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Change Your Mind

Change Your Mind (CYM), Tricycle’s second annual day of meditation in Central Park, opened with a surprising and auspicious event: a white heron flying above the grassy slopes of Mineral Springs Hill. Only after it circled twice, on the morning of June 4, did Michele Laporte hit a large Japanese temple gong 108 times to formally open a day in which meditation teachers from various Buddhist traditions gave introductory talks and led the participants in silent sitting and Buddhist chanting. CYM is designed to introduce meditation practices in a friendly public setting, free of charge. Participants are encouraged to relax and enjoy the event in whichever way works best for them.

Teachers this year included Trudy Goodman and George Bowman, both from the Cambridge Buddhist Association; the Venerable Samu Sunim, who has temples in the Korean Chogye lineage in Toronto and Chicago; Lama Surya Das, founder of the Dzogchen Foundation of America; and Sharon Salzberg, a cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. In the middle of the day participants were treated to a special guest: His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, the supreme head of the Nyingmapa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, who currently lives in Mysore, India. He arrived with a retinue of monks, some of whom played the traditional horns and cymbals prior to His Holiness’ discourse on the nature of mind.

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The crowd, which consisted of both newcomers and old-time dharma people, and which displayed an extraordinary capacity for concentration and stillness amidst urban chaos, got a break from formal dharma when Philip Glass introduced his friends Alexandra Montano and John Gibson. Gibson played an original composition on the saxophone; another, written by Glass, was played as Montano read from the works of Beat poets on the subject of how to meditate.

With 800-1,000 people in attendance by the end of the day, Michael Roach, an American monk in the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, led a traditional geshe debate with two young Tibetan monks from Sera Mey Monastery in India. The subject was nothing less essential to Buddhism than the existence of self. Roach, who founded the Asian Classics Input Project, proved to be a consummate performer. On his request, the audience made the traditional roar with each point scored, while he paced before his opponents making the traditional vertical hand claps as he challenged his opponents.

Following the formal closing of 108 gongs, Ronnie Nyogetsu Seldin played the shakuhachi flute as people slowly made their way out of the park or came up to the platform to speak with the teachers. The weather forecasters had been certain in the prediction of rain, and at various times dark clouds threatened to disrupt the program. The rain never came, though—in what the Tibetans interpreted to be another auspicious event—Penor Rinpoche’s talk was accompanied by rolling tremors of thunder.

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Free At Last

On July 10 Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was released by the ruling junta of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. She had been held under house arrest since July of 1989. In 1991, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her non-violent campaign to bring democracy to Burma. Authorities in Myanmar gave no explanation for the release, but political experts have suggested that, in light of recent economic developments in Myanmar, the military leadership felt secure enough in its power to free the 50-year old opposition leader.

Aung San Suu Kyi—the Oxford-educated daughter of Gen. Aung San, who is considered the father of modern Burma—expressed her willingness to work with the current military leadership, but added a warning “not to expect too much too quickly. I think there is still a long way ahead and the way is not going to be all that smooth.”

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In Memoriam

The Venerable Buddhist Master An Tzu, known to many in the United States as“Master Hsuan Hua,”died on June 7 in Los Angeles. He was 77 years of age. A native of Manchuria, Master Hua was the Ninth Patriarch of the Wei-Yang (Ch’an) School of Buddhism. Founder of the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association, headquarted at the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Talmage, California, he established twenty-seven monasteries and temples throughout the world.

Master Hua resolved to become a monk at the age of eleven when he found the body of a dead child wrapped in straw as he was walking across a field. Disturbed by this event, he related the episode to his mother, who told him that all human beings must eventually die. When he asked if there were not some escape from death, a passing stranger replied, “Only if you practice the Way and enlighten your mind.”

Master Hsuan Hua resolved to do exactly that. He trained as a monk for many years in China, receiving transmission in 1947 from Master Hsu Yun (Empty Cloud), who was then 109 years old. Shortly after his arrival in the United States in 1962, the Bay of Pigs invasion took place. Realizing the threat to world peace posed by the presence of nuclear missiles in Cuba, he undertook a total fast of 35 days during which time he drank only water, dedicating the merit of that sacrifice toward an end to the hostilities.

In 1970 he established Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco and in 1972 he conducted the first full bhikkshu ordination ceremony in the United States. Master Hua’s goal had always been to establish a proper monastic community of ordained monks and nuns in the West. To that end, he founded the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in 1976, a facility including Tathagata Monastery and Dharma Realm Buddhist University, a nonsectarian institution where students could study all five schools of Chinese Buddhism.

Trevor Ling, the British scholar and author of books on Buddhism, died of Alzheimer’s disease on March 24 at the age of 75. Ling, who was raised as a Baptist in London, discovered Buddhism while serving in India during World War II. His diaries from that period indicate that he devoted himself to the disciplined practice of meditation.

Ling’s interests turned increasingly to the East over the course of his career as a scholar, though he served both as a Baptist pastor and as an Anglican minister. His friends and associates described him as a private man who had become dissatisfied with conventional religious forms and labels and disinclined to use them. Nevertheless, he returned again and again to Buddhism as the subject for his books, writing such works as Buddhism and the Mythology of Evil (1962), Buddha, Marx and God (1966), The Buddha: Buddhist Civilization in India and Ceylon (1973), and Buddhism, Imperialism and War: Burma and Thailand in Modern History (1979). Perhaps his best-known work is A History of Religion East and West, unique for its discussion of each religion primarily in terms of its historical context, rather than its theology.

Ling taught at the Universities of Leeds, Manchester, and Singapore, and following an early retirement in 1982 moved between three homes, in England, India, and Singapore, perhaps as a reflection of the depth and diversity of his interests.

