The Urban Dharma Newsletter... September 10, 2002


In This Issue:

1. Book Review: Safeguarding the Heart: The Buddhist Response to Suffering and 9/11
Anger is Not the Answer ...Delia Pemberton
3. A Buddhist reflection on the World Trade Center tragedy
4. A Response to the Tragedy of September 11, 2001
5. How to React as a Buddhist to the September 11 Tragedy
6. A Statement of Sympathy
7. Temple/Center of the Week:
The West Covina Buddhist Temple



1. Safeguarding the Heart: The Buddhist Response to Suffering and 9/11 ...by Yifa


Book Description

The horrific events of September 11, 2001—when two airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City, another into the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and a fourth in a field in Pennsylvania—were stark reminders of the tenets central to the Buddhist conception of existence: that life is full of suffering, that everything is impermanent, and that everything in existence is connected.

Buddhist nun Venerable Yifa explores these fundamental ideas by studying in detail what happened that day, the causes and effects of what occurred from a spiritual perspective, and how we can learn from the tragedy to access even deeper spiritual truths. In the process of this examination, Yifa reveals the Buddhist perspective on the nature of suffering, the meaning of justice, what is evil and what is good, and why some people die and others live.

Yifa then elucidates Buddhism’s eight different types of suffering from a practical standpoint, illuminating the essential Buddhist ideas of compassion and mindfulness and showing how we can apply these principles to everyday life and in our relationships. Her aim throughout is to help us both reach out to and heal others and protect ourselves—to safeguard our hearts—when suffering strikes.

About the Author

Venerable Yifa has been a nun at Fo Guang Shan Monastery in Taiwan since 1979. She received her Ph.D. in religious studies from Yale University in 1996. She has been provost at Fo Guang Shan Buddhist College and dean at Hsi Lai University in California and Taiwan. She is the author of The Origin of Buddhist Monastic Code in Song China and a contributor to Benedict’s Dharma: Buddhists Reflect on the Rule of St. Benedict. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


2. Anger is Not the Answer ...Delia Pemberton ...The Guardian

Monday September 2, 2002

On the face of it, Buddhism hardly seems a cheery philosophy, taking as its central tenet the premise that the fundamental nature of our existence is suffering. Like most people, when things are going well, I would much rather focus on happiness than dwell on the sufferings of the world. But reality has a nasty habit of intruding. Love turns to heartbreak, wealth to poverty, health to sickness, peace to war, life to death. We are shocked and hurt to discover that things that once seemed so real and solid turn out to have been mere illusions.

It may be a personal tragedy that brings us to this realisation, or a national or global disaster. We feel helpless and confused, at a loss as to how to deal with our own and others' suffering. It is then that we seek answers. Why did this happen? Was it my fault? Can I do anything to make it better? Can I prevent it happening again? By addressing such questions, Buddhism offers an explanation for how our sufferings arise and a path by which we may transcend them.

Trend analysts say that since September 11, Americans and Europeans have become more inwardly focused. We stay home more, spend more time with our loved ones, consider our priorities in life with greater care. This inward focus is a traditional characteristic of the Buddhist practitioner; the Tibetan term for a Buddhist translates as "insider", in the sense of one who looks within for understanding. This prompts the question of whether a Buddhist analysis can help us make sense of suffering in what seems an increasingly dangerous world.

Buddhists view the world we perceive as an illusion, in which everything is subject to change, growth and decay in accordance with the law of cause and effect, or karma. Tibetan Buddhists depict the workings of this cyclical existence as a wheel showing the chain of events leading from thought to action and its consequences. At the hub, three creatures represent greed, anger and ignorance, the driving forces that keep the wheel in motion, condemning us to an endless cycle of suffering. If we can eliminate these forces by applying the antidotes of compassion and wisdom, the cycle is broken.

Theory is all very well, but can this model help us to come to terms with the sufferings we encounter individually or as a society? It can certainly serve as a tool to remind us that since we are the creators of our own suffering, we also hold the potential for our deliverance.

