, not by strict observance of doctrine, scriptures, or legacy beliefs, but to intentional actions honed by serious practice of core humanist principles as guideposts. For Buddhists, these guides are first to be found in the Four Noble Truths and practiced using the guides of the Eightfold Path of behavior that promotes human flourishing, and the higher reasoning perspective of the Six Refinements. Whether you consider this a religious endeavor or not is really not all that important. What counts are the lessons found in the Three Pure Precepts – Do no harm, do only good, do good for others. Which is Buddhism’s equivalent to the “Golden Rule”.

I rarely speak of religion in anything other then general terms, and only as a word useful for establishing relationships or dialogue between various interfaith groups and Buddhism. However, in a more pragmatic spirit, religion as a subject might have some useful elements when we leave out the theistic overtones that can quickly move the discussion into the metaphysical realm of understanding beyond validating real world human experience. What is useful for me is to put aside any attempt to connect religious practices with various ancient definitions of transcendent realities which may have usefulness in terms of symbolism or metaphorical imaginings for modern man, but is better placed in the contemporary human spiritual dimension that honors the human drive to find awe in the possibilities beyond common knowing.   In other words, we move “religious action” toward a practice of mindfulness that with ritual intent becomes a tool for awakening to a broader view of universal realities with the help of 21st century science. In doing this we move the word religion to becoming a verb. Continue reading

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Larger Awareness: Self-Communication

By: Rev. David Astor 曦 肯

Have you ever had a conscious driving desire to just go into a room by yourself and just be alone with your thoughts? Or just sit and not think of anything, just get away from the hassle of the day? When we have a Buddhist practice, this might include just wanting to sit on our cushion for a while, and letting go of ourselves, at least that part of us that seems disturbed. It is difficult to say just where this wish actually comes from, but if we follow it, then sometimes a larger awareness begins to take shape, we begin to move toward that refuge space in our consciousness we have been developing during our meditation sessions, and our mind’s-eye begins to open to a different feeling, a different awareness of something bigger than just this person we call me.

I guess the question this experience engenders is, “How does such a miraculous thing happen?” Master Dogen referred to this as the aspiration for awakening that arises in the mystical communion between our Buddha natures and sentient beings. He also said that this experience is not given by buddhas or bodhisattvas, it is not created by ourselves, and it doesn’t simply arise spontaneously. I would like to think that the reality of our universal nature is always ready to show itself to us. This is not something “out there”, apart from us, but arises from an awakened unconditioned consciousness. This natural nature of ours is always there for us to experience, even if we are not yet ready. When we begin to practice seriously, it begins to whisper to us in ever increasing volume. It is a kind of self-communication, yet we have lost touch with it as our everyday experiences have come to overwhelm the very nature of who we really are. When we, as perfected beings, put forth some intention, aspiration, or receptivity, we meet our universal natures (our Buddha natures) in some degree. Our Buddha nature is ready to always respond to this “sentient being nature”, and sometimes we can appreciate this meeting which seems to come “out of the blue” when we are also ready. This generally happens when we are in a space alone. Even if that space is full of others.

In the move Star Wars, the young Skywalker is told that Jedi knights are special persons because they have a very high midi-chiorian count. He learns that midi-chiorians are symbiotic life forms that live inside your cells in mutual relationship and constantly speak to you when you quite the mind. His teacher indicated that without midi-chiorians one would not have any knowledge of the “living Force.” I find this may be another way for explaining our Buddha natures in a way. When we quite the mind and learn to sit in that special mental state, our natural natures also “speak” to us, and point to realities beyond our ordinary sense perceptions. The force of the awakened mind is immense, because of the energy it takes to realize it and then use it for doing good. But unlike in Star Wars, the Universe has no dark side, instead that potential dark side resides in our conditioned mind through the negative filters we have self-developed over a life time. These negative filters can cloud everything.

How do we get ready to begin to experience the whisper of our universal natures when it speak to us? The key words are “intentional action.” We practice to develop an intentional mind awareness. Precept training, for example, is about engaging the intent of our behavior for doing good and avoiding harm. There are many practices we can engage to help perfect our readiness. We may use images to trigger our awareness and the relationship we have to Buddhist thought. The altar we set up has such visual lessons we keep in front of us when we practice. Ritual practice like incense offering and lighting candels is a good way to strengthen our inner awareness. Reciting specific words in the form of sutras or the language of the vows we took is another way for intentional development of experiencing the heart of our universal natures. A little bit of intention arises to stop and settle right here and now, giving up the endless turmoil of self-centered thought for the benefit of all. When we put forth the intention, the response is right there expressed in a deeper relaxation and quiet mind. They all act as triggers when our mind is focused and quite from outside thought as we JUST DO the actions of ritual practice. From this stage of readiness, we sit and listen. When I say mindful meditation is just about sitting in silence and listening, we are listening for these whispers that point to a greater reality that have always been there, but perhaps not seen yet. They may not teach us how to use a light saber, but they will open up a world that has no limit to how we see the vast Universe beyond just the skin and bones that makes up us. Continue reading

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The Advent Of A Buddhist Renaissance ?

By: David Xi-Ken Shi  曦 肯

All forms of Buddhism should welcome historical study as relevant and useful I think that acts to broaden one‘s understanding on how to engage ancient conical text in light of how the 21 century has come to recognize the universe in scientific realities. Buddhist teachings have always told us that impermanence is a great, unalterable fact of our experience and that it is crucial for us to become comfortable with that truth. History is simply the study of how things change and develop, which is to say that history studies changing cultural institutions and ideas in order to know where we have been as a human race and hoping to find a validating and clear path to were we are to go. Recent Western historical scholarship of the core Buddhist principles has specifically focused on the major concepts including the notion of impermanence, including the impermanent characteristic of Buddhist practices, philosophical thought, and the human spiritual narrative. This directed study may be a result of some curiosity of a different way of seeing the world around us from how our Western philosophical and theological thought sees it has having key components that are considered a permanent part of the created universe. Buddhism is often studied with some sense of natural human curiosity because it represents something different. Yet, some practitioners claim that historical knowledge is irrelevant to them because they only want to meditate. And that’s fine on a narrow ledge of awareness. But without knowledge of Buddhism’s rich and diverse history, it is difficult for any of us to commit to any particular tradition’s approach to the practice of the Dharma, that also must integrate into our individual worldview. In other words, we must relate.

I would like to give you a brief historical perspective that engendered the development of the practice of Buddhism in our contemporary world from one that I have been contemplating for some time. We often refer to Buddhism’s past as Eastern, and its modern development as Western. Although we have little choice but to consider Buddhism from a Western perspective, I have come to consider this view as incomplete. Instead of thinking in terms of “East” and “West,” we should at least think in terms of three cultures: those of India, China, and Europe. Buddhism is not an institution, or an entity into itself. It is first and foremost a philosophy with psychology overtones, one that when applied to our daily lives, can promote harmony and happiness. You many hear me say that the Buddha was a philosopher, not a theologian. However, as Buddhism began to flourish in some cultures, and merged with pre-Buddhist indigenous beliefs, it developed into a religious practice as well. The Tibetan tradition is a good example of this. We also see in some Asian countries that Buddhism has been taken as the state religion. And even in the West, Buddhism is classified as a religion more often than not. I think that most of us would say that Buddhism is a religion, simply because it is identified as a world religion. To ignore this would be silly, or worst delusional. But this debate as to how to classify Buddhism is not what I wish to focuses on this time. Although this debate is beginning to heat up, if the number of articles and books on the subject is any indication. But I want to bring to you, for your serious consideration, how our contemporary Buddhist practice came to be. At lease, from my own study and worldview. This will be a brief introduction, as the topic has broad academic dimensions, as you can imagine. Continue reading

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Violence & Non-Violence: Situations of Karmic Force In Action

By: Rev. David Xi-Ken Shi

From the very beginning of our Buddhist studies we learn about the Three Pure Precepts – Do no harm, Do only good, Do good for others; and the Ten Precepts, the first being to abstain from taking life, or as we creatively re-describe it ‘I undertake the training of loving-kindness in all possible circumstances, I will abstain from hurting sentient (all) beings’. We recognize that by acting with encompassing and corrective effort that we gradually train our body-mind to act spontaneously for the good. The way we tackle life’s experiences and situations will seem spontaneous to others but we quickly learn that they come from practice and commitment to the path we have chosen to walk. Our Buddhist Precepts can be considered as positive and constructive resolutions that are sincerely and voluntarily undertaken. They awaken in us how the truly wise behave, beyond any sense of self or other; the realization that mutability is the foundation upon which we are built.

