Thursday, April 21, 2005

More pictures - Tallahassee

Here is a picture of the group who took part in the recent retreat at Tallahassee in the Dharma Centre there.

The streets in Talahassee are amazingly green - who would believe this is a city street! Paul and Judy live on the corner to the right of the picture.

Paul (who organised my trip) with Judy, his wife, and their two dogs, Asta and Bishop. I nearly lost Bishop one day when he darted out of the door, but happily we found him wandering by the road side.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Proud Mum

Here is my son, Tim, at his graduation last July

And here are all three of my youngsters - Cath, Tim and Jenny


Aren't they great?

Site Back

Glad to see this site has sorted itself out. Something very strange happened when I tried to delete an old post! Namo Amida Bu

Thursday, April 14, 2005

How a Buddhist Looks at the Election

I was asked to write a piece for the Leicester Mercury on the elections. With limited wordage, this was my piece (in the event the first two paragraphs were cut):

Once more we are caught up in the excitement of the pre-election road-show. The parties have launched their manifestos and the media are picking over the carcasses with alacrity. We face regular opinion poll reports, and follow the election soap with varying degrees of compulsion and boredom.

So, how does a Buddhist regard this election process? How do we decide which way to vote?

Buddhists see the troubles of humanity as being rooted in three poisons. These are greed, hate and delusion. All problems grow from our compulsion to grasp or reject things out of the delusion of self-interest. Reading current election discussions in the media, one could be forgiven for thinking that voting decisions are based on at least one of the three poisons; greed, hate and delusion are everywhere. Who offers the best tax deal for me? Whose legislation will infringe my privileges? Or, who will be toughest on unwanted people – stopping immigration, or locking up criminals? Most people, it seems, vote on the basis of self-interest.

Buddhists believe in non-harm. We work actively for a peaceful, compassionate society. This includes being a world presence as a facilitator of peace and promoter of economic fairness. A high priority, then, is a party that commits to avoiding war. Also, as residents of a rich nation, few Buddhists desire to live on the exploitation of poorer countries. Foreign policy, then, is a matter of grave concern.

As a Buddhist, I look for policies that may create the foundations of a compassionate world. Buddhism teaches that change comes about through causes and conditions and that creating compassionate conditions, we enable a better future. This is not naïve. It means looking at the ultimate consequences of legislation. Law and order is a big issue in elections. Too often debate focuses on retribution rather than re-education and restorative measures. Tough policies are popular, but in the long term simply sow seeds for future crime and violence. In the past our country prided itself on offering safe haven to refugees, but modern trends in politics have changed. Is this really in our interests? Such policies come home to roost in surprising ways. History has taught that countries that welcomed refugees in the past often benefited greatly from the skills and wealth that such people brought with them. Those that shun others, become friendless.

Political one-liners focus on individual benefit, but a position based on collectivism and compassion need not mean deprivation. One only has to visit a hospital or ride on a train in France to realise that higher taxes linked to better services can bring benefits to everyone, and especially the underprivileged.

Religion is about society. It is collective. As with most faiths, Buddhism is concerned with the common good, not individual benefit. Religion offers a critique of political policy for its social and ethical implications. So, this election, vote ethically.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Buddhism: Growth or decline?

Having launched, perhaps a little unwisely, into a head on debate on an engaged Buddhist loop, I retire to lick my wounds and consider. Is Buddhism growing or in decline at present? Hard to answer such a general question, but in response to an account of the current age of growth (are we really 30 years into a 100 year growth phase in the West as Ayya Khema is quoted to have said?) I felt the need to flag up concerns I have shared with others in some quarters of the Buddhist world that Buddhism in the West has perhaps already passed its peak - at least in its current form - and has reached a point of stasis or even some decline. Can we really still claim to be the fastest growing religion as we did five or ten years ago? I am not pessimistic, but I do feel we need to take an honest look at what is happening and take steps to do something about it. It does seem to me that many groups are struggling to maintain numbers even at current levels. Also we are an aging population. For the most part we are a generation of baby boomers continuing to practice as we have for twenty or more years but maybe not attracting the numbers of young people required to further the Dharma in the future. Of course there are exceptions (many examples of groups attracting young people were pointed out to me) but overall there are not many. Religion is having a hard time generally in the modern world, and especially among the young, so it may not be Buddhists alone who should be worried, but I do think we need to address the critiques leveled at us if we are to re-activate our previous growth levels. How much real social engagement do Buddhist groups engage in? Are we just offering "stress reduction methods" for secular audiences? Are Buddhist groups too withdrawn from ordinary life? Are we too concerned with legitimacy and preserving old forms to adapt to the needs of the west - and the world?

There is a danger that we are perceived as "nice people" practicing peaceful and quietistic methods in quaint monastic settings. There is a danger we are respected but not involved. There is a danger we withdraw ourselves into non-participatory retreat and do not return. Comments please....

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Jenny visiting

My daughter, Jenny, visiting today. A chance to catch up and to discuss her plans to volunteer with Amida next autumn in India

Friday, April 08, 2005

Snow in April

Last week it was Florida in hot sunshine. Blue sky and heat like the hotest English summer day. The week before we steamed in thunder storms and 90% humidity. Today, back in England it snowed. Spanning the world, times and climates change with the speed of trafic lights. World together and worlds apart, we share our insights and our differences