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Lions Roar : January 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2007 115 trappings—are like a cup. The skills and methods are observable and tangible, but the truth is not. The challenge is not to get carried away by the cup. People are more inclined to sit straight in a quiet place on a meditation cushion than to contemplate which will come first, tomorrow or the next life. Outward practices are perceiv- able, so the mind is quick to label them as “Buddhism,” whereas the concept “all compounded things are impermanent” is not tangible and is difficult to label. It is ironic that evidence of impermanence is all around us, yet is not obvious to us. The essence of Buddhism is beyond cul- ture, but it is practiced by many different cultures, which use their traditions as the cup that holds the teachings. If the elements of these cultural trappings help other beings without causing harm, and if they don’t contradict the four truths, then Siddhartha would encourage such practices. Throughout the centuries so many brands and styles of cups have been pro- duced, but however good the intention behind them, and however well they may work, they become a hindrance if we for- get the tea inside. Even though their pur- pose is to hold the truth, we tend to focus on the means rather than the outcome. So people walk around with empty cups, or they forget to drink their tea. We human beings can become enchanted, or at least distracted, by the ceremony and color of Buddhist cultural practices. Incense and candles are exotic and attractive; imper- manence and selflessness are not. Sid- dhartha himself said that the best way to worship is by simply remembering the principle of impermanence, the suffering of emotions, that phenomena have no inherent existence, and that nirvana is beyond concepts. Now that Buddhism is flourishing in the West, I have heard of people alter- ing Buddhist teachings to fit the mod- ern way of thinking. If there is anything to be adapted, it would be the rituals and symbols, not the truth itself. Bud- dha himself said that his discipline and methods should be adapted ap- propriately to time and place. But the four truths don’t need to be updated or modified, and it’s impossible to do so anyway. You can change the cup, but the tea remains pure. After surviving 2,500 years and traveling 40,781,035 feet from the Bodhi tree in central India to Times Square in New York City, the concept “all compounded things are imperma- nent” still applies. Impermanence is still impermanence in Times Square. You cannot bend these four rules; there are no social or cultural exceptions. PRACTICING HARMONY Profound truths aside, these days even the most practical and obvious truths are ignored. We are like monkeys who dwell in the forest and shit on the very branches from which we hang. Every day we hear people talking about the state of the economy, not recognizing the con- nection between recession and greed. Because of greed, jealousy, and pride, the economy will never become strong enough to ensure that every person has access to the basic necessities of life. Our dwelling place, the Earth, becomes more and more polluted. I have met people who condemn ancient rulers and emper- ors and ancient religions as the source of all conflict. But the secular and modern world has not done any better; if any- thing, it has done worse. What is it that the modern world has made better? One of the main effects of science and tech- nology has been to destroy the world more quickly. Many scientists believe that all living systems and all life-support systems on Earth are in decline. It’s time for modern people like our- selves to give some thought to spiritual matters, even if we have no time to sit on a cushion, even if we are put off by those who wear rosaries around their necks, and even if we are embarrassed to exhibit our religious leanings to our secular friends. Contemplating the impermanent nature of everything that we experience and the painful effect of clinging to the self brings peace and harmony—if not to the entire world, at least within our own sphere. ♦ What Is a Buddhist? continued from page 57 TRAVEL TO LHASA, TIBET Annual Pilgramage to Tibet TIBET AID INVITES YOU TO SHARE IN THE LIVES, TRADITIONS, AND HOMELANDS OF THE TIBETAN PEOPLE Spring: May 4 thru 20, 2007 Travel to Tibet and Dharamsala, India with Tibet Aid sponsor and tour guide Lynne Wiggins, along with internationally renowned Glenn Mullin, scholar and teacher of Tantric Buddhist meditation. The focus of our travel will be pilgrimage and cultural insight, beginning in Kathmandu and Lhasa and concluding in Dharamsala. During six days in Lhasa, we will visit the Jokhang, the Barkhor, the Potala Palace and the Sera and Drepung Monasteries. We will also drive to Gyantse via the Turquoise Lake, continuing to Shigatse, the second largest city of Tibet and home to Tashilunpo Monastery, the seat of the Panchen Lama. Next we travel to Dharamsala, India -- the home of His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. In Dharamsala we will visit the Dalai Lama’s temple and monastery as well as the Tibetan Children’s Village, the Norbulingka Center of Tibetan Art and Culture and the Tibetan Library and Medical Center. P lease contact Tibet Aid for tour details and more information about how you can help the people of Tibet: