Tag Archives: mindfulness

Invisible Web of Gender by Oxana Poberejnaia

01_17_3---Spiders-Web_webGender is like an invisible web. Even if you know it is limiting and want to get out, you don’t know where to begin. Most people do not even see gender as something that is externally imposed on them, limiting their spontaneous being.

 

Gender – how to untangle the tangle?

 

As Dhamma (Dharma) practitioners we should understand the basic principles of cause and effect and of the absence of a permanent self. Many practitioners apply these principles in their everyday lives. However, it is gender that is often the stumbling block.

 

CauseAndEffectIt seems that western Buddhists are happy to accept that everything about them is conditional and dependent on one cause or another – everything but gender. One might argue that gender is the last bastion of Self for us. We tend to fuse our gender identity with our core sense of self.

 

In case someone should wish to untangle this tangle, it would probably be along the normal path of any Buddhist practice: 1. Notice; 2. Accept; 3. Let go.

 

For practitioners with experience, the second and third step would be if not easy, then relatively familiar.

 

It is the noticing, which might be extremely challenging. Noticing subtle gender patterns in your particular case is like getting out of an invisible web. Gender seems as natural to us as eating cereals for breakfast.

 

Wait a second. Is eating cereals for breakfast a course of things prescribed by nature? We all know it is not. I ate cucumber and tomato salad for breakfast in Israel and borsch for breakfast in Ukraine.

 

There is no ‘I’ in gender

 

Gender is part of society’s structure. The ways gender expresses itself are many and are different depending on the particular culture, class, education, and financial situation of particular individuals.

 

As long as people are blind to the realities of gender as it is currently imposed by patriarchy, they are compliant. Even the ones with the best intentions. Men who do not see the reality may ask question like: “Why do women wear these ridiculous high heels? I do not force them to. I would never wear these even if people were forcing me to.”

 

family-76781_640Such questions show a misunderstanding about how society works. People are not separate individualised entities who make rational choices. Each person is a patch on a fabric of society, the same way as each individual is part of the energy network between the sun and the earth, with all its plants, animals, water and minerals.

 

It is easy to confirm or refute this claim: try to exclude yourself from the energy network – for instance, don’t go to the toilet next time you want to. Next, try to exclude yourself from society – for instance, start speaking Russian in the UK or don’t pay a bus fare.

 

Repercussions will be immediate and obvious.

 

How are you male? How are you female?

 

How are you caught up in the web? In one group of society being a woman means wearing a pony tail and being beaten by your unmarried partner, in a different group being a woman means having your body, clothes and jewellery accessed by your husband’s business associates in order to configure his status.

 

While for some being a man means showing no emotion and working yourself to death at 40, for others being a man means living a life of creativity while your Mother or your wife takes care of your family and home.

 

There is a saying that in a society where slavery exists everyone is a slave. Slaves are slaves to their masters, and masters are slaves to the social order. Slaves have no control over their lives, but neither do their owners. Slave owners have to have slaves, they have to depend on their labour, and they have to avoid treating their slaves as human beings.

 

In patriarchy, which is absolute majority of societies now in existence on earth, the situation is similar. Everyone upholds patriarchy: women, men, the elderly and the children of both sexes.

 

Children are particularly vicious and vigilant in this regard – just watch them play or listen when they pass their judgements on what girls and boys should wear, how they should have their hair and down to minute detail of what and how they should eat.

 

Delhi_Queer_Pride_2010_(2)Those who challenge patriarchy are deemed strange and unacceptable and labelled in a variety of derogatory labels. “Butch”, “gay” (both when used as an insult, not as a self-identification),  unfeminine”, “girl-like”, and simply “weirdo” are applied to men and women who behave outside of a patriarchal model of life.

 

In societies that offer people more opportunities (or in circles of societies which offer people more opportunities) such individuals have a choice of joining like-minded people and feel relatively safe and accepted.

 

stop-482702_640As we have always been saying, there is a way

 

With the help of the whole arsenal of Buddhist practices, such as calming down, being present and seeing clearly, coupled with compassion, we can slowly start noticing gender patterns that rule our lives while bypassing our better judgement.

 

For a woman, is having a smaller portion of food than men natural? For a man, is talking first and controlling the flow of a conversation natural? For a woman, is smiling as a response to a hurtful remark natural, in order to keep peace? For a man, is producing hurtful remarks as a way to hide your emotional vulnerability natural?

 

In a Buddhist centre, is it natural for a man to assume he will be up there on the platform teaching the Sangha in a few years, if he sticks with it, while for a woman, is it natural to assume that no matter how long she sticks with it, she will still be preparing tea for the visiting male teachers?

 

Is it natural for a male Buddhist practitioner to have his household revolve around his daily sittings and retreats, and is it natural for a woman to shove her sitting meditation whenever there is a gap between serving others, and dream of a retreat as a special favour from her loved ones?

 

Read more of Oxana’s essays on gender in Buddhism on international blog Feminism and Religion

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Challenges to Mindfulness Practice in the West: event on 11 April 2015

For some years now, the planning group of the Manchester Buddhist Convention (MBC) have felt that we should aim to do smaller events between the large Conventions in October.

 

This year we finally decided to put this into practice. The first of these was held on the above theme on April 11th 2015, at Triratna Buddhist Centre, Turner Street.

 

WomanMeditatingThere were two broad aims to the event:

  1. To explore Mindfulness practice in secular and meditative contexts.
  2. To bring different lineages together.

 

As we expected to hold the event in the smaller of the two shrine rooms we limited the numbers to 25 and decided to invite Dharma centres to nominate two people to attend.
This is a short Report on the event:

The event began with introductions, welcome, saluting the shrine and sitting practice. This was followed by two presentations, both by Buddhist practitioners one of whom offered Mindfulness training in a Buddhist context and the other who worked within the NHS.

