Saturday, 5 May, 2012, 07:29 AM - VishvapaniRating 2 out of 5 (A little platitudinous)
There's a big Buddhist festival coming up. Happy Buddha Day everyone!
On Buddha day we celebrate our release from captivity and making our way to the promised land. No, no-no-no-no-no-no-no that's some other religion. On Buddha Day we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savio... No, no-no-no-no-no-no-no that's some other religion too. On Buddha Day we recall the teachings of the 6th Guru who... No, no-no-no-no-no-no-no that's yet another religion.
What is it we celebrate on Buddha Day again? It'll come to me, just give me a moment.
Got it! On Buddha Day we celebrate the Buddha achieving enlightenment. Many artists' impressions of the Buddha show him at the moment where enlightenment is first achieved. There are lots of descriptions of enlightenment, but they're all different, so giving you any of them won't be very enlightening. Whatever it is, it's what all we Buddhists strive for. When the Buddha first got it, he was seen to smile as he looked within himself and said, "Aha! That's enlightenment!" That's what we see on all the artists impressions of the Buddha.
Somehow I need to connect this with a news story. We're celebrating Buddha Day. There are depictions of the Buddha made by artists. Edvard Munch was an artist. He created The Scream. It's the exact opposite of someone who has just found enlightenment. That's very enlightening. Someone with $120m to spare has just bought one of the painted versions. That's pretty enlightening too.
Learning to appreciate depictions of the Buddha has led me to appreciate art in general. It's all very enlightening really.
The University of Central Lancashire, not to be confused with the University of Outer Lancashire, has opened an Institute for Dark Tourism Research. They want to answer the question, why do people visit places of great tragedy, like the concentration camps?
I visited the concentration camps as part of an inter-faith tour. We went to Dachau, Auschwitz and Birkenau where we saw the bleak reminders of the evil done there. One of the victims was my grandfather.
I did some meditation and said some Jewish prayers.
Is this all just morbid curiosity, or is there some purpose to it all? In my case, it is a matter of trying to face death, of viewing the world as it is, not just in its beautiful aspects, but also its darker side.
Isn't David Cameron's meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi just fantastic?
It's tempting to see this as the triumph of peace-loving, gentle Buddhism, over a ruthless military tyranny. What is often forgotten however, is that the ruthless military tyrants are Buddhists too. They're bad Buddhists though. They may have built temples and endowed monasteries and went on pilgrimages and prayed a lot in public, but apart from that they're not really proper Buddhists.
Proper Buddhism, real Buddhism, my Buddhism, is the sort of rosy tinted, mantra chanting, incense burning, sandal wearing, tree hugging, gentle, peaceful kind that I talk about. So this isn't really the triumph of Buddhism over tyranny, it's the triumph of good Buddhism over bad Buddhism. Good Buddhism has recently discovered that democracy is really a part of good Buddhism and has been all along. We need to see that good Buddhism triumphs and bad Buddhism is never allowed to be bad again.
Provided we can keep the good bits of good Buddhism, like democracy, and discard the bad bits of bad Buddhism, like tyranny, Buddhism will remain relevant and have much to teach us all.
Tuesday, 24 January, 2012, 09:06 AM - VishvapaniRating 1 out of 5 (Not platitudinous)
As the son of a Jewish refugee, I am well aware that nationalism can be a very bad thing indeed. Then again, living in Wales, I am also aware that nationalism can be a very good thing indeed. That's why we have to be wary of the Centre for Cities report that suggests that the unemployed might like to move to where there are jobs.
Wales is rightly proud of its former mining industry, its former steel industry and its former industry in general. It is unthinkable that people might move away to lands with fewer and fewer male voice choirs and that are often bereft of close harmony singing.
People here are part of a community. They knew their fathers and their fathers' fathers and their fathers' fathers' fathers.
This is nationalism in a totally non-tribal, inclusive and tolerant way. It isn't a label that is used to define a complete identity. Subscribing too narrowly to any label restricts rather than defines a person's identity.
There, and I didn't mention meditation once - oh bother.
Let me see if I can find a news story about happiness. Oh yes, here's one. There, that's that out of the way.
Happiness? Did someone mention happiness? I was totally unprepared to talk about that but, hey, I'll give it a go.
Buddhism has a lot to say about happiness. You see, it's trying to be happy that makes you unhappy. We all prefer to be happy rather than unhappy and in trying to be happy we make ourselves unhappy.
I think I'll change the word to "pleasure" and try that again. We all like pleasant things and in trying to acquire pleasant things we make things unpleasant.
We don't like frustration and misery. Frustration and misery make us frustrated and miserable which is a frustrating and miserable way to be.
We don't have to be frustrated and miserable and depressed. By not seeking any of the things that make us frustrated and miserable and depressed, we won't be frustrated and miserable and depressed.
It is human nature to seek happiness and avoid unhappiness. Happiness makes us happy and unhappiness makes us unhappy.
We, and by we I do of course mean you, must change our behaviour. "Things" do not make us happy. Happiness makes us happy. So seeking happiness through "things" will not make you happy, since only happiness can make you happy.
If you expect life to make you happy then you're going to be disappointed. Only by realising that life makes you unhappy will you truly by happy.
Has anyone mentioned the Olympics or the Golden Jubilee yet? No? Well I'm not going to either.
Did anyone see Great Expectations on the telly over Christmas? It was really good!
