The other day I was talking about ageing and sageing with my old friend and mentor Ram Dass-- formerly Richard Alkpert, spiritual pioneer, Harvard professor and consciousness explorer. Since his stroke, he's given up the mainland and wants to pursue what Hindus call "the fourth phase of life" here on the island of Maui. Hindus tradition teaches that after studentship, young adulthood, mature parenthood and community member come careership; leaving this world and this life behind and giving oneself to God, to the afterlife or lives, and to eternity-- the fourth stage--...
Are there saints in Buddhism? If so, who are they and how are they recognized?
The term "saint" is more commonly associated with holy persons in Catholicism, but there are certainly saints in Buddhism. But because Buddhism is not centrally organized, as is Catholicism, there is no official sanctioning body to designate sainthood in the various schools of Buddhism.
But there are many sages, masters, and wonder-workers, both historical and contemporary, who are referred to as Buddhist saints. And each Buddhist tradition and country has its own set who are recognized not by an official process...
With a few simple acts, we can turn the season into a genuinely spiritual time.
Q: How can I make the holidays more meaningful for me and my family?
A: Here are my ten suggestions:
1. Practice generosity in the form of donating, gift-giving, volunteering, and reaching out by making phone calls and writing. This cultivates cheerfulness and the spirit of giving and doesn't require or foster overindulgence in consumerism.
2. Share a prayer or inspirational poem or quote with someone.
3. Give yourself a gift, whether material or a gift of time and space for some reflection, noble silence,...
Q. What is the Buddhist perspective on an afterlife?
A: Different schools and traditions offer slightly different answers. For example, some Buddhists say that the Buddha himself did not say much about the afterlife, or even about rebirth for that matter, but concentrated on teaching how this life can be lived in virtue and wisdom. A Zen teacher once told me, "The afterlife is just a dream. Be here now." When I said I had heard and read much about it from Tibetan and other sources, he laughed out loud and said, "That is all just a Himalayan nightmare!"
Nonetheless, the Tibetan teachings...
Community offers the spiritual aspirant the chance to practice what they preach in the nitty gritty of daily life.
Q. Must you join a sangha to advance as a Buddhist?
A. You don't have to join any sangha (community) in order to be a Buddhist. Anyone can start learning about, reflecting upon and practicing Buddhism just by hearing or reading about it.
Being a Buddhist is more a matter of turning your heart and mind in that direction, and of practicing Buddhism and living in accordance with its ethical and compassionate, nonviolent guiding principles, than of any formal conversion ceremony....
How do you spell relief? For starters, stop trying to change things you have no control over.
Q. I hear a lot about letting go, but how do I do it? There seems to be few teachings on the subject, except that letting go and practicing nonattachment are supposed to be good things to do.
A. The Buddha said we experience the peace of nirvana by letting things be as they are. Indeed, applying the Beatles' exhortation to "Let It Be" to our lives can bring a lot of serenity and equanimity. My own personal Buddhist bumper sticker is "breathe, relax and smile." It works for road rage and for diminishing...
Forgiveness and self-acceptance are part of the practice of being in the moment.
Q: How can I forgive and accept myself? I have a lot of things in me that I despise, regret, and wish I could have done differently.
A.: Forgiveness does not mean forgetfulness. I often counsel my Buddhist students not to forgive and forget, but to forgive and remember. This will help us to open our Buddha-like heart and mind; find inner peace, contentment, and self-acceptance; and learn to love life much more fully, just as it is.
Who is it hardest for you to forgive? If you would scrutinize your heart and psyche,...
Lama Surya Das sets the record straight on golden fishes, parasols, vases, and other auspicious signs.
Q: I am interested in religious symbols. I heard that the fish is an ancient Buddhist symbol, as well as a sign of Jesus. Is there some connection?
A: The fish is one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols in Buddhism. These ancient symbols predate both Christianity and Buddhism, originating in the very early spiritual traditions of India. I have read that in the face of Roman persecution, early Christians used a simple line drawing of a fish as a secret sign or password to stand in for the name...
Big questions sometimes come from little people.
Q. My four-year-old son has asked me "who made God?" How do I answer him?
A: Thanks for your son's excellent question which reminds me that 2,200 years ago the Chinese philosopher Mencius said: "The great man is he who does not lose his child-like heart."
The direct answer is to your child's question is: No one made God. However, I would not necessarily respond to my child that way. I might say--and I am just finger painting here, not working on the elaborate oil canvas that such a universal discussion really deserves--the same...
Lama Surya Das explains why Buddhist teachers have so many titles.
Q. I hear and read about a lot of Buddhist titles--rinpoche, roshi, sensai, etc. What do they mean?
First, it is helpful to recognize that various titles are in different languages and belong to particular traditions or schools of Buddhism. For example, lama is a title that refers to a priest, spiritual teacher, or master (male and female) in Tibetan Buddhism. The word’s literal meaning is "none above" or "weighty with qualities."
Ogden Nash once wrote a limerick, beginning: "A one-l lama, he’s a priest; a two-ll...