All Things Orthodox

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The OrthodoxWiki editors have taken St. John of Damascus as their heavenly patron and intercessor as they seek to further the worship and knowledge of the All-Holy Trinity and the faith of the Orthodox Church by means of these pages.

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Hinduism 101

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Nice synopsis page for a very old spiritual tradition:

There is only one divine principle, the many gods are only aspects of that unity. Life in all its forms is an aspect of the divine, but it appears as a separation from the divine, a meaningless cycle of birth and rebirth (samsara) determined by the purity or impurity of past deeds (karma). To improve one’s Karma or escape Samsara by pure acts, thoughts, and devotion is the aim of every Hindu.

Click through for the entire scoop….

A Force for Moderation

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Sufism is more than just a mystical spiritual path:

“If there is a family in Sudan that does not have at least one Sufi member, it is not Sudanese.”

This is the view of Dr. Hasan Al Fatih Qaribullah, a leading sheikh of the Sammaniya tariqa, or Sufi movement, in Khartoum. It is a view commonly held by Sudanese.

Sufism in Sudan is not a public issue or part of a national debate. Yet it is an enormously important force that has shaped, and continues to shape, the society as a whole.

It is widely recognized that the extended family is of vital social and economic importance in this country, where poverty is widespread but real hunger rare.

Strong family ties are traditional, but Sufism, which teaches the practice of sacrificial service for others, is an important element in the glue that holds many Sudanese families together.

It is a serious religious discipline, not the ideal seen by 1960s western religious romantics.

The word suf means wool in Arabic, and the Sufis took their name for wearing rough woolen clothes as part of their spiritual discipline.

On a recent Friday afternoon on a Khartoum street closed to traffic and covered in mats, hundreds of Sammaniya devotees stood in lines facing each other for the zikr, or remembrance of God, that is the most important Sufi ritual.

They spent all afternoon of their only day off work bowing deeply hundreds of times, chanting “la illah il Allah,” there is no god but God, or other devotional lines, or simply the word “Allah”, again and again. Every moment directed by their sheikh, they turned from side to side and jumped up and down. There was no small talk; there were no distractions, just the devotee, his sheikh and his God against the background of the voices of men leading the chants.

The zikr combines chants, prayers, meditation and various related body movements to induce a total absorption of the individual in the worship of God.

It requires real stamina to go the full five or six hours, especially when summer temperatures soar to well above 40 degrees Celsius.

But the reward, says Sheikh Qaribullah, is a feeling of joy. He says when he engages in the zikr his whole focus is on God and being close to God.

“I try hard to be close to God,” he says simply.

His dignified bearing and spiritual face testify to the fruits of these exertions.

His father and grandfather were Sammaniya sheikhs as well, and they descended from the man who introduced the sect to Sudan, a disciple of Samman, a mystic based in Medina (many years before the current Wahabi sect took over Saudi Arabia and suppressed Sufism there altogether).

There are some 3,000 men in Qaribullah’s Khartoum group, and half as many women, who worship separately. He says Sammaniya is the largest Sufi tariqa in Sudan, probably numbering in the millions. There are definitely several million Sufis in Sudan altogether, making probably the largest national Sufi community in the world.

The various groups operate independently (Sufism is not like a Christian denomination; it more closely resembles Christian mystical orders) but have good relations among themselves. On the prophet Mohammed’s birthday (May 24 this year) there will be a 12-day Sufi get-together in Khartoum that will bring together all the groups in a massive celebration. This is an annual event.

Members vary from children to old folks, poor to rich, educated and not. When the Sammaniya meet for their zikr, they all wear the white galabiyas common in Sudan, with a special leather belt that signifies their devotion. There is some variety in dress among the groups.

Qaribullah says that increasingly young, well-educated Sudanese are drawn to Sufism because they are disappointed in the other Islamic movements, especially fundamentalism with its emphasis on law rather than spiritual experience and growth.

There are many other Sufi movements in Sudan. Some of the larger ones are the Tijaniya, Khatamiya, Ansar (the group of the Mahdi of anti-British fame) and the Birhaniya.

Many are part of international tariqas, such as the Shazliya, the Qardiriya and the Naqshabandi.

Qaribullah says the Sammaniya have branches in several countries and are the largest tariqa in Nigeria.

Each tariqa is founded by an individual who has some particular teachings and ways of conducting a zikr, but all share common principles and similar practices. For all, the sheikh is important as the person who guides each devotee, or murshid, on the path of spiritual development.

The sheikh leads the prayers and zikr but also gives personal advice to his followers on most matters, including career, marriage and family.

But while Sufism is a tough, demanding discipline, it is not a career in itself and Sufis have to hold down ordinary jobs like everyone else.

Qaribullah is a scholar who has taught in various universities and was for several years the chancellor (president) of the Omdurman Islamic University. He has also written and published over 100 books, following a pattern established by his spiritual lineage.

The Sufis are not directly involved in politics, allowing their followers to make their own choices. But politicians frequently court their favor, nonetheless.

And many political leaders in Sudan are Sufis themselves, including several ministers in the present government. Jaafer Nimeiri, Sudan’s president throughout the 1970s, was a Sammaniya Sufi.

But Sufis do inevitably have a moderating effect on whatever party leads the country since the very core of their teaching and practice is tolerance of others.

Qaribullah sums up the Sufi mandate thus:

“The Sufi should do good for people and follow the way of the Prophet Mohammed. He should be tolerant with his family, neighbors and all others in the world.”

These are not ideals to which lip service is given. These are the core objectives of every disciple and progress in the tariqa depends on achieving them.

It’s the Perennial Wisdom, y’all….

Inner Explorations

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My main early mentor in this lifetime, Carl Jung….

From the front page:

Where Christian mysticism, theology and metaphysics meet Eastern religions, Jungian psychology and a new sense of the earth.

More than 500 web pages, 2,500 pages of text, and 1,000 images.

It’s got everything… including a $25 DVD called “Natural Building and a New Sense of the Earth,” which happens to be a subject close to my heart (though not, currently, close to my income level — but that could change!).

Here are some images of the type of dwelling shown in the DVD:

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I don’t mind saying, I’ll be spending some time reading through some of the 500 pages on this site, soaking in the good intentions of its author. Great stuff here.

Gone Fishin’, Apparently….

Been doing other stuff these past four days — including solving the “broken printer” problem, which led to a new HP printer, which has further led to several days of frustration in attempting to install its ridiculously-complicated software. Also, I’ve been getting outside-gigs in terms of money-making opportunities, and this has bumped me out of my normal weekend R&R routine — time usually spent blogging, or at least Web surfing.

Now I’m at the day job, where blogging is verboten, so I’m only able to post this little public service announcement, saying that I’ll be back into shortly.

Thanks for you patience, y’all….

A Resource Guide to Buddhist Literature

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From my meditation teacher’s guide to the Buddha’s original teachings:

Regardless of whether one is a Buddhist or from some other religion a study of the Pali canon can only enhance one’s spiritual journey. The Pali Canon is reputed to be a record of the spoken word of the historic Buddha, Sidharta Gotama (c 563-483 BCE). It is at least the oldest extant document of the words that are attributed to the Buddha.

The Pali Canon is also known as the “Tipitaka” in Pali, which means the “Three Baskets.” The Three Baskets were first written during the reign of King Ashoka around 250 BCE. Therefore no other canon of Buddhist literature has a better claim of authenticity. It may also be worth pointing out that the other canons of Buddhist literature are based upon first century CE Sanskrit translations of the Pali canon, which are called the “Tripitaka” in Sanskrit. Thus, as the West begins to build its own canon of Buddhist literature it might as well begin with a translation of the original Pali Canon into the various Western Languages.

Western scholarship in the Pali canon began in 1850 with the work of the Finish scholar, Viggo Fausböll (1821-1908), who published the first scholarly translation of the Dhammapada. Pali studies arrived in English with the work of Robert Caesar Childers (1838-1876), who translated Viggo Fausböll ‘s Dhammapada into English. In 1876 the first Pali to English dictionary was published posthumously for Childers.

F. Max Muller (1823-1900) began the translation of Pali literature into German at about the same time Viggo Fausböll was working on his Finish translations. In 1881 Muller came to England to help found the Pali Text Society. Muller’s English translation of Viggo Fausböll ‘s Dhammapada was published by the Pali Text Society in volume 10 of their series the “Sacred Books of the East.”

From 1899 to 1910 the Long Discourses of the Buddha (Digha Nikaya) first appeared in English. They were published in volumes 2 through 4 of the “Sacred Books of the Buddhists,” and were translated by Rhys Davids and edited by F. Max Muller for the Pali Text Society.

