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In October 2007, Thich (Thay) Nhat Hahn , issued a statement to his disciples from which the following was extracted…

The Buddha has taught us to practice looking directly into the seeds of fear in us, instead of trying to cover them up or running away from them. This is the practice of the five remembrances.

  1. I will have to grow old.
  2. I will have to get sick.
  3. I will have to die.
  4. One day I will have to lose the things I cherish today, and the people I love today.
  5. When my body disintegrates, I cannot bring anything with me except my actions of body, speech and mind – they are the only inheritance that I can bring with me.

When we can practice accepting these truths in this way, we will have peace, and we will have the capacity to live healthy and compassionately – no longer causing suffering to ourselves and to others. When people with cancer or AIDS are first diagnosed and told that they only have 3 months or half a year to live, they often react with anger, denial, and despair in the beginning. They cannot accept it. However, once they can accept the truth, they begin to have peace.

The Buddha taught that all phenomena are impermanent; there is birth, then there is death. Our civilization is also like that. In the history of the earth, many civilizations have ended. If our modern civilization is destroyed, it also follows the law of impermanence. If our human race continues to live in ignorance and in the bottomless pit of greed as at present, then the destruction of this civilization is not very far away. We have to accept this truth, just like we accept our own death. Once we can accept it, we will not react with anger, denial, and despair anymore. We will have peace. Once we have peace, we will know how to live so that the earth has a future; so that we can come together in the spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood and apply the modern technology available to us, in order to save our beloved green planet. If not, we will die from mental anguish, before our civilization actually terminates.

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I feel pretty confident that I’m going to like “Hooked! Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume“.

Although I haven’t read it yet, Amazon tells me that people who bought “Buddhist Ethics, A Very Short Introduction” also bought “Hooked” (and I believe in recommender systems because that’s what I do for a living!)

Collections of essays are bound to be uneven, but with authors like Joseph Goldstein, Pema Chödrön and Ajahn Amaro I’m pretty confident there are pearls of wisdom here.

Many thanks to Marion Foot for pointing me to the Monasticism and the Environment conference web site, where readers can find both MP3 recordings and the PDFs of the transcripts for the talks given at this Catholic-Buddhist interfaith conference. It is inspiring to see spiritual leadership at the forefront of what is a critical issue, both spiritual and worldly.

This is the joint statement that was issued at the end of the conference:

We live in a time of environmental crisis and calamity, but also in a time when more and more people are coming together to respond to the suffering of the world. Our monastic interreligious dialogue has brought us to a new awareness of the social and spiritual relevance of ancient monastic traditions that have been sustained for millennia by Buddhist and Catholic communities.

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I’m hoping I can attend this non-residential retreat in Ottawa, led by Norman Feldman in September (7-13). I have known Norman for 15 years now and I can’t think of a lay teacher who offers gentler more loving guidance to the practice. He has a great sense of humour too!

This non-residential insight meditation retreat includes a daylong retreat on Sunday September 7, followed by early morning and evening meditation sessions from Monday to Friday concluding with a half-day retreat on Saturday September 13. Weekday sessions include meditation each morning and evening, a dharma talk and discussion each evening, and a dharma theme for practice and inquiry each day.

It will be the beginning of the academic term and schools – big and small – will beckon. So who knows if it will be possible for me.

For several months now I have listened with admiration to U.S. military lawyer Bill Kuebler offering a brilliant defense of the Canadian child-soldier Omar Kadhr in the public media (e.g. on CBC). In this Saturday’s Globe and Mail I discovered that Kuebler is a conservative Christian, guided by the question “What would Jesus do?”.

I think this is a brilliant question. In the Metta Sutra, there is a stanza:

This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness ….

Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.

Who are “the wise”, if not the Buddha(s)?

“What would the Buddha do?” – It’s a good question to ask.

One of my Dharma friends used to have the line “Tread lightly on the earth” in his e-mail signature.

