Tuesday, September 30, 2008

US mentality blamed for Planet's meltdown

Alan Clendenning (AP)

SAO PAULO, Brazil -- Astounded by the U.S. government's failure to resolve the financial crisis threatening the foundations of the global free market, fingers of blame are pointing at America from around the planet.

Latin American leaders say the U.S. must quickly fix the financial crisis it created before the rest of the world's hard-won economic gains are lost.

"The managers of big business took huge risks out of GREED," said President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, whose economy is highly dependent on U.S. trade. "What happens in the United States will affect the entire world and, above all, small countries like ours." More>>

China's first spacewalk team back on Earth

Gillian Wong (AP, 9/28/08)

Jing Haipeng, Zhai Zhigang, Liu Boming attend send-off ceremony 9/25/08. They have been welcomed home as national heroes (AP).

BEIJING -- Buddhists in space are back on earth. Three Chinese astronauts emerged from their capsule Sunday after a milestone mission to carry out the country's first spacewalk, showing off China's technological know-how and cementing its status as a space power and future competitor to the United States.

A senior space official said the mission — China's most ambitious yet — took the country one step closer in its plan to build a space station and then to land a man on the moon. Wang Zhaoyao, deputy director of manned space flight, said the program is looking to launch a new orbiting vehicle and set up a simple space lab by 2011. There are also hopes of sending unmanned and manned space vehicles to perform docking activities with the target vehicle.

By 2020, China wants to launch a manned mission to experiment with technologies that will enable astronauts to take care of spacecraft for longer periods of time... More>>

"Burma" or "Myanmar"? ASEAN rebukes junta

"Burma" to the pro-democracy camp (BBC)

Should it be Burma or Myanmar? WHO, WHAT, WHY? The Magazine answers...

Protest marches in Burma have entered a ninth day. But why is the country not known in the UK by its official name, Myanmar? The eyes of the world's media are focused on Rangoon, where tensions are rising in the streets, yet news organizations and nations differ in what they call the country. The ruling military junta changed its name from Burma to Myanmar in 1989, a year after thousands were killed in the suppression of a popular uprising. Rangoon also became Yangon. More>>

Asean delivers rare Burma rebuke

Asean is normally reluctant to criticize member states.

South East Asian nations have issued their strongest rebuke ever to Burma's military rulers, as their annual meeting opens in Singapore.

The Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) expressed "deep disappointment" at the detention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. And the organization called for Burma's generals to hold "meaningful dialogue" with opposition figures.

Burma's rulers have shown few signs of opening up since joining Asean in 1997. More>>

Saffron Revolution: gloom one year later

Monks participated in the protests in large numbers. Many monks want to make the next revolution but the government is putting more limitations on them (BBC).

A year has passed since popular protests against Burma's ruling junta filled the streets of Rangoon. A military crackdown finally brought the demonstrations to an end weeks after they began. Here Burmese describe their gloom and pessimism about the future.

WIN, RANGOON: "I took part in the events on the street last year. Nothing has obviously changed in this time except our people are getting poorer and poorer. I feel pessimistic about the future. The UN can't take any effective action against our government. They talk a lot but there is no action.

And the cyclone has not affected the political atmosphere at all. In fact, after the cyclone, our people have had to face inflation and many more troubles than before. But people are talking about what happened last year. They don't forget about it. Many monks want to make the next revolution but the government is putting more limitations on monks because the first anniversary of the September revolt is getting close.
AUNG, RANGOON: I didn't take part in the protests last year. But I was a leader in the 1988 protest in my home town and I was imprisoned and fired from my government post. I believe nothing will change and no-one can make the regime change because they have guns. I feel pessimistic about the future of our country if the junta is in power. As long as they stay in power no one can help us. More>>

Nepal Maoists oppose Beauty Pageant

Maoists' ugly view of Miss Nepal
Charles Haviland BBC News, Kathmandu

"I feel like we are under a dictatorship more than being a republic or democratic" -- Pranayna KC.

Would-be beauty queens in Nepal have expressed their disap-pointment after the postponement of the Miss Nepal contest for the sixth time this year. It should have been held at the weekend but local authorities banned it after pressure from the Maoist party which heads the government. Contestants due to have taken part have complained of being "victimized."

The Maoists say the con-test discriminates against certain ethnic groups and demeans women. It is not often that a beauty pa-geant is scheduled to take place at the army's head-quarters. But that's where the organizers, event man-agement company Hidden Treasure, had planned to hold the contest -- such were the sensitivities it raised.

At the last moment they got a letter from Kathmandu's district government. "Keeping peace and security in mind, do not let this event take place," it said. The event's antagonist is the women's wing of the Maoist party, the All Nepal Women's Organization (Revolutionary). Last month it stormed the offices of the pageant's Indian sponsor, Dabur Nepal, and locked out its staff. More>>

Q&A: Nepal's Future

Syangboche Khumjung Buddhist stupa and Mani wall mantras (celebratebig.com)

Maoists want Nepal to become a republic immediately. Nepal's new constituent assembly has started work following landmark elections in April. Its first task was abolishing the monarchy, which was 240 years old. BBC reports.

What is the purpose of the constituent assembly?

In the long-term, the assembly has approximately two years to draw up lasting new constitutional arrangements for a republic that can satisfy the disparate demands of the former Maoist rebels, the longer-standing mainstream political parties and other groups, including the newly assertive ethnic groups from southern Nepal who started violent protests for more representation last year.

In the short term, the assembly must sort out interim governing structures that will include a new role of president. It was agreed that the monarchy would be abolished on the first day the assembly met.

Will all this be easy?

Nepal's political parties have an inauspicious record when it comes to resolving political differences in a way that satisfies the general population.

The Maoists and the other main parties are trying to settle differences about whether the presidency should be a purely ceremonial role and how much power the prime minister should have in the current interim arrangements. They are also arguing about who should hold these posts.

The Maoists had been arguing that the presidency should be a powerful position and that it should be held by their leader, Prachanda. The other parties, who distrust the Maoists, have opposed this.

How strong are the Maoists?

The results of April's elections astonished everyone, including the Maoists, who had been expecting, at best, to be the third biggest party. Because of that, they had insisted that many of the seats be decided by proportional representation, rather than first-past-the-post. They emerged as the main party, with 220 of the 601 constituent assembly seats but would have done much better without proportional representation.

King Gyanendra is now a ceremonial figure, June 11 2008.

What happens to King Gyanendra?

The Maoists say he will be free to live in Nepal as an ordinary, tax-paying citizen. But he will have to vacate the royal palace in Kathmandu. He has various business interests.