"When the world seems full of evil," say the Buddhist teachings, "transform all mishaps into enlightenment". This may be hard to accept, but it can relieve our sense of powerlessness and encourage us to take responsibility for our actions.

Psychologists say the outbursts of public grieving following events such as September 11 represent an attempt to recover a lost sense of community. This can awaken our compassion towards others and motivate us to work for a better society. But this can easily turn to mass anger against those we hold responsible. Our tendency is to judge people and events according to subjective notions of "right" and "wrong" and then to enforce that judgment on others. Once a common enemy has been identified, their punishment becomes our "righteous cause". But by surrendering our individual responsibility we create the kind of mob mentality responsible for terrorist attacks.

The men who carried out the attack on the Twin Towers sincerely believed that their mission was a sacred duty. The US sincerely believes that eliminating the attackers' supporters is a sacred duty. In an interdependent universe, such concepts of "us" and "them" are meaningless, counterproductive and dangerous. Buddhism challenges us to rise above anger and extend our compassion to all who suffer, victims and terrorists alike. As Buddha himself said: "Anger is not destroyed by anger, but by love alone."

· Delia Pemberton is a lecturer in the art and architecture of the ancient world and author of Buddha, to be published by the British Museum Press later this month.


3. A Buddhist reflection on the World Trade Center tragedy ...Rev. Kusala

* http://www.kusala.org/index1.html

The Day the World Changed

Buddhist Monks are taught this world of ours is ultimately filled with old age, sickness, death, and birth. And the suffering caused by this ever changing flux is a constant reminder not to become attached to the imperfect world we live in.

On Tuesday 9/11 the greed, hatred, and delusion of a few... became the cause of great suffering for many. The unskillful actions witnessed on that day caused numerous people to question the meaning of life. To look more closely at their relationships with country, state, city, family, and friends. And some found the secular language of everyday living totally inadequate in explaining why so many people had to die in such horrible ways.

The Clergy was asked to interpret the events in a way; the heart could understand. The holy texts became a starting point, and each tradition in their own special way arranged the pieces and created a picture of the challenge we as human beings find ourselves involved in.

This human life of ours is filled with many choices... Greed or generosity... Hatred or loving-kindness... Delusion or wisdom... It's our choice, our community, and our world.

A Loving-Kindness reflection from the Buddhist Pali Cannon

From the highest realm of existence to the lowest, may all beings arisen in any of these realms, with form and without, with perception and without, with consciousness and without, may they be...

...happy, peaceful and free from suffering. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always find fulfillment.

May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination, to meet and overcome, the inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.

May the suffering ones, be suffering free.

And the fear struck, fearless be.

May the grieving, shed all grief.

And the sick, find health relief.


4. A Response to the Tragedy of September 11, 2001


It is with heartfelt concern that the Chairs of the Centers of the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order in the United States offer thoughts and reflections from a Buddhist perspective on the tremendous loss of life and suffering resulting from terrorist actions in New York and Washington DC and from a hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. All this took place the morning of September 11, 2001.

1. Let us find moments of silence.

Buddhism teaches that pushing away suffering and pain will only disturb our minds and hearts further. Sitting face to face with suffering allows us to grieve and encourages compassion to arise.

In the midst of the media spin take a few moments each day to be silent and gather yourself. Become aware of your body, and your breath coming and going. Be aware of your heart area and just let sensations and emotions come and go with kindness and without judgement. Sadness, appreciation of those we love, anxiety, compassion, calm, fear, anger, peacefulness - all may flow through you. Simply let yourself be as you are moment by moment and stop running from all inner and outer commotion.

Many words around us move us from shock and pain directly to anger with out giving pause to absorb what has happened, reflect on it and experience our reactions. Despite this we also see the other side of the story. Human solidarity, connection, generosity and kindness have also manifested. We can choose what response we cultivate.