 

Both presenters were informed by their particular practices and the contexts in which they worked. The material covered a lot of ground – from the ‘religion’ to aspects of Buddhism from different perspectives; the 8 week stress reduction course courses taught by and the different working contexts of the two speakers – ie – in a Buddhist Dharma Centre and the NHS where any mention of a spiritual framework was taboo. Results had to be ‘evidence based’ and benefits demonstrable. One of the presentations suggested that ‘Mindfulness training could be likened to Padmasambhava taming the demons when he went to Tibet (can be looked up on the net). By contrast the other described the demons that might beset a client when s/he came for treatment and showed how it might soothe a distressed person even for a short time – so two quite different presentations. This presentation suggested that a not very creative tension existed between the evidence-based demands of a clinical context and trusting our own inner experience – integral to Buddhist practice.

She described her work as ‘harmonising the mind with the body, rather than the other way round.’ ‘Making mindfulness accessible to mentally ill people.’ Helping them to ‘accept themselves’.

 

The group broke into small groups. These are some of the questions/points raised:

  • Is secular mindfulness the same as Buddhist Mindfulness practice?
  • The value of secular Buddhism is dependent on the quality of the teacher.
  • Secular mindfulness is better coming from a Buddhist teacher.
  • Buddhists are being too precious/possessive about ‘Mindfulness’.
  • The need for an ethical framework was indicated.
  • The need for transmission from a qualified teacher.
  • Were grand claims being made for limited results in the clinical context?
  • The use of Mindfulness training in other contexts was raised – in industry, schools, even within the US army. A comparison with the use of it among the Samurai was made in one group.
  • The Buddha’s teachings were not complicated but were they losing this simplicity and directness through cultural accretion?
  • ‘Challenges’ faced by Buddhism were not necessarily ‘cultural’ (Western) but the challenge of ‘modernity’ Buddhism has changed its presentation without losing its integrity over hundreds of years.
  • What might our questions be if we reversed the question to consider how Buddhism challenges our ‘modern’ cultural and given assumptions.
  • The possibility of losing lineage, transmission, diluting the Buddhadharma, eventually leading to losing it.
  • Not going far enough – ie- it will teach us how to ‘manage’ samsara but will not address how Awaken. Does this mean that we just learn how to function better in a corrupt society?
  • Can it help managers, for instance, to exploit people better? *

 

The other aim was to bring Buddhists of different lineages together? Why?

 

This was one of the main purposes of the MBC and most groups are keen. The October event is evidence that most Buddhists really do enjoy this engagement. Despite this, over the years of organising this event and speaking with different individuals it has become clear that there is a historical residue of historical suspicion. Some of this may be lineage based and some specific to Manchester. This weakens our potential and opens us to accusations of ‘sectarianism’. Facing our differences may be the one powerful thing we can do to ensure that the Buddhadhamma/dharma is made secure from ‘threats’ it may face. The Planning group has begun to reflect on this; to ‘own’ our ‘baggage’ and admit its existence. It aims to create trust in which to embed our practice and group and would like this to happen in a wider context – hence this event. This worked remarkable well. In a small group of 28 people there were at least 6 different lineages all absorbed in conversation and really engaging with each other.

 

We also wanted to explore ways in which we could work together as an inter-lineage group. Related to this are these comments from attendees:

  • The Annual Convention was exciting but it was good to be able to meet Buddhists from different lineages in a smaller, more intimate context.
  • The event was ‘therapeutic.’
  • There are not many inter-lineage networks like this one.
  • It captured the energy obvious at the Convention.

 

Some parallel observations:

 

  • The use of the breath and of sound is, or course, ancient and pre-dates Buddhism by millennia.
  • There is a blurring of the edges of what meditation has been used for; suggestion that it is not especially linked to spiritual practice.
  • Secular ‘mindfulness’ is here to stay. What can we do to harness it for the best possible use and mitigate its misuse (which appears to be happening alongside the relief it brings to suffering).

 

Once again, interest in what Buddhists could do in relation to service emerged. There was a huge fund of experience and action based initiatives in the room. We are exploring these and will keep you informed of what is happening either via the Website or at the Convention. If you are interested in the possibilities or have ideas or are involved in such initiatives please get in touch with us via the Website of with me directly.

 

A further event is planned for July. Again numbers will be limited due to space. If you are interested please inform your Dharma Centre or contact us directly.

 

Jaya – Co-ordinator, Manchester Buddhist Convention.

 

The radical edge: Returning to Buddhism in the 21st Centrury by Arthavadin

by Arthavadin, January 2015

Inspired by David Loy’s book ‘Money, Sex, War, Karma’, Dh. Vadhaka’s ideas about neo-liberal capitalism and personal concerns about the commodification and secularisation of mindfulness (as a near enemy of the Dharma) this talk was originally given to an audience of Buddhists from different traditions at the Manchester Buddhist Convention in October 2015. The following month an adapted version of the talk was given at the San Francisco Buddhist Centre. Finally, after a few further refinements, additions and subtractions the version of the talk below was given at the launch of Manchester Buddhist Centre’s ‘Triratna Night’ in January 2015.