Were the April elections peaceful?

Most observers were surprised that the elections passed off much more peacefully than previous votes in the 1990s, although there was some violence.

How did the elections come about?

The elections are part of the peace deal signed in 2006 between the interim coalition government and the former Maoist rebels.

There was public jubilation after the king climbed-down in 2006

The Maoists had pulled out of the coalition government in September 2007, accusing the government of violating the spirit of the deal, in which they say it was agreed that the monarchy should be abolished before the constituent assembly elections. Other parties in the interim government denied there had been such an agreement.

In a list of demands submitted to the government, the Maoists called for Nepal immediately to become a republic.

They also demanded that a commission should be established to investigate the disappearances of their supporters during Nepal's decade-long civil war, as well as better salaries for their former fighters, who they say are not being properly integrated into the country's army as agreed earlier this year.

Why did the Maoists suspend their armed struggle in November 2006?

The Maoists called a ceasefire after King Gyanendra ended his controversial direct rule in April 2006 and restored parliament.

The king backed down after weeks of strikes and protests against his rule which saw huge demonstrations against him.

Political parties who were then in opposition and now in government, had promised to work with the Maoists as a prelude to bringing them into government.

A titular "Hindu state," Nepal is predominantly Buddhist (i.phase.com)

Why did the king back down and agree to reconvene parliament?

The short answer is the sheer size of the demonstrations against him -- some of the biggest that the country has ever witnessed.

Faced with this vast display of people power, analysts say that the king had no choice but to back down or the country would have descended into anarchy.

Observers say with international pressure mounting on him and the mood among his opponents at home hardening, particularly after the deaths of a number of protesters at the hands of the security forces, the king had few other options.

The parliament that was in place up until the April 2008 elections effectively reduced the monarchy to a ceremonial role. It also ended Nepal's status as a Hindu state and turned it into a secular state.

Why did the king seize power in February, 2005?

He accused Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's government of failing to win the support of the Maoist rebels for a deadline for peace talks and of failing to prepare the ground for elections in the spring of 2005.

However, analysts suggest the king might have been using these issues to strengthen his own role in Nepalese politics, perhaps seeking to create an absolute monarchy.

Whatever his intentions, his plans backfired and he finds himself removed as monarch, having in effect catalysed his opponents and the rebels into forging peace.

How strong were the Maoists as a fighting force?

At the height of their insurrection, the Maoists were virtually in control of most of rural Nepal.

They were capable of launching enforced blockades of major towns and cities, showing they had the power to paralyse the economy.

As part of the ceasefire deal, both the rebels and the army agreed to put their arms beyond use under UN supervision, with former rebels confined to their bases at cantonments across the country.

Some analysts argue that the emergence in recent months of around a dozen armed groups in the south of the country -- all extremely hostile to the former rebels - has meant that their hold over this populous part of the country has been weakened. In the cities, their support has never been strong.

Where do the Maoists derive their ideology?

The Maoists claim to be inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong and want to establish a communist state.

Their shadowy leader's name, Prachanda, is translated as "the fierce one." The group is modelled on Peru's Maoist Shining Path guerrillas.

What was the human cost of the conflict?

More than 13,000 people were killed in violence in Nepal when the insurgency began, many of them civilians caught in cross-fire with security forces.

Both sides in the conflict were frequently accused of carrying out human rights abuses.

Korean Monks Protest in Seoul

Korean monk protesting, CNN VIDEO (0:47)

Psychedelic Realities

Reality is stranger than fiction. Perhaps it has only been explored, in rational rather than mystical terms, through the use of consciousnss-enhancing substances. This list of suggested readings is made available to save one the trouble of taking the risky journey of substance-abuse but nevertheless open one to the wonder and awe of reality.

Top 10 non-fiction Psychedelic Books
John Higgs (guardian.co.uk)

1. The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley
Huxley's account of his experiments with mescaline in the 1950s make psychedelic use sound like a perfectly reasonable and admirable pursuit which would bring credit to any middle class gentleman. Huxley never wrote a dull sentence in his life and this is certainly one of his best works. If its influence of the likes of Timothy Leary or Jim Morrison is considered, then it could easily be his most culturally important book.

2. The Great Shark Hunt by Hunter S Thompson
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is usually considered Thompson's best work, but I much prefer The Great Shark Hunt. It's a huge book, a collection of the best of his journalism from the 60s and 70s, and it shows that Thompson had a far greater range than his later reputation suggests. His essay about Hemingway's death, in which he tried to understand why such a once-vibrant man ended up blowing his brains out in small town America, is particularly poignant following Thompson's suicide.

3. The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe
This is Wolfe's account of life with Ken Kesey, the Merry Pranksters and the birth of the American west coast psychedelic movement. Wolfe knew that a detached, even-handed journalistic approach could never really explain what was happening, so he gave his book the same psychedelic viewpoint as his characters. The result is a wonderful piece of writing. For those of us who weren't born in the 60s, this is probably the closest we can get to experiencing it.

4. High Priest by Timothy Leary
Leary was a prolific writer, producing over 30 books and hundreds of essays and papers. I've chosen his autobiographical High Priest (1968) for this list as I think it is one of his most accomplished pieces of writing. It captures both the drug experience and the sense of discovery so well; the moment a scientist realises that the implications of their work are so huge that their life will never be the same again.

5. Sisters of the Extreme: Women writing on the drug experience by Cynthia Palmer and Michael Horowitz (eds)
Psychedelic use is split fairly evenly between the men and women, but the desire to write about and try to explain the experience is a predominantly male trait. Certainly every other book in this top ten is from a male author, which is why this book so important. It sheds light on the otherwise hidden half of the psychedelic experience.

6. The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelia by Paul Devereux
Devereux's impressive and thorough trawl through prehistory will be an eye-opener for anyone who thought drug use was a modern phenomenon. Devereux demonstrates that this point in history is a strange quirk in the human story, a rare time where we don't have a structure for incorporating psychedelic use into our society. If nothing else, it will make you view your ancestors in a different light!

7. DMT: The Spirit Molecule by Rick Strassman, MD
The medical profession has written little about psychedelics since Timothy Leary, which makes this book all the more valuable. DMT, a natural chemical produced by the human brain, is a hallucinogen so powerful that it makes LSD look like lager shandy. DMT throws up some very big questions about the workings of the brain, consciousness and about the world at large, and Strassman does not shy from these. For those who think that one day science will have all the answers, this book shows just how clueless we still are.

8. Cosmic Trigger: Final Secret of the Illuminati Volume 1 by Robert Anton Wilson

9. Bill Hicks: Agent of Evolution by Kevin Booth and Michael Bertin

10. What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry by John Markoff

What about the Christian God/Devil?

Bhikkhu Samahita and WQ editors

Question: What about the Christian God?

The Christian God Jehovah (Hebrew, YHWH or Yahweh) exists but is neither sole creator, nor almighty, nor all-knowing. On a Buddhist cosmological scale, it is possible to place Jehovah at Level 10 (the tenth of 31 planes of existence). That realm is called "Devas Delighting in Creating" (nimmanarati). If that is the correct placement (others may argue for a different placement; see the 31 Planes of Existence below), the God worshipped in the West still deals with anger (by his own admission he is a jealous, proud, and angry god), desire, and delusion.

Wisdom Quarterly would more generously place the God of Abrahamic religions and Hinduism at Level 14 (the Realm of Maha Brahma).

The arch-opponent of Christian lore, "Satan" (in Buddhism Mara), might be placed at Level 11: "Devas Wielding Power over the Creation of Others" (paranimmita-vasavatti). But like the Christian devil, "Mara" does not refer to a single being. Mara-Devaputra is a deva (a kind of "Lucifer"); another Mara is a personification of "Death," which rules the Sensual World in its entirety (because all beings are attached to lust and of a nature to decay, pass away, and be reborn).

In this German depiction, the Devil looks quite like a Reptilian (Naga). Other beings on earth are called Maras, and these may be thought of as "demons" or spiritual soldiers dedicated to the cause of Death, corruption, anger, revenge, and spoilage.

Interestingly, just as in JudeoChristian records (Ezekiel 28:11-19, King James Bible), this being is associated with gandhabas or "heavenly musicians"* (of the lowest celestial realm, known as the Angelic Realm of the Four Great Kings). The Bible often simplifies various characters into a single being [not just monotheistically, but Beelzebub, Mephistopheles, Ouroboros (the snake in the Garden of Eden), Lucifer, the Devil are either the same being over time, in different personas, or different beings controlled or said to be under the sway of Satan.]

Similarly, in Buddhist terms it could be said there are many "devils," monsters known as Nagas (serpents, dragons, or Reptilians both on earth and in celestial realms), Asuras ("Titans" who fight angels), rakshasas (demons)... Is one to believe they are all at the beck and call of Mara? No, certainly not. They have their own agendas. But in a sense, as negative influences or corrupted beings, they can be said to be "in league with Mara or Satan" because of the corrupting effect they try to exert. They may generally be called Maras ("killers") as a class as when the Buddha frequently describes this world as one "with its Brahmas and Maras, princes and humans, this generation with its priests and ascetics, its devas..." All of these types of beings are well known and numerous, except for Mara ("the killer"), a term which in the earliest discourses almost exclusively refers to a "tempter," a being also called Namuci ("the Non-liberator") or Papima-maro ("the Evil One").

One might even say that Yama, Lord of the Dead, is a kind of Devil ruling over a low "hell." That Yama is certainly not the same as Mara Devaputra anymore than discussions of beautiful Lucifer would say that the angelic being is the hellion; perhaps one became the other, but they cannot be condensed all into one being as often happens to make things simple. Beyond that there are other beings Christians would likely regard as demons. These are yakshas (ogres, goblins, yetis) and poltergeists (pretas, "hungry ghosts," departed earthbound beings who linger in a kind of Jewish or Greek hades alongside humans) or petty bhumi-devas (nature spirits).

In Buddhism, many of these are titles (Brahma, Sakka, Mara, Buddha, Yama, etc.) occupied like offices over time by many individuals. Because the time periods "in office" are usually so incredibly long -- even lasting an entire world cycle -- people forget that the titles only refer to general stations not special individuals. Anyone can become a Mara (Devil), or a deva (angel), a Brahma (God), a preta (ghost), naga (snake), animal, or even a Buddha (an "Awakened One"). It's not likely, but it is technically possible. The Buddha explained the course of actions (karma) leading to all destinations. Of these destinations, liberation is superior; nirvana ("the end of all suffering") is best.

Lucifer, Satan, demons, and "unclean spirits" -- just like God, godlings, angels, light-beings -- all still deal with varying degrees of lust, hatred, and ignorance. Mara/Satan may have developed a particularly polluted mind (as for example the story of Mara Dusi, MN 50).

Buddhas and Arhats are beyond and above deities, gods, and other beings, since they irreversibly have eliminated all greed, all hate, and all delusion! They have transcended existence and continued wandering in Samsara by attaining nirvana. Nirvana is the deathless absolute peace, the supreme bliss, the highest bliss. No trace of craving, anger, or confusion remains.

More Details
Humorous billboard graffiti indicating that even God listens to Satanic metal music since most of Slayer's songs are about God (belowtopsecret.com).

God created Evil and the Devil?

*Where in the Bible does it say that Lucifer was a heavenly musician?

It says so in the Book of Ezekiel (28:11-19), where God gets wrathful on Lucifer, displaying quite a bit of jealously and anger, claiming the inadvertent creation of evil, mentioning Lucifer's musicianship along the way:

"Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, take up a lamentation...Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God;..the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created.

"Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee. [He was created with sinfulness to be found inside him?]

"By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned: therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee.

"Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy traffick; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee. All they that know thee among the people shall be astonished at thee: thou shalt be a terror, and never shalt thou be any more."

Dependent Origination, Saffron Revolution, Rugby

Barbara O'Brien (About.com)

Bhavachakra: Wheel of Life (see DETAILS) cycle of rebirth, existence, Samsara

We look at Dependent Origination in depth. An explosion in Burma reminds us that a year ago the Saffron Revolution reached its peak (as Aung San Suu Kyi, pictured, remains under house arrest). And can a troubled British rugby star find peace of mind through quantum physics and Buddhism? Why not?

"Dependent Origination" (Pali, Paticca-Samuppada; Sanskrit, Pratitya-samutpada) is sometimes called the Buddhist Genesis, although it's a Genesis without a God or even a beginning.

The Core of Dharma
His Holiness the Dalai Lama (pictured holding a poster of Suu Kyi, head of Burma's National Democracy League) has said that the teaching of Dependent Origination precludes two possibili-ties. "One is the possibility that things can arise from nowhere, with no causes and conditions, and the second is that things can arise on account of a transcendent designer or creator. Both these possibilities are negated."