Taking the High Seat

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On May 14, two thousand Buddhists gathered in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to celebrate the Sakyong Enthronement of the Sawang Osel Rangdrol Mukpo, the eldest son of the late Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, as the head of the Shambhala community. The empowerment ceremony was performed by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, supreme head of the Nyingma lineage of Tibet. The Sakyong Enthronement was the highlight of Joining Heaven and Earth: A Shambhala Celebration, a nine-day festival of spiritual, cultural, and educational activities designed to express the integration of spiritual activities with daily life. The public festival, which included literary luminaries like Allen Ginsberg, along with Cape Breton fiddler Ashley McIssac, was also designed to bring together members of Shambhala and the larger community of Halifax residents. About 500 members of Shambhala reside in Halifax, many of whom have emigrated from the United States. For the Joining Heaven and Earth celebration, the Halifax community continued the extraordinary hospitality that it has long shown to Buddhists. The events attracted wide coverage by Nova Scotia news and television media, and Penor Rinpoche and his monks were received by ministers of the province.

Born in exile from Tibet in 1962, the Sawang spent his earliest years with his mother on continuous pilgrimage to the Buddhist sacred sites of northern India. In 1969 he moved to Scotland to be with his father, who had come to England to study religion, philosophy, and fine arts at Oxford University. In 1968, Trungpa Rinpoche moved to Scotland, where he founded the Samye Ling meditation center. Two years later he moved to the United States. In 1972, the Sawang joined his father in Boulder, Colorado, where he continued both his Buddhist studies and his western education.

At the age of 16, Osel Rangdrol was empowered as the Sawang (Earth Holder) and as heir to the Shambhala lineage, which had been brought to the West by Trungpa Rinpoche. In the wake of both Trunpa Rinpoche’s death and that of his regent, Osel Tendzin, the enthronement promised to unify the Shambhala community and provide a new era of leadership.

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Monkey Mind

Artist Jimbo Blachly has created a performance installation in the window of The New Museum in lower Manhattan, where he meditates and makes repetitive wavelike ink marks on large sheets of white paper, sometimes wearing a monkey suit. The installation, which bears the name Unperturbed Abstraction (a translation of dhyana, the Sanskrit term for meditation), represents an attempt to create “a surreal environment that slows down time and encourages reflection within the hectic rush of urban life.” Given that goal, it is not surprising to find that Blachly draws his inspiration from such Buddhist scriptures as the Vimalakirti Nirdesha Sutra, the Diamond Sutra, and the Sutra of Hui-Neng. Nevertheless, the work suggests several comic contradictions—for example, the apparent similarity between meditative exercise and obsessive ritual, and the apparent futility of art and meditation, despite the need to create and maintain a space for both.

The installation runs from May 26 through September 3.

Sitting Duck

Italian soccer star Roberto “Divine Pigtail” Baggio is in the news again. Baggio, an avid hunter and fisherman, announced that his branch of Buddhism held no taboo against the killing of animals. “There are many branches of Buddhism, and the one I have converted to has no such limitations, but instead has deep and important ends,” said Baggio when questioned on the subject.

Baggio shocked conservative Italian sports fans when he converted to Buddhism in 1988. In 1993, he devoted his European Footballer of the Year award to Daisaku Ikeda, the leader of the Japanese lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai, of which he is a member. Currently Baggio is on vacation in Argentina, where the ducks are in season.

One World

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The “Circle of All Nations,” conceived by Buddhist Bay Area artist Kazuaki Tanahashi, being painted by representatives from around the world.

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The completed circle on display at the San Francisco War Memorial Building, birthplace of the United Nations fifty years ago.

Patent Pending

What single issue could possibly bring together representatives of all the major Protestant denominations, along with 100 Catholic Bishops, and members of the Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu religions? The right to life? No, not exactly. It’s more a question of the rights to life and who (if anyone) should own them.

A broad consensus is building among diverse religious organizations in America to oppose the patenting of life – both human and animal – primarily on the grounds that life is sacred and does not “belong” to human beings. The dispute over gene patenting, which, paradoxically, pits conservative Republican lawmakers against their staunchest supporters, the Christian Right, promises to become a major political issue of the next century. “This issue is going to dwarf the pro-life debate within a few years,” says Richard Land, head of the Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “I think we’re on the threshold of mind-bending debates about the nature of human life and animal life.” In any case, the biotechnology industry, which claims among its triumphs the development of new life-saving drugs and the creation of the “Harvard Mouse,” a test animal genetically engineered to develop cancer, is going to have its hands full. A growing number of American religious leaders have said that, while they are not opposed to genetic engineering itself, the patenting of human genes reduces the life 

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to a mere commodity. According to representatives of the biotechnology industry, however, the reality is that patents follow inevitably from product development.

Human genes have been patented since 1980, when the Supreme Court ruled that the Exxon Corporation could patent a microorganism designed to clean up oil spills. The first animal patent was awarded to Harvard University for its “mouse” in 1988. Since that time, genes have been developed to produce human growth hormone and to stimulate red blood cell production. “Genetic therapies” include treatments for cystic fibrosis. In February, Scios Nova Inc. was awarded a patent for a laboratory mouse exhibiting the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

On May 18, the Joint Appeal Against Human and Animal Patenting, a organization based in Washington, D. C., issued a statement that read, “We, the undersigned religious leaders, oppose the patenting of human and animal life forms. . . . We believe that humans and animals are creations of God, not humans, and as such should not be patented as human inventions.” The statement was signed by over 190 American religious leaders, including Robert Aitken Roshi of the Honolulu Diamond Sangha, Jack Kornfield of Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Tenshin Reb Anderson of San Francisco Zen Center, and Stephanie Kaza, President of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

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