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Lions Roar : September 2017
What is the connection between Buddhism and secular mindfulness? Some people say mindfulness is just Buddhism in another form. Is that true? The word mindfulness is used in two main ways. First, it refers to the basic human abil- ity to be aware of one’s mind and surround- ings and attend to the present moment. This is a natural quality of mind and is not the discovery or property of any tra- dition, spiritual or otherwise. Second, mindfulness refers to specific techniques to strengthen this capability. These are practiced in one form or another in all the world’s spiritual traditions. The most common practice is meditation, using an object such as the breath as an anchor for attention. While it’s fair to say that Buddhism has made the most robust use of tech- niques to enhance mindfulness, “secular mindfulness” uses meditation to cultivate mindfulness without relying on doctrines from Buddhism or any other spiritual tradition. This makes the power of mindfulness available to a much larger num- ber of people, including practitioners of different religions or none at all. I know generosity is considered an important virtue by Buddhists. Does that mean when I see people on the street asking for money I should always give it to them? Generosity, or dana, is indeed one of the pre- dominant Buddhist virtues, and it’s deep and far-reaching. Generosity is not merely about giving things. It begins with cultivating a generous nature that sees the good in others and the sources of their pain, which helps you see them as not separate from yourself. Practically speaking, one can give three main types of gifts: material things, including money; encouragement and good wishes; and the gift of dharma, as discussed above. Seeing which of these gifts is most appropriate in each circumstance requires skill. It’s possible to engage in “idiot compassion,” giv- ing a person something that does not help them, or may actually hurt them. Whether and how you give someone on the street money depends on your deep intentions and skillful attention to their real needs. ♦ WHO? WHAT? WHERE? B. R. AMBEDKAR B. R. AMBEDKAR (1891–1956) was a states- man, social reformer, and independence leader who led a Buddhist revival in India known as the Dalit Buddhist movement. He inspired millions of Indians to convert to Buddhism to escape the oppression of the Hindu caste system, which Buddhism does not recognize. Growing up as a member of the Dalit caste, then known as “untouchables,” Ambedkar knew discrimination first hand. He was one of the first Dalits to receive a college education and went on to earn a law degree and doc- torates in economics from Columbia and the London School of Economics. As independent India’s first law minister, Ambedkar was the chief architect of the country’s constitution, which outlawed discrimination based on caste. But he became convinced that the only way to truly escape the harsh caste system was to leave Hinduism altogether. In 1956, he converted to Buddhism because he believed that the ideals of universal human rights, self-reliance, and non-violent struggle were best upheld by the Bud- dhist teachings. Some 400,000 of Ambedkar’s Dalit followers then joined him in converting to Buddhism, sparking a Buddhist revival in India. Ambedkar died just months after the mass conversion. He left behind a movement that today numbers in the mil- lions as Dalits—who still suffer discrimination and abuse in modern-day India—continue to convert to Buddhism in response to their low status in the caste hierarchy. Ambedkar’s book, The Buddha and His Dharma, is considered the bible of the Dalit Buddhist Movement. Tell us what you’d like to know about Buddhism and meditation at firstname.lastname@example.org LION’S ROAR | SEPTEMBER 2017 31 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE