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A free floating commentary on culture, politics, economics, and religion based on a passionate commitment to the truth and a desire graciously to refute that which is contrary to it….
"He must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it."
--Titus 1:9, Revised Standard Version
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Of all the moral precepts instilled in Buddhist monks the promise not to kill comes first, and the principle of non-violence is arguably more central to Buddhism than any other major religion. So why have monks been using hate speech against Muslims and joining mobs that have left dozens dead?
This is happening in two countries separated by well over 1,000 miles of Indian Ocean - Burma and Sri Lanka. It is puzzling because neither country is facing an Islamist militant threat. Muslims in both places are a generally peaceable and small minority.
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Inside the main hall of the Drepung Gomang Institute, gilded statues of Buddha and brilliantly colored images of fierce deities adorn the altar. As the smell of incense wafts through the air, a Tibetan monk chants a sutra, his low tones weaving a soothing, meditative melody.
Dharamsala, India? Lhasa, Tibet? Some remote outpost in the Himalayas? Nope. It's in a neighborhood of Louisville, Ky. This Tibetan Buddhist temple is one of a growing number of such centers that have found a surprisingly receptive home in the Midwest and parts of neighboring Kentucky.
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Aside from all the formal invention and satirical energy of Saunders’s fiction, the main thing about it, which tends not to get its due, is how much it makes you feel. I’ve loved Saunders’s work for years and spent a lot of hours with him over the past few months trying to understand how he’s able to do what he does, but it has been a real struggle to find an accurate way to express my emotional response to his stories. One thing is that you read them and you feel known, if that makes any sense. Or, possibly even woollier, you feel as if he understands humanity in a way that no one else quite does, and you’re comforted by it. Even if that comfort often comes in very strange packages, like say, a story in which a once-chaste aunt comes back from the dead to encourage her nephew, who works at a male-stripper restaurant (sort of like Hooters, except with guys, and sleazier), to start unzipping and showing his wares to the patrons, so he can make extra tips and help his family avert a tragic future that she has foretold.
Junot Díaz described the Saunders’s effect to me this way: “There’s no one who has a better eye for the absurd and dehumanizing parameters of our current culture of capital. But then the other side is how the cool rigor of his fiction is counterbalanced by this enormous compassion. Just how capacious his moral vision is sometimes gets lost, because few people cut as hard or deep as Saunders does.”
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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals * Culture-Watch Books Philosophy Psychology Religion & Culture * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Buddhism * Theology Eschatology
A 35-year-old Tibetan nun named Palden Choetso set herself on fire on a street corner in southwest China last November. The final moments of her life were captured by an amateur video camera. As bright orange flames engulfed her body, Choetso stood impossibly still until finally she dropped to her knees and toppled over.
Choetso is one of 49 Tibetans, ages 17 to 44, who have set themselves on fire since 2009 to protest repression in Tibet by Chinese authorities. The latest was on Monday, when two young men in their early 20s—one a monk—did so in a Tibetan region of China's Sichuan province. This spate of self-immolations among Tibetans is unprecedented.
With China not changing its policies denying true religious freedom and civil liberties to Tibetans, the self-immolations are likely to continue. This presents an uneasy quandary for Buddhists, who consider the taking of life, including suicide, taboo.
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Try this: place a forkful of food in your mouth. It doesn’t matter what the food is, but make it something you love — let’s say it’s that first nibble from three hot, fragrant, perfectly cooked ravioli.
Now comes the hard part. Put the fork down. This could be a lot more challenging than you imagine, because that first bite was very good and another immediately beckons. You’re hungry....
The concept has roots in Buddhist teachings. Just as there are forms of meditation that involve sitting, breathing, standing and walking, many Buddhist teachers encourage their students to meditate with food, expanding consciousness by paying close attention to the sensation and purpose of each morsel.
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Buddhists from around the world chose India on Wednesday as the headquarters of a new international Buddhist organization and united in their criticism of the Chinese government for trying to prevent the Dalai Lama from speaking at their meeting here in New Delhi.
