One of my recent general observations about religion is that its role in the lives of the younger generation has been deteriorating. While I do not have the numeric data that my fellow blogger arunlikhati is so skilled in collecting to support my claim (I tried to sort out some PEW stats but gave up…), I think many readers will agree with my claim just through each of their personal experiences with the youth, namely children up until high school. I am well aware that this is not the case for all youth and each of us can easily come up with children who do hold their faith close to their hearts. However, I do think that in a society where people share their latest thoughts and status with Facebook and Twitter more often than God, where money and power have become society’s determining factor for success rather than morality, and where Miley Cyrus has become a more influential icon for children than most religious figures, religion certainly has much more competition nowadays especially in finding a place among the youth.
Via Danny Fisher, I read about the rock opera that was forced off the air in Cambodia due to complaints from monks. Apparently, they were offended by the character of a bad monk who disrobed, slept with a woman and then was later seen again in robes. There was some other coverage of this story at Precious Metal, Mongkol and also at Shambhala Sun, where Rod Meade Sperry in particular caught my attention with the following lines:
This stands in stark contrast to how we Westerners mostly deal with cultural portrayals of Buddhism. Whether it’s a rapper co-opting a chant for his song, or a major motion picture taking incredible liberties with Buddhist ideas or imagery, or just the mountains of semi-Dharmic knick-knacks that are popping everywhere, we — for the most part — just shrug our shoulders and say, “Meh.”
It seems like a very simple story. Cambodian monks are basically narrow-minded angry Asian Buddhists who get offended every time they see Buddhism wrapped up in something they don’t recognize. If only they were as open-minded as us Western Buddhists. Those rock opera producers certainly had no idea what they were doing when they put the character of a nasty monk into their plot. Or did they?
Few journalists care enough to report in depth about Cambodia (except you Nicholas Kristof!), so here’s what I’ve got to say on the subject.
I spent the last week sick in bed at my Mother’s house, and among the panicked bathroom trips and bubbly fever dreams I clawed at a paperback of some of the dialogs of Plato.
It was a book from a critical writing class I took in community college, from one of my very favorite professors who taught me so much of what I know. It was then, reading Phaedo, that I remembered the story of his own encounter with Buddhism.
My memory betrays whether he was a layperson or a monastic, but his teacher had come to Buddhism directly via the first noble truth. He was a trucker, crisscrossing the country with the lived in experience of his own separation and sorrows and the stories of the hardships of others.
He knew this is suffering. Then, probably through some bookstore somewhere, he found the Dharma.
Just got back off a five hour drive from San Francisco. Some thoughts…
Finally I understand why monks are supposed to sleep on low beds. I’ve been spending the last few nights with a quilt across two zabuton (and a pillow). As a result I would only lie down to sleep for the sake of sleep, not for any pleasure at all! (I still got good sleep.)
I love staying with family because I can waste five minutes of my day by gently taking an ant outside, and no one will question why, and no one makes me defend expending so much effort for the sake of a little ant.
Someone should install a traffic camera at the corner of Oak and Octavia. The city could make millions on those tickets. And maybe it would even be safer.
Much time with family also meant much time speaking our language! I think it’s definitely important to speak another language with family for at least the following reasons.  You can talk about people in the same room without them knowing. (“Don’t nag Mom right now, she’s having a bad day.”)  Language is like a cultural glue. If you have language, you have almost direct access to so many aspects of culture, from recipes to history to religion. If you try to study a culture without its language, learning about it is like crawling the net with a dial-up modem.  Language binds family at a very deep emotional level. You share a knowledge that no one else has.  Perhaps the most obvious reason: if you don’t speak it, your language just might die out.
Lastly, I just came across an article from Urban Dharma with the topic: How will the Sangha fare in North American Buddhism? More about this later. But first sleep, and I shall sleep for the joy of it too.
Or an analysis of Lay Responsibility
Earlier today I picked up my copy of Bhikkhu Bodhi’s Majjhima Nikaya and saw an index card jutting out from within the pages. I flipped to the proper place and found MN 67, the Catuma Sutta, and remembered I had set it aside because I wanted to talk about it here.
There isn’t a satisfactory translation available online, so let me summarize: The Buddha is residing near the city of Catuma when he overhears a group of monks being particularly noisy. He calls the monks before him and dismisses them, telling them to leave because they are too loud.
As the group of monks is leaving, the local villagers see them walking away with their heads hung low. Some of these villagers then go before the Buddha and implore him to allow the monks to return, so that they can live near the Buddha and be trained properly. The Brahma Sahampati shows up and makes a similar plea to add a divine component – the Buddha relents, lets the monks return, and then gives a more formal teaching on some of the dangers of the monastic life.
What I love about this sutta is the way it depicts the relationship between the lay and monastic communities, and how it speaks to certain responsibilities that modern communities somewhat neglect.
So I was surfing the web the other day, looking up information on Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Basically I heard a personal anecdote about him from a friend in Boston, and I had to find out if it was true. Thanissaro Bhikkhu (or “Thaan Geoff”) is a Theravada Buddhist monk who lives at Wat Mettavanaram outside of San Diego. I first met him on a club field trip to Wat Metta in 2004. His writings have had a huge influence on many of my friends. I came across this delightful interview in the Oberlin Alumni Magazine, and I thought I’d share it with everyone: Being a Monk: A Conversation with Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
The interview is great in part because it asks many of the questions that I have always been too ashamed to ask because I know I’m not supposed to ask monks those types of questions. But it’s also always great to hear Thaan Geoff’s perspective on Buddhist practice. Here is one quote that really struck home for me:
The Forest tradition places a lot of emphasis on concentration practice, getting the mind to stay with one object. So that’s a lot of my time. And of course, if you’re sitting for long periods of time, pain is going to come up. Then the mind creates issues about the pain. Dealing with that is the Buddha’s First Noble Truth: There is pain in life. There is suffering in life. I think the reason he focused on that is that if you sit with your pains and suffering, if you have the tools of concentration and mindfulness, you start seeing these issues in your mind.