Dependent Origination The Buddhist Genesis has no God and no original cause. Things and beings come to be and pass away because other things and beings come to be and pass away. You are a phenomenon of a vast field of being-ness.

12 Links of Dependent Origination The Buddha said there are twelve links (nidanas) in the "chain" of Dependent Origination. The links reveal how things come to be, are, and cease to be.

Rugby, Quantum Physics, and Buddhism English rugby star Jonny Wilkinson says he found happiness through quantum physics and Buddhism.

Vietnam Flooding

  • Link to international coverage of worsening flood problem in Vietnam: VIDEO (0:59)
At least 62 people in northern Vietnam have been killed by flash floods and landslides caused by a tropical storm. Dozens of people are missing and entire villages have been cut off in Lao Cai (pictured), the worst-affected province.

A rescue effort led by the army is under way but is being hampered by the severe weather. Tropical storm Kammuri, which came in from the Gulf of Tonkin and made landfall on Friday, hit China with rain and winds earlier in the week.

Officials in the mountainous province of Lao Cai, which borders China, told news agencies that tens of thousands of people had been stranded after roads were washed away. Further landslides have been predicted, sparking fears that the death toll could rise. More>> (BBC)

The Swastika "卍"

What is the real meaning of the Buddhist religious symbol known as the Swastika?

The swastika symbol can be found in archaeological sites all over the world including ancient Europe, Asia, America (among the indigenous Indians), and so on. These relics show that the swastika has a long history. In modern times, the swastika is most famous as the corporate logo for the Nazi party of Hitler's Germany. Before that, it had an exalted Indian history and played a role in many religions, not least of which was Buddhism and esoteric Hinduism.

The origin of the swastika is unknown -- representing the sun or a wheel even to the most ancient of cultures. But it is a famous and revered mark on the Buddha's body.

Generally, the swastika is a symbol meaning "good fortune." Most people seem to have forgotten that. The origin of swastika may be otherworldly. As a mark on the Buddha's body, it represents the Buddha's level and status in heaven. A Tathagata ("Perfected One") is represented with one swastika on the body, usually the chest. Other Buddhas imagined to be greater have more. Arhats and Bodhisattvas do not have any.

Pre-Buddhist symbol
Swastikas (facing in either direction) have been found in ancient Greece. While it is a Buddhist religious symbol, and Buddhism reached ancient Greece, not all swastikas are Buddhist. Ancient Vedic cultures (extending through modern day Pakistan, Afghanistan, and all the way through the ancient Greek world, came in contact with the West before then.

It is believed by some that in earlier times, before the Big Flood, people in Europe believed in the Buddha. And during the Big Flood, some ancient Greek people who lived to the south-west of Himalayas survived. They are the current light-skin Indians (Arya) called Brahmins, who seem to be descended from Persians and other pre-Indus Valley civilization conquerors. Originally, Brahmanism experienced many converts to the Buddha's teachings, which were inherited by the ancient Greeks.

They also inherited the sculpture methods. Therefore, many ancient Indian Buddha statues are distinctly Western (such as the Gandharan period pieces in many Western museums) in appearance. These sculptural techniques, along with various swastikas, spread from India to China with Buddhism. Thus, some Asian Buddha statues have deep eyes and straight noses (along with blue eyes, togas, jawlines, other facial features, and the physiques of Greek gods).

One of the main Buddha statues in Yun-gang Grotto, Shan-xi Province in China has an obviously Western face.

Shakyamuni Buddha began his dispensation about 500 B.C.E. Buddhism, in a narrow sense, only refers to the specific religion that grew up around this historical Buddha's teachings. But the Buddhism that spread to China in the 1st century to become one of the world's major religions and the dominant faith of most Chinese people was an amalgamation of Hinduism and Buddhism called Mahayana, a philosophical refinement of Shakyamuni's conventional teachings.

In a broader sense, Buddhism is not limited to referring only to Shakyamuni and his teachings. For example, Tibetan Tantra also believes in a Buddha but not Shakyamuni. In China, people regard Tibetan Tantra as a part of Buddhism. But Tantra (being a Hindu invention) was not created by Shakyamuni, and in some divisions of Tantra the followers did not know Shakyamuni at all.

Even within Chinese Buddhism, there are several Tathagatas and Bodhisattvas being worshiped. ("Tathagata" is the title of a Buddha like a job title). Shakyamuni is believed to have said that Tathagatas in the universe are as plentiful as the grains of sand in the Ganges river. Therefore, "Buddha" is a general word referring to a type of divine being in heaven. They assume an outward appearance blue hair [blue represents black in Hindu art] with curls, wrapped with long yellow cloth, with a swastika mark on the body.

The Nazi symbol
Hitler stole the swastika and used it for his own ends. Not only this ancient "Aryan" symbols, but the very mythology of Aryans comes from Buddhist teachings on the "noble" origins of Indian culture as having originated in the pre-Indus Valley civilization from the north (Persian, Iraqi, Middle Eastern, or otherworldly, it is not know. Not only this symbol and story but other esoteric ideas stemming largely from Theosophical teachings introduced to Western Europe by Madame Blavatsky were appropriated by Hitler and his advisers, who were very interested in astrology, mythology, and the occult. It has a much longer human history than the Nazi symbol. In Buddhism, the swastika is generally level and not painted black, whereas the Nazi symbol is tilted pointing upwards and is almost always black with a distinctive red and white background.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Gods, Godlings, Devils: Questions Answered

Answers by Dharmachari Seven and Justin Choo

Greek goddesses (devas) dance with Apollo (Wikipedia)

(1) Is Mara the most powerful deva, given the fact that he is the king of the highest Deva Realm?
Mara (the personification of Death) is not the king or chief of the highest deva world. That is said only in the sense that all worlds (with the exception of the Pure Abodes) are ruled over by death. Beings there in all the heavens, human worlds, and hellish destinations eventually pass away to be reborn elsewhere according to their karma. There is another being known as Mara-Deva, who is a beautiful "angel" or "godling" who, it is said, takes personal offense that anyone attempts to free him, her, or itself (Brahmas or Gods are beyond sex, neither male or female) from the Wheel of Rebirth (Samsara).

(2) Why is Mara not supportive of those practicing Dharma (e.g., in the story of the Arhat Uppa Gupta, who existed 300 years after Buddha)?
The way to free oneself from the Wheel of Rebirth is to practice the Dharma and develop virtue, concentration, and liberating-wisdom.

(3) Can devas interfere with one's practice of Dharma? If so, how?

Yes, not all godlings are good. Just like humans (and the human state being a good one) in the human-world, Greek-style gods and goddesses are jealous, angry, lustful, deluded, vain, and so on. While they have great capacities and potentials (in addition to beauty and longevity), they are intoxicated with pleasure, ego, and delusions of grandeur. Just like humans, devas can go terribly wrong. Mara Deva is possessed of a pernicious wrong view, fancying himself the lord of the sense world. He is not. But the idea impels him to obstruct anyone from practices leading to liberation. Just as even a human, a ghost, a hellion, or an insect can hinder, annoy, or frighten one, a deva has the capacity to interfere with one's practice.

(4) Where do our unwholesome thoughts come from? Can they be influenced by an unseen being?

There is not a time in the past when beings were not ensnared by lust (lobha), provoked by aversion and fear (dosa and bhava), and shrouded by delusion (moha). They may be repressed, suppressed, or lulled for a time (even a lifetime). Nevertheless, they are influencing one. And they can be aroused, provoked, or engendered by others. A wholesome individual can be corrupted if that individual is not guarding his/her senses, if mindfulness is lacking, if concentration is off, or if wrong views are accepted and acted on. Whether seen or unseen, a being is able to arouse, provoke, or enrapture one by any number of means not requiring any special power.

(5) Can more than one stream of consciousness co-exist in one physical body? What can we do to prevent that from happening to us?
Possession can and does take place when mindfulness is lacking or when one does not practice wise association (the company of good and inspiring companions). This is done by the will of unseen beings but can be protected against and reversed once it's recognized. Seeing a monk about the suspected problem would be a good start to prevent or reverse the situation. Parittas (or protective chants) are often done to protect from this eventuality.

Celestial devas and gods depicted in Indian art

(6) Why is Maha Brahma also called the Creator God? Does he play a role in the beginning of a new world system? Do we and devas basically look alike (i.e., have a face with two eyes, two ears, one nose, one mouth, two hands, and two legs)? Is it true that in the beginning of a new world system, the brahmas descend to the earth's surface and gradually evolve to become human beings?

It's not clear why this is one question, but brahmas, including Maha Brahma, weild the power of creation. That is, they can make things by seemingly magical means -- simply wishig or willing it. They are creators in that sense. There are many things they cannot do and many things they cannot create. For instance, they cannot reverse the Three Marks of Existence, which is to say they cannot make things permanent, satisfactory, or personal because in truth they are not. At the birth of a world system, which is an impersonal process, the Maha Brahma (great god) is reborn first. This is due to past karma. That being does not know how the arising took place or why and often comes under the delusion that it was uncreated and unborn and therefore is the creator, the one who gives birth to the entire universe. There are many brahmas and devas higher and greater, yet Maha Brahma is not aware of them. So any claims of omniscience and omnipotence are at best delusions, possibly exaggerations, or at worst untrue boasts.

Devas often have the power of transformation to assume the form they wish. It's not clear what their default form is. Some are anthropomorphic, some are ephemeral, some are amorphous light. But when appearing to human beings, they tend to assume the form of very beautiful, lithe, and delicate beauties with a face, two eyes, and so on.

It is true that after a world dissolution, a very long period of time follows. At this time beings are mostly born in a particular brahma world, where they feed on joy, fly about, enjoy long lives, and are luminescent. This is all explained in the Aganna Sutra, which explains how beings eventually "fall" from that status, devolve, and degrade to a grosser/baser form as humans due to increasing decadence. This takes place over an almost inconceivable period of time and may represent a figurative and powerful explanation of the harm in unskillful karma rather than a human genesis.

Ghosts and other suffering beings in unfortunate destinations

(7) Who are the beings who torture the suffering beings in the hells? What/who gave them the right and do they accumulate bad karma for doing the job?

There are different ways of understanding this. One's own deeds torment one (as by remorse, regret, guilt, or experiencing the bitter and painful karmic results of those actions). This may give rise to phantom "beings" performing the torture. Alternatively, there are angry beings one may attract by virtue of one's fear, remorse, guilt, and so on. Those beings -- angry, deluded, and greedy -- having the opportunity to harm do harmful things. It is to their detriment and to the detriment of the ones they harm. No one has given them "the right" to do these things. It may also be that Yama, king of the dead, if this is a literal being, attempts to direct the types of torment or calls upon hellions and denizens of lower worlds to inflict harm in an attempt to extirpate the heavy karma that has led to one's rebirth in those many and varied realms. It is perhaps possible to make sense of this by comparing it to modern American prisons. One suffers there, and much of that suffer one brings on oneself. One is made to suffer there by attracting that into one's experience. Guards, "shot callers," gang leaders, angry rivals, and even the warden may have a vendetta against one, or an instantaneous dislike of someone (based on that person's karma). And in those capacities, one is harmed and tormented. This can be motivated by others' anger, delusion, greed, or simply in the exercise of their capacity (job) in that world with no particular intention to torment.

(8) Plants and trees have life but no consciousness. Can the congregation of the Five Aggregates happen by chance? Where is the origin of each of the Five Aggregates?

As the Buddha explained to one particularly inquisitive disciple, there is no end of questions. It is better to practice because before all of one's questions could possibly be answered, one would surely die. If instead of questioning, one were to practice the Dharma, wisdom that could answer all of one's questions and more might arise. Plants do have some consciousness. That is, they can react to their environment. They face and follow the sun. They may not have active cerebral activity and contemplation. But consciousness seems to infuse all things, even if those things are not originating consciousness. Whether the Five Aggregates of existence and clinging (form, feeling, perception, formations, and consciousness) come together by chance or not depends on what is meant by "chance." They are interdependent -- not having independent existence -- and impersonal. There is no being behind them, apart from them, or within them. They co-originate depending on one another. For instance, feeling arises dependent on contact. Contact can only take place because past karma gives rise to form. On account of contact, sensation and perception take place, leading to awareness. All of this is explained in detail in the doctrine of Dependent Origination (Paticca samuppada).

(9) What is the difference between "craving not to live" (the opposite of "craving for continued existence") and "dispassion for life" (nimbida)"?
Generally speaking, beings crave for continued existence and act accordingly. They fear death yet cling to the Wheel of Life and Death (Samsara), which leads to repeated rebirth and also repeated and painful "redeath." This is motivated by craving (tanha) for pleasant feeling. When such desires are frustrated, when one does not get what one wants or when one gets what one very much dos not want, the typical reaction is a "craving for nonexistence." One wishes to have the world stop so that one can get off the merry-go-round. This leads to suicide when relationships end or when one meets with insufferable misery, as happens not infrequently.