Reading the Pali canon is an excellent way to come to understand the central concepts of Buddhism. While the canon has a reputation for being a weighty tome, I have found it readable and accessible. Much of it is even online at the websites below. One must, however, keep in mind translator bias when reading translated literature, thus please examine this document:

And there follows an exhaustive listing of online resources for a study of the Pali Canon, including several essays on translator bias that any curious and open-minded student would be wise to check out.

What Would the Buddha Do?

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Life in the predominantly Buddhist country of Sri Lanka….

While the three Abrahamic religions are famous for violence in the name of their God, we are often led to believe that Buddhists are universally pacifistic, in alignment with the Buddha’s teachings on nonviolence and goodwill toward all beings.

History, as Michael Parenti points out, does not quite conform with this view:

A glance at history reveals that Buddhist organizations have not been free of the violent pursuits so characteristic of religious groups. In Tibet, from the early seventeenth century well into the eighteenth, competing Buddhist sects engaged in armed hostilities and summary executions. In the twentieth century, in Thailand, Burma, Korea, Japan, and elsewhere, Buddhists clashed with each other and with nonBuddhists. In Sri Lanka, armed battles in the name of Buddhism are part of Sinhalese history.

Just a few years ago in South Korea, thousands of monks of the Chogye Buddhist order fought each other with fists, rocks, fire-bombs, and clubs, in pitched battles that went on for weeks. They were vying for control of the order, the largest in South Korea, with its annual budget of $9.2 million, its additional millions of dollars in property, and the privilege of appointing 1,700 monks to various duties. The brawls partly destroyed the main Buddhist sanctuaries and left dozens of monks injured, some seriously. The Korean public appeared to disdain both factions, feeling that no matter what side took control, “it would use worshippers’ donations for luxurious houses and expensive cars.”

But what of the Dalai Lama and the Tibet he presided over before the Chinese crackdown in 1959? It is widely held by many devout Buddhists that Old Tibet was a spiritually oriented kingdom free from the egotistical lifestyles, empty materialism, and corrupting vices that beset modern industrialized society. Western news media, travel books, novels, and Hollywood films have portrayed the Tibetan theocracy as a veritable Shangri-La.

The Dalai Lama himself stated that “the pervasive influence of Buddhism” in Tibet, “amid the wide open spaces of an unspoiled environment resulted in a society dedicated to peace and harmony. We enjoyed freedom and contentment.” A reading of Tibet’s history suggests a different picture. In the thirteenth century, Emperor Kublai Khan created the first Grand Lama, who was to preside over all the other lamas as might a pope over his bishops. Several centuries later, the Emperor of China sent an army into Tibet to support the Grand Lama, an ambitious 25-year-old man, who then gave himself the title of Dalai (Ocean) Lama, ruler of all Tibet. Here is quite a historical irony: the first Dalai Lama was installed by a Chinese army.

To elevate his authority beyond worldly challenge, the first Dalai Lama seized monasteries that did not belong to his sect, and is believed to have destroyed Buddhist writings that conflicted with his claim to divinity. The Dalai Lama who succeeded him pursued a sybaritic life, enjoying many mistresses, partying with friends, and acting in other ways deemed unfitting for an incarnate deity. For this he was done in by his priests. Within 170 years, despite their recognized status as gods, five Dalai Lamas were murdered by their high priests or other courtiers.

And it goes on from there.

I’m posting this as a reminder that, despite the profound teachings set forth by the Buddha some 2,300 years ago, all has not gone according to plan since then. We all want to believe the myths referred to in Parenti’s article, but we must acknowledge that humans are humans, and Buddhist humans are no less susceptible to unskillful living than are the rest of us.

I do think that the Buddha’s model for enlightened living is valid, and I continue to meditate according to his detailed instructions; if the world is going to change for the better, it will be due to individual practitioners bringing peaceful vibes into the collective energetic soup, and not because some Savior comes down from the heavens to impose His/Her Will upon all us sinners.

In the meantime, we’re better served not to blindly give our power away to a Buddhist institutional matrix that has, in many cases, become little more than an entrenched priesthood seeking self-proliferation at the expense of its founder’s actual teachings. We don’t need the priesthood in order to realize what the Buddha pointed toward — and, in fact, we’re probably much better off doing an end-around the priesthood.

[Cross-Posted at Spontaneous Arising….]