Dickens was a really good writer and this year sees the bicentenary of something or other connected with him. As well as being really, really popular, Dickens' works are also very strong on morality. No honestly, they are. If you want to be moral, you could do a lot worse than read Dickens. And the great thing is, even if you don't have an Invisible Magic Friend, you can read Dickens to learn how to be moral.
The central character of Great Expectations is Pip, who wants to be a gentleman, but he learns that personal virtue is more important and then the book ends. I just want to throw in the word "didactic" at this point. That should get even a few Radio 4 listeners searching for their dictionaries.
Another character is Miss Haversham. She's an elderly spinster in a wedding dress, who we associate with decay an putrefaction. Putrefaction's not a very nice word to associate with anyone, even Miss Haversham, but I'll use it anyway.
This is all very moral. It's also Art.
It's also Karma, which is the belief that things affect other things, but you can read Dickens and learn to be moral even if you're not a Buddhist. In fact, you don't have to have any religion at all to read Dickens and learn to be moral. Even secular people can read Dickens and learn to be moral.
Human egg donors are to get more money. Hurrah! The more egg donors we can get the better. At the moment, donating eggs to create a new life is done mainly for altruistic reasons. Financial considerations don't really come into it. We don't want women selling their eggs on eBay do we?
The creation of a new life via IVF is something to be celebrated. If generosity and selflessness are part of this then so much the better. This is fully in line with the philosophy of Honey Nut Cornflakes Buddhism. Honey Nut Cornflakes Buddhism says that you should be sweet, crunchy and ever so yummy. You should be loving and generous and give all your possessions to the poor. This will make you very happy. The poor however will be very unhappy as they will now have all your possessions and won't be happy and destitute any more.
That's all great and fine and stuff, but given the happiness that a baby can bring let's encourage even more egg donations. So what's the big deal if someone makes money out of it? Sell them on eBay after all!
Tomorrow on Thought For the Day, Catherine Pepinster and Clifford Longley on why IVF is evil, sinful and a barbaric product of the Culture of Death so typical of the godless West. If only the Catholic Church were in charge to prevent this vile holocaust of murdered embryonic babies.
Aren't things just terrible at the moment? All this unemployment and the rising cost of living. Everything's just terrible.
But just cast your mind back to the good times. They were terrible too. It was just work, work, work all the time. Busy ordained Buddhists like me were just rushed off our feet. Everyone was so terribly materialistic. We, and by "we" I do of course mean "you", were constantly comparing ourselves with everyone else on the greasy pole, forever trying to outdo others. What you need (and I'll bet you never expected to hear this from a Buddhist) is a bit of meditation.
Me and the NHS have been busy trying to get people to slow down for years. I spend all my time rushing from one hospital to the next, desperately trying to get people to meditate or be mindful. It just never stops. When I'm not at a hospital I'll be at some doctor's surgery, or at a health centre. In between all that, there's Thought for the Day to squeeze in as well. I can't tell you what a relief it is that my Blackberry's gone down and I'm finally getting a bit of free time.
My advice to you is to meditate a bit, then quickly dash off for a walk in the park, look at the sky, watch the pretty birds, then quickly get back for some more meditation. Don't forget to get in at least half and hour of mindfulness before your next meditation session.
I'd love to help you out a bit more but you wouldn't believe the number of therapy sessions I've got lined up for today. The "slow down" business is really booming, even in these gloomy economic times.
And if you're unemployed? Well, just sort of enjoy the free time I suppose. Think of it as an opportunity to not be materialistic.
Tariq Jahan stands out those week as a voice of reason among all the shouting. The father whose son was murdered while trying to protect his neighbourhood, appealed for calm, saying that he had no hatred in his heart.
He stands beside others who have also suffered great loss with equally great dignity, asking that communities do not tear themselves apart in revenge attacks.
This kind of admirable behaviour does not come easily or accidentally. It takes training as part of a philosophy, like... for example... oh... I don't know... to pick a philosophy at random... Buddhism. Buddhism is a very good way of learning how not to be angry. Tariq Jahan isn't actually a Buddhist, but had he been a Buddhist he would have learned to behave exactly the way he did.
Buddhism teaches you to not unleash the perfectly natural psychotic rage that we all feel all the time. Through Buddhism, we learn to calmly and methodically examine our motives. If Mr Jaham had only been a Buddhist, he would have learned that anger leads to the Dark Side. He would have learned many fine words such as empathy, justice, forbearance, forgiveness and many other words from that entry in the thesaurus.
The Buddha, whose teachings Mr Jaham accidentally follows, taught that hatred comes from people. He wisely observed that trees have never been known to hate anyone. If we're going to stop the cycle of hatred, we have to stop hating people.
Now you're gonna get yours Ratko Mladic, you BAS***D! You EVIL F***ING BAS***D!!
You might think we Buddhists sit around all day meditating, wearing sandals and burning joss sticks. You might think Buddhism is the cuddly teddy bear of religions. Well, let me just tell you, my granddad died in a concentration camp because of EVIL F***ING BAS***DS like you, you BAS***D!!! Now you're getting you're karma. That's right, The Force is gonna get you.
You have caused a great disturbance in The Force and things cause other things. Good things cause goods things and bad things cause bad things. Now bad things are gonna happen to you because of all the bad things you did. You should have known that once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.
Good karma always triumphs in the end. Don't mess with Buddhists, for my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. You BAS***D!!!!