2. Let us wake up to suffering.

The suffering on Tuesday, September 11 which resulted from the violent events has extended to include friends and families of those who perished. It extends to those who now fear the impacts of war and further loss of life in this country and around the world.

At this time we can be aware of those around us who are suffering from these events. It is difficult to fully acknowledge and experience the enormity of the suffering especially as so many Americans are accustomed to relatively peaceful and comfortable lives. Acts of violence and senseless loss of civilian life is happening all around the world all the time. The shattering violence of September 11 can wake us up to the tremendous suffering in our world. It can encourage us to reach out in solidarity to others with whom we share this single planet and with whom we share the desire to live meaningful lives, free from suffering and fear.

3. Let us cultivate compassion.

Any action coming out of anger is clouded by anger and will tend to encourage or create more anger both in us individually and collectively and in those whom we fear. The Buddha said that, "Animosity does not eradicate animosity. Only by loving kindness is animosity dissolved. The law is ancient and eternal."

Much of Buddhism is aimed at teaching us to recognize and break the chain reaction of hatred. Rather than fuel hatred we learn to fuel clarity and love. To help us there is the practice of exchanging self for other. If we feel numb we can practice exchanging ourselves for those who have died, those who have lost parents, those who hijacked planes and killed themselves along with thousands of others. In doing so we try to find a human connection and understanding and appreciate the suffering that all humans experience. Our Centers teach a meditation called the Cultivation of Loving Kindness (or Metta Bhavana) to make this sort of peacemaking a regular practice and available to us at times of divisiveness and hatred such as these.

It is a time to be especially mindful of the Arab Americans and Muslim Americans who are now fearful of acts of hatred against them. Such acts have already occurred. Please help to build friendliness and an atmosphere of tolerance towards these brothers and sisters.

4. Let us find a healing way forward.

Although we may feel helpless at this time, the truth is that we can and do have an effect in this world. While we may not be able to single-handedly direct our nation's military response we can move ourselves and our communities to healing through compassionate activity.

First we can strengthen our resolve to practice the central precept of Buddhism, non-violence or non-harm. Looking honestly within our own hearts and minds we can recognize traces of hatred and intolerance and let these go with firm kindness. Non-violence, non-harm, non-manipulation and loving kindness can be brought into all our interactions. Vaclav Havel, founder of the Czech human right movement said that, "Without a global revolution in human consciousness, a more human society will not be possible." Through Buddhist practice we can take responsibility for a revolution in human consciousness towards wisdom and compassion.

We can also increase our compassionate activity expressing our caring and creating a momentum of positive action. It is not just what we think and feel but what we do that creates our world. Some who are working in altruistic vocations will find renewed energy and commitment for their efforts to make a better world. Some may join with others in engaged Buddhist peacemaking (for example writing letters to elected officials and joining in gatherings and marches for peace). The teaching of non-violence asks us to consider life-taking action as extremely grave and to encourage our country to pursue creative non-violent actions to their fullest extent.

Here is a simple and direct way you can help:

* Learn about local community peacemaking activities (The Buddhist Peace Fellowship has a listing of local Buddhist social action groups at http://www.bpf.org)

5. Let us remember to cultivate peace and extend well wishing into the world every day.

In summary, let us pause for meditation and reflection. Let us develop awareness of others and endeavor to create more peace and harmony. This can be done with a simple, heartfelt prayer that we now offer to you and all beings:

May all beings live in peace,

May all beings be filled with loving kindness

May all beings be free from suffering.

Dharmachari Avichala (Chairman, Seattle Buddhist Center)

Dharmacharini Dayalocana (Chairwoman, Aryaloka Buddhist Center, New Hampshire)

Dharmachari Saramati (Chairman, Rocky Mountain Buddhist Center, Missoula)

Dharmacharini Viveka (Chairwoman, San Francisco Buddhist Center)


5. How to React as a Buddhist to the September 11 Tragedy

A Statement by ShaMar Rinpoche ...September 24, 2001

During the past two weeks as I have traveled to several Bodhi Path centers in the United States, many members have asked me to explain the horrible acts of the terrorists on September 11 and to suggest a course of action from the Buddhist perspective. I offer the following thoughts for my disciples' guidance.