Conversely, because in reality, according to dharma (Truth, not to be confused with The Dharma, "the doctrine" that attempts to encapsulate the Truth) and not otherwise, things are unsatisfactory, impermanent, and impersonal (not self), seeing them -- even for a moment -- as they really are leads to dispassion. In the absence of the normal craving, which is always coupled with delusion and aversion, one forms a "dispassion for life" that is quite different from aversion (dosa, "hate"). It's similar in function but rooted in wisdom and as such is of benefit. When the mind is dispassionate, more liberating-wisdom ripens. Ordinary aversion is rooted and delusion and does not give rise to liberating wisdom. That is the principal difference.

(10) How do devas have sex or its equivalent? I heard devas have no sexual organ, how do they "do it" then?
The word "deva" is difficult to understand because it is such a general term. It generally means "spontaneously born" (opapatika) and "luminescent." Most devas have subtle, fine-material bodies. They emit light (to varying degrees based on their karma, glory, status, other variations such as mood and condition, e.g., before they pass away, they suddenly lose their luster). They live on many different planes. These planes are quite different. And their are more of them than any kind of world. Most realms in the 31 Planes of Existence are devas. But the world is not mostly populated with devas. Many more beings are unfortunately reborn to miserable destinations. The heavens are spacious; the unfortunate destinations are crowded and cramped. It is somewhat unfortunate that so many of these beings are called "devas" because no distinction is made where it is merited. There are bhumi-devas (earth godlings who live in forests above trees, within plants or groves, interdependent on those plants, or associated with rivers and bodies of water), celestial-devas (identified with planets and realms and natural phenomena), and exalted "devas" superior to the Gods (Brahmas). They are very different, not all anthropomorphic, but similar in that they are spontaneously reborn (mind-born, without the intermediary of parents and gestation). They can be brighter than the sun, than stars, than supernovas. In one sutra, the Buddha makes a comparison between a glow worm a beryl gem and the sun in an analogy that also serves to state the difference in brilliance and radiance of different beings he knows personally.

With all these differences, it is difficult to speak of "devas" in general. They experience a great deal of pleasure and pleasant feeling. Bhumi-devas and those of the lower celestial worlds (like Greek nature spirits and godlings, nymphs and deities) may be obsessed with sensuality and sex, and with anthropomorphic forms they are born with or assume by their power of transformation they can engage in it they way humans or bonobos do.

The Brahma World and beyond, where most types of devas reside, are without gender and without sex. There is a great deal of pleasure, more than humans are capable of imagining, but it does not come from sexual congress.

More Answers

(1) Is Mara the most powerful deva, the fact that he is the king of the highest deva realm?
Mara is one of the two most powerful devas in the highest sensual realm. The righteous king is Vasavatti Deva, and the other is this Mara Devaputta.

(2) Why is Mara not supportive of those practicing Dharma? (e.g., in a story of Arahant Uppa Gupta, who existed 300 years after Buddha's passing away)
Mara was jealous of those who could attain jhana as they would be reborn higher than him. Mara has great power that he can enjoy objects created by others for him. The story goes that Upagotta had subdued Mara and he had promised not to disturb any follower of the Buddha again.

(3) Can devas interfere with our practice of Dharma? If so, how?
Devas are those beings in higher realms than us. There are good and not so good devas. Those devas who are our "neighbors" can influence our worldly lives. Buddhists perform chanting and puja at the Bodhi trees for purpose of requesting worldly favors and protection from them. Before formal chanting, we always invite the devas to participate and listen and share our merits. This is the Buddhist way of seeking "spiritual" protection.

(4) Where do our unwholesome thoughts come from? Can it be influenced by an unseen being?
The "unseen being" is our "ignorant and deluded mind."

(5) Can more than one stream of consciousness co-exist in one physical body? What can we do to prevent that from happening to us?
"Stream" means "continuous flow." There can only be one continuous flow. It is just like electrical current. Our consciousness is in a continuous flux comprising a continuous flow of "thought moments." Each thought moment is referred to as a unit of the mind. Each unit of the mind has seven major currents which cause the continuous flow of 17 waves. One cycle is one beat of the mind, just like the heart beat, but millions of times faster. It is so fast that we have been deceived to believe that we have permanent and unchanging souls.

(6) Why is Maha Brahma also called the Creator God? Does he play a role in the beginning of a new world system? Do we and devas basically look alike (i.e., have a face with two eyes, two ears, one nose, one mouth, two hands, two legs)? Is it true that in the beginning of a new world system, the brahmas descended to the earth's surface and gradually evolved to become human beings?

Maha Brahma is called the creator god only by the Hindus. Maha means great, and Brahma means god. The story goes that this Brahma was the first to descend to the lower realm and feeling lonely wished for companions. Later others also descended and the self-fufilling prophecy is created. This Brahma thought that he had great power in creating the others, while the others thought that this Brahma really created them; thus he became Maha Brahma!

The beginning of the world and life are described in the Brahmajala Sutra (the first sutra in the Digha Nikaya) and the Aganna Sutra (Vol 3 Digha Nikaya).

From the description of the Planes of Existence, devas are also sensual beings which I would assume that they are similar to us, except more refined.

The Buddhist Creator-God

Today is Rosh Hashanah, Judaism's New Year's -- the anniversary of the day Jews mark as the "creation of the world." Did YHWH (Maha Brahma, the Buddhist creator-god) in fact "create" the world as the commencement of the High Holidays ending in Yom Kippur (ten days later) suggests? No.

While few American care or know much about Jews, only interesting themselves with the state of Israel as a place to send Jews or as the equivalent of "ten CIAs" (as a former head famously admitted in a rare moment of candor), the majority-religion is inextricably tied to Judaic beliefs. Americans' view of Jews is perhaps best revealed (somewhat offensively) in massively popular cartoon portrayals, such as Family Guy ("When You Wish Upon a Weinstein" episode), which today represent the single best way of tapping into the nation's zeitgeist.

The Greek God "Thor," the Indian version of "Indra" (home.planet.nl)

The human world (manussa-loka) has existed, cyclically, for a duration better measured in geologic-time than in terms of calendars and great events. The Buddha and Hindu texts such as the Vedas describe time in terms of epochs and aeons (kalpas) and beyond that great-aeons (maha-kalpas), indeterminate periods on a staggering scale. Furthermore, the evolution and devolution of world systems, or "world periods," is sometimes reckoned as a unit of time. When asked for a definition of an aeon, the Buddha responds that it is not easy to reckon in terms of this many or that many years but must resort to analogies that oppress the mind that attempts to conceive them and sicken the spirit that understands that they may as well be called "eternities."