Malevolent behavior springs from an ego-mind deluded about our nature as human beings, and it takes the characteristics of hatred, aggression, and craving for unnatural control over others. It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it unjustly and without consent. These behaviors feed upon themselves and become strongly rooted in the way we see the world around us and our dominating dispositions, not only in individuals but in whole cultures. Physical aggression, as expressed in war like action, is no more than their most spectacular and bloody expression. In Buddhism the cultivation of situational ethics reflected in expressions of compassion by our attempting to follow the Precepts is an aspiration toward breaking this karmic cycle. It is a primary step towards resolving the egocentricity of dominating willfulness, and cultivating sincere awareness of others. The Precepts invite us to remove those filters through which we view the world in negative terms and to aspire to promoting harmony and reconciliation where it is needed. Whether, and to what extent, we keep the Precepts is the responsibility of each individual. But we must remain fully aware of the intent of our actions while we engage the hard issues of our day. Continue reading

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The Buddhist Precepts Drives Stability In Practice

By: David Xi-Ken Shi

We can look at the precepts in simple terms, their meaning can be considered broadly as encompassing the skills in positive communication that promotes social harmony, ethical and moral behavior that promotes human flourishing, respect for social justice that promotes how we awaken to our responsibility to cultural expectations that helps us to understand our “connectiveness” to all things, the importance for displaying civilized manners, and the critical characteristic that values stability in body-mind engagement in the world round us.

The whole meaning of these precepts are summed up in the Three Pure Precepts which, along with the 10 grave precepts, are undertaken to live a life of honor, duty and dedication that has the potential for us to awaken to the significant of our universal expressions. Living a life guided by these expectations will deliver us from the uncertainties and cares that are relevant to a life of suffering that are expressed in the Four Noble Truths. They demand no less than complete self-transformation. They embrace the whole life of those that have vowed to have them reflected in their actions, and are undertaken with a singular completeness.

One of the most significant of these vows is the vow of stability. This is the underlying meaning of the precept that honors the Three Jewels. Stability is the underpinnings of all that we undertake in a Buddhist practice. Stability is the richest ingredient in intentional thoughts and actions. Without a stable practice it is impossible to create a worldview by which we live and thrive. It is important too because of the limitations inherent in how and what we learn as we engage Buddhist thought, how we interact within our communities, and the vary nature of how a 21st century demands unnecessary emphasis on perfection. To bring stability into our practice implies a deep act of trust and the recognition that it does not much matter where we are or whom we live with, provided we can devote ourselves to a contemplative life, enjoying a certain amount of silence, solitude, work that involves more then mental activity alone, respect for life-long-learning, and above all learning how to express compassion that is not just about emotional reaction to what is sad or unjust. A Buddhist practice that is void of social engagement does not challenge us to live a life under the guidance of the precepts. An exception to this many be a decision to live a life of a hermit perhaps.

Stability becomes difficult for a man whose “practice ideal” contains predominant notions of the extraordinary. You see, all of us as human expressions are just ordinary beings. Our ordinariness is one of our greatest blessings. The exterior monotony of regular everyday life activities often prevents us from exploring the richness of our interior contemplative potential. So we are challenged to build both an exterior personality and internal enrichment under the influence of our understanding of the precepts we vow to uphold, in order to achieve our awakened to how we are when we strip away extraordinary and unnecessary dispositions.