The terrorists who brought about this senseless tragedy are afflicted by ignorance and consequently can be deceived by a blind faith in a belief system that distorts the true spirit of Islam. They do not have the wisdom and proper sense of judgement to determine what is right and wrong. Because of their ignorance and blind faith, people with evil intentions manipulated and misused them. Therefore, just as we should show compassion on the victims, we should also have compassion on the terrorists due to their ignorance.

When governments and individuals set a future course of action, their motivation or aim is the critical determinant to what is appropriate and morally correct. The seeking of revenge clearly is not acceptable in Buddhist terms. However, if a government or individual must take an action that has harmful effects but that is done for the purpose of preventing evil and benefiting the majority, this is acceptable.

According to Buddha's teachings on ethics, I believe there are four different combinations of aim/intention and action. Listed from the most evil to the most compassionate, they are:

1) Bad or evil aim-negative or hurtful action

2) Bad aim-benign or positive action

3) Good, realistic aim-destructive or harmful action

4) Good or pure aim-benevolent action

In order to counter terrorism, governments of the world and their leaders must pursue this goal only with the aim of benefiting everyone, including the ignorant terrorists themselves. If purely benevolent acts are inadequate to achieve this goal, then there is no choice but to engage in narrowly targeted acts designed to root out the evil of the terrorists while inflicting the least amount of harm to the innocent. This can be accomplished through the use of our wisdom and compassion which we find through logical analysis that is a part of human wisdom. It is important not to make decisions based on our obscured emotions.

On a personal level, we should not dwell in our sadness or fear over this tragedy. Instead, we should use it as an inspiration to develop our own compassion. We should make wishing prayers for the victims but also expand our wishes to include all beings who have suffered throughout the world. This tragedy must inspire us to achieve a vast compassion for all beings.


6. A Statement of Sympathy

* http://www.livingdharma.org/Real.World.Buddhism/StatementOfSympathy-NAD.html

The following is a letter sent to the White House stating the feelings of all Higashi Honganji ministers regarding the World Trade Center tragedy and future American foreign policy.

September 24, 2001

President George W. Bush

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President

The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington D.C. on September 11th have brought tremendous confusion and suffering. We, the followers of Shin Buddhism, express our deepest condolences to the victims, their families and friends. This tragedy reminds all of us how helpless we are in the face of such a catastrophe where only sadness, pain, and anger remain.

However, while we do not accept any act, terrorist or otherwise, in which the dignity of human life is ignored, we cannot condone any retaliatory acts that can lead to war. Such actions will only result in spreading more hatred and violence throughout the world and lead to the suffering of innocent victims. We therefore urge you to seek a course of non-violent action to detain and bring before a world forum of justice, those who may be responsible for the acts of September 11, 2001. We further urge you to seek a way of building bridges of understanding and reconciliation with all those who have harmed us. In addition, we ask that you do everything possible to defend the safety and rights of citizens here in the United States who may be targeted because of their ethnic or religious background.

Six years ago in June 1995 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, our Headquarters, Shinshu Otani-ha of Kyoto, Japan, issued an Anti-War Statement which reaffirmed that all followers of our tradition should do our best to work for world peace and walk the same path as all people, regardless of their ethnicity, language, culture, and religion. Buddhism is a religion to free oneself from sufferings, one of which is the attachment to one’s own views and the imposing of it on others. This attachment hinders true dialogue.

The terrorist attacks and the probable American retaliation reconfirm the urgent need for our pledge to be practiced. The primary wish of all humanity, past, present, and future, is to live peacefully in a world free from discrimination. Only through realizing this universal wish, may all human beings be united as one.

