Archive for Western Buddhism

BuddhaDharma 2.0 Conference

Posted in Buddhism on the web, Western Buddhism with tags , , , , , on August 19, 2009 by Al

Dharma buddy Ryan Oelke and Vince Horn over at Buddhist Geeks are soliciting contributions for a cool upcoming event: the BuddhaDharma 2.0 conference set for fall 2010 in Boulder, Colorado.

From the BuddhaDharma 2.0 website:

The BuddhaDharma 2.0 Conference is an event that will focus on the radical innovations available to Buddhist practitioners and communities living in the modern era. Some of the topics that we plan on exploring include:

* Buddhism & Technology – The information age has radically altered almost every dimension of our personal lives, our society, and economy. What impact will it have on the Buddhist tradition, and are there ways we can consciously adopt technologies to benefit Buddhist communities?

* Cutting-edge Buddhist Practices – Many Buddhist teachers are being informed directly by other pre-existing traditions of personal exploration and change. The result is that all sorts of innovate and interesting hybrid practices are emerging in the Buddhist world. Are these practices as radical as their creators claim? Or are there examples of teachers who are simply watering down the teachings of the Buddha, re-packaging them in fancy garb, and charging gobs of money for them? We’ll explore these questions, as well engage in some of the more promising of these hybrid practices.

* Buddhism & Science – Scientific explorations into the benefits of Buddhist-style meditation have exploded in the past several years. What is the implication for the Buddhist tradition, and for the wider populous?

* The Future of Buddhism in the West – Underlying all of the previous topics is a question about where we are now, and where we are heading tomorrow. With such an array of complex factors influencing the development of Buddhism today, how can we engage with the future in a way that honors the rapidly changing nature of things, and the need to act quickly at times, with the deep-rooted need to stay present with what is?

Needless to say, this conference sounds like it’s right up my alley. I hope to make it to Boulder in 2010, and I will be contributing in the name of Dharmacore. If you have $5 per month, consider contributing as well.

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Family values, Dharma style

Posted in Western Buddhism with tags , , , , , on June 20, 2008 by Al

Often in modern Western life, our families and friends are our sanghas. Buddhism has fallen dramatically short at creating family-friendly fellowship among its practitioners. For all the emphasis on the sangha (a group of people who support your practice) in the original teachings, traditional Buddhism has been less than inclusive of family life, at times even outright discriminating against women, children, and family concerns. In her article, Change or Die: American Buddhism When Baby-Boomer Converts Are Gone, Andrea Useem talks about Zen monk Clark Strand’s recent article in Tricyle, “Dharma Family Values.”

Clark asserts that while Buddhism has made a good start in the US and has become part of the lexicon (a subject I’m interested in myself), we haven’t yet figured out how to “get married and buried” as Buddhists. Ritual, family, and ceremony have either been stripped away completely in the name of creating a more agnostic Buddhism or they’ve been copied verbatim, preserved in the form in which they were imported but not adapted to our own modern lives.

This is one of the most important places Buddhism can learn from Christianity (yes, we should be mindfully paying attention!). Christians have summer camps, youth groups, Bible studies, pot lucks, and fellowship after services. Now, I know that many local Buddhist groups often have gatherings and work very hard to be family-friendly. However, I think that overall, Western Buddhism has failed to put together a cohesive system.

I got married yesterday. When trying to research how to have a “Buddhist” wedding, I came up with almost nothing. The choices are either ultra-traditional (robes, precepts, blessing by a monk) or vaguely New Age stuff that was made up by wedding portal websites to target a demographic. Where is the in between where we, as Westerners, often rest so comfortably?

The good and bad news is that we are creating the in between, the new traditions, here and now. Really, it’s a call to action for young Western Buddhists to be mindful of their own actions and take an active role in developing what Buddhism will be in this country. I didn’t have a “Buddhist” wedding ceremony. But I did vow to treat my partner with kindness, compassion and mindfulness, and I believe others in the post-boomer generations will uphold these and other Buddhist family values, no matter how they manifest in ritual and ceremony. A little bit of ceremony wouldn’t hurt, though.