But for me, the vow of stability has been the belly of the whale, like a Jonas. I have always felt a great attraction to the life of solitude, which is in direct challenge with the importance of a social-self as an agent for change . It is an attraction I shall probably never entirely lose as I live a Buddhist practice as defined by my monastic vows. You might find too that your previous notions of what the spiritual means can not be completely irrelevant in how you approach your Buddhist practice driven by perceptual vows as you bring them into your developing new worldview. All this could move us toward our reality like being in the belly of a paradox. Our Buddhist practice, if it is to be a serious, stable and devoted one, will constantly reveal to us that it is also a life full of paradox. Our challenge in understanding and refining the language of the precepts we vow to undertake, must give recognition to that vary fact. You may not understand what I am talking about now, but as you gain experience as to what living by vows means, you will. Another awakened reality.

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Tools For Engagement: Head + Heart + Hands = Bodhisattva Ideal

By: David Xi-Ken Shi 曦 肯

In order for us to have an engaged practice we must recognize the importance of community. That seems to be an obvious given. An interesting thought-experiment could be to imagine going into the woods for an extended stay, or in a 90 day retreat without contact with others for that time period, then emerging back into our bustling world once again and see if what you value has changed. To discover the importance of community we often must step away from it far enough to really see it’s full dimension. And only then can we develop a sense of the relation our practice must have to it to know how our interests and talents are best employed to promote human flourishing. We must work to find what we truly value, discover or re-discover what motivated us to come to Buddhism in the first place that resulted in the current state of our practice, than re-focus our motivations toward finding ways to reflect social justice in meaningful ways to make a difference. Even if it is one person at a time. But remember that we must spend time in the beginning for ourselves, no matter how long it takes, for us to really be effective in community.

I do not devalue the importance of living a traditional monastic life, because it is also in community. For me I choose to engage a wider and more diversified community, hence I live a monastic disciplined life outside the confines of a temple, yet under a monastic rule. But no matter your life experience and accommodations, it is almost impossible to avoid interaction with the community around you. The challenge is to look at it in a new light. Your practice will teach you to see opportunities for social engagement that you may not have seen prior to developing a Buddhist worldview. Continue reading

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A Father’s Birth: Part 2

This is the second article in this series by our Sub-Prior Shi Yao Xin.  It was first published on the “Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun”  website.  The link is http://zatma.org/new-wp/?p=374. We are pleased to acknowledge their permission to use it on ours. Yao-Xin shares with us his memories, guts, and imagination as he learns what it means to balance the responsibilities of becoming a father with those of a Zen Priest.

Part 2: Vespers in the night

Still in Crete, we went down to the village and walked across the square and faced the entrance of a small church. The sound of hymns and the scent of incense floated from its open doors, inviting us to enter. We could see that there were flickering candle lights inside the church; but outside, standing in the moonlight, we both felt that strange sensation of kensho, of being between two worlds.

We entered the church and something unimportant caught my attention and I precisely lost… my attention. I drifted past the icons at the entrance, nodding an homage, and then I became aware again of the church. It was very old, but well preserved with beautiful ornaments and murals painted on the walls. My wife was getting a little tired, so we sat in a rear pew.

Suddenly a change in the liturgy occurred. A group of men, local farmers, formed a circle around a high rotating table on which was placed an open book of hymns. Each man took his turn to step forward and sing a part of the hymn in his own style, reading the text or reciting it from memory. We could see that the men’s role in the ceremony was central – their expressions were not the fake piety we often see in paintings – but were rather like the expression of a messenger who has to convey important information. Every few moments in each man’s recitation, he’d glance up at one of the icons as if the message was meant specifically for the spiritual entity that had inspired the artwork. It was as if something inside the man was singing to something inside the statue. I knew that feeling. Often when chanting “Amitabha” – sometimes letting it sound like “Ah-mi-tow-fo” – I’d stare at a statue of the Buddha Amitabha and my voice did not seem to be my voice, but just a sound made by someone inside me that was meant for the marble or the brass to hear.

Behind the main altar, a curtain separated and a man clad in a long ceremonial robe and golden kesa appeared. The words of the hymn seemed to change, as if they were cues to make a certain mudra, chant a certain line, or strike a certain bell. The man, who I assumed was the head priest or, as one villager called him, “the pope,” became an integral part of the whole. The singing circle of men and the man in ceremonial robes could no longer exist without each other. And then the liturgy ended. A blessing was given and the people began to disperse.