 

 

Overview:

 

  1. A brief history of Buddhism in the West
  2. The Western context in which Buddhism is taking root
  3. A Buddhist perspective on consumerism
  4. How consumerism is shaping the Western approach to Buddhism
  5. Some ideas about how to return Buddhism to its radical edge
  6. A renunciation prayer

 

 

 

  1. A potted history of Buddhism in the west

 

Today we think of Buddhism as one of the world’s great religions but only a few centuries ago it was barely known in the West.   Awareness of what we now call Buddhism began with the colonialism in Asia. Christian missionaries and colonial civil servants started bringing back relics and stories of the indigenous religions and these emerged into fields of academic study at the newly formed departments of Oriental Studies in Western universities.

 

However, to a great extent Buddhism tended to remain a fairly intellectual pursuit in the West until the 1960s when it began to gain a foothold in the popular consciousness as a religion or way of life.

 

The 1960s – at least in northern Europe and the USA – was marked by rapidly increasing material affluence, feminism, the sexual revolution and counter-culture rebellion and experimentation prompted by the literature of the Beatniks – many of whom explicitly identified with Buddhism.

 

It was just at this juncture in the 60s that a swathe of talented Buddhist teachers from the East came West. There are too many to mention in detail but they famously included Japanese teachers such as Shunryu Suzuki who went to the USA and, following the Chinese invasion of Tibet, Chogyam Trungpa who initially came to the UK. Also around about this time westerners such as Sangharakshita who had spent many years practising the Dharma in the East returned home and began establishing Buddhist sanghas which seemed to fit in with the counter-culture zeitgeist.

 

In the last decade or so there seems to have been a further wave of renewed interest in Buddhism as a consequence of the popularity of the Dalai Lama and the boom in secular mindfulness. I’ll say more about this a little later.

 

 

  1. The Western context that Buddhism has entered

 

Wherever Buddhism has taken root in countries outside of its indigenous India, the pre-existing belief systems, attitudes and milieu of those countries have influenced the expression and form that it’s developed.

 

For example when Buddhism went to China its form was influenced by Daoism (which emphasises change and flow) and Confucianism (which emphasises social order) which resulted in the creation of Chan and then Zen Buddhism.

 

When Buddhism went to the Himalayan regions it encountered and incorporated some of the shamanic elements of Bon resulting in what we now know as Tibetan Buddhism.

 

Now that Buddhism has come to the West we must ask ourselves what is the nature and quality of the soil – the culture and milieu – in which it’s taking root? And, consequently, what is the emerging form that Buddhism is taking here?

 

It’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to be clear headed and objective about one’s own culture by which we’re so deeply conditioned and in which we are so deeply immersed. Our cultural conditioning acts as filter through which we perceive and experience the world… It provides the baseline of what we tend to think of as normal and against which we assess and evaluate other cultures. Nevertheless, I’m aware of at least eight pervasive cultural factors that I think are likely to be influencing the emerging shape and flavour of Buddhism here. These include:

 

  1. Philosophical materialism
  2. Scientific rationalism
  3. Feminism and egalitarianism
  4. Psychology – Since Freud our society has become incredibly psychologised
  5. Individualism
  6. Growing emphasis on environmentalism and whole earth philosophies
  7. Communications technology resulting in mass and social media
  8. Consumerism

 

These eight factors are not exhaustive and they’re certainly not discrete. Many, if not all, can be seen to condition each other. Each of them is worthy of a talk in its own right but this evening I’m focusing on the factor that I think is most dangerously impacting upon – and potentially hindering – the development of Buddhism in the West …..and that factor is consumerism.

 

Before I go on to critique consumerism I have to acknowledge that over the last 100 years our economic system, which is consumer capitalism, has contributed to significantly raising the material living standards of hundreds, if not thousands, of millions of people. From a historical perspective we in the West have never had so much and it’s hardly surprising that the consumerist culture is generally welcomed by the majority of people who have the good fortune of ‘enjoying’ it.

 

This evening I am not talking about consumerism from an economic, sociological or psychological perspective. I’m talking as a Buddhist. I’m particularly interested in:

 

  1. The impact of consumerism on our minds;
  2. how it influences our attitude to the Dharma; and
  3. it’s potential effect on the emerging shape and form that Buddhism is taking as it continues to take root here in the West (and the rest of the industrialised world)

 

 

  1. A Buddhist perspective on consumerism

 

At a 1997 international meeting of Buddhists in Japan, known as the Buddhist Think Sangha, consumerism was defined as:

 

“…the dominant culture of a modernizing invasive industrialism which stimulates – yet can never satisfy – the urge for a strong sense of self to overlay the angst and sense of lack in the human condition. As a result, goods, services, and experiences are consumed beyond any reasonable need. This undermines the ecosystem, the quality of life, and particularly traditional cultures and communities and the possibility of spiritual liberation.”

 

Consuming is not in and of itself problematic but consuming more than we need most definitely is… at least it is from a Buddhist perspective. But what do we mean by need? Where do we draw the line between a ‘need’ and a ‘want’? I challenge all of us to reflect upon this question

 

A factor that makes consumerism in the West today different from consumerism in previous times is that we now live and work within a global economy fuelled by consumer spending. This economic model – especially as it has developed over the last century – requires us as individuals and as a society to consume more – much more – than we actually need to survive. In fact it requires us to consume much more than we need to thrive. I recently read that within forty years Americans alone have consumed natural resources to the quantity of what all mankind has consumed for the last 4000 years! Our species is known as ‘homo sapien’ – the Latin for ‘wise man’. Given the profligacy of consumerism in the West – and the impact it is having on our minds, our relationships, society and environment – it is probably time we questioned whether we are worthy of such a noble title.

 

In order to distinguish the Buddhist and the contemporary western attitude towards consumerism I’m going to give two brief readings – one from the Cullavagga in the Pali canon (probably written 2000 years ago) and the other from the Daily Telegraph written just over a month ago.