It seems to me that an awareness of the impact we have on others — i.e. an awareness of our relationship to the environment — is an essential aspect of a life devoted to harmlessness.  Being mindful of our consumption habits, the effects they have on other people and other species is not separate from the practice of unconditional freedom and enlightenment.

Films such as David Chernushenko’s documentary “Be The Change” — from the Living Lightly Project — are grass-roots attempts at providing a counter balance to all the bad news from such sources as Al Gore and Tim Flannery.  The trailer (below) of David’s film brings me hope that the growing individual awareness of our place in the world will manifest in a collective awakening which may transform our individual and collective sense of “self”.

Tuesday July 29, 7 p.m.
St. Paul University
223 Main Street, Ottawa
Producer-Director David Chernushenko will animate a post-screening discussion.
Entry by donation (suggested amount of $10 or more) to the Living Lightly Project.
For more information about the film and to view the trailer,

A Mindfulness Retreat in the Tradition of Thich Nhât Hanh with the Monks and Nuns of Blue Cliff Monastery, USA is being held at Maple Village (near St-Étienne-de-Bolton, Quebec – between Montreal and Sherbrooke) between August 29th to September 1st, 2008. The cost of the four-day retreat is $280/person.

For more information, please contact the Retreat Coordinator at Maple Village (Làng Cây Phong):

(voice mail) (450) 550-9660

My all-time favourite introductory book on Buddhism is Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction by Damien Keown. It combines scholarship, brevity, clarity and personal experience into a perfect introductory package.

There is a companion to this book, also from Oxford University Press and also by Damien Keown, called Buddhist Ethics: A Very Short Introduction.

I haven’t read all 148 pages yet, but the few I have read are exceptional. Keown discusses the precepts and the monastic Vinaya, the Buddhist response to war and terrorism, sexuality, abortion and suicide and euthenasia.

All these subjects are treated sensitively and in a balanced way. For instance, Keown doesn’t shy away from the instance in history where Buddhist countries have been involved in war – he also asks whether there is such a thing as a just war – or indeed the Dalai Lama’s response to the gay community about whether gay sex is in accordance with the Vinaya.

Highly recommended!

Ajahn Brahm was in Ottawa last week, in time for Canada Day! He gave a talk at the University of Ottawa and lead a meditation the following morning. It was inspiring to be in his (strong) presence, in large part because of the love and kindness that he showed in his interactions with people and the good humour he showed at every turn. And doesn’t mince his words, either!

I bought his book, Mindfulness Bliss and Beyond (you can read the first few chapters on line) in which he advocates the practice of Jhana meditation as the path to enlightenment.

There are other meditation teachers who teach this path. Bhante Gunarathana is one – you can get a whole medition course on CD that teaches the Jhanas. Leigh Brasington also teaches Jhana retreats and has done so in the Ottawa region in the past – I think he’s scheduled to give another one in 2009.

But I’ve never seen a Thai Forest monk put such emphasis on this method. On page 63 of his book Ajahn Brahm says (regarding the 4th Jhana):

That’s the pinnacle of mindfulness…. That’s as powerful as mindfulness can get. Once you have experienced that level of mindfulness, then you will know for yourself how ridiculous it is to think that you can become enlightened without Jhana.

I find this assertion — that enlightenment is impossible without Jhanas — astonishing. Not that I have any opinion about whether this is true or not from personal experience. It’s just that I didn’t think that any particular experience (in the historical dimension) was a pre-requisite for elightenement. I didn’t even think meditation was required at all!

I guess I worry that statements like that can set up expectations in us mere (lay) mortals that there’s no hope for us unless we dedicate our lives to formal practice. Sometimes I like to remember a talk by Sr. Chan Duc in which she described meditation as the practice of opening the windows in your house to enable the winds of grace to enter.

Some of us try so so hard to be good, to meditate, to develop virtues…. and yet we continue to suffer because we haven’t been able to let go. So this kind of statement “Enlightenment -> Jhanas” induces the thought – “I’ve got to ‘get’ Jhanas” – one more thing to attain! When perhaps all that can be hoped for is to make sure the windows are open.

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