It was late and I knew my wife was tired. We had done a lot of walking in the mountains and it had felt good to sit down in the church, especially in that strangely holy atmosphere. We were glad we waited to the end of the ceremony.

As we stood up to leave, one of the men who had been in the circle, spoke to us in English. He welcomed us and explained a few things before he could introduce us to “the pope” who had just removed his golden chuddar or kesa from around his neck. He reverently kissed it and folded it just as any Zen priest would have done with his rakusu or kesa. I watched him and it occurred to me that he was now completely alone… or at least alone with his God. And then I remembered something my grandmother used to say: “Religion is what you do when you are alone.”

The priest approached us with a silent calm, and then he noticed my wife’s swollen belly and he smiled broadly and picked up the wooden cross from his rosary and held it against her belly, whispering a prayer. Then we began to talk. He spoke a bit of English and some words of French that one of the men who had chanted could assist in translating if we needed it.

He asked if we were Orthodox and I told him that I was a Zen Buddhist but that I respected the Orthodox way and knew it quite well because I had practiced in small retreats that had been founded by Hesychast Orthodox monks from a French community associated with an Athonite monastery. Athos, or Mount Athos, is a sacred mountain in Greece; and our conversation quickly began to talk about spiritual practices, the role of Silence, the wonders of repeating certain prayers. To the Orthodox Catholics it was particularly The Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I told him that in Buddhism, although it could be expressed in slightly different ways, it was “Namu Amida Butsu” or “Namo Amitabhaya Buddhaya.” We both agreed that there was a inexplicable power that came from repeating these mantras. We also agreed on the meditative peace of Perfect Silence, the silence that comes when body, mind, and breath are in harmony. I quoted Lin Ji, that this state “Gives the mind what it needs to attain Oneness.”

Finally we talked about a modern saint I had come to respect from reading his works. The priest had met this saint several times at Mount Athos. We were speaking of Saint Father Paisos and the priest or “pope” and I became quite animated talking about him. We forgot all about the pregnant woman standing next to us. And then, perhaps because the candles behind her had burned down to a critical level, her shadow was cast on the wall. He and I noticed it at the same time. And he murmured that Mary must have looked the same as the shadow on the wall.

I thanked him and took my wife’s arm and we started to leave the church when he suddenly called out to us, “What have you named your son?” Startled, I said in a voice that was more question than answer, “Eliott?” It was the name my wife and I had recently decided upon.

“Ah yes,” he said. “Did you know that the village’s monastery is called, “Mouni Profiti Ilyas” (Monastery of the Prophet Elyha). Elyha is the root name of Eliott. He added, “You should both visit the monastery and the monk who is in charge of it.” He blessed us and we thanked him and then got in our car and drove to our little inn in the hills.

During the drive, I began to wonder about odd coincidences. What in the world had made us decide to name our baby Eliott? My wife and I both live in Belgium and our main language is French. Eliott isn’t a common name at all here where we live. It was, at best, I had thought, a name we heard on a TV sitcom or in some movie. There were hundreds of names we could have chosen. I knew the name of Saint Father Paisos, but I had not associated it at all with any monastery. As to Athos, that name is well-known as one of the Three Musketeers. We both would have steered clear of giving our boy any name associated with an adventure story. It would have been like calling a child, “Clark-Kent” or “Samson.” So I cannot answer what has become a koan to me. Why did we choose the name Eliott?

yao xin

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Zen Priest: A Father’s Birth

We are pleased to post this series of articles written by our Sub-Prior, Shi Yao-Xin, on his experience of becoming a parent from a Zen’s priest perspective. Not all Zen monks are celibate either in the East or the West. This series is originally being published on the “Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun” website. The link is http://zatma.org/new-wp/?p=374. We are pleased to acknowledge their permission to use it on ours. Yao-Xin shares with us his memories, guts, and imagination as he learns what it means to balance the responsibilities of becoming a father with those of a Zen Priest.

A Father’s Birth

Part One : Grand-daddy owns a “Taverna” By: Shi Yao-Xin

The title may seem pedantic, and the subtitle a bit over-reaching; but my series will give you, I hope, a Zen look at giving birth and facing death in a very short life. Maybe these are just my views on “being and non-being” as seen through the astonishing image of giving birth from the “nothing important” act of just having sex.