 

SD 37.14.1 (V)

 

Culla,vagga 11.1.13-14 @ Vinaya 2:290-292

 

Then the rajah’s concubines approached the venerable Ānanda, saluted him, and then sat down at one side. Sitting thus at one side, the venerable Ānanda instructed, inspired, roused and gladdened with a talk on the Dharma. Then the rajah’s concubines, having been instructed, inspired, roused and gladdened with a Dharma talk by venerable Ānanda, gave venerable Ānanda 500 sets of outer robes. Then the rajah’s concubines, having rejoiced and approved of venerable Ānanda’s words, rose from their seat, saluted him, departed by keeping him to the right, and approached rajah Udena.

 

Now, rajah Udena saw his concubines returning from afar. Seeing the concubines, he said to them: “What now, have you see the recluse Ānanda?” “We have, your majesty, seen the recluse Ānanda.” “So, did you give anything to the recluse Ānanda?” “Your majesty, we gave venerable Ānanda 500 sets of outer robes.” Rajah Udena was annoyed, vexed, and was outraged, saying, “How can this recluse Ānanda accept so many robes? Is the recluse Ānanda becoming a clothes merchant, or is he opening a store?”

 

Then rajah Udena went up to venerable Ānanda, and exchanged greetings with him. When the cordial exchanges were concluded, he sat down at one side.

 

Sitting thus at one side, rajah Udena said this to venerable Ānanda, “Master Ānanda, did our concubines come here?” “Maharajah, your concubines did come here today.” “And what did they give to master Ānanda?” “Maharajah, they gave me 500 sets of outer robes.”

 

“But what is master Ānanda going to do with so many robes?’ “Maharajah, we distribute them to monks with robes that are worn out.”

 

“But, master Ānanda, what then do you do with the old worn-out robes?” “We turn them into cover-sheets.”

 

“What then, master Ānanda, do you do with the old cover-sheets?” “We turn them into floor-sheets [carpets], maharajah.”

 

“What then, master Ānanda, do you do with the old floor-sheets?” “We turn them into covers for pillows and mattresses.”

 

“What then, master Ānanda, do you do with the old covers?”

“We turn them into foot-towels, maharajah.”

 

“What then, master Ānanda, do you do with the old foot-towels?”

“We turn them into dusters, maharajah.”

 

“What then, master Ānanda, do you do with the old dusters?” “Maharajah, having shredded them up, we knead them into the mud, and then we will spread themout on the flooring.”

 

Then rajah Udena thought, “These recluses, sons of the Shakya, proceed very wisely; nothing is wasted!” So he gave venerable Ānanda another set of 500 pieces of cloth. And this was how a thousand sets of outer robes accrued upon venerable Ānanda.

 

I suppose what this extract illustrates is an attitude of awareness and positive frugality…. An applied awareness that ensures that everything is put to good use and nothing is wasted…. The Buddha’s middle way between indulgence and asceticism.

 

 

 

The Telegraph

 

By Rosa Silverman, and Patrick Sawer

5:18PM GMT 28 Nov 2014

 

 

…..The Black Friday sales saw thousands of shoppers engaged in a frantic hunt for Christmas bargains with up to 80 per cent slashed from big-ticket items such as televisions and tablet computers.

 

Police were called to stop fighting at dozens of stores and made a number of arrests after security guards found themselves unable to deal with the scrums.

 

Black Friday was imported about three years ago from the US, where it has long been held on the day after Thanksgiving to lure people into the shops.

 

This is the first year that British high street stores have offered vast numbers of heavily discounted items as in previous years the sales have largely been confined to the internet.

 

Police attacked supermarket bosses for failing to control shoppers. Senior officers said they had been forced to divert resources away from front-line crime fighting to deal with the chaos.

 

The worst scenes were in Greater Manchester, where at least three people were arrested as fighting broke out between shoppers, but police were called to keep the peace at dozens of stores throughout the country.

 

Shortly after midnight, when some shops opened their doors, a 42-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of assault at a Tesco in Burnage, Greater Manchester.

 

Another man was arrested on suspicion of a public order offence after police were called to reports of fighting in a 300-strong crowd at a Tesco in Hattersley.

 

A third man was held at a Tesco in Salford, after he threatened to “smash” in a shop worker’s face, police said. In Stretford fights broke out and a woman was injured by a falling television.

 

A member of staff at a branch of Tesco in Manchester was seen with a black eye after a disturbance broke out, and one shopper said the store had resembled “a war zone at midnight”.

 

 

I think we might agree that Buddhist and secular western attitudes towards consumerism are at odds with one another.

 

 

The main motivation for consumerist behaviour throughout history has largely been functional. People needed, and still need, to consume to survive – Until relatively recently our dominant pattern of consumption was related to the need for food, medicines, clothing and shelter. However, since the industrial revolution – which began in and around Manchester about 200 years ago, and especially since the Second World War, the motivations for consumption in the so-called developed economies of the West (and increasingly the East and South too,) have become much more psychological than functional.

 

 

The advertising industry, funded by massive multinational corporations, seeks to convince us that through our patterns of consumption:

 

a). We can feel more safe and secure in an uncertain and unpredictable world.

b). We can gain membership of social groups to which we wish, or feel we need, to belong.

c). We can achieve status in the eyes of others

d). We can improve our self-esteem

e). We can even self-actualise.

 

Advertising basically encourages us to believe that fundamental psychological needs (think Maslow’s hierarchy) can be met through consumption.

 

In 2013 £14 billion was spent in the UK on advertising to encourage consumer spending. That’s a lot of advertising, so much in fact that it’s almost impossible to ignore. I don’t know about you but I’m acutely aware of the ubiquity of advertising vying for my attention at every turn… on the tv, radio, internet, cinema, mobile phone. I find it extremely invasive and I don’t welcome it. An article in the weekly German newspaper Die Zeit described advertising as ‘…the dictator from which there is no escape.” I know the feeling!

