Friday, February 28, 2014

Ewam Garden of One Thousand Buddhas

The Dalai Lama On The Mindful Revolution

Via HUffington / Here's What You Can Learn From Being In The Same Room As The Dalai Lama

A friend described hearing the Dalai Lama speak in a convention hall as "being in the presence of God." Another friend, who years ago also was in the audience at another big arena, said the feeling of peace that came over her from being so close to His Holiness was a "life-changer."
So when the opportunity to be in a smallish setting with him at a celebrity-studded lunch hosted by the Lourdes Foundation in Los Angeles was offered, my hand shot up.

Here's what I learned from being in the same room as the Dalai Lama:

1) The Dalai Lama has a wickedly contagious laugh that melts hearts and Hollywood egos.
I suspect he wishes it could also melt weapons of mass destruction, but even falling short of that, it's still a joy to hear. He laughs especially hard when he is telling one of his own stories, like the time he was chased by a ferocious dog when he was a small boy. Running from danger is sometimes the best course of action, he noted, and shows wisdom not cowardice.

2) Being the messenger of peace is a hard job. Being the messenger of inner peace, even harder.
And hardest of all may be convincing people that the key to their happiness lies within them, not some place else. The switch to our inner light belongs to each of us. His Holiness says that when one person is happy, it spreads to their family; when the family is at peace, so becomes the community, the state, and so on. To change the world, we must first change ourselves.

3) The Dalai Lama would consider going to the moon with Sharon Stone.
While he may not be alone in this thinking -- and has discussed his weakness for beautiful women before -- he used the occasion of sitting under the space shuttle Endeavour's wing at the California Science Center to answer a question of whether he would ever consider space travel. Thanks, but no thanks, said His Holiness, at least not until it becomes more commonplace. And he turned to actress Stone to see if she wouldn't join him. He stared at the Endeavour hovering over him in its majesty and proclaimed that while it "looks like a solid entity," its successful function depended on many many other things. Like all great things of achievement, he said, there was a team behind it.

4) It isn't technology that is bad -- quite the contrary.
Technology is good. It's when we let it control us that it becomes a bad thing. Technology does not produce compassion. The Dalai Lama does not own a smart phone, nor does he watch much TV -- which we suspect disappointed many of the reality TV stars in the audience.

5) The Dalai Lama carries a toothbrush with him.
His Holiness carries a small orange day bag with him. The contents: several pieces of candy that he offered to share with actress Stone; extra reading glasses; an under-arm thermometer in case the flu bug bites; and a toothbrush kit because, he said, it's important to brush after every meal. He also carries a small clay statue of Buddha, which he wouldn't unwrap even when Stone asked to see it. Everyone needs a strong sense of self, he said. Without it, you are weak. It is from this sense of self that compassion, determination and altruism are born. The flip side of that coin is ego.

6) We chase the wrong kind of wealth.
The pursuit of materialism -- external wealth -- derails our pursuit of inner wholeness -- internal wealth. His Holiness knows monks who live in the most spartan of conditions, surrounded by the barest of necessities and yet they are happy. He also knows many of the world's richest people who are financially able to surround themselves with every trapping that money can buy. And they are some of the loneliest people he knows.

7) People are attracted to the calm, not the storm.
The Dalai Lama has an entourage. People just want to be in his presence. His Holiness says that a calm mind brings inner strength and is essential for good health. Practicing kindness and compassion and learning to understand the roots of anger are the compasses for finding the calm.

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Via JMG: Sen. Patrick Leahy Proposes Freezing Aid To Uganda Over Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has proposed freezing US aid to Uganda over the enactment of that country's brutal anti-homosexuality bill, which was signed last week by President Yoweri Museveni.
“I am deeply concerned by the decision of President (Yoweri) Museveni of Uganda to sign into law the anti-homosexuality bill,” Senator Patrick Leahy, the most senior member of the chamber and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “Much of US assistance to Uganda is for the people of Uganda, including those in the Ugandan LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community whose human rights are being so tragically violated,” he added. Washington is among Uganda’s largest international donors. The State Department said that in current fiscal year some $485 million in bilateral assistance had been provided to Uganda with most of the funds going towards health programs, as well as education, food security and military training. The State Department has signalled it is looking at a range of options to respond to the law, while White House spokesman Jay Carney said “we are undertaking a review of our relationship with Uganda in light of this decision.”
With the aid of Western governments and NGOs, Uganda has seen a remarkable decline in HIV infections compared to its neighbors. Some US and European HIV/AIDS activists oppose cutting financial aid despite the latest law. Yesterday a prominent Ugandan LGBT activist begged that aid not be cut, saying such a move would only create a stronger backlash against LGBT people in his country.
Frank Mugisha, director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, has said he does not support aid cuts. ‘We can’t afford to create new victims,’ he said on Twitter this week. ‘We should go after the crazy politicians! Not innocent Ugandans.’ In February this year, prominent Ugandan LGBTI rights activist Abbey Kiwanuka petitioned the Dutch foreign affairs committee to use other ways to persuade Uganda not to make the bill law instead of cutting aid. His pleas were turned down. Edwin Sesange, director of the African LGBTI Out and Proud Diamond Group, said in a Gay Star News comment piece: ‘Aid in various forms helps all ordinary Ugandans, including LGBTI people who we are campaigning for. ‘Therefore the consequences of not being able to access those services financed by foreign aid will directly impact gay, lesbian, trans and bi Ugandans wellbeing.'
RELATED: Sexual Minorities Uganda is the group suing Scott Lively for crimes against humanity.

