November 27, 2018

Below is a rather extraordinary video featuring Dr. Sushma Jansari of the British Museum.* It is remarkable in part because it depicts the oldest datable depiction of the Buddha in human form, as the title indicates. And it is also remarkable because Dr. Jansari suggests that this is “one of the most important objects in the entire British Museum.” The item described is the “Bimaran casket,” a gold cylindrical object approximately 4 inches tall. It was found with coins that… Read more

November 15, 2018

Remember the internet of the late ’90s and early 2000s? Before Facebook, before Twitter? Back then I was in my late teens and early twenties; and I had developed a case of militant atheism. It wasn’t pretty. For the most part, my life looked normal. But once I stepped inside an internet chatroom: look out.  As a relatively newly converted atheist, I was ready to take on the power structures that had oppressed my people for centuries. It turns out, I… Read more

November 15, 2018

Recently I have been turned on to ideas of “Buddhist economics” through a class I am teaching on Buddhist ethics in Hong Kong. The idea of “Buddhist economics” is a relatively new one, like Buddhist ethics and, well, Buddhism. All arise in the modernist milieu of the mingling of Buddhadhamma and Western ideas and concepts. That’s not to say that Buddhist economics isn’t real or isn’t based in longstanding historical traditions. But it does mean that whatever it is, it will… Read more

November 2, 2018

And horrifies everyone: (and ‘solves’ definitely isn’t meant in the sense of ‘resolves’) The trolley problem, shown above, was developed by 20th century Moral Philosopher Philippa Foot and is a favorite among moral philosophers (also disdained by some) for testing the moral intuitions of students. Do we do a quick calculus and push the lever, saving the 5 and killing the 1. Do we let the train kill the five, considering ourselves blaimless because we did nothing, whereas pushing the… Read more

October 2, 2018

The online Buddhist magazine Buddhistdoor Global* published a great interview last week: “On Bells, Whistles, Hats, and Number Sets: An Interview with Jeff Watt on Buddhist Iconography and Himalayan Art” By Anne Wisman. Jeff Watt, the person interviewed, is noted as “one of the world’s foremost scholars and curators of Tibetan and Himalayan art.” One of the most important parts comes when Watt gives the various reasons for the creation of Himalayan art. He lists six: Devotional; Didactic: nobody bows… Read more

September 28, 2018

If you’re like me, your social media feeds have been on fire with discussions and news postings about the Ford and Kavanaugh testimonies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. And, if you’re like me, you have a lot of Buddhists (teachers, scholars, and practitioners) on your friends list and you saw them engaging: often very deeply, passionately, empathetically, and personally, with the process unfolding on live television and the radio. And it shouldn’t need to be said any more, but it… Read more

September 26, 2018

I am sometimes asked for resources or tools for studying Pali, the language of the Theravadin canon, encapsulating more or less the very language of the historical Buddha. My own instruction in Pali has been on my own with a good friend using Gair and Karunatillake (see below). I then went on to study with Prof. Richard Gombrich in Oxford in 2011; which I thought I wrote about at some point, but I see only a couple other posts on… Read more

September 19, 2018

Last month I covered the revived discussion amongst Buddhists in North America about psychedelic drug use. One fascinating aspect of this work was seeing the various forms of reasoning used by those involved in the debate. In the study of ethics, forms of reasoning are important. If the Buddhists had focused heavily on the intentions of the psychedelic drug users, they might have had what we’d call deontological moral frameworks. If the Buddhists had focused on the character development of those… Read more

September 11, 2018

In the ongoing rounds of Buddhist #MeToo work, survivors and allies of abuse at the hands of Buddhist teachers have created a video and petition in hopes that the Dalai Lama will accept their invitation to meet during his visit to the Netherlands this week (September 14-17). The survivors of the abusive Tibetan teacher, Sogyal Lakar, and others hope that the Dalai Lama will continue his activities to promote secular ethics and women’s rights. As they say, however, the Dalai… Read more

September 10, 2018

Today I have some early thoughts on a topic that I hope I will return to, perhaps again and again, over the months and years to come. I live and work currently in Hong Kong, which some might mistakenly say is “part of China” or might also mistakenly say is “not part of China.” The confusing middle ground is best exemplified by the phrase, “one country, two systems.” But that just scratches the surface. The first system is, of course,… Read more

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