Some of you will know that my first job after leaving university was in an advertising agency and later, when I studied as a post-grad, I wrote a thesis about the motivations and personalities of the men who made it to the top of that industry.   For a short time I even considered working within it as a psychologist. However, I’m pleased to say that I came over from the ‘dark side’.

 

Advertising doesn’t simply inform us of the bare facts of goods, services and experiences. Instead, it alludes to subtle and not so subtle symbols of projected ‘ideal self’. By consuming the product we are encouraged to believe that we will also consume its inferred symbolic qualities. Let’s take the example of car advertising which is so often targeted at men with disposable incomes.

 

When a car is advertised it’s very rarely depicted factually and left at that. The car we see in the advert is not just a safe and efficient mode of transport…. No, it’s so much more. It’s a symbol of virility and manhood! It’s a testosterone fuelled sex machine that purrs like a panther and promises to elevate our sense of power, adventure and status.

 

Essentially the same principles, with minor variations, are used in almost all advertising.

 

My understanding of advertising is that it seeks to achieve 3 key objectives:

 

  1. Attract and hold our attention (sparsa – contact)
  2. Encourage a positive emotional identification with the product, service or experience being advertised (Vedena – feeling)
  3. Stimulate a desire…or even better a craving… for that product, service or experience. (Tanha – craving)

 

If that list of three objectives of advertising sounds familiar it’s because it forms part of the nidana chain. Attracting and holding our attention is sense contact or ‘sparsa’. Encouraging a positive emotional identification with the product is feeling or ‘vedena’. And Stimulating a desire or craving for the product is ‘tanha’. The gap that the Buddha encourages us to cultivate between vedena and tanha is the very same gap that advertising consciously, and with the clout of £14billion behind it, seeks to close. Advertising seeks to achieve the opposite, the antithesis of the Dharma. The Dharma seeks to help us escape the wheel of becoming whereas the advertising industry (and the system it supports) seeks to keep us on it. I wonder if it is too much to say that consumer advertising is the anti-Dharma? It is one of the alluring and seductive forms in which Mara appears to us in the 21st century.

 

The Buddhist author David Loy states that the ‘market’ and consumerism has become a sort of religion – essentially an economic religion – that determines our dominant outlook and values in the West.

 

Contrary to traditional religions which appeal to a need for connection with the transcendental as well as each other our culture of consumerism encourages craving for things that can never and will never succeed in filling our existential sense of lack and emptiness.   In the past people often defined themselves by what they produced. Today, more than ever, we are encouraged by consumerist advertising and the media to define ourselves by our patterns of consumption…. by the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, where we go on holiday, the type of house we live in, the décor inside and all the other stuff that we so conspicuously and needlessly consume.

 

By mindlessly defaulting to the dominant culture of consumerism – which may be difficult to resist given its ubiquity and our deep conditioning within it – we continually reinforce a sense of ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘mine’ which not only separates us from each other and the world but also from Reality…. from Nirvana. From a Buddhist perspective this is clearly unskilful, and ultimately painful.

 

It is within this culture and milieu of consumerism, this unfertile soil, so antithetical to the Dharma that Buddhism is trying to take root in the West.

 

 

  1. How is consumerism shaping Buddhism in the West and what forms is it taking as a consequence?

 

Because of our thorough conditioning and immersion in a culture of consumerism, many of us, myself included, are laden with all sorts of unconscious attitudes that we unwittingly apply to Buddhism in much the same way as we do to everything else.

 

The sorts of unconscious consumerist attitudes I’m referring to here include:

 

  • Commodification
  • Expectation of choice
  • Desire for constant stimulation and instant gratification
  • Cherry picking what we like and ignoring everything else
  • An attitude of entitlement and rights (as opposed to duties, obligations and responsibilities)

 

Commodification

 

It’s my belief that consumerism is ubiquitous and successful because it flows so congruently with the currents of samsara. We continually receive messages from the media that we will be happy when our consumerist desires are met.   However, as Buddhists, we know that ultimately our desires won’t and can’t be satisfied in any lasting and meaningful way because, as long as we remain unenlightened, to desire is our raison d’être.   To experience freedom from desire and craving means to cease to exist in the only way that we, so deeply conditioned as we are as consumers, understand.

 

On a relatively harmless individual level Buddhism is being commodified as a form of exotica and fashion. Today it’s not uncommon for people to buy and give inordinate attention to a whole load of Buddhist paraphernalia – malas, rupas, tangkas, singing bowls, ethnic Buddhist clothing and so on. I suppose the risk is that people mistake the trappings and packaging for the substance.

 

The same phenomenon of commodification can be seen in the way that the image of the Buddha has been appropriated by those want to make a profit out of a representation of calm and tranquillity in a world of chaos and hurry. Buddha statues are everywhere – especially, and somewhat ironically given Buddhist ethics, in shops, bars, restaurants, nightclubs and luxury spas.