It is our fervent hope that America display her greatness by looking deeply into the nature of all suffering and showing true Compassion.


Ministers of Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temples

(North America and Hawaii Districts.)


7. The Living Dharma ...The West Covina Buddhist Temple


What is Buddhism?

The West Covina Buddhist Temple belongs to the Jodo Shinshu (joh-doh-sheen-shoo, or "Shin" for short) sect of Buddhism, which was brought to America originally by the first generation of Japanese immigrants around 100 years ago. However, the basic teachings of Buddhism go all the way back to the Buddha himself, who was born around 2500 years ago in the area now known as Nepal. One of the most basic teachings of the Buddha is impermanence. This is the fundamental truth that all life is always moving, flowing and changing. Buddhists call this truth the Dharma.

Buddha awakened to the Dharma of impermanence while meditating under a Bodhi tree. The Dharma, or truth, humbled him; he saw that his own life was fleeting. But he also realized that not just he himself, but that all living things - his loved ones, the bird, the tree - would someday also be destroyed by impermanence, and he felt great compassion for every living thing, and saw that all life is interdependent. He also saw that we suffer because we tend to consider our "self" (our ego or identity) as something that is fixed and permanent, but that this puts us in conflict with the truth of impermanence. When the inevitable changes occur to us or to our loved ones - such as aging, illness or death - we may find ourselves asking "What did I do to deserve this?," or "Why me?" Upon awakening to the Dharma, he devoted his entire life to helping all people also awaken to the truth and end their suffering.

All Buddhists join their hands together and bow their heads in deference to the Dharma. Shin Buddhists call this act gassho. In addition, as we bow, we say "Namu Amida Butsu" (naw-moo-ah-mee-dah-boot-soo). "Namu" indicates the attitude of the humble student or seeker of the truth; "Amida Butsu" means the Dharma of impermance (truth). Thus, "Namu Amida Butsu" essentially means "Bow to the Dharma." If we imagine our head as a "cup" which is currently full of our self-centeredness, the act of bowing "empties our cup" so that it can then be filled with the Dharma (truth). This is the essence of the Buddhist awakening.

How Can Buddhism Help You?

Buddhism is not a teaching to change others; it is a teaching to change ourselves. This change occurs when we are "filled with" or awaken to the Dharma, and can deeply and positively transform the way we view our life and all life around us. Ultimately, as the life of the Buddha himself demonstrated, we find that the true gift of Buddhism is really compassion. Awakening to the Dharma - and the corresponding awakening of compassion - leads to the discovery of a wonderful and dynamic life full of energy and creativity.

What is Shin Buddhism?

Shin Buddhism was the creation of Shinran Shonin, who lived in Japan around 800 years ago. He saw, as did Buddha, that what stands in the way of our awakening to the Dharma is really only us. Specifically, it is our ego, or that illusion we have that we are a fixed and separate entity apart from everything else. Thus, Shin Buddhism starts by getting us to see our egocentric, arrogant and self-centered nature. Shin Buddhism "attacks" our ego-self. When we awaken to the fallacy of our "self," we are literally "saved from ourselves," and become free.

But Shin Buddhism does not lead to any kind of negative self-hate, schizophrenia or cynicism. This is because it says with deep compassion that, "Even as selfish as I am, I am still allowed to live...I am 'OK' because of the infinite compassion of the Dharma." It is to see deeply into the true meaning of what it means to be a human being.

The meaning of the Meditation Sutra, one of the key sutras of our branch of Shin Buddhism, is, "Don't try to 'get rid of' the pain of life, or your shortcomings - that is impossible; instead, live with it all, but turn your focus inward and honestly evaluate yourself. This leads to a kind of rebirth. "Kill" your ignorance and be reborn in the truth, then live with the truth.