Reposted from Joe Jervis

Via JMG: UGANDA: World Bank Suspends $90M Loan Over Anti-Homosexuality Law

The World Bank has suspended a $90M loan to Uganda over the signing of the anti-homosexuality bill by President Yoweri Museveni.
"We have postponed the project for further review to ensure that the development objectives would not be adversely affected by the enactment of this new law," World Bank spokesman David Theis said in an email. Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed an anti-gay bill earlier this week that strengthens already strict laws against homosexuals by imposing a life sentence for certain violations and making it a crime to not report anyone who breaks the law. The World Bank, a poverty-fighting institution based in Washington, usually refrains from getting involved in countries' internal politics or in issues such as gay rights to avoid antagonising any of its 188 member countries. World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, however, sent an email to bank staff saying the bank opposes discrimination, and would protect the safety of all employees.
Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands have also cut aid to Uganda's government and say they will redirect funding to private groups.

Rerposted from Joe Jervis

Via JMG: Updated Marriage Map

The map reflects this week's changes in Texas and Kentucky. Note that a second county in Illinois has begun issuing marriage licenses ahead of the official statewide date of June 1st. Source.

Reposted from Joe Jervis

Via AmericaBlog: Following the victory in Arizona, a brief look at 2,000 years of gay history

Following the victory in Arizona, a brief look at 2,000 years of gay history

With the defeat of Arizona’s Bill-o-Bigotry, it’s a good time to reflect on the history and future of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

Native Americans were fine with gay and trans people

Hundreds of years ago, when French missionaries traveled through North America, they recorded their observations of Native American culture.

Particularly fascinating to them was what physician-historian Dr. Francis Mark Mondimore described in his book A Natural History of Homosexuality as “The Berdache Phenomenon.”

This refers to transgender and gay people within Native American tribes who, far from inciting loathing, were “respected, even revered in some Indian groups.”

George Catlin (1796-1872), Dance to the Berdache. Drawn while on the Great Plains, among the Sac and Fox Indians, the sketch depicts a ceremonial dance to celebrate the two-spirit person.
George Catlin (1796-1872), Dance to the Berdache. Drawn while on the Great Plains, among the Sac and Fox Indians, the sketch depicts a ceremonial dance to celebrate the two-spirit person.

Enlightened western observers were rather aghast. After applying the French word “berdache” to such Indian men and women, they described them as disgusting “sodomites dedicated to nefarious practices.”

Native Americans tended to disagree. Their attitudes toward human sexuality were by stark contrast “relaxed and accepting.” Regardless of sexual preference, tribesman were treated with respect and dignity (including women who, as Mondimore puts it, enjoyed a status that was “much more egalitarian than among their European contemporaries”). Within certain groups the berdache was even revered for a “special connection with the gods and spirits.”

Clearly, the attitudes of Native American “savages,” as our ancestors dubbed them, were infinitely more progressive and civilized than Europeans of the time, and as the “religious freedom” debacle in Arizona shows, they were more civilized than those of many Americans even today.

With respect to the LGBT community, western culture often still genuflects to judgment and ostracism as opposed to compassion and acceptance. (Much debate is still had over whether one’s sexual orientation is a choice, as if that should affect how we treat gay people.) Even Native Americans, hundreds of years ago, with no access to a modern education, were above this cruelty.

And we know the Greeks and Romans had more permissive views than many today

As it turns out, a number of ancient cultures were rather tolerant as well. Neither the Greeks nor the Romans had words for homosexuality, though it was an accepted facet of both societies (reportedly, an actual “gay” identity didn’t begin to arise until the late 1800s, or later). In some ways, bisexuality was a social expectation for Greek and Roman men, within limits (Caesar was reportedly dogged by rumors that he was “gay,” to use the modern construct). It simply did not pose the same moral dilemma for them then, as it does for us now.

Isn’t it strange that while amorous or sexual relations among same-sex Spartans were encouraged (it was thought that men would fight harder beside compatriots with whom they had had intimate relations), Michael Sam’s coming out has been greeted with anxiety by many within the NFL?  The Spartans, as we know, represent the masculine warrior ideal, not unlike the spirit embodied by the game of American football. And yet primitive bigotry makes what should be a non-issue into something the NFL “isn’t ready for,” while a GOP lobbyist (who has a gay brother, no less) claims to be drafting legislation to ban gays from the sport altogether.