 

Not only are the superficial symbols and images of Buddhism being commodified but, increasingly, so are its methods and techniques. In the past several years mindfulness has become commodified too.   Mindfulness is, of course, an integral aspect of Buddhism but, at least in some, it is being divorced from the Dharma, repackaged and transformed into an industry for professionals who, having paid several thousand pounds for their training, graduate with diplomas and degrees and are then considered qualified to set up shop themselves as mindfulness experts. It seems somewhat ironic that what has, for 2500 years, been freely taught by Buddhists as a means of liberating beings from samsara is now, at least by some, being taught as a profitable means of helping people adapt and adjust to it! As practicing Buddhists we know that the purpose of mindfulness is to bring people into closer relationship with Reality. It conduces to an increasingly ethical outlook and a natural letting go… a renunciation of samsara.   It most certainly is not, as some secular mindfulness exponents state, a tool for increasing corporate profits or, as I read last night, “… a technique to mentally discipline and prepare US marines for action”

 

It seems to me that consumerism is like the Borg in Startrek. It co-opts, appropriates and absorbs everything it encounters. I think we need to consider whether Buddhism in the West is falling into its clutches.

 

Choice

 

In our society we’ve become used to choice. I think most of us these days take consumer choice for granted. In fact, we tend to expect it. As far as Buddhism is concerned, there is indeed plenty of choice out there. Just look at all the different Buddhist schools and traditions represented here in Manchester. In one respect this is wonderful because with informed choice people are more likely to find a ‘fit’ that works for them. However, the risk of so much choice is that it potentially undermines commitment to any choices made. People may initially be attracted to one Buddhist tradition but then, at some point further down the line, they hit a block or wall. Maybe they get bored, disappointed or disillusioned with their teacher. So what do they do? Rather than committing, persevering and working through and learning from the challenge they’ve encountered….as would almost have certainly been the case in more traditional contexts…. here the temptation is to simply make a few clicks on the internet to find a more exciting teacher or school of Buddhism and transfer to that.

 

Once we have taken refuge to the Three Jewels within a particular tradition we are, effectively, disciples of that tradition. In the case of Triratna it means that Order Members have agreed to follow the discipline of Buddhism as interpreted by Sangharakshita….. and, as in all worthwhile endeavours, in order to make progress discipline is absolutely necessary.

 

 

Cherry picking (spirituality vs religion)

 

Cherry picking is closely related to choice. This is the tendency to select only those aspects of Buddhism and the Dharma that one likes and to effectively ignore or dismiss what one doesn’t. (“I like meditating but can’t be bothered with puja.”) This is like shopping for an outfit and rather than buying everything from the same range of clothing so that it all matches, instead buying the shirt from one clothing range, the trousers from another, the jacket from yet another and so on. In terms of buying clothes this may be absolutely fine. However, when the same principle of cherry picking is applied to Buddhism and the Dharma then the practitioner potentially ends up with a very confused and eclectic mish-mash of methods and techniques from different schools, traditions….and possibly even different religions. This results in a personalised and individualistic and highly subjective spirituality that ‘feels’ right for the individual but more often than not lacks the depth and coherence of an established tradition which values discipline and shared community with others who are on the same path (cf Charles Taylor’s ‘subective turn’).

 

 

Constant stimulation and instant gratification

 

In our consumer culture, when we want something we tend to assume that we can get it, straight away. Generally we don’t expect to have to defer our gratifications, regardless of whether that is a book from Amazon, news on the internet, a bus to arrive, service in a restaurant or a hundred other things. I wonder if we are conditioned to bring the same impatient attitude to our meditation and the pursuit of Enlightenment, which won’t and can’t be rushed. It works its magic in its own time and in it’s own way. An expectation of instant gratification may mean, when the Dharma fails to deliver quickly, that people give up on it before it’s had any chance of bearing fruit.

 

 

An attitude of entitlement and rights (as opposed to duties, obligations and responsibilities)

 

In our consumer culture we are told that the consumer is king (or queen) and has rights. In this country this attitude of consumer sovereignty has been actively and consistently cultivated by successive government administrations since Margaret Thatcher. The problem with the notion of ‘rights’ is that it creates and reinforces the fixed sense of self (or the ego) that separates us from each other. This is antithetical to Buddhism, which aims to do the opposite.   Buddhism aims to transcend the divisions between self and other by raising awareness. With increased awareness comes an increased sense of ethical duty, obligation and responsibility which results in dana or giving, loving kindness, compassion and, ultimately, altruism.

 

 

 

6.Returning Buddhism to its radical edge.

 

In an interview for Parabola magazine several years ago Mu Soeng, who had practiced as a Korean Zen Buddhist but was at that time Director of the IMS Centre in Barre, Massachusetts said:

 

“I find that the elements of consumerism and commodification are so powerful in the American culture that everything gets commodified. Even well-meaning people end up being purveyors of consumer items. That’s the power of the culture, and it’s inescapable. One thing I see again and again is that Buddhism in America is a middle-class, bourgeois movement, and it is the nature of bourgeois middle-class movement that everything be commodified. What the Buddha was trying to tell us is to throw all the furniture out of the living room, but what we are trying to do is just move the furniture around. People don’t really want to change. We are not willing to throw the furniture out. First of all, the culture will not allow it, and secondly because if we’re throwing it out, there is the fear that everything will collapse. But if you throw the furniture out there is empty space – and a relationship with space – that is more open, more spacious….”

 

Mu Soeng hits the nail on the head!

 

One of the greatest risks for Buddhism’s survival in the West is the potential for pandering to the consumerist attitudes and demands of those who come knocking at its door, giving them what they want rather than what they really need.

 

It seems to me that the Dharma is very strong medicine for a world that, for the most part, doesn’t realise it’s sick!

 

Given the pervasive, instant and usually short-term gratifications on offer in samsara the hard-won (but ultimately satisfactory) alternative offered by the Dharma is unlikely to appeal to the masses. In the 21st century, just as in the Buddha’s day, relatively few people have ‘but little dust in their eyes’…… but there are some!