It was something of a victory for India in what observers increasingly see as a contest with China to win the favor of Buddhists around the world. India is the land where Buddha gained enlightenment and taught, but China has the largest population of Buddhists today.
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Foreign Relations Politics in General * International News & Commentary Asia China India * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Buddhism
He considered moving to a Zen monastery before shifting his sights to Silicon Valley, where he became a brash businessman.
He preached about the dangers of desire but urged consumers to covet every new iPhone incarnation.
"He was an enlightened being who was cruel," says a former girlfriend. "That's a strange combination."
Now, we can add another irony to the legacy of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs: Since his death on Oct. 5, the famously private man's spiritual side has become an open book.
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Breathless but beaming, Sheng Zisu sounds confident after five months in a maze-like Buddhist encampment high on the eastern Tibetan plateau, nearly 400 miles of bad road from the nearest city.
"Look around. They could never find me here," Sheng, 27, says of parents so anxious about their only child's turn to Tibetan Buddhism that they have threatened to kidnap her.
Sheng is far from her home — and from the bars where she used to drink and the ex-boyfriends she says cheated on her. She is here with 2,000 other Han Chinese at the Larung Gar Buddhist Institute in Serthar, Sichuan province, the rain-soaked mountainous region of southwest China.
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In the Kingdom of Bhutan, where Christianity is still awaiting legal recognition, Christians have the right to proclaim their faith but must not use coercion or claim religious superiority to seek conversions, the country’s prime minister told Compass in an exclusive interview.
“I view conversions very negatively, because conversion is the worst form of intolerance,” Jigmi Yoser Thinley said in his office in the capital of the predominantly Buddhist nation.
Christian leaders in Bhutan have told Compass that they enjoy certain freedoms to practice their faith in private homes, but, because of a prohibition against church buildings and other restrictions, they were not sure if proclamation of their faith – included in international human rights codes – was allowed in Bhutan.
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Ian Mabey is to be succeeded as rector of Collie’s All Saints Anglican Church by another Ian — Father Ian Bailey. He grew up in a Christian family but deserted the church as a young adult. However the spiritual impulse was not to be denied and he came back to the Christian faith via Buddhism.
Ian Bailey is excited about the opportunity to live in Collie, a place he has never even visited. Next month he will be arriving from New South Wales to become rector of the Collie’s All Saints Anglican Church.
From what he has seen on the internet, he is impressed.
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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Anglican Church of Australia * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Buddhism
When I was a boy in Tibet, I felt that my own Buddhist religion must be the best — and that other faiths were somehow inferior. Now I see how naïve I was, and how dangerous the extremes of religious intolerance can be today.
Though intolerance may be as old as religion itself, we still see vigorous signs of its virulence. In Europe, there are intense debates about newcomers wearing veils or wanting to erect minarets and episodes of violence against Muslim immigrants. Radical atheists issue blanket condemnations of those who hold to religious beliefs. In the Middle East, the flames of war are fanned by hatred of those who adhere to a different faith.
Such tensions are likely to increase as the world becomes more interconnected and cultures, peoples and religions become ever more entwined. The pressure this creates tests more than our tolerance — it demands that we promote peaceful coexistence and understanding across boundaries.
Granted, every religion has a sense of exclusivity as part of its core identity. Even so, I believe there is genuine potential for mutual understanding. While preserving faith toward one’s own tradition, one can respect, admire and appreciate other traditions.
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The Dalai Lama lashed out at China on Wednesday, accusing it of trying to "annihilate Buddhism" in Tibet and rebuffing all his efforts to reach a compromise over the disputed Himalayan region.
China shot back, accusing the Tibetan spiritual leader of using deceptions and lies to distort its policy in the region. The passionate back-and-forth highlighted the distrust, anger and frustration that separates the two sides and leaves little hope for success in recently resumed talks.
Beijing has demonized the Dalai Lama and accused him of wanting independence for Tibet, which China says is part of its territory. The Dalai Lama says he only wants some form of autonomy for Tibet within China that would allow Tibetan culture, language and religion to thrive.
The Dalai Lama spoke Wednesday in an address marking the anniversaries of two failed uprisings against China, one 51 years ago that sent him into exile in India and the other two years ago that was quashed by a government crackdown that is still continuing.
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From an Evangelical perspective, the statement by Tiger Woods points to the radical distinction between Christianity and Buddhism -- between the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the dharma of the Buddha.
Christianity speaks honestly of desire and affirms that wrongful desires can and do lead to sin, destruction, and death. Nevertheless, Christianity does not teach that all desire is wrong. Indeed, the Bible affirms that God made us to desire Him. Even in our sinful state, something within us cries out for our need -- and desire -- for divine forgiveness and redemption.
Christianity does not teach that we should (or could) empty ourselves of all desire, but rather that we should desire the salvation that Christ alone has accomplished for us -- the salvation that leads to divine forgiveness and the restoration of relationship we should surely desire. Once we know that salvation, our desire for God is only increased and pointed to eternity.
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Until Friday, when Tiger Woods stood up in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and apologized for his sexual infidelities, the American public confession was a Christian rite. From President Grover Cleveland, who likely fathered a child out of wedlock, to Ted Haggard, who resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals after allegations that he had sex with a male prostitute, our politicians and preachers have bowed and scraped in Christian idioms. Jimmy Carter spoke of "adultery in my heart." Jimmy Swaggart spoke of "my sin" and "my Savior." In any case, the model derives from evangelical Christianity — the revival and the altar call. You confess you are a sinner. You repent of your sins. You turn to Christ to make yourself new.
Woods was caught in a multimistress sex scandal after Thanksgiving. In January Brit Hume, channeling his inner evangelist on Fox News Sunday, urged Woods to "turn to the Christian faith." "He's said to be a Buddhist," Hume said. "I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith." Woods in effect told Hume Friday thanks but no thanks.
Part of Woods' carefully prepared statement followed the time-honored formula that historian Susan Wise Bauer has referred to as the "art of the public grovel." Though he did not sob like Swaggart, Woods seemed ashamed and embarrassed. He took responsibility for his actions, which he characterized as "irresponsible and selfish." He apologized, not just to his wife and children but also to his family and friends, his business partners, his fans, and the staff and sponsors of his foundation. And he was not evasive. Whereas President Clinton confessed in 1998 to having an "inappropriate" relationship with Monica Lewinsky and took potshots at the independent counsel, Kenneth Starr, Woods said, "I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. What I did is not acceptable, and I am the only person to blame."
But this was not your garden-variety confession. Though Woods spoke of religion, he did not mention Jesus or the Bible, sin or redemption. He gave us a Buddhist mea culpa instead.
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Because she attends Catholic mass every Sunday and observes all the religious holidays of her faith, Angela Bowman may well exemplify the Latin root of the word "religion," which is "to bind."
But the Chicagoan also meditates several times each day and practices yoga every other week. She knows Catholicism, Hinduism, and Buddhism have contradictory elements but is unfazed by her multiple observances because, to her, "it's all pretty much the same thing."
"The biggest part of praying is opening yourself up to a connection with God, and I perceive clearing your mind in meditation as another form of receptivity," says the 30-something textbook editor. Although she is a devoted Roman Catholic, she says she doesn't "believe it's the one true path and anything else is flirting with the devil."
Ms. Bowman's attitude tracks with those in a study released last month, which found that large numbers of America's faithful do not neatly conform to the expectations or beliefs of their prescribed religions, but instead freely borrow principles of Eastern religions or endorse common supernatural beliefs.
Read the whole thing.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic Other Faiths Buddhism Hinduism
As I have followed this battle of Brit vs. the Buddha, I have found myself returning to the story of the Buddha himself, who in his youth led an existence eerily reminiscent of the life of Tiger Woods. He was rich and powerful and lived a private life in a grand palace with a beautiful wife and a beloved son. And for a time, he thought he was happy. But after a while, he realized that no amount of money or power or sex could bring him true happiness. So he left his wife and his child and his palace to seek the source of human suffering. This might seem selfish, but his goal was to find a path that could alleviate the suffering of all of humanity. And one day, according to Buddhists, he did just that. While sitting under a Bodhi tree, he saw that suffering is rooted in a combination of ego and ignorance, and he learned how to uproot both through meditation.
Tiger Woods might well have something to learn from Christianity, and soon enough we might well see him engage in what historian Susan Wise Bauer has called "the art of the public grovel," complete with Jimmy Swaggart's tears, Bill Clinton's confession and Ted Haggard's repentance. But Brit Hume clearly has something to learn from Buddhism, too, not least that there is more than one way to make yourself new.
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Sarah Bender is the Buddhist program leader at the Air Force Academy. She says she has plenty of questions herself about whether it's ever right to kill in order to stop further harm. But, Bender says, she leaves the academy every Wednesday evening feeling like this is where she's supposed to be.
"People in the military come up — for real — against questions that most of us just consider abstractly," Bender says. "The questions of Buddhism are the questions of life and death. So, where else would you want Buddhism than right there where those questions are most vivid?"
Bender says the academy is now a place where cadets and staff are free to practice any religion they choose.
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However much he tried, Mr. [Paul] Knitter found that certain longstanding Christian formulations of faith “just didn’t make sense”: God as a person separate from creation and intervening in it as an external agent; individualized life after death for all and eternal punishment for some; Jesus as God’s “only Son” and the only savior of humankind; prayers that ask God to favor some people over others.
Mr. Knitter’s response, based on his long interaction with Buddhist teachers, was to “pass over” to Buddhism’s approach to each of these problems and then “pass back” to Christian tradition to see if he could retrieve or re-imagine aspects of it with this “Buddhist flashlight.”
He was not asserting, as some people have, that religions like Christianity and Buddhism are merely superficially different expressions of one underlying faith.
On the contrary, he insists they differ profoundly. Yet “Buddhism has helped me take another and deeper look at what I believe as a Christian,” he writes. “Many of the words that I had repeated or read throughout my life started to glow with new meaning.”
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Archbishop Robert Duncan of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican) and Pentecostal Bishop Joseph Garlington of Covenant Church of Pittsburgh in Wilkinsburg, led the congregation in noon prayer, swaying together to the songs as they prayed aloud above the music.
Karen Phillips, an administrative assistant from Greensburg, told the congregation that she felt the history of conflict between many G-20 nations.
"Each one has built a wall. They know how to walk into a room and greet one another, but in their hearts, the walls are up," she said. "I pray that true feelings and emotions will be exchanged, and that in that exchange there will be healing."
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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) * Christian Life / Church Life Spirituality/Prayer * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Economy G20 Pittsburgh Summit September 2009 * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Buddhism
What in the recent past seemed exotic and foreign is now almost routinely folded into "the fold."
Buddhism is not only accepted as a mainstream American religion, it is a path increasingly trod by faithful Christians and Jews who infuse Eastern spiritual insights and practices such as meditation into their own religions.
When John Weber became a Buddhist at age 19, his devout Methodist parents were not particularly pleased.
In recent years, however, they've invited their son, a religious studies expert with Boulder's Naropa University, to speak at their church about Buddhism.
"That never would have happened before," Weber said. "They would have been embarrassed."
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In many ways, Surya Das, 58, remains Jeffrey Miller, the Jewish, three-sport high school letterman from Long Island. Miller enrolled at the University of Buffalo in the late 1960s and like many of his friends with college draft exemptions, took part in the demonstrations against the Vietnam War. He got tear-gassed in Washington. He survived the mud-slicked bliss of Woodstock.
The anger and frustration over the war culminated for Miller in the clash between students and the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University in 1970.
Allison Krause, the girlfriend of one of his best high school friends, was one of the four students shot and killed by guardsmen. Violence, he concluded, was not a path to peace. And trading a bachelor's degree in psychology for a job was not a way to contentment.
"Those were heavy times," he said. "I was looking for something different. I was always a questioner, following my heart and sniffing around with my nose for a way to find peace, to become peace. I headed east."
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The only candidate on the ballot [in Northern Michigan], Thew Forrester, 51, has practiced Zen meditation for a decade and received lay ordination from a Buddhist community.
Conservatives are outraged at the election of this "openly Buddhist bishop," as they call him, charging Thew Forrester with syncretism -- blending two faiths, and dishonoring both.
The bishop-elect and the Lake Superior Zendo that ordained him say the angst is misplaced. The ordination simply honors his commitment to Zen meditation, they say. He took no Buddhist vows and professed no beliefs that contradict Christianity....
The Rev. Kendall Harmon, an Episcopal theologian from South Carolina, argues that Thew Forrester is a greater threat to his church than the openly gay bishop whose 2003 election has led four dioceses to secede.
"It's the leadership of this church giving up the unique claims of Christianity," Harmon said. "They act like it's Baskin-Robbins. You just choose a different flavor and everyone gets in the store."
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The Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester, rector of St. Paul’s, Marquette, and St. John’s, Negaunee, was put forward by the diocesan search team to stand for election as bishop/ministry developer under the “mutual ministry model” used by the small, rural diocese on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A priest of the diocese since 2001, Fr. Forrester also serves as ministry development coordinator and newspaper editor for Northern Michigan.
In recent years, he also was a practicing Buddhist, according to the former Bishop of Northern Michigan, the late Rt. Rev. James Kelsey.
In his Oct 15, 2004 address to the diocese’s annual convention, Bishop Kelsey took note of some of the milestones among the lives of members of the diocese. After recognizing recent university graduations, the bishop said Fr. Forrester “received Buddhist ‘lay ordination’,” and was “walking the path of Christianity and Zen Buddhism together.”
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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) TEC Bishops TEC Conflicts TEC Conflicts: Northern Michigan TEC Diocesan Conventions/Diocesan Councils * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Buddhism * Theology
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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Buddhism Hinduism * Theology Eschatology
The founders of the Bhavana Society Forest Monastery came here looking for a slice of densely wooded land where Buddhist monks, nuns and lay people could meditate in sylvan surroundings.
“They were looking for the quietude, the natural environment, for people to come to, as opposed to the concrete jungle most people live in,” said Bhante Rahula, vice abbot of the monastery since 1987.
But 24 years after the Buddhists bought the land, they say that quietude is now threatened by plans for a $1.1 billion power line that would entail clear-cutting a 200-foot-wide swath of forest nearby.
The monastery is part of a battle in three states between two electric companies on the one hand and thousands of landowners and residents on the other over the 260-mile, 500-kilovolt transmission line.
Opponents of the line say it is nothing more than a way for the East Coast to plug into cheaper coal-fired power from the Ohio Valley. The region should instead build its own more environmentally friendly electricity generators, they say, and do more to conserve energy.
“We don’t need this here,” said Susan Foster Blank, a lawyer whose cattle ranch in Washington County, Pa., would be crossed by the power line. “We don’t need more electricity. We won’t get any of the benefits, but we will get more pollution.”
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A colleague recently took me to task for consulting Jews and Christians on how to keep American Buddhism alive. He didn't agree with either premise--that Jews and Christians could offer advice to Buddhists, or that Buddhism was in any danger of decline. But he was wrong on both counts. American Buddhism, which swelled its ranks to accommodate the spiritual enthusiasms of baby boomers in the late 20th century, is now aging. One estimate puts the average age of Buddhist converts (about a third of the American Buddhist population) at upwards of 50. This means that the religion is almost certain to see its numbers reduced over the next generation as boomer Buddhists begin to die off without having passed their faith along to their children. And Jewish and Christian models offer the most logical solution for reversing that decline.
The basic problem is that non-Asian converts tend not to regard what they practice as a religion. From the beginning, Buddhism has been seen in its American incarnation not as an alternative religion, but as an alternative to religion. American converts have long held Buddhism apart from what they see as the inherent messiness of Western religious discourse on such issues as faith and belief, and from the violence that has so often accompanied it.
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What place do spiritual values have in shaping and defining the policy of the country? It's a question that would certainly not be asked at a UK party conference. Other than an occasional grace said before meals, our institutions pay little heed to the religious lives of their people.
As a secular country, we rarely regard the pronouncements of the established church as applying to us. The monastic orders are in sharp decline, and their empty old buildings are being put to other uses. So it is odd to read of a place where empty monasteries bear eloquent witness to political crisis.
Burma's monasteries have been emptied by a military dictatorship that fears their influence. Only 10 days ago, they were right to do so. The sight of tens of thousands of saffron-robed, shaven-headed monks was curiously awesome. They streamed through the streets of Rangoon, for all the world like the terracotta army come alive. People began to speak of the saffron revolution. Their demeanour told us much about modesty, obedience and shared values.
But what exactly did the Buddhist people of Burma expect to happen? They may have hoped to infiltrate some spiritual unease among individuals in the junta. It's said these men are strongly superstitutious, believing in astrology and the influence of magical numbers. Apparently monks can exercise a sort of excommunication that can damage their karma, ruin their afterlife.
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Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's Nobel Peace Prize laureate, described the lessons she had learned from her country's Hsayadaws, its Buddhist holy teachers, in an article for a Japanese newspaper in 1996. One of them told her what it would be like to fight for democracy in Burma: "You will be attacked and reviled for engaging in honest politics, but you must persevere. Lay down an investment in dukkha [suffering] and you will gain sukha [bliss]."
Last week saw hundreds of Burma's monks investing in dukkha as they confronted the nation's military regime. At one point, a large crowd of them gathered outside Aung San Suu Kyi's house in Yangon, where she has spent 12 of the past 18 years under house arrest. She came to the gate in the pouring rain and was allowed to greet them. This single, poignant moment summed up all that was most extraordinary about the demonstrations, as well as what was most frightening to Burma's military junta.
Within a few days, scores of monks were in jail, many had been beaten, and the trickle of reports emanating from the country indicated that monasteries had been ransacked as the military hunted down the last rebellious elements.
Reports in the New Light of Myanmar, the official newspaper, blamed a few bad seeds who had infiltrated the monastic orders for inciting the protests. Pro-democracy activists have admitted to taking cover in the monasteries to avoid being jailed. But these are footnotes in a much larger tussle in Burma over the use and practice of Buddhism, which became visible to the world during the past week.
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The Dalai Lama has just completed a tour of Australia, boosting what is the country's fastest-growing religion. Australia has more Buddhists per capita than anywhere else in the Western world. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports on how this religion has moved beyond Asian immigrant communities and into the mainstream.
Tibetan nuns chant traditional prayers - an increasingly common sight in Australia.
There are about 350 thousand Buddhists in the country in this mainly Christian nation, and government census data indicate that number is up almost 80 percent from 1996. The Buddhist population eclipses the size of Australia's Muslim population.
Mark Allon an expert on Buddhism from the University of Sydney says the faith's roots here were established by settlers from Asia.
"We have many immigrants from Buddhist countries. Many Asian immigrants recently and even historically - they brought with them Buddhism," Allon said. "So among those communities you have an interest in Buddhism, a preservation of their religion and culture. Then you also have an interest among the wider Australian community, non-Asian community, resident community, in Buddhism and that has been going on now for almost 100 years."
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