An important concept in Shin Buddhism is Tariki (Other Power, or Power Beyond the Self), which tells us that we cannot enlighten ourselves only through our self-power (Jiriki). Our ego-self cannot deny or challenge itself. Thus, we all need a "teacher." This can take the form of a sensei (minister, priest, etc.) and/or the events in our lives, especially those that cause us difficulty, i.e., those events that illustrate the impermanence of life. In this sense, the Dharma is both our teaching and our teacher.

Finally, Shin Buddhism cautions us to always remember that, even if we do awaken to the Dharma and to our true, egocentric nature, we don't become "better people." We're still egotistical, judgmental, impatient, fallible and arrogant. In that sense, Buddhism is really beyond ethics, beyond "right and wrong," because it accepts, with compassion, that to be human is to be flawed. However, though we don't become "better" (more moral) people, we do gain insight. As mentioned above, what can change is the way we look at our lives and our relationship to others. We can come to see that our lives and, indeed, all life, is both interdependent and precious. This insight can have a profound and transforming effect on how we live our lives.

Shinjin (sheen-jean) is the most important term in Shin Buddhism. "Shin" means to understand or trust. This is a twofold understanding. We must understand not only the ignorance and smallness of the self, but also, the greatness of the Dharma ("Amida Buddha," infinite compassion, truth/impermanence). Thus, because of the futility of our self-efforts, we have no choice but to simply and humbly trust in the Dharma.

Namu Amida Butsu is, in essence, a verbal expression of this experience of Shinjin. Namu expresses our recognition of the futility of our self (humility). Amida Butsu (Amida Buddha) expresses the recognition that our futility is embraced and liberated by the Dharma. In other words, "bow to" (seek the truth) and be saved by the Dharma.

To Shinran Shonin, these two terms, Shinjin and Namu Amida Butsu, are all we need to live as Buddhists.

About The Living Dharma Website...   http://www.livingdharma.org/

Why Was Our Website Started?

Our website was designed to serve as a form of outreach into the worldwide community. It is our attempt to make the wisdom of the Buddhist teaching available outside the doors of West Covina Buddhist Temple. The essence of this teaching, or Dharma, is the interdependence and oneness of all life. To learn more about Buddhism, please read our What Is Buddhism page.

As a form of outreach, our website also represents an exciting, ongoing experiment. First, a bit of history: Shin Buddhist temples in America were established by the first generation of Japanese-Americans, who immigrated to the U.S. around the beginning of the 20th century. In addition to the Shin teachings, they of course also brought with them their Japanese culture and language. Even today, our temples have a definite Japanese "flavor." However, we are aware that our future rests on our ability to communicate the Shin Buddhist teachings to Americans, 99% of whom are not of Japanese ancestry. Therefore, we felt strongly that our website should "speak" to Americans interested in Buddhism. That is, our site should not appear "foreign," and should be written in plain everyday English.

In this sense, our website marks the beginning of a new era for our temple. We are learning, via our interaction with Americans and visitors around the world, not only new ways to communicate the Buddhist teachings in contemporary terms, but also what changes we need to make at our temple to insure that all visitors to our services feel at home. As the distinguished Shin Buddhist scholar Dr. Nobuo Haneda has said, "Buddhism is either for everyone, or it is worthless."

Perhaps on the deepest level, the reason for our website was best expressed by Shinran Shonin, the 13th century Japanese priest and founder of our tradition of Buddhism. Shinran used the phrase, Jishin Kyoninshin. Jin is "self," shin is "believe," kyo is "teaching," and nin is "others." Hence, "First believe in the teaching yourself, then teach others to also believe." The critical point about this statement is that in Shin Buddhism, we understand that both "my believing in" and "my teaching others" are actually accomplished without self-effort. That is, through constant listening to and reflection upon the teachings, the "Buddha Spirit" within each of us can be awakened. The essence of this spirit is the deep understanding that all life is one. When we receive this insight, we--like the Buddha himself--are naturally inspired to work for the awakening of all people.


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