 

The Buddha’s exhortation to renounce attachments to sensual pleasures, to overcome our addiction to them, is truly radical in our rampantly consumerist society.   To sincerely and effectively practice the Dharma is, I believe, to peacefully subvert the status quo. Those of us who are really practising the Dharma are part of a ‘quiet riot’.

 

So, what are we to do?

 

First and foremost we must start with ourselves. We must ask ourselves do we want to be Enlightened and free or do we simply want to have an easier ride in samsara? If we decided we want the former then consciously commit to Going For Refuge to the three jewels – the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.   Place these at the centre of our life and recommit to them regularly. Guard them as you would any jewels. Keep them safe and polish them regularly. If we look after the Three Jewels they will look after us.

 

The Buddha taught the middle way between the extremes of self-mortification and excess. We all need to consume to survive but we don’t need to be mindless consumers. We can, if we’re mindful, be in this consumerist world but not of it.

 

The way to protect ourselves and progress in this endeavour is through the application of the four right efforts so that our personal consumption becomes more rather than less skilful….and we can encourage others to do likewise. This is achieved by

 

 

  1. Preventing the arising of mindless consumption – Guard the gates of the senses. Consciously reduce or limit your exposure to marketing and advertising – and prevent sources of temptation. Don’t unconsciously surf theTV channels or internet. Remember – what we pay attention to we become. Why not get rid of your TV altogether? Consciously and selectively choose the media you read, watch or listen to. When you go shopping make a list of what you want in advance rather than deciding what you want on the hoof.

 

  1. Eradicating existing mindless consumption – Consider the motivations behind what you consume and always remember that willed actions have consequences. Consider the ethics of what you’re purchasing in terms of whether or not it’s been fairly traded and what, if any, harm has done to people, animals or the planet in it’s production.

 

  • Cultivating or fostering stillness, simplicity, contentment through mindful consumption – De-clutter your life, get into the habit of being generous and giving stuff away on a regular basis, be frugal and recycle as much as possible. Share resources. Rather than buying stuff grow it and/or make it.

 

  1. Maintaining mindful and sustainable consumption. Be mindful of what you do have and appreciate it. Express gratitude for whatever comes into your possession. Take nothing for granted. Waste nothing and look after everything in your possession. In Dogen’s ‘Instructions to the Zen Cook’ he states that the Tenzin – the cook- is mindful of and does not waste even a single grain of rice. If we are mindful of and appreciate everything in this sort of way we’re unlikely to be excessive in our consumption.

 

(If you follow these suggestions you will be going against the currents of mainstream society and, in all probability, be considered an oddball by so called ‘normal’ people.)

 

 

Sangharakshita, makes it clear that Going For Refuge is not just a question of altering our own mental states by willed effort alone. The context and circumstances in which we live and work directly impact upon our minds. So, for the benefit of both our selves and others who tread the Buddhist Path we need to do what we can to improve our external circumstances.

 

Where are we to start with this?

 

  • Invest heavily in spiritual friendships – Kalyana mitrata – we are each other’s context. The attitudes and values of the people you associate with will influence your own thinking and attitudes.
  • Actively contribute to the creation and maintenance of the sangha as the most important external condition in which to live our spiritual lives. As a member of the sangha I am not just concerned with ‘my’ spiritual life and practice. I have a vested interest in ‘our’ spiritual practice. Where sangha is strong it acts as an inspiring, nurturing and protective shield against the consumerist default position. The default position that mainstream culture and society regards as normal.

 

However, this shouldn’t be limited to our immediate environment but should extend to the wider social, economic and political influences that impinge upon it. Consequently, we need to do what we can, not just to transform ourselves but society too. If we take the doctrine of conditioned co-production seriously, then we will know that they cannot be separated.

 

 

 

Renunciation Prayer

 

My life is full and busy

Earning money

Striving for success

Status

Stimulation

And especially pleasure.

Pleasure in whatever ways I can get it:

Sex

Food

Fashions and fads

Gadgets and gimmicks.

I always want more;

Bigger

Better

Different….

I am consumed

By the need to consume!

I acquire all manner of junk

Experiences

And even people!

What I valued yesterday

I discard today

What I value today

I shall discard tomorrow.

I want this

Then that

Then something else.

I am completely enthralled

By the froth of samsara.

My greed creates suffering

For me

For others

For the world.

I am an addict

Always wanting just one more:

Chocolate

Book

Holiday

Friend

Lover…..

The list is endless!

Restless, anxious and

empty

I have an insatiable hunger

Like a black hole

I will devour

This planet

This galaxy

This universe.

I just don’t have enough!

I’ve never had enough!

I will never have enough!

The treadmill of craving

Keeps me distracted

From what I REALLY need.

Faster, faster and faster

The wheel turns.

Never moving forwards

And exhausted

I am racing towards

Old age

Sickness

And death.

Thank you Shakyamuni.

I am grateful to you

Who discovered and taught

The way to freedom

Above and between

The two extremes.

The narrow path

Straight as a shuttle from samsara to nirvana

The blissful

Peaceful

Selfless state.

My parents gave the gift of physical life.

You, the gift of meaningful life.

I bow down

And prostrate at your feet.

You are truly a kinsman of

the sun.

A bringer of light.

Dispelling the darkness.

A guide

Showing the way

Out of this mire.

All to soon

This precious life is spent.

What time I have left

I must not waste.

Heeding your Dharma

I shall strive on

Awake

To every second

Of every minute

Of every hour

Of every remaining day.

Opening my clenched fist

I shall no longer

Grab

Grasp

And cling.