As a Wikipedia author announces: Since the time of the Buddha, the refutation of the existence of a creator has been seen as a key point in distinguishing Buddhist from non-Buddhist views.[1] While Buddhism is called a religion, it might better be described as a "spiritual philosophy" due to the absence of an absolute creator god. Rather, Buddhism teaches that through persistent meditation practices and efforts to perfect morality, practitioners (and, by extension, all sentient beings) can dispel ignorance and relieve suffering. As taught in the earliest Pali texts, practitioners may through these practices become inheritors of the Dharma, and thus embody the Buddha's word (Buddha vacanam) as his hearers (savaka).

All that having been said, the rank of Buddhist creator god is a title more than a personal name -- Maha Brahma (the great supremo). Buddhist cosmology states that the various planes of existence correspond to the karma (consequential actions of moral significance) of individuals. Some of the most positively weighty karma are the Eight Jhanas ("meditative absorptions") -- four material, four immaterial -- and their degrees of refinement. This correspondence is explained in detail in a free ebook 31 Planes of Existence (Ven. Suvanno Mahathera).

Hindu God Rama (indianchild.com) often a trinity of Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva


Ven. Nyanaponika

Quite contradictory views have been expressed in Western literature on the attitude of Buddhism toward the concept of God and gods. From a study of the discourses of the Buddha preserved in the Pali canon, it will be seen that the idea of a personal deity, a creator god conceived to be eternal and omnipotent, is incompatible with the Buddha's teachings. On the other hand, conceptions of an impersonal godhead of any description, such as world-soul, etcetera, are [ultimately] excluded by the Buddha's teachings on [the basis of the Buddhist principle known as] Anatta, "non-self" or "unsubstantiality."

In Buddhist literature, the belief in a creator god (issara-nimmana-vada) is frequently mentioned and rejected, along with other causes wrongly adduced to explain the origin of the world. The same is true, for instance, about a world-soul, time, nature, and so on. God-belief, however, is placed in the same category as those morally destructive wrong views which deny the karmic results of action, assume a fortuitous origin of man and nature, or teach absolute determinism. These views are said to be altogether pernicious, having definite bad results due to their effect on ethical conduct.

[Editor's note: There are gods, devas as well as brahmas, but they do not have the abilities people presume. The mistake is attributing to them some special status beyond karma or Samsara. Some of the monotheistic notions, particularly Christian, are very misleading, while others approximate the claims made by superior beings, such as claims of immortality, omnipotence, omniscience, and the like. These should be understood as extreme longevity, great puissance, knowledge or even wisdom, and so on. The hyperbole that honors them misleads many followers who then fail to notice, or at least acknowledge, any limitations to their deities.]

Theism, however, is regarded as a kind of karma-teaching in so far as it upholds the moral efficacy of actions. Hence a theist who leads a moral life may, like anyone else doing so, expect a favorable rebirth. He may possibly even be reborn in a heavenly world that resembles his own conception of it, though it will not be of eternal duration as he may have expected. If, however, fanaticism induces him to persecute those who do not share his beliefs, this will have grave consequences for his future destiny. For fanatical attitudes, intolerance, and violence against others create unwholesome karma leading to moral degeneration and to an unhappy rebirth.

Although belief in God does not exclude a favorable rebirth, it is a variety of eternalism, a false affirmation of permanence rooted in the craving for existence, and as such an obstacle to final deliverance.

Among the fetters (samyojana) that bind to existence, theism is particularly subject to those of personality-belief, attachment to rites and rituals, and desire for fine-material existence or for a "heaven of the sense sphere," as the case may be.

As an attempt at explaining the universe, its origin, and man's situation in his world, the God-idea was found entirely unconvincing by the Buddhist thinkers of old. Through the centuries, Buddhist philosophers have formulated detailed arguments refuting the doctrine of a creator god. It should be of interest to compare these with the ways in which Western philosophers have refuted the theological proofs of the existence of God. More>>

Aion and Gaia (Earth) with four children, perhaps the personified seasons, mosaic from a Roman villa in Sentinum, first half of the 3rd century BCE, Munich Glyptothek, Inv. W504 (Wiki).


The Greek Pantheon better approaches the Indian and Buddhist version, replete with Titans (Asuras) and monsters (Nagas, etc.).

Greek mythology is ambiguous. Click a name for its Wikipedia article. Download the PowerPoint version.Other Greek Gods trees: from Edith Hamilton's Mythologyby Jimmy Joeat theoi.comby Clint Terwilligeron Wikipedia known errors: Generally inconsistent sourcing (no clear prioritization). Hyperion is also a Titan. Missing Priapus, and several others.

Question: What about the Christian God?

Answer: The Christian God Jehovah exists but is neither sole creator, nor almighty, nor all-knowing. On a Buddhist cosmological scale, it is possible to place Jehovah at Level 10. That realm is called "Devas Delighting in Creation" (nimmanarati). If that is the correct placement (others may argue for a different placement; see 31 Planes of Existence), the God of the West still deals with desire, anger, and delusion.
The arch-opponent of Christian lore, "Satan" (in Buddhism "Mara") might be placed at Level 11: "Devas Wielding Power over the Creation of Others" (paranimmita-vasavatti). But like the Christian devil, Mara does not refer to a single being. Mara-Devaputra is a deva (a kind of "Lucifer"); another Mara is a personification of Death, which rules the Sensual World in its entirety (because all being are of a nature to eventually die and be reborn). Other beings on earth are called "Maras," and these may be thought of as "demons" or spiritual soldiers dedicated to the cause of Death, corruption, anger, revenge, and spoilage. Lucifer, Satan, demons, and "unclean spirits" -- just like God, godlings, angels, light-beings -- all still deal with varying degrees of lust, hatred, and ignorance. Mara/Satan may have developed a particularly polluted mind (as for example the story of Mara Dusi, MN 50).

Buddhas and Arhats are beyond and above deities, gods, and other beings, since they irreversibly have eliminated all greed, all hate, and all delusion! They have transcended existence and continued wandering in Samsara by attaining nirvana. Nirvana is the deathless absolute peace, the supreme bliss, the highest bliss. No trace of craving, anger, or confusion remains.
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Biggest Stock Market Drop in History

Nagas (Reptilians) vie with Asuras (Titans) for financial dominance (Image: Asian bill)

Stock Market down 777 points
WQ editorial
It seems foreign leaders were right that Financial Armageddon is upon the U.S. economy. Congress has rejected an across the board bailout, and Wall Street suffered its biggest setback to date. The Mortgage Crisis is touching everyone that to the extreme greed (lobha) of a few and the general greed of the many. President Bush inherited a budget surplus and not only squandered it, using war and civil rights abuses as his banner, he ran up the nation's debt to its highest point ever. Now trillions of dollars in debt (money which needs to be serviced, i.e., interest paid on it to billionaires and foreign nations and transnational banking concerns).