Jon Stewart had the final word about that during a recent segment in which he noted the violent criminal histories of several prominent NFL players, whom the league apparently is “ready for.”  A Dallas sportscaster recently noted the same.

When did ancient tolerance become modern animus?

There doesn’t seem to be a historical consensus about the reasons why the change from tolerance to animus occurred, but there is ample evidence to show when. In his insightful work Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe From the Beginning of the Christian Tradition to the Fourteenth Century, historian John Boswell dates the beginning of the transition to the end of the Roman Empire. And, perhaps surprisingly, he explicitly rejects a view to which many likely subscribe: It was not, he thinks, Christianity that fomented the tide of homophobia that came to pervade Western culture.

The reasons for Boswell’s doubts about the origins of modern homophobia are somewhat questionable; Mainly, he seems to think that criticisms by ancient church leaders of homosexuality, viewed within the context of their heedless attitudes toward other Levitical proscriptions, requires the conclusion that it was something more than religious doctrine that caused their homophobia. In other words, Boswell doesn’t think that early church leaders could be hypocritical and sincere, cherry-picking their offenses, which means Boswell probably doesn’t give the religious imagination, modern or ancient, nearly enough credit.

Regardless of the reasons, the fall of the Roman Empire (around 500AD) precipitated the widespread homophobia of the Middle Ages (an era spanning the next thousand years or so). During this period, Boswell describes a campaign of historical “whitewashing” by religious authorities aimed at purging references to homosexuality in Greek and Roman history. Some of the results are downright laughable, and are certain to remind readers of what Darwin called the “indelible stamp of [man's] lowly origins.”

Alcibiades, son of Cleinias. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen.
Alcibiades, son of Cleinias. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen.

Consider, for example, the fate of Alcibiades, a known gay-lover of Socrates, when medieval Christian authorities retrospectively turned him into a “female famed for her beauty.”
In the same mirthful vein is this gem, for which I will use Boswell’s unmolested description:
In a manuscript of Ovid’s Art of Love, for example, a phrase which originally read, “A boy’s love appealed to me less” was amended by a medieval moralist to read, “A boy’s love appealed to me not at all,” and a marginal note informed the reader “Thus you may be sure that Ovid was not a sodomite.”
Use here of the word “sodomite” to degrade highlights the historical persecution embedded in Judeo-Christian tradition. That history is clear and unambiguous, even if the original reasons for the persecution are not.

Back to Arizona

Thankfully, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer took a courageous step in blocking the fanatical advance of the religious right in her state. Because of that we can all celebrate a small victory in a larger, ongoing war, which the forces of progress and human dignity seem to be winning. But where do we go from here?

In a recent Op-Ed, Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman reluctantly concluded that the Arizona “religious freedom” law, SB1062, were it to have become law, would have been constitutional. This is disturbing, but probably (I think) true. The Supreme Court has yet to hold that under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, laws discriminating against sexual orientation deserve “strict scrutiny,” which is the standard of review the Court applies to racial discrimination (but strangely not gender discrimination). The present standard for discrimination against gay and trans people is called “rational basis review” –t hat is, so long as a homophobic law is “rationally related to a legitimate government interest” it will pass constitutional muster.

Needless to say, this is a highly deferential standard. With four conservative Supreme Court justices virtually guaranteed to meet the challenge of any such law, by finding both a legitimate government interest and a manner in which said law is rationally related to that interest, the fate of LGBT rights likely sits in the uncertain hands of Justice Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion striking down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) last June, 2013, leading to a flurry of recent gay rights successes in a number of states.

This is all the more reason for progressives not to wait for the Supreme Court’s false pretense of interpreting the Constitution (which it has almost never done in US history) to result in equal rights for the LGBT community. Gay and trans people have waited long enough.  I would argue that we need a constitutional amendment granting not “the equal protection of the laws,” which is what the Fourteenth Amendment says, but “the protection of equal laws” for all Americans, regardless of race, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation. This is the proper choice for a proud and free democratic nation. Patiently waiting for the unelected Supreme Court is something rather more obsequious. (I’ll likely expand on this proposal in a future article.)

With the recent striking down of Texas’ bigoted same-sex marriage ban, the veto of Arizona’s ”religious freedom” bill, and the gutting of DOMA only half a year ago, America is inching ever closer (and ever more quickly) to civilization. Because the ancient Greek, Roman, and Native American cultures, among others, achieved sexual tolerance long ago, I hesitate to call these recent advances “progress.” But sometimes there is progress in regression.

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Via Tricycle Daily Dharma

Tricycle Daily Dharma February 28, 2014

When Pain Happens

We suffer because we marry our instinctive aversion to pain to the deep-seated belief that life should be free from pain. In resisting our pain by holding this belief, we strengthen just what we're trying to avoid. When we make pain the enemy, we solidify it. This resistance is where our suffering begins.
- Ezra Bayda, "When It Happens to Us"
Read the entire article in the Wisdom Collection through March 1, 2014
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