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Lions Roar : May 2017
JAYCASTOR I’m confused about the Dalai Lama’s role. A lot of people think he’s like the Pope, i.e., the world leader of Buddhism. Is that true? The Dalai Lama is the world’s lead- ing Buddhist voice, but he is not the world leader of Buddhism. There are many different tradi- tions of Buddhism and each has its own leaders. There is no overall head like the Pope. Technically, the Dalai Lama is not even the leader of the Tibetan Buddhist school he’s a member of. But he is the unques- tioned leader of the Tibetan people, and until recently was the head of state in exile. There is no question the Dalai Lama is the most famous Bud- dhist teacher in the world and one of humanity’s moral and spiritual leaders. That’s the result of many factors—his deep realization, his engaging person- ality, his courageous leadership of an oppressed people, and a message the world needs and wants to hear—but not because he has any formal position or title in world Buddhism. I have a bad back and it really hurts when I meditate sitting on a cushion. Is it okay if I sit in a chair to meditate? We meditate with the body we have, not the one we think we’re supposed to have. The best way to meditate might be in full lotus posture, but how many of us can do that? There are all kinds of ways to sit when doing Buddhist meditation. Many people sit cross-legged on a cushion, some traditions recommend kneeling, and if you need to sit on a chair, that’s fine. What all these postures have in common is feeling firmly grounded, with a straight spine and a sense of relaxed dignity. So sit in the chair with your back straight and your feet flat on the ground. As with the other postures, your hips should be higher than your knees, so put a pillow on the seat if you need to. Buddhist meditation isn’t about comfort, but it isn’t about pain either. It’s fine to choose the posture that fits the body you have. ♦ WHO? WHAT? WHERE? THE LOTUS THE LOTUS IS ONE of Buddhism’s most recogniz- able symbols of enlightenment and is important in many Buddhist traditions. According to legend, every- where the baby Buddha stepped, a lotus flower bloomed. The famed Lotus Sutra is one of the most important texts of Mahayana Buddhism and is the foundation of the Pure Land schools. Because the lotus grows in muddy water, it symbol- izes the purity of enlightened mind arising amidst the suffering of samsara. It also represents nonattach- ment, as it is rooted in mud (attachment and desire) but its flowers blossom on long stalks unsullied by the mud below. The famous Tibetan mantra OM MANI PADME HUM, meaning “OM the Jewel in the Lotus HUM,” invokes Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara), the bodhisattva of com- passion. In this case, the lotus represents wisdom and the jewel symbolizes skillful means. Different-colored lotuses have different meanings. The white lotus represents mental purity and spiritual perfection. The red lotus is the symbol of love and compassion. The blue lotus represents wisdom and intelligence and is always pictured partially opened. A gold lotus represents the achievement of complete enlightenment. In some Buddhist schools, the flower’s stage of growth represents different stages on the path to enlight- enment. A closed bud symbolizes the time before enlightenment, while a fully bloomed lotus represents full enlightenment. Sometimes a flower is partly open, with its center hidden, indicating that enlightenment is beyond ordinary sight. Tell us what you’d like to know about Buddhism and meditation at email@example.com LION’S ROAR | MAY 2017 33 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE