Excerpts

from Mountain Record 31.1, Fall 2012


 

  Inconceivable Skill in Liberative Technique
- The Vimalakirti Sutra, Translated by Robert Thurman

At that time, there lived in the great city of Vaisali a certain Licchavi, Vimalakirti by name. Having served the ancient Buddhas, he had generated the roots of virtue by honoring them and making offerings to them. He had attained tolerance as well as eloquence. He played with the great superknowledges. He had attained the power of incantations and the fearlessnesses. He had conquered all demons and opponents. He had penetrated the profound way of the Dharma. He was liberated through the transcendence of wisdom. Having integrated his realization with skill in liberative technique, he was expert in knowing the thoughts and actions of living beings. Knowing the strength or weakness of their faculties, and being gifted with unrivaled eloquence, he taught the Dharma appropriately to each. Having applied himself energetically to the Mahayana, he understood it and accomplished his tasks with great finesse. He lived with the deportment of a Buddha, and his superior intelligence was as wide as an ocean. He was praised, honored, and commended by all the Buddhas and was respected by Indra, Brahma, and all the Lokapalas. In order to develop living beings with his skill in liberative technique, he lived in the great city of Vaisali.


 

 The Path of Service  - by Jack Kornfield

One of the most important questions we come to in spiritual practice is how to reconcile service and responsible action in the world with a meditative life based on nonattachment, letting go, and coming to understand the empty nature of all conditioned things. Are the values we hold that lead us to giving and serving and caring for one another different from the values that lead us deep within ourselves on the journey of liberation and awakening?

In considering this question we must first learn to distinguish among four qualities central to practice—the divine abodes of love, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity—and what might be called their “near-enemies.” Near-enemies are states that seem to be very close to these qualities and may even be mistaken for them, but the two are not fundamentally similar. Let us consider them one by one. The near-enemy of love is attachment. Attachment masquerades as love. It says, “I will love you if you will love me back.” It is a kind of “businessman’s” love. So we think, “I will love this person as long as he doesn’t change. I will love that thing if it will be the way I want it.” But this isn’t love at all—it is attachment. There is a big difference between love, which allows and honors and appreciates, and attachment, which grasps and demands and aims to possess. When attachment becomes confused with love, it actually separates us from another person. We feel we need this other person in order to be happy. This quality of attachment also leads us to offer love only toward certain people, excluding others. …

 


 

 Changing Perspectives - by Wangari Maathai

In the late 1960s, astronauts sent back the first photographs of Earth from space and revealed to us a beautiful blue orb seemingly suspended in an endless darkness. Since then, a flood of similarly breathtaking images of our solar system and beyond has provided us with a glimpse of the astonishing vastness of the cosmos—the seemingly innumerable stars and planets, moons and comets, suns, nebulae, auroras, galaxies, and other combinations of matter and gasses. It also has confirmed that as of yet, ours appears to be the only planet where life thrives.

Not surprisingly, given the opportunity to step out of the confines of the planet’s atmosphere and view the earth as a whole with their own eyes, some of the astronauts—trained as scientists and technicians, and necessarily practical and hardheaded given the danger and difficulty of their mission—either found their spiritual consciousness awakened or had their prior religious convictions deepened. In the enormity of space, despite the state-of-the-art technology and engineering they were handling, as well as the highly developed and sophisticated instruments they were employing—not to mention the calculations of astrophysicists, computer specialists, and other scientists they were drawing upon—these astronauts such as Commander Collins found themselves deeply humbled by what they saw when they looked out their windows. In their wonder, they remind us that one can be committed to the scientific method and still experience ecstasy at the great mystery of the cosmos….

 


 

 Faustian Economics - by Wendell Berry

The general reaction to the apparent end of the era of cheap fossil fuel, as to other readily foreseeable curtailments, has been to delay any sort of reckoning. The strategies of delay so far have been a sort of willed oblivion, or visions of large profits to the manufacturers of such “biofuels” as ethanol from corn or switchgrass, or the familiar unscientific faith that “science will find an answer.” The dominant response, in short, is a dogged belief that what we call the American Way of Life will prove somehow indestructible. We will keep on consuming, spending, wasting, and driving as before, at any cost to anything and everybody but ourselves.

This belief was always indefensible—the real names of global warming are Waste and Greed—and by now it is manifestly foolish. But foolishness on this scale looks disturbingly like a sort of national insanity. We seem to have come to a collective delusion of grandeur, insisting that all of us are “free” to be as conspicuously greedy and wasteful as the most corrupt of kings and queens. (Perhaps by devoting more and more of our already abused cropland to fuel production we will at last cure ourselves of obesity and become fashionably skeletal, hungry but—thank God!—still driving.)

The problem with us is not only prodigal extravagance but also an assumed limitlessness. We have obscured the issue by refusing to see that limitlessness is a godly trait. We have insistently, and with relief, defined ourselves as animals or as “higher animals.” But to define ourselves as animals, given our specifically human powers and desires, is to define ourselves as limitless animals—which of course is a contradiction in terms. Any definition is a limit, which is why the God of Exodus refuses to define Himself: “I am that I am.”…

 


 

 War and the Soul - by Edward Tick

A  single death is a tragedy,” said Joseph Stalin. “A million deaths is a statistic.” To Stalin, bent upon the world triumph of Communism, depersonalization and terror were not problems; they were tools for achieving his goals. Individuality was a danger to be eradicated. He knew that, under the bombardment of state-sponsored terror, individuals become numb and eventually allow the state to control their lives. Responsible for the murder of millions, both his own people and others, he once said, “Death solves all problems—no man, no problem.”

More than half a century later, we are in danger of a similar kind of numbing. The overwhelming death statistics delivered through the media—where millions, for instance, watched the endlessly repeated broadcasts of hijacked planes slamming into the World Trade Center—sets our defenses in motion. We feel helpless faced with deaths of such magnitude; we become apathetic. We turn the radio or television channel to something funny, mindless, relaxing. We put down the newspaper that causes us discomfort. Rationalizing that violence is necessary for our security, we turn away, hoping it does not touch our loved ones or us, distancing ourselves from others’ losses. We adopt an absolutist worldview that declares our side good and the other side evil so that we can view our victims as deserving of punishment and thereby ease our guilt….

 


 

  Why (Engaged) Buddhists Should Care about Gender Issues  - by Rita Gross

It seems to me that if Buddhists really followed their central claims about gender, engaged Buddhists would not need to be concerned about gender issues. But we live in a situation that is far from the Buddhist ideal or norm regarding gender; therefore engaged Buddhists do need to care about gender issues among their many other concerns. In this brief chapter honoring Sulak Sivaraksha, I will try to explain why I continue to focus on gender in my work as an engaged Buddhist, even though it would be far more pleasant and easier to give up that work, and giving up that work would probably also result in less hostility toward me from many in the Buddhist world.

I cannot count the number of times some supposed authority or elder in the Buddhist world has tried to explain to me that the work I have done as a Buddhist deeply concerned about gender equity in the world in general, and especially in Buddhism, is unnecessary and beside the point because Buddhists say that ultimately gender is irrelevant and enlightened mind is neither male nor female. Therefore, my bringing up the topic of reforms concerning gender practices in the Buddhist world is divisive and perhaps heretical. “You should be beyond gender,” I am told. “Gender is irrelevant, so you should stop focusing on gender.”…

 


 

 Living by a Love Ethic - by bell hooks

Awakening to love can happen only as we let go of our obsession with power and domination. Culturally, all spheres of American life—politics, religion, the workplace, domestic households, intimate relations—should and could have as their foundation a love ethic. The underlying values of a culture and its ethics shape and inform the way we speak and act. A love ethic presupposes that everyone has the right to be free, to live fully and well. To bring a love ethic to every dimension of our lives, our society would need to embrace change. At the end of The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm affirms that “important and radical changes are necessary, if love is to become a social and not a highly individualistic, marginal phenomenon.” Individuals who choose to love can and do alter our lives in ways that honor the primacy of a love ethic. We do this by choosing to work with individuals we admire and respect; by committing to give our all to relationships; by embracing a global vision wherein we see our lives and our fate as intimately connected to those of everyone else on the planet.

Commitment to a love ethic transforms our lives by offering us a different set of values to live by. In large and small ways, we make choices based on a belief that honesty, openness, and personal integrity need to be expressed in public and private decisions. I chose to move to a small city so I could live in the same area as family even though it was not as culturally desirable as the place I left. Friends of mine live at home with aging parents, caring for them even though they have enough money to go elsewhere. Living by a love ethic we learn to value loyalty and a commitment to sustained bonds over material advancement. While careers and making money remain important agendas, they never take precedence over valuing and nurturing human life and well-being….