Washington Mutual has gone in the wake of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (preceded by IndyMac) -- for a total of 11 major institutions failing. And today along with the DOW, which lost a record 777 points, Wachovia Bank has also failed. Subprime loan defaults are not at the root of all problems. Greed is. But the entire financial system, and perhaps the corporate capitalist mentality behind it (although it's verbotten to say so), is ultimately at fault.
The nations of the world look on, seeing their own stock exchanges plunge. And at least one, Iran, has spoken truth to power. Because we as a nation hate Iran (and the Middle East in general), Americans have dismissed the warnings. But the American public is speaking up to representatives NOT to approve any kind of socialist-bailout. If we're capitalists, then the market must save itself through market principles or be allowed to fail.

Meanwhile, the nation remains in the morass of illegal wars (under the Bush Doctrine of preemptive attacks on non-aggressors artfully using revenge for 9/11 and Weapons of Mass Destruction as the pretext). And on the home front, civil rights and personal liberties are flying out of the window in the name of "homeland security."

Whether a new Depression is upon the nation or if "1984" is being ushered in under the guise of financial collapse and endless war, the Zeitgeist is worrisome and in need of a deep explanation. Watch Zeitgeist the Movie (http://www.zeitgeistmovie.com/), which explains high finance and religious complicity (including popular Buddhism used by nation states to promote very non-Buddhist ideas) in the impending problem.

Or click: Zeitgeist the Movie: final edit (2008)
  • Cheerful daily 20 min. roundup of financial news: Marketplace (American Public Radio)

Magic Mushrooms help some get Spiritual: Study finds

Typical sadhu (samana, wandering ascetic) Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, India (wikipedia).

Study Finds Benefit in "Magic Mushrooms"
Malcolm Ritter (7/1/08)

In 2002, at a Johns Hopkins University laboratory, a business consultant named Dede Osborn took a psychedelic drug as part of a research project. She felt like she was taking off. She saw colors. Then it felt like her heart was ripping open.
But she called the experience joyful as well as painful, and says that it has helped her to this day. "I feel more centered in who I am and what I'm doing," said Osborn, now 66, of Providence, R.I. "I don't seem to have those self-doubts like I used to have. I feel much more grounded [and feel that] we are all connected."

Scientists reported Tuesday that when they surveyed volunteers 14 months after they took the drug [in Buddhist and Hindu terms, possibly the mysterious Amrita, "nectar of the gods," which is boiled in a pot the mythology of which has given rise to the largest gatherings of human beings for any purpose in history, the Kumbh Mela], most said they were still feeling and behaving better because of the experience. Two-thirds of them also said the drug had produced one of the five most spiritually significant experiences they'd ever had.

The drug, psilocybin, is found in so-called "magic mushrooms." It's illegal, but it has been used in religious ceremonies for centuries.

The study involved 36 men and women during an eight-hour lab visit. It's one of the few such studies of a hallucinogen in the past 40 years, since research was largely shut down after widespread recreational abuse of such drugs in the 1960s. The project made headlines in 2006 when researchers reported on the volunteers just two months after they got the drug.

Experts emphasize that people should not try psilocybin on their own because it could be harmful. Even in the controlled setting of the laboratory, nearly a third of participants felt significant fear under the effects of the drug. Without proper supervision, someone could be harmed, researchers said.

Osborn, in a telephone interview, recalled a powerful feeling of being out of control during her lab experience. "It was...like taking off, I'm being lifted up," she said. Then came "brilliant colors and beautiful patterns, just stunningly gorgeous, more intense than normal reality." More>>


Retreats: Religious Replenishing

Buddhism is compatible with practicing other faiths (dreamstime.com).
  • Animism: the original "faith," a life dependent on the Spirits (ABC News visits a tribe deep in the Amazon, 9/23/08) VIDEO (2:28)
Replenishing the soul with religious retreats
Michael Virtanen (AP)

Hojin Kimmel is seen during breakfast at Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, N.Y., Thursday, March 20, 2008. Dozens of religious retreats are nestled in the Catskill Mountains and Hudson Valley of upstate New York, many open to visitors seeking quiet getaways and personal enlightenment (AP Photo/Mike Groll).

NEW LEBANON, N.Y. (7/24/08) -- At the former Shaker village, where the Taconic Mountains roll into the Berkshires and New York touches Massachusetts, Yaqin Aubert read aloud Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Zoroastrian, Judaic, Christian and Islamic texts during the Sunday service at the Sufi religious retreat.

With two dozen worshippers, who mainly resembled any mostly white upstate congregation, Aubert invoked "the Omnipresent God" and repeated scriptures of peace from seven religious traditions. He told a story about Jesus, whose disciples were angry at their rude treatment by several villagers in ancient Palestine, while Jesus was unbothered.

"I can only spend what is in my purse," was his reply. "All he had inside was peace," explained Aubert, a Sufi Muslim retreat guide. Peace outside comes from peace inside.

Dozens of religious retreats are nestled in the Catskill Mountains and Hudson Valley of upstate New York, many open to visitors seeking quiet getaways and personal enlightenment. Stay for meals or overnight, you'll likely be asked for a donation or pay a small fee. Come for organized retreats for weekends, weeks or longer, with guided learning, solitary prayer or meditation, and pay program fees.

At Abode of the Message in New Lebanon, 25 miles southeast of Albany, the bulletin board by the communal kitchen had a Sufi story about how an individual's inner light can illuminate an entire city. The woman washing dishes described herself as a Sufi Christian. That afternoon, there would be a discussion of the mystical, reverent 13th-century poetry of Rumi, a key figure in Sufism.

Whatever your tradition, this mystical Sufi brand of Islam invites you to deepen your faith here without converting.

The Buddhists in Mount Tremper, 50 miles southwest of Albany in the Catskills, likewise welcome visitors at certain times, recommending the weekly Sunday morning program with beginning instruction in meditation at Zen Mountain Monastery. Senior monastics said they see no conflict between Buddhist practice and someone's search for God. The quest for greater mindfulness and compassion welcomes the question. More>>