It won’t be anything earth-shaking. I’ll try to present a series of small articles on moments shared with my wife and first boy.

This introduction will be a small episode in itself. It was inspired by an event I had in the Greek island of Crete in July 2014 when my wife was seven and a half months pregnant.

She puts more wood on the fire, and he serves me another glass of his home-made wine. “Kallo Krassi” (“the wine is good,” one the few things I know in Greek), I answered. Our hosts were the humble owners of a beautiful “Taverna,” a typical kind of cafe in the Cretan village of Rustika.

My wife and I chose the place for two reasons, first, it was recommended, second, it was the only one we could find. We were told the villages in the area were not that beautiful, but that the mountains were charming and very accessible. It looked fine to us. We didn’t want to spend our holiday in this part of the Mediterranean lying on beaches or sitting in night clubs.

No, we wanted to go high in the hills and visit monasteries and holy places. The atmosphere of Orthodox Easter coming a few days later was in the air, and in this very religious, spiritual region, we were absorbed into the atmosphere. Although it was late in her pregnancy, my wife was full of energy and looked forward to driving through the mountains to stop at holy places in our tiny rented car that seemed easily able to drive us anywhere. But this was, after all, our first baby, and despite the energy and the enthusiasm we felt visiting mountainous holy places, we both felt an increasing anxiety about the coming birth. Especially me. It’s scary when you know how many things can go wrong.

When we first entered the Taverna, a bearded old man was setting a fire in a big fireplace and his wife was cleaning tables. As the sun was setting, the place had a reddish and gold glow that made it feel cozy and friendly… and it was quite empty. We sat down and quickly understood that there was no menu and that couple’s English language skills were limited. But their words were said with simple and open smiling faces and we had no problems communicating. Continue reading

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Right Listening: Companion To Right Speech

By: David Xi-Ken Shi 曦 肯

I want to speak to you today about one of the most important dimensions to the Eightfold Path’s element of Encompassing & Corrective Speech. I am thinking about the learned skill of listening. I say learned skill, because it is truly a skill that requires special development. It seems, we are not born with this particular tool for communication. Listening requires taming the ego-driven addiction to being center stage, and always trying to overcome another’s “air time”. To speak is to articulate words that convey meaning, and to listen is to be aware of the words being spoken. Human speech is a process then that requires both speaking and listening simultaneously in order to express ideas, emotions, instructions, desires, and other quite human expectations to others. It is of great importance in human relations. So, when Siddhartha Gotama spoke about Right Speech, he was including both sides of the communication equation; listening as well as skillful means of intentional speech.

When we think of all the ways we can cause trouble between individuals, it can be due to refusing to talk with someone, not making ourselves clear when we speak to them, or not listening to them undistracted so we can respond back in an intelligent fashion. If we speak to others and listen when they talk, we develop the possibility of mutual connection, understanding and acceptance. Speech and listening are like all other phenomena in the Universe, they are subject to the rules of causality. In the ordinary way of experiencing things, when something good appears, we have a positive reaction, and when something bad appears, we have a negative reaction. When we listen to others we experience a body-mind moment, that over time, will effect our actions, either knowingly or unknowingly. Thus, the Buddha’s concept of Right Speech pertains mainly to the ethical dimensions of speech, to the importance of the subject matter of what we have to say. But the Buddha was also concerned with how we speak, with those qualities that can make our words a positive and productive means of human communication. The Buddha always talked in a way that was ‘serious and beneficial for opening the mind’ as we hear expressed so often throughout the Pali Nikayas. He instructed his monks to speak without rambling and in a gentle tone, and to use language that is polished, clear, free-flowing, meaningful, comprehensive and unbiased. As we speak it is important to connect with whom we are speaking in order to gauge their reaction that gives us clues to how we are being understood. In other words, how are they listening. Speaking in such a manner makes ordinary social interactions more pleasant and harmonious, and teaching the dharma in such a way makes it more attractive and convincing too, I might add. Continue reading

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