Nice Gig If You Can Land It

Some monks are socially engaged in all the right ways.

From David Rosenfeld’s journal:

Buddhist monk offers teachings with tea

Special to The Oregonian

Almost every weekday, Adhisila sits under a tent at Northeast Tillamook and North Williams, carving tiny Buddhas from soapstone and offering tea and snacks to bicyclists on their afternoon commute.

Adhisila — Adhi for short — may conjure images of the sadhus of India, holy men who sometimes sat at crossroads awaiting spiritual debates with passers-by.

But he’s different. “There’s no challenge here,” he says with a laugh, his voice soft and welcoming. “Just have a cup of tea.”

Adhi — whose only name means “high morality” in the ancient Pali language — is a Buddhist monk, a rarity in Portland. Rarer still, he’s among a handful to carry on a tradition that dates back thousands of years: asking for alms. Adhi feeds himself, one meal a day, through donations, mostly from 30 to 40 Thai restaurants in the city.

“I help the monk with food because he’s a good teacher,” says Sirilak Promprasert, a Thailand native and owner of downtown’s Bangkok Palace. “He does his job to heal people and to make peace.”

By relying only on offerings, a monk learns to temper desires, a key Buddhist doctrine.

“I don’t need very much,” says Adhi, who’s fed himself through alms for 10 years. “I may give them a blessing and maybe a small teaching about how to relieve their overwhelming suffering.”

Dressed in red Nike high-tops and red Adidas exercise pants under his robe, Adhi is approachable and unpretentious. To stay warm, he wears a 26-year-old wool Marine Corps overcoat, issued during a four-year stint in the early 1980s. He joined so he could play in the marching band. Sometimes he wears a button in support of Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, who refused to fight in Iraq.

Adhi is as surprised as anyone to find himself in Portland. Born Owen Evans in Ashland in the 1960s, he discovered Buddhism at age 8 when his dad studied Zen. He became an ordained monk about 10 years ago at the Dhammapala Monastery in Fremont, Calif.

Three years ago, Adhi, a self-proclaimed forest monk, was living in solitude and meditating in the Siskiyou Mountains when friends persuaded him to move to the city.

Now he draws support from a network of Portlanders who appreciate his teachings. They might give him money, donate clothes or provide shelter. When he’s not living at the Young Sahn International Zen Center in Beaverton, Adhi house-sits. He also teaches at various places, including the Chinese Miao Fa Chan Temple at Southeast 17th Avenue and Madison Street.

Ian Timm and his wife, Sally, host one of Adhi’s meditation classes every Friday night at their home in Northeast.

“Adhi’s teaching is not encumbered by a lot of ritualism,” Ian Timm says. “It’s more practical suggestion. He teaches as the Buddha did that people are responsible for their own causes and effects in their lives.”

Adhi also makes Buddhist teaching videos at a warehouse and community kitchen next to his tea tent that he shares with Sky High Productions, a video production company. He helps pay rent on the 3,000-square-foot space with donations and income from teaching. He hopes to make more videos and to rent out the space for community events.

Back at his tea tent, Adhi sits on a folding camp chair. Wisdom flows from him like water from a mountain spring.

“People work maybe too hard and think they need too much,” he says. “If you get down to the bare essence, maybe what we need is more love, more compassion and more peacefulness. Those are invaluable resources, and we don’t tap into them enough.”

Good job on this story, David. I’ve stolen the whole thing here, but I’m not getting paid for it!  It’s for educational purposes only, should any of my four visitors read it all the way through….

Makes me want to move to Oregon immediately.

Then again, I’ve always wanted to move to Oregon at the first opportunity. Knowing that it’s a monk-friendly place just adds to my desire.

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Huna Kapua

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Secrets divulged!

Huna is a Hawaiian word meaning “secret,” but it also refers to the esoteric wisdom of Polynesia. Kupua is another Hawaiian word and it refers to a specialized healer who works with the powers of the mind and the forces of nature. In that respect it is very similar to the Siberian Tungusic word “shaman.”

The understanding of Huna described here comes from the kupua tradition of the Kahili family from the island of Kauai, through Serge Kahili King, who was adopted as the grandson of Joseph Kahili and trained in his tradition.

Click the link only if you’ve been given Top Secret security clearance…!

No Surprise Here

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This is something the New Thought folks have been saying for years:

Spirituality increases as alcoholics recover

For decades, recovering alcoholics and those who treat them have incorporated spirituality into the recovery process — whether or not it’s religious in nature. But few research studies have documented if and how spirituality changes during recovery, nor how those changes might influence a person’s chance of succeeding in the quest for sobriety.

Now, a new study from researchers at the University of Michigan Addiction Research Center sheds light on this phenomenon. In the March issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, they show that many measures of spirituality tend to increase during alcohol recovery. They also demonstrate that those who experience increases in day-to-day spiritual experiences and their sense of purpose in life are most likely to be free of heavy drinking episodes six months later.

“While people’s actual beliefs don’t seem to change during recovery, the extent they have spiritual experiences, and are open to spirituality in their lives, does change,” says lead researcher Elizabeth A.R. Robinson, Ph.D., a research assistant professor in the U-M Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry and member of UMARC.. “This effect was also independent of their participation in Alcoholics Anonymous which has a strong spiritual aspect.”

The researchers report data from 154 adults with a diagnosis of alcohol dependence or alcohol abuse who entered an outpatient treatment program.

One may also say that “recovery from alcoholism accelerates as spirituality increases.”

Though I do not consider myself to have an addictive personality, I definitely have a history of drug and alcohol use. Looking back, I understand that I was attempting to “fill the void” deep down inside — a void that, according to my current understanding, can only be truly and permanently filled through spiritual realization.

I used to say that I had better spiritual experiences sitting on a bar stool than I ever did on a church pew — but now I know that a meditation cushion beats them all.

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….

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….]

Deir Sultan

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I had no idea:

Unknown by much of the world, monks and nuns of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, have for centuries quietly maintained the only presence by black people in one of Christianity’s holiest sites—the Church of the Holy Sepulcher of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem. Through the vagaries and vicissitudes of millennial history and landlord changes in Jerusalem and the Middle East region, Ethiopian monks have retained their monastic convent in what has come to be known as Deir Sultan or the Monastery of the Sultan for more than a thousand years. Likewise, others that have their respective presences in the area at different periods, include Armenian, Russian, Syrian, Egyptian and Greek Orthodox/Coptic Churches as well as the Holy See. As one writer put it recently, “For more than 1500 years, the Church of Ethiopia survived in Jerusalem. Its survival has not, in the last resort, been dependent on politics, but on the faith of individual monks that we should look for the vindication of the Church’s presence in Jerusalem….They are attracted in Jerusalem not by a hope for material gain or comfort, but by faith.” It is hoped that public discussion on this all-important subject will be joined by individuals and groups from all over the world, particularly the African Diaspora.

The entire essay is a good read, with plenty of unknown information, the discovery of which would benefit the world during these trying times.