Modern Buddhist traditions

Posted in Theravada, Vajrayana, Vipassana, Western Buddhism, Zen with tags , , , , , on June 16, 2008 by Al

A lot of people come to Buddhism seeking to improve themselves and to make their lives better, simpler, and more productive. There is nothing wrong with this approach. Even in Buddha’s time, kings and householders came asking about their everyday problems, and Buddha’s answer wasn’t “just sit” or “become a monk.” His responses were practical but firmly rooted in the Dharma. I was inspired by Buddha’s response and compassion to everyday people and everyday problems, and that’s how Dharmacore was born.

Today, there are certain schools and traditions of Buddhism that are modern interpretations of the Dharma. I define these as modern-beginner-friendly traditions. I’m talking about the person who feels vaguely dissatisfied with their life, walks into a Barnes and Noble one Saturday afternoon, and has no idea which book to choose from the vast Buddhist section in order to start learning more about the religion.

So what are these modern, Western-accessible, beginner-friendly traditions?

Thich Nhat Hanh – Plum Village – Vietnamese Zen
TNH is one of the most popular Buddhist authors currently alive today. He rivals the Dalai Lama for that precious Barnes and Noble bookshelf real estate, and his books and are friendly, accessible and easy to read. His teachings are often described as a mix between Zen and Vipassana (insight) meditation. He draws from both Theravada and Mahayana scriptures, but has a firm basis in the Pali Canon. Most of the practices at Plum Village can be easily integrated into daily life. I’m a big fan of the gathas. Plum Village is in France, so it may not seem that accessible for US and Canadian seekers, but there are many TNH-inspired sitting groups in the states.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche – Shambhala – Kagyu and Nyingma schools of Tibetan Buddhism
The Shambhala lineage is one of the best organized Buddhist sects in the West. They have a lot of features normally associated with Christian churches, including Sunday services, childcare, childrens’ programs, fellowship activities, and classes. Though Shabhala is definitely Tibetan in flavor, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (the original leader) and his son (Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche) have borrowed aspects from other traditions, including Zen’s focus on the arts as well as elements of Bön, Taoism, Confucianism, and Shinto. Their beginner meditation classes are friendly and free, and you can find a center via their website.

Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, et al – Insight Meditation Society – Theravada/Vipassana
Some of the most prolific Western authors writing about Buddhism today are associated with IMS and their educational organization, the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. The teachings focus on the basics of Buddhism from the Theravadan perspective, including instruction in breathing meditation, vipassana, and metta (lovingkindness). IMS doesn’t have really have satellite centers around the country, though you might be able to find a like minded lay sitting group near you. They do offer plenty of retreats throughout the year, though, so if getting away appeals to you and you have the time to do it, IMS is a great candidate.

Noah Levine – Dharma Punx – Theravada/Vipassana/eclectic
Noah’s book, “Dharma Punx,” inspired a lot of younger practitioners to get started on the path. He deals with topics like addiction, sex, drugs, and morality with an unflinching honesty. The community of people inspired by these teachings have organized themselves via the message board on his website and sitting groups have sprung up everywhere. The community announcements board is the best place to look for (or even start) a group in your area. The Dharma Punx crowd tends to be accepting, unconventional and dedicated to bringing the Dharma into the reality of our modern lives.

Jundo Cohen – Treeleaf Zendo – Soto Zen
As far as I know from my online travels, Jundo is responsible for providing the world’s first legitimate online sangha, led by an experienced teacher and run as well or better than any brick-and-mortar practice center. Treeleaf has daily video Dharma talks, daily sittings via webcam, and an active community forum. Jundo answers emails and is very active on the forum. If you’re looking for direct experience with a teacher, Treeleaf can provide that even if there’s not a practice center within 500 miles of where you live. This is an amazing example of modern Dharma.

This list is not all-inclusive, by any means. Groups like Soka Gakkai and the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order are very active in Europe and in other parts of the US. The groups listed are those of which I have the most personal knowledge and experience. As always, see for yourself and find your fit. To find a sitting group near you, check out gosit.org, a non-sectarian meditation directory. Please also consider joining the Dharmacore community.