Opening my heart

I shall hanker after nothing

But the truth!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking Good Care of the Present Moment: A Day of Mindfulness with Sister Jewel

Saturday 21st March 2015

From 10.30 am to 4:00 pm

At Cross Street Chapel, Manchester M2 1NL

For directions please see: www.cross-street-chapel.org.uk

We will come home to the present through the peaceful and transformative practices from the Thich Nhat Hanh tradition. We will refresh ourselves with meditation, mindful walking, mindful eating, noble silence, and tea meditation.

TakingGoodCarePhoto

The Day will be led by Dharma Teacher Sister Jewel

Sister Jewel (Chan Chau Nghiem in Vietnamese) grew up in the US and Kenya. Thich Nhat Hanh ordained her as a Buddhist nun in 1999 and a Dharma Teacher in 2007. Before ordaining, she graduated from Stanford University with a B.A. and M.A. in Anthropology and Social Sciences. She has led retreats in the U.S., Europe, Asia, Brazil, India and Southern Africa. She is editor of Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh.

The day is open to everyone, including Buddhists of all traditions, those interested in Buddhism and mindfulness practitioners.

Please bring vegetarian or vegan food to share for lunch. This should be food that is ready to serve and does not require heating up. You may also want to bring something to drink. For the tea meditation, you are welcome to bring a poem, song, story, musical instrument, dance or some other kind of offering to share.

Donations to support the teacher, teachings and hire of the room are very welcome. For those that can afford it we would like to suggest a donation of £25.00.However please feel free to donate according to your own circumstances. The day is open to all regardless of financial circumstances.

 

For enquiries or to book a place contact: Dene, Telephone: 01253 735121

Email: dene.donalds@pathwaysassociates.co.uk

The day of mindfulness is hosted by the Heart of Manchester Sangha. Practising in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh

www.coiuk.org/sangha-pages/heart-of-manchester-sangha

 

 

August 2014 Update by Jaya

This is a further update on the convention.

As you know the title has been shortened to:

 

Buddhism Today: Renewal and relevance

Responding to the challenges of our times.

 

By now you should have had Oxana’s poster and hopefully, you have forwarded it onto you various networks, centre members and other people who may be interested in the Convention. It will also be helpful if you can make a few copies and ask people to hand them out or put them in shops, centres, community groups who may be interested in this event.  This Convention needs to be seen as a shared project that we can all promote otherwise it will disappear. It’s quite a big undertaken for a group of six, some of whom are still working full-time and others of whom have multiple identities with various duties attached!

 

You will find a registration form on the website so please begin to register. Please note that there is a field that asks if you require food. This is important so as not to waste food – not a sustainable practice nor sensible for an event that runs on a shoestring and voluntary contributions in terms of time, food and other resources. We would like to see it remain that way.

In our last update we explained the reason for our choice of topic. If we stop to consider what is happening to our world, will see that we are beset with problems.

 

This is apparent in the world outside ourselves where we may think we have little control, in our own neighbourhoods as well as within ourselves.  This is the scenario. 

 

AvalokiteshvaraHowever the aim of the Convention is not to brood on the negativities that surround us and affect us – how can they not? – but to examine them; examine some of the actions that people are taking in response; and come up with ideas that people can take forward. We cannot change our environment entirely but we are not helpless and what we do together can magnify what we do individually or even as different centres..

 

The Convention will examine some examples of work that is taking place. Through discussion we will try and develop ideas that we can take forward to create healing in different contexts. There are already some ‘new shoots’ that are being examined; people working in different contexts with Buddhist/spiritual ideas. They will be presented at the Convention and participants may have ideas of how to take them forward.  There will also be themed discussion spaces for people to explore specific ideas that have come up over the years, or to suggest their own.

 

It is interesting to see how many people are interested in Buddhism and are happy to talk about it. On the other hand it is discouraging how many practices are being detached from their ethical and spiritual mooring and presented as mere activities to increase the ‘feel-good’ factor of our lives. This has happened to yoga, meditation and seems to be happening to ‘mindfulness’. (Perhaps some of you read Suzanne Moore’s article in the Guardian. If not – it might be interesting to check.)

 

There are, of course different notions of ‘doing’ among Buddhists. Some think that we have to ‘work on ourselves first’. There are others who believe that we have to do both together; that time is precious and the situation demands it.

 

These are some thoughts from a Buddhist (myself) from the other side of the globe. In countries where Buddhism is embedded in the community, there is no separation. In SE Asia, monks and nuns still go out to beg for food. They are entirely dependent on the community to survive. In return they teach, maybe run hospitals, schools and serve the old. There is a symbiotic relationship between them and the community in which they live. In India where there is a revival of Buddhism, it was considered a duty to give alms bhikkus and saddhus – not just those who belonged to one’s own spiritual system (sasana*) but to any mendicant. People would look out to give at least once a day. (A custom that is, unfortunately, receding with modernisation but it is still practiced to some extent.)

 

Sasana is the Sanskrit and Pali term for teaching, spiritual path or practice. I am choosing to use it because the term ‘tradition’ in English is redolent with something that belongs to the past and will not change. 

 

There will be one or two more updates in the weeks leading up to the Convention. Please also feel free to post your own material or ideas on the Website – it’s for discussion – but it’s a monologue at the moment.

 

Jaya – co-ordinator MBC

 

 

 

 

Manchester Buddhist Convention One Root Many Branches

 

18 June 2011, Saturday, 8 pm – the Moment of Peace

When
“The Moment of Peace” is on Saturday, June 18th 2011 at 8:00pm (in your local time-zone).

“The Moment of Peace” is an ambitious project to get 1 million people worldwide involved in an hour of mindful silence in an effort to help people find more meaning in their lives. It is the biggest single gathering of meditation, prayer and mindful silence in the history of the world … ever! Join in today! www.themomentofpeace.com